It has often been said that the first question with a soul is Heaven or Hell? We can all understand John Bunyan’s Pilgrim running to the wicket gate with his fingers in his ears lest any voice should persuade him to turn back. It was heaven or hell with him; his eternal weal or woe was at stake.
I dare say some of us ran rather swiftly at that stage of our experience. But further on in his journey, when Pilgrim came to the hill difficulty and found the arbor, he settled sown and went to sleep. The second question with a souls is, Heaven or Earth? Many are glad enough to escape hell who are not at all anxious to get away from earth. They settle down and go to sleep instead of running. This race is not, as some suppose, the race of life; it is a moral journey—a race from earth to heaven—and those who are in it have turned their faces to heaven as a flint, and they want to get morally away from the earth and nearer to heaven.
Difficulties are apt to discourage us if we do not see the true character of the race we are exhorted to run, and if we do not know the gracious use which God makes of attendant exercises. The first thing we need is to be assured that we are in the right path, and then it is a great cheer to know that whatever opposition comes in the way is child-training for us, and is “for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.” The first indication that one has entered upon this race is the discovery that certain things are a hindrance to us; we begin to feel the “weights” (Heb 12:1—NC). Some believers do not seem to have any “weights”—you never see them laying anything aside. But the faster you run the more sensitive you become to “weights.”
Judaism has all the sanction of a divine origin and the splendor of an imposing ritual; it was invested with a halo of a traditional glory which acted powerfully on human feelings of veneration for antiquity. Yet, for the Christian, all this was a “weight” to be laid aside, a useless encumbrance, a positive hindrance. We have the same hindrance to lay aside today, for Christianity has been perverted into a modified kind of Judaism, in which people are occupied with religious things on earth, and thus hindered from running the race to heaven. It would be a great gain if all believers were exercised to keep their heart free from the influence of religious things on earth.
Some believers make the mistake of fancying they are much hindered by things which are really a help to them. They complain of the opposition they meet at home, and of the many trials they have in connection with their daily work, and so on, and they imagine they could get on much better if their circumstances were altered. But these things are not “weights” to be laid aside; they are part of the Father’s helpful discipline, and it would be a spiritual loss to be without them (Rom 8:28).
If the believer surrenders or lays aside anything without adequate divine motive, he will either secretly hander after it, and probably ere long return to it, or he will take credit to himself for having given it up, and thus will become self-righteous and spiritually proud. A certain school of religious teachers at present make much of “surrender” as the way to attain blessing, but it ends in self-sufficiency, because the only motive that is presented for it is the acquisition of a better spiritual state, or power for service, or something of that kind. A divine motive and Holy Spirit is needed if souls are to be drawn into the race and prepared to surrender things in a truly spiritual way, and this divine motive and attraction is an Object outside ourselves altogether. It is the Lord Jesus Christ in glory!
- C A Coates
I believe the author’s intention of “religion” or “religious” could be in the sense of that which is related to venerating works beyond their purpose. The ongoing misconception with many concerning “works” is that they produce a salvific element along with faith, and we are not even saved by faith, but “through faith” (Eph 2:8, 9).
Since the time of the New Covenant, insufficient differentiation between Covenants has been a spiritual-growth hindrance among many within Christianity. This is mostly due to misunderstanding the operations of the two Covenants within the prior and present dispensations. The prior covenant was a works-based covenant (legalism) wherein forgiveness was received in accordance to obedience of the believer, and obedience manifested those who had faith in God.
The present covenant is a grace-based covenant, in that forgiveness is received in accordance to the obedience of Christ’s Cross work, and the recipients (Christians are not under the Grace covenant but are just recipients of it, for it is not between God and man as was with Israel, but between God and His Son) of this covenant are also manifested by faith, which is manifested by works (obedience).
Mile J Stanford devotional: None But The Hungry Heart