It is a mournful fact that the majority of Christians are not happy, and that they, if they would frankly confess it, have been sadly disappointed in their Christian life. When they were converted, the prospect was full of promise: it seemed to them like the dawn of a cloudless day of peace and joy. Scarcely, however, had they started on their journey, when clouds of every kind darkened the sky; and, with perhaps a few fitful gleams of sunshine, these have more or less continued. In many cases it has been worse still. Conflict was expected, but the conflict has generally issued, not in victory, but in defeat. The evil within and the enemy without have again and again triumphed, so that a spirit of dejection and hopelessness has supplanted that of confidence and joyous expectation.
The sorrow, too, has been deepened by the discovery that such an experience by no means corresponds with that given in the Word of God. True it is that we are in a hostile scene, that Satan is unceasingly endeavoring to entangle us with his wiles, that we are pilgrims and strangers, that we cannot therefore expect rest and comfort in the scene through which we are passing. Therefore, our bodies are exposed to sufferings of many kinds, but not one of these things, nor all combined, ought to cloud our souls with gloom and darkness.
Take the apostle Paul, for example. Having shown us that, “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:” and that through Him “we have access by faith into present favor, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” he proceeds to say, “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:1-5). If, moreover, you would learn the possible experience of the Christian, read the epistle to the Philippians. In this book, we find that a believer can be perfectly happy though in prison, with daily possibility of being put to death — that Christ can be his sole motive, object, and aim — that his only desire may be to be with Him and to be like Him; and that therefore he may be entirely superior to his circumstances; and that it is possible to learn, in whatsoever state he is, to be content, and able to do all things through Him who gives him inward strength.
Could any contrast be greater between this experience and that of most believers?
You may reply, This was the experience of an apostle, and we can scarcely expect to reach his standard. We admit that the standard is high, but not even Paul, whatever his attainments, is our perfect model — only Christ. Bear also in mind that the apostle had not a single blessing (except his special gift) which does not equally pertain to the humblest believer.
- Was he a child of God? So are we.
- Had he the forgiveness of sins? So have we.
- Did he possess the priceless possession of the indwelling Spirit — the Spirit of adoption? So do we.
- Was he a member of the body of Christ? So are we.
We might thus enumerate all the blessings of redemption, and we should find that Paul was in no way a privileged exception; for we with him are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
If, then, this be so, how can we account for the fact that so few have a like experience — that abiding rest and happiness are so little known? It is to the answer to this question that we invite the earnest attention of the reader.
The fundamental cause of the difficulty alluded to is the unwillingness or neglect of God’s people to go on to learn what has been secured for them in Christ. Many rest content with being born again; others, with the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins; so that their own salvation is the aim and goal of their desires. The consequence is, that the first days of their Christian life are often their best days; and hence the spectacle is seen on every hand, of believers once bright and fervent, now careless and indifferent, if not worldly.
Let it be said, then, with all plainness, yet with all tenderness, that if a Christian desires nothing beyond the forgiveness of sins, he will soon discover that he has no power to resist either the solicitations of the flesh or the temptations of Satan. It is indispensably requisite for a happy Christian life, that the truth of death with Christ should be practically known [Rom. 6:3-6]. Stopping short of this, the characteristic experience will be unrest and hopeless conflict.
Permit me, then, to explain the reason of this in a few simple words. There are two things that need to be dealt with for our redemption: our sins, and the nature that produced the sins, i.e., the bad fruit, and the tree whence the fruit had sprung. Our need in respect of the first thing has been met by the precious blood of Christ. There is no other method of cleansing from our guilt (See Heb. 10; 1 John 1:7). But though we have been made whiter than snow through the precious blood of Christ, and notwithstanding we have been born again, and have thus a new nature and a new life, the evil nature [the flesh] remains; and remains in all its corruption, and can neither be purified nor improved. It was the sense of this, and the realized powerlessness of the new nature in and by itself, in its struggles with the flesh, that led to the cry in Romans 7: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The same bitter cry still ascends from multitudes of the saints of God.
How, then, has God met this need of His people?
The answer is found in Romans 6. There we read, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him [Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed [annulled], that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed [or justified] from sin” (Rom. 6:6-7). The term “old man” is used to express what we were in Adam. “The flesh,” or the “old nature,” is the evil principle within us; and the “body of sin” is just sin in its totality and completeness. We gather, therefore, from this Scripture (see also Rom. 8:3), that God has already dealt with our old man in the death of Christ, that therein He condemned sin in the flesh. The apostle says, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). It is not only that the Lord Jesus, in His infinite grace, bore our sins in His own body on the tree; but God, in His unspeakable mercy, associated us with the death of Christ: so that He has already passed judgment upon what we are — that is, upon our flesh, root and branch. He has thus made a twofold provision in the death of Christ, namely, for our sins, and for our old man; and both alike are gone judicially from before His face.
Such is God’s testimony to us in His Word; and if I set to my seal, through His grace, that His testimony is true as to the efficacy of the blood of Christ [my redemption], why not also when He bears witness to me that He has associated me with the death of His beloved Son? [my sanctification]. It is on this very ground that the apostle exhorts, in Romans 6, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). That is, God’s declaration to me is received by faith, and acted upon, so that I refuse the incitements of the flesh, on the ground that I am dead to it [free from its authority], having part in the death of Christ. In other words, I accept my death with Christ as the truth before God, and henceforward take the place in this world of a dead man.
Let us now look a little further into the consequences of accepting such a position.
1. The first of these is that we are freed … from sin [sin’s authority] (Rom. 6:7). It is important to note that it is sin, not sins — that is, the flesh, …is still within, and will be to the end of our pilgrimage; but as long as I reckon myself to be dead, accept death upon what I am as born of the flesh, it will have no power over me. Having been in bondage to it, I am now delivered from it — and how? By means of death — my death with Christ. My old master, therefore, has no further claims upon me; I have passed, by means of death, out from under his yoke…
2. The second consequence is deliverance from law. Thus Paul writes, “Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ.” Again, “Now we are delivered from the law, having died to that wherein we were held” (Rom. 7:4-6, see also Gal. 2:19). As the apostle explains, the law has dominion over a man only as long as he liveth. Having, then, died with Christ, we are emancipated also from the power of the law; and blessed for us that it is so, “for as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Gal. 3:10). This indeed ought to be an evangel of good tidings to every believer. By nature, we are all legal, and our tendency to legality remains with us after we become the children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. It is interwoven, we may say, into the very texture of our being, so that it crops up continually in our words and actions. The effect is that many know little of the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free, and are groaning daily under their self-imposed bondage. [Gal. 3:1-3].
But, you reply, we are not under law. The Jews were, but can this be said of Gentile believers?
Certainly not in the same sense; but the principle of law is as native to us as to the Jew. For example, if after I am converted I feel that I ought to love the Lord Jesus more, and try to do so, or that I ought to pray better, and am cast down or depressed because I have not discharged this duty, as I think, more perfectly, I am in principle as much under law as were the Jews. The essence of the law lies in its “Thou shalts,” and hence, if I turn even the precepts of our blessed Lord into, Thou shalt do this or that, I put my neck under the yoke of the law. And the moment I do so, I am on the sure road to failure, distress, and a bad conscience.
What, then, we have all to learn is, that through association, in the grace of God, with the death of Christ, we are delivered both from law and from the principle of law. We are married to Another, even to Him that is raised from the dead that we should bring forth fruit (not works, but fruit,) unto God. Christianity has no “thou shalts,” but it substitutes for the works of the law and the works of the flesh, the blessed fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23); and these are produced, not as the works are, by human effort, but by divine power.
The difference between these two things is as great as possible. Knowing now that fruit for God cannot be obtained by any effort or labor of our own, we are delivered from all expectation from self; and learning, at the same time, that the power which can bring forth fruit is in another (who works, indeed, by the Spirit that dwells in His people), our eye is upward to Him, in the confidence that He will use us for His glory according to His own will. Instead, therefore, of working, we trust; instead of seeking fruit within, we desire that Christ may work in us according to the energy of His own divine power.
3. Another consequence is that we are delivered from the world [society and its values functiong independently of God and under the domain of the Devil]. The apostle, in opposition to certain legalists, who desired to escape persecution and to glory in the flesh, says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom (or whereby) the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). As we read in the gospel of John, the world was judged in the death of Christ. His crucifixion was the utter and entire condemnation of the world that rejected Him. God thus morally judged it in the cross; and Paul, in communion with the mind of God, held it therefore as crucified to him through the cross, as also himself, in the same way, as crucified to it. He was thereby completely delivered from it; for if both were crucified the one to the other, there could be no attraction between the two. The world with all its charms and fascinations could not allure one who held it as morally judged in the death of Christ; neither indeed had one who held himself as crucified through the cross any attractions for the world. Thus regarded, the cross is an insurmountable barrier between the Christian and the world; and not only a barrier, but also the means by which the true character of the world is detected and exposed. Thereby he learns that the friendship of the world is enmity with God, inasmuch as he ever views it in relation to the cross of Christ.
4. There is yet another consequence, and that is, deliverance from man. “If,” says the apostle, “ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living (or rather, alive) in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (such as, for example,) Touch not; taste not; handle not?” (Col. 2:20,21). It is religious man who is in question, whose object is the improvement of the flesh; but instead of amending, he only gratifies it. Now this important Scripture teaches that the believer, as dead with Christ, is entirely freed from man and his religious claims … He thus loses sight of (indeed refuses) man altogether, denies his assumed authority, because he is subject only to Christ. Hence, even in all the relationships of life, he obeys, whether it be magistrates, masters, or parents, because he is put in the position of subjection by Christ Himself. Thus a poor slave — a Christian — in obeying his master, obeys the Lord Christ (Col. 3:22-25).
There is, therefore, complete deliverance for the believer who holds himself as dead with Christ — deliverance from sin, law, the world, and man [and alive unto God – Rom. 6:11] … Every enemy is conquered, and Christ alone is acknowledged as Lord.
If this is true, how is it, do you ask, that so few enter upon this path of deliverance and holy liberty? The answer to this question leads us to the next part of our subject. It may be thus stated, and we entreat special attention to it, that while these truths may be doctrinally apprehended, they must, if the power of them is to be enjoyed, be experimentally learned.
There are four things which must be acquired through experience, in order to enter upon their blessed enjoyment.
3. We now come to the third thing spoken of, namely CONSECRATION….What is consecration? The prevalent idea is that it consists in the giving up of ourselves wholly to the service of God in an act of self-surrender. Sometimes, indeed, it is said that this may be accomplished by an act of the will, that by a fixed and constant resolution we may offer ourselves—head, heart, hand, and soul—to the Lord for His disposal; and meetings are often held at which those who are assembled are exhorted, there and then, to dedicate themselves in this way to the Lord…
[But] The first thing to be remarked is, that all such exhortations [out of context] suppose power on our part—that we are looked upon as competent to attain the end proposed, whereas one of the things we have to learn, as we have seen in Romans 7, is that the good we desire to do, we do not,—that, in a word, we are utterly helpless to achieve, in and by ourselves, anything for God…
In what power, then, is this to be accomplished? In the power of the will? Nay, we are to reckon ourselves dead, etc.[Rom. 8:11]; and hence it is through the Holy Spirit, in the power of the new life we have in a risen Christ. And it should be noticed that the apostle expressly says, that, in using the figure of a servant, whether in respect of sin or of righteousness, he is speaking after the manner of men because of the infirmity of our flesh. In fact, the question here concerns our bodies—or our members.
The exhortation in Rom. 12:1 links itself with the doctrine of chapter 6, though the appeal is based upon the truth developed up to the close of chapter 8. “I beseech you, therefore, brethren,” says the apostle, “by the mercies of God.” The mercies are those unfolded in redemption, and which have been detailed in this epistle… But how is this, we ask again, to be accomplished? Is it by an act of will? Nay, this is impossible. It is by the application of death—it is, in fact, the truth of Rom. 8:10—”If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin:” it is Christ controlling our bodies instead of ourselves…; and this is both a sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, and our reasonable service—the recognition of what is due to God on the ground of redemption. Our bodies, in other words, belong to Him who has redeemed us; but the acceptance of this truth will involve their presentation to God moment by moment, as a living sacrifice; so that He may use them now for His own glory in testimony to His beloved Son…
“If Christ be in you” [Rom. 8:10]—which also is a characteristic of Christianity (See Col. 1:27). In other words, the believer is not only indwelt by the Spirit of God, but Christ also is in him. The Lord Jesus, speaking of the time when the Holy Ghost should have come, says, “At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, ye in Me, and I in you” [John 14:20]. In verse 1 (Rom. 8) we are said to be in Christ Jesus, and now in verse 10 Christ is said to be in us, according to these words of our blessed Lord, to be understood only when the Holy Spirit had come; and the truth of Christ in us is the source of our consecration, or it may be stated in another way—that our consecration flows from the fact that Christ is in us…
We have pointed out the fact that we gladly accepted, through the grace of God, Christ as our substitute on the cross; that when we are led into the truth of deliverance, we as gladly accept Him instead of ourselves before God; and now we must proceed a step further, and accept Him instead of self as our life in this world. Like the apostle, we must say, “Not I, but Christ liveth in me.” This will lead to the refusal of self in every shape and form, because we have learned that self [flesh] is only evil. Christ then will become the motive, object, and end of all we say and do. He Himself, though ever the perfect One, blessed be His Name, has shown us the pathway to this end. He never spake His own words, and never wrought for Himself; He did not speak for or act from Himself,—that is, He did not originate His own words or actions (John 5:19; 14:10). Both alike were from the Father; or, as He Himself said, “The Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works.” On the same principle, He within us should, in the power of His Spirit, produce our words and actions, that both alike might be a testimony to Him and to His glory.
We have hindrances...We have the flesh still within us, and the flesh ever lusteth against the Spirit, and seeks to hinder His blessed power in the soul. We thus read in one of the Scriptures cited, “Always bearing about in the body the dying [or rather, the putting to death] of Jesus;” and in Romans 8, “If we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body,” etc. That is, there needs to be the constant application of death to all that we are, if there is to be the unhindered expression, in any measure, of Christ; and the power for this lies in our possession of the Holy Spirit…
The consecrated believer seeks only the exaltation of Christ. Take again the apostle Paul when in prison, and with possible martyrdom before him, we find that it was his earnest expectation and hope that in nothing he should be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also, Christ should be magnified in his body, whether it be by life or death. Self disappeared from his view, and the glory of Christ filled his soul. Together with this, we learn that Christ was the be-all and end-all, the motive and object of the apostle’s life—a sure mark of consecration. “To me,” he says, “to live is Christ.” And while to die would be gain, he has no choice, for the reason given—that Christ was everything to him, and He only knew how the apostle could best serve Him. Lastly, his hope was, to be with Christ. When Christ is the object of our affections, if He fills our hearts, we cannot but look forward to be with Him. Where your treasure is your heart will be also, and the heart ever craves to be with its treasure. If death, then, is before the consecrated believer, he will say with Paul, “To depart and be with Christ is far better;” and if death is not before him, he will be living in the power of the blessed hope of His return, that he may be with his Lord forever and ever. For this is the hope which He Himself sets before the soul; so that if He says, “Behold, I come quickly,” the heart of the consecrated one will, in the language of John, respond, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”