Dear reader, I am going to ask you to lay aside for a few minutes the busy cares of life and come and have a talk with me about spiritual and heavenly things. Now, if you feel that you scarcely have the time, and can not fully dismiss the temporal concerns of life from your mind, then I will excuse you. I do not care to speak with you unless you can give me your undivided attention. I desire to help you if you need help. I want to talk to you about your every-day life, and I do want your calm, serious attention. Surely by God's help we can spend a few minutes to some profit.
Some people hesitate to look closely into their life, lest they find such a delinquency as will disquiet them. Some fear to give a close examination, lest it give Satan an opportunity to accuse them. This need not be. We can look closely into our daily life and not allow Satan to whisper one word to us. We can not make improvement upon our life without close examination in order to discover weakness and imperfections. When we discover them, we must set earnestly to work to correct them. The discovery alone is not sufficient. If we do not correct a fault that we have discovered, we soon lose consciousness of the fault. There are times with every one, no doubt, when it seems that they are making no progress, but these may be the times when we are making most progress.
If we have just one fault, we ought to desire to get rid of it. Our desire should be so great that we shall set about at once to correct that fault. Now, if we say, "Oh, it is such a little thing," then we shall not get free from it, and that little thing may become a greater thing. To be too quick to speak is a fault. The Bible says, "Be slow to speak." If we have the fault of speaking too quickly, we should correct that. We can if we will.
The Bible tells Christians to watch and pray. Christians do not need to watch and pray lest they rob a bank. They would not rob a bank if they never prayed. But we do need to watch arid pray lest we do some little thing that we should not do. I will relate to you the experience of a dear brother who desired to live for God, but who neglected to watch and pray as he should. An evil thought was presented to his mind. Not seeing the evil of it, he indulged the thought, and found pleasure in the indulgence. After a few minutes he felt the reproving of the Spirit of God and so dismissed the thought. Later it came again. It was so pleasing that he indulged it a little longer than before. Again the Spirit reproved him. In a few evenings the thought came again. It was only a little sensual thought, a little imaginary indulgence of the flesh. But it came again and again. It was indulged a little longer and a little longer. Eventually it worked a fleshly lust into his heart, and after two or three years he was led into actual commission of a sinful deed. It was an apparently innocent thought in the beginning, but it ended in sin committed.
There are little yieldings to lightness, impatience, aircastle building, exaggerations, frettings, murmurings, idleness, etc., that prey upon the soul and rob it of peace and the sweet consciousness of God's presence. But there is progress in the divine life for every one of us if we will only give attention to our life as we pass along. The first thing is to have a deep interest in making spiritual gain, and then to be full of faith and encouragement.
Jesus will help you to make some gains each day if you will press your way through the crowd and touch him. It is the earnest prayer of faith that gets us through to God and makes us feel like giants in his strength. If you would be strengthened in your soul, you must exercise. This is the law of development in the spiritual as well as in the animal life. "Exercise thyself unto godliness." This is a motto we should hang upon the walls of our memory. Its meaning is that increase in godliness is attained only by exercise.
I shall have much now to say about your doing, but bear in mind that the doing is to be not in your strength, but in God's strength. Here are two mottos to keep in remembrance: "Without Him I can do nothing"; "I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me." By the help of the Lord we are going to tell you how to be strong in him. God wants you to be a David. Go out in his strength and meet the Goliaths. They must fall before you. I shall not tell you so much you do not know as I shall endeavor to get you to practise what you know. How many times have you resolved to do and have failed to keep your resolution? Your failure was not because you could not, but because you did not. To make a success in any business enterprise, one must give it constant and daily attention. Likewise, if you make a success in the Christian life, you must give it constant and daily attention. You must make it not only a business but the first business of your life.
But some make this complaint: "It takes so much time." It will take some time, that is true, and if you do not think you have time, then you had better not begin. What would you think of a man who contemplated engaging in some business, but said he did not have much time to devote to it? You would advise him not to engage in the business at all. It takes time to make advancement in the Christian life. One brother said, "But we must attend to our temporal duties." My reply was, "Shall we not attend to our spiritual duties?" When people talk of having to attend to temporal duties, it appears that they are going to do this if they have to neglect spiritual duties. Unless we have a better enlightenment than this, we shall never make progress in the Christian life.
We have no excuse for not being strong in the Lord. "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong." Of course, you need the help of God, but God helps those who help themselves. He will not by some irresistible power convey you to your closet and put you on your knees, but he will give you strength to go if you will use what he gives you.
I will now give you, not learned theology, but plain, simple instruction how to make daily advancement in the divine life and to be strong in God. "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." I Pet.2:11. Any indulgence of the flesh weakens the spiritual powers. The question might arise, "What are fleshly lusts?" We are here in the flesh. The flesh has not only its desires but its needs. To indulge the flesh in its needs is not fleshly lust, but to indulge it in any thing beyond its actual needs is "fleshly lusts." In other words, any intemperance is lust of the flesh. Temperance is a fruit of the Spirit. We are to add temperance to our knowledge. The more knowledge we get of the divine character, the more clearly we can discriminate between fleshly lusts and temperance.
"I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection," says the apostle Paul. He spoke these words when talking about running to obtain an incorruptible crown. He calls our attention to how people run to obtain a corruptible crown, "and every man." he says, "that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things." If men must be temperate in all things in order to obtain a corruptible crown, how much more temperate must we be in order to obtain an incorruptible crown? If the soul does not keep the body under, the body will keep the soul under.
But this keeping under does not consist in many prayers, in long vigils, and fasts, in severe chastenings of the body, in dwelling in a cloister or being a hermit. Do not make this sad mistake. His yoke is easy and his burden is light, yet the Christian life is one of self-denial. But his love in our hearts makes it a delight. We are not to keep our bodies under by prolonged fasts and beatings, but to keep in control the self-seeking that is natural to the self-life of man. The pure in heart have organs of sense, are capable of feeling the impressions made by external objects. It is natural for the individual life of the sanctified to seek ease and comfort. This is not the nature of the divine life in the soul, but is the nature of the self-life of man.
Adam and Eve had this self-life in the purity of their creation; they had organs of sense. It was to these that Satan made his appeals; to the feelings in their self-life, not to the feelings in the divine life of their soul. The will of sense -- for such it might be called -- overpowered that higher will of the soul, and they yielded to the will of sense as aroused by temptation. We who are pure in heart have this same will of sense. It is this will of sense that must be "kept under." or in control to the will of God. "Not my will [that is, that lower will of my self -life]." said Jesus, "but thy will, be done." I will make this plainer as we go on. I feel like making it as plain and simple as I can, even if doing so does require time, because here lies the secret of success in the Christian life. Those who look upon the instructions herein as trifling will do so to their own spiritual injury.
It is natural for us to avoid hardship and suffering. This is not wrong of itself; it is wrong only when it conflicts with the will of God. It is not wrong for you to avoid burning at the stake unless it be God's will that you should thus end your life. If God wills you to burn at the stake you must not seek to avoid the ordeal. If we do not watch carefully and live close to God and keep our body under, the will of sense will grow strong and cause us to avoid hardships even when God wills us to undergo them. Be careful that you do not mistake the impulse of sense for the divine will. One may say he does not believe it to be God's will that he undergo this suffering when it may be only his own humanity. Out of human sympathy we may try to dissuade our brother from doing the will of God. At Caesarea certain brethren tried, out of mere sympathy, to persuade Paul not to go to Jerusalem, where, it was prophesied, he should be bound and delivered to the Gentiles. Seeing that he would not be persuaded, they gave place to that higher will, and said, "The will of the Lord be done."
This is not confined to the greater affairs of life, such as burning at the stake, but includes the little affairs of every-day life. How easy it is for man to conclude it is the will of God for him to do a certain thing when perhaps it is only the will of sense! Remember, God's ways are not as our ways. It seems to be a most reasonable thing to the minister that he should go home to his family. How easy it is for him to believe it is God's will that he should go! At least, it has been so many times with the writer. He has too often obeyed the human desire and disobeyed God. Such disobedience, if such it may be called, is not sin, since the will of God is not known, but it is being led by the impulse of sense and is detrimental to spirituality. God would have us look more earnestly to him in order to know his will and not yield so readily to mere human desires.
To enjoy nearness to God we must not be influenced by any will of sense. The impulse of sense is so deceptive that, if we are not very watchful and fully surrendered to God with an intense desire to know and do his will, it will prevent our understanding his will to us. It may not be difficult to convince you that it is God's will that your brother should go as a missionary to some foreign field, but very difficult to convince you that it is God's will for you to go, when perhaps it is just as reasonable every way that you should go. It may be the will of sense to remain, that prevents your knowing God's will.
Here is a truth I wish you to think upon: We can not see the folly of any passion clearly when we are strongly tempted by that passion. A sanctified man may eat too much sometimes; he may be intemperate sometimes in the sexual relation; and yet the Word of God says, "Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." Let me say, however, that those who enjoy deep union and communion with God are careful to be temperate in their entire manner of life.
As we have stated before, the pure in heart have organs of sense. These organs can be impressed by external objects. These impressions may properly be termed "feelings." A man filled with the Holy Spirit may, when being praised by some unwise person, be tempted to pride; in other words, he feels a sense of pride. This feeling is in the self-life of the man. A sanctified man is tempted to impatience. He feels a sense of impatience, not carnal, but as an impulse of sense in the self-life. When some one does something contrary to your pleasure or wishes, you may have feelings of displeasure or impatience. The patience of a mother is sometimes tried by the conduct of a child. The trying of patience is simply feelings of impatience in the self-life. But in her patience she is to possess her soul. These feelings of impatience are to be resisted in the strength of the Lord. Resist them with a prayer.
I have now brought you to the place where I am ready to tell you how to grow in grace, how to increase, how to make progress in the divine life, which is all that is meant by the expressions, "getting closer to God," "becoming more like Christ," etc. Remember this: 'feelings are strengthened by being indulged. You are tempted to pride, to lightness, to impatience; you have feelings of pride, lightness, impatience, for this is what temptations are. These feelings should be immediately and indignantly resisted. Get after them in earnest. The very exercise of resisting is what will develop and strengthen the spiritual powers; but if the feelings are indulged, they will grow stronger and the spiritual powers grow weaker. If you value your spiritual prosperity, you will be very quick to resist every temptation. Sometimes people allow a tried, mean, impatient feeling to settle down upon them for hours. They do not feel pleasant, neither do they look pleasant. Such feelings leave their trace behind. They are a dangerous foe. Loathe them, despise them. Go to the Lord in earnest prayer and pray until joy springs up in the soul, a smile beams on the face, and the bad feelings are made to fly away like a startled bird. Some say, "We can not prevent bad feelings and thoughts from attacking us." They use the words of Luther -- "We can not prevent birds flying over our heads, but can prevent them from building nests in our hair." It is no sin nor source of discouragement to be attacked by bad feelings and bad thoughts. But bear in mind that we can frighten the birds that are flying over and thus make them fly quickly, and that after being frightened a few times they will fly far around or very high over. So with bad feelings and thoughts: if earnestly and indignantly resisted, they will fly away quickly, and their assaults will grow weaker and weaker. It is God's will that we eat, drink, and sleep; but to be intemperate in these is to destroy spiritual life. We should be guided by a sense of the divine will, and not by a sense of human desire. To yield to the lower will of sense is to be soon abandoned to self and destitute of grace.
I have been asked whether it is possible for us to attain such a degree of perfection that we should never speak a harsh, impatient word or a light word, or be the least intemperate in any way. My answer is that by much prayer, by close watching, and earnest resisting, the will of sense can be so weakened and the soul become so habituated to act under a sense of the divine will that foolish or impatient words, impulsive actions, or any intemperance will be very few and far between. This is being strong in the grace of God.
Again, I have been asked, "Can we reach a place where we shall be no more tempted?" Yes; if you are earnest and faithful, you will reach it when you arrive in that land where flesh and blood can not enter. There you will no more be tempted. But as long as you are here in the flesh, you will be tempted. In the very nature of things you need to be. Your spiritual powers would weaken if they had nothing to resist. Let me here acquaint you with a device of Satan. All these attacks upon the will of sense are made by the devil. He will use some external object to try you. He may withhold temptation for a long time in order that you may become careless and cease to watch and pray, and thus in a measure lose your power of resistance. Then he will come in with a slight attack, so slight you will not detect it in your weakened state. If it be an attack to impatience, you will speak a little hastily, but will scarcely perceive it and will think it of little consequence. But his attacks will grow stronger; your words will grow more hasty; there will be frettings and worryings; and you will be so stupid that you will not be aware of your backsliding. Do not cease your watching and praying even if you have no temptations. Alas, how many have gone down under this cunning device of Satan! This is a scheme he plays well.
When the Christian first starts out on his pilgrimage, he is watchful and prayerful. An attack of Satan startles him, and he becomes earnest in his resistance. If he speaks impatiently or lightly, he flees at once to God for grace, and thus he grows in grace. But if he becomes strong and his soul forms the habit of acting in holiness, he feels strong and ceases his close watching and praying and resisting. Then he slowly but surely retrogrades. Unless he is in some way awakened, he will backslide.
But the question arises, "How can we keep up resistance in order to be strong, if Satan ceases to tempt." Have sham battles. In time of peace soldiers are constantly drilling so that they may be prepared when they come to battle. Pugilists go through much training in preparation for the actual contest. So we are to watch constantly. Keep the soul in a defensive attitude. This is what I mean by sham battles. Bearing in mind that you may be attacked at any time, keep the soul in a defensive attitude; keep up the shield of faith. The very exercise of holding up the shield and keeping the soul in watchings makes it strong for the battle. If you do not exercise your soul in earnest prayer each morning, Satan will likely catch you that day unprepared.
For the perfecting of the soul in the habit of holiness, you must exercise yourself in inward acts of resistance. Keep an intense hatred of sin and the devil; get where you enjoy a contest with Satan; glory in tribulation; rejoice when you are persecuted; count it joy when you are tried and tempted. Soldiers get so they love the battle, pugilists enjoy the contest, and we should be where we love trials. We hate them, therefore we love to conquer them; they afford us means for development, therefore we welcome them; they deepen us into God and make us more like Christ, therefore we hail them with joy. We hate them themselves, but in our intense love for God and the privilege of exercising ourselves in his strength we count all our trials joy. We rejoice in the midst of temptation because we have the opportunity of displaying the strength of our God.
But do not make the mistake of thinking that you are so strong in God that the little evil thought, or the feeling of pride or impatience, or the little act of intemperance, is of no consequence. It is these little things that sap away the spiritual strength. Get after the very least of them and put them to death. Give them no place. If one single word of lightness or of impatience escapes your lips, go in earnest prayer, asking God to make you a conqueror. Seek to have your life wholly free from imperfections, and you will daily advance in the divine life.
Life is full of peace and pleasure
E'en in sorrow there are blessings
All around is wondrous beauty
We must every day be growing
You will, I hope, pardon the writer if he repeats too much. Repetition is sometimes needed that a truth may be enforced. Sometimes line upon line is needful.
What, in its true sense, is a holy life? It is the life of Jesus. His whole manner of life was truly holy. His life is the ideal life. If we would live holy, we must live as he lived. The artist has his ideal before him, and with touches of the brush here and there upon his canvas he forms an exact image of the ideal. The life of Jesus is what we are to imitate. He sets the example of holy living and calls us to the same holy life. "As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." I Pet.1:15. This text has a better rendering in the Revised Version: "Like as he which called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living." As Christians we are God's offspring, and as such are like him.
Holiness in the life of Jesus is found not only in the great miracles that he performed, but also in the lesser happenings of his life. The restoring of life to the dead is no more beautifully holy than the laying of his hands upon the heads of children and blessing them. His memorable Sermon on the Mount no more portrays the loveliness of his character than does his conversation with the woman by the wayside well. It is the little things in every-day life, if attended to and kept in the meekness and the solemnity of the Spirit of Christ, that make life truly beautiful and holy. It is not the eloquent sermon that makes a life so sublime, but it is the tender smile, the kind word, the gentle look, given to all; it is the patient manner in which all the little trying and provoking things of life are met. You may preach or write ever so forcibly and eloquently, and bring out the sublime truths of the Bible in great beauty; but if in the privacy of your own home there are little frettings, a little peevishness, a little crossness, a little levity, a little selfishness, a little distrust, your life is not as truly holy as it should be.
If you desire God's holy image to be stamped upon your soul, your countenance, and your life, you must carefully avoid the little sprigs of lightness, the little bits of sloth and indolence, touches of forwardness, rudeness, selfishness, etc. Pure words belong to a holy life. You should use the very choicest words, language that is free from vulgarity, slang, and the spirit of the world. Untidiness, uncleanness, carelessness, and shabbiness are not at all beautiful ornaments in a holy life. But quietness, modesty, and reticence are gems that sparkle in a holy life like diamonds set in a band of gold. Give attention to your words, your thoughts, your tone of voice, your feelings; to little acts of benevolence, the practise of self-denial, of promptness, of method and order. These are auxilaries of holy living. Are there not many little things in your home life that you can improve upon? Seek God for help and be truly holy.