Romans 7: 8.
Willing and Doing.
An Address Delivered at the Convention for the Deepening of the Spiritual Life,
held at Ontario, Canada on Wednesday Afternoon, October 26th 1898.
For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not." Here are two discoveries in the experience of the Apostle Paul, and one of them leads to the other. First, Paul discovered that he could will to do good, but that he could not do it. Now, I ask you to think of that; for meetings like these, which lead to self-searching, bring us to a moment of great danger. It is at these times we say, ''Yes, the Scripture is right—the preacher is right. I have been living on too low a level. That must end here and now;" and we always add, "God helping me." Then we add, "I shall rise to a higher level, and I shall begin now; and the old tempers, the old sins, the old omissions of duty, the old coldness of heart, and the old wandering life must end. I will; I will do it, God helping me."
"But," you ask, "where is the danger in so laudable a resolution as that?" The danger is in supposing you can do it. When the Apostle Paul had reached the experience recorded in the seventh chapter of Romans, he said, "God helping me," just as earnestly as ever you have said it. He was a renewed, a regenerate man, and he was delighting himself in the law after the inner man; he was resolving to be good with all his might—and then he made the crushing discovery that to will was present with him, but how to perform it he did not find. In religion, we make two mistakes about the human will. We make the mistake of supposing we can do anything if we only will hard enough; and we make the opposite mistake of concluding that in grace, the human will is wholly set aside. Paul was a man of immense force of will, and he tried, after his conversion, to become good by will power; but he did not succeed, and he records his experience for our benefit. Now, when a man of as tender conscience as Paul, born again and renewed in life by the Spirit of God, sets himself with all the energy of his character toward the very best things God has, and encounters defeat at the point of the exercise of will, it is scarcely worthwhile for us to try. We learn this lesson, that we shall never be holy by willing to be holy. But neither shall we ever be holy against our wills. Between two masters—self and Christ—the will gives the decisive vote, that is all. "His servants we are to whom we yield ourselves." So then, our wills won't do it, nor will God do it against our wills. But now observe—here is one of the sincerest, most earnest souls that ever lived and wrought for God on this earth in a stage of Christian experience where he has put his will definitely over on the side of God's will, and he wills to perform that which he here describes by the name of "good"—and he cannot! And that leads him to a second discovery about himself—"I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), there dwelleth no good thing." It is a terrible discovery. The human will is impotent to do "good," because it has no good thing in self upon which to act. A commander might as well shout a command to charge to the fever-stricken soldiers in the hospital. Failure at the point of will, when exerted to its utmost, shows the essential weakness of that of which the will is a part. It is exactly what my brother, Dr. McTavish, has been illustrating from the Peniel experience of Jacob. Paul, in the seventh of Romans is getting the dislocated thigh—getting absolutely to the end of himself, and finding out, through the bitterness of defeat, what self really is. Without the slightest consultation between Dr. McTavish and myself as to what we should say this afternoon, we have been led along the same lines. This greatly comforts me.
Mark this, then—you may delight in the law of God after the inward man (that is, as a renewed man), and yet find yourself face to face with a body of good which you cannot perform. It is a good place to get to. A most humbling place, but a good place. I wish the great multitude of Christians were in the seventh chapter of Romans. We are continually warned against this chapter, and told that we should live in the eighth, and not in the seventh chapter of Romans. I quite agree; but no one gets properly into the eighth who does not come by way of the seventh. God brought Israel to the border of the land at Kadesh-barnea by way of Sinai. They were a redeemed people, but they learned some humbling lessons before the smoke and fire of that Mount. It answers to the seventh of Romans in Christian experience. Observe where Paul is at this time. Let us stop a moment upon that word "good." Are we quite sure we understand what Paul means by that word? I was once reading the seventh chapter of Romans in a meeting, and after the meeting was over, a gentleman I knew very well came up to me and said, "Will you answer me a question?" I said, "I will if I can." "Whatever was Paul driving at when he said, 'To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not?' " Said he, "I find it the easiest thing in the world to do good." I said, "What do you mean by doing good?" He answered, "Paying my debts, treating my family properly, keeping a good name, going to church, praying and reading the Bible. I do all that with pleasure, and I cannot make out what Paul means in that passage." I turned back with him to the Beatitudes, and read them over. "Blessed are the meek." "Are you meek?'' "I do not know that I am." I said, "Suppose you try to be meek," and I closed the conversation. In a week, he came to me and said, "I want to continue our conversation of a few days ago. I have tried to be meek the whole week and am further from it than when I began." Ah, friends, that is what Paul means by "good." Not treating people decently, but being poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart. Let us measure ourselves up against the Beatitudes, against the nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians. How is one to go about making one's self meek? Will you think of it for a moment? Of course, one may try to be humble, and may gain for one's self the reputation of being the meekest man in the whole town, but God is looking into the man's heart, and he may find that man proud of the very meekness he is trying to obtain. If you think you can reproduce any one of the excellencies in the Beatitudes, try it in the sight of God, and you will get right where Paul is—"To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good, I find not." Suppose you measure yourself up against the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians, describing the love character. "Love suffereth long, and is kind," etc. That is what Paul means by "good." There was a time when his religion lay in externalities; he could offer sacrifices, and be a member of the Sanhedrim, and could do many things in his own strength and wisdom, but when he came to be a Christian, he found that to be, rather than to do, was the essential thing. It was too high for him—beyond his reach.
Now, I ask you, what does Paul need? Better ethics? Why, he knows now more good than he can do. Stirring exhortations, like spiritual whips and spurs? Why, the man is perfectly willing to do the whole will of God. A stronger resolution? He has broken upon that problem as strong a will as any man ever had. What, then, does he need? He needs POWER! Not ethics, but dynamics.
Just as nothing but the Divine power of God can help the sinner when he sees himself to be guilty before God; just so, nothing but Divine power can help the saint who sees the better life, and tries and wills to reach it, but finds somehow an experience of defeat. Are some of you saying, "I meant to-day to be different from yesterday. I went from the meeting last night determined it should be a different day, but it has been a day of struggle and defeat." Yes friend, your brother Paul, and many another, travelled that road. We all know it. But take courage, the end is fairly in view. Are you ready to say with Paul, "I know that in me, there dwelleth no good thing?" Are you ready to cry with him, "Who shall deliver me?" Then, indeed, you can confidently say with him, "I thank God through Jesus Christ." What then, is the secret of victory? It is all in the second verse of the eighth chapter, "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." What has happened? The same man who was saying, "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," now shouts in victory. For now, power has entered into him, and that which he could not do by willing it, is being done in him. Will-power utterly failed; Spirit-power succeeds. A new power has entered in; a mighty garrison has taken possession of the fortress of the inner man, and now that which he strove to do with all possible earnestness, that which he found himself unable to do, is at length wrought in him by Divine power. Observe well—not wrought by him through Divine help but wrought in him by Divine power.
My dear friends, God does not find it hard to do things. God has never yet strained His mighty arm. Christ said that with the finger of God, He cast out demons, and the finger of God is enough to deliver that man Paul. And here is God Himself, God the Spirit, doing in the Apostle, that which he could not do for himself. "That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Mark, dear friends, the negative here, "Not after the flesh." So long as there is the smallest dependence upon self, there is no victory. And now Paul is at peace. He enters into that which he puts into doctrine in the 5th chapter of Galatians, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." Now God the Spirit is doing the things that He would. That is the idea. The mighty Spirit is in conflict with that "old man" with sin in Paul; and Paul, panting and trembling from his defeat, but triumphant and rejoicing, stands aside, and celebrates the Spirit's victory. And whenever you, dear friends, are willing to confess defeat, and cry, not for help to fight, but for deliverance, the same victory over the same law of sin and death will be wrought in you by the same Spirit.