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Our End Is God’s Beginning

Now that we have settled the doctrinal side of the question we must come down to practical issues, staying a little longer with the negative aspect and keeping the positive for our next chapter. What does it mean in everyday life to be delivered from the Law? At the risk of a little overstatement, I reply, “It means that from henceforth I am going to do nothing whatever for God: I am never again going to try to please Him.” ‘What a doctrine!’ you exclaim. ‘What awful heresy! You cannot possibly mean that!’

But remember, if I try to please God ‘in the flesh’, then immediately I place myself under the Law. I broke the Law; the Law pronounced the death sentence; the sentence was executed, and now by death I—the carnal ‘I’ (Rom. 7:14)—have been set free from all its claims. There is still a Law of God, and now there is in fact a “new commandment” that is infinitely more exacting than the old, but, Praise God! its demands are being met, for it is Christ who now fulfills them; it is Christ who works in me what is well-pleasing to God. “I came... to fulfill {the law}” were His words (Matt. 5:17). Thus Paul, from the ground of resurrection, can say: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13).

It is God that worketh in you. Deliverance from law does not mean that we are free from doing the will of God. It certainly does not mean that we are going to be lawless. Very much the reverse! What it does mean however is that we are free from doing that will as of ourselves. Being fully persuaded that we cannot do it, we cease trying to please God from the ground of the old man. Having at last reached the point of utter despair in ourselves so that we cease even to try, we put our trust in the Lord to manifest His resurrection life in us.

Let me illustrate by what I have seen in my own country. In China some bearers can carry a load of salt weighing 120 kilos, some even 250 kilos. Now along comes a man who can carry only 120 kilos, and here is a load of 250 kilos. He knows perfectly well he cannot carry it, and if he is wise he will say: ‘I won’t touch it!’ But the temptation to try is ingrained in human nature, so although he cannot possibly carry it he still tries. As a youngster I used to amuse myself watching ten or twenty of these fellows come along and try, though every one of them knew he could not possibly manage it. In the end he must give up and make way for the man who could.

The sooner we too give up trying the better, for if we monopolize the task, then there is no room for the Holy Spirit. But if we say: ‘I’ll not do it; I’ll trust Thee to do it for me’, then we shall find that a Power stronger than ourselves is carrying us through.

In 1923 I met a famous Canadian evangelist. I had said in an address something along the above lines, and as we walked back to his home afterwards he remarked: ‘The note of Romans 7 is seldom sounded nowadays; it is good to hear it again. The day I was delivered from the Law was a day of Heaven on earth. After being a Christian for years I was still trying my best to please God, but the more I tried the more I failed. I regarded God as the greatest Demander in the universe, but I found myself impotent to fulfill the least of His demands. Suddenly one day, as I read Romans 7, light dawned and I saw that I had not only been delivered from sin but from the Law as well. In my amazement I jumped up and said: “Lord, are you really making no demands on me? Then I need do nothing more for You!”

God’s requirements have not altered, but we are not the ones to meet them. Praise God, He is the Lawgiver on the Throne, and He is the Lawkeeper in my heart. He who gave the Law, Himself keeps it. He makes the demands, but He also meets them. My friend could well jump up and shout when he found he had nothing to do, and all who make a like discovery can do the same. As long as we are trying to do anything, He can do nothing. It is because of our trying that we fail and fail and fail. God wants to demonstrate to us that we can do nothing at all, and until that is fully recognized our disappointments and disillusionments will never cease.

A brother who was trying to struggle into victory remarked to me, ‘I do not know why I am so weak.’ ‘The trouble with you’, I said, ‘is that you are weak enough not to do the will of God, but you are not weak enough to keep out of things altogether. You are still not weak enough. When you are reduced to utter weakness and are persuaded that you can do nothing whatever, then God will do everything.’ We all need to come to the point where we say: ‘Lord, I am unable to do anything for Thee, but I trust Thee to do everything in me.’

I was once staying in a place in China with some twenty other brothers. There was inadequate provision for bathing in the home where we stayed, so we went for a daily plunge in the river. On one occasion a brother had cramp in one leg, and I suddenly saw he was sinking fast, so I motioned to another brother, who was an expert swimmer, to hasten to his rescue. But to my astonishment he made no move. So I grew desperate and called out: ‘Don’t you see the man is drowning?’ and the other brothers, about as agitated as I was, shouted vigorously too. But our good swimmer still did not move. Calm and collected, he remained just where he was, apparently postponing the unwelcome task. Meantime the voice of the poor drowning brother grew fainter and his efforts feebler. In my heart I said: ‘I hate that man! Think of his letting a brother drown before his very eyes and not going to the rescue!’

But when the man was actually sinking, with a few swift strokes the swimmer was at his side, and both were safely ashore. When I got an opportunity I aired my views. ‘I have never seen any Christian who loved his life quite as much as you do’, I said. ‘Think of the distress you would have saved that brother if you had considered yourself a little less and him a little more.’ But the swimmer knew his business better than I did. ‘Had I gone earlier’, he said, ‘he would have clutched me so fast that both of us would have gone under. A drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself.’

Do you see it? When we give up the case, then God will take it up. He is waiting until we are at an end of our resources and can do nothing more for ourselves. God has condemned all that is of the old creation and consigned it to the Cross. The flesh profiteth nothing! If we try to do anything in the flesh we are virtually repudiating the Cross of Christ. God has declared us to be fit only for death. When we truly believe that, then we confirm God’s verdict by giving up all our fleshly efforts to please Him. Our every effort to do His will is a denial of His declaration in the Cross of our utter worthlessness. Our continued efforts are a misunderstanding on the one hand of God’s demands and on the other hand of the source of supply.

We see the Law and we think that we must meet its demands, but we need to remember that, though the Law in itself is all right, it will be all wrong if it is applied to the wrong person. The “wretched man” of Romans 7 tried to meet the demands of God’s law himself, and that was the cause of his trouble. The repeated use of the little word ‘I’ in this chapter gives the clue to the failure. “The good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practice” (Rom. 7:19). There was a fundamental misconception in this man’s mind. He thought God was asking him to keep the Law, so of course he was trying to keep it. But God was requiring no such thing of him. What was the result? Far from doing what pleased God, he found himself doing what displeased Him. In his very efforts to do the will of God he did exactly the opposite of what he knew to be His will.

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