By Miles Stanford
Our Father would have us to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet.3:18). He lovingly carries this out by delivering us “unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). The natural tendency of many Christians who are seeking to advance is to avoid the Cross in every possible way, but that is simply to surrender all possibility of true spiritual growth and maturity.
In order to grow we cannot by-pass that element which is most unattractive, yet altogether essential to our coming into close fellowship with the Lord Jesus. It is daily crucifixion of the indwelling Adamic life. Our crucifixion death must always precede the glorious resurrection life even as the surgeon’s knife must precede physical well-being, as darkness must come before dawn. Death is not the tomb of, but the womb of resurrection life.
Great is the reward of those who will trust the Holy Spirit to take them into that process of spiritual growth of life via death. It will increasingly result in a very intimate life and walk with the Lord Jesus, a glorious life of freedom from the power of sin, and a life of abounding fruitfulness to the glory of the Father. Still, many are satisfied to exist as mediocre and carnal Christians.
Most believers see clearly that the Lord Jesus died on the Cross for them, that He actually bore the penalty of their sins; but all too few realize that He did not die alone, that each who would believe died unto sin with Him. The Father sees every believer as having died with His Son. Judicially, we were crucified with Him at Calvary. Actually, that finished work must be developed in us through daily experience until it becomes a literal reality in our lives. “That I may know Him … being make conformable unto His death” (Phil. 3:10).
The Holy Spirit knows the most effective way of disciplining each life. Some believers suffer severe financial loss, and the constant stringency that follows is used by Him to crucify that natural love of independence. Some experience prolonged physical infirmity, and this the Spirit uses to cause them to die to their self-will, self-dependence and self-pity. Others have social problems with friends and relatives that He uses in order to bring them to the place of crucifixion. Whether at home, at school, at work, or at church, -He puts them in situations that sorely try them, or with persons that are a thorn in the flesh. He places the refined with the coarse, the methodical with the slipshod, the quick with the slow, the bright with the dull, the spiritual with the carnal.
Inevitably they grate upon each other. However, the Lord will use such relationships for great spiritual profit to both. If He does not deliberately bring them into such naturally undesirable circumstances for their training, then He will use just such trying places into which they have gotten themselves through their own self-will, self-preservation, self-confidence, self-pleasing, and failure to follow Him.
Possibly some of you husbands and wives are now in such circumstances in your relationship with each other, or toward your children or your relatives, or at work. Don’t seek to change your circumstances! Seek the Lord to change your source of life, and in due time He will properly adjust your situation. Your present difficulties are the very means He would use to bring you down into death so that He can form the Lord Jesus’ own life in you. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:28, 29).
Let us consider an illustration of the Father’s processing for our growth. An abundant supply of herring may be found near one of England’s coasts. When brought to shore to be sold, the fishermen found that they became flabby and flavorless. By installing tanks on their fishing vessels and thus keeping the herring alive until sold, their problem was largely solved.
But one ingenious fisherman devised a means of keeping them in perfect condition. Everyone insisted on buying his herring first. Finally, he told his secret. In each of his numerous large tanks filled with herring, he put a catfish or two. Now, catfish chase herring and eat them. They were welcome to a few for their service, for the herring kept fleeing for their lives and retained their vitality and flavor.
Has the Father put a spiritual catfish in your circumstances to keep you moving toward Him; a catfish that is wearing the life out of you, your natural life, so that you will know what it is to live “hidden with Christ in God”? Oh, thank Him for the catfish in your life! If you do, that will be the occasion for your becoming strong and usable and a glory to His name. “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thess. 5:18).
Paul recognized his catfish (a thorn in the flesh), let it serve its purpose, and profited greatly by it. Job had his in his wife and his comforters; Moses had his in his sister. Joseph had his in his brothers and at his work in Potiphar’s palace. David had his in Saul, the head of the government. But the Lord Jesus is our best example, as always. He had no money, not even a penny to look at. He had no home, nowhere to lay His head. His relatives criticized Him. One of the Twelve denied Him. Another betrayed Him. Satan dogged His every step. His own people received Him not. At their demand, the authorities crucified Him. So “consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb. 12:3).
You, too, will grow and be used of the Father as you willingly humble yourself under His mighty hand of love by submitting to the Spirit’s probing into the deep recesses of your inner life, and thereby bringing the sinful old man out into the open and keeping it under the death of the Cross where it belongs. You are called to “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus”; “so then death worketh in us, but life in others” (Rom. 6:11; 2 Cor. 4:12).
Actually, the real catfish resides within each of us — there is “something fishy” all right — none other- than the “old man.” As that Adamic element is dealt with by the Cross, there will be freedom to grow in the midst of any and all circumstances. A weakness be it bodily or otherwise is sometimes allowed to continue in order that there may be dependence, and when there is real reliance, the weakness becomes a gain; the grit, the trying thing, is superseded by a pearl of great price.