THE SPIRIT IN PRISON
The history of Christianity
from the latter days of the Apostles is the history of prisons. Not literal,
material prisons, though there have been not a few of these, but prisons which
are the result of man's inveterate habit of taking hold and bringing into
bondage. How many times has the Spirit broken loose and moved in a new and free
way, only to have that way brought under the control of man and crystallized
into another 'Form', Creed, Organization, Denomination, Sect, 'Order',
Community, etc.! The invariable result has been that the free movement and life
of the Spirit has been cramped, or even killed, by the prison of the framework
into which it has been drawn or forced. Every time we seek to express something
Divine in word or form we at once limit it, and when that expression or form
becomes the established and recognised formula, we have in effect put fetters on
the Spirit. God gives a vision, and every God-given vision has illimitable
potentialities; but all too soon the vision is laid hold of by men who never had
it in or of the Spirit, and the grapes of Eshcol turn to raisins in their hands.
So very many of the living fruits of the heavenly country have suffered in this
way, and have become dried, shrunken, unctionless shadows of their early glory.
Upon a living movement of the
Spirit, born with fire in the heart of some Prophet, successors, sponsors, or
adherents build an earthly organization, and imprison the vision in a tradition.
So a Message becomes a Creed; a "Heavenly Vision" becomes an earthly
institution; a movement of the Spirit becomes a 'Work', which must be kept going
by the steam of human energy, and maintained by man's resourcefulness.
Sooner or later any real or
seeming departure or diversion from the 'recognised' and traditional order of
Creed or practice will be heresy, to be violently suspect, repressed, and
outcast. Too often what, at its beginning, was a spiritual energy producing a
living organism expressing something that God really wanted and to which He gave
birth has become something which the next generation has to sustain and
work hard to keep going. The thing has developed a self-interest and it will go
hard with anyone or anything interfering with it, or seeming so to do. The
Spirit has become the prisoner of the institution or system, and the people
become limited spiritually as the result.
Why is all this so true,
resulting, as it does, in strain, divisions, jealousies, rivalries, and often
deception? And, if there is any remedy, what is it?
The answer is to be found in an
honest-if costly-facing of the fundamental question: Why am I where I am? Did I
enter into something objectively? Was it something already formed which was
presented to me, with an appeal, an argument, a 'need'? Was it a something
at all? Or did the Spirit open the eyes of my heart, and give me a
heavenly vision, which on one side made me cry "Woe is me" and on the other
"Here am I"? Was it a life crisis? Did I take up a 'teaching', a complexion of
truth, a 'work' an enterprise? Was I right at the very source of life? Was it a
definite and overpowering 'apprehending' from Heaven? Is my position that of
relationship to something from which I can resign? In a word, is my imprisonment
that of a system or order of an outward kind, or am I the 'bondslave' of the
Spirit? The Apostle Paul, in particular, shows that the former bondage or
imprisonment can even be to what is in the Bible, in the form of what he calls
"the letter", and the Bible-in this sense-can be 'death' ("the letter killeth"-2
Cor. 3:6). Not that we can have the Spirit and the life without the Word, but it
can most certainly be the other way round.
It is so seriously important
that we, and everything, shall be kept continuously in touch with the original
source of life. Succession and continuation is not ecclesiastical,
traditional, or of human choice and decision; it is certainly not policy,
expediency, or fear. It is anointing-the anointed eye, ear, hand, and foot. It
is a fire in the bones, not the obligations of a profession, association or
The Spirit must have initiated
our course and position. The Spirit must be referred to and deferred to all
along the way. The Spirit will be a rebel in anything in which He may have His
liberties limited; and if He is in us, He will make us such rebels. This does
not for a moment mean that all rebellion and bid for what is called 'liberty' is
of the Spirit. It just means that we are broken people in the realm of nature,
and robbed of a power to fight for our own conceptions.
So it becomes just the issue of
imprisonment to the Spirit, or something other or extra. It must be, at
the greatest cost, and because the Spirit has done a deep and drastic thing in
us-"Here am I; I can do no other. So help me God."
(The above Editorial is largely suggested by the reading of an article
(mostly political) by an English Member of Parliament, and published in 'The
Spectator' in 1947.-Ed.)