The Author and the Finisher
"Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith!" Hebrews 12:2
Every believer is to be transformed into the image of Christ. Hence we are enjoined to grow up into him in all things. Whatever temper, affection, disposition, or propensity there is in us unlike Christ — is to be brought into harmony with him.
The soul of man is like a musical instrument whose chords are jangled and out of tune. The work of sanctification is to bring the whole life into harmony with the perfect life of Christ. There are, however, mistaken views of the manner in which this is accomplished.
Thus we are said to be sanctified through the means of grace. And a man has a hasty temper, or a grasping, worldly spirit, or a selfish heart, or finds himself in some way far below the model which Christ has given for imitation. He wants to become better, and reads so many chapters a day in his Bible, prays night and morning, and attends the church services regularly for a few weeks, and expects to find his evil traits and qualities disappearing in some mysterious way.
Now these means of grace are meant by God for blessing to our souls. The Savior's prayer to the Father for his disciples was, "Sanctify them through your truth." The Word of God is adapted to the sanctification of our natures. It holds ever before us the pure and holy character of God. It is a mirror, in which we may see ourselves as we are, with all our spots and blemishes. It holds forth ever before us, also, the pure and spotless image of Christ, into which we are to be fashioned. It is fitted thus to be a means of sanctification.
In the same way, all the ordinances are to be a means of sanctification. And yet they have no power of sanctification alone. A man may perform them all his life, may literally live in them — and become no whit better. It is only when the Spirit works in and through them — that they have sanctifying power.
It is also taught that afflictions and trials tend to sanctification. One of God's best schools on earth, is the school of trial. God employs no better teachers than the stern, severe, and seemingly harsh masters — disappointment, sorrow, loss, pain. We know that Christ's humanity grew up in this school. We know God has ordained that through much tribulation, we must enter the kingdom. We know that as fire purifies gold, so affliction refines and purifies God's dear golden ones. We know that as the photographer, when he would bring out the features of his picture, carries the plate into a dark room, where no ray of sunlight falls — so God often makes the room very dark around the souls of his children, that he may better develop his own image in them. Many a Christian comes out of a sore sickness or a great sorrow, better than he entered.
And because that God employs these trials and afflictions so much as his servants, and blesses them so often — many people have the impression that they possess some inherent power of sanctification — that they always make men better. But such is not the case.
The natural tendency of trial is to destroy. And there is many a bereavement or loss which falls upon the soul like a frost upon a garden, destroying its fairest flowers.
It is generally supposed that even the ungodly are made better by sorrows; but, on the other hand, sorrow only hardens the heart of an ungodly man. The same sun nourishes the branch on the tree — and withers the severed branch. In the same way, the same affliction blesses the man who is abiding in Christ — and destroys the man who has no vital relation to Christ. It is only the follower of Christ to whom afflictions become ministers of good — and to him only when the Spirit of God comes in them and blesses them to his heart.
Then it is not the affliction itself that blesses — it is the Spirit who works through the affliction. The dark storm-cloud passes over the earth, and the springs are fresher, the fields are greener, the flowers are more fragrant. It is not the angry cloud that blesses the springs, and fields, and flowers — it is the gifts of rain which the clouds bring in their dark folds from God. In the same way, it is not the cloud or storm of trial which blesses the soul, but the influences of his Spirit which he sends by these dark-mantled messengers.
Others understand that it is by their own efforts and struggles that they grow up into the full Christian stature. They are always quoting this text, "Work out your own salvation" — but they forget to finish the verse, "for it is God who works in you both to will and to do."
There are many who have been resolving and struggling for years to overcome some sinful temper, or appetite, or affection — and who are no nearer victory than when they began. Such efforts are useless and futile. And the lesson which I would seek to impress on my readers is this — that only the Spirit of God can transform us into the image of God. We must be content to let the Spirit take away our spots, overcome the evil in us, and produce in us the features and principles of the new life.
What is Christian life? It is essentially the dwelling of the Divine Spirit in the heart? "Christ lives in me."
What, then, is sanctification? It is not the mere patching, painting, and adorning of the old nature — but the growth of the new divine life in the soul.
When a seed falls into the ground, it dies. There is a germ of life in it which grows up into a plant or tree; but the seed itself dies and remains in the earth. In the same way, the old nature is not to go into Heaven, or to be trained for glory. It dies, and the Christ born in us at regeneration is what grows up into divine beauty.
Sanctification, then, is simply the Spirit of God in us — taking more and more full possession of our hearts, ruling more and more in us, and displacing more and more the old occupant. It is Jesus in our heart waxing mightier and stronger every day, and growing up into noble manhood. And that is not our work. The Spirit in us needs no human help to grow. If you would then be sanctified; if you seek purity, nobleness, strength, and beauty of soul — then learn that all you have to do is to give yourself up to God, to throw wide open every chamber of your heart to him, to let him have free access and full sway in your life, and to look to him alone for sanctification.
Christ is the master of your soul-house. He is adorning and beautifying it for himself, for his own temple. He knows just how he wants it, and he needs no help from you. Indeed, your unskilled hands would only mar his work.
The artist wants no clumsy fingers to help him paint his picture, or even add one touch to it. Nor does this Divine artist want a single human touch on any of his pictures. When you find a spot — take it to Christ, and ask him to wash it out, for you cannot. When you find some troublesome temper, or habit, or disposition — do not waste time by trying to overcome it yourself; take it at once to Christ.
Always remember that Christ is living in you — that he is the author and finisher of his own work in your soul, and that the best and only way you can help him is to leave it all to him, and to yield up your whole self into his hands to be molded and fashioned at his will.
David's prayer for purity is the model. It was not that God would help him to overcome his sinfulness, but "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create you in me a clean heart." Here lies the secret of peace. This lesson is the key to the true higher life. Our sanctification is not our work — but God's. Let the divine hand . . .
print the divine likeness upon your heart,
wash out all the spots;
smooth down all the asperities,
overcome all the evil,
bring out all the hidden beauties and heavenly features, and
take your poor, blurred, blotted, marred, and ruined life — and fashion it into the full image of the Redeemer.
"It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit," says the Lord.