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The Process

It sounds very easy and simple to say, “You must not be self-centered, you must be occupied with Christ,” but it is not always so easy to act on this oft-repeated advice. Some of the most acute spiritual distress that I have met with has been in souls who were most anxious to be “occupied with Christ,” and whose great grief was that, in spite of much prayer and effort, they were painfully conscious of being “self-occupied.” There must be the learning of what the old man is; the exercise must be gone through in one form or another; but it is an immense encouragement to know that God has taken us up that He might deliver us, and introduce our hearts into the blessedness of conscious association and fellowship with the Lord Jesus.

“As the heart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps 42:1, 2). If this is the language of your heart, there is a great blessing in store for you. When believers are being turned upside down and inside out they are apt to be much discouraged, and to have their souls “disquieted” within them. But even amid the exercise the Father would give us the encouragement of knowing that He has taken us up to bring us into inconceivable blessing. “Hope thou in God, “says the Psalmist to his soul, “for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (Ps 42:5).

We must travel through these exercises, for the simple reason that if the Lord Jesus is to be everything the old man must be nothing, and it is oftentimes a long journey to reach this point is the history of the soul. The Father has to bring the old man down to nothingness; and though the flesh can do very well with addition or multiplication, it has a strong objection to subtraction and reduction, and will never tolerate being made a cipher. Hence the long, dreary and painful years of “self-occupation” through which most believers drag their slow steps of spiritual progress. One point after another of self-sufficiency and self-importance has to be attacked and reduced, until at length the believer is brought—to use a phrase much more familiar than the experience which it describes—to the end of self.

We may firmly fix in our minds the fact that “the old man” is a great hindrance to the Spirit in our souls. It may be good self or bad self, carnal self or legal self, worldly self or religious self, but it is the old man in some form that is before us, if the Lord Jesus is not everything to us, and if our souls are not in the overflowing satisfaction of personal fellowship with Him. There are many ways in which the believer learns the worthlessness of the old man. No one can be converted without learning something of what he was in the flesh; and the young convert with his desires for holiness and his Spirit-wrought longings after the Lord Jesus, finds himself in a school where he learns many sad lessons of the same nature.

Even when, by God’s converting grace, we no longer make the old man the object of carnal gratification or of religious exaltation, we may, and do, make the old man the center of the blessings which God’s grace has conferred. We can all remember that it was so with us in the beginning. We thought and spoke much of our blessings, and what we had got, of what God had done for us. I am not at all objecting to this; it is, if I may say so, natural to the infancy of our soul. It gladdens our hearts to hear the young convert speak of the blessing he has received, and of his new-found joy in those blessings; but we can often see very distinctly that he is wrapping all these blessings of grace around himself, and we feel pretty sure that he will have to learn some lessons presently that will take the shine out of him.

He will have to learn what a poor wretched thing he is (Romans 7), as in the flesh, that his heart may be transferred to a new center altogether. Nothing can be more distasteful to a spiritual mind than to hear people professedly giving a Christian testimony which begins and ends with themselves. However natural it may be to a new-born soul to talk of himself, it is a very disappointing feature in one who has professed to know the Lord for some time.

It is for the effectual displacement of all this, and to transfer the heart to a new center altogether, that the experience of which we are speaking is divinely necessary for our souls. God has to come in and detach us from that which is our natural center, that He may link our affections with another Person—even the Lord Jesus Christ—and make Him everything to our hearts, so that our association with Him may be known, and may become the deep, lasting joy of our souls.

In the eleven verses of Psalm 42 the words “I,” “me,” “my,” occur thirty-five times, and six times the Psalmist uses the expression “my soul.” He is thoroughly self-occupied, but he is not self-satisfied—he is thirsting after God. Unhappy as such a condition may be, it is ten thousand times better that Laodicean complacency and self-satisfaction. The latter is what characterizes Christianity today, and it is that which we ought to dread more than anything else. Self-sufficiency is a veil upon the heart, which blinds it to everything that is of God.

The inward exercise of Romans Seven and the testing of the wilderness serve the purpose of teaching us what sin in the flesh is, and what is in our hearts; while such special discipline of God as Paul’s thorn is rather to protect us from the unaltered tendencies of the flesh. The latter is always needed, and goes on in one form or another to the end of our course here.

It is well for us to get to the end and the bottom of ourselves, for when we really arrive at the bottom with God we reach the place of deliverance. Paul no sooner reaches “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me out of this body of death?” than he exclaims, I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24, 25). When we truly abhor ourselves, we are prepared to rejoice in the blessed fact that our old man has been crucified with Christ—that sin in the flesh was condemned when we died with Him, that our whole history as in the flesh closed before God in that crucifixion, and that is our title to be free in Christ Jesus.

I have now a righteous title to have done with myself because I have died unto sin in the Lord Jesus. To prepare me for this I have to learn the necessity for death in my own experience, but my position of death in Him is my title to be free. It is by the appropriating of His death unto sin that I reach liberty; that death has severed me from all that I was in the first Adam. “I have been crucified with Christ.” I am free from myself, and free to have the Lord Jesus before me, and to learn how I am associated with Him in new creation in glory.

I well remember hearing a beloved servant of the Lord speak of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus in glory. I was greatly impressed, but it was not so much by the information imparted as by the conviction that, “That man has something which I should like to have.” If others can see that we have something which they have not, it will set them thirsting to have it too.

- C A Coates