He Must Increase
by Harry Foster
(Published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, 1945)
He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30.
The increase of Christ is irresistible. He must increase. John the Baptist's reply to his disciples who were aggrieved at their master's waning popularity reveals a glorious, divine necessity, which may be contested but can never be thwarted. John could not prevent it, even if he had so wished. None can prevent it: He must increase.
A Glorious Fact
This is an assurance which needs to be
recovered in our day. It is not a mere dogma, but
the fruit of the Spirit's revelation as to the true
nature of the Person of Christ. John's knowledge of
the Lord Jesus was something more than that of human
acquaintance, for in spite of the close
association between his family and the family of
Jesus he twice declared, "I knew Him not" (John 1:31
& 33), meaning, doubtless, that he had not
hitherto realized the spiritual implications of Who
the Lord is. Then, by revelation from the Father, he
was shown that Jesus of Nazareth is "The Lamb of
God", God's Son, the Anointed and the Anointer with
the Holy Spirit. Such an inward illumination was
revolutionary; it swept away all doubts and
questions, and produced a deep conviction that this
One must increase. And in this his joy was
Many things happened at Pentecost, not the least of them being that the disciples received a similar revelation as to the true Person of Christ. From that moment their lives became radiant with a sure conviction that always and in all things Christ must triumph. Previously they had harboured doubts about Him, questioning the wisdom of some of His actions, and wondering if, after all, He would not end in disastrous failure. There is nothing more paralysing to spiritual life than a secret misgiving about the Lord. When we can face every situation with the certainty that it will ultimately prove an occasion of greater glory to Christ; when in the darkest day we can still affirm that "He must increase"; then our lives will be gloriously radiant.
He must increase. It is most heartening to read the Acts in the light of this assertion. How often was the testimony of the Lord threatened! From the very beginning Satanic attacks, through the rulers, through Saul, through Herod, through pagans and through Jews, sought to diminish or to extinguish the Body of Christ. But the outcome of every one of these attacks was enlargement and more glory for the Lord. When the dust and din of conflict had cleared away it was seen that Christ had triumphed. Sometimes the trouble arose within the Church, but even so the outcome was invariably that Christ increased. The deceit of Ananias and Sapphira was a sad and shameful episode, but its upshot was great fear upon the people, great glory to the Lord, "and believers were the more added to the Lord..." (Acts 5:14). The murmuring complaints spoken of in Acts 6:1 were far from glorifying to God, but out of them, and of the choice of deacons, emerged Stephen, whose brief ministry certainly brought a great increase of Christ. We are bound to deplore the "sharp contention" which arose between Barnabas and Paul, with its consequent division (Acts 15:39), but even then the divine decree "He must increase" still obtained, overruling even this to spiritual increase, not least in Mark himself. And finally we see the sovereign power of God turning the very faults and mistakes of His servant Paul to the greater glory of Christ. It is difficult to defend all the apostle's actions in his strange visit to Jerusalem, described in Acts 21. Did Paul err? Did he mistake his own inclinations for the guidance of the Spirit? Perhaps he did, but John the Baptist's imperative still held good, and God saw to it that the ultimate result was great gain to Christ and to His Body. He must increase.
A Matter for Faith
John, however, was not just a spectator of Christ's increase; his faith made a vital contribution to it. No spiritual truth, however glorious, has real value for us until we exert faith in relation to it. What is the great lack in the Church of today? Is it not of a virile faith which insists that "He must increase"? We have observed the operations of God's sovereignty through the period covered by the Acts, turning every vicissitude into an occasion for the glory of Christ. In spite of opposition, in spite of Satan, and in spite of His faulty people, Christ increased. Let us notice, though, that this was not achieved without human instruments. Somewhere behind the scenes, as it were, faith and prayer were exerted to make it possible. God did it, but He did it in response to active and aggressive faith.
The very first addition to Christ was a direct result of the Baptist's faith. John's Gospel sheds new light on the calling of the apostles, showing us that the first two were originally John the Baptist's disciples. It was his faithful setting forth of Christ as the Lamb of God which brought this increase to the apostolic band, "The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus" (John 1:37). The Baptist's attitude was a positive one, and his whole life was given to ensuring that Christ indeed must increase. "From the days of John the Baptist", said the Lord Jesus later, "the kingdom of heaven suffers violence..." (Matthew 11:12). Surely in this John is an example to us all that it is not sufficient passively to expect Christ's increase: we must be violent in faith to ensure it. One of the outstanding needs of this end-time is that the Spirit which was in John may be found again in the earth, to seek Christ's fulness in an energy of faith.
Here is a safe objective for our prayers. At times we have told the Lord that He must do a thing, or that something or other must happen, but we have had no response. We have probably asked amiss. When we take the ground of John 3:30, however, we can in all reverence be insistent with God. We may not dictate the means, but we can confidently claim the end, even the increase of Christ in all things. There need be no lack of boldness in faith's declaration that "He must increase".
A Costly Attitude
This is a costly attitude. The
latter part of the verse expresses the condition of
the increase, and its effect upon the speaker. "He
must increase" said John, "but I must decrease".
That, of course, was dispensationally true. John the
Baptist represented the end of the old order, while
a new order was brought in by Jesus Christ. As the
new took shape and grew it was inevitable that the
old should fade away. John had to stand aside to
make way for Christ, and such was the grace of God
in him that he stated that in this his joy was
fulfilled. The dispensational fact is also a
spiritual principle: the old must pass away if the
new is to progress towards fulness. We must decrease
if Christ is to increase.
John's words are easy to repeat, but his experience is a very difficult one to endure. His first testimony to the Lamb of God entailed the loss of two of his disciples - perhaps the best two! The very success of his mission in drawing attention to Christ signified that the crowds abandoned him in order to flock to Jesus. This John was able to accept, although his disciples resented it keenly. The time came, however, when even John was surprised and grieved to discover how deeply this same principle operated. Alone in prison, abandoned by the people and apparently forgotten by the Lord, he sent his disciples to question the Master as to the meaning of it all. The reply was that Christ was certainly increasing, a fact which ought to explain the eclipse of John. "Go your way and tell John the things which you hear and see..." (Matthew 11:4-6). Blessed, indeed, are they who are not offended with the Lord when His increase means their effacement.
This is no appeal for romantic renunciations. John did not perform some act of "decreasing" in order that Christ might be glorified. At times we are given such opportunities, and if we truly love the Lord we will embrace them, for there is a certain sense of heroism which sustains us, even while we suffer. It is so very much harder to accept the displacing of ourselves which is consequent upon a new increase of Christ. Note the order of our verse. John pursued a positive course, he made it his business to seek the aggrandisement of His Lord, and then he found that as a consequence he steadily lost his own place as among men. Not that he had ever sought a place for himself. From the first he had been utterly unselfish in his wholehearted devotion to God, but his ministry had given him a notable place in the public estimation. He might easily have grasped at that place, ostensibly to serve the best interests of the Lord, as many have done since. In that case the sad confession would have to be, "He cannot increase, for I am not willing to decrease". Let our own hearts answer as to the possibility of such a tragedy in our own case.
None of us like to be displaced. It is vain to pretend that we enjoy "decreasing" in the eyes of others. How then, can we bear to pursue this painful course? Our only way is to keep our eyes on God's objective, even the increase of His dear Son. Let that be our goal and then we, too, may find our fulness of joy in its realization, even though it be at our own expense. May the last days of this dispensation witness a new preparation for the coming of the Lord by a people who follow John the Baptist in seeking the increase of Christ, even by their own diminution.