In view of the
fact that the process of maturing in Christian life has been
the subject of endless discussion, with opinions that were often
contradictory to one another, proposed by the highest authorities,
it seemed rather presumptuous to present one of our own. For
this reason, it has not been incorporated in the text of the
Paper itself. But it has this to commend it, at least, that while
it demands real effort on our part, the end result is still entirely
a work of God, and pride of grace is thereby excluded. This looks
like a paradox. But I think it avoids two rather serious errors.
First, growth is not the result of some process of "complete
self-surrender of the will," which some holiness movements
have insisted is "all there is to it." It is amazing
how easily one can be deceived into relaxing the struggle, by
believing that in this kind of "weakness" lies our
chief source of strength -- the strength of the Lord supposedly
being inversely proportional to the weakness of the individual.
This is a view which takes several forms, but all of them are
rather dangerous self-deceits in spite of their apparent Scriptural
justification from such passages as 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10. When
Paul speaks of weakness here, does he really mean weakness of
will ? We might well ask the question, Would a man who could
claim to have fought a good fight, suggest that no struggle is
yet this is what most
of us assume victory to mean. The human heart is desperately
wicked and is no sooner subdued in one thing than it will erupt
in a subtle way somewhere else.
The mortification of the natural propensities for evil which exist in every one of us is not something which we can undertake without help. It is obvious that a will that is sinful cannot will itself out of existence. The help that we need in this process of restraint, is promised in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The following verses seem to indicate this principle:
In these passages,
and in many others, the part which we may play is carefully circumscribed.
It is always the restraint of evil, and never the creation of
righteousness. It is humbling to discover that God has no confidence
in the capacity of man to be good. And it is important to observe
that when one man by nature seems to be a better man than another,
as though relative goodness had some real meaning, the truth
is rather that some men are less evil than others, which is fundamentally
a different thing.
The following passages beautifully symbolize the process of the building up of the Body of Christ, which is His new Temple. First, the stones have been prepared and day by day are being brought to the site (1 Kings 5:17). We are these stones, living people indwelt by His presence (1 Peter 2:5). The prophets and the apostles formed the foundation (Ephesians 2:20-22), and we are built in to the growing structure, one by one. As the stones of the first temple were worked up in secret (1 Kings 6:7), so the Lord works in us secretly, hiddenly, His working being even concealed from ourselves much of the time. When He has finished, we shall with truth be called His workmanship (Ephesiams 2:10) and not our own, and He that hath wrought us for this very purpose is God Himself (2 Corinthians 5:5).
It might appear that if our good works are already foreordained, and we have been created in Christ Jesus in such a way personally as to render their achievement possible -- indeed certain -- that we are merely machines doing what we must, according to the will of God. In what sense is there freedom and responsibility, and therefore the possibility of growth in virtue? The answer is provided with a beautiful consistency in Scripture. It may be set forth very briefly in the following passages:
It is evident
that good works do not automatically bear fruit in the doer's
heart, as the amazingly successful evangelistic campaign of Jonah
in the city of Nineveh most certainly did not! It left him an
embittered saint, ready to commit suicide. Conversely, evil works
are not the basis of God's condemnation, but only the "fruits"
of those evil works, in the doer's heart. There is a beautiful
illustration of this in Isaiah 10:5-12. Verses 5 and 6 give God's
commission to a pagan king to serve as His personal administrator
of punishment to disobedient and offending Israel. Verse 7 shows
that the king was quite unaware of the real inspiration of his
behaviour. He imagined he was merely pleasing himself. Verse
12 shows that he would in no wise be punished for what he had
done at God's instigation, but he would indeed be punished for
what the doing did to his own heart, for "the fruit"
of his proud heart which the deed engendered within himself.
We find the same basic principle reflected in Jeremiah 17:10:
". . . even to give every man according to his ways, and
according to the fruit of his doings." And again in
Jeremiah 21:14: "I will punish you according to the fruit
of your doings." It is by men's fruits that they will be
known, and not by their works (Matthew 7:16).
nor is it by deeds
per se that we grow, but by the effect that the doing of
these works has upon ourselves. Indeed, it is even more than
this. We may be rewarded merely for what we have desired to do
and yet have never done. Thus in 2 Corinthians 8:12 Paul wrote,
"For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according
to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not."
On this very principle David was credited with having built the
temple (1 Kings 8:18), though he was not permitted to do it.
Clearly, it is very important to distinguish between these situations. More important than the work is the worker; more important than the achievement is the earnest desire to achieve; more important than the fulfillment of a task is the attitude of the heart while setting about it. We may do God's will and yet receive no reward if the motive is wrong (Luke 17:10). Indeed, it is even possible to suffer punishment for having done His will perfectly, for such was the case when Israel crucified their King (Acts 2:23; 4:28). How careful we ought to be not to judge one another for good or ill before the time.