The Latest Improved
As we walk along the streets of villages and cities, we see machines of different kinds exposed to view and bearing a card with these words: “The Latest Improved.” For our life to be perfect every day, it must be our latest improved. The world is getting worse, we say, but you and I as Christians can daily grow better. Our life today can be an improvement over our life of yesterday. The Christian life is a real life, and is capable of development as any life. The same law that develops us physically is necessary to our development spiritually. Day after day we can be built up into stronger spiritual beings. We can become more like God, possessing a firmer Christian character and having an integrity that will not swerve for a life nor a world from the path of virtue. Constant progress is constant peace and happiness. It is the triumphant life.
Dear reader, I am going to ask you to lay aside for a few minutes the busy cares of life and come and have a talk with me about spiritual and heavenly things. Now, if you feel that you scarcely have time, and cannot fully dismiss the temporal concern of life from your mind, then I will excuse you. I do not care to speak with you unless you can give me your undivided attention. I desire to help you if you need help. I want to talk to you about your everyday life, and I do want your calm, serious attention. Surely by God’s help we can spend a few minutes to some profit.
Some people hesitate to look closely into their life lest they find such a delinquency as will disquiet them. Some fear to give a close examination lest it give Satan an opportunity to accuse them. This need not be. We can look closely into our daily life and not allow Satan to whisper one word to us. We cannot make improvement upon our life without close examination in order to discover weakness and imperfection. When we discover them, we must set earnestly to work to correct them. The discovery alone is not sufficient. If we do not correct a fault that we have discovered, we soon lose consciousness of the fault. There are times with everyone, no doubt, when it seems that they are making no progress, but these may be the times when we are making most progress.
If we have just one fault, we ought to desire to get rid of it. Our desire should be so great that we shall set about at once to correct that fault. Now if we say, “Oh, it is such a little thing,” then we shall not get free from it, and that little thing may become a greater thing. To be too quick to speak is a fault. The Bible says, “Be… slow to speak.” (James 1:19) If we have the fault of speaking too quickly, we should correct that. We can if we will.
The Bible tells Christians to watch and pray. Most Christians do not need to watch and pray lest they rob a bank. They would not rob a bank if they never prayed. But we do need to watch and pray lest we do some little thing that we should not do. I will relate to you the experience of a dear brother who desired to live for God, but who neglected to watch and pray as he should. An evil thought was presented to his mind. Not seeing the evil of it, he indulged the thought and found pleasure in the indulgence. After a few minutes he felt the reproving of the Spirit of God and so dismissed the thought. Later it came again. It was so pleasing that he indulged it a little longer than before. Again the Spirit reproved him. In a few evenings the thought came again. It was only a little sensual thought, a little imaginary indulgence of the flesh. But it came again and again. It was indulged a little longer and a little longer. Eventually it worked a fleshly lust into his heart, and after two or three years he was led into actual commission of a sinful deed. It was an apparently innocent thought in the beginning, but it ended in sin committed.
There are little yieldings to lightness, impatience, aircastle building, exaggerations, frettings, murmurings, idleness, etc., that prey upon the soul and rob it of peace and the sweet consciousness of God’s presence. But there is progress in the divine life for everyone of us if we will only give attention to our life as we pass along. The first thing is to have a deep interest in making spiritual gain, and then to be full of faith and encouragement.
Jesus will help you to make some gains each day if you will press your way through the crowd and touch Him. It is the earnest prayer of faith that gets us through to God and makes us feel like giants in His strength. If you would be strengthened in your soul, you must exercise. This is the law of development in the spiritual as well as in the animal life. “Exercise thyself… unto godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7) This is a motto we should hang upon the walls of our memory. Its meaning is that increase in godliness is attained only by exercise.
I shall have much now to say about your doing, but bear in mind that the doing is to be not in your strength, but in God’s strength. Here are two mottoes to keep in remembrance: “Without [Him I] can do nothing” (John 15:5); “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13) By the help of the Lord we are going to tell you how to be strong in Him. God wants you to be a David. Go out in His strength and meet the Goliaths. They must fall before you. I shall not tell you so much you do not know as I shall endeavor to get you to practice what you know. How many times have you resolved to do and have failed to keep your resolution? Your failure was not because you could not but because you did not. To make a success in any business enterprise, one must give it constant and daily attention. Likewise, if you make a success in the Christian life, you must give it constant and daily attention. You must make it not only a business, but also the first business of your life.
But some make this complaint: “It takes so much time.” It will take some time, that is true, and if you do not think you have time, then you had better not begin. What would you think of a man who contemplated engaging in some business, but said he did not have much time to devote to it? You would advise him not to engage in the business at all. It takes time to make advancement in the Christian life. One brother said, “But we must attend to our temporal duties.” My reply was, “Shall we not attend to our spiritual duties?” When people talk of having to attend to temporal duties, it appears that they are going to do this if they have to neglect spiritual duties. Unless we have a better enlightenment than this, we shall never make progress in the Christian life.
We have no excuse for not being strong in the Lord. “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 6:13) Of course, you need the help of God, but God helps those who help themselves. He will not by some irresistible power convey you to your closet and put you on your knees, but He will give you strength to go if you will use what He gives you.
I will now give you, not learned theology, but plain, simple instruction how to make daily advancement in the divine life and to be strong in God. “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) Any indulgence of the flesh weakens the spiritual powers. The question might arise, “What are fleshly lusts?” We are here in the flesh. The flesh has not only its desires but its needs. To indulge the flesh in its needs is not fleshly lust, but to indulge it in anything beyond its actual needs is “fleshly lusts.” In other words, any intemperance is lust of the flesh. Temperance is a fruit of the Spirit. We are to add temperance to our knowledge. The more knowledge we get of the divine character, the more clearly we can discriminate between fleshly lusts and temperance.
“I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection,” (1 Corinthians 9:27) says the apostle Paul. He spoke these words when talking about running to obtain an incorruptible crown. He calls our attention to how people run to obtain a corruptible crown, and “every man,” he says, “that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.” (1 Corinthians 9:25) If men must be temperate in all things in order to obtain a corruptible crown, how much more temperate must we be in order to obtain an incorruptible crown? If the soul does not keep the body under, the body will keep the soul under.
But this keeping under does not consist in many prayers, in long vigils, and fasts, in severe chastenings of the body, in dwelling in a cloister or being a hermit. Do not make this sad mistake. His yoke is easy and His burden is light, yet the Christian life is one of self-denial. But His love in our hearts makes it a delight. We are not to keep our bodies under by prolonged fasts and beatings, but to keep in control the self-seeking that is natural to the self-life of man. The pure in heart have organs of sense, are capable of feeling the impressions made by external objects. It is natural for the individual life of the sanctified to seek ease and comfort. This is not the nature of the divine life in the soul, but it is the nature of the self-life of man.
Adam and Eve had this self-life in the purity of their creation; they had organs of sense. It was to these that Satan made his appeals; to the feelings in their self-life, not to the feelings in the divine life of their soul. The will of sense—for such it might be called—overpowered that higher will of the soul, and they yielded to the will of sense as aroused by temptation. We who are pure in heart have this same will of sense. It is this will of sense that must be “kept under,” or in control to the will of God. “Not my will [that is, that lower will of my self-life],” said Jesus, “but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) I will make this plainer as we go on. I feel like making it as plain and simple as I can.