A Spiritual Clinique
FOUR BIBLE READINGS GIVEN AT KESWICK IN 1907
A. T. PIERSON
AUTHOR OF “THE MAKING OF A SERMON,” “GOD’S LIVING ORACLES,” “THE BIBLE AND SPIRITUAL CRITICISM,” “THE BIBLE AND SPIRITUAL LIFE,” “THE LIFE OF GEORGE MULLER,” ETC., ETC.
THOSE upon whom falls the somewhat unenviable responsibility of teaching on the Keswick platform and at similar gatherings, frequently come into contact with persons who have been for years much oppressed and troubled with some chronic form of spiritual ailment. The ordinary teaching in Conventions does not always reach those serious cases of spiritual disease. They have to be dealt with individually, sometimes with very specific treatment. I have personally come into such frequent contact with this class of cases, that it occurred to me, and I believe was laid upon me by the Holy Spirit, to conduct during four consecutive morning meetings at the Keswick of 1907, a kind of spiritual clinique, selecting four of the most desperate sorts of spiritual difficulty, and seeking to show how the Master Physician, in the Word of God, treats these chronic ailments. This booklet is the outcome of this endeavour in His Name, skilfully to diagnose and deal with these spiritual diseases.
The four selected ailments are: UNSUBDUED SIN; UNANSWERED PRAYER; PERSISTENT DARKNESS and HABITUAL UNBELIEF. All the brethren who have anything to do with Convention teaching will agree that these are some of the most desperate kinds of difficulty we have to deal with, and we are perpetually coming into contact with them.
Somewhat as a physician puts before his class a series of representative cases of disease, and seeks to show how, according to the highest authorities they must be dealt with, I desire to indicate the symptoms of each disease and how they should be met by the application of the Divine remedy.
By way of justification of this method, I may call attention to the fact that in the Word of God we have indications that the Lord Jesus looked upon all sin as a desperate and deadly disease, to be dealt with as such.
In Jer. viii. 22, the prophet represents God as asking: “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why, then, is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” In Matthew ix. 6, 12, 13, a most memorable passage in the New Testament, our Lord referring probably to this passage in Jeremiah, says, “That ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins (then saith He to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”
Here He teaches that His prime purpose in healing all manner of disease and sickness among the people, and restoring the dead to life, was not simply to do mighty works, such as became Him, as the Son of God, or even to vindicate or authenticate His claim to the Messiahship, but rather to illustrate and demonstrate that He could deal with all spiritual difficulties, by dealing with those physical ailments which were types of the spiritual.
This opens up a vast field of thought. There are somewhat over thirty distinct cases of healing narrated in the Gospel narratives, no two being exactly alike, but all having differentiating features. Together they cover the whole range of physical ailments, and illustrate, therefore, the whole department of spiritual difficulty. The Lord Jesus thus shows Himself perfectly competent to deal with all spiritual troubles by thus healing all physical ills.
In the 12th verse of that same ninth chapter, He interprets His own language.
“They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” “The righteous” are the whole, “sinners” are the sick. Thus He is Himself our authority for regarding all forms of spiritual ills as diseases, and looking to Him as the great soul Physician for their relief and cure.
FIRST, we seek a remedy for the disease of UNSUBDUED SIN. The 7th chapter of Romans is a kind of universal biography. I have no question that it describes the experience of the regenerate believer. No unbeliever can say some of the things said in that chapter, and it is a stage of the believer’s experience. In the 6th chapter he is represented as taking Christ as his Saviour, and as being identified with Him in His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection; in the 8th chapter, as being identified with the Holy Spirit as the in-dwelling and victorious power of his life. But in the 7th chapter, the Spirit is not mentioned; while in the 8th, He is nearly thirty times referred to, so that we are in the atmosphere of the Spirit when we pass into that chapter.
This language is peculiar, but very descriptive: “I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not; for what I would that do I not; but what I hate that I do. If, then, I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now, then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me—that is, in my flesh—dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now, if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find, then, a law that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that 1 am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Now he gets a glimpse of deliverance: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord;” and in the second verse of the 8th chapter, the solution is fully declared: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” He does not get freedom till he gets knowledge of, and reception of, the full power of the Spirit of God.
What a description this is of the believer’s experience in the stage to which we have referred! It seems as though the disease of sin were so desperate that, as a physician might say, it has invaded even the psychic centres of our being, paralysing the mind and heart and conscience and will with its terrific power. See the contradictions here! What a group of paradoxes! The law of God, instead of an inspiration to obedience, an incentive to disobedience! Mr. Moody told how, when he went to sleep in a room, and saw a card on the wall, “Don’t turn me round till morning,” he got up, and turned it round. The prohibition prompting to disobedience! Then, while there is a spiritual approval of the law of God, there is a carnal slavery to the law of sin. While the will consents in purpose, it is powerless in performance. There is the law of the mind, the true ego or self; and the law of the members the false ego or self; the spirit is in sympathy with life and holiness, but the flesh in sympathy with disobedience and death. The love of good on the one hand, and the hatred of evil on the other, but the good undone and the evil done. And so there is a double service—the law of God on the one side served with the mind, and the law of sin on the other served with the flesh. Such are the paradox es in this passage; but, the vital point is, that the Apostle recognises this conflict as abnormal, and utters a cry of despair, with a shout of anticipated victory. You have got to the cry of despair; the Lord would have you get to the shout of anticipated victory.
First of all, be sure you come to the great Physician, The devil also claims to be a physician, but he is only a quack. His methods are abnormal; they are palliative but not curative. When he sees you have a deadly disease, instead of applying the knife and cutting out the cancer, he applies a poultice. When you are under the control of some awful spiritual malady, he gives narcotics, or sedatives, or intoxicants; he puts you to sleep, or absorbs you in a life of giddy, pleasurable excitement, that you may forget your malady. He never can cure. You may spend all your living upon him, and you will only grow worse, and never any better.
A second caution to be taken into account, at the very beginning, is that of our Lord when He says: “Enter not into temptation.” Mark the words, as though temptation were a territory over which the devil has full sway, and out of which you are sedulously to keep. Stay out of the devil’s ground. There is the devil’s ground, and there is the Lord’s ground. In the Book of Ruth, Elimelech— whose name means “My God is King”— because of a famine in Judea forsook that land and went off into the forbidden land of Moab. That was the devil’s territory, and the judgment of God took him away. Naomi and her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, were left, and the sons took them wives of the daughters of Moab—a second act of disobedience; and down came the judgment of God on Mahlon and Chilion, and they died also. Then Naomi, the miserable backslider, made up her mind to go back to where she came from, and so she returned to Judea, and blessing returned also to her. If you are in the land of Moab and married to the daughters of Moab, you would better get out altogether, or you may get out the wrong way by judgments. Go back to where you came from, back from the devil’s land to the territory where God rules; get out of dishonest business, out of ensnaring worldly pleasure, out of the power of vicious habit— get out of the devil’s territory, and as far as possible from the devil himself.
The Lord uses very drastic and decisive measures in dealing with sin. Keeping to the figure of the physician, He reminds us, in His methods, of those of the skilful physician and surgeon, which I take to be at least four. We may call them, simply for the sake of discrimination, first, the destructive, as when the physician uses the scalpel, the lancet, the cautery, to destroy something that is deadly, like a cancer or a tumour; secondly, the purgative, as where cathartics or emetics are used to cleanse the system of something that is unhealthy in its influence; or ample ablutions, as in a bath. The third method may be called corrective, or counteractive, as where an antidote is used, as in the case of a poison, or a counter inflammation to correct some form of irritation. The fourth method is nutritive, where tonics, stimulants and appropriate food are used to build up the strength of the patient. Some of these methods are intended to deal with that which is deadly, and expel it; others to deal with that which is living and vitalising, to strengthen and nourish it; to introduce and incorporate what is nutritious.
Our Lord’s methods may be illustrated by these four modes of treatment, followed by skilful physicians and surgeons.
First, the destructive. When will we be done fooling with sin? There is nothing more appalling about sin than the fact that it tempts even saints to trifle with the deadly thing. Our Lord leaves us no sort of doubt as to His opinion of sin, and as to His method of dealing with all known transgression against the law of God. He uses two great words: Repent, Forsake! Repentance is not a mere feeling. It is primarily a radical and executive act of the soul—the negative side, of which faith is the positive side. In the Epistle to the Hebrews are three expressions, short pregnant, with great meaning: “Lay aside,” “Lay hold,” “Hold fast;” and they cover the whole territory of our experience. Laying aside is repentance, laying hold is faith, and holding fast is perseverance. Observe, that laying aside and laying hold are essentially the same act in different aspects. If I have my hands full, and you offer me something that I desire, I can only take it by dropping what I have in hand. You can take eternal life only by dropping what you have, laying aside what you are holding, and laying hold of that which is proffered. The one phase of this complex act is repentance; and the other, faith. But repentance is a great executive act; it implies a change of attitude—turning your back upon that to which you turned your face, and turning your face to that upon which you turned your back. Repentance is thus a radical and revolutionary change of attitude.
Our Lord leaves no doubt of our duty as to all known sin. Matthew v. 29, 30: “If thy right eye make thee to offend pluck it out, and cast it from thee… If thy right hand make thee to offend, cut it off, and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that the whole body should be cast into hell.” Cut it off, cast it from thee; pluck it out, cast it from thee. Surely that allows no trifling with sin. If anything causes you to offend against God, be done with it for ever, and never even parley with it again! There is one kind of sinless perfection in which every Keswick teacher believes —the sinless perfection of instantaneously and for ever renouncing every known sin. There is no present danger of being sinlessly perfect. You may put that risk from you as so re-mote that it need not at this present time occupy attention. But there is risk as to known sin; it is atrocious to go on in a course known to be offensive to God, and allow what is terribly deadly in its influence even upon the child of God. There is no mistake in the attitude of our Lord. He says: “Sin no more;” and He would not say that if He did not mean it. “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” This does not mean two different dispensations; but that while the law commands, it does not enable; and, while grace does not abate the command, it adds enabling power. The sin, therefore, which dominated you, when you knew nothing but law, shall no longer dominate you, now that you know something of grace. How plain is that language in Romans and Colossians: “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify”—make dead—“the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” “Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth.” There is no question about what this teaches, and one of the greatest advances in holiness is made by every man and woman, who, seeing this truth, in the strength of God, immediately and for ever renounces every-thing known, or suspected to be, wrong; for even in a matter of doubt God is to have the advantage, and not yourself.
- The second of our ford’s methods of dealing we have called, purgative; that which tends to remove out of our internal or external life, what is harmful in its influence upon our spiritual being. The Psalmist prays in the 51st Psalm: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow; cleanse me thoroughly from my sin”—as though God might wash him or pass through him a cleansing agent. Paul writes, in 2 Cor. vii. 1: “Having, therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” Filthiness of the flesh is outward; filthiness of the spirit is inward. “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
Does Paul preach perfect holiness? These are words of the inspired Apostle, and we fall back on Scripture, quite willing to stand with Paul, because Paul stood with God.
Surely such words can mean nothing less than that, if you see something in your outward life or inward life, contrary to God, it is to be put away. In other words, there is to be absolutely no trifling with temptation, Whatever there is in the conduct or character, in the manners, or the disposition opposed to God, every child of God should set his face deliberately and absolutely against it; looking, not to himself for strength, but to God. It is an awful thing to trifle with any form of sin.
There are seven steps in every life of evil, that are as plain as they can be. The first is trifling or parleying with temptation; the second, yielding to it; the third, habitually yielding to it; the fourth, yielding yourself up to its power; the fifth, being given up by God to it; the sixth, becoming a procurer of the devil and a tempter to others; and the seventh is hell. And hell may begin in this world. Those seven steps are indisputable. One may deny the Bible, but he cannot live in this world without knowing that these are the steps leading downwards—trifling with sin, yielding to sin, habitually yielding to sin, abandonment on one’s own part, and on the part of God, to sin; becoming a tempter to others, and then landing in hell. There must be no concession to sin, no compromise with sin. Gladstone said that for parents to yield to the whims and caprices of disobedient children was of the nature of “depraved accommodations.” We are guilty of many such depraved accommodations, People say in politics: “If you cannot get a whole loaf, take half and be content.” God never says: “If you cannot have entire holiness, be content with half holiness.” No such compromise is encouraged in the politics of God. You are not to be content with anything but absolute conformity to His will.
III. Third our Lord uses corrective or counteractive measures, like the use of antidotes for poisons, or remedial correctives for abnormal and morbid conditions. In Gal. v., the Apostle tells us, “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” We generally connect the word “lust” with something that is basely wicked; but it does not necessarily mean anything more than an overmastering desire. When such overmastering desire subdues other desires that should be highest and controlling, it is wicked lust; when it is an overmastering desire that subdues those that should be lower, it is Divine lust. The lusts of the flesh come up from below and drag the higher self down; but the lusts of the Spirit come down from above and lift the lower man up. There is a great deal of difference between these two. A balloon is a very common object in these days. You see it lying on the ground with all its apparatus, and requiring a great deal of strength to carry it. But, when the silken envelope is inflated with an ethereal gas, it is difficult to hold it down. Gravitation is not eradicated, but counteracted. There is a levitation that counterbalances gravitation. When you get away from the gravitating power of sin, and under the control of the levitating power of the Spirit, the gravitating power of sin does not hold you down. Or, as the Rev. Evan H. Hopkins says, the iron, which is cold, black, and hard, while in the furnace is no longer cold, nor black, nor hard; though the tendency to coldness, blackness, and hardness remains, as you find, if you take it out of the furnace. As long as you are practically in Christ Jesus, the power of sin is counteracted; but, so far as you neglect Him and lose contact with Him, the power of sin reasserts itself. There is great expulsive, as well as expansive, power in a new affection, as the old story of Thomas Chalmers reminds us. It was a great thing to give a horse “something to think of until he got past that white stone,” and you need something better to think of till you get past the white stone of temptation — to be occupied with God, and His Word, and the thoughts of His dear Son, and the hope of your final inheritance. These are counteracting influences to the power of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
- The next method of our Lord is the nutritive, tonics and stimulants—that which really nourishes and strengthens the vital principle being introduced into the system for the sake of such invigoration. The Lord very graciously does not leave us to negative processes. He does not simply say, “Cut off that which is sinful”; or “Cleanse yourself from that which is inwardly or outwardly evil”; “Counteract that which is evil by something which is good.” But He seeks also to strengthen and build up all that is truly godly and vitalising and energising, in the power of His Spirit. We all know there are two processes in the human body, the secretive and the excretive—one is the casting out of that which is deadly; the other, the introducing of that which is living and vitalising. Our skin, for instance, has singular facilities for perspiration. You can put your thumb over thousands of pores in the skin, all of which it is necessary to keep open, if you are to drain the system of impurities, which in that way pass out in insensible perspiration. This excretive process is going on all the time, as in the respiration of air and the expiration of carbonic acid. But there is something else going on also. The lungs are perpetually inspiring oxygen to make up for the waste that takes place in the blood. We must not forget this side of holy living—the nutritive, —that which stimulates, vitalises, and energises the soul and the spirit. This is the great positive method of our Lord Jesus Christ—life imparted by the Spirit, fed, nourished, strengthened.
Let us refer briefly to four great methods by which God builds up spiritual life; for all that has been mentioned already, will be of little use if we do not enter heartily and devoutly and prayerfully into the methods by which God proposes to cultivate in us positive holiness. The first is His own precious Word, the second is private prayer, the third is habitual work for souls, and the fourth is habitual dwelling in the Holy Ghost. We may compare these to four things necessary to our body—The Word of God, to the food; prayer, to the atmosphere; work, to exercise; and the Spirit to the vital principle itself—thus they can be easily remembered and grasped.
There is absolutely no advance in holy living for any man or woman that neglects the Word of God. In fact, nothing is more necessary to the sustaining and strengthening of the vital principle in us than a diligent and habitual feeding upon the Scriptures. “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” “Thy words were found, and I did eat them”; and “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” What testimonies these are, even from the Old Testament Scriptures! The Word of God you can afford to meditate on. Lord Bacon says there are some books that are to be tasted, a few that are to be chewed and digested; and the Word of God is food that it does not do to taste—you must chew, digest, and assimilate it for your wants. As you roll it over and over, as a sweet morsel under your tongue, it will get to be sweeter and sweeter, and more and more prepared for this process of spiritual assimilation, A mere superficial reading does comparatively little good; but to find out what it means, to enter into the spirit of it—the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life —to compare Scripture with Scripture, to pray much over it, to get illumination from the Spirit upon it; and, above all, to embody it in life and practice—this is making the Word of God a part of yourself; like the tree, taking the water out of the river, changing it into sap, and changing the sap into leaf, bud blossom, and fruit, according to the 1st Psalm. Do not neglect the Word of God.
One-half of us spend more time over the daily newspapers than we do over the Holy Scriptures. It is appalling how some disciples glue themselves to a newspaper, and read even its advertisements; and yet have not time for their Bibles! How can there be any spiritual progress while the very nutriment of the soul is neglected!
The second great help is private prayer. In the 6th chapter of Matthew, through its opening verses, our Lord begins with the plural, but quickly passes into the singular. The second personal pronoun in the singular number occurs in the first twenty or thirty verses thirty times, in the 6th verse alone eight times, and twice more concealed in the verbs. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father, which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” No other verse in the Scriptures has the second personal pronoun singular in it—thou, thy, thee —eight times. Why? Because the first necessity of living in communion with God is habitually to get alone with Him. You should cultivate “the practice of the presence of God”; you should come to realise the facts of the unseen world, and the unseen God, until they become as much a verity as anything in the visible world; the eternal becoming as real as the temporal. That is the only way to meet the temptations and trials of life—the only way to be consciously encompassed with God when you go forth from your closet into the activities of life.
Nothing else will take the place of private prayer. No social or family prayer, or joint prayer between husband and wife, will answer instead of the individual prayer, when you shut out everybody, even the friend of your bosom, and shut out all sights and sounds that you may know God, and that He may speak to you, as He will never speak to you except when alone with Him; and it is infinitely more important that you should hear Him speak to you than that you should speak to Him.
The third need is work for God—to absorb yourself in somebody else. Suppose a man, a victim of drunkenness, reformed, regenerated, delivered from the domination of the old habit. What is the best way to keep free, in addition to the Word of God and prayer? Let him interest himself in reforming other drunkards, lifting up those that are fallen; let him absorb himself in an unselfish purpose, forgetting even his own temptations in those of others, his own weakness in the weaknesses of others, and he will find that “whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And there is no respect of persons.” Whatever you impart to anyone, you get back into your own soul, not only by the natural law of reciprocation, but by direct administration of grace to your own needy spirit.
Last of all, abiding in the atmosphere of the Holy Ghost. Here is the greatest secret of all. The best illustration of spiritual things I have ever seen is in the modern triumphs in electrical magnetism—what scientists call the “electrical field.” Captain King, at Willets Point, N.Y., found an old gun, a large piece of ordnance 16 feet long. Being an experimenter in magnetism and electricity, he undertook to see how powerful a magnet he could make of that old gun. According to the principles of electro-magnetism, you increase the power with every additional coil of wire; and so he got ten miles of wire and wrapped it round the body of this cannon, and then magnetised the whole with a powerful battery. What was the surprise of all about him, to see solid balls of iron which weighed 200 lbs. leap up into the mouth of that cannon without a human hand touching them, and pieces of iron scattered about attached themselves to that powerful magnet. Within the electrical field the electrician will take a heap of iron wedges and spikes, and place them one upon another in architectural form and symmetry. No matter what their weight, they will stay where and as he arranges them. But, withdraw the electrical power, and his symmetrical architectural forms fall into a chaotic mass!
The Holy Spirit constitutes in the child of God a kind of Divine electrical field, and while abiding in the Holy Spirit, and subject to His influence and power, what is absolutely impossible, without the Spirit, becomes not only possible, but easy and natural, under His control. What would tumble into an indiscriminate mass of chaos without Him, assumes forms of beauty. Affections which would go out to the world, directed by Him, move Godward: purposes that would be controlled by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life, are transformed into Divine choices ; ambition becomes aspiration, things carnal are displaced by things spiritual. But get out of that spiritual field; introduce or allow in your life, voluntarily or carelessly, things that are overmastering, that come from the world, the flesh and the devil, and chaos takes place even in the life of the believer. If, in an address, one attempts to exploit himself, he loses spiritual power. A speaker must not even stop to think of popular applause, or how he is commending himself to the multitude, and forget that the only thing of importance is how far he is approved of God; otherwise he will instantaneously lose power. It is like stepping off the insulating stool and coming into contact with the earth, so that the electric fluid passes away from you into the ground. You have to be insulated, separate from the world, if you are to be filled with God; and only while the separation is maintained can the filling be maintained.
God Himself entreats you to stop instantaneously, and for ever, all trifling with sin, and with the world, all concession to the flesh, and compromise with the devil. Be out-and-out for God, for holiness, for the Word of God, for closet prayer, for devotion to souls, for surrender to the Divine Spirit!