Be Perfect – But How?
by Derek Prince
Part 2 of 2
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A sermon by Charles Spurgeon on November 19, 1871
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by Derek Prince
Battlefield of the Mind – click this link to download the PDF file
By faith even Sarah herself received power since she counted Him faithful who had promised. ” Heb. 11: 11.
SEE here again one of the examples, so simple and intelligible of what faith is: “She counted Him faithful who had promised.” There was a time when Sarah doubted, for she looked to nature, and it said to her that she should no longer bear. Through the repeated promises of the Lord she was nevertheless led to look to Him who had given the promises, and keeping in mind His divine faithfulness she found there was no alternative for her but to believe; and the only account which she could give of the supernatural expectation of faith was this: “He is faithful that promised.” (Heb. 10: 23).
The same way must still be followed by those Christians who desire to be liberated from their doubts and to reach the blessed experiences of the life of faith. We must learn to have done with reasonings of the understanding; with the questions which nature would have first answered, such as, “How can these things be?”, “Whereby shall I know it?”, with calculations as to whether our own wisdom and power are perchance sufficient to bring us where we must know; and we must hold ourselves content with the view expressed in this sentence: “he is faithful that promised.” The only thing which one has to ask is this, “Is there a promise also for me?” If the word of God gives us the answer: “This s a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the chief,” then that is sufficient to bring us down before the Lord and to make us expect that He will perform the promise to us: “He is faithful that promised.”
O, if souls would only keep themselves occupied with the consideration of God’s faithfulness, how would unbelief be ashamed. Whenever anxious feelings multiply in you, and you fear for yourself and your work, go, O soul, bow down in silent meditation and adoration before your God as the faithful One, until your whole spirit becomes filled with the thoughts and the peace that spring from this attribute. Go over all the assurances in the Scriptures, so glorious and clear, that the unchangeable One Himself shall fulfill His counsel, and that He simply desires of souls the stillness which observes and expects the performance. Take counsel with the believers of the old and new covenants, reflect on their ways and their leadings, and they will tell you with one accord that their strength and their peace have been — the faithfulness of God. 0, pray, accustom yourself, every day, with every promise of God that you read, with every prayer that you make for the attainment of what God has spoken to you of, with every fear that arises in you as to whether you shall be indeed partaker of the offered salvation, — pray, accustom yourself to fasten your eye undividedly on that word, to let your whole heart be filled with it: “He is faithful that promised.” And, above all, even when you are not yet able to appropriate everything to yourselves, forget not to praise and thank God for His faithfulness; praise and adore Him as the Faithful One; adoration will confirm you in faith in Him. Nor must you set your hope on the divine faithfulness only when you are taking the first steps on the way of conversion, seeking for forgiveness and acceptance, but, especially in the midst of the struggle, to be confirmed unto the end and to be unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus. It is with his eye fixed on this hope that Paul says “God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1: 8, 9); just as in that glorious work about sanctification that finds so little belief, “The God of peace sanctify you wholly,” he also immediately adds: “Faithful is He that calleth you, who will also do it.” (1 Thess. 5: 23, 24).
It was by this faith, this loyal esteem of the faithfulness of her God and reliance upon it, that Sarah received power to bear. So far is this faith also from leading to sluggishness and indifference that it will increase activity. It teaches the soul to wait upon God spiritually and earnestly, that He may point out to it what it must do, and that it may learn by experience to understand the deep significance of that word: “Work, for God worketh in you.” Believing in His faithfulness also to work in it, it has courage to work after Him. “By faith she received power, since she counted Him faithful who had promised.”
Of late a thought has been constantly with me that all the work is dependent on God’s blessing. Often we are faithful, but despite our faithfulness there is no blessing and no fruit. Often we are diligent, but despite our diligence there is no blessing and no fruit. Often we exercise our faith; we truly believe God can do something. We also pray that He would work, but everything is in vain when God does not bless us. Sooner or later, we who serve God must be brought to the point of expecting God’s blessing. Without God’s blessing, our faithfulness, diligence, faith, and prayers will be to no avail. However, if we have God’s blessing, there will be fruit even if we seem to be wrong or hopeless. Therefore, all problems are a matter of God’s blessing.
I would like to bring out the matter of multiplying the five loaves (Mark 6:35-44; 8:1-9) with respect to God’s blessing. It is not a matter of how many loaves we have in our hands, but whether or not God has blessed them. Even if we had more than five loaves, this would not be enough to feed four or five thousand people. Even if we had ten times or even one hundred times more, we still would not have enough to feed four or five thousand people. It is not a matter of how much we have. Sooner or later, we must be brought to the point of seeing that it is not a matter of what we can pull out of our storage shed, nor is it a matter of how great our gift is or how much power we have. The day must come in which we say to the Lord, “Everything depends on Your blessing.” This is a basic matter. How much blessing has the Lord really given us? It does not really matter how many loaves there are. The Lord’s blessings nourishes people and gives them life.
One matter is troubling my heart: Do we truly treasure God’s blessing? This is a basic question concerning the work. Perhaps we do not even have five loaves today, but our need is greater than four thousand or five thousand people. I am afraid that we have less in our storehouse than the apostles, while our need is greater than the need at the time of the apostles. Our own store, source, power, labor, and faithfulness will be manifest that they are useless to us one day. Brothers, our future holds great disappointment for us because we will see that we can do nothing.
We must notice something in the Gospels. Why does the Lord do two miracles that are almost the same in nature and in action? I am afraid it is because this lesson is not easy to learn. Why does He feed the five thousand and then feed the four thousand? Two miracles of almost identical nature are repeated twice in the Gospels. We must learn this lesson, but it is not easy. Many people still do not look to God’s blessing, but instead look at the few loaves in their own hands! The Loves in our hands are so pitifully few, but we still base our plans on them. The more we plan in this way, however, the harder the work becomes. Sometimes it becomes impossible. I am somewhat comforted by the words spoken by a brother one hundred years ago. He said, “When the Lord wants to work a small miracle, He puts me in a difficult situation. When He wants to work a great miracle, He puts me in an impossible situation.” Our situation is difficult, and it even seems impossible. Many times it is really hard, and we are like the little boy with just a few loaves. We can only hope for a miracle, and this miracle is the Lord Himself taking them up and blessing them.
Brothers and sisters, the miracles are produced by the Lord’s blessing. His blessing changes and multiplies the loaves. The miracles are based on the Lord’s blessing. When there is a miracle, five thousand or four thousand people are fed. Without a miracle, even two hundred or five hundred denarii’s worth of bread are not enough to satisfy that many people. The Lord was training the disciples, bringing them to the point of looking to Him for His blessing.
Many times we do not have the capacity to do something. The outward environment is difficult, even impossible. If our eyes are fixed on the circumstances, we will not have any way to deal with them. However, the Lord repeatedly brings us through. These times are the Lord’s blessing. When we have blessing, everything goes well and nothing is difficult. Without the Lord’s blessing, everything goes wrong and nothing is easy. The Lord wants to bring us to a point where His blessing takes the first place, a point where we have never been. When the Lord brings us to such a point, He will have a way to go on. If the Lord does not bring us to this point, we will have to say that even two hundred denarii’s worth of bread is not enough. Today the problem is that we cannot meet the need in ourselves. All of our money combined is not enough. All of us combined is insufficient, but the Lord has a way. In the Lord’s work, the basic problem is the Lord’s blessing; nothing else matters.
Brothers, if God brings us to the point of seeing that everything in God’s work depends upon His blessing, it will bring about a basic change in our labor for God. We would not consider how many people, how much money, or how much bread we have. We would say we do not have enough, but the blessing is sufficient. The blessing meets the need that we cannot meet. Although we cannot measure up to the size of the need, the blessing is greater than our lack. When we see this, the work will have a basic change. In every other matter we must look at the blessing more than we consider the situation. Methods, considerations, human wisdom, and clever words are all useless. In God’s work we should believe in and expect His blessing. Many times we are careless and damage the work, but this is not a problem. If the Lord gives us a small blessing, we can get through any problem.
We truly hope that we would not make mistakes or speak and act loosely in the work. When we have the Lord’s blessing, however, it seems that we cannot err even when we are wrong. Sometimes it seems that we have made a serious mistake, but with God’s blessing the result is not really an error. I once said to Brother Witness that if we had the Lord’s blessing, the things we did right would be right and the things we did wrong would be right as well. Nothing could damage the blessing.
The basic concern today is that we must learn to live in a way that does not hinder God’s blessing. Some habits force god to withhold His blessing, and these must be eliminated. Some temperaments keep God from blessing, and these must be done away with. We must learn to believe in God’s blessing, rely on it, and eliminate the barriers which prevent us from receiving it.
Let us take Sian as an example. When the brothers were divided into two parties, this definitely hindered God from blessing. If their problem had continued to exist, God’s blessing would have come in. In another example, there have been some difficulties in Szechuan recently. Therefore, we cannot expect Szechuan to have any special blessing. I merely mention these matters as examples.
We must see that the Lord withholds no good thing from us. If the work is not going well, if the brothers and sisters are in a poor condition, or if the number of saved ones is not increasing, we should not use the environment or certain people as an excuse. We cannot blame the brothers. I am afraid that the real reason lies with our harboring of some frustrations to the blessing. If the Lord can get through in us, the Lord’s blessing will be greater than our capacity. Once God said to the Israelites, “Prove Me, if you will, by this, … whether I will open to you the windows of heaven and pour out blessing for you until there is no room for it.” (Mal 3:10). God is still saying this today. The normal life of a Christian is a life of blessing, and the normal work of a Christian is a work of blessing. If we do not receive blessing, we should say, “Lord, perhaps I am the problem.”
With the passing years it becomes more and more evident that some brothers receive God’s blessing while others do not. Of ourselves, we are not able to form any judgment about this matter, but over the years this fact has become so evident that we know beforehand that there will be fruit if one brother goes out but none if another brother goes out. We seemingly can forecast the result.
There are definite requirements for receiving the Lord’s blessing. It does not come by accident or luck. God has His ways and works according to His principles. God likes certain conditions and does not like others. Esau was very good, but God did not like him. Jacob was not good, but God liked him. God has His own reasons. If a person does not receive God’s blessing, there is a reason for it. If we do not receive God’s blessing, we should not push the responsibility for it onto the situation or environment. There is always a reason for not being blessed. If we could be brought to the point in which we wholeheartedly hope for His blessing and wholeheartedly ask Him to show us the reason for not being blessed, God’s work would have a great future. I really hope that we could live on the earth by expecting the Lord’s blessing. Nothing is as important as God’s blessing. The results of the work are in the blessing.
I am well aware that we all have our own particular weaknesses. God seems to overlook some of these, but He will not tolerate other ones. Where these exist His blessing cannot rest. It seems that God does not care about some weaknesses. It does not bother Him if you make these mistakes over and over again, but God cares about other weaknesses very much. Therefore, we must be very careful about the weaknesses which might cause us to lose God’s blessing. We may be unable to eliminate all our weaknesses, but we must ask God to have mercy on us so that we would be those who are able to receive His blessing. We should say to the Lord, “This vessel is weak, but forbid that it should be too shallow or too small to contain Your blessing.” Even though we are shallow and small, we are still able to contain His blessing. God’s blessing and gifts are His work. Thus, we hope God would have mercy on us.
“Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going
forth is prepared as the morning.” HOSEA 6:3
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.–I Cor. 10:31
One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas, the sacred and the secular. As these areas are conceived to exist apart from each other and to be morally and spiritually incompatible, and as we are compelled by the necessities of living to be always crossing back and forth from the one to the other, our inner lives tend to break up so that we live a divided instead of a unified life.
Our trouble springs from the fact that we who follow Christ inhabit at once two worlds, the spiritual and the natural. As children of Adam we live our lives on earth subject to the limitations of the flesh and the weaknesses and ills to which human nature is heir. Merely to live among men requires of us years of hard toil and much care and attention to the things of this world. In sharp contrast to this is our life in the Spirit. There we enjoy another and higher kind of life; we are children of God; we possess heavenly status and enjoy intimate fellowship with Christ.
This tends to divide our total life into two departments. We come unconsciously to recognize two sets of actions. The first are performed with a feeling of satisfaction and a firm assurance that they are pleasing to God. These are the sacred acts and they are usually thought to be prayer, Bible reading, hymn singing, church attendance and such other acts as spring directly from faith. They may be known by the fact that they have no direct relation to this world, and would have no meaning whatever except as faith shows us another world, “an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Over against these sacred acts are the secular ones. They include all of the ordinary activities of life which we share with the sons and daughters of Adam: eating, sleeping, working, looking after the needs of the body and performing our dull and prosaic duties here on earth. These we often do reluctantly and with many misgivings, often apologizing to God for what we consider a waste of time and strength. The upshot of this is that we are uneasy most of the time. We go about our common tasks with a feeling of deep frustration, telling ourselves pensively that there’s a better day coming when we shall slough off this earthly shell and be bothered no more with the affairs of this world.
This is the old sacred-secular antithesis. Most Christians are caught in its trap. They cannot get a satisfactory adjustment between the claims of the two worlds. They try to walk the tight rope between two kingdoms and they find no peace in either. Their strength is reduced, their outlook confused and their joy taken from them. I believe this state of affairs to be wholly unnecessary. We have gotten ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, true enough, but the dilemma is not real. It is a creature of misunderstanding. The sacred-secular antithesis has no foundation in the New Testament. Without doubt a more perfect understanding of Christian truth will deliver us from it.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our perfect example, and He knew no divided life. In the Presence of His Father He lived on earth without strain from babyhood to His death on the cross. God accepted the offering of His total life, and made no distinction between act and act. “I do always the things that please him,” was His brief summary of His own life as it related to the Father. As He moved among men He was poised and restful. What pressure and suffering He endured grew out of His position as the world’s sin bearer; they were never the result of moral uncertainty or spiritual maladjustment.
Paul’s exhortation to “do all to the glory of God” is more than pious idealism. It is an integral part of the sacred revelation and is to be accepted as the very Word of Truth. It opens before us the possibility of making every act of our lives contribute to the glory of God. Lest we should be too timid to include everything, Paul mentions specifically eating and drinking. This humble privilege we share with the beasts that perish. If these lowly animal acts can be so performed as to honor God, then it becomes difficult to conceive of one that cannot.
That monkish hatred of the body which figures so prominently in the works of certain early devotional writers is wholly without support in the Word of God. Common modesty is found in the Sacred Scriptures, it is true, but never prudery or a false sense of shame. The New Testament accepts as a matter of course that in His incarnation our Lord took upon Him a real human body, and no effort is made to steer around the downright implications of such a fact. He lived in that body here among men and never once performed a non-sacred act. His presence in human flesh sweeps away forever the evil notion that there is about the human body something innately offensive to the Deity. God created our bodies, and we do not offend Him by placing the responsibility where it belongs. He is not ashamed of the work of His own hands.
Perversion, misuse and abuse of our human powers should give us cause enough to be ashamed. Bodily acts done in sin and contrary to nature can never honor God. Wherever the human will introduces moral evil we have no longer our innocent and harmless powers as God made them; we have instead an abused and twisted thing which can never bring glory to its Creator.
Let us, however, assume that perversion and abuse are not present. Let us think of a Christian believer in whose life the twin wonders of repentance and the new birth have been wrought. He is now living according to the will of God as he understands it from the written Word. Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament. If a sacrament is an external expression of an inward grace than we need not hesitate to accept the above thesis. By one act of consecration of our total selves to God we can make every subsequent act express that consecration. We need no more be ashamed of our body–the fleshly servant that carries us through life–than Jesus was of the humble beast upon which He rode into Jerusalem. “The Lord hath need of him” may well apply to our mortal bodies. If Christ dwells in us we may bear about the Lord of glory as the little beast did of old and give occasion to the multitudes to cry, “Hosanna in the highest.”
That we _see_ this truth is not enough. If we would escape from the toils of the sacred-secular dilemma the truth must “run in our blood” and condition the complexion of our thoughts. We must practice living to the glory of God, actually and determinedly. By meditation upon this truth, by talking it over with God often in our prayers, by recalling it to our minds frequently as we move about among men, a _sense_ of its wondrous meaning will begin to take hold of us. The old painful duality will go down before a restful unity of life. The knowledge that we are all God’s, that He has received all and rejected nothing, will unify our inner lives and make everything sacred to us.
This is not quite all. Long-held habits do not die easily. It will take intelligent thought and a great deal of reverent prayer to escape completely from the sacred-secular psychology. For instance it may be difficult for the average Christian to get hold of the idea that his daily labors can be performed as acts of worship acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. The old antithesis will crop up in the back of his head sometimes to disturb his peace of mind. Nor will that old serpent the devil take all this lying down. He will be there in the cab or at the desk or in the field to remind the Christian that he is giving the better part of his day to the things of this world and allotting to his religious duties only a trifling portion of his time. And unless great care is taken this will create confusion and bring discouragement and heaviness of heart.
We can meet this successfully only by the exercise of an aggressive faith. We must offer all our acts to God and believe that He accepts them. Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in the transaction. Keep reminding God in our times of private prayer that we mean every act for His glory; then supplement those times by a thousand thought-prayers as we go about the job of living. Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.
A concomitant of the error which we have been discussing is the sacred-secular antithesis as applied to places. It is little short of astonishing that we can read the New Testament and still believe in the inherent sacredness of places as distinguished from other places. This error is so widespread that one feels all alone when he tries to combat it. It has acted as a kind of dye to color the thinking of religious persons and has colored the eyes as well so that it is all but impossible to detect its fallacy. In the face of every New Testament teaching to the contrary it has been said and sung throughout the centuries and accepted as a part of the Christian message, the which it most surely is not. Only the Quakers, so far as my knowledge goes, have had the perception to see the error and the courage to expose it.
Here are the facts as I see them. For four hundred years Israel had dwelt in Egypt, surrounded by the crassest idolatry. By the hand of Moses they were brought out at last and started toward the land of promise. The very idea of holiness had been lost to them. To correct this, God began at the bottom. He localized Himself in the cloud and fire and later when the tabernacle had been built He dwelt in fiery manifestation in the Holy of Holies. By innumerable distinctions God taught Israel the difference between holy and unholy. There were holy days, holy vessels, holy garments. There were washings, sacrifices, offerings of many kinds. By these means Israel learned that _God is holy_. It was this that He was teaching them. Not the holiness of things or places, but the holiness of Jehovah was the lesson they must learn.
Then came the great day when Christ appeared. Immediately He began to say, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time–but _I_ say unto you.” The Old Testament schooling was over. When Christ died on the cross the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom. The Holy of Holies was opened to everyone who would enter in faith. Christ’s words were remembered, “The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Shortly after, Paul took up the cry of liberty and declared all meats clean, every day holy, all places sacred and every act acceptable to God. The sacredness of times and places, a half-light necessary to the education of the race, passed away before the full sun of spiritual worship.
The essential spirituality of worship remained the possession of the Church until it was slowly lost with the passing of the years. Then the natural _legality_ of the fallen hearts of men began to introduce the old distinctions. The Church came to observe again days and seasons and times. Certain places were chosen and marked out as holy in a special sense. Differences were observed between one and another day or place or person, “The sacraments” were first two, then three, then four until with the triumph of Romanism they were fixed at seven.
In all charity, and with no desire to reflect unkindly upon any Christian, however misled, I would point out that the Roman Catholic church represents today the sacred-secular heresy carried to its logical conclusion. Its deadliest effect is the complete cleavage it introduces between religion and life. Its teachers attempt to avoid this snare by many footnotes and multitudinous explanations, but the mind’s instinct for logic is too strong. In practical living the cleavage is a fact.
From this bondage reformers and puritans and mystics have labored to free us. Today the trend in conservative circles is back toward that bondage again. It is said that a horse after it has been led out of a burning building will sometimes by a strange obstinacy break loose from its rescuer and dash back into the building again to perish in the flame. By some such stubborn tendency toward error Fundamentalism in our day is moving back toward spiritual slavery. The observation of days and times is becoming more and more prominent among us. “Lent” and “holy week” and “good” Friday are words heard more and more frequently upon the lips of gospel Christians. We do not know when we are well off.
In order that I may be understood and not be misunderstood I would throw into relief the practical implications of the teaching for which I have been arguing, i.e., the sacramental quality of every day living. Over against its positive meanings I should like to point out a few things it does not mean.
It does not mean, for instance, that everything we do is of equal importance with everything else we do or may do. One act of a good man’s life may differ widely from another in importance. Paul’s sewing of tents was not equal to his writing of an Epistle to the Romans, but both were accepted of God and both were true acts of worship. Certainly it is more important to lead a soul to Christ than to plant a garden, but the planting of the garden _can_ be as holy an act as the winning of a soul.
Again, it does not mean that every man is as useful as every other man. Gifts differ in the body of Christ. A Billy Bray is not to be compared with a Luther or a Wesley for sheer usefulness to the Church and to the world; but the service of the less gifted brother is as pure as that of the more gifted, and God accepts both with equal pleasure.
The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is _why_ he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration. As he performs his never so simple task he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”
_Lord, I would trust Thee completely; I would be altogether Thine; I would exalt Thee above all. I desire that I may feel no sense of possessing anything outside of Thee. I want constantly to be aware of Thy overshadowing Presence and to hear Thy speaking Voice. I long to live in restful sincerity of heart. I want to live so fully in the Spirit that all my thought may be as sweet incense ascending to Thee and every act of my life may be an act of worship. Therefore I pray in the words of Thy great servant of old, “I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee.” And all this I confidently believe Thou wilt grant me through the merits of Jesus Christ Thy Son. Amen._
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“Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going
forth is prepared as the morning.” HOSEA 6:3
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.–Matt. 5:5
A fairly accurate description of the human race might be furnished one unacquainted with it by taking the Beatitudes, turning them wrong side out and saying, “Here is your human race.” For the exact opposite of the virtues in the Beatitudes are the very qualities which distinguish human life and conduct.
In the world of men we find nothing approaching the virtues of which Jesus spoke in the opening words of the famous Sermon on the Mount. Instead of poverty of spirit we find the rankest kind of pride; instead of mourners we find pleasure seekers; instead of meekness, arrogance; instead of hunger after righteousness we hear men saying, “I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing”; instead of mercy we find cruelty; instead of purity of heart, corrupt imaginings; instead of peacemakers we find men quarrelsome and resentful; instead of rejoicing in mistreatment we find them fighting back with every weapon at their command.
Of this kind of moral stuff civilized society is composed. The atmosphere is charged with it; we breathe it with every breath and drink it with our mother’s milk. Culture and education refine these things slightly but leave them basically untouched. A whole world of literature has been created to justify this kind of life as the only normal one. And this is the more to be wondered at seeing that these are the evils which make life the bitter struggle it is for all of us. All our heartaches and a great many of our physical ills spring directly out of our sins. Pride, arrogance, resentfulness, evil imaginings, malice, greed: these are the sources of more human pain than all the diseases that ever afflicted mortal flesh.
Into a world like this the sound of Jesus’ words comes wonderful and strange, a visitation from above. It is well that He spoke, for no one else could have done it as well; and it is good that we listen. His words are the essence of truth. He is not offering an opinion; Jesus never uttered opinions. He never guessed; He knew, and He knows. His words are not as Solomon’s were, the sum of sound wisdom or the results of keen observation. He spoke out of the fulness of His Godhead, and His words are very Truth itself. He is the only one who could say “blessed” with complete authority, for He is the Blessed One come from the world above to confer blessedness upon mankind. And His words were supported by deeds mightier than any performed on this earth by any other man. It is wisdom for us to listen.
As was often so with Jesus, He used this word “meek” in a brief crisp sentence, and not till some time later did He go on to explain it. In the same book of Matthew He tells us more about it and applies it to our lives. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Here we have two things standing in contrast to each other, a burden and a rest. The burden is not a local one, peculiar to those first hearers, but one which is borne by the whole human race. It consists not of political oppression or poverty or hard work. It is far deeper than that. It is felt by the rich as well as the poor for it is something from which wealth and idleness can never deliver us.
The burden borne by mankind is a heavy and a crushing thing. The word Jesus used means a load carried or toil borne to the point of exhaustion. Rest is simply release from that burden. It is not something we do, it is what comes to us when we cease to do. His own meekness, that is the rest.
Let us examine our burden. It is altogether an interior one. It attacks the heart and the mind and reaches the body only from within. First, there is the burden of _pride_. The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed. Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol. How then can you hope to have inward peace? The heart’s fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest. Continue this fight through the years and the burden will become intolerable. Yet the sons of earth are carrying this burden continually, challenging every word spoken against them, cringing under every criticism, smarting under each fancied slight, tossing sleepless if another is preferred before them.
Such a burden as this is not necessary to bear. Jesus calls us to His rest, and meekness is His method. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort. He develops toward himself a kindly sense of humor and learns to say, “Oh, so you have been overlooked? They have placed someone else before you? They have whispered that you are pretty small stuff after all? And now you feel hurt because the world is saying about you the very things you have been saying about yourself? Only yesterday you were telling God that you were nothing, a mere worm of the dust. Where is your consistency? Come on, humble yourself, and cease to care what men think.”
The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own. Then the righteous shall shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father. He is willing to wait for that day.
In the meantime he will have attained a place of soul rest. As he walks on in meekness he will be happy to let God defend him. The old struggle to defend himself is over. He has found the peace which meekness brings.
Then also he will get deliverance from the burden of _pretense_. By this I mean not hypocrisy, but the common human desire to put the best foot forward and hide from the world our real inward poverty. For sin has played many evil tricks upon us, and one has been the infusing into us a false sense of shame. There is hardly a man or woman who dares to be just what he or she is without doctoring up the impression. The fear of being found out gnaws like rodents within their hearts. The man of culture is haunted by the fear that he will some day come upon a man more cultured than himself. The learned man fears to meet a man more learned than he. The rich man sweats under the fear that his clothes or his car or his house will sometime be made to look cheap by comparison with those of another rich man. So-called “society” runs by a motivation not higher than this, and the poorer classes on their level are little better.
Let no one smile this off. These burdens are real, and little by little they kill the victims of this evil and unnatural way of life. And the psychology created by years of this kind of thing makes true meekness seem as unreal as a dream, as aloof as a star. To all the victims of the gnawing disease Jesus says, “Ye must become as little children.” For little children do not compare; they receive direct enjoyment from what they have without relating it to something else or someone else. Only as they get older and sin begins to stir within their hearts do jealousy and envy appear. Then they are unable to enjoy what they have if someone else has something larger or better. At that early age does the galling burden come down upon their tender souls, and it never leaves them till Jesus sets them free.
Another source of burden is _artificiality_. I am sure that most people live in secret fear that some day they will be careless and by chance an enemy or friend will be allowed to peep into their poor empty souls. So they are never relaxed. Bright people are tense and alert in fear that they may be trapped into saying something common or stupid. Traveled people are afraid that they may meet some Marco Polo who is able to describe some remote place where they have never been.
This unnatural condition is part of our sad heritage of sin, but in our day it is aggravated by our whole way of life. Advertising is largely based upon this habit of pretense. “Courses” are offered in this or that field of human learning frankly appealing to the victim’s desire to shine at a party. Books are sold, clothes and cosmetics are peddled, by playing continually upon this desire to appear what we are not. Artificiality is one curse that will drop away the moment we kneel at Jesus’ feet and surrender ourselves to His meekness. Then we will not care what people think of us so long as God is pleased. Then _what we are_ will be everything; what we appear will take its place far down the scale of interest for us. Apart from sin we have nothing of which to be ashamed. Only an evil desire to shine makes us want to appear other than we are.
The heart of the world is breaking under this load of pride and pretense. There is no release from our burden apart from the meekness of Christ. Good keen reasoning may help slightly, but so strong is this vice that if we push it down one place it will come up somewhere else. To men and women everywhere Jesus says, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” The rest He offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend. It will take some courage at first, but the needed grace will come as we learn that we are sharing this new and easy yoke with the strong Son of God Himself. He calls it “my yoke,” and He walks at one end while we walk at the other.
_Lord, make me childlike. Deliver me from the urge to compete with another for place or prestige or position. I would be simple and artless as a little child. Deliver me from pose and pretense. Forgive me for thinking of myself. Help me to forget myself and find my true peace in beholding Thee. That Thou mayest answer this prayer I humble myself before Thee. Lay upon me Thy easy yoke of self-forgetfulness that through it I may find rest. Amen._
You can download the entire book from this site as a PDF file here: The Pursuit of God.
“Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going
forth is prepared as the morning.” HOSEA 6:3
Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let thy glory be above all the earth.– Psa. 57:5
It is a truism to say that order in nature depends upon right relationships; to achieve harmony each thing must be in its proper position relative to each other thing. In human life it is not otherwise.
I have hinted before in these chapters that the cause of all our human miseries is a radical moral dislocation, an upset in our relation to God and to each other. For whatever else the Fall may have been, it was most certainly a sharp change in man’s relation to his Creator. He adopted toward God an altered attitude, and by so doing destroyed the proper Creator-creature relation in which, unknown to him, his true happiness lay. Essentially salvation is the restoration of a right relation between man and his Creator, a bringing back to normal of the Creator-creature relation.
A satisfactory spiritual life will begin with a complete change in relation between God and the sinner; not a judicial change merely, but a conscious and experienced change affecting the sinner’s whole nature. The atonement in Jesus’ blood makes such a change judicially possible and the working of the Holy Spirit makes it emotionally satisfying. The story of the prodigal son perfectly illustrates this latter phase. He had brought a world of trouble upon himself by forsaking the position which he had properly held as son of his father. At bottom his restoration was nothing more than a re-establishing of the father-son relation which had existed from his birth and had been altered temporarily by his act of sinful rebellion. This story overlooks the legal aspects of redemption, but it makes beautifully clear the experiential aspects of salvation.
In determining relationships we must begin somewhere. There must be somewhere a fixed center against which everything else is measured, where the law of relativity does not enter and we can say “IS” and make no allowances. Such a center is God. When God would make His Name known to mankind He could find no better word than “I AM.” When He speaks in the first person He says, “I AM”; when we speak of Him we say, “He is”; when we speak to Him we say, “Thou art.” Everyone and everything else measures from that fixed point. “I am that I am,” says God, “I change not.”
As the sailor locates his position on the sea by “shooting” the sun, so we may get our moral bearings by looking at God. We must begin with God. We are right when and only when we stand in a right position relative to God, and we are wrong so far and so long as we stand in any other position.
Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image. The flesh whimpers against the rigor of God’s inexorable sentence and begs like Agag for a little mercy, a little indulgence of its carnal ways. It is no use. We can get a right start only by accepting God as He is and learning to love Him for what He is. As we go on to know Him better we shall find it a source of unspeakable joy that God is just what He is. Some of the most rapturous moments we know will be those we spend in reverent admiration of the Godhead. In those holy moments the very thought of change in Him will be too painful to endure.
So let us begin with God. Back of all, above all, before all is God; first in sequential order, above in rank and station, exalted in dignity and honor. As the self-existent One He gave being to all things, and all things exist out of Him and for Him. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
Every soul belongs to God and exists by His pleasure. God being Who and What He is, and we being who and what we are, the only thinkable relation between us is one of full lordship on His part and complete submission on ours. We owe Him every honor that it is in our power to give Him. Our everlasting grief lies in giving Him anything less.
The pursuit of God will embrace the labor of bringing our total personality into conformity to His. And this not judicially, but actually. I do not here refer to the act of justification by faith in Christ. I speak of a voluntary exalting of God to His proper station over us and a willing surrender of our whole being to the place of worshipful submission which the Creator-creature circumstance makes proper.
The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all we step out of the world’s parade. We shall find ourselves out of adjustment to the ways of the world, and increasingly so as we make progress in the holy way. We shall acquire a new viewpoint; a new and different psychology will be formed within us; a new power will begin to surprise us by its upsurgings and its outgoings.
Our break with the world will be the direct outcome of our changed relation to God. For the world of fallen men does not honor God. Millions call themselves by His Name, it is true, and pay some token respect to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who is _above_, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choices he makes day after day throughout his life.
“Be thou exalted” is the language of victorious spiritual experience. It is a little key to unlock the door to great treasures of grace. It is central in the life of God in the soul. Let the seeking man reach a place where life and lips join to say continually “Be thou exalted,” and a thousand minor problems will be solved at once. His Christian life ceases to be the complicated thing it had been before and becomes the very essence of simplicity. By the exercise of his will he has set his course, and on that course he will stay as if guided by an automatic pilot. If blown off course for a moment by some adverse wind he will surely return again as by a secret bent of the soul. The hidden motions of the Spirit are working in his favor, and “the stars in their courses” fight for him. He has met his life problem at its center, and everything else must follow along.
Let no one imagine that he will lose anything of human dignity by this voluntary sell-out of his all to his God. He does not by this degrade himself as a man; rather he finds his right place of high honor as one made in the image of his Creator. His deep disgrace lay in his moral derangement, his unnatural usurpation of the place of God. His honor will be proved by restoring again that stolen throne. In exalting God over all he finds his own highest honor upheld.
Anyone who might feel reluctant to surrender his will to the will of another should remember Jesus’ words, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” We must of necessity be servant to someone, either to God or to sin. The sinner prides himself on his independence, completely overlooking the fact that he is the weak slave of the sins that rule his members. The man who surrenders to Christ exchanges a cruel slave driver for a kind and gentle Master whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.
Made as we were in the image of God we scarcely find it strange to take again our God as our All. God was our original habitat and our hearts cannot but feel at home when they enter again that ancient and beautiful abode.
I hope it is clear that there is a logic behind God’s claim to pre-eminence. That place is His by every right in earth or heaven. While we take to ourselves the place that is His the whole course of our lives is out of joint. Nothing will or can restore order till our hearts make the great decision: God shall be exalted above.
“Them that honour me I will honour,” said God once to a priest of Israel, and that ancient law of the Kingdom stands today unchanged by the passing of time or the changes of dispensation. The whole Bible and every page of history proclaim the perpetuation of that law. “If any man serve me, him will my Father honour,” said our Lord Jesus, tying in the old with the new and revealing the essential unity of His ways with men.
Sometimes the best way to see a thing is to look at its opposite. Eli and his sons are placed in the priesthood with the stipulation that they honor God in their lives and ministrations. This they fail to do, and God sends Samuel to announce the consequences. Unknown to Eli this law of reciprocal honor has been all the while secretly working, and now the time has come for judgment to fall. Hophni and Phineas, the degenerate priests, fall in battle, the wife of Hophni dies in childbirth, Israel flees before her enemies, the ark of God is captured by the Philistines and the old man Eli falls backward and dies of a broken neck. Thus stark utter tragedy followed upon Eli’s failure to honor God.
Now set over against this almost any Bible character who honestly tried to glorify God in his earthly walk. See how God winked at weaknesses and overlooked failures as He poured upon His servants grace and blessing untold. Let it be Abraham, Jacob, David, Daniel, Elijah or whom you will; honor followed honor as harvest the seed. The man of God set his heart to exalt God above all; God accepted his intention as fact and acted accordingly. Not perfection, but holy intention made the difference.
In our Lord Jesus Christ this law was seen in simple perfection. In His lowly manhood He humbled Himself and gladly gave all glory to His Father in heaven. He sought not His own honor, but the honor of God who sent Him. “If I honour myself,” He said on one occasion, “my honour is nothing; it is my Father that honoureth me.” So far had the proud Pharisees departed from this law that they could not understand one who honored God at his own expense. “I honour my Father,” said Jesus to them, “and ye do dishonour me.”
Another saying of Jesus, and a most disturbing one, was put in the form of a question, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God alone?” If I understand this correctly Christ taught here the alarming doctrine that the desire for honor among men made belief impossible. Is this sin at the root of religious unbelief? Could it be that those “intellectual difficulties” which men blame for their inability to believe are but smoke screens to conceal the real cause that lies behind them? Was it this greedy desire for honor from man that made men into Pharisees and Pharisees into Deicides? Is this the secret back of religious self-righteousness and empty worship? I believe it may be. The whole course of the life is upset by failure to put God where He belongs. We exalt ourselves instead of God and the curse follows.
In our desire after God let us keep always in mind that God also hath desire, and His desire is toward the sons of men, and more particularly toward those sons of men who will make the once-for-all decision to exalt Him over all. Such as these are precious to God above all treasures of earth or sea. In them God finds a theater where He can display His exceeding kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. With them God can walk unhindered, toward them He can act like the God He is.
In speaking thus I have one fear; it is that I may convince the mind before God can win the heart. For this God-above-all position is one not easy to take. The mind may approve it while not having the consent of the will to put it into effect. While the imagination races ahead to honor God, the will may lag behind and the man never guess how divided his heart is. The whole man must make the decision before the heart can know any real satisfaction. God wants us all, and He will not rest till He gets us all. No part of the man will do.
Let us pray over this in detail, throwing ourselves at God’s feet and meaning everything we say. No one who prays thus in sincerity need wait long for tokens of divine acceptance. God will unveil His glory before His servant’s eyes, and He will place all His treasures at the disposal of such a one, for He knows that His honor is safe in such consecrated hands.
_O God, be Thou exalted over my possessions. Nothing of earth’s treasures shall seem dear unto me if only Thou art glorified in my life. Be Thou exalted over my friendships. I am determined that Thou shalt be above all, though I must stand deserted and alone in the midst of the earth. Be Thou exalted above my comforts. Though it mean the loss of bodily comforts and the carrying of heavy crosses I shall keep my vow made this day before Thee. Be Thou exalted over my reputation. Make me ambitious to please Thee even if as a result I must sink into obscurity and my name be forgotten as a dream. Rise, O Lord, into Thy proper place of honor, above my ambitions, above my likes and dislikes, above my family, my health and even my life itself. Let me decrease that Thou mayest increase, let me sink that Thou mayest rise above. Ride forth upon me as Thou didst ride into Jerusalem mounted upon the humble little beast, a colt, the foal of an ass, and let me hear the children cry to Thee, “Hosanna in the highest.”_
You can download the entire book from this site as a PDF file here: The Pursuit of God.
forth is prepared as the morning.” HOSEA 6:3
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.–Heb. 12:2
Let us think of our intelligent plain man mentioned in chapter six coming for the first time to the reading of the Scriptures. He approaches the Bible without any previous knowledge of what it contains. He is wholly without prejudice; he has nothing to prove and nothing to defend.
Such a man will not have read long until his mind begins to observe certain truths standing out from the page. They are the spiritual principles behind the record of God’s dealings with men, and woven into the writings of holy men as they “were moved by the Holy Ghost.” As he reads on he might want to number these truths as they become clear to him and make a brief summary under each number. These summaries will be the tenets of his Biblical creed. Further reading will not affect these points except to enlarge and strengthen them. Our man is finding out what the Bible actually teaches.
High up on the list of things which the Bible teaches will be the doctrine of _faith_. The place of weighty importance which the Bible gives to faith will be too plain for him to miss. He will very likely conclude: Faith is all-important in the life of the soul. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith will get me anything, take me anywhere in the Kingdom of God, but without faith there can be no approach to God, no forgiveness, no deliverance, no salvation, no communion, no spiritual life at all.
By the time our friend has reached the eleventh chapter of Hebrews the eloquent encomium which is there pronounced upon faith will not seem strange to him. He will have read Paul’s powerful defense of faith in his Roman and Galatian epistles. Later if he goes on to study church history he will understand the amazing power in the teachings of the Reformers as they showed the central place of faith in the Christian religion.
Now if faith is so vitally important, if it is an indispensable _must_ in our pursuit of God, it is perfectly natural that we should be deeply concerned over whether or not we possess this most precious gift. And our minds being what they are, it is inevitable that sooner or later we should get around to inquiring after the nature of faith. What _is_ faith? would lie close to the question, Do I _have_ faith? and would demand an answer if it were anywhere to be found.
Almost all who preach or write on the subject of faith have much the same things to say concerning it. They tell us that it is believing a promise, that it is taking God at His word, that it is reckoning the Bible to be true and stepping out upon it. The rest of the book or sermon is usually taken up with stories of persons who have had their prayers answered as a result of their faith. These answers are mostly direct gifts of a practical and temporal nature such as health, money, physical protection or success in business. Or if the teacher is of a philosophic turn of mind he may take another course and lose us in a welter of metaphysics or snow us under with psychological jargon as he defines and re-defines, paring the slender hair of faith thinner and thinner till it disappears in gossamer shavings at last. When he is finished we get up disappointed and go out “by that same door where in we went.” Surely there must be something better than this.
In the Scriptures there is practically no effort made to define faith. Outside of a brief fourteen-word definition in Hebrews 11:1, I know of no Biblical definition, and even there faith is defined functionally, not philosophically; that is, it is a statement of what faith is _in operation_, _not_ what it is _in essence_. It assumes the presence of faith and shows what it results in, rather than what it is. We will be wise to go just that far and attempt to go no further. We are told from whence it comes and by what means: “Faith is a gift of God,” and “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This much is clear, and, to paraphrase Thomas à Kempis, “I had rather exercise faith than know the definition thereof.”
From here on, when the words “faith is” or their equivalent occur in this chapter I ask that they be understood to refer to what faith is in operation as exercised by a believing man. Right here we drop the notion of definition and think about faith as it may be experienced in action. The complexion of our thoughts will be practical, not theoretical.
In a dramatic story in the Book of Numbers faith is seen in action. Israel became discouraged and spoke against God, and the Lord sent fiery serpents among them. “And they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” Then Moses sought the Lord for them and He heard and gave them a remedy against the bite of the serpents. He commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it upon a pole in sight of all the people, “and it shall come to pass, that everyone that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” Moses obeyed, “and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Num. 21:4-9).
In the New Testament this important bit of history is interpreted for us by no less an authority than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is explaining to His hearers how they may be saved. He tells them that it is by believing. Then to make it clear He refers to this incident in the Book of Numbers. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Our plain man in reading this would make an important discovery. He would notice that “look” and “believe” were synonymous terms. “Looking” on the Old Testament serpent is identical with “believing” on the New Testament Christ. That is, the _looking_ and the _believing_ are the same thing. And he would understand that while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I think he would conclude that _faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God_.
When he had seen this he would remember passages he had read before, and their meaning would come flooding over him. “They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed” (Psa. 34:5). “Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us” (Psa. 123:1-2). Here the man seeking mercy looks straight at the God of mercy and never takes his eyes away from Him till mercy is granted. And our Lord Himself looked always at God. “Looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the bread to his disciples” (Matt. 14:19). Indeed Jesus taught that He wrought His works by always keeping His inward eyes upon His Father. His power lay in His continuous look at God (John 5:19-21).
In full accord with the few texts we have quoted is the whole tenor of the inspired Word. It is summed up for us in the Hebrew epistle when we are instructed to run life’s race “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” From all this we learn that faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God.
Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to “behold the Lamb of God,” and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. At first this may be difficult, but it becomes easier as we look steadily at His wondrous Person, quietly and without strain. Distractions may hinder, but once the heart is committed to Him, after each brief excursion away from Him the attention will return again and rest upon Him like a wandering bird coming back to its window.
I would emphasize this one committal, this one great volitional act which establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus. God takes this intention for our choice and makes what allowances He must for the thousand distractions which beset us in this evil world. He knows that we have set the direction of our hearts toward Jesus, and we can know it too, and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that a habit of soul is forming which will become after a while a sort of spiritual reflex requiring no more conscious effort on our part.
Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves–blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.
Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the One toward Whom it is directed. Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus. Sin has twisted our vision inward and made it self-regarding. Unbelief has put self where God should be, and is perilously close to the sin of Lucifer who said, “I will set my throne above the throne of God.” Faith looks _out_ instead of _in_ and the whole life falls into line.
All this may seem too simple. But we have no apology to make. To those who would seek to climb into heaven after help or descend into hell God says, “The word is nigh thee, even the word of faith.” The word induces us to lift up our eyes unto the Lord and the blessed work of faith begins.
When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is “Thou God seest me.” When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on this earth.
“When all my endeavour is turned toward Thee because all Thy endeavour is turned toward me; when I look unto Thee alone with all my attention, nor ever turn aside the eyes of my mind, because Thou dost enfold me with Thy constant regard; when I direct my love toward Thee alone because Thou, who art Love’s self hast turned Thee toward me alone. And what, Lord, is my life, save that embrace wherein Thy delightsome sweetness doth so lovingly enfold me?” So wrote Nicholas of Cusa four hundred years ago.
I should like to say more about this old man of God. He is not much known today anywhere among Christian believers, and among current Fundamentalists he is known not at all. I feel that we could gain much from a little acquaintance with men of his spiritual flavor and the school of Christian thought which they represent. Christian literature, to be accepted and approved by the evangelical leaders of our times, must follow very closely the same train of thought, a kind of “party line” from which it is scarcely safe to depart. A half-century of this in America has made us smug and content. We imitate each other with slavish devotion and our most strenuous efforts are put forth to try to say the same thing that everyone around us is saying–and yet to find an excuse for saying it, some little safe variation on the approved theme or, if no more, at least a new illustration.
Nicholas was a true follower of Christ, a lover of the Lord, radiant and shining in his devotion to the Person of Jesus. His theology was orthodox, but fragrant and sweet as everything about Jesus might properly be expected to be. His conception of eternal life, for instance, is beautiful in itself and, if I mistake not, is nearer in spirit to John 17:3 than that which is current among us today. Life eternal, says Nicholas, is “nought other than that blessed regard wherewith Thou never ceasest to behold me, yea, even the secret places of my soul. With Thee, to behold is to give life; ’tis unceasingly to impart sweetest love of Thee; ’tis to inflame me to love of Thee by love’s imparting, and to feed me by inflaming, and by feeding to kindle my yearning, and by kindling to make me drink of the dew of gladness, and by drinking to infuse in me a fountain of life, and by infusing to make it increase and endure.”
Now, if faith is the gaze of the heart at God, and if this gaze is but the raising of the inward eyes to meet the all-seeing eyes of God, then it follows that it is one of the easiest things possible to do. It would be like God to make the most vital thing easy and place it within the range of possibility for the weakest and poorest of us.
Several conclusions may fairly be drawn from all this. The simplicity of it, for instance. Since believing is looking, it can be done without special equipment or religious paraphernalia. God has seen to it that the one life-and-death essential can never be subject to the caprice of accident. Equipment can break down or get lost, water can leak away, records can be destroyed by fire, the minister can be delayed or the church burn down. All these are external to the soul and are subject to accident or mechanical failure: but _looking_ is of the heart and can be done successfully by any man standing up or kneeling down or lying in his last agony a thousand miles from any church.
Since believing is looking it can be done _any time_. No season is superior to another season for this sweetest of all acts. God never made salvation depend upon new moons nor holy days or sabbaths. A man is not nearer to Christ on Easter Sunday than he is, say, on Saturday, August 3, or Monday, October 4. As long as Christ sits on the mediatorial throne every day is a good day and all days are days of salvation.
Neither does _place_ matter in this blessed work of believing God. Lift your heart and let it rest upon Jesus and you are instantly in a sanctuary though it be a Pullman berth or a factory or a kitchen. You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him.
Now, someone may ask, “Is not this of which you speak for special persons such as monks or ministers who have by the nature of their calling more time to devote to quiet meditation? I am a busy worker and have little time to spend alone.” I am happy to say that the life I describe is for everyone of God’s children regardless of calling. It is, in fact, happily practiced every day by many hard working persons and is beyond the reach of none.
Many have found the secret of which I speak and, without giving much thought to what is going on within them, constantly practice this habit of inwardly gazing upon God. They know that something inside their hearts sees God. Even when they are compelled to withdraw their conscious attention in order to engage in earthly affairs there is within them a secret communion always going on. Let their attention but be released for a moment from necessary business and it flies at once to God again. This has been the testimony of many Christians, so many that even as I state it thus I have a feeling that I am quoting, though from whom or from how many I cannot possibly know.
I do not want to leave the impression that the ordinary means of grace have no value. They most assuredly have. Private prayer should be practiced by every Christian. Long periods of Bible meditation will purify our gaze and direct it; church attendance will enlarge our outlook and increase our love for others. Service and work and activity; all are good and should be engaged in by every Christian. But at the bottom of all these things, giving meaning to them, will be the inward habit of beholding God. A new set of eyes (so to speak) will develop within us enabling us to be looking at God while our outward eyes are seeing the scenes of this passing world.
Someone may fear that we are magnifying private religion out of all proportion, that the “us” of the New Testament is being displaced by a selfish “I.” Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole Church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and a higher life.
All the foregoing presupposes true repentance and a full committal of the life to God. It is hardly necessary to mention this, for only persons who have made such a committal will have read this far.
When the habit of inwardly gazing Godward becomes fixed within us we shall be ushered onto a new level of spiritual life more in keeping with the promises of God and the mood of the New Testament. The Triune God will be our dwelling place even while our feet walk the low road of simple duty here among men. We will have found life’s _summum bonum_ indeed. “There is the source of all delights that can be desired; not only can nought better be thought out by men and angels, but nought better can exist in mode of being! For it is the absolute maximum of every rational desire, than which a greater cannot be.”
_O Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to Thee and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision till I see Thee but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Thine own precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon Thee all the days of my earthly pilgrimage. Then shall I be prepared to behold Thee in full splendor in the day when Thou shalt appear to be glorified in Thy saints and admired in all them that believe. Amen._
You can download the entire book from this site as a PDF file here: The Pursuit of God.
 Nicholas of Cusa, _The Vision of God_, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1928. This and the following quotations used by kind permission of the publishers.
 _The Vision of God_
 _The Vision of God_