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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.