Perfect Yet Pressing
In Philippians, third chapter and fourteenth verse, Paul says, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” and then says in the very next verse, “Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.” While he included himself with such “as be perfect,” doubtless referring to the perfection of love, he is still on the stretch for more. While he claims Christian perfection he is still pressing forward, and “reaching forth unto those things which are before.”
Perhaps the greatest danger of all Christians is that of resting in a past experience and taking for granted, that because of some glorious experience and marvelous manifestation of the Spirit in the past, we are all right, thus settling down in a sort of complacent, self-satisfied condition. This is the beginning and explanation of much of the backsliding of the day. One could not well backslide while pressing forward.
We need ever to remember that immobility is inconsistent with our being, either mentally, physically or spiritually: we must advance or retrograde; we will increase or decrease; we cannot stand still; and especially is this true in Christian life. In order to retain a clear and satisfactory heart experience there must be continual advance. It would prove fatal to regard any experience, however glorious, as a finality. Whatever the experience of the past, it should be regarded as preparatory to something better; as a stepping stone to higher altitudes of grace.
While one cannot grow into sanctification any more than one could grow into justification, seeing in either case it is a divine act — an act of God, divinely inwrought — it is, nevertheless, true that after the heart has been fully cleansed from all sin, and been made holy, there is limitless and endless growth in grace, and continual advance in the deep things of God. Indeed, this is the condition and experience where the obstacles to growth have been removed, and progress may now be made by leaps and bounds.
Men frequently inquire, “If you were perfect, how could you grow?” We may illustrate by two children: One is deformed and diseased, while the other is perfectly formed and in perfect health; which of these two children would grow most rapidly? Of course, every one would say the one enjoying perfect health. We would answer, What perfect health is to the body, Christian perfection is to the soul; sin is a malady, a disease of the soul; holiness is a freedom from sin; wholeness, spiritual soundness, perfect soul health. A child may be just as perfectly formed and enjoy as perfect health as does an adult, and yet continue to grow. But we must continually distinguish between growing in grace and growing into grace. As we cannot grow into pardon, no more can we grow into purity. A child can never grow clean.
But says one, “Suppose the child has grown to manhood, and so reached his full stature, how could such an one continue to grow?” Of course, such an one could not continue to grow taller physically; and yet such an one would continue to grow in strength, in knowledge and in usefulness; while he may not have more avoirdupois, nor be larger physically, he, nevertheless, becomes a larger man as the years go by. Even so, after a heart has once been cleansed from all sin and perfected in love, it is perfect as to quality and therefore, cannot be made more pure, yet such an one may increase in spiritual power and knowledge and usefulness, and continually receive more pure love in his pure heart, and so grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”
But it seems to me that the language of Paul denotes even more than would be implied by the term growth. He says, “I PRESS toward the mark.” This denotes intensity; he is giving particular attention, and diligence, applying himself, and with consecration and concentration putting forth real effort to reach a certain goal. He doubtless has in mind the Olympian games and race course, where every nerve and every energy is bent on winning the prize. There is a sense in which one may grow without much effort, but Paul has evidently caught a glimpse of some mountain peaks of Christian experience he has not yet attained, though he has obtained Christian calling of God in Christ Jesus.” This is evidently the lack and need of many of our holy people today; instead of acting as though we had all, we need to redouble our diligence, buckle the armor on a little tighter, and “press toward the mark for the prize.”
What was this “prize” for which he made such strenuous effort? The context would imply that it was none other than a martyr’s crown. Surely this would suggest to us a greater self-denial, self-abandonment, and self-sacrifice than many of us have yet known. Not only could he say, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ,” but also said, “Neither count I my life dear unto myself.” (Acts 20:24.)
As one walks among the mountain peaks pointed out by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, such as, “Be filled with the Spirit,” 5:18; “The fullness of Christ,” 4:13; “Filled with all the fullness of God,” 3:19; “Sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,” 1:13; “A perfect man unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” 4:13; “The unsearchable riches of Christ,” 3:8; “Holy and without blame,” 1:4; and remember that in addition to all of these, He is still “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,” 3:20, surely one must exclaim as did Joshua, after he had been in Canaan a number of years, and was old and stricken in years. “There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.” (Josh. 13:1.)