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PRESSING TOWARD THE MARK
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forward to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”
FEW IN the nominal church see any particular mark or any particular prize with definiteness;—to be sought and to be attained. The majority are merely fleeing from an imagined eternal torment, which pursues them as a fear, a dread, a nightmare, a horror, from the cradle to the tomb. Others of the Lord’s people (chiefly of “this way”) have had the eyes of their understanding illuminated by the holy spirit through the divine Word, and have gotten a glimpse of the great prize which God has set before the elect Church of this Gospel age. No wonder if these are enthused with the glorious spectacle which (the natural) eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man to conceive of, but which “God hath revealed unto us by his spirit!” No wonder, either, if they have given more attention to the prize than to the mark which must be attained ere the prize is won.
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Full of enthusiasm and appreciation of divine love, these have entirely lost the fear of eternal torment, and have learned that this doctrine is of Satan, and not of God; from man, and not of the holy spirit; from the dark ages, and not the teachings of the inspired words of Scripture. They have learned, too, that what scriptures seem to give any color of sanction to this blasphemy against God’s character and plan are certain parables, symbols and dark sayings which misinterpretations have more or less glossed and colored in the common translations of the Scriptures.
It is quite common for this latter class to think and to speak of “running for the prize,” and to measurably lose sight of the fact that it is not the prize that we run toward, but the mark: that the prize is entirely beyond our grasp;—as the Apostle expresses it above, “I press toward the mark.” Whoever reaches the mark of character which God has established for the elect will receive the prize; and whoever fails to reach that mark of character will fail to get the prize. It is therefore a very serious error to run for the prize and forget or ignore or disregard the “mark,” which must first be attained.
The thought that a certain standard or mark of character is necessary to all who will pass divine approval as “overcomers,” and hear the Lord’s “Well done!” is an astounding one to many. Many have thought of the Christian race as merely an avoidance of open sin; others have included an avoidance of secret faults; others have gone still further, and have included a general disposition to sacrifice many interests of the present life; others have gone still further, and have understood the test of discipleship to be full self-surrender to the Lord, a full sacrifice of earthly life and all of its interests to the will of our Head, the Lord;—but almost none have the thought that all our sacrificings and experiences and self-denials must lead up toward and eventually bring us to the “mark” of character which God has set for the “elect;”—else they will not get the prize of joint-heirship with Christ in the Millennial Kingdom. Nothing, probably, has contributed so much to this oversight of a “mark” or fixed standard of character than the false interpretation given to our Lord’s conversation with the dying thief on Calvary.*
*See our issue of June 1, 1896, “The Thief in Paradise”
It is indisputably reasonable, that God has some standard or test by which he will determine who are worthy to receive the great blessings and honors offered to the elect—who are worthy to be members of the body of Christ and to share his Millennial Kingdom—what shall constitute faithfulness in those who “seek for glory, honor and immortality,” and who are “the called and chosen and faithful.” The Apostle, in our text, unquestionably declares that there is such a mark, and that all who are running with any hope of attaining the desired prize must be running toward that mark, and must attain it or lose the prize. And we see, too, that the Apostle judges himself according to this standard, and declares that at the time he wrote he had not yet reached this mark or standard of character-development. Such reflections cannot but awaken in the hearts of all who are in this race earnest desires to see distinctly the mark toward which we must run: and it should stimulate each and all of us to run the more patiently and the more perseveringly, and to watch day by day the measure of our progress toward the grand mark which the Lord our God has set before us.
We notice that the Apostle has in mind foot-races, and we see the forcefulness of the illustration: (1) As the racers must enter the race-course in a legitimate manner, so must we get on our race-course in a legitimate manner, through the only door—faith in the precious blood which redeemed us and justified us before God. (2) Those who enter the course must be regularly recorded or registered as runners; they must positively declare their intention, else they will not be in the race. So with us: having been “justified by faith,” and having been informed of our privileges in connection with this race, and the attainment of its prize, it was incumbent upon us to declare our intention—to make a covenant with the Lord, and to thus be regularly entered—our names being written, not upon earthly church rolls, but in the Lamb’s book of life—”written in heaven.”—Heb. 12:23.
With foot-racers there is a prize offered also, but it is not the prize that is hung out to their view while on the race-course; it is not the prize toward which they run, but the mark. There is the quarter-mile mark, the half-mile mark, the three-quarter-mile mark, and the mile mark at the close of the race; and each racer watches for and encourages himself as he passes one or another of these marks by the way, until finally he reaches the last one, the mark for the prize. And this watching of the marks by the way, and reckoning up to the standard, is a great incentive to him—an encouragement as he speeds along, a reminder if he is going slackly. So, too, it is with the Christian runner in the narrow way toward the mark of the great prize which God has promised—joint-heirship with his Son, the Lord of glory. It will encourage us to note the marks on our way, and to perceive our progress—if we are coming nearer and nearer and nearer to “the mark for the prize”—the mark which wins the prize. And if any be careless, indifferent, slack, in his running, nothing could be a
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greater stimulus to him than the knowledge that only his own carelessness or slackness can lose him the prize.
WHAT IS THIS GREAT “MARK” OF CHARACTER SET BEFORE US BY OUR GOD?
We answer, it is stated under various names; as for instance, our Lord Jesus mentioned it when he said, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) The same mark is mentioned by the Apostle when he says that God predestinated that all who will be of the elect must be “conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom. 8:29.) These two statements differ in form, but are the same in substance. The same mark is mentioned again by the Apostle when he says, “The righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit.” And again he tells us that “Love is the fulfilling of the Law.” (Rom. 8:4; 13:10.) Here, then, we have an aggregated definition of what constitutes the “mark” of Christian character, in the elect: it is godlikeness, Christ-likeness, Love. The requirement, therefore, would seem to be that the Lord’s people, holy and elect, must attain to the same character or disposition of love that God possesses and that was manifested also by our Lord Jesus.
But some one will say, How can we, “who by nature are children of wrath, even as others,” ever hope to attain to so high a standard or mark of character as this, that we should love as God loves, as Christ loves? We answer, that we need never hope to attain to this high standard as respects the flesh, for so long as we are in these mortal bodies, and obliged to use their brains, we will necessarily be more or less opposed by the selfishness which through the fall has come to have such complete possession of our race through the mental, moral and physical derangements incidental to six thousand years of depravity.
The attainment of this mark of perfect love is to be an attainment of the heart, of the will—the new will, “begotten, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” through the holy spirit. Nor do we find, nor should we expect that the new mind would come up to this standard at the beginning of our Christian experience. The new mind, altho inspired of God through the exceeding great and precious promises of his Word, is nevertheless our own will, and more or less circumscribed by its channel and instrument, the human brain. Hence the Apostle informs us that the new mind must constantly fight a battle against the flesh, and that its victory means the death of the flesh—that it cannot be actually perfect until the “change” shall come, by which this newly begotten will shall receive its spiritual body in the first resurrection. But since the receiving of a spiritual body in the first resurrection will be the receiving of the prize, we see that the race toward the mark and the attainment of that mark must be made by the new mind while it is still in this mortal body or “earthen vessel.”—2 Cor. 5:2-4.
In a word, the new mind must grow, must develop. As the Apostle exhorts, we, as new creatures, must grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God—the growth here corresponding to the running in the figure under consideration. We must run or press nearer and nearer to the mark day by day, week by week, year by year, until it shall be attained,—if we would gain the prize. Nor is it merely a question of time, for we all know some who have been a long time in the race and have made comparatively little progress in the cultivation of the gifts of the spirit, the sum of which is comprehended in the one word, perfect love—the mark.
And we probably all know some others who have been a comparatively short time in the narrow way who have made great progress,—going from grace to grace, from knowledge to knowledge, from glory to glory—rapidly nearing the mark. And we know some who, so far as human judgment can discern, have reached the mark; but of these more anon.
That we may clearly comprehend this subject, let us notice how small were the beginnings of this grace of love in our hearts; and let us hope that many, as they trace the matter here, and compare it with their own experiences, will be able to find large developments in their own characters—that they have passed one after another of the quarter-mile marks in the way, and that they are rapidly nearing, if they have not already reached, “the mark of the prize.”
(1) The beginning of our experience as Christians the Apostle expresses, saying, it was not that we first loved God, but that “he first loved us”—that attracted us to him. (1 John 4:19.) A sense of justice told us that since God had so loved us as to redeem us at so great a cost, and to provide for us so great salvation, it would be as little as we could do—it would be our duty to love and serve him in return. This beginning of love we will designate as duty-love. It lacked in many respects qualities which now permeate our love for God, which is of a higher, a more advanced character, because we have grown in grace, and in knowledge, and in love. The Apostle seems to speak again of this same duty-love, when he says, “The love of Christ constraineth us [draws out our love in return]; for we thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead [under divine sentence, the curse]; and that we who live [who have been justified to life through faith in Jesus’ redemption] should
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henceforth live not unto ourselves but unto him who died for us.” (2 Cor. 5:14,15.) Here again it is the “should“-love or duty-love,—the first, the crudest, the simplest development of our love toward God, our starting-point in the race toward perfect love.
(2) After we had exercised the duty-love and sought to obey God, not only in the avoidance of sin, but also in sacrificing our earthly interests and rights for his sake and the truth’s sake, in obedience to his will—in obedience to duty-love—we began to find in our hearts an appreciation of the principles of righteousness; we began to love righteousness—justice, mercy, love: not at first with a fervency of love, but rather with respect for the glorious qualities of the divine character, plan and law. This was our first quarter-mile mark, so to speak—love of principles of righteousness.
(3) The more we learned to love these elements of divine character, the principles of righteousness which find their perfect representation in the divine being, and through which the divine being is revealed to the eyes of our understanding—in that proportion the true love to God (based upon principles rather than upon duty), comes into our hearts. So to speak, here in the race-course we had gained the second quarter-mile mark—love of God’s character; even tho we had not yet discerned the length and breadth and heights and depths of that character, we had begun to love the Lord in the true way—from appreciation not only of what he had done for us, but also and specially for what he is;—from appreciation of his character.
(4) Love of God from this latter standpoint as the representative of every grace and every virtue, as the representative of righteousness, and the opponent of every injustice and inequity, led us to seek and to follow out these principles amongst our fellow-men, as well as in our own characters. As we began to love truth, purity, nobility of character, wherever it could be found, we found some of it in a mottled and streaked condition even in the world of mankind: we found that the original law of God, written in the heart of father Adam, altho largely erased and obliterated from the hearts and consciences of his children, is not wholly gone;—that to some extent, especially under the influence of Christianity in the past eighteen centuries, some features of this perfect law may be dimly discerned amongst men.
But our scrutiny, backed by our increasing love of these principles of righteousness, found nothing satisfactory amongst natural men—nor even amongst those professing godliness—professing to be followers in the footsteps of Jesus. We found these all, like ourselves, far short of perfection, far short of the glory of God. But as the true love, of right principles, burned in our hearts more and more fervently, we learned to sympathize with the entire “groaning creation,” and to “love the brethren;” for in the latter we perceived a class inspired by the same spirit by which we ourselves had been begotten of God, the spirit of the truth; we saw some of them struggling as we had struggled, with appreciation only of the duty-love; we saw others who had gained a higher conception than this, who had learned to appreciate the principles of righteousness and to love them, and to hate iniquity, and further, to love the God who is the embodiment of these. And the realization that these “brethren,” like ourselves, were gradually approximating the divine standard—”pressing toward the mark”—filled us with interest in them and in their battle against sin and its weaknesses, and against the Adversary and his beguilements. We became more and more interested in their welfare and overcoming in proportion as we were striving and making progress in the same “narrow way.” This love of the brethren we did not have at the beginning; it marks a distinct progress in our race toward the “mark;” we might term it the third quarter-mile mark. But altho a grand attainment was achieved when this love of the brethren reached the point of
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willingness to “lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16), yet it was not the full attainment of the “mark” for which we are running.
(5) The “mark of the prize” is a still higher attainment in love;—the one which we understand the Scriptures to point out as the very highest attainment is that of loving our enemies—not merely tolerating them, abstaining from injuring them, etc., while thinking evil of them; but far beyond this, it signifies the full purging out of all anger, malice, hatred, envy, strife, not only from our actions but also from our words, and even from our thoughts, our sentiments. It means such a complete triumph of love in our hearts as not only loves God supremely and delights to sacrifice in his service from love of the principles represented in his character, and love for the brethren, which makes us careful of their feelings and interests, and ready to lay down our lives on their behalf, to deliver them from evil, or to avoid putting a stumbling block in their way, but it means additionally that the love of God has been so thoroughly shed abroad in our hearts that we can love and do love every intelligent creature, and delight to do good unto all men, and to serve all men as we have opportunity, especially the household of faith.—Gal. 6:10.
This does not mean that the love which we have for the world must be of the same kind that we have for the Lord, who is the personification of righteousness, and for the “brethren,” who are striving to have
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Love, the righteousness of the Law, fulfilled in them through Christ. It means rather a sympathetic love; a benevolence such as God himself exercised toward the whole world of mankind. It does not mean that we are to love the world in the sense condemned by the Apostle when he said, “Love not the world, neither the things of the world.” (1 John 2:15.) It does mean the attainment of the condition indicated in the expression, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe on him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16.) It is a love for the world, which will not only be glad to see them lifted up out of degradation and sin to holiness and purity and righteousness, but which will be glad to cooperate to these ends as opportunities may offer—not, however, anticipating God’s love and the development of his plan of the ages; but co-working with God in that great plan which he has promised shall eventually bring, during the Millennial age, blessing to every creature through the elect class now running in this race for attainment of the “mark,” to win the great prize of joint-heirship with his Son. This perfect love, which, including the other developments, extends even to enemies and those who injure us and speak evil of us falsely for Christ’s and righteousness’ sake, is the fourth mark in the race—”the mark for the prize.”
While it is well for us to notice these various steps in the progress of our race toward the “mark,” we are to remember that the illustration does not fit perfectly, but that rather while there is this order of progression it is less distinctly marked in our experiences, in which duty-love but gradually leads into the higher forms, remaining, but subordinately, to the end. It is a part of the blessed arrangement of God that those who are running in this race are not reckoned with according to the flesh, but as “new creatures,” according to the spirit, the mind, the will, the intention. We may never hope to attain to this grand “mark” of perfect Love in our flesh, so that every act and every word would give full proof of the real spirit of love which fills our hearts. Some may have greater weaknesses and defects in the flesh than others, and hence may be less able than others to uniformly and thoroughly show the real sentiments of their hearts. But God looketh at the heart; it is the heart that he sees running in this race; it is the heart which is to attain to this “mark” set before us in the Gospel—this mark of perfect love, which includes even our enemies. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
If now we see clearly that perfect love is “the mark of the prize,” we see something to strive for in our daily lives; a condition which we can by God’s grace attain, and which must be obtained if we would be counted worthy a place in the Kingdom. The Lord is not selecting the members of the Bride of Christ by an arbitrary election; neither is he selecting them on the lines of a mere sentimentality; he is selecting them on the lines of character, heart-development; and those who attain this likeness to his Son, this “mark” of the prize, this standard of what is pleasing and acceptable to the Father—these, and these alone, may have confident hope of joint-heirship with our Lord. How important, then, that each runner in this race follow closely the Apostle’s injunction to lay aside every weight and hindrance, and to run with patience the race set before us in the Gospel—”looking unto Jesus,” the author of our faith, until he shall have become the finisher of it (Heb. 12:1)—giving us grace to conquer, and keeping us through his Word and through his providence unto the end of the race.
Each one on this race-course should examine himself, rather than examine others, in respect to progress in this narrow way; for each knows his own heart condition and the weaknesses of his own flesh better than any other knows these, the Lord alone excepted. Let us each note just where he is in the race-course, rejoicing that he is in the race at all; considering it a great privilege to be thus called and privileged to enter in this race. If we find that we have passed the first quarter-mark, let us rejoice and press on. If we find that we have passed the second also, let us rejoice so much the more, but not slack our running. If we find that we have passed the third quarter we may properly rejoice so much the more, and press with vigor on; and if we have attained to the fourth mark, of perfect love, which includes even enemies, we have indeed cause for great rejoicing. The prize is ours, if we but remain faithful. But, as the Apostle says, “Having done all, stand“—with all the armor on; stand in various testings which will then, as much as ever along the race-course, be brought to bear against us to divert us away from the mark, before the great Inspector and giver of rewards shall say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joys of thy Lord.”—Eph. 6:13-17.
It is indispensable to those who have reached the mark of perfect love that they shall keep actively engaged in the service of the Lord, laying down their lives for the brethren; because he who loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, what assurance hath he that he really loves God, whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4:20.) Such must stand, not only as representatives of God and of the principles of righteousness, but as representatives of those strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, and in the faith of his Word,—ready and willing and efficient in the encouragement of other runners in the race-course, that they likewise may attain to the “mark.” As the Apostle says: “As many, therefore, as are perfect, should be of this mind; and if in anything you think differently, God will reveal this to you; but to what we have attained, let us walk by the same line. Brethren, become joint-imitators of me, and watch those who are thus walking, as you have us for a pattern.”—Phil. 3:15-17, Diaglott.
— January 1, 1901 —