Put behind what is behind, and press on ...

God Transforms us in Stages

F. B. Meyer, 1927: God is Love! But love demands love! It is a necessary condition of love that there should be reciprocity. Probably, therefore, the human race was created in the image of God that there might be an adequate response to the Heart of the Eternal - not yet, except in a few instances, but finally, when our eternal experiences have matured our characters. "Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be" (I John 3:2).

The suggestion has been hazarded that God's choice of our young [human] race may have led to the jealous hatred of angels who were passed over. For verily, not of angels did He take hold. Out of this arose the great revolt of which the Earth has been, and is, the scene - the scene of the worst, but destined to be the cradle of the best (Jude 1:6, etc.).

It was the opinion of the late Dr. Wallace that this tiny planet is the only inhabited bit of star-dust amid the myriads of the midnight sky; and it may be that this is the chosen nursery for the testing and education of those who shall become the sons and daughters of the Almighty. Certainly the events which have taken place here - the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ - have for ever signalized our earth amid all other worlds, and it is not incredible that it is serving as the testing-place and the school of those who shall compose the Church or Group of the First-Born (Heb. 12:23).

I. The divine ideals which appeal for our attainment

Each one of us is created within reach of a glorious destiny. We may be the sons and daughters of the Almighty in no fictitious sense! Heirs of God and joint heirs with His Son (Rom. 8:17)! Is it wonderful, therefore, that we should receive, from the shifting events of time and sense, the special training needed for the future which awaits us? In the children of a large family there is a vast diversity of character, and happy are those parents who can afford to give each child that education which is most suited to develop its idiosyncrasy. So each unit of humanity is a distinct creation. Each incarnates some distinct thought of the Creator, and the life-career of each is specially arranged and determined to develop the special characteristics of each. God never repeats Himself.

Each soul in Eph. 2:10, "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them," is compared to a poem. No poet repeats himself. Each production bears trace of some new aspect of consummate art. There may be similarity, but there can be no identity. Each of us, therefore, enshrines a distinct ideal of God's mind, but we have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). We have to apprehend [grasp, understand, learn] that for which we were apprehended by Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12). And we are placed in this world for a brief space that we may work out what God is working in, and approximate so far as possible to the Divine ideal.

Perhaps each one of us, before birth, stands before the Creator and Father, to see the ideal of what we may become. This is the haunting thought which we know as conscience; and which reproaches us each time when we fall short. It is also the inspiration of a nobler career. As Moses, on the summit of Sinai, beheld in the vision the pattern of the Tabernacle which he was to construct (Exod. 25:9), and it stood there in radiant beauty, every knot and tassel, every curtain and fringe, every pillar and hook, perfectly reflected as from the Divine thought, so it may be that each of us at that sublime moment beheld at a glance the vision of what God had apprehended us to become.

In some cases the pattern is only revealed step by step and day by day. Each morning the Spirit of God presents to us some new item in the Divine conception, and summons us to realize it. Thus the Temple grows into a dwelling-place for the Eternal, or each of us into a chosen servant as Moses became. The one particular which we are stressing now is that our lives have been forecasted. There was a reason for our creation. God thought a distinct thought into our souls, as they issued from the womb of creation. Perhaps a record has been kept in the archives of eternity, with which we shall compare what life has actually been! Is not this an incentive that we should follow on to apprehend that for which we were apprehended? Let us follow on!

II. The divine ideal or purpose can only be realized in stages

Not that I have already attained, or am already made perfect; but I press on" (Phil. 3:12). It is, as Paul says, "a high calling" (Phil. 3:14). It is also described as " a holy calling" (2 tim. 1:9), a "heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1), and " a hope-inspiring calling" (Eph. 1:18, 4:4). The wireless telegraphy of God's Spirit is ever bringing that call to mind, unless the obstinacy of man's refusal deadens the voice to a far-off whisper that presently ceases. If only our ears were attentive, we should detect the low, sweet voice of God, nearer, clearer, stronger, intenser, more thrilling, more eager. But it calls for each single step or act in our response to be taken separately and deliberately. We go from strength to strength (Psa. 84:7). We leave the things that are behind, and reach out towards those before (Phil. 3:13).

As there are rings in the center of a tree, so that the woodsman can decipher the years of growth, so there are distinct stages in our progress towards the Divine ideal. It is probable that each faithful soul is standing before the ascent of the Eternal.

A friend discovered Thorwaldsen in tears, and on asking the reason the illustrious sculptor replied: "Look at that statue. I have reached my ideal, and fear that I have reached the high-water mark of my profession. When a man is satisfied, he ceases to grow." How different this is to the cry of the Apostle. Not only did he press on through obloquy and reproach, through imprisonment and stripes, through the persecution of the Jews and the martyrdom under Nero, but from the excellent glory into which he has passed we seem to hear those same triumphant notes: "I am pressing on."

From the distant height Longfellow's mountain-climber's voice was still heard crying "Excelsior!" [higher!] So must it be with us, and our behavior in every fresh incident of life shall conduce to the achievement of our life-purpose. Never counting ourselves to have attained or to be already perfect. Never deterred by the amazing difficulties through which, and notwithstanding which, we pursue our way. Never weary in submitting to those inward strivings of the Spirit, those birth-pangs of new and holier attainments, to which the saints of God are exposed. "Groanings that cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26).

We must learn to forget! We are all tempted to live in the past, to look up at the fading laurels we have won, as though they could not be equalled or surpassed, to confess that we shall never do anything so good as that, never reach so high, never paint so fair a picture, preach so good a sermon, have such a vision of God! That is fatal. Forget! Forget the rapture of your first Communion, the earliest efforts of your soul, the trophies you won, the visions of truth, the mountain-top experience, and press onward, upward, with the eagle's flight to the sun!

III. The realization of the soul's ideals is only possible when there is finality in our dealings with God.

The failure, in a vast number of lives, arises from our lack of understanding of the prime law of growth, truly envisaged by the Apostle when he speaks of "leaving those things which are behind" (Phil. 3:13). There are stages in the Christian's growth; rings, as we have said, in the tree; crease-marks on the grass; cairns [piles of stones] left behind in the march. There must, in fact, be definite and final dealings with the past, with conscience, and with God.

In the mystic ladder, trodden by holy souls in all ages, there are these successive stages, each of which must be definitely approached, appropriated, and passed. There must be a definite crossing of the Equator, not once in a lifetime, but in many succeeding experiences. When once the step is taken, and the contract made between the soul and God, there should be a sense of Finality. The first step has been taken, and need not be retaken. That apartment in the house is furnished, and need not take attention from the rest. That lesson has been definitely learned and passed. That goal has been attained; there is no need even to dwell on it, otherwise than as a settled matter between God and the soul.

This only must be borne in mind, that such definite steps must be ratified and settled with the Divine endorsement. The final act is one of faith that God has definitely accepted and ratified the act, and has set His seal of affirmation upon it.

The step is taken in faith! Then the Divine Spirit enables us to reckon that He has accepted and endorsed it. From that time onward the soul advances with unwavering faith. That purpose is achieved once and for ever. That stage at least has been gained, and needs never to be reconsidered.

Let us now take three illustrations of finality in the soul's progress.

First: the consciousness that, on our confession, sin is absolutely forgiven and put away. I remember an interview with an elderly man in which he told me that every night before he slept he confessed all the sins of the past that he could recall, and sought forgiveness. Obviously such an ordeal was arduous, costly of sleep and rest, and altogether unnecessary, in face of the continual affirmations of Scripture. The statements on page after page are clear as crystal. "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgression" (Psa. 103:12). "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions, and will no more remember thy sins" (Isa. 43:25). "Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depth of the sea" (Micah 7:19). "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us" (I John 1:9). Nothing could be more explicit and definite. When I had quoted these assurances to my companion, I went on to show him the grave injustice he was committing, not only against himself, but against the Eternal Lover. Surely God's repeated assurance is enough, and more than enough!

There may come a definite moment when the soul faces its past, and in true penitence returns, prodigal-like, to the Father, with the frank confession of the past. As soon as the frank and full confession has been made, the whole black record is obliterated. Nothing of the past will ever be mentioned again. It is forgiven and forgotten from that hour; and it must be a grievous hurt to the Divine Spirit to be asked again and again to forgive.

What would any of us think if our children, having been forgiven for some breach of righteousness, were to come morning after morning to implore forgiveness? In this grave issue surely God demands, and we should reckon on, finality. Once confessed and forgiven, our sins can no more be recovered than a pebble cast into the depths of the Atlantic. That matter being settled once and for ever, it can be left behind for ever, and the same finality must be claimed as we may be overcome in secret or overt sin.

The same attitude should be adopted in regard to Divine guidance. There are three steps which enable us to come to a definite conclusion as to our life-course, and the demands for decision and choice of route, which arise from time to time. As a general rule, there are three steps.

In the first place, a resolve or sense of duty begins to form in the secret depths of the soul. It is a still small voice, speaking in the Horeb [Mt. Sinai, the mountain of God] of the heart. A whisper! A suggestion! A question! At this stage we are wise not to mention it to the dearest, closest friend! Ask that, if it be not of God, it may die away! But if it grows, nurture it, expose it to the scrutiny of the Divine Spirit, and watch for the corroboration of outward circumstances.

The inward and outward will correspond as did the incidents of that memorable day in Saul's life, which corroborated Samuel's secret anointing (1 Sam. 10:21); and as the shut doors along the coast of Asia Minor compelled Paul to take the ship to Europe (Acts 16:7).

Finally, there will be corroboration on the part of those whom at this stage we consult. When these three signs agree, we must dare to roll the entire responsibility on God's Providence, as Abraham did, when he left Haran and flung himself into the desert which intervened between the Euphrates and Damascus. "He went out, not knowing whither he went" (Heb. 11:8). But he never returned, and God vindicated him. Similarly men, as individuals or in groups, have stepped forth on unknown paths; but when faith takes a step of that nature, whatever be the difficulties and perils, there must be no looking back. The responsibility for all the future must be cast on God. He must and will provide. The crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places smooth (Isa. 40:4). Manna shall distil on the desert floor, and rocks shall break into fountains, because God also respects the finality which characterizes the pilgrim soul, that makes the humble compact, and steps forth in faith.

The same attitude should be adopted in the presence of a heavy sorrow, which ever lies on the heart and extorts sighs and tears. It is natural to entreat that the cup should be taken away, and that the long discipline should cease. It is natural to return day after day and night after night to that same spot in our Gethsemane, to bedew the same sward [grass] with sweat of blood, and lament on the air the same petitions. But there must come an end to this, if we would follow in the footsteps of our Lord. We must accept the discipline as the Divine will, whether it be imposed or permitted. We must believe that God has a definite purpose and reason in regard to it. We must come to the point of definitely accepting it as the Father's choice for us. We must tell Him of our willingness to suffer so long as He deems it to be necessary. We may ask for an angel to strengthen us, but we must allow our wrists to be bound with thongs.

Thus, quietly waiting, the sky will begin to brighten in the east; the lesson will have been learnt; the blessing which could only accrue in this manner will be granted. The definite acceptance of some heavy cross, without murmuring or complaining, but simply trusting, with the upward glance and smile, and with the quiet acquiescence of the soul, is not only the way of peace, but must be more pleasing to God than the querulous complaint and the prolonged entreaty for release.

God has no pleasure in our pain. It grieves Him when we are passing through the dark valley. Jesus must have suffered acutely whilst He abode two days in the place where He was till Lazarus died (John 11:6), that in that beloved home He might perform His greatest miracle. Reckon God as your partner in sorrow, and leave to Him the hour and method of your deliverance.

The only experience in our mortal life in which we cannot always claim finality is in our intercession for others. "God forbid," said the patriot-prophet [Samuel], "that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you" (1 Sam. 12:23). But even in this case the soul may become assured that the prayer has been answered, and then the prayer is turned to praise, and the intercessor quietly waits to see the salvation of God. Intercession, like that recorded of our Lord in John 16, can never cease. "He ever liveth to make intercession" (Heb. 7:25).

Scripture abounds with instances of finality in dealing with God. Samuel's mother, having poured out her heart, was no more sad (1 Sam. 1:18). The nobleman who came to Christ for his child, instead of waiting for further assurance, believed the word that Jesus spake, and went his way (John 4:50)! The sailors and crew were so reassured by Paul's prayer and vision that they dared to empty the ship of the cargo of wheat (Acts 27:38).

Why should not we cast our burdens on the Lord, and leave them there, without fear as to the result, when once we have the inner conviction that God has accepted us?

Never in this life shall we feel that we have apprehended all for which we have been apprehended. Always will new experiences beckon you, like higher mountain-reaches. Always leave things behind, and press on, and take this for your comfort, that you have been apprehended by God for your quest, and He will not fail you.

It is related of the great artist Herkomer that his aged father lived in his home and spent his days in modelling clay. At night he placed the day's work on the shelf with a sigh as he detected the effect of the pilfering years. But when he had retired to the early bed of age, his gifted son entered the workshop, took up one by one the objects over which his father lamented, touched them with inimitable skill, and the old man, as he took them up in the morning, dismissed the regrets of the previous night, and said delightedly, "After all, I can do as well as ever." So at the end of life, and often during life, when we confess that we have not apprehended, we shall discover that Christ's deft touch has perfected our poor handiwork.

Sermon by Frederick Brotherton Meyer, Regent's Park Chapel, London, 1927.

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