NO THING VERSUS ALL THINGS.
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "Having nothing, and yet possessing all things." -- 2 Cor. 6:10.
THE Apostle Paul gives us this paradox as one of the foundation principles of the Christian life: having nothing, or, as it may be translated, no thing, and yet possessing all things. It is a saying of the deepest significance, for it strikes a blow at the whole fabric of the ordinary Christian life. The ambition of most Christians, so far from being an ambition to have nothing, is, on the contrary, an ambition to have a vast number of things; and their energies are all wasted in the vain effort to get possession of these things. Some strive to get possession of certain "experiences;" some seek after "ecstatic feelings;" some try to make themselves rich in theological "views" and "dogmas;" some store up a long list of works done and results achieved; some seek to acquire "illuminations," or to accumulate "gifts" and "graces." In short, all Christians, almost without exception, seek to possess a store of something or other, which they fancy will serve to recommend them to God, and make them worthy of His love and care. Could we but understand clearly the meaning of Paul's words, "having nothing, yet possessing all things," all this would be at an end. For we would see that the one thing God wants of us is that we should empty ourselves of all our own things, in order that we may be brought to depend on Him for everything; we should discover that His purpose is to bring us to the place where we have nothing apart from Himself.
"And the Lord spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel" (Num. 18:20).
"But unto the tribe of Levi Moses gave not any inheritance: the Lord God of Israel was their inheritance, as He said unto them" (Josh. 13:33).
"I am thine inheritance!" What an amazing saying! No wonder the Levites were content to go without any other possessions! Having nothing, they truly possessed all things, for God was their possession! How slow we are to see that this is our privilege now, just as really as it was that of the Levites in those days of old. Apart from Christ we, in fact, have nothing; for moth and rust are sure to corrupt, and thieves to break through and steal all merely human possessions. But if God is ours, then all things are eternally ours, for what belongs to God must of necessity belong to us also, according to our need and our measure.
"He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things" (Rom. 8:32).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3).
It is here declared that all things have been given to us freely in Christ, but as a matter of fact we may not yet ourselves have taken possession of all. When our hands are full of our own things, we cannot possibly get possession of the things of God. Only empty hands can grasp a gift, only empty vessels can receive the filling; and only the heart that is emptied of all its own things can receive the "all things" of God. I mean, for instance, that if Christians are enjoying very ecstatic "experiences" they cannot help resting in them, and will feel no need to find their rest in God alone. Therefore it is that God finds it so often necessary to take away all our own things, and to leave us empty and bereft of all that we have most valued. He dries up our "fervours," He deadens our "feelings;" He spoils our "experiences;" He confuses our "views," He clouds our "illuminations;" and so brings us at last to the place where, having nothing of our own, we are driven to find our rest in the "all things" of God. I believe this is the explanation of the dark and perplexing dispensations through which many of God's children are called to pass, when they seem to have lost all the joy and clearness of their earlier experiences, and to have been plunged into a fog of darkness and distress. Did they but understand it, they would give God thanks that, in His tender love, He is thus depriving them of all their own possessions; since it is only so that He can bring them safely and surely to the place where they will be content to possess Himself alone. "Having nothing," they will at last "possess all things."
The Bible exhorts us not to glory in our wisdom, or our might, or our riches, even though we may be possessed of all three; but, "let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth the Lord."
Have we any of us ever come to the place where we have honestly ceased to glory in our own possessions? Never, I believe, until we have been deprived of them. Human nature is so constituted that while it possesses anything, it can hardly help glorying in it. As long, for instance, as a Christian feels wise or strong or rich in spiritual things, that Christian will almost inevitably glory in his strength, or his wisdom, or his riches. But if these are taken away from him, he will be driven to glory in the Lord alone, simply because there will be nothing else for him to glory in.
"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness" (Isa. 55:1, 2).
The sharp contrast here drawn between our things and God's things is very striking. Our things all partake of the nature of "that which is not bread" and "that which satisfieth not." They are of the earth, earthy; and consequently cannot, in the very nature of things, satisfy the spirit that is from heaven.
"Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for Him hath God the Father sealed" (John 6:27).
Everything that can perish belongs to the sphere of earthly things. Experiences perish, feelings perish, views perish, doctrines perish; the Apostle tells us that prophecies fail, and tongues cease, and knowledge vanishes away. It is impossible, therefore, that any of these perishable things, no matter how good of their kind they may be, could really satisfy the imperishable spirit. But while we labour for and hold on to the perishable things, we shall have no energy to seek after, nor room to hold the "meat which endureth unto everlasting life."
I do not mean by this that the soul ought not to have any experiences, or views, or doctrines, or knowledge, or strength. Paul had all these in greater measure, I suppose, than any one else ever had, and yet he could declare that he had "nothing." What he meant was that he had nothing apart from Christ, but that he had all things in Christ. That is, Christ was his strength and wisdom and righteousness, and in himself he had nothing. I know this is a little difficult to explain. The illustration that helps me the most, though even this is not perfect, is that of the steam working through the machinery. The machinery has no power of its own, but all its power is derived from the steam that works through it and by it. Could the machinery speak, its language would be similar to Paul's, "having nothing, and yet possessing all things."
"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorifieth, let him glory in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:27-31).
We must lay aside our own wisdom and righteousness in order that Christ may be made wisdom and righteousness and sanctification unto us. Practically, this means, that if I want righteousness of any kind I must not try to get a store of it laid up within myself, but must draw my supplies of righteousness moment by moment from the Lord, as I need it. I remember once when I felt the need of a great stock of patience to meet an emergency that was coming upon me, and thought I would be obliged to pray for a long time in order to lay up enough. I think I expected to have something after the nature of a package of patience, done up and labeled "Patience," and deposited in my heart. It was one night, and I was preparing myself to pray all night long in order to lay in a good supply, when suddenly this verse flashed into my mind, "Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." "Yes," I added with a sudden illumination, "and patience too! I do not need to lay up a stock of patience; all the patience I need is stored up for me in Christ, and I have only to draw my supplies momentarily from Him." I rose from my knees at once, and thanked the Lord beforehand for the unlimited supply of patience that I saw was mine in Christ. And I need not say that I found grace (in the form of patience) to help in every time of need.
Does not common-sense tell us that, if we may thus have the "all things" of God, it is the height of folly to want to keep our own things, poor and good for nothing, as they necessarily are? Was it not simple good common-sense on Paul's part to count all things but loss compared to the excellency of the knowledge of Christ?
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" (Phil. 3:7, 8).
The loss of all things meant to Paul the gain of all things. The loss of the nest to the young eaglet, who is just learning to fly, means the gain of the whole heavens for its home. The loss of our own strength means the gaining of God's strength in its place; the loss of our own wisdom means the gaining of God's wisdom; the loss of our own life means the gaining of God's life. Who would not make the exchange?
"There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches" (Prov. 13:7).
To which of these two classes do we belong? Are we seeking to make ourselves rich, or are we content to be poor and possess nothing? I used to have a friend who talked a great deal about what she called the "stripping chamber." She was one of those who are continually trying to "make themselves rich" by seeking after "experiences" and "blessings," and she could not seem to understand why the Lord found it necessary so continually to strip her of all that she had gained. An old writer, in a little book called "The Saint's Travel to the Land of Canaan," thus describes this stripping process:
"God in these days is discovering the false coverings of creatures, and so stripping them naked. He is bringing men to see the great mystery of self in all its supposed glory. He is annihilating creatures, and bringing them to a spiritual death. He is laying low mountains, and is unbottoming creatures from their false rests. Men's lofty looks He is abasing; yea, He is bringing men, who have been as it were Stars, and of great account in their own and in others' eyes, even to a loss and silence, confusion and darkness; so that now their light seems to be darkness, their wisdom folly, their life death; and their enlargements and self-actings are hedged up, and they cannot find out any of their former paths. And all this is that the creature may be brought to depend on the Creator, and have nothing apart from Him."
I believe many will realise that they have been taken at times into this same "stripping chamber," and have known something of this stripping work of God. Perhaps hitherto it may have frightened and perplexed them; but, henceforth, if they only understand it aright, they will rejoice at every stripping that deprives them of their own things, and that brings them to the place where, having nothing of their own, they can possess all things in God.
"And it shall be unto them for an inheritance: I am their inheritance: and ye shall give them no possession in Israel: I am their possession" (Ezek. 44:28).
Contrast the "no possession" here with the "I am their possession," and we shall get a faint glimpse perhaps of what it means to have nothing, and yet possess all things.
"So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33).
"Then answered Peter and said unto Him, Behold we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Matt. 19:27-29).
All that we have, whether outward or inward, must be "forsaken," if we would receive the hundredfold of God. Forsaken, not in the sense of literally getting rid of everything, but in the sense of having everything only in and from the Lord. The real facts of the case are, that only God knows how to take care of things as they ought to be taken care of, and He alone is able to do it; therefore the common-sense of the matter is that nothing is really safe until it is handed over to His care. The most unsafe person in the universe to have charge of my things is myself; and never do I possess them so firmly as when I have transferred them over into the hands of God, and have left them in His charge. Never am I so sure of my money as when I have transferred it out of my unsafe pockets into the safe custody of a trustworthy bank; and the same thing is true as regards the abandonment of all I possess into the custody of God. It may be considered a very pious thing to do this, but it certainly is only good common-sense as well.
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:17, 18).
The "old things," here spoken of as "passing away," are everything that belongs to the "old man" or the carnal or fleshly life; the old activities of the flesh, the old efforts to generate for self something in a religious way to recommend us to God, the old way of relying on "exercises" and "ordinances" and "duties" of various kinds, to beget and feed the life of God in the soul. Those who have been born into the resurrection life must learn that none of these things are of any avail in the sphere upon which they have entered. Here all things must be of God; and the old things of the flesh must vanish to make room for the new things of God.
"Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances (touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using); after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 2:20-23; 3:1-3).
Our things, i.e., our feelings, our experiences, our exercises of various sorts, seem often to have a "show of wisdom," and it is hard for us to count them as really nothing, and to say truly, when we seem to have so many things, that we have nothing. But anything that is what the Apostle calls "rudiments of the world," that is, anything that is wrought out by "flesh" in any way whatever, must always be "nothing" in the sight of God; and, as soon as we have learned to see things with His eyes, they will be nothing in our own sight also. The common-sense way in everything always is to get down to facts, and in this case the simple fact is that all our own possessions of any kind whatsoever are literally and truly "nothing," and that, no matter how many we may have of them, we still must say with the Apostle, if we speak the truth, "having nothing."
"For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" (1 Tim. 6:7).
Whether we can go on and say further with the Apostle, "that although we have nothing, we yet possess all things," depends upon how much we believe of the Scripture declarations that all things are ours in Christ. Not will be, notice, but are ours now. That is, precisely as what the mother has belongs to the child at its need, so what God has belongs to His children at their need, and only awaits their taking.
"According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3).
"Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
"Lord, in thy Spirit's hurricane, I pray,
Strip my soul naked, dress it then thy way.
Change for me all my rags to cloth of gold.
Who would not poverty for riches yield?
A hovel sell to buy a treasure-field?
Who would a mess of porridge careful hold
Against the universe's birthright old?"
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