Spiritual Progress

A particular phase of growth is usually followed by some peculiar trial, and the extent of the growth is tested by it. It is not that the progress is annulled, but one is made sensible how entirely it is apart from nature. The trial may floor one, and one may appear for the time vanquished; but after a time one is found to be as the “tiel tree, whose substance is in it” (Isa 6:13). The tree which had been cut down and left to every eye without a branch, in time sprouts again with all its former vigor.

The time of growth is bright and pleasant, it is summer time; but then winter comes and the leaves all disappear, and for a time there is no progress, at least apparently. The trial may be something painful, or it may be something attractive which addresses one’s old nature. When it is painful, one seeks if possible to get out of it; but the trial which thoroughly test us is the one which addresses us, as the green fields attracted Lot’s nature; or as the Babylonish garment did Achan’s; or as Delilah Samon’s and so on. The question of natural right comes in, and one asserts it, and thus one loses the sight of the path of faith, which rests on the Father only.

Now the reason this type of trial is not more felt is that the conscience is not troubled—the sense of standing on my natural rights saves my conscience from disquietude. Lot may have urged that he has a right to choose any part of the land. My natural conscience would be troubled if right were not on my side; but it will back me in the assertion of my tight to gratify my lawful desires, and thus it balks and hinders me from seeing how I am drawn aside into nature; and my spiritual progress in the Lord Jesus is checked.

True spiritual progress is always Christ-ward. The moment I stand for my own right or the gratification of the most lawful tastes—for instance, affection or ambition—that moment I am turned aside from my sight of the Lord Jesus, and my progress must be stayed, because I have been occupied, however amiably, with the man on whom the Cross has come. You may say this is hard—so did the rich young ruler, and “he went away sorrowful.”

But now mark the order and manner of restoration. First, one begins to feel, like Lot, that one’s ambition has not conduced to one’s happiness; “his righteous soul was vexed.” What his conscience could sanction as correct has brought him into very unhappy associations. Next, he suffers with his new companions, and, finally, he loses all his goods and escapes with his life. Samson loses his eyesight and is imprisoned; Achan is stoned and perishes with all that he had.

When there is real truth of heart there will be restoration, though the tree may have appeared withered, after suffering grievously in every way; and the end is, one rejoices in parting company with one’s old man. Accepting the place of death, we turn to the risen Lord Jesus Christ, like Jonah in the bottom of the sea; and then there is full restoration. The old man has been discovered for what he is, and judged; growth in the Lord Jesus commences; and a dreary winter is succeeded by a very luxuriant summer.

- J B Stoney

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