Victory Over Sin; or, The Secret of a Holy Life.
by William Barker
IT is a remarkable fact, which no one can deny, that when a person is converted to God, no matter what his previous life has been, he straightway longs to be holy. Why is this?
The only just answer to such a question is that the individual has been born again----born of God. In this Divine operation, a new life is communicated, the nature of which is holy, and as a sure consequence, holy desires spring up in the soul that were never known before.
There are many things relating to natural life that baffle the investigation of the wisest, so we need not marvel if in the sphere of spiritual life, we find that which refuses to be defined. But nothing is more certain than this----that in the moral being of a converted person, there has been implanted a life altogether new and distinct from the life and nature of one who is only a child of Adam----not converted, not born again. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Each life partakes of the nature of its source (John iii. 6).
The communication of this new life in no way improves the old, much less does it do away with it. That remains as it ever was, having the same desires and propensities as it had before the individual was born again. So that in one and the same person, there are two natures----the one evil, the other good. These may be likened to two streams running side by side, never mingling, ever remaining separate, the one black and polluted, the other pure and undefiled. Now the former ends with the ending of our earthly days, while the latter flows into the vast ocean of Eternity.
It by no means follows that because a person has been born again, therefore his mind will be at rest about his sins. The new birth does not clear sin from the conscience. Indeed, it is no uncommon thing for the new-born soul to be more unhappy than before. The very fact of his having a new and holy nature makes him increasingly sensible of his sins and the hatefulness of them. He groans under their burden, and being ignorant of grace and of his own helplessness, thinks to rid himself of it by trying to live without sinning more.
But it is impossible that any should reach the goal of rest by that road. In what way, let me ask, could our living without sin, even were such a state to be attained, meet God's righteous requirements in respect of the sins with which we are justly chargeable? Suppose someone owed you a sum of money, and was extremely sorry to have incurred the debt, and promised never to add to it to the extent of a single shilling. The promise might be faithfully kept, but you could not be expected to regard that as a settlement of the debt already owing to you.
If you say, "But ought I not to be holy?" I answer, "Yes, of course you ought." Still, the putting away of our sins from God's sight is not effected thus. It is true, the number of them might not be added to, but the solemn fact remains that we have already sinned enough to merit everlasting punishment, and no effort of ours can deliver us from this state of guilt.
Nothing brings lasting relief to the conscience thus burdened and troubled, but the certain knowledge that in respect of these sins, God Himself is already satisfied. Oh, what joy to know that He is! All that our wretched sins deserved has been shown at the cross, in that He forsook His own Son, whom He there made sin for us. There too, we see displayed the tender, pitying, compassionate love of God to sinful men----love so true, so measureless, but which, alas! we are so slow to believe. And He has raised up that Saviour from the dead and given Him glory, that our faith and hope might find a sure resting-place in God Himself. Do I believe in Jesus? Do I trust Him? If so, though sins beyond number be mine, yet God freely justifies me from them all, and is just in doing so, because of the value of the blood shed at Calvary. If I believe this sure testimony of God, borne to me in a thousand passages of Scripture, then is my conscience purged, for who can condemn, or lay aught to the charge of those whom God justifies (Rom. viii. 33, 34)?
And if my conscience is thus purged by the blood of Christ, no holiness on my part can purge it more. How can you purge that which is already purged, or extinguish a light that is already extinguished, or cast into the sea that which has been cast there already? The work is done. Moreover, were all the holiness of the redeemed mine, and I threw it into the scale with the blood of Jesus, I should only dishonour the blood by so doing, and cast a slight upon my Saviour. It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul, nothing else.
But if we are as clear as a sunbeam about all that, if not a cloud as large as a man's hand is to be seen in the broad expanse, still the question of holiness forces itself to the front, and clamours to be set at rest. At first the forgiven one is so absorbed with forgiveness, that for a few days or weeks, all goes smoothly----sunshine and song everywhere. But after a while, the exuberance of joy subsides, and he becomes alarmed at his coldness and at the presence of indwelling sin, together with the awakening of old desires, which he thought had been silenced forever. This is a grievous disappointment, and his heart is greatly troubled. Fain would he lay his head, like favoured John, upon the Saviour's bosom, and sit at His feet and hear His word as Mary did. To live to God is his one desire; but he finds himself confronted at every turn by an opposing power called "sin in the flesh," which he is unable to overcome, and which holds him in hard bondage. ''The good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do," is now his mournful confession (Romans vii. 19). Intense distress results from this, with bitterness and anguish of spirit. He groans and sighs, and longs for freedom from this hateful yoke, and, like a captured bird, beats himself against the bars of his cage in his attempts to gain it. But the prison is too strong for him.
Often, if I may be allowed to speak of myself for a moment, in the earlier stages of my spiritual career, have I been brought to that point. Desiring to do good, I did it not, and yielded to the evil which I hated after the inward man. Then would I ask myself whether there was no deliverance from such a state as that? I felt there surely was, for I could not bring myself to believe that the soldiers of Christ were always to be vanquished, always to be driven ignominiously from the field. Victory there must be, victory over sin and self, of that I was assured, but how to achieve it I could not tell. And when the soul is in that state, it utters bitter things against itself. It bemoans its want of love to the Saviour, and the absence of a heart entirely consecrated to Him. Its deadness causes great trouble, and many a time, it is ready to believe that it has been playing a hypocrite's part. Once in a way, a gleam of light breaks through the oppressive gloom----the soul gets a fresh glimpse of the love of God, and is preserved from sheer despair. Alas! driven by some unpropitious wind, the parted clouds soon blend again, and the comfortable vision of God's love is once more shut out. Oh, the agony of such hours----agony all the more intense as the soul is sincere and earnest!
Conscience is keenly alive, urging to greater effort so that lost ground might be regained. The spur, and the whip with ten thongs, are freely used. Then the voice of the ancient lawgiver is heard saying, "You ought to love God with all the strength of heart and mind, but you do not. You ought to turn away from all evil and from the vanities of earth, but you too often follow them. How can you expect God to bless you?" Then in the distorted vision of the soul, Christ too becomes a law. "The Son of God has loved you and given Himself for you, why do you not give yourself to Him? You must try harder.'' These or similar words ring in the ear, and the soul thinks, "Ah! if I could only do this, God would love me more. He would view me with greater favour, and my acceptance with Him would be more assured." Again it tries, and again it fails, and becomes cowed, disheartened, and despairing.
Satan's opportunity has now come, and he is not slow to seize it. Says he, "Ah! you will never be able to Iive a Christian life. You ought to have thought of all this long ago, and never to have made any confession of Christ at all. Better give the whole thing up. You have miserably broken down again and again, and what hope is there of your doing better in the future? The battle is too strong for you. Don't wear a mask, and act the hypocrite. Cease your endeavours, and enjoy the pleasures of the world while you may. If you are to be saved, you will be, and there you had better leave it." And most assuredly you would believe his words and follow his counsel, did not an unseen power hold you back.
Naturally, you now suppose that your repeated breakdowns have produced some change in God's feelings toward you. You are conscious that He ought to regard you with less favour; it is only what you deserve. But all such thoughts are mistaken. His heart is not changed. He loves you as much as ever. These humbling discoveries of what you are in relation to sin and weakness are no surprises to Him. He knew it all perfectly well before He called you out of the unbelieving crowd. You find it hard to realize that He loves you just the same, and views you with the tenderest compassion. But He does. You are learning lessons of life-long value. The schooling process may not be pleasant, but you will find it to have been profitable before long.
For there are certain truths to which we are ready enough to subscribe in the first blush of our conversion, which have to be made good in us afterwards in an experimental way. This is what has been happening with you. Every converted person, for example, is ready enough to acknowledge his own inherent badness, but it is only after long and fruitless struggles to be better, that he is forced to the conviction that in him, good does not dwell. "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." (Romans vii. 18) When this is learnt, the soul ceases to look for good where not a shred of it exists. Then it learns not only to hate its sins, but to abhor itself. It is not merely that I have sinned, but that I am in myself nothing but sin; in me good is not. Along with this goes the kindred truth that we are "'Without strength,'' and this perhaps is harder still to learn. No strength for salvation we freely confess to have, but we think at first that we have, or ought to have, strength to perform that which is good, and to overcome the sin that dwells in us and is constantly rising up. To have the growing consciousness of our utter badness is bad enough, but to find out that every successive effort to overcome it only makes it more evident that we have no strength, is painful in the extreme. Under such circumstances, we should soon yield to despair were it not for the grace of God.
Have you ever noticed how the man in Romans vii. 20, distinguishes between himself and sin that dwells in him----the evil principle within which everybody has, whether converted or not? Its movements had caused him untold anguish, for he could not control it, much less place the heel of victory upon its neck. But he hated it with all its deeds, and would fain have flung it from him, exclaiming, "It is no more I." He owns it no longer as himself, and cries for someone to deliver him from its hateful bondage. There is a new I, for the man has been born again, and he identifies himself instinctively with the new nature which he had as being thus new-born. Have you learned to distinguish between yourself, as born of God, and sin that dwells within you? And are you looking for deliverance from your present state through the grace and power of Another, even Jesus Christ our Lord, and not by your own effort? It is most important that you should. Stop, and think of that.
Let me ask another question. Has there been any action on God's part in relation to this evil principle, called in Romans viii. 3, "Sin in the flesh"? There has. The same verse tells us that God has condemned it, and this He did in the cross of His own Son, when that blessed One not only bore our sins, but was made sin for us (2 Cor. v. 21). There is a depth of meaning in those words, "made sin," which I cannot explain. But I see at least that this hateful thing, which is "no more I", God has condemned once for all. This being so, it is evident that if fruit to God is brought forth in our life, it must be in connection with the new nature and with the Spirit of God now given unto us.
Follow me closely while we briefly consider the new position into which the Christian is brought, and may God give you eyes to see that this position is yours. It is defined by the terms "in Christ" and "in the Spirit." To many minds, these terms are very vague, but they lie at the centre of our subject, so we must try to understand them. Now it is not difficult to see that in our unconverted days, all our connections were with Adam fallen----our moral links were with him. We inherited his nature, and being head of the race, he involved by his disobedience, all his posterity in one universal ruin and condemnation. Every child of Adam is born into the world in that sinful, ruined state. This is the argument of Romans v. 12-21, which you may read with profit. But the Lord Jesus Christ is not only Saviour, but Head of a new race altogether.
Therefore is He called "The Last Adam " and "The Second Man," whose obedience even unto death extends in untold blessing to that race of which He is the Head. There is, there can be, no condemnation to those who are in Him (Romans viii. 1).
It is a remarkable title that of "The Second Man." In the course of nature, Cain was the second man, but the Holy Ghost passes over all the generations from Adam downwards, and reserves this striking name for the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Second Man. But though in His own person, He was this from the moment of incarnation, yet He only took this place actually and definitely when He was raised from the dead. How should He stand forth as the Second Man until the history of "the first man" had terminated in death for all who believe. For we have died with Christ (Romans vi. 6, 8). Our old man has been crucified with Him. But stay! Perhaps I am going faster than you can follow. Let us pause for a moment and take breath.
I was saying that we have died with Christ----or rather Scripture says so. Now we must be simple and childlike as to this, believing it because God says it. God views us as having died with Christ, and faith on our part will ever lead us to speak as God speaks. If I then, as a child of Adam have died with Christ, death has ended my history as of "the first man,'' and the story of my life as one of Adam's race has been told both for God and for me even to the last syllable of it. If your neighbour died yesterday, there is nothing more to be written down in his diary; he is gone, and the place that knew him once knows him no more forever. So with us. We have died with Christ, and in His grave, we have been buried.
Oh, the blessedness of knowing that we are thus clean out of our old associations, and out of the ruin and condemnation under which we lay! They are all behind, and the cross, death, and grave of Christ, stand between me and them. Every moral link with "the first man Adam" has been dissolved by death, never to be formed again, and now I am alive, for a new life is mine, in Jesus Christ our Lord. I belong to the new race of which He is the risen, living, victorious Head!
I can easily imagine your saying, ''Would that I realized all this; but, alas! I do not." Stop! Before we discuss how much or how little you realize, let me inquire whether you believe it. You will find there is power in your taking, in faith, this glorious position, which belongs in truth to every saint on earth. Let a man who toils from morning till night for the barest necessaries of life, be told on indisputable authority that he is born of noble blood, and that estate and fortune wait to be claimed and taken possession of by him. Will such a piece of news, if believed, have no power over the individual concerned?
And that all these things might not lie as mere doctrines on the leaves of our Bible, the Holy Spirit is given to the believer, so that, with faith and energy of soul on his side, they might be woven into the warp and woof of his every day life. This gift of the Holy Spirit is a great thing. Freedom from the law of sin and death is connected with it, and life and peace (Romans viii. 2-6). How different is this from the frantic, agonizing struggles described in Romans vii, which end when we understand by divine teaching what is meant by being "In Christ," and "In the Spirit." "In Christ" the Christian surely is, for, having died with Christ, he has passed through death's door from under the headship of "the first man,'' and shares in the life of the Second, and he is no longer "in the flesh, but in the Spirit." Moreover, the believer learns that he is not only "in Christ," but that he is also a child of God. To this blessed fact the Scriptures bear abundant witness, and the Holy Spirit too witnesseth with his spirit that he is a child, never leading him to doubt his relationship, but ever to cry "Abba, Father."
Conflict, of course, there will always be; for the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. But we are not debtors to "the flesh'' to live after it. It has no claim upon us, and we are under no obligation to yield to any of its demands.
"Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Romans vi. 14) The principle of law is that what we are for God will determine what God will be for us. But on that ground we are wholly lost. If, on the other hand, I believe that God has loved me when there was nothing in me to love----that no good in me, either in respect of my past, present, or future life, is a motive for God's love----that He loves me simply because it was His gracious and sovereign will to do so, and that every motive for His love is therefore found in Himself----if I see that every demand of His righteousness finds its satisfaction in the precious blood of God's own Son, given in infinite love for me, then am I, as regards my conscience, under grace and not under law. It is in this holy liberty of grace that we find freedom from the dominion of sin.
And when thus free, we should never forget the constant need of prayer, private prayer, and meditation on God's word. Although we have a new life and the indwelling Spirit, and are "in Christ," and are owned as God's sons, all these things are never intended to weaken in our souls the sense of our absolute dependence upon God for strength for every moment. Prayer is the expression of dependence, and in the rich pastures of divine truth we shall find food in abundance. If personal intercourse with God be not diligently maintained; if His word be neglected and His Spirit grieved; if the things of the world be loved and followed, though we may know our standing in Christ, our life will be like the parched places of the wilderness. There may not be the bondage of Romans vii., but there will not be the life, righteousness, and peace of Romans viii.
We have done. Whether the secret of victory is now known by you we cannot say, but it surely lies in our mixing these great truths with present faith. I say present faith, for the faith of yesterday will not serve for to-day. If the matter is not yet quite clear, however, it would be well to read the article again carefully, and in a prayerful spirit. May God bless its perusal to the clearing away of every cloud.
"Our Hope" 1919