We must remember that it begins with God, and always he who is walking really in a path of faith brings GOD in, and this is the difference between it and unbelief; unbelief always leaves Him out. Again, faith is the individual soul alone with God, and any intervention of a third party destroys it. Any acting from secondary motives is not faith. It must be God and His word alone before the soul for the act to be an act of faith.
Faith grows. This can be learnt in the history of the children of God, and as detailed in Heb. 11. To bring God into everything is the privilege now of His children. There is nothing too small in our daily path for Him to notice who has numbered even the hairs of our head. It is this bringing God into all our matters that produces the walk, the life of faith, and which is the subject of the chapter I have referred to.
And it is just this bringing God into our matters that reveals to us the true character of them; for "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." Thus this, by becoming the continual habit of the soul, becomes at once a preserving power for it in the midst of all the darkness and unbelief of our natural hearts.
The principle for the Christian now is found in the words, "He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible." We must see God in everything.
In the examples of Heb. 11 we see they began with God. This is faith, and this characterizes each one after. In Abel's act God's claim is admitted, and in the sacrifice Abel confesses that he merited death as the sinner. He comes in the provided way, and is accepted, "God testifying of his gifts." So GOD is before Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and the others. This settled everything for each in his day.
It is important just simply to grasp what real faith is, that it begins with God, and continues to have to do with God, and that it is intensely individual. We are glad and thankful to find others in the path of faith with us; but this having always to do with God now individually (which was true of us at first) is the power to sustain us still going on in the path if others fail us, and still produces the works seen in' a life of faith. When a trial comes, if there has not been this individual intercourse with God, it is often found that we have been merely imitators of others. We then, like Ephraim, "being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle." (Psalm 78.) But if we have been in the habit of bringing God in, we shall turn to Him in the day of battle, and turning to Him is not turning our back to the enemy.*
"This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
*We only really help others when we bring them to have to do with God and His word for themselves. If they act merely on advice, from however godly a brother, they will at last break down; it is not faith. I must be careful that I do not lead saints to act merely on my advice, or they are acting on my faith.
2. "There am I in the midst."
Is there in us an adequate sense of the wonderful grace and favour conferred upon us in being allowed to gather together with the Lord's people on earth? Can there be any thing higher than to be thus with Him, and in communion with His own heart as to His people? Think of it. Who is He there in the midst? It is a wonderful place, and but poorly we value it, so little do we know of what its reality is. Faith sees Him there.
And then not only to be privileged to gather together thus, but think of the further favour of being of any use there; of being used by Him who loves His people with a perfect love, and whose whole heart goes out for them in their weakness, and in this day of their sorrow and rejection (a day of rejection once gone through before by Himself). It is a heart beating in harmony with His own for them that He can take up to make any of us helpful to them. This is what we want to cultivate. We want to know His thoughts at that very moment for His gathered saints. Without this all is barrenness, all activity painful; with it, even the silent prayer of the simple one - oft incapable of being framed into language - calls down His own blessing upon those who in their weakness are cast upon Him.
It is not more activity we want, as gathered to His name; it is more communion. HE is there; the people are His people. I have to remember that He wills the blessing of His people, and to say, "Who am I, to be in this place?"
3. Self-occupation and Self-judgment.
Many confound self-occupation with self-judgment; and, seeing self-judgment to be right (when we fail), are found asking themselves where the one ends, and where the other begins. And self-occupation they question. A word or two on these may help, if the Lord permit.
Self-occupation is the bane of the soul. Man makes himself the centre, and himself the chief object upon earth. This is self-occupation. It lands him in that place "where their worm dieth not, and where the fire is not quenched." To all self-occupation is death.
Self judgment is the work of the Spirit of God. It is not His proper, but it is often, from our want of watchfulness, His necessary work. There is no way of return to the joy of communion without it. Self-judgment, though right in its place, is not communion; on the contrary, it is the confession that communion is lost. But it is the only way back; it is medicine, but not food.
For me to live daily with self ignored is the highest Christian condition. Here the Spirit of God is free to carry on His proper work in my soul, to take Christ and put Him before me as my food. Here the soul is free to be occupied by and for Christ alone. It says, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." It is the only right state for food. And food is the soul's appropriation of Christ, and feeding upon Him as ministered by the Spirit. He alone is the "bread of life that came down from heaven;" as John 6:56 says, "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." It is not the having done so once by faith. That is in verse 51, and is of first importance. Food is the daily need of the man, and it is here his daily habit to feed. But how important to see that self-occupation is not food, and that self-judgment is not food; for how can I live or grow without food?
What then is self-occupation? It is a human being, a worm of the earth in God's sight, a particle of dust, forgetting or ignoring the fact of GOD and ETERNITY; one who says, "Let us eat and drink: for tomorrow we die," and to whom God says, "Thou fool!" (1 Cor. 15; Luke 12:20.)
What is self-judgment? It is looking at yourself (note it well), not in contrast with other saints, but in contrast with Christ, the perfect, heavenly Man.
And what is self-ignored? It is the forgetting that there is a self, through pre-occupation with the perfect One, with Christ alone. This will be our eternal occupation in heaven, when there will be no "self" to mar our vision, or to call for judgment. But it begins on earth - begins, though harassed on every hand, in a poor earthen vessel, "that the excellency of the power may be" seen to be "of God, and not of us." (2 Cor. 4.)
H. C. Anstey.
Principles are not power. If principles occupy the mind, even with the most earnest desire for accuracy, so as to become the object instead of Christ, there will be the absence of spiritual power. The secret of power is not merely having orthodox principles, but exercising faith in God, according to the truth He has graciously revealed. For instance, many accept, as a divinely-given principle of truth, that where two or three are gathered together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that there He is "in the midst of them." But those only who have faith in the Lord as present will have the power and comfort of it. This is individual. The power and blessing therefore of a company of saints is connected with the individual faith of those gathered. H. H. Snell.