Christianity is not one big "Don't"

A garden would not be a thing of beauty if the owner of it spent all his time and labour in keeping down the weeds. Weeds must be kept down if flowers are to flourish, and he is a poor gardener and a disgrace to his profession who neglects this side of his work; but that is only incidental, his main business is the cultivation of flowers.

She is an unwise mother upon whose lips are constantly the words "Don't," and "You must not." "Mary, you must not do that, and go and see what Harry is doing and tell him not to" is not the most successful way of training children. They certainly need correcting, and repressive measures are sometimes called for, but to occupy their minds and hands with good things is the only way to make them thoughtful, kind and useful.

Christianity is not a system inaugurated for the suppression of the noxious weeds of the flesh, it is not one big and perpetual "DON'T," though many seem to have acquired that idea of it. The law was that, but its repressive measures produced neither flowers nor fruits for God's delight; indeed, they only made the ill weeds grow stronger, and demonstrated beyond all question what the flesh-plant in the soil to which it was indigenous was capable of producing. It is not upon that principle that Christians can "adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things."

The moral glory of Christianity does not lie in the suppression of evil, but in the expression of a new life. We need to be clear upon this. Christianity — we speak of that which is vital and real, and not of a dead, false profession — is not a new set of ideals calculated to uplift the old flesh-life, or a system of ethics to correct the evil tendencies of it, or the introduction of new forces for its reformation, but a new life imparted to those who believe on the Son of God by the Holy Ghost, who is Himself the Power of it.

Those solemn words "Ye must be born again" (John 3) tolled the knell of any hope of fruit from the old life of the flesh — which is not life towards God but death, for its first principle is to act for its own pleasure regardless of God's will. This flesh has been proved to be a vicious plant in its very nature. To cultivate it is useless, for cultivation will not make the thistle produce figs, nor can it change the flesh into spirit. But those same solemn words ring joyfully with the promise of a new life in a new kingdom — a new life produced by the power of the Holy Ghost, introducing to one who is the subject of His operation into the Kingdom of God — a kingdom not of Egyptian darkness and bondage, but of grace and liberty and love, a kingdom that is peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. And against such things there is no law.

The wonderful Bedford tinker had learnt more than the schools could teach him when he made his pilgrim fly from the City of Destruction, crying, "Life! life! eternal life." He was divinely taught, for it is life that every awakened soul cries out for, and to be delivered "from the body of this death." Nothing less than this will do for those who feel the burden and the bondage of the old life of disobedience which lies under the condemnation of death, and nothing less than this is the will of God for men. And this life God gives with the liberty that belongs to it. "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

The old flesh-life expressed itself chiefly in its opposition to the will of God and in all those evil things that the Christian hates, and it needed the law with its pains and penalties to keep it within bounds. It needed the big and perpetual "Don't." But the new life is entirely different; God is its object as well as its source, and as it draws from its source and delights in its object by the Holy Ghost it needs no external laws to direct it into right channels or to prevent it from running into wrong ones. It fulfils the will of God, but not by constraint and in outward form only, but from the heart, willingly and with joy, for its very nature is to delight in what is of God. Love and righteousness are the two ways in which it finds expression. But is there not the new commandment "Love one another"? Yes, and the dinner bell is a command to the healthy hungry school boy, but it is one that he delights to obey. So this new commandment is not grievous to the child of God who is in a healthy spiritual state.

There is a spontaneity, force, and exuberance about this new life which is irresistible when the soul is in the freshness and power of the Spirit. Two great passages from the words of the Lord describe it. "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). And, "If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink. He that believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified)" (John 7:37-39).

Who shall tell the fullness and power of the life these words describe? None but He who spoke the words and the Holy Ghost who can lead us into the blessedness of it. But while we wonder at these proposals, surpassing in their greatness all bounds of human thoughts and hopes, let us not say in unbelief that they are impossible. The Lord Himself spoke the words, and He did not exaggerate for the sake of a momentary enthusiasm, or in His zeal overstate the truth; these are failings that belong to mortal flesh, but He is the eternal Word and His words are words of truth, as He Himself is the Truth, they are words of spirit and life. We may accept them as they stand and expect the fulfilment of them to the last letter.

We dwell too much upon our experience, or lack of experience, of what Christianity is; or we complain that we do not see this life in its abundance in others, and in dwelling on the failure we sink into a kind of living that is less than God's thought for us, and we imagine that the best we can do is to labour at the suppression of the works of the flesh, and this is the sure way to prove the strength and persistence of it, and thus we are often depressed and weary in the way, instead of ever rejoicing in the Lord in the force and flow of the divine life by the Holy Ghost.

Of course the utter corruption of the flesh must be learnt, we must come to the conclusion, "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing." And having learnt that, perhaps by a painful experience, we must also believe that "God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." But do we learn this great lesson, and did God do this great thing merely to make an end of the hateful flesh? Surely not, but that this new life of blessed liberty might possess us entirely — that the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus might set us free from the law of sin and death, that we might joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ and have our fruit to holiness.

There are those who speak much of surrender, and of the sacrifices that it is necessary that Christians should make in order to be faithful to the Lord, and they do it in that tone of voice and expression of countenance that leaves the impression on the hearers that the Lord's yoke must be very hard and His burden very heavy, and that the path of obedience to God must be one to be trodden with sighs and tears. We also deprecate levity and frivolity, which is doubly sinful in these serious days, in which, more than ever, the Christian ought to be vigilant, sober, prayerful; but these things are not inconsistent with joy in the Lord and a continual triumph in Him, and to put surrender and sacrifice in the forefront and to make everything of that is to throw into the background God and His unspeakable gift, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and what that grace led Him to do for our sakes. Mark well that the living water, the new life in the power of the Holy Spirit, which springs up in glad and holy worship to the Father and flows out in fullness of blessing to men, is not given in return for any surrender on our part or effort that we can make or price that we can pay. "I shall give," said the Lord, and "if any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink."

It is true that we are exhorted to yield ourselves to God, as those alive from the dead, and our members instruments of righteousness to God (Rom. 6:13). This is the natural result of having received from Him. But before we are so exhorted God is made known to us in the gospel — "God commends His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Is it a hard thing to yield ourselves to the One whose love to us is so great, and whose will is our everlasting blessing? Surely it is the only natural and the most delightful thing that we could do. And it is as those alive from the dead that this exhortation comes to us. The old life of sin brought us under the condemnation of death; now by the grace of God we are alive in Christ, it is only right that it should be yielded to Him whose gift to us this new life is.

Having yielded ourselves to God, we have our fruit to holiness, we "are God's husbandry" (1 Cor. 3), God's garden, and as God's garden we are not to lie as a piece of useless soil but to bring forth the flowers and fruit of the new life. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such things there is no law. No continual "Don't" is needed here. As a garden puts on its most beautiful garb when refreshed by the gentle rain from heaven and bathed in the beautiful sunshine, so we, under the influence of the love of Christ and refreshed and strengthened by the Spirit, are to "put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel [complaint] against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all things put on charity [love], which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by Him" (Col. 3:12-17).

These are heavenly flowers and fruit, exotics in this barren world, to flourish and shed their fragrance in spite of every adverse element, they are the life of Jesus reproduced in us below, and how beautiful and precious they must be to God! To these things let us give our thoughts, and the noxious weeds of the flesh will trouble us less.

Space and time fail us to speak of what we are as children of God, called to be imitators of Him and to show forth His praises. We are not placed by Him under the repressive measures of some legal system that would fill us with dread of Him, but we are given the happy liberty of that life which belongs to the relationship into which His grace has brought us. And in this life we may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things, being zealous of good works, filled with joy and peace in believing, abounding in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost, full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another (Rom. 15:13-14).