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THERE is no doubt that in the divine schooling there is a mark or standard of fitness for graduation to the Church in glory. When first we surrendered our wills to the Lord it was necessary that the consecration should be a whole or perfect sacrifice of our wills to the Lord's will; but our wills were not at the mark or standard of perfect love. And if our experiences could be imagined as cut short in death immediately after our consecration we could not think of ourselves as "fit for the Kingdom," because the rewards are not promised to consecrators, but to "him that overcometh." Thus in the case of the Master himself, our forerunner, it was necessary that he should suffer and thus be proven worthy of entering into his glory. In a word, as the child cannot be graduated the day he enters school, no more can we who enter the school of Christ.
The rapidity of progress in learning the lessons depends greatly on our temperament and our zeal. Some evidently make as much progress in one year as others do in twenty, and very many never graduate at all—never reach the mark or standard which God demands, perfect love. The Word of God, our textbook, informs us that "Love is the fulfilling of the Law" (Rom. 13:10); that "The end or purpose of the divine commandment is love out of a pure heart and a good conscience." (1 Tim. 1:5.) "As many, therefore, as be perfect [-willed, at the mark of perfect love] should be of this mind."—Phil. 3:15-17.
Those who have "thus learned Christ," he has taught the meaning of (1) perfected love toward God, which would prompt them to do and to dare anything in his service; (2) of perfected love for the "brethren," which would prompt the laying down of life itself in their service; (3) of perfected love for the world, yea, even for enemies, which would lead to do good to them that hate us and despitefully use us, and say all manner of evil against us falsely.
Alas! we cannot suppose that many of the consecrated have reached this standard or mark; hence we must expect that few have graduated as "fit for the Kingdom"; hence also the intimation of Scripture that the left-overs—non-graduates—will be "a Great Company" as compared with the Little Flock of overcomers who do attain to the mark, the fixed standard. Here, however, it is well to remember that this "mark" or standard of love is not of the flesh but of the mind or heart. As the Apostle says, "We cannot do the things that we would." Our blemishes of the flesh sometimes momentarily stumble us into an unloving word or act, [R4154 : page 88] which if repented of will not be reckoned against us nor put us away from the mark and the loving acceptableness of our Lord, which the mark represents.
"Hold fast that which thou hast; let no man take thy crown," seems logically to refer specially to those who have reached the mark or standard of perfect love, and not merely to those who have taken the first step of consecration, entrance into the school of Christ. The words, "Hold fast that which thou hast," implies a previous effort and attainment, and that the attainment has had something to do with the right to the crown; and that the position attained must be held if the crown would be ultimately possessed. The intimation is also clear that the holding fast will be at the cost of a severe struggle.
This may be a new and a somewhat startling thought to some who have erroneously supposed either that consecration alone was necessary, or that to attain the mark or standard of perfect love would end the struggle. Apparently, the severest struggles, tests, temptations, assail those who are at that mark, and this is in accord with our Master's promise that we shall "not be tempted above that we are able to bear." The stalwarts at the mark should be able to bear most and they will be most severely tried. Mark the exhortations to these, "Watch ye, stand fast, quit you like men." No longer "babes in Christ," "no longer children," their special test is as men, strong in the Lord and panoplied in the whole armor of God. Hearken again to the Word: "Having done all, stand!" These words do not fit one entering the school or entering the race; they are most appropriate to those who have reached the standard of perfect love. Those who have "done all," who have attained the mark of character and "put on the whole armor," are the ones who are cautioned, warned, to "hold fast" and "stand fast" and "fight a good fight."
These fundamental truths have been true and applicable to the Lord's people throughout this Gospel Age, and hence the narrowness of the way and the few there be who have found and walked therein—in all a little flock. But now, more particularly than ever before, this warning applies and probably to a larger number of the Lord's people than at any time in the past; because we are in the "harvest" time, when the ripening and gathering seems chiefly to apply. It is doubtless for this reason that so many Scriptures seem to specify our time in connection with these warnings. For instance, we read, "Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all to stand!"—Eph. 6:13.
The logic of this situation implies that during the few years immediately before us will come the severest of trials and the most subtle tests of our love: (1) For God as represented by our love for his Truth and the honor of his name; (2) our love for the Lord's brethren; (3) our love for our enemies. And whenever the "brethren" (of whom so much might be expected) become our enemies the test of our love will be the severer. In view of these things, "What manner of persons ought we to be, in all holy living and God-likeness?" In view of the solemnity of the situation, how "circumspect" we all should be! How we should scrutinize our every act and word and thought! And our thoughts require our special care, because by the thoughts and intents of the heart we are being judged. And words and acts proceed therefrom. How often ambition hides its envious desires under the cloak of duty! How many of the fires of the "Holy Inquisition" were lighted by the torch of "duty!" Let us each be on guard. Ourselves or others we might deceive, but not God, who says, "Be not deceived, God is not mocked; he that doeth righteousness is righteous"—not merely he who professes. He whose acts and words are loving, gentle, kind, considerate under trying conditions gives evidence of being begotten of the God of love and of having developed much Christ-likeness! Consider our Lord's love for his enemies and his forbearance for them when railed at, "Come down from the cross!" Consider how, when reviled and slandered, he reviled and slandered not in return! Consider how gentle was his reproof of the perfidious Judas and how he merely hinted a reproof to Peter, who denied him with cursings! In his case surely Love was ready to cover a multitude of faults. Let us not be easily offended nor of implacable spirit. Let us with generous and forgiving spirit say with the Apostle, "None of these things move me"—from my stand at perfect love; it shall grow more rooted and grounded in proportion as it is tested. Let us also be on guard against the spirit which is envious of the honors, privileges and blessings granted to another. Contrariwise let us have so much of the spirit of love that we will rejoice with all who rejoice in the Lord and will mourn with all in distress. To feel even a coolness of sentiment in connection with the prosperity of a brother or a lack of interest in his welfare is a sign of serious danger—that we have slipped from the mark. This should alarm us and lead to fresh energy.