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Gregory Mantle

Beyond Humiliation: The Way of the Cross

Chapter 20
Step by Step

“Keep step with Jesus.” Can that be for me?
Oh, may I really walk by faith with Thee?
I who have often wandered far away,
And grieved Thee with my coldness day by day?

How often, Master, I have “lagged behind,”
And feared to follow, when Thy voice so kind
Has called me on, bidding me trust in Thee,
However dark the pathway seemed to me.

And have I not sometimes stepped out alone,
Nor waited for Thy hand to lead me on,
And of the future thought with anxious care,
Instead of taking “the next step” in prayer.

Afresh today I put my hand in Thine,
With childlike trust would all to Thee resign;
Just lead me where Thou wilt and guide me still,
Fulfilling in me all Thy blessed will.
— E. May Grimes

Principal Moule in his valuable work, “Veni Creator,” reminds us that there is a speciality of phrase in the Greek word rendered “walk” in Galatians v. 25. He translates the verse, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also take step by step by the Spirit.” Conybeare’s translation is equally suggestive: “If we live by the Spirit, let our steps be guided by the Spirit.” It is one thing to “live by the Spirit,” to know that we have life by His power; it is another thing, in the minutest details of daily life, to yield to the authority and guidance of our Life-giver. Andrew Murray thinks these words suggest to us very clearly the difference between the sickly and the healthy Christian life. “In the former the Christian is content to ‘live by the Spirit’; he is satisfied with knowing that he has the new life; but he does not walk by the Spirit. The true believer, on the contrary, is not content without having his whole walk and conversation in the power of the Spirit.”

Why is the position so often taken, in those large gatherings of Christian people, now so common, not more generally maintained? How many, in a supreme moment, under the mighty power of God, throw open every avenue of their being to the incoming of the Holy Spirit! And we dare not doubt that He floods the entire being with His energy when it is thus surrendered to Him. But the experience is too often transitory, as set forth in the following lines:—

“There have been moments pure,
When I have seen thy face and felt Thy power;
Then evil lost its grasp, and passion hushed
Owned the Divine enchantment of the hour.
These were but seasons beautiful and rare.”

Why “seasons beautiful and rare”? Because those who thus surrender themselves, do not go away to “take step by step by the Spirit.” In an unguarded moment self has been allowed to regain the supremacy, and some portions of the life have been given over to its control. Steps have been taken, not by the Spirit, but by the flesh. For a little moment, perhaps only in what seemed a trifling detail, the reins, which were unconditionally placed in the hands of the Spirit of God, were snatched out of His grasp. A grieved Spirit, and a life and work from which the power has departed, are the result.

In many cases this is more the result of carelessness than anything else. Hence the need of clearer teaching on this subject. The Christian worker has said, like Samson, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself. But he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.” He finds, to his sorrow, that some subtle evil has shorn him of his strength, that some little rift within the lute has made the music mute, but how or why he scarcely knows.

John Wesley, knowing how much higher an experience it was to take step by step by the Spirit than simply to live by the Spirit, refused to recognize the Christian perfectness of some of his converts, because they were wanting, he said, in the evidence. “They do not steadily use that kind and degree of food which they know, or might know, would most conduce to the health, strength, and vigor of the body; or they are not temperate in sleep; they do not rigorously adhere to what is best for body and mind; otherwise they would constantly go to bed and rise early, and at a fixed hour; or they sup late, which is neither good for body or soul; or they use neither fasting nor abstinence; or they prefer (which are so many forms of intemperance) that preaching, reading, or conversation which gives them transient joy and comfort, before that which brings godly sorrow or instruction in righteousness.”

Many Christians have yet to learn the meaning of that word, “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” for to take step by step by the Spirit means that our meat and drink, and everything that touches the domain of our senses, must ever be placed under a sacred discipline. This same discipline is equally indispensable for the life of our affections and thoughts; for our reading, for our recreation, for our literary and artistic pursuits. To ignore the guidance of the Holy Spirit in any of these departments of life is to cause Him grief, and to forfeit the spiritual power of which He would have us to be the unfailing aqueducts to a dying world.

Lest anyone should imagine that a life which is thus lived step by step by the Holy Spirit is an irksome one, let us say that unfailing obedience always produces unfailing joy and peace. A joyless Christian is almost invariably a disobedient Christian. “A life of self-renouncing love is a life of liberty,” for where the Spirit of the Lord is — where He is recognized and obeyed in the minutiae of life — “there is liberty.”

“Step by step” is the secret of a life which is never perturbed, never surprised by sudden assaults of the evil one, never shorn of its spiritual strength. With returning consciousness there is, in such a life, a resolute determination to take no step in the untrodden pathway of the day but by the Spirit. His guidance is sought and His will consulted in the choice of food. Anything that has been known to dull the spiritual vision, and unfit the body for the sacred uses for which it is designed, will be avoided. “What effect will this book have upon my spiritual life? Will it increase or diminish my relish for the Word of God?” are questions we shall ask when opportunities for reading are afforded us. “I never spend a penny,” said a poor widow one day to the writer, “without asking that I may be guided how to spend it.” She was seeking to take step by step by the Spirit. We need not particularize further. Here is the principle by which our life is to be governed, and to follow it will fill our life with such joy and power as we never dreamt of before.

The two realms, which men have designated secular and sacred, will “melt into each other as the roseate streaks of dawn melt into the splendors of the morning” as we take step by step by the Spirit; for when the Spirit of Christ breathes through our life the meanest occupation becomes Divine. Nothing is little or great with regard to the things of God. Everything that bears the impress of His will is great, however trifling it may appear. It is this alone which gives value to the duties of our life, and nothing can be regarded as small or insignificant that is the object of His desire. A natural tendency to untidiness is easily overcome if, for His sake, and that we may please Him in everything, we keep the room or the papers in order.

And it is this carefulness to please God, even in the smallest trifles, that proves the reality and delicacy of our love. “We do not love perfectly when we neglect small occasions of pleasing the one whom we love, and when we do not fear to wound Him with trifles. The jealousy of God is infinite; it extends to everything, and every soul that truly loves will try never to give this Divine jealousy any cause of offense.”

Our life is made up of these little steps. We fancy we could be heroic on some great occasion. We could die for Christ we think, if called upon to lay down our life for Him. It is questionable, however, if we could, unless we have cultivated the martyr spirit hour by hour, for if our strength and desire to please God has failed in the trifles of our life, how can we be sure of them in the great testing time? It is far harder to live for Christ moment by moment than it is to die once for Him; and if we wait for great occasions in which to display our fidelity, we shall find that our life has slipped away, and with it the opportunities which each hour has brought of proving our love to our Lord, by being faithful in that which is least.

It is a startling fact that if the earth were dependent upon the sun alone for heat it would not keep existence in animal and vegetable life upon its surface. The stars furnish heat enough in the course of the year to melt a crust of ice seventy feet thick — almost as much as is supplied by the sun. This seems strange when we consider how immeasurably small must be the amount of heat received from any of these distant bodies. But the surprise vanishes when we remember that the whole firmament is so thickly strewn with stars, that in some places thousands are crowded together within a space no greater than that occupied by the full moon. This illustrates the truth we have been seeking to enforce. It is to the thousands of little acts, which have been made bright because the Spirit of Christ has come into them all, that the true child of God owes the light and heat and beauty of His life.

We cannot do better than close with the following striking words of Pastor Stockmayer; “When sin or our selfness, at any distance whatever, shows itself in our horizon, when we notice something in the wind so that our moral sky, our spiritual atmosphere, is not altogether clear, let us know that it is His grace which signals the danger, His Spirit who awakens our attention. Let us stop at once; let us hasten to our refuge under the shadow of His wings; let us renewedly tighten the bonds that unite us to Him, until the light of His countenance has driven away the last vestige of the cloud, and the atmosphere has again become luminous. Be not discouraged, if at the first attempt thou failest to realize this life. Though thy communion with God be a hundred times, yea, a thousand times interrupted, do not suffer thyself to be paralyzed by these sad experiences. It is true that the wrong done to thy soul by even one momentary separation from God, such as one sin can occasion, a sin by thought, or word, or deed, is far more disastrous than thou canst know. Nevertheless there may be something worse, something which adds evil to evil, namely, permitting thyself to be discouraged instead of returning immediately to God, in order to find in Him pardon and renewing of life.” “If we live by the Spirit, let us also take step by step by the Spirit.”