to those whom God hides
in the secret of His presence?”2
Holiness is not only a state but a way, and not only a way, but a highway, wherein the redeemed are to walk; and walking along that highway we shall always have Christ at our side.
We get into the highway of holiness by a definite act of consecration and faith, and walk upon that highway by continuous surrender and trust. Christ is the door, and He is the way. Walking with Him, we shall grow more and more unworldly and heavenly-minded, more transformed, more like Christ, until our very faces shall be radiant with Divine glory. As with Moses, who “wist not that the skin of his face shone” [Exodus 34:29-30] with the reflected radiance which it had received when he was in the presence of Jehovah, so from those who walk with God there emanates an unconscious influence which makes the ungodly tremble before them just as Satan in “Paradise Lost,”3 when he saw the sinless pair in Eden, “trembled to behold how awful goodness is.”
When the old Hebrews wanted to describe a man who reached their ideal in religious life, they used the simple but comprehensive phrase “he walked with God” [Genesis 5:22-24; 6:9]. To them there was nothing higher than unclouded and unbroken communion with their Maker. That was, in their view, the secret of all holiness, and the New Testament has nothing higher than that to reveal. “We all with unveiled face beholding, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image” [2 Corinthians 3:18].4 When we sit before the camera, and have our portraits taken, our picture is printed on the prepared glass;5 but when we behold and continue to behold the image of Christ we become the camera, and his image is printed on our souls. The teaching is, that we become like those with whom we keep company.
“We say we exchange words when we meet,” says Professor Drummond,6
what we exchange is souls. And when our intercourse is close, and very frequent, so complete is this exchange that recognisable bits of the one soul begin to show in the other’s nature, and the second is conscious of a similar and growing debt to the first. This mysterious approximating of two souls, who has not witnessed? Who has not watched some old couple, come down life’s pilgrimage hand in hand with such gentle trust and joy in one another that their very faces wore the selfsame look? These were not two souls, it was a composite soul. Half a century’s companionship had told upon them, they were changed into the same image.
What glorious possibilities are here suggested to those whom God hides in the secret of His presence? Who can think mean thoughts, or think ungenerous words in the presence of Christ? His mere presence must suggest immediately the right thing in the controlling of passion, the subduing of pride, and the overcoming of selfishness. In His company, who could help but always be at his best, and if this influence is perpetuated, what could not life become? Walking with God implies at least three things—
We could hardly be said to walk with a person without a distinct sense of that person’s presence. Was not this our Lord’s promise to His disciples (John xiv. 21-24), and which Jude did not understand when he said, “Lord, how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself to us and not unto the world?” It was altogether incomprehensible to them at the time, but afterwards they knew by blessed experience that He meant a real personal revelation of Himself, such as fills up the measure of the soul’s need — a manifestation such as only the divinely illuminated soul can understand. Not a manifestation to our bodily senses; that would be impossible. God is a Spirit. Nor is it an intellectual revelation to perceptive reason. It is a manifestation to the inner consciousness of the believing heart, so that the Divine presence is as real as the sense of the presence of any human being. Christ becomes more really present than if we could touch Him, or hear His loving human voice; forming a companionship more intimate, sweet, and enduring, than that of any earthly relationship, sweeter than that of friend with friend, of father and son, of mother and child. Such communion is independent of matter or space or time, it is a fellowship of spirit; as is all true friendship, all love, human or divine.
Mr. Spurgeon7 once said that he never passed a single quarter of an hour in his waking moments without a distinct consciousness of the presence of the Lord. How much better this spiritual presence than a bodily presence could be? A body is subject to locality, space, and time, but now we can all have Him. He is able to be with all men, always, everywhere, at the same time, even unto the end of the world. A late writer represents Christ as saying, as He stood by the inconsolate sisters of Bethany, “If I had been away from the body, I should have been present when Lazarus died.” It was expedient that the bodily presence should be withdrawn, that everywhere He could come and go like the noiseless, invisible wind blowing the wide world over wheresoever He listeth.8 A present, personal Christ solves every difficulty, and meets every requirement of Christian experience. We are not surprised that this “Companionship of the Presence” has been described as “the secret of secrets of the Christian life.” We were outer court worshippers before, but this is entering into the inner court. In this experience we know Him
More present to Faith’s vision keen
Than any earthly vision seen;
More near, more intimately nigh
Than any other earthly tie.9
When we speak of having fellowship with Christians, we mean that we have union of hearts. As we speak together heart goes out to heart. Close friendship and familiarity are always engendered when kindred spirits walk much together. They become communicative. One tells his trouble, and the other tries to console him under it, and then imparts his own secrets in return. “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” [1 John 1:3]. No human fellowship can be half so close and intimate as that which the lowliest Christian can have with his Saviour. In the New Testament the Christian’s relationship to Christ is represented as a personal conscious acquaintance with Him, which ripens into a close and tender friendship. Such is the mutual confidence now blessedly established between God and redeemed man, that even here on earth it is true that the Lord talks with Abraham, and through him, with all the family of the faithful, “face to face as a man talketh with his friend” [Exodus 33:11].
It has been well said, “If you walk with God, you must talk with God, or you will soon cease to walk with Him.” But the intercourse is not one-sided. We must listen as well as pray. “He that hath an ear to hear let him hear” [Matthew 11:15].10 On the one side we overhear God saying to Himself, “Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do?” [Genesis 18:17] And on the other we hear the child of God complaining with hurt surprise, “The Lord hath hid it from me and not told me” [2 Kings 4:27]. We talk to Him, unbosoming our secrets, opening our hearts as we cannot do to any earthly creature. He talks to us quite as freely, allowing us to look into His heart and work as He explains the purpose of His grace, opening up with a friend’s generous confidence the bearing of the yoke, the cross, and the thorn, upon our future, with Him and for Him.
What blessed revelations about the Father, the covenant, and the kingdom come daily to those who have formed with Christ this close, intimate and indissoluble11 friendship. There is a story told of a merchant prince of Glasgow, who was walking with a friend through the crowded streets of the city, when suddenly the companion heard him say, “Oh, man, go on a bit. The Lord Jesus is wanting a talk with me.” It was so. He heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit, he felt the trysting12 tap of his Saviour, and dropped behind to let his soul go out in holy converse with his Lord. Need we wonder that the friend was awed as he beheld the heavenly light in the countenance of the praying one, and that he lifted his hat as he watched that soul have its visions of open heavens and a present Saviour. Men who walk with God understand in their own real experience what it is to hear the soft footfall of the Divine Master, and to hear His whisperings in their hearts.
Many Christians are in too great a hurry to know this life of intimate fellowship with Christ. The Master comes to abide with them, but the place is too confused, and He withdraws. “As thy servant was busy here and there, He was gone” [1 Kings 20:40]. We must make time for meditative habits and communion with God. The soul grows thin in its activities. Says Dean Vaughan,13 “Many a Christian’s incessant action is the grave of his spiritual life.”
God never goes back, and if we walk with Him, we never shall. Walking is a regular, uniform motion, step by step, each one in advance of the last. It is not a rush, a leap, a spurt, but a steady progress from one point to another. Those who walk with God are not always speaking of palmy14 days and bright hours of fellowship that are gone. It is better with them now than ever in the past. They do not now and then climb to ecstatic heights and then descend into the valley of luke-warmness. The Christian life with them means steady progress. They go from point to point, from strength to strength, enjoying more, loving more, understanding more, receiving more, and giving more — in all respects they go forward. Such Christians are never satisfied with present experience, “the goal of yesterday is always the starting point of today.” Napoleon believed that still further conquests were necessary to the existence of his empire, that only by pushing its bounds farther and farther could he retain the territory he had conquered. In the Christian life this is certainly true. Going forward is the only security against going back. It is much to be born of the Spirit, and still more to be filled with the Spirit, but these experiences do not exempt us from the necessity of daily progress in Divine things. By slow degrees the likeness of Christ is perfected, as day by day we sensibly dwell in the secret of His presence.
Walking with God means step by step in the will of God. A man who carries a lantern at night does not see the whole path home; the lantern lights only a single step in advance; but when that step is taken another is lighted, and so on until the end of the journey. In like manner God lights our way. He makes one step plain, and when we take that, another, and then another. We have nothing to do with life in the aggregate. Each moment brings its duties, responsibilities, burdens, and needs. Our business is to live a moment at a time, and that moment for God. Dr. Kitto’s15 advice is,
Think not on a holy life, but on a holy moment as it flies. The first overwhelms by its immensity, the other sweetens and refreshes by its lightness and present stimulus; and yet a succession of holy moments constitutes a holy life.
The question of great or small has no place here. We cannot live a life greater or grander than to be led step by step in all life’s details by the Spirit of God. Progress always lies along the path that God chooses. The great thing is never to lose the thread of the Lord’s leading. Obedience secures uninterruptedly the Divine presence. It is only in that path that we can “go forward.” Those who have learned thus to walk with God so live in “the practice” of the Master’s presence that it becomes impossible to live without Him, and gradually, little by little, the transformation into His likeness proceeds, even as by the Spirit of the Lord, until in the beatific16 vision we see Him face to face, and the likeness is complete.
- Annotations by Jim Kerwin, and are copyrighted along with his other contributions to the print and e-book versions of New Testament Holiness. ↩
- Graphic created by Jim Kerwin using a 2014 photo by Denise Kerwin of a Caribbean sunrise. ↩
- Paradise Lost is, of course, the famous epic poem by John Milton (1608-1674). ↩
- It is not clear to me from which translation Cook is quoting. ↩
- Remember Cook is writing this description very early in the Twentieth Century. ↩
- Henry Drummond (1851-1897) was a famous Scottish evangelist and writer. ↩
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) had the reputation of being “the prince of preachers.” ↩
- to list: as used here, it is the archaic way of saying to choose or to suit or to please or to wish. Knowing this may help King James version readers to make more sense out of the other three verses where the word is so translated—Matthew 17:12; Mark 9:13; and James 3:4. ↩
- These lines are from Charlotte Elliott's hymn, O Jesus, Make Thyself to Me. ↩
- We meet with this refrain frequently in the Gospels. See also Matthew 13:9,43; Mark 4:9, 23;7:16; Luke 8:8;14:35. ↩
- indissoluble: permanent; incapable of being broken, undone, or annulled ↩
- tryst: an agreement between lovers to meet; an appointed meeting or meeting place ↩
- This is probably a reference to Charles John Vaughan (1816-1897), an ordained and accomplished clergyman of the Church of England. In addition to being a writer, he served late in his life as the dean of the Anglican theological school in Llandaff, Wales. ↩
- palmy: flourishing; characterized by prosperity ↩
- Undoubtedly this reference is to John Kitto (1804-1854), a largely self-educated preacher, author, and scholar. ↩
- beatific: expressing, revealing, or causing supremely peaceful happiness ↩