Romans 12: 1, 2.
An Address Delivered at the Convention for the Deepening of the Spiritual Life,
held at Ontario, Canada on Wednesday Evening, October 26th, 1898.
Most Christian lives fail of blessing and power from want of definite dealing with God at three points: (1) Consecration; (2) Cleansing from sin; (3) Appropriating faith. When consecration is defective, tentative, unreal, then carelessness about the lesser sins is habitual; there is no longer the answer of a good conscience, the heart is not kept clean, fellowship is hindered, the Spirit of God is grieved, the spiritual pulse beats low, spiritual vitality is lessened. And while the Word of God, and the testimony of Christians living in the light of God, constantly bring before faith, the most precious things to be had for the taking, and while there is a vague desire to have these things, there is no definite act of faith reaching out to say, "I take now," and then to say, "I thank Thee that I have." There is a real trust in God for salvation, but there is no instant addition made by appropriating faith to the stores of our spiritual wealth. The Christian life is not nourished from within itself, but from above downward. The graces of the spiritual life are born above and are let down. They are exotic to this world. They do not grow spontaneously in this climate. They are not indigenous in this nature. Christian growth, therefore, is a process of incessant receiving by faith. The most receptive souls are the best nurtured.
I want to speak to you about that which is foundational in all this matter of blessing—about Consecration. This may seem to be a hackneyed subject, but I at least, am making the discovery that it is precisely upon familiar ground that I find the unexpected. Our very familiarity with the letter of the great passages, closes our ears to the deeper meanings of them.
Let us turn to Romans 12: 1, 2, "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world"—literally, be not pressed into the mould of this world. There is a certain world-way and a certain kingdom-way, and that signs of worldliness are easily discerned, and the signs of the kingdom life are easily discerned. "But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind," by that new life-principle given you of God, "that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God." I believe that God's thought about consecration is expressed in the two verses, and not in the first verse only. Do you not see how inevitably, if we are to draw the doctrine of consecration from that verse, we must get to the will of God? For consecration is not a religious ceremony, not a mere passing act to satisfy some uneasiness of conscience. Consecration is hearty and unreserved acceptance of the will of God, and we cannot do that until we believe that that will is a "good" and "perfect" and therefore an "acceptable" will. Now look for a moment at that first verse. I read it for years as if it were "Sacrifice your bodies." I shrank from pain. I knew that sacrifice meant in the deep heart of it is death. I wanted to live, not die. I had not yet apprehended the elementary principle of victorious living, that it is necessary to die before living. But I conceived the demand to be that I sacrifice my body, and I felt no ability to do it. I was greatly relieved when I saw that the exhortation was not to sacrifice my body, but to "present" it for sacrifice.
The imagery is drawn from the old dispensation, where all these things were outward and ceremonial; meaning inner things, but representing them by visible signs. What did an offerer under the Levitical system do? He brought his offering to the priest and the priest did the sacrificing. The offerer gave the offering to the priest, as God's representative. This puts the matter on new ground. Surely, we ask nothing better than to fall into the hands of the living Christ; nothing better than that He should take our bodies and do with them what He will. We know that He will make the life sacrificial, but gladly do we yield the whole life up to Him.
Now, I pause upon this for a moment, for here is a vital distinction. If I am to sacrifice my body, I shall be sure to go about it in some fanatical and morbid way. I shall become a hermit, or monk, or flagellante, or pillar saint, like St. Simeon Stylites. I shall find the proof that I really am sacrificing my body in beholding its emaciation, in abjuring the sweet natural relationships, in denying to God implanted desires their God appointed means of gratification. Millions of earnest souls have done these things. But if Christ, as priest, makes my life sacrificial, it will be after the sweet and wholesome pattern of His own—that is to say, it will be vicarious sacrifice; it will be for others, not for myself.
Christian growth is by a series of definite acts. How indeed, does the Christian life begin? By a definite act—the appropriation of Christ. There are a thousand things drawing a sinner to Christ. It began at home and went on in the Sunday school and Church; sin came in and conscience awoke and began to sting; there were the persuasions of prudence, and the play of all the motives that bring men to Christ. But there was, at last, a step to be taken. We had to receive Christ as a Saviour on the terms offered in the Gospel, and when we did that, it was done, and we passed into salvation. That is the sinner's crisis. Now, just as there is a sinner's crisis which brings him to Christ for salvation, so there is a saint's crisis which brings him to Christ for a consecrated life. We have spoiled and degraded the thought by our everlasting re-consecrations. The Bible knows nothing about re-consecration. Consecration is not something which is worked out little by little. Little by little we may come to the decisive moment, but then it is one act.
We have largely made it ceremonial. The dear young people all over the world are "consecrating" themselves every month. I often ask them if it is done yet. You do not run after a streetcar after you have caught it. You are not getting regenerated again every month. One is consecrated or one is not; and all these preliminary exercises of heart and conscience are valuable only as they bring one up to the point where the definite presentation of the body is made. Think for a moment of the two great types of consecration in Scripture. The consecration of the Temple to the possession of God and the consecration of the priests to the service of God. In this aspect, they were alike, that, once done, it was not done again.
A priest was a priest by birth, but he could not serve in his priestly functions until the act of consecration was accomplished. So, all who are born into the family of God are priests by title, but all are not doing priestly work. The consecration of the priest was an act. Once consecrated, he might minister. Not infrequently, after consecration, he became defiled, and his priestly functions were suspended until the defilement had been removed. The remedy was not re-consecration, but purification.
In the same way, the Temple, once given to the possession of God, was God's Temple. Turn with me to 1 Kings, 8th chapter, the account of the consecration of Solomon's temple. Mark what is the essential act. The priests take up the ark. The ark is the most inclusive type of Christ in the Old Testament; in its materials, contents and uses, it speaks in a wonderful way of Christ. When the tabernacle was made, the ark was built first, and everything else was accessory. Typically, the priests took up Christ. And how are they going to consecrate the Temple? By carrying Christ into it. In the sixth chapter of 1 Corinthians, verse 19, we read that our bodies are temples. What is significant about that? Solomon's Temple was divided into three parts: the court, the holy place, the innermost of all—the Holy of Holies. According to the Scripture, man is likewise three-fold, spirit, soul and body. The spirit of man is that part of him which knows; his intelligence, ''the candle of the Lord," is the holy of holies. The soul—the seat of the will, the affections, the natural appetites, the self-life, is the holy place. The body, that which is outward, is the court. The Temple was modelled after God; man himself is modelled after God. The Temple was a trinity; man is a trinity; God is a trinity.
The consecration of the Temple was accomplished by carrying the ark into it. The priests carrying the ark, passed through the court; the court became God's; it was enthroning Him there. They passed into the holy place, and it meant the same thing. Then into the holy of holies, and then the most significant act of all, they "drew out the staves" by which the ark was carried during its wanderings. The staves were never to be drawn out as long as Israel was wandering. To draw out the staves, therefore, was an action of finality. They could do nothing further to say that they were not going to move it any more. The ark was to stay there. They were not going to have a "re-consecration'' meeting. Solomon might have said: "This is a glorious occasion; let us repeat it once a year, or once a month." If that had been done, all the glory and meaning would have gone out of it. It would have meant that the Temple was still theirs; that they had something to re-consecrate.
If I have given myself truly to God, I have not anything else to give. There is nothing more deadening to the spiritual life than a ceremony out of which the whole meaning has gone. Now mark what followed. "And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord; so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord." When they "went out," the glory of the Lord came in. When the body and soul have been given to the Lord, when the spirit has been yielded to the authority of the Lord, no longer to be lawless or self-centred; when this has been really done, when the staves have been drawn out, then we must go out ourselves, and when we do, the Spirit of the Lord fills the house. I shall never forget a word that I heard here in Canada once from J. Hudson Taylor. It was this: "You know, if He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all."
I remember a young woman giving a testimony in Portland, Maine, and she kept saying over these words: "It is Jesus and I; it is Jesus and I," and her pastor leaned over and said to me: "If she could only get 'Jesus only,' she could do so much for the Lord, but it is always 'Jesus and I.' "
Consecration is a definite act, and when really performed, means this: "I have no longer any title in myself at all; I have given myself to the Lord, body, soul and spirit. I am the Lord's." Does this mean that your body moves always in obedience to the Lord, that there is no rising of the will, that there is no reassertion of the self-life? No, not yet. But the Lord is subduing the surrendered territory to Himself. I have given it to Him that He may subdue it to Himself. It is not all at once that the body performs any act well. My boy [Noel Paul, age 9], is learning to write, and I make him copy words from a copperplate headline. He is in the stage of imitation. He tries to make the "a" like the copy, but it is not like it. What is the trouble? Is there any resistance or unwillingness in him? No. What then is the trouble? The hand has not yet learned to obey what the eye sees and the will commands. How unreasonable it would be in me to expect him to exactly reproduce the copy at once! Now the Lord is willing to have inexhaustible patience with us, and we must have patience with Him while He is subduing us to Him. Be sure only of one thing, that you have really surrendered the temple to Him, that this is a sincere and final act on your part. Keep your eye on the model, see what He is trying to do and give Him time. Yield, that is the definite thing for us to do. Are you willing to do it? Is it not our "reasonable service"? Paul says: "I beseech you brethren by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
Have you noticed that the 9th, 10th and 11th chapters of Romans are a parenthesis? At the end of chapter 8, Paul suspends the argument to consider one point, namely, if all this, up to the end of the 8th chapter is true, what shall be said about Israel, and the distinctive promises of God to Israel? He answers all that in chapters 9-11. Then, at the beginning of the 12th chapter, he comes back. Note how the 8th chapter ends, and then pass to the beginning of the 12th. By these marvellous mercies, which have taken a poor wretch under the sentence of the law, and placed him by the side of Christ in a personal union never to be dissolved, though you are now for a little while in a mortal body, I beseech you, turn that body over to Christ. Is it not reasonable? Will you do it?
Let me give you some tests. Turn to the 14th chapter of Luke, 25th verse: "And there went great multitudes with Him, and He turned, and said unto them, if any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." We have not here the conditions of salvation at all. Salvation is free. lt cost Christ an incalculable sum, but it does not cost us anything. It costs nothing to be a Christian. But it costs everything to be a disciple, that is, a follower of Christ in conformity to His life and character. See what discipleship involves.
1. The readjustment of all human relationships on the basis of the new life. Did not Christ love his mother? He gave her a home from the Cross. But when His mother and His brethren stood without and desired to speak with Him, that they might turn Him from His purpose to do the whole will of God, He said, "Who is My mother, and who are My brethren?" and He stretched forth His hands toward His disciples and said, "Behold My mother and My brethren." Christ must be above all.
2. "Forsaking all that he hath." Must he dispose himself of his property? He would be an unfaithful steward should he do that. How shall he forsake it? Turn it into a trust fund. "I no longer own this money; I am a trustee. Lord, how much shall I spend on my family, and myself? What shall I do with the rest of it? The readjustment of property, relations with Christ above all.
3. What is taking up the cross and going after Him? There is but one Cross, Christ's. Bearing the cross means that you go along the Via Dolorosa, to the place of the skull, and that you stretch out your hands and let the nails go through them. It means going to crucifixion with Him. Christ did not crucify Himself, but He suffered it. Will you give Him your body, knowing that it means that you no longer live unto yourself, but unto Him who died and rose again? Do not go through any painful exercises. They are useless. Happily and joyfully "present" your bodies to Him. Let Him make the cross actual in every part of your life.