“This place is too narrow for me; give me space in which to dwell!” Isaiah 49:20
The narrow confines of a cot are a baby’s security. But before many months have passed, the little child is given the greater freedom of, say, a play-pen. And somewhat later he is allowed the run of the house, and then the garden. And when school days begin, the boundaries expand a stage further, as parents perceive a growing responsibility in their child.
Coupled with these wider geographical boundaries there is also an expansion of mental vision, as one goes from primary to secondary education, and then perhaps to University. But what happens when all this is achieved, and a degree is obtained? Is it the end? By no means! One may be invited to stay on to engage in research work. What is this? It is to step out into the unknown, to claim virgin territory, to examine hitherto unknown areas of knowledge. At the end of perhaps three years one could be awarded a higher degree, say a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D) or a doctor of laws (Ll.D)
All this is very predictable and well-established in society. However, in the field of research men sometimes impose unwarranted hindrances to progress. The research student may find opposition to his proposals. A good example of this in scientific history was Marie Curie’s attempt to isolate new elements from pitchblende. The authorities gave her no assistance, and in the end she had to complete her work under the most appalling conditions. However, she discovered Radium, and proved her point.
Rudyard Kipling captured the feelings of frustration in research and adventure when he wrote his poem entitled “The Explorer”, which begins with the words –
“There’s no sense in going further- It’s the edge of cultivation,”
So they said, and I believed it, broke my land and sowed my crop,
Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station
Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and stop;
Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated – so:
‘Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges,
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!'”
After the tale of great hardships, and the finding of a new land, Kipling ends on this interesting note
“God took care to hide that country till He judged His people ready,
Then He chose me for His Whisper, and I’ve found it, and it’s yours!”
“Yes, your ‘Never-never country’ – yes, your ‘edge of cultivation’
And ‘no sense in going further’ – till I crossed the range to see.
God forgive me! No, I didn’t. It’s God’s present to our nation.
Anybody might have found it, but – His Whisper came to me!”
We believe that the expansion of boundaries, and the education of the mind, and research into the unknown, all have an important parallel in the spiritual life, with lessons to be learned.
1. The Lord was approached one night by a man who had achieved the status of “doctor of the law”. He was well instructed about Biblical matters, but his human learning was not enough. Jesus taught him about the need for New Birth, and he could not at first understand. “You must be born again”, Jesus insisted. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Jn.3) Equally today there are many, including some who may have reached dizzy heights of mental achievement, who still cannot understand the need for this new birth. They approach Christianity as an area of academic enquiry, and often espouse its teachings as ‘good for the soul’ but go through life without being ‘born of the Spirit’ But the true Church of Jesus Christ is composed of all those whom God recognises as having experienced new birth. This is the only Church that God recognises, and the Holy Spirit lives within it corporately.
2. 1 Pet.2:2 “As newborn babes, earnestly desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” And a definition of this spiritual ‘milkT is given in Hebrews 5:12 as “the first principles of the oracles of God,” in other words foundational truths, upon which the great doctrines of God may later be built up. “Every one who partakes of milk is inexperienced In the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.” These words are not derogatory, when applied to babies in the faith. Babies need milk, because as yet they cannot stomach strong meat.
3. For those of ‘school age’ in the life of the spirit, a Teacher is needed. And those who are born of the Spirit cannot be taught by those who are born of the flesh. It is dimensionally impossible. Only ‘spiritual people’ can understand ‘spiritual things’. A mere human understanding about the Bible is of no value at all to the born-again child of God. Peter tells us in 1 Peter.1:23) that “we are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides for ever.” If therefore the word of God was instrumental in bringing us to the new more than ready to accept Jesus’ words that “man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matt.4:4) Ordinary bread sustains the human side of man, but is of no avail to the spiritual side of man. Only ‘living bread’ can sustain our spiritual nature, and this is word of God. How then are we to obtain this living bread? Jesus told His disciples that “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you”. (Jn.14:26)
The connection is thus completed. We are born again of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit becomes our Teacher. First of all we are given ‘sincere milk’ to drink, and then ‘living bread’ to sustain us, and finally ‘meat’ as explained in Heb.5:14. “Strong meat belongs to those of mature age (spiritually), those who by reason of use, have their senses trained to discern both good and evil.” It is at this stage that Paul tells us we are ready to act as Teachers. (Heb.5:12) And if we are born-again-teachers, we shall ONLY teach by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We shall firmly resist all attempts to teach via the human mind, because this cannot sustain or strengthen the children of God. Mentally based exposition of the Scriptures may sound fine to a fleshly mind but it CANNOT edify the spirit of man. None of us can ever hope to achieve this worthy goal 100% of the time, but if we appreciate the need, we shall ever be conscious of our weaknesses, and turn to the Lord for help.
John tells us (1 J.2:27) that “the anointing (of the Holy Spirit) which we have received of God abides in us, and we have no need of MAN to teach us, because the anointing teaches us all things, and is truth, and is no lie.” And Paul told the Corinthians (1 C.2:4-5) that his own preaching was not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit – – that their faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
4. Spiritual manhood. Paul told the Corinthians that he spoke wisdom among those who were spiritually mature,(1 C.2:6) a hidden wisdom, a sacred secret, ordained of God. He said that “God has revealed it to us by the Spirit, because the Spirit searches the deep things of God.” (v.10) And “no man can know the things of God save by the Spirit of God.” (v.11) And those who are mature are able to “interpret spiritual things by spiritual (means)”. (v.l3)
When such things are discussed openly in a church, the ‘natural men’ present are totally unable to understand or appreciate them. Indeed they are folly to them because they can ONLY be discerned spiritually. (v.l4)
To the Ephesians, Paul wrote saying that he prayed to God to give them “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the deeper knowledge of God.” (E.1:16-17) Later he mentioned that he was asking God that they would be able to lay hold of the breadth, the length, the depth, and the height (of this revelation) and to know the love of Christ, which surpassed all human knowledge. (3:17-19) Undoubtedly Paul was speaking of what we have chosen to call the ‘research stage’ of man’s quest. It is not the purpose of this article to display what might constitute the deeper knowledge, only to show that it is part of God’s purpose for the Church.
5. It can never be assumed that a man grows spiritually as he might grow naturally, in the flesh. The spiritual life is always a mystery, and some attain the same degree of maturity in 2 years that might take others 20 years. Human growth is governed by factors inherent within us; spiritual growth is at all times governed by the will of the child of God. The reason for this is that God is not seeking mere puppets, but those who desire His own nature to be expressed within them. Hence when we seek God with a whole heart, we make rapid progress. But if we should draw back and find little pleasure in the things of God, our development comes almost to a halt. One of the greatest hindrances to growth in the spirit is for a child of God to ‘feed the flesh’ that is try to live the spiritual life in the flesh. In God’s sight this is impossible, but man frequently attempts it.
Paul told the Hebrews (5:12) that many of them were “dull of hearing, for when by reason of the time they ought to be teachers, THEY had need to be taught again the first principles.” How sad when a man of mature years, and claiming to have been a Christian for a long time, shows all evidence of being still at the ‘baby stage’.
We all have need to learn from the Master. He came to find DISCIPLES. In modern parlance, this word means ‘learners’. Throughout all our spiritual lives as Christians we need to remain ‘learners’. Never at any time should we take off our ‘L plates’.
6. Those who hinder research. We spoke of the problems encountered by Madame Curie at the Paris Academy of Sciences. She had to battle on with her own resources instead of receiving financial assistance and laboratory space. And in the spiritual life, there is a lot of this happening, in fact a phenomenal amount. The reason is compounded by the fact that opposition comes not just from human sources, but also from unseen demonic forces working through human beings. What happens is that people tend to ‘build fences’. The fences restrict vision. They make you stay within prescribed boundaries. They don’t allow you to appreciate what lies beyond. They are erected by those who have taken off their ‘L plates’ and believe that they have ‘made it’.
Paul explains this process to the Corinthian church. The church was badly involved in this practice. (1 Cor.1:12 & 3:1-4) He writes, “Every one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul’, ‘I am of Apollos’, ‘I am of Cephas’, and ‘I am of Christ'”. And because of this, he says, “I could not speak to you as spiritual but as fleshly, as babes in Christ. I could only feed you with milk, not meat. And even now you cannot bear it. Are you not fleshly? When there is envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not fleshly and walk as men? While one says, 1 am of Paul’, and another ‘I am of Apollos’, are you not fleshly?”
We must analyse this further, because of its importance. Paul was complaining of a ‘sectarian spirit’ hampering spiritual growth at Corinth. Elsewhere, he lists ‘strife, divisions and sects as ‘works of the flesh’ (Gal.5:20), warning that all who persist in such practices ‘cannot inherit the kingdom of God.‘ In 1 Cor.11:18 he says, “I hear that there are divisions among you, and I partly believe it. There must needs be sects among you so that those who are APPROVED may be manifest among you.” So serious is sectarianism that Paul tells Titus (3:10-11) “Reject a sectarian man after the first and second admonitions, knowing that such a man is perverted, and sins, being self-condemned.” This is a very serious matter. We must fully understand what the accusation means.
What is a sect? How does a sectarian man behave? Is the modern counterpart found amongst those who say ‘I am an Anglican’, ‘I am a Baptist’, etc.? The answer cannot be a simple yes. It is more subtle than that. The Greek word for sect comes from a verb which means to ‘choose’. And in N.T. days the word sect was applied to the ‘sect of the Sadducees’ and the ‘sect of the Pharisees’ within the Jewish faith. (Acts 5:17, 15:5) These men had set up artificial boundaries of belief, and frequently castigated all those who questioned their boundaries. They interpreted Moses to suit their own needs, and imposed rules and regulations not found in the Pentateuch. More than anyone else, they were the instigators of the hatred that eventually led our Lord to the cross.
Jesus, above all before Him and since, was a true ‘man of research’ He knew the hidden wisdom of His Father. He taught it among men, knowing that only those who ‘had an ear to hear’ would properly understand what He was saying. But Paul classed the sectarian believers in Corinth as ‘babes in Christ‘, and as ‘fleshly Christians’. They were making artificial boundaries, constructing fences that should not be there. And today’s Pharisees and sectarians are always found to be the fleshly Christians, particularly those who have spent too long on the ‘milk stage’. They set up very narrow boundaries of belief, and make it difficult for others to see beyond them. They build fences to box in the spiritual vision. They hamper and oppose anyone who desires to know the mysteries of the hidden depths of God promised to His people. They need to be opposed strongly, with words of warning, coupled with adventurous encouragement to all believers. We can remember hearing Edgar Trout saying in 1967, “God is saying to us, ‘Go across Jordan! There is still much land to be possessed on the other side!'” Truly God is looking for pioneers amongst His children.
The reason why the question could not receive a simple answer may then be given as follows. There is a distinction to be made between simple denominational sectarianism, and that of doctrinal sectarianism. Of greater importance than such assertions as ‘I am an Anglican’ or ‘I am a Baptist’ are statements like ‘I am an Evangelical’, ‘I am a Fundamentalist‘, ‘I am a Dispensationalist’, and ‘I am a Charismatic.’ Such doctrinal distinctions stretch across the denominational boundaries, and few understand the tremendous strengths they have in controlling ‘research’. The original ‘fence builders’ have long since disappeared, but their fences still remain, and men willingly repair the breaches and replace the posts. Unwittingly, men abide by these sets of man-made rules, and without realising it, prevent themselves from searching out the deeper things of God.
But men do not belong to doctrinal sects. They tend to congregate in denominational sects. And it is within these sects that the doctrinal factions operate. If we are completely honest with ourselves before God, we should become fearful of operating within these man-made boundaries. It is like saying that we had ‘sized up God’ and had knowledge of the limits of His mind. But in Eph.3 Paul tells us that God wants to reveal to us the breadth, the length, the depth, and the height of His gracious revelation, and show us the love which is beyond human knowledge. How can this be conveyed if we sit behind fences of our own making? Rather should we be “diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” and recognise that there is “ONE body, ONE Spirit, ONE Lord, ONE hope, ONE faith, ONE baptism, and ONE God and Father of us all.” (Eph.4: 1-3)
I once foolishly asked the Lord how Roman Catholics could receive the baptism of the spirit. The Lord answered, “I do not see Roman Catholics. I only see human beings.” In a flash I realised that in God’s sight NONE of the denominations exist! God does not respect the Roman Catholic church. Neither does He respect the Anglican church, Evangelicals, Dispensationalists, or Charismatics. But of greater importance, in His sight THEY JUST DO NOT EXIST! All God sees are human beings. And from among human-kind, all those who have yielded to the spirit of Christ with a true heart belong to Him. Herein lies the true unity of all believers and we should be diligent to keep, guard, and preserve that unity.