PRESSING TOWARD THE MARK (2)*
Sermon preached by Mr. S. Delves at Brixton Tabernacle at the Anniversary Service on Easter Monday evening, April 12th, 1971.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 1 press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians3.13,14.
There is only one true religion in the world and that is a religion in the heart and mind which is the effect of the power, grace and teaching of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the sole author of true religion in the heart. But how do we know what that religion is, of which the Holy Ghost is the Divine Author? How do we know if we possess it? We can only know it from the scriptures; and how can we know it from the scriptures, but by solemnly and prayerfully considering how they, who unquestionably were taught by the Holy Spirit felt, and how they expressed their feelings. I do not want to know what people think about religion; I want to know what the Holy Spirit teaches in the heart; what is the nature of His saving operations, what are the effects of them. How can one know whether what they have felt is really of the Holy Spirit or not? The Lord has given us in the scriptures safe guidance about all these matters. For when such as the apostle Paul wrote of their own personal exercises, it was not personal egotism, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to give such expressions as we read. We know that such feelings were indeed the effect of the Holy Spirit’s teaching in their hearts. We have great cause to be thankful that a large part of the scriptures is of an experimental nature, expressive of the feelings of those godly and holy men of old who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write them.
In this chapter we have a very personal statement of the apostle’s own exercises of heart and mind, especially in this matter of forgetting those things which are behind, reaching forth unto those things which are before, and pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. When you consider that amidst all the great changes that time brings, especially over the centuries, though perhaps the conditions of the apostles’ time were
entirely different from those that prevail in these days, yet through all these changing conditions, true vital godliness in the soul knows no change at all. The same teaching by the same Holy Spirit will have the same effects in every generation; it has the same effects now. A great mercy it is to be a subject of that gracious teaching. The apostle shows us the right way. It is to be following on to know the Lord. It is to be reaching forth unto those things which are before. It is to be pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. This is godliness in the soul. These are the feelings which spring from the Holy Spirit’s gracious teaching. These are the breathings of a quickened soul. May the Lord help me to set them before you. May the Holy Spirit set His seal of approval on what may be spoken in regard to His gracious work and power in the heart. For I am very sure of this that there can never be any such following after spiritual things, any such pressing toward the mark for this high prize, this forgetting of the things that are behind, apart from the Holy Spirit’s power and grace in the heart.
This mark toward which the apostle was pressing was that saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, that fellowship of His sufferings, that conformity to His death. He felt he had not perfectly attained to that. He had in some measure attained, but not completely, so he pressed forward to know more of Jesus Christ and to be more conformable to Him. In this pressing toward the mark there is the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ. The prize I take to be what the apostle said, “that I may win Christ and be found in Him.” What a wonderful prize that is! A prize freely given, graciously bestowed, and blessedly possessed. To be found in Him is indeed to be found in union with Him, in His righteousness, in His blood, possessed of His grace. It is wonderful thing to be found in Him!
Now I want to set before you what it is to be pressing toward this mark. It may give an entrance into this branch of the subject if I show how it comes about that any should be found pressing toward this mark at all. We can be very sure of this, that no one in their natural, unregenerate state, and unbelieving state of mind can possibly be pressing toward this mark. There is no heart for these things at all. It is only by the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in the soul that there is any pressing toward this mark. First it comes from the “high calling of God”. This “high calling” is the same as that in Peter’s epistle, “But the God of all grace who hath called us into His eternal glory after ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, strengthen, establish and settle you.” The prize is that eternal glory which is in Jesus Christ. The God of all grace calls those to that eternal glory who are appointed to it. What a blessed call this is! In this text it is said to be a “high calling.” In Peter’s epistle, a “holy calling.” By the apostle in the Hebrews, a “heavenly
calling.” “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” The expressions all mean the same. It is high in the sense that it is heavenly glory; it is heavenly in the sense that it is a calling to that heavenly glory. All who follow after to win Christ and be found in Him are called. How does this operate in the heart? It operates exactly as it did in the case of the apostle Paul himself. He said, “I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” These two things of grace work together. First, “I am apprehended,” then, “being apprehended I seek to apprehend that for which also I am apprehended.” An effectual calling is exactly that. The term apprehension means to lay hold of, to seize, to possess, or to arrest.
Now, brethren, there comes a time with all whom God appointed unto this salvation that they are laid hold of, they are apprehended. A power comes to them, fastens upon their hearts and minds, operates effectually in their souls. We know that in the apostle’s case it was a very marked apprehension. The purpose of God toward Him in the ministry needed that he should have an experience suitable for the work he would be called to do. Not everyone must hear a voice from heaven, or see a blinding light, but everyone must feel the apprehending power of the grace of God lay hold of them. It does so in a quickening way; the first apprehension of grace is in the quickening and awakening of the soul into a new spiritual life, for there can be no following on in this way of grace without a spiritual nature with all its spiritual desires and affections. First, the Lord lays hold of us. There was a time when the word and truth of God had an effect upon our hearts and consciences it had not had before. It caused new feelings to stir within our hearts, a new consciousness – a very solemn one – of eternal realities came upon our minds, a conviction, perhaps deepening as time went on, of our sinful state. Solemn thoughts began to possess our consciences. The conversion work of grace was beginning in the soul; it was a laying hold.
When a soul is awakened spiritually, quickened by the Holy Spirit’s power, converted savingly to repentance, then spiritual principles begin to spring up in the new-born soul. Maybe it is some time before those spiritual principles begin to be evident in one’s feelings, but they are there. It is just like a natural birth. When a child is born it possesses all the faculties it will ever have, but it cannot immediately use and exercise them. It is too weak, but the Faculties are there in the body and mind. Thereafter it is a question of development by growth, teaching, exercise and direction. These develop the process of natural life in a child. The comparison is scriptural. The Lord has called the work of grace in the heart the new birth. He emphasizes the necessity of it; He shows it must be so.
The new birth is the beginning of all real religion in the heart. When the soul is born again there are in that new life all essential spiritual principles, and so desires and feelings of a spiritual nature begin to spring up in the heart. Often there is much ignorance felt;
sometimes much confusion; sometimes a very deep sense of sin and guilt, but it comes to pass that the light of the gospel begins to shine into the heart and conscience, and the way of truth begins to be revealed, the way of truth in Jesus Christ. There begins to be some faint perception of that Blessed Person, the Son of God, His worth, His beauty, His grace and blessings. One feels their need of Him. One begins to see and feel that there is everything in Jesus Christ that one needs. His truth begins to instruct the understanding. “The entrance of thy words giveth light.” The entrance of the word of truth into the heart gives light. Light to see spiritual things and life to desire them.
So there begins to be a “following on to know the Lord and a pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.” This is set before the heart and mind in this way by Divine teaching and Divine enlightenment. Well, brethren, this is how it began with me. Little by little after I became concerned about spiritual matters and my own condition before God, the light of truth began to enlighten my understanding. As I began to perceive spiritual things, and especially the knowledge of Jesus Christ, my heart began to seek after Him. I began to press toward this mark. I began to see that Jesus Christ was just the Saviour I needed. So I began to believe in His precious name, just like that; and that was years ago! I hope since then I have been feebly pressing toward this mark, often feeling how far short I come. Sometimes feeling warm, ardent, fervent desires toward Him springing up in my heart. I remember once in those days hearing a young minister in Tunbridge Wells. His text was, “As poor, yet making many rich.” He took occasion to speak of the poverty of Jesus Christ who became poor for our sakes in order to make us rich. It seemed so clear to me. I felt such a response in my heart. As I walked away from the chapel words could hardly express the longing I felt to be enriched with Jesus Christ like that! What an encouragement it is to us ministers if only we can feel that we have hearers responsive to the word of the gospel. We love to set Jesus Christ before them! There is this apprehension, a gracious apprehension takes hold of our hearts. The Holy Spirit quickens us into a newness of life. We are convinced of our state and condition; the light of the gospel reveals Jesus Christ to us, that light enters into our hearts. We begin to seek Him and we begin to follow after Him. We want to apprehend Him, to lay hold of Him, to be able to say, not in words only, but in the real feeling of it in one’s own soul, “O, my Jesus, thou art mine, with all
Thy grace and power, and I am Thine, and shall be when time shall be no more.” So our heart begins to follow after.
Now concerning this pressing toward the mark, I have shown you how this work begins in the soul. I want to speak a little of the exercise of it. “I press toward the mark.” I can see it implies various things. First of these is ardency of mind. I can see it implies some difficulties. I press. It is not easy. There is a great deal to press through and to press against. Then there are the helps and encouragements that we are given enabling us to withstand the difficulties and still to press toward the mark.
There are several things that enter into this pressing toward the mark. There is first of all, faith; faith to believe that there is such a mark, and faith to believe that there is such a prize to be gained. For who would press toward these things if they had not in their hearts a persuasion that these things really are so? Faith is essential, and I think it is very clear that this is the evidence of faith being true and genuine. There is a spurious kind of faith or a natural faith which one may have, and still come short of this desired prize, This is sometimes a matter of concern to those who are really honest with themselves and honest before God, and who really want to be right. They do not want to be deceived. Unquestionably there is such a thing as being deceived, but that does not mean that you are deceived. But an honest conscience wants to be right in this matter of believing. Is my faith the real gift of God? Is it that faith that pertains to salvation? Am I really a believer? Now I can think of no clearer evidence with regard to the genuine nature of faith than this, does it produce a pressing toward the mark? If there is no pressing toward the mark there is no real faith. To believe these things are true and just be content to read them, to believe that there is salvation, and to have no real desire, no ardent prayer to know that salvation personally and graciously. To believe that Jesus Christ is the Saviour, yet never to plead with Him to save one’s own soul, to believe that His love is as set forth in the scriptures, yet to have no experience of it in the heart. To believe that His blood cleanses from all sin, yet never to say, O, Lord, purge my conscience with it! It can be truly said that that faith is vain. That is not God’s gift in the soul. The lack of exercise proves the lack of reality.
Wherever faith is real there will be a pressing toward the mark. No one who really believes in the gospel will be satisfied without enjoying the blessing and power of it in the soul. No one who believes in such a prize as this will be content without pressing toward the mark for it. If you want the prize you must judge the reality of your faith by the nature of its exercise. Sometimes, you may say, “I hope I do feel this, yet often I feel so lanquid and so dull as though I do not believe anything!” This is not an uncommon
complaint of those who understand these things. But do you never get revived? Does no word ever come to you with a stimulating effect upon your spirit? Do no fresh thoughts of Jesus Christ draw your heart out to Him? Some good people take everything to themselves which throws doubt upon their case, but are very slow to take anything that really pertains to them and would encourage them. If when Jesus Christ is set forth and His precious name proclaimed; when He is exalted in His person, and the savour of this knowledge is sweet, you must know whether that stimulates fresh desires towards His dear Name. You begin to feel you could from all things parted be but never from Him. Then your faith is real, the genuine faith of God’s elect. God give you a faith like that!
So there must be faith in this pressing toward the mark. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” This was where the Jews went wrong. They sought after righteousness but they never attained to it. Why did they go wrong? Why did they never attain what they sought after? Because they did not seek it by faith; so we must seek by faith. No one can press toward that mark if they do not really believe. Faith is the inward spring of all spiritual exercise.
But there is something else. In pressing toward the mark there is a lively hope, that lively hope of which the apostle Peter spoke when he said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy, hath begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” What does this hope anticipate? “An inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” When God in His abundant mercy begets a soul again by the new birth he begets that soul to a lively hope, a hope that is very much enlivened by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. What a lively hope Jesus Christ gave those disciples at the time of His resurrection! When He died it seemed to them as though their hope died. The future looked hopeless; they felt hopeless. When He rose from the dead, their hope rose from the dead. It became a lively hope in their hearts, enlivened by the power of His resurrection. What a blessing it is to have a good hope through grace! The grace of God gives us a good hope through Jesus Christ. In this pressing toward the mark there is a hope that we shall obtain it. Take away the hope of the prize, then why press toward the mark? Despair kills everything of this nature. How much there is to encourage this hope in the soul! There is the promise, the faithful word of Jesus Christ. There is the certainty of the gospel. There is the example of Jesus:
everything to encourage our souls to hope. This is pressing toward the mark, believing and hoping; believing in that prize and hoping at last to attain it, for
What faith believes good hope desires,
And after perfect bliss aspires,
Through faith in Jesus’ blood.
There is another help; the example and grace of Jesus Christ. Here is a word for you. “Looking unto Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame and is now set down at the right hand of the majesty on high.” He who sets that example gives us grace to follow it. For the Lord to set us an example and not give us grace to follow it would simply make us feel how impossible it is. Looking unto Jesus we feel help afforded; we are encouraged. We see that His way was much darker and rougher than ours. He who has trodden the darkest way can help us to follow. I am sure this looking unto Jesus helps us. If we look away from Him we begin to feel weak and faint. The eye of faith in Jesus Christ not only sees all needful grace in Him, but receives it from Him.
So we press toward the mark. Our hearts are brought into this way. The Lord gives faith to believe, hope to hope, love to love, patience to continue. We have difficulties, opposition, trials;
heaviness is sometimes upon our spirits, but the Lord helps. His Spirit is still with us, the example of our dear Redeemer inspires. He has gone before. For the joy that was set before Him He endured that heavy, dreadful, bitter cross, and now He is at the right hand of the throne of God. It is as though he looks down on His dear people here below struggling with their difficulties, opposed in many ways, and says, kindly and compassionately, “Look unto Me, I will help you, I will bring you through. I will give you victory through my victory.” Press on, my friends, there is a glorious prize. May the Lord help us to press toward the mark. Amen.
*The first of these two sermons appears on p.209, Vol.11 No.6.