The Spirit of Christianity

There are three spheres of Life in which the children of God are called to move, and in which is to be manifested the greatness of the spirit of Christianity. They are: the individual life; life in relation to the church of God; and the life of testimony before the world. "Power, love, and wise discretion" (N.Tr.) are needed in all these spheres, but they have each a special bearing upon one or other of them. In the individual life wise discretion is of paramount importance; in the believer's relations with other members of Christ love is absolutely essential; and in testimony before the world nothing but the spirit of power will avail.

Power stands first in our scripture because the subject in hand is "the testimony of the Lord" in the world; but this will be greatly enfeebled if love and wise discretion are not in evidence; the three go together, they are the outstanding features of the spirit of Christianity.

The Individual Life = Wise Discretion

It is remarkable how little the spirit of wise discretion, or the sound mind, is developed amongst Christians; the mass do not seem to have had their senses exercised to discern both good and evil; they are unskilful in the word of righteousness, and when they ought to have been teachers, they need that one teach them again the first principles of the oracles of God (Heb. 5:12-14). Instead of being rooted in the faith they are blown about by every wind of doctrine; teachings that are "new" and that offer an easier path for nature have a great charm for them, and they are soon moved away from the hope of the gospel. The consequence is that the soul does not prosper; how can it when it is fed upon the fruit of poisonous vines, upon words that eat as a canker, upon profane and vain babblings? Thus withered, dwarfed, and stunted, without inward joy or manifest fruit, they remain in the condition of spiritual babe-hood. It is this condition in the church which has made the advance of corrupting heresies and new religions so easy during the last ten years.

A man of sound sense knows what is good for him; he will not throw himself into an illness by partaking of injurious dishes; and if this wise discernment is demanded by the physical constitution, of how much greater importance it must be in the spiritual, for as the body is more than the raiment that clothes it, so is the spirit more than the body.

But how shall we learn to discriminate between good and evil, and embrace the truth and reject the lie, so that we may rejoice in full and vigorous spiritual life? The answer is: Only by the Holy Ghost. Of Him the Lord Jesus said: "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself … He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it to you" (John 16:13-14). And there is evidently no excuse for the Christian who is ensnared by false teaching, for we read: "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written to you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth" (1 John 2:20-21).

We are also taught that "the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). It is evident, then, that the discerning faculty is developed by the Holy Ghost within us; but since this is so, and since it is also evident that all who have believed the gospel have received, and are sealed by the Holy Ghost, why is it that spiritual discernment in the things which are vital to us is so feeble?

The Holy Spirit has wonderful things to unfold — the things of Christ; but the children of God are often dull of hearing, their thoughts are engrossed with the earth and the world, and He, grieved because they will not listen, is compelled to retire from His blessed ministration to their souls to let them prove the barrenness of everything else. Behind all soul-poverty and absence of growth lies the sad fact that the Holy Spirit of God is a grieved Spirit.

The Life of Fellowship in the Church of God = Love

We have to sorrow over the fact that the church of God has been rent and torn by faction and division, and that the endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is very feeble. It seems easier to build up a party than to edify the body of Christ; and more congenial to make proselytes to some special persuasion than work for the perfecting of the saints. This proves our lack of the spirit of love, and behind this lack there lies our failure in soul-growth. When children suffer from malnutrition or injudicious feeding they become petulant and cross; and this was exactly the condition which the Apostle had to deplore at Corinth. The saints there were in the state of sour and quarrelsome childhood, evidenced by the envying, strife, and divisions among them (1 Cor. 3).

But love produces an opposite condition to this, and is one of the great features of Christianity; without the spirit of it fellowship is impossible. It is the first of the rich cluster of graces, called the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:20). It is the divine nature, and most wonderfully broad and strong. It embraces in its breadth "all the saints" (Eph. 1:15); and it is invulnerable in its strength, for it "bears all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). It builds up and binds together, and the unity of the Spirit can only be maintained as Christians, with lowliness and meekness, forbear one another in love. But this love is not natural affection which is self-centred and absorbing, but divine love which is self-sacrificing and radiating. This love can only be developed and exercised in the power of the Holy Ghost, and the reason so little of it is seen in its breadth and strength is because the Holy Spirit is a grieved Spirit.

The Testimony of the Lord = Power

The testimony of the Lord was never popular in the world; certain kinds of preaching may be, for we often hear of popular preachers; but the testimony of the Lord, the preaching of Christ, who was rejected by the world, but is risen from the dead and accepted in heaven, always carries reproach with it — the reproach of Christ. Paul was a great preacher, the greatest that ever bore the flaming gospel-torch through a benighted world, but he was not popular; he was despised, buffeted, and reviled; he was defamed, made as the filth of the world and the off-scouring of all things (1 Cor. 4:10-13). Yet he was not ashamed. He boldly proclaimed that He whom the princes of the world crucified was the Lord of glory. He made his boast in the cross, in which was concentrated all shame and dishonour. He maintained before the world that every thought and purpose of God and every blessing for men were centred in the despised and rejected Christ. He identified himself so completely with the Lord and His testimony that it was the only reason why he lived, he had no other thought, though it made him an object of hatred and scorn. In this he rejoiced, and wrapped the shame of Christ about him as a royal garment, it was his chiefest boast.

That the testimony of the Lord should provoke the hostility of the world is not surprising, for it humbles the pride of men; it is independent of their wealth, learning, and influence; it leaves no room for their vaunting ambitions, and exposes their world in its true character — a system false, foundationless, godless and condemned. Moreover, it crowns the sacred brow of Jesus with immortal glory — God's blessed answer to the contumely and derision heaped upon Him by the world.

Timothy was liable to be ashamed of this testimony of the Lord, and it needs a sterner courage than lies in nature to take it up. The disciples were not one whit less courageous than their fellow-countrymen, and they vowed to act valiantly for their Lord when the test came; but they all fled in that hour of darkness when He was led as a lamb to the slaughter (Luke 23). They were sample men, and in them it was demonstrated that a new spirit was needed on the part of those who were to witness for Him, a spirit, not of cowardice, but of power. Hence we can understand the Lord's command to them: "Tarry ye in Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high."

This power lies in the Holy Ghost given at Pentecost, in the Holy Ghost who dwells in and with the saints of God. Then why, since this is so, is there so little power in testimony? Why is there the spirit of fear instead of power, and compromise with the world and evil instead of unflinching devotion to the Lord? The reason is not far to seek: the Spirit of God is a grieved Spirit.

If we are conscious that the spirit of power and love and wise discretion is feeble within us, and that we have miserably failed in these three spheres of Christian activity, what and where is the remedy? Some would turn us back to Pentecost and put us in the position of the disciples waiting and praying for the power of the Holy Ghost. But this will not do. We must not, we cannot, ignore the solemn fact that He came from Christ, bringing "power, love, and a sound mind" to the church, so that it might stand as a devoted witness to Christ. We cannot ignore the fact that the Holy Ghost has been slighted, that His divine presence has been largely forgotten, that fleshly wisdom, worldly schemes and much human organization have usurped the place of the one untiring and all-wise Servant of Christ's glory on earth.

Nor can we be indifferent to the fact that the church has loved ease and popularity in the world rather than the reproach of Christ; it has forgotten that its portion is on the behalf of Christ to suffer for His sake; it has left its first love; it has been corrupted and defiled; and instead of bearing the shame of Christ upon its brow as the brightest crown the world could give, it bears the shame of a faithless and dishonoured lover.

The Spirit of God is grieved because of this slight cast upon Christ, and the way of blessing and power is to put ourselves right with regard to that which has grieved Him. To be right with the Lord above and with the Holy Ghost within there must be confession and repentance. "Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent" was the Lord's word to the church; it is the voice of the Spirit in the Scriptures still; and if the church will not hear, "he that has an ear" may. This is the way of recovery, a way that every saint of God may tread, for it is open to all, and is the only way that becomes us.

But to lie on our faces deploring defeat, as did Joshua, is useless (Josh. 7:10-13). There must be activity on our part, activity in the judgment of ourselves, as to how far we have had our part in that which has grieved the Spirit; there must also be holy separation from it. "Let him that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."

Space fails us to speak of the path of devotion to Christ, a path that can only be trodden by those who have received the spirit of power and love and of a sound mind, that entails certain persecution on those who tread it (3:12), but leads to glory at last (2:12). It is helpful, however, to trace it through Paul's second letter to Timothy, and to mark therein the stability of the things of God and the triumph of the good soldier of Jesus Christ. We earnestly commend it to the prayerful study of our readers.