By H. Forbes Witherby.
10. Struggling for Deliverance.
The soul in bondage and the spirit of christianity — misery of captivity — experiences of what the flesh is — confession to the holiness of the law — sin dwelling in the believer — the utter evil of self — a renewed mind but no power to do good — the Deliverer.
In our preceding chapter we spoke chiefly of the system of fetters, we come now more particularly to individual thraldom. The system of spiritual thrall is one thing, the misery of being in thraldom another. An organisation bearing the name of Christianity may be built up and souls may languish because of it, and Pharisees may place burdens grievous to be borne upon other men's shoulders, which they themselves will not touch with so much as their little fingers, still no matter what the system or the task-masters, if there be faith in God spiritual tyranny will not be endured.
The soul of each individual believer must have to do with God; and faith in God, as He is revealed in His word, will free the soul from its bondage, for God has revealed Himself in His love and in His light in Christ; and the work of the Lord has effected complete deliverance for every child of God. Be it the sins committed, or the nature which is sin, the work of the Lord for His people, and their standing in Him, is the complete answer to every question. But if the eye get off Christ and be fixed on self, of necessity bondage of spirit and fear of God must be the result. We need simple faith as to what God says about ourselves. He says, "Ye are dead" (Col. 3:3); here then is the end of what we are in His sight; the believer who does not truly take for himself what God says about him, will not be free from the thraldom which invariably follows looking into self for power to do good.
Whether a man give his body to affliction, pain, and penance, in order thereby to attain to holiness, or his soul to suffering and gloom for the like object, is practically the same, for in either case he believes this false principle, that "in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth some good thing!" So that the unbelief which keeps the soul in bondage lies in the christian's own breast. The task-master would have no power over him if Christ's gospel were believed. He who applies the law, which is holy and spiritual, to himself in order to produce out of his flesh, sinful and carnal as it is, some good thing is denying the truth of God about the law; and in seeking to enforce upon himself in his flesh, obedience to its holy, just, and good commands, he is not only denying the truth about himself, but also setting Christ risen on one side.
A sound and healthy christianity casts off the legal spirit, and that fear of God which has torment, as the unfolding blossom its thick winter's encasement. The winter of the law is past, the summer of the gospel is present; the believer's portion is to unfold and to bloom in the gracious warmth of the revealed favor of God to him. God once hid His face from His Son, even when He was made sin for us upon the cross. God will never hide His face from Him again, and we are accepted in the Beloved. In that wondrous favor God sees us in Him, and "as He is, so are we in this world." (1 John 4:17.) As we think of our perfect acceptance we cannot but wonder at the utterly false thoughts of God which once prevailed in our own souls, and which do still prevail in those of many of the children of God. The moving cause of these thoughts is unbelief in the scripture and belief in self.
It is far easier to deal with the system of fetters than with the soul in bondage. In speaking of the experiences of the child of God, we are fully conscious that we must keep to broad principles, and in no sense whatever attempt to set up a code of what should be felt or what should not be felt. We would take up experiences which are common to very many of God's children, though such believers often imagine that no one else save themselves ever felt or thought as they. Scripture, as we have already noticed, says of ourselves in ourselves, "Ye are dead," and this truth has to be believed. Salvation and faith in Christ go together: being saved, let us believe what God says about ourselves, and our standing in Christ, the truth and liberty go together.
God the Spirit works as He will, and while teaching all the children of God certain great lessons, has His own divine and varied ways of imparting to each one the necessary instruction. Still we have in scripture certain great results shown us of what is taught the soul by God, and we have in everyday life, certain features common to many of the children of God, who are groaning in bondage.
The misery of captivity is intense. We will place upon record words actually uttered by different children of God in bondage. Let the reader note how prominent self is, and how little place Christ has if, indeed, He has any place in such utterances beyond being desired: "Am I a child of God? I do not feel in my soul that I love God, neither do I feel that I have ever truly experienced what my sinful nature is." — "I have no power to love or to serve God, and the more I try the worse I feel myself to be." — "It is not what I have done that so bitterly oppresses my spirit, as the fearful and depressing sense that I cannot do what I wish to do." — "I am dead to holiness, dead to hope." And again, "I once was more in earnest, and in a more genuine seeking condition than I am in now" — or, "my apparent earnestness is only the anguish of despair."
The sense of the weight of helplessness becoming more severe still, after longing for that which is not in himself, and that which he can never attain by himself, the troubled spirit thus groans out his misery: — "My case is peculiar to myself, no one else ever felt as I do, no one has ever experienced as I, this blank, this emptiness of soul, this utter spiritual lifelessness." — "Oh! that I never had been born, or that I was a sheep or a dog, without an immortal soul and with no fears for eternity!"
Now how shall these children of God get out of such grievous state? By another in a firm place helping them up on to safe and solid ground. By that ministry which leads the soul to the believer's standing before God in His risen Son in heaven. If the wayfarer had not put his foot upon the treacherous sand he would not have sunk; but the tempting surface was attractive. The heart loves to try what sort of footing is to be had on the quicksands of self, and to leave Christ the rock, the only base upon which it is possible to stand before God. It is the hardest thing to prove to the believer, who has not experienced the quicksand, what it is; and it is just as well that, having placed his foot upon it, he should learn, by sinking, how evil a thing it is to look for a standing in self. Let not this remark seem severe, for Christ must be practically our sole hope, and at any cost. May our reader, who is on the quicksand, know deliverance in Christ risen
Scripture shows us certain great results of this kind of self-learning, one result is —
An experience of the uncontrollable nature of the "old Adam," "the flesh," self. We cannot control the wind or subdue the sea. We cannot get figs from thorns or grapes from thistles. Lions do not become lambs, neither does the flesh, the nature of fallen man, become changed.
But the believer desires holiness, and placing his heart in the hands of the law, as it were, seeks that he may have good got out of him by means of its commandments. He desires to be regulated and controlled by the law. He seeks to submit himself to its regulations. He does not credit God's declaration about himself, "Ye are dead," but puts himself as a living man under the law, to be improved by it.
Most believers at one time or other, and with more or less zeal, address themselves to the commandments of the law, with the object of doing better or of becoming less evil by its means. But instead of such wishes being consummated, being in the hands of the law the teaching of God as to what the flesh is, is of such a kind that the experience is "I am carnal, sold under sin, for that which I do I allow not, for what I would, that do I not, but what I hate, that do I." The law of God was not given to improve man's nature, but it shows us what we are; as it is written: "I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." (Rom. 7:7.)
What a tumult within the soul is here expressed! Bitter the state, which renders the believer an hourly contradiction to himself! What a lesson of deadly doing he is learning! He is doing that which he hates, and not doing that which he desires to do. He loathes himself, but cannot get free from the self he loathes. He is suffering, as it were, from a spiritual palsy; his spiritual desires are unable to procure the obedience of his spiritual members.
He longs to be sure that he is spiritually alive, and yet feels that he is spiritually lifeless. His wishes are in contrariety to his ways; and all the while there is the most acute sensitiveness as to the opposition within him of spiritual inclinations to carnal actions. He feels only too keenly that he himself is this weak and miserable contradiction. He seems, as it were, two people in one: a good man pent up in a bad one, the bad one doing what the good hates; and it is, indeed, the new life pent up and in bondage in the prison-house of the flesh.
We must keep the difference clear, between fearing the doom of the impenitent sinner, and feeling that there is no power to do good, or to abstain from doing evil. Believing that Christ died for our sins, we are freed from the fears of everlasting banishment from God; believing that we are in Christ, who is risen from the dead, we are freed from seeking to bring good out of our evil nature. It is evident that the believer, in the state of spiritual distraction doing what he hates and not doing what he loves, has a holy life — the new life; for he has holy desires. Also he has sufficient light from God to enable him to see something of what he is by means of his doing — "carnal, sold under sin"; but it is knowledge without power; he is utterly helpless to do good; he does not know what liberty is.
The child of God who really desires liberty in the presence of his God may have it. It is to be found in the risen Christ. As one, who for long had lived in spiritual thraldom, said: "The truth, Christ is risen, is a windlass which drew my soul up out of despondency."
Confession to the holiness of the law is fully made, and not doctrinally only, but in its application to the soul. This confession comes from the heart by means of the discovery of what carnal self is. Such a believer has no wish to evade the claims, or to make light of the nature of the holy law. Where any one tries to reduce the truth of God to his own mean level of attainment, hypocrisy is at work. Holy desires, the sense of human inability, and honesty before God, may all go together, and do so frequently. Where there is deep work going on within, the spirituality and holiness of the law is owned by the inner man, and owned in the presence of God, not simply as a creed or as an article of faith.
The soul evidences the reality of its state by the acuteness of its sufferings. There is bowing before God, because there is that working in the believer, felt by himself, of himself, which makes him bow. It is not such homage as defeated soldiers render to their conqueror — a sullen and unwilling tribute; or such hollow homage as men render to God, who say, "Oh, we are all sinners, and cannot help it!" It is rather the practical confession to present weakness of the once strong man in the grip of the fever, as his head rolls upon the pillow, every bit of strength being clean gone.
Nor is it bowing to an irresistible fact only, but the assenting of the heart, that that which is bowed to is good. "If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good." The soul, in the presence of truth, does not wish to weaken the spirituality of the law, to reduce it to the level of human ability, or inability, to fulfil its claims. When this point is arrived at, by the deep and terrible process of self-learning, no excuses are rendered, but the soul says in its secret, "I consent unto the law that it is good." God is justified as to His holy law, and "I" is silent, An immense gain, spiritually, is reached.
The fact that sin dwells in the believer is again a lesson which has to be learned. That sin dwells in the child of God is true to the end of his history on earth; but when this fact becomes a realization, and the way of freedom is not also known, there can be nothing but misery of spirit. But how are we to overcome the power of sin which dwells within? We have no power native to ourselves. A believer is still a slave to his flesh, until he knows his standing and his liberty in Christ risen from the dead. Self in its sinfulness, wilfulness, or fancied goodness, is that which the natural heart idolizes. To the quickened soul, to the possessor of life in Christ Jesus, and the holy desires of that life, self is the greatest trial possible. Hence to feel what "sin in me" is, and yet not to have the divinely-given apprehension of power in Christ outside self, is intense spiritual suffering.
The utter evil of self received in the personal consciousness of the individual believer, and inwrought by means of the bitterest lessons about himself that can possibly fall to his lot to learn, is, or must be, known some time or other. But why is it necessary that I should learn this bitter lesson? it may be asked. Surely, that each may really live the life of faith in Christ, and in his soul in some measure prove what the cross of Christ is. This practical pulling down of self leads the believer to the setting up of Christ in his soul.
A great difference, palpable difference, is to be remarked in the ring, as we may term it, of the words and feelings of such believers as have been passed through this lesson of the evil of self, and of those who have accepted the lesson as a truth, without having passed through it experimentally. Christ is stamped upon this coin. Such believers do not speak about themselves, whether good, bad, or indifferent. "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing." "In me," "in my flesh," is personal experience about myself; and, says the apostle, I know that in my flesh dwelleth no good thing." This knowledge, consciously and truly obtained, is death, morally, to every particle of hope in self; and when self is gone out of the believer's sight he lives by faith in Christ; or, shall we say, while he lives by faith in Christ, self is out of his sight. A man cannot be looking at the same moment to Christ and to self; he does not talk of himself, who is thinking about Christ.
The truth enables us to look into our very being, and to see there a law in our members warring against the law of our mind; to find in ourselves a principle, that when we would do good, evil is present with us; to discover our mind serving the law of God, and our flesh serving the law of sin: while we may farther say, to perceive, that we have a holy nature with holy desires, which delights in the law of God, whilst in ourselves there is not one particle of power to do the things in which, as new men, we delight. It makes us to be umpires of what is going on in our hearts, and to decide against ourselves and for Christ. It shows to us that in our flesh no good thing dwells, and that Christ is in us — our Life.
In things of this life it is a great good to learn that the road upon which we are walking is a wrong one; it is a negative boon, to be sure, but it may save us from pursuing a false direction any farther. In spiritual things it is of all importance to feel our utter weakness and badness; this learned, there will not be trusting in what we are, and we shall be saved from plunging deeper into the quicksand: we shall surrender ourselves to our Deliverer — our risen Lord.
A renewed mind without power. Here we have a fact, about which it is all important to be spiritually clear. Having the new life, the believer has a renewed mind; but this alone is not power in him for doing good according to God. A man might fall into a pit, and awakening from being stunned see the light above him, and wish to be on the high ground, yet not have the power to get out of the evil place in which he was. His mind would not be, as it were, in the pit — it would desire deliverance. Many a child of God is in this kind of condition; he has the right desires, but has not learned by grace his real standing before God in Christ.
The word of God was used at the first to open our eyes (Acts 27:18) to the reality of being in our sins, to show us the pit in which we were; that word is also used by God to give us to see the reality of our being. in Christ who is risen. And an amazing discovery it is when God, by the enlightenment of His Spirit, enables us to see the truth about ourselves, that we have no power in ourselves to do anything pleasing to God, but that we are in Christ.
When the believer has come to this, "I find, then, a law — a principle — that when I would do good, evil is present with me," he has learned a profitable lesson. He then makes much of Christ and nothing of self.
This is not simply searching out a truth in the bible, but the bible searching us out, and making us tell the truth about ourselves! It is one thing to read the bible, another for it to read us. "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man," that is, the new life, the new nature, having pleasure in holiness; "but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members," that is, though having the new life the believer sees that he has no power to master the law of sin in him; he has a renewed mind, but not power, and lying in the low place groans, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death
But there is a deliverer! Even Jesus, risen from the dead, who died, indeed, unto sin, and who lives unto God. In Him, and by Him, there is liberty.
Immediately we leave off trying to help ourselves we shall find His delivering power. When did we find ease from the burden of our unforgiven sins? So long as we tried to get rid of them in our own strength? No: when we looked to the crucified One. Nothing that we did, or could do, took one single sin away; but faith in Jesus, bearing our sins in His own body upon the tree, brought us peace. And how shall we be freed from the dead weight of self? By our own efforts? No, but by the delivering power of our risen Christ Jesus, in whom there is no condemnation, in whom we are in the sight of God, and in whom our standing is perfect before God — by faith in Christ where He is. When we believe on Him as the risen One, we know His delivering power from sin and self, even as when we believed on Him as crucified for us, we knew the rest He gives from the load of guilt. It is thus that we get out of self into Christ.
We may say, that as sinners we need salvation from our sins, so, as believers, we need to be saved from ourselves. As Christ crucified is the Saviour of sinners, so Christ risen is the deliverance from self of the people of God. If a man be overwhelmed in the midst of foes, and cry for help, he who drags him out from among his enemies does not accomplish the rescue by infusing strength into the already overwhelmed man, but by his own strength.
"Who shall deliver me?" The risen Christ. God saves us from the conscious misery of what we feel we are in ourselves by showing us our standing in Christ. The law of the spirit of life, which in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death," God having condemned sin in the flesh by the cross of His Son, and having set us in Christ alive from the dead, has given deliverance, has brought about the freedom.
Being disentangled by the freeing law of the spirit of life in our risen Christ, we are in a moral position to begin to serve God, for "How shall we, that are dead (or have died) to sin, live any longer therein?" (Rom. 6:2). There is liberty to rejoice in the nature of God and do the things God loves, hence to fulfil what God enjoins in the law. And God gives power by His Spirit, so that the righteous requirements of the law may be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh not after the rule of trying to do this and that in our own strength, — but after the Spirit, who enables us to serve God. Further still, as we shall hope to show, where there is liberty there is freedom to walk as Christ walked, and in fellowship with God.