By H. Forbes Witherby.
13. Relationship and Growth.
The infant state — all blessings and all privileges the portion of every child of God — how shall growth be assisted?
Speaking of the condition of the members of the family of God, scripture distinguishes between the relationship of children, which is common to all, and the different states of infant, child, and son.
The infant state is directly applied to the Jews under the law, who were in the condition of minors, and in a state of bondage consequent upon such condition. Christianity is not the state of infancy, it is maturity, and consequent freedom in the presence of God: hence christians are not infants.
But while this is so as to christianity, and the fact stands that all the children of God are now sons in privilege; still, practically speaking, and in the view of the daily demeanor of the children of God towards their Father, we must own the existence of the spirit and the practise of the minor, and that on a very wide scale. Tutors and governors exist. True, they are not those properly appointed, for such have long stood aside, even ever since the resurrection of our Lord. The schoolmaster also is still resorted to, though his special office was abolished when Christ brought His people from under the law, and out of the school of doing and of death. In too many instances God's own blood - bought people, His children by birth, His sons by adoption, are not in spirit what they really are in fact, associated with the Son of God, risen from the dead and out of the world.
The apostle, speaking of the Jews, says, "We, when we were children (infants, lit.), were in bondage under the elements of the world." (Gal. 4:3.) They were in the condition of minors, and consequently were like servants; they had not reached the fulness of the blessing of the sons of God. God was known by them as the Almighty, and as Jehovah, but He had not revealed Himself to them as their God and Father. He was the Father, but until His Son came to this earth that name was not declared. We can only know God so far as He reveals Himself, and we cannot have liberty before Him below the measure of the revelation. The revelation is now complete. How much do we know practically of God? So much as we have received of the revelation of Him. In earthly things, there is many a child having filial affections, and yet not knowing his father, and his filial affections not having their object to delight in, only render the child sorrowful. But, thank God, there are no orphans in His family, yet there are believers languishing, because they have not believed the love which God hath toward us. They have not fully entered, by faith, into the revelation of God of Himself. There is in them a fear of God and a distance, which is not the spirit of christianity. God dwelt in the thick darkness in the days which are past; now the true light shines, and it is our privilege to walk in the light, and to have fellowship with God in it.
There was a reserve and a distance in those under law, which contrasts with the Spirit of God witnessing with our spirits that we are His children. And we should rebuke in ourselves every legal feeling which keeps God afar off from our spirits, and reject every doctrine of legality, as being opposed to the revelation that God is our Father.
We recall the incident of a neighbor's home known to us in the days of youth, where the children addressed their father as "sir." They did not call him "father"; hence, by the habit of training they were kept at a distance from him: awe, not love, was associated with his name who was over them. Now a spirit which accords not with present divine favor is not that which our Father would have breathing in us. He is the Almighty, and the great and the eternal God. He is what He is unalterably; but the proper demeanor of our spirits toward Him depends upon our relationship to Him, and our entrance into the reality of that relationship. We are related to Him through grace, and He calls us His children, thus we are privileged to call Him Father. We are not bondmen. We are not Jews under the law. "Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear" (Rom. 8:15); therefore, we are not to go back to the experiences of terror, to the quaking of Mount Sinai, and to the word which says, "Do this and live." Ours is the privilege of holy freedom and of happy confidence; we are brought to the Father, and have eternal life in the risen Christ.
The contrary spirit is that of the believer, who is still like the people of God of old, under the law. Let us listen to the scripture: "Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child (an infant, lit.), differeth nothing from a servant (bondman, lit.), though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father." (Gal. 4:1, 2.) The servant is not brought into his master's secrets; the infant is not treated as a full aged son, but as a servant. But now God has revealed His will and opened His mind to His children by the word, and He opens our hearts to it by His Spirit, for it is the indwelling Spirit who produces in us experiences corresponding with our liberty.
A believer, who regards himself as maintaining his place before God by obedience, who fears dismissal from blessings, as a servant might fear to forfeit his place if unfaithful, is not true to the fact that God is his Father; he is not in the spirit of a child. His principles do not agree with the cry of "Abba, Father," which is in his heart by the Spirit. Children serve their parents in love, they do not seek to maintain their relationship by service; neither does the child of God, who realises his relationship, have so much as the thought that by his obedience he himself maintains himself as a child. He is obedient, because he is a child.
Before Christ came the people of God were under the schoolmaster; they were under training and discipline by the law. It was God's way, and for the glory of His Son, that bondage should be experienced, but now that faith is come, bondage has no rightful place in our hearts. But it is a rare thing to see in believers the happy, holy spirit of a child in the sight of God and our Father. A dear child dwells in his father's presence in supreme delight, no servant's restraint is his. And the joy and confidence of a child of God in the presence of his Father is one of the sweetest sights upon earth that angels can behold. Such happy liberty glorifies God. It is an unanswerable testimony to Himself, in the midst of the anguish and infidelity of this sin-weary world.
Though the infant, or minor, may not know the extent of his privileges, all are his. The babe born in the royal home knows neither the love nor the honors that are his, but his lack of intelligence does not affect the extent of his privileges. Now the possession of the believer's privileges does not in any sense whatever depend upon his realisation of their extent, yet it is equally true that he does not enjoy more than he realises. It is quite possible to have experiences equivalent to those of believers under the law, who were before God as servants, not as children; that is, experimentally, not to recognise God as our Father, but to have Him present to our hearts as the Almighty. The truth is that the Almighty is our Father. His strength is for us as well as His love. Our experiences follow our faith. If we have legal thoughts of God, we have analogous experiences of Him. God has told us that we are children, and, apprehending this by faith, we grow up into the experiences of children. He never withdraws His eyes from His own. His love is ever to ward us, unchangeable and fresh.
Very frequently an infant does not recognise the face of his father, and sometimes may even tremble at the sound of his voice; for a considerable time it cannot lisp his name. How true is this in the family of God. The speaking time has not yet arrived with many. "Abba, Father," is not yet the utterance of their hearts. The relationship is not soul-known. The perfect love of God has not cast out fear.
Now, as we have said, the infant state is not recognised as christian, but is jewish, nevertheless we have exhortations such as this: "That we henceforth be no more children (infants), tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." (Eph. 4:14.) In this exhortation the fact of growth is involved, and the immature and easily-imposed-upon state, is looked at as that out of which believers should emerge.
The infant is unskilful with the word of righteousness; he is not experimentally acquainted with it. He uses milk and not strong meat. He cannot himself digest the meat, nor set more than milk before the souls of others. In divine things we cannot give out to others that which we have not ourselves received. Second-hand truth feeds no souls. The believer grows by the truth, and so far as he has grown can help others. "Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age." (Heb. 5:14.)
Let us not forget that mental power and spiritual infancy may co-exist in the believer. Natural attainments, and even intellectual knowledge of the letter of the word, have nothing in common with true growth. On the other hand, most illiterate believers may be full-grown children, rejoicing in God the Father, and their privileges consequent upon adoption.
How shall spiritual growth be assisted? There is but one way. By the word. Born of the word, we grow by the word. "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." (1 Peter 2:2.) As the infant eagerly longs for the milk, which is to it at once its pleasure, strength, and life, so should the people of God, with like appetite, long after the truth of the scriptures. We grow by the means of the food of the word, and should learn from the little infant, absorbing desires and cravings after it. Let us delight in it, and we shall grow in delight in God.
Adherence to the principles of the world maintain many of God's people for years together in a state analogous to that of infancy. Indeed, we often find God's people lamenting that they do not progress, and wonder if after all they are His. If the truth of God were simply taken in, and the principles of the world were rejected, such would not be the case. Puny and weak children, proclaim poor food and indifferent nursing. Since God is our Father, and Christ is our life, all the children of God have the nature which in itself is vigorous, strong, and divine. The life of all God's children is the same, it is divine; the favor of the Father towards all, and the blessings of the whole family, are the same; stunted christianity is to be traced to lack of feeding upon the word of God, and not walking in the truth. Also, as we see the effects of over-learning in dwarfed frames, so do we see in the imperfect growth of God's children the effect of intellectualising christianity: all head and no heart tells it own tale.
All christian blessings are ours, as much as the apostles. We are equally within the circle of God's family as they. We are loved in the Son as the Son. "Thou hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me" (John 17:23) are the Lord's own words to the Father respecting His own. God dwells in each and all of His own. No love can go beyond this. The manner of God's love to the weakest babe in Christ is the same as that towards the Son of His love; by drinking of that love the babe grows. The measure must not be confounded with the manner.
The name of the Father was the great instruction of the Lord to the hearts of His disciples. "I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it." Before His death that name was little apprehended by them. In resurrection, Jesus again announced it; and now, by the Spirit's indwelling, that name and the love it enfolds is apprehended. And why this declaring of this name? Let us with reverence heed the answer: "That the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:26.) Do we begin to understand? Do we begin to cry "Abba, Father"? If the love be in us, we shall express what it is in our secret communion with God. Yes, for "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." (Rom. 8:16.) And with such love of God the Father in us, apprehended however feebly, we shall enter in some measure into those yearnings of the apostle for believers, who were on the brink of legality, who were inclining to law and bonds, who were turning from faith and from freedom; yearnings that Christ might be formed in them. (Gal. 4:19.)