Towards Spiritual Maturity – William Still – the roots of biblical counselling from the 1960s

Overcoming evil in the Christian Life. Working with Christ through spiritual battles, depression, self doubt and anxiety.

Mr Still unpacks the victory of Christ over sin and evil before exploring the reality of sin and evil in the life of the Christian.

I bought Towards Spiritual Maturity within a month of becoming a Christian in 1993. It was hard for me to understand the book as a brand new Christian, but I managed to glean a few gems. 28 years on, I have re-read it a few times. This time, I’ve appreciated the wisdom within its 62 short pages because I’ve lived through the spiritual battles, depressions and failures which Mr Still describes. My growth in spiritual maturity has happened as the great truths of God’s Word have moved from the pages of the Bible into my head before sinking deep into my heart. Spiritual growth is what has happened through battles against all kinds of foes, inside and out, physical and spiritual.

If you are in a dark place just now, I hope these quotes give you hope and strength for the fight.

Some quotes from my reading on the last two days of 2021:

Christ takes our place, and bears our sins with their guilt, punishment and shame ‘in his own body on the tree’, and on the third day rises without them, so that they are gone, for ever.  Every sin we have committed from life’s beginning to its end, if for ever put away, never to be brought against us again.  Christ the sinless one is God’s appointed substitute ‘Criminal’, to take our place.  He is God’s ‘Dustman’, carrying away our filth with his own pure hands.  What unutterable love, in action!

Conversion necessarily involves the once-for-all forgiveness (removal) of sins.  But it involves much more.  By it the believer is declared to be righteous in Christ, having been brought to new birth.  He is not sinless, yet: as John says, the seed of God dwells in him and he cannot sin (1 John 3:9).  Because his mind and will are united to Christ his attitude to sin is radically altered.  The enmity and rebellion against God are slain, and sin is no longer a cause of wilful pride and perverse pleasure, but a cause of sorrow, shame and self-loathing.

There are no penal consequences of sin after conversion, for the child of God is in a state of grace, and although the chastisement may be severe, he knows he is free from final condemnation (Romans 8:1)

Are the sins of the saints not serious?  Yes, indeed!  They cause estrangement between the Father and his children.  And while God will not disown them, however provocative they may be, he withdraws from them – even while he stands firm on the verities of forgiveness, justification and sanctification – and refuses to have active fellowship with them.  The Father remains their Father and the children his children, but there is no communication until sin is confessed and repented of, and cleaning and fellowship sought.

Can our salvation be perfect before it is well begun?  The answer is simple.  Yes, by virtue of the perfection of the gift that God has given us.  We begin perfect in the sense that God has from the beginning done a perfect work in us.  But we are not perfect.  No, but only a power which is perfect could hope to bring us to perfection.

Can your heart still not rest in humble and grateful acceptance of this mighty blessing?  Do not be surprised; for all the powers of hell will resist your attempts to stand upon Romans 6:11.  Every thought and feeling will rise to shout you down as the rankest hypocrite for saying you have indeed died to sin while the motions of sin are still present in your members.

The devil is not done yet.  If he cannot shake our faith, he will go to the other extreme (he is fond of extremes).  Now, shrewdly acquiescing in what we believe, he will try to draw us away into working it out on our own strength.  We must therefore be sure that we are really drawing upon Christ by faith, and not trying to work it out on our own, but with Christ.

Here again, faith must take hold of fact.  Do we really believe that Christ within is greater than the presence of sin within?

The devil knows that the soul justified by faith in Christ is lost to him forever.  But he can still work much ill in our life, hindering growth in grace and interfering with training for Christian warfare.  And this Satan does by instituting a new campaign of temptation and accusation, which consists of injecting new depths of evil thoughts into the mind, to cast down the godly soul utterly, and make him fear that the truth declared in Romans 6 does not work. 

We must not put trust in our feelings.  Only emotions which accompany the contemplation of the pure truth of God are to be trusted, and these, not of themselves, but only when accompanied with the truth that gives them rise.

Is the thought that we are moved by perverse and malign spiritual intelligencies not unnerving?  Not if we know the truth.  Satan and all his crew have been dealt with.   Jesus, who died to take away our sins and to overthrow sin, also died to defeat Satan and his powers, for us.  For us!

Christ has given us the power to bind the strong man, the devil, and spoil his goods, and this includes the freeing of our souls, and the souls of others, progressively from his thrawl.  But first we must let the facts of Christ’s power sink deep into our minds until faith rises to take hold of them.  Then faith will take hold of the enemy where his influence lives, and shake him until he flees for his life.

There are three stages in the training of a Christian soldier:

1.  Strategic retreat.

2.  Unyielding defence.

3.  All out attack.

Much is said about the increasing tendency to escape from the pressures of modern life, and some escapes, like drugs and suicide, are bad.  But escape is sometimes necessary.  No man is able to cope with the evil in the world unaided.  But the Christian is not unaided, he has Christ as his shelter, and must learn, especially in the evil day (Eph 6:13), to beat an ordered retreat from him and hide in the Rock of Ages until Satan’s fury is past (Ps 57:1).

God is not only our refuge, but our strength.  Sheltered in him and made aware of the armour he provides, we are soon encouraged to don its several pieces and think about facing the foe.  When Satan next attacks, we dare stand forth and resist him bravely.

In Christ we do not stand defenceless and exposed to the enemy’s onslaughts, but we are provided with suitable dress for the battle.  To this we now turn. (Ephesians 6 – the full armour of God).

We just guard our inward moral integrity as our life; for, if we fail here, we fail utterly.  Yet if we begin to see how cunningly occasional, or tactically planned these temptations are, we shall soon be wise, not only to them, but to him (Satan).

He may now assail us with a sense of restless foreboding, and with irrational fears, until we seriously doubt God, ourselves, and in fact, everything that is good.  All joy goes out of life, nothing seems to matter, vague, gnawing, cynical dread underlies all we formerly thought secure.

Christ will not suffer us to be overwhelmed by him.  It is well to remember that when we are tired, and tempted to resign ourselves to the darkness of defeat, the enemy may be almost played out.  If we can hold on, he will collapse and let go.  He must and will, because we are trusting in him who has vanquished him, once and for all.

When we use God’s Word in accordance with his will, we have all the consent and power of the Almighty behind us.

The connection of the sword of the Spirit with prayer is clear.  It is not in direct witness, public or private, that the battle for souls is won, but in the closet and prayer room (Matt 6:6).  Far too many who are engaged in Christian service do not appreciate this.

God is the only Worker, for all that we do in him is by his power.   Those who seek to serve him and fight for him must be morally, intellectually and emotionally convinced that all the glory is his, and that the uncreated God will never share his sole prerogative with his creatures.  What he shares are his blessings, and the man in Christ can have his fill of them – certainly more than he seeks.

We have heard the claim, and supported it, that the highest divine service on earth is intercession.  Is there not a higher?  Not higher, but different, which necessarily belongs with fruitful intercession.  It is love to Jesus, and enjoyment of God.  This is the highest worship, highest maturity, and highest service, all in one.

Spiritual maturity, then, is in sight when we begin to know that freedom from sinful and carnal distraction, high or low, which affords the soul leisure for the enjoyment of God.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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