THE MAN OF GOD  Or "Spiritual Religion Explained and Enforced"
by Octavius Winslow

Religious Progression

"Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philip. 3:13-14

"No, dear friends, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven." Philip. 3:13-14

We have in these words a practical comment upon a truth which often engages the anxious study of the man of God- namely, the difficulty of salvation: "The righteous scarcely are saved." If any man might indolently have presumed upon the certainty of his salvation, it was Paul. So remarkable and miraculous were the attendant circumstances of his conversion, they could scarcely have left the shadow of a doubt upon his mind as to the reality of his salvation. Yet, conscious as he must have been that he had passed from death unto life, assured as he was that all who thus had passed from death unto life should enter glory, behold the noble spirit of this heavenly-minded man of God: "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." In expounding these words, let us consider THE DIGNITY- THE GOAL- THE PRIZE of the man of God.

THE DIGNITY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER is beautifully placed before us in this one phrase, "the high calling of God." Under this denomination "the called of God," 'the whole family' are brought, sooner or later. In their Adamic nature they are "children of wrath, even as others." In Adam, they are dead, under the curse, exposed to eternal wrath; but sooner or later, by the mighty power of God the Spirit, are they brought out of that state, and are classified as a called people.

I might remark that, in a large and a very solemn sense, every man who hears the gospel is an outwardly called individual. From this truth there is no escape. No refining in theology, no plausible creed can demolish it. We should withhold from you the whole counsel of God, and be justly chargeable with blood-guiltiness, did we hold back the truth that every man and woman sitting under the sound of the gospel is, by that gospel, a called individual, and for the refusal or rejection of that call is accountable to God. We learn in Luke's Gospel, that the invitation to the great supper was sent out to all- the image of the glorious gospel which the Lord, in His holy mountain, had prepared for all people." "Many are called, but few are chosen."

Yes, my reader, nothing can release you from the solemn obligation, the awful responsibility of hearing the gospel. Your inability does not release you, your blindness of mind, your hardness of heart, do not excuse you no, if you are found rejecting this gospel, turning a deaf ear to the charmer's voice, trampling upon the glorious invitations of a free-grace salvation, your present excuse will but augment your future woe; and from the throne of eternal justice, where you must give an account of all the sermons you have heard, the awful voice will speak, "I CALLED, and you refused; I stretched out any hand, and no man regarded; but you have set at nothing all my counsel, and would have none of any reproof. I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear comes." Oh, better never to have seen the light of day, or to have felt one throb of life, than to go down to everlasting punishment, having heard of Christ but to despise Him; having heard the gospel but to refuse its acceptance!

But in an especial sense the saints of God are a called people. To one or two passages, in which the Holy Spirit brings out this truth so strikingly, we must beg the reader's attention. "We know," (oh yes, not because others have testified of it, but because we have felt it ourselves,) "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the CALLED according to His purpose." Observe, "Whom He did predestinate, them He also CALLED." We dare not break that chain, we dare not sever these links.
That, too, is a striking passage in Jude, "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, to those who are sanctified by God the Father; and preserved in Jesus Christ, and CALLED." The apostle Peter, that dear apostle, at whose feet we would oftener sit than at any other, because he could teach us what others could not, in consequence of his fall and recovery, thus exhorts the saints; "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your CALLING and election sure" make it evident. Again, "Among whom are you also the CALLED of Jesus Christ," "CALLED to be saints." What truth can be clearer than this, that the saints of God are a CALLED people.

It is the way God brings His banished ones to Himself. In the first Adam they are far off, "The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall CALL." Oh, how far from God were some of us when that effectual and blessed call of the Spirit reached our ears! Yet, far off though we were, we heard that call, and by God's grace we obeyed it.

But look at the character of the believer's calling. Truly, it is a high calling. It is so because it is a divine and heavenly calling. It is not the calling of man, but the calling of God. It is not a calling to earthly dignity, it is a calling to a heavenly state- "the high calling of God," "called of God" -and the apostle thus addresses the saints: "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." Who but GOD could call us? We heard the outward call of the ministry, and resisted it; we heard the external call of the gospel, and we closed our ears against it; we heard the call of Providence, and we hardened our hearts against its voice; but there came a divine and heavenly call- it came from God-I t came from heaven- it reached our hearts, and it awoke the response, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears."

Whose voice but His can call the dead from the grave? Whose voice but His can call Ephraim away from his idols? Whose voice but His can call the worldling from his worldliness? Whose voice but His can call the covetous man from his covetousness? Whose voice but His can call the rebel to ground his weapons, and become reconciled to God? It was asked of old, "Who has heard the voice of God and lived?"

Oh yes; it is a heavenly calling- there is nothing of earth in it. It is heavenly in its origin, heavenly in its nature, heavenly in all its tendencies. The affections are heavenly, the desires are heavenly, the heart is heavenly; it came from heaven, and it lifts to heaven. To what a holy relation is the believer called! Is it no honor or dignity to be called a saint? What is a saint? Take the world's definition- a fanatic, an enthusiast, all that is contemptible and ignoble in intellect! But to be called a saint is to have a place among God's holy ones; it is to be a partaker of the divine nature, to be a transcript of God's holiness.

Oh, the high dignity of being a saint! of having implanted in the soul that germ of holiness that will expand until every thought of the mind, and every affection of the soul, shall be perfected in God's holiness! And what a high calling is our adoption to the relationship of children! To be called a child of God- taken into His family, and admitted to all the privileges of sons and of daughters, is the noblest relation to which the soul can be admitted.

The privileges belonging to this high calling stamp its greatness. Is it no high privilege to be in a state of agreement with God?- to have the smile of your Father ever beaming down upon you? What a privilege, too, is access to God! Does God condescend to call you His child, and Himself your Father, and yet banish you from all communion? Impossible! We may live inferior to our high calling, but God never loses sight of it. He has provided for our communion, and bids us draw near. Oh, is it no privilege to take all our cares and our sorrows to our Father? to pour out our needs to Him who loves us? Esteem it, my reader, the sweetest, holiest privilege of the man of God this side heaven.

Let us proceed to show that the Lord Jesus Christ is the "mark" or goal towards which the believer should be pressing. Observe the state after which this man of God aimed. He strove after a loftier, holier advancement in this high and heavenly calling. See his self-renunciation "I count not myself to have apprehended." How different from the estimation which all his brethren had of him! They thought him a giant, he knew himself to be a dwarf; they regarded him as the chief of the apostles, he knew himself to be "less than the least of all saints."

Learn to estimate lightly, in a sense, by the laudatory and kind opinion of man. Let it have no unholy or elevating effect upon your mind; but, when others commend you, go and lay your mouth in the dust before God. Oh, what an evidence of a man of God is this self-renunciation! No man can advance in this high calling who has not this for his starting-post. God raises us from the valley. He lifts us from the dust. God never confers any especial honor or grace upon His children but He first lays them low. If God is so dealing with you now, expect an especial blessing "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended." O Lord, give us this crucifixion of self!

Then observe the intensity of his soul, "This one thing I do." It was the only thing really important in his estimation- before it everything else gave way. "This one thing I do." And what was that one thing? It was advancement in his high calling- to become a holier saint, a closer imitator of Christ. All other things compared with this seemed less than nothing; and this one thing awoke the profoundest intensity of his ardent soul. Oh, were this with us the one thing, there would be less infliction of the rod, less chastening, less trial, less wounding and disappointment in the absence and failure of all others!

Observe, too, his oblivion of the past: "forgetting those things that are behind." What things? His sins? Oh no! these he never forgot. His days of unregeneracy, when he thirsted for the blood of the saints? No! this he ever remembered with the deepest self-abasement. The mercies of the Lord that strewed his path? No! not one faded from his memory. What, then, would he forget? His past spiritual attainments; these he would not rest in. He seemed to say, "I will forget my past attainments- attainments in knowledge and in grace; they shall not be the limit of my spiritual progression: I will press forward as one that has not apprehended, as he who had made no attainment whatever in the Divine life." This was the point after which his mighty soul panted.

How many Christians imagine that they have gone the length and breadth of the good land, because they have just tasted the milk and the honey, they imagine they have quaffed all the fulness God has provided? How much there is of which we, as yet, know but a little! How much we need a deeper knowledge of God- of the riches there are in Christ Jesus- of the giving up of some fond idol that has taken the place of Jesus! Forgetting the victories already won, and pressing on to still more brilliant achievements in the Christian warfare, to still profounder and loftier attainments in this high and heavenly calling, should be the one thing we do.

"I press toward the mark." The allusion is to him who, in the Grecian games, had his eye fixed upon the goal. His eye was not upon the prize, but upon the mark; the prize was beyond it, and so he pressed on in the race. What is the "mark" of the believer? What but the Lord Jesus Christ. Looking unto Jesus, he runs the race set before him. The original here is most expressive. The Greek conveys the idea of enlargement or scope. The Lord Jesus Christ is the scope where the believer ranges. He is the scope of both the Old and New Testament. Both point to Jesus. He is the substance and glory of both. He is the scope of the law, for He is its end; He is the scope of the gospel, for He is its substance; He is the scope of the Christian graces, for they all spring from union to Him; He is the scope of the promises, for they are all yes and amen in Him.

The apostle had his eye on Jesus. He looked to Jesus while he ran: "I press toward the mark- Jesus my mark- my scope. Let us "run the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus." How could we run without looking to Jesus, our mark? What real advance can we make looking to ourselves? But looking only to Christ, as bearing us on His heart before His Father in heaven, the most tried and the weakest child of God can press onward in the race, and attain to lofty degrees of perfection in this high and heavenly calling.

This looking to the "mark " also implies an ardent desire for a close resemblance to Christ. Who can study Christ and not be, in some measure, like Him? What perfects the student in his art? A close study of his model. So our looking to Christ will, perhaps imperceptibly to ourselves, assimilate us to His image, and others beholding us will take knowledge that we have been with Christ, and learned of Him.

The encouragement is great. The prize is beyond the mark. First Jesus- then the prize. No crown without the cross; no heaven without the atonement. If you are looking for the prize, and not to the mark of the prize, you will never reach it. There is no path to the incorruptible crown but by Jesus. Bearing His cross, and denying yourselves, you shall know what it is to wear the incorruptible crown, "which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give you at that day."

In conclusion, what a solemn question, agitating many hearts- "How may I know that I am called? It was an affliction that first brought me to think of my soul. God laid His hand upon the dear one of my heart; or, He touched my property; or, He touched my health. This was His voice." Well, be it so. Will you doubt your Divine calling because He called you in the storm and in the tempest? God has "other servants " whom He sends out when His gospel is resisted. He has touched you where you feel the keenest; laid you upon a bed of sickness, or "enclosed you within the house of mourning, and there you have heard His voice."

But I am still afraid I am not one of God's called ones? " Is Jesus precious to your heart? Do you mourn for sin? Ah, my reader, those tears are godly tears. The Spirit has broken up that fountain of feeling, and you weep. Is it your desire and aim to be a more holy child of God- to be a more Christ-like follower of the Lamb? Oh, then, you are one of the called ones. That which is in you came from heaven, and to heaven it ascends; it came from God, and to God it leads. It marks you to be a new creature in Christ Jesus.

But, I would say, rest not in the region of doubt and uncertainty; seek advancement in the Divine life. Do not limit yourself; forget past attainments, and press onward, fixing your eye upon Christ, your Mark, your Leader, your Pattern, your Scope; and then the glorious prize shall be yours. Walk worthy of the high vocation where with you are called, you saints of God! Lay aside whatever is contrary to its heavenliness. "Walk worthy, of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God," and soon the prize will be yours!

Methinks I see it prepared to encircle the brow of some who have almost reached it. Methinks I see the gemmed crown glistening before the eye of those who are ready to exclaim, "The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day." Yes, the prize awaits you, saint of God! And you who overcome shall sit down with the Savior on His throne, wearing that starry diadem, even as He overcame, and is sat down upon His throne.