Living an Exchanged Life #AWTOZER
A GREAT PREACHER WHOM I HEARD a few years ago said that the word “renew” in Isaiah 40:31 really meant “exchange”; so the text should read, “They that wait upon the Lord shall exchange their strength.” Oddly enough I do not now remember how he developed his sermon or just how he applied the text, but I have been thinking lately that the man had hit upon a very important idea; namely, that a large part of Christian experience consists of exchanging something worse for something better, a blessed and delightful bargain indeed. At the foundation of the Christian life lies vicarious atonement, which in essence is a transfer of guilt from the sinner to the Saviour. I well know how vigorously this idea is attacked by non-Christians, but I also know that the wise of this world in their pride often miss the treasures which the simple-hearted find on their knees; and I also remember the words of the apostle: “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). This is too plain to miss for anyone who is not willfully blind: Christ by His death on the cross made it possible for the sinner to exchange his sin for Christ’s righteousness. It’s that simple. No one is compelled to accept it, but at least that is what it means. And that is only the beginning. Almost everything thereafter is an exchange of the worse for the better. Next after the exchange of sin for righteousness is that of wrath for acceptance. Today the wrath of God abides upon a sinning and impenitent man; tomorrow God’s smile rests upon him. He is the same man, but not quite, for he is now a new man in Christ Jesus. By penitence and faith he has exchanged the place of condemnation for the Father’s house. He was rejected in himself but is now accepted in the Beloved, and this not by human means but by an act of divine grace. Then comes the exchange of death for life. Christ died for dead men that they might rise to be living men. Paul’s happy if somewhat involved testimony makes this clear: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) . This is mysterious but not incredible. It is one more example of how the ways of God and the ways of man diverge. Man is a born cobbler. When he wants a thing to be better he goes to work to improve it. He improves cattle by careful breeding; cars and planes by streamlining; health by diet, vitamins. and surgery; plants by grafting; people by education. But God will have none of this cobbling. He makes a man better by making him a new man. He imparts a higher order of life and sets to work to destroy the old. Then as suggested in the Isaiah text, the Christian exchanges weakness for strength. I suppose it is not improper to say that God makes His people strong, but we must understand this to mean that they become strong in exact proportion to their weakness, the weakness being their own and the strength God’s. “When I am weak, then am I strong,” is the way Paul said it, and in so saying set a pattern for every Christian. Actually the purest saint at the moment of his greatest strength is as weak as he was before his conversion. What has happened is that he has switched from his little human battery to the infinite power of God. He has guile literally exchanged weakness for strength, but the strength is not his; it flows into him from God as long as he abides in Christ. One of the heaviest problems in the Christian life is that of sanctification: how to become as pure as we know we ought to be and must be if we are to enjoy intimate communion with a holy God. The classic expression of this problem and its solution is found in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapters seven and eight. The cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” receives the triumphant answer, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” No one who has given attention to the facts will deny that it is altogether possible for a man to attain to a high degree of external morality if he sets his heart to it. Marcus Aurelius, the pagan emperor, for instance, lived a life of such exalted morality as to make most of us Christians ashamed, as did also the lowly slave Epictetus; but holiness was something of which they were totally ignorant. And it is holiness that the Christian heart yearns far above all else, and holiness the human heart can never capture by itself. A. B. Simpson knew by experience the unavailing struggle to be holy, and he knew also the Bible way to holiness. In a little hymn composed to be spoken at the conclusion of one of his sermons he states it this way: I take Him as my holiness, My spirit’s spotless, heavenly dress; I take “The Lord my righteousness, I take, He undertakes. We have but to abandon the effort to be holy and trust God to do the work within us. He will surely undertake. There are many other happy exchanges we Christians may make if we will, among them being our ignorance for His knowledge, our folly for His wisdom, our demerit for His merit, our sad mortality for His blessed immortality and faith for sight at last.