"I am in a strait between two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better; nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you; and having this confidence I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith." (Phil. 1: 23-25).
The Apostle Paul was not only a pattern of our spiritual life in Christ, but a striking example of right and privilege to receive the life of our Lord Jesus Christ into our mortal frame and to take Him for our physical strength as truly as for our spiritual need.
His life was a marvelous spiritual triumph in the face of unparalleled difficulties, pressures, sufferings, and mutilations. He seemed to carry a charmed life, and neither Roman rods nor Roman dungeons, malarial dungeons nor hardships of every kind, could hinder him from a single service for his Master, nor shorten his glorious life until all his work was accomplished, and he could say, "I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."
What was the secret of that marvelous physical life? The answer involves the whole doctrine of Divine healing, and reveals to us its deepest and highest principles.
I. THE STANDPOINT OF DIVINE HEALING
It is good for us to approach every Divine truth from the right standpoint. Promises unreservedly true and meant for our enjoyment may be beyond our reach because we are not approaching them from the right direction, and because we are not standing on the true ground of faith. In the verse already quoted, the apostle discloses the standpoint from which he was able to trust God for his body. It was because his life was not his own, but so dedicated to Jesus that he could truly, say, "For me to live is Christ." It was because he had been delivered from the fear of death so fully that he could honestly say, "For me to die is gain." It was because he did not want to live for his own sake, but only for the sake of his Master, and for the sake of others, and that he could say in triumph and confidence, "I know that I shall abide and continue with you all."
Paul had so completely renounced his own will in the matter of life or death that he claimed Divine health not because it was his will, but because it was his Master's will and for his Master's glory. This is sublimely expressed in his noble words to the elders of Ephesus, "I count not my life dear unto myself, but that I may finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify of the gospel of the grace of God." He counted his life dear, but not for himself. It would have been dearer for him to go and be with his blessed Master, but he counted it dear because the Lord needed him, and the Lord's people needed him. It was a sacred trust, therefore he could take it from his Master without a doubt or fear, and go forward into the perils and privations that he knew it involved.
This, beloved, is the standpoint of Divine healing. This is the ground of faith. This is the only place where we have a right to claim any of God's promises. So long as we want blessings for ourselves they are selfish blessings, but so soon as we relinquish our rights and claims and take everything only for Christ, then we can take anything from God because it is for God we are taking it, and it is God's interest more than ours to bless us.
This is aptly expressed by a dear old colored saint, who used to say when he got into any trouble, "Oh, Lord! your property is in danger; oh, Lord, take care of your property." He was so wholly the Lord's that he could honestly feel in looking after himself he was looking after the Lord's property. All things are ours when we are Christ's. So God help us and bring us to the point where we let go even life itself, as a personal desire, and then take it back as God's will and God's choice, and for God's service and glory. It is the old story of Moriah. It is Isaac laid down and then given back as God's Isaac and no longer as ours. We gain by losing, we lose by holding. The surrendered life is the only safe life. Letting go is twice possessing.
II. THE SECRET OF DIVINE HEALING
He had a secret. It was a very definite one. It expressed the philosophy of his experience. It was exactly the same secret that he had for his spiritual life. "Not I but Christ liveth in me."
Paul had no sanctification of his own, but it was all summed up in the indwelling life of Christ. And so Paul claimed no physical strength of his own, but he had learned the secret of resting in the physical life of his Master, and living upon the supernatural vitality he received from Christ, and "renewed day by day."
Listen to him as he says in 2 Cor. 4: 10, 11: "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our bodies. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh."
We find a little expression repeated twice here, "THE LIFE ALSO OF JESUS." Paul had two lives. He had his own life which was mortal and frail and which was always ready to die. But he had another life, "the life also of Jesus," and when his own physical strength gave way, then the life of Jesus came to his aid and carried him through. In other words, he had, residing in him, the very Person of his blessed Master, and His supernatural life sustained the vital energy of the apostle, so that when ready to sink, exhausted, and all his powers had failed, there came to him directly from Christ, through the Holy Ghost, a quickening influence reviving and restoring him and sufficient for all his needs.
Now, we may not understand this. We cannot understand it unless we know the secret too. It is like a telegraphic message in cipher. We must have the key to the cipher to make any meaning out of it. And the key to this experience is the personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ in your own being. Let us, at least, believe it.
We shall find it confirmed by the whole story of his life. Let us recall an incident. We find it recorded in the fourteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. After Paul had preached the gospel at Lystra to a heathen audience with wonderful power, the jealous Jews from Iconium and Antioch came and set the people against him, inciting a cruel riot and persuading the mob to attack Paul and drag him through the streets of the city and stone him until they left him for dead. We may be quite sure that when Paul's Jewish enemies got a chance to kill him, they did not stop half way. So far as they could see, Paul was killed. Dragged along the hard pavement and left buried amid a heap of stones, to all intents and purposes the life of Paul must have been ready to go out. But it was just then that "the life of Jesus" asserted itself. And so we read, with great simplicity but with sublime eloquence, "Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up and came into the city, and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch."
Here we see the power of Christ revealed in the hour of utter despair. As his brethren stand around him in loving prayer the Holy Spirit arouses his sinking life, and Jesus touches him with His own physical and endless life; and, lo! the life of Christ quickens his mortal flesh, he springs to his feet and goes on to his work. And the next day we find him, not in a hospital, nor on a long vacation, but preaching the gospel and coming back to the very place where he had been maltreated and almost killed, and going on quietly, triumphantly with his work, taking his healing for granted as though it were just the thing to be expected.
So again, we find him at another point in his history, recorded in 2 Cor. 1: 8, telling them of the trouble that came to us in Asia, that "we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life; but we had the answer of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead; who did deliver us from so great a death, who doth deliver, and in whom we trust He will yet deliver us."
Here is a very clear case of experience. In the first place the apostle was sick unto death and despaired even of life, when he looked at himself, and it would seem that when he looked at God, the answer was death. Paul's life was not equal to it. He was pressed above measure, and above strength. Yet there was another life, the life of his risen Lord, the strength of "God which raiseth the dead," on which he depended. And from the sinking life of Paul he looked up to the endless life of Jesus and claimed it in all its resurrection power till he could send back the triumphant shout, "He did deliver, He doth deliver, He will yet deliver."
This is the secret of Divine healing. It is union with One who is our physical Head as well as the source ot our spiritual life. It is to be in touch with the Son of man who is risen from the dead, in the power of an endless life, and who is the Head of our body and has taught us to understand that "we are members of His body, His flesh, and His bones." Yea, the apostle tells us in another place that "our bodies are the members of Christ." "The Lord is for the body, and the body for the Lord." Why should not we understand and claim the secret too?
It does not mean immortality, or life that never can die; but it does mean participation in the life of our risen Lord in such a measure as will make us equal to every duty, every labor, and every pressure, until our life-work shall be done, and the Master shall either call us to Himself or come to meet us. Beloved, have you learned the secret--"THE LIFE ALSO OF JESUS?"
III. THE PRINCIPLES OF PAUL'S SECRET AND ITS PRACTICAL WORKING
1. In the first place it did not presuppose that Paul should be strong in his own constitutional strength. On the contrary it was based upon Paul's weakness and quite consistent with a condition on his part of personal insufficiency. There is every reason to believe that Paul was naturally feeble rather than robust, and that his constant exposures, hardships, and sufferings, had had their natural effect in reducing him many times to the very verge of prostration, and even death. And so we find him speaking of "the infirmity of his flesh." We find him saying, "We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake. Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus." But this did not hinder his taking the strength of the Lord Jesus and being enabled thereby for all that the Master required of him. His health and strength were a Divine paradox. "When I am weak, then am I strong," he could most truly say. In himself he was physically weak but in reliance upon the physical strength of an indwelling Lord, he was stronger than himself, and better equipped for his work than even perfect health could have made him.
Here lies the deep secret of Divine healing and the explanation of Paul's singular experience recorded in the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinthians. "The thorn in the flesh" was not removed, whatever that thorn was, but more strength was given than if it had been removed. Therefore, if it was a spiritual trial it was not taken away but double grace was added. And if it was a physical weakness it was not withdrawn but double physical strength was supplied, so that Paul was even stronger than if he had been delivered from this particular trouble.
He could say, "I take pleasure in infirmities for Christ's sake, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." Paul's health was Divine strength given in human weakness so he could say, Though the outward man perish, the natural and physical constitution may seem to decay, yet the inward man, the Divine life, by Christ's strength is renewed day by day.
2. In the second place Paul's experience of Divine health was not incompatible with the greatest pressures, the severest hardships, the most perilous exposures, and the most uncongenial and unfavorable surroundings. Much of his life was spent in damp, unhealthy dungeons. He was often exposed to cold, inclemency, fasting, sleeplessness, a night and a day was he drowned in the deep. Oft was he shipwrecked, again and again he was stoned, beaten with the Roman rods that bruised and lacerated both flesh and bone almost to mutilation. Never did human frame sustain such unspeakable pressures. And yet through them all he went triumphant and always ready for whatever service the Master had for him. "We are troubled on every side," he could say, "yet not distressed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken: cast down but not destroyed." The severest pressures only served to render the more marked the glory and strength of his Lord. He could say, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."
3. In the third place Paul's physical strength was sustained by continual dependence on the Lord Jesus and a life of abiding in Him for physical as well as spiritual life. He gives us the secret in 2 Cor. 4: 16: "For which cause we faint not: though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen."
The renewing was "day by day" and only "while he looked" to the unseen sources of his strength. He did not receive one tremendous miracle which carried him through life. He had learned what Jesus had so fully unfolded in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John in regard to his own life, "As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me." Feeding upon Christ he lived by Him, and he could truly say in the language which he employed elsewhere and in another connection, "In Him we live, and move, and have our being." Beloved, have we learned thus moment by moment to live upon His life, and, while outward pressure increases, and personal strength diminishes, to take a stronger hold upon His everlasting strength, and, as we wait upon the Lord, "renew our strength" until we shall "mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint." This was the physical life of Paul. This is the privilege of every believing and obedient child of God.