It is a great thing to be saved. But salvation is only the letter A of the alphabet of Christian experience. In emphasizing the importance of sanctification it is unnecessary to minimize the equal importance of regeneration. It is to be feared that some persons are striving to understand the deeper truths of the Gospel who have never received spiritual life.
There is joy in heaven and on earth when a soul is born into the kingdom of God. The heart of the new convert overflows with peace and gladness, and his lips are filled with praises to God. The language of his soul is:-"He brought me out of the miry clay, He put my feet on the rock to stay; He puts a song in my heart today, A song of praise, Hallelujah!"
It is a good thing for the children of God to recall the time of their first love. You remember, beloved, how it all was. You lived in a new world. The Divine light and heavenly glory in your soul were reflected upon your surroundings. Everything looked different. Even the most familiar things were not quite the same. There was a new light upon sea and sky. The birds sang more sweetly. The grass was greener. All nature in its varied forms spoke to you in voices which before you could not understand.
In the earth, and sea, and air,
God, his wond'rous works declare,
God is present everywhere."
You were never so happy before in all your life. Cares and responsibilities sat lightly upon you. You seemed to be walking on air. Life wore on like a beautiful dream, full of heavenly romance, and you often found yourself wondering if it could all be real. It seemed almost too good to be true. Of course such manifestations of spiritual exaltation are rarely present in every instance in their full intensity, for the temperament and training of Christians modify and color their religious experience.
After a little, however, a change came. It was not, perhaps, that the heavenly light in the soul faded, not that the Divine glory grew dim, nor yet that the song of praise died out on the lips. But somehow things were not the same. Temptations came which were not overcome. You found that you did not have the mastery over sin. The first fall took you by surprise; you were not prepared for it. You were cast down, and waves of disappointment broke over your soul. But you took the matter to your Saviour. In grief and penitence you told Him all about it. Easily and quickly you found forgiveness and restoration, and then went on your way rejoicing with renewed confidence; but soon the experience was repeated. You wondered what it all meant. Though tempted to do so, you could not doubt your conversion. But you became discouraged. You found your experience uneven and your path crooked. One day you were on the mountain singing; the next you were in the valley sighing. Yet you had the sense of the Saviour's presence. Your heart was often warmed by His love. Indeed, His love seemed never more tender than when you came to Him in defeat. Moreover, you had answers to prayer. You were, however, conscious of much weakness and many failures in your life. As you prayerfully studied the Bible and learned that God is holy and that He hates sin and requires His children to be free from it, your heart gladly responded, and you longed to be pure. But somehow you found that you could not overcome the evil in your life. You discovered the presence of something within which resisted God, rebelled against His law, and continually brought you into the bondage of defeat. You began to struggle against this inner enemy of your soul. You promised the Lord that you would not sin, but you could not keep your promise. Willpower was exerted but did not avail. Resolutions were made but broken as often as made. The love of sin was gone, but its power was not destroyed.
Such an experience as this comes to every child of God. It corresponds spiritually to the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel. In Christian typology Egypt represents the world; the crossing of the Red Sea represents separation from the world, or conversion; the passage of the Jordan represents the death of self; and the land of Canaan represents sanctification, or the rest of faith that remaineth for the people of God. But between the Red Sea and the River Jordan was the Wilderness of Sinai, in which for nearly forty years the Israelites wandered. This desert life was characterized by a "mixed multitude" and a mixed experience. On the one hand, there were many manifestations of Divine favor and blessing. The pillar of cloud and fire led the people in the way, and delivered them from their enemies. (Exodus xiii. 21, 22.) There were the sweetened waters of Marah, with the statute and promise of physical healing. (Exodus xv. 23-26.) There were the twelve wells of Elim and the seventy palm trees, speaking of refreshment and spiritual rest. (Exodus xv. 27.) Then there was the manna, which fell every morning and fed the people throughout their journey. (Exodus xvi. 1-5, 14-25.) And then there was the smitten rock, which followed them and satisfied their thirst. (Exodus xvii. 1-7.) Surely, the wilderness was a place of Divine presence, Divine preservation, Divine promise, and Divine performance. God entered the desert with His people, went with them through all their pilgrimage, and abundantly blessed them.
But on the other hand, the wilderness was a place of testing and trial, ending in defeat and disaster. The Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron. (Exodus xvi. 3.) They longed for the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks and onions, and the garlick of Egypt. (Numbers xi. 5.) Their souls loathed the light manna, and they lusted for flesh; and because of this they were bitten by the fiery serpents. (Numbers xxi. 1-9.) Moreover, the people often disobeyed the Lord; and finally, at Kadesh Barnea, they openly rebelled against Him by refusing at His command to enter the land of promise. They lost their inheritance through unbelief:
"But with whom was He grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief." (Hebrews iii. 17-19.)
Thus, with all their blessing, those forty years made a record of constant disobedience, continual defeat, and consequent disaster. The end was death. A whole generation, save Caleb and Joshua, perished in the wilderness.
Now, the giving of the law at Mount Sinai was largely the occasion of this mixed experience of the Israelites. The law was indeed a revelation of the holiness and justice of God. Moreover, it was a Divine standard of human character and conduct. But the law also revealed the sin of the people and stirred up the evil in their hearts to rebellion against God.
It was not that the law was at fault. Indeed, the law was holy, just, and good. (Romans vii. 12.) Nor was the law in any wise a minister of sin. The fault lay, not at all with the law, but entirely with the people. It was powerless because of their weakness. As the reward of obedience the law promised life; but as the penalty of disobedience it threatened death.
"Ye shall therefore keep My statutes, and My judgment; which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord." (Leviticus xviii. 5.)
"The soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezekiel xviii. 20.)
Moreover, while the law upheld the standard of perfect righteousness, it also condemned any departure therefrom.
"Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." (Galatians iii. 10.)
Since, however, none of the Israelites could keep the law, all were brought under its curse. Indeed, it was not the Divine intention that the law should be kept. Its purpose was rather to include all under sin, in order that all might be saved by grace. So, when the law had done its work of revealing and condemning sin, the guilty and penitent Israelite came to the tabernacle with its priesthood and sacrifices, speaking of redemption by blood. Thus the law was a "schoolmaster" to bring sinners to Christ. (Galatians iii. 19-24.)
This mixed religious experience is also unfolded in the seventh chapter of Romans, which may be regarded as the New Testament counterpart of the wilderness journeyings of the Israelites. The man there portrayed begins his Christian life like a happy child in his father's house. He has been saved and his life is full of joy and praise. But as soon as the revelation of God's holy law is made to his heart, the whole situation is changed.
Suddenly he becomes alive to a depth of iniquity within, whose presence he had not suspected. The old nature is laid bare in all its exceeding sinfulness and implacable enmity against God. And yet the man has the witness of the new Divine life received through the birth from above. Let us look a little at this graphic portrayal, noticing the contending forces, the unequal contest, and the hopeless defeat.
First, the contending forces.
There are two opposing forces-the "I" of the natural life and the "I" of the spiritual life. The "I" of the natural life, "the old man," the Apostle variously calls "the flesh" (verse 5); "sin" (v. 17) ; "the body of this death," (v. 24) ; and "I myself" (verse 25). On the other hand, he refers to the "I" of the spiritual life as "the inward man" (verse 22) ; "the mind" or "my mind" (verses 23, 25).
Second, the unequal contest.
These two forces are opposite in character and antagonistic in operation. Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John iii. 6.) Like oil and water they do not mix; and they will not dwell peaceably together. Unceasingly they contend with each other for the mastery. The battleground is the Christian's heart, and the coveted prize is the Christian's life. But the contest is unequal; for while the new man of the heart struggles on alone, the old man is reinforced by the condemning power of the law and by the subtle wiles of Satan. It is true that the personality of the Devil does not stand out prominently in the chapter; but the flesh is always one of his fields of operation. Moreover, in the unequal conflict with the flesh, fortified by the powers of darkness, the Christian is like a babe in a den of lions. Listen to some of the echoes of the warfare which show how bravely but helplessly the Christian struggles alone:
"Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
"But sin, taking occasion by the commandments, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
"For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." (verses 7-9.)
"For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.
"For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
"If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good." (verses 14-16.)
"For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.
"Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
"I find, then, a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me.
"For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
"But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." (verses 19-23.)
Third, the hopeless defeat.
Worn out at last by his weary struggle and fruitless efforts the Christian reluctantly gives up the unequal contest. He is unable singlehanded to subdue sin and conquer self. Hear his despairing cry, as he realizes that he is worsted in the fight:
"0 wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (verse 24.)
But his cry for re-inforcements is heard; and just before he sinks under a threatening mortal blow of his enemy, the Deliverer appears on the scene, riding triumphantly over the foe. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in His apparel, travelling in the greatness of His strength? I that speak in righteousness, MIGHTY TO SAVE!" Exultantly the Christian shouts, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (verse 25.)
Now, just what does this mixed Christian experience mean? In a word, it means that we know Christ as our righteousness but not as our sanctification. We are converted, but we have not been made partakers of His holiness. Mighty is the transformation wrought by conversion and the new birth; but after all, these are only the initial experiences of the Christian life. We get a good deal, but we do not get everything, in conversion. Nor does conversion give us the germ, the embryo, out of which everything comes by a process of growth and development. Conversion imparts a new spiritual life and takes away the love of sin, but it does not change the old heart nor destroy the power of sin. Conversion alone means constant struggles and certain defeats in warfare with sin and self. Victory is assured only through the reception of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of the risen Christ. But this involves a new experience, a second definite work of grace-a crisis as radical and revolutionary as the crisis of the new birth. In regeneration, we pass out of death into life ; but in sanctification we pass out of the self-life into the Christ-life. In regeneration we receive a "new spirit;" in sanctification we receive the Holy Spirit to indwell the "new spirit."
" a new spirit will I give you;
" and I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them." (Ezekiel xxxvi. 26, 27.)
Beloved, have you a mixed Christian experience-occasional victories but more frequent defeats in your struggles to subdue sin and conquer self? Then you are living in the wilderness. You are living in the seventh chapter of Romans. You have taken Christ as your Saviour; you have become a child of God; you have received the witness of the Spirit; you are assured that you are ''accepted in the Beloved.'' But you have come under the convicting power of the law ; and in its light you have seen the depth of iniquity in your heart. Your efforts to please God have failed. Your struggles against temptation have worn you out. Have you become discouraged? Have you begun to wonder if this is all the Christian life means- unsatisfied longings and constant defeats? Have you about settled down in grim determination to fight out the battle as best you can? Has the despairing cry that was wrung from Paul's anguished heart escaped your lips? "Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
Struggling child of God, I come to you as the bearer of good news. I tell you that just beyond the wilderness lies the Land of Promise, where you will find rest and faith, victory instead of defeat, and complete satisfaction for every spiritual longing. I tell you that after the seventh chapter comes the eighth chapter of Romans, with its power over sin, its victory over self, and its fulness of blessing in Christ Jesus. The seventh chapter represents the best the believer can do alone: the eighth chapter represents the best Christ can do in the believer. The one is a sad story of darkness, disaster, and despair: the other is a glorious record of light, life, and liberty. What makes all this vast difference? The abiding presence and personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost. In the seventh chapter, the Holy Ghost is not seen; the believer fights his battles alone against the triple power of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But in the eighth chapter the Holy Ghost is introduced; He personally indwells the believer, and gives him complete and glorious triumph over all his foes. In a word, in the seventh chapter the Holy Ghost is with the believer; but in the eighth chapter He is within him. The keynote of the seventh chapter of Romans is:
"But I see another law in my member, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin and death." (verse 23.)
The keynote of the eighth chapter, however, is:
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." (verse 2.)
Beloved, may you leave the wilderness with its disappointment, defeat, and despair, and enter the Land of Promise with its milk and honey and corn and oil and wine. May you move out of the seventh chapter of Romans with its strain, struggle and sorrow, and live in the eighth chapter with its rest and peace and joy and power and triumph. Then through the indwelling of the blessed Comforter you will be victorious over sin; you will walk well pleasing unto God; and your life will be "one glad, sweet song."