A Sound Mind: Theory and practice

An excerpt from A Sound Mind by Brother L. G. Sargent, page 155

A man on a journey on foot mounted a hill. From its crest he could see his destination glinting distantly in the sunlight, a city set on a hill. In between he could survey the country he had to go through – the river to be forded, the swamp to be avoided lest its soft ground should suck him down, the forest in which he must find his way on a steady course, the rocky, uneven country which would be hard and toilsome. But he could see them all in relation to his end, and could map his road. That was theory, from theorō, to look at, to view, to see.

Then he went down and walked it, and that was practice, from praxis, a doing.

The man had a companion who thought it was a waste of time to climb a hill merely to look: he wanted to be up and doing. “I’m a practical man”, he said in a rather self-satisfied tone. So he went on. Our traveller never saw him again. Long after, his bones were recovered from the treacherous swamp. He had wandered far out of his way in the forest, and had become too exhausted to recover when he found the ground giving way under him.

If the first traveller had remained gazing in rapture from the hilltop, it would have been theory without practice. If, like the other man, he had simply forged ahead, it would have been practice without theory. The one would be futile; the other could be disastrous.

The traveller might have had a map, but that is a highly theoretical document in which directions, contours and surfaces are all translated into a symbolic representation in the flat.

Man-made proverbs are sometimes foolish things, and few are sillier than “An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory”. Even the proverbs of Solomon sometimes show opposite aspects of truth, and two have to be put together to get the full value: “Answer a fool according to his folly … Answer not a fool according to his folly …” Which is true? The answer is “Both”.

The right combination

The right combination of the theoretical and the practical is nowhere more important than in the life that is lived in Christ. God’s revelation gives us the view of the end and the way. Constant reading of His word can make it more than a brief hilltop vision: it can accompany us daily in all the way we travel, and we need it at every step. To spend all our time in study or contemplation as ends in themselves is to lose contact with reality and to end with a barren and unfruitful life. To spend all our time in busy activity – how-ever good the things we do – is to become blinded to the object for which we do them. The ideal is given in one phrase of the Apostle Paul’s – two nouns and a verb – in which every word tells: “Faith that worketh by love.” That is the true and fruitful life in Christ.

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