Faith may express itself in two ways, either in activity or in passiveness; and the latter is by far the more remarkable. To see a child of God surrounded by a thousand calls to active effort, by which alone he can, to all appearance, extricate himself from a position of difficulty or peril, remain quiet and in the exercise of hidden dependence on a Hand which defers its help, is, indeed, a wonderful sight. It is so natural to shift for ourselves, to strain every nerve, to wrestle, throughout the long night of our perplexity, in the hope that we may overcome by struggling. And there are, no doubt, occasions when such struggles may be necessary, and when faith is called on to show herself as a veritable slave. An Abraham may have to arm his household, and sally forth to the conquest; or he may have to conduct an only son to the sacrificial hilltop.
Such vast demands may be made on the faith of a child of God; and they call for immense activity of soul. Thus we read, in the secret history of Paul, that his, we may say, daily exercise was to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord—his Lord! And the following part of the same chapter (Phil. 3) indicates the extraordinary spiritual energy that marked the faith of that devoted man of God.
And we, too, in our much lesser degree, should seek a similar spirit—one of preparedness for soul-activity, even when our hearts are quietly and patiently learning a dependence on God, and a confidence in His power and love that declares a deeper work of His Spirit in us than the accomplishment, perhaps, of outward victories. There are three facts to be noticed:
First, the work of Christ for us.
Second, the work of the Spirit in us.
Third, the work of God by us.
On the first—the blessed work of Calvary—we rest, through the grace of God, without a tremor, for eternity. “By one offering he has perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). That offering needs no addition on our part. It stands complete. God appraises its essential perfection, even if guilty Rome should see fit to supplement it by “the sacrifice of the Mass.” By that one offering sin is remitted—no other is needed. Woe, indeed, to the despiser of it! Perfection of conscience results from faith in that perfect work of Christ.
Secondly, the work of the Spirit in us. This is our present subject.
Now, this, as we have seen, may be outwardly expressed in forms of activity; for, of a truth, the sap of the tree must exhibit itself in fruit. But the development of the affection, the cultivation of the spring of divine life, the devoting of oneself to the Lord, the hidden communion with Him, the feeding on His word, the secret prayer, the learning obedience in suffering, the varied, yet unspeakably important, exercises of soul, which are the gracious evidence of the Spirit’s indwelling, that life-long lesson of the utter and absolute evil of the flesh, and also, thank God, of the many graces and glories of our blessed Lord—all this goes on quietly and imperceptibly, even when an outward testimony is being rendered in true Christian activity. Indeed, the two exercises, though ever distinct, must go on together, and hand in hand. Nevertheless, as the sap so is the fruit. How striking, for instance, are the three statements:
First, “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Ex. 14:13).
Second, “Their strength is to sit still” (Isa. 30:7).
Third, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
This attitude of stillness betokens a spirit of rich reliance on God. And may we not say that there is progress of soul in the order in which we have quoted these three verses? It may be more easy for us to stand still than to sit still; and yet it is our strength to sit still. Again, it may suit us better to sit still than to be still, and yet it is in being still that we learn that “I am God.” This is surely the most valuable lesson.
Here we have faith in happy and thorough passivity. Man is silent—he has no place—God is supreme—He exalts Himself. And is not this the very highest and most honourable phase of faith? Does it not hereby bring more glory to God, since it allows Him entire and perfect control: allows Him to act for Himself, and to have His own way? Let us but call to memory the words of our Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” What passivity! What setting aside of a will, which, though real, was ever in harmony with that of the Father. The Father’s will was to be supreme, though at such a cost to Him who surrendered His own. Ah! what a perfect example of being thus, still, we have in Jesus.
His life, so full of activity in doing His Father’s pleasure, as also in seeking the good of poor worthless man, was one of constant dependence on God. He came, not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him. His “Father’s business” is His first recorded utterance (see Luke 2:49), as “It is finished” fell last from His blessed lips, ere He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost (see John 19:30). How worthy is that wondrous life of the most unwearied study! The contemplation of it is not only most profitable for the heart of the disciple, but it leads him to admire, and love, and worship that precious Saviour, who, though God, was yet found here as the dependent, obedient, and perfect Man. He carried and illustrated in Himself every grace.
Then, lastly, we may just add that the work of God by us becomes a simple matter, when it is seen that we are to be but vessels in His hand. Yes, vessels! Alas, how soon, and how often we display our independence and self-reliance as though something depended on ourselves!
Just in proportion, however, as we permit self, or nature, to intrude, in so far do we hinder God. The excellency of the power is of God and not of us. Our wisdom is to let Him use us as vessels. Thank God, He is patient and gently teaches us by our very failures. The very idea of a vessel is the negation of self. It is for the use of another. Thus Mary said, “Be it unto me according to Thy word.” She lay passive in His hand to accomplish His will. And we may be certain if we are privileged to accomplish any divine results that they are the fruit, not of our zeal or activity, but of the Spirit of God within us. This may well encourage all of us. “He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit,” said our Lord. It is ours to abide in Him, His to give the gracious effect. “Herein is My Father glorified that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples” (John 15:8).