By Arthur Zepp
OBSTACLES TO PROGRESS"To him that overcometh."
"We may increase holy emotions and desires by removing obstacles to their exercise. The speed of a vessel or a car depends not only on the propelling power, but also on the number and greatness of the obstacles. The sanctified person is continually acquiring knowledge in relation to the object of his perfected love, and also in relation to his physical and intellectual infirmities, the nature of temptations, and the arts of the adversary. These infirmities, temptations and evil arts are obstacles to his progress in holiness. But every day's experience, under the instruction and guidance of the Spirit, teaches their nature and diminishes their power. He learns where his weakness is and better how to counteract it. He knows the artifices of the adversary, the insidious manner of his approaches, and the way in which he can be defeated. Hence serious obstacles, which before perplexed his progress, are removed." -- T. C. Upham
There are obstacles many to the soul's growth in holiness. We would not magnify them but with Caleb and Joshua, say, "We be well able to overcome them." If the Lord delight in us then shall we be able to triumph over every foe -- and make every obstacle a stepping stone to higher heights of advancement.
When William the Conqueror came over from Normandy to conquer England, in landing from his vessel, he slipped and fell on the beach. His men cried out, "This is an ill omen of defeat." "Nay," was the prompt reply, as he arose with a handful of sand in each hand, "Thus do I seize the land." And so may we turn every emblem of defeat, and every obstruction into a symbol of victory, as the oyster converts the annoying sand into pearl.
Some of the obstacles which impede the holy soul's progress in the Divine life may be mentioned.
Ignorance: "My people are destroyed because of lack of knowledge."
"Evangelical holiness is perfect love. Love is based in part on knowledge. We can never love one whom we know not; and as our knowledge extends we have a wider basis for this principle. Every new manifestation of God's character, attributes and providences will furnish new occasions for accessions of love. One perfected in love, a holy person, may increase in holiness in proportion with his increase in knowledge. Little claim has any one to be holy, who is willing to be ignorant. We do not refer to the knowledge of natural things, which often perplexes rather than promotes inward life; but to religious knowledge -- to everything which throws light upon the character, providences and will of God ... Holiness is a great study; only a faithful student will understand it. God hath given us all things that pertain to life and godliness," through the knowledge of Him that called us to glory and virtue. "Add to your faith virtue and to virtue knowledge." -- Thomas C. Upham
Paul prayed for the Colossian Christians that they "might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding." "When we speak of knowledge we do not mean "classical lore" nor knowledge of the sciences; though, if in the providence of God we may be so circumstanced as to gain knowledge of these, they may, under the blessing of the Almighty, be tributary to spiritual knowledge." "Above all thy getting get knowledge," but remember the true and most important knowledge is spiritual. "The unction we have from Him teaches us all things." Not Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, nor mathematics, but all things that pertain to life and godliness. which is far more important. "If one had his choice of acquiring knowledge of the poems of Homer or the Psalms of David, he had better choose the latter. The Epistles of Paul should be given preference to the writings of Shakespeare." Thank God, we may be saved without vast knowledge. And we may advance in the holy life without A. M., B. A., Ph.D., or D. D. degrees, but we cannot make progress without a broad knowledge of the word of God. When the inspired writer wrote, "God's people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," he meant knowledge of God's will as revealed in His word. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly."
"True faith produces an immediate rest of soul from all carefulness and anxiety and settles it in great peace. This state of freedom from carefulness and anxiety will be as broad as the intelligence of him who exercises faith. Ignorance of the Promises, and of Christ's official relations, and ignorance of what we may expect of Him, may prevent or break the soul's rest under certain circumstances, or in certain emergencies. For example, suppose the soul to be ignorant of the declaration that all things work together for good to them that love God, or of this, "My grace is sufficient for thee," or of this, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee;" or this, "As thy day so shall thy strength be." Then certain trials may throw the soul into a state of unrest and anxiety. I mention these merely as examples of how ignorance or a want of thoughtfulness may embarrass the spiritual life and break up the rest of a true believer, until he is informed or remembers what he has in the fullness of his blessed Saviour." -- Charles G. Finney
"Through inexperience and imperfect instruction, there may come spiritual failures to the fully saved soul, such as temporary disobedience (under stress of powerful and sudden temptation the soul may be taken off its guard and yield temporarily to the enemy and yet obey God in other things -- a distinction should be made between sin of deliberate purpose and such yieldings), inadvertent yieldings to temptations, impulsive indulgences in wrong feelings, occasional lapses into sin. While full salvation saves from the sin principle, it does not save us from the power to sin or the liability to sin under subtle attacks of the adversary. When such spiritual accidents occur they are a great surprise and humiliation to the sanctified heart. The slightest yielding to temptation, the least indulgence of a feeling of impatience or selfishness or other unholy feelings, the smallest unseemly act, word, or manner after the heart has been cleansed, burns like a live coal upon the refined sensibilities of the purified soul.
"There comes as a result of these spiritual lapses, a veiling of the Divine face, a sense of condemnation commingled with a sense of spiritual sorrow and holy remorse. This bitter experience of failure is taken advantage of by the enemy to induce the soul to repudiate its experience of full salvation, either insinuating that it was mistaken as to having attained it, or that it is impossible, with its temperament, circumstances, and associations, to retain it. This peril has swept down many once fully sanctified souls. The anchor that can hold the soul in this fierce storm, is to know that such spiritual repulses do not forfeit the gracious state of cleansing from all sin unless they come from a precedent repudiation of its consecration and trust ... The soul must know, whenever such spiritual calamities come that an immediate confession to God, and a reassertion of its trust in the all-cleansing blood will prevent the forfeiture of its experience and bring an immediate renewal of the witness to full salvation. The fully sanctified soul does not forfeit the grace of purity by spiritual lapses that are not intentional but involuntary, providing the soul at once applies the antidote of confession and faith to the wound of the heart which the poisoned fiery dart of the enemy has inflicted."
"The method of grace for spiritual repair and preservation in the state of full salvation is just the same as that for justification. A beloved brother minister, widely known as a writer, had entered full salvation, and was walking in it with comfort and victory. Exasperating disobedience of a daughter betrayed him into unbecoming feeling, hasty language and undue severity in her correction. He told us about it; an awful darkness was upon his soul; his spiritual remorse was excruciating; he felt all was gone, his experience of full salvation, and his holy influence over his child and home. We told him it was not. If he would immediately confess to God, and to the daughter, his wrong, and would hold unwavering to his faith, he would find that the blood still cleansed. We left him. He thought at first he could not come to prayer meeting, but afterwards came. When the service was over the witness had reappeared to his soul; he had been kept by the power of God unto full salvation, and had gone up into higher altitudes of purity and strength. Here is God's covenant, "If [by moral accident or inadvertence] any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." When a believer, not of purpose, or determination but unintentionally sins, our High Priest at once takes up his case, stays the spiritual consequences of such a lapse, preserving him from the infection of unholy dispositions, until the Holy Spirit can call attention of the soul to the enormity of its failure and can point to the atonement provision for repairing it, -- 'if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.' Should the soul heed this language, confess and maintain its faith, it goes its way rejoicing, established, strengthened, advanced in the fullness of love." -- S. A. Keen.
Thank God all is not lost when the sanctified soul unintentionally fails. God ever holds this encouraging language out to the failing one, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and though he fall he shall not be utterly cast down for the Lord upholdeth him (lifteth him up) with his hand." Hallelujah, He restores the soul; for His name's sake He leads and guides.
Another familiar, but sadly neglected condition of progress is laid down by the Apostle Peter: "Desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby. In these days of multitudinous books and periodicals one needs set determination and fixed purpose of heart to make God's book 'the book;' "else it will only have secondary place, or be used merely as a text or reference book. Said a minister friend to the writer, "When I was at college the requirements of my course of study precluded the possibility of much Bible study. Consequently he graduated a preacher knowing little of the "Good News" he was to proclaim. Thus, by thousands, the fountain of living water is being forsaken.
George Muller, a man of vast learning as well as remarkable faith, said the beginning of his unprecedented life of faith was when he commenced reading the Bible as the sole standard of judgment in spiritual things; the one thing he specially noticed was that his soul was caused to grow thereby as no other book had enabled him to grow. When Wesley became (homo unius libri), a man of one book, he became a man of power.
Peter wrote to some who were sanctified of the "trial of their faith." In time of trial bewilderment comes from the wrong view point. God permits people whom we think should help us to act as thorns. Everything is God's will permissively, pesky folks, too. He is a wall of fire about us and nothing can enter that wall without His permission. It then becomes His will and we should embrace it as such, and praise Him for it, too. Paul said, "I overflow with joy in all our affliction." We should not pray for the removal of trials but for victory in them. They are God's chariots to take us further into Canaan.
Obstacles are the chief conditions of progress: "The bird might think as air is the only thing that resists its flight, if it were not for the air it could fly better; whereas, if it had no air it could not fly at all -- would fall to the ground and be unable to fly." Let us not groan for deliverance from obstacles but for grace to overcome them.
"Obstacles ought to set us singing. The wind finds voice, not when rushing across the open sea, but when hindered by the outstretched arms of the pine trees, or broken by the fine strings of the Aeolian harp. Then it has songs of beauty and power. Set your freed soul sweeping across the obstacles of life, through forests of pain, against even the tiny hindrances and frets that love uses, and it, too, will find its. singing voice." "Soft seats, easy tasks and pathways strewn with roses, take the temper out of character, and produce good for nothing lives. Difficulties impart their own splendid fiber to those who master them."
An unvictorious life's secret lies here, "No man stirs himself up to pray".
We should constantly seek new and larger anointings for service. See an unctionless, powerless, fruitless life or ministry -- Prayerlessness is the why! One can not keep the glow on his experience without constantly replenishing his supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ by prayer. Have you struck a snag? Does no one get saved or sanctified or edified as formerly under your preaching and labors? Set a day for fasting and prayer and humbling and cry to God for an explanation of the cause. He will show you, forgive, restore, cleanse, and give you what you had formerly "with an abundance of increase." O, be not satisfied till the old time fire burns! We may have old-time power if we pay the condition of old-time prayer.
Mr. Wesley said, God hardly gives His Spirit even to those whom He has established in grace, if they do not pray for Him on all occasions, not only once but many times.
God have mercy on the numerous dried up, unctionless, Powerless, holiness professors, made so because of prayerlessness -- lazy prayers!