THE LAW OF LIFE.
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." -- Rom. 8:2.
FOR the most part Christians live their spiritual lives in a very uncertain haphazard sort of way. They are all right on Sundays perhaps, or where the doctrines or services of their religion are concerned, but when it comes to their week-day living they are all at sea. They have no understanding of the "law of life" in its application to this commonplace side of their existence.
In my last lesson on the "law of faith" I tried to put the emphasis on the word law, and to show that there is an actual definite "law of faith," which works with the same irresistible certainty as the law of gravitation, or any other natural law. In the same way I desire now to treat the subject of life, emphasising again the word law.
Is it not reasonable to suppose that there must be laws of the spiritual life just as there are laws of the natural life, and that the one must be as sure and dependable in their working as the others? Too often the Christian life is only a series of rather doubtful experiments, whose results are hoped for, but can never be depended upon with any sort of certainty. There seems to be but little conception in most minds that there is an ascertainable and dependable law of life, which, if discovered and understood, would remove our experience out of the region of doubtful chances into the region of assured certainties.
"Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance" (Acts 2:28).
The only way in which we can be made free from the "law of sin and death," is by the untrammelled action of the law of life; and therefore it is of vital importance that we should have made known to us the "ways of life." That is, we must try and discover the "ways" in which spiritual life works, how it is begotten, how it grows, how it is nourished, how it bears fruit, what is its power, and what ought to be its environment.
First, then, let us consider how it is begotten:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to His abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet. 1:3).
"Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" (James 1:18).
"Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13).
Nothing could be more plainly stated. Our spiritual life is begotten of God, of "His own will." Therefore it has its source in Him, and derives its nature from Him. I am convinced very few of us realise this as a fact, else why is it that we struggle so hard to beget a spiritual life in ourselves by our own self-efforts? We act often as if we were to be born "of the will of man," and try, by wrestlings, and agonisings, and resolutions, and prayers, and religious "exercises" of all sorts, to bring about the "new birth." No wonder religion has become such a hard and apparently hopeless task to so many. Even on the natural plane, the creation of life is a blank impossibility, and how much more on the spiritual plane. The soul, therefore, that tries by its own self efforts to create spiritual life in itself, is attempting an impossible task, and can land itself nowhere but in despair.
"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:5-8).
John alone, of all the Evangelists, records the sayings of our Lord, introduced by the words, "Verily, verily." (There are twenty-four of these sayings in his Gospel, and they all of them develop the laws of the spiritual life.) This "verily, verily," states the incontrovertible fact, that the only way into any form of life is to be born into it. Things grow in a life, but they cannot grow into it. The doorway into any plane of life is always by birth.
"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Pet. 1:23).
"For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:16, 17).
In thus taking upon Him the "seed of Abraham," Christ linked Himself on to all humanity for ever. Consequently no human being can be born unlinked to Christ. He was the "first begotten," and in Him, as Head, all humanity has been begotten also.
"For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:21, 22).
"Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (1 Cor. 15:46-49).
Clement says somewhere that if we understood the two Adams we should know all truth. Notice the "as" and "so" in 1 Cor. 15:22. Just as we inherit natural life from the first Adam, so do we inherit spiritual life from the second Adam. There is, therefore, in every man a seed of the divine life, a Christ-germ as it were. The old Quakers called it "the witness for God in the soul," "that which responds to the divine inspeaking."
We may appeal in the case of every man, therefore, to that within which witnesses for God. And thus we shall make the new birth, not a barrier, as is too often done, but a wide and open gateway.
There is a divine seed in every man, but it is not quickened in all. In the natural world seeds may lie dormant, and apparently dead for many years, and yet, when the right conditions are secured, these very seeds will be quickened into a vigorous life.
At a late conference in England I heard Canon Wilberforce describe the quickening of a seed that had been wrapped up in a mummy for thousands of years. It was placed in a little warm water, and he watched it through a microscope. In a few minutes the seed began to swell, then it burst, and little white filaments shot out on every side, waving through the water in search of their proper nourishment. The seed was quickened, and began at once to "lay hold" of life.
"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses" (1 Tim. 6:12).
"And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45).
"But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ; by grace ye are saved" (Eph. 2:4, 5).
The divine seed within us is being quickened by the Holy Spirit, whenever we feel inward stirrings and longings after holiness. This is the begetting of God. And then comes in our responsibility. We cannot create life, but we can let life live. We can "lay hold" of it by an entire surrender to Christ, who is our life. We can accept Him as our life, and can refuse to let any other life live in us. We can reckon ourselves to be alive in Him.
"Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:11).
This, then, is how the spiritual life is to grow; that is, by surrender and faith. We must "boycott" the old self-life, and must deal only with the spiritual life. But we must not make another mistake, and think that although we cannot beget life by our self-efforts, we are to make it grow ourselves. We are as powerless in the matter of our growth as in the matter of our begetting. Life grows of itself. It is a mighty dynamic force that only asks a chance to grow.
"Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith" (Matt. 6:27-30.)
The lily grows by the power of its inward life principle, and according to the laws of a lily's life. No amount of its own stretching or straining, nor any pulling up by others, would help its growth. It is all folly, and worse than folly, for Christians to make such mighty efforts to grow. If they would only let the Christ life within them grow, unhindered by their interference, they need have no fear of the result. But we are so ignorant of the laws of our spiritual life, that we are continually tempted to meddle with it.
Let us imagine a seed that has just been quickened, communing with itself. "What dreadful place is this I am in? How can anything grow all in the dark like this, and with such heaps of heavy earth on top of it? And, oh dear! what is the matter with me? I seem to be all splitting up! And look at that bit of me going down! I thought I was meant to grow upwards. What does it all mean? I am afraid things are all wrong. And now, just when I thought I was getting out into the nice sunshine, here comes a dreadful storm and drenches me. I never can live through all this. Besides, look how little I am, and I know I was meant to be a big tree. And where is the fruit I was to bear? I have only got two or three tiny green leaves." And so on, and so on, ad infinitum.
Have you never known any souls that made similar complaints?
Next we must consider the food of this spiritual life. What are the laws of its nourishment?
"Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 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.... For the Bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto Him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the Bread of Life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst" (John 6:26, 27, 33-35; see also John 6:48-58).
Christians are continually trying to feed their spiritual life with all sorts of things other than Christ. They feed on the dry husks of dogmas and doctrines, or on forms and ceremonies, or on religious duties well performed, or on Christian work of various kinds, or on good resolutions, or on fervent emotions; and then they wonder at their starved condition. Nothing can really satisfy the hunger of the soul but Christ. He only can be to the soul all that the soul needs. To draw our life from Christ means to be so united to Him in oneness of nature as that the same spiritual life flows through our spiritual veins as flowed through His. This is a subject I know which is often regarded as very mystical and difficult to understand. I have no intention of dealing with any mystical meanings, but there is a practical common-sense way of looking at the matter, that seems to me simple and easy to understand. We feed ourselves on the writings of a great author by becoming familiar with them, and by adopting their teachings as our own; and in the same way we must feed on Christ. We know what it is to become one in thought and feeling with a beloved and honoured friend, and to share that friend's inmost life; and similarly must we become one with Christ. We can understand how an artist can feed his mind on the life and work and teaching of some great master in art, and so become like him, and able, after his measure, to follow in that master's footsteps, and work as he worked; and just so must we do with Christ (See lesson on soul food, chapter II).
Next comes the law of life as regards fruit-bearing. A living plant always bears fruit. It is the law of its life that it should do so; and it is equally a law that this fruit should come, not by effort, but by spontaneous growth.
"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, He may give it you" (John 15:16).
We need not trouble ourselves about our fruit-bearing. It is "ordained" that we shall bring it forth, just as it is ordained that a fig-tree shall bear figs. It is the law of our spiritual life; and we can no more have real spiritual life within us without bearing fruit than the oak-tree can have life without bearing acorns. Very few seem to understand this; and as a consequence there is a vast amount of effort among Christians to hang fruit on to their branches by some outside performances of one sort or another. It is as if a man should buy apples and hang them on his apple-trees, and think thus to secure to himself a good crop of fruit! Fruit must be "brought forth," not fastened on. This is the law of fruit-bearing, and to try to violate this law can only bring confusion and death.
"Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit" (Matt. 7:17, 18).
The law of fruit-bearing is clearly this, that our fruit can only be the outcome of what we are. Therefore the thing for me to be concerned about is not so much whether my fruit is good or evil, but whether I myself as to my essential self am good or evil.
"Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (Matt. 7:16).
"Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh" (James 3:12).
Another one of the laws of life is that all plants must yield fruit after their own kind. I must be content, therefore, to be just the species of plant, and to bear just the kind of fruit the Divine Husbandman pleases. We do not always find that we invariably like to be what God has made us to be. Perhaps I would like to be a rose-bush, and blossom out in roses, when He has made me a potato plant, and wants me to yield potatoes. I might be tempted, in such a case, to get paper roses and sew them on. But what folly! A million paper roses could not turn my potato plant into a rose-bush, and the first person who tried to pick one would find me out! All I have to do is to see to it that, of whatever species of plant I may be, whether a homely potato plant or a gorgeous rose, I become a healthy vigorous plant, and fulfil without grumbling the law of my being. Be content to be what thy God has made thee, but do not be content until thou art the best of its kind.
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me" (John 15:4).
"Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" (Jer. 17:7, 8).
"Abiding," or in other words, faith, is the law of fruit-bearing, as well as of everything else in the spiritual life. If we "abide in Christ," that is, if we live a life of trust in the Lord, we shall not "cease from yielding fruit;" and that fruit will not fail to be good.
Next we must consider what is the law of strength in the spiritual life.
"And He said unto me, 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" (2 Cor. 12:9).
The law of the spiritual life is that divine strength shall be made perfect in human weakness. Our part is to supply the weakness, God's part is to supply the strength. We are, however, continually trying to usurp God's part and to supply the strength ourselves; and, because we cannot do this, we are plunged into depths of discouragement. We think, in order to work effectively for the Lord, we ought to feel strong in ourselves, and when instead we find ourselves feeling weak, we are in despair. But the Bible teaches us that, if we only knew it, our weakness is in reality our greatest strength.
"And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:3-5).
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:7).
It is of vital importance to the children of God that they should understand the law that God's strength can be made perfect only in human weakness. For in the spiritual life the natural man never can feel strong in itself, and if we think it ought to, we shall be continually troubled. Understanding the law, however, we shall learn, like Paul, to "take pleasure" in our infirmities and our weaknesses, because we shall see that only when we are weak are we really spiritually strong.
"Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).
The choice lies between the strength of our own human nature, and the strength of the divine nature within us; and we may well be glad to lose the one in order to gain the other. It is like the difference there would be between the power of a seed without life to push up and away the clods above it, and the power of the life in that seed, when it is quickened. To the tiny unquickened mustard seed the weight of earth above it could not but seem like an immovable mountain; but, when quickened, the life within that same tiny seed pushes aside those mountains of earth without any apparent effort. Life carries all before it, and no obstacles can withstand its progress. Even rocks are upheaved by the irresistible power of life in a tiny creeper. It is life, more life that we want, not more effort.
"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
The environment of this spiritual life is also subject to a definite law. Every plant has its own laws of life, and can only flourish in certain localities and under certain conditions of soil and climate. And on a higher plane this is equally true of the spiritual life. Outward localities and outward climate make no difference here, although Christians often seem to think they do. We find ourselves in uncongenial surroundings, and are tempted to think our spiritual life cannot flourish in such environments. But no outward circumstances can affect the life of the soul. Its true environment is all inward and spiritual; and this environment is none other than God and His love. "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." This may sound mystical, but it is also the profoundest common-sense. The sources of one's life, that is, the objects and aims and underlying springs of action, must be either in self or in God. If in self, then our life is hid in self; if in God, then our life is hid in God; and to "dwell in God," or, in other words, to "abide in Christ," means simply that we have the underlying spring of all our thoughts, words, and actions in Him.
"If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:6).
The reason of so many "withered" lives is to be found in the fact that they do not "abide in Christ." This is an inevitable law. If a branch does not abide in the vine it must necessarily wither. The only environment in which it is possible for the spiritual life to flourish is to "abide in God." And to abide in God means simply to maintain an unfaltering trust in Him, and a simple obedience to His will. "If ye keep my commandments you shall abide in my love" is an unalterable law.
"And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16).
"And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And thereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us" (1 John 3:24).
The man who discovers the law of anything possesses a power in regard to that thing as limitless as the law itself. And the soul that has come to a knowledge of the "law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus" is truly, as the Apostle says, "made free from the law of sin and death."
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7).
"Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16:11).
If we will only "hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" on this subject, He will give us "to eat of the tree of life;" and will reveal to our spiritual insight that "path of life" in which, if we will faithfully walk therein, we shall be among those "overcomers" who have come over or been made free from "the law of sin and death."
It may be asked, however, how we are practically to "eat of the tree of life"? An illustration may help us here. Let us suppose a person who is dead to the delights of astronomy; who knows nothing about it, and has no life in the study of it. How is such a person to become alive to this branch of knowledge? There is only one way, and that is by studying the subject, by learning its laws, and by obeying them. Such a study may seem very lifeless at first, but, if it is persisted in, sooner or later the mind would become alive to its delights. The student would begin to "eat of the tree of life," and to walk in the "path of life," in regard to astronomy, and would no longer be dead to its charms. In the same way, if we would eat of that tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God, we must learn the laws of this life, and must faithfully obey them; and then, sooner or later, we shall be shown the "path of life," and shall triumphantly walk therein.
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