Legality and Spiritual Elation.

1879 270 It may be accepted that all of God's people — whose souls are in His presence — have desires after holiness. Neither does the fact of the age in which a believer lives affect the principle, for if the Holy Spirit be not hindered, He is assuredly leading on those who are partakers of the divine nature to God.

Holiness, practically speaking, results from fulfilling God's will, pleasing God. The nature of things is not changed by labelling them other than what they are, and very frequently what is supposed to be holiness is nothing of the kind. Those who watch the working of the soul know how subtle self is, and as it reappears over and over again in various garbs. Jacob was Jacob despite Esau's garments. Though he declared it was not his, yet the voice was the voice of Jacob. Isaac was blind to the reality, but in ordinary christian life it is less difficult to deceive others than ourselves! Indeed it is as astonishing as humbling to discover what we are, and to see ourselves as others see us. All pride lacks sense, but spiritual pride excels all other pride in foolishness; and the man who glories in himself, his attainments, or knowledge, before God, is spiritually proud.

Now accepting that desires after holiness are common to God's saints — supposing such saints not to be morally away from God — we are confronted with strange differences in men's minds as to what holiness is. Unquestionably, if there was implicit obedience to scripture, these differences would not occur, but the fact of their existence is evident.

Holiness cannot exist in the soul apart from Christ. A man, who is a Christian, but who is trying to be holy, is legal, working on himself to get something out of himself, and thus far leaving Christ out. It matters not to what school he may belong, or what his attainments may be. Again, until what Christ has done for him, or what he is in Christ is realised, his desires after holiness will, generally speaking, run in a wrong path. In other words, the knowledge of the standing of the Christian in Christ affects the state of the Christian for Christ. But the practical difficulty is this: when a person is converted, he is usually some time learning what his standing is, and before he has learned it, his spiritual instincts, as we may express it, yearn after a state of holiness. Hence there is no little danger of these instincts pursuing a wrong direction, and the end resulting in self — either despondent or exultant, and if exultant producing spiritual pride.

Take for example a man who has divine life, but not peace. He realises that he is far from practical holiness; he tries, resolves, and binds himself in order to reach the ideal of his desires. This is legality. He is working at self, shaping it into proper form. Many believers are at this hour in cruel bondage by reason of such efforts, perhaps sinking down into despair, fearing that after all they have no part or lot in the matter, but are deceivers of their own souls. How mysteriously the eye of the soul in such an one is hidden from Christ!

On the other hand, some imagine that they have in part, at least, succeeded. They also took the legal road, and, while legal, become inflated with fancied success. Thus legality and inflation twine round the stem of spiritual pride. And very humbling it is when the Spirit of God shows that all such growth must be cut down before any real holiness can exist.

The supposed saintliness of many in monasteries and convents illustrates the transition from legal bonds to fancied holiness. Quite true, such believers do not possess the notion of true holiness. They have no just idea of Christ in the glory of God, nor of His having magnified God on the cross, no idea of the new creation; but such believers, though having false principles, may have true desires, despite the channel in which the desires run. Such an one, in order to reach ideal, wishes to become what he feels he is not. By a strange perversity he does not read the whole of the scriptures. This is always a dangerous line to get upon. He selects, or rather his teacher selects for him, parts of the Gospels, or perhaps of the Revelation portions which keep before him a suffering Jesus, the Lord as martyr. He tries to become like this Jesus in order eventually to work up to holiness. This is his ideal, and he determines, let us say humbly, to reach this goal.

In the work of cultivating himself he may go as far as the monk, held up to admiration, who one day, when listening to a brother reading, happened to lift his eyes and to gaze dreamily upon the trees and sky. When he awoke from his brief reverie, his ears had lost the thread of the book! Abashed at his worldliness and to restrain himself from such wanderings in future, he had an iron collar made for his neck, and bending his head towards the earth, chained it to his foot, never more to allow his eye to entice his soul to wander. This was legality, not holiness. It was being "bound in affliction and iron." Fetters do not render a man holy, be they of iron or of creeds.

But thus far is only half the mischief. The spirit of the fetters is attractive unless the liberty of God's presence be enjoyed and "Christ in you" be known. Far worse follows, for a few steps further on and the brother of the chain and collar is not only greatly respected by his fellow monks, but he is also respecting himself very much! This miserable mortification, not by the Spirit, results in self-elation. Yet a few stages further, and he is exulting in visions, and has become ecstatic! A saint indeed in the eyes of thousands.

Where is Christ in all this? Ah! Where? and where is self? So large that the Lord is not to be seen. So ends the road, though the sign-post at its commencement had written thereon — "To holiness."

Now Protestants may smile or pity, and rejoice that they are delivered from such delusions, but whatever our name, our natures are the same; self is the same, and herein lies the danger. Who dare say, that his heart is altogether free from the attractiveness of legality, or that in him there is no tendency to elation, especially when the subject is holiness?

There are many Protestants in whose souls legality and spiritual elation are combined. In their reasoning the first stage runs thus: "I am dead, therefore I must attain to what I am." Pressing a condition of deadness upon a soul as an attainment is simply legality and leaving Christ out. It is practically telling a soul that he must realise his position before believing it. It is expecting something from self instead of faith in Christ. And a subtle and cruel way of torturing a soul it is, though neither one nor the other be intended. When the brother with the iron collar tried to be dead to the sky by means of his collar, he meant by its means to attain to a condition of deadness.

This condition of soul is analogous to the first period of the ascetic's state when he is striving after his ideal but has not reached it. Miserable and contracted, morbid and self-occupied, trying by self to be dead to self, it may be labelled "spirituality," but it is "Romanistic."

Some reach the elated state by this path. They do not think that they have sinned for given periods of time, and others go so far in their monastic zeal that they ignore the relations of life and treat their parents and children as dead. The Romanist or Anglican shuts himself up in a cell, and so becomes dead to duty and affection: the others become so by either offending or ignoring those whom God has given them to win and to love. It is the spirit of the monk, but without the discomfort of the monk's cell.

A thoroughly freed soul would walk as Christ walked. He would earnestly seek the good of men, he would use the world as not abusing it, thank God for all His creatures, for food and sky, and have his heart with Christ where Christ is.

We may trace an analogous series of mental workings in those who have either obtained in a crude and partial way a knowledge of Ephesian truth, or who have received the knowledge without the soul having been rendered receptive by the Holy Spirit.

It is quite possible to take up the heavenly standing of a believer in a legal way and to demand of the soul, as it were, that the truth be accepted; and when this is the case, Christ is dissociated from the doctrine, and self — notwithstanding that self is verbally allowed no place — is worked upon. It is impossible to learn Christ legally; and doctrines, separated from Christ, only wither the vitality of the soul. And the higher truth goes, the more sorrowful will be the results when it is pressed legally. A man, who has the doctrine of the heavenly standing of believers, but has not apprehended Christ where He is, will be in danger of far worse elation than a simply self-righteous person. How often we hear of the heavenly place occupied by the believer! how seldom comparatively, that it is as in Christ we are seated in the heavenly places! It may be said in reply that this is taken for granted; be it so, but it is no uncommon thing for the soul to boast, or let us say, to be occupied with the standing in heaven, even to the leaving out of in Christ." "I am a heavenly man" may mean, I am nothing, but am in Christ in heaven; or it may mean, I am one who has attained to what others have not.

No doubt there is often a confusion between the heavenly standing of the believer, and his state in relation to that standing. The standing is unchanging, the state is just where the soul is. But a man, who thinks that he has reached a heavenly state because he has been taught his heavenly standing, makes a grave mistake. Indeed he is in imminent peril of boasting in the doctrine, or rather in himself as knowing it. When this is the case, there is a peculiar way of looking down upon other believers, a tone of soul which seems to say, "I am a superior person." It is a chip of the old block of Phariseeism, "This people who know not the law."

Many persons, when, a few years ago, the fact of self being dead with Christ was brought out, mistook the peace which the knowledge gave for practical holiness. They imagined that they were almost perfect because they had learned, and by grace, too, that self was to be reckoned dead. But freedom from self-occupation needs result in occupation with Christ, otherwise there will not be holiness. In a similar way persons now, who perhaps for years have known simply the forgiveness of their sins, have their eyes opened to the believer's heavenly standing, and simply because they know the standing, imagine themselves practically heavenly. It is a very great mistake indeed; and if this confusion between standing and state be allowed to remain in the soul, anything but holiness will be the result.

Spiritual elation is not infrequently to be traced in such cases. A kind of ecstatic enjoyment of a character not unlike that of the monk or the nun, when they have progressed to the elate condition. Such simple acts of practical Christianity as visiting the sick, caring for the poor, and in some cases, even the gospel to sinners, are regarded as inferior occupations unsuited to the "heavenly" atmosphere. It seems to be forgotten that there are chapters 4, 5, and vi., in the Ephesians, and that to be heavenly is not be a dreamer but downright practical in the home, in the relationships of life, and in christian warfare.

Humility never advertises itself; spiritual placards are an abomination. It is utterly hateful to read a man's statement of himself, that he did not sin for twelve months and the like; and it is also melancholy indeed to hear Christians telling us how dead they are to the world, and how much they are in heaven, and perhaps pointing to different things about them as proof of what they say. There is no test more solemn than that of the Master, "By their fruits ye shall know them," and humility is one of the first blossoms of grace in the soul.

The believer, to whom God has given for his soul an apprehension of Christ where He is, and the knowledge that Christians are seated in Christ in the heavenly places, will not wish to emulate the monks and nuns, and to read only one set of portions from the word of God. He will surely from this standpoint seek to be acquainted with the whole counsel of God. It is ever a dangerous thing when only favourite scriptures are read; it shows clearly that a mind so acting is unbalanced. God has given to us the whole of His word, and we need every verse of it, and surely none require the exhortations of scripture more than those who rejoice, and rejoice before God, in heavenly truths, as we see evidenced by the concluding chapters of the Epistles to the Colossians and the Ephesians.

Holiness is the very yearning of divine life. God has mercifully delivered many from trying in the flesh to imitate Christ; He has shown what self is, and its judicial end in the cross of Christ, and that His people are to reckon themselves to be dead unto sin. God has done more, He has opened the minds of many to the knowledge of a risen Christ, and that to His likeness all His own shall be conformed. The path of holiness is walking as Christ walked, being Christlike on this earth, and the really heavenly man will be known by his ways. H. F. Witherby.