The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, Chapter 3: Life

“That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” – John iii. 6.

“And everything will live wherever the river goes.” – Ezek. xlvii. 9.

“To be spiritually minded is life and peace.” – Rom. viii. 6.

“Christ lives in me.” – Gal. ii. 20.

“But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” – John iv. 14.

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” – John vii. 38.

A REMARKABLE brick from the wall of Babylon bears the inscription of one of its mighty kings. In the centre of the inscription is a footprint of one of the dogs which wandered about the crowded city. It was the custom to imprint the royal mark upon the bricks used for public works. While this particular brick was lying in its plastic state to dry, a vagrant dog had accidentally trodden upon it. The king’s inscription is entirely illegible, while the footprint of the dog is perfectly distinct. The name of the mighty ruler of Babylon is unknown. The footprint of the dog has decidedly the advantage over the inscription of the king (Norton).

May we not see a picture here of man’s present condition? Created originally “in the image and after the likeness of God,” man, as he is now by nature, no longer reflects the moral beauty and perfection of the Divine character. While in one part of his nature – the soul – God’s image is defaced, in another part the spirit – it is altogether obliterated. The footprint of the Evil One is distinctly visible.

And yet we would not say that there are no traces of the original inscription. The Scriptures recognize such outlines, faint though they be, even among the heathen (Rom. ii. 14, 15). And yet while this is true, the word of God speaks of man as wholly corrupt, and needing a change, so complete and thorough, that it is called a “new creation.” He “must be born again.”

Man as originally created, consisted of spirit, soul, and body. We read, “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. ii. 7).

In order of thought, we have first the construction of the body. Man was made of the dust of the ground, and fashioned by the hand of God, as the potter fashions the clay. Then, into that body thus formed, God breathed “the breath of life.” And yet “the formation of man from the dust, and the breathing of the breath of life, must not be understood in a mechanical sense, as if God first of all constructed a human figure from the dust, and then, by breathing His breath of life into the clod of earth which He had shaped into the form of man, made it into a living being. . . . By an act of Divine omnipotence man arose from the dust; and in the same moment in which the dust, by virtue of creative omnipotence, shaped itself into a human form, it was pervaded by the Divine breath of life, and created a living being, so that we cannot say the body was earlier than the soul” (Delitzsch).

“Man became a living soul.” Though the same term is employed to designate the lower animals (Gen. i. 20, 21), “It does not necessarily imply that the basis of the life-principle in man and the inferior animals is the same. The distinction between the two appears from the difference in the mode of their creations. The beasts arose as the Almighty fiat completed beings every one a living soul. Man received his life from a distinct act of Divine in-breathing – a communication from the whole Personality of the Godhead. In effect, man was thereby constituted a living soul like the lower animals; but in him the life-principle conferred a personality which was wanting in them” (Delitzsch).

Man not only received that part which we term soul, but that part termed spirit. He was not a mere individual creature, like the lower animals: he became a person. That personality was the meeting point of the two natures, the animal and the spiritual. He consisted, therefore, of the three parts – spirit, soul, and body. Body and spirit uniting in the personal soul is the true idea of man as he came forth from the hand of God.

But what is man’s present constitution since the Fall? The Scriptures declare that he is now by nature “dead in trespasses and sin.” That is, so far as his spirit-nature is concerned, towards God he is dead. Not, we would observe, that his spirit-nature has ceased to exist. Not that, since the Fall, he has become body and soul, instead of body, soul, and spirit. For while he is dead towards God, he is not dead towards sin (Jude 19. “Sensual, having not the Spirit.” Even though we may hesitate to accept the interpretation, with De Wette and others, that the reference here is to the Holy Spirit, this passage cannot be pressed as proving that fallen man has ceased to possess a spirit-nature. Alford observes on this text: “These men have not indeed ceased to have spirit (pneuma – pneu’ma), as part of their own tripartite nature; but they have ceased to possess it in any worthy sense: it is degraded beneath and under the power of the soul (psuche – yuch), the personal life, so as to have no real vitality of its own.” The pneu’ma “is that which essentially distinguishes man from an animal, a breath from (out of) God, the noblest part of our nature; but as, in the case of all natural men, it lies concealed, since the Fall, in carnal and animal life, it may be so effectually sunk and buried under the flesh by continual sins, as if it were no longer extant” (Lange, Commentary on St. Jude. See Appendix, Note C). All capacity to understand the things of the Spirit is gone. The Fall has robbed him of the ability to hold communion with God.

And yet fallen man is capable of every kind of sin – not only of sin that pertains to the body and soul, but of sin that pertains to the spirit. He is capable of “spiritual wickedness.” He must therefore still possess a spirit-nature.

Satan needs the spirit of a man to produce the highest development of human evil.

When therefore it is said that man is dead spiritually, we understand by this that he is utterly incapable of intercourse with God. In this condition of death he is incapable of attaining the true ideal of human nature.

“What, then, is man in this state? How do the Scriptures designate him? He is described as “natural.” “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. ii. 14). He is soulish. This is the highest condition he is capable of attaining. He is one whose highest nature is the soul. The natural man is the soulish man. He is governed by his soul. He cannot rise higher, but he may sink lower. He may become devilish. His spirit-nature may become satanically possessed.

The natural man is not necessarily one who is the slave of his carnal appetites. He may be a moralist of the highest type. He may be a giant in intellect, as some of the Greek philosophers were, having all that can be derived from the first Adam: one endowed with a rational soul, and who has the use of all his rational faculties, and yet destitute of the capacity of understanding the things of the Spirit of God, or of holding communion with Him.

The reason for this incapacity is clear. The Scripture furnishes the answer: “Because they are spiritually discerned.” From the very nature of the case it must be so. It is not that the natural man will not “know” the things of the Spirit – he cannot know them.

To put the matter clearly, we may say there are three great spheres – of sense, of reason, and of spirit.

There are the things which come within the sphere of sense. The lower animals are endowed with the faculties of seeing and knowing these things in common with man. With us they can touch and taste and see. These powers are possessed by the brute creation as well as by ourselves. We convince ourselves of the substantial reality of the material world by these faculties of sense.

Then there are the things which come within the sphere of reason. Now we rise into a higher domain – into a region which is beyond the reach of the lower animals. Man alone has the power of drawing deductions, forming conclusions, and grasping abstract notions. Man alone has the sense of moral obligation.

And lastly, there are the things which come within the sphere of spirit. And these the Scripture declares are beyond the reach of the “natural man” – the psychical or soulish man. These belong to the spirit-life, and are grasped by faith.

You may put a telescope into the hands of a man who is blind, and bid him look at some distant star, or on some lovely landscape. He tells you he sees nothing. Well, his witness is true. So the Agnostic affirms of all supernatural religion, that he knows it not. His witness also is true. But if the blind man goes further, and asserts that because he sees nothing there is nothing to see, his assertion is untrue, and his witness is worthless, because he speaks beyond the range of his capacity.

Such is the value of the natural man’s opinion when he declares his mind on spiritual things.

But the natural man may become spiritual. The spiritually blind may be restored to sight. The Agnostic who “knows not” may be brought to see and understand and know.

The life of the spirit-nature may be restored. This is brought about by the operation of the Spirit of God. But how? What is the nature of the process?

“Not by the growth of the soul-principle, the development of the natural man. No one passes from the natural sphere into the spiritual by virtue of powers lying dormant in the soul. It is not by the culture of the natural faculties, nor is it by any supposed uncovering of the spirit-nature, as if it only lay buried underneath.

The spirit is quickened by a direct communication of life from above.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” “You must be born from above.”

So to be alive unto God is to have received this Divine quickening. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God” (1 Cor. ii. 12).

It is in that spirit-nature the Holy Spirit dwells. Until that nature is quickened, there can be no spiritual nourishment, no spiritual instruction or spiritual training. For what is there to feed? what is there to instruct? what is there to develop?

But Divine life having been imparted, that which follows is the growth and development of the spirit-principle; and this involves the progressive transformation of the character.

Let us now consider the nature of this transformation.

There is not a more wonderful or comforting thought in the whole Bible than this – that if we are the children of God we are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son.” In its fullest sense its realization cannot yet take place. It is at His appearing that that likeness will be complete. “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

But this conformity does not belong to the future alone. In a very true sense it is to take place now. It is a change that goes on progressively after Divine life has entered into the soul. We are “being changed” – transfigured – “into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. iii. 18).

It is not a mere superficial likeness, just as a sovereign bears the image of the Queen. That image is put upon it to give the coin currency; but the sovereign is not the image of the Queen, it is simply stamped with it.

It is a change that takes place from within. Beginning with the spirit of the man, it advances progressively through every part of his nature. This conformity to the image of God’s Son consists of a change of character. Character is not something that is formed at once. It needs time and discipline, and the exercise of the will in the act of choosing, to form character.

Character is the result of conduct. Conduct is the outcome of condition. Right conduct is the fruit of right condition. But before there can be the right condition, there must be the right nature, or constitution. We have thus these four elements in spiritual progress.

The first is constitution. There must be a new nature. “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. ii. 1). In the case of every believer this quickening has taken place.

The Apostle could thank God that this was true of all Colossian converts: “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col. i. 12). Not that they were meet by progressive growth in holiness. This is not the thought. “Who made us competent” (Bishop Lightfoot) – competent to inherit. Now, who is it that is competent to inherit an estate? Ask some wealthy landowner how he came into his property, and perhaps he will tell you he purchased it. Ask some of the earth’s great men who have rendered signal services to their country, how they became possessed of their estates, and perhaps their answer would be, they received them as the reward of their services. They did not inherit their possessions.

It is only an heir that can inherit. But what constitutes an heir? Not talents or education; not personal efforts or great learning. There is only one way by which he becomes an heir. He must be born an heir. It is by birth.

So believers are competent to inherit, because they have been born into the family of God. We have become, by virtue of that birth, “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”

It is for this that the Apostle gives thanks. They were meet – that is, competent – to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. They had the new nature. If that is lacking, there can be no advance; not a single step in the way of progress can be taken: it is vain to insist on right conduct, or to urge the importance of developing Christian character.

But now we come to condition. A spiritual nature is one thing, a spiritual mind is another. Every Christian possesses that which is born of the Spirit; but is every Christian spiritually-minded?

Three passages we may look at in which we have the phrase, “the mind of Christ,” referred to in deeply important connections.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. ii. 3). Here we have a condition of mind considered in connection with self. It was a mind that utterly ignored self. “He emptied Himself.” It was on these lines of utter self abnegation that He glorified His Father. He tells us distinctly, “I can of Mine own self do nothing” (John v. 30); that is, I am not able to be doing a single thing from Myself. Again, “I do nothing of Myself” (John vii. 28); or, “I from Myself am doing nothing.” “I speak not of – or from – Myself” (John xiv. 10). He took the place of a servant – of a son. The very idea of son-ship involves that of dependence. “Perfect sonship involves perfect identity of will and action with the Father’The Father who dwells in Me does the works’ (John xiv. 10). According to the true reading, The Father abiding in Me does His work” (Canon Westcott).

Now, the believer is called to walk as Christ walked. This mind of complete self-renunciation therefore, is the condition to be maintained. “Let this mind be in you.” As he lived in and on the Father, so are we to live in and on Christ.

When we are in the right condition, Christ, and not self, occupies the centre of our being. Then it is that He reigns with unhindered sway as king within. The writer, not long since, heard one who had been a Christian many years describe the nature of the blessing he had recently in the following words: – “I had heard of Christ being king. Well, He had reigned in me; but it was only as a constitutional sovereign. I was prime minister, and I did a good deal of the work myself. Then I found that He must be absolute monarch. And so now He is.” How much is involved in that thought! How much turns upon this condition of things! In one sense everything depends upon it.

  • “Higher than the highest heavens,

    Deeper than the deepest sea,

    Lord Thy love at last hath conquered;

    Grant me now my soul’s desire:

    ‘None of self, and all of Thee.'”

    PASTEUR THEODORE MONOD.

  • Another passage: “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. ii. 16). The Apostle had referred to the gospel, or the truths of revelation, as the wisdom of God, and as the things of the Spirit. He declares that these things cannot be known apart from the Spirit of God. But then he reminds his readers that they had received the Spirit of God, and this in order that they might know these things. The natural, or unregenerate, man cannot know them. It is the spiritual man alone who is able to discern them. To have “the mind of Christ” is to be spiritually-minded.

    But it is possible for even the regenerate to become unspiritual; not the “natural man” alone, even the believer may be, without “the mind of Christ.” He may become, as the Apostle declared these Corinthian Christians had become, “carnal,” fleshly – mere “babes” – no longer capable of spiritual discernment (1 Cor. iii. 1. See Appendix, Note B).

    “The mind of Christ” is the essential condition of all spiritual perception, of all progress in Divine knowledge. Here is the secret of apprehending the “unsearchable riches of Christ,” as they are revealed to us in the Scriptures. We cease to become intelligent, or receptive of Divine teaching, when we cease to possess this condition of mind.

    And the same thing applies in the matter of daily guidance. “The mind of Christ” is necessary for a quick understanding of God’s will in the hourly events of life.

    “There are thousands of points in our journey which require quick and almost instantaneous decision as to what we believe we ought to do. The juncture, perhaps, is such that gives very little space to go to some friend, or even to the Divine oracles of truth, or even to ponder the matter in our own breast. At such moments, a rapid perception of the right is an inestimable gift.

    “Now those who have been familiar with holy things attain, gradually, to a surprising initiation of what is the mind and will of God on any subject. It is a kind of second spiritual sense. We can scarcely explain to you the process, but the conclusion it brings them to is generally a correct one, and is often far better than any outward weighing or longer thought would have given them. . . . Their first thoughts are better than second thoughts, because in their first thoughts there is less of man and there is more of the Spirit.

    And who are those whose first thoughts are thus to be depended upon? Those who, by continual and long intercourse with the Fountain of love and wisdom, so see an object from His point of view, and so measure it by His standard, and so feel His affections, that they can say, ‘We have the mind of Christ.'” (Rev. James Vaughan, of Brighton).

    While, then, we insist on the necessity of regeneration – the communication of a new nature – before there can be the spiritual mind, let us not forget that a man may relapse into a worldly condition, though he has become a new creature. He may become “carnally minded.” He may de-generate, though he cannot become un-regenerate. He may cease to mind the things of the Spirit; he may be minding the things of the flesh (Rom. viii. 5, 6). Let us not read those verses in the eighth of Romans as if they had no reference to those who have become new creatures in Christ Jesus. They point to a condition of heart and mind into which, alas! many of God’s children too frequently fall. And with what result? The loss of all spiritual liberty and power. Liberty is found in obeying the law of one’s being. As partakers of the Divine nature, we need continually to abide, if we would be free, in the condition which corresponds to the Divine nature.

    One more passage: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Pet. iv. 1, 2).

    “Arm yourselves with the same mind” – a condition of holy separation from all sin. We have to put on the mind of Him who has suffered for sin. The point to be noted here is that it is not so much the mind of Christ, as He was suffering, but the mind of Christ who “has suffered for us in the flesh.” And the reason follows: “Because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (Lange, “Commentary,” in loco). “Hence he who puts on His mind, and is in communion with Him, henceforth must serve sin no more” (Ibid.).

    “The mind of Christ” becomes thus our shield against the power of temptation.

    All this is intimately connected with our next point.

    Conduct. It will be at once understood why it is that duty is often, not only so difficult, but so irksome. The difficulty or unpleasantness frequently arises from the absence of right condition.

    “If you be willing and obedient.” Note the order of the two things. Willingness is a condition of oneness with the Divine mind. Conduct breaks down when the harmony is wanting, when the fellowship ceases, and the power no longer flows.

    Conduct is simply the will in action. The walk that glorifies God, and keeps us in His smile, is the activity of a will that is one with God’s will.

    Liberty is not freedom from law – that would be license. It is freedom in law.

    There is so-called liberty which is without law. This may be natural man’s ideal of true freedom. But “lawlessness” is in God’s judgment the very essence of sin.

    There is a condition which is under law; but this is a state of bondage, the condition of the legalist.

    A third and blessed relation in which we may be to the law is that of being inlawed, having it within us, written by the Spirit of God on the fleshly tables of the heart.

    Liberty is not being without control, nor being under coercion; nor is it, strictly speaking, being in a state of self-control. It is to be within the sphere of Divine control, having the spirit of life within and around us.

    The Holy Spirit who communicates the nature also produces the condition, and from the condition brings forth the conduct. This is seen in “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. v. 22). First, we have a condition of mind produced within us; “love, joy, peace.” This state of inward conscious blessing must be brought about preliminary to all outward, practical obedience. Where the Holy Spirit is dwelling, without being grieved – as the Comforter rather than as the Reprover – this is the first part of His fruit we are permitted to taste. The believer will know to a greater or less degree what it is to dwell in Divine love, to be filled with Divine joy, and to be garrisoned in Divine peace.

    The outcome of this condition, in practical conduct towards others, will be “longsuffering, gentleness, goodness”; while the result of such conduct, in the building up of the character, will be “fidelity, meekness, temperance.”

    In the first three, we have the inward disposition; in the second three, the external manifestation; and in the last three, the personal characteristic. This brings us to consider the fourth and last element in our progressive transformation into the image of God’s Son.

    Character. While the nature is something which is communicated instantaneously, character is that which can only be built up by degrees; it is something that is going on constantly.

    As successive acts form habits, so habits combine to form character. “Character is consolidated habit.” Every act of true obedience is a real contribution to the formation of Christian character. But we would say true obedience. We often judge of actions from what we see of them externally. But, as we know, there are two parts in all obedience – the outward act and the inward motive. The real value of the act is in its motive.

    “Do you know what that silent work is which is going on in you? Oh, builder! do you ever think of all the structures that are going up in these great cities? There are none that are building so fast and with so many hands as that structure of which you are the subject … There are as many master-workmen in you as there are separate faculties; and there are as many blows being struck as there are separate acts of emotion or volition. And this work is going on perpetually. Every single day these myriad forces are building, building, building. Here is a great structure going up point by point, storey by storey, although you are not conscious of it. It is a building of character. It is a building that is to stand. And the word of inspiration warns you to take heed how you build it; to see to it that you have a foundation that shall endure; to make sure that you are building on it, not for the hour in which you live but for that hour of revelation, that hour of testing, when that which hath been done shall be brought out and you shall be seen just as you are.”

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