Human Methods Of Dealing With The “Old Man” I
It is a great pity that men will not allow God to do his work in his own way. One of the results of the fall is seen in perverted moral perceptions and judgment. Men do not believe in nor take to God’s ways. The wisdom of the world is set against and over the wisdom of God. Every sinner starts out at some time to save himself. Instead of coming to Christ, he tries reformation, morality, benevolence, churchgoing and every other expedient to be saved outside of Christ. It is only when he has failed in them all that he gives up in self-despair, looks to Christ, and receives salvation.
In like manner Christians err in seeking for sanctification or holiness of heart and life. They look in every direction and try every way before coming to Christ, who is “made unto us sanctification” as well as pardon or justification.
Surely every Christian desires to be rid of the presence of the “old man.” Who would want to retain him in the heart? That people do not is seen in the universal hope of finally getting rid of him, and beheld in the various efforts put forth to secure this deliverance.
It is curious to notice that the flight of the centuries has not brought wisdom to the great mass of the church, and that countless thousands are floundering today where people struggled hopelessly in the Dark Ages.
It is amazing to see how persistent the human heart is to look away from acts of sovereign grace and try to build up a righteousness of their own. The old desire to save or purify self is not yet eliminated, we see, in regeneration. The work and power of Christ is not yet apprehended save in word only. The lip declares him a perfect Saviour, but the heart has not yet so apprehended him.
This was in Paul’s mind when he asked the Galatians who had bewitched them: “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”
At another time he laments that Israel is blinded in part–going about to establish their own righteousness, and not obtaining the righteousness which is by faith. The Galatian mistake and the blunder of Israel have been perpetuated from age to age. The old folly was seen all through the Dark Ages in the endeavor of men to obtain holiness, and is just as apparent today. Let us glance and see how men have tried and are trying, to get rid of the “old man.”
One method is seclusion. Men and women retired to monasteries and convents, to dens and caves of the earth, to find deliverance from sin. They thought they could mope the “old man” to death; that he would gradually expire through the effect of isolation.
But history tells us that the Church was never more corrupt than when it went into retirement. Christ went among men. Purity is never to be more stalwart than when it moves among the walks, haunts, and market places of men. It is in the world, but not of the world.
On the other hand, the “old man” is wonderfully vigorous in lonely hours and sequestered spots. So says experience and history.
Another method is flagellation.
Whips were plaited and faithfully applied to the body. The crack of the scourge resounded in lonely cloisters. Every species of physical torture was resorted to, to compel the lurking principle of evil to vacate the heart.
And yet the “old man” remained undisturbed within. The cut of the lash never troubled him, There never was a whip made, or cracker plaited, no matter how long or keen, that could reach the “old man.” The flesh might be riven by the cruel scourge into ghastly seams, and the very bones exposed, but no thong of leather ever touched him. It does not, so to speak, come in miles of him; for the “old man” is not in the bone, blood, and muscle at all, but resides in the soul. Hence the crack of the whip is so much music to him. He smiles at the stupidity that tries to remedy a spiritual condition with a material weapon.
Men have smiled at this folly of the Dark Ages, and yet the same mistake is repeated in what is called evangelical times, and by Protestant people. What is the beating of the breast, and calling one’s self by harsh and bitter terms, but a kindred mistake.
A third method is fasting.
For centuries men tried to starve out this principle or body of sin. They became emaciated and looked like skeletons, while the “old man” remained as fresh and vigorous within as ever.
Has the regenerated man not noticed on his fast days that his sinful nature was unusually lively and vigorous; that the tendency to irritability and petulance was increased with the weakening body?
The fact is that the “old man” does not live on bread and meat, but subsists on controversy. Hence as we grow weak with protracted fasts, in the endeavor to achieve heart purity, we discover that we make no headway. Our most mortifying falls have occurred on our fast days.
A fourth method is a looking to time for deliverance.
The flight of years is trusted to eradicate the evil propensity. Men comfort themselves with the thought that somehow, in some way, the years as they pass will soak up or fly away with the inward evil.
This of course is exalting time to the plane and place of a Saviour and purifier, and credits it with a divine work. And of course also there is bound to be lamentable failure. There is nothing in time to purify the soul. The mere flight of years can have no transforming effect on the heart. The “old man” has nothing to fear from time, for he is already six thousand years old. He will outlive any man or woman who is three score and ten, and will outlive many generations to come. What does he care for time?
A fifth method or hope is seen in a certain dependence on, or expectation from, old age.
The idea of some is that gray hairs will settle their many evil propensities and troubles. Parents say about their children: “O, they will come out all right when they get older.” Old age is their Saviour. Accumulating years, with their gathering infirmities, diseases, wrinkled face, and snowy hair, is to be the deliverer.
The “old man” is made to laugh again at the additional folly. He knows that the flight of years only fastens his grip on the soul; and that all the change that takes place in the case is that he shifts his perch from one resting place to another as the years increase, and flaps his sable wings on another roost in the same soul. For instance, he springs from the appetites of the young man to the love of money in the old man.
It is time to quit deifying gray hairs. They are all right and a crown of glory when found in the way of righteousness, but a fool’s cap to one who lives in sin. They look venerable, but we little know what that same gray-haired man is thinking about. If we did, we might start with surprise.
A sixth method is seen in the growth theory.
This is the heresy in many churches today, that purity comes by growth in grace. This teaching, it is seen at a glance, uncrowns Christ, robs him of his peculiar glory of sanctifying the Church as mentioned in Ephesians, and transforms what is recognized in the Bible as a divine work into a mere evolution or development.
As remarked in a previous chapter, to prove the growth theory of purity there should be analogies in nature for the figure, plain statements of the Word of God, and the confirmation of human testimony. It is hardly necessary to say that such proof has not been, and never will be, found.
It is true that the Bible says, “Grow in grace;” but let the reader mark that it says “in grace.” It does not say grow up to or into grace. We are told to “go on to perfection;” but in another connection altogether we are commanded to “grow in grace “–i. e, grow in the grace into which ye have been inducted by divine power.
Much dependence is placed on the saying of Christ about “first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear;” but if this proves growth into sanctification, it also declares the fact of growth into regeneration, which the Church will hardly allow. If the critics insist that the “full corn” stands for sanctification, and that it was reached by growth, then the “blade” or the “ear” was also reached by growth. As the logicians say, this proves too much, and so proves nothing.
The fact is, according to an author in New England, the blade, ear, and full corn in the ear represent epochs and not processes. The three stand for pardon, purity, and maturity.
Another misunderstood passage, and that has been quoted to prove the growth theory of holiness, is found in Ephesians iv. 11-15: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists, and 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 we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. But speaking the truth in love, may ‘grow up’ into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”
The reader is requested to observe the italicized words in the passage just quoted. We have done so to show more clearly that the growth referred to here takes place after we have obtained the blessing of perfection or fullness of Christ. Paul does not say that we “grow” into a perfect man, but that we “come” unto a perfect man; and, after that, speaking the truth in love we grow up into him in all things.”
It is painful to see the thousands in Christ’s Church switched off on this side track, and while there is a great ringing of bells and puffing of engines, the fact is apparent to all that they are not getting anywhere–that the desired destination of Purity or Perfect Love is not being reached–in a word, they are side tracked!
Changing the figure, God’s people are growing the plants of the Christian graces abundantly, a beautiful arbor is formed out of them, but in the face of their luxuriance, again and again the “old man” parts the spiritual and Church shrubbery, and, looking out, says: “I am in here just the same.”
A momentary consternation is felt by the Christian after one of these inbred sin manifestations, and he or she jumps to the conclusion at once: “I must take up more Church work–join a few more societies–multiply my Christian activities, and the “old man” will finally be strangled and choked within me by the very superabundance of blossoms, leaves, flowers, and fruit of the Christian life.”
At this the “old man” smiles in the heart, and quietly watches his victim planting new shrubs, broadening and heightening the Christian graces, and so forth. When just as a sigh of relief is felt by the growing brother, the “old man” shakes the religious timber and underbrush and says: “I am in here, and you must not forget it.”
From stewards’ meeting, trustees’ meeting, Quarterly Conference, and District Conference; from Conventions, Missionary Societies, Ladies’ Aid Societies, and all such things, the brother or sister returns home and suddenly the “old man” stands revealed in hot words, hasty acts, resounding slaps, ill-natured speech before the gaze of astonished servants and frightened children.
O that common sense would come to the help of the people here! Let us recall how a handkerchief is made white and clean. Do we sew new, clean linen around the edges, and so grow it pure? Do we take two other handkerchiefs and put the dirty handkerchief between the two, and say: “Here is purity?” We all know better. We take the soiled linen and plunging it into soap and water that has fire under it, lo! the handkerchief is washed white.
So God says that with refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap he will purify the sons of Levi, his own servants.
How does the mother cleanse the face of her child? Does she look at the dirty countenance of her boy, and say: “My son, I see that you are not clean, but I am trusting that in the flight of years and through various processes and evolutions of your physical nature your face will finally develop or grow into cleanness.” No, indeed; no mother talks such nonsense; but instead she takes her earth-soiled boy by the back of the neck with one hand, and with the other souses a sponge of soap and warm water over his face, and lo! the child is clean. The boy was her son before; the mother did not disown him on account of the stained and spotted face. The washing she gave him was not to make the lad her child, but to make him her clean child.
Sanctification, or the destruction of the “old man” in the heart, does not make us sons and daughters of the Almighty; that we were before, but it transforms us into his clean and pure children.