XIII. Coming Ever Nearer
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. -- II Pet. 3:18.
In a sense, that is, principally, the spiritual act of coming to Christ is accomplished and finished once for all the moment one has appropriated Christ and all His benefits salvation by a true and living faith. One does not accept Christ piecemeal, as if one could receive first one, then another, of the riches of Christ, until he is fully saved. On the contrary, he that comes to Christ embraces and receives Him in all His fullness, and all the spiritual blessings of grace are his. In Christ he has full redemption. He does not receive forgiveness of some sins, while other sins are still imputed unto him, but in coming to Christ he embraces the forgiveness of sin, and he is assured that no sin can ever be imputed to him anymore. He is fully justified before God, so that, even though his own conscience accuse him of having violated, and of still violating all the commandments of God, yet before God in Christ he is accounted so righteous that he could not be more perfectly righteous if he had never had or committed any sin. In coming to Christ he does not receive a little life, but he is very really raised from the dead, and is become an heir of eternal life. For he that believeth on the Son hath eternal life, John 3:36. From death he was translated to life, from darkness he was called to light, from a guilty and corrupt sinner he became a righteous and holy child of God. He that is in Christ is become a new creature, old things have passed away, all things have become new. II Cor. 5:17.
Nor is it possible, as far as this principle of the new life that is in him is concerned, that he should ever permanently and completely turn back and depart from Christ. A Christian's life does not consist of a series of separate acts of departing from the Savior and returning to Him again. It may appear to him often as if this be the case. In his conscious life he does not always live in close fellowship with the Lord. Besides, he may fall into sin, and for a time it may seem to him as if his relationship to Jesus were completely severed. But in principle this is never the case. It might, nay, it surely would be so, he surely would lose his hold upon the Christ, if even for a moment his abiding in Christ depended on his will and power. But even as his coming to Jesus is but the fruit of the Father's drawing by the Spirit of Christ, so his abiding in Christ is the result of his being held in the almighty hand of Christ, and of the Father. For the Savior Himself declares: "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one." John 10:28-30.
And yet, in another sense, this act of coming to Jesus is never accomplished, and is never finished, even till the day of our death. When someone returns home from a far journey the act of his coming is finished as soon as he arrives. Not so the spiritual act of coming to Christ. The reason is that, although in principle the Christian is fully saved as soon as he appropriates Christ, he is still in the flesh, in his old nature, and that, too, in the midst of this present world. And all that belongs to the flesh and to the world constantly tends to draw him away from Jesus, and from the spiritual things of the kingdom of God. According to the principle of salvation that is in him by grace, he is perfectly righteous before God, justified in Christ; but according to the old man, he is still in sin, and daily he must repent and receive the forgiveness of sin. On the one hand, he rejoices that he has peace with God, yet, on the other hand, his conscience accuses him that he keeps none of God's commandments perfectly, and still violates them all. According to the new principle of life in him, he is holy, delivered from the dominion of sin; but according to the old man, he is corrupt, sold under sin. The new man in him is heavenly, but his old nature is earthy. And so we may say, indeed, that his act of coming to Jesus is never finished. It is a constant act of faith. Constantly, he departs from sin, repents, comes to Christ, seeks refuge in Him as the God of His salvation.
And again, although the believer comes to Christ once for all when he first receives and appropriates Him, yet, it is also true that he draws ever nearer to Him in the way of a normal, healthy spiritual development. His knowledge of, and sorrow over sin grows deeper; his recognition and apprehension of the riches of Christ become clearer and fuller; his need of, and his longing for the Savior become more fervent; his appropriation of Christ and all His benefits become more assured and complete. Nearer, always nearer he draws to the full and rich Christ as He is revealed to him in the gospel, and Christ is more and more formed in him.
This need of the believer's constant approach to Christ, and of his growth in grace, is strongly emphasized in Scripture. We are admonished not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, that we may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, Rom. 12:2. And as we behold with open face, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord, II Cor. 3:18. In Eph. 4:11-16 we are instructed that Christ "gave some, apostles; some; prophets; some, evangelists; some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that henceforth we be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and the cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." For the saints in Philippi, the apostle prays, that their love "may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment," in order that they "may approve things that are excellent ;" and may "be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ." Phil. 1:9,10. And to the Church of Colosse he writes that they must be rooted and built in Christ, as they have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. And they must be vigilant, lest any man spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit, for in Christ alone dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Col. 2:7-9. Believers must therefore, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby. I Pet. 2:2. And they must grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, II Pet. 3:18.
This growth in grace consists exactly in an ever closer approach to the Christ of the Scriptures. We must draw ever nearer to Him. He is the Head. In Him dwells all the fullness. Apart from Him we have nothing. That we are saved is only because He dwells in us. That we increase and grow in grace can only mean that He is more and more formed in us, that we become more and more like Him. We must be rooted and built up in Him. We must be changed into His image. We must come to the unity of the faith, and to the knowledge of the Son of God. We must approach ever nearer to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and we must grow up in Him who is the head, even Christ. To come ever nearer to Christ, therefore, is not a mere sentimental experience, a mystical enjoyment of salvation, a matter of blessed feeling and emotion. On the contrary, it means, on the one hand, that in ourselves we become ever more completely lost and undone, while Christ becomes ever greater and richer as the object and ground of our faith and hope; while on the other hand, He becomes more and more reflected in the beauty of His spiritual virtues in all our walk and conversation.
O, even when we first believe in Christ, we know and confess that we are sinful, lost and damnable before God. But an entire lifetime is not sufficient to reveal to us just how miserable, how corrupt, how deeply sinful we really are. As we grow in grace and draw nearer to Christ, we recognize more and more fully and deeply that we really lie in the midst of death, and that all our righteousnesses are but filthy rags. We become more spiritually sensitive. Sins we never noticed before now begin to stand out in bold relief. That which formerly we did not even consider to be sin, now becomes a matter of abhorrence and repentance. Our sorrow after God becomes more real. And as we grow in the knowledge of and sorrow over sin, Christ becomes more precious to us. We behold Him much more clearly in all the fullness and riches of His grace. We recognize Him more and more as the One that alone can fulfill our need, as our Bread and Water of life, as our Life and Resurrection. We long for Him, hunger and thirst after Him, more fervently. And the blessings of His grace, of righteousness and the forgiveness of sins, of the adoption unto children and heirs, of wisdom and knowledge, of sanctification and redemption, and of the hope of eternal life and glory, become even more precious to us. O, it is true, when we first believe in Christ, we embrace and appropriate, not a part Him, but Himself, fully and completely, but we do not half realize what glorious riches of salvation have thus become ours. All the years of our present life are not sufficient to make us conscious possessors of those blessings of grace. We must draw ever nearer to Him, even Christ, Who is the Head, and in Whom alone all the fullness dwells. And as we thus approach Him, draw ever closer to Him; as we thus become lost in ourselves ever more fully, that Christ may live in us by faith, we will also grow in spiritual virtues, and Christ will be more and more reflected in all our walk and conversation in the world. He will be formed in us, and will become manifest through us in the spiritual virtues of holiness, love, meekness, humility, patience, long-suffering, temperance in all things, prayer and thanksgiving. We will work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God that worketh within us to will and to do of His good pleasure. We will hate sin and love righteousness, we will eschew evil and do good, we will keep our garments clean in the midst of a world of darkness and corruption, and living in spiritual separation from and antithesis to the world and its unfruitful works of darkness, represent the cause of the Son of God, walking as children of light, and willing to suffer with Him that we may also be glorified together.
Thus we draw ever nearer to Christ.
And this constant coming to Christ, like our first appropriation of Him, is the fruit of His own drawing of us through the Spirit, and by means of the gospel. The fullness of Christ is revealed in the gospel. If, therefore, we would grow in grace and draw nearer to Christ, we must increase in the spiritual knowledge of Him. And if we are to grow in the spiritual knowledge of the Savior, we must constantly increase in the knowledge of the gospel, that is, of the Holy Scriptures. And in this connection, we must make one or two observations that are of great importance, especially for our own day.
First of all, if it be indispensable unto spiritual growth that believers increase in the knowledge of the gospel, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, it is evident that in this respect the Church, I mean the instituted Church with its main calling in the ministry of the Word, has a great responsibility. I mean the responsibility to preach the pure and unadulterated gospel in all its fullness and implications, the whole counsel of God. She must not tolerate that on her pulpit the philosophy of man is proclaimed; she may not have patience with false doctrines; she must insist on the preaching of the pure Word of God, and nothing else. It cannot escape our attention that wherever the Scriptures speak of the growth of the believers in Christ, they also warn against false teachers, and against the philosophy of the world. By false doctrines the saints cannot grow. They are stones, not bread. According as a church begins to mix the preaching of the Word with the philosophy of carnal men, her members will become weak and frail, spiritually anemic; while, on the other hand, in the measure that she proclaims the pure gospel, and is vigilant against the intrusion of false teachers, her members will be spiritually healthy and strong, and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
But even this is not sufficient.
The preaching of the Word must not only be pure and unadulterated, it must also be rich and complete, it must comprise the whole counsel of God. The babe cannot grow strong and robust, if you always feed it milk. The time comes when it will need solid food. The same is true spiritually. The proclamation of a gospel you can write on your thumbnail is not conducive to the spiritual growth of the saints in Christ. The preaching of the Word must proclaim the full Christ as the revelation of the God of our salvation, all the mysteries of the gospel. Preaching must be expository. It must be indoctrinating. Beware of the false slogan: "Doctrine does not matter, if only the gospel is preached." It is of the devil. The Church must grow in Christ, she must be rounded in the truth, she must increase in knowledge. And that means that she is in need of doctrine. And the Church, through the ministry of the Word, must thoroughly indoctrinate its members in all the knowledge of the fullness of Christ.
This also implies that every believer has the calling to seek that ministry of the Word, and diligently to attend it. It is his sacred calling to join himself to that Church in the world where the Word of God is most purely preached, and to separate himself from every manifestation of the false Church. He must not speak deprecatingly of the Church, nor despise the ministry of the Word, or imagine that he can just as well grow in grace by edifying himself at home. For it is exactly through the ministry of the Word that Christ speaks His Word and builds up His Church, and through that ministry, in the fellowship of the saints, He draws His own, and they follow Him and come ever nearer to Him.
Such is the way to spiritual increase and growth in grace. It is a way, which has been forsaken, and well-nigh forgotten by the greater part of what is called Church in our day, to its own destruction. It is a way that is despised by thousands that profess to be Christians. But it is the way nevertheless, and the only way. And we call upon the Church, and upon believers individually to return to that way, in order that we be no longer children, tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, but may grow up in Him Who is the head, even our Lord Jesus Christ!
Of course, our coming to Christ is never finished in this life. Always we have but a small beginning of the new life as long as we are in the body of this death; always we know in part only, as long as we do not see face to face. The final step of our coming to Jesus we cannot take, until the earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved, and we shall enter into our house of God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The perfect knowledge of, and likeness to Christ, awaits us on the other side of death and the grave, in the domain of the resurrection, where He shall make our mortal bodies like unto His most glorious body, and draw us unto Himself in everlasting perfection through His final word: "Come ye, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the world!" Then we shall be like Him, and see Him face to face!