THE SUBSTANCE OF AN ADDRESS GIVEN AT A PRAYER MEETING
AT KESWICK IN 1907.
Let our starting point this morning be i John V. 4:
This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." There is a
victory which does not overcome—a victory which wins only in a minority of
contests, and wins then only with difficulty. That is not the victory
spoken of here. It is not by such an insufficient victory the Lord Jesus
Christ desires His people to overcome, and makes provision for them to
overcome. He grants a victory which does not leave it for a moment in
doubt in which direction the tide of conquest is moving; and this victory,
blessed be His name, may be experienced by all who believe on Him. It goes
without saying that the victory which He gives is the only victory worth
Two Powers have been known to war one against the other, the one being
victor only in a small number of engagements, while defeated in a large
majority of battles. There can be no satisfaction in such an issue. It is
thus in the spiritual life. We may have just enough success there to make
us miserable. But when "God always leadeth us in triumph," our joy is
"unspeakable and full of glory."
It is important to remember that the Christian life is a warfare—a
prolonged campaign, not a single battle, or a few battles. The arm of
flesh cannot carry us far in the war "from which there is no discharge,"
and our resource for victory is not in ourselves. At best the arm of flesh
is only flesh, and, "that which is born of flesh is flesh"; so that the
seeming victory to which the flesh attains is no true
victory over the forces of evil. If we are to be conquerors, we must "
render up our sword "—not only the sword by which we may have been
fighting against God, but also the sword of flesh-energy by which we have
been trying to do battle for God.
It is a truism to say that in living in Christ we have
enemies against which we have to contend. One is mentioned here, the
world—that mysterious and insinuating stream of deadly influence which the
orderly arrangement of material things by which we are surrounded exerts
over human life, when the unseen and eternal is lost sight of and
disregarded. But it is not of the enemies that I am minded specially to
speak now, although we shall do well to never let out of memory that they
are many and mighty. It is rather to the weapon of conquest that I desire
to direct attention. "This is the victory that overcometh even our faith."
Faith is, indeed, the weapon of our victory in Jesus Christ.
In this chapter you will observe that it is related
both to past achievement and to present need. Faith had already prevailed
in the experience of those to whom John wrote this Epistle. That is
implied by the verse before us, the literal rendering of the portion under
consideration being: "This is the victory which overcame the world, even
our faith." And in the following verse the Apostle points out that the
weapon which overcame is also the one which overcometh. "Who is he that
overcometh, but he that believeth? " etc. Or more literally: "Who is he
that keeps on overcoming, but he who keeps on believing?" etc. Faith is
everywhere, and always, the instrument of victory.
Now, there emerge here two important considerations,
viz., the Object towards which faith is directed; and that action of the
soul in which faith consists.
The Object is Jesus Christ. We think this simple
enough, no doubt; but how often is it forgotten that for the Christian
there can be no exercise of faith which is not directed towards the Lord
Jesus Christ We do ourselves harm if we confine our attention, or direct
our attention chiefly, to the movements of our own minds apart from the
Blessed Lord. We are not infrequently tempted to make faith its own
object, so to speak. But there is no faith on the Lord Jesus Christ where
He is lost sight of as the Object of Faith. True faith "rests upon Him
alone." The moment we turn the eye of the soul away from our Redeemer to
rest on any other object, that moment faith becomes null.
Attention has been called to the figure of a ladder
under which Christ represented Himself. It is a very suggestive and
illuminating figure. We must take our place and retain our place on the
ladder, whether it be to begin or to continue the ascent heavenwards. But
not a few have their foot on the Ladder—and on something else. And not a
few are trying to reach the ladder by constructing for themselves steps by
which they suppose they can reach it. This will not do. In no sense will
victory ever be ours by adopting this method. We must allow our faith to
step on to Christ Himself, and nothing must come between us and our
Saviour—not even our faith. Rests and steps other than Christ Himself are
worse than useless— yea, they are a positive hindrance to our fighting the
good fight. The good fight is a fight of faith. We are to look unto
Christ, not unto anything we are capable of doing or making. Just as we
looked unto Him at the beginning of our Christian career, so are we to
continue to look to Him in order that we may go on and triumph, for we
receive the" victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
We come now to the other consideration mentioned—i.e.,
in what overcoming faith consists. Well, there must be first of all a
clear recognition that the Captain of our salvation is Himself with us in
this warfare. He is our "Leader and Commander," and He is ever at hand.
His presence with and in His people is the most glorious of all the facts
of Redemption. It is His presence and activities amid the seven golden
candlesticks that have sustained His Church, and secured for her the
triumphs that have attended her march all down the centuries. Calvary is
precious, and the Atonement once for all there wrought. The empty grave is
precious, and the power of which it is the index. But acceptance of these
facts and contemplation of them, would not have sustained the Church in
her warfare. It is Christ, true to His own declaration, "Lo! I am with you
away," that has been the source of her strength and the secret of her
What is true of the Church as a whole is true of every
member of that Church. Christ over you, and in you and with you—this is
what makes victory a glorious possibility, and a still more glorious
realization. It was said of Henry of Navarre that while the feathers in
his helmet remained in view of his men, they were strong to fight and win
in any battle or number of battles. Beloved, we have far better than
feathers in the distance! We have our Christ at our side on the field. He
is within us, and without us, immanent and transcendent, in possession of
all power. Why should we be disheartened? Long ago He overcame these foes
of ours within the sphere of His own human nature, "spoiling the
principalities and powers of darkness." He has now carried the battle into
the enemies' camp, giving unto each of His followers who believes victory
within the sphere of each one's individual life. Oh! let Him conquer in
and through every one of us henceforward!
In order to do this, there is a condition which we must
fulfil. It is a condition with which every soldier on service, no matter
what the nature or the circumstances of the service, must comply. It is,
in a phrase that can be easily remembered, "Trust and obey." One could
content oneself with simply saying, "Trust," for, after all, obedience is
only the practical expression of true trust. But it is better to say,
"Trust and obey," because obedience is also the test of true trust, and to
couple obedience expressly with trust puts the matter more clearly.
You have then to rely upon Christ to do in you and for
you what He has promised to do. You must take up your position on
victorious ground in Him, and adhere, come what may, to that position. He
has already fulfilled His promise, and proved His faithfulness, in the
experience of multitudes, many of whom were quite as difficult subjects as
you are. He will do the same in your case if you only trust him.
And as He reveals His will to you day by day (He will
do this unfailingly, if you keep listening for His voice), see that you
obey without demur or argument. He will never give a command which it will
not be a sweet thing to obey. The more complete your obedience, the more
deep and joyous your peace.
As you think of victory, however do not suppose that
the victory promised is that of external worldly prosperity. Our Lord
Himself never had prosperity in the sense in which the world seeks and
offers it. But on the eve of Gethsemane and Calvary He was able to say: "I
have overcome the world." Appearances were against Him, but He had the
experience and joy of triumph in His heart. Do not let us imagine that
because appearances are against us we have lost, or are on the point of
losing, in this war. Neither let us imagine that, because external
circumstances are in our favour, we have won the day in the spiritual
conflict of which I have been speaking. Victory here is something
independent of either external prosperity or external adversity. It is
spiritual victory— the victory of the spirit—a victory, sure and real, if
we believe and continue to believe. Continuance-in believing is important.
Faith must be a sustained habit of the soul. Faith which is fitful and
periodic will not suffice. The faith that overcometh is an attitude of
soul best described in the words of an ancient prophet as "a staying of
the mind" on God.
In a closing word, let me add that this faith has its
rewards. The very victory which it appropriates and realizes is its
reward. Scripture, however, condescends upon details. In the book of the
Revelation several rewards are specifically referred to, and we shall do
well to study the pertinent passages. But the reward which seems to sum up
all the others is Life—"To Him that overcometh will I give to eat of the
tree of life." Life that is your reward, O Christian conqueror! Life,
strong, buoyant, joyous, elevating, because found in Him, and from Him who
is Himself Life. What a blessed Master we have, to reward us for that
which we should never have come by, except through Himself ! But there it
is—life— the life—the only life worth living, I venture to add.
Let us turn our backs upon the vain, disappointing,
fretful, empty, fruitless life which some of us have been living. 0
beloved, look unto Him who giveth the victory. He is here! He will never
fail us! As we look, and look, and continue to look, we shall taste the
joy of "the victory that overcometh."