By Rev. Asa Mahan
INTRODUCTORY. THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER, AND HOW TO ATTAIN IT.
When Moses was about to build the Tabernacle, he received from God a solemn and specific admonition to "make all things according to the pattern shown him in the Mount." We are divinely taught and admonished in this requirement that when we attempt to accomplish any specific work which God has assigned us, we must, if we would not have the work fail in its accomplishment, strictly conform to God's revealed pattern and method of operation.
In the Scriptures there is very distinctly revealed a divinely-developed and perfected pattern or model of Christian character, to which every believer is required to conform. God has also therein disclosed, with equal distinctness, the method by which that Christian character may be acquired, and take on the prescribed forms of beauty and perfection. This character is represented by the words "new man," as opposed to "the old man," our previous unrenewed moral and spiritual nature. The latter we are required to "put off," and the former to "take on." If we have failed to realize in our Christian character and experience all that is represented by the words, "new man in Christ Jesus," it must be for one of two reasons, or for both united. Either we have not attempted obedience to the command before us, or we have attempted in ways not conformable to His revealed method.
Two inquiries of vital importance here present themselves, viz., What is this "new man in Christ Jesus?" and, What is the revealed method by which we may "put off the old," and "put on the new man?" To each of these questions we will now proceed to give a concise and specific answer.
GOD'S IDEAL OF A CHRISTIAN.
In Old Testament prophecy we have a very distinct revelation of God's ideal of the New Testament saint. He is a redeemed sinner who, under the provisions and influences of "the new covenant," has been divinely cleansed "from all filthiness and from all his idols," and whose "iniquities shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and his sins, and they shall not be found." In "his feebleness he is as David," and in his strength "as the Lord, as the angel of the Lord before Him." "The sun is no more his light by day, neither for brightness does the moon give light unto him; but the Lord is unto him an everlasting light, and his God his glory. His sun does no more go down, neither does his moon withdraw itself: for the Lord is his everlasting light, and the days of his mourning are ended." In his experience has been realised, and is being realised, all that was spoken of by the prophet Joel: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and on My servants and on My handmaidens I will pour out in those days of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy."
In the New Testament this "new man" is revealed as "after God created in righteousness and true holiness," and as "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him;" as "beholding with open face the glory of the Lord, and being changed into the same image from glory to glory;" "as comprehending the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and knowing the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, and being filled with all the fullness of God;" as "walking in the light, as God is in the light;" as "having been made perfect in love;" and as "having fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
To him "Christ manifests Himself," and is formed within him "the hope of glory." He is "crucified with Christ," and "by the cross is crucified to the world, and the world to him." "He is in the world as Christ was in the world," and "in the name of Christ asks and receives until his joy is full;" and "believing in Christ he rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory." "Out of his belly flow rivers of living water." "When weak, he is made strong," and "in tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, and life," he is " more than conqueror, through Him that hath loved us."
In him "tribulation worketh patience; and patience experience; and experience hope;" and "all things work together for his good." When "troubled on every side, he is not distressed; when perplexed, he is not in despair; when persecuted, he is not forsaken; and when cast down, he is not destroyed." In every condition of existence he finds deep content in the center of the sweet will of God, and verifies in experience the great central fact of the Divine lifethat "we can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth us."
Clad in the panoply of God, "he stands in the evil day," and "quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked." "His faith groweth exceedingly," and his "charity aboundeth;" and he is constantly growing "into the stature of the fullness of Christ." He also "has power with God and with men." "He asks what he will, and it is done unto him." As reflecting the image and glory of Christ, he is "the light of the world" and the "salt of the earth." Such is God's revealed pattern of the New Testament saint, "the new man" whom we are required to "put on."
HOW TO ATTAIN THIS CHARACTER.
No one will question the correctness of the above presentation of God's revealed pattern of the New Testament saint, or affirm that we have given any unauthorized colouring to that representation. How shall we obey the command requiring us to "put off the old," and to "put on the new man?" Have we a revealed method of attaining this character? In answer to such inquiries, we remark:
1. That whenever any of the leading characteristics of "the new man" are referred to in the Bible, they are specifically represented as produced by the indwelling presence, special agency, and influence of the Holy Spirit. Do we "behold with open face the glory of the Lord?" and are we thereby "changed into the same image?" It is "by the Spirit of the Lord;" and this "liberty," this cloudless sunlight, we are expressly taught, is enjoyed where, and only "where the Spirit of the Lord is." Do we "have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ?" Does God "dwell in us and walk in us?" and do Christ and the Father "come to us" and "make their abode in us?" All this, we are expressly taught, is the "fellowship of the Spirit;" the fellowship which the Spirit induces and sustains.
Do we enjoy "assurance of hope?" It is because "the Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are the children of God." Have we power in prayer? It is because "the Spirit maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God." Do we call Jesus Lord? It is by the Holy Ghost. Have we no condemnation? It is because we are in Christ Jesus, and walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Do we bear love, joy, peace? &c. They are said to be "the fruit of the Spirit."
Do we "mortify the deeds of the body?" It is "through the Spirit." Do we "comprehend the breadth, and depth, and length, and height, and know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge?" It is because we have been previously "strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man." Does Christ become to us "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption?" It is because He is made such to us "of God;" that is, by the Spirit of Godthe Spirit "revealing Christ in us," and showing us His grace and glory.
When Christ promises to every believer that "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water," we must bear in mind that "this He spake of the Spirit." If, then, we would "put off the old man with his deeds," and "put on the new man, who after God is created in righteousness and true holiness," it must be through the prior indwelling of the Spirit in our hearts. On no other condition can we, in full conformity to God's revealed pattern, become New Testament saints.
2. This indwelling presence of the Spirit in our hearts, through which all these revelations of the Divine grace and glory occur, and all these moral and spiritual transformations are effected; through which all these Divine fellowships are possessed, and these assurances, "everlasting consolations and good hope, through grace," and this fullness of joy, are vouchsafedthis indwelling presence of the Spirit in our hearts, we say, is given to us after we have, through His convicting power, "repented of sin, and believed in Christ."
Nothing is or can be more plain than the teachings of inspiration on this subject. "Faith cometh by hearing;" "the sealing and earnest of the Spirit" are received "after we have believed." When Christ "spoke of the Spirit," He spoke of a blessing which "they that believe were afterward to receive." The Spirit "convinces the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment," and thus induces "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," but He "comes upon," "falls upon," or "endues with power from on high" only such as have already believed.
The inquiry which inspired apostles put to those who were believers was this: "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?"
As soon as individuals were recognized as real believers in the Lord Jesus, special prayer was offered for them that "they might receive the Holy Ghost." No believer can fully realize in experience God's revealed pattern of the Christian character until he is "endued with power from on high." Then, and not till then, will he comprehend the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of Divine love, and be "filled with all the fulness of God."
3. The indwelling presence and power of the Spirit are to be sought and received by faith in God's word of promise, on the part of the believer, after he has believed; just as pardon and eternal life are to be sought by the sinner before justification. "How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." Between the believer and the baptism of the Spirit lies "the promise of the Father." If this promise is not embraced by faith, the gift will not be vouchsafed.
Hence the apostles, as soon as a sinner was converted, and became a believer in Christ, turned and fixed his eye upon "the promise of the Spirit" as the crowning blessing of Divine grace, as the blessing without which he could not witness with power for the Lord Jesus. Before Christ would allow His disciples to enter upon their world mission, He commanded them to "tarry in Jerusalem, until they were endued with power from on high." So He requires every believer, before he enters upon his life-work as a Christian, to tarry before God, and pray and wait, and wait and pray, until "the Holy Ghost shall fall upon him," as "He did upon the disciples at the beginning."
Here, then, we have God's revealed method of attaining this ideal of the Christian characterthat is, of rendering real, in our experience and life, His divinely-developed and perfected pattern of the New Testament saint. If, in our endeavors to render that model real in our experience, we "make all things according to the pattern shown us in the Mount," and if those endeavors accord with God's inspired plan, our characters and lives will be constantly taking on new and higher forms of radiant beauty and perfection. If, on the other hand, we fail to put forth the necessary endeavors, or if those endeavors shall take a wrong direction, God will utterly reject us as "reprobate silver;" or our spiritual lives will manifest a feeble and sickly growth, and when we should be risen "into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," we shall be as "babes in Christ."
A FAILURE IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE.
"My life is a complete failure," said a very aged man, and the most wealthy that had then lived in the American nation. This term "failure" represents one of the most affectingly melancholy ideas that ever entered human mind. Life may be a failure for various reasons. No effective endeavours may be put forth in any direction. A purposeless, dreamy, effortless life is, of course, a dead failure.
A life full of purpose and activity may be a failure, because its direction has been towards worthless or unworthy ends. The ends and aims of the Christian life are the most worthy and important known, even to the infinite and eternal mind. To fail here, is to render existence itself a failure; and we do fail so far as we come short of our available privileges and advantages.
Not a few fail totally, because their so-called religious life is void of holy purpose, aim, and activity. Others, with the Jew, "follow after the law of righteousness," without "attaining to the law of righteousness," and that because their activity is self-originated, and void of faith as its central principle. Others still have in reality holy purposes and aims, and their lives take on some forms of real Christian activity. They have, also, a form of saving faith. Their lives, however, are comparative failures, because they live far below their privileges, and never possess or exercise "the power with God and with men," which is divinely offered them to possess and exercise.
Let us for a moment turn our attention to the twelve disciples whom Paul met at Ephesuswho had believed, but not "received the Holy Ghost since they believed." Suppose that for want of better instruction they had continued till death in the same state in which they then were. They might have been saved at last; but their lives as Christians would have been melancholy failures as compared with what they were after the Holy Ghost came upon them."
When Apollos first came to Ephesus he was "mighty in the Scriptures," was "instructed in the way of the Lord," was "fervent in spirit," and "taught diligently the way of the Lord." Like the twelve above referred to; however, "he knew only the baptism of John," and as a consequence "had not received the Holy Ghost since he believed." If no one had "expounded to him the way of God more perfectly," he would probably have continued as before. He might have been saved himself, and done some good: but his life would have been in many important respects a vast failure, as compared with what it did become after he was instructed in the "way of God more perfectly."
Christian reader, shall your life, in any form, be a failure? To prevent this, to "teach you the way of God more perfectly," if you do not yet know it, and to insure to you a life of which God shall not be ashamed, is the end for which this treatise has been prepared.
In no era of Church history, since the primitive age passed away, has the mission and "promise of the Spirit" occupied so much attention among all classes of believers as now. We regard this as a glorious sign of the times. We pray that the results of this attention may be a Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Ghost upon all churches throughout the Christian world.
There are two distinct forms of instruction upon this subject, which we briefly notice.
According to one, "the promise of the Spirit" as an indwelling Spirit is always fulfilled at the moment of conversion. What is subsequently to be expected is merely a continuation and gradual increase of what was then conferred.
According to the other view, the Spirit first of all induces in the sinner "repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Then, "after he has believed," that is, after conversion, "the Holy Ghost comes upon," "falls upon," and is "poured out upon him," and thus "endues him with power from on high" for his life mission and work. In this baptism of power, this "sealing and earnest of the Spirit," "the promise of the Spirit" is fulfilled.
This is the view which we shall endeavor to sustain in this volume.
It seems undeniable that if this last is not the correct view, inspired men have fundamentally erred upon this subject. With them conversion was not primâ-facie evidence that the convert had received "the sealing and earnest of the Spirit." Hence the question which they put to converts, viz., "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" The apostles did not deny or depreciate the importance or necessity of the Spirit's influences in conviction, conversion, and the whole work of justification. Nor would we by any means be supposed to entertain such an error. The Spirit is in the world to "convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment," to induce "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," and thus perfect the work of justification. Nor does the Spirit leave the convert when this necessary work is accomplished, but is ever present, preparing him for the promised baptism of Himself which is yet to be received by him.
Repentance and justification, and the Spirit's influences in producing the same, are necessary prerequisites for this great consummation When the sacred writers employed such terms and phrases as the following: "The Holy Ghost was not yet given," "The Holy Ghost had not fallen upon any of them," "The promise of the Spirit," "The sealing and earnest of the Spirit," "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since believed?" and "Baptized with the Holy Ghost," they referred to the promised baptism of the Spirit, by which we are "endued with power from on high," "after we have believed." As "the promise of the Spirit" awaits the believer after conversion, the apostles did not regard the fact of conversion as certain proof that the convert had "received the Holy Ghost" in His baptismal power.
The fact stands recorded, that many individuals were truly converted in Samaria under the preaching of Philip, and that upon not one of them "had the Holy Ghost fallen" when Peter and John first appeared among them. There were many holy men and holy women among the followers of Christ prior to His crucifixion. The Holy Ghost, as promised in the New Testament, however, was not given, as we are positively informed, until after "Jesus was glorified." The New Testament saints were "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" "after they believed," and not when they were converted. This is sufficient for the present, as the whole subject will be fully elucidated in subsequent pages.
How many thousands there are in the churches who have been converted, but are yet without the baptism of the Holy Ghost! They have been baptized with water, and believed according to the use of that term; but ask their hearts and their lives, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" Their doubts and fears, their lukewarmness and selfishness, their bigotry and worldliness, their errings and falls, give the answer.
Those who sustain the sacred relations of pastors and teachers have received a special commission to "feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." This commission is rendered specially sacred by the fact that of this flock "the Holy Ghost has made us overseers." When we come to this blood-bought flock, what direction shall our teachings take upon the subject under consideration? If there is any subject that we need to understand, it is this. If there is any subject on which we should borrow our light from "the sure word of prophecy," and on which our instructions should absolutely accord with that word, it is this. On no subject is wrong instruction more certain to render the religious life a failure.
If "the promise of the Spirit" is fulfilled in conversion, and we teach that "the baptism," "the sealing," and "the earnest of the Spirit" are to be sought and received "after we have believed," then we instruct believers to fix their hearts upon what they are never to find.
If, on the other hand, believers are to "receive the Holy Ghost" as promised, and are "endued with power from on high," not in conversion, but "after they have believed;" and we impress upon their minds the opposite view, then we impart a life-long misdirection to their seekings, prayers, and activities. We send them in the direction of darkness, instead of "marvelous light;" of weakness, instead of strength; of doubt, instead of "full assurance of hope;" of emptiness, instead of the "fulness of God;" and of the "bondage of corruption," instead of "the glorious liberty of the sons of God." Will you not attend us in a careful investigation of this great theme? If we go wrong, will you not expose the error? If we shall speak "the words of truth and soberness," will you not hold up the light before the Church of God?"
Reader, the subject before us is not one of mere speculative interest. It is, on the other hand, one of vital importance relatively to the life of God in your soul. If, when you have read what we hope to write, you do not find yourself nearer to God than you now are; if you do not find yourself in full "fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ," and if "your joy shall not be full," or you shall not be earnestly moved to "seek with all your heart and with all your soul" until you find this infinite good; then so far we have written, and you have read, in vain.
If you have not "received the Holy Ghost since you believed," you need to know certainly whether there is not in reserve for you "some better thing" than you have yet obtained. Will you not read these pages with the fixed purpose to know, if possible, the truth upon this whole subject, and, if you find the light, to follow it, until you are "filled with all the fulness of God?"