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. We 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 h is 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 w ill help us to overcome those temptations that can not be avoided; he will see to it that we have grace to meet those 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 inste ad 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 that 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 t o "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 can not 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 only 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 o r 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 he will do well to watch carefully his path and follow only those things which will tend to uplift and make him better. 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, whose private lives are not worth y. 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 h e 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 HAVE BETTER EXPERIENCE THAN OTHERS

It is a fact commonly observed that some Christians have better experiences 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 can not consciously refuse to conform himself to the will of God without grieving the Holy Spirit.

God yields himself to us as we yield to him and open the channel for grace. A full and complete yielding of ourselves opens wide this channel, and then grace flows into our hearts in abundance. It is in our power to close this channel and thereby hinder the flow of grace. 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 self to God; but surrender must 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 l able 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. But doing so can not but react upon our spirituality.

Some are more spiritual 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 ye rs; 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. See k 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. But 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 can not violate them without reaping the consequences. The principle here involved is a truly applicable to our spiritual life. There are certain laws we must obey, or spiritual death will ensue. Grace can be retained only by one's living a holy life. Sin is fatal to spiritual life; sin brings us under the condemnation of God's law and Spirit. "The wages of sin is death," both spiritual death and eternal death, death now and hereafter. Now, what is the true standard of the justified life? John says, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin" (I 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? There are many people who point to the seventh chapter of Romans and say it represents the Christian life, or is the true standard of the justified life. Many say, "I do not expect to have a better experience than the Apostle Paul had." The fact is, however, that what he relates in the seventh chapter of Romans is not a narration of his Christian experience. Let him tell in his own words what his experience was. "Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe" (I Thessalonians 2:10). Shall we receive or reject his testimony?

The picture drawn in the seventh chapter of Romans is not the standard of the Christian life. Paul neither asserts nor suggests that he is speaking of a Christian's experience. Throughout the New Testament we find, both in precept and example, some thing very different from this. I called your attention to Paul's life and to his testimony of his Christian living. 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 bringeth salvation hath 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). Now, God is not an idealist; he does not hold up before us a standard impossible to be reached and then expect us to aim at it only to miss. He does not demand us to try, when he knows we should fall short continually. He does not require too much of us; nor does he 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 a constant, onward-and-upward progress, accompanied with a cloudless sky and most blissful emotions. Such idealism is incapable of being translated into life. The Bible is essential ly 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 t o 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. He is brought under condemnation. His conscience accuses him; he knows that he has done wrong, and h e 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 thy 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 live above sin; and this we can do by his grace.