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Previous Bible Studies:         Run That Ye May Obtain

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Let Us Run
T. Austin-Sparks

  Run That Ye May Obtain  

"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain." I Corinthians 9:24     John Gill's Exposition

Recently, my wife and I were traveling across state to visit our grandchildren and while passing a delivery van, read this extraordinary slogan written on the back of the van. "Your last mile should be your first priority."  My mind immediately recalled Paul's words, "So run, that ye may obtain".

How easily we get caught up in daily affairs, neglecting (Hebrews 2:3) the command to watch (Matthew 24:42) and be ready (Matthew 24:44) for that final mile of the race which will usher us into the Kingdom of God (Luke 21:31). Luke made this very clear when he wrote, "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares." Luke 21:34   What a sober reminder.

The writer of the book of Hebrews said, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," Hebrews 12:1

The apostle compares himself to the racers and combatants in the Isthmian games, well known by the Corinthians. But in the Christian race all may run so as to obtain. There is the greatest encouragement, therefore, to persevere with all our strength, in this course. Those who ran in these games were kept to a spare diet. They used themselves to hardships. They practised the exercises. And those who pursue the interests of their souls, must combat hard with fleshly lusts. The body must not be suffered to rule. The apostle presses this advice on the Corinthians. He sets before himself and them the danger of yielding to fleshly desires, pampering the body, and its lusts and appetites. Holy fear of himself was needed to keep an apostle faithful: how much more is it needful for our preservation! Let us learn from hence humility and caution, and to watch against dangers which surround us while in the body.

— Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary

It is not only a race of patience and watchfulness, but of great resolve. Paul said, "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, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14

Notice it is a great resolve, "I press toward...". But it is to the the future Paul looks, "I press toward...". It's the last mile of Paul's life that he's looking to, the finish line. His present priority is set to obtain the prize which is received only after the final mile is run and we cross the finish line.

Paul knew his endurance would reap an eternal reward, it was "for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus". Christ is the prize, and Oh, what a prize He is! He will be worth it all. Therefore, "...brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:" II Peter 1:10

For the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus: by which is meant, the incorruptible crown; the crown of life, righteousness, and glory, that fadeth not away, Jam_1:12, styled "the prize of the calling of God"; because it is what God in the effectual calling calls his people to, even to a kingdom and glory, and to eternal glory and happiness; of which they have a sight, though but a glimmering view of it, and are blessed with hope in it; in which they rejoice, and see their right unto it, in the righteousness of Christ, and have a meetness for it: this is named "the high calling of God", because God is on high, who calls them to it, in allusion to the judge in the Olympic games, who was placed in an exalted situation, near the mark, with the crown in his hand, which he gave to him that came first; and because the grace by which the saints are called is from above, as every good and perfect gift is, Jam_1:17; and because the prize they are called unto consists of things above, where Jesus is, and is the hope laid up in heaven, Col_1:5, and the inheritance reserved there, 1Pe_1:4; and expresses the great honour and dignity of called ones, who are called to a crown and kingdom, are raised from the dunghill, to sit among princes, and to inherit the throne of glory, and are made kings and priests unto God: and may also denote, that the calling to such high honour is from above, and not below; and is owing to the special grace and favour of God, and not to any merits of men; nor is the prize to which they are called, of him that willeth and runneth, but of God's grace and mercy, Rom_9:16, and moreover, this calling is said to be "in Christ Jesus"; for both the purpose and grace, according to which men are called, are in him; the grace by which they are called, and which is implanted in them when called, is all in and from Christ; the blessings of grace, which they then in person enjoy, are spiritual blessings in him; and even the glory they are called unto is in his hands; not only the promise of eternal life, but that itself; the gift of it is with him, and it comes through him; yea, they are called by him, and said to be the called of Christ Jesus; now the prize of this calling, which is what God has prepared from all eternity, which Christ has in his hands, and will give to all his, and which is of immense richness and eternal duration, and shall be bestowed on all Christian runners, or true believers, is what the apostle was pressing for, pursuing after, with much difficulty, through great toil and labour, diligent searching of the Scriptures, frequent wrestling with God in prayer, and constant attendance on the means of grace, and ordinances of the Gospel.

— John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Counting the Cost

"For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish." Luke 14:28-30   So what is the cost?

Solomon saith, With good advice make war (Pro_20:18); for he that draws the sword throws away the scabbard; so with good advice enter upon a profession of religion, as those that know that except you forsake all you have you cannot be Christ's disciples; that is, except you count upon forsaking all and consent to it, for all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution, and yet continue to live godly.

— Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

For the sake of example, an athlete runs the race with the least and lightest attire as is modestly possible, so that nothing hinders his run. So we too must strip away every sin that so easily besets us so that nothing hinder our run.

Jesus declared the cost to be everything, total surrender, total death to self. "...whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:33

Begin low, and lay the foundation deep, lay it on the rock, and make sure work, and then aim as high as heaven. Those that intend to build this tower must sit down and count the cost. Let them consider that it will cost them the mortifying of their sins, even the most beloved lusts; it will cost them a life of self-denial and watchfulness, and a constant course of holy duties; it may, perhaps, cost them their reputation among men, their estates and liberties, and all that is dear to them in this world, even life itself. And if it should cost us all this, what is it in comparison with what it cost Christ to purchase the advantages of religion for us, which come to us without money and without price? Many that begin to build this tower do not go on with it, nor persevere in it, and it is their folly; they have not courage and resolution, have not a rooted fixed principle, and so bring nothing to pass. It is true, we have none of us in ourselves sufficient to finish this tower, but Christ hath said, My grace is sufficient for thee, and that grace shall not be wanting to any of us, if we seek for it and make use of it. Nothing is more shameful than for those that have begun well in religion to break off; every one will justly mock him, as having lost all his labour hitherto for want of perseverance. We lose the things we have wrought (2Jo_1:8), and all we have done and suffered is in vain, Gal_3:4.

— Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

"But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course..." Acts 20:24

John Gill wrote in his commentary, "None of these things move me, from the hope of the Gospel, nor from the ministry of the word, nor from his journey to Jerusalem; they did not shake his faith, nor inject fear into him, nor cause him to alter his purpose and design:

"Neither count I my life dear unto myself; life is a very valuable thing, no outward or temporal enjoyment can be dearer to a man than life; all that he has he will give for his life: this therefore must not be understood in an absolute sense, as if the apostle despised his life, and esteemed of it meanly, when it was the gift of God, and had been not only so eminently preserved in providence, but had been so useful in a way of grace to so many valuable purposes; but it must be taken in a comparative sense, with respect to Christ and his Gospel, and when it should be called for to be laid down for him; and that, in such circumstances, and under such considerations, he made no account of it at all, but preferred Christ and his Gospel to it: this sense appears by what follows,

"So that I might finish my course with joy; the course and race of his life, ending it by suffering cheerfully and joyfully for Christ; or his Christian course and race, which began at his conversion, ending that with a joyful prospect of being with Christ in an endless eternity; or else the course of his ministry, sealing that with his blood, and rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ, and so he did finish his course."

Paul sums up the conclusion of his "great commission" by saying, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: " II Timothy 4:7   Paul did run the race well and obtained a crown incorruptible in Christ, so likewise, Run That Ye May Obtain!

I Corinthians 9:24
"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain."     Back to Main Article

Know ye not that they which run in a race,... The allusion in this and the following verses is to the Grecian games, which consisted, among other things, of running of races, and of wrestling, combating, and fighting; and which are in this and the context particularly mentioned: and the apostle the rather makes use of these terms, and refers to these things, because they were well known to the Corinthians, and refers to them as well known; for the Isthmian games were performed in their neighbourhood, and doubtless had been seen by many of them, for the Corinthians were presidents of them. The race, or stadium in which they ran, was the space or interval between the place they set out from, and that which they ran unto, and consisted of 125 paces, or 625 feet; it was the space of a furlong, and about the eighth part of a mile: in this they

run all; as many as would, that came around from all parts, striving who should be foremost and get the crown;

but one receives the prize; which was held by the president of the game, or judge of the race, and received by the winner, who was judged to be so by him; and was no other in the Isthmian games, which are most likely to be referred to here, than a crown made of pine tree branches, or leaves, and sometimes of dried parsley (s):

so run that ye may obtain. The apostle accommodates or applies the above account to the Christian's course of life, and exhorts to run in it in like manner as racers do in a race. The "stadium", or "race" plot in the which the believer runs, is this world, or this present life; he is only a runner now and here, for no sooner is the time of his departure come, but his course or race is finished; and, as his forerunner Christ, sits down in full rest from all his labours as at a table, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and on a throne with Christ: the course he runs includes the exercise of every grace, particularly faith, which is expressed not only by going to Christ, walking in him, but by fleeing and running to him; and the discharge of every duty, signified by a running in the way of God's commandments; and, in a word, the whole of a Christian profession, and the holding of it fast, and holding on in it unto the end. The act of "running" is a motion forward, a following on to know the Lord, a going from strength to strength, from one degree of grace to another, a pressing forward toward the mark for the prize; and requires spiritual strength from Christ, and a daily renewal of it; is to be performed with readiness, swiftness, and cheerfulness, in opposition to a slowness of heart to believe, and a slothfulness and sluggishness in the business and service of Christ. The manner of running, "so", that is, as the Grecians ran in their races; they ran "all", so should all believers run, ministers and churches, churches and the several members thereof, old and young professors; so the church determines for herself, her members, and the daughters of Jerusalem, "we will run after thee", Son_1:4 and they have this encouragement which the others had not, for only one received the prize with the Grecians, but here all, that run well, obtain: again, they ran and strove to be foremost, who should get to the goal first and receive the prize, so should believers be emulous to outdo each other, to go before one another, in faith and holiness; striving in the strength of Christ, who should do most service for him, and bring most glory to him: moreover, as they ran in the way that was marked out for them, not turning to the right hand or the left, so should believers run in the way of salvation, which is Christ; in the way of holiness, faith, and truth; and in the path of duty and ordinances, which are all clearly pointed out unto them: once more, as they while running kept their eye upon the mark, so should believers, while running the race set before them, be continually looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of faith: to say no more, as they kept running till they came to the end of their race, so should the saints; there is no time for stopping or looking back; remember Lot's wife. The end of running is to obtain the prize, the incorruptible crown of eternal life; not that this is to be procured in a way of merit by running; for the best services of the saints have no merit in them, they are previously due to God, nor can they be profitable to him; and besides, are done by the assistance of his own grace and strength; nor is there any proportion between the best works of men, and this crown of glory, life, and righteousness; yea, salvation, or eternal life, is expressly denied to be of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, and is always represented as this crown is, to be a free gift: the meaning of the expression is, that believers are to run on in their Christian race, that they may, and when they are come to the end of it they shall, as he that came foremost in the race did, stretch forth their hand, lay hold on, and receive the crown which the righteous Judge will give them; and is the true import of the word made use of here, and the sense the same with 1Ti_6:12. "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life", and denotes that the persevering saint shall enjoy the crown.

(s) Schmid. Prolegam. in Isthm. Pindar, p. 5, 6. & Not. in Olymp. p. 312. Paschalius de Coronis, l. 6. c. 27. p. 441.

And every man that striveth for the mastery,... Either in running a race, or in wrestling; for the word here used agrees with both, and both are in the context referred to, nor has the apostle as yet done with his allusion to running in a race;

is temperate in all things; contains himself from venery, abstains from certain sorts of food, which tend to hinder the agility, or weaken the strength of the body; and indulges not himself in sloth and idleness, but exercises himself in various manners, that he may be prepared for running or wrestling: the apostle's view in this, seems to be to strengthen some exhortations he had already given, to abstain from fornication, and the immoderate use of venery; to forbear eating things offered to idols, and not give themselves up to luxury and intemperance; for should they be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, they would be very unfit for their Christian race, or for wrestling with principalities and powers, and the discharging of the business of a Christian profession:

now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; they confine themselves to a certain diet and course of living, and abstain from things otherwise desirable to nature; and this they do for the sake of a fading crown, a crown of leaves, made of the boughs and leaves of olives, laurels, pine, or of parsley, green or dried, as before observed (t):

but we an incorruptible; even eternal life; compared to a crown, for the riches, glory, and lustre of it; and as suitable to the character and dignity of saints, who are kings as well as priests unto God: it is called "incorruptible", because it is so in its own nature; nor can it be corrupted by other things, as crowns even of gold may; nor shall any corrupt person wear it; the corruption of nature must be removed from the saints, yea, that frailty and mortality of human nature, which sometimes goes by the name of corruption, must be taken away, ere they can inherit this crown and kingdom; nor will it ever fade away, as the corruptible crowns of the conquerors in these games did, and that in a very short time; but this will last for ever, and always continue in the same glory and lustre.

(t) Vid. Alex. ab Alex, Genial. Dier. l. 5. c. 8.

— John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Let Us Run
by T. Austin-Sparks

"Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:3).

"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run, that ye may attain" (1 Corinthians 9:24).

"Ye were running well; who did hinder you...?" (Galatians 5:7).

"Let us run". It is not so much the running or the race that is in view but the goal, the prize. What is the objective of our running? Ideas about this vary greatly, and much evangelism limits it to the fact of being forgiven and going to heaven. When, however, we come to the New Testament, which is our final authority on the matter, we find that although blessings and heaven and glory are included, the real objective is a Person.

The prize turns out to be a person, and that person, the Lord Jesus Christ. At this point in the letter to the Hebrews we are faced with a summing up and an exhortation, but it is clear that we must go back to the beginning of this marvellous document if we are to appreciate the force of its appeal.

The beginning of this epistle gives us one of the two or three classical presentations of the person of the Lord Jesus. I feel sure that if Paul did not actually write it, the writer was one of Paul's school, notably so in his apprehension of the matchless greatness of Christ. The first five verses provide us with a superlatively beautiful presentation of God's Son. It is to this Son - Jesus - that we are to look as we run.

He is the goal: He is the prize. The letter has as its supreme object the setting forth of Divine fullness and finality in God's Son, presented to faith for faith's apprehension and appropriation. Fullness in Christ - the gathering up of all into Him.

Finality in Christ - the completion and realisation of all in Him. It goes on to consider in greater detail what He is and what He has done, His manifold capacity and ministry as God's Son, turning then to an exhortation that we should keep this well in view and pursue our race with fullness and finality in Christ as our objective. Our lifetime will not be sufficient for us to attain to this: eternity will be required for us to discover what fullness really is.

If the goal and prize is Christ then the race will resolve itself into overcoming everything that is not Christ. The Christian life is a course, and a very strenuous course, calling for our utmost concentration, consecration and abandon. After all, progress can never be made unless there is something to work against, and strange as it may seem, friction seems almost essential to progress.

One cannot run on ice, and one can only make slow and unsatisfactory progress on deep sand. There must be something against which one can press and push, something that provides resistance and which has to be resisted and overcome. So our race is a matter of overcoming, and supremely of overcoming the natural by the spiritual. Our three texts will give us three areas in which such an overcoming is called for in the Christian life. We find three contrasts.

(1) Natural Intellect or the Mind of the Spirit.

We begin with Paul's allusion to the Christian race in his letter to the Corinthians. He told them to run and later added: "So I run" (1 Corinthians 9:26). We do not have to look far to discover what you had to run against if you lived among those Corinthians. The letter begins with the complete contrast between the spiritual man and the natural man, showing that in this race the spiritual man has to run against the natural, and defeat him. We must be careful to note that it is not a question of overcoming the natural man by the natural man - that is a hopeless endeavour.

No, the spiritual man is the new creation man, born of the Spirit and now the deepest inner reality of the Christian. The fact is that within the sphere of a Christian's being there is the natural man, who always hinders God's purposes, and the 'hidden man of the heart' who is governed by the mind of the Spirit. And the attaining of the prize is the result of the progress and growth of what is of Christ in the life and the leaving behind, often by conflict, of that which is not Christ.

Most of this letter is an exhibition of how the natural mind behaves in the things of God. Christian fellowship, even the Lord's Table and many other important features of the spiritual life were confused and muddled because the Corinthians were being governed by their own natural way of thinking. Our natural mind is a great obstacle in the race which we are running, cropping up all the time with its complexes, its arguments, its interests and its methods.

When the Corinthians were brought into the Church they left behind their obvious sins but they carried over into their new realm the old, natural ways of thinking and reasoning which belonged to the world and not to the Spirit of God. But the apostle remonstrated with them: "But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16), so urging them to allow the cross to be planted between the natural mind and the spiritual.

We shall only come to the fullness of Christ as we leave behind the mind of the natural man and move on more and more in the progress of the mind of Christ. On everything; every judgment, every conclusion, every analysis, every appraisal; we must ask the Lord: 'Is that Your mind, Lord, or is it mine? We may sometimes feel that we have the strongest ground for taking up a certain attitude or coming to a certain conclusion; we may feel that we have all the evidence and so are convinced; and yet we may be wrong.

The man who wrote the letter to the Corinthians knew from deep and bitter experience that this was the case. "I verily thought... that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" he said (Acts 26:9). There was no man who had stronger convictions as to the rightness of his course than Saul of Tarsus. The great revolution which took place in him when he came to Christ was that he had to say: 'I have been all wrong in my fundamental way of thinking'.

After that confession he made good headway in the race because he was always ready to subject his thinking to the jurisdiction of his crucified Lord. This is the way of spiritual progress. We shall not get very far while we hold to our own opinions and our own conclusions, even though we may have the support of others; we have to learn to conquer our natural mind by submission to the mind of Christ. This is most important if we are concerned about spiritual progress. And spiritual progress is the increase of Christ - there is no other.

(2) Natural Emotions or the Love of Christ.

Paul wrote to the Galatians: "Ye were running well: what did hinder...?" Something had broken in and interrupted their running in the spiritual race. This was extremely serious and disturbed Paul to the depths of his being. It seems that in the case of the Galatians it was again the natural man, but this time in the realm of natural emotions. They seem to have been of that temperamental constitution which corresponds to Christ's words in the parable about seed falling into shallow soil. The seed was received quickly and earnestly, but did not go on to produce a harvest. There are some people who make an enthusiastic start in this way and make quite a stir about it, but then do not go steadily on.

These Galatians were like that; they made a tremendous response; they loudly protested their devotion; and then they were very quick to drop out of the race. Why? Because they lived on their emotions, on their feelings, and these were changeable. This may well be a matter of temperament, but in fact something of such a characteristic can be found in most of us. We respond to an appeal, come under the power of a great emotion, and then slack off. In the words of the Lord Jesus: "When tribulation or persecution ariseth... he is offended" (Matthew 13:21).

Clearly, then, if you and I are going to persevere to the end we must have a greater power than that of our natural emotional life. The only hope is that it may be true of us, as of Paul: "The love of Christ constraineth" (2 Corinthians 5:14). There is all the difference between the natural and the spiritual in this matter of the energy of love.

This word translated 'constraineth' is the same one used over the arrest of Jesus when it says: "the men that HELD Jesus" (Luke 22:63). They took a purchase on Him; they were not going to let Him escape; He was a prize, and they expected a reward for arresting Him. So it is that the love of Christ should hold or grip us, conquering our natural emotions by the mighty power of the Spirit.

Our feelings come and go. They may be strong at times but they can also grow very weak. If we do not know something of the mighty grip of Christ's love, we will never go right through to the end of this strenuous race. After all it is the love of Christ which makes for the fullness of Christ. If we finally come to that fullness it can only be by the constraint and holding power of His love. "Ye were running well: who did hinder you?"

The answer is, You ran in the strength of your own emotions, you ran as your enthusiastic response to God's call because it affected your feelings for the time. The letter to the Galatians is devoted to emphasising the place of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, for He alone can supply the necessary energy of love for us to go on running well.

(3) The Natural Will or the Will of God.

Our third text is taken from the letter to the Hebrews and is in the form of an exhortation: "Let us run...". A comparison is made with Israel in the wilderness, as being an example of those who set out but who never finished the race. What was the matter with them? There is a reference which perhaps touches the secret core of their failure: "A generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God" (Psalm 78:8).

This seems to indicate a breakdown in the matter of the will. It is true that the Hebrews to whom the letter was addressed may have been stumbled by the natural mind and natural emotions, but the main point of failure seems to have been - like Israel of old - in the realm of the will.

Whether this natural will is regarded as weak or strong, it has a treacherous effect on spiritual life. There can only be real progress as this natural will is set aside in favour of the will of God. It was on this basis that the great Author of our faith set out on His race: "I am come... to do thy will, O God" (Hebrews 10:7).

What a battle He had to remain true to the will of God! Even with Him there was that which had to be brought under or set aside, and His was a perfect nature. Our natures are far from perfect, so clearly we shall need to be conquered by the will of God if we are to make progress in the race.

We should remember that the opportunity to know this all-embracing fullness of Christ only comes to us because of His infinite capacity for letting go. But for that He would never have come to us at all. But for that He would never have put up with life here on earth for one single day.

The story of the laying aside of His glory, the emptying of Himself, His humiliation, His death on the cross, would never have been written if it had not been that He was able at all points to let go and accept the will of God. "Wherefore... God highly exalted him, and gave unto him..." (Philippians 2:9). God gives when we let go.

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