The Maturity We Need
One sign that we are growing in grace is when we value the more solid virtues of the Christian life. A young Christian, like a young horse, is apt to think that nothing is worth doing if it cannot be done at a gallop. This is an understandable feature of youth and immaturity. Life to the young is nothing unless it is lived at full-speed. The young Christian is therefore driven along by high spirits and boundless energy. He runs with the wind and flies with the eagle. He is in search of new mountains to climb and fresh fields of knowledge to explore. Nothing is so dull to us at first as patient plodding or routine regularity.
It would be wrong to say anything against zeal for God and eagerness to serve Jesus Christ. And it would be unnatural to expect to find an old head on young shoulders. The early stage of our Christian experience ought to be one of seeing visions and dreaming dreams, of surveying the whole field of divine knowledge in all its length and breadth and of trying our strengths in preparation for our life's work ahead. Healthy youth does not plod but race. There are ten thousand books to read and ten thousand tasks to do. Boundless zest and activity are right for us in our early Christian life just as they are in our natural life.
In the course of time, however, it is right and proper that we come to possess the deeper and calmer qualities of patience and reliability. It is normal for us to undergo a visible change of character from exuberant and erratic adolescence to responsible manhood. This is not a mere evidence of our growing older but of our growing wiser. A newly-made fire sends forth many sparks and crackles, but a fire that is matured gives out a steady, constant heat. So does the believer who has come to the stage of spiritual adulthood. The noise is less but the energy is better directed.
When the Bible tells us that 'we have need of patience' (Hebrews 10:36), it means that we must expect a Christian to have to pass beyond the immature stage of grace. At first we find exhilaration in the novelty of God's dealings with us. Everything at the start of the believer's life of grace is new and wonderful. We enter into a new world of thoughts and ideas, of emotions and expectations, of joys and conflicts. The newly-converted person is at first amazed and dazzled by the glories of the gospel: the plan of God, the Cross of Christ, the work of the Spirit. He has entered upon a life rich in truth, in comfort, in hope, in fellowship. He has become the blessed possessor of life more abundant.
At this early stage of his 'first love' (Revelation 2:4) the Christian has so many exciting things to enjoy that there is scarcely time to realise that one day he will need to live less by his feelings and more by the rule of God's Word. When the ship is close to the shore the sailor may steer by the land. But when he is out at sea and in the dark of night he must steer by the stars. The young and inexperienced believer will one day need other things to live by than meetings and feelings. He must also have in his soul a body of truth and principles of conduct which will tell him what is right and what is wrong when he is in situations that are new and uncongenial to him.
Growing maturity means that as Christians we must think for ourselves more than formerly we did, and that we stick steadfastly to the Word of God no matter how unpopular it may be. The more mature the soul of the believer is, the more determined it is to please God at any cost. Faithfulness and patience in well-doing may not have appeared to us previously to be very important or necessary virtues. But now we see that they are of very great value. We are shocked as young Christians to meet with the question, 'A faithful man who can find?' (Proverbs 20:6) because we innocently supposed the world to be full of them. But experience teaches us that those who 'follow the Lord fully' (see Numbers 14:24) are comparatively few. As in a marathon, so in the Christian life, a hundred begin the race but only a handful run well to the very end, and some, sadly, drop out altogether. What matters is obedience to God's Word and faithfulness to Christ when there are no earthly prospects of reward for it.
Mature Christians are what every church on earth very greatly needs. They give strength to congregations, joy to ministers and elders and add lustre to the gospel. Ask any missionary what gives him or her most anxiety and the answer will probably be, 'The immature and unstable Christians in the fellowship'. Ask any pastor of a church what robs him most of his sleep and he will probably say, 'The immaturity of some professing Christians'. The immature are childish and, like children, they too quickly fall into squabbling and into mischief. One difficult child in a good class gives the teacher more trouble than the other thirty put together. So too, one difficult and cantankerous church-member can spoil the atmosphere of an otherwise happy fellowship.
God's providence seems to be largely ordered so as to test and try the measure of our maturity as God's people. Happy is the Christian who is patient under trials and faithful to Christ in his temptations. The fear we may well have is that when we are really tried we shall prefer the way of comfort and popularity rather than the way of truth and duty.
To do what God requires is always right and yet seldom popular. But it is the way of blessing, sanctification and of a good conscience. The soul grows towards obedience under trials and sufferings. The believer who is at first faithful in small things will probably be so later in the greater matters of his life. The smaller trials prepare him for the larger. Daniel and his three friends learned to say 'No' to idol-meat first before they faced the lions and the furnace of fire.
When the history of our own times comes to be written by the church of tomorrow it will no doubt reveal that immaturity was the hall-mark of our age. Our age has revelled in personalities but it has not appreciated the importance of Christian character. No doubt we are as much the children of our age as other generations of Christians were of theirs. The faults of our times are reflected in our churches and in our families and the feature which is common to them all is immaturity of one sort or another, either in knowledge, or in grace, or in godliness.
Perhaps the surest gauge of maturity in our souls is this: How do we react when we must choose between sin and suffering? This is no mere theoretical question but one which we shall face more or less every day we live. The coward chooses peace at any price; the wise man righteousness at all costs. The principle upon which each one acts is clear. The coward opts for his own comfort. But the wise Christian aims at obedience to God. He knows that the least degree of sin is worse than the highest degree of suffering.
Christian maturity is ripeness of soul and readiness for action. It can only come as we store our minds with sound doctrine and good knowledge. The mature Christian is prudent, knowing when to speak and when to keep silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7). He 'discerns both time and judgment' (Ecclesiastes 8:5). The mature Christian is mostly in the main things: the Bible, preaching, prayer, good fellowship, meditation and spiritual reading. The unstable man is crotchety. He majors in minor things, or else he rides a hobby-horse, or else he plays to a gallery. The immature man is like a child. He must draw attention to himself and to his own peculiar opinions. Truth and good sense begin and end with him — or so he thinks. He is wiser in his own conceits than seven good men who can argue their view from Scripture (Proverbs 26:16). Christian maturity is reached by adding to faith every grace (2 Peter 1:5-8). It demands that we apply ourselves to the task with 'all diligence'. The lazy Christian will never attain to it — or, at least, not till he (or she) mortifies the lazy streak within our fallen nature. Just as no student earns a good university degree without much effort and many hours of study, so no believer comes to maturity without strenuously applying himself to the God-given exhortation of Scripture to mortify all known sin and to put on the graces of the new man.
If a Christian who is still young in the faith should be so favoured as to make the acquaintance of a mature and experienced Christian, let him strive to benefit from the friendship as much as he can. He who 'walks with wise men shall be wise' (Proverbs 13:20). Hardly anything better could befall us in this life than to have as our friends those who are consistent and wise Christians. They are 'the excellent of the earth' (Psalm 16:3). They are 'epistles of Christ' (2 Corinthians 3:3). The experienced and wise Christian is a living Bible in whose behaviour the teachings and commandments of God's Word receive their illustration and their exemplification. Not many have been able to say with Paul, 'Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ' (1 Corinthians 11:1).
There is a fault common in our times which explains why few Christians rise as high as they might. It is the practice in many churches of separating Christians into age-groups so that the young learn only from one another. The practice is an evil and foolish one and its fruits are to be seen everywhere. Let the young Christian meet with the best and most experienced Christians he (or she) can find. We all tend to measure ourselves by those we mix with and we take our standards as a rule from those who are closest to us. If we would become a Joshua therefore, let us choose out a Moses to have as our example and as our pace-setter. If we would become another Timothy in our day, let us go out and find (if we can) a Paul to show us by his life what it means to follow Christ closely.
There is no coming to Christian maturity without a thorough knowledge of the Bible in all its parts. This is why we must conclude that the most profitable writers for the Christian to read are Augustine, Luther, Calvin and the Puritans — together with more recent writers who follow in their path. The more light we have the brighter we shall shine. Bible light is holy, heavenly and divine. Those who have much of it in themselves will illuminate others in their turn.
If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light. Luke 11:36
The call of the hour to us all is to become maturer Christians. God has given us the books. We must translate them into maturity.