By H. Forbes Witherby.
17. The Secret of Strength.
Christ keeping his own while he was with them on the earth — the Spirit dwelling in the believer now — faith in Christ risen the secret of strength — living by faith — trying what faith is.
We have reached the point where we have the believer rejoicing, not only in the possession of eternal life and the knowledge of the divine way of liberty in Christ, but also his having divinely given desires, of greater or less intensity, to live to God.
The more we consciously know what the eternal life is, and the more assured we are that the only liberty of this life is in Christ risen, the more we shall feel that the power for our daily walk and thought must be outside ourselves. Our flesh profits nothing, and in ourselves we are absolute weakness. We may say that the believer, who has reached the knowledge of liberty in the risen Christ, has had en-graven upon his heart, "In my flesh dwelleth no good thing," and walking in true liberty, finds his strength in Christ, and altogether outside his own powers.
Nothing of sight or sense can contribute one single particle of strength to the new man. Spiritual life draws not its support from the exterior world; it has to do with God. Faith is the unseen and divinely given power in the believer which lifts him out of himself and up to God. Faith detaches him from earthly things and influences, and, by faith, his ways and his thoughts obtain a heavenly character. It is not that he becomes peculiar and un-natural; far less that he elevates himself upon spiritual stilts; but his thoughts, words, and acts are colored by the presence of Christ, who dwells in his heart by faith.
The Lord maintained His disciples, to whom He had given life, in their daily path, when He was upon earth; He was their strength. They asked Him their questions, went to Him for direction, hung upon His words, and followed His steps. Apart from Him they had no power whatever. While He was in the world He kept them in His Father's name. (John 17:12.) Though no longer on earth, He is still the strength of His people, He supplies power to them through the Spirit, hence His absence, instead of being a hindrance to their spiritual knowledge of Himself and the Father, is their gain through the presence of the other Comforter.
When about to leave this world, Jesus said to His disciples, "It is expedient for you that I go away" (John 16:7); for His departure from earth was the occasion for His sending the Holy Ghost from heaven to dwell in them. And now, this very hour, the Holy Spirit so works in the children of God that they are taught to depend upon Christ, and to go continually to Him in a way which those who knew the Lord before His ascension to heaven could not.
If we abide in Christ, Christ abides in our hearts; if our hearts are filled with Christ, we are drawing upon Christ, who is our power. In the records of the evangelists we find how that the disciples fell into difficulties when they were ever so short a time away from Christ; and when He is not our object, He is not dwelling in our hearts by faith, and we are absolute weakness. Christ sustains us; apart from. Him we can do nothing.
The Holy Spirit is given to us in addition to the eternal life. The life is not in itself strength for holiness, though without the life there cannot be holiness. A dead man cannot do anything; and until we possess the new life we have no power to do good. The life is in itself holy, for it is divine; it cannot be tainted by sin, which dwells in us; it is a fountain which the soil of indwelling sin cannot defile; but if sin be allowed and unconfessed, the life is like a fountain hidden under the ground.
The life itself is perfect of itself, but the practical manifestation of it in the children of God is often sorely hindered; and when the indwelling Spirit is grieved by the believer, such is the case. There is a capability for illimitable expansion in the believer of the joy and the holiness, the virtues and the activities of the new life; and this expansion takes place by the power of the Spirit in us. We see in some of God's children the life expressed in its abundance; Christ in them shines out of them. Where the life is but faintly manifested, the Spirit is grieved, as in worldly, self-seeking, or self-asserting christians. Some believers seem to belong to a race of giants, compared with the puny stature of others, but, like giants, they are rare.
When we speak of giants, we mean Christ-like christians, men of humility, grace, tenderness, long-suffering, goodness, peace, holiness, righteousness, truth — all of which fruits mark the presence of the Holy Ghost in His unhindered action in the child of God. But why is it that the race is so rare? how is it that each believer who may have for himself Christ as his strength, does not live by this strength? The answer is, that continuous faith in the risen Lord Jesus is so small. Daily living is too little by the faith of the risen Son of God.
Faith in Christ is the secret of the strength of the christian. Each believer has the illustration of the practical result of this principle before him in his own conversion. How did he find himself freed from the load of sin? By believing, looking to Jesus! Explain the mystery none can, but realize it, all may.
The most learned physician in Israel could not have explained how it was that the Israelite bitten by the fiery serpent, upon looking at the serpent of brass, lived; but the simplest stricken sufferer, who believed God, could easily say why it was. Again, how was it that liberty became ours? What opened the dungeon door? Believing! We looked to the risen Christ and gave faith's assent to God's truth concerning Him, and ourselves in Him. Believing, we then and there out of the dungeon came, out of self-thrall into liberty in Christ. Explanation is impossible, but the believer knows it just as a man knows that he sees, because his whole body is full of light. The only answer that the man born blind, of whom we read in John 9, could give to the questions of the Pharisees was, that Christ had opened his eyes; he knew that he saw because he saw!
Many a christian who is thoroughly well assured in his soul that faith in Christ is the only possible way by which a sinner can find pardon and peace, fails to believe that faith in Christ is the only way by which he himself can live to God. Such a believer has faith in Christ, as his Saviour from the doom of sin, but not faith in Him as his Strength from the power of sin. He has faith that Christ has magnified the claims of divine righteousness respecting the sins he has committed, but not faith that the Lord works righteousness and holiness in him. The evidence of a man's faith lies in its fruits. A sinner comes to Jesus, the sacrifice for sinners on the cross, and finds forgiveness; a saint comes to Christ, the risen Lord in glory, and finds strength for living to God.
The life of faith is not simply looking once to Christ for salvation, but going on with Him hour by hour. Being justified by faith, we live day by day on the principle of faith. We do not receive life from the once crucified Lord, and then go on in our own power: "As ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him" (Col. 2:6) — by faith. Every day the believer needs Christ as his strength; and living by faith, he is living outside his own resources, and by the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself for him.
There is an association of the closest intimacy effected by the Spirit between Christ in heaven and His people on earth: "He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit." (1 Cor. 6:17.) And the Lord is ever at hand, ever near; and the Spirit makes us conscious of His presence; and thus faith is encouraged and stimulated to draw upon Him.
Living by faith is, really, practical dependence. The strength of the believer vanishes when the dependence is interrupted. Samson's strength departed, and he became as another man, so soon as he was shorn of the external sign of subjection. And so it is to this hour; the believer's spiritual strength flies away immediately he trusts in himself. Yesterday's strength is of no support in today's difficulties. Christ, alone, makes us strong moment by moment. The apostle could say of his path, in its details, its sorrows, and its joys, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13); and He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever: Christ was not different eighteen hundred years ago from what He is today; He waits to be proved by all those who trust in Him.
We received the new life being born of the Spirit; we cannot sustain that life by our own strength; self cannot uphold our relation to God; but God has given us the Spirit to enable us to live by faith; and the divine way for holy living is in the Spirit by the faith of the Son of God, who is in heaven
Each day calls for continuous exercise of faith in Christ. It is all important that, as each day passes by, our thoughts should be freshly associated with our Lord, who is looking into our hearts to find there trust in Himself. The strength itself comes from Christ; it is ours according to our faith. The believer, by daily dealing with the Lord, proves where strength is found. We are saved in a moment; we receive life at once; but we are strong simply as moment by moment we live the life of faith. Faith is a mighty tonic for the soul, but must be tried.
The lesson of dependence is not learned all at once; and in this sense, as there is growth in the knowledge of God and of Christ, there is growth into the way of strength. Let the believer cast himself upon the Lord for the passing moment, for the difficulty of the hour, for the state of his soul, for all the thousand little things that make up one day of living here on the earth, and he will soon find what Christ is for him. Let him really try Christ as his strength.
Who but the Lord Himself can still the tumultuous waves within the human breast? who else shall say, "Peace, be still," and create a great calm within? The peace of Christ is known in seasons of life's deepest anguish, and may be known none the less sweetly in the calm hours of this brief pilgrimage. Faith is the setting to our seal that God is true; living by faith we prove what it accomplishes. Let its principle be tried for one brief hour, let Christ be believed as the strength of the heart, as the believer's power, and then what cannot be explained will be realized.
Faith shines brightest in the dark; it is the star of the night: but the stars are in the sky all day, as well as all night; the darkness makes their presence apparent. We do not mean to hint that there is not special faith granted for special occasions, but would insist upon the need of that even tenor of spirit that arises from continual intercourse with, and dependence upon, the Lord, which is really the outcome of the life of faith, or living by faith.
Trying what faith is, is really trusting what Christ is. The most searching exhortations follow the apostle's declaration to the Colossians that Christ is our life, and we are risen with Christ. These exhortations bid us to set the mind on heavenly things where Christ is, and to practise, putting to death the members which are on the earth, and putting on the heavenly things which were expressed in Christ when below. Let the believer who would thus live believe the scriptures, and not look for any evidence in his own soul, and it will be like coming out of the tunnel into the sunshine.
Christ is "in all," He is the life of all. Let the realization of the soul be compared to the condition of men groping about in the dense, dark fog; still we know that it is clear daylight above the fog, and all we want is to get up high enough. Now, the fact is, we are risen with Christ, then may we set our affection on the things above where Christ sits at the right hand of God; and though the secret power is unseen, faith in Him will lift the spirit of the believer into the clear light where He is.