Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
I suppose that every Christian has been exercised at some
time or other by verses in Scripture containing the word "perfect" or
"perfection." While convinced that those who lay claim to sinless perfection
err, yet probably you have not been fully satisfied by any explanation which
you have seen of those verses. For example, take such passages as the
following: "We speak wisdom among those who are perfect" (1 Cor. 2:6): the
Holy Spirit speaking through Paul acknowledges some are "perfect," and He
was referring to those still on earth. "This also we wish, even your
perfection" (2 Cor. 13:9): that was the desire and longing of the Apostle
for those saints; did he wish for something unattainable, impossible? "All
scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable . . . that the
man of God may be perfect": such a verse ought to exercise us. "But the God
of all grace . . . make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you" (1
Peter 5:10): this too is while we are on earth. "I have not found your works
perfect before God" (Rev. 3:2), which clearly intimates they ought to have
been: the Ephesians were being rebuked because their works were imperfect.
Such verses as the above have puzzled and troubled many.
Honest hearts have been exercised as to the exact meaning of the term
"perfect" or "perfection." I want then, to try and give you an outline of
the teaching of God's Word on this important subject. Let us turn next to
Job 1:1, "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that
man was perfect." Yet in 9:20 Job says, "If I justify myself, my own mouth
shall condemn me; if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse."
There seems to be a flat contradiction between those two verses. The
explanation is simple: the word "perfect" is used in different senses in
those two passages. Job 9:20 signifies, If I were to say I am sinless,
faultless, absolutely perfect, I would lie.
But what is meant in Job 1:1 where God Himself says that
he was "a perfect man"? The term there, and in many other passages of the
Old Testament means "sincere, honest"; such verses speak of a perfection
of sincerity as opposed to hypocrisy; compare Ephesians 6:24. But there
are other verses, especially in the New Testament, where that definition
does not fit, where the word "perfect" signifies much more than "honest" or
"upright," and which are by no means easy to interpret. I refer to such
verses as we looked at at the beginning. Those verses trouble sincere souls,
for such feel that they are very imperfect. While it is true that the
Christian may be able to rejoice over what he reads in Hebrews 10:14— "by
one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified"—yet he
mourns and grieves over many imperfections.
Coming more closely to our subject, I want to carefully
consider what kind of "perfection" is attainable in this life by the saint.
In Philippians 3:15 Paul says, "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect,"
and yet in the 12th verse of the same chapter the Apostle affirmed of
himself, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already
perfect." Now Scripture does not contradict itself, yet we need to make
distinctions, discriminating between things that differ.
1. We must discriminate between legal and evangelical
perfection. Legal perfection is that complete and constant
conformity in desire, thought, word and deed which God requires from us unto
His holy and righteous law. This is the perfection which God demands from
every creature—a full and flawless obedience, both internal and external,
loving Him with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves; and this, not
occasionally, but perpetually. This has been God's demand in every age, and
it cannot be lowered. "Cursed is everyone who continues not in all things
which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal. 3:10), is the
Divine sentence resting upon every transgressor. There must be a steady
perseverance in doing those things which God has commanded, and in
abstaining from all those things which He has prohibited. But no fallen
human being can possibly meet that demand. As Romans 8:3 declares, "For what
the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh": an imperfect
man cannot live perfectly; a sinful creature cannot yield sinless obedience.
Now it is at this point the marvelous grace of God
towards His people appears. As Romans 8:3-4 tells us, "For what the law was
powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by
sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And
so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements
of the law might be fully met in us." God sent His Son here as the surety of
His elect to meet the demands of the law by perfectly obeying it in their
stead. But does this mean that Christ fulfilled the law for us so that our
responsibility to the law has been removed? Does it mean that Christ has
kept the law so that there is no longer need for us to keep it? No, that
could not be. God cannot forego His claims, and Christ would be the minister
of sin if He had introduced a system of lawlessness. What then?
Christ has procured for His people the gift of the Holy
Spirit, and in regeneration the Spirit begets in our hearts a love for the
law, a desire after that which is holy and righteous before God, and the
real Christian longs to meet God's claims, walk obediently, and endeavors to
do so. Through Christ God accepts this real desire and genuine effort to
obey Him. Here then is where we must draw the first distinction on
"perfection": we must discriminate between legal and evangelical perfection,
for sinless obedience was found only in Christ. Evangelical perfection
or sincere obedience is found in every Christian.
By "sincere obedience" is meant an honest desire and a
real effort to keep the law, please God in all things, not allowing any
known sin. Evangelical perfection is primarily a thing of the heart, at
which God ever mainly looks. The Christian seeks to please and honor God in
all things: I speak of what is characteristic or general of him, that which
marks the main tenor of his heart and life. Let me illustrate this point to
you. The needle of a ship's compass which is in working order, always points
to the north. You may take that compass and jar it, and the needle will
swing in another direction; but when that compass regains its level, or the
interfering finger is removed, the needle resumes its normal and correct
relation. Now the normal condition of the heart of a regenerated person
points toward God, seeks God, desires God, aims to please Him. There are
times—in the storms of life, in the disturbances of temptation, in the
assaults of Satan—when the heart is deflected and turned away from God; and
this happens frequently in the experience and life of every Christian for
"we all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2). Nevertheless, just as surely as
the needle of the compass when released from an interfering power turns
again to the north, so the heart of a regenerated person comes to itself,
recovers its poise, and instinctively turns back to God.
Now this evangelical perfection has marked God's children
in every dispensation. Unto Abraham—the father of all those who believe—the
Lord said, "I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be perfect" (Gen.
17:1). That was God's standard then: a heart completely surrendered to His
claims, a sincere desire and determination to please Him in all things. "I
beseech you, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before You in truth and
with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Your sight"
(2 Kings 20:3). This is a verse which has puzzled many, particularly the
words we have placed in italics. Was Hezekiah lying? Can you conceive of a
man who was dying turning to the Lord and uttering a deliberate falsehood?
Was he mistaken? No. The mistake is ours, if we fail to interpret this in
the light of other Scriptures. Hezekiah did not mean that his was a sinless
heart, nor one that had never deviated from God: but instead, a heart that,
in its deepest depths, in its genuine nature, in its real tenor, desired to
please God, and which despite many failures, had sought to do so. And this
is something which everyone that will enter Heaven must have.
"And you, Solomon, my son, know you the God of your
father, and serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the
Lord searches all hearts" (1 Chron. 28:9). Here is another scriptural
declaration which helps us to understand the nature of evangelical
perfection: the obedience which God requires must be performed readily and
not by constraint, with a willing mind. It must be spontaneous, and not
compulsory. It must proceed from love, and not from terror. That obedience
which is acceptable to God, issues from the gratitude of a renewed heart,
and is rendered freely, and not from external constraint. So that to serve
Him with "a perfect heart and a willing mind" signifies to obey Him, readily
and gladly, freely and out of love.
As a contrast from 1 Chronicles 28:9 take 2 Chronicles
25:2, "And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not
with a perfect heart." Amaziah had received a godly training and had
acquired certain godly habits: his external conduct was according to God's
law; but He who looks within, declared that his heart was not perfect—which
refers not to a state of sinlessness, but signifies that his heart was not
even honest, it did not ring true. There was not a real desire to please God
and an ardent effort to carry out that desire. That is very solemn. It makes
one think of James 1:8, "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways,"
and O how many such there are in Christendom today!
Perhaps some amplification of what has just been before
us may prove helpful. How often we meet with people who are scarcely the
same twice together: they are as variable as the weather. On some occasions
they appear to be really spiritual, ready to talk about Divine things,
anxious to know the way of the Lord more perfectly, desirous of pleasing
Him. But, perhaps only a few days later, you find them thoroughly wrapped up
in the things of the world, with no appetite at all for spiritual converse.
The hearts of such people are like the pendulum of a clock in action: never
stationary, ever swinging to and fro. It is as the Lord said of Israel of
old, "Their heart is divided" (Hosea 10:2)—vacillating between love of self
and love of God, fluctuating between occupation with Christ, and occupation
with the world. O my friends, this is solemn and searching: God will not
tolerate a rival. Do not mock Him by seeking to give Him half your heart; do
not insult Him by imagining that you can love Him and the world too. Be
either one thing or the other: 1 Kings 18:21, Revelation 3:15.
Now to sum up this first point of distinction. Legal
perfection is that sinless perfection which the Law demands from man:
that absolute, undivided, continuous obedience, both inward and outward, to
all its precepts. This strict and faultless obedience Christ rendered unto
the Law in the stead of and on behalf of His people. Evangelical
perfection is that sincere desire of a renewed heart to please God in
all things, a desire which is inseparably linked to an honest determination
and effort to do so. True, that desire is never fully realized by any of us
in this life; yet He who looks at and knows the heart, perceives its true
and deep longings after Himself, and so, for Christ's sake, accepts the will
for the deed.
2. We must distinguish between absolute and relative
perfection. And here too the former was found only in Christ, for
He along received the Spirit "without measure" (John 3:34). He is the only
one that could truthfully say, "I always do those things which please Him"
(John 8:29). How blessed and refreshing it is for our hearts to turn away
from the world, from considering our own failures, and contemplate that
blessed One who lived here for thirty-three years, the eye of the Father
ever upon Him and always seeing that which delighted Him, ever able to say,
"This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
And Christ is the standard which God sets before us. "Let
this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5); "Christ
also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His
steps" (1 Peter 2:21); "he who says he abides in Him ought Himself also so
to walk, even as He walked" (1 John 2:6). God has set before us a perfect
standard, but it is never fully reached by any Christian, for the flesh is
still left within us, and "the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the
Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so
that you cannot do the things that you would" (Gal. 5:17). Now that very
opposition between the flesh and the Spirit in the Christian, issuing in so
many failures and sins, causes him to hang his head in shame, groan and cry
"O wretched man that I am" (Romans 7:24). That was true of Paul himself:
this was his experience. It was the beloved Apostle who said, "O wretched
man that I am," and he said it not before conversion, nor during the early
years of his Christian life, but much later on. So with us there is a daily
failing, and need for a daily forgiveness.
Yet, while sinless perfection is unattainable by us now,
there is a relative perfection which should be reached by the
Christian, and which may be attained in this life. Let me seek to define the
nature of this. It is really twofold.
First, as Christians are compared with non-Christians.
In contrast from the unconverted, the saints are subject to Christ: they
have surrendered to His Lordship, accepted His yoke, and so are "perfect" in
contrast from those who yield not themselves to Him. "Jesus said unto him,
If you will be perfect, go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and
you shall have treasure in Heaven: and come and follow Me" (Matt. 19:21).
The obvious meaning of that word was, "If you will be a Christian, if you
are anxious to be saved, here is what you must do—go and sell what you have,
give to the poor, come and follow Me." In other words, if you wish to enjoy
the privileges of the Gospel you must submit to the rules of the Gospel.
Thus, the word "perfect" is used here in a relative way, to describe the
Christian in contrast from the non-Christian. When one becomes a Christian
he has reached relative "perfection," in contrast from those who are not
Before passing on, we had better anticipate a question,
suggested by "If you will be perfect, go sell that you have," which
should be linked up with Luke 14:33. The question is this, Does God require
me to part with all that I have? The answer is Yes, and No. Yes, in the
sense that God requires me to hold everything that I have at His disposal;
and it may be that before many months have passed He will put some of us to
the test. God requires me to hold every object I have in this world at His
disposal, so that if He makes it clear I am to relieve His poor suffering
people to the extent that I should give away every cent, I am to do so.
Nothing that I have is mine absolutely: this must be recognized and owned.
What I have is only loaned me by God. Then does this mean that it is wrong
for me to have any money in the bank at the present time? No; it means I am
to say, "Lord, You have been pleased to prosper me, I have so much on hand,
but it is for You to say how it shall be used: if it is Your will for me to
keep it, Your will be done; if it is Your wish for it to be used in
relieving the distress of others, I am ready to do so." The man who does
this has a "perfect" heart: there is no reserve in it, it is fully yielded
to God. The man who has not done this is no Christian: he is not
regenerated, for his heart treasures gold more than God; if he will not
place his gold at God's disposal, that money is his god—which proves that he
When God saves a man He works in him a miracle of grace:
He changes the natural character or bent of the heart. It is the natural
bent of the heart to hold on to that which we have worked hard to obtain;
but the supernatural grace of God makes us willing to lay all at the Lord's
feet. This is true not only of gold, but of our children also. A regenerated
person will place each child at the absolute disposal of God, saying, 'It is
not mine, it is Yours to do with, as You please; to enlighten or to leave in
darkness, to save and send forth as a missionary to the heathen, or to
remain here; it is Your creature, and my heart relinquishes all absolute
claims upon it.' Everything we have and are must be laid before God, and by
the heart truly held at His sovereign disposal. This is the nature of
relative Christian "perfection": it is the difference between the heart of a
converted and an unconverted person.
Second, there is a relative perfection as one
Christian may be compared with other Christians. Even saints differ much
among themselves. Though none attain unto absolute and sinless perfection,
yet there are several degrees of grace and diversity of growth among
Christians. There are babes, young men, fathers: (1 John 2;13): the strong
and mature Christian is relatively "perfect" in contrast from the weak and
immature, who has less wisdom to detect error and less strength with which
to resist sin and Satan. I want us to look at Scripture in connection with
this point. "That we be no more children, tossed to and fro" (Eph. 4:14);
God is not honored by our remaining spiritual dwarfs; He is not glorified by
a Christian continuing a spiritual infant all his days. We should outgrow
our spiritual babyhood.
"We speak wisdom among them that are perfect" (1 Cor.
2:6): "perfect" here means matured, fully grown, in contrast from spiritual
babes. The Corinthians were squabbling, one saying "I am of Paul," and
another "I am of Apollos": they were so carnal as to be fighting among
themselves; consequently the Apostle said, "I could not speak unto you as
unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ" (3:1).
So you see there are differences among God's people. "For
everyone that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he
is a babe. But strong meat belongs to those who are of full age" (Heb. 5:13,
14). "Brethren, be not children in understanding: . . . be men" (1 Cor.
14:29)—act like such. "Stand fast in the faith, be men of courage; be
strong" (1 Cor. 16:13). Those who are well instructed by the Spirit in the
mysteries of the faith, who have made real progress in practical godliness,
who are firm and established in their love for God, are, comparatively
"perfect" in contrast from the "babes" in Christ.
3. There is also a "perfection" of parts. Let
me illustrate from the physical. A child born minus a limb, lacks a complete
or perfect body; so one born with two arms and loses one, no longer has a
complete or perfect body. Thus it is if a Christian lacks the development of
any of the really vital graces: he may have faith, zeal, perseverance, but
if he lacks compassion, he is deficient—his spiritual character is maimed.
If a Christian has tenderness, patience, great consideration for others, but
lacks courage, faithfulness, unflinching righteousness, he is lacking in
parts. 2 Peter 1:5-7 is for the correcting of this, inculcating the fully
developed Christian character, bidding us cultivate all the graces of the
Spirit, and thus be a "perfect" Christian, that is, complete in all his
parts. "May grow up into Him in all things, who is the Head, even Christ"
(Eph. 4:15)—not only in faith, courage, patience, but in everything.
4. There is also a "perfection" of degrees or growth in
grace, an advancing from spiritual babyhood to spiritual maturity.
"When I was a child I spoke as a child . . . but when I became a man, I put
away childish things" (1 Cor. 13:11). See the little one surrounded by its
toys in the nursery: behold the same child fifteen years later—it has no use
for those toys, it has outgrown them. So it should be with us spiritually.
Look again at an infant: it is easily peeved, it cries at almost anything:
that is the characteristic of a "child"; and it is largely the same with a
"babe" in Christ—worrying and fretting over trifles. "When I became a man, I
put away childish things": God help us all to do so.
Let me restate the four principal points which occupied
First, there is an evangelical perfection in
contrast from that absolute perfection which the law demands, God in His
grace accepting from His people (through Christ) sincere obedience of the
heart: that genuine desire and sincere effort to please Him in all things.
Second, relative perfection in contrast from
absolute: this is what distinguishes the Christian from the non-Christian.
Third, perfection of parts, that is, the adding of
one grace to another, so that a well-rounded Christian character and conduct
Fourth, perfection of degrees, that is, growth
from spiritual babyhood to youth, and from youth to full maturity. It is
after the third and fourth we should daily and prayerfully strive.
By way of application, let me point out, first, that the
Christian ministry has been appointed by God for "the perfecting" of His
saints: see Ephesians 4:11, 12. God sends His servants that you may be
instructed, nourished, sanctified. "Night and day" Paul "prayed exceedingly"
that he should come unto the Thessalonian Christians, and this that he
"might perfect that which is lacking in your faith" (1 Thess. 3:10): this is
the yearning of every true servant of Christ's.
Second, our improvement of this means, the response which
God requires His people to make unto the ministry of His servants: "As you
have received of us how you ought to walk and to please God, so you would
abound more and more" (1 Thess. 4:1): may this be true of you.
Third, nothing short of this should be our aim and
diligent endeavor, that you may "stand perfect and complete in all the will
of God" (Col. 4:12).
I. Reasons why we must be perfect.
That is, not only sincere, with a heart desiring to and seeking after the
glory of God, not only having all the spiritual parts of a Christian, and
striving after the highest possible growth, but that we may actually attain
unto all that is possible for us in Christ, in this life.
First, we have to do with a perfect God, and therefore we
should seek perfection of character and conduct: "Be therefore perfect, even
as your Father who is in Heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). The main reason
why God has been pleased to make known His attributes, to reveal unto us His
perfections, is that we should take them for our copy.
Second, a perfect standard is set before us, and God will
not lower it. To Abraham He said, "Walk before Me, and be perfect" (Gen.
17:1). Abraham is the father of us all (Romans 4:16, Gal. 3:7), therefore
what God says to him, He also says to us.
Third, we have a perfect rule to regulate us: see 2
Timothy 3:16, 17. Those verses show that the strictness of the law is
embodied in the Gospel. The high standard which God has set up under the old
covenant, has not been lowered under the new covenant. The exhortations of
the New Testament are but so many explanations and applications of the Ten
Fourth, we have a perfect and all-sufficient Redeemer to
rely upon: Colossians 2:9. There is everything in Christ which is needed by
us, and all that is in Him we may appropriate. God has not only given Christ
for us, but He has given Him to us. Christ Himself is ours! O that the Holy
Spirit may teach us how to draw from His infinite fullness.
II. Motives to Stimulate.
First, all that we lost in Adam should be found again in Christ, or we do
not honor Him. The last Adam is far more able to save than the first Adam
was to destroy: Romans 5:17—yet that "abundance of grace" has to be
diligently sought; it is not given to the lazy and halfhearted. O that the
Spirit may deeply impress each of our hearts with the fact that the more we
"grow up in Him in all things," the more Christ is glorified through us.
Second, we pray for perfection (at least, I hope we do)
and therefore, should strive after it with all our might, otherwise our
prayers are but a pretense. True prayer is a solemn binding of ourselves to
use the means that we may obtain the blessings which we ask: if this be not
the intention of our hearts, then our prayer is merely empty words. When we
truly ask God to make us more holy, we pledge ourselves to use every means
which makes for holiness, and strive our utmost to be holy. Prayer was never
designed to be a substitute for diligent effort. Therefore if we are praying
for the highest perfection attainable in this life we must strive after it.
Third, we should remind ourselves more frequently of what
we lose when we slacken in our efforts after spiritual growth. All around us
we behold illustrations of the fact that God has closely linked together
sin and misery; so also has He inseparably connected holiness and true
happiness. Therefore we should consider how much we miss when we slacken
in our efforts after Christian perfection. It is those who take Christ's
yoke upon them, who find rest unto their souls; it is those who walk closest
with Him that enter most into His joy. Not only so, but they who live a holy
and happy life have a triumphant exit from this world: Psalm 37:37. Balaam
said he wished that he might die the death of the righteous, but he
was unwilling to live the life of the righteous. If our daily lives
be right with God He will look after us in death: this thought is also
brought out in 2 Peter 1:11, which supplies the climax to the whole of that
III. Means to Help.First, make sure that a Divine work of grace has begun in you;
and, my friends, we cannot be too sure, nor be too diligent in the duty of
self-examination. But there must be life before there can be growth: it is
no use trying to grow if you do not have spiritual life. If you are in
doubt, get alone with God and earnestly beseech Him to begin a good work in
you. We must definitely choose God for our portion before we can cleave to
and serve Him. Just as a young man selects his vocation or calling, and
later chooses the woman to be his wife, so the Christian must definitely
choose God. The enjoyment of God, the service of God, the pleasing of God,
must become the soul's portion for time and eternity; but we cannot cleave
unto God, walk with Him, or go on with Him, until we first take Him for our
portion. David said, "The Lord is my portion."
Second, give special attention to the radical graces.
Just as in our physical bodies there are some organs and members more vital
than others, playing a larger part in determining whether we are well or
sick, weak or strong—so there are certain graces in the Christian character
which are more vital and radical than others. What these are is intimated in
1 Corinthians 13:13: faith, hope, and love. Let us be especially concerned
to have a strong faith, a lively hope, and a fervent love.
Remember that word of the Lord to the Pharisees in
Matthew 23:23: they were very careful about minor things, most punctilious
about washing their hands, so particular they would not eat if the shadow of
a Gentile even crossed their path. But God is not found in such things,
neither is the spiritual life promoted by them. Give your attention to that
which is vital and fundamental.
Third, seek grace to appropriate Philippians 4:13, and
turn it into earnest prayer: "I can do all things through Christ who
strengthens me." Unbelief says, I cannot; previous failures say, I cannot;
past experience says, I cannot; the example of fellow-Christians says, I
cannot; Satan tells me, I cannot. But faith says, I "can do all things
through Christ who strengthens me": turn that statement into believing,
fervent, persistent prayer. Count upon God making it good.
Fourth, remind yourself frequently that failure to strive
hard and constantly after perfection dishonors Christ. O that the love of
Christ may constrain us, that gratitude to Him will compel us to seek a
closer conformity unto Him. The more I am like Him, the more I honor Him;
the less I am like Him, the more I dishonor Him. We must realize this if our
hearts are to be stirred up unto renewed efforts after perfection.
IV. Tests. Here there are two extremes to guard against. On the one hand,
the workings of pride, assuming that I have made more progress than is
really the case. On the other hand (and to a genuine Christian, this danger
is just as real), the workings of unbelief, a mock humility denying that I
have made true progress. Now every real Christian should be anxious to know
what measure of growth he has attained unto. You know how it is with growing
children: how anxious they are to test themselves. They make a mark on the
wall to register their height, and in a month's time see whether they have
gone beyond it: so it should be with us spiritually. I am going to mention
five things by which we should test ourselves concerning our growth.
First, increasing deadness to the world. The
closer we approximate to Christian perfection, the deader will our hearts be
unto the world. The more fully we are conformed unto the image of Christ,
the less power will the world have to attract us. When I say that, I refer
to something more than its amusements and grosser sins; I mean also its
pretty things. One of the marks of a child is to value a thing not according
to its worth and usefulness, but according to its attractiveness to the eye.
There are many forms of worldliness: Isaiah 3:22 warns against "changeable
suits of apparel"—such savors of pride; it is an unnecessary expense; and,
it is a denial of our strangership. The more we are really growing in grace
the less shall we be attracted by such baubles, and the more attention shall
we give to the adorning of our souls. One half of practical godliness is a
dying unto the world; the other half is a living unto God: the mortification
of self-love, and the strengthening of love to God. "But God forbid that I
should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world
is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14)—that is the language
of a perfect Christian, that is the experience of a mature saint: dead to
the world. It no longer has any attraction for him and no power over him.
Second, increasing dissatisfaction with our present
attainments. Instead of being pleased with and proud of the progress he
has made, the growing Christian increasingly mourns over the littleness of
it, groans daily because of his sinful failures, and is burdened over his
lack of conformity to Christ. Instead of self-delight for having attained
unto this or that; there is a realization that "there remains yet very much
land to be possessed" (Josh. 13:1). The nearer I come to real Christian
perfection, the more imperfect I feel myself to be. Therefore, dear friends,
the measure of spiritual growth you have made during the past year is the
extent to which you have grown out of love with yourself.
Third, increasingly being moved by love rather than by
fear. The weak and immature Christian is most obedient when he is most
in fear of punishment from God—either fear of His law or fear of His
chastisement. But the mature Christian, he who has grown in grace, is moved
more by the love of God and love to God: this is what regulates his actions:
"For the love of Christ constrains us" (2 Cor. 5:14). The extent to which
we have grown spiritually during the last twelve months may be gauged by the
measure in which our conduct is now regulated by love to Christ.
Fourth, increasing humility. Where there is real
and deep humility, one sees more quickly and is more concerned about his own
defects than those of his fellow Christians. A proud man is quick to note
the faults of other people, but it takes a humble man to recognize and
acknowledge his own. A babe in Christ is far more likely to be proud of his
spiritual attainment than is a mature Christian: the latter is filled with
self-abhorrence. Thus, increasing holiness means increasing self-loathing.
Fifth, increasing deliverance from childishness. I
believe the analogy holds good at every point between the natural and the
spiritual. Let me name one or two points of resemblance.
First, touchiness characterizes an infant: a little child
will cry over every trifle, but as he gets older he outgrows that. The same
holds good spiritually: alas, that such growth does not always keep pace
with the added years. Oftentimes one who has been a Christian for twenty
years has really grown less than one who is only five years old spiritually.
Where there is growth, one is less sensitive of being hurt over trifles.
Second, a child is regulated very largely by his senses,
rather than by his reason. Take food as an example: if something looks nice,
tastes nice, smells nice, the child wants it, whether or not it is good for
him—he is regulated by his senses. But as he grows older he learns that some
things which look and smell good are injurious, and so he learns to leave
them alone. So it is spiritually: a developed Christian is regulated by his
judgment rather than by his senses.
Third, a child is incapable of helping others very much:
it is always needing attention itself. But as the child grows older it
increases in usefulness: it becomes able to help mother in the home, and
later on to do other things in the world. So it should be spiritually. That
Christian who is all the time needing attention and help from others is not
growing; he is only a spiritual babe.
Finally, a child is always getting into mischief or
trouble, constantly doing something or other which it ought not, so that it
is not safe to allow it to be long out of sight. But as it grows older, if
it is properly trained, it grows out of that. Now, my friends, honestly
measure yourselves by these tests.
In closing, let me say, praise God for any real growth
that you can see has been wrought in you: to Him alone belongs all the
glory. Strive earnestly after further growth, avoiding all things which
hinder and retard it, making a diligent use of all the means of grace which
God has appointed for the promotion of the same.