By Norman P. Grubb
HOW, then, do we scale this ladder of faith, and pass through the various stages from little to perfected believing?
Some years ago we described in a pamphlet the struggles of the soul that goes through with God, and we will repeat here: God says, "Reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God." But facts are simply against it! We are not dead to the one nor alive to the other. We must stand to the Scriptures, and yet we must also be realists, true to facts! We will find a compromise, a backdoor out! It says "reckon". That means that we are not actually dead, we only reckon ourselves dead, but are not really so. We are crucified with Christ according to our standing in Him, but not according to our actual state on earth! And so, at the critical moment, we nicely elude the real bite of faith, and begin a crazy, wobbly walk with a foot on both levels of reality, the carnal and spiritual: we endeavor to do exactly what Jesus said it was an impossibility to do; to serve two masters, acknowledge the dominion of two lords, the flesh and the Spirit.
No, that will not do. Faith is the utmost simplicity, but because we are distorted and subtle, it is a long road back to the transparency of childhood. Here is what the Scripture calls the fight of faith. The issue is clean-cut. We are summoned to step right off the level of the visible, the natural, carnal, and take the giant leap into the invisible. Witnesses are piled on us to press us into it. The inward light. The outward Scriptures. The historic fact of Christ. The miracle of changed lives.
Very well, at last we do it. We state to ourselves that we have begun life on a new level of reality--in Christ. We pronounce the new realities to be the new facts of our everyday life. We are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. 'We are crucified with Him and He is living in us. We have His love, His wisdom, His power. We are in a mystical union with the Godhead. We are in a new, timeless, spaceless realm; a fourth dimension, where, in the Spirit, we reach everywhere, possess all things, and touch all lives or supply all needs by the law of this invisible kingdom, the law of faith. And in the magnificence, wonder and glory of this new and full livingness, like Paul, we loose our hold on all the paltrinesses and trivialities which were once the sum of all life to us, our little bit of earthly dignity, position and reputation, our miserable scraps of earthly possessions, our little world of friends and relatives, even our tenacious hold on our minute particle of physical life. All these rivulets of the good things of existence are now merged and submerged in the endless sea of the ALL in Christ... not lost... merely absorbed, as the light of the night lamp in the morning glory of the sun. How can we grasp tight and cling to our petty dignities, our few bits of things, our tiny circle of loved ones, when hands and hearts are brim full with the wealth of the universe, the honor of divine sonship, the whole family in heaven and earth, and we are busied in praising, blessing and dispensing, in place of coveting, grabbing and keeping?
And then, with a roar and a rush, back flood the plain facts of the old reality. What's the use of all this idealism? Stark realism presents us with unmistakable upsurges of the self-life, patent lapses into the flesh, visible situations of need and lack. Back we swing again into the old beliefs, with their satellites of fear, depression, and fruitless struggling against the enemy.
Yet again in the stillness, the outline of things eternal rises before our misty vision, and we climb back, wearily, shamefacedly, but with grim determination, to the highlands of faith. The things that are seen are only temporal, only the roughened, distorted shell of reality, shattered by the hammer blows of Christ's death and resurrection: such bastard claims to reality we now ignore. The things that are not seen are eternal, here is the heart of reality, the unsearchable riches of the I AM, who now says to us, "In Me, YOU ARE." Yes, here we stand, in Him.
And so the fight of faith sways to and fro. But note carefully that there should be no fight at all! We only fight and struggle because we are still in the infancy of faith; still seeing men as trees walking, so far as the full way of God is concerned. A great veil, indeed, is over the eyes of thousands of Christians just at this point, because they are given to understand that Christianity is ever a struggle and strife against inward and outward foes. No. That is the half-way method of the law, provided only as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, to teach us the power of sin and weakness of self, and thus stimulate us to the discovery of true deliverance. That is meeting the negative with the negative; opposing the devil's "Thou shalt not do good," with God's "Thou shalt not do evil", with the consequent exhausting tug-of-war and endless alternation between victories and defeats. But the negative is swallowed up by the positive, the evil overcome by the good. By this method, the evil, the visible, the fallen condition, the oppositions of Satan are disregarded, while all the energies are concentrated on believing, arming and standing in the victory of Christ. When this is done, the other merely disappears from view. It becomes an unreality to us, a chimera, a dream. We have passed out of the principle of darkness into the principle of light, and these two cannot know each other. The wrestlings against the rulers of the darkness of this world to which Paul refers, are, as he distinctly says, not just a negative recognition of and struggle against such forces, but a positive standing in full mental and spiritual occupation with the great positive facts of salvation, the realization of the heavenly armor, the helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit, shield of faith. (Eph. 6:10-18)
We struggle and labor and fight in faith, because we have not yet discerned between soul and spirit, the hall mark of the mature. We are constantly moved in the human realm by the impact of the visible. We "see" this or that failing or lack. We "feel" depression. We "hear" an unceasing stream of unbelieving talk. All this affects our minds and conditions, and we seem to have pressing down upon us a mountain of oppression, darkness, inability to maintain our grip on the invisible. We struggle, we strive, and the best we can do is dumbly, without feeling or sight, "to cling heaven by the hems": and the worst, which we more often do, is to let faith go for a season. The battle is fierce. The enemy this time is no dead and gone catalogue of past sins: it is a living, pulsing, corrupt nature. Blows are given and taken in an endless hurricane. One moment, flesh puts its foot on the neck of faith and summons it to surrender, the battle seems hopeless, flesh seems to pop up its evil head whenever it pleases. Another moment, faith rears up again from the dust, flings off the flesh, tramples it under foot and shouts, "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts." "Cast out the bondwoman and her son."
Then what happens? Who can tell? The contest was unequal from the beginning, despite all appearances. Faith had the trump card all the time, the victory already won by Him who "having spoiled principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in the Cross." Only one requirement was essential: that faith should endure to the end and not be bluffed into a surrender.
The same principle can be seen on the natural plane, in the exercise of natural faith. Take as an example the learning of a foreign language. You are faced with a series of hieroglyphics in a book, you hear a medley of sounds around, which mean absolutely nothing. Yet you know that it is a language, which can be learned. More than that, you have gone there to learn it. Now that is the first rung of the ladder of faith. However weakly or waveringly, in your heart (even though out of modesty you might not even confess it yourself) you do believe that you can and will get it. Otherwise, obviously you wouldn't try to learn it. So you plod on. Many a time faith and courage fail, the mind is weary and the heart heavy, and you almost give up. But not quite. To give up is faith's unforgivable sin. On you go at it. Months pass. It seems largely to go in at one ear and out of the other. Then-the length of time depends on the difficulty of the language and the ability and industry of the pupil of course - a miracle seems to happen. The day or period comes when, without your hardly realizing it, what you are seeking has found you; what you are trying to grasp has grasped you! You just begin automatically to speak the language, to think it, to hear it. What was an incomprehensible jumble of sounds without, has become an ordered language within the mind. That is the way of faith. It takes what God gives - here a language. It believes that it can attain it. It works at it both by maintaining faith (keeping the spirit up as we call it), and by industry; then the day comes when through faith and through work, the Giver of all knowledge is able to implant in that mind, as part of its very own possessions, that department of knowledge He had already given and it was seeking. Faith has gained the objective God was offering it.
So, in the spiritual fight of faith, the moment or period comes when we know. Every vestige of strain and labor has gone. Indeed, faith, as such, is not felt or recognized any more. The channel is lost sight of in the abundance of the supply. As we came to know that we were children of God by an inner certainty, a witness of the Spirit in our spirits; so now we come to know that the old "I" is crucified with Christ, the new "I" has Christ as its permanent life, spirit with Spirit have been fused into one; the branch grafted into the vine, the member joined to the body, and the problem of abiding becomes as natural as breathing.
The way He reveals Himself, and the time, is nothing to do with us. That is where many make their mistake. Faith is not looking for a future revelation; it is realizing a present fact. Faith slips from its moorings when it listens to another's experiences and then says to itself: "I suppose God must come to me like that." Usually God comes in the way and at the time that we least expect, so that we know that it is God and not something worked up by our own efforts or imagination. To some, it may be just a gradual settling realization that these things are so; to another, a great and sudden inward assurance; to yet another there may be the accompaniment of an outward manifestation by dream, by vision, by some sign of the Spirit, as in Bible days.
At the same time, it must be stressed that God does always bear witness to the impartation of His grace in Christ. Indeed, salvation would not be salvation unless we knew it; and the same is true of His full salvation. Do we say that a person is really born of God who only hopes that he is accepted, and hopes that he is forgiven, and hopes for eternal life? The whole Scripture attests that he who believes on the Son of God has the witness in Himself. These things are written that we may know that we have eternal life. The whole glory of a present salvation is that we know and rejoice that He is ours. If a seeker is not sure that he is accepted of God, then we take every means of showing him from the Scripture that he may be sure, and we are not at ease until the light breaks upon him, the burden rolls away, and he is able to say with joy: "Whereas I was blind, now I see."
So it is, also, on the deeper level of Christian experience. We think this is often slurred over by Christian teachers. Emphasis is rightly put on knowing we are saved, then on a full surrender, a whole-hearted acknowledgment of Christ as Lord as well as Savior: and then the seeking Christian is left to understand that the Holy Spirit automatically fills the emptied vessel; that if we consecrate ourselves, He accepts and occupies our hearts as His dwelling-place. But that is nothing like a profound or Scriptural enough presentation of the full way of life in Christ. It most certainly is not the Gospel according to St. Paul. He takes a far more serious view of the indwelling enemy that has to be conquered, and gives a far more thorough account of how the victory is won. He makes it plain that the power of the flesh, the problem of sin in the believer's life, has to be as thoroughly faced, and the way of deliverance as completely found, as the earlier questions of sin and salvation have their full settlement. He himself could give as ringing a testimony to crucifixion with Christ, to his freedom from the old inner enemy, to Christ now living within, as he could to new birth, forgiveness, and justification.
The question has arisen, even to the point of controversy amongst God's people, as to whether such an experience, call it full salvation, or entire sanctification, or the fullness of the Spirit, or what we like, is separate from the experience of regeneration. Is it, as sometimes called, a second blessing, a second work of grace in the heart?
The Scriptures do not seem to commit themselves on the point. There is no declaration which could be called final. Obviously, if there were, there would be no controversy. What the Bible does do is to make plain that there are two aspects of salvation through Christ: there is that which centers in Christ dying for us, and that which emphasizes Christ living in us. The former is shown to relate to our sins and their eternal consequences, but the latter to the sinful principle within us and its power in our daily lives.
As to whether Christ is ministered to us in our experience in both aspects at once or separately, the Scripture is silent. Technically, of course, the whole work of salvation was completed by Him, for us once and for all by the shedding of His Blood, and by His Resurrection and Ascension; and, when we receive Christ, we receive a whole Christ, in all the fullness and in all the aspects of His saving grace. In that sense, those who stress that there are not two separate comings of Christ to the believer, not two separate works He has to do in us, are correct.
But whether the prodigal returning to the Father with darkened mind can see more than a glimpse of truth at a time is very questionable. Is not all infinite Truth only assimilated by finite creatures in stages? That is why we lay such stress on the faith side of things. Truth is one and indivisible. All is given us once and for all in Christ the Truth. In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and we are complete in Him. But faith appropriates infinite Truth in finite segments. As we feel the need and see the supply, so we put out the hand of faith and take, and God gives what we take. According to our faith it is unto us.
Christian history certainly goes to prove that great numbers of God's people, anyhow, have only come to see this second aspect of salvation as a second need in their lives, a second area ravaged by sin which needs the Savior, and they have felt the necessity of knowing that He has done this second work of sanctification as surely and definitely as they were given to know by the Spirit that He had done the first.
There, then, lies the point that matters-that we should know and glory in the knowledge of a full salvation; of a flesh that is really crucified with its affections and lusts; of a Christ that really dwells within; of an all-sufficiency for all things that enables us to abound unto every good work. And that, as we have spent these pages in pointing out, is the answer of God's grace to the process of present tense faith.