An excitement is growing in The Christian and Missionary Alliance to re-emphasize a forgotten spring of life and power in A. B. Simpson’s early Alliance teaching— the highest Christian life. Simpson based his teaching on the biblical illustration of a healthy, productive tree planted by rivers of water:
[B]lessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water, that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit (Jer. 17:7–8).
Consecrated to Him
The highest Christian life begins with the roots. You cannot have a tall, strong, majestic tree without deep, healthy roots. The highest Christian life begins with the depths of surrender, consecration and self-denial, or dying to self.
Simpson’s poetic motto for this stage is “Not mine, but Thine.” We live not for ourselves, but for Christ. We surrender our desires, hopes, ambitions and plans—indeed, ourselves—laying all on the altar before Him. This involves what historically in The Alliance we have called “the crisis of sanctification” or “the deeper life.” There comes a critical point in our spiritual lives in which we realize that we cannot live the Christian life in our own ability.
A. W. Tozer and other great Christian leaders of the past have called this the desert experience or, in the words of St. John of the Cross, the “dark night of the soul,” a time of dryness or wrestling. In Israel, it is common to see trees in the wilderness alongside a dry riverbed, called a wadi. At certain times of the year, the wadi is flooded, but in the dry seasons the trees survive by growing deep roots to draw moisture. Similarly, it is in the desert experiences in our lives, when there seems to be no water of life available, that we have to stretch our roots deep to find the hidden sources of water far below the surface. We can do this through seeking God in prayer, practicing the presence of God, reading and meditation of Scripture and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
We all want to experience the abundant, resurrection life of Christ. But there is no resurrection without death. Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Simpson expressed it this way: “We cannot go up until we first go down. We cannot take any more than we give. We cannot be filled until we are emptied. Giving all we receive all. Losing all, we gain all. Ceasing to belong to ourselves we enter into the possession of God. ‘Having nothing and yet possessing all things’” (2 Cor. 6:10). Such depth of trust is enduring, weathering the desert droughts, horrid heat and wicked winds. We can be without fear when heat comes, without worries in drought, unshakable, immovable.
Once we have our roots deep in Christ drawing nourishment from the Holy Spirit, then He causes us to flourish, to burst forth as a tall, majestic, fruitful tree. As the tree planted by the waters reaches its branches to the sky, drinking in the sunshine, so we lift our arms in worship. We stay ever green, ever full of abundant life.
The highest Christian life is the supernatural life of the Resurrected Christ in us. As Simpson put it, “Not I, but Christ!” It is not our power, but the dynamic power of Jesus working in and through us. This is the victorious life of becoming who we are in Christ, walking in the power, gifts and graces of the Spirit, overcoming temptation and living a holy life. We tap into this supernatural power, first of all, as J. Hudson Taylor explains it, by exchanging our life for His life. As we surrender our abilities to Him, He gives us His ability, which is so much greater. Then we ask Jesus to baptize or fill us with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16; Acts 1:8), and out of our innermost being flow rivers of living water (John 7:37–39), which give us the holy power to overcome. As Simpson wrote, “The baptism in the Holy Spirit is the great elevator to the higher planes of the Christian life.”
Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:6: “God raised us up with Christ and seated seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Early Alliance leaders called this heavenly life on earth “Throne Life” or “Throne Power,” meaning that we are coheirs on the throne of God and vice-regents with Christ. We can walk in our authority as a believer and exercise the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit by asserting who we are in Christ according to the Word of God, drawing upon the resources of God by continually being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and engaging in spiritual warfare in the heavenlies against evil powers (Eph. 6:10–19). Thus, He enables us to soar like an eagle and abide in the presence of God.
Overflowing with Love
The highest Christian life is also the overflowing life of love and service—not putting myself first but my brother. The highest life of all is living to serve others. Elton Trueblood writes, “The Church is never true to itself when it is living for itself, for if it is chiefly concerned with saving its own life, it will lose it.” (The Company of the Committed, p. 69).
Simpson noted, “The highest Christian life will always find it easy to stoop to the lowest need. The brook is a brook because it is always flowing to the lower places. The bog is a bog because it is always receiving and never giving out its stagnant waters. The happiest life is the life that least seeks for happiness and lives for the happiness of others.”
As we fellowship with God—our roots going deep and our limbs stretching to the heights—we are nourished and have the strength to nourish others. The tree that has reached to the heights with its arms lifted heavenward provides shade, shelter and fruit to weary, hungry and thirsty travelers. If we are living the highest Christian life, we will become an oasis in the desert to bring hope and help for others, to be a signpost for the refreshing living water and to heal wounds. As we overcome our trials and temptations, we can help others overcome their trials and temptations through the power of the Spirit. Paul tells us that God comforts us in our afflictions that we may comfort others (2 Cor. 1:4). As Henri Nouwen puts it, we are “wounded healers.”
Hunger and thirst for the depths and heights of God then partakes of God’s passion—compassion for the weak and hurting, and passion for lost souls, overflowing in a life of sacrifice and service for the sake of Christ and the needs of others. Then we can rescue others from the miry pits and bondages of their lives, lifting them up and leading them to a Higher Life of freedom, healing, hope, victory and restoration.
Are you experiencing the highest Christian life—consecrated, supernatural and overflowing?