By proper culture -- attending to Christian duties -- the Christ-life in the soul will be strengthened, and daily we will become stronger in faith, richer in virtue, deeper in knowledge, more strictly temperate, exercise a greater degree of brotherly kindness and godliness, and enjoy more of heaven's pure love in our hearts. Neglect the proper Scriptural culture of the spiritual life and the Christian will degenerate into a few irksome duties of cold formality. By the writers of the New Testament we are urgently exhorted, yea, commanded, to attend to certain duties necessary to keep us in the love of God. Of these especially important are reading the Scripture, prayer, fasting, examination, meditation, etc.
Reading The Scripture.
"Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it." "I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold." "The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver." Psa.119:140, 127, 72. The Bible, to the Christian, is a richer treasure than gold. No other book is read with such deep, amazing interest. The soul ravishingly feasts upon the pure, simple truth. It is manna. It is life. "How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth." Psa.119:103. When the soul gets to taste of the honeyed sweetness of God's Word it endears it to God and the Bible so as to make death preferable to separation. "O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day." Psa.119:97. Exile to Patmos would not be so lonely to the Christian did he but have his Bible.
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." 2 Tim.3:16, 17. The Word of God contains sufficient instructions and corrections to properly develop the Christ-life in the soul, if it is heeded. By looking into this perfect law of God and continuing in its teaching one will imbibe its spirit, its life, its power, until his own life will reveal the truly high and ennobling principles of the precious volume from heaven. The true sentiment of the Bible will be so interwoven into his very existence that his decorum will be so influenced by the power of divine truth that all who read his life will but read God's Holy Book.
The Bible tells us of heaven, the eternal, happy home of the righteous. It tells us of sin and how it deprives the soul the privilege of entering that bright mansion of everlasting rest. It tells of a Savior who saves from sin, and fits and prepares man to receive from God's hands great eternal rewards. It unfolds to us the beautiful character of God and encourages our souls to imitate his perfect example. It speaks of our Heavenly Father's loving providence, how that he is ever watching over us, and guiding us with his eye; how that no harm shall ever befall us, and when we pass through the rivers they shall not overflow us; when we walk through the fire we shall not be burned; how that he will withhold no good thing from us, but will cause all things to work for our good; how that he bears our burdens and shelters us beneath his wing. The Bible is the Christian's guide to a haven of rest; to make sure he is traveling in the right course, he must study it well. He must run the way of its commandments. To be a fruitful Christian he must search it and be a doer of its precepts, ever gaining knowledge and practising what he knows. Ah, my Bible! it is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my pathway.
Precious volume, ever lie
Prayer has brought a comfort to many a sorrowing heart. It has wiped away many a tear. Prayer is the Christian's stronghold. There can be no real progress in the divine life without earnest prayer. A decline in spiritual life usually begins at the secret closet. Satan knows what a powerful weapon prayer is in the hands of a saint. As Cowper has said,
Satan trembles when he sees
The Bible says, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Jas.5:16.
Prayer to be effectual must be offered, in faith. The prayer of faith has accomplished wonders in every age of the world. It has stopped the mouths of lions. It has subdued kingdoms, obtained promises, quenched the violence of fire, and escaped the edge of the sword. By the prayer of faith the weak have become strong and turned to flight the armies of the aliens. The weak child of God by prayer develops into strong manhood. When engaged in a severe contest with the enemy of your soul the prayer of faith draws upon the strength of heaven and thus you become stronger in God. In a time of heavy and sore trials by looking upward unto God in confidence we conquer. For this reason the trial of our faith is more precious than gold. "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Mark 11:24. "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you." John 15:7. "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it." John 14:13, 14. "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." 1 John 3:22.
With these promises before us we certainly ought to be encouraged to strive earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. It is the prayer of faith that moves God upon his throne. Words offered in mere form are powerless. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," for "without faith it is impossible to please him." Heb.11:6. Man that asks of God and wavers in his faith is compared to the restless waves of the sea. "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven of the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord." Jas.1:6, 7.
There is a difference between simple faith and presumption. Some people take things for granted because God has promised similar things, without considering well if their prayer is according to the will of God. The Lord has promised bodily healing to his children. He says, "The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." Jas.5:15. This is conditional, the conditions being recorded in the following verse: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed." The glorious Bible doctrine of divine healing has many times been disgraced by mere presumption. Many when they are anointed presume they are healed because God has promised it in his Word when they have failed to sit in the valley of humiliation to learn of God their faults that need correction. They find in a short time that their presumption does not prove effectual and witnesses are made to scorn the idea of divine healing. We hear of no relapsing in a few days of those who were healed by the Lord and his church in the morning light. If any had such severe trials of faith as to be as sick or worse than ever apparently, it was thought wisdom to exclude such testimony from the Bible, and if wise to exclude it from the Bible, we are persuaded it is wise to exclude it from public testimony at any time.
The same may be said of prayers for spiritual and temporal blessings. Never mistake presumption for faith. An individual might ask God for some temporal blessing and because God has promised to supply "all our needs," and if "we ask anything he will do it," take it for granted he is soon going to receive it, and when it fails to appear is disappointed and discouraged. By close examination it will be found that there was not a humble resignation of all things into the hands of God. The prayer was tinctured with selfish desire and more presuming than heart-felt faith. For a perfect operation of faith that will draw blessings and life and power from God to the soul there must be a humble yielding, a perfect surrender of all to the Father's loving control. When all is resigned, and we sit in holy submission at his feet, faith will spring up, and if it is for some temporal blessing we are asking, God will answer to the soul and we will know and feel within us that we have the object desired. Though we have it not as yet in our possession it will never fail to appear at God's own appointed time, which is never too late. We believe that many presume that they are sanctified, but afterwards discover that they have not a perfect and pure heart. In all probability there was a lack in the consecration, which hindered a perfect operation of faith, and presumption was mistaken for belief. Such has doubtless been the result also in seeking justification. Positive faith affects God on his throne and brings a clear understanding consciousness to the soul.
Some one may wonder in what way the prayer of faith offered when we are sick, or prayers for temporal needs can advantage us in the development of spiritual life. God has so arranged that the prayer of faith that brings healing virtue to the afflicted body also brings a blessing and an increase to the soul. Prayer that reaches God in a time of temporal need not only moves him to grant the petition, but also adds new strength and energy to the inner being. Thus God may permit us to be afflicted or to be in great need of food or raiment to awaken our souls to earnest imploring prayer for our spiritual advantage. When all is dark before and behind us, when storm-clouds hang heavy over us and temptations grow manifold, we are made keenly conscious that our whole and only dependence is upon God. Then on wings of faith the trembling soul comes into God's majestic presence to implore his aid, his help, in time of need. In his fatherly care he extends his hand and lifts us above the storm-clouds of affliction and temptation into beautiful light. It will be found that our soul is wonderfully increased in God. Thus prayer offered in these times of greatest need always prove a blessing to the spiritual life. Our own dear children could save themselves from much chastisement by obedience. Thus the children of God would doubtless be spared many an affliction if they were more strictly obedient to him.
How often should we pray? David says, "Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice." Psa.55:17. Again he says, "Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments." Psa.119:164. The apostle Paul exhorts us to "pray without ceasing." 1 Thes.5:17. We do not understand by this last text that the Christian is to be constantly in an attitude of prayer. No one can reasonably demand such a strict interpretation. For constant spiritual growth we should follow the example of the holy prophets and apostles and have regular daily visits to our altar of prayer. Beside this if you desire the beautiful character of Christ to unfold in your soul and life you should be careful to constantly maintain a prayerful frame of spirit. How often one should go within their closet, circumstances must decide. Where circumstances afford much time for prayer we assure you to be no loser by living much behind your closed door.
The spiritual man may be compared to the physical man in a sense, or to a certain extent. The physical man demands food for its sustenance. It feasts at the breakfast table, then goes, using the strength derived in performing the vocations of life. In a few hours there will be a demand for more, as the force of the former meal is spent. "But man shall not live by bread alone." The soul feasts upon the life of God in prayer and is strengthened, you then engage in the duties of life. In a short time you will feel the pangs of hunger in your soul. There is a longing for a deep communion with God. This is your best guide as to how often you should pray if your soul is in a good healthy state. It may not be convenient for you to go into your closet every time you feel your soul "panting after God," but you can lift up your heart to him in the best manner you can under the circumstances, and then go and feast at your private altar at your very earliest convenience.
The physical and spiritual man differ with respect to overeating. Too much food is injurious to the animal man, but the danger of surfeiting was not spoken of the soul. The inner man may feast and banquet and drink of spiritual stores and streams and the soul will grow and develop accordingly. There is but little danger of lingering too long at the feast. There is much danger of famine while the Christian as a citizen of this world has certain secular duties to perform, yet amid these he communes and walks with God. While he may be intellectually engaged in the problems of life, the higher affections of his soul live upon heavenly things. He thus drinks of the refreshing dews of glory until the beauteous graces of Christ are imbibed and infused throughout his very existence and the holy image of God is seen upon him.
The effect of a prayer of faith is almost without limit. By it Daniel shut the mouths of lions. The Hebrews walked unhurt amid the flames. Elijah shut up the heavens until it did not rain for more than three years. The waters of the sea have been divided, the walls of cities thrown down, armies turned to flight, kingdoms subdued, the prison-doors opened, the barren womb has become fruitful, the lame have been made to walk, the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the dead raised to life and the soul redeemed. Oh, the wonders of prayer!
Satan, knowing how disastrous to his kingdom is the Christian's prayer of faith, will do all he can to hinder. He will heap upon you duties of life; tell you that you have no time for prayer. When you do pray he will try to make your prayers hurried and insincere. He will try to divert your attention when at the altar of prayer. He will be constantly presenting thoughts of secular duties. He will strive to make your devotions formal and irksome. He will cast over you a feeling of awful indifference and then advise you not to pray until you feel more like it. He will make the heavens appear as brass above you, and tell you God does not hear you. Christian, you know by the Word of God what is your duty. It is to pray. Then pray you must. It is the language of the Bible. Disregarding your feelings, pray. Disregarding the suggestions of Satan, pray. As you value your soul, pray, and "pray without ceasing."
That the apostle Paul considered fasting an excellent means for spiritual development is evident from his writings. He says that the ministers of God should approve themselves by "much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings." 2 Cor.6:4, 5. In speaking of himself, he says he was "in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often." 2 Cor.11:27. In Acts 27:33, we learn that on the occasion of the shipwreck fourteen days were spent in fasting. This is not the doing of penance that the priests of mystic Babylon bind upon their subjects, but the cheerful service of a humble, devoted heart. God has not left this at the direction of man, but it is alone at the dictation of the Holy Spirit.
There is a secret power in fasting. It separates us farther from self and deepens us in humility, spirituality and reliance upon God. On occasions where great faith was required, fastings were recommended by the Savior. In speaking to his disciples concerning the devils which possessed a child, he said, "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." Mat.17:21. When Paul and Barnabas were separated by the Holy Spirit unto the work of the Lord, after fasting and prayer hands were laid upon them and they were sent away. When fasting, the mind is clearer and the faith more active. It is a self-denial, which has a tendency to develop the graces of the Spirit.
It is said of a certain prophetess that dwelt in Jerusalem in the days of our Savior's nativity, that she departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. Luke 2:36, 37.
The most spiritual Christians are ready to acknowledge that fasting is an excellent means of drawing us into a deeper and more intimate communion with God. We scarcely think that any one will attain to any great spiritual depth without fasting. When the Christian's soul is burdened for this lost world it is natural for him to unburden his soul to God in fasting and prayer. How beautifully has the Lord arranged all things in the kingdom of heaven! He by his Spirit, lays a burden upon our heart for the souls of lost mankind. This burden causes us to seek God in fasting and prayer for these lost ones, and our prayers move him to send forth his Spirit to convict this world of sin. Thus it is arranged in the economy of grace, and thus we can all be "workers together with him."
It is sad that comparatively so few know the value of the sincere prayer of faith. Fasting and prayer affect this whole world, and heaven and hell. Christian, do not be sparing in them. Christians are few, but there are enough of them upon the earth, that if all were earnest in fasting and prayer this world would be disturbed in her slumber and sinners be made to fear before the wrath of God. To be unwilling to fast when we feel the movings of God's Spirit upon us to that end, is to soon become so dull and stupid spiritually that we will have but little burden or concern for perishing souls. If we want to walk with God and have a deep concern for his cause and love for lost mankind we must be self-denying and "in fastings often."
Trials And Temptations.
You may wonder why we have arranged the subject of "Trials and Temptations" in the chapter of "Spiritual Culture." It is because they are an excellent means of our growth in divine things. "All things work together for good to them that love God." Trials prove to be for our good in the spiritual life if we will boldly and bravely meet them in Jesus' name. We are encouraged by the apostle James to count all temptations a joy. It is evident that the apostle would not exhort us to count temptations a joy if they were not for our good. The Bible tells us there is a tempter.1 Thes.3:5. We also learn from the sacred page that God does not tempt any man. Jas.1:13. Matthew tells us that the devil is the tempter. Mat.4:1. God permits Satan to try and tempt us as we learn from Job's experience. Satan can not tempt us beyond what God permits, and God will not permit him to tempt us beyond what we are able to bear. He does not permit one to be tempted more than another, but we all have temptations such as are common to man.1 Cor.10:13.
Jesus was tempted in every manner that man is tempted, yet without sin. Heb.4:15. Jesus was not overcome by temptation, but he faithfully endured. Because he was thus tempted and overcame, he knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation.2 Pet.2:9. Not only does he know how to deliver us out of temptation, but he is fully able to do so. Heb.2:18.
Temptations and trials are necessary in the Christian life. But few people realize the value of temptation. But few people, or perhaps none but what would backslide if they did not have any trials. God has so arranged it in the nature of Christianity or spiritual life that in order for the soul to grow and develop it must be tested and tried. Leaning upon God in time of strong temptation only increases our strength in God. Man would become independent of God, however much he may think to the contrary, if he had no trials and temptations. No true-hearted Christian has trials only such as he needs. Peter says, "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations." 1 Pet.1:6. Christian, do you not value your spiritual prosperity above all else? Then never complain nor become discouraged because of the heavy and manifold temptations. God knows how to deal with you. You may sometimes think you know best, but in this you are mistaken. Father knoweth best. He loves you and will not suffer you to be tempted beyond what your needs are, and what he will enable you to bear, if you will but trust in him.
When your way grows very dark and temptation's billows roll high, when the flames of fiery trials seem to almost consume your soul, will you not remember that just as you are being tempted, Jesus was also tempted, yet he was not overcome? Also remember that he knows how to deliver you, and is able to do it. God sees that you need this and he is permitting it to mold you and fashion you into his own holy image. These are the refining flames that serve to consume the dross and make you perfectly pure. Our heavenly Father chasteneth us for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Heb.12:10. God has given us a promise, which, if you will remember in faith, will enable you to endure. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried he shall receive a crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him." Jas.1:12.
When in trial's heated furnace,
That meditation does affect one's spirituality is an unquestionable fact. Vagrant thought is well calculated to dull the finer sensibilities of the soul, thereby rendering it less capable of impression by the Spirit of God. "Keeping in touch with God," is a very familiar expression among holiness people at this present time, but what does it imply? We are all at sea when not in touch with him. To be so kept is to have everything in us fully alive to God. Every Christian grace must be in a state of perfect health and vigorous growth. If there be any dwarfed condition of the spiritual being in any part it will be less sensible to God's touch.
The blind have been known to cultivate the sense of touch in the physical being to the amazing acuteness of being able to distinguish color. The sense of touch in the soul by careful, earnest husbandry can be refined to such a degree as to make it susceptible to the slightest impression of the Holy Spirit.
In the creation, the moral being was given the capability of being influenced and controlled by the Spirit of the Lord. By sin this electric current from God's presence to man's soul, like the separation of the Atlantic cable, was divided. Man becoming thus disconnected from God's power and impressive guidance was left to be operated by the influences of a wicked world. Through the redemptive power of Jesus' blood man is again brought into union with God. The divided cable is taken up and united, and man's soul wondrously animated by God's presence.
So cultured may become the sensibilities of the inner being, and so thoroughly impregnated by God's enlivening power, that one empty thought, causing the slightest ebbing of life's current flow is keenly felt. To keep in perfect touch with God is to live where there is a soul consciousness that he is pleased with every act of life; where there is a witnessing "sweet and clear" of the Spirit to the inmost soul that the words of your mouth and the meditations of your heart are acceptable unto him.
Pure and holy meditations are an excellent means for the culture and refinement of man's moral being. Useless thought makes the soul coarse, and difficult of impression by good influences. By associating with God through prayer and meditation man's spiritual entity will develop into his own glorious image. By communion with the Lord his pure character is assimilated into our own until our lives become but the fruit of a vine which has its origin in the rich soil around Heaven's throne. If you can indulge a train of careless, vagabond thought, and not be severely smitten in conscience, you are far from being in touch with God. The spiritual depression and awful benumbing stupidity, the disrelish for prayer and reading the Bible, is often the result of entertaining empty, fruitless meditations. The Scriptures tell us what are wholesome subjects for thought, and what are not. "The thought of foolishness is sin." Prov.24:9. "I hate vain thoughts." Psa.119:113.
Vain and foolish thoughts are very destructive to spirituality, and should be hated and carefully guarded against by every lover of God's law. Many people find it difficult to stay their mind upon the Lord. While reading the Bible and in secret prayer their thoughts are disposed to wander. The wonderful works of God scarcely awaken any admiration within them. They can not elevate their soul into a profound awe before his awful presence, and there is but little conscious depth of inner reverence and devotion to his dear name. There is a blessed remedy for this serious trouble. Carefully watch your meditations. Call the oftener upon God in some silent secret place. Select some secluded, hallowed place for meditation. It is said of Isaac that he went into the field at eventide to meditate. Gen.24:63. This is a time well suited to draw the soul out into deep, intimate communion with God. Learn to admire the wondrous works of the Creator. Meditate upon them. The setting of the sun, the starry heavens, the fleecy floating clouds, the silent hills, all will serve to fill your soul with reverential fear before God's majestic presence, and all within you be awed to solemn stillness at his footfall. Then you can say with the Psalmist, "O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day." Psa.119:97. "I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings." Psa.77:11, 12. "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches." Psa.63:5, 6.
Idle, careless thoughts generate a stupidity that will rob you of joy and soul satisfaction. It will deaden the sensibilities of your inner nature and prevent your hearing God's footstep, and deprive you of many a blessing. Communion with the Lord and meditating upon his Word will elevate the soul to a plane all radiant with Heaven's light and love, and put a humility in your heart and a sweetness in every expression that will distinguish you from the coarse ways of the world. "I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord." Psa.104:33, 34.
Close and impartial examination of our moral character is indispensable to spiritual prosperity. He who does not watch the inclinations of his heart, nor note the course of its affections, and direct them in the channels of heavenly grace, will soon have naught but a "name to live." As you read the infallible Word of God, ask him to let its light find entrance to the remotest chambers of your soul. Too many read the Scriptures in a careless way. The severity of God's judgments are turned aside by the enemy of their soul. We fear that too many people are to-day building hopes of heaven upon an experience of years ago. They will talk of the time when they found the Savior and enjoyed his love. But now they have become formal and do not sit in impartial judgment upon their actions. The holy apostle said, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves." 2 Cor.13:5.
Closely examine your actions, your life, your nature, and prove your spiritual condition by the Word of God. Thousands to-day are deceived and on the broad way to eternal night and woe because they never stop to reason and to carefully examine their lives and spiritual condition in what light and knowledge they have of the Scriptures. How many will read, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world; if any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him," and pass on with a heart filled with the love of the world, consoling themselves that they are on their way to heaven. If they were but serious enough to examine their hearts they would feel the condemnation of God's Spirit as they read such texts, but ofttimes when they are brought to any consideration they will search for evidence to neutralize their guilt. They will again read, "Man shall give an account of every idle word," and go on talking foolishly and jesting, seeking to believe they are God's own children. And thus goes the world.
If you value your soul and hope of heaven, see to it that your life is in strict accordance with every requirement of the Scriptures. People are having idle talk, impure thoughts, evil surmising, feelings of pride, envy and hatred. They are speaking evil of their neighbors, laying up their treasures upon earth, loving the world and self, rendering evil for evil, backbiting, reveling, and professing to be traveling the narrow way that leads to eternal rest the same as if there was no Bible. Such have no examination of their lives, and should they have they use some satanic sophistry to gloss their sin. "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge?" It is he that shows out of a godly life that he is a Christian. It is he that carefully examines every act and thought and word and by Heaven's grace tolerates nothing in his life in opposition to the Word of God. Careful examination is an important factor in our spiritual prosperity. By carefully watching our life we can detect its defects and then by earnest prayer these defects can be removed and we grow up into the image of God. If you hold but little or no examination of your conduct there may be many imperfections in your ways of life displeasing to God, and yet unknown to you. You will find it beneficial to frequently seclude yourself from the busy whirl of life, and enter into profound meditation and careful examination.
We will suggest a few general questions, which may help you in your retrospection. Have my meditations been pure and acceptable to God through this day? Have I not spoken one idle word? Am I as thankful to God for blessings as I should be? Has there been any feeling of pride in my heart? Has there been any feeling of impatience within me? Have I felt and manifested any selfishness? Have I had a due regard for the welfare and happiness of others? Have my devotions been spiritual and full of reverence? Do I love God? Am I dead to sin? Do I love secret prayer and the reading of the Bible? Do I feel as deeply as I should the sins of this lost world? Have I spent my money for self and withheld from God? All told, what have I done for Jesus? These and many other questions the Christian may ask himself to see if he is in the faith.
In the chapter of "Spiritual Culture" we have included the subject of Backsliding, not that backsliding is in any sense advantageous to spiritual development, but it is our certain destiny if we do not assiduously employ the means necessary to our growth in grace. By backsliding is meant the gradual turning back or away from God; to apostatize. The Savior gives us warning to "watch and pray," that we "enter not into temptation." The tempter will lay in your pathway all things possible to induce you to turn away from God. He will suggest that it is not necessary to pray so much, and we do not have to keep such a strict vigil over our lives and govern and rule the whole by the Word of God. He may tell you that now since you are saved you are safe. God is able to keep you, and you have nothing now to do but to silently fold your arms and sail to heaven on "flowery beds of ease." There never was a soul created of God or recreated by his Spirit, not excepting the Savior himself, since the day Adam was made of the dust, to this present time, but what Satan has endeavored, by lies and machinations to turn him away from God. Thousands of millions have gone down the rapids of negligence and carelessness, and been lost in the whirlpool of a cold, formal religion.
Some teach that the soul once born of God can never apostatize. "Once in grace always in grace," is the manner in which they state it. We are fully persuaded that the individual who teaches such a doctrine is wholly ignorant of grace and devoid of God's enlightening Spirit. What would be the need of Christians being warned to "watch and pray, lest they enter into temptation," if there be no possibility of being overcome by it? If there is never a return to sin after regeneration, why does John say to his little children, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous"? 1 John 2:1.
The reader will not understand us to favor the teaching that Christians must of necessity occasionally commit sin and that none live a sinless life. It is impossible for man to be committing sin and at the same time be a Christian. A sinning Christian is a phenomenon never known in the kingdom of grace. The Scriptures plainly teach that when once we enter a state of grace, we should always, by living a pure, holy life, continue in the same. But the teaching that when we once enter a state of grace we always remain in that state, no matter what we do, is certainly very foreign to the Holy Scriptures and soul deluding. God spoke by the mouth of an Old Testament prophet nearly six hundred years before the coming of "grace and truth" by the Savior, saying, "When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered." Ezek.3:20. What need be, and what can be, plainer than this text? Here iniquity and sin are used interchangeably and are perfectly synonymous. If a righteous man (one in possession of grace) commits sin his righteousness is no longer remembered. This is as much as to say he is no longer in grace, but is fallen. In the next verse this holy seer receives words from the mouth of the Almighty and gives the righteous man warning that he sin not. If he does not sin he shall live. It is sin that brings death to the soul. Ezek.18:4. It is sin that separates us from God. Isa.59:2. It is sin that causes our names to be blotted out of the book of life. Ex.32:33. It is sin that withholds good things from us. Jer.5:25. It is sin that destroys grace. Rom.6:1, 2.
What is sin? Sin is the transgression of God's law.1 John 3:4. Who in all the earth has become so boldly defiant that he can in the face of clear and plain Scriptural statements testify that he is in a state of grace when he is living in known violation of some of God's commandments? His boldness will forsake him and he wither like the frail flower beneath the hoary frost when he comes into the awful majestic presence of a righteous Creator in that great avenging day.
One of the inspired writers of the New Testament exhorts Christians to give all diligence that we add virtue to our faith, and knowledge to our virtue, and temperance to our knowledge, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity.2 Pet.1:5-7. In the following verses he tells us if these things abound in us we shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord, and if we do these things we shall never fall. Does not this obviously imply that if we do not do them that we shall fall? Dear reader, if you are now a Christian and feel the glowing of God's pure love in your heart, if you neglect to employ the means for growth in grace that the Bible commands, that certainly you will backslide, or fall from grace. You may retain a form of worship, but you will be devoid of spirituality and your worship be unacceptable. We are commanded to "grow in grace." 2 Pet.3:18. In the verse above we are warned against being led away by the error of the wicked and falling from our own steadfastness.
Now it is a well established fact in the very nature of things that it would be impossible to grow if there was no possibility of a decline. If there be no retrogression, there can be no progression. The beloved John from the lonely isle writes unto the church of Ephesus and tells them that God had somewhat against them because they had left their first love. He tells them to remember from whence they are fallen and repent. They once enjoyed the love of God -- they were spiritual. His redeeming grace had removed the guilt of sin, but now they are fallen. He that hath an ear, let him hear.
How often the apostle Paul warns the Christian against backsliding. His motto was, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Phil.3:14. In writing to the Colossians he says, "Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas," greet you. A greeting was sent from Demas by Paul to the Colossians in the year 64, A.D. In writing his letter to Philemon, A.D.64, Paul says, "There salute thee Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow laborers." Ver.23, 24. Demas was one of Paul's coworkers, and undoubtedly enjoyed the experience of salvation by grace. In writing to Timothy two years later Paul says, "For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world." 2 Tim.4:10.
As on the other subjects of this volume many more texts and strong points of reasoning could be given to fixedly establish the New Testament teaching of the possibilities of spiritual degeneration and death, but we conclude that we have made all plain to the understanding of every candid mind. It has not been our purpose to exhaust any subject. It has not been our expectation to convince many gainsayers, but to bring light to the hearts which the Lord has prepared.
One text of Scripture used by propagators of the doctrine, "We can never fall from grace," is found in 1 John 3:9, and reads thus: "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin: for his seed remaineth in him: and he can not sin, because he is born of God." We believe it is safe to always give the Scriptures the plainest, simplest meaning when it does not conflict with the Word of God elsewhere. We should never mystify a text, but accept it as it reads. In 1 John 2:1, the author of this epistle says, "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Certainly every reader understands John to here teach that it is possible for man to sin, or in other words, no man in this life passes beyond the possibilities of sin. Now to understand him to say in the ninth verse of the third chapter that when we are once born of God we can not possibly sin, makes him to teach contradictory doctrines. Such we know he does not do, and since 1 John 2:1 is too plain to be misunderstood, we must look about to harmonize with it, in the most simple way, 1 John 3:9. We will quote Rotherham on this text: "No one that hath been begotten of God doeth sin, because his seed in him abideth, and he can not be sinning, because of God has he been begotten." To be begotten of God is to be pardoned or saved from sin.
The seed (the Christ-life) abides in the soul in the regenerated state. The seeds of life are supplanted by the seeds of death when we commit sin. No one is born of God when spiritual life has been destroyed by sin. No man can be "sinning" and be a child of God. One who has been saved may be overcome and commit sin, but when he does so he is not God's child. This text does not teach the impossibility of committing sin after we are born of God, but only the impossibility of committing sin and being a Christian.