General Methods for Developing Christlikeness
The general methods for developing Christlikeness are called such because they enter into and permeate every feature of character development and of its methods. General methods for developing good and general methods for overcoming evil will be considered in turn. The first general method is watchfulness for developing good. Watchfulness is here used in a restricted sense – as an attitude of mind, that surveys our dispositions, thoughts, motives, words, acts, surroundings and the influences operating upon and from us, for the distinct purpose of developing good. (Luke 21: 36). It has a twofold function: (1) it informs us of our dispositions, thoughts, motives, words, acts, surroundings and the influences operating upon and from us, so that we might obtain the necessary Scriptural information for its conduct; and (2) it arouses us to the Scripturally required conduct.
The second general method is prayer for developing good, in particular, prayer for the development of Christlikeness – the sincere desire of the heart, uttered or unexpressed, going out to God for the holy spirit (Matthew 7: 7-11) (Luke 11: 9-13). That prayer is intended for this we see from Luke 21: 36: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy.” Prayer, therefore, has the work of making us worthy. The function of prayer Godward is twofold: (1) it receives from God helps from His Word as will give our minds the enlightenment and our hearts the energy and stimulation to do what is necessary to obtain the things for which we pray; and (2) it receives from God helps from His providences as enable us, amid and through them, to obtain the things for which we pray. Additionally, if we pray for an increase of the holy spirit, our part in the answers to our prayers is to subject ourselves to the principles of the Word as they apply to the providential arrangements that God brings into our lives.
Proper Faith Essential for Christlikeness
The third general method is faith in the spirit, Word and providences of God as an arrangement sufficient for developing good. Just as a soldier’s faith in his gun and bullets prompts him to use and increase his fighting ability by them, so faith in the spirit, Word and providences of God prompts to similar results. It gives us confidence to use them for the intended purpose, and this confidence fills the heart with assurance that good will result from their proper use (2 Corinthians 5: 7). The function of this method is to infuse confidence in our hearts.
The fourth general method is hope for the development of Christlikeness, specifically, that which attaches itself to the desire and expectation of gaining victory in the effort to develop it (Psalm 121: 1, 2, 8). As an illustration, the soldiers who enter battle very hopeful of victory stand a splendid opportunity, other things being equal, of gaining it, while if they go into battle discouraged and expecting defeat, nothing short of a miracle would give them a victory. So with us, if we enter into the Christian warfare hopeful of developing Christlikeness, we stand a splendid opportunity of attaining our purpose; for this hope will make us courageous; while, if we enter the battle discouraged and dispirited, nothing short of a miracle would give us the victory. The office of hope, therefore, is to make our hearts very courageous.
The fifth general method is love for developing Christlikeness, a quality that appreciates and delights in the thought of gaining such a character; a quality, therefore, that gives the heart joy and gladness in its efforts for it. This is set forth in Psalm 37: 31: “The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.” For the law of the Lord to be in one’s heart means that one loves righteousness, and therefore, loves its development. The function of love for developing Christlikeness is to make the heart happy. The heart always works best when happy. When the heart is heavy, even easy things become difficult; while when the heart is joyous, hard things become easier.
The sixth general method is persistent determination in character development. By determination is meant fixity of will, and by a persistent determination, a continued fixity of will. Its special part as a method consists in its being directed to this one end (Galatians 6: 9). Persistent determination will keep us active in well doing. Its function is to enable us to take a personal stand, whereby the quality of power is directed to develop character.
Summing up the offices of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth general methods for developing good, we would say that they stand related to one another as follows: the third gives us the necessary confidence in the weapons of our warfare as certain of success; the fourth gives us courage for the success of our efforts; the fifth makes our efforts full of delight and, therefore, easy of success; while the sixth bends all the powers of our personality into endeavors to achieve success. They put the heart and mind in the attitude necessary for success by giving a specific bent to the higher primary graces!
The seventh general method is exercise in developing Christlikeness. It is the product of the other six. Practicing something continually makes us proficient therein. The carpenter becomes proficient by building houses; the soldier, by fighting; the orator, by speaking. We learn to do by doing. We learn to love by loving. We learn to hate by hating. “Practice makes perfect” is the way in which human wisdom has stated the thought. The Bible counsels such a method (1 Timothy 4: 7, 8). The function of exercise in developing good is that of accomplishing the good.
General Methods for Overcoming Evil
Let us now discuss briefly the general methods for overcoming evil. The first general method is watchfulness for overcoming evil. Watchfulness surveys our disposition, thoughts, motives, words, acts, surroundings and the influences operating upon and from us from the standpoint of overcoming them, as they are shown to be evil. Jesus shows this to be a use of watchfulness (Matthew 26: 41). The second general method is prayer for help from God against evil (Matthew 26: 41). Its function is threefold: (1) it secures answers from God through His Word enlightening, energizing and stimulating us against evil; (2) it secures answers from God through His providence assisting us to fight against it; and (3) it helps us to do our part of the necessary fighting to overcome it.
The third general method is faith in the spirit, Word and providences of God as an arrangement sufficient for overcoming evil. This faith, which is specially directed toward confidence in the spirit, Word and providences of God as arrangements sufficient for overcoming evil, will rely upon them as giving it all the weapons that it needs for its victory over wrong (2 Timothy 4: 18). Its function is to give us the necessary confidence to fight against evil. The fourth general method is hope for gaining victory over evil. Such a hope contains the desire and expectation of winning in the fight (Psalm 121: 1, 2, 7). Its function is to make the heart courageous to enter the battle and fight against evil. The fifth general method is love for overcoming evil. It delights in gaining victory over evil (Psalm 119: 165, 167). Those who love God’s law and therefore its development in their characters will not only have great peace, but will be kept from stumbling and thus be enabled to overcome evil. Since it gives us holy pleasure in these battles, it makes the battles easier. The sixth general method is persistent determination in overcoming evil. It is a continued fixity of the will against evil (Hebrews 12: 4). Persistent determination in fighting sin must be continued even until death. Its function is to give our hearts and minds a personal stand against evil.
Summing up the relationship between the third, fourth, fifth and sixth general methods for overcoming evil, we would say: the third gives us confidence in our weapons; the fourth gives us courage through hope of victory; the fifth makes the battle delightsome and easier; and the sixth applies to the work every ounce of strength that one can command. They put the heart and mind in the attitude necessary for success by giving a specific bent to the higher primary graces!
The seventh general method is exercise in overcoming evil. We learn to overcome sin by overcoming it. We learn to hate evil by hating it. We learn to fight it by fighting it. The purpose of this method is to avail itself of all that the preceding methods give and to realize their object in our lives by continued effort.
(to be continued)