The words from which I wish to address you, you will find in the Epistle to the Galatians, the third chapter, at the third verse; let us read the second verse also: “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish?” And then comes my text—“Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”
When we speak of the quickening or the deepening or the strengthening of the spiritual life, we are thinking of something that is feeble and wrong and sinful; and it a great thing to take our place before God with the confession:
“Oh God, our spiritual life is not what it should be!”
May God work that in your heart, reader.
As we look round about on the church we see so many indications of feebleness and of failure, and of sin, and of shortcoming, that we are compelled to ask: Why is it? Is there any necessity for the church of Christ to be living in such a low state? Or is it actually possible that God’s people should be living always in the joy and strength of their God?
Every believing heart must answer: It is possible.
Then comes the great question: Why is it, how is it to be accounted for, that God’s church as a whole is so feeble, and that the great majority of Christians are not living up to their privileges? There must be a reason for it. Has God not given Christ His Almighty Son to be the Keeper of every believer, to make Christ an ever-present reality, and to impart and communicate to us all that we have in Christ? God has given His Son, and God has given His Spirit. How is it that believers do not live up to their privileges?
We find in more than one of the epistles a very solemn answer to that question. There are epistles, such as the first to the Thessalonians, where Paul writes to the Christians, in effect: “I want you to grow, to abound, to increase more and more.” They were young, and there were things lacking in their faith, but their state was so far satisfactory, and gave him great joy, and he writes time after time: “I pray God that you may abound more and more; I write to you to increase more and more.” But there are other epistles where he takes a very different tone, especially the epistles to the Corinthians and the Galatians, and he tells them in many different ways what the one reason was, that they were not living as Christians ought to live; many were under the power of the flesh. My text is one example. He reminds them that by the preaching of faith they had received the Holy Spirit. He had preached Christ to them; they had accepted that Christ, and had received the Holy Spirit in power. But what happened? Having begun in the Spirit, they tried to perfect the work that the Spirit had begun, in the flesh by their own effort. We find the same teaching in the epistles to the Corinthians.
Now, we have here a solemn discovery of what the great want is in the Church of Christ. God has called the Church of Christ to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the church is living for the most part in the power of human flesh, and of will and energy and effort apart from the Spirit of God. I doubt not that that is the case with many individual believers; and oh, if God will use me to give you a message from Him, my one message will be this: “If the church will return to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is her strength and her help, and if the church will return to give up everything, and wait upon God to be filled with the Spirit, her days of beauty and gladness will return, and we shall see the glory of God revealed amongst us.” This is my message to every individual believer: “Nothing will help you unless you come to understand that you must live every day under the power of the Holy Ghost.”
God wants you to be a living vessel in whom the power of the Spirit is to be manifested every hour and every moment of your life, and God will enable you to be that.
Now let us try and learn that this word to the Galatians teaches us—some very simple thoughts. It shows us how (1) the beginning of the Christian life is receiving the Holy Spirit. It shows us (2) what great danger there is of forgetting that we are to live by the Spirit, and not live after the flesh. It shows us (3) what are the fruits and the proofs of our seeking perfection in the flesh. And then it suggests to us (4) the way of deliverance from this state.
First of all, Paul says: “Having begun in the Spirit.” Remember, the Apostle not only preached justification by faith, but he preached something more. He preached this—the Epistle is full of it—that justified men cannot live but by the Holy Spirit, and that therefore God gives to every justified man the Holy Spirit to seal him. The Apostle says to them in effect more than once:
“How did you receive the Holy Spirit? Was it by the preaching of the law, or by the preaching of faith?”
He could point back to that time when there had been a mighty revival under his teaching. The power of God had been manifested, and the Galatians were compelled to confess:
“Yes, we have got the Holy Ghost: accepting Christ by faith, by faith we received the Holy Spirit.”
Now, it is to be feared that there are many Christians who hardly know that when they believed they received the Holy Ghost. A great many Christians can say: “I received pardon and I received peace.” But if you were to ask them: “Have you received the Holy Ghost?” they would hesitate, and many, if they were to say: “Yes,” would say it with hesitation; and they would tell you that they hardly knew what it was, since that time, to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us try and take hold of this great truth: The beginning of the true Christian life is to receive the Holy Ghost. And the work of every Christian minister is what was the work of St. Paul—to remind his people that they received the Holy Ghost, and must live according to His guidance and in His power.
If those Galatians who received the Holy Spirit in power were tempted to go astray by that terrible danger of perfecting in the flesh what had been begun in the Spirit, how much more danger do those Christians run who hardly ever know that they have received the Holy Spirit, or who, if they know it as a matter of belief, hardly ever think of it and hardly ever praise God for it!
Murray, Andrew. 1897. Absolute Surrender. New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.
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