Some of the Causes of Our Low Condition of Soul and Practice

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I desire to call attention to some of the causes of the low condition of soul and practice, which so many deplore, and earnestly desire to emerge from. I believe the first great cause of it, and of our consequent inefficient testimony is, that Mail, and not God, is the object continually before our minds. God's greatest thought was to make Himself known; and, according us this was effected, the counsels of His heart were declared. Now the strength of every soul must be in proportion to its apprehension of God's greatest thought; because it is in comprehending this, that it becomes a receiver of grace therefrom. " This is life eternal, to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent." The eternal life, God's gift to me, as believing in His Son, leads me directly to know Himself.
" No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father., He hath declared Him." Man's great crime was receiving as truth Satan's representation of God, and acting on it.
Thus he fell; and to this hour, although by industry and research he acquires a certain knowledge of everything in creation, yet he cannot find out God; his greatest advancement, only convincing him the more of his ignorance; like the Athenians in Paul's time, he must, if honest, confess his ignorance on the greatest point which could occupy any intelligent creature, even knowledge of his Creator. In comparison to this, what is any other knowledge? And what is the good of the knowledge of everything relating to man, if I am ignorant of God.
Let me hold simply and distinctly in mind, that God's greatest thought is to make Himself known, and that, therefore my highest attainment is that of a " father," as we read (1 John 2) to know Him, that is from the beginning," even the Son who has declared the Father; and as I do so, I shall not fail to see how constantly and largely we occupy our souls with something selfish, something wherein Our interest is expressly before us and the thought and purpose of God, and His interest in revealing Himself, is rarely entertained.
In the mode and terms in which the gospel is preached (and we shall find the mode of its reception generally answers to the character of preaching), this defect is very manifest.
I need hardly insist that our strength, in doing anything, must be in proportion as we ire in the line of God's mind and purpose.
In preaching the gospel, I ought to be from God towards man. My subject is, if I know God, that " God is love." " In this, was manifested the love of God, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him."
God has expressed His love. He could not express it, except in righteousness, for " God is light," and so it goes on to say: " Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." I have to present the love of God, and the manner in which it has acted. I have to unfold how He expressed it through Jesus Christ our Lord, who came down here to do His will, establishing His righteousness, so that God is just, and the justifier of every one who believeth in Jesus. " The only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." He came forth from God to bear the judgment under which we lay. God's love could not reach us, while sin remained unjudged: He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him was no sin. The barrier (sin) being removed by His bearing in His own body the judgment of death -the love of God flows out without hindrance to every one believing in the Son. He that hath the Son hath life. The gospel I have to proclaim is the history of God's love, when His nature is maintained and unfolded in all its greatness and integrity.
True it is to man 1 am proclaiming it, and it is for man's benefit; and according as I have the love of God in my heart, so shall I do so earnestly and efficiently but then the primary thought should always be that it is God's love to man, and not a mere service rendered to man. Man, no doubt, is before me, but that which engages my soul is God's love, and therefore, while I zealously set forth to man the wonders of God's salvation, yet I do not lose sight of Him, whose heart I make known. I am strong in making it known, as I am consciously acting from it but if I am engaging my soul primarily with the benefit man will derive from it, I am making man and not God my object. It is "the gospel of God" (Rom i. 1), and the point to insist on and proclaim, is what God is, as revealed towards man, a sinner, and at a distance from Him. The love of souls in my heart is divine love, and I must (in order to know its fresh activity in myself) be kept in constant and distinct reference to the source of it, in order to understand the scope and intent of the heart of God which I am allowed, through grace, to present to my fellow-man. The apostle Paul has this so fully before his soul, that he thanks God, who always leads him in triumph in the Christ, and makes manifest the I His knowledge in every place: “for we are, to God, a sweet odor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish."
He is thankful to be allowed to make manifest the odor of His knowledge in every place. The great thought before His soul is God. Did he then the less care for souls—he who also writes " I am made all things to all, that I might by all means save some? " Surely not. Why should it be thought, that if I make God my chief object in presenting His love (for His love directs itself to man), that I cannot, or do not, more effectually and vividly present the glad tidings, than one who, keeping man's need in view, is simply engrossed with (as it is admitted) the only remedy for it. Is occupation with the one who is ruined and needs the remedy, likely to be more effective, than occupation with the heart of God, and what is due to it, and therefore, with regard to it propounding the revelation of it, through Jesus Christ our Lord? What more efficacious than setting forth the heart of God in its fullness, making manifest the savor of His knowledge Paul's commission, from Jesus in the glory, was that he should be a minister of those things which he had seen: the terms of the commission indicated the character of the Gospel entrusted to him.
What had he seen? Jesus in the glory—a Savior in the glory. God could now open out His glory without let or hindrance, to every one receiving Ms Son, and believing on Him. He is revealed to Saul, and forthwith he preached in the synagogue that Jesus is the Son of God. How often is the work of Christ exclusively dwelt on, and how God has been revealed not touched upon at all! I may be told that this is not intended—that may be so. Yet is it not evident, that if I were engaged with Christ, as the One who has revealed the Father in His love, I could not avoid prominently setting it forth. The simple cause of such inadvertence, supposing it to be such, is that man is more before the mind than God. What is most on my mind, must of necessity, color every expression which flows from it. If God and the disclosure of Himself in Christ were filling my soul, let me meet saint or sinner, I must declare it, and through the wisdom of His grace to each, and as the state of each required not without real, deep, divine love for each, but at the same time, with the comfort and strength of the Spirit of God, witnessing that I was speaking for God, though doubtless also for man's benefit. Man's benefit would be one result of my testimony, but the great object before my soul would be to reveal His love, which in me made me earnest and ready to suffer all things that I might save some; but, even if I did not, if my heart were true to its proper mission, I could thank God that I had made manifest the savor of His knowledge.
Let us note how our blessed Lord, the faithful and true Witness, testified of God down here. His meat was to do the will of Him that sent Him, and to finish His work.
In everything He declared the Father, walking as a man close beside and in company with men, and He could say at the end, " He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." He always did those things that pleased Him. Are we at all able to grasp the purpose and work of Jesus as the declarer of the Father?
He had all the power of God in His hand, and for this end He used it, and not for Himself, though in many ways needing it. He in feeble flesh, in all His ways and works, set forth to men, and He Himself a man, the wondrous intents and counsels of the heart of God in itself which man through Him is invited to taste of and enjoy. Could our eye follow Him in His course, and not know in our hearts at every step that we were accumulating evidence of how great and wondrous was His work? God manifest in the flesh—a man among men, declaring all the love of God, and the lines of it, in all its integrity and strength! " As the Father knoweth me, so know I the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep." He knew His Father's heart. He knew how to represent it; His whole life and work among men was to declare it, and hence He could say in the end, " Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip; he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?" When we survey our Lord’s ministry in this light, we are imbibing ideas of what God is in His heart towards us. It is His side which occupies us. What He is in made known to me. I see the relation in which He would stand to me; and, as I believe in Jesus, I am entering into the blessing of this relation. I find I am gifted with eternal life, and am individually partaker of the love which has been declared. It is God I am learning, and my idea of Him always indicates the character of my relation to Him. I see how Jesus has declared Him, and my blessing is in connection with this declaration. As is the declaration so is my blessing; the latter depends on the former, limit the one and you limit the other. It rests on what God is, and every knowledge of Him is blessing to me, and every blessing to me is a fruit of this knowledge; so that as I and blessed, so am I consciously connected with God through Christ, and deriving my blessing from my knowledge of Him. If I seek for blessing my heart connects it with knowledge of Him; which knowledge is always blessing to me, but, as I know this, it is the knowledge of Him that is uppermost with me, and thus am I sanctified to Him, " increasing in (or by ') the knowledge of God " (Col. 1:1010That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:10)). True, as I know Him, I know the nature of His love to myself that I am Christ's object, and that He hath called me by name. I could not make Him my object unless I knew myself His object, for the greater commands the lesser, and the lesser gives return according to the quality which it apprehends from the greater. We love Him because He first loved us; and the quality of our love to Him will always be in proportion to the quality and measure with which we apprehend His to us.
When in preaching, and otherwise, man, his need and his blessing, is the object, that which would confer true power is overlooked, and there must be corresponding feebleness in those who are blessed through it. How often do we deplore the feeble link which many quickened souls have to Christ! Why is this? I repeat because their need has been the point pressed and provided for in the gospel as preached to them, and through which, in divine mercy, they have been born again; the utility of the gospel and not the divinity of it has been presented to them; the sweeping of the house to regain the lost silver, or the gain of the prodigal rather than God's claim or relation thereto, and, as a consequence, His satisfaction as the first and greatest consideration. Thus souls, though truly quickened, know little more than relief from judgment, and thus relieved they can pursue their aims in the world without the fear of judgment, which would otherwise have harassed them. It may be asked: Why does God allow conversions through a gospel of which the fruits are such weakly plants? I answer, His mercy, which I do not attempt to account for. I am only attempting to account for the cause of the weakliness of the plants, in the hope that the Lord may lead us into more simple adherence to His own mind, and thus be used of Him to raise His own to the level which His heart desires to see them in.
Must not the presenting merely the need, and the provision for the need, necessarily occupy a man with himself, and cause His own ruin and the remedy to comprise the whole of his thoughts? God in His mercy saves through this preaching, for grace reigns; but the plants are so weakly that there is no testimony from them. They are little, if at, all, for Christ on the earth, and this, I feel, the servants of Christ ought to regard as indicating defect in their own ministry. Would they feel happy in any degree to say that such were the seal of their ministry; and, if the recipients of the gospel which we preach are so feeble and un-Christ like, do we not well to inquire how we have failed in presenting it?
What a different (and how much greater) thing it is for me to know God and His heart towards me, and as I know it, to know the value and gain of it to myself, than merely to dwell on my deliverance from judgment through the work of Christ. Some will say, " Must I not get deliverance from judgment first?" Certainly, but I contend that the true way is to present Christ to you as your life, and the ground of your life, and not merely to relieve you from the fear of judgment by presenting the value of His work for your benefit. In the one case you will count all your blessings from your intimacy with Christ, your knowledge of Him will be everything to you from beginning to end; like the apostle, the one continued desire will be to know Him. In the other, you will have no thought beyond your own rest, you will measure everything by the measure of quietude and peacefulness which you derive from it, you have not had your cup full. Christ Himself can alone fill the cup; " He that believeth on me shall never thirst," " the water that I shall give him will be in him a well of water springing up to everlasting life." Philip preached “Christ” Paul that " Jesus is the Son of God; the revelation of Jesus Christ, not the mere benefit, of man. -was the thing prominent with them.
Again, if the preaching be defective, it is not surprising that the same vein of imperfection should characterize the teaching hut there the effects are more injurious still, because instead of correcting the defects in the preaching, it allows and supports them; and, consequently, contributes permanently to that weakly condition which we are deploring.
To know Him that is from the beginning, is the attainment of a " father." Higher no one can go, and less none of us should aim at. It is the only unerring standard, whether in matters most elementary or most advanced; the one great and simple reference for either is my knowledge of Him. Thus we find such passages as these—" Some have not the knowledge of God,"—" hath neither seen nor known Him,"—" hereby we know that we know Him." The apostle tells us that the knowledge of the Son of God is the point we are coming to, for however inconceivable the thought is, we shall know even as we are known, and hence Paul's effort and conflict was to present every. one perfect in Christ Jesus; the desire of his heart for the saints and faithful is that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto them wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. The tendency of our nature is ever to seek for ourselves and our Own happiness, heedless of what God has been gleaming forth from the beginning of man's existence Oil the earth; even the knowledge of Himself. Every revelation of His grace to man conveyed a fuller knowledge of Himself; and according as man rested in Him thus revealed was His blessing assured. Whereas, whenever man independently sought his own, he lost all; as, for instance, Lot going down into Sodom while Abram learned deeper and fuller knowledge of the heart he trusted in—in its care and provision for him.
The teaching ought to follow up what the preaching had introduced. The preaching ought to present Christ as now in glory, the full expression of what God's love had accomplished. What God is now to everyone believing in Jesus. How God meets everyone coming to Him—with a Savior to the glory.
So teaching should be but a fuller exposition of Christ in glory. The great end of all teaching should be to unfold Christ to the soul, and so to present Him, in the power of the word, as to make Him its standard for everything, and to set forth 'that our place now is to dwell in Him and He in us, and to grow daily into conformity with Him, to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. iii.
18): Can we estimate what an effect it would have on us if He were thus our standard to which everything was referred, and by which everything -was decided. What separation, what purging of ourselves it would entail on us, though the heart, consciously doing it to Him, would have its own reward in the sense of increased nearness to Him (See Col. iii. 17, *23, 24). Now, on the contrary, the conscience (and the more enlightened the worse, for then there is more ground for confidence in our own judgment), or the effect produced on the individual soul, is the standard. I mean this or that association, is allowed or disallowed, as it affects myself,——if it does not pain me it may pass;
if it does I disallow it. I make myself and my own feelings my standard, and not Christ, consequently I cannot but be weak and incompetent.
It is not faith or devotedness, or any virtue from the practice of which certain advantages will flow to me, that real teaching should aim at. It is nothing short of Christ,—that "Christ may be formed" in me; that " Christ may dwell in my heart by faith."
When Christ is presented to my soul as the one Object, I get to know Him, and while learning thereby that I am His object, my, testimony, as I walk here, must ever be true and effective. Read all the Epistles, and you will see that, whatever be the difficulty or the error, all is solved, all removed by living Christ. Every defect arises from not dwelling in Him without Him we can do nothing. If it be justification by the works of the law, as in Galatians, " Knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but by faith of Jesus Christ,""I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." If it be the world and its wisdom as in Corinthians—" I determined not to know anything among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified," and He “of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” If it be worldly religious exaction, as in Colossians "we are risen with Christ" who is our life. Christ determines everything. Now the teaching, in general, does not engage the heart with Christ as the great sum and scope of everything in the mind of God. It is not pre-eminently in the mind of the teacher, and if it be not the teacher being necessarily in advance of his hearers—neither can it be pre-eminent with them. This being so, how can there be strength in the soul or power in the walk, when God's object, the course and work of the Spirit, is either unheeded or indifferently dwelt on? If would please anyone, I must ascertain what is the first thought and purpose of his mind.
I cannot please God but as I believe in His nature. His Son has revealed Him, and as I am in the Son, so do I reach up to the knowledge of God; and hence the apostle writes. Until we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect (or full-grown ') man."
Good works, the whole range of charities, however commendable they may appear, may be engaged in, and yet the condition be low, and the practice unspiritual, simply because the line on which God would display His power, and mark us with His grace, has not been adopted by us.
It is often stated that, if we waited more on the Lord in our meetings, there would be more power. Our not doing so is rather. I believe, a consequence than it cause, for I am assured that if Christ were more our Object, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit would be better known. It is its in Christ now in glory, that the Spirit flows as rivers into and from us, and the Spirit cannot support us, when Christ from whom He acts, is not our Object. The more simply we look at it, the more easily we see the point of departure. God having made Himself known in His Son, if our hearts are occupied with the Son, all the purpose of His heart will be disclosed to us. I preach Christ to manifest the knowledge of God. I teach Christ, in order to furnish the souls of saints with the revelation of God, even to be filled, through the love of Christ, to His fullness.
Another cause of our low condition, and also the result of the heart being occupied with its own gain, is, I believe, that we seek our own things, not the things that are Jesus Christ's. There is a looking to God for mercies, and faith is used and valued according to the favors vouchsafed of God in answer to it. When this is the case, the whole bent and turn of the mind is selfish.
What would suit and meet us here on earth is sought for and valued; and while there is a looking to God, it is ever with this end. In difficulties and pressure, according as there is conscience, God is sought; but the end desired is simply deliverance. There is comparatively little or no thought, and less effort, to walk superior to the difficulties in the strength of Christ. On the contrary, if I live Christ, I am, like the apostle, able to say "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." The one looks to God and counts on Him in order to be delivered; the other believes in Christ, derives nourishment from Him, and is strengthened in His strength. Is it not evident that there is a great moral difference between these two? In the Old Testament, God was continually showing favor, in vouchsafing deliverance to suffering man; but now, in Christ, we are made more than conquerors through Him that loved us. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." The more I return to Old Testament standing, the more I regard myself in nature, the more do I seek present favor and interposition from God on my behalf; but if consciously walking as one that is " risen with Christ," the more am I, in His life and strength, superior to and master of the difficulties of this life. I think it will be found that little practical strength or advancement accrues from some of the most signal instances of God's intervention on our behalf.
We may turn to Him better; but is there more strength to master the ordinary trials of life? Is there not rather an ever-anxious recurrence to Him for deliverance? Whereas were faith in exercise, there would be the consciousness of daily increasing invigoration directly from the Lord and the soul would be seeking rather to glorify Him in the difficulty than to find an escape from it.
True, God in His continual mercy grants to us an escape from the difficulty, but the strength of Christ always makes us master of it. I am satisfied that the condition of soul must be weakly, which is occupied with its gains, in circumstances, from God; and more than this, our mercies themselves prove a snare when they engross the heart. Devotedness is the surrender of self, and of the mercies which minister to it for the Lord's sake. If I am engrossed with the mercies I cannot be devoted; for if the mercies are my object, the Lord is not my Object. If I am occupied with myself, all natural mercies are attractive to me, and hailed as from God and, without perceiving it, I am carried into the current of the world, and my weakness, as a Christian, is manifested. Is not temporal prosperity one of the most fruitful causes of declension and feebleness? It was God's test to Gideon's army: " Bring them down to the water, and I will try them for thee there." Those who were thinking most of themselves and their own gain from the mercy were engrossed with it; and they went down on their knees to drink of the water. The 300 alone could resist its attraction, for their heart was with Gideon. The water-anything which addresses self and engrosses it—diverts the heart from Christ, and feebleness must ensue, for without Him we can do nothing.
The importance which attaches to one as the center of some useful work to man, from the gospel downwards, has, when it engrosses, the same injurious effect; and we never see anyone thus engrossed make any progress in the ways and counsels and strength of Christ. Worldly prosperity, that which is highly esteemed among men, could not engross the heart of a saint who had appropriated the death of Christ, for if we eat the flesh of the Son Of Man and drink His blood, lie abideth in us and we in Him. We are in Christ; and believing in Him, the Spirit flows from us, having enriched our souls with the fullness of Christ.
He is our known Object, and all our ways and thoughts declare it; for we always seek pre-eminently what suits our chief object.
If myself is my object, I seek the natural mercies and what lends importance to myself; but if Christ be my Object, it is the things which suit Him and interest. Him which are my earnest study and care. The things sought after disclose the object of the heart; therefore, if they be natural things, I must be walking in nature, and weak accordingly.
There is one cause more of our weakness that I would dwell on—that is, that, we so little occupy our minds with His mind; we so little seek fellowship with Him in His thoughts and purposes. This is easily accounted for, if we are occupied with mercies which suit and minister to ourselves. How can the heart take an interest in the study of His mind and purpose, if it be full of its own individual advantage? Unless Christ were my Object I could not be the friend of Christ; and unless I am His friend, it cannot interest me to know His mind, though my own personal gain even what He may have given me, may occupy my mind. If I abide in Him and He in me (see John 15.), I have His joy in me, and as His friend He communicates to me His mind.
If I am not devoted to Him, His mind is not interesting to me, and He does not communicate it to any one not interested in it. There is no more marked symptom of feebleness than the little sympathy or acquaintance we have with His mind, and the little feeling there is at our want of it; while, on the other hand, there is no greater evidence of strength and faithfulness than to be a man of understanding, enriched with the mind of our Lord and Master, and able skillfully to instruct His people in a day of confusion and ignorance. In the addresses to the Seven Churches in the Revelation, the angel is always addressed as setting forth in symbol the true place of the Church as bearing Christ's message. The faithful answered to this character, and heard and understood the Lord's message, as always suited and pertinent to the difficulty of the moment. In all ages the true servant of God was entrusted with His mind as to any crisis or distinct purpose. In the words, " Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do? " the principle on which God always acts is disclosed to us. See also the men of Issachar (1 Chron. 13:32). God has ever made known His mind to His devoted servants, and to them only for others would not value it.
As with Gideon's army, it is not enough for me to attempt or to begin to follow. I must have my heart with Gideon's. I must be devoted. Self must have no place with me; and, then, as with the 300, I shall be instructed in the mind and purpose of my Lord. To the 300 only does Gideon tell his mind and plans——-" As I do, so shall ye do.
How remarkable is it, and singularly characteristic of our low condition, that one seldom sees a soul occupied with the present current or course of our Lord's mind. Something in reference to itself marks every inquiry or engagement. Little wonder, then, that our condition should be so low and our testimony so powerless.
In conclusion, I beg again to press that the greatest cause of our weakness arises chiefly from our imperfect apprehension of the gospel of Christ. I have been told that a greater number are converted under an imperfect gospel than under a more perfect one. What answer can I give to this, but that the fuller gospel makes a claim on the heart of man, which deters him from confessing—while the other makes no claim, and there is no cross to him in confessing his faith in it.
The Lord lay it on our hearts to see where we are straitened in ourselves, for surely we are not straitened in Him, and He would rejoice in our knowledge of the mystery of God, wherein are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.