The Fulness of Life in Jesus Christ
by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 3 - The Victorious Life
It is not likely that we shall be challenged when we state that the experience of the great majority of Christian people is not that of constant victorious progress. We are compelled to come to this conclusion by listening to their prayers, by watching as those who have to give an account, and by a very widespread ineffectiveness on the part of the Christian Body.
Confessions of Failure
Many who have afterwards found the way of victory have placed on record the pathetic story of their strenuous quest and conscious failure. Here are one or two typical instances.
"There were great fluctuations in my spiritual life, in my conscious closeness of fellowship with God. At times God would seem very close and my spiritual life deep; but it would not last. Sometimes by some failure before temptation, sometimes by a gradual downhill process, my best experiences would be lost, and I would find myself on the lower levels. Another conscious lack of my life was in the matter of failure before besetting sins. I had prayed, oh! so earnestly and yet the habitual deliverance had not come. A third conscious lack was in the matter of dynamic, convincing spiritual power, that would work changes in other men's lives, I was doing a lot of Christian work. Once in a great while I would see a little in the way of results of course, but not much. I comforted myself with the old assurance that it was not for me to see results. But that did not satisfy me, and I was sometimes heartsick over the spiritual barrenness of my Christian service. After a time I began to get intimations that certain men to whom I looked up as conspicuously blessed in their Christian service seemed to have a conception or consciousness of Christ that I did not have; that was beyond any thought of Christ I ever had." We leave the sequel for the moment in order to give another instance of the same kind.
"My mind has been greatly exercised," wrote Hudson Taylor to his sister, "for some months past, feeling the need personally, and for our Mission, of more holiness, life, power in our souls. But personal need stood first and was the greatest. I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin, of not living nearer to God. I prayed, agonised, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word diligently, sought more time for retirement and meditation; but all was without effect. Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me. I knew that if I could only abide in Christ all would be well, but I COULD NOT. I began the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye from Him for a moment: but pressure of duties, constant interruptions apt to be so wearing, often caused me to forget Him. Then one's nerves get so fretted in this climate that temptations to irritability, hard thoughts, and sometimes unkind words, are all more difficult to control.
A Soul's Agonising Cry
"Each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power. To will was indeed present with me; but how to perform I found not. Then came the question, 'Is there NO rescue? Must it be thus to the end - constant conflict, and instead of victory, too often defeat?' Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker, and to have less power against sin. I hated myself, I hated my sin. I felt that I was a child of God, but to rise to my privileges as a child I was utterly powerless."
As we write we have before us sufficient material of this kind to make a fair-sized volume, and all this only helps to confirm us in the belief that for a great many earnest Christian people the Christian life is for the most part one of strain, reverses, anxiety, uncertainty, and one in which the great and superlative meaning of "grace," "love," "joy," "peace," and "triumph" have but a doubtful and limited realisation.
Of course, the instrument of this life of defeat is for the most part the Law, and the field is mainly the Flesh. We are obsessed by the "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not," and our state is one of constant repression. Thoughts, words, deeds, imaginations, and desires keep us in a state of constant effort and endeavour to check and control them. What are the results? They are just what the enemy wishes for the most successful achievement of his purposes. Fluctuation, undulation, variableness, instability, agitation, restlessness, and finally exhaustion. By such means the adversary can cripple and hinder the progress of the truth more than in any other way; and thus he blinds the eyes of so many to the true way of the fulness of life in Christ.
The Way of Deliverance
Yet, all these anxious and earnest souls are conscious in their heart of hearts that there must be a way of escape and deliverance. They feel sure that there is a superlative life, and in their hearts they have the vision of such a life. The vision is, in the first place, created by the very need. Unless life and our very nature and make up are a colossal mockery, then this vision is not a mere illusion, for our whole nature craves for it, and nothing less than it can ever bring us rest and satisfaction. It is the fulfilment and consummation of our very spiritual constitution. This leads us to point out that, not only is the vision created by the need, but it is revealed in the Word of God.
How many times do such words as "overcome," "overcometh," occur in the New Testament with a present application! Think, again, of such phrases as the following:-
"This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith."
"Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world."
"Who always causeth us to triumph."
"Who giveth us the victory."
"Sin shall not have dominion over you."
"We are more than conquerors."
It would take a very great deal of space to gather up all the statements in God's Word, which not only imply, but emphatically affirm, that here and now the song of victory may be in our mouths.
There is a third basis for trusting this vision, and it is a very practical one, namely, the experience of others.
We gave the negative side of the experience of two great Christian leaders; let us quote briefly from the sequel:-
"The three great lacks of which I spoke have been miraculously met.
"1. There has been a sustained fellowship with God, utterly different from anything I had ever known in all my life before. Christ has permitted no extended dreary fluctuations in my spiritual life.
From Failure to Triumph
"2. There has been habitual victory over certain besetting sins, the old ones that used to throttle and wreck me. There is yet much ground to be occupied by Christ; of that I am more painfully aware than I used to be. But many of the old constant and sickening soul-destroying failures are done away with by Him, and, as I have faith to believe, for ever.
"3. And, lastly, the spiritual results in service have given me such a sharing of the joy of heaven as I never knew was possible on earth. Several of my most intimate friends, most of them mature Christians, have had their lives completely revolutionised by Christ, laying hold of Him in this new way, and receiving Him unto all the fulness of God. Life fairly teems with the evidences of what Christ is willing and able to do."
Then take later lines from Hudson Taylor's letter: "When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from _____ was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before.
"How to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting in the Faithful One.
"As I read I saw it! 'If we believe not, He abideth faithful.' I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, Oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, 'I will never leave you.' 'Ah, there is rest,' I thought. 'I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I'll strive no more. For has He not promised to abide with me - never to leave me - never to fail me?' The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest.
"I am no longer anxious about anything. It makes no matter where He places me, or how."
In these words, which are but typical of the testimony of many others which we should like to give, we have the fact and experience of the victorious life definitely stated. It is not our purpose to deal at length with the secret until the next chapter, but simply to emphasise the reality and describe the nature and basis of this triumphant Christian experience. We shall, therefore, conclude by saying a little about the victory in possession.
Appropriating the Inheritance
Firstly, we must remember that it will not be our achievement. The victory over sin with all its accompaniments is an already achieved thing. Christ accomplished that Himself, and victory is already completed in heaven. We are not called upon to fight sin to the death. Victory is a gift according to the measure of Christ. "Thanks be unto God Who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
It is our growing up into Him by surrender, and the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Spirit-filled life. Victory is God's Gift in Christ to faith. It is faith appropriating the inheritance of union with Christ.
It is progressive, not a finality in our immediate experience. We grow in this Grace. It is not the eradication of sin in a single act, but it is sure progressive triumph over sin. Only as we get nearer to God, to Heaven, and to Christ's likeness do we really understand sin.
This victorious life is expression, not repression. We are no more harassed by the "Thou shalt not," but we are partakers of the Divine Nature, so that we spontaneously gravitate toward doing the right.
We have said that the Holy Spirit brings this victory, and a short study in two words in Romans 7 and 8 will show how this is so. Romans 7 is the chapter of defeat and failure, and the central word is "I." That word occurs no fewer than thirty times in that chapter. Chapter 8 is the chapter of victory and deliverance, and the central word is "Spirit," which word occurs twenty-one times.
Let these two chapters be carefully and prayerfully read, and the inevitable result must be that we shall see that the victorious life is not of our own effort and straining, but the natural result of the Spirit-filled life, and its three-fold element is Faith appropriating, Hope rejoicing, Love living and serving.
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