Anywhere Provided it be Forward
"Let us go on unto perfection" (Hebrews Chapter 6 Verse 1).
"I am ready to go anywhere, provided it be forward." (David Livingstone, 1843)
"I have only missed my Morning Watch once or twice this term. . . .I can easily believe that it is next in importance to accepting Christ. For I know that when I don't wait upon God in prayer and Bible study, things go wrong." (Borden of Tale).
The whole tenor of the New Testament goes to show that the Christian life is a life of faith. The fault with many of us lies in forgetting that faith is the link between our surrender to God and our experience of the results of that surrender - victory.
Whitfield Guinness, during his course at the London Hospital, found the link after years of looking in the wrong direction. We read how he wrote to his sister to share the news with her. "He is come. He fills my heart. . . .It was in answer to prayer and just by believing. . . . You know how I longed for more grace, and have so many years. . . . Still there was a link wanting - the simple, solemn act of faith: 'I receive Thee as this for me.' But it came - and what blessing since! I do not care to talk about it; just overflowing joy and a new sense of power, very real, making itself unmistakable in inward victories."
Now it will be asked, "What is faith?"
It is a word that defies definition, for it is nothing apart from its object.
Blind faith means believing when there is no evidence to go on, and as such is not a particularly worthy thing. But true faith is counting God's promises as involving His performances. Given that the conditions He stipulated are fulfilled, we believe that He has done what He said He would do.
Having surrendered ourselves completely to Christ, we act in the belief that He has done what He said He would do - grant us the filling of His Holy Spirit. As we received the Holy Spirit by faith in Christ when we were converted, so we receive the filling of His Holy Spirit by faith when we surrender all to Him.
Following on the act of self-surrender and receiving of the Spirit’s infilling, which is a definite crisis in the life, there comes the process of a continuous attitude of being continually filled with the Spirit.
There is only one holy life; there is only one victorious life and that is the risen life of Christ. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us by making the indwelling of our living Saviour an actual reality in our lives.
This He does through the crisis of our full surrender and first filling of the Spirit. (an aorist tense in the Greek), followed by the process of abiding in Him and continuing filled (the imperfect tense) resulting in a daily experience of being actually moment by moment in a condition of the fulness of the Spirit (present tense).
In so far as Christ Himself by His Holy Spirit is completely filling our hearts, just to that extent are we holy and to that extent will we become Christ-like.
Our blest Redeemer, ere He breathed
His tender last farewell,
A Guide, a Comforter bequeathed
With us to dwell.
And every virtue we possess,
And every victory won,
And every thought of holiness
Are His alone.
But someone here will interpose "I am afraid I shall not be able to keep it up." To which some of us may receive from older Christians the reply, "It is not for you to keep it up, but it is He who will keep us up."
Now this is absolutely true. No amount of self effort will keep us to the King's Highway of Holiness; only the abiding presence of the King Himself will do that. But there is a part for us to play. The life of faith is not to be spent in a spiritual armchair. That was the danger against which James was trying to warn those to whom he wrote. We have got to get up and go forward in the spiritual life.
We need to remember that Jude has told us there is a sense in which we must build up ourselves in the faith, and keep ourselves in the bounds of the love of God. The faith by which we are set free from sin must be fed and nourished if we are to remain victors.
Our duty is to keep in vital touch with the One whose very presence spells holiness. And this needs as much personal discipline and effort as is required of the athlete training for a race. If we would be holy men and women, we must be spiritually in good form, for, as Thomas Carlyle tells us, "Holy in the German language – heilig - also means healthy: our English word 'whole,' all of one piece without any hole in it, is the same word. You could not get any better definition of what holy really is than healthy, completely healthy."
The key to such spiritual health lies in a course of daily training, a period of time which is regularly set apart for an interview with the One in whose interests the race is to be run.
The reason for this will become clear when we realise that the chief cause of getting out of training is because by "enthusiasm" has been understood "emotion."
One of the easiest mistakes that a young and zealous Christian can make, and often does make, is to consider his feelings to be his spiritual thermometer. They are nothing of the kind.
As Spurgeon once said, "I looked at Jesus and the dove of peace flew into my heart. I looked at the dove of peace, and she flew away." This is the reason why some Christians have begun to doubt even their own salvation. They have not "felt" keen, and they wonder what is wrong in their hearts; they begin to dig, as it were, in the rubbish of forgiven sin, and bring to light what their Father in Heaven Himself says He will remember no more; and they then start to doubt if He had ever cleansed their hearts at all.
Introspection of this sort has to be exercised with great care, and only at the proper time, as before a Communion Service, or during solemn Convention meetings. We must guard against the temptation to trust to experience rather than facts - those spiritual truths which we have good authority to consider as absolutely reliable.
The practical side to victory over sin lies in the keeping of a Quiet Time with God.
It is then that faith is fed and holiness cultivated and victories won. Nothing in the life of the Christian is more attacked than his times alone with his God. Yet nothing is more essential if he is to go forward in the spiritual life.
Frequent interviews with his Master are the secret of abiding in Him. All the saints of the past have been men who have made time to see their King's face. John Wesley and Charles Simeon were up by four in the morning; Bishop Ken and Samuel Rutherford are reputed to have risen earlier still; Lancelot Andrews spent five hours a day in his devotions; Gordon of Khartoum used to tie a white handkerchief outside his tent door during his Quiet Time and no one was allowed to disturb him.
"How can you lie in bed with that dear old saint walking in the garden there?" was the remark with which lazy members of Ridley Hall were roused for their devotions when Handley Moule was Principal. He used to keep his Morning Watch walking up and down his garden path.
In these days, however, such prolonged hours are not possible for the average man or woman. But the essential point is determination and sincerity of purpose rather than length of time. The closed door and the quiet spirit are what the Father requires of His children when they would meet Him.
It is moreover a wonderful thought that though we certainly need private fellowship with God, He also longs to have such communion with us. "The Father seeketh such to worship Him!" And when once we realise this, the physical effort will be considered a hundred times worthwhile.
The story is told how Douglas Thornton, who used to find great difficulty in getting up in the morning, solved his problem at Cambridge. Being mechanically minded he fixed up a pulley to the ceiling, passed a rope over it and attached it to his top sheet. The other end of the rope was fastened to a weight which in its turn was balanced precariously on an alarm clock in such a way that when the alarm went off, the weight dropped, the bedclothes flew up to the ceiling - and there was no alternative to rising for his devotions. It was this stalwart of God who, with other members of the C.I.C.C.U., bound themselves into a "Morning Watch Union," the members of which signed the following declaration: "I will endeavour, God helping me, to set aside at least twenty minutes, and if possible one hour, in the early morning for prayer and Bible Study, and also a short but uninterrupted time each evening before retiring to rest."
It would be a tremendous thing for the Christian Church of today if all believers would bring themselves to some such definite decision about their Quiet Time with the Lord.
Endless books and booklets have been written giving hints on Bible Study. Each student can decide for himself which method he will adopt. It is only necessary here to stress the importance of the divine injunction, "Attend to your Scripture reading."
The purpose of Bible Study is to discover more about our Master, for almost every page speaks to us of Him. There is not a problem in our lives that will not find a parallel there; there is not a temptation of ours from which Scripture does not reveal the way of escape; no aspiration of our heart need go unsatisfied so long as we possess the gift of the Open Book.
Dig deep, delve into its treasures and you will be thrilled with new discoveries of the exhaustless wealth of Christ.
That the Bible is different from every other book in the world is borne out by many considerations. No other book has anything approaching the circulation of the Bible. The figures run into millions every year. No other book has been translated into so many languages.
Men have recognised its power and have done their utmost to make it available to the whole world. It is "Everyman's Book." Within it he finds a reflection of his own soul, of his own longing for God. Here he discovers a revelation of his Heavenly Father. Here is described the only way by which He may be approached.
Again, never has there been a book for which men have been so willing to die as they have been for the Bible. In order to preserve the liberty of reading it, they have willingly suffered martyrdom. They were known as "men of the Book," for they drew their inspiration from it.
No other book has had such an effect upon the national life of the people. In those countries where the Bible has been honoured and read, it has brought light to bear on all the problems of civil life. In our own land, the Evangelical Revival, not to mention the effect of the Reformation itself, with its emphasis upon the authority of the Word of God, was the immediate precursor of those reforms which men like Shaftesbury and Wilberforce were able to initiate.
Theirs are indeed outstanding names, but they represent a large company which includes many pioneers in education and child welfare, who were all inspired directly or indirectly by their love for the Book and its message.
Paul wrote to Timothy: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." By doctrine he meant that body of teaching which constitutes the revelation of God's character and will in the Lord Christ.
By reproof, he was referring to the uncompromising attitude which the Bible reveals to all deliberate sin. By correction, he indicated the loving way in which the Holy Spirit would reveal to all those who truly love God those smaller things in life displeasing to Him which, because of lack of experience, or lack of knowledge, have been allowed to remain.
By instruction in righteousness, he was pointing out that God not only shows us our faults, but also provides the positive power by which we can overcome them.
Now if the Bible is what this chapter has so far claimed it to be, and the testimony of countless generations of men and women asserts that it is, then it follows that every Christian must know it thoroughly. If it is God's supreme revelation to man, then how can any Christian afford to neglect it?
If it is the source of all we know about the character of God, if within its pages the divine will for man is revealed, and it is the usual medium by which God speaks to us, then it is obvious that the holy life can be lived only when there is a constant study of it. Within the covers of this divinely inspired Word of God lies the secret of all power, all peace, all comfort.
The adversary, however, knows that those who are most likely to be able to resist him are those who are keen Bible students. It is the people who do know their God who are strong and do exploits. He is therefore quick to bring to our minds various excuses when we are facing the fact that we ought to be applying ourselves to the study of this soul-transforming Book.
One excuse often given is that we have no time. Life is too full with duties and studies and business. The truth of the matter is that we organise everything except our spiritual life. We make time to eat, to sleep, to earn our living, and to exercise our bodies, but we cannot make time to study God's Word. Where there is a will there is certainly a way.
Another objection made to Bible study, which is often an honest one, is "I do not understand it and I find it boring." This is indicative, usually, of a wrong approach. Most likely we have forgotten that as young Christians, it will take some time for us to grasp many of the more profound truths of the Bible.
We have to assimilate the "milk" first of all. This enables us to grow sufficiently to be able to digest the "strong meat" later on. We must remember that even the Apostle Peter confessed that in Paul's letters there were some things which were hard to understand!
A common sense way of approaching this difficulty is to begin with something simple. In order to do this we must plan our study, and this implies that our Quiet Time should be regular and methodical. If we go to the Bible in a haphazard fashion, we shall gain very little benefit from it. Suggestions as to schemes of study which may be followed are given below.
A second reason for our finding Bible study boring may be that we are approaching it as a duty instead of as a privilege. We ought to come to it realising that we are in pursuit of the eternal truths of God, that in the promised land ahead lies the opportunity of discovering the glories of a Saviour, and the wisdom and knowledge of our heavenly Father revealed in His plan of salvation.
We should realise that in the Bible we find those principles which when applied to our lives will enrich them and make them triumphant. The best stimulus to regular reading is to put into immediate practice the lessons learned. A guidebook is of intense interest only to the traveller.
First of all, as we have already seen, it is essential that a regular time for Bible study should be found. This should consist of at least twenty minutes. Most Christians find that the early morning before breakfast is the best time. The mind is fresh and the cares and business of the day have not had time to force themselves on our attention. It would seem obvious that a day which may contain unknown dangers and temptations should be begun in quiet meditation upon the Word of God and in fellowship with God in prayer.
But for some, especially those with home duties and those who have to leave each morning for business or work at a very early hour, this may prove impracticable.
The important thing to grasp is that there should be a definite time each day for unhurried study and communion with God, and that this time should be kept regularly. If it has to be in the evening, it might be well to follow the example of one undergraduate who made use of the half-hour or so immediately following his evening meal before beginning anything else. He did this because he found that if he left it until just before going to bed, he was so tired that he could not concentrate.
The next problem is the method of Bible Study which shall be adopted.
Remember that at first it is unwise to attempt anything too ambitious. If the Bible is entirely new to you, it is well to begin with something short, simple and interesting. There are schemes for reading the Bible through in one or two years. All are helpful, since they introduce method into the study.
As the Bible becomes better and more fully known it will obviously be possible to adopt some scheme of our own. This may involve studying a short passage, a book, a theme or a character. The important point to remember is that we must study it for ourselves.
"It is said of the eagle," writes Dr. Wilder in his book, Christ and the Student World, "that it will never eat prey that it has not itself caught. The vulture will. Let us imitate the eagle in our Bible study. Surely truths secured first hand from God's Word mean more than those secured second or third hand from devotional books."
As well as possessing a good Bible the student should have access to a concordance. The most comprehensive is Young's, but it is also the most expensive. For general purposes an edition of Cruden's Concordance will be found exceedingly useful. It will not be long before the need for a certain amount of background information is also felt.
Every Christian knows how easy it is to come to the Bible with a tired, anxious or indifferent mind, to scan through a set passage, to close the Book and to forget immediately what has been read. Spiritual growth is not attained that way; what is required is a teachable and listening heart.
* * *
Determine at all costs not to remain spiritually stationary.
Seek spiritual growth and maturity.
Live by faith, not by feeling; by obedience, not by effort.
Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.
You must train for the fight of faith; a daily course of prayer and Bible-reading is essential to success.
Let the Bible speak, and recognise the voice of God in what it has to say.
Ask God to give you a teachable and responsive heart, and a humble and obedient will.