The Rev. John Fletcher, whom Wesley thought was the holiest man who had lived since the days of the Apostle John, lost the blessing five times before he was finally established in the grace of holiness, and Wesley declared that he was persuaded, from his observations, that people usually lose the blessing several times before they learn the secret of keeping it. So, if any one who reads this has lost the blessing, and is tormented by the old enemy of souls -- the devil -- with the thought that you can never get and keep it, let me urge you to try again and again and again.
You prove your real desire and purpose to be holy, not by giving up in the presence of defeat, but by rising from ten thousand falls, and going at it again with renewed faith and consecration. If you do this, you shall surely win the prize, and be able to keep it in the end.
The promise is: "Seek, and ye shall find."
"But how long shall I seek?"
Seek till you find!
"But suppose I lose it?"
Seek again till you find it. God will surprise you some day by pouring out such a full baptism of His Spirit upon you, that all your darkness and doubts and uncertainty will vanish for ever, and you will never fall again, and God's smile will be no more withdrawn, and your sun will never more go down.
Oh, my discouraged brother, my disheartened sister, let me urge you to look up and trust Jesus, and keep on seeking, remembering that God's delays are not denial -- Jesus is your Joshua to lead you into the promised land, and He can cast down all your foes before you. People who give up in the midst of defeat have much to learn yet of the deceitfulness and hardness of their own hearts, and of the tender forbearance, and longsuffering, and mighty saving power of God. But it is not God's will that any who receive the blessing should ever lose it, and it is possible to keep it for ever.
One day, as an old divinity school chum of mine, who had finished his course of study, was going to his field of labor, I followed him on to the train to have a hearty handshake and to say good-bye, perhaps for ever. He looked up and said:
"Sam, give me a text that will do for a life motto."
Instantly I lifted my heart to God for light. Now, if you want to keep the blessing, that is one of the things you must constantly do -- lift your heart to God and look to Him for light, not only in the crises and great events of life, but in all its little and seemingly trifling details. By practice, you can get into such a habit of doing this that it will become as natural for you as breathing, and it will prove quite as important to your spiritual life as breathing is to your natural life. Keep within whispering distance of God always, if you would keep the blessing. Well, I proved to be in whisper touch with Jesus that morning on the train, and immediately the [[first eleven verses of the first chapter of 2 Peter >> Bible:2 Pet 1:1-11]] were suggested to my mind; not simply as a motto, but as a plain rule laid down by the Holy Ghost, by the following out of which we may not only keep the blessing and never fall, but also prove fruitful in the knowledge of God, and gain an abundant entrance into the Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Notice it, all you who wish to keep the blessing of holiness. You see in verse 4 the Apostle speaks of being made "partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." That is holiness, to escape from the corruption of our evil hearts and receive the Divine nature. Now, the Apostle urges these holy people to diligence, and not only diligence, but "all diligence." A lazy, sleepy man cannot keep the blessing; in fact, he cannot get it. To get it you must seek it with all your heart. You must dig as for hidden treasure, and to keep it you must use diligence. Some people say, "Once saved, always saved," but God does not say anything of the kind. He urges us to watch and be sober and diligent, for we are in the enemy's country. This world is not a friend to grace. If you had one hundred thousand dollars' worth of diamonds in a land of robbers, you would watch and keep your treasure with all diligence. Well, you are in the enemy's country, with a holy heart and "the earnest of the Spirit," your passport to Heaven, your pledge of eternal life. Be diligent to keep it.
The Apostle says: "Beside this, add to your faith, virtue." You had to have faith in "the exceeding great and precious promises" to get this blessing, but you will have to add something more to your faith to keep it. This word "virtue" comes from the old Latin word which means courage, and that is probably its meaning here. You must have courage to keep this blessing.
The devil will roar like a lion at you at times; the world will frown upon you, and maybe club you, and possibly kill you. Your friends will pity you, or curse you, and predict all sorts of calamities as sure to befall you, and at times your own flesh may cry out against you. Then you will need courage. They told me I would go crazy, and it almost seemed that I would, so earnest was I to know all the mind of God for me. They said I would land in a bog of fanaticism; they said I would end in the poor-house; they said I would utterly ruin my health, and become a lifelong, useless invalid, a torment to myself and a burden to my friends. The very bishop whose book on holiness had stirred my soul to its depths, after I got the blessing, urged me to say very little about it, as it caused much division and trouble. (I afterward learned that he had lost the blessing.) The devil followed me by day and by night with a thousand spiritual temptations that I had never dreamed of, and then at last stirred up a rough to nearly knock my brains out, and for many months I was prostrated with bodily weakness, until the writing of a post card plunged me into distress and robbed me of a night's rest. So I found it took courage to keep this "pearl of great price," but-hallelujah for ever! -- "the Lion of the tribe of Judah," who is my Lord and Saviour, is as full of courage as He is of strength and love and pity; and He has said in the Book of instruction and encouragement He has left us: "Be strong, and of a good courage." Yea, He puts it stronger, and says: "Have not I commanded thee to be strong and of good courage?" It is a positive command, which we are under obligation to obey. Over and over again He has said this, and seventy-two times He says: "Fear not," and He adds, as a sufficient reason why we should not fear: "For I am with thee." Glory to God! If He is with me, why should I be afraid? And why should you, my comrade?
My little boy is very much afraid of a dog. I think fear was born in him. But when he gets hold of my hand he will march boldly past the biggest dog in the country. God says: "I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear thou not, for I am with thee: be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; yea I will help thee, yea I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness; I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Never! Jesus, the very same Jesus who died for us, says: "All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth; and lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Why fear?
The devil is an old hand at deceiving and overthrowing souls, but remember that Jesus is the "Ancient of Days." From everlasting to everlasting He is God, and He has put all the wisdom and power and courage of His Godhead at the disposal of our faith for our salvation, and certainly that ought to fill us with courage. Are you downhearted and afraid? Cheer up! Pluck up courage, and let us boldly say with King David, who had a good deal more trouble and cause for fear than either of us:
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble: therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea."
I have been helped very much by one experience of David's. Once upon a time he had to flee from Saul, who hunted for his life as men hunt for partridges on the mountains; so David went down into Philistia, and dwelt in a village which the king gave him. Then the Philistines went to war against Saul, and David went too. But they were afraid David might turn against them in the hour of battle, and so they sent him home. When David and his men returned to their homes, they found some enemies had been there and burned their village to the ground, and had carried off their goods, their cattle, their wives and the little ones. The men were mad with grief, and determined to stone David. Certainly there was reason for fear; but the Bible says: "David encouraged himself in the Lord." Read the story for yourself, and see how wonderfully God helped him to get everything back again (I Sam. xxx.).
As for me, I am determined to be of good courage. God has been better to me than all my fears, and the fears of all my friends, and He has outwitted all my enemies, and proved stronger than all my foes, and. enabled me, by His power, and infinite love and goodness, to walk in holiness before Him for almost ten years
'A Man In Christ'
I knew a man in Christ,' wrote Paul. Think of one writing: I knew a man in Bonaparte, in Buddha, in Caesar,' and we shall see at once how striking, how startling is this expression. We should be not only startled but shocked to hear this of any but Christ Jesus. But the Christian consciousness is not offended by hearing of 'a man in Christ.' It recognizes Him as the Home of the soul, its hiding-place and shelter from the storm, its school, its fortress and defense from every foe. He is not simply the Babe of Bethlehem, the Carpenter of Nazareth, the first of the religious teachers of Palestine, and victim of Jewish bigotry and Roman power. He is the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, in whose bosom we nestle, and in whose favor we find peace and comfort and Salvation.
Do you know any man or woman in Christ, my brother, my sister? How many Soldiers in your Corps do you believe to be in Christ? -- to live in Him, to walk in the unbroken fellowship that being 'in Christ' must imply? Do you know twenty? Ten?
But let us not judge others. Paul was not doing so. He was very generous in his judgments of his brethren. He addresses his letters as follows: Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.' ' Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi.' ' Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God... to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse.'
He reckoned his brethren to be in Christ, but this man whom he 'knew in Christ,' was not one of them, but himself. He was the man. There was no doubt about his being in Christ. He wrote with complete assurance. Can you speak with such assurance, my Comrade? Do you know yourself to be in Christ? Or ever to have been in Christ? What a profound fellowship and union!
But listen to Paul further: 'I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body I cannot tell: God knoweth); such a one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man (whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth); how he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful (or possible) for a man to utter.'
Did you ever have a moment, or an hour, in which you were lost in fellowship with the Lord, having no thought of time or space, in which experiences were wrought in you, emotions swept through you, purity and love and power and comfort and assurance were imparted to you, that you have never been able fully to explain or express in words, or which, possibly, you have felt to be too sacred to try to tell or describe?
Such was Paul's experience. He was the man to whom the words make reference.
And many people who are in Christ, possibly most or all who are in Him, have had some such moment -- just a moment, or an hour, long or short it may have been, but indescribably sweet, precious above gold or silver, and memorable above any and all other experiences of life.
Oh, how invaluable is such an experience to a soul, especially in a time of fierce temptation! It sweeps away for ever the intellectual and moral and spiritual fogs and uncertainties that becloud the mind and heart. It fixes a man's theology. It settles for him the fact that he himself is a living soul, morally and spiritually responsible to God. He feels the breath of eternity in him.
Wrapt in that wondrous fellowship he knows there is a Heaven; and to lose God, he knows, would be Hell. Henceforth to him, Heaven and Hell are realities as assured as light and darkness, as truth and falsehood, as right and wrong. This experience establishes the Godhead of Christ. He knows that 'Jesus is Lord,' not by what he has learned from his teacher, from books and creeds, but 'by revelation,' ' by the Holy Ghost.'
If in hours of depression and temptation, the enemy of his soul should suggest a doubt as to these great truths, he can instantly rout his foe by recalling the intimate revelations of that sacred experience which it is not possible to utter.
There are two experiences mentioned by Paul in this portion of Scripture. One is abiding -- the blessed, but common everyday experience that is new every morning and fresh every evening; that the dust and toil of the day, nor the stillness and slumber of the night, do not break nor disturb; it is the very life of the Christian. The other is a transitory experience; but for a moment, comparatively.
'I knew a man in Christ,' that is the abiding experience. We are to live in Christ. Daily, hourly, momently we are to choose Him as our Master, walk with Him, look unto Him, trust Him: obey Him, draw from Him our strength, wisdom, courage, purity, every gift and grace needed for our soul's life. The supply of all our need is in Him. Our sap, our life, our leaf and our fruit are from Him.
Cut off from Him we wither, we die, but in Him we flourish, we bring forth abundant fruit, we have life for evermore. Hallelujah!
'I knew such a one,' writes Paul, 'caught up to the third heaven -- into Paradise -- and heard unspeakable words:' that is the transitory experience. It passes in an hour and may, possibly, never in this life be repeated, any more than was the 'burning bush ' experience of Moses repeated, or the 'still small voice ' experience of Elijah, or the Jabbok experience of Jacob, or the transfiguration experience of Jesus.
Those experiences were brief, but their effects, their revelations were for eternity. They were not abiding experiences, but windows opened through which earth glimpsed Heaven. The memory of that vision was imperishable, though the vision passed. The veil was withdrawn, and for one awful, rapturous moment the eyes of the soul saw the face of God, and the spirit of a man had unutterable fellowship with its Father.
The man who has had such an experience will be changed, will be different from his former self, and different from all other men who have had no such experience.
Henceforth for him 'to live is Christ,' and the great values of life are not material, financial, social, or political, but moral and spiritual.
One of the poets illustrates this from Lazarus raised to newness of life after four days of death:
Heaven opened to a soul while yet on earth,
Earth forced on a soul's use while seeing Heaven.
Discourse to him of prodigious armaments
Assembled to besiege his city now,
And of the passing of a mule with gourds
Should his child sicken unto death, why look
For scarce abatement of his cheerfulness,
Or pretermission of the daily craft
While a word, gesture glance from that same child
At play or in the school or laid asleep,
(A false word, an angry gesture, evil glance that reveals moral wrong in the child,)
Stretch forth blind hands and trifle with a match Over a mine of Greek fire. He holds on firmly to some thread of life
Which conscious of, he must not enter yet
The spiritual life around the earthly life:
The law of that is known to him as this,
His heart and brain move there, his feet stay here,
And oft the man's soul springs into his face
As if he saw again and heard again
His Sage that bade him 'Rise,' and he did rise.
He knows God's secret while he holds the thread of life,
Indeed the especial marking of the man
Is prone submission to the heavenly will.
Seeing it, what it is and why it is.
It pleaseth him to live
So long as God please, and just how God please.
How, beast!' said I, 'this stolid carelessness
Sufficeth thee, when Rome is on her march
To stamp out like a spark thy little town,
Thy tribe, thy crazy tale and thee at once?'
He merely looked with his large eyes on me.
The man is apathetic, you deduce?
Contrariwise, he loves both old and young,
Able and weak, affects the very brutes
And birds -- the very flowers of the field
As a wise workman recognized tools
In a master's workshop, loving what they make.
Thus is the man as harmless as a lamb;
Only impatient, let him do his best,
At ignorance and carelessness and sin
An indignation which is promptly curbed.
The march of armies, the physical destruction of cities and overthrow of empires, was nothing to this man whose eyes God had opened, compared to sin in his child. He was diligent in his daily business, he loved everybody and everything, and for the rest he trusted God. This is the mark of the man who has seen God, the man who has been caught up, if only for a brief moment, into that ineffable and paradisiacal fellowship.
Blessed be such a man, if he be not disobedient to the heavenly vision; if, like Mary, who treasured in her heart the things spoken of her Baby Jesus, so he treasures up the sacred revelation given to him in the moment of vision!
We cannot command such moments. They come to us, come unexpectedly, but they never come except to the man who is in Christ, the man who day by day lives for Christ, seeks His face, meditates on His ways and word, takes time to commune with Him, wrestles with Him in prayer, seeks to glorify Him by good words and works, and waits and longs for Him more than they who through tedious hours of weary nights wait and long for the morning.
Let no humble earnest Officer be discouraged because he does not constantly live in such rapturous fellowship. Paul did not remain in Paradise. It was a brief experience and was followed by that troublesome 'thorn in the flesh.' These glimpses of Heaven, these rapt moments of fellowship are given to confirm faith and fit the soul for the toil and plodding service of the love-slaves of Jesus, who fight and labor to help Him in His vast travail to save a world of sinners from sin, from the Devil's grip, and from Hell.
The common, everyday, abiding experience is a lowly, patient, loving life in Christ -- This may be ours unbrokenly, and it should be.
'If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,' or creation, wrote Paul. He breathes the atmosphere of Heaven, while plodding the dusty roads of earth with his toiling fellow-men. He diffuses peace, he promotes joy, he kindles love, he quiets fear, he comforts mourners, he heals the broken heart.
In him Christ sees 'the travail of His soul,' and is satisfied. (Isaiah liii. 11.) In him the long, stern trial and discipline of Christ's incarnation and the bitter agony of His cross, begin to bear their full, ripe fruit, and the Master rejoices over him with joy, 'rests in his love,' and 'joys over him with singing.' (Zephaniah iii. 17.) In him 'the earnest expectation of the creation,' which 'waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God,' and which 'groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,' begins to be fulfilled, the long night of earth's shame and sorrow and sin is passing, and the dawning day of the reign of peace and righteousness is breaking. Hallelujah!
I knew a father in Christ whose children said, 'It is easy to be good when father is around'; not because they feared him and must be good, but because goodness flourished in the sunshine of his Christlike presence.
I knew a husband in Christ whose wife said, 'He is like David, who returned to bless his household.' His presence was a benediction to his home.
I knew a man who had been a hard, brutal drunkard, but was now a Salvation blacksmith 'in Christ.' One day a farmer brought his mare to this blacksmith to have her shod, and with her he brought straps and tackle to strap her up, for she was so fearful or so savage that no one could shoe her otherwise. But the blacksmith 'in Christ' said, 'Let me get acquainted with her.' He walked around her, stroked her gently, and spoke to her kindly and softly, while she rubbed her soft nose against him, smelled his garments, and got acquainted with him.
She seemed to make a discovery that this was a new creature -- a kind she had never met before, especially in a blacksmith's shop. Everything about him seemed to say to her, 'fear not,' and she was not afraid. He lifted her foot and took off a shoe, and from that day forth he shod that mare without strap or tackle, while she stood in perfect quiet and unconcern. Poor horse! she had waited all her lifetime to see one of the sons of God, and when she saw him she was not afraid.
And the whole earth is waiting for the unveiling, the revealing, 'the manifestation of the sons of God' -- waiting for the men and women, the boys and girls, who live in Christ and in whom Christ lives. When the world is filled with such men or controlled by them, then, and only then, will strikes and wars, and bitter rivalries and insane hatreds, and disgusting and hellish evils cease, and the promise and purpose of Christ's coming be fulfilled.