Spiritual Activity
-- J. B. Rossier (from "Present Testimony," Vol. 5)

All the teachers who merit the name of Christians, are agreed upon the point that there is nothing of greater practical worth than Christian diligence in the redeemed. The shades of difference found among them chiefly consist in the manner of stimulating the children of God thereto, and in the nature and motive power of the action in question.

We know that there are in the redeemed, here below, two principles of action which are opposed one to the other--that of the flesh and that of the spirit of adoption. The flesh never willingly keeps quiet, even if the body itself is at rest. And yet, there is such a thing as rest according to the Spirit. It is never without danger that the Christian follows the thoughts of the flesh, either in getting into action or in keeping still; but the danger is infinitely enhanced when he does either the one or the other, induced thereto by thoughts which have the sanction of religion. It is always well for the energy of the Spirit of God to subject the flesh, and to oblige it to keep still. Then only is it that faith acts in love and according to the will of God, that is, according to Scripture.

The heart of the wise discerns the times, and knows what is right. The spirit of adoption seeks the will of God in retirement, by prayer and in the study of the Word. He is sure to find and to recognize what the will of God is, who has the sincere desire to do it, and desires nothing but it. But in seeking that will, we often find that faith and spirituality are more largely taxed by the study to be quiet, than by the having somewhat to do.

For them that are spiritual, there is a time to be doing and a time of cessation from doing--of rest and hope. But the flesh cannot bear the latter, for it has neither the will nor the ability to subject itself to the will of God. There is a time to act and a time to think--"a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together." The Holy Spirit leads us as well to rest, to prayer, and to meditation as to action. The Christian is a stranger, who, passing through the world, stays not, save at the resting-places which the Lord has prepared for him. And herein he only accomplishes the will of the good Shepherd, who conducts him, and guides, nourishes, refreshes, and tenderly cares for him. " I will both lay me down and sleep in peace: for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety" (Ps. 4:8).

The only happiness of the children of God consists in doing the will of the Father. If, at least, the heart is under the control of the spirit of adoption and of sonship, the Lord Jesus incessantly provides them with occasions, means and strength to do that will, even as by the Spirit, He inspires them with the desire to do it. But if the Christian is deficient in intelligence, he will hourly run the risk, whether he is in action or at rest, of only following his own notions. That which we, above all things, need is a filial and spiritual apprehension of grace.

If it is said to me, "We must do, do, do," no principle of action connected with faith or love in me is awakened. It is but a law which stimulates the flesh, and thus encourages me to sow to the flesh. The reaping will, naturally, be of corruption. But if, contrariwise, the love of God and my Father, or the grace and privileges of my heavenly calling in Jesus Christ, be recalled to my soul--liberty is given to me to desire, to think, to love, and to act according to God, or if it be so, to be still according to God. It is the love of God toward us which is the sole spring of faith, and the circumstance which gives to faith its activity. Touch this spring, originate a movement there, if you desire to awaken in the saints divine or truly spiritual action. It is thus that we find exhortation set forth in the Word by the Lord, and we have but to follow it, if we desire to be indeed his disciples. All the exhortations of the New Testament flow from the love of God, who has loved us and given us redemption, adoption and glory. How could we live, progress, and run toward the goal of our heavenly calling, if we were not nourished, abundantly and incessantly, with the grace of God in Jesus Christ which is to usward.

The Lord Jesus Himself has said, "Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for Him hath God the Father sealed" (John 6:27). Here the chief point in question is His flesh, given for the life of the world. That is, faith in the love of God is the sole true source, the only point to set out from, and alone the circle in which Christian activity unfolds itself. The work of faith, and labor of love consists, at bottom, in believing in the Son and in abiding in Him. In believing, I work for the nourishment which is unto eternal life. Whether I eat or whether I drink, whether I am in active service, or whether I am in repose--from the moment that I am in communion with the Author and Finisher of faith, I labor for the nourishment which is unto eternal life. Without Him, we can do nothing, however laudable, in appearance, our activity may be. It is the Spirit which quickens; the flesh profits nothing. Moreover, constant mention is made of the fruit of the Spirit, and of the reaping of the Spirit, because, by our union with the Lord Jesus, "we have our fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (Rom. 6).

Let us reckon carefully. Put aside from among all the fruits of our activity here below such as are really the fruit of the Spirit, that is to say, those only which will abide unto eternal life and which will be reckoned to us before the judgment-seat of Christ. How many a loss shall we not then sustain? Our best intentions, our strongest resolves, our most boasted enterprises, our greatest efforts to attain-- these will be all mowed down as stubble. If these fruits grew not in the garden of faith, they will not endure the trial by fire; it will consume them. Yet, shall we see in that day some souls who were, perchance, simple and of no repute here below, crowned there on high, with the abiding fruits of the Spirit. Many a thousand fine sermons will be burnt up; and poor, pitiful prayers will then glitter like the stars, forever. God recognizes and rewards only blessings apprehended and realized by faith in Christ Jesus. All this is a matter of spiritual intelligence and of communion with God.

The Word speaks to us of "fruits of the Spirit," contrasting them with "works of the flesh." Provided that he who sows and he who reaps does so only in the Spirit, he shall receive a reward, and shall gather fruit unto eternal life. All else will be burned up. Christ has chosen us that we may bring forth fruit, and that our fruit may abide. But the Lord Jesus is not the vine whence grow our speculations, our resolutions, or our plans for campaigns here below. These thoughts of the natural man have no relationship with the branches of the true Vine, which draw from Christ alone their sap, their leaves, buds, flowers and fruit.

Lastly, "The Day" which draweth near will make known what the work of each is. It is therefore well and suitable that we should mutually exhort one another unto love and good works, but only to those which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. Nothing can enable me to discern those works, save intimate communion, by the Spirit, with Him who has prepared them. If I see before me works which have not been prepared by God, faith will not give me any impulse thereto. If they have been prepared of God, BUT not for me, faith and the Spirit will both engage me to remain still. And He who is my Judge in all these things is the Lord, to whose glory I desire to live and to die, to be occupied and to be still, while I wait upon Him and await His return. I count continually upon the High Priesthood of the Lord Jesus as to all my faults and failings in this precious service. For if I see that good works are those only which are wrought in God, I see also that the flesh is wily enough to make me miss my opportunities, either by acting after my own thoughts, or by abstaining from entering upon the path which God has prepared for me to walk in.

The last chapter of John's gospel gives us, briefly, various kinds of Christian activity, which were seen in the presence of the Risen Head of the Church. John and Peter especially strike me in this point of view. The former remained quietly in the bosom of Jesus, when Peter would lay down his life for Him, who was to die for him. The crucifixion of the flesh is in practise a thing hard to find. Before the crucifixion, Peter had come towards Jesus in the flesh, and then had followed Him. But this Peter, with the best intention in the world, denies Jesus thrice. A flesh weak in itself without strength as to that which is good, and a natural mind (that is to say, one which is always ready to undertake the will of the flesh) was all that law itself could set in movement in man. And therefore also the law condemns the man who is subject to its rule.

But on the other side of the Cross, and on the border of the Land of Promise, the calm, yet energetic spirituality of John, recognized at a distance the Lord. Would Peter have cast himself into the sea, if he had not heard John say, "It is the Lord?" John continues at work all the while he is going to meet the Lord Jesus. His spirituality is indeed the cause, or at least, the occasion, of Peter's activity, and yet (while everything here is exactly in its right place), John acts as much as Peter, and in a sense, he acts even more usefully. Yet the moment the Lord bids bring of the produce of the fishing, it is Simon Peter who, already refreshed and restored by the contemplation of the risen Jesus, boards the boat and puts the finishing stroke to the work of power.

Before the crucifixion, Peter was not able to follow Jesus, although, with his whole soul he was willing to pledge himself thereto. But the knowledge of the cross has, now, given to Peter the power of following the Lord Jesus with joy, even whither Peter had no will to go. The crucifixion of the flesh, and the spirit of childlike obedience, are what grace has obtained for the redeemed, whom it thus saves by sanctification of the Spirit.

John followed Jesus without needing an order to do so. His happiness was to keep close to his Master. The Lord on His part, knowing how this faithful disciple counted upon His love, manifests His confidence in him in this very thing, that He gives not to him, as to Peter, an order to follow Him. Peter, on the contrary, just barely recovered from his fall, had need of all the visible proofs of the tender vigilance of our Lord Jesus; and the Good Shepherd withholds them not from him.

In John, we see the confidence and the simplicity of love. Though he makes little noise, he always follows the Lord. He incessantly expects Him, and thus he recognizes Him even before the most zealous disciples: it is only his intimate acquaintance with the Lord Jesus which gives him this advantage. Love is calm, and finds its enjoyment in its object. John passes through few painful experiences like those of Peter. The perfect love of our Lord Jesus banishes all fear from His disciple; it slays also the activity of the flesh.

John is neither jealous of Peter nor restless about his brother, who is on his way to death. Peter, on the contrary, disquiets himself about John, who, the meanwhile is occupied solely with the Lord Jesus, and remains perfectly calm and at rest, even while following the Master, whom it was his habit to listen to and gaze upon.

We are never adequately filled with the conviction that we are nothing, and that the Lord Jesus is all. "When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek" (Ps. 27: 8). "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee" (Ps. 73:25).