Winning A Crown!
Charles Naylor, 1918
"Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:8
A practical treatise on how to find God, what salvation is and does, and how to live a happy and successful Christian life
Life is a series of problems. None of these problems are of more importance than those which relate to the spiritual life. Upon their proper solution, rest both our present and future happiness. It has been the author's purpose throughout this book to set forth in as practical a way as possible some of the things that he has learned in his twenty-five years of Christian life, the greater part of which has been spent in preaching and writing of the things of the kingdom of God. For the past nine years he has been a shut-in as the result of a serious injury, but these years upon his bed, with pain for his constant companion, have taught him many things that might have escaped him in the busy days of a more active life.
The subject matter of this treatise falls naturally into three parts.
The first is intended to show men how to find God and enter into the enjoyment of true sonship with its attendant blessing.
The second deals with some of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith from the standpoint of their practical bearing on human life.
The third deals with problems that sooner or later present themselves to every Christian for his solution. Upon their correct solution, hangs the prosperity and happiness of his life. This part of the book will be to the Christian the richest and most beneficial of all. He may find herein an answer to many of his heart's questionings and a "lamp to his feet" in some of life's dark hours.
With a prayer that every reader may be enriched and that God may be glorified, the author commits his work to the public with the confident expectation that the divine blessing that has rested upon him in its preparation will follow it to bless its readers and inspire in their hearts fresh hope and courage to press-on to win the crown waiting at life's goal.
Yours in His joyful service,
C.W. Naylor, September 13, 1918
The Christian life is not all sunshine and roses; neither is it all shadows and brambles. All our skies cannot be cloudless; neither can all our roses be without thorns. The pilgrim's way to the Celestial City does not lie across a flat plain—instead, it leads through a great variety of scenery. Now we walk a smooth way, sunlit and bright, with a splendid vista outspread before us. Further along we pass into the foothills, and our pathway rises and falls. Now we stand upon the summit and feast our eyes on the broad expanse and the glowing hilltops around us, basking in the sunshine of noonday. Again we go slowly down into the valley and walk beside the still waters, amid the green grass, and breathe the air perfumed by the flowers and hear the carols of the birds as they merrily pass the hours. Farther on we have a bit of steep climbing, with perhaps many stones along the way, and here and there a thornbush catches our garments and cuts our feet. Sometimes the way is toilsome, but presently we reach the top, and there in the clear air, under the dome of Heaven, our souls are hushed and awed and filled with holy inspiration.
Down from the mountain, sooner or later we must go, sometimes over crags and where it seems no feet have trodden before us. With the outlook of the mountaintop left behind, our vision becomes narrow, and we make our way slowly and painfully down into the darkened valley. There are shadows in the valley. Sometimes a great cloud sails overhead and the sunlight disappears. The bird-songs resound no more. The warmth is gone, and the chill of the evening comes on apace. The night falls; but the Celestial City lies still far away, and we must walk in the night as well as in the day. Sometimes then, our footsteps falter. Sometimes strange shapes appear, and we hear voices that cannot be interpreted; but we must walk on. When the daylight comes again, there is joy and sunshine once more.
So is the journey of life—infinite in its variety. No matter how much of the old, there is always something new. No matter how much we understand, there is always that which is mysterious. Whether upon the mountain or in the valley, whether by the silent waters or by the gushing waterfall, whether in the calm sunshine or in the beating storm—we must press ever onward. Now and then we may stand upon some mountain of transfiguration and see all things illuminated with a heavenly glory and hear words impossible for man to utter. But we must come down from that mountain, and go upon our way again. Sometimes we may catch a faint distant glimpse of the Celestial City, which is the goal of all our hopes; but much of the time it will be beyond our vision, and much of the time we shall see only the ordinary things of every-day life.
The path of life has, as it were, two sides: one is bright and attractive; the other has its shadows, from which we instinctively shrink. But it takes both these to make up life's pathway. As children of God, we are still human. Along with others we must bear the things that belong to human life—its cares, its perplexities, its unsolved problems, its frailties, in fact all those things which fall to the lot of other mortals.
So it would seem best in this volume that I should walk upon the shadowy side of the path, rather than upon that which lies in the sunshine—if perhaps the rays of my lantern shall fall upon some of the dark places and shall make the footsteps of the pilgrim more certain and help him to define some of those shadowy shapes that trouble him. The bright side of life needs no illumination, and when the pilgrim walks through the sunshine on a level path—he needs no instructor, he needs no one to interpret life to him. It is when the shadows fall and perplexing things come, when he hears strange voices, and when he feels his need of counsel and of comfort—that he welcomes someone to interpret for him the difficult things of life, and to point out a safe and sure pathway.
And so, reader, I offer to walk with you through some of these places, and I trust that we shall be congenial companions and that at last we shall both safely reach the Celestial City and join the white-robed throng in everlasting praises before the Majesty who sits upon the eternal throne!
What is Man?
We are surrounded by mysteries, and not the least of these is the mystery of our own being. "Whence did I come?" "Where am I going?" and—greatest mystery of all—"What am I?" are questions that have arisen again and again in the minds of people. If we try to solve the question, What am I? by our own understanding and reason, it remains but a question. There are within us the stirrings of strange emotions, a reaching out after things not seen, unutterable things that we cannot interpret. Is man only a material being? Is he a beast of the field? Was he created only to eat and drink and to enjoy material things? Or is he something more and something higher, with relationships more profound and far-reaching than those of the mere material?
The Psalmist viewed this question and exclaimed: "What is man, that you are mindful of him? or the son of man, that you visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honor. You made him to have dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet" (Psalm 8:4-6). To him, man was something more than an animal; he stood only a little lower than that celestial host that surrounds God's throne. And man is something more, something higher, indeed, than those creatures which are his servants in this time world. When the Psalmist speaks of their death, he says, "You take away their breath, they die, and return to their dust" (Psalm 124:29). Of man it is said, "If God were to take back his spirit and withdraw his breath—all life would cease, and humanity would turn again to dust." (Job 34:14-15).
Man is a trinity, possessing the spiritual, the mental, and the physical. He has a body like the animal, in its functions and desires. He has reason and intelligence, and, above and beyond all these, he has a moral nature. This he alone of all the inhabitants of earth possesses. And it is with this moral nature, that man is most concerned. His life in this world is of few days and full of trouble, and all the races of man look forward confidently to another and higher and better life when this life has come to an end.
Animals are creatures of instinct. They have implanted in them certain primary elements of knowledge or consciousness that guide them where their intelligence does not reach.
Man also has instincts of a kind—higher than those of the best—but no less significant. He feels intuitively that there is a power above him which is greater than his own power. It takes no argument to convince him of this, unless he has destroyed this primary intuition through the subtleties of his sinful reasoning. He is also conscious that he is responsible to this higher power; that in some way he has some relation with that power that gives moral value to his actions; and that these actions are worthy of the praise of this higher power or else merit retribution as being evil. He instinctively places a moral value upon his conduct, and feels that somehow, somewhere—he must give an account. He feels within him, the stirrings of a life that is not merely animal life. He feels capabilities and powers which are undeveloped here and now, and to which he finds himself incapable of giving more than partial expression; and this consciousness speaks to him of a future life full of greatest possibilities.
All these instincts have a substantial basis of reality. The squirrel that has never seen a winter is led by instinct to hoard a store of nuts for the days to come. The bird that knows nothing of climate but the summer, wings its way in the autumn to a more congenial climate, led by unerring instinct. The bird which has been reared in captivity in an artificial nest, if given its liberty will build a nest like those of its kind, though it has never been taught. These instincts do not mislead the unreasoning creatures. They are safe guides.
Man's instinct is no less true, and if followed will guide him in the fundamentals of his life as it guides the lower creatures. Only man disregards these instincts. He deifies his reason, and it leads him in devious paths. He sets his reason up as the guide of his life and bows down and worships it. But alas! how often it causes him to disregard that which the truest wisdom would lead him to value most highly!
How many people live as though they were only animals! "Eat, drink, and be merry—for tomorrow we die!" say they. They neglect that higher and better self. They silence the voice of conscience. They shut their ears to God. They close their eyes to their own knowledge. They live as though they were no better than the brute creation. They are concerned only with this world. They may recognize that there is a life beyond, but how little do they consider it!
Reader, you are more than a horse! There is in you that which is higher and better and nobler! There is something better for you than to give your attention, your time, and your powers for this world alone. As you consider yourself higher than the beast, so should your life be higher than his. I beg of you, consider. How much higher is it? Are you living for eternity, or does your life-plan reach only to the satisfying of your own temporary and temporal desires?
The True Purpose of Life
The Bible tells us that God created man, and clearly implies that all the rest of the material creation of earth was for his benefit and for his use. But what purpose had God in creating man? Did God make him simply to gratify a desire to make something new? Is his existence the result of some mere whim? When God created man, did he expect to give him no further attention? The Bible tells us plainly that God had a distinct purpose, and that his creation was for God's own purpose, not simply that man might exist. Speaking of man, he says, "The work of my hands, that I may be glorified" (Isaiah 60:21). Again, he says, "For I have created him for my glory" (Isaiah 43:7). "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power—for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." (Revelation 4:11)
That man was endowed with natural faculties that make it possible for him to know God and to communicate with him, to understand his will, and to obey him, and to find his highest pleasure in all these—shows that the purpose of man's life is something very exalted. Yet it is possible for him to debase his powers, to put them to ignoble purposes, and to fail entirely of the true purpose of his life.
He may develop his physical being and bring it to a high state of perfection, so that he is an athlete. He may be in perfect health. He may conform to the law of his physical being and be worthy of the admiration of his fellows. He may develop his mind until he reaches out into the starry heavens and reads the secrets of the planets. He may delve into philosophy and into science until his mental faculties are enriched and highly developed. He may grapple with the great problems of natural life and solve them. He may fill the chair of some great university. Men may marvel at his learning. He may be eloquent until he can sway the multitudes. He may rise to eminence in the political world and be famous. Men may admire and respect and honor him, but the perfect body and the highly developed mind, or these two united, do not make a perfect man.
Sooner or later disease will seize upon that body. Sooner or later that mind will lose its brilliance and its power. The end of all, is but the grave.
What then? Shall we say that a man who has lived only for his body and for his mind has truly lived, has truly fulfilled the purpose of his creation? Not so. He has omitted from his life, that which is highest and best. He has failed to develop that spiritual element which is his real self—that element which will live on forever. He has starved and neglected it, and it has withered away, overshadowed by the other parts of his being.
If a man forgets his soul, if he makes no preparation for the life that is life indeed—there is no symmetry in his life. It is unbalanced and incomplete. No matter what his success in other lines—his life is a complete failure. No matter how much wealth he may amass, how much he may win, nor how much of anything of earth may be his—it must end with the word "failure," for he has not lived for God.
He was created for God's glory—but how much has his life subserved that glory? Has he honored God? Has he served him? Has he fitted himself for his society in the world to come? The man who fails to develop his mind and then is brought into the society of men of learning, feels at once and feels most keenly how he has neglected himself and how hampered he is in his associations with them, how unfit he is to enjoy their society, and how little such society can really mean to him.
In the same way, the man who neglects his spiritual life, when he shall come into the presence of God will find himself wholly unfit to mingle in the society of Heaven. His soul-faculties will not be able to respond to the influences of that place. In fact, it would be torment to him to be there and constantly feel his unfitness.
There is but one true purpose in life. All other things are subsidiary to it. If we fill our life with trifles, with things that amount to nothing—shall we not reap the trifler's reward? God desires our services. He desires communion with us. He desires to be honored and worshiped by us—not simply for some selfish interest; for when we give to him that which belongs to him, we do for ourselves that which is best and highest. And when we refuse to give him that which belongs to him and that which he has a right to expect of us—we are injuring ourselves and are placing barriers before our own souls. We are destroying our own selves!
Reader, what is the purpose of your life? What is your life amounting to? Are you spending it for God? Are you developing your soul—your spiritual faculties and powers? What will your life profit you, if you are not? Shall you endure the things of this life, its cares, its sorrows, its heartaches, toil on until its end—only to have "FAILURE!" written over it at the last? Be wise. God has given you intelligence. Use it for his glory. Neglect not your soul, that priceless treasure which must somewhere spend eternity—the eternity for which you are now preparing it.
The Moral State of Man
Back in the world's springtime, when nature was dressed in her pristine glory, God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). Of nothing else of his creation is this said. Man is marked out as separate and distinct from all the rest of creation. He is of the creation, but rises to a higher plane, and possesses a something seen in nothing else. We read further, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).
This was not a physical image and likeness, for such it could not be, inasmuch as God is not physical and does not possess physical organs. It must, then, relate to his mental and moral being. In reason, judgment, choice, conscience, etc.—he is in God's image; but we are concerned at present only with his attribute of holiness. As he came from the hand of God he was pure and holy. There was not in him a single element of defilement. God looked upon him and pronounced him very good, and was well pleased. The wise man, speaking of man's original state, says, "Lo, this only have I found, that God has made men upright—but they have each turned to follow their own downward path." (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
It was as natural for man to love God. He was blameless, and readily yielded himself to all God's will. There was no barrier between himself and God. There was no hindrance to fellowship with God. His pure soul shrank not from God. He knew no fear, but in the presence of his Maker walked as a son with his father. What halcyon days were those!
But alas! that happy state did not continue. One thing had been prohibited. That prohibition was violated, and in consequence a cloud overspread the heavens. His conscience knew for the first time the sense of guilt and shame. The sweet, sympathetic fellowship between his soul and God was broken. He trembled and shrank in fear. His innocence was gone—that greatest charm—that which endeared him to the Father's heart.
Then followed a life of sin, and when he begat a son, the child was born in his father's own sinful image. From that time on the current of human life has been a dark and murky stream.
Some tell us that man has never fallen, that he is now in as high a position as he has ever occupied in the moral scale. This, however, is contrary to the Scriptures, as well as to reason. When we look at his present condition and compare that with what the Bible shows him to have been at his creation—we rather marvel that he has fallen so far into sinfulness. The Bible deals with him everywhere as a fallen creature, one who is corrupt and defiled. Thus the record expresses it: "And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." "God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways!" (Genesis 6:5, 12). God manifested his displeasure by destroying the old world.
The posterity of Noah traveled the same path. Hosea, viewing the situation in his day, exclaimed, "They have deeply corrupted themselves!" (Hosea 9:9). So the current flows on.
Paul draws a dark picture in the first and third chapters of Romans and elsewhere. It is true that man did not lose all. There is in him yet some elements of nobility, some godlike qualities; but these are, as it were, only a few good things that have survived the wreck of his life. And when God looks upon him, he sees not one holy element. When God begins to make something of him, he must begin at the beginning and make of him a new creature.
The Purpose of Man's Life
Man's character is the opposite of God's. God is essentially benevolent; man is essentially selfish. The natural man does not inquire what is the will of God regarding him. He is not concerned in pleasing God. The thing that he desires most of all, is to please himself. If he may do this—then he asks nothing more. He lives for this alone. If he may but gratify all his own desires—then he asks for nothing more. He is moved by selfish motives in all that he does—yet he does not stop to consider it. In fact, he is likely to suppose that he is moved by very different considerations. God says, "Yes, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations" (Isaiah 66:3).
Again he says, "But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you—when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes!" (Proverbs 1:24-31).
Man's Attitude Toward God
Man ordinarily supposes that he is on quite friendly terms with God, at least so far as his own feelings are concerned. He looks upon the law of God and recognizes it as a very high and worthy law. He assents that man should give to it a ready obedience. Very often he is pleased to see others turn from sin to righteousness. He may approve of the law of God as being most excellent. He may even praise it most highly. He may sit in the congregation of the righteous and find much pleasure in listening to the Word of God.
But when it comes to submitting himself to this law and making it the law of his life and conforming himself to it in detail—another element immediately asserts itself. He finds at once a great reluctance, and if pressed, this reluctance shows itself in rebellion. So long as he can do just as he likes and still fulfill the Word of God—he is pleased to do so. But when his desires are crossed, when he is required to forego them, he at once rebels. And the more God's claims are pressed upon him—the more determined does his rebellion become.
His obedience, so far as he does obey, is essentially selfish. He obeys only because it benefits him to obey. Paul, speaking to the Colossians, tells them their former state, saying, "You . . . were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works" (Colossians 1:21). To the Romans he says, "We were enemies" (Romans 5:10). Speaking of the unregenerate, he says that they are "haters of God" (Romans 1:30).
This is the verdict of God. He knows the true state of their hearts. His verdict is true and it is final. There is no element in the sinful man which is truly friendly toward God. He is everywhere pictured as a rebel, one who has defied the authority of God and is standing in open hostility to him. And this, unless he repents, will be his attitude throughout life, and through the ceaseless ages of eternity. The best unsaved man is not at heart better than this.
God's Attitude Toward the Sinner
It has been said that God hates sin, but He loves the sinner. Is this true?
Let us hear the voice of inspiration, "You hate all workers of iniquity . . . The Lord abhors murderers and deceitful men" (Psalm 5:5, 6). Does that express an attitude of affection on God's part?
Again, we read, "The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence His soul hates. On the wicked He will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot!" (Psalm 11:5-6).
"Because they did all these things, I abhorred them!" (Leviticus 20:23).
"I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you." (Leviticus 26:30).
"And when the LORD saw it, He abhorred them!" (Deuteronomy 32:19).
We read further, "God is angry with the wicked every day!" (Psalm 7:11).
God is not so meek and indulgent that nothing will arouse His indignation. He hates all that is sinful. He could not love righteousness, without hating iniquity. He could not love the righteous, without hating the wicked. To love both, would be to abolish all moral distinctions. Of the impenitent sinner it is said, "The wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). It is only sin that renders him hateful, but man is responsible for his state of sinfulness and chooses evil; therefore to deal with the sin, God must deal with the man.
Not only does God hate man's sin, every sinful word, thought, and deed—but He also hates every evil desire. The natural man loves evil. That love of evil, which is a part of his nature—God abhors. All desire that runs out after impurity or for that which is unholy—merits and excites God's indignation and abhorrence. Every evil ambition that arises in his soul, repels God. Every evil disposition, every evil feeling, hatred, envy, malice, revenge, selfishness, pride, jealousy, deceit, hypocrisy, and all the long catalog of evil things, of which man's heart is the source—are obnoxious to God. All tendency to oppose the will of God, all rebellion at His providences—can only excite hatred in God.
How often man rejects his own reason, and stifles his conscience! How often he hardens his heart! Can God love the sin in man that causes him to do this? God can love only what is what is pure and holy. All else He hates and must hate with all the strength of His righteous character.
Lost sinner, look this squarely in the face. Your self-esteem may suffer, your conscience may be troubled, your fears be aroused—but the picture is not overdrawn. Look over it again carefully. Look at yourself in the mirror of God's Word—and think what it means to have God for your enemy. Think what it will mean before the great judgment-seat, think what it will mean in eternity, and turn from your sins before the day of His righteous wrath!
God is just and can treat sin and the lost sinner only as justice demands, or at least cannot go contrary to those demands. He is also merciful and loving. God's hand of mercy is outstretched toward sinners. He invites them to come back from their wanderings, to turn away from their sins, and holds out to them the promise of a full pardon and a glorious reconciliation.
These two widely different attitudes God holds toward every sinner. So long as the lost sinner is impenitent, divine love cannot reach him, and divine mercy cannot save him. Yet as soon as the heart is softened into penitence, and turns away from self to God—a welcome awaits him, the arms of divine love enfold him, and the past is all forgiven.
How to Find God
The prodigal has wandered far—he is in a strange land. Things there, are not as they are in Father's house. As long as he is satisfied in this strange country, the charms of home appeal to him but little.
Before the lost sinner can find God he must, as the prodigal of old, come to himself. He must realize what his situation means. He must become conscious of his true state as a sinner. He must see his sins in their naked reality; and he has only to see them so, to abhor them. The pleasures of sin may satisfy for a season. His heart may have no longing after God; but when he comes to himself, he begins to think of better things. Sin loses its attraction. He begins to eat the bitter bread of remorse. He thinks of the outraged father, and there arises in his heart a desire for reconciliation. He is conscious that he has transgressed, that he has deeply wounded paternal love. He is deeply conscious of the fact that he deserves nothing better of the Father than permanent rejection. The language of his heart is, "I am no longer worthy to be called your son."
No man can ever find God, who does not first become thoroughly dissatisfied with his own condition; for so long as he is satisfied in sin—he has no desire to be reconciled to God, nor does he wish to be in God's presence. But when once he begins to abhor his sin, and to desire to be something better than he is, he instinctively turns Godward, and says, "I will arise and go to my Father!" Reconciliation with God is not hard to obtain, if there is first this turning away from sin and self. But without it there can never be peace with God. There can be no salvation, while there remains self-satisfaction or rebellion.
The difficult part in salvation, is to leave self and to gain the consent of mind and heart to begin seeking. God is not far away. We do not need to take a long journey to find him. He "is near unto those who are of a broken heart" (Psalm 34:18). Yes, he is "not far from every one of us" (Acts 17:27), and he has said, "Seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone who seeks, finds" (Luke 11:9-10).
There is, however, a way in which we must seek in order to be successful. We must not seek carelessly nor indifferently. "But if . . . you shall seek the Lord your God, you shall find him—if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 4:29).
God never hides himself from those who seek him with right desires and pure purposes. The seeker should come humbly and simply and trustingly. He should come as one who expects to find, and, having found the desire his heart, to turn back no more to his former life.
But if we desire to find God, we must seek for him where he is. The prodigal would have sought long and vainly for his father in the land wherein he was a prodigal. Knowing this, he said, "I will arise and go to my father." So, we must arise and go from the land of our sinful service, from the country of our evil master. God is not to be found there. In vain do we look for him there. He is not found in the way of earthly pleasure. So long as our hearts and affections are set upon the things of this world, so long as we seek for them—we cannot find God. It is only when we turn to him with our whole hearts and with a full purpose to serve him, that we can find him.
Sometimes people desire to be Christians, and they make up their minds that they are going to do better. That is their thought of being a Christian—just doing better. But that is not enough; there must be something more than that. How can a man who is evil, do good? Nor is it enough to join with people who are Christians, or who are professing to be Christians. We may unite with some organization of people called a church, but that of itself may not make us either better or worse. Turning over a new leaf and taking up new habits, becoming interested in church work and various benevolences—will never bring us to God.
Our souls must become hungry for him. We must desire God more than anything else, and search for him until we find him. That is one thing—we must find God. We must become his. We must have a new life, new purposes, and a new relationship with God. This demands a severance of old relations, a forsaking of old habits and life, of the old ways and desires. Do not suppose that you can find God, unless you turn to him with your whole heart, giving up once and for all, everything that displeases him. He will not be a partner with you in anything that is unholy; therefore all that is unholy must be given up.
God has said, "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon" (Isaiah 55:6-7). These are God's terms, and he will not change them. David said, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18).
God tells us the result if we seek him while we still hold onto sin. "When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen." (Isaiah 1:15).
What, then, must we do? His answer is, "Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways." (verse 16). If we will do this, the gracious promise is given, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as white as wool" (verse 18).
As long as the soul clings to one sin, it cannot find God. All must be forsaken. The old life must have "Finis!" written under it. When we fully turn from sin, then, and then only, can we turn to God. We are told to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin. If we do this, our relation to it will be the same as that of a literally dead man to the activities of this life.
God's message to lost sinners has always been that they should repent. This was the theme of the message of the Prophets, of John the Baptist, and of the Son of God when he came, as it has been the message through the ages. But what is repentance? In its practical sense as respecting the sinner, it means regret or sorrow for sin, accompanied by a turning away from sin. It means that change accompanied by or produced by real sorrow for sin—that godly sorrow which works repentance and leads to salvation.
One of the most important points involved in this subject is the direction in which repentance acts, or the object toward which it acts. Much repentance is essentially selfish in its nature. Sometimes people grow very sorry because of what they have done, when they see the effects of sin upon themselves. When they see disease brought upon their bodies and realize that they are languishing under its touch because of what they have done—then they are filled with regret. The prisoner behind the bars often is repentant, because he is suffering punishment. He is sorry for what he has done—but sorry only because of sin's effects upon himself. Sin often brings shame, and this shame is not easily borne, and often brings self-reproaches and sorrow—not because the evil was done, but because of the fruit of that evil.
All such repentance is essentially selfish. It leads to no change in the individual, in his attitude toward God—nor in God's attitude toward him. He may have wronged friends and later may come to feel very bad over having done so; he may wish that he had the opportunity to change matters and would be glad if he had not done as he did. In this case his friends are the object of his repentance.
Any effectual repentance must have God for its object. It must be directed toward him. The individual must be genuinely repentant because he has wronged God. He must look at his sins from God's standpoint, not from his own. He must consider that he has wronged God, that he has transgressed his law; and he must consider the character of God—how infinitely just and holy he is and how exceedingly wrong has been his conduct in thus breaking the holy law of that holy God. It is only when he views his sins from this standpoint that he can have any adequate idea of their deserts, and only then can he have any proper idea of his own guilt and his own need of repentance.
Repentance implies a turning away from sin with a full purpose never to repeat the sinful deeds. Anything that does not produce such a result, is not real repentance. Those who claim to have repented and still go on in their sinful ways, doing what pleases them rather than what pleases God, have never truly repented. For if one is truly sorry for sin, is truly sorry that he has grieved God—then he will once and forever turn away from doing such a thing. God says, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts." That is an essential part of repentance, and if omitted, the repentance cannot be unto salvation.
God says that the wicked shall "give back that which he has stolen" (Ezekiel 33:15). One characteristic of true repentance, is the disposition of the individual to repair the injuries that he has done to others, so far as it lies in his power. If he has stolen from another, he desires no longer to have that property in his possession. If we have taken from our fellow man by fraud or in any other way things that were his—the things are still his, and if we truly repent, we shall feel an earnest and sincere desire in our souls to restore them. Repentance that leaves the individual in possession of that which has been wrongfully obtained, is not genuine repentance; for genuine repentance wants to make right any wrong that has been done.
It takes no argument to convince anyone who really repents, that he ought to confess to those whom he has wronged and to make restitution to them to the extent of his ability and opportunity. The thousands of professors of religion who have things in their possession that are not theirs, will have a hard task getting inside the pearly gates, as they have now a hard task of convincing those who know of the facts that they are true Christians. It is not enough to be sorry that we have done wrong; we must go far enough to be thoroughly sorry that we have that which is not ours—so sorry that we will not keep it. It is just as truly natural for the penitent sinner to make his wrongs, right; and to ask the forgiveness of those wronged, and to make thorough confession—as it is for his soul to reach out after God's mercy.
Having truly repented, the soul is then upon the threshold of God's mercy and can reach out expectantly to find him.
The lost sinner is a rebel against God. He has lived in open rebellion all his sinful days. If he would find God, if he would be reconciled to him—then he must submit himself to God in whole-hearted surrender. "Submit yourselves therefore to God" (James 4:7). Self has been the king upon the throne of the heart. Self must be dethroned. All its rule must be overthrown, and its government entirely demolished. Christ must be enthroned, he must be above all and through all. His will must be law. The soul must yield true allegiance to him. It must yield glad and full obedience. He must be supreme—and the soul rejoices to have it so.
The yielding must be not only a passive submission, but an active submission. It is good if we shall say, "Not my will, but yours, be done." But this is not enough. We must dedicate ourselves to the fulfillment of his will, to the task of carrying out his will. "I delight to do your will" is the language of the submitted heart.
We are not fully surrendered, so long as we require one condition. Christ cannot be master—so long as we have any terms. Our surrender must be unconditional—or it is not real. Here is where many fail. They have their way mapped out before them, and have their ideas of just what kind of Christians they want to be, and what they want to do. That leaves them the masters—and if their terms were accepted, they would never be submissive. Some will not yield to God, lest he should call them to preach; others, lest they should have to be missionaries, leave home, testify, pray in public, or do some similar thing. Others have plans that they wish to carry out, or things which they desire to continue in—such as parties, taking part in worldly amusements, and the like.
God will let us have a form of godliness, if that is what we want—and he may let us be pretty well satisfied with it, even if we are not really surrendered; but if it is real salvation that we want, that is to be had only on condition of an unconditional surrender so far as we can understand what that means. We must throw away our maps and plans, and say: "Here I am, Lord—body, mind and soul. All I am or ever shall be—is yours unreservedly forever. Not my will, but yours, be done." This must be said, not with the lips alone, but from the heart's remotest depths. This, and this alone, is surrender. This is real submission, and this is one of the steps in finding God.
In reply to the jailer's question, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31). Faith is the hand that reaches out to God and lays hold upon him through his promises. Without faith, we cannot find God. Without faith, we cannot be saved from our sins.
There are, however, two kinds of believing, and both are necessary to our salvation. Jesus said to the Jews, "If you do not believe that I am he—you shall die in your sins" (John 8:24). Many people believe in Christ as a historical character, as a great and glorious teacher, even the Son of God; but that historical faith is not saving faith. It is, however, the ground of the other and more important faith. We "must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). Many people believe in Christ notionally, who never receive him as their Savior. We must not only believe in him notionally, but confidently rely upon him for our salvation, trusting him to forgive our sins and make us all that he has promised to make us.
He has said, "the one who comes to me, I will never cast out" (John 6:37). Is this true—or is it false? If it is true, then it is true for you, and for everyone else who will come to him in the way of his truth. His promise is, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). Is this true? If it is true for anyone, it is true for you. But until you do believe it, that is, until you accept it not only as being true, but as being true for you, it will count nothing. But when you do so accept it, it will count all, and you will find that your soul reaches out and finds God true and knows him for itself.
Belief brings assurance. Peter said, "We believe and are sure" (John 6:69). Effectual faith, that is, faith that reaches out and appropriates God's promises for salvation—brings to the heart a knowledge of the forgiveness of sin. We are not left to uncertainty as some suppose. John says, "He who believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10). What is this witness? Paul tells us in Galatians 4:6, "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father." The work of the Spirit in witnessing is stated in Romans 8:16, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God."
The Christian has a twofold witness of his acceptance with God.
First, this witness of the Spirit, who testifies to him of his acceptance. This is the voice of God himself to the soul. It speaks in the believer's inner consciousness in language that cannot be misunderstood. He knows that he is God's child. He realizes from the testimony of that sacred Spirit, that the work of God has been wrought and that he is now a child of the divine Father. He is no more a rebel, but a son.
Secondly, there is that inner consciousness known and realized as any other definite fact of the human experience. He knows that he is no more what he once was; he knows that he is no longer a rebel against God, but is at peace with him. He no longer feels the guilt of his sin. He is conscious that a great change has taken place. Everyone who truly becomes a Christian, has this inner consciousness that he is God's child. This is a sure product of saving grace.
John was very positive in his knowledge and assertion on this point. He said, "We know that we have passed from death unto life" (1 John 3:14). Again, he says, "We know that we are" (1 John 5:19). In every case, however, saving faith must precede assurance.
The Bible does not observe the hair-splitting methods and fine theological distinctions of either modern or ancient theologians. These methods may be necessary to philosophic study; but when we interpret the Bible by them, we narrow it down and lose its real significance. It speaks many times in broad generalizations. Often the thing meant is broader than the term used. Sometimes part is put for all, sometimes all is put for part; and we have need to use our judgment and intelligence most carefully in order to arrive at the true meaning.
This is true of the subject of Regeneration. For the work of God's grace in saving the lost sinner from his guilt, there are many terms, most of which respectively apply strictly to only one particular phase of the work, but which, because of their necessary connection in operation and in time with other parts of the work, are used to represent the whole. As instances of this the following may be noted:
Redemption: "You know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things . . . but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Forgiveness: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins" (1 John 1:9).
The new birth: "You must be born again" (John 3:7). "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (verse 6).
Reconciliation: "God who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:18). Isaiah thus expresses this reconciliation: "Though you were angry with me, your anger is turned away, and you comfort me" (chapter 12:1).
Adoption: "That we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:5). We "received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15).
All these are but differing phases of the one great work of divine salvation. By this means we are brought near unto God. We are made his dear children; we partake of his Spirit, of his love, of his goodness, and we rejoice in him with "joy unspeakable and full of glory."
Of all the wonderful and gracious promises of God, none are more wonderful nor more gracious, than his promise of FATHERHOOD. "Therefore come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:17, 18). John says, "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1).
What infinite condescension that God should permit us who were once so sinful and vile—to bear his name, to be called the sons of God, and not simply to be called the sons of God, but actually to be such, for John says in the next verse, "Now we are the sons of God." Jesus said to the wicked Pharisees, "You are of your father the devil" (John 8:44); but "now we are the sons of God." What a marvelous change! How glorious the thought—the sons of the Most High God! And now that we are sons, we can say in the language of our Lord, "Our Father in Heaven." This is then to us not mere words, but the outpouring of our hearts, the answering of our spirits to his.
Have you not heard prayers beginning somewhat as follows: "All wise and Almighty God, maker of Heaven and earth"? We may speak to God in such formal language, but we can never draw close to him in this way. The great God, the Creator, the Mighty One who inhabits Eternity, he who stretched out the heavens and placed their galaxies, he whose splendor and majesty are too great for human vision—what can we do before such a one but fall down in awe and fear. It is not such a one that we can love, in whose presence we can come with rejoicing and to whom we can make known our petitions. But it is to "our Father in Heaven" that we can come, before whom we can bow and up into whose face we can look and make known our needs. It is he whom we can love; it is he to whom we may come boldly in every time of need, to receive help and grace and mercy.
When a king sits upon the throne, who may approach him familiarly? All must recognize his majesty and his honor; but when he comes down off the throne and goes into the nursery, the children may play about his knees and climb upon his lap and put their arms about his neck and caress him and receive his caresses in return. To them, he is not the King, he is not His Majesty—he is Father. Such, God would be to you and me. He wants to be our Father; he will be our Father; he is our Father. He wants to bestow upon us all the affection and tenderness that a father feels for his dear children.
This is the relation into which we are brought when we become his sons. All the riches of his love will he lavish upon us—all the tenderness of his fatherly affection. We may approach him with the utmost confidence and the utmost freedom. He loves for us to pour out our hearts in tender devotion to him. He loves to know what troubles us. He loves to minister comfort and help to us in all our needs.
Can our hearts today say "Our Father" instead of "Almighty God"? He is the Almighty God, and as such we reverence and adore and fear him. But he is still our Father and we draw near, forgetting his majesty and greatness, in the realization of his loving-kindness. "I will be a father unto you," he said. Whatever he may be to others, whatever terrors his presence may inspire in them, whatever fears they may have—it shall not be so with us, for he is our Father, and we are the children of his love.
THE NEW HEART
"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
The heart of the lost sinner is truly stony, and especially in its attitude toward God. How often the same is true in regard to its attitude toward man's fellow creatures. The story of this world is largely made up of what has been termed "man's inhumanity to man"—unspeakable cruelties bring oceans of tears, hatred of God and of his creatures. Yes, man's heart is naturally a stony heart. But God promises here to take away that stony heart and give a heart of flesh—even a new heart. What a change this expresses! Out of the natural heart, flows a stream of vile and degrading wickedness. It is a very fountain of iniquity. As Jeremiah declares, "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" (Jeremiah 17:9). But regeneration changes all this, and God gives, as he has promised, a heart of flesh.
Jesus said, "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him." (Matthew 12:35). According to this, the difference between a good man and an evil man, is in the condition of his heart. A good man's heart is like a treasure-house filled with good things, which he brings out in the acts of his life. Whereas of the evil man, the opposite is true: he has an evil heart, out of which flows an evil life. "But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart—and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander" (chapter 15:18-19).
In order for the evil man to become good, there must of necessity be a change in the condition of his heart. And so the Lord said, "I will give you a new heart." This signifies an entire renovation of the heart—a new creation, as it were, in Christ Jesus. Out of this new heart, flows new life. Instead of impurity, there comes forth purity. Instead of hatred for God, there is love of God and of all that is holy. The new heart is the heart of pity, kindness, compassion, and sympathy. The old hard feelings are gone, the old cruelties are now no more; and there comes into the life a tenderness and a gentleness never known there before. The whole aspect of the life is altered, because he is altered. He no longer loves anything that is evil—instead he loves that which is good, pure, holy, noble, and uplifting. His desires are to do right, to please God, and to be a real example of his grace before his fellows.
This same truth Jesus set forth when he said that a good tree could not bring forth corrupt fruit. If the life that flows from our hearts when we profess to be Christians is not a pure, godly, virtuous life—it is because there has not been a cleansing of that inner fountain. In vain do we try to live right—until we are made right; but when we are once cleansed within, when once the fountain of our heart is purified—we can then live "soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:12).
God dwells in that new heart. It is the place of his sanctuary—the place in which he delights to manifest himself, and out from which he speaks through our tongues, and looks in kindness through our eyes, and spreads forth his hand through us—in pity and compassion and helpfulness. Of us then it may be said, "It is God who works in you." Without this change of heart, there may be morality, but there can never be Christianity.
THE NEW LIFE
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18). According to this text, all things in the new life are from God; that is, they are wrought in righteousness. We cannot live partly for God—and partly for self and Satan. The life must bear one complexion throughout. God looks upon it as a whole—and expects us to live it as a whole for him. He will accept nothing else. He has said that we are either for him or against him. He said that we cannot serve two masters, for we shall either love one and hate the other or cleave to one and despise the other. If we truly love God and are truly living for him—our lives will be godly.
Scripture says, "Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God." (1 John 3:7-10)
Our sinning or not sinning shows to which master we belong. Therefore if we are truly Christ's—then the practice of sin is not seen in our lives, but we delight to do his will. We delight in that which is right and just and noble. People looking upon us can be able to say with real conviction, that Christ lives in us.
The distinction between the Christian and the lost person is neither superficial nor imaginary, but reaches to the utmost depths of the heart and life. The line of separation is clear-cut and absolute. It is not simply a difference of profession, or of acts, or of association, nor even of character. It is more than all this; it is the possession of a new life divinely implanted—a new life that controls and actuates the being!
NEW IDEALS AND PURPOSES
When the heart is changed from sin to grace, the old ideals give place to new and better ones. The old purposes cease to sway us. Instead of being essentially selfish and living for our own pleasure, we begin to seek God's pleasure and earnestly to desire to do his will—that which pleases him. Whatever may have been our ideals before, they are now much exalted and must be so to be compatible with our new state. Jesus becomes the ideal of our life, and it is our earnest desire that those qualities and characteristics which are manifested in him may be manifested in us. We abhor that which is crude and debasing, and we reach out to that which is high and noble. These new ideals and purposes dominate our life, and make it one which pleases God.
EFFECT ON MORAL ATTRIBUTES AND FACULTIES
The effect of regeneration upon man's moral attributes and faculties, is most profound. It amounts to an entire transformation. His conscience, his will, his perceptions and sensibilities—are all revolutionized. His faculties are quickened and changed. He finds himself different in a thousand ways, and these differences show to him that he is indeed a new creature.
The CONSCIENCE of the lost sinner is defiled. "But unto those who are defiled and unbelieving, there is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled" (Titus 1:15). Paul, speaking on this point, says that they have "their conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:2).
This state of the conscience, however, need not be permanent. No matter how defiled it may have become, no matter how unclean, no matter how scarred, when the soul turns to God there is a remedy, "How much more shall the blood of Christ . . . purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:14). Again, it is said, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" (chapter 10:22).
The result of this purification through the blood of Christ is told in Hebrews 10:2, "Because the worshipers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." When our iniquities are blotted out, the guilt upon our conscience is removed and we are free. We are before the Lord as though we had never committed sin—so far as any sense of present guilt is concerned. We are brought into a blessed state of peace, which is thus expressed: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
This state may be maintained. Paul said, "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24:16). Among other things which we are to do, is to hold "the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" (1 Timothy 3:9). There is nothing that can give us more inward satisfaction, than a conscience void of offense, one that approves our conduct and our state. Nothing can be more harassing, than the stings of a defiled conscience.
God has promised us that we should have his peace, and we can have this peace only as we have a peaceful conscience. This is the Christian's heritage; this is his glorious portion. We can so maintain our lives before God, that we shall have the approval of our consciences and a continued realization that the things we are doing are done with the single purpose of pleasing God. We can be conscious that we are following him as his dear children, and yielding our all to him. This inner sense of a peaceful conscience, is indeed a joy and satisfaction.
The lost sinner is fully bent on doing as he pleases, in following out his own purposes and desires. He does not take God into his consideration. He asks only, "What do I wish to do?" He feels that he is master of himself. He gives allegiance to none. SELF sits upon the throne of his life and rules there.
In regeneration, all this is changed. The will submits to God. It takes its orders from him, as it were. The regenerated person yields his will to carry out the purpose of his Maker. This yielding is not forced—it is willing and ready. The regenerated will delights to do the will of God, delights to carry out his purpose. That love which is from above "seeks not her own." Instead of opposing God, the will actively cooperates with him. The one-time rebel—has become a dutiful and obedient son.
The MORAL PERCEPTIONS are also now greatly changed. We see things in a new light. Instead of seeing in God qualities that make us fear him and dread him and shrink from contact with him—we see those things which attract us and draw out our love to ward him. God becomes, as it were, a new God. We find him entirely different from what we supposed him to be. We find his attitude toward us to be far different from what it seemed to be. His love, which we never really knew before—becomes a glorious reality to us. His Word becomes as a new book—and we read it eagerly and enjoy it greatly. Our perception of moral qualities in actions, is also very different from what it was before. It once was abnormal. We looked at things through the obscurity of our sinfulness. But now we see things face to face. We see them in their true colors, in their true perspective.
Our SENSIBILITIES, too, are vitally changed. There is, in fact, an entire reversal of the causes which excite our sensibilities—the effect upon our feelings of things involving moral questions being quite the opposite of what it was before. Sinful things now repel, instead of attracting us. They excite our disgust and disapproval, instead of producing in us a sense of pleasure. The company of our former wicked associates, brings to us now a feeling far different from what it did before. The things of the world have lost their charm. We are strongly drawn to holy things. Contemplation of God and our relation to him, instead of causing feelings of fear and distress—stir emotions of joy and thankfulness. New emotions arise and are sometimes very powerful. Spiritual joy, peace, contentment and satisfaction—unite to uplift the soul to new heights.
Different people have different emotions, depending upon their natural temperaments. There is a wide variation even in the same person at different times. Emotion is not salvation or any part of it—but it accompanies the work of God in us, and follows in the life. We are profoundly conscious of the reversal of the effect of outside things upon our emotions. This is the most important thing in regard to them in our new life. In this particular, they become an evidence of the change wrought in us. This subject will be treated more at length in a following chapter.
Our NATURAL FACULTIES also are vitally affected. In the sinful life, we may reverence God in a way—but not as when we are saved. We might worship him in form as we see others doing—but we cannot worship him in spirit and in truth, until our hearts are in harmony with him. In the new life, we need no command to praise him or to worship him, for it is natural to do so. Praise flows from our hearts unto him—as water from a fountain; and the flow is quickened by every consideration of his goodness to us. The contemplation of his holy being and character arouses a reverence in us, that we could never have felt before. The wisdom and justice of his Word, excite our highest admiration.
FAITH is another thing that is profoundly affected. It passes from the passive to the active state in the individual, and not only so, but it is greatly increased in degree. As lost sinners we may believe in God; but when we are converted, when we become God's children—our faith is active then, and we trust, we rely in him and believe him, and this faith brings us into and keeps us in vital relation with him.
The lost sinner is pictured as being without HOPE and without God in the world. He has nothing but false hopes to look forward to. Gospel hope brings him no blessings from the spiritual realm. He looks forward to the future, and all is dark and disappointing. He has no foundation for hope.
But with a Christian, it is quite different. Hope is born anew in him. Hope looks forward and sees its pathway illuminated with a heavenly light. It looks beyond this life, and sees the future glorious with expectation.
The Christian's hope is based upon a sure foundation. He knows that he will not be disappointed. He knows that hope reaches within the veil, and grasps hold of that which God has in store for him in the years of eternity. The Christian has hope in his present life—and also in his death and in God's glorious kingdom of Heaven. No wonder that Paul spoke of hope as being the "anchor of the soul."
The lost sinner has no anchor for his soul. He is tossed about wherever the storms of life may throw him—while the Christian rests serene and calm and untroubled in his sure hope of eternal life.
The faculty of LOVE also is greatly changed, or manifests itself in a greatly different way. The lost sinner does not and cannot really love God. He may have an admiration for the character of God and for the laws of God, but this can never rise to genuine love. He may love himself; he may love his friends and the things about him; he may love and does love his sins, or he would not persist in them.
This selfish love and the love of sin must be destroyed out of the heart, and is destroyed in regeneration. The new-born soul loves God. He knows not when he began or how it is—but he feels his heart drawn out in tenderest love toward God. His capacity to love seems to be increased, and all its strength seems to go out toward God. Not that he does not love those about him nor the things that are lovely; he still loves these, but he loves them as they ought to be loved, and he loves God more than they all. "We love him—because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19), and a contemplation of his love for us, begets more and more love toward him in return.
Our sense of JUSTICE is likewise greatly affected. If we are treated unfairly—we no longer feel vindictive. We no longer feel disposed to take vengeance on those who do us ill, but rather to say, like Jesus, "Father, forgive them—for they know not what they do." The disposition to enforce our rights by carnal means is taken away. We are willing to let God rule in our lives and rule in the things that concern us.
Hatred, bitterness, envy, malice and all such things have their end—and in their stead come kindness and mercy and justice.
Self-esteem, pride, haughtiness, arrogance, and all such things— give way to meekness, quietness, and consideration of others. We learn to treat by the same standard by which we value ourselves.
EFFECTS ON MENTAL CONSTITUTION
The effect of regeneration on man's mental constitution is important. Not only is his mental point of view changed, but the general course of his thoughts run in a different direction! When we are in the valley of sin, the prospect is quite different from what it is when we are on the mountain-top of salvation. Things do not appear the same to us as they did before. Our horizon is widened, and we view things more truly in their relationship to other things.
The mind is often strongly affected by the general course of the sinful life. It runs in the channels of sin and upon the things of sin. It delights in the things of the world and of sin.
The converted person thinks rather of the things of God and of the things that are pure and noble and uplifting. His thoughts are turned into new channels and upon new objects. The Holy Spirit illuminates his mind, so that many things that were once dark and mysterious, now seem plain and clear. He understands the Bible as he could not understand it before. He understands God—and he understands himself. He sees them in a new light. His understanding may be only partial; he may not understand clearly; but things appear quite different from what they did before.
The effect on his REASONING faculties is very marked. He is now in a position where God can reveal to him through his Spirit, many truths wholly unknown before, and his reason is quickened so that he may readily understand the substance of many things that he did not know before and that he could not understand even when he heard others speak of them. The problems of life have a new meaning to him, and one by one he finds their solution. He finds the laws and purposes of God such as to excite the admiration of his reason and to lead it on to deeper and deeper understanding.
Lost sinners have deified reason and bowed down to and worshiped it—but man's unaided reason is not a safe guide. Too often it has led him astray into bogs from which he could not easily make his way.
Reason, under the direction of the Spirit of God, finds its way into the path of truth and rejoices therein.
We may well say that the whole course of man's thoughts, so far as they relate to moral things, is changed. He thinks now as a son of God; he thinks now with his reason illuminated. He delights to have his mind dwell on that which is right and just and noble and good, that which will bless him and his fellows, and that which will please and honor his God.
EFFECTS ON THE PHYSICAL BEING
The effect of regeneration on man's physical being must of necessity be less than that on the other parts of his being. Its greatest physical effects are probably obtained through the cessation of injurious habits that the person followed in his sinful days.
His bodily functions are not affected by regeneration. They are necessary to his being; they are parts, as it were, of his physical being. It does, however, oftentimes have a profound effect upon his appetites, especially such as are acquired and unnatural. In most instances the appetite for intoxicating liquors disappears as if by magic. The same is often true of the appetite for tobacco and narcotic drugs and other unnatural things.
However, experiences are not always uniform in this regard. But in all cases where the appetite leads to sinfulness—the grace of God will be found sufficient to overcome it, God himself intervening usually to destroy the unnatural appetite.
The effect on natural appetites is less marked. In fact, these are left to be controlled by the mental and moral constitution of man, according to wisdom and to will.
The least that we can say of the work of God in the human nature and being is that it brings us into a place where we can serve God in holiness and righteousness, in a manner that is acceptable to him and glorifying to his name. We should stop nothing short of this, for nothing short of this will enable us to live a real Christian life.
The Christian Life
BABES IN CHRIST
We must not expect to come into the Christian life in a mature state. This is indicated by the figure of being born. We are at first immature in all our spiritual faculties. In the same way, we initially comprehend the things in the kingdom of God with the comprehension of a child and not with that of an adult. Our knowledge at best, is only fragmentary. Of experience, we have nothing at all. Since we have no data from which to draw our conclusions, our views and conclusions will often be imperfect. We may hear others talk and see them act in a way that seems not to correspond to our views. Their more developed reason, may make things appear differently to them from what they now appear to us, and things will later appear to us quite differently in many respects from what they do now.
Then, also, we know and understand little of God in the beginning. We must be patient. We must be willing to learn. We must be willing to be taught. We must be willing to grow and develop according to the laws of spiritual development. If we try to hurry things too much, we shall only do ourselves injury. All we need to do is just to live normally, to live and trust and serve God, letting him take care of the growth, not taking thought about it nor worrying over it, but letting it be in his hands—and concerning ourselves with the affairs of life that belong to us.
In the natural life the child is subject to many dangers to which an adult is not subject. The same is true in the spiritual life. One of these dangers is that we shall overestimate our strength, shall suppose we can resist temptation, and therefore we may become careless and go into the way of temptation and at last find ourselves entrapped! The Lord taught us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation." The babe in Christ often has need to pray that prayer and to watch lest he does himself enter into temptation. By their unwisdom, people often bring serious temptations upon themselves—temptations that too often they are unable to overcome.
It is wise to keep on the safe side—to keep where we shall not be tempted above our strength. God will help us to overcome those temptations that cannot be avoided; he will see to it that we have grace to meet these, if we will trust him. But if we throw ourselves into a position to be tempted—then we may have too great a battle and instead of being victorious, be vanquished.
Another danger to which young converts are exposed is their liability to be overconfident and undertake things too great for them, things which only more mature Christians can accomplish. When such is the case and they fail in their undertaking—the result is often serious discouragement. Many battles have to be fought, because they reach out too far. It is best to wait on God and let him direct our undertakings. It is best to be sufficiently modest not to push ourselves forward, especially beyond those who are older in experience in the Christian life.
Young converts often have more zeal than wisdom, and this zeal often carries them into things which end sadly, unless they are careful and unless they are willing to receive and heed advice and counsel. They are too often prone to estimate too highly, their own judgments and wisdom—and therefore not to value as they should the wisdom and the guidance of older Christians. The best advice that can be given such an individual is to "make haste slowly."
Another danger is that of becoming exalted, or proud of one's own self, one's abilities, and one's accomplishments. What we do seems to be greater than what others do. We are so likely to place too high a value upon it. This is true especially of the inexperienced beginner. This pride of self is very destructive of spirituality. We cannot prosper if we give place to it, and sooner or later we shall find ourselves far away from God. The wise man said, "Before honor is humility" (Proverbs 15:33). We should therefore, as beginners be willing to do the little things, and to fill a small place until we grow up to man's stature. Then and then alone, can we do a man's work.
Still another danger of the young convert is that of being deceived by false doctrines. His judgment is immature, but he often does not realize it, but feels himself capable of determining the truth or falsity of almost anything he hears, and that oftentimes with very little investigation. I have known scores of young converts who started out well, seemed spiritual, seemed to love God—but who, because of negligence in this regard, were led into false doctrines from which they never escaped or from which they escaped at last after much difficulty and with much loss to their spirituality. The Bible says, "Take heed that no man deceive you" (Matthew 24:4), and this is wise advice to every beginner in the Christian race. Prove all things and hold fast only to that which you are assured is the truth and that which other spiritual Christians accept.
There is also much danger of being led into something that will destroy spirituality. Frivolous and foolish conversation, worldly amusements, too much of the society of worldly people, or anything of this sort—is likely to dull the spiritual sensibilities, and to draw the heart away from God. Satan has many traps for the young convert's feet, and the believer will do well to carefully watch his path and follow only those things which will tend to uplift and make him holier. He must carefully cultivate the tender plants of God's planting in his soul, lest they should die from inattention.
Another thing of which the babe in Christ must beware is placing too much confidence in those who may not be worthy of his confidence. There are many who have a form of godliness, even many who pose as teachers and preachers, whose private lives are not worthy. There are some who wear the garb of religion who would gladly lead him astray. There are others who are deceived themselves and would lead him into their error. Let him remember . . .
that he is but a babe;
that he must watch his steps carefully;
that he must keep close to God;
that he must trust in him for all things; and
that only by this means can he develop into a strong, useful, Christian man.
WHY SOME ARE MORE GODLY THAN OTHERS
It is a fact commonly observed, that some Christians are more holy than others. This is true even from the beginning of their Christian life. The difference may be due to a number of things, but the most important cause for anyone's experiencing a lack of that abundance of grace all should have, is no doubt found in the fact that he fails to yield himself to God as fully as he should.
This, of course, does not imply a refusal to yield fully, for that would be rebellion; and the soul could not be saved at all under such conditions. But in most instances it is undoubtedly due to the fact that the person does not comprehend the meaning and the necessity of complete surrender. He goes as far as he can see, and stops there, even though there are great fields of his nature that are as yet not fully yielded. Should rebellion spring from any of these, it would prove fatal to his soul life. When a question arises that involves this unyielded territory, he must immediately make a decision. He must either yield to God's will, or become a rebel. He cannot consciously refuse to conform himself to the will of God, without grieving the Holy Spirit.
A full and complete yielding of ourselves opens wide the channel of grace, and then grace flows into our hearts in abundance. Any reluctance on our part, therefore, to submit to the whole will of God, obstructs the channel of grace, and results in a lack of spirituality in our lives. The Spirit works freely where there are no hindrances. Self-surrender is the hardest, but most necessary thing. The more complete that surrender is—the more perfect is the working of God in the soul, and the more Christlike we become.
It is not enough to surrender ourselves to God initially; but surrender must also be maintained. We must carefully guard ourselves lest we permit the channel of grace to become obstructed. It may become obstructed at any time and in a great variety of ways. Self is liable to assert itself; and since it is possible at any time for us to withdraw our submission to God, no matter how spiritual we may have been or how much God may have worked in us—we must therefore be on our guard. We are so constituted that we naturally like our own ways; and if we are not careful, we shall unconsciously choose our ways in preference to God's ways. Doing so, cannot but react upon our spirituality.
Some are more holy than others, because they exercise more diligence in their endeavor to conform themselves more perfectly to the will of God. Some grow very careless in this respect, and just drift along any way. They take it for granted that they are the Lord's. They seem little concerned about becoming more perfectly his, or about conforming themselves more perfectly to him. They allow their attention to be taken up by the daily round of duties, by business affairs, by the ordinary things of life; and they give little thought to their drawing nearer to God. They, therefore, make little progress in the divine life.
Many people are now not as spiritual as they were when they first began the Christian life. They have professed for years; but today they bear less of the fruits of the Spirit than they bore years ago. They have less of earnestness and power, and experience fewer of the manifestations of God's grace. Their zeal and their love have grown cold.
What is the trouble? Is not the grace of God able to cause them to abound in all these qualities? It is not God's fault if they are not prospering—it is their own, because they have let the channel of grace be filled up. Keep open this channel in your soul. Seek day by day to get closer to God and to conform yourself more perfectly to him—then you may increase and develop, and be enriched in God. The keynote of spirituality is ever and always self-surrender.
THE RETENTION OF GRACE
In order to retain natural life, we must conform to the laws of life. We cannot violate them without reaping the consequences. The principle here involved, is as truly applicable to our spiritual life. There are certain laws we must obey, or spiritual decline will ensue. Grace can be retained, only by one's living a holy life. Sin is fatal to spiritual life.
Now, what is the true standard of the justified life? John says, "Whoever is born of God, does not commit sin" (1 John 3:9). To be justified means to be accounted free from guilt, or innocent. Is one who commits sins free from guilt, or innocent?
Let us now hear the voice of inspiration: "That they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things. For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:10-12). Again: "That he would grant unto us that we . . . might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life" (Luke 1:74-75).
God does not place the standard of right living higher than he will help us to live up to, if we trust him and use the grace he offers us.
We should avoid the idealism that represents the Christian life as accompanied with a cloudless sky and most blissful emotions. Such idealism is incapable of being translated into life. The Bible is essentially practical. It raises no such standard. Life in no condition is always cloudless, nor are the emotions always joyous. Life is made up of sunshine and clouds—of joys and sorrows. There will be tears and sighs—as well as joys and smiles. There will be temptations and trials—as well as victories and exultations.
We should, however, avoid the extreme of presenting life as being a series of dark and sinful days, or as being composed mostly of shortcomings. It is not such. The normal life of a regenerated person is one in which God reigns, and in which grace to live above sin abounds. This life will not be without its temptations, its perplexities, its cares, and its disappointments. Its pathway will sometimes be rugged and thorny. But God will ever uphold us and give us grace to be obedient to him, if we trust him.
No man is compelled to sin. If he sins, it is because he chooses to do so. And when he sins, the relation of his soul to God is changed. His conscience accuses him; he knows that he has done wrong, and he knows what he has done. His peace and joy are gone. A cloud is between him and God. It is true that if he will repent, God will be merciful and will restore him; but God does not expect him to disobey over and over again. He expects us to live right; and we can do so, if we will. Those who plead for sin, dishonor both themselves and God. The language of the regenerate heart is, "I delight to do your will, O God." Can we even conceive of one's holding such an attitude toward God and his law, and then breaking that law continually? If we will be God's, we must strive to live above sin—and this we can only do by his grace.
How to Walk to Please God
Sometimes people think that the Lord is a hard master. They are ready to say, like the servant, in the parable of the Pounds, "I feared you, because you are an austere man" (Luke 19:21). The motive of the service of such people is fear, not love. They serve God because they are afraid punishment will come upon them if they do not. They look at the results of not doing, instead of looking at the results of doing. Their religion is a negative thing, and can have little of joy in it. Their service is a forced service, and not really and truly a willing service. If they do not serve God—then Hell will be their doom; therefore they try to do that which is right or which they think to be right.
God is not a hard master. His requirements are all reasonable. Thus says Micah: "What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). Is there any hardship in that? Is there anything we cannot gladly do?
No, God is not a hard master; he is a God of loving-kindness and of tender mercy. Paul calls our service to him a "reasonable service." God is always just; he is always kind; he always makes all the allowance that he ought to make for us. If we are weak—then he will strengthen us. If we are ignorant—then he will give us of his wisdom. If we grow faint—then he will uphold us. If he is kind to the unthankful and the evil—then how much more so will he be to those who love him and try earnestly to serve him. He is not hard to please, and if we really try to please him, we shall not only succeed, but have the testimony of his Spirit in our hearts that he is well pleased with us.
He can be pleased only with that which is right. He hates iniquity; he hates every evil thing, and can find no pleasure whatever in such. If, then, we would please him—we must depart from evil. We must shut it out of our lives. We must allow none of our conduct to be evil. God is pleased with that which is good and all that is good. In order to please him, therefore—we have only to do that which is good and right.
Some people think that the Christian life is an unnatural and hard life; they seem to think that we must put ourselves in a sort of strait-jacket and live a life of bondage. They look at the negative aspect of the life and think that the life of the Christian consists in not doing and not being and not feeling and not thinking this, that and the other. They feel that they must shut themselves off from that which they naturally desire. This is looking at things from the wrong angle. The Christian life is a positive life; it consists in doing and being. It is not an unnatural or forced life; it is not a strained life. It is not a life in which we have to repress all our normal desires. On the contrary, it is a life wherein our desires are brought into conformity to the will of God so that we can carry out these desires in a natural and normal and holy way, and find in carrying them out our truest pleasure and God's greatest glory.
The Christian life is not a repression of desire. It is the transformation of desire, so that our desires become holy desires and our purposes become holy purposes. If we try to live as Christians without this transformation, we shall have a hard and irksome task. That is why so many professors say they have such a "hard row to hoe." The reason why they find little or no joy in Christian service is because their lives have not been transformed by the power of God. Their life is lived wholly in their own power. It is thus an unnatural and powerless life, one beset with many difficulties, and one which cannot be a real Christian life, but at best can only be a cold formality.
The Christian life is a life full of warmth and strength and beauty. The law of that life, is love. We are to walk in love. To do this we must lay aside all selfish purposes. This is not hard if we really love. That is the question—Do we really love?
Christ is our example in pleasing God. He said, "I always do those things that please him" (John 8:29). Why did he do this? and how was he able to do this? It was because he loved the Father with a pure and tender love; it was because he loved the things that the Father loved. The basis of all acceptable service is love.
Jesus thus stated the foundation of God's law: "He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he who loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He who loves me not, keeps not my sayings" (John 14:21, 23, 24). If we love, we will serve, not because we must, but because we love. The only compulsion is the compulsion of love, and that, after all, is the strongest of all compulsion.
If we love God, we desire with all our hearts and with all our strength to please him. We shall seek throughout our lives to conform to his will in all the details and in all the aspects of our lives. It is not hard for love to serve; in fact, love finds its greatest delight in service. It is true that there is self-denial in service—but to genuine love, self-denial is not bitter, but sweet. How gladly we lay ourselves out for those whom we love! and how sweet is the approval thus gained! The early Christians "took joyfully the confiscation of their goods." They bore persecution of the bitterest kind and rejoiced. Why could they do this? Because they loved.
The power of love is illustrated by the following incident: "A minister who was ill was lying on a couch one day while his little girl played around the room in her childish way. Presently he said to her, "Daughter, will you bring Papa a drink?" She went on with her playing as though she had not heard him. He repeated his request. She was all absorbed in her play, and said, "Oh, I don't want to." Her father said, "I thought you loved Papa." Instantly she dropped her playthings, her face lighted up, and she started, saying, "Oh, yes, Papa, I'll go, I'll go"; and quickly she ran and brought the desired drink. When her love was appealed to, her response was immediate. So God appeals to our love, and if that love is genuine, our response to him will be ready.
The contemplation of God's love and goodness, is the strongest possible incentive to live holy. We love him—because he first loved us and gave himself for us. When we behold how good and how kind he has been through all our lives, how he has borne with our evil ways and not cut us off—when we view all this, how strongly are we impelled to serve him, and how easy his service becomes! We do not wish to wound those whom we truly love.
We may find many things in the Christian life that are hard to do with our own strength, but we do not have to trust to our strength alone. Paul, who had learned the secret of Christian life, says, "Nevertheless I live—yet not I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Ah, that is the great secret of the life! That is what makes it easy, that is what makes it joyful, that is what makes it glorious—Christ lives in us! Again, it is said, "It is God who works in you" (Philippians 2:13). The secret of a victorious life, is submitting to him that his will may be wrought in us; and not only submitting, but throwing our will actively with his, causing his will to be accomplished.
Too many people try to live the Christian life without first becoming Christians. They take upon themselves a profession of religion, but they do not have Christ in their hearts. Their service is all a human service, and consequently it fails and comes short and is inadequate. Throw open your heart's door. Let Christ come in to reign. When he is the power that works in you—then you can live the kind of life that will please him. To try in your own strength, is but to fail. To succeed, you must needs have his power joined with your power.
For a year and a half the writer tried to be a Christian before he really became a Christian. It was his heart's true purpose to serve God and do right, but alas, how often he came short! Alas, how often he was involved in sin! Sometimes he felt that it was not worth trying anymore, that only failure awaited him. At last he threw himself upon the mercy of God and received Jesus Christ into his life. What an unspeakably glorious change was wrought! He could now live—Christ could live in him; and for more than twenty-five years he has proved the Christian life to be an easy, a natural, and a happy life filled with the glory and grace of God. Christ broke the gravitation earthward and established a gravitation heavenward. From that time forward, service was delightful, and it has been his joy to follow Christ, and he knows what it is from personal experience to have the testimony of the Spirit of God in his heart that God is well pleased with him. He is not an isolated example. There are tens of thousands who know this in their own lives and hearts. They live this kind of life and have this kind of testimony. In fact, such is the outcome of a true Christian experience. If service is hard, it is from a lack of love. If service is imperfect, it is from a lack of love. Therefore let us love that we may serve, and serve because we love.
Adorning the Doctrine
In Titus 2:10 we read, "That they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things." The doctrine of God as revealed in the New Testament is a glorious system of truth. His law is noble and holy—and one that excites our admiration. When it is preached, it draws men unto it and unto God. Even in the worst of men, there is something that approves it. It is strikingly beautiful and noble. It has a grandeur all its own. The problem of the Christian is to translate it from words—into deeds and life and character. When this is done, the gospel is seen to be a practical reality, and not a lofty and impossible standard.
Our lives are to adorn the gospel in all things. To adorn means to ornament, to beautify. Only that which is beautiful and attractive can adorn; hence if we adorn the doctrine of Christ—then we must be attractive and beautiful in character and life. But can our lives and characters be such as to adorn the doctrine? God has promised to "beautify the meek with salvation" (Psalm 149:4). In Psalm 29:2 we are told to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness."
In the sight of the Lord, therefore, holiness is beautiful. It is also beautiful in the sight of men when they look at it with unprejudiced eyes. Sin, on the other hand, is unlovely and defiling in all its aspects. There is nothing in it to adorn the life or the character. It is ruinous. "Sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34).
Only when we are made holy, can we adorn the doctrine of Jesus Christ our Savior. Only when we are made partakers of the divine nature and have in us the beauty of the Son of God, can we shine so as to adorn the doctrine as jewels. Speaking of his children, the Lord said, "And they shall be mine, says the Lord of host, in that day when I make up my jewels" (Malachi 3:17). Speaking of his people collectively as his bride, the Lord says, "And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Revelation 19:8). This shows a condition in which his people must be, in order to adorn his doctrine. Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven" (Matthew 5:16). It is this way that we adorn the doctrine. The doctrine teaches such good works, and when those good works are seen in our lives—it reacts to the glory of the doctrine and to him who gave the doctrine.
If we desired to adorn ourselves, we should not put on old rags, or lumps of clay over our clothing, nor put on anything that was repellent. We know very well that such would attract no one. We would not smear our faces with soot or dirty grease, to render ourselves attractive. How ashamed the housewife feels when visitors come and find her children with dirty hands and faces and clothes ragged and unclean! As these things destroy attractiveness—so does sinful conduct. One who professes to be a Christian and yet whose life and character are not Christ-like cannot adorn the doctrine. Unkindness in a person does not attract us to him nor to his religion. Untruthfulness or insincerity is not only a blot on his own character and life—but a blot on his religion if he professes to be a Christian. To be harsh or rude or unreasonable, to be selfish or self-willed, or to be proud—is to dishonor God instead of honoring him.
Sometimes people are hard to please. Do as you will, you cannot satisfy them. They are always wanting things some other way. These same people are sometimes very well pleased with themselves. This is not a characteristic of holiness. This is not something that will honor God. Instead of these things and other things like them being an advertisement of grace—they only show the lack of grace.
What would such people do if they were to go to Heaven? The mere transference from earth to Heaven will not change our spiritual state. If there is anything in us here that we should not like to have in us in eternity—here is the place to get the change made. Here is the place to have our lives made as we desire them to be in eternity. Here is the place for character-building. Here is the place to become Christ-like. Here is the place to adorn the doctrine, that men may see your good works. God has told us that nothing which defiles shall enter Heaven. Only that which is good and holy will be there.
Oh for more holy lives! Oh for more consistency among those who profess to be Christ's! Oh for more of the glory of the Lord resting upon hearts and lives! Oh for more of the beauty of salvation, the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit!
Many professors of religion adorn themselves outwardly with gold, pearls, and costly array, with feathers and flowers, and with many other things that they think adorn them. But oh for that inner adornment of heart which is precious in the sight of God and that lets the beauty of God's light shine out into the world! How often outward adornment covers a heart filled with iniquity! How often such adornment is the outward show of that inward pride which God hates! How often it reveals the corruption of the nature, instead of its purity!
God wants our lives to be adorned with jewels, and the gold in which those jewels are to be set, is purity. This is the background upon which all the jewels of character are to be displayed. It is the fundamental requirement in every life. If we are not pure—then our lives will not be pure, and God will not be glorified. Impurity in word or thought or desire, cannot long be hidden; it will manifest itself, and always in a way to dishonor the individual and his God. The pure in heart and life, always shine for God, and they always adorn his doctrine.
God wants us to be true and faithful. He desires "truth in the inward parts" (Psalm 51:6). He desires truth manifested in the life. He wants all our words to be true. He does not want us to speak evil of any man. He does not want us to speak that which dishonors him, or that which is evil in his sight.
He wants us to be faithful, "showing all good fidelity," as he has said. Fidelity is one of the most glorious of Christian virtues. God wants us to be faithful to our word, faithful in our dealings, faithful in our public life and in our private life, and faithful in every way. In this way we can adorn the doctrine. If we are unfaithful, we dishonor him.
He wants us to be earnest and sincere, to be gentle and meek, to have the law of kindness in our tongues. He wants us to be kind in our thoughts, in our actions, in our words. He would have the sound of his own kindness in our voices, the look of his own kindness in our eyes, and his own pity and tenderness in our feelings.
He desires us to be temperate—temperate in our lives, our actions, our words, in every way. If we are to adorn the doctrine, we must avoid excesses and extremes.
We must also be reasonable in the positions we take, in our actions, and in the things that we require of others. By this means people will see that we are Christ-like, and the doctrine will be glorified and adorned as no earthly jewels can adorn it. Men will listen to it and say that it is true, for that person lives just as the Book teaches!
Fellowship With God
Some people would have us believe that after God created the world, he went off about his business elsewhere and now pays no attention whatever to mankind not to their interests. They think that whatever happens now, is merely the result of the operation of natural forces. If they consider God to be anything more than force, they think him so far away as to be totally out of our reach. They scoff at prayer and of our speaking of having a personal relationship with God.
Such teaching does not alarm the Christian, nor disturb him in any way. Its advocates might as well tell him that there is no sun shining in the heavens—when he feels the glow of its warmth and sees everything around him lighted up with its beams. The Christian knows God. He is no more a stranger nor a foreigner, but he has been brought into personal and tender relations with God. John says, "That which we have seen and heard, we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).
Fellowship does not imply a cold and formal relationship, or no relationship at all. It implies that the relations are close and intimate. John believed that there is something very practical and very real about the relations that we are to sustain to God, and after telling us about this relationship, he said, "And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full" (verse 4). There is something in this fellowship that creates joy. Every true Christian knows that this is true. He knows it, not as a matter of theory, but as a matter of his own experience.
Fellowship implies a likeness of nature and of interests. There can be no fellowship unless there is a mutual interests. "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).
Lost sinners cannot have fellowship with God. They are utterly unlike him; they have no interests in common with him. There are tens of thousands of church-members who have never known from their own experience, what fellowship with God means. John says, "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness—we lie, and do not practice the truth" (1 John 1:6).
God makes the Christian like himself in nature and character, and therefore the Christian is in a position to have fellowship with him. Speaking of this, Paul says, "For we are made partakers of Christ" (Hebrews 3:14). In Hebrews 12:10 he says, "That we might be partakers of his holiness." Peter, speaking on this point, says, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). It is because God implants in us his very nature and likeness, that we have communion with him. When we have the same nature—it is natural that our interests should run in the same channel.
Fellowship implies a partnership. "We are laborers together with God" (1 Corinthians 3:9). We become, as it were, business partners with God. We are saved to serve—not saved for idleness. God has a great work to do in the world. For that work he wants many partners. He can fill many hands with activity. God's work is to save the world, and how glorious it is that we can have fellowship therein or have a part in this great work! We are partners with God in the salvation of our souls. True, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but, at the same time, it is God who works with us.
We have burdens to bear, but he is our helper. We have difficulties to meet, but he is our strength. What we can do, he expects us to do; but what we cannot do, he is ever ready to do. Dear soul, God wants your life to be holy while here in this world, and he wants you to reach Heaven safely in the end. He desires it so much that he has agreed to go into partnership with you and to throw all his resources into the balance to enable you to accomplish his purpose. You do not have to fight your battles alone; you do not have to bear your burdens without help. Your strength is too small for this—but you have a glorious partner, one who will help you in every time of need; therefore look to him and lean upon him. Trust him, and you will make a success of it. You are sure to win, if you trust your partner and do your part.
We are partners in manifesting his grace to the world. He shows his grace through his redeemed people. He wants us to give ourselves to him and let him so manifest his grace in us that others may know how glorious it is. The world can know God most easily through his children, and so God gives to us the supply of his grace, not only so that we ourselves may be benefitted, but so that the world may know the riches of his grace in us and, seeing it in us, may be led to seek it directly from him.
We are partners with God in saving others. God saves souls largely through the human instrumentality. Our part in this partnership is the giving of ourselves—our hands, our feet, our tongues, our ears, our minds, our hearts, our all, in fact—to be dedicated to this high and holy work. Let us not hold back ourselves from this fellowship. Let us join in it with all our redeemed powers, that others may be saved.
Fellowship implies friendship. Jesus said, "You are my friends—if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:14-15). We were once enemies, but now being reconciled by his blood—we have become God's friends. On that friendship he places one condition; that is, that we obey him in all that he tells us. In our partnership with him—he must be the managing partner. His children are glad to have him be such.
Abraham was called the friend of God. God does not want us to have merely a speaking acquaintance with him; he wants us to be on terms of close and intimate friendship.
Human friendship means much to us. The man who realizes that he has no friends, is lonely indeed. How little of good, the world holds for him! How little his life seems to amount to! How fortunate is the one who has many friends! How these ties enrich his life!
If human friendship means so much to us—then how much more will the divine friendship, and how much more will our lives be enriched by it! What a wonderful privilege it is, then, to be the friend of God, to have him who is greatest of all, for our friend!
But God is in Heaven, and we are upon earth. Friendship is blessed even though we are far from our friends, far separated by space from their presence. How our memory loves to dwell upon them! How well we like to think of the associations of former days! How we desire their presence with us now! How we appreciate letters from them and news from them!
But it is when we meet them and see them and hear their voices, that our joy is stirred. Will God be to us only as a far-away friend? Will he be only "Our Father in Heaven"? Ah, no! our fellowship with him will be something more than this.
Fellowship means companionship. Fellowship with God means companionship with him. The angel said, "They shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matthew 1:23). Jesus said, "If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). "He who loves me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him" (verse 21). What gracious promises these are!
Again, he says, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). "I will never leave you, nor ever forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). What can be dearer to us than being in the presence of those whom we love? These promises are not mere words; they are to be realized as facts of human experience. God is with us. He is not with us merely in the sense that he is everywhere, but in a special sense he comes to abide with us, to dwell in us, and to be our companion through life.
Words cannot express what the Spirit is to the Christian. Our eyes cannot see the Holy Spirit, our ears cannot hear him, our hands cannot handle him—but nevertheless that divine presence is with us, and in our inmost heart we feel him and see him and hear him and know him. Nothing can be sweeter than the conscious presence of God abiding with us. His presence is not secret. He is not present without our knowing it. Christ said, "I will manifest myself unto him."
Oh, how blessed is this companionship! How satisfying to the inmost soul! If the world could know it—how they would hasten to secure him to be their friend! But alas! they do not know it. It is a thing hidden from their eyes; it is a thing of which they cannot truly conceive. Its sweetness, its depth, its glorious realities, are hidden from them.
It is also hidden from many professors of religion. It has a strange sound to them when we speak of it. They do not understand what we mean. They look at us with uncomprehending eyes. They know nothing of the kind, in their experience. This is because their religion is a matter of externals, leaving the soul cold and empty. If they will but really surrender to Christ and receive him into their hearts, they may know this blessed companionship. If they will forsake their sins and submit themselves to his will—then he will gladly come unto them and let them taste of the sweetness of his love and the blessedness of his presence.
Fellowship not only implies companionship, but communion. He is our Father, and we are permitted to have intimate relations and privileges as his sons. There is a sense of understanding between the redeemed soul and God. It knows God—and it knows that God knows it, and understands it. How sweet is this sense of being understood! How blessed it is to go into the secret of his presence and lay before him all the troubles of our souls, to tell him our desires, our aspirations, our thoughts, our purposes—and to know that he understands them all and that he gives to us his sympathetic affection! If others misunderstand us, he will not. He knows and he cares. Even when words fail us, so that we cannot tell him what we would, we know that he can read the secrets of our hearts.
He not only hears, but replies. He speaks to us in our inner consciousness in a way that the soul can understand, and when he speaks to us—how sweet the sound of his words and how our souls are stirred! Like the disciples of old, we may say, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us along the way?" The sound of his voice causes our hearts to leap with joy and to burn within us. In vain do we try to describe this experience.
Fellowship with God means a partaking with or a sharing with him. This glorious privilege, we are permitted to enjoy. Not only do we partake of the divine nature when we are saved from sin, but he opens the storehouse of his kingdom and gives to us of his treasures! He is not selfish with his pleasures. He wishes us to enjoy them with him. The Psalmist says: "How precious is your unfailing love, O God! We find shelter in the shadow of your wings. You feed us from the abundance of your own house, letting us drink from your river of delights!" (Psalm 36:7, 8).
Jesus said, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:11). It is as though the heart of God overran with joy into our hearts. There is joy in Heaven over one sinner that repents; there is joy in our hearts at the same time. How we rejoice to see the wanderer come home! How we rejoice at the prosperity of Zion! How we rejoice in the rejoicing of God's children!
We are made partaker of his peace. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you" (John 14:27). Again, it is written, "Great peace have they which love your law" (Psalm 119:165). Paul says, "The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7). How wonderful is the fellowship of God's peace! It comes into our hearts—dispelling all our fears, quieting all our troubles, and bringing a great calm, a joyful calm which brings our hearts and minds to sweet repose.
The surface of our lives may be stirred by many a storm and the waves of trouble may beat upon us—but down underneath all the commotion, there remains that settled calm—the peace of God. Sorrow may come and cause our tears to fall like rain; business disasters may rob us of our possessions; but underneath all is the peace of God in the heart. Oh the peace of God! How inexpressibly sweet it is to the human heart! and how blessed to be allowed the privilege of the fellowship of his peace!
We partake of his grace also. Of the early church we read that "great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33).
We partake of his love. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).
How rich is the fruitage of this glorious union with God! It is hidden from the eyes of the world; how little they know of it! The Christian knows of it. He enjoys the realization of it in his own heart. It is the very life and strength of his soul. But he cannot tell it to one who does not know of it from personal experience, any more than he can tell the flavor of a fruit to one who has never tasted it. We must taste ourselves and see that the Lord is good; and this is the privilege that God freely gives to us if we will serve him. The way to partake of this fellowship, is to draw near to God. The nearer we come to him, the more intimate relations are established between our souls and God, the more perfectly we partake of this fellowship and the richer and sweeter it becomes to our souls.
There is another phase of this fellowship quite different from that of which I have been speaking. Paul says, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings" (Philippians 3:10). He explains this in Colossians 1:24, "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." In Philippians 1:29 he says, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake."
Suffering is a thing from which most people shrink. They marvel that it should be a part of the Christian life, but it is a part, nevertheless. In speaking to Ananias of Paul, Christ said, "For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:16). When we read Paul's life, we find that it was a life of suffering.
But why should the Christian have to suffer when he has turned away from his sins and is doing what he knows to please God? Why should suffering be laid upon him? Is it not a burden that he should not be asked to bear? Ah no, it is not such a burden! It is one of God's chief blessings to us. It is God's most useful tool in forming Christian character. God makes us into his image, only by affliction.
Behold how our Master suffered for us. What ignominy, what shame, yes, what cruelty, came upon his devoted head! He suffered for us, that he might bring us to God; but after he had suffered the utmost that was in the power of his enemies to inflict upon him, he went back to Heaven, and now they cannot reach him. He is not here in fleshly form, so that evil men cannot vent their wrath upon him now as in the days of his flesh.
He still dwells here, but he dwells in the hearts of his people, and all the enmity and wicked rage and malice of lost sinners that would be directed toward him if he were here in person, is still directed toward him, but it is directed toward him in the hearts of his people. So Paul, looking at the matter thus, called his sufferings filling "up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" (Colossians 1:24). Paul looked at his persecutions as being directed—not toward him, but toward the Christ in him. It was the Christ in him, that men hated; therefore it was the Christ in him at which their evil words and actions were directed.
And so, my brother, sister, the things that come upon you because you are Christ's—Come upon you, not because people hate you, but because they hate Christ in you. "If you were of the world, the world would love his own," Christ said, but "you are not of the world, . . . therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). We have only to go back to the world again, to find out it will receive us and welcome us and love us, and that all our persecutions will be at an end.
Since Christ has suffered for us, shall not we bear the little suffering that comes to us, without regret and without murmuring? Shall we not, as our ancient brethren, rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for his name? What a privilege to bear a part of that suffering which would have fallen upon the Lord—had he remained in this world! Shall we shrink from it? Nay, but rather let us glory in it.
When some Christians are tried and tempted and persecuted, they wonder why it is. It seems a very strange thing to them that it should be so. Sometimes they question themselves and think there must be something wrong with their lives or their hearts, or they would not have to endure these things. On the contrary, it is rather a proof that they are Christ's. Why should the world hate us? Why should Satan hate us if we do not belong to God?
Peter explains the matter to us. He says: "Beloved think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as we are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy. If you be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you; for the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19). Reader, you will do well to study these scriptures until you fully get their meaning, until you comprehend their depth.
Paul says, "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed" (Romans 8:18). Our trials and temptations and persecutions and all the things that we suffer because we are Christians are only seeds which we are planting. From them we shall reap a glorious harvest of joy in the days to come. We may sow in tears, but we shall reap with rejoicing. As Peter says in the verses just quoted, "that when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy."
Shall we, then, shrink from the fellowship of his sufferings? Shall we, then, shrink from that which may come upon us in this life? Ah, no! let us rather glory in it. Let it be our delight. Not that it is joyous in the present. It is oftentimes grievous to us and sometimes hard to bear. It requires courage and fortitude, but did it not require the same thing for him to suffer? Remember the agony of Gethsemane. Remember the broken-hearted words on the cross.
God's great heart is too tender not to be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. The stripes that are laid upon us, smite him; the pains that we feel, are felt in his great heart. Jesus endured for the joy that was set before him; so let us endure for that joy also, for we shall be partakers of that joy as we are partakers of his suffering.
If we suffer, He knows just how to give to us the balm of consolation. He knows just how to heal the wounded heart. He knows just how to help. He knows just how to strengthen. Let us, therefore, with joy fellowship his suffering and press on from day to day, counting it a glorious privilege.
To view it thus, will help to lighten our burdens, to sweeten our bitterness, and to give joy for our sorrow. It will make us strong to bear. It will give us courage to endure. It will help us to face the odds that are against us, and in his name to overcome. Be strong, therefore, and endure.
"If we suffer—we shall also reign with Him!" 2 Timothy 2:12. Bear the little portion of suffering that falls to you; then in the day of crowning, He will treasure you throughout eternity as one of His precious jewels!
"If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" (1 John 1:7).
Fellowship does not mean the acknowledgment of others as being Christians, or the approving of their conduct. Sometimes we hear it said, "I just cannot fellowship that person." By this the speaker means that he cannot approve the person's conduct or feel that he is a true Christian. This is not, however, the true meaning of the word "fellowship." Acknowledgment or approval is not fellowship at all.
Fellowship is an internal, not an external, thing. It is the harmonious blending of kindred spirits. Fellowship can exist only among those who stand upon common ground, or those who are of a similar spirit. Fellowship can exist only where there is a likeness, a similarity—where the same elements exist in the different people.
We can have fellowship with people in anything where there is a common tie or common interest. For example, those engaged in the same work, members of the same organization, or people interested in the same cause, etc. Wherever these common interests exist, people will be drawn together and will have a fellow-feeling for each other. Godly people find each other and seek each other's society. Evil men do the same. One sportsman is attracted toward another; one business man, to another man engaged in the same business. A member of an organization is drawn to other members of it—whether it be a political, religious, business, social, or other form of organization. All this is fellowship.
There are many kinds of fellowship, but we are interested here only in spiritual fellowship, or fellowship in the spiritual life. When Christians are associated in a church, they have two kinds of fellowship.
There is, first, associational fellowship, or the fellowship that comes from being associated in the same organization. This tie of association that binds them together is often mistaken for the fellowship of the Spirit. It is not, however, this fellowship, but something quite distinct from it.
Spiritual fellowship is the blending of kindred spirits. Christian fellowship is the blending of the Spirit of God in the hearts of God's people. It is the heart-tie that unites them one to another. It has its origin in God. It cannot be made; it cannot be forced. It is spontaneous. It is the affinity of like elements. We cannot make ourselves have fellowship with someone. If it exists at all, it exists naturally, simply because both parties are possessed of the same spirit.
Sometimes a congregation will seem to be in fellowship with one another, and each will have confidence in all the others. A stranger may come in and may discern at once that some of those in the congregation do not really posses the Spirit of Christ; in fact, they may possess quite a different spirit. The congregation has fellowship with them, but it is associational fellowship, not fellowship of the Spirit. The one coming in from the outside does not have this associational fellowship, and so he can readily recognize that no spiritual fellowship exists.
Sometimes the mistaking of this associational fellowship for spiritual fellowship allows things in a congregation to come to a bad state before the members are aware. A pastor will often detect in certain members of his congregation things that the body of the congregation cannot discern. Such cases are very hard to deal with, because the congregation or a part of it are liable to mistake the associational fellowship they have with those members, for real spiritual fellowship, and to think that such people are all right and that the pastor is wrong in his judgment. They are likely, therefore, to take a stand against the pastor and for the individuals with whom he would deal, for whose souls he labors.
Fellowship is not always a safe test of the spiritual condition of others. They may be all right—and they may not be all right. We may have associational fellowship with them, and yet they may not possess the Spirit at all. Let us, therefore, make our judgments carefully. Let us not render our decision in haste. Let us prove all things.
Again, there may come among us people who are real Christians and with whom we would have fellowship in the Spirit were it not that we realize that we have not this associational fellowship; but, realizing that we have not such fellowship, we are apt entirely to overlook the spiritual phase. This may prevent us from giving acknowledgment to some of those who are really God's people. We ought, therefore, to be careful to distinguish between these two different kinds of fellowship.
Fellowship is something that is sensitive and easily influenced by circumstances. A number of different things will prevent us from having fellowship with people, even if both we and they have the Spirit of Christ.
Fellowship cannot exist, where there is a lack of confidence. No matter what the cause of that lack of confidence, it will prevent the operation of fellowship. Whatever destroys our confidence in people, destroys our fellowship with them. After confidence is weakened, fellowship is still more decreased; and as fellowship is decreased, it still further weakens confidence. Thus, the two things react upon one another to the destruction of both.
Suspicion will destroy fellowship. As soon as we begin to question a person, at once fellowship begins to decline. Any wrong attitude that we may hold toward a fellow Christian will hinder fellowship with him, no matter what that attitude may involve. If we find fault with and criticize others, it will break our fellowship with them. If we in any way do them a wrong, the fellowship is broken. Let us beware, therefore, how we judge people from the standpoint of fellowship alone.
Fellowship is a tender plant. It will grow nowhere but in the sunshine; therefore anything that casts a shadow will destroy it. The thing that causes the shadow may be a real thing, or it may be only a thing of the imagination or supposition—but the result is the same in both cases.
How sweet is true Christian fellowship! How glorious to have our hearts bound together by its ties! How we should cherish and nourish it! With what care we should protect it from harm! We can have this fellowship with people that we have never seen—yes, even with those in the remotest part of the globe. Our love goes out to our brethren and sisters in the heathen lands. Those of another race and another color and another language than ours become very dear to our hearts. The Christian ties become stronger than the ties of relationship.
Our brethren in the Lord become dearer to us than our flesh and blood kin. The ties that bind us are sweeter and stronger. How precious is the communion of saints when we all drink in of one Spirit, when fellowship flows from heart to heart, and God is in all and through all! Let us treasure it, therefore, and watch it carefully lest harm come to this tender plant.
Transformation of Divine Energy
Christ told his disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. Paul speaks of the power of Christ resting upon him. It is God's will that all his people be endued with this heavenly power. God's power never works in the soul of man independently of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Whatever power people possess that does not come through the Holy Spirit, is not the power of God; but when God is present with us, his power is always present, and this power will manifest itself. This power does not work according to the human will, but works according to the will of God; therefore we must be submitted to his will in order for it to work through us. God will never take orders from us. If we attempt to use his power for a wrong or selfish purpose, it will react to our own hurt.
Sometimes people mistake for manifestation of the power of God, things which are not such at all. Some think that noise and demonstration are the result of power, or indicate the presence of power; and the more noisy and demonstrative a person is, the more power he is thought to possess. Noise is not power, nor an indication of power. It often indicates only human enthusiasm or hysteria.
Some religionists are very noisy and demonstrative, and yet they have very little of the power of God in their lives. As a rule, those who make the most noise, accomplish the least for God. It is generally a mark of superficiality, especially where there is a disposition to carry it to the extreme.
Some modern religious movements are noted for the demonstrations of their adherents. They leap and shout and "fall under the power" and do many unseemly things. They do many things that make the people ashamed, who look upon them. Sometimes they "carry on" until they are utterly exhausted. Sometimes they go through strange contortions and jerkings, and sometimes froth at the mouth. They think all this to be the manifestation of the power of God.
One thing I have noticed about these people who go to such extremes, is that very often those who are the most demonstrative are living lives which are anything but commendable, and in some cases even immoral. There is a power in such people, but it is not the power of God; for the power of God does not manifest itself in an unseemly manner. There is something beautiful and attractive about his power, something that draws the soul, something that melts it and inspires it and awes it as if in the presence of the Almighty.
Noise is not power. One day I walked with a friend down a street in a large city. A motorcycle passed us making a great racket. There was much noise, but little power. We walked on a little farther and went into the engine-house of a great factory. I stood beside the great engine there and watched it running so smoothly that there was hardly a sound. I could not realize what power was there. It seemed as though I could put out my hand and stop it. But there was power there, great power. It turned the wheels through-out that large factory and kept the machinery busily running.
Likewise, those who are most powerful for God are often people who are quiet and attract little notice. The power in them works softly and silently, but mightily. It accomplishes God's purposes.
It is true that people of some temperaments do sometimes make considerable noise when they are full of the power of God, but this is the result of temperament, not the result of the power—for the same amount of power in another may work quietly and silently, though none the less effectually. I do not object to some noise in religion, if there is divine power back of that noise. The power to be what a Christian should be, the power to live as a Christian should live, the power to glorify God—but noise without the real power for accomplishment, is a vain thing.
God does not judge people by the amount of noise they make; he does not value them for their noise, but for the power that they possess. There are some who once were powers in the hands of God, but who now are like shorn Samson. The power is gone. They have the form, but they lack the power.
Some sing, "There is power, power, wonder-working power"—but when you look for it in their lives, you do not find it. Power is the thing that counts, and God wants us to be filled with it.
Natural ability counts for something, but no matter how great our natural capacity, if the power is lacking, then the capacity counts for nothing. We are like empty vessels. God has plenty of power, and he will give us power if we will tarry before him. Power is something that comes down—not something that is worked up.
The "howling dervishes" work themselves up into wild hysteria and fall in fits and have all sorts of manifestations—but there is no power of God in it. So we may do. I repeat, enthusiasm is not power—hysteria is not power. Only the presence of God can give us power.
Electric power passes silently through the wires; but as it passes through the incandescent bulb—it is turned into bright light; as it passes through the resistance-coil—it is transformed into heat; as it passes through the motor—it is transformed into activity; and as it passes through the magnet—it is turned into magnetism.
In the same way, God would have his power transformed into light so that we may shine for God and so that those around us may behold his beauty in us. God would have us be lights to the world, and so he lets his power rest upon us that it may be transformed into light and shine out into this dark world. He wants men to see our light and thereby know his power to save and to keep.
He wants his power turned into heat so that our lives are no more cold and barren—but our affections and emotions are warmed and enriched and bring forth fruit unto his glory.
He wants all our faculties and powers to be filled with fervency, all our lives warm and radiant with his glory.
He wants his power transformed into activity so that we may work righteousness, that 'men may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in Heaven.'
People who are full of the power of God are not content in idleness. They feel that they must work the work of God while it is yet day. You do not have to coax such people to work. They are ready to serve anytime.
The power of God will manifest itself in zeal. Where zeal is absent, power is absent. Power is always seeking an outlet. If the power of God is resting upon us, we cannot be easy while multitudes around us are going to destruction. There is much Christian activity that comes to naught, because there is no divine power in it. There may be zeal without power, but zeal will be ineffectual without power.
The power of God does not need elaborate ecclesiastical machinery in order to work. It will work in the heart—and it will work out in the life. All that God asks is that the heart be submitted to his will and all the abilities of life dedicated to his service; then he will fill us with power and work through us the accomplishment of his purpose. Our lives then will be fruitful to glorify his name.
God wants his power in us turned into magnetism, that we may draw men to ourselves and through ourselves to Christ. If our lives are unlovely and unattractive—God cannot draw men through us. It matters not what may be our situation in life nor how few may be our natural talents. Our lives may be hampered and our development may be hindered, but if the power of God rests upon us—we shall attract men to Christ. The humblest life may be glorified and made attractive, by the presence and power of God.
But magnetism not only attracts—it also repels. So we, if we are full of this divine magnetism, shall repel all that is evil. Our very presence, even though a word is not spoken, will be a reproof to evil. Our looks will be louder than the words of those who are without the power of God. Those who are wicked and corrupt will feel ashamed and reproved in our presence. They will try to hide their wickedness. They will be careful of their language. They will find no pleasure in their wickedness in our presence.
Oh! let us be filled with the power of God and let us manifest it in our lives. Let us submit ourselves to the divine will. Let us seek daily a real enduement from on high, and then when it comes let us realize that the excellency of the power is of God and not of us, and let us give to him the glory.
Let us manifest to our fellow men this power, not to show that we have the power, but that we may win them to Christ—that we may make them to know the riches of his love, the power of his grace, and the wonders of his holiness. "You shall receive power, after the Holy Spirit is come upon you."
Our Natural Propensities
We are twofold beings. The real man, the man who will live forever, the man who is made in the image of God, is not the man that our eyes gaze upon. For a little while we are dwellers in a body of clay. In regard to our physical body, we have no preeminence over the beasts: it is made of clay, and it will return to the dust from which it came. Our bodies correspond very closely to those of the animal creation: theirs and ours have practically the same function; they are subject to the same physical laws. So far as his physical being is concerned, man differs from the animal only in being more highly organized.
The Mental Constitution
Mentally man is a trinity, composed of reason, will, and the sensibilities. We might compare him to a steamship.
His body is the hull and the power-plant.
Reason or intellect is, or should be, the navigator.
The will is the engineer and pilot.
The sensibilities are the heating and refrigerating plants.
It is in reason and will that man rises farthest Godward. These are the really important things in his constitution; everything else is secondary. It is through these that he knows God and obeys him. It is through these that we are made moral creatures and are subject to moral law and can know and understand moral problems and principles. When God illuminates the intellect and controls the will, he has a man for his service. These are the citadels of man's soul, and it is to them that God's appeal is made and through them that man becomes godlike.
The place of REASON is in the chart-house of our vessel. God has given us a chart—his precious Word. Reason must study this chart and from it lay life's course. It must choose the port to which we shall sail, and the course over which we shall sail. It must watch for the dangers that lie in the way. It must know the hidden rocks; it must know the shoals, the currents, and the various other dangers of navigation. It must read the weather-signs, so that we may know when the storms are coming and how to prepare for them and how best to weather them when they come. It must take the observations and locate our position on the voyage of life. It must decide all the problems of navigation. It must find the way out of all difficulties and dangers. Reason, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, is our only safe navigator. If we trust to anything else, we shall run upon the rocks and be lost.
The WILL must steer our vessel upon its course. Our lives must not be left to chance, but must be guided by a steady hand. Many dangerous rocks lie hidden in the in the sea of life. Unless a strong hand holds the wheel and obeys the voice of the navigator, we may make shipwreck. We dare not let every current carry us where it will. We dare not let ourselves drift wherever the wind would blow us. We must keep straight upon our course.
Knowing this, God has given us our wills to be the helmsmen of our vessels and to steer them in the straight and safe course that leads to the port of everlasting glory. The will must have the directing control of all the energies of our vessel. It must keep its hand upon the throttle of our lives. It must direct all our energies in the proper way. If any of our energies are not subject to our will, there is certain to be disorder in our lives. The will must be absolute master of our abilities.
We need never expect to come to the place where our abilities will always work good automatically. There is no such thing as an automatic Christian. Doing right is a matter of willing to do right and bringing the forces of our being into subjection to our will so that they work what the will has decreed that they shall work. We must often use our wills to compel ourselves to do that which is right, against our natural inclination.
The Bible takes no account of our feelings. It points out duty. It says, "Do this" or "Do not do this." It says, "Be this" and "Do not be that." It does not say, "Feel patient"; it says, "Be patient." It does not say that we shall not feel tempted; it says that we must not yield to temptation. When it points out any duty, it does not say, "Feel inclined to do this duty"; it says, "Do this." It lays upon the will, the whole responsibility for the conduct. We are never judged by our feelings—but are judged by our wills. If reason and will are on the side of right—then the individual is judged as being right, and his conduct is approved.
The will must be subject to the orders of reason, and resolutely carry them out. The cause why so many people are evil-doers, is not because they have not enough intelligence to know the right, but because their wills do not act in harmony with their intelligence. They know what is right, but they do not will to act according to their knowledge. In many things they go contrary to their judgment; they do things that they know are unwise. They deliberately set aside their reason, and do that which they know will bring the condemnation of God upon them and will be ruinous to their lives here and hereafter.
When the will chooses its own course regardless of the reason, it always makes shipwreck of the life. It is imperative, therefore, that you make your will subject to the dictates of your reason. If you do not, only disaster awaits you.
Our Sensibilities and Emotions
I have likened our sensibilities and emotions to the heating and refrigerating plants of a steamer. All the warmth in life comes through our feelings; all the joy, peace, gladness, mirth, contentment, brightness, happiness, and other similar things—come to us through our feelings. Without emotions, life would be a cold, bleak wasteland. Emotions are the things that make life worth while. They are as needful in their sphere, as reason and will in their spheres. Not only does the warmth and charm of life come through our sensibilities, but also all that chills in life. Sorrow, pain, sadness, gloom, discouragement, despondency, remorse—all these have their seat in our sensibilities. From these come both the sunshine and the clouds of life. They bring to us both the bitter and the sweet.
Our emotions are always active, or at least rarely in a state of rest, during our waking hours. They are in a great measure independent of control. They work as they will. The will can influence them, but its control is limited. We cannot feel any certain way, just because we will to do so. We cannot feel pleased or happy or contented, just because we desire to do so. Our feelings are creatures of influence and circumstances. Whatever acts upon our feelings, will produce results—no matter what it is that acts nor in what manner it acts.
The feelings have no power of judgment, no discretion; they respond to whatever influence works upon them. They have no power of choice. They are like the strings of musical instruments, which respond to every touch and likewise to the quality of the touch. Circumstances may strike sweet melodies and rich harmonies of rejoicing—or they may strike discords of pain and sorrow. The chords that sound out depend more upon the player than upon the instrument; for the same instrument is capable of sounding forth many differing chords.
I said that the will could influence our feelings, but not rule them. The extent to which it may affect them, depends upon the strength of the will. It may affect them in different ways. It may repress them for a time. It may put a brake upon them and prevent their free action. It may often set bounds to limit them, even though it has not perfect control over them. It may also set up a contrary influence through some other emotion by bringing some influence to bear upon it, and thus make one emotion balance or restrict the other.
This is something that every Christian needs very much to learn. We may turn the attention away from that which is exciting some emotion, to the contemplation of something that will either quiet the emotion or set up another kind. If we are sad or discouraged or despondent, and we let our minds run in the channel of our feelings—then we shall only feel worse and worse.
We should deliberately turn our minds from the dark side of the picture, to that which is bright and uplifting. Look upon God and the beautiful things of his character. Look at the promises of his Word—look at the things that are in our favor. Look at hopeful things. Look away from the gloom and darkness, and you will soon find that the things at which you look, react upon your feelings and that the gloomy feelings pass away. Giving your thought and attention to these brighter things, will set up an emotion contrary to that which has been working, and it will balance or restrict the former, or possibly entirely overcome it.
Have you ever seen a person who had some physical trouble, and who seemed to delight in telling his trouble to everybody he met? It was a favorite topic of conversation with him. Of course, the more he would talk about it, the more he would feel it and the more conscious of it he would be. Probably if he had quit talking about it and forgotten it, he would soon have felt all right.
It is the same with our spiritual feelings: the more we think about our troubles, and the more we tell them—the greater they become. Never let bad feelings hold your attention. Turn your mind resolutely away from them. As often as it comes back to them, turn it away to something else, until you form the habit of thinking of that which is good and uplifting and encouraging. In such things as these—we are what we make of ourselves.
Gloominess is a habit—so is cheerfulness. We cannot prevent bad feelings from coming sometimes, but we need not give them place or pet them when they do come. There are too many good and too many beautiful things in life, too many things enjoyable, for us to allow our minds to run on the dark side of things very much. Whatever occupies our attention—shuts out other things. Therefore if we let the dark side of the picture occupy our attention—then we cannot see the bright side. But if we will turn out eyes away from the dark side—then we shall find that there is a bright side at which we may look. As we look at the bright side—it will react upon our emotions, and we shall be joyful instead of being in heaviness. We may be glad, instead of being in mourning. We may be encouraged, instead of being discouraged. Say to your emotions resolutely, "Thus far shall you go, and no farther!" Set a bound for them beyond which they may not pass, and repress all bad feelings, and so make way for good ones.
The sensibilities are active and very often try to usurp the place of reason and the will. There is danger in permitting this. If we decide by our feelings what is right and what we ought to do—then our feelings may soon change, and we shall think something else is right, or that we ought to do some other way, and so we shall be unsettled. One time we shall feel as if we should do a thing, and shortly afterwards we may find that we feel as if we should not do it. At one time we may feel that a thing is right, and soon come to question it when we feel some other way.
Reason must be the master. Reason is the one that is to lay out our course. Reason should decide for us what is right and what is wrong. Do not let your feelings usurp reason's place. Try to understand the principles which are involved. Decide the rightness or wrongness of the thing by these principles—not by your feelings. This is the only safe way. It is only by doing this, that you can ever be settled in any course of conduct very long at a time.
The feelings are blind. They cannot observe the compass; they cannot see the chart; they cannot see where the dangers lie. Hence they cannot lay out a safe course.
Suppose the captain of a vessel should place a blind man in the pilot-house, and this blind man should trust to his feelings to mark out the course and steer away from the rocks. Would you trust your safety to such a pilot?
This is exactly what you do when you trust your feelings to be your pilot on the sea of life. Whenever we let feelings usurp the place of reason—we have a blind pilot. That is why so many people make shipwreck, and why so many get into trouble. If the feelings give the will orders how to steer and how to use our energies—only disaster can come; but this is just what thousands are doing. They give more heed to their feelings than to anything else. With them, the Word of God counts less than feelings. No matter what the Word says, if their feelings do not agree with it, they cannot trust it.
Too many people let feelings make the observations in their lives. When they want to know where they are, they consult their feelings. They feel that they are so and so, and they conclude that feeling knows. They must be as they feel, they think, or they would not feel so.
Suppose you were on a ship when you knew that the captain was running the vessel according to his feelings. He would suppose himself to be where he felt he was. He might have ever so much confidence in his feelings, but would you feel really safe? Could you make yourself believe that his feelings were a safe guide for the ship?
If our feelings are not safe guides in natural things—then are they safe guides in spiritual things?
Notwithstanding the folly of such a course, many people judge themselves almost exclusively by their feelings and emotions. When they feel all right—then they think that they are all right. When they do not feel so well—then they do not have such confidence in themselves.
Reason has its chart and compass, its sextant and its astronomical tables, and all other things necessary to make observations with accuracy and certainty.
Feeling only guesses. Shall we take the ready and impulsive answer of our feelings—or shall we wait for reason by its more sure means to tell us the facts? When reason speaks and feeling contradicts it—which is the safer to believe? Which is the safer guide?
Sometimes people know from the standpoint of their reason and the Word of God, that they are doing what is their duty to do as Christians—but at the same time their feelings are not what they suppose they ought to be. In fact, they may not feel as they desire to at all. Their feelings may be exactly opposite to the testimony of their understanding. Such people are often prone to accept the testimony of their feelings, rather than that of their reason. This is always an unwise course.
Our sensibilities are blind—they have no power to discriminate between fact and falsehood. If I believe my friend is dead—then I shall have the same feelings as though he were dead, no matter if he is in perfect health. If we think that we are wrong in something, we shall feel that we are wrong, whether we are or are not.
Do not be a creature of your feelings! Do not be ruled by them. Do not let them mar your peace. Settle your condition from some other standpoint. Take the Word of God. It will not deceive you—but your feelings may deceive you, if you trust in them.
Evidence of Feelings Unreliable
We may feel safe—when we are in grave danger.
Two men were recently walking across a piece of ground. They felt very much at ease. There appeared to be no danger whatever, but just in front of them was a heavy charge of dynamite with a burning fuse attached. Only the earnest cries of a man who knew the danger saved them from walking right upon it and being killed.
On the other hand, we may feel that we are in danger—when we are perfectly safe. The lost sinner often feels very safe in his sins—when, in truth, he is in the very greatest danger. Some Christians feel themselves in grave danger, but they are perfectly safe if they will but trust God.
Sometimes people feel very bad—when they do not know of their having done anything amiss. Again, some feel condemned—when they have done something that they know was not wrong. Their reason tells them that it was not wrong. The Bible does not condemn it—and yet someway, somehow, they feel condemned over it. The adversary delights to take advantage of us at such times. If we do anything that is wrong—then the Spirit of God will show us what we have done that is wrong, and why it is wrong. He will not leave us to wonder and question. He will put his finger on the thing and say, "There it is—there is the trouble." God makes things plain to us.
The adversary brings confusion. He generally leaves us in uncertainty. He cannot point out anything amiss, or usually does not. The most he can usually say is, "You have done something wrong. There is something wrong." Your feelings are ready to join right in with him and echo the strain. Yes, you have done something, but what?
You may argue, "If I were saved—then I would not feel this way." How do you know that you would not? The question is not, "How do you feel—but, How are you?" Feelings must give place to reason. Whenever you judge your condition and spiritual standing by your feelings, whether those feelings are good or bad, whether they are in your favor or against you—then you are doing a very unwise thing.
Base your salvation upon something more substantial than feelings. I have seen more than one lost sinner so enthused, that he could leap and shout and praise the Lord. I have seen more than one godly saint crushed down, until he could not raise his head.
We cannot tell conditions by feelings. Some very dangerous diseases produce practically no suffering. I have known cases where the danger was very grave and where the patients could not be prevailed upon to think that there was anything seriously wrong with them. Some things that are very painful, are not dangerous, and in fact represent disorder of a very minor character.
In the same way, true Christians sometimes have bad feelings, when these feelings are no index whatever to their spiritual condition. Read the life of John Bunyan. See the things that he suffered through his sensitive feelings. Sometimes he would feel that he was a great sinner, and just ready to drop into Hell. He was not such—he was a pious and holy man. Thousands of others have had similar experiences, and the writer is one.
We have always a surer test than feelings.
Paul says, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). He does not say that we know Christ is in us when we feel all right. What is the underlying purpose of your life? Is it to have your own way—or to please the Lord? Is it to do evil—or to obey God? Let us judge ourselves with a righteous judgment.
The reader must not suppose that because I say so much about bad feelings, that these are the normal and usual feelings of a Christian. The Christian life is, on the whole, a joyous and victorious life. People are not troubled over their good feelings. The more they have of them—the better they like it. It is the other kind of feelings which trouble them; therefore it is the bad feelings of which I speak, that I may be helpful to those who need help.
The Sequence of Emotions
Different emotions may follow each other in rapid succession. Joy may follow sorrow, or rejoicing may almost instantly be changed into heaviness. Our feelings often swing to and fro from one extreme to another, like the pendulum of a clock.
When we children used to grow enthusiastic and hilarious in our play, our folks would remark, "Now look out for a cry next." I observed that the tears usually came before the play was finished.
There is nothing stable about our emotions. Like the tumble-weed of the Western prairies, they roll whichever way the wind blows. This play of emotions we see even in Christ. Sometimes he rejoiced in spirit; at another time he said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew 26:38). In Paul's life we find this same alternation of joy and sorrow, or rejoicing and of heaviness. Peter speaks of it thus: "Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations" (1 Peter 1:6). He knew from his own experience, that there were times when Christians would greatly rejoice and other times, or seasons, as he calls them—when they would be in heaviness. He implies that these seasons of heaviness are a "need be"; he nowhere says the same of the seasons of joy. The "need be" seasons must come; the other seasons may come. The fact that we enjoy the joy more than the heaviness, does not mean that the former is of more value to us or that it is more needful to us.
If children have too much candy, it spoils their digestion and appetite. Some people are blessing-hunters. Their chief prayer is, "O Lord, bless me!" They count nothing a blessing, but joyful emotions. Such emotions stand in the same relations to the soul, that candy does to the body. We can easily get along without candy, but our lives depend upon good nourishing food. We could get along very well without blessings, but we must have those needful afflictions which develop the soul. We could serve God all our days and reach Heaven safely in the end, even if we never in all our lives had a single emotion of joy. Our service could be just as faithful and just as acceptable.
Our good feelings do not recommend us to God—and they are often a source of weakness to us. Joyful emotions are delightful—but they do not strengthen. They do not give a finer quality to faith. Sometimes emotions run very high. The soul seems carried out of itself. It rejoices with "joy unspeakable and full of glory," but right at the end of this rejoicing, comes faith's critical period. Very often we come down off the mountaintop of transfiguration, only to find a devil to be cast out! Very often after a period of rejoicing, comes a period of serious testing. The reaction is inevitable. The farther our feelings swing to the one extreme, the farther they will swing to the other when the reaction comes. I have seen people so happy that they could almost imagine themselves in Heaven—and a few hours later have seen them in the greatest distress. The reaction had to come. Their good feelings were gone—and they did not know how to meet the situation.
Almost always, a testing time comes just after the emotions have been wrought up. It is just at such a juncture that things take hold most upon us, and it is just at such times that we have the greatest difficulty in preserving our equilibrium. Such emotions are not an unmixed blessing. We need to learn this certain reaction, and to be prepared to meet it; otherwise our faith is likely to be greatly shaken.
Sometimes we have conflicting emotions. We may have two opposite emotions at the same time, or rapidly changing emotions. We may seem to glide from one to another and have several different sets of them in a single day's time. If we try to test our standing before God by emotions—we are thrown into confusion. Form the habit of judging yourself, not by your emotions—but by your purposes and intentions. Do not be swerved from that. Feelings will be a source of weakness to you if you do not.
The Powerful Influence of Our Emotions
Our emotions seem so clearly to be the true indication of existing facts, that we often have much difficulty in discrediting them, no matter what may be the evidence to the contrary. We can sometimes overlook the most positive evidence, easier than we can set aside the testimony of our feelings—especially when we are used to relying upon our feelings.
Some people become the creatures of their emotions. They never know that they are right, except when they have joyous emotions. Just as soon as these subside, such people begin to question themselves. While they feel all right—then they know they are all right; but if the voice of emotion is stilled, they no longer have any evidence of their salvation. As a result, they are often in confusion and are never certain of themselves for more than a short period.
They are the slaves of a hard master. When their master smiles, they are elated and confident. When he frowns, they are in despair. Some people seem to live in a dark, deep pit of bad feelings. They manage to climb up now and then so that they can see the sunshine and rejoice in its rays for a time; but soon they lose their hold and fall down into their pit again, there to sit in melancholy shadows and to brood over their sad fate. They could get out of their pit and stay out, if they would trust God and his Word instead of their feelings—but they cannot persuade themselves that anything is true, which contradicts their feelings. O soul, break away from this bondage and get out in God's sunshine and base your hope on a surer foundation!
Emotions No Basis for a Settled Experience
If our experience is founded on our feelings, it is like a house-boat floating on the water. We are tossed to and fro by every wave and every wind, and drifted by every current or tide. A house built on a good foundation stands firm. It is not moved. God provides a good foundation for everybody. If we will build on that, we may stand, and not be tossed about. That foundation is faith. It is a sure foundation. No one can ever have repose of soul long, who judges himself by his feelings. Emotions can never be the basis of a settled experience. The soul who trusts in them, will never be sure of himself for more than a short period. He is like a man trying to balance himself on a floating log which rolls now this way, now that way, and which is whirled about by every eddy and turn of the current.
We do not have to be spiritual acrobats to serve God. Settled peace, comes only from a settled faith. I have seen many souls in trouble who when asked what was the matter could only answer, "Oh, I do not know, only I do not feel right." The more they looked at their feelings—the worse they felt.
One of the greatest evils that can come to any Christian, is for him to set up an ideal standard for his feelings—and condemn himself or question himself whenever they fall short of his expectations. He soon develops a morbid sensitiveness that leads him into a maze of uncertainties and brings him into distress whenever his emotions fall below the point that he has marked as zero on his spiritual thermometer. Your thermometer of feelings, may register only the influences that surround you, and be no true test whatever of you spiritual state.
Throw away your home-made thermometers! Take God's tester, which is his Word, and measure your life by it. When you trust in your old feeling-thermometer, if it goes down below your zero-mark—then you are almost sure to think that you are frozen to death spiritually. You desire a settled experience. Very well. You may have it, provided you will go about getting it in the only possible way that it may be attained. It must be based on something more substantial than your feelings and emotions. God has a sure foundation. If you will build on that, you may stand secure.
Learn to value your emotions at their true worth. At the very best, joyful emotions are only the foam on the waters of salvation. Do not suppose there is no water, if there is no foam. Do not judge the depth of the water, by the amount of foam. It is usually the case, that the more foam there is—the shallower the water is. Enjoy your pleasant emotions when they come; but when they are gone, do not suppose that it is because of a change in your spiritual condition. There will be seasons of joyfulness, and seasons of heaviness—but remember that a few bad feelings do not frighten the Holy Spirit away from our hearts.
Reaction and Interaction
Man is a trinity of the physical, the mental, and the moral, or spiritual. These are not three separate, distinct, and independent parts. They are united into a mutually dependent whole. Each part is related to, and affected by, each other part. What affects one part, affects the whole. Anything that throws one part out of balance, reacts upon the others. Any abnormal state of one part, has its reaction on the others and hinders or prevents their normal functioning. Lack of understanding this, has led many people to judge wrongly themselves or others—for things which, though they were manifested in the moral, did not have their origin in the moral realm at all, but were only reactions from the physical or mental realms.
We can never understand either ourselves or others, until we learn the facts involved in these relations of the various parts of our being. Everyone who would be a spiritual teacher should carefully inform himself regarding these principles. Without this knowledge, he will be at a disadvantage in dealing with souls. He will often judge from appearance, instead of judging righteous judgment. We all owe it to ourselves to study ourselves, until we are able to tell the forces that are producing the spiritual and mental effects by which we usually judge our religious standing. We should study ourselves, until we know the causes that produce the effects which trouble us. If we merely guess at them, we shall often guess wrong. There is always an underlying cause for every effect, but that cause may sometimes be considerably removed from the effect or from the manifestations that it produces.
Effects of the PHYSICAL upon the mental and spiritual
Our physical being very strongly affects our mental and religious organization. When the physical powers are buoyant and we are full of vitality and animal spirits—the stimulus of this reacts upon the mind and soul, so that we may easily be care-free and joyous. At such times we may meet and overcome with ease, things that at other times might prove very hard for us. On the contrary, when the physical forces are at a low ebb and the vital energies are tested to overcome disease or weakness, there is an opposite reaction and both mind and spirit feel the effect.
Many times people are mentally dull and inactive, wholly on account of some physical derangement. The same thing affects them spiritually. Chronic diseases, especially of certain kinds, often react to produce gloom, discouragement, and unrest. Any disease that constantly draws upon the vitality of the system, is likely to produce such an effect. Such things naturally discourage and render us despondent.
A man once went to a minister and told him a long tale of woe concerning his spiritual troubles. The minister listened patiently, as ministers must listen to such things, and when he had heard the story, he said, "Oh, brother, I'll tell you what's the matter with you—your liver is out of order." That preacher knew the secret of many people's spiritual trouble.
I suppose the majority of the bad feelings that Christians have come from livers or kidneys which do not function properly; indigestion, or some other disorder of the physical functions or organs. Dyspepsia almost always reacts upon the mental and spiritual. A dyspeptic does not feel much like smiling, neither does a bilious person.
A great many troubles which seem to be spiritual troubles, do not indicate anything wrong in the spiritual nature whatever. They are merely reactions from the physical. Many women have their spiritual skies obscured and suffer much from doubts and discouragements—simply as a result of reaction from special diseases or weaknesses with which they are afflicted. Do not be too ready to suppose that bad feelings come from a bad condition of the heart.
If we are doing what we know to do, and serving the Lord to the best of our understanding—then we need not suppose that our bad feelings come from our hearts' being wrong. We may look somewhere else for the cause.
We are all aware of the effect of a heavy cold or of a toothache or something else which causes severe suffering or acute derangement of any part of the body. It is often very difficult to pray or to have faith, when we are suffering. Many times we cannot think with clearness. The mental and the spiritual are both strongly affected by their reaction to the physical. The reaction from chronic diseases is no less certain, though it may manifest itself in a somewhat different way. Whatever affects the physical, whether it be disease or something else—affects also, by its reaction, the mental and the spiritual.
A striking example of such reactions, is the experience of an old-time New England circuit-rider, who made the following entries in his diary:
"Wed. eve. Arrived at the home of Brother Brown late this evening, hungry and tired after a long day in the saddle. Had a bountiful supper of cold pork and beans, warm bread, bacon and eggs, coffee and rich pastry. I go to rest feeling that my witness is clear; the future is bright; I feel called to a great and glorious work at this place. Brother Brown's family are godly people."
The next entry was as follows:
"Thurs. morn. Awakened late this morning after a troubled night. I am very much depressed in soul; the way looks dark; far from feeling called to work among this people—I am beginning to doubt the safety of my own soul. I am afraid the desires of Brother Brown and his family are set too much on carnal things."
His whole outlook was changed, and, not understanding his trouble—he, like many another, thought his trouble was in his heart, whereas it was really in his stomach!
Overeating often renders us dull, so that we find it very difficult to concentrate our minds on anything. At such times we cannot pray with the same earnestness and grasp of faith, as at other times. We cannot feel the same interest in spiritual or mental things.
Overwork often produces similar results. After a hard day's work, we cannot read with the same mental grasp or attention that we can at other times, and we cannot pray as we are used to doing at other times. The man who comes in after a hard day's work and picks up his Bible and tries to read it, often finds his mind wandering to other things, or he finds himself sleeping and unable to get any satisfaction out of what he reads. He may find little delight in family worship. His prayers may seem dull and dry and meaningless, and he may become greatly tried because of this. The trouble is, that he has used up his energy in the day's work. He is weary in soul and in mind, as well as in body.
What he needs to restore him, is a good rest. When the physical forces are restored, he will find that his spiritual and mental tone is also restored. A generally worn-out physical state, is bound to react on the spiritual. That is why many people find themselves seemingly so much less spiritual in the summer-time than in the winter. It is because their energies are used up in physical labors—and, having only so much energy to expend, they find themselves subnormal spiritually. If we want to prosper spiritually, therefore, we must not overwork, but leave ourselves with sufficient energy for our spiritual duties. If we seem compelled to overwork, we should arrange circumstances so that we shall not be, if that is at all possible; but if we cannot, we ought to take this into consideration and not blame ourselves for not being as spiritual as we ought to be, when it is merely a lack of the necessary energy.
People who are in a highly nervous state, will often have more spiritual trouble on account of it. They will have many trials that others do not have. They are likely to be filled with apprehensions and melancholy. They are apt to be tried when in such a state, by things that would not trouble them at all, if they were in a normal condition. We ought to take all these reactions into consideration, and, in judging our spiritual condition, we must do this, or else we shall have continual trouble.
When excited, any functional desire of the body—has a corresponding mental effect. When we are hungry, we naturally think of food and of meal-time. How slow the time seems to go when we are waiting for a meal! And the hungrier we are, the slower it seems to go. All our functional desires act in the same way, directing our thoughts to the means of their gratification. We may turn our minds away from them, but the tendency is for our thoughts to come right back to the same subject again. People are sometimes very much troubled about this, in regard to certain functions. They need not be, however; it is the natural physical results. It is only nature's way of looking out for herself.
Effect of the MENTAL upon the physical
The effect of the mind upon the body is often very powerful. This is illustrated in the cases of stigmata which are on record. People of certain temperaments have thought about the wounds of Christ until there have appeared upon their own bodies marks in the places where they suppose the marks were upon his body. There are several such cases upon record.
Not long ago there was reported in the press, the case of a man who attempted to commit suicide, but failed without doing himself any physical injury. Two hours later he died. The coroner's verdict was "mental suicide." The reaction of the unfortunate man's thoughts upon his physical being, was such as to destroy his physical life.
Many physical derangements, come from worry and fear. On the other hand, opposite emotions produce opposite effects upon the physical. The Wise Man said, "A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit tries up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22). This is why doctors always want their patients encouraged. A gloomy face or a gloomy voice in the sick-room, is a great hindrance to the sick person. The effect of the mental reacting upon the spiritual, is just as real and powerful as upon the physical.
Effect of Conscious Mental Action
We may say that the human mind is divided into two different parts—that of conscious mind and that of subconscious mind. We are conscious of the working of the first, but the second works without our knowledge, and we become conscious of its action only through the finished results.
Life has its bright side and its dark side. We may look upon whichever side we will. If we let our minds look upon dark and gloomy things, if we let ourselves be harassed by worry and fear—we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we give our minds over to such things, we may discourage ourselves, and in that discouragement only be reaping what we have sown. If we burn our fingers—then we must endure the pain. In the same way, if we let our minds run on gloomy things—then we must bear the soul-pain that follows.
The greater part of our troubles are home-made, and this is true of spiritual troubles as well as of any other kind. They are only the reaction of our wrong mental habits. If you wish to be joyful and victorious—then keep your mind upon the things that will tend to make you so. Look away from that which is dark and gloomy. Look to that which will arouse different emotions.
Never harbor gloomy thoughts—banish them from your mind. You can be cheerful if you will. You may not be able to correct bad mental habits at once; but if you set yourself resolutely to the task, you can break yourself of them and establish right habits of thought, and this will go far toward bringing spiritual serenity. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things!" (Philippians 4:8)
Sometimes people are troubled over bad dreams. They dream of things that are evil, and sometimes take this as an indication that they are not right in their souls. They think that if they were pure, then they would not have dreams of impure or evil things. Such dreams are no indication of the soul's condition, any more than a good dream is an indication that one is saved. Many dreams come from physical causes, and we should not count them as having any moral quality.
Although we have no control over our dreams, we do have control over our waking thoughts, at least to a great extent; and we can turn them into right channels, until by habit they run there naturally.
Sometimes there come to the mind thoughts that are undesirable. We put them away from us, but they return almost immediately. They persist in doing this notwithstanding all our efforts to banish them. The only thing that we can do in such a case is to keep banishing them from our minds as much as possible until they run their course and we can thus get entirely rid of them. We ought not to condemn ourselves for our inability to shut out such thoughts from our minds, for the ability to shut them out does not always depend upon our will. They come and go—and we hardly know why nor whence. It is only when we welcome them and indulge them—that they work evil with the soul.
Subconscious Mental Effect
The subconscious mind is that part of the mind that works without our knowing it, or being conscious of its activity. It is the subconscious mind that works out most of the problems of life for us. Our minds may be likened to a factory of two rooms. In one we stand and look about and see what is going on—but we know nothing of what is going on in the other, until a truckload of finished product is run out into our sight.
Many of the thoughts that seem to come to our minds from nowhere in particular—come from the subconscious mind. They are projected into the conscious mind from it, and it seems as though they just struck our minds someway, and we know not their source—unless we know of the subconscious action of our minds.
Sometimes we get to thinking over a subject, and then our attention is called away, and we forget it. A few days later the thought all worked out to a conclusion presents itself to our minds. The subconscious mind has seized upon the thought which was in the conscious mind, and has kept working on it until it has solved it to its satisfaction, and then it presents the result of its action to the conscious mind.
Sometimes our minds are suddenly filled with thoughts that bring joy and an uplift to the soul. These often result from something that has been taken into the subconscious mind and there wrought upon and finally turned back suddenly into the conscious mind.
The opposite also is true. Oftentimes gloomy thoughts and feelings suddenly come upon us and we have no idea whence they come—when, in reality, some thought that was in our mind days or weeks before went into the subconscious mind and there worked, and now it comes out in a flood of gloom.
Many seasons of gloominess and trial have their development in the subconscious mind, and the spiritual effect is only the reaction from the subconscious mind. Every time you allow yourself to think over dark and discouraging things, you are in danger of the thoughts sinking into your subconscious mind—and coming out later on in a flood of discouragement.
It is probable that the greater part of our spiritual trouble comes from either physical or spiritual reaction—Satan having nothing whatever to do with it. If we know of these reactions and treat them as reactions—then we shall not feel that there is something wrong in our souls when we feel bad spiritually.
We are often strongly influenced by the people around us. We may be either encouraged or discouraged by them. We sometimes come into contact with those who are melancholy or under deep trial or discouragement—and their feelings react on us to produce unpleasant results. We feel ourselves depressed in spirit, or we may become deeply tried by partaking of the influence resting on them, in just the same way as we become uplifted and encouraged by a person who is full of sunshine and good cheer. We need to recognize the probability of this influence of others, working upon us. We need to guard ourselves against yielding to such influence, except where the influence is good, any more than it is possible to avoid.
Natural conditions, such as the weather, climate, scenery, etc., often affect our feelings very strongly. Bright, sunny weather often reacts upon us to make us cheerful and happy. Dark, gloomy weather has a tendency to depress our spirits. Unpleasant surroundings or uncongenial employment often affects us for ill, causing depression, gloominess, and the like feelings.
Besides those influences already mentioned, there are direct spiritual influences that work upon us. God, by his Spirit, often strongly influences us. His influence is always for good; it always uplifts and helps and brightens. He often manifests himself to us when we are not expecting it. Sometimes during physical suffering or other distress, he comes to us with such sweetness and blessedness that we are quite lifted above our affliction. He can make us joyful in all our tribulations. Just in our time of need, his Spirit is with us. He comforts and helps and cheers; in fact, he is all and in all to us.
We are also subject to other spiritual influences. Evil spirits abound. Sometimes heavy depressions suddenly settle down upon us; heavy clouds obscure our sky, and we know no reason why they should. Fiery and unexpected temptations come upon us. Sometimes we are conscious that such are the direct influence of evil agents. These experiences are not indications that we are not right in our souls, and we should not question ourselves wrongly at such times. We may feel these influences very keenly. We may sometimes be hard pressed. At such times we should resist steadfastly in the faith. We should hold fast our confidence in God, and expect to have power from God to overcome. Satan has power to affect our feelings very strongly—and he often takes advantage of this power.
Sometimes we realize that we have two kinds of feelings simultaneously, one superficial and the other deeper—and that there is a conflict between these feelings. Sometimes profane or impure thoughts will be impressed upon our minds, and if we do not understand their source, we may be greatly troubled over them. There may sometimes be feelings of resentment toward God, or a feeling of purposes that are quite out of harmony with the Christian life or experience. Sometimes souls having this experience are horrified and think themselves in a deplorable condition; when, in reality, these things come directly from Satan, and not from themselves at all. They do not spring from the heart, but are from an external influence.
Underneath these feelings are the true feelings and purposes of the soul. These deeper and better feelings show the real state and condition of the heart. We should not condemn ourselves because Satan imposes such feelings or thoughts upon us. If we will simply resist them in God's strength—we may overcome them and be none the worse for them, although the experience may be rather trying to our souls while we are passing through it.
Being subject, as we are, to all these influences—we ought not to suppose that all our difficulties are soul difficulties. The thing to do is to keep our hearts open before God; to keep our purposes and lives pure; to live by faith, not by our feelings; to judge ourselves, not by our emotions or the influences brought to bear upon us—but by the inmost purposes of our hearts. If the reader will carefully study the facts already enumerated and get hold of them until he understands them for himself—they will be of the greatest value to him in the Christian life!
Meddling With The Scales
No matter how accurate and reliable a set of scales may be, if they are meddled with—then they may be made inaccurate and undependable. If we were weighing coal and the scales were out of balance a few pounds, it would not matter so much. But if we were weighing diamonds or gold, a very little variation would amount to a great deal.
The more valuable that which we weigh—the more necessary it is that the scales be properly adjusted and accurate to a high degree. When it comes to a standard of weighing the human soul, that should be the most accurate of all standards.
When it comes to judging ourselves—it is important that we have a right standard of judgment. The right standard which God furnishes, is his Word. It will weigh us accurately if we take it as it is; but if we misinterpret it or turn it out of its natural course and meaning, we may judge ourselves very wrongly by it. What we need to do is to be absolutely fair with ourselves. We must not allow ourselves to be prejudiced either in favor or against ourselves.
If our standard of judgment is so low, that it permits us to be impure in heart and purposes and to do things that are wrong in the sight of God—then that standard is evil for us, and we are not just to ourselves. If we have too high a standard and require more of ourselves than is just and right—again we do ourselves an injury.
We must learn to be fair to ourselves. We must require of ourselves all that we ought to require, but nothing more than that. In many lives the standard is far too low—and consequently the life is too low. In other cases the standard is too high, and is entirely out of reach and can never be attained. We should have high ideals, but these ideals should be practical and should not overlook the facts of human life. They should always be balanced by common sense. We should not live in a spiritual dreamland; for in practice we shall ever have to face the cold hard facts of life. These facts, not our dreams and imaginations—are what we must adjust ourselves to.
If we have too high a standard—then we shall always be coming short of it and condemning ourselves. A high standard, if not too high, is a strong incentive to progress; but when it is made the standard by which we judge our present attainment, it tends to discourage us and becomes a real barrier to our progress. We can never attain to our standards because they will ever grow as we grow, and they will continue to be in advance of us no matter how fast we grow. We must have a biblical and practical, not an ideal, standard of judgment.
Making someone else our standard, has its dangers. We cannot see another's inner life. We know nothing of his conflicts or his secret faults. We can see only the external manifestations. We do know our own inner life—and we can know theirs only as we judge it from outward appearance. God wants each of us to judge himself by His Word—not by any other standard, and he does not want us to judge ourselves by an ideal beyond His Word.
People often make a serious mistake in comparing themselves with someone of a different temperament. It is very common to suppose that if a person is very emotional in religion, that he has a great deal of religion; and that if he is very quiet, he has no religion to speak of.
I traveled for a number of years in the gospel work with a minister whose temperament was decidedly emotional and who would sometimes become very demonstrative, leaping and shouting, and manifesting his feelings very plainly. I was of a rather unemotional temperament. I had powerful emotions sometimes, but it was not my disposition to give vent to them. People therefore judged that he had a much better experience than I had, and oftentimes I heard people remark that they wished that they had an experience like his. No one ever seemed to wish that about me. No one seemed to covet an experience like mine in the least. They all wanted one like his, because they thought he was so happy. We both had the same salvation and served the same God. The difference was a difference of temperament.
Salvation is not a thing of temperament. To make our feelings and emotions a standard, is to make our temperament the standard. Those of other temperaments will differ from us. They cannot and will not have the same experience, so far as feelings and emotions are concerned.
Great havoc has been caused by unwise preaching on these points. Preachers often relate their experience, telling how happy they were and what wonderful emotions they had when they were converted. Others, hearing them, are led to suppose that if they are saved—then they will have these same emotions. Others, when they seek salvation—seek these same emotions. If they are of a different temperament, they do not experience them, and as a result they find it very difficult to suppose that they are saved at all.
Preaching that emotion is ever a sign of salvation, in the sense that we can base our hope of God's favor and Heaven upon it, is a serious error. Faith is fundamental. Believing in God is what matters. Emotion is a superficial thing. It is not a reliable evidence, and when people are taught to look upon their feelings as evidences, they do not get a settled experience, an experience that will take them through hard places when their feelings subside. A man's religion does not consist in the joy that he has, nor in the amount of noise he makes—but in the attitude of his heart toward God.
Preaching should never go beyond the bounds of common sense. We should never let our enthusiasm run away with our judgment. When feelings are preached, the strong-nerved preacher will preach a strong-nerved gospel—and the weak-nerved one will preach a weak-nerved gospel. The first will make no allowance for those who have weak nerves and who suffer the trials incident to their nervous condition; so he is likely to be the cause of bringing them into severe trials and conflicts. He has no idea of how things look and are to them. The other makes allowance for the infirmities of the weak and preaches his own experience. The strong-nerved people who hear him know that his experience is not like theirs and think he is lowering the standard. The thing to do, is to preach the Word—not our experience. We may use our experiences to illustrate the things that we preach, but we ought to make it clear that experiences differ widely in many respects and that we should never judge one another by our experiences, nor should we expect our experiences to correspond fully with that of someone else.
The effect of too high a standard, is always to discourage. We should have a proper standard, but not an ideal standard. We ought to require nothing of ourselves or others, beyond a practical and common-sense Christian life. Sometimes the standard of the Christian life is placed altogether too high, being out of reach. I once heard a sermon that left the impression on me that the preacher felt thus: "I am up here and a few others are up here, but the most of you are down there, and you know that you are down there, and you are going to have a very hard time to get up here, if you ever do succeed." The effect of that sermon was very discouraging, but it is far from the only one of the sort that has been preached. Many souls have been crushed by such preaching.
Many times I have heard the experience of the Christian life described as such an ideal state that I knew the preacher himself nor anyone else had ever attained such a state and never would in this life. Sanctification means the purification of our natures, but it does not mean the perfecting of our human faculties. It does not mean that we are automatically perfect in patience or kindness, nor that we are in a state where our emotions will always be sweet and ideal. It does not mean that we shall never have a feeling of impatience or anger.
Anger comes from the violation of our sense of justice. There are two forms of anger. One is vindictive anger, which causes us to have feelings of resentment and vengeance, and which would feel pleased at the suffering of the offender. This is sinful anger. The other anger is that indignation which arises from a sense of the evil nature of the act or thing, and which does not excite vindictive feelings toward the object. Christ was angry when he reproved the Pharisees (Mark 3:5), and justly so, for their wicked conduct was such as could not but excite his indignation. The Bible speaks of God's indignation, his anger, his wrath, his fury, etc.—but we know that nevertheless he is holy. In fact, it was this very quality of holiness which caused him to be angry with wickedness. The stronger our sense of justice and our love of holiness—the stronger will be the sense of disapprobation that evil-doing will excite in us.
The Bible nowhere teaches us that a Christian man will never be angry. Instead it teaches what he should do when angry. "Be angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your anger" (Ephesians 4:26). One of the requirements of an elder is that he should be holy, and another is that he should not be "easily angered" (Titus 1:7), that is, he was to be man who possessed proper self-control. I am not arguing in favor of getting angry, but simply to show that if a person does become angry, it does not necessarily prove that his heart is impure. We need to guard very carefully all our natural faculties and control them so that they do not lead us into sin. Sanctification makes us much more equable in temper than we were before—so that many things that angered us before, do not have that effect upon us now.
That anger which comes from an ugly temper or from wounded pride, is not a mark of the Christian. This sort of thing and the love of God, will not abide in the same heart. When the grace of God comes in, that kind of anger goes out to stay. The love of God softens our hearts and our natures, and the more of his love and power there is in us, the more kind and tender and affectionate we are. When we are walking under the control of the Spirit, it brings to us a calmness and quietness and self-control that helps us to preserve moderation in all our ways.
The mere feeling of displeasure and anger that now arises in the modified form that it does manifest itself in the Christian, is not sinful in its nature. Sometimes people say they are tempted to be angry. They might as well say they are tempted to be joyful or sad or thankful. Anger is an involuntary emotion. We cannot be tempted to be angry, but the temptation is to do or say something wrong when we are angry.
Do not condemn yourself as being unholy just because you sometimes feel these emotions that some idealists say that you will not feel. Judge yourself by the Bible and common sense.
Some say that anger comes from depravity. Depravity in man affects it to make it vindictive. Then, and not until then, does it become sinful. The more of God we have in us, the more like God we shall be in these feelings, and the more holy will be both our temper and our conduct.
We ought to have the same standard of judgment for ourselves that we have for others. There are those who have a lower standard for themselves and excuse in themselves, that which they could not and would not excuse in someone else. They are ready to condemn others for doing the very same things that they themselves do, or things that involve the same principle. They find no excuse for others, but only condemnation; yet they have a ready excuse for themselves whenever they are guilty of a similar thing.
Others go to the opposite extreme. They have a higher standard for themselves, than they have for anyone else. They can excuse others, for doing what they themselves would not feel clear in doing. They condemn themselves for things that they would not condemn others for. They can find excuses for others, but none for themselves.
By adopting either of these courses, we do wrong to ourselves. God has the same standard of judging all people, and he desires that we have the same standard for judging ourselves. The standard we set for others is more likely to be correct, than the one we set for ourselves. If the standard we set for ourselves is not a proper standard by which to judge others, then it is not the proper one by which to judge ourselves. There is a true and just standard. Let us seek that and apply it to our own lives and to the lives of others. The true standard is neither too high nor too low.
In one sense, the standard by which God judges us is flexible—that is, he holds us responsible only for what we know; hence the greater the light, the greater the responsibility of the person. Others will never be judged by our light nor we by theirs. It is only when people have the same degree of light and when the circumstances are alike, that the same standard is applicable to two or more individuals. But where light and circumstances are the same on any point, all must be judged by the same rule; and what is right for one is right for all, and what is wrong for one is wrong for all.
Sometimes people act as prosecutors, witnesses, judge, and jury—to secure their own condemnation. Their consciences are so sensitive that they are ready to condemn themselves for various slight and trivial things—things that God pays no attention to at all and that they should not trouble themselves about. It is unwise to be always questioning our lives down to the minutest details. If our purpose is to serve God and we act upon that purpose—then we need not watch ourselves so closely. We need not spy upon ourselves and play the detective upon ourselves all the time.
We must, of course, watch our conduct and not be careless and indifferent, but living the Christian life is not like trying to walk on a high-wire. It does not require any strain or struggle to keep balanced. No, the Christian path is broad enough for us to set our feet down squarely and to walk with ease and comfort. If Christ lives in us, will not he live out his life in us as naturally as he lived it out in his own fleshly body here in this world? Trust yourself to him and have confidence that he will work out in you the things that are well pleasing in his sight.
Someone has said, "Do your best—and trust the rest." There is much wisdom in that saying. Think it over until you get what it means—and then put it in practice in your life. Do not all the time be trying to do what you cannot do and what you have never succeeded in doing and never will succeed in doing. "It is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure"—trust him to do it.
Overvaluing or depreciating ourselves and our work, is another unwise thing. Whichever we do will turn out bad. It is not true humility to be always criticizing and undervaluing ourselves. If we do a thing, it is neither better nor worse than if someone else had done it, and we should not so regard it. Let us not have a double standard, one for ourselves and one for others, but let us have the same standard for all—and let that be a just and right standard, one that God's approval will rest upon. Then we may live satisfactory lives and have the blessing and approval of God upon us. The Bible and good common sense—that is the true and only standard by which we must be judged.
"Having a form of godliness but denying its power." 2 Timothy 3:5
We read in the Bible of the form and the power of godliness. When we look about us in the church, we see more of the form than we do of the power. There seems to be so many people who are merely playing religion. They attend services and go through the form of worship. They are sometimes very strongly devoted to their creed and greatly attached to the organization of which they are members; but when you look for the power of godliness in their lives and the power to render acceptable service to God—you do not find it. This make-believe religion may ease the conscience for a time. But it will not bring us into a position where we can render acceptable service to God and where our own souls will be satisfied to their depths. People may manage to get along with such a religion in this world, but it will not stand the test of eternity. Of course, it will not stand the real test for this life. The soul who has the form without the power of religion, can never have that satisfaction and peace that true religion gives.
There are many people who go through the forms of religion and try to serve the Lord, but who never know whether their service is acceptable or not.
I was once talking with a lady who had professed to be a Christian for many years and had prayed often. Speaking to me on the subject of prayer, she said, "I cannot say that God has ever answered my prayers." Think of it! Twenty years of praying and never a prayer answered! Still, there are many who would have the same confession, if they would honestly open their hearts. Their religion has so little of reality in it, that it seems almost nothing to them. It is natural for such Christians to testify that they "make many crooked paths for their feet" and that they "serve God in their weak way and manner." Such people are not usually weak, when it comes to serving self and the world.
The religion of too many people is like that of a man whom I once knew. Two religious parties had been holding their regular services in the same church. At last a strife arose among them as to which should have complete control of the church. This man who was leader of one faction told me that when they came together one day for a final decision of the case, he took off his coat, threw it down upon the seat, and said, "You lie there and my religion with you—until I whip these people out of here."
Religion that can be put on with the Sunday clothes and taken off as easily, never goes very deep into the heart or life. The service of such people is always weak, because there is no heart in it. While they profess to worship God, their hearts are far from him.
A certain religious professor went to work with a gang of men upon a public contract. He worked with them several weeks and then came home.
A friend asked him, "How did you get along working with that gang of wicked men up there? What did they have to say about your religion?"
"Oh," replied the other, "they didn't find out anything about it. I didn't tell them."
It is just that way with many people. You would never find out anything about their religion—if they did not tell you about it. There is no manifestation of it in their lives or characters. It does not show out in their words nor deeds. In fact, you would never suspect they had any religion—if you did not see them in church.
Sometimes people will rise in testimony-meetings and say, "I know that my Redeemer lives." In this they often turn the truth into a lie, for they do not know that their Redeemer lives—for they are not redeemed. They are the same old creatures that they always have been. They have no personal knowledge of God whatever, unless it is of his condemnation resting upon them.
Ezekiel speaks of this class of people and says of them, "My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain!" (Ezekiel 33:31). Isaiah, as quoted by Jesus, says of the same class, "This people honors me with their lips—but their heart is far from me" (Matthew 15:8). Of what religion they have Jesus says, "In vain do they worship me" (verse 9).
Acceptable service to God can never be rendered with the lips alone. It must come from the heart. It is the condition and the attitude of the heart which matters most in everything. If our hearts are not in the service, then our service is vain. Service to God, to be acceptable, must be the most real of all things. It must be the great outstanding fact of life.
God hates the mere form of religion. It is an insult to him. He knows whether we are in earnest or not, whether our service is just form or not. Modern ritualism is a curse to the church. A true Christian heart needs no such form. When we draw near to God with our hearts, the Spirit within us makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. It is from a heart thus in earnest that true worship and devotion comes. It is forth from such a heart that true service flows.
Acceptable service can come only from a holy heart. God's standard for his worshipers is "that you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God" (Philippians 2:15).
Lost sinners cannot do that which is pleasing in the sight of God. Repentance is the one thing upon which God centers their attention. To repent is the first thing for them to do. God loves to receive the service of the holy. We may be weak and faltering, but our service is acceptable to God none the less—if our hearts are right in his sight. As long as we are living in known disobedience to God, however—we might as well not try to serve him. That disobedience will stand between us and God as a barrier, and he cannot receive anything that we do, no matter what it is, as being a righteous thing. Our hearts must first be righteous, before our lives can be so.
Service, to be acceptable, must always be willing service. God forces no one to serve him. He lays down the principle that "if there is first a willing mind—then it is accepted according to that a man has" (2 Corinthians 8:12). Our service is not judged by our ability to do great things. A child can serve as acceptably as a man; the ignorant as well as the learned.
The soul who serves willingly—takes God's way gladly. He does not ask to choose for himself; he only asks what will please the Lord, and, once knowing that, he gladly does it. Paul said of preaching the gospel, that if he did it willingly—then he had a reward. It is only the willing service which has the reward. Willing service does have both a present and a future reward. Oh, for more willing workers who will not choose their own way or their own place or their own time—but who will give themselves into the hands of God and let his will be that which guides them from day to day, and thus find their pleasure in doing what is acceptable in his sight. God finds his pleasure in the willingness of the heart.
To be acceptable, our service must be sincere. Sincerity is the foundation of Christian character. Hypocrisy in anything, is an abomination to the Lord. Deep sincerity and earnestness, characterize every true Christian. Without these, there can be no true Christian character and no Christian service.
Many people are not sincere with themselves, with others, nor with God. They are not satisfied with their lives, and they know that God is not—and yet they go on professing to be what they know they are not. They try to appear outwardly, what they really know they are not. They desire others to believe them to be something that they know they are not in reality.
The people around us who gaze upon our lives, who listen to our words, and who see the play of emotions upon our faces—know whether we are the true and sincere, or not. God, who looks down from Heaven and reads the very secrets of our hearts, knows also. God wants us to serve him with a true heart, or make no pretense of serving him.
It must be a reverent service. The Psalmist says, "Stand in awe, and sin not" (Psalm 4:4). Hebrews 12:28 says, "Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." When our souls sense the greatness of God—we are then filled with a feeling of reverence toward him; and it is only when we have this feeling of reverence, that our service comes to have the quality of acceptable service. We cannot treat the service of God with careless indifference—and have this reverence for him. We must feel this before we can truly worship him—before our worship will have that quality of genuine adoration that makes it acceptable to God. If his fear is upon our hearts—then we shall be very careful about our conduct. The question will be, not "Does this please me?" but "Will it please God?"
"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." Matthew 6:1, 2
Our service to God must be an unostentatious. Service which springs from true love to God—never desires to display itself. Genuine service is not done for the eyes of men to behold; it is done as a loving tribute to God, the object of its love.
The principle here set forth is that what is done with the purpose of being seen by men, brings only the reward that men give; in other words, it is not accepted by the Lord as service to Him. Judged by this rule, much of the service of some so-called Christians is never, I fear, recognized in Heaven at all. Our good deeds are to be done—not that men may see—but that God, who sees in secret, may see, and reward according to His own will, and that He may regard them as service done to Himself and not for the reward of men's praise.
It is simple, single-hearted service which pleases the Lord.
"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:3-4
Paul tells us the kind of life and service that pleases God: "That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior" (1 Timothy 2:2, 3).
We are told that a meek and quiet spirit is a thing of great price in the eyes of the Lord. Loud and ostentatious conduct is not in harmony with the Spirit of Christ, nor with the true Christian character. Paul said, "Study to be quiet, and do your own business" (1 Thessalonians 4:11). There is a quiet dignity about the work of the Holy Spirit, and if we are indwelt and filled by the Holy Spirit, there will be a quiet dignity in our lives that will count vastly more than any self-assertiveness. It is not the showy bird, that sings the sweet song. It is not the noisy and showy man, that makes his mark for God. The man who is truly godlike has no desire to put himself upon exhibition. He thinks, "Not I, but Christ," and not only thinks it, but feels it in the depths of his heart.
Another thing contained in the text quoted above is that we should not meddle in other people's business. We are commanded not to be busybodies (1 Timothy 5:13). Speaking of certain religious people, Paul says, "They get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to." Such things are no mark of the Christian. It shows a serious defect of character. Unless we take heed to this, we cannot be God's, nor truly represent him before the world. If you are going to please the Lord, you must not be a tattler nor a busybody. Your religion must get into your walk as well as into your heart; and if it gets really into your heart, it will manifest itself through your tongue.
Paul says also that we must be peaceable. We cannot be peaceful, without being peaceable. Inward content comes only from a quiet and peaceable spirit, and, having such a spirit, we shall manifest it toward those around us. We are told that as far as lies in us, we should live peaceably with all men. We are also told that we should not be violent. A Christian will not stir up strife in his community. We are told that God is not the author of confusion but of peace. It is not strange, therefore, that his Spirit in us should be a peaceable Spirit, and should make us peaceable to those around us. The command is, "Live in peace," and the promise is, "And the God of peace shall be with you" (Philippians 4:9).
The strife and the contention sometimes seen among those who profess to be God's, do not come from the Spirit of Christ, neither do they spring from a Christian character—but from an evil principle in the heart, from a lack of godliness instead of from the presence of it. A true Christian spirit is one of kindliness, gentleness, meekness, forbearance, and mercy, manifested toward all.
Service, to be acceptable, must be honest. Sterling honesty is a characteristic of true Christian character. We must be honest with ourselves, with God, and with others. We must be honest in our business, and in all the details of our lives. The kind of honesty required, does not admit of any questionable practices—no short weights or measures, no misrepresentations of goods or prices. Christianity bears just as real fruit in business, as it does in worship. The man who leaves his religion at home when he goes to business, is no Christian. The true Christian has a conscience toward God in his business. He speaks the truth; he is honest; he does that which he ought to do; he does not stoop to underhanded practices; he does not take advantage of those with whom he has business dealings. He is a godly man in his business, as well as in his profession.
True Christianity knows nothing of the days of the week: it is just as good on Monday or on Friday, as it is on Sunday. It will stand the test of the store, the bank, the farm, and all of everyday life—any time and anywhere. If the religion we have will not stand that test, it will not stand the test of the final judgment.
The sincerity of a true Christian is manifested in truthfulness. He speaks the truth in love. Sometimes people speak truths in a malicious and vindictive way. As the Christian feels neither malice nor vindictiveness—he does not speak in that way. We are told that we must give an account of our words at the judgment-seat of God. We cannot serve God with an untruthful tongue. We cannot serve God by practicing deceit. We are to commend ourselves to every man's conscience, by manifestations of the truth (2 Corinthians 4:2). The Bible is truth. God is truth—there is no lie in him. If we partake of the nature of God and the Bible—then we are truthful, and there are no lies in us; we do not speak lies, nor act out lies.
Another thing every Christian ought to learn is to be silent, when he ought to be so. Silence is often more important than speech. Silence is golden, but it is only the wise man who knows how to get this gold.
The quality of our service is rated by the amount of love we put into it. It is not so much the acts that we do, nor the consequences that flow from them—but the amount of love there is in the service. Love is what renders it acceptable to God—that is what makes it precious in his sight. It is the love of our hearts poured out to him in service, that he counts worth while; therefore the more we love him, the more acceptable and pleasing our service will be in his sight.
If we serve him well, he will not let us be in ignorance of it. He will give us the testimony of a good conscience. Enoch had "this testimony, that he pleased God," and we also may have it if we please him. God is not slow to recognize what we do for him, when it is prompted by right motives and pure purposes. Let us, therefore, walk humbly before God and serve him in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.
Providences and Circumstances
Life is often an enigma. It brings to us many things that we cannot understand. How blessed it is at such times, to realize that there is One wiser than we, who has our lives in his care and who sees all and understands all! God is our father, and we are the children of his love. He has our welfare at heart. He is interested in all that concerns us. He watches over all our lives, and nothing that comes to us can come without his knowledge. Whatever comes, he knows full well its effect upon us, and his loving hand is ever ready to protect and help his children.
He could, if he chose, lead us in a pleasant and easy path through life, but he knows that a pleasant and easy path would not develop in us that strong and hardy Christian character so essential for us. Neither would it give him an opportunity to reveal the riches of his grace or his tender care. He knows that we must taste the bitter, before we can appreciate the sweet. He knows that we must feel life's sorrows, before we can value its joys. Suffering more than anything else, develops us in the Christian graces. It is for this purpose that he sometimes leads us along difficult ways. Therefore his providences are often dark and mysterious.
But throughout our lives, if we are his, then "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28). When difficulties arise through which we can see no way, and he makes a way of which we had never thought—it is then that our hearts are made to wonder at his wisdom and are melted with gratitude.
His ways are not our ways. They are higher and better than our ways. If we were wise enough, we would always choose for ourselves, that which he chooses for us. But alas! How often when we choose for ourselves, we choose that which is least wise!
We must often deny ourselves. Sometimes it is hard to give up what we have chosen, as it seems desirable and exactly what we need. But God often denies us the seeming good, that a greater good may come. If we submit and trust, that greater good will surely come; but if we rebel and clamor—then God may be compelled to hold back that greater good; and if we have our way, it may in the end prove to be a bitter way. What God gives is ever the best. We would often have better, if we would trust God's wisdom and take gladly what he gives.
The trouble so often, is that we fail to trust him. We know that if he chooses he will choose well for us, but we think that perhaps he may forget us. May not the bitter thing which comes escape his notice, or may he not grow careless?
Sometimes we fear and tremble and wonder. We try to escape it, but still it comes, and in the future days we often look back upon this very thing as one of God's greater blessing to us because of what it wrought for us and in us.
God sometimes places a wall before us, that we may stop and consider. We may come face to face with this obstacle across our path. We see no way by which we can surmount it; we see no way to go around it. Sometimes it fills us with foreboding. We question, "What will be the result? What shall we do?" Sometimes we grow very much troubled over it, but it is through this very thing, that God makes us to do the serious thinking that he desires us to do and that it is necessary for us to do. He does not put a wall before us just to hinder our progress. He has some other purpose in it always, and when he has worked out that purpose, he will either take the wall out of the way, show us a way to surmount it, or lift us completely over it and set our feet again triumphant in the way.
He sometimes places a mountain of difficulty before us that we may climb to higher altitudes, and that in the climbing, we may develop spiritual strength. A rugged mountain before us may be hard to climb. Its difficulties may discourage us; but if we will gather up our courage and surmount it, no matter what effort may be necessary—we shall find that we have gained true spiritual benefits. We now stand on a higher altitude with a broader outlook, and instead of our being weakened by these difficulties, they have been the very source of our strength.
Every difficulty that we conquer by God's grace, raises us higher in the Christian life. This is the purpose of these difficulties. God is not desirous that we have the difficulty, but he must let us have the difficulty if he is to raise us to the higher altitude, and he desires us to have the higher position. He never lets the difficulties be too great. He knows that we can surmount them if we will. If he did not know this, he would not let them be placed in our way.
He sometimes sends sorrow to soften us and make us hungry for His comfort. We may become too satisfied with earthly things. We may draw too much of our joy from them. He delights to have us draw our joy and our comfort from Him; therefore He must take away our toys which have been occupying our time—that our souls may yearn for the comfort and blessedness which only He can give. He knows that nothing softens us like sorrow. So he gives us a cup of sorrow to drink to the dregs—and oh, what tenderness and blessedness come into our lives when we drink submissively of that cup, no matter how bitter it may be to our taste!
He sometimes takes away the staff upon which we lean, that we may learn to lean upon him. He sometimes takes away that in which we trust, that we may learn better to trust in him.
He may sometimes take away our strength, that he may be our strength and that his strength may be made perfect in our weakness.
He sometimes takes away our company, that we may desire his company the more.
All these happenings may seem dark and mysterious to us; they may seem the very things that are the worst for us—but they are not. They are but the manifestations of His kindly wisdom and His fatherly tenderness. Sometimes behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. We often see only the frown of the providence, and that frown looks very threatening; but if we will look away from that frowning providence to the smiling face of God, we shall see that which will uplift us and strengthen us and enable us to bear whatever stroke of providence may come.
O soul, trust Him. He knows the way that you take. He knows just what is needful for you. So bear with patience, and endure with meekness, and do not question His wisdom or love. It will all come out for the very best in the end. Here is a little verse that speaks out a great truth:
"With patient mind, your course of duty run;
God nothing does, or suffers to be done
But you would do yourself, if you could see
The end of all events, as well as he."
You will do well to memorize these lines and when things happen that you cannot understand, repeat them over to yourself until their truth enters your heart and becomes real to you. It will help you to trust; it will help you to bear difficulties; it will help you to be strong. Learn to look at things just that way, for such they are in reality. If you will count them so, it will often help you. This will make the hard places easier, and the tiresome places less tiresome.
When you are tried, you should think, "Should I not have these same things to bear if I were not a Christian? And should I not have to bear them without the grace of God to help me?"
Too many people are looking for an easy way, and when they find a little hardship somewhere, something that requires a little endurance, they are ready to look for some other way. Some people think that Christians ought not to have these difficult things to bear, but God sees otherwise. These things will come and must come. Giving up our hold on God, will make it harder instead of easier for us to bear them. We shall not get rid of them. We shall have to pass through them, no matter what we do; so we might as well bravely face them and trust God to take us through.
The thing to do is to meet courageously whatever comes. It is safe to rely upon his wisdom, and his love will never fail us.
By birth, by the influence of environment, and by the effect of our own habits—we are weak, undeveloped, or abnormal in many of the human traits and faculties—which grace either leaves untouched or only partly affects, and which we need to set ourselves about correcting, improving, or developing. In many things, we are the product of our own efforts. Grace does much, but grace can never take the place of our own efforts in self-development.
Sin often weakens the will, until it loses its original power of control over desire. When we let desire become master, we destroy the balance of our forces. The will must rule over desire if we are to be righteous; so if the will is weak, we need to set about the task of strengthening it. To do this we must lay out for ourselves a definite course of action, and then, knowing what we ought to do, not let ourselves be turned away from that, no matter what natural desire may suggest.
Form the habit of carrying out what you start to do, in spite of obstacles, in spite of fluctuation of desire and the inclination to stop instead of going forward. Carry out your purposes. Never be hasty in deciding to do a thing; but when you have once decided, carry out that decision fully unless you discover some good reason why you should not do so.
If you begin things and do not finish them, but grow weary and let them go, or let yourself be turned aside to something else—then you weaken your will each time. It is better to complete a few things, than to begin many and finish none. One thing carried resolutely through, strengthens you and makes success easier next time. By this means, a weak will can often be greatly strengthened in a short time.
When you say no, stick to it unless you see that you are wrong. Do not let your refusal become a yielding later. If you ought to say no at the first—then it ought to be no to the end. If one no to temptation is not enough, say it again and again. Either you, or temptation, must lose. You have the power to make your first no a final no, if you hold your ground.
We may have cultivated stubborn self-will until submission to any other will is hard. We love our own way. We find it hard to submit to God, to our brethren, or to circumstances. To be successful Christians, we must conquer this self-will. We must compel ourselves to yield against our natural inclinations, until we form the habit of submission to the extent that we should submit. Some never conquer themselves sufficiently, to yield gracefully; nor to yield at all, until circumstances force them to do so. They lose many of the sweetest things of life because of this stubborn self-will. They often feel that their rights are being trespassed on; in fact, whenever you find a person who is always standing up for his rights, you find one of those self-willed individuals.
Such people never progress very deeply into the grace of God, since they are never willing to make the necessary surrender to God. Conquer your self-will—and cultivate submissiveness to God. It is the only way to true happiness.
Another thing that we need to cultivate is courage. The world hates a coward; and the devil too, I think, has little respect for him. The man who would be a successful Christian, needs courage. Life is a battle, and it takes courage to win it. You can be brave just as well as anyone else. Start to face your foes just as if you were brave—no matter how little courage you have, nor how much you tremble. If you act as if you were brave, it will produce the same results upon your foe as if you were brave; and if you act bravely, you will soon come to feel brave. If for a time you act more bravely than you feel, that action will win, and the victory won will produce confidence, which is the foundation of courage. You will either cultivate courage by meeting your foes and obstacles and overcoming them—or you will increase your fears by yielding to them. Remember this: you may be courageous, if you will. You may become fearless, if you will—no matter how timid you are now. Set yourself to the task of being a bold soldier for Christ. You may be such if you will.
Some have cultivated gloominess and despondency in their sinful days, by looking on the dark side of things until they are discouraged most of the time. If you have formed this dreary habit, set about breaking yourself of it. There is just as much sunshine in the world for you as for anyone else, if you will come out of your cavern of gloom.
Cultivate hope. God is on your side. Read his promises and believe they are for you, and begin to act in conformity with your faith. So many people are always looking at their trials and their failures, and consequently they see but little else in their lives. This is always discouraging. If you want to see something worthwhile, look at "the pit from whence you were dug." Look at the things in which you are different from what you used to be. "Behold what God has wrought!" Make yourself look away from the dark picture. There is something better than this to look at. Form the habit of right thinking—and overcome your morbidness. God wills that you be happy, and there are enough good things around you to make you happy if you will give them your attention.
Wherever you find yourself weak or undeveloped, set yourself the task of making yourself what you ought to be. God will help you with his grace. You must do your part. Grace has its part, but only a part. Train your own faculties, develop your own abilities. Do not be content to be a weakling. Be a real man for God. Do not be satisfied to be less than your best. Do not fold your arms and lament, because of what you now are. This will not make things better. Get into the harness and go to work.
Many people never develop their resources. Their lives might count twenty-fold more, if they would have it so. You can make of yourself more than you have ever hoped, if you will set resolutely about the task in an intelligent way. Be your very best—it will cost earnest effort. You will not regret the effort, when you see the results.
In preceding chapters we have considered the subject of faith so far as it relates to the receiving of God's cleansing work in the soul; it remains now to consider the general subject as it relates to the Christian life. The word is often applied to a system of belief or teaching, as "the faith of the gospel." We will not look at faith from this perspective here.
Faith in this chapter means the faculty of the human soul by which we lay hold upon God and are brought into intimate contact with him, and through which we receive things from him.
Evangelical faith is believing "that God is, and he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). It is believing that God is what the Bible says he is, and that he will do what the Bible says he will do. It is a confident and implicit relying upon him. It is counting him true and his word true, and putting that confidence into action in our lives.
In Galatians 5:22 faith is said to be one of the fruits of the Spirit. Faith being a fruit of the Spirit, it naturally follows that the more spiritual we become, the stronger will be our faith and the more effective it will be in its action. Faith is more highly developed in some people than in others, but there are none but can have faith in God sufficient for their own salvation and sufficient to enable them to live a godly and true life.
Faith is also capable of great development. As we advance from one experience to another in the Christian life and see how God has blessed us and led us on and helped us, that increases our faith, adding to it from day to day. It is God's will that every one of his children have sufficient faith to make them overcomers in this world, so that they may live a life to please God in all things.
QUALITIES of Faith
Faith is not as blind credulity. Faith has keen eyes, and she looks forth with unfaltering gaze. She knows full well that she need not close her eyes to any fact. She knows that the whole realm of truth is hers. She gazes at all the facts in the quiver of Reason and fears none of them. She sees in and beyond these truths a mighty God, the object of her confidence. Credulity fears truth, but Faith rejoices in it, for in every truth she sees the revelation of her Beloved. Her eyes are quickened by love, so that she sees where other eyes cannot see. Faith sees the unseen and beholds the invisible. Her vision pierces the dark and threatening clouds of earthly circumstances, and beholds God still upon his throne and still her helper.
Faith is courageous. She does not triumph because her enemies are weak, but because she is strong, and difficulties only make her stronger. She faces her foes with confidence, for she knows Him in whom she trusts. She is bold with the boldness that comes from strength, for she knows that she has access to all the strength of God. Why should she be timid or shrinking? is not her God greater than all? is he not with her? She is hopeful even in the darkest hour. She can always see something in which to rejoice. Dark skies do not appall her. The keen winds of persecution and the beating waves of trouble cannot silence her song of rejoicing. She knows in whom she trusts. She knows that the end will be victory, and so she goes upon her way confident, courageous, and hopeful.
The FOUNDATION of Faith
Paul told the Corinthians that his preaching to them was not with "enticing words of man's wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that their faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:4). Faith has a more sure foundation, than the wisdom of man. It is based upon the character and promises of God. When we come to know the character of God through the revelation of himself in the Bible, and through what we learn of him by our own experience—it affords us a certain foundation for faith. We learn his truthfulness; therefore we know his promises are true. We learn of his faithfulness; therefore we know that his promises will be fulfilled. We learn of his kindness, and we know that he will be kind to us. We learn of his love, and we know that he will manifest that love to us in helping us.
God has spoken many gracious promises to us. He cannot lie. These promises were made to be fulfilled and not to be broken. They are "yes and amen" to everyone who believes. God never tries to find a way to excuse himself in not fulfilling his promises. He never desires not to fulfill them. He has never made to us a single promise that it is not his delight to carry out for us. He stands behind them all to make them good, not simply because his faithfulness and truthfulness are at stake, but because what he has promised us is the natural fruitage of his love toward us.
In these things, faith has a foundation that can never fail her. Upon it, she can confidently stand. This is the only sure foundation that she can have. Any other will give way beneath her feet. God's character will never change—and so his promises will never fail. If you would have faith, look at the promises of God—and then look behind the promises at God himself. Look at his character. Contemplate its beauty and strength until your heart becomes enraptured. Behold his perfection until your heart is warmed with adoration.
Many are weak indeed, because they do not really know God. They have never really studied his character. They are unaware of his perfection. They are unaware of his saving interest in them. They do not know the strength and richness of his love. They might know these things if they would read of him in the Bible as they ought, and if they would spend proper time in meditating over what they read.
Reader, if you have never given sufficient time to the study of the character of God, you ought to take that time now. You can spend profitably many days and months therein. Do not be afraid that you will exhaust the subject, for God is infinite. Too many Christians never become acquainted with God further than to be on just common speaking terms with him. They never attain to that intimate knowledge of him, that intimate relation with him, that it is their privilege to enjoy. The more perfectly we know him and the closer to him—the more certain we shall feel that our faith stands upon a solid foundation, one that will never yield under any circumstances.
Based on anything else than the character and promises of God, faith must ever be weak and wavering. Some wrongly base their faith on their experience. As long as they have full confidence in their experience, they think that they can ask God for things and obtain them because of what they are. It is very good to have confidence in our experience, but to base our confidence and our faith on our experience is a very unwise thing. If we do this, anything that makes us doubt our experience in any degree will hinder our faith, just when an active vigorous faith is needful.
Many times people wrongly base their faith upon their emotions. If our feelings are the foundation for our faith, we shall apparently be very strong in faith when we are joyful; but when emotions subside, our faith is gone. Faith must have a substantial grounding, or it will fail just when most needed. To stand, it must be based upon things that are immutable.
If we anchor our boat to a floating log—then we shall drift with its motions. Our emotions rise and fall as the tide. If we make them the basis for faith—then we shall never be able to stand.
Emotion is often a false witness, while faith's witness is always true. Emotion says that we are strong when we are joyful, and weak when we are in heaviness. Its witness is not true. Our real strength is practically the same in both instances, only we are more encouraged and inclined to use our strength when emotions run high. Joyful emotions stimulate faith, hope, and courage, and render them active; while opposite emotions depress and hinder them. The operation of faith is normal and undisturbed, only when emotion is neutral or when it is fully separated in action from faith, and our faith in nowise depends upon it. Just as long as we base our faith upon our feelings—our faith will rise and fall as our feelings do. We shall be now strong—and now weak; now certain—and now uncertain; now confident—and now fearful. Get your faith and your feelings separated. It is only by so doing, that your faith will hold fast in the times when you need it.
When your emotions run high, you have need of little faith, for the strength of your emotions will carry you through; but when emotion subsides and you are left without the stimulus that it gives—it is then that you need faith, and it is then that you must have it in order to keep from being tossed about.
Right here is the difficulty with a multitude of Christians. Their faith is based upon their emotions—not upon the Word of God; therefore so long as they feel all right, their faith is steady—but as soon as their feelings subside or as soon as bad feelings begin to come, their faith wavers and shrinks, and they are ready to give up in despair.
This is child's play, and you will never be more than a child in faith, so long as you base your faith upon your emotions. God does not want you to be the creature of your emotions. He wants you to stand by faith, by a faith anchored to his immutable promises. When faith is so anchored, waves of feeling may rise and fall, the wind may blow this way or that—but the man stands firm. He is saved whether he feels good or feels bad, whether he is joyful or sorrowful, whether his heart is overflowing with thankfulness or his emotions are perfectly neutral. Faith must be based on something outside of ourselves, if it shall ever have a healthy growth and strong development.
Some people base their faith largely upon what other people think of them. They can feel that they are saved, so long as certain ones seem to have confidence in them and are manifesting that confidence at every opportunity. It is all right to appreciate the confidence of our brethren and the manifestation of that confidence—but we should not base our hopes of Heaven and our confidence in ourselves on such manifestations of approval. We must stand for ourselves—we must know ourselves and our own relations with God; we must not depend upon others to know for us.
Get close enough to God so that nobody else can know your state as well as you yourself. Let no one be intermediate between you and God. He has promised that you should know him for yourself and that you should know yourself and your standing before him. Seek this close relation with God. The door is wide open; you may enter into it if you will. God will see that you find the way, if you really seek it. When once your faith is anchored on the solid foundation that he furnishes for you, the accusation of men and devils will not affright you nor make you give up your confidence in God.
The EFFECT of Faith
Paul says, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:22). There are those who tell us that we can never know that we are saved, or in fact ever be very sure of anything in regard to our relationship with God. Nothing could be more contrary to the teachings of the Scriptures. Faith brings knowledge.
Doubts may come from various sources. One source is a lack of knowledge of God's will. As long as we hold in question whether it is God's will to do a thing for us, our faith cannot be active and strong in its grasp. There will be an uncertainty about it all. We need to get this question of God's will settled first. Sometimes this is very hard for us to decide, but of one thing we may always be sure—that it is God's will to give us what we need and what we must have in order to serve him successfully. God is willing to give. He does not have to be forced to give because he has promised. He does not have to be coaxed to give it nor wheedled into granting our request. He stands ready to fulfill his promises. Ordinarily, therefore, when a need is presented to us, we can take it for granted that it is God's will to supply that need, though he must choose the way in which he will supply it.
Doubts often come because we feel unworthy. We need something, and we desire it very much. We do not doubt that God would give it if we were more worthy to receive it. We could readily believe that he would give it to somebody else, but will he give it to us? If what we receive depended upon our worthiness to receive, we would certainly never receive very much from God. It does not depend upon our worthiness—it depends upon his graciousness and upon his mercy and upon his kindness and upon his love. If we must wait until we are worthy of his blessings—we shall never receive them.
It is often true that the most worthy Christians, or those who are most godlike in their lives, are the very ones who feel most unworthy. This is so because they understand better and see more clearly the perfections of God. There are, of course, those whose lives are unworthy before God and who for that reason cannot have faith to receive, because their consciences trouble them. These must needs get a clear conscience before faith will take hold for other things. But those true Christians who seek things of God never have a strong feeling of their worthiness. It is true that they can often say, like Hezekiah, that they have lived perfect before the Lord up to all their understanding; but notwithstanding that, there is a sense of unworthiness before God, so that they do not base their faith upon their worthiness—but upon the great loving-kindness of God.
In order for us to have the assurance of faith, the promises must come to mean us and mean us now. In approaching God for something, you ought to come to him as though you were the only person in the world, and that the promise was especially made for you. You should treat the promise just as though nobody else had a share in it. The promises that cover your needs, are to you. They are to you and for you just as much as though God had spoken them directly to you personally and had included no one else. Look upon them in this way. Treat them this way—always bearing in mind that he must choose his manner of fulfilling them.
Assurance is not emotion. You may be sure that you own a farm. You may have a deed for it, properly recorded. There may be no claims of any sort against the farm. But though you know all these facts, such knowledge may not excite any emotion at all in you. You may be ever so sure of it, not question it in the least—and at the same time be perfectly unemotional about it. The same is true many times with the Christian experience. We may be perfectly sure about it and yet not be able to tell a thing from our emotions.
The promises of God are true, whether they excite in us any emotion or not. He has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). This is true, no matter how lonely or deserted we feel, so long as we trust. Your part is to trust and obey. The rest belongs to God. Be concerned about doing your part, but throw all the responsibility for his part upon him. Do not try to bear one bit of it yourself. Never try to help God. He is able to do his own part. Never worry and strain yourself about trying to have faith. Just be easy and comfortable about things. When the responsibility of anything is thrown upon God, he will not shrink from that responsibility, neither will he fail to bear it properly.
A little incident from my own experience may help the reader to understand what I mean. I was once traveling in the evangelistic work with two helpers. We had arranged to go on Monday morning to a certain town some distance away to begin a meeting. We did not have the money to pay our railroad fare. On Saturday we made our arrangements to go and prayed to the Lord to furnish the means which we needed. On Sunday morning we went to the meeting and had a glorious service. I forgot all about money. On Saturday I had taken it for granted that the Lord would supply our needs at that meeting, but on the way home from the meeting, something seemed to say to me, "Where is your money?" and I suddenly remembered that I had received nothing at all. I had asked the Lord for it and had expected it to come, but it had not come as I had expected. For a moment I did not know what to say. Then I answered: "Well, Lord you will have to look after that. We are going to do our part." We went on a number of miles to stay all night and found that a meeting had been arranged for at that place; so I took it for granted that our needs would be supplied here. We had another very precious meeting, but it closed and the people went home. I was detained a little, but presently started for my place through the darkness. A voice seemed to say to me, "Where is your money?" Here it was late at night, and we were to start early the next morning. But my confidence was in God, and I threw the responsibility on him, saying: "That is your business, Lord. We are doing our part, and we expect you to do yours." I went on my way not concerned about the matter, when shortly I heard a voice calling after me. I answered, and a man came running and put something into my hand. When I reached my lodging-place, I found that it was a bill sufficient to pay all the expenses of our trip.
Do your part, be sure you have done it—and then you can throw the responsibility upon God. You need not worry, you need not fear. He will not fail you. Cast all your cares upon him, for he cares for you. Do not think that God will not attend to his business. Does he let the planets get out of their orbits? Does he let the sun cease to shine? Does he fail to bring spring after the winter? Does he fail to give seed-time and harvest? Be not fearful, but believing. He has said that Heaven and earth should pass away, but that his word should never pass away; that is, it is the most certain thing in existence. Plant your feet firmly on the promise. Count it yours. Rejoice in it.
The Relation of WORKS to Faith
All Catholics and most Protestants trust in their good works more than in God for salvation. This may seem a strong statement, but many years of experience in dealing with souls have brought me to that conclusion. No matter how much the efficacy of faith is preached, when it comes to the matter of practical Christian living, most people trust more or less in their works to make them acceptable before God. They try to do something to merit salvation, and after they are saved they try to do something to merit God's approval. The ineffectiveness of such efforts is made very plain by Paul. He says, "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
There is absolutely no saving merit in our works. Salvation is a gift from God. Anything that is purchased is not a gift. Anything that is ours by right, cannot be a gift to us. Salvation is called the "free gift." It can never, therefore, in any degree rest on our good works. Evil works cut us off from God and grace, and so God requires us to shut evil works out of our lives, but simply shutting these evil works out of our lives does not win for us salvation.
"I do right, therefore I am right," is the usual formula. This makes works precede faith, and makes faith dependent on works. Those who base their standing before God on their good works instead of upon his grace—must continually question themselves, whether their good works are sufficiently good to recommend them to God. If we could be saved in that manner, we would be saved by faith in ourselves, and not by faith in God.
The true formula is, "I am right, therefore I do right." Acts get their quality from intent, and intent comes from the state of the heart. There can be no evil intent in a righteous heart, and hence no evil act in the life. If the fountain is clean, so is the stream; but if the fountain is unclean, then nothing that we can do to the stream will cleanse the fountain.
In Galatians 5:6 we read of "faith which works by love." Faith is therefore a motive power; and if there is true faith abiding in us, it will work out in deeds of love and kindness, of mercy, holiness, and truth.
We should remember, however, that it is not these deeds that make the faith nor preserve it—but it is the faith that makes the deed. James makes works the evidence of faith; that is, faith is the tree—and works are the fruit.
It is quite true that the fruit is of the same character as the tree, but the fruit upon a good tree is often marred by insects or drought or damaged by the weather. The fact that damaged or imperfect fruit is taken from a tree, does not prove that the tree is not good. It may only prove that the circumstances prevented the proper development of the fruit. So the fruit of our faith may not always be perfect. We may now and then come short of our expectations.
There may be things in our lives that we would like to see better. We may be prevented by circumstances from reaching the full development of our lives and fruits, as we should like to have them developed. But nevertheless if we are God's, the true life-power is working in us.
Judging ourselves solely by the fruit that we bear under unfavorable circumstances—is no more fair than judging the tree by the imperfect fruit that may grow upon it. I am not arguing in favor of wrongdoing. By no means. If God is in us—then our lives will be pure and our deeds will be pure. The point that I wish to emphasize here is that our faith should be in God, and not in our works. He who trust in his works is wholly self-righteousness; but he who trusts in the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by the Holy Spirit, has the righteousness of God, which is the "righteousness of faith."
We are righteous because God imputes Christ's righteous to us. We remain righteous because he keeps us righteous. Oh, that men would trust him to be their righteousness instead of going about to establish their own righteousness!
Living by Faith
"The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17). The Christian graces flourish only in the soil of faith. Under the influence of doubt, they droop and die. As already stated, we should never trust in works in order to maintain our righteousness. "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). That inward, conscious, satisfying knowledge of being right with God, can come only by faith. Some people are always questioning their experiences. They remind me of a man hiring out to work for another man through harvest. All goes well the first day, but the second morning he rises he feels tired and sore from the work and probably does not feel at all inclined to begin another day's labor. So he walks off the field and sits down upon a stump while the rest of the laborers go to work.
Presently one comes up to him and says, "What is the matter, John?" He looks gloomy and says: "Oh, I don't feel well this morning. I think I've lost my job." He is finally convinced that he has not lost his job, and is persuaded to go to work, and he gets along pretty well during the day. The next morning it is cloudy, and he walks out into the field again and sits down. Again he is asked what is the matter, and his reply is: "Oh, it's so cloudy and threatening this morning. I think I have lost my job." What do you suppose his employer would say? Would it be, "I am sorry for you; I think you had better go home"? No, it would be, "Get busy there. We need your help."
Some Christians are all the time troubling themselves about having lost their job of serving the Lord. Whenever things are not just as favorable as such Christians think they ought to be, they begin to question themselves. The Scripture says, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). He will not cast you off unless you turn away from him. You will not lose your job of serving him, unless you want to lose it. If you do something that causes him to discharge you, he will tell you plainly what it is. He will not leave you to guess and wonder. Obey him and trust him, and you will be his.
He who has faith, has both arms and armor. It is a defensive armor to shield us against our foe. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul calls it a breastplate. In Ephesians 6:16 he says, "Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." By this he means that faith is our principal protection. With his shield, the ancient soldier stopped the arrows of his adversary—and with the shield of faith we may quench all the fiery darts that are shot at our souls and turn aside all the other things that would wound us.
This is how we should use it for defense: Disbelieve all that contradicts God circumstances, people, feeling, or whatever it may be. God is true, no matter who or what may testify to the contrary nor how strong that testimony. If God is true—then that which is contrary to what he says is false, and we should treat it as being false. It is by faith that we stand (Romans 11:20).
We may be sure of one thing; that is, that we shall never fall by faith. We may fall by unbelief, but never by faith. No soul ever went down, trusting God. Take God at his word. You need not worry about falling. Just believe. God has promised to protect you. If you will build a form about you with your faith, God will pour in the concrete until he has made a solid, impenetrable wall all around you.
Faith is not only our armor, but also our weapons of offense. John said, "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4, 5). In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, we find a list of some of the wonderful things wrought through faith. Through it armies were put to flight, the dead brought to life, and great obstacles overcome. Faith is our surest weapon. Let us arm ourselves with it and go forward to victory.
There is one foundation upon which we can build which will never yield. Jude speaks of it thus: "But you, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith" (verse 20). All other virtues must be built upon this foundation. It is the only foundation for Christian character or Christian attainment. There is no solid foundation, but this. It alone will stand the tests of life's storms. Do you want to live a victorious life? Faith is the victory. As long as you have faith, you have victory, and you will keep the victory until you surrender your faith. Therefore hold fast your faith and confidence in God and in yourself.
There are HINDRANCES to faith. We may either hinder or help our faith. One way in which it is often hindered, is by making the promise mean someone else instead of us. It is often easier to have faith for others than for ourselves, or it seems to be easier. It looks very reasonable that God would answer the prayers of others. The promise means others—of course it does. But it means us just as well. We should not think that it is easier for others to have faith, than it is for us. We should not think that God is more likely to answer others, than he is to answer us.
God wants us to have confidence in our own prayers. He wants us to believe that he will do as much for us as for others, and that his promise means us just as well as any one else. His promise does mean us. God is no respecter of people. If our hearts are true to him—then he will hear us just as quickly as he will hear any one else.
Do not let yourself get the idea that your prayers will not be heard as surely as the prayers of others. If you do, it will be a hindrance to your faith. It is not true. God gives the promise to us, as well as to any one else, and he wants us to look upon it that way, and act upon it that way. Your prayers are just as acceptable as the prayers of any other of God's children. He will be as true to his word in your case, as in theirs. He will do for you what he will do for them, if you believe. God makes no difference between his children. He treats them all alike, if they believe him alike and obey him alike.
Another hindrance to faith, is the idea that some people have, that they must work themselves up to some emotional state or have some particular feeling, in order to be heard. There is a great difference between faith and emotion. It is faith that brings the answer. God's promises are true, no matter how we feel about them. They are true absolutely and always, and they will be made effectual for us according to our needs, if we will rely upon them.
But God fulfills his promises in his own way. We must leave the choosing to him. But if we ask in a submissive way, he always answers more wisely than we ask. We must remember this one fact: that God will not take dictation from us as to how he shall answer. If we try to dictate to him, we only put a barrier in the way of his answering us. Therefore when you pray, pray submissively, "Not my will, but may Your will be done."
Many people limit God in his answering, because they are so sure just how it ought to be that God must answer their way or not at all. Is our wisdom greater than God's? Do we know what ought to be, better than he knows? Sometimes people will accept an answer only in the way that they want it. God sees that they are self-willed—and so he must deny them. We cannot make God work according to our plan; we must work according to his. When we pray without submitting to his will, or give him the privilege of answering in his own way—we are wasting our time. Not only so, but we are developing rebellion in our hearts against God. He hates self-will and stubbornness. It shows that we have more confidence in ourselves, than in him.
Confidence is the basis of faith. John says: "Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him." (1 John 3:21, 22).
We cannot have faith, if we regard iniquity in our heart. Sin is a barrier to faith, unless there is repentance. The heart must be right or seeking to be right, before faith can be effectual. Any unwillingness in our hearts to do all we know of the will of God, or any drawing back from his commandments, will act as a barrier to our faith. If our hearts bear us witness that we are doing the will of God so far as we know it, this will bring to us confidence. In this confidence we can approach God, knowing that he will hear us. Disobedience, or rebellion against anything that we know to be the will of God—is ruinous to faith, so that she cannot soar upward. Hezekiah could pray to God with faith for his healing, only because of the fact that his heart testified to his uprightness of character and his whole-hearted obedience.
Sometimes there are other things besides sin that hinder our faith. Doubt, or anything that makes us question our standing, will hinder our faith. When anything comes up that makes us question ourselves, we ought to have it settled immediately, and not let it drag along to trouble us. It is our privilege to have such things settled without delay. When our good judgment tells us that we have not sinned against the Lord—we ought not to let ourselves be troubled about other things. If God, for our profit, has chastised us, or Satan has brought a feeling of condemnation upon us, or whatever it may be that troubles us—it is our privilege to look to God through it all and count ourselves victorious. Such things need not be a hindrance to us if we will keep our confidence and our integrity steadfast.
We also must have confidence in God. We may know from a reasonable standpoint that all God's promises are true and true for us, and still we may not have that assurance and that confidence in him which enables us to lay hold upon his promise and make it ours. Sometimes we cannot bring ourselves to feel the reality of his promises. This does not change them nor render them untrue. The question is not whether we feel that his promises are true, but whether we will believe they are true and appropriate them for ourselves.
Looking at ourselves or our failures is also a great hindrance. There is a reason for every failure, but some things that are called failures are not failures at all. It is only God answering in a different way. There are many failures because people give up too soon. They are too quick to think that if others have failed, that they also are sure to fail. If you have failed in the past, it is not proof that you will do so now. If you know a reason for failure, then get that reason out of the way; if you can find no reason for failure, press right on until you get what you desire.
Another hindrance is trying to force faith. When we try to force it beyond its natural limit, we weaken it. We do not need to nerve ourselves up to the highest pitch, in order to have faith. In fact, that has nothing to do with faith. When faith works at all, it works easily and naturally, without any straining or forcing. God is true, he has promised, and we simply take it for granted that he will do as he has promised, and rely upon that. That is faith; that is a natural operation of faith; that is the way faith reaches results.
We have to develop faith. Faith is not accidental. The conditions favorable or unfavorable to it—are often of our own making. Spirituality is one necessary condition. A careless life is poor soil in which to develop faith. Anything that we can do to develop our spirituality and draw nearer to God, will make faith work more naturally and will make it stronger and more effectual.
Carelessness in our living, neglect of prayer, and various other means by which we are made less spiritual—will react upon our faith. We may build a good foundation for future action of faith, by reading the Scriptures and impressing forcibly upon our minds that "this promise is true." Whenever a doubt comes to your mind, challenge it and overbalance it with the assertion that "God is true and his Word is true." This is the way to cure your doubts. You know that God is true. Meet every doubt with a positive assertion of his trueness. Make this your daily habit.
Whenever the Word of God comes to your mind, refresh yourself with the thought of its absolute truthfulness. God is true, and God is true to you. Never give place to a suggestion to the contrary, for it is not, and cannot be, the truth. Follow out this plan of impressing upon your heart and mind that God is true and that his Word is true, and you will find him becoming more and more real to you.
Seeking should always be definite and persistent, and always with a definite goal. To seek for a little while and then without an answer to give up seeking, weakens faith. Do not pray haphazardly, just saying words to fill space. We can commune with God, speaking out to him all that is in our hearts; but when it comes to the concentration of faith on some particular point to bring results, there must be earnest and definite action.
The best way I know to increase faith is this: When you feel anything to be necessary or to be the will of God for you to have, go to asking him and keep right on until you get an answer. One answered prayer is worth more than a thousand prayers unanswered. Do not pray at random; always make your prayers definite. Put faith into them. Many prayers are prayed that people do not expect any answer to. They would be very much surprised at getting an answer. Why do they pray such prayers? Are not such prayers an insult to God? Do not play the fool with God. Do not ask a thing, unless you mean it and want it and are willing to throw your faith into the seeking to get it. If you do not mean business, you had better keep quiet; and if you do mean business, keep on until you accomplish what you set out to do, or find a good reason for not doing so. If God shows that it is his will not to grant what you ask, that is reason enough; but get an answer of some kind.
Some get into trouble, and their faith fails, and they wonder why—when the real reason lies in their careless habits of prayer. They have formed a habit of praying for things a while and then giving up without an answer, and when they come to a place of real need, the habit of giving up asserts itself and faith fails. Continuity is a necessary quality of the faith that wins; continuity can be developed only by continual practice. Do not expect to develop faith, in a crisis of need. God is often pleased to give us special faith for a special need; but in general, he expects us to develop the faith we need through the daily use of what we already have.
Do not look upon strong faith as a thing that is unattainable to you. It is unattainable only to those who are too indolent or too careless to do what is necessary to attain it. You will never find strong faith, as you might find someone's lost purse. It will never come to you by accident. It is a thing that must be developed, and we must work with God to bring about that development.
That we are spiritual at one time, does not guarantee that we shall always remain so. There may come, if we permit it, a time of retrogression. Our zeal may flag, our love grow cold, and our interest may be lost, and we may become indifferent. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip" (Hebrews 2:1).
Water, when unconfined, always flows downhill, and so do the natural currents of life. Serving the Lord, like any other good thing, requires exertion. If we grow careless and merely drift along, the current will always lead us farther away from God. Progress Godward, is always progress upward.
How many who once were afire for God, are now cold and indifferent! How many who once were bright lights, are now only smoking wicks! Remember that what we once were, does not guarantee that we will stay that way. Spiritual progress results from conformity to the laws of progress, and spiritual retrogression from lack of conformity to these laws.
Physical growth is dependent upon the taking in and assimilation of new materials by an already organized structure. Spiritual growth depends upon our taking in spiritual materials and utilizing them properly in our development. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. If we keep so filled, there will be no retrogression.
There are a number of things that contribute to drifting away from God. Let us consider some of them.
Neglect of prayer and of the reading of God's Word. When we neglect these, we cannot but grow indifferent and fail to make spiritual progress. When we neglect these things, we soon lose our relish for them; and when that relish is lost, it becomes still more easy to neglect them. In this way we shut up the channel of grace and thereby prevent its flowing into our hearts.
Neglect of attending church meetings. When people grow careless about assembling themselves with God's people, it is an evidence that they are drifting. Fervent love for God, gives us a fervent love for his people; and a fervent love for them, brings a fervent desire to be with them. A loss of interest, either through neglect or by letting another interest come in ahead of God, draws the soul away. We can prosper spiritually, only so long as God has first place in our affections and first place in our interests. Beware of anything that comes between you and God, to draw your interest away from him. It will be ruinous to your soul.
Drawing away from duty. When people are first saved, as a rule they have a great zeal to work for God. They prefer doing that to anything else. Their souls delight in it. It is their food to do his will. So long as they are in this attitude, they will prosper; they will steadily grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord. But when their zeal begins to cool and their love becomes less strong, there is often a drawing back from duty. Before, they needed no urging; they were ready. Now, duty is irksome; they go about it reluctantly. They prefer that someone else work, while they look on. They serve God from a sense of duty, rather than from a sense of love. If we saw these things in their right aspect and their true meaning, we would see them as great danger-signs along the way, warning us of the trouble ahead. Such a change always indicates spiritual retrogression. It shows that the soul, instead of becoming more spiritual, is becoming less so.
Hardening the conscience until it loses its tenderness toward God, and so becoming careless in life. In the beginning of our new-born life, we have a tender conscience toward God. We ought to care for this tender conscience. We ought to follow it carefully, and keep it tender toward God. Conscience must, however, be regulated by common sense and good judgment—or it will become a tyrant and rule our lives in a way to make us miserable. This is quite different from having that careful earnest desire to please God. When we are drifting, we are not so much concerned about pleasing God as we were before—and we become more concerned about pleasing ourselves. Beware of the increase of this self-pleasing disposition. It is always a mark of spiritual degeneration.
Self-indulgence. No matter what direction this may take, it is sure to bring evil results. Partaking of worldly amusements, allowing pride to come into the soul and gratifying it with worldly apparel, luxurious living, and all similar things—are destructive to spirituality.
Going back on our obligations. When we make God a promise to do something he asks of us, he expects us to live up to it; and not only does he expect it, but he will require it. Therefore, if we draw back from that which we have promised him, or if we withhold from him the service that we have promised him—we shall do it at great cost to our souls.
There are thousands of souls who draw back in this way. They make promises to God, and when they make them, they mean to fulfill them; but as time goes on and they do not fulfill them, they grow careless about it, or indifferent, or unwilling, or for some other reason fail to perform what they promised. They draw back from being wholly the Lord's. They want to do something for themselves. They want to choose their own way and make their own plans. God, of course, permits them to do this, but it is at the loss of their spirituality and of his blessing upon their souls. In the end, if they persist, it will mean their eternal ruin.
Oh, beware of drifting! Beware of carelessness and neglect. Beware of drawing back from what you have promised God. Beware of anything and everything that makes you less spiritual. Keep this thought in mind: You have but one opportunity to gain Heaven. If you miss that one opportunity—you have missed all. Press forward; make some gain each day. You will not be able to see that you have made a gain every day—but if you walk humbly before God and do your duty, lovingly and faithfully, you will each day draw a little nearer God. He has said, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."
Every step we make toward God, he makes a step toward us. It is just like walking toward your reflection in a mirror. Every time you step toward your reflection, it seems to step towards you, so that one step brings you two steps nearer. Just so, each step you take toward God, brings him two steps nearer you.
The Crucified Life
"Then Jesus said to his disciples: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16:24-26
This saying of Jesus has been so little understood through the ages that people have come to have the idea that to take up your cross and follow Jesus is to do those religious duties that fall to their lot through life. They speak of bearing the cross, as meaning witnessing for Christ, praying in public, or doing some other religious duty. This idea could arise only from a total misconception of the meaning of Christ's words.
We are to take up our cross and follow him. We all know what happened when he took his cross. He went forth on the "way of sorrows" bearing his cross outside the city, and there, on Calvary, he was laid upon it and nailed to it and raised up between the Heaven and the earth. Upon it he suffered and bled and died. He was then taken off the cross, because the cross had done its work. The full measure of the hatred of his enemies had been poured out upon him there.
The crosses that were made were for just one purpose: they were for people to die upon. Your cross and my cross is for us to die upon. The cross is not some burden that we should bear in our Christian journey. It is not some duty that we should do. It is not some penance that we should perform. Whenever the Scriptures say anything about the cross, it carries with it the idea of dying. It is true in the text quoted above: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." Christ means exactly what he says in these words. He expects us to lose our lives for him. If we do lose our lives for him—then he will give to us that life which is eternal. So he who refuses to take up his cross and go to his Calvary and suffer the crucifixion and death of which Jesus here speaks—will lose his life—that is, he will never have eternal life. It is only by giving up our life, that we save our life. It is only by dying that we live. Christ died that we might live, and now we are to die in order that he may live in us.
Let us get away once for all from that old idea that bearing the cross is doing Christian service. It is nothing of the kind. The cross is to die upon. If you do not die upon your cross, it will avail you no more to carry it through life than it would have availed you had Christ carried his cross around through life and never died upon it. So it is not carrying the cross that matters; it is dying upon the cross.
Paul speaks of the same thing. He says, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14). Again, he says, "And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24). In the next verse he says, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."
He elaborates this idea still further in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
There are three main ideas involved in these scriptures:
first, the crucifixion;
second, the death which it brings;
third, the life to which we are raised through Christ, and in the newness of which we walk before him.
Speaking further on this, Paul says, "For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:10-11).
The matter of becoming a Christian is not merely turning over a new leaf. It is not merely forming good resolutions. It is not merely joining a church. It is not merely beginning to do religious duties. It is a death—it is a death as real as the death of Christ. It is a crucifixion as real as his crucifixion. It is being raised to walk in newness of life just as really as he was raised from death. There is no use in mincing words about this. If we have not been crucified, if we have not died with him, and if we have not been resurrected with him, we are not his.
We are told to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin. What does this mean? It means that our lives shall be as free from sin as though we were really dead and now lying in our graves. It means an absolute shutting out of all sin from the life. It means this, because that new life which comes to us from Jesus Christ is no longer the old self-life that loved the things of the world. We commit sin, only when we love sin. Christians do not love sin; they hate it. We cannot always tell what a man is by the label he bears. There are a multitude of people who call themselves Christians who bear no resemblance to Christ in their lives.
John says of a true Christian, "As he [Christ] is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). Those who are crucified to the world, cease to love the world. Those who still love the world, have not been crucified to the world. John says, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 John 2:15, 16).
Again, we read, "Don't you know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4). Those who still love the pride and vanity of the world, those who are absorbed in its frivolities, those who covet its gold and its honors, those who love its applause—these are those who have not yet died to the world. A worldly professor is a disgrace to God, to himself, to the people among whom he worships, and to the community in which he lives. The woman who arrays herself in the paraphernalia of worldly fashions and decks herself in gold and jewels and the finery that pride calls for, and at the same time calls herself a follower of Christ—insults her Lord every time she does so.
A Christian is one who is Christlike in character, in desire, and in deportment. No other has any right to bear Christ's name.
If all preachers had honesty enough and courage enough to preach the truth, the tide of worldliness that is overwhelming such a multitude of souls and sweeping them into perdition would be stayed, and to be a Christian would mean very much more than it now does to the world at large. As long as preachers allow their sermons to be dictated by public sentiment or the worldly desires of their hearers, they will cater to fashions, and souls by the million will drift on to Hell. Oh, what a reaping such preachers will have at the judgment!
What does it mean to be a true minister of Christ? God said to Ezekiel, "Hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me" (Ezekiel 3:17). To Isaiah he said, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isaiah 58:1). To Jeremiah he said, "He who has my word, let him speak my word faithfully" (Jeremiah 23:28). He also told Ezekiel that if the watchman did not warn those who were in danger, He would require their blood at his hands.
The full measure of God's wrath will fall on those preachers who fail to be true to souls and to God in preaching those truths the Bible clearly teaches against sin and worldliness. He who has not courage to preach these truths now will not have courage to face the judgment.
Those hypocritical professors who bear Christ's name but will not obey him—dishonor him and by their example influence others to do the same, how shall they escape the damnation of Hell? If there is one thing that God hates above all else, it is a proud and worldly heart. Such a heart can never be a reverential heart. Its religion is but hypocrisy. It is only a sham. It has no reality. It is merely in word, while in deed they deny him. It is only a cloak of respectability, while the heart is full of corruption.
What do such professors know of the love of God? What do they know of the sweetness of fellowship and communion with him? What do they know of the joys of salvation, or of the blessed hope that anchors the soul in God? What do they know of the grace which sweetens the bitter cup of sorrow, or of the comfort of God's love? Nothing whatever. Their lives are empty and graceless. Those who make a profession of religion for the sake of personal advantage or business gain, or for respectability, or as a cloak for their deceit—are sowing that which will bring them a fearful harvest of woe in eternity! Everybody hates the hypocrite. Even the hypocrite hates another hypocrite, and in his more sincere moments he must hate his own hypocrisy.
There is no excuse for anyone to profess to be a Christian, who does not live the kind of life and have the kind of character that the New Testament delineates. The way is so plain that even a fool may understand it if he will. God declares that people are left without excuse. They can know how they ought to live if they will read their Bibles, and they may have grace to live such a life if they will abandon their worldliness and sin.
The Christian life is, and ever will be, a life of separation from sin and pride and worldliness. If you are not willing to be thus separated, you should have the common honesty enough not to profess to be what you very well know that you are not. If you are going to be a Christian in name, be one in reality. Your character, not your profession, will be what will matter in the final judgment.
It will be your Christian character, not your external morality, that will matter. Many people pride themselves on their external morality and their careful observance of religious conventionalities—whose hearts are vile and sinful before God. It is not that outward immorality alone, such as licentiousness, drunkenness, profanity, etc., that marks the great sinner. There are many things that are hidden to the eyes of the world, and many things that are considered quite respectable, that are just as bad in God's sight, and disgrace the person in his eyes just as much as these grosser things. External morality is like a marble statue—cold and lifeless. Christianity is warm and vibrant with the very life of God. It is God dwelling in us, living his own life there, and impressing his own character and likeness upon our souls and lives.
Christianity is not a form—it is a life.
It is not in word—but in vital power.
It is not a profession—but a divine possession.
We are told that our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20). A true Christian is a citizen of that heavenly country. It sometimes meant much to Paul to be able to say that he was a Roman citizen. Roman citizenship was a thing of dignity and honor, and it gave him privileges that he could not otherwise have enjoyed. But he rejoiced far more in his heavenly citizenship and in the privileges that that citizenship brought him.
The life of a citizen of Heaven should correspond to that of the people of his own country, and not to that of the foreigners and strangers among whom he is sojourning. "Do not be conformed to this world," is the command of our Lord. I think one of the most pitiable things that we can behold in this world is one who talks like a Christian—but lives like a lost sinner; one who professes to be a citizen of the kingdom of God—and yet lives like one who is a citizen of the kingdom of Satan.
Peter says of those who are true Christians, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people . . ." (1 Peter 2:9). They are sacred vessels into which God pours his grace. They are the chosen ones to whom he reveals himself. They are the kingly priesthood who see the glory of his majesty. They are the precious jewels that adorn his kingdom. They eat of the bread from Heaven, the old wine and oil, and honey out of the rock. They drink of the river of his pleasures. They bear his mark upon their foreheads and upon their hearts. They have a clear and clean conscience void of offense toward God and man. Their souls are the dwelling-place of the mighty God.
To be a real Christian is something very high and very sweet. He walks in a path that "the vulture's eye has not seen." In joyfulness he mounts up with wings as an eagle. The worldly professor fills his days with folly. His cup of joy is always bitter at the last. He gathers up the "fool's gold" that glitters in earthly things. He lives after the flesh and after the world. He goes with the crowd. He misses all those good things that he might have if he would only really consent to be crucified with Christ. He misses all the blessedness of righteousness, and, worst of all, he misses Heaven at the last.
O soul, have you been crucified with Christ? Are you dead to the world, so that you have no relish for its follies, its fashions, its sinful pleasures, and its applause? Do you care more for your reputation with God, than you do for your standing with men? Are you out and out for God, or are you going hand in hand with the world? Do you know that your name is written in the Lamb's book of life. If others follow closely the example that you are setting before them, will they be on safe ground? If you were to die just now, would you be fit to enter Heaven?
Face the issue squarely! Are you a real true Christian? Have you been crucified with him? Is he just now living in you—his own innocent, pure, holy life? Do not be a mere counterfeit which will be rejected at last.
It means a great deal to be a real Christian. You may be a whole-hearted Christian if you will. But there is only one road that leads to the exalted plane on which such Christians live; and that is by way of Calvary and the cross. You must take up your cross and bear it to Calvary and there die upon it, if you are ever to have the life of Christ abide in you. But if you will really die to the world, to the flesh, and to the follies of this life—you need know nothing further of heavy crosses. Your shoulders need never again feel its burden, but you may look forward to that bright crown which awaits all those who have been crucified with Christ and are risen to walk in newness of life.
Daniel said, "Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried" (chapter 12:10). All Christians are glad that they are purified and made white—but when it comes to being tried, that is a very different thing. They shrink from the very word. Their trials are to them as a nightmare from which they would gladly escape. But trials are a part of God's process of preparing us for Heaven, and they are as needful to us as is the blessing, in order that we may be prepared for our glorious eternal habitation.
The peaceful quiet waters soon lose their freshness and become stagnant; the clearness is soon gone, and they are filled with germs. Soon a green scum covers the top, and they become foul and odorous.
Quiet air becomes stagnant. The smoke, the dust, the odors, and the miasma rising from swamps and bogs would soon render quiet air unfit for breathing, and instead of being a life-giving tonic, it would become a life-destroying poison.
God has arranged the operation of natural forces so that there is unceasing motion.
The warm air rises—and the cold air falls. The gentle breezes blow, and swell into great gales and terrible hurricanes. These latter may be very destructive in their action, but they work out a good by purifying the air. They scatter the noxious poisons far and wide, and carry in pure air to take the place of these.
The waters of the sea are driven and tossed and dashed against the rocks. The sea is ever restless. Its waves are never still. No matter how calm the day, the ripples are ever breaking upon the shore. Were it not for motion, for the storms and currents—the whole ocean would become as stagnant as a pond.
The same thing is true in a large measure in our lives. The storms and obstacles all work out for out good if we meet them as we should. Through them our lives are enriched and ennobled and developed. They are blessings to us, though they may seem to be blessings very much disguised.
Sources of Trials
Many trials are only the natural result of circumstances. Sometimes circumstances are in our favor, and work for our happiness, peace, and contentment. Sometimes we have smooth sailing, and everything goes pleasantly. We are courageous and confident and rejoicing. The sun shines brightly out of a cloudless sky, and every prospect seems fair.
But this smooth sailing does not last forever. Sooner or later, the clouds must come and the storm-winds beat upon us. We must have the rough weather—as well as the pleasant weather; the storm—as well as the calm.
The sunshine and the calm are very needful in life, and they work out a definite purpose.
But the storms and the rain and the wind are likewise needed—and they also fulfill their purpose.
Trials will come—we cannot evade them. We may plan and build up hopes—only to have our air-castles come crashing down around our heads! If we have set our hearts upon these things, we are likely to be very disappointed upon their wreck ,and to feel very gloomy over the result.
If we permit ourselves to give way and grieve over the failure of our plans and hopes, we will make ourselves and those around us miserable. Sometimes people let go their hold on God, just because they do not get their way in things. They let disappointment so discourage them, that they just give up trying to do right. That is acting like a spoiled child.
If our plans and hopes fail, God will not fail. Sometimes it is a real blessing to us that our plans do fail; for God can plan far wiser for us than we can for ourselves, and we ourselves can act more wisely after we have failed than we did before. We should never fret on account of disappointments. If we do, they will only grow more rapidly, both in size and in intensity.
Losses may come to us—our property may be swept away or burned up. If we have our hearts set upon our possessions, this may touch a tender spot, and we may let it darken our lives and make us morose and dissatisfied.
Poverty may come and the many difficulties incident thereto. How greatly such things may try us will depend upon how much we rebel against the circumstances—or how easily we submit to and adapt ourselves to God's will. How greatly we are affected by our trials, depends on whether or not we sweetly submit to them.
Sickness may lay its heavy hand upon us or our loved ones, and try every fiber of our being. Sickness may play upon the chords of pain—a lamentation that incites with exquisite torture! Or it may fire our blood with fever until the sparkle has gone from the eye and the glow of health from the cheek. Or it may bind us in chains helplessly captive.
Death may come and take those dear by the ties of nature or friendship—and leave sorrow and grief to be our companions.
These things try the soul, but they must be borne. We cannot escape such things, for they are the common heritage of those who dwell in the tabernacles of clay. They belong to mortality and to the mutable things of time.
There are trials that come to us as the result of the acts or attitude of others. How few are man's kindnesses to his fellow man! How great his inhumanity! How much of the human distress is needless and comes only by the selfish or evil acts of others!
Christ said that we should not marvel if the world hates us. Neither should we marvel if it should act out its hatred in malicious persecution. Our Lord has told us that offenses must come. To be a Christian, means to be a target for the world's hatred. We can count persecution as a part of our Christian heritage. Sometimes we shall have cruel mockings and have our names cast out as evil. We cannot endure these things without some sense of pain. How much we suffer under them, will depend on how we meet them. If we praise God and go resolutely on our way—then strength will be given us, and we shall overcome, and instead of hindering us, persecution will bring us rich treasures of grace and blessing.
Sometimes we may be tried over what others do when they have no thought or intention of causing us a trial, and perhaps are wholly ignorant that they are causing us to be tried. Very often people allow themselves to be tried when things need not be a trial—if they will hold the right attitude toward the supposed offender. We can let ourselves be tried over trifles if we will; when if we would act as a real man or woman, we could pass over them quite easily and do it joyously and not allow them to amount to anything.
The problem with so many, is that they are like petulant children, who are hurt or displeased at almost anything. If someone has really done something on purpose to hurt you—you should not give him the satisfaction of knowing that it hurt. Keep the hurt out of sight. Hide it away and over come it, and, if possible, let it be known to none but God. Bear with meekness, whatever trial happens to you. Pray for your persecutors. That is the surest way to keep God in your own heart. "Father, forgive them," is the plea that takes the sting out of persecution.
Some trials come directly from Satan. For some reason we are left liable to his attacks. He attacked Job, destroyed his children, his possessions, and his health. God could shut him clear away from the world, just as he has shut him away from Heaven, if he chose. But for some purpose he sees fit to let us be exposed to his attacks here. Many people feel like a little boy who once said: "Mother, I wish God would kill the devil. Why doesn't he do it? I would, if I were big enough."
Satan is limited in his work against us, so that he can never go beyond God's will for us, so long as we leave ourselves in God's hands and rely upon him for the needed help. God does see fit sometimes to let him try us severely—but there never need be any cause for despair. God will not allow us to be tempted more than we are able to bear. If Satan makes the temptation—God makes the way out. Sometimes he does not let us see the way out, even when he has prepared it, and we have to resist and endure the temptation until he sees that it has gone far enough. Then he shows us the way out. Sometimes he will take us and lift us clear out of it by his own hand. At other times he will put our adversary to flight. Our part is to endure and trust—God's part is to make the way of escape. We must endure patiently until our deliverance comes.
Sometimes God himself tries or proves us. "I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried" (Zechariah 13:9). The purpose of God's trying us, is often that we may know ourselves. If we become self-sufficient, or go to rejoicing in our own works—then he will likely send upon us or permit to come upon us, something that will bring us to know our insufficiency and need of help from him. Danger is often the only thing that can help us to know our own weakness; so God often lets a danger come in order to bring us to our senses. We should not let such a thing discourage us, but get the lesson that our strength is from him, and that our best efforts, if merely of ourselves, can avail little. He who trusts in God, has strength enough for his needs.
God sometimes tries us that we may know him better. He wants us to know just how dearly he loves us, and how earnest is his care for us, and how faithful he is to us; and so he lets every hope and resource fail us, and distress fall upon us. When everything fails, and we turn to him—how real is his help! How sweet is his comfort! If, however, when we find ourselves in such a situation, we despair and give up—then we lose the blessedness that he was preparing us for. We grieve his loving heart, and cheat ourselves.
Hold fast and wait for him to work out his purpose. He afflicts, only to heal. He grieves, only to turn the grief to rejoicing, and to give greater rejoicing than could come through any other means.
Our trials are the root upon which our blessings grow. These roots may be bitter—but the fruit is sure to be sweet, if we patiently wait for its maturing. Too many want the fruits of blessings—but are not willing to have the trial. Many choice fruits grow on thorny trees, and he who will gather the fruit may expect to be pricked now and then by the thorns.
But the trials that are hardest to bear, are the ones we bring upon ourselves. Many people suffer as a result of their own indiscretion. They act unwisely or unfittingly, and are buffeted for their faults. They are ridiculed or condemned; their names are on the tongue of the gossip, and they have no one to blame but themselves. If we do not act wisely or worthily—then we need not expect to have the confidence and esteem of others. If we are buffeted for our faults, the only Christian thing to do is to endure with meekness and patience, and try to do better next time. This is one kind of trial that is always bitter medicine. It brings no joy. The best thing we can do is to take our bitter medicine and make no wry faces about it.
We sometimes do things or say things that bring heaviness upon us. We heap blame and condemnation upon ourselves. We feel regret and sorrow, and are continually chiding ourselves. How many of these self-made trials could be avoided, if we would be careful always to watch ourselves and to think of the outcome before we speak or act. When we have brought such a trial upon ourselves, we can only brace up and endure it manfully. We need to learn our lesson well, but we need not let ourselves be crushed under it. Do not let yourself brood over it. Brooding will not help matters. Resolve to do better next time, and ask God to help you. Rise above the trial. If you have learned your lesson, God will help you out. He does not want to bruise you over it. He may chasten you sorely, but he will do it for your profit, not for your destruction.
Effects on the Sensibilities
The effect of trials on our sensibilities is often very great. Our feelings become deeply involved, and this is what makes trials hard to bear. Our feelings respond to them, and sometimes the result is great distress. If we permit these feelings to have their way, we may suffer a great deal in a trial. Some let their feelings have full freedom of action at such a time, and therefore the trial affects them powerfully.
It is within our power to limit our feelings to a very great extent. We can give way to them and thus greatly increase them—or we can set ourselves resolutely to modify and control them, and we shall be able to do it, and thereby greatly lessen the effect of the trial upon our sensibilities. Keep your mind off your troubles! Resolve to be happy in spite of them. Think of things that will make you feel better. Take hold of yourself and say: "Here! I will not feel this way. I will control myself and not give way to my emotions." Get your mind busy on other things. Get your hands busy with labor. Do not let your trials get too close to you. Do not make friends of them.
No matter how beautiful may be the scenery around you—you can hold a small, ugly object before your eyes and hide all the beauty, and see nothing but the object at which you gaze. So it is with our trials. If we let them hold our attention, if we look at them all the time—then they will shut out all the beauties of life about us, and will come to be the greatest things in our lives, even though in reality they may be very small and insignificant things.
There are people who allow their minds to be taken up largely by their trials. They are continually thinking over them and worrying over them. Their faces are clouded by them. They sigh and groan. When they interact with others, it is to tell what a hard, rough path they have been having. In such cases, the person is making his own hard paths.
Trials need not be allowed to take the sweetness out of life; they need not be allowed to shut out all the light and beauty of life. God does not intend that they shall.
Paul speaks of being "exceedingly joyful" in all his tribulations. He had plenty of tribulations, but he met them like a man, and instead of letting them get him down, he put his feet upon them and mastered them.
The first step in mastering a trial—is to master yourself. Gain control of your feelings. I do not say that you can always feel as you desire to feel—but you can prevent yourself from feeling as bad as you would feel if you would give way to your feelings. Do not act like a hurt and spoiled child, and go around trying to get people to sympathize with you. Do not waste any time pitying yourself. Act like a full-grown man or woman. Act as if you had some courage and fortitude. Face the situation manfully. You can do it if you will. Summon your resolution. Stand your ground against these things. Look to God and expect his help. You can overcome just as easily as others do, if you will.
What Makes Trials Hard to Bear
Giving way to our feelings and letting them have their way, is not the only thing that makes trials hard to bear. It is one of the chief things, but there are other things that add to the hardness of bearing trials.
First, there is love of ease, and unwillingness to suffer. The flesh naturally loves an easy time. It seeks pleasure and self-gratification. Anything that goes contrary to such, is unpleasant to it—and it is likely to rebel against it. If we give the flesh its way—then trials will be very hard for us. No matter what trials may come, it will make us shrink from them and rebel against them.
Life has both its bitter and its sweet. We should not always expect to have the sweet alone. We cannot have the capacity to enjoy, without also having the capacity to suffer. Suffering is just as needful in our lives as enjoyment, and sometimes serves an even better purpose. If we are unwilling to suffer and in consequence begin to kick against the goads—then we shall soon find ourselves wounded, and our sufferings increased. This unwillingness to suffer, keeps many people out of the pleasure which God would give them. But they draw back. They are not willing to suffer. When trials come, they rebel against them.
"We count them happy who endure" (James 5:11). But the class of people I am describing, cannot look upon endurance in this light. There is no happiness in it to them. There is no pleasantness to them. No matter what good comes to them through trials—they want it some other way. But trials will come anyway. They cannot escape them. The only thing they will do by rebelling, will be to increase their suffering in the trials and prevent themselves from getting the blessedness out of them. We ought to be willing to suffer when it is God's will for us to suffer, or when he sees it is necessary for us to suffer. Our Master drank the cup of suffering even though it was bitter. Are we better than he? Shall we refuse to go by the path that led him to glory?
Another thing that makes trials hard to bear, is fear of being overcome by them. When trials come to some, the first thing they think of is, "Shall I be able to endure them? Shall I be overcome in it?" They are all the time fearing and worrying, lest they should not be able to go through it. This fear itself is a source of weakness. It also increases the suffering that results from trials. When you add fear to your trials—then you double their size and weight. Why should you fear? Is not God upon his throne? Is he not watching over your life? Does he not know just how much you can endure? Will he let the fire be too hot? Will he let distress be too great? Will he fail you in anything? He says, "Fear not, for I am with you."
If you are disposed to fear your trials, a good thing to do is to collect a large number of the promises of God's help from the Bible. Write them down on a piece of paper, and keep them handy, and when you see a trial coming or realize that it is already upon you, and your fears begin to arise—then get your list of promises and begin reading them over. Read them carefully and thoughtfully. Read them as being true. Remember that God stands in back of each of them, and stands in back of it to make it true for you.
The trouble is that when people get to viewing their trials—they keep looking at their trials and not looking to God. They do not look at the promises. They forget all about them. And so the more they fear—the more troubled they become. There are a thousand promises that apply to your case.
There are a thousand promises that meet your daily need—and not one of all those promises will fail.
Another thing that makes trials hard to bear, is unbelief. God's promises will amount to nothing for us, unless we believe them and appropriate them unto ourselves. They are true for us whether we believe them or not—but they do not become effective for us, until we believe them. If you do not believe that God will help bear your trials—then you must take the whole weight of them upon yourself. If you do not believe that he will give you victory in them, then you must fight through to victory in your own strength. If you do not believe that victory is to be the outcome for you—then your belief will be a source of weakness to you, so that you will not have the confidence that you need to carry you through.
Unbelief is your greatest enemy. Unbelief will cloud your whole sky, and shut out the sunlight, and will close the channel of God's grace—so that it cannot be supplied to meet your needs. Unbelief will darken your mind and your heart. It will whisper in your ears that the situation is hopeless, that it is of no use to try.
Unbelief is Satan's strongest ally. Shut your heart to it, and believe with all your strength that God is true and that God is true to you. This is only asserting the truth; there is no make-believe about it. His trueness is just as real as your existence. You may have his help if you will believe, but if you will still abide in unbelief—then you must fight your battles and get out the best way you can. And that best way will often be a hard one. How much better to believe God, and take his way and his help!
Another thing that makes our trials hard to bear is struggling to escape from them. The question with so many when they are in trial is: "How can I get out of this? How can I get to the end of it?" They will take almost any way out of it, just so that they get out quick. The easiest way out, is not always the best way out. Trying to get out in what seems to be the easiest way—often gets us in the deeper, and makes the trial the more bitter.
The only safe way is to submit to God and let him bring us through in the way that he sees fit. He knows the best way. He knows just what we can endure. He knows just what is needed. He sees the end from the beginning. He knows how we are going to get through it. He knows what the outcome will be and what a blessing he has in store for us at the end of the trial.
But if we try to get out of the trial without passing through it—then we are sure to miss the blessing in the end. It is the blessing that God wants us to have, and that is what we need. If you struggle out of the trial without getting the lesson and the blessing—then God may bring it again. He may let it be repeated again and again—until you submit to his will and have wrought in you the thing that is needful.
You have seen a child with a splinter in its finger. When someone would go to pick it out, the child would jump and jerk and scream as though being dreadfully hurt, when probably the affected part had not been touched. Some act in this way toward God. It only hinders him and only hinders you. Hold still! If there is a splinter that must be picked out of your finger, let him have his way about it. Hold still until he finishes the operation! If you do not, you will only make it hurt the more.
Do not meet your trials with fear. Meet them courageously. Do not dread them. Keep confident in God. Do not rebel against them. Submit yourself to the Lord. He will make all things work together for good to you.
How FAITH Sustains in Trial
We are told that we stand by faith. Faith is the one thing that can sustain us through every peril and through every difficulty.
I once stood upon the shore when the waves were dashing wildly against the rocks. A considerable distance from the shore I saw two objects rising and falling upon the waves, but as I kept gazing at them, I observed a difference in their behavior. I soon saw that, while both were being tossed by the waves, one was coming nearer me. It was being driven in toward land, while the other remained in its position. One was a floating log; the other was a buoy. Every wave drove the log nearer the shore, and I watched it until it was dashed against the rocks. The buoy still held its position.
What was the difference between the two? The buoy was anchored; the log was not. The iron cable of the buoy took fast hold upon the bottom and held, no matter how the storm raged; but the unanchored log was at the mercy of every wind and every wave.
Which object represents us depends upon our faith. If our faith is anchored in God, we are like the buoy which, though tossed by the waves, though beaten by the storms, yet holds its position and cannot be moved away. If we are not anchored by faith in God—then we are like the log, and it will be no wonder indeed if we are dashed upon the rocks.
The seaweed floats up on the surface of the water. It too is beaten by the storm and tossed by the waves, but it keeps its place; for down beneath the waves it has a sure grounding—by strong roots anchored to a rock. The storms may beat, the winds may blow, the waves may roll—but it holds fast, because it is fastened upon the rock.
In the same way, God would have us rooted in him through faith. This faith will sustain us and hold us in our place in the wildest storms or the bitterest trial.
Balance the trial by trust. As the trial increases—increase trust. The harder the trial comes upon us—the harder we should lean upon the Lord. He will sustain you, if you trust and lean on him.
We are not likely to be tried as hard as Job was. In fact, if we will compare our trials with his—we shall often feel ashamed to call them trials. Though Job was tempted to the limit and tried to the utmost—he was fully determined that his conduct should be righteous, and that not simply for a little while. Hear his expression of his determination: "My foot has held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food" (chapter 23:11,12). Through all his trials and afflictions—he stood steadfast and unmovable, glorifying God even when he could not pierce the darkness ahead of him. Even when he could not understand the present, and when the past was unexplained and unexplainable; even when his wife despaired, and his friends united in condemning him—still he held fast his integrity. His decision was not simply to hold on a little while and see if things would change. No, he intended to go through to the end, no matter what came. His decision was to be steadfast as long as he lived. Death was the only limit that he put upon his faithfulness. He might not be able to understand—but he would trust and keep true anyway. He might suffer, but he would not rebel. If he could not understand God's ways, he could understand his duty, and he would do his duty, regardless of what happened.
What a lesson of faithfulness and steadfastness! We ought to be ashamed to let the few little trials that we have, weaken our decision to serve the Lord and be true at any cost. What have we to endure compared with what he had? Let us be steadfast, therefore, and keep right on, knowing that our God is our helper and that he will never fail us.
Different KINDS of Trials
Some trials test us in one way and some in another.
Some test our COURAGE. Satan sometimes tries to frighten us by making a great show of threatening. Sometimes he makes things look very dark. He whispers to us that we shall surely be overwhelmed. If we but have courage to meet these—then we shall be able to overcome them. Often we have but to face them boldly, in order to chase them off the ground and to stand victorious on the field of battle.
Other trials test our FAITH. When sickness or disease take hold of us—it is then that faith is tested. When the adversary tries to bring doubts in our minds about God's faithfulness or the truth of his Word, and the faithfulness of his people—then faith is the weapon that we need to use to overcome him.
There are trials that test our LOYALTY. We are brought face to face with the question whether we will be loyal to God and his truth—or whether we will take some seemingly easier way and compromise his truth for the sake of getting off easier ourselves. We are often put in a position where our loyalty is tested, where we have to stand by the truth without deviating from it in the slightest degree, no matter what comes.
Sometimes we must make a choice between Christ and our friends. The question is then one of loyalty. To whom shall we be true—Christ or our friends? To whom shall we submit ourselves, and whom shall we obey? He has said, "Be faithful unto death." Shall we do it? Shall we do it, no matter what it means nor how long a struggle it means? The battle is half won, when we are fully decided to stand loyal whatever comes.
Battles of this sort may be decided before we enter into them, and then we have only the fighting to do. The result is certain. The old saying, "Well begun, is half done," is certainly true in the Christian life, especially when it comes to the matter of being decided to do the right and stand loyally by the truth whatever comes.
There are things that test our HUMILITY. There are plenty of people who for their own purposes, will flatter us and try to make us think that we are great people, or that we have done some great thing. They will praise us and flatter us for some selfish purpose. If we heed what they say—then we may become puffed up over it, and come to esteem ourselves more highly than we ought.
If we do something that is praise-worthy—we very often find within ourselves a feeling of having done so well, that we become elated over it. This also is a test of our humility. Let us keep our heart humble, no matter how much God blesses us. No matter how much praise comes to us, no matter how many things are said in our favor—let us keep balanced, and let not our humility be turned into pride.
There are things that test our LOVE. Can we love God just as much after he has let us pass through a hard trial, as we did before? If our brethren do something to wound us—can we still love them? If people misunderstand us and attribute wrong motives to us—can we still love them? These are the tests that count. These are the tests that test love. These are the things that prove whether it is genuine or not. If we are despised and persecuted, misrepresented and abused—can we still love? If people are our enemies, can we still love them?
There are trials that test our STEADFASTNESS—whether or not we will be patient and endure until God sees that it is enough, and takes us out of the fire. Other things test our patience. These are often very small things, and the smaller they are, the more they test our patience. Sometimes we need to keep a good hold upon ourselves and "let patience have her perfect work," that we may be "perfect and entire, lacking nothing." No matter in what way we are tested, if we have a will to be true, God will see to it that we have grace to trust him, so that we may overcome and be "more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Romans 8:37).
The VALUE of Trials
Peter tells us that the trial of our faith is "much more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire" (1 Peter 1:7). The question which now confronts us is whether we place such a value as that upon our trials.
What will men undergo to get gold? They will scale lofty mountains and wade through deep snows. They will face piercing winds and all sorts of perils, if they may but have the hope of getting gold.
Our trials are still more precious than gold, and it seems that we ought to be willing to bear them when we view them from that standpoint. However, there are a great many Christians who shrink from trials. Why do they? If they believe that trials are so valuable—then why do they shrink from them? Ah, that is the trouble—they do not believe what Peter said. They can see no gold in their trials. They see no value in them whatever. They are something to be gotten away from.
The trouble is that we often look at the wrong thing. If a man goes after gold and looks as the hardships instead of the gold—then he will not get any gold. But the gold-hunter does not look at the things that lie between him and the precious metal. He looks at the gold. He keeps his mind and his heart upon that. He presses forward through everything to gain that gold. There is gold for the believer in every trial. The trial lies between us and the gold.
If we look at the trial, we may forget the gold, and that is just what is the trouble with so many. They can see nothing but the trials. Beyond these lies the gold, yes, something far more precious than gold. Get your eyes off the trial. Look beyond it to the gold. Keep your mind and your heart set upon the gold, and you will find that you can face the trial a great deal easier than if you saw nothing beyond it. The gold of Christian character comes only through stress and storm. Fair-weather Christians never amount to much—nor do they develop stellar Christian characters. They are always contented with little fruit.
RESULTS of Trials
God always works out something worth while from our trials, if we are true in them. He does not try us, merely to be trying us. He has a definite purpose to accomplish. Of Israel he said, "He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you" (Deuteronomy 8:16). The humbling and the proving were only that he might do them good at the latter end. So it is with us: God humbles us and tries us just to do us good later.
God's purpose is also made very plain in the parable of the figs in the twenty-fourth chapter of Jeremiah: "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart." Jeremiah 24:5-7
God did not permit them to be carried into captivity simply as a punishment. It was that, to be sure; but his purpose was greater and more kindly than that. It was that he might do them good—that they should turn to him with their whole heart, and that he should bring them back to their own land and make them a holier and more trusting people than before.
Job knew the good that was going to come out of his trial, and he said, "He knows the way that I take—and when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold!" (Job 23:10).
The Psalmist learned this same lesson. He says: "Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance." (Psalm 66:8-12).
This is the way the Bible speaks throughout when it speaks of trials well borne. Affliction may be laid upon us; men may ride over our heads; we may go through fire and through water; but the outcome of it will be that we shall come out into a place of abundance. And then, like the Psalmist, we can say, "Oh, bless our God!" Take your Bible and read also James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:7; and 4:12-13.
There is another text that we shall do well to study over and over: "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Romans 5:3-5). "Suffering produces perseverance." Is not perseverance that which we desire? Let us, then, bear suffering. Perseverance brings character. Character in turn brings hope. Suffering well borne, therefore, works out in all these things.
Spiritual arithmetic is an important branch of study for the Christian. He who is not able to count properly in the spiritual life, may come to some very wrong conclusions. It is important, therefore, that he give his attention to learning how to count accurately. If we do not learn to do this, we may fail in some critical moment, or at least we may view things from our own standpoint and have wrong ideas concerning them.
James gives us a problem in this spiritual arithmetic and tells us how to solve it. He says, "My brethren, count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds" (James 1:2). Many people have tried to solve this problem in their lives, and have found that it did not work out according to the rule here enunciated. When they fell into trials of many kinds—they could not figure it out any way so as to make it come out joyful. The answer was something else always.
I have seen people in such difficulties and have heard some say to them, "Oh, count it all joy, brother! Count it all joy!" They tried to do so, but for some reason they could find no joy at all. It felt more like sorrow and grief and disappointment and things of that nature. I have heard others in like situations say resignedly, "Oh, I am counting it all joy," and their countenances at the same time were witnesses against them, for these showed that their owners had no joy in it at all.
When James said, "Count it all joy," he did not mean that we should simply pretend that it was joy—but that it should really be joy. If we get the correct answer, it will be joy. There is a way in which we can work out these problems so that they will come out joy. The reason that James could get joy for an answer is shown in the third verse: "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience." He looked at the outcome, not at the trial itself.
Paul expressed the idea when he said, "If so be that we suffer with him—that we may be also glorified together" (Romans 8:17). The reason why he could count it joy was that he looked beyond the present, and saw the glorifying together at the end. He continued, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us" (verse 18). This is one thing that we must learn if we are going to find real joy as the answer in working out these problems. If we leave out that which is coming as a result of them, we shall certainly miss finding any good or glorying in them.
Paul said, "No chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous." He knew that the joy was not in the trial or in the chastening, but he further said, "Afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11). It was "afterward" to which he looked. It is the "afterward" to which you and I must look if we are to get the joy.
There is one more thing that we must know if we are to get the right answer, and that is that there are three things which we must add to every trial in order to make the answer come out joy. If we fail to add any one of these, the answer will not be what we desire. They are submission, obedience, and faith. Add these to anything that comes upon you, and the result is bound to be joy.
The first thing is to SUBMIT yourself to God's will in the matter. Let him have his way fully with you. Be willing to endure whatever is his will that you shall endure. Let him burn out the dross, if the fire must be hot. Let him work out his pleasure, for that is always "good pleasure."
In whatever comes, OBEY him. If we disobey for any cause whatever; if we turn our back on his commandments and the things that we know he would have us do, we cannot "count it all joy." There will be nothing joyful in it, no matter how hard we try to count it so.
Then, as we obey and submit, we must BELIEVE—believe that he will take us through victoriously; believe that he is working out his purpose; believe that he will be true to us. Believing thus, trusting thus, we can have the victory through it, and there will be joy indeed for our hearts. We shall not have to count it joy and feel it something else, for God will make our feelings correspond with the fact, and it will be joy to us.
The joy may not come until the end of the chastening; it may not come when we are overcoming the temptation; but joy will come in the end, and we shall see that the problem is worked out in a satisfactory manner, and we shall not have to count and make believe that we have the answer desired, but we shall have it in the satisfaction of our own hearts.
Let us look away from the toil, to the reaping; and when at last we come with the reapers to that great harvest-home, we shall bring our sheaves with rejoicing, and we shall enter into the joy of the Lord, there to abide and to share in the pleasures that are at his right hand forevermore.
Let us think more about the glory that shall be revealed in us. When our life on earth is over—we shall forget about the toils, the hardships, and the disappointments along the way; and we shall join with the ransomed in the song of rejoicing and surround God's throne, and through the ages of eternity we shall thank God that he brought us by that rugged way that led upward and onward to the world eternal. We shall then never repine for the thorns that were along our way. We shall then rejoice that he counted us worthy to suffer for him. We shall then rejoice in him with "joy unspeakable and full of glory." Let us therefore press on. Let us not hesitate.
Let us, therefore, press on with courage to the goal of life's race, where the heavenly hosts with harps attuned will greet our coming with anthems sweeter than any that ever fell on mortal ear, and where our glorious Redeemer will place upon each victor's brow a glittering diadem and will welcome him to life eternal in those mansions of resplendent beauty, where he may dwell content through ages without end.