"But solid food is for
fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses
exercised to discern good and evil" (Heb. 5:14).
seemeth for the present to be not joyous but grievous: yet
afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been
exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness" (Heb.
That word 'exercise' is the
word that includes what I have in my heart. The word means what
it says. If you heard the Greek word for this English word
'exercised', you would at once recognize another English word. It
would, of course, have been impossible for the translators to put
the other one in, as you will see, but the Greek word sounds
almost exactly like our English word 'gymnastics'. If you like to
put it in here you can - 'to those who have been through the
gymnastics in relation to this matter of full growth'.
'Exercised' does mean something like that - those who have
undergone gymnastics in relation to development.
Object of Spiritual Exercise
If you look to see the object
of this exercise, you will discover that it has to do with just
one thing - but a very great thing. It is not just development,
getting big; it is what we call capacity - that is,
ability, or being able for things. That is the Divine object in
this exercise, quite clearly set forth in this letter. And
capacity, as I am sure you will agree, is a very vital matter.
Whether it is in the natural realm or in the spiritual, it does
amount to something to have capacity - to have ability. It is a
very distressing thing to find how few, even of the Lord's
people, have real spiritual capacity. You will see what that
means as we go on. But let us get the object of this exercise in
view, that we may make no mistake. It is not just to be
something, but to be able for something - that is capacity. In
gymnastics you can do it for its own sake, just to develop
yourself, just to be something, but the real object is to be able
to do things, to be capable of much more.
Exercise Related to an Afterward
But here is a
strange thing. This is so related to an "afterward".
You notice it is afterward that the values of this exercise, of
this increased capacity, are to be found. There may be, of
course, immediate "afterward"s - there are - but there
is always the great "afterward": for what we
find is that, just when people are beginning to have a bit of
capacity - because it takes a long time with most of us - it is
time to go home. The gymnasium closes down, we go to the Lord.
Life all along has been one continuous exercise. There has been
no 'let-up' in the exercise. We do not do it for a term and then
work out the values for the rest of our lives. Here we are, those
of us who have been on the way some time, and are on the last lap
- we are still in the gymnasium, and it seems as though we are
going to be there to the end. This whole matter of increased
capacity continues to our last day, and the last breath of our
last day, on this earth. Then what about it? There must be a big
afterward, or life is an enigma, a deep and terrible enigma: so
that the Scripture does come in with much emphasis and abundant
evidence that all this is for a big afterward. It is capacity for
something, ability to do, in the 'ages of the ages'.
Now that opens up a very large
realm, and I am not going to enter into it. All I am saying is
that it must be so - or I, for one, cannot understand why we
cannot get this over quickly, and then for the rest of our time
just be doing the thing for which we have been prepared. But the
preparation goes on and on and ever on, and it will never cease
while we are here.
Realm of Spiritual Exercise
What is the realm of this
exercise? Here it speaks of having the senses exercised. Well, of
course, that is very simple and easily understood. In our
natural, physical man we have five senses. We have our sight,
hearing, smell, taste and touch. Those are the five senses of our
physical natural life. But there is also an inner man called the
"hidden man of the heart", and that inward man has what
corresponds to the outer man's five senses. There is a faculty of
spiritual sight, of spiritual hearing, of spiritual smelling or
sensing, of spiritual taste and spiritual touch, and these senses
are very important to the life of the inward man - yes, more
important even than the senses of the physical man.
We know how we feel the tragedy
of people who have lost any of those outward senses. It is a
great loss; it is an imperfect life, a life of limitation. But it
is equally true of the inward man. To be without spiritual sight
is a tragic loss and a terrible limitation; or without spiritual
hearing, that capacity for answering to the Spirit - "he
that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith": if
there is no capacity for hearing, that is a desperate situation.
What loss there is if there is no sensing - sensing as in the
matter of smell, so that you at once scent things. I know how
wrongly that has been used, in an everlasting attempt to scent
heresy and fault and wrong, but there is a right faculty of
spiritual scent which is very important. I believe it was to that
that reference was made concerning our Lord - "his scent
shall be in the fear of the Lord" (Isa. 11:3, A.R.M.) -
quick of scent, right on the mark in scenting what the Lord
wanted. And how true it was of His heavenly life: what it saved
Him to scent the enemy and what the enemy was up to, to scent
what the Father wanted and when He did not want things. It is
important to be quick of scent. And so with our taste and with
our touch - our contact, and what we register by contact.
This is a very real inward man,
and these are the senses which form the basis of spiritual
capacity: these are the things to be exercised, to be 'put
through it' for increase and development. In Hebrews 12 you know
that the Apostle is speaking about Sonship, and then in verse 9
he uses the phrase "the Father of our spirits" (R
.V.M.). 'We have had fathers of our flesh and they saw to it that
our fleshly, our physical, senses were developed, that we were
kept up to the mark on knowing right and wrong in the natural
realm; they taught us there what was true and what was false'.
Now we have a Father of our spirits, and it is our spiritual
faculties and senses that are the object of His concern. He is
concentrating upon the development of capacity in spiritual
seeing, and spiritual hearing, and spiritual sensing and tasting
and touching. This is what is meant by the full-grown man.
Nature of the Exercise
Then we come to this exercise.
What is the nature of the exercise - if you like, of the
gymnastics? - for the Lord does 'put us through it'! Some of you
may not have been through gymnastics. I remember the very first
time I went into a gymnasium as a youngster, and a vaulting-horse
was put in front of me and I was told that I had to take it at a
bound. I had never tried that before. I was scared! But I was put
through it, I was not let off. No running round that horse, no
running underneath it; I had to clear it, and I had to go on till
I could make a clean show of it. And in every part of that
gymnasium it was the same. It was terrible for a time, but
capacity grew with exercise. This word "chastening"
means that. We have such an idea that chastening means thrashing.
It does not. It is child-training, it is discipline, it is
gymnastics. It is being put through it, so that these senses may
be developed and capacity increased.
The point is this - that there
is no development unless you are given something beyond your
capacity. It is true in every realm. It means that the Lord is
constantly putting you into situations beyond your capacity. If
it is a matter of seeing, and you cannot see, what are you going
to do - when you just cannot see what the Lord means, what the
Lord is after, what He is doing? Give it up? Say, 'I cannot see'
- that is an end of it - and go home? Of course not! We are there
for that faculty to be developed and capacity increased. Have we
not already proved that through many a dark way? We just cannot
see or understand, but we have at least learned something of the
ways and mind of the Lord. And in every other way too we are put
into positions beyond our capacity. Does that comfort you? Are
you out of your depth today? Are you in situations that you just
cannot cope with? The explanation is in Hebrews 12.
There is a very great cost
bound up with capacity - that is what I find. There have been
people of whom we have despaired. We have wondered if ever they
really would see, whether they would ever grow at all. They
seemed to stay for so long in exactly the same place and with the
same measure, and we have despaired. And then the Lord has taken
them into a very deep place, breaking and shattering and
emptying; and before they are through, things have changed
inwardly: they have got a new knowledge of the Lord; they have
come out with something which we had despaired of their ever
reaching. There is something there now; there is the possibility
now that they are going to count for something more. They are seeing.
I do not think there is any
other way for increasing capacity. Capacity is a costly thing. We
had better face it: every little bit of increase means agony.
There is a big afterward in view. "All chastening seemeth
for the present to be not joyous, but grievous" - and do not
expect it to be otherwise - but afterward, and maybe, in measure,
in the afterward here, we may be of greater value to the Lord, as
He puts us through His school.
Yet, even so, as I said at the
beginning, the work goes on to the end. And then what? Well, we
may leave something behind for the profit of others, but surely
that is not the end. No, there is the great afterward. You notice
that this letter puts so much emphasis upon going on to the end,
continuing to the end. One thing that we learn in the Lord's
school is this - that we must never foreclose on God: we must not
accept an end until He says it is an end. Let me put that in
another way. How often there comes an afterward, when we thought
there was going to be no afterward. We had thought it was all at
an end, and then there comes an afterward, and we reproach
ourselves for giving up too soon, before we ought to have given
up. We give up in our spirits and we cease to run with patience.
We go through a black, dark time when we seem to have been
brought to the end and there is no more, and the enemy seeks to
make us accept that. 'This is the awful end of everything'. And
we find, like Abraham and his horror of great darkness, that when
it seemed that it was the end of everything, it was only the
beginning of something more of the Lord - something far greater -
a new beginning. So we hold on, realising that this costly way is
a preparation for larger values, though it be "for the
present... not joyous, but grievous".
First published in "A Witness and A
Testimony" magazine, Jul-Aug 1952, Vol 30-4