by T. Austin-Sparks
The Holy Spirit does not hesitate to reveal or affirm in the records that many maladies and infirmities had demons directly behind them, and Satan directly responsible for them, as well as specific sin as an immediate ground of them. From the illustrative, the parabolic, in the gospels we work through the Cross into the more spiritual and heavenly realm by the resurrection and ascension of Christ and have more to do with the spiritual counterpart than with the physical; while still there remains in the Church a testimony and a prophecy to the entire redemption of spirit, soul, and body.
There are diseases and morbidities which relate to the "inner man," and in so far as he is of greater importance than the "outer man," so the temporal is subservient to and waits upon the spiritual and eternal. We do not propose to deal with the relationship of the two, but suggest in passing that the quickening of the mortal (dying) body depends upon a life in the renewed and energised spirit indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God.
Among the many of the Lord's people who are spiritually afflicted not a few are in a condition of spiritual paralysis. In this matter analogies between the physical and the spiritual do not always hold good and cannot be universally traced, the two realms have different standards of reckoning. While many of the sufferers are quite aware of their condition and know only too well and sadly of their spiritual ineffectiveness, there are many whose impotence is hidden under a considerable amount of feverish activity, emotional stimuli, religious busy-ness, cerebral agitation, oral effusiveness, etc. It depends entirely upon the Divine definition of spiritual potency and effectiveness as to the measure of real purpose served by all this. Moreover, we must realise that even in the true life and service of the Lord there are gradations and levels of spiritual accountability.
It is important that we should be alive to the bluffs which abound in the realm of "Christian" activity. There are many such in our physical disorders and an experienced physician is not deceived into false hopes by these. A liver subject knows quite well that a voracious appetite, rather than a sign of excellent health, too often has a subtle and insidious trap in its hiding. Such examples of what we have called "bluffs" might be greatly multiplied, but it is unnecessary, we know those disconcerting reservations of enthusiasm on the part of the physician or surgeon after we have told of certain pleasing (?) features of our case.
Now we find ourselves between two expressions of the same subject: (1) that where paralysis in spiritual life and service is fully recognised and more than suspected; and (2) that where the trouble is just as active and real but quite undetected.
The Nature of Spiritual Effectiveness
It is, however, necessary in the etiology of this malady to approach the inquiry with a recognition of a general fact. This fact is that the main objective of the forces of evil is by some means - no matter how - to rob the believer of real spiritual fighting-force: not talking force, working force, organising force, advertising force, holding-and-going-to-meeting-force, listening-to-teaching-force, soul-force; but genuine fighting force in which the impact of the victory of the Christ of Calvary by the Cross is registered upon the forces back of the human and worldly elements, the "principalities and authorities, the world rulers of this darkness, and the hosts of wicked spirits in the heavenlies" (Ephesians 6:12).
Spiritual effectiveness is decided there, and not amongst the things seen. It is because of this that the enemy is well pleased amongst the spiritually superficial or unspiritual "Christians" to carry on a campaign of works and activities, programmes, institutions, meetings and churches, and allow or foster a certain kind of success imitative of good, but in which there is nothing that gets beyond time and earth and is lacking in that constituent which affects his hold upon the situation.
There are some classic illustrations of spiritual paralysis in the Old Testament, and some tragic instances in the New. To study these is to diagnose many cases as we know them today.
Kadesh Barnea was the scene of a corporate paralysis of the "Church in the Wilderness." The causes are not far to seek. Sitting down by this case and holding our clinic we trace the trouble firstly to a long-standing contradiction and irreconcilable elements in the composition of this "Body." Exodus 12:38 puts its fingers upon this clue. "Mixed multitudes." Egyptians clinging to Hebrews. Egypt elements mixed with Hebrews. Non-covenant elements holding place on covenant ground and exercising influence in mind and heart and will. Now, if Egypt does (as seems very probable) represent figuratively the sense-world, that realm where the senses predominate; where things seen, heard, handled hold the field and are the criteria; where emotions, reasonings, and human volition are the ultimate and final bound of life and determine the course or attitude or outlook; then here is indeed a very strong and sound clue to much of the present spiritual counterpart of the historic paralysis which drained the fighting-force and made impossible the conquest on the part of Israel.
If the components are mixed, the motives will be mixed, the master passions will be mixed. When God challenges His people to work out upon a purely spiritual basis, holding from them everything upon which they could naturally rely or rest as a surety of success; when He withholds all such basis of service as would gratify the flesh; when He allows appearances to appear as though they flatly and positively contradict and deny His covenant; when there is every reason - as such - to believe that the enemy has possession and all the odds are on his side; when in themselves His people can find nothing whatever to provide for the nourishing of hope, but much to the contrary; then motives are tested and discovered, then interests are laid bare, then the ground of standing is made manifest. Then it will be betrayed as to whether it was for the Lord Himself or for the advantages which He is able to give that brought us out to associate with His people. Reason is confounded, feeling is petrified, volition is powerless before some of the practical propositions of God and by some of His methods and dealings with His own. There is absolutely no human ground upon which to hope or expect any emergence into triumph.
Well now, what about it? Is this the end? Is it to be death in the wilderness? Is it paralysis? With many it is. At rock bottom God detected a personal motive, a self-interest, a care for satisfaction in itself, a concern for spiritual possession as an end in itself, a name, a reputation, a standing, something of sense, and when the test came this sense-element came up and strove for its rights, judged after the sight of the eyes, the hearing of the ear, the handling of the hand, the present and immediate prospect. Hence paralysis in the realm that really matters. Satan had a stake inside which gave him a judicial right which even God could not repudiate, seeing that the only means of its repudiation had been neglected by the one concerned - namely, the Cross whereby the flesh has been crucified. Some secret, hidden, almost unrealised walking after the flesh has at length been dragged out into the light by a supreme test and paralysis in spiritual life and service has resulted. Sooner or later every irreconcilable element will manifest itself in spiritual impotence. We must not presume upon our early successes, neither should we be concerned enviously over the apparent prosperity of carnal men in spiritual (?) work: the end is not yet, and the true range of effectiveness is not known to us.
Natural Resource in Spiritual Warfare
For the present we would take but one other case of paralysis in the Old Testament which is of peculiar interest and instructiveness. This instance is recorded in 1 Samuel 13:17-23. Here is disclosed the cunning subtlety of the enemy. As we have pointed out, the main objective of the devil is to render the Lord's people inoperative as a fighting force.
In the case before us the Philistines have put the forges out of commission and the smiths out of work. The weapons of war have been confiscated and the resources for making others destroyed. Pastoral work is not prevented. The enemy does not object to us having teaching and preaching, but it must stay there. Any militant aggressiveness with the weapons which are not carnal but spiritual is forestalled and pre-vented. As with Egypt so with the Philistines there is doubtless a spiritual suggestiveness. They are frequently described as "uncircumcised." Paul is very clear in his revelation that the Cross is God's instrument by which "the whole body of the flesh" is cut off, even "the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11).
But this Philistine aspect is not that of the grosser forms of the flesh or self-life, it is more particularly just the natural life and resource operating toward and upon the spiritual ground. So many there are who seek to do God's work by natural capacity or withhold from it because of lack of natural abilities. Human and natural force of mind, intellect, reason; status, position, influence; personality, acumen, training, advantage; temperament, disposition, constitution, etc., these are the factors which are taken into account. This fact is accountable for a terrible amount of long-run paralysis.
Such as have worked and proceeded upon an emotional life, a life of feeling, of stimulus; visions, enterprises, appeals, stories, presentations; the tragic, the pathetic, the necessitous, in the realm of the Lord's service will - if they are truly His servants and are really going on with Him in spiritual life - come sooner or later to a place of terrible arrest where everything will seem to have fallen through the bottom. The life (?) will dry up and the work be impossible. The old forms of service will be strained, artificial, and forced. Interest, passion, enthusiasm will wane and pass out.
What is true in the realm of feeling is true in other spheres. The drive of will, determination, persistence, obstinacy, tenacity, obduracy, inflexibility, etc. So also in the matter of mere reason; each will at length by its own course, with its own particular emphasis in purely spiritual matters, bring the life to a state of paralysis. We lose all our weapons of effectual warfare when the uncircumcised Philistines, i.e., the natural resources which have never been crucified with Christ, hold sway or gain the ascendancy. "The Philistines be upon thee" will at length be a cry which synchronises with the tragic fact that "the Spirit of the Lord was departed from him" in the case of all such as presume upon natural ability and so play into the hands of forces which had never been circumcised.
Whatever God may do through a man or a woman, employing any wholly sanctified mind or heart or will or resource within or without it must be settled that the measure of spiritual effectiveness, the measure in which we count in the presence of the unseen forces is just the measure in which we have come by the Cross to the place where we know - and live accordingly - that it is not in or of ourselves to serve God; that no resource of ours can count as an effectual basis; that God must do it in us and through us; and that all means, methods, forces, times, enablements, must be out from Himself. Such was the lesson which God took great pains to teach Moses, Paul, and many other prophets, apostles, and men who had been most used.
The test question in the diagnosis is not that which relates to influence amongst men, much or little; reputation, following, head-counting, full diaries, acceptableness, meetings attended and taken-part-in, teaching received, truth known, knowledge possessed, zeal demonstrated, suffering endured: it is not whether we are well known among men, but whether demons say "Jesus I know and ____ I know." It is just how far the impact of Christ as Sovereign Lord is registered through His Body and its members upon the forces opposed to Him back of all human conditions, and how far the registering of that sovereignty there makes its re-action upon the earth-situation as dominated by those hostile forces. We may be very much in action in all other kinds of work and failing here be really paralysed; but we may be out of all other activities and counting in that realm "labour more abundantly (and effectually) than them all." We have yet more to say on this matter.