“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” – Revelation 21:7
We have entered upon that period of the church year called Lent, which marks the Lord’s final struggles and victory.
Two sharply contrasted ideas of man’s nature have prevailed throughout the Christian world. Man is said to be created in the image and likeness of God, a little lower than God, and to have been given dominion over all things. And again he is pictured as conceived in iniquity and born in sin, accounted of as nothing before God, and of himself nothing but evil.
Both sides of this picture are true, for there is a dual nature in everyone, which must be recognized. We recall that to each of the seven churches in Asia the promise was made that to “him that overcometh” some particular blessing would be given; and we are all familiar with the Lord’s words to Nicodemus: “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
We are born natural with a tendency to self-seeking. Down through the years many have rebelled at this teaching, asserting that man is by nature good, and that by developing self-reliance and using his reason he can by his own powers become a lover of what is good and true. But the fact is that acting from self creates discord, conflict, and war. Man has no life, power, wisdom, or genuine love except from the Lord,
“He that overcometh shall inherit all things.” All things good and true are inherited by him who overcomes all things evil and false. This is a law of eternal and immutable order. It may seem to some a strange and even dangerous doctrine that to strive to cease from evil is of more importance than to strive to do good. But the reason shows its truth. So long as evil occupies the ground of the human heart, no good thing can take root and grow in it. But if evil be removed, the seed is received into good ground and brings forth abundantly. The removal of evil is, therefore, a necessary means of receiving and doing good. Men may do outward good without removing inward evil, but such good is spurious or hypocritical. It is not done for the love of good, but only for the appearance, for the reward, or for the sake of the reputation of goodness. It is therefore only those who overcome who inherit all things. They will have the inward inheritance of the heavenly graces, and then the outward inheritance of heaven itself. He who overcomes evil in himself has the Lord for his God, and is the son of God.
Nowhere in the Word does the Lord disparage life in the world. He created the world for man’s abode for a time, as a place in which man would be free to make himself what he chose to be. No two people are alike; each has his place in the society in which he finds himself, and has his tasks to perform. But the vital thing is that he should look to the Lord, that he should follow the course which the Divine wisdom discloses instead of pursuing his own way. All his woes, sufferings, and tortures are due to his separating himself from the Lord and attempting to be a power in and of himself.
Men truly spiritual delight to feel their dependence upon the Lord, to know that their own planning avails nothing except so far as they can discern and plan with the leadings of the Divine providence. Nor does this seem at all to curtail their freedom. The Word of God is full of texts that show that dependence upon God is the only sane attitude for human life, and the sooner we learn that “it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,” the sooner we shall set the Lord always before us and shall prefer to listen to Him rather than to trust in our own understanding.
The Psalmist writes: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou are mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” What is man? Man is a recipient created that love and wisdom may flow into him from the Lord. And when we see and acknowledge this, several things follow. First we want to know more and more about the Lord, and as we learn, the words of the prophet Jeremiah come to be fulfilled in us: “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”
Further, with this acknowledgment self-examination becomes welcome; we no longer want to blind our eyes to our faults. And we call our own faults by the same names we are accustomed to give them when we see them in others. Self-discipline becomes far easier, because we recognize that our task is simply to choose which force we prefer to have flow through us, recognizing that originating power is not in ourselves.
In our relations with others we become more wise and helpful. Recognizing the source of sin as outside the man, we are less harsh in criticism of persons, and can denounce evil in plain terms while cherishing and appealing to the good in them. Hence our influence for their good is greatly increased.
All pride of intellect is put aside and when this insanity of self-trust is ended, we have much greater power in searching out the Lord’s purposes for us. Knowing the source of evil we do not attribute it to ourselves, nor can we be puffed up with our own goodness, for we understand fully that nothing of all the good accomplished by means of our instrumentality originates in us. We are only stewards of the Lord. So we remain humble, become more and more useful, and find it more and more easy to recognize and to turn away from any evil that we may be tempted to commit. Thus the power of evil is broken and we are set free. Then also fear of death vanishes, and God is seen to be not a God of the dead but of the living. Life is recognized as a continuous stream, interrupted no more by death than by our nightly sleep.
Lent is a period for self-examination. The fact that man has a divided nature does not mean that he will remain forever in conflict, but that through life in this world he will learn what is the Divine order among his powers. The whole natural universe was created for man, a mighty and wonderful setting for his brief stay here. What the Lord wishes to accomplish in us here is described in the continuation of the eighth Psalm: “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” We are to have dominion, not only over all the natural objects and forces, but over the things they represent: our affections, our thoughts, and our natural learning, making all these elements of our nature serve for the attainment of true manhood, the image and likeness of God.
The Lord tells us through the prophet Micah that the essentials of this ideal are not material achievement but spiritual qualities:
“Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
And if all this vast and marvelous natural universe was created just for our temporary home, what must be the glory of that world prepared for those who have overcome their lower nature and reached the true stature of manhood?
“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”