Growth is the natural advancement of the children of God from the state of babes to become "young men and fathers" in Christ. (1 John 2:12-14.) But this may be either hindered or unnatural, and the state consequently may become all wrong. The Corinthians were still remaining in the condition of babes when the apostle addressed his first epistle to them: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able." (1 Cor. 3:1, 2.) The word "hitherto" (oupo) in this passage shows that they had never yet been in any other condition; they had remained in the condition of babes. The Hebrews also, when the apostle addressed them, are somewhat similar. Only with this difference, the Hebrews had advanced, but had afterwards returned to the state of babes. "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe." (Heb. 5:12, 13.) "Ye are become such" shows that they had gone back to it. "But call to remembrance the former days!" Ah, he says, "you have gone back from the days when you endured a great fight of afflictions; "you have forgotten the time when you "took joyfully the spoiling of your goods," because you knew that you possessed "in heaven a better and an enduring substance." (Heb. 10) "Now the just shall live by faith."
There are three states of soul, or stages of growth, in the children of God to be found in Scripture; three states easily discernible too among Christians in our own day; and all three are evil, because they all arise from an arrested or unnatural growth. 1st, the dwarf state remaining in the condition of babes; 2nd, the state of second childhood, or returning to that condition; and 3rd, the result of both the others - deformity.
I have referred to the first, as illustrated by the Corinthians, and say one thing more as to it ere passing on; namely, that Christians in this state are generally perfectly satisfied with themselves, and with what they know, and they are never found running in Paul's company in 1 Cor. 8:2, and Phil. 3:12-14. (As to this, see and contrast what they are doing in 1 Cor. 3:21; 1 Cor. 4:7, 8; 1 Cor. 8:1; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 1 Cor. 11:31; 1 Cor. 14:36; etc.)
Second, there is the state of second childhood; this we see was the condition of the Hebrews. In this state you have not impeded growth, as at Corinth, but unnatural growth; the internal has not kept pace with the external; it is more difficult to detect, for there is all the outward appearance of wisdom and manhood, with the intellect and the power wanting. This is a sad condition. There is refreshment in looking upon the confiding fresh young life of a babe; internally and externally there is harmony in such an one. But it is sad indeed to be brought face to face with second childhood. The hoary head, that should have guided aright, or curbed the impetuosity of youth by its sage and prudent counsel, that should have encouraged the feeble steps of the tottering babe, what can be more touching than to see its utter impotency and helplessness? (It is interesting and profitable to compare Deut. 34:7; Joshua 14:10, 11; Job 12:12; Job 32:6, 7; with Titus 2:2, 3; Philemon 9; in order to see that second childhood, whether in natural or spiritual things, is not part of God's order.)
I pass on to notice now the third state - "deformity," in which state something is manifested externally repulsive to the spiritual eye. I take as examples of those in this condition the saints addressed in 1 Cor. and in the epistle to the Galatians. It is clear that in natural things deformity may be either mental or physical; that is, it may be that of the mind which is internal, but it does not therefore escape a spiritual eye, or that of the body which is external and more visible; this, too, is also true in the things of God, and both are illustrated in those addressed in these two epistles. Doctrine was wrong with the Galatians, practice with the Corinthians, the one internal, and far more serious and solemn than the other. Not to all the dreadful moral evil existing at Corinth does he address such solemn warnings and denunciations as he addresses to the Galatians. (Gal. 1:6-9; Gal. 3:4; Gal. 4:11, 20; Gal. 5:1, 4, 7, 12.) No outward immorality is denounced by him as allowed among them, such as we find in 1 Cor., and it is possible that there was outwardly very little to complain of, the breaking of bread going on as usual, and those who attended at it not blamed. But they had gone back (Gal. 4:9), had begun in the spirit, but were now hindered, "bewitched." The "first works" (Rev. 2:5) were no longer done, legal works adopted, and "the bondwoman and her son" being brought back to the house. (4:30.) But what had they done? In effect they had only neglected the teaching of the Word by the Spirit, a certain line of action not left to their judgment, but laid down for them, which is called "obeying the truth." (Gal. 3:1.) This was the result of their bad state; but this was terrible to the apostle; for if the teaching of the Spirit and the Word are given up by saints, what is left?
It needed no great spiritual discernment to detect the deformity at Corinth. That which was allowed among them was a "common scandal," and such as was "not so much as named," even among the Gentiles. (1 Cor. 5)
To remain, then, in the condition of babes is dwarfishness, and produces external deformity; while to return to this condition, having known better, is second childhood, and provokes this solemn condemnation of the apostle, "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." (Gal. 4:11.) Doubtless the Hebrews were exposed to the danger of falling into the same state, though not so far advanced as the Galatians in it. But what strikes one is the overwhelming danger of this state, that it produces inaction of the Word by the Spirit. The soul is slumbering and content with itself, and no human power, nothing but the solemn voice of the Lord by the apostle, can arouse it. He was not, and He cannot now be, indifferent to such a state.
It is a matter of comfort to the servants of the Lord, that souls in the three evil states we have been considering are not beyond recovery through the application of the Word in the power of the Spirit of God, for we have all three of them addressed in the passages we have had before us. Nothing but divine wisdom can help us in dealing with such souls now, for by ignoring their state we are but continuing them in it, and by ignoring them because of their state we deprive ourselves of the duty and privilege of helping them to recovery.
In 1 Peter 2:2 (which does not in any way militate against what we have been saying) we find the means of growth: "As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow, thereby." We have been looking at growth arrested, and have considered a little what we have termed unnatural growth; we have seen that deformity follows each, but our view would not be complete were it not also to embrace what true growth is, and how it is manifested, and for this we must turn again to John's first epistle.
I believe we learn there and everywhere in Scripture, as well as in walking up and down in service among the saints, that true growth always manifests itself in increased occupation of the soul with the person of Christ. When John is there writing of the "fathers," he says that he has written and still writes to them because they have "known Him from the beginning." This is all he has to say of them, and he adds no further counsel to them, gives them no further occupation. He does to the young men. (vv. 15-17.) He does also to the babes (vv. 18-27), but to the fathers nothing, save in a general way. (vv. 28, etc.) But the omission is full of instruction, for the few words he does say of them are in effect, "You have already begun, while yet upon earth, the occupation of heaven and eternity, and I know of nothing beyond it." Thus true growth was manifested. For in the day of Revelation 5, a day swiftly approaching for us, "Jesus only" fills the scene, and occupies the whole of the surrounding companies, "every family in heaven," and that, whatever their intelligence, or however varied their comprehension of Him and His ways may be. But if this is true in heaven, and we are growing now upon earth, it will manifest itself in more caring for Him and His approval, pleasing the Lord at all cost (2 Cor. 5:9), and how but in ministering to those who are His, those so dear to Him, and those for whom He died? (1 John 5:1.)
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." (1 Cor. 13) And, says the apostle Peter, "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18.) May we see that there is no growth but by the Word, and the dangerous condition of those who are not obeying it, that "word of God which effectually worketh also in you that believe." (1 Thess. 2:13.) If at first it gave me life, it must effectually work now in me if I am to grow; and may it be thus with us increasingly to the praise and to the glory of His grace. H. C. Anstey.
Separation from evil, when in fellowship of the Spirit, is separation unto God in true holiness, and in the title of Christ the appointed Heir in resurrection life and glory. And what is this but real strength in the power of the Holy Ghost?
If Christ is in me, I must never let a bit of anything but Christ be seen.
Some Christians are apt to confound these two things - special joy and abiding communion, and to suppose, because they have not always the first, the discontinuance of the latter is to be taken for granted and acquiesced in. This is a great mistake. Special visitations of joy may be afforded; but constant fellowship with God and with the Lord Jesus is the only right state, the only one recognized in Scripture. We are to rejoice in the Lord alway.
Ah! if you were only weaker, you would then know what it is to be strengthened with might in the inner man.