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Battling Discouragement

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Date November 29, 2019

The following is an abridged extract from a chapter in the series on the Epistle to the Ephesians, The Christian Warfare, an exposition of Chapter 6:10-13.

* * *

We are dealing with the ways in which the devil attacks us in the realm of our experience. We have looked at this problem from different aspects ­the standpoint of assurance, the quenching of the Spirit, and the whole problem of thoughts suggested to us by the devil.

We now move on to another group which can be subsumed under the heading of ‘general discouragement’. If were asked to hazard an opinion as to what is the most prevailing disease in the Church today, I would suggest that it is discouragement. One reason for this is the whole state of the world, the whole state of society. We live in difficult and dis­couraging days. Some people, however, do not feel any discouragement. Their eyes are not open; they are not sensitive; they are probably so interested in their own activities that they cannot take a general view. But, speaking generally, these are very discouraging days for the Church and for the individual Christian; and the devil constantly works on this particular aspect of the Christian’s life and experience.

Much space is given to a consideration of this matter in the Bible itself.

Many of the psalms are entirely devoted to it; the psalmist is discouraged and he addresses his soul: ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ Many psalms deal with this trial in a wonderful way. But it is equally present in the New Testament. The attempt to differentiate between the Old and the New in this respect is quite false. People say, ‘But the Old Testament saints did not have the Holy Spirit as we have’, That is true, but that must not be interpreted to mean that Christians never know discouragement; for they do; and much attention is paid to the subject in the pages of the New Testament also.

This discouragement has many causes. The first is the matter of temperament. Certain people are more subject to discouragement than others. You cannot help this, you are born with your temperament, and there is nothing wrong with temperament. It would be an interesting discussion to know which ultimately is the best kind of temperament to have, that of the extrovert or that of the introvert; that of the phlegmatic person with his tendency to be somewhat melancholic, or that of the complete extrovert, sanguine and optimistic. However, if one is born with the temperament that tends towards the more serious, despondent type, then the devil is likely to take full advantage of that fact.

One of the first things therefore that we all have to learn in the Christian life is to know ourselves. You cannot live properly with yourself if you do not know yourself. There are many people, it seems to me, who have never really known themselves. They have never looked at themselves truly, they have never recognized the type to which they belong, and therefore they are not aware that they have to be unusually careful at certain points. Get to know yourself, talk to yourself, and put up special guards at certain points. If you find it difficult to do this for yourself, then you must consult with others and ask their help. It is always easier to see things in other people than in ourselves. You must get to know your weaknesses, and your tendencies; and then, once you have known them, and can watch them, you are already a long way towards a complete victory over the devil and his wiles.

We start with a general principle: depression is always wrong. A Christian has no right to be depressed. I put it like that deliberately because the realization of that truth is often the door of escape and of liberty. The tragedy is that when the devil plagues us and gets us into this state, we are not aware of it. We are so pre-occupied with self-analysis, and the cataloguing of the details of our deficiencies, that we do not see ourselves as a whole. Sometimes that is all that is necessary — we suddenly come to see ourselves, in the reading of the Scripture, or the listening to a sermon, or in conversation. We suddenly see ourselves as depressed and miserable Christians, sitting in a corner, while the men and women around and about us are going heedlessly to hell. We are so pre-occupied with ourselves that we are utterly useless. Not only so, we realize that we are also obviously giving the impression that there is not much point in being Christian if this is what it leads to. So we are not only not helping others, we are barring the gate of entry into the kingdom of God against them. You suddenly see yourself in that way, and you rise up and say, ‘No more of this!’ That is the way to start. Then go on to meet the devil with his own weapon. He will have been quoting Scripture: ‘Examine yourselves, prove your own selves, that you may know whether you are in the faith or not’. Reply saying, ‘Quite right, I must do this’. But then you must turn on the devil and say, ‘But there are other scriptures’. And one that surely comes in immediately at this point is justification by faith only.

Why is a Christian depressed? It is because he has examined himself or herself in this minute way — it is always a matter of details, fine points, feeling the spiritual pulse, taking the spiritual temperature. Every conceivable investigation is carried out, and then the results are tabulated. Here, then, is the record; and it is very bad. The obvious conclusion drawn is, ‘Well, am I a Christian at all? Have I ever really been a Christian? Is it possible?’

The devil’s objective is to get us to entertain such a feeling. If he can make us examine ourselves in such a manner that it not only becomes introspection but leads us to the conclusion that we have never been Christians at all, he is perfectly satisfied. I am reminding you that the fundamental answer to him is that, whatever we may feel like, we are still Christians. But how do we prove that to ourselves? That is the real need at this point. The way to do so — and it is the reason why the Protestant Reformers saw that this is the fundamental article of a standing or a falling Church — is to remind yourself of justification by faith only! The devil says, ‘Look at your record, there is only one conclusion to draw, you are not a Christian, you have never been a Christian’. Answer the devil by telling him that what makes a man a Christian is not anything that he finds in himself, it is ‘Jesus’ blood and righteousness’. Thank God for this, for if we all examined ourselves truly and tried to decide on the basis of our own life’s record whether we are Christians or not, there would not be a single Christian! There is only one thing that makes us Christian — his righteousness, and nothing else:

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress.

So you must round on the devil and say, ‘Yes, all that is absolutely true; but it does not prove that I am not a Christian, because, even as I am, I am still looking only unto him and relying upon him alone’. If you fail to do that, you are being defeated by the wiles of the devil, and you are guilty of introspection and morbidity.

What you must never do is to sit in a corner, going round and round in that whirlpool, that vortex of failure and defeat and self-condemnation. Introspection and morbidity are wrong, and indeed sinful, and the Christian has no right to be depressed in that way. Deliverance comes as you realize what the devil is trying to do with you, and that he has blinded you temporarily to justification by faith only. Justification by faith is always the place where you can get a foothold. Whenever you find yourself slipping down that slope of depression, the place at which you will always recover stability and get a foothold is justification by faith only. It defeats most of the wiles of the devil. Let us then be very certain about this, for it is the royal remedy, the invariably successful remedy against morbidity and introspection.

Closely akin to this is another way in which the devil often attacks us. It is not the same as that just dealt with, because it often afflicts people who are not given to introspection. It is a consciousness of lack of progress. It is not always as the result of examination, but it comes in various other ways. We may have a feeling that we are not making any progress in our grasp of truth, or in our understanding of truth and the way of salvation; we may feel that we are not growing much in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, or in achievement. Sometimes this happens as the result of looking at other people rather than by a process of self-examination. We say, ‘Those people seem to understand and to have grown in ways that I have not followed; they have much more than I have’. You may feel this when you meet other fellow-members of a church, or you may feel it sometimes as the result of reading. Of course I am not saying that a Christian should not read; but that, because reading is so valuable for the Christian, the devil is going to pay unusual attention to it. He causes people to read about certain great saints, and when they have done so he says, ‘That is Christianity; where are you? That is the way to live the Christian life; where are you?’ He comes to a preacher and causes him to read the journals of George Whitefield, and says, ‘That is preaching; that is the way to be a Christian minister; what about you?’ And the poor preacher feels at once that he has never really preached in his life, that he has done nothing! So the devil takes these excellent means, which are provided by God himself, and by drawing these comparisons and contrasts he makes us feel that we have made no progress, that we have nothing at all, that we do not understand, that we have never had an experience, that we have never achieved anything of value. And once more we are in a state of depression.

The answer to this is simply, Be yourself! You are never meant to be anything but yourself. Endless trouble is caused by our being anxious to be something we are not! How foolish that is in every realm! Even on the natural level it is wrong. There is nothing so foolish as to wish you were something that you are not — a desire to be tall or to be short, a desire to be of this colour or that colour, to have this power or that power. What a foolish thing it is! How useless, for you cannot change yourself! But more, why should you want to change? It is a wonderful thing to be yourself. You are an individual made by God. These things are not accidental. There is great value in individuality. If you made an analysis of all of us in detail and then picked out the points and put them in columns, you would find that they would balance up in a remarkable manner at the end. We tend to attach too much significance to certain things, and we do not realize the value of other things. But God sees matters in a different way. Things that the world never knows about are precious in the sight of God. Our Lord spoke the parable about the woman who put two mites into the collection in order to teach that truth. The world pays no attention to two mites — two millions are marvellous, two mites are nothing; but not in the sight of God!

This is true of the whole of our personalities; so the way to answer the devil is to realize this principle, and to say, ‘I am myself, and I am meant to be myself; and all God asks of me is that I do my best and my utmost as I am. I may not be meant to be a great corner-stone in the building, but it is necessary to have a number of loose stones to fill up the gaps between the big stones. I am only one of them perhaps, but if there were none of them, the others would not be able to sustain the wall, and the building would never go up.’ In 1 Corinthians 12 there is a complete exposition of this matter. ‘The less comely parts’ are essential to the body. Do not despise or deride them, do not look down upon them. Every part of the body is essential to the functioning and the working of the whole. There is no such thing as an unimportant Christian, an unimportant church member; every one of us counts. There are some very quiet people in every church, but they often perform a great function by just being pleasant. They sometimes help much more than the more gifted members. The latter act in a different way; but all types are necessary.

Do not try to be something you are not meant to be; do not be jealous of someone who seems to be bigger or greater than yourself. God will only hold you responsible for what you have done with what he gave you. It is God who decided how much to give you. Be faithful with your one talent, it does not matter what it is, use it to the utmost. Be faithful with your five talents, if five are given to you. But what God desires is that everyone of us should realize the privilege of being what we are. Though I am so unworthy and so small and insignificant, ‘I am what I am by the grace of God’, and God knows me, Christ died for me, even for me! I must not despise myself, and I must not be constantly comparing myself with others. I am to live my life with the temperament, the personality that God has given me. I intend to use it all to the utmost to the glory of God. I can do no more, and I know that God expects no more. Answer the devil in that way.

To be weary in well-doing is another very common manifestation of the wiles of the devil. As I have said previously, this is perhaps the commonest of all the manifestations at the present time. Christians are tempted to give way to weariness by the strain of life, the humdrum nature of the ‘daily round and common task’, the discouragements, the difficulties, the absence of striking happenings. We are living in evil days. They are bad days in every respect, not only in the world at large, but also in the Church. When you compare and contrast today with a hundred or two hundred years ago you see the difference. What days they were, with the Spirit of God outpoured in the great Evangelical Awakening of the eighteenth century, and tremendous things happening under the mighty Spirit of God in days of revival! And again in 1857, 1859 and 1860 even up to 1861 — what wonderful days! Then look at our days; what days of discouragement they are, so little happening! Everything seems to be against us; new problems have arisen, militating against the Church and her work, and against the life of the individual Christian. The whole pace of life has increased, leading to strain and tiredness, women in the home feeling it as perhaps never before. All this tends to produce this condition of weariness and tiredness. The feeling begins to creep in, ‘Is it worthwhile going on? Is there anything in it? Need I keep up this pace? Nothing seems to happen — well, let us slacken off a bit, let us take things a little more easily.’ So the devil comes in with his wiles and insinuations. Throughout the country there are men and women, known to me, who are Sunday by Sunday preaching to small congregations. I was talking to a man recently who had been preaching the previous Sunday to four people. He said, ‘Sometimes I begin to wonder whether it is worth while’. There are hundreds of such men scattered up and down this country. I remember going out of the pulpit one night some five or six years ago, when a man dashed in to my vestry saying that he was catching his train back to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He had really come just to tell me one thing. He said, ‘I just want you to know this: if ever the devil tries to discourage you, I want you to know that the thought of Westminster Chapel has often kept me going’. He said, ‘I am a bit of a lay preacher up in my district, and, you know, the devil sometimes says to me, “Is it worth your doing it, there will only be three or four people there, perhaps nine or ten, just a handful; is it worth while going on?”‘ He added, ‘What has often made me go on has been just this, I have said to myself, That man is probably going up those steps into the pulpit at Westminster tonight to preach to a large congregation. We are in the same battle! I am going on, God is not interested in numbers.’ Thus the devil comes in and tries to discourage us in various ways; and we begin to wonder whether it is worth while going on at all.

The individual Christian may feel this, even in his family. Perhaps you are the only Christian in your family and everything is against you. You are being misunderstood, and laughed at, and criticized, and you say, ‘Well, I have been living before them as a Christian for years and it does not seem to help them, or to make any difference, I am only getting rebuffs on all sides; I wonder whether I should slacken off a bit. Must I go on like this? If I had only something to show it would be all right; but there is nothing to show, it is just a hard grind. I am fighting against everything the whole time.’ The devil comes and says, ‘Slacken off, give up’.

The Scripture gives us cogent answers to such a temptation; it brings to us great and glorious texts: ‘Be not weary in well doing!’ (Gal. 6:9). That is one answer. What you are doing is not only worth while, it is the most wonderful and most glorious thing in the world; it is ‘well doing’. You are standing for truth, you are standing for Christ, you are standing for the kingdom of light against the kingdom of darkness. I know there is not much to show, but that does not matter. You are there; you are not the sun, perhaps, but you are a little match, and thank God for the light of a match where there is nothing but gloom and darkness and despair. ‘Be not weary in well doing.’ You are standing for everything that is noble and true and beautiful and right and holy in a world of shame and sin and darkness and vileness and foulness. Hold on to ‘well doing’. ‘In due season we shall reap, if we faint not.’

The tendency to faint is ever present; but realize to whom you belong. ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.’ However weak you are, however faint, that is always true. The Spirit of God is in you. Pray to God the Father, pray to God the Son, pray to God the Holy Spirit. ‘Men should always pray, and not faint.’ If you do not pray you will faint. So when you feel faint, go to God and talk to him about it; ask him to give you strength and power to go on with what you are doing, realizing that it is his work, that it is ‘well doing’. And he will reply to you and say, ‘Be not weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not’. There is a glorious harvest coming. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.’ You may be having a hard and difficult time; perhaps you are being misunderstood and maligned, persecuted and trodden upon and kicked. And you are tired and weary, your health may be failing possibly, and you are almost at the point of exhaustion. Go on, I say, ‘Be not weary in well doing’, ‘for in due season we shall reap’. A day is coming when you will be received with these wonderful words: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’. You went on, and kept on. Lift up your eyes, look to God, and you will receive strength from him — ‘They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint’ (Isa. 40:31). If you are suffering with Christ now, you shall also reign with him; you are ‘an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ’.

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