Lawful Strife (Part 2)
III. But we come now to the only striving which the Lord crowns -a lawful striving after lawful objects.
Of the other two kinds of striving, the first was chiefly the striving of reprobates; therefore not crowned. The second was the striving of quickened souls, but not crowned, because they strove not according to gospel rules.
But now we are dealing with characters brought down to penury and utter insolvency, in the state described in the parable of the two servants, "when they had nothing to pay." What Hart calls "perfect poverty."
Tis perfect poverty alone
That sets the soul at large;
Whilst we can call one mite our own,
We have no full discharge.
To bring this about is the work of the law. The gospel does not reduce the soul to beggary. It only steps in as a friend to pay the debt when all one s own money is gone. The law draws all the money out of the pocket by crying, "Do, do," "work, work." But when all is gone, the law can do no more. The law then has done its office. The law puts a burden on, which burden is carried until the heart is brought down with labour, and the soul falls down, and there is none to help. Ps 107:12 As Paul says, "I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." By this death the soul becomes dead to the law, as Paul says again, "Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth." Ro 7:1 When then he dies under the law, he dies to the law, and the law ceases to have dominion over him. All strivings therefore of the elect under the law, end sooner or later in death to the law. Now I appeal to your consciences, whether God ever crowned your legal strivings. What has the law done for you? what can the law do for you, but to bring its curse in your heart, lay guilt on your conscience, and stir up slavish fear in your mind? To strive lawfully then, is not to strive after the law, but after certain rules laid down in the gospel. Well then, they are called laws, as the Holy Ghost uses the word when he says, "I will put my laws into their hearts, and write them in their minds." Now we will begin with the frit rule, which is this, that the Holy Spirit must work in us all the power, wisdom, grace, faith, strength, and life, that we strive with. This work the apostle calls a law in. Ro 8:2 "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." "Whatever is not of faith is sin." "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." "The things of God knoweth no one but the Spirit of God." "When the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth." Now whilst striving in our own strength, the power and reality of the Spirit s teachings were little known. We could not lie passive, as helpless as the Potter s clay. All creature strength was not gone; some little store was left.
The second rule of lawful striving is, that the runners in this race should have no strength. "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength." "When we were without strength, Christ died for the ungodly." "Without me," said Jesus, "ye can do nothing." The Lord opened his ministry with setting forth his covenant character to the poor and needy. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath annointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to set at liberty them that are bruised." So he said, "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that mourn, for ye shall be comforted." All the blessings of the gospel are promised to the poor in spirit, the outcasts of Israel. But who makes them poor? The Lord surely, according to that word, "The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich." A man may indeed after a form make himself poor by wearing rags, and assuming the garb of poverty. I have read of a man who, from some whim or kind of madness, went about the country dressed and living as a common beggar. He had abundance of property, but he chose to dress in rags, and live on alms. Such a man was not really poor, as his apparent poverty was but a mask and a cheat. So spiritually, he that makes himself poor is not one of God s poor; and he infringes just as much upon the work of the Spirit, and is as much guilty of presumption and hypocrisy, as if he made himself rich. And a child of God who strives to make himself poor, strives unlawfully, for he acts against the rule, that all we are and have, all we know and feel aright, must be the whole and sole work of the blessed Spirit. A man that makes himself poor by throwing away outward pride, and putting on outward humility never passes in his soul through the feelings that God exercises his children with. The living family are stripped unwillingly; they cannot believe the Lord is leading them in the right way. Despondency, unbelief, rebellion, infidelity work up in their heart against His teaching. Their former enjoyments, and what they thought communion are taken away, and they feel as Isaiah speaks, left as "a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on a hill." Isa 30:17 The word beacon is in the margin, "a tree bereft of branches." And thus they stand bereft of all their spreading boughs of religion, a leafless trunk stripped of flowers and fruit, naked and bare. Perhaps some of you here never were in this spot -never lost all your religion, and stood before God without a grain, like the tall, leafless, branchless mast on the top of the hill, "0 no," say you, "I have been very far, but was never driven into this spot yet." Then I will tell you a secret; If you belong unto God, you have to be driven farther than you have been yet. We read Eze 17:24 that "the Lord dries up the green tree, and makes the dry tree to flourish." Then you must be dried up, for you are a green tree still, before you can flourish in the courts of the Lord. And perhaps when you get to have no religion, it will be the very time for the Lord to give you some of his. We are "to buy of him gold tried in the fire." Now if we look into the fire, where the gold was being tried, what should we see? why a crucible, that is a kind of earthen pot, with scum and dross and foam, bubbling and boiling. 0 where is the gold? Out of sight, at the bottom of the vessel, covered with scum and foam. So it is with the soul that is in the furnace. Faith, hope, and love, are all hid at the bottom of the heart, and the scum and dross of unbelief, despondency, and rebellion are alone seen. But when the refiner removes the scum with his rod, then the pure gold shines forth. Now whilst passing through this experience, you are striving lawfully, for you are fulfilling the second rule of the Christian strife. You are a poor needy outcast, who can do nothing. You now are where Paul was, "though I be nothing." 2Co 12:11
And this enables you to comply with the third rule of lawful strife -to give God all the glory. Surely you can take no glory to self, when self has been proved, and found wanting. Then if the Lord has made you poor, in order to make you rich, naked that he may clothe you, a beggar that he may relieve you, a bankrupt that he may pay all your debts, an insolvent that he may take you out of jail with flying colours in the face of your creditors, and has brought you down to the gates of hell to lift you up to the door of heaven, then surely you must give him all the glory. He has solemnly declared that "no flesh shall glory in his presence," and "he that glorieth let him glory in the Lord." But what is so staggering to nature and reason is the way that he brings about this taking to himself the glory. No man in his senses would walk in this way. But God does not act according to our senses, but "according to the counsel of his own will."
Thus we never strife lawfully till we cease to strive naturally. Then the Holy Spirit begins to strive within with groanings which cannot be uttered. No pretty prayers to tickle rotten professors; no cut and dried sentences with texts nicely assorted and fitted in like the squares of a chess-board, no flowers of eloquence to please those who are all for word and hate power. But the real striving is all inward work, sighing, crying, and groaning to the Lord. "Oh!" say you, "I will tell you what I call striving. It is to go to chapel three times on the Lord s day, attend prayer meetings, pray privately seven times regularly every day." Ah, my friend, this is striving after the flesh. The only striving that God acknowledges is the striving of the Spirit and the Spirit never strives effectually, till the flesh has ceased to strive.
Now this inward strivings of the Spirit are a fulfilling of the experience Paul describes. 2Co 12:9,10 "When I am weak, he says, then am I strong." Why so? Because "the strength of Christ is made perfect in weakness." Then if I am saved, I am saved as a vile wretch, a monster of iniquity, by rich, free, sovereign, distinguishing grace. Not a drop of heavenly favour can reach my heart by my own exertions. I might as well think of taking up the Atlantic ocean in the hollow of my hand, as bring down into my soul a drop of God s love, or a single smile of his countenance. I may sigh, cry, groan, long, and pant after the shedding abroad of his love, but I cannot bring down one grain or atom of it within. Then if felt, must not we give to God all the glory?
Now these lawful strivers after lawful objects are crowned, and they only. This crown is two-fold -a crown here and a crown hereafter, a crown of grace set on the heart below, and the crown of glory set on the head above. Thus Paul says, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." 2Ti 4:8 This crown none will have but those who have striven, striven lawfully to enter in at the strait gate, and striven successfully. The crown below is the crown spoken of in, Eze 16:12 "I put a beautiful crown on thine head;" and which the church laments to have lost, "The crown is fallen from our head." La 5:16 This crown is put on the heart, when the Lord smiles approbation and acceptance in the Son of his love. As David speaks, Ps 103:4 "Who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies." Now this inward crown is never set on the heart of any but a beggar, that has been on the dunghill. "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and make them inherit the throne of glory." This beggar is one who is begging for a manifested interest in God s great salvation, clothed in rags and sitting in dust and ashes on the dunghill of his own corruptions. He and he only is raised up in his soul to sit among princes, the priests and kings, the royal generation, who are invariably crowned with divine favour below, and inherit the throne of glory above.Now of this internal crowning I believe there are different degrees. There are no degrees in glory, but there certainly are degrees of grace. There are no pious eminent saints above close to the throne, whilst the thief on the cross and Mary Magdalene stand at the door as having been such great sinners. But below there are degrees of manifested favour; there are babes, young men, and fathers. Whenever then you have been enabled by faith to rest on Christ s blood and righteousness, whenever a drop of God s favour has flowed into your soul, whenever peace has been felt and known, and a solemn sense of God s goodness and mercy through the blood of the Lamb has been tasted; whenever in the depths of soul poverty and helplessness, help and strength have been found to cast your burden on the Lord, then and there you have been crowned as a lawful striver. 0, say some, "We must have full assurance, and there is no faith without it." I believe that all true faith has a measure of assurance in it, but who can say how full it shall be. The leper who merely cried, "If thou wilt thou canst make me clean," had faith, and so had the woman who pressed through the throng to touch Jesus garment, and so had the Canaanitish woman who sought but for a crumb from the children s table. This was a venturing faith, a faith of necessity, a faith working up and out of trials and burdens. This faith the Lord crowns as his own work, for he never crowns anything else. He crowns not our strivings but his own, not our work but the work of Jesus Christ. Have you then never felt a little of this soul melting work? "Aye," say you, "but it did not last long, and has been but rarely felt." But where is it said how long it is to last, or how often to be felt? To have had the crown on but once, and that but for a few moments, is to have been crowned. You complain that you have lost these sweet feelings. But how could you have lost what you never had? You are saying, "the crown has fallen from my head." Then it must have been there. And I will tell you another thing, that if the crown was ever set on your heart, the rim of it has left its mark behind, and upon that spot where it has left its impression, you are longing to have it again set on. See then to it that you are striving lawfully. Have you run yourself out of breath yet? are your arms withered, your legs and back broken? Then will the Lord himself bear you, as on eagles wings, to the end of the race, and lay you at the feet of the Judge, where you will learn that "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong," but that "God has mercy upon whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth."