It's in surprisingly trying times like these that the retaining-hand of God is seen in our faith! “We thank you Father and Lord Jesus, by Your most-blessed Holy Spirit for the ever-growing faith in us!
Strength in the Lord is practically proportionate to the level at which we “cast all our care on Him” (1Pe 5:7). All care means everything about which we care, the good and bad, retaining neither in self-dependence, esp. the latter, in “laying” all “aside” (Heb 12:1). Just as none can maintain two masters (Mat 6:24), spiritual integrity teeters on a fulcrum of dependence upon God or self. When self-dependence is down—God-dependence is up, thus to be “strong in the Lord” (Eph 6:10) is to be “weak” in one’s self (2Co 12:9).
There is never justification in self-reliance because we have no excuse (other than being unaware of this truth) not to trust all into God’s hand at all times (i.e. trust all is used for your “good”). Only misunderstanding the permanence of our position in His “hand” (Jhn 10:29) will interfere and slow the growth-process of our strength in Him and continue to bereft us of a continual disappointing self-reliance!
The Secret of Strength
The more we consciously know what the eternal life is, and the more assured we are that the only liberty of this life is in the Lord Jesus Christ in glory, the more we shall feel that the enablement for our daily walk and service must be outside ourselves. Our flesh (sin nature, not the body—NC) profits nothing, and in ourselves we are absolute weakness. We may say that the believer who has reached the knowledge of liberty in the ascended Lore Jesus has had engraved upon his heart, “In my flesh dwelleth no good thing,” and, walking in true liberty finds his strength in the Lord Jesus and altogether outside himself.
Nothing of sight or sense can contribute one single particle of strength to the “new man” (Christ’s “divine nature” within - 2Pe 1:4, i.e. “His seed” - 1Jn 3:9—NC). Spiritual life draws not its support from the exterior world; it has to do with God. Faith is the unseen and divinely given power (unobservable proof - Heb 11:1—NC) in the believer which lifts him out of himself and up to God. Faith detaches him from earthly things and influences, and by faith, his ways and his thoughts obtain a heavenly character. It is not that he becomes peculiar and unnatural; far less that he elevates himself upon a spiritual platform. But his thoughts, words and acts are characterized by the Life of the Lord Jesus, who dwells in his heart by faith.
The Lord maintained His disciples in their daily path, when He was upon the earth; He was their strength. They asked Him their questions, went to Him for direction, hung upon His words and followed His steps. Apart from Him they had no power whatever. While He was in the world, He kept them in His Father’s name (Jhn 17:12). Though no longer on earth, He is still the strength of His people—He supplies power to them through His Spirit. Hence His absence, instead of being a hindrance to their spiritual knowledge of Himself and the Father, is their gain through the presence of the other Comforter (Jhn 14:16).
When about to leave this world, the Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “It is expedient for you that I go away” (Jhn 16:7); for His departure from earth was the occasion for His sending the Holy Spirit from heaven to dwell in them. Now, this very hour, the Spirit so works in the children of God that they are taught to depend upon the Lord Jesus, and to go constantly to Him, abide in Him, in a way which those who knew Him before His ascension to heaven could not.
The Holy Spirit is given to us in addition to the eternal life. The life is not itself strength for growth and maturity, though without this life there cannot be spiritual progress. A dead man cannot do anything; and until we possess the new life, we have no ability to do good (Tit 1:15—NC). The life is in itself holy, for it is divine. It cannot be tainted by the sin which dwells in us. It is a fountain which the soil of indwelling sin cannot defile; but if sin be allowed and unconfessed, the life is like a fountain hidden under the ground.
The life itself is perfect of itself, but the practical manifestation of it in the children of God is sorely hindered (through misinterpreting and misunderstanding Bible doctrine, esp. the Pauline Epistles—NC); and when the indwelling Spirit is grieved by the believer, such is the case. There is a capacity for illimitable expansion in the believer of the joy and the holiness, the virtues and the activities of the new life, and this expansion takes place by the power of the Spirit in us. We see in some of God’s children the life expressed in its abundance; Christ in them shines out of them. Where the life is but faintly manifested, the Spirit is grieved, as in worldly, self-seeking, or self-asserting Christians (not “carnally minded” – Ro 8:7 but “yet carnal” - 1Co 3:3—NC). Some believers seem to belong to a race of spiritual giants, compared with the puny stature of others, but like giants, they are rare.
When we speak of giants, we mean Christ-like Christians—men of humility, grace, tenderness, longsuffering, goodness, peace, holiness, righteousness, truth—all of which fruits mark the work of the Holy Spirit in His unhindered action in the child of God. But why is it that the race is so rare? How is it that each believer who may have for himself Christ as his strength does not live by this strength? The answer is that continuous faith in the glorified Lord Jesus is so small. Daily living is too little by faith in the Son of God at the Father’s right hand.
The most learned physician in Israel could not have explained how it was that the Israelite bitten by the fiery serpent, upon looking at the serpent of brass, lived; but the simplest stricken sufferer, who believed in God, could easily say why it was. Again how was it that liberty became ours? What opened the dungeon door? Believing! We looked to the risen Christ and gave faith’s assent to God’s truth concerning Him, and ourselves in Him. Believing, we are coming out of the dungeon, out of self-thrall into liberty in Christ. Explanation is impossible, but the believer knows it just as a man knows that he sees. The only answer that the man born blind, of whom we read in John 9, could give to the questions of the Pharisees was that Christ had opened his eyes; he knew that he saw because he saw!
Many a Christian who is thoroughly well assured in his soul that faith in Christ is the only possible way by which a sinner can find pardon and peace, fails to believe that faith in Christ is the only way by which he himself can live to God. Such a believer has faith in Christ as Savior from the doom of sin, but not faith in Him as his Strength from the power of sin. He has faith that Christ has magnified the claims of divine righteousness respecting the sins he has committed, but not that the Lord works righteousness and growth in Him (Phl 2:13). The evidence of a man’s faith lies in its fruit. A sinner comes to the Savior, the sacrifice for sinners on the Cross, and finds forgiveness; a saint comes to the risen Lord in glory, and finds enablement for living to the Father.
The life of faith is not simply looking once to the Savior for salvation, but going on with Him hour by hour. Being justified by faith, we live day by day on the principle of faith. We do not receive life from the “once” crucified Lord (Heb 10:10), and then go on in our own strength. “As ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him” (C0l 2:6)—by faith. Every day, the believer needs the Lord Jesus as his strength; and living by faith, he is living outside his own resources, and by the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself for him.
There is an association of the closest intimacy effected by the Spirit between Christ in heaven and His people on earth; “He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit” (1Co 6:17). The Lord is ever at hand, ever near; and the Spirit makes us conscious of being in His presence in glory (Rom 8:16); and thus faith is encouraged and stimulated to draw upon Him.
Living by faith is really practical (practiced—NC) dependence. The strength of the believer vanishes when the dependence is interrupted. The believer’s spiritual strength vanishes immediately when he trusts himself. Yesterday’s strength is of no support in today’s difficulties. Christ alone makes us strong moment by moment. The Apostle Paul could say of his path, its details, its sorrows, and its joys, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me”; and He is the same yesterday, today and forever; Christ was not different 2000 years ago from what He is today—He waits to be proved by all those who trust Him.
Each day calls for continuous exercise of faith in the Lord Jesus. It is all important that, as the days pass by, our thought should be freshly associated with our Lord Jesus, who is looking into our hearts to find there trust in Himself. The strength itself comes from Him; it is ours according to our faith. The believer, by daily fellowship with the Lord, arrives where strength is found. We are saved in a moment; we receive life at once, but we are strong simply as moment by moment we live the life of faith. Faith is a mighty tonic for the soul, but must be tried (i.e. tested for its strength, but not its validity, as all genuine faith is ever growing in strength—NC).
The lesson of dependence is not learned all at once; and in this sense, as there is growth in the knowledge of God and of Christ, there is growth into the way of strength. Let the believer cast himself upon the Lord for the passing moment, for the difficulty of the hour, for the state of his soul, for all the thousand little things that make up one day of living here on the earth, and he will soon find what the Lord Jesus is for him. Let him really try Him as his strength.
Who but the Lord Jesus Himself can still the tumultuous waves within the human breast? Who else can say, “Peace, be still,” and create a great calm within? The peace of Christ is known in seasons of life’s deepest anguish, and may be known nonetheless sweetly in the calm hours of this brief pilgrimage. Faith is the setting to our seal that God is true—living by faith we prove what it accomplishes. Let its principle be tried for one brief hour—let the Lord Jesus be believed as the strength of the heart, as the believer’s power—and then, what cannot be explained will be realized.
Faith shines brightest in the dark. It is the star of the night, but the stars are in the sky all day as well as all night; the darkness makes their presence apparent. We do not mean to hint that there is not special faith granted for special occasions, but would insist upon the need of that even tenor of spirit that arises from continual fellowship with, and dependence upon the Lord, which is really the outcome of the life of faith, or living by faith.
Trying what faith is, is really trusting what the Lord Jesus is. The most searching exhortations follow the Apostle Paul’s declaration to the Colossians that Christ “is our Life” (3:4) and we are risen in Him. These exhortations bid us to set the mind on heavenly things where He is, and to “mortify the members which are on the earth” (Col 3:5), and put on the heavenly things which were expressed in the Lord Jesus when below. Let the believer who would thus live believe the Scriptures, and not look for any evidence in his own soul, and it will be like coming out of the tunnel into the sunshine.
Christ is “all in all” (Col 3:11), He is the Life of all. Let the realization of the soul be compared to the condition of men groping in the dense, dark fog; still we know that it is clear daylight above the fog, and all we want is to get up high enough. Now, the fact is, we are risen with Christ—then may we “set our affections on the things above”—“where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father”; and though the secret power is unseen, faith in Him will lift the spirit of the believer into the clear light of glory where He is.
— H F Witherby (1873-1944)