What Doth Hinder?
Who did hinder you?
— Galatians 5:7 —
Be ye also enlarged.
— 2 Corinthians 6:13 —
We usually hear it said that growth moves forward with great success after entire sanctification. That is, after the seed of sin, that root of bitterness, the carnal mind, is destroyed, the great hindrance to growth is removed. This is true in the main, and yet we find that many who certainly have that experience have not advanced very rapidly. Yes, we find that hindrances have impeded our own progress in many directions even while we have evidence of full sanctification. When we inquire into the cause of this, we see that probation is by no means ended. The carnal mind being destroyed does not destroy or put an end to all things that hinder us. There are real temptations; there are false teachings of various kinds; there are actual enemies in the field. We find ourselves under pressure. We feel the need of more power. We find much in us that stands in the way of the greatness and richness our souls crave. We see where we have failed. We diagnose our moral tempers better, and see new difficulties. We detect our preference of ourselves and our love of personal ease, and we find little eddies where life easily drops back into old ways unless watched and met with a resolute will and set faith in God. This is not all; the very sources of the human spirit seem to fail at times, and drop into such discouragement, and weakness, and dryness, that we cry out of our very depth for more of God, more of sinking into His will, and less of our own ways.
These things are not uncommon. When we look back, we find several causes:
- Entire sanctification does not remove all obstacles to growth, but only such as arise from the possession of a depraved nature. While this is a wide and fertile field, it does not entirely cover the ground. There are other hindering causes which come up out of our liability to be tempted—our ignorance, our defective judgment, our still-growing acquaintance with grace, our environment, and ourselves. The experience of sanctification takes none of these out of the way, and in our meeting of them, with many other attendant or possible things, we reach obstacles and hindrances that lead our chariot wheels over rough roads.
- We find that the devil is not dead because we are sanctified. He is truly cast out of us, but not out of the world we live in. He has no goods in us that he can rightly come after and demand. Though “he has nothing in us,”2 yet like “a roaring lion” he “walks about” to devour and destroy as our “adversary” (1 Peter 5:8). He hinders, he harasses, he terrorizes. He frightens. He deceives. He thus came to our first parents3 when they were entirely sanctified, before they had fallen; and we need not think it strange4 if he should thus come to us. He tempted and spent time with our Master, seeking to allure Him from the pathway, when he certainly knew he had less chance of success than with men. If he did that with the Master, what will he not seek to do with us? He is a hindering cause of wonderful subtlety and power, still operating after sanctification. We must meet him. We do well if we are “not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
- Temptations hinder. We are not under compulsion in the field of possible temptation; but we are liable and in danger. Temptations hinder, even if we do not yield to them, in the time they engage us in parley and defense. When we look at our own progress, what hindrance we have suffered on this line alone! How we have suffered, being tempted!5 The temptations of the sanctified are many and severe. Their increased light and greater spiritual sensitiveness seem to increase their knowledge of the things which beset their pathway. Satan himself seems to see them farther from his grasp and puts forth greater effort, as he did with Job, to disinherit them and destroy their faith. Even if we do not put ourselves in the way of temptation, we are not secured from being tempted. Jesus did not go in the way of temptation, yet He was tempted. Joseph did not go in the way of temptation, yet he was tempted. The devil goes to church. He went into the garden of Eden. He will send his agents into our fairest gardens, and seek to spoil our most beautiful experiences. Neither our mountain top, nor our vale of sorrow experiences shelter us in this our day of east wind.6 So we are compelled to contend against the tide. We must resist the tempter if we would have him flee (James 4:7). But how many times we come out of these conflicts with wasted time and strength, if not with a real loss! Yes, a world of hindrances come to the sanctified through the medium of temptations.
- The trouble in our pathway may be, as Faber suggests, that “we have gone by feeling, or by sweetness, or by impulse, rather than by faith, and hence we have mistaken God’s gifts for God.”7 We easily verge on these lines. The worst of it is, we do it unconsciously. We are not severe enough with ourselves. In what may be called the ecstatic or hallelujah state, its very sweetness and delirium of joy may charm and blind us to the more rugged way of faith, which seems far less promising.It is enough for us to be blessed, we say. We stop with the sweetness and restfulness of the emotion, and so get the soul’s eye off the giver onto the gift, like the bride so charmed with the wedding ring that she forgets the bridegroom. There is a higher motive than seeking joy. There is a better thing than to seek holiness for the restfulness and joy in it. The holy way is truly a happy way, but the higher motive is not in seeking to be happy. It is better to be right than to be happy. It is better to be like God than it is to have the fruit of such living. It is a greater thing to do what God requires of us because He says so, than to do it because of the joy it may bring us. The giver is always superior to his gifts.
- There is a way of being hindered by sinking away into a state of semi-quietism that is so self-contained and shut up and entertained with one’s states and frames, that, like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, all sight is lost of the hungry multitude to be fed, and the sick and lame and needy at the foot of our mountain. Any kind of holiness that puts us asleep to the needs of God’s kingdom around us may well be questioned. The shout that becomes spoiled by a call for a collection has not yet reached the mountaintop of exceeding joy. The loud profession that blows away like so much froth when a little work is to be done for God, and leaves the saint of high-sounding quotations “weak as other men,”8 needs to go to the machine shop and lay up for repairs. Seraphic visions and trances that do not materialize into larger faith, stronger impulse for conquest, deepened love, and quickened steps may well be left aside for daydreamers and seekers after signs and wonders. God has life, light and power to bestow, but it is not for furloughing one “to sit and sing one’s self away to everlasting bliss.”9 God’s grace is not bestowed for naught. Its receipt qualifies one for responsibility, and also incurs it. It is not given without purpose. If visions are vouchsafed,10 see that they resolve themselves into renewed activity, or else renounce them as impractical, if not spurious. If you “fall under the power,” and return again with neither renewed knowledge, strength, purpose, or improved tone of spirit, question severely the power under which you fell. Any kind of quietism that wraps you up in a kind of secluded cut-off-ness from the needy around is, in the main, the quietism of do-nothing-ism, and had better be postponed till you find a world where there is nothing to do.
- There are few who are not often much hindered by moods and tempers of spirit that are such that God cannot bless, or at least such that He cannot work in them. The inside atmosphere has more to do with us than we think. It is highly probable that we are much deceived into a state of unfruitfulness because of this. I wanted once to speak to one particularly about his soul, and had fully made up my mind to do so, but he so gave way to his temper before there was suitable opportunity that he was unapproachable for some time after, and the chance passed away never to be repeated. I have thought that we often get into places where God cannot talk to us on account of our spiritual atmosphere. My grandchild the other day fell into such a kind of a mood for a little that he could not hear what I had to say, nor receive what he wanted and what I wanted to give him. At another time two of my grandchildren were so engaged in play and making such a noise that they could not hear the call for dinner and did not come at first, though they were hungry. We are often so busy that we do not hear the “still, small voice” of God. We get so drowsy that we do not catch the call for the hour. The prayer sometimes dies on our lips as we sink in weariness of body. The burden sometimes grows so weary that both heart and flesh fail. We fall into tones of spirit that seem to shut up the ears and eyes of the soul, and benumb for a time its spiritual sensitiveness. Satan delights to take advantage of all these occasions to gain some advantage, and the result is hindrance of some kind. I speak of the things that come to us not through wrong-doing, but through our infirmities and environments. As usual we are not responsible for their coming, nor are we able to account for them, and yet they come and affect us. We stand in the same relation to them that we do to temptation. We are not responsible for our being liable to temptation, and yet we suffer through the medium of temptation. It is perhaps on this account that we too often overlook this source of hindrance, and because we are not responsible for the liability, we excuse ourselves from responsibility of action, and allow the temper, indulge the feeling that weakens, and give up to the mood of the hour. We do not see clearly, we do not feel strong, and we are liable to stop far short of our best.
- Professor Swing11 says that in order “to have increase on the margin one needs to be squeezed out at the center.” One cause of our lack of more rapid growth is our undue attention to the outside, to the neglect of the inside. While growth appears on the outside, as it does in a tree, the source lies hidden within. While heart enlargement may be a disease physically, it is a sign of health in things spiritual. It is a common fault to try to do a big spiritual business on too small a spiritual capital. One reason may be that it is easier to attend to externals than internals. It is a common custom to tell people to “go to work,” to “do something” in the way of outside action in order to get rid of some spiritual disorder. While it may be that some things, such as inactivity, may be so cured, it is not true that all can. Inside littleness will not leave the center by a little surface poulticing.12 There must be radical inside work. The seeds of envy and hatred and lust must be sought for in their sources, more than the objects against which they express themselves. The subtle preference of self, and its irrepressible tendency to come to the front and to the top, cannot well be reached and dealt with from the outside. The needful work of definite self-examination cannot go on well in the midst of outside conflict. The voice of the Spirit is a “still, small voice”13 in the heart, and requires quietness and reflection, rather than the bustle and stir of work.
Beauty of outside life comes from beauty of inside life, and cannot be put on with a surface paint. It is the soul that beautifies the body, and gives it the skill for spiritual work, harmonious movements, and saintly bearing. A stunted, starved soul life results in hampered activities, inefficiency and lack of power for God in what is done, and wants soulful countenance. Sweetness of manner maintained at the constant expense of restrained unkindness, and a measure of ill feeling, is not of much worth in producing conviction. We do our best only when we are truly natural and normal in our activities. Anything like doing a thing for effect, or to show up for more than we are worth, is in the outcome against us. The childlike qualities of innocence and naturalness are always of great price. It is well known how hard these are to regain after we have lost them, and how long our old habits of acting otherwise work against us. We were accustomed for so long to show off more stock than we had, that the habit seems ingrained into our very nature. Even after the habit has been discovered and denounced, and we supposed the thing was done with, we have found some of the old ways clinging to us. We did not intend anything; there is no blame in that direction, and yet the thing has not escaped the eye of some of those about us. It has been a hindrance — a subtle, but a real one.
I have sat in the pulpit with men who, while speaking, have made me all but hide my face in shame, as they uttered language so much like their old habit of swearing and in the same old tones, that I feared the people would think them profane. They did not intend it, and yet to the unsaved and to others it seemed as if they were taking sacred things in vain, even if they were not taking the name of God in vain. I once lived with a deacon, a member in the church where my spiritual home was, whose old unsaved manner of speech seemed to follow him all the way along, and though his speech was pleasant enough in the prayer meeting and in the Sunday school class, yet in the family, when in dead earnest, it was as to sound and manner the action of one in a passion of anger. Yet he was not angry; I had lived long enough with him to find that out. But at the same time, his manner was against him. Many foreigners learn our language. Yet not one in a thousand escape the badge of a brogue with the utterance of their words, and their manners, too. The same is more true of us who have been “strangers to the covenant of promise”14 than we think. Tones of voice follow us across the Jordan of sanctification. Habits of thinking abide, old memories linger, the step and the swing of our movements, like the sailor’s step on land, are always noticeable. The old landmarks of sin wear out slowly.
There are countenances that have not changed so fast as the hearts that are behind them. That scowl, carried solid in the face for forty years, wears its frame work long after it has ceased to be used. True, there is a new light in the window, but the old scaffolding is still outside and the light must shine through it. I have seen face marks of a passionate past linger in the countenance after the heart has been cleansed. To some, these marks are the trophies of what grace has done; to the unsaved, they are suggestions and questions, and may be the cause of grave doubts.
Nor are these things all external. The hindrance is in the liabilities, and in the moral weakening that comes to us through past sins. There are things in past life that we are not redeemed from, that remain as real hindrances. We cannot undo our memory. We cannot dissolve our past history. We cannot regain lost time. We cannot exchange our general stock of information, which is all mixed up with our past life of sin. In many instances we are married into homes where the household are all against us because we are identified with holiness. While Jesus may give us victory in these things, no one can but say they are more or less attended with hindrances. On account of these and such like things, many have been turned from the way, lost their hold and failed. Such pressure comes more or less on all saints. While there is the maintenance of life and hope, it is not to be denied that there are on this account many “weak and sickly among us.”15
- The text itself is public domain. The original book, How They Grow, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2008, 2011 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's How They Grow. ↩
- The allusion is to what Jesus said of Himself in John 14:30; and John states the parallel for the truly born-again believer in 1 John 5:18. ↩
- I.e., Adam and Eve ↩
- An allusion to 1 Peter 4:12 ↩
- The same as Jesus Himself. See Hebrew 2:18. ↩
- The “east wind” in Scripture is almost always a calamitous event. For example, read such passages as Genesis 41:6, 23, 27; Exodus 10:13; Job 27:21; Psalm 48:7; Isaiah 27:8; Jeremiah 18:17; Ezekiel 17:10; 19:12; 27:26; Hosea 13:15; Jonah 4:8; and Habakkuk 1:9. ↩
- Reid quotes none other than Frederick W. Faber, author of such wonderful hymns as Faith of Our Fathers, There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy, and My God, How Wonderful Thou Art! But this specific sentence comes not from one of Faber’s hymns, but from page 54 of one of his books, Growth in Holiness or the Progress of the Spiritual Life, published in the United States in 1855, the year before Reid declared his faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. Appropriate to Reid’s topic, the quote comes from Faber’s chapter entitled “What Holds Us Back.” ↩
- The allusion is to Samson’s statements about himself in Judges 16:7,11,17. ↩
- This comes from the fourth and final verse of an Isaac Watts hymn entitled, Welcome, Sweet Day of Rest. The stanza reads:
My willing soul would stay
In such a frame as this,
And sit and sing herself away
To everlasting bliss.
- Vouchsafe means to graciously bestow, grant, confer, or give something. ↩
- It is very likely that Swing may be the man mentioned in the “Church Affairs” section of The New York Times, May 31, 1874. The article, written on May 28 of the same year by the Times Chicago correspondent, speaks of the church-trial acquittal of “Prof. Swing, the heretical Presbyterian clergyman.” Although the Times article never mentions Swing’s first name, it is given in the title of a book about the trial—The Trial of Rev. David Swing before the Presbytery of Chicago, edited by “A Committee of the Presbytery” and published in Chicago by Jansen, McClurg & Co., 1874. Such a minister would have been of interest to Isaiah Reid, because he, too, had been a Presbyterian clergyman tried for “heresy.” (Swing’s case transpired three years before Isaiah was stripped of his Presbyterian pulpit and six years before his church trial for preaching and propagating the “heresy” of heart purity and and the experience of holiness.) ↩
- A poultice was a homemade medicinal treatment, such as mustard or linseed, heated and pressed to the skin within a moist cloth or towel or even bread. Reid is saying that a deep-set spiritual problem requires something more than a cursory, external remedy. ↩
- Reid alludes to the voice of God as described in 1 Kings 19:12. ↩
- The allusion is to Ephesians 2:12. ↩
- Reid applies the words of 1 Corinthians 11:30 to the case. ↩