William Edward Biederwolf
If you are sighing today for the ‘‘joy which once you knew when first you found the Lord,” it can only be because you have not been a growing Christian. Conversion is just the beginning of what God can do for a human soul.
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow” (Matthew 6:28). I believe with Browning that “man was made to grow, not stop.” Greater men than Browning evidently believed this, too, for we hear Paul tell the Colossians that he wished they might be well rooted and grounded (Colossians 2:7). To the Thessalonians he said, “Brethren, we beseech you that ye increase more and more” (I Thessalonians 4:10). Likewise, Peter in several places gives the same injunction.
In Ephesians 3:20 we are told that He “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” We are told elsewhere to “increase more and more” and “grow in grace” until the measure of our stature shall be like the fullness of His own.
I want God to do for me all that He can do for any man in this life. I know I shall be satisfied when I awake in His likeness, but I do not want to be satisfied here with anything less than the nearest likeness to Him that any man can bear. If there are deep things of God which can only be searched by His Spirit, then I want His Spirit to lead me into .the knowledge of that deepest truth. If there are mountain-top experiences from which I can come down, like His servant of old, with my face shining from the presence of God, I want to go up into that mountain. If down in the valley there are trials and afflictions from which I may come up with my soul chastened, and be more meek and lowly, more tender and sympathetic, and more like the Man of Sorrows, I want to go down into that valley. If there are conditions which, being fulfilled, bring a power from God that can give me victory over sin, and can make and keep my life pure and spotless and holy, I want to fulfill those conditions and receive that power.
Growth or Decay
Where there is life there must be either growth or decay. Peter seems to have had this in mind in his epistle. He had been speaking of a day of testing which was to come and then warned his hearers lest they should fall from their steadfastness, adding immediately, “But grow in grace” (II Peter 3:18). For them it was either to fall from their steadfastness or to grow in grace; there is no standing still and if the life of the soul is to be what God would have it be, it must be one of continual progress in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Most people recognize an almost universal desire to be good. Huxley said that if some great power would agree to make him always think what is good and do what is right by turning him into a clock and winding him up every morning, he would instantly accept the offer. Well, there IS a way, without being turned into a clock or any other machine; it is to become good just as a lily becomes beautiful. But alas, many are trying some other method, for you can always hear the rattle of the wheels and the din of the machinery. Suppose we mention a few of these man-contrived methods:
Resolution: “I will resolve to be good and therefore be good:” A man might as well try to lift himself by pulling at his bootstraps. A good resolution is nothing more than a fit of sporadic earnestness. Resolution is the favorite method of the unregenerate, but the truly sad thing is that so many Christians are trusting in it, too. I am sure that all of us have made resolutions and then failed at the very point of carrying them out. We should not forget that the very thing we resolve to become would be the easy and natural outcome if God had the supremacy in our lives.
Eradication: “I will deal with one sin at a time; if a sin is too difficult to wholly abandon at once, I will do so by degrees. When this one has been eradicated, I will turn my attention to another.” The trouble with this theory is that most of us have so many sins that we’d die before we got halfway through. But the chief difficulty is this: eradication is exactly what does not occur. The root of the sin is still there and when we think we have conquered one and turn our attention to another, the first sprouts up to mark the point of another defeat.
Imitation: “I will copy the virtues of the good and so become like them.” But most of us are very poor at imitation. At best such an art yields only an artificial product, and people can always tell the difference. Titian was a good imitator, but he never became great until he left his master’s models.
Now we are getting back to where we started. There’s a better way to be good than these we’ve been considering, in fact, it is the only way to be truly good. If we can say, like Paul “Christ liveth in me” (Galatian~ 2:20), why not let the Christ-life develop and grow within us? “He that hath the Son hath life” (I John 5:12), and having studied the life as implanted let us now “consider the lilies, how they grow” (Luke 12:27). For if we can learn the lesson of the lily, our life, instead of being a series of dismal disappointments and heart-rending failures, will rise into the beauty of holiness, even as the sweet flower of which we speak rises from the garden of its God into its more than Solomon-like glory.
The Mystery of Growth
It is not the process the Master wants us to contemplate, for this we never can understand, and in order to grow it is not necessary to know how to grow. No scientist understands how the lily grows. So it is with the growth of character. If yours is a manufactured goodness, like other artificial things, its existence will not be hard to explain. If it is the fruit of an inner growing, the child of God may appreciate it, but God alone can understand it.
The lily does not try to grow. Of course, this is an impossibility for an unconscious thing, but it’s just as true of your life and mine, both in the physical and the spiritual spheres. This is the lesson Christ meant to enforce. No amount of anxiety or worry or thought will add one cubit to our stature. If there is life and health in the body, this growth is not only natural but inevitable. In the same manner, where there is health of the soul, the life within will unfold itself as naturally as the lily from its bud.
Conditions for Growth
Before Christians can grow, however, there are requisite conditions of health. Certainly to be healthy, we must have the proper diet. The reason we have so many puny Christians is the want of proper spiritual nourishment.
The Christian’s nourishment comes to him through certain channels. If we were asked, “What are these channels-these means of grace?” we could almost recite them in concert:
The first is the Word of God. Peter says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Peter 2:2). What· ever else that means, it means that the Word of God is a good thing to feed on. Milk, you know, is food which has passed through the digestion of another, and so there are some who think that about all the feeding they need is what the minister hands out to them on Sunday morning. I refer to these bottle-fed Christians who consider their pastor to be a nurse.
How strange that so many Christians should be satisfied with only nourishment like that! Peter certainly did not intend this condition when he spoke of desiring the sincere milk of the Word. How sad and yet how true that the majority of Christians do not study the Bible. In some homes, the Bible is only an ornament for the table or a family record to tell when the old folks were married and when brother died and sister was born. There are thousands of nominal Christians who can tell you the number of cards in a pinochle deck but couldn’t tell the number of books in the Bible. What growth can you expect in such a soul? They are like the rich farmer who had his barns stored with corn and said to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods … eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19). Trying to feed his soul on corn!
A neglected Bible means a starved and puny spirit, a dwarfed soul and a barren life. Jesus, in His prayer for you and me, said to the Father, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). What does this mean but that the Word is the chief instrument in our sanctification? It is from the Word that the Spirit takes the things of Christ and shows them to us. Thus, the only way we can come to know the living Word is through an intimate acquaintance with the written Word. That is what sanctification means — to know Christ.
How shall I read the Word? Prayerfully — let the Holy Spirit be your interpreter. Frequently — especially in regular and uninterrupted doses. To be healthy and growing, a person must be regular in his diet. Carefully — reading the Bible every day simply for the sake of regularity is of little value, as if a perfunctory performance were to act as a charm about us during the day! It seems as though God has purposely hidden the treasures of His Word, some of them deep, and others at least a little beneath the surface, as if to test our earnestness in searching for them and to insure a keener appreciation and a more profound joy when once we have brought them to light.
What a wonderful Book it is! To studiously and carefully pore over its pages is like eating meat at the King’s table. Dear child of God, are you neglecting this Word or are you feeding upon it? I am sure that if you can say with the prophet, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them,” you can also say with him, “and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).
The second condition of growth is secret prayer. By secret prayer is meant the occasion of deliberate approach, when in our closet, as Andrew Murray says, “we are shut out from men and shut in with God.” This, rather than praying without ceasing, is what is meant by secret prayer. The two are not, of course, disconnected. They complement each other in the life of perfect fellowship. How blessed to so breathe the atmosphere of prayer that anywhere and everywhere the soul will cast quick glances at his ever-present Lord; glances which speak to Him in adoration, in love, in petition and reliance; to have such constant fellowship that even the smallest details of our lives will not be too insignificant to mention to Him. But I very much fear that one who thus expects to commune without the more stated seasons of private prayer will find himself forgetting his privilege in the busy rush of life. Certainly there could be no better preparation for such a day’s communion than to begin that day with a season of quiet interview with Him whom we desire to go with us through our daily duties.
We don’t need to dwell upon the fact that such communion is conducive to growth in grace. The delight of it seems to make us forget all about the growing. It is good that it should, for it is not by “taking thought” that we grow.
Are you growing? Have you got a larger heart and a purer spirit than you had last year? Are you living nearer the Master now than then? Do you find your delight in the law of the Lord and are you meditating therein day and night? Are you taking time to be holy while the world rushes on? Are you saying each morning, “What can I do today for Christ?” We have been considering the lilies, how they grow. Let us then say: “My life too shall be one of growth, until like the lily’s pure and unstained calyx the beauty of holiness shall crown it.” But while the lily dies, we shall go on from beauty unto beauty, and from glory unto glory, for “it doth not yet appear what we shall be” (I John 3:2).
William E. Biederwolf (1867-1939) was an evangelist who served for a time as director of the Winona Lake Bible Conference and also as director and later president of the Winona Lake School of Theology.
This article was published in Faith for the Family, May/June 1974. It is republished here by permission.