The Overcomer Trust

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THE SPIRIT OF DISCOVERY

 

     Since man’s creation the joy of discovery has always been for him one of the spices of life; an incentive calling him to action, an effective antidote to the deadness of stagnation. It is the itch which sends men such as Columbus to seek new continents, drives team after team to scale the heights of Everest, and leads the scientist to explore the mysteries of the universe. It spells achievement! This is equally true in the spiritual realm, and believers should be taught this right from the beginning of their Christian life, otherwise they may so easily, as has happened to so many, drift into a backwater which will hold them passive and useless for years. The Christian life is a pilgrimage of discovery, not a sedentary existence to be spent in unadventurous security.

     The first discovery towards which the Holy Spirit of God will lead the willing learner is the discovery of himself, a discovery never made ‘once for all’ in this life, but which is necessarily progressive. The depth of our sinfulness is not spread out before us all at once. Jean Nicholas Grou once truly said: “It is well to bear in mind that God in His wisdom only gives the grace of self-knowledge gradually; if He were to show us our true selves suddenly we should despair and lose all courage. But as we perceive and conquer the more glaring faults, His gracious light shows us our subtler, more hidden imperfections, and this spiritual process lasts through life”. Romans 7 is the true record of a voyage of discovery of this type, and by the time he reaches verse 18 Paul is able to write; “For I know (which, as is so often the case in the New Testament, is the perfect tense of the verb to see - I have seen, discovered, so that I know) that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not”. “St Paul”, writes Rev. Marcus Rainsford of this verse, “is writing as an inspired apostle, and also as a saved believer, and he here states of himself what every spiritually minded man who has attained to anything like a true knowledge of his own heart is conscious of, and will be ready to acknowledge, viz; that naturally there is nothing good in him”. Many a young Christian, who has not been warned of this necessary voyage of discovery upon which the Holy Spirit will certainly embark him, has been plunged into almost incurable despair at the sight of the sinfulness which is his by nature. He has in the first place rejoiced greatly in the forgiveness of his past sins, and his acceptance by God; but sooner or later he begins to realise that all is not well, and that he has failed and fallen from the high standard which he set himself to reach in the first flush of his conversion. He begins to know something of the experience which Paul so graphically describes: “What I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that do I” (Romans 7 v15), and in, consequence, feels that the bottom has fallen out of his Christian life; and then perhaps the devil whispers to him that it is just no good his going on, because he will never be able to make the grade. Little does he realise how healthy his condition is, and that this shattering discovery is but the prelude to a magnificent series of further discoveries of things which God has expressly designed for his eternal enrichment. All through life God has to show us our own utter sinfulness and need, before He is able to lead us on into realms of grace, in which we shall glimpse His glory.

     In I Corinthians 10 Paul uses the people of Israel as an illustration. He describes their failures in the wilderness, and then declares that all these things are recorded for, “our admonition” that we may learn. Then he warns us of the danger of complacency, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (v12). Finally he takes for granted the trial and testing into which we are bound to be led, if we are truly God’s children. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” The discovery of that disposition in us which we have in common with the Israelites of old, to doubt, compromise, grumble, and give way to the pull of the old life, is offset by the discovery that God has already foreseen our need, and has made ample provision to meet it. Do not be afraid of facing up to the sinfulness within you; God knows more about it than you do, and there is a ‘way of escape’. Paul found that way of escape, and took it. “It is an agonising situation”, he cries, “and who on earth can set me free from the clutches of my own sinful nature?” (Romans 7 v24, J.B.Phillips’ translation). Then the splendour of a new discovery of God’s amazing grace calls forth the triumphant shout, “I thank God there is a way out through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ on the Cross has depths of meaning that can only be plumbed by way of discovered need, but then reveals “unsearchable riches”. To the man who still has hopes of “attaining” in the Christian life, a verse such as Romans 6 v11 is a rather meaningless jargon used by preachers who give addresses on the ‘deepening of the spiritual life’. To the man who has been taught by the Holy Spirit of God something of his own utter, inbred sinfulness, it comes as a message from God full of hope and encouragement. He grasps the rescuing rope flung to him by the right hand of Omnipotence, and with humble thankfulness sets out to learn how that he can reckon himself to be “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord”. When he looks at the Cross he sees there the fact that not only did the Saviour die for him, but that he himself was taken down into the Saviour’s death, in order that the reality of His resurrection life might transform him into the divine likeness. Here is the way of victory over sin.

 

Power for service

     Another painful discovery from which we would naturally seek to escape, is that of our own inability to accomplish any of the spiritual work which we know needs to be done. In the life of the man who is truly born of God, there comes an unfailing instinct such as was seen in the boy Jesus, “I must be about My Father’s business” (Luke 2 v49). Great wisdom is needed to guide this instinct into right channels. There is much misleading talk to-day about using ‘our gifts’ in His service, which can only lead into difficulty and danger. It gives us a false estimate of spiritual values, through which we may well be trapped by the lure of the limelight, and intoxicated with the praise of men. Had the apostle this in mind when, legislating concerning the holding of office in the Church, he said, “Not a novice (the marginal reading in the Authorised Version is “one newly come to the faith”) lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil”? It can also lead us into the unconscious forgery of ‘results’ and the use of entirely illegitimate means in a hectic endeavour to produce ‘fruit’ to be seen of men. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come . . . then shall every man have praise of God (1 Corinthians 5 v5). Christian service is ‘eternity work’, and the surprising fruits of our endeavour will only be seen at His Coming. We may find ourselves on the brink of disillusion, but just at this point we may be on the verge of a tremendous discovery, that of our own powerlessness to do anything which will lead us to see that “power belongeth unto God” (Psalm 62 v11). We are apt to forget that the risen Saviour expressly forbad His disciples to make any beginning with the task of preaching the Gospel until they were “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24 v49). ‘Of course’, you say, ‘I know all that. I know that I can do nothing apart from Him’ But it is one thing to say this, and quite another to make the actual discovery of our own complete powerlessness. In the little autobiographical booklet, ‘THE LEADING OF THE LORD’, Mrs. Penn-Lewis graphically describes her moment of discovery in these words, ‘Then came the climax, when one morning I awoke, and, lo, I beheld before me a hand holding up in terrible light a handful of filthy rags, whilst a gentle voice said, ‘This is the outcome of all your past service for God’. ‘But, Lord, I have been surrendered and consecrated to Thee all these years. It was consecrated work.’ ‘Yes, My child, but all your service has been consecrated self, the outcome of your own energy, your own plans for winning souls, your own devotion. All for Me, I grant you, but yourself all the same’.’ Never mind the details of the vision, God never deals with any two of His servants in just the same way. Simply set your face, the record we have just quoted followed months of earnest, humble seeking, towards the discovery in fact of your own utter lack of any power, and in the awful moment of self-revelation, there will also be granted the enduement with God’s power, vested in the Person of His Holy Spirit, that you may be able to do God’s work in His way, and to His glory.

     Many of us, from time to time, recognise in a vague way, and genuinely deplore at such times, our lack of power, but very quickly get ourselves immersed again in a host of things that seem to clamour for our attention, but have little bearing on the real work of the Gospel. We do ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and with power, but fail to set our faces towards the necessary discovery of our complete barrenness. For this reason power for service is for us like some far off El Dorado. We have read of others who have found the wealth hidden there; we have been thrilled by the stories of its glories, but that is all. If we will reach its shores we must be prepared first to face the burning desert of our powerlessness, and the raging thirst of which the Psalmist spoke, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God” (Psalm 42 v1). Read, ponder, and pray over Galatians 3 v13-14. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith”. He has crossed before us the terrible desert of our failure, bearing its curse, its blight. That is the great and only reason why we may face it unafraid. And the purpose of this gracious act is “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith”. Never forget that the blessing of Abraham was not just blessing for himself; it was blessing through him to his seed, and thus to all ‘the nations of the earth’ (Gen. 22 v18). It is surely significant that the commission given to the apostles, and through them to the Church all down the ages was to ‘rnake disciples of all nations’ (Matt. 28 v19), a task for which the only valid and effective equipment was and is the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Holding God’s faithfulness

     This same principle of discovery, first of our own need, and then, because of the greatness of our need, of the magnificence of God’s giving, can be seen in many avenues of life and experience. Take, for example, the supply of temporal needs. What a peculiarly vivid picture is conjured up for us by the story of the prophet Elijah. Read I Kings 17, and see him fed by the ravens by the brook Cherith while famine was raging in the land. Then try and enter into his feelings when the brook dried up, and there was no means left him for slaking his thirst. God had, however, already laid His plans, and the widow of Sarepta had been chosen to supply the prophet’s need. Now look ahead to the reason for this training in the art of discovery. God’s heart yearned over His people, and Elijah was not only to issue the stirring challenge of Mount Carmel, he was to watch expectantly for the rain that was to relieve a nation’s need. God needs men and women who will follow the trail the Saviour has blazed. You and I often tremble lest our familiar sources of material supplies should dry up, and are even overtaken by black panic when we cannot see ahead. But the drying up of our Cheriths is but part of our journey of discovery, and the pain of our thirst the signal for our gracious Father to open the windows of heaven on our behalf. Listen to one who so proved God that his name is known and honoured throughout the Christian Church. J.Hudson Taylor once wrote, “Want of trust is at the root of almost all our sins and all our weaknesses; and how shall we escape it but by looking to Him and observing His faithfulness ? . . . The man who holds God’s faithfulness will not be foolhardy or reckless, but he will be ready for every emergency. The man who holds God’s faithfulness will dare to obey Him, however impolitic it may appear. . . . How many estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little, and often fail in the little they attempt. All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them." Do you notice the same thrill of discovery coming out in the final sentence? Here was a man who had seen his own weakness, and then the great compensating wonder of God’s strength. All this harmonises with the witness of Isaiah, which comes ringing down the ages, “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40 v30-31).

 

Power to endure

     This leads me right into the last example of this principle for which we have space. I am often shocked by the lack of staying power, of endurance, which I possess. It is a painful thing to make the discovery that you just cannot go through with the rigours of the Christian life. Ever and again the call of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews comes to mind, “Consider Him . . . lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12 v3). What a lot Paul has to say about this. Look at 2 Corinthians 1 v8-10. “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which 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 sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead, Who delivered us . . . .” Out of despair was born, not fear and frustration, but trust which blossomed out into deliverance. Look again at another passage in this same letter, 2Corinthians 12 v7-9, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations (the apostle had pursued his journey of discovery so to speak, from revelation to revelation) there was given unto me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice and He said, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” The road to the Celestial City does not grow easier as we grow older, the gradients somehow seem steeper, the path rougher, and our strength, we find, is woefully inadequate; we wonder if it is possible for us to go through. C. A. Fox once wrote from the wealth of his experience, ‘A man who has no experience in the dark has no secret to communicate in the light. A man not touched with genius has nothing to tell. Many are busy making discoveries which others found out yesterday, and will tell you of them with infinite innocence. But genius is rare, and discoveries are scarce; it is in darkness they discover, and the Master is ever pressing on us to speak out in the light what we have learned in the dark.”

     The need of our day and generation is for men and women with a divine urge for discovery, a passion for finding for themselves the riches of God’s grace. We need to escape from the security-mindedness of our times, and the trivialities of spiritual entertainment. The witness of the Christian Church is largely bogged down in these quicksands. We need adventurers, who will allow the Spirit of God to lead them into darkness, and through the wilderness. Such alone can stand before men, and with ringing, positive assurance proclaim the greatness of God, and the all-sufficiency of Christ, in that way which will carry conviction to the hearts of their hearers. To quote again from C.A.Fox. During the last year of his life, when enduring acute physical suffering and weakness, he wrote, amongst others, the following verses based on Psalm 73 v26, which reads, “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the rock of my heart, and my portion for ever.”

 

Christian, confronted by a thousand waves,

And woes innumerable - Jesus saves!

A whole Red Sea His fiat cleft in twain,

And saints with Him still tread the untrodden main.

Though flesh and heart doth fail, yet onward, true,

Rock of my heart, O God, Thou’lt bear me through!

Though my poor vessel reel, yet heaven’s own ‘Come’

Fresh drives her shining bulwarks through the foam,

Urged by the magic mystery of Home.

 

     In Christ we have all, even the endurance which is needed to carry us on to the end. This is the perseverance of the saints, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me”(Galatians 2 v20).