Waiting and Watching!
William Bacon Stevens
"Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks--they can immediately open the door for him." Luke 12:35-36
"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?" James 2:14. The religion of Jesus Christ is made up of two parts--faith and works.
Faith is the root of works.
Works are the fruit of faith.
A belief, however true and pure, if it is accepted only by the intellect, and is not carried out into practice--translating the faith held by the mind, into active duties--is a barren faith, which will not be accepted by God, and which will not secure salvation.
On the other hand, works, however good, which do not spring out of faith in the Lord Jesus, but which are done merely from human and worldly motives--are of no avail before God, because "whatever is not of faith, is sin."
Thrice has James told us, "Faith without works is dead!"
And just as distinctly has Paul declared, "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight."
Both apostles are right!
Works without faith--have no living root.
Faith without works--has no authenticating fruit.
They are the two parts of the one tree, namely, the root and the fruit. They are the two halves of the one whole--together they make up the true Christian. "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by works, is dead!" James 2:17.
In the text, this completeness is brought out and illustrated in a forcible manner, in the three aspects in which our Lord presents the Christian, namely:
and a watchman.
In the first direction which our Lord gives, "Be dressed ready for service," we have before us the picture of a SERVANT dressed for duty.
The flowing robes of the Orientals required that in all active exercises, they should be gathered up and girt about by a belt around the waist; thus their limbs would be free and unfettered by their full and cumbrous robes. I need not tell you what the position and duties of a servant are--how it is expected of him that he should know his place, and humbly and faithfully discharge the duties of his station. He should, if possible, identify himself with his master's interest, and conduct himself in a manner which will sustain his master's honor.
The servant of Christ has . . .
the noblest of all masters;
the holiest of all services;
the most honorable of all positions.
The servant of a king ever bears about him the reflected honor of the king, and the amount of this honor is in proportion to his nearness or remoteness to the throne.
Just so, the servant of the King of kings borrows dignity from the Being whom he serves. He wears no outward insignia of that dignity, as earthly courtiers do in uniforms and ornaments; but it is a glory which reflects itself in his daily life, and evidences his relation to Jesus by the fidelity and zeal which he shows in His service.
Basking thus in the glow of his divine Master, the servant of Christ finds . . .
no work too menial,
no toil too hard,
no sacrifice too great for such a Lord.
As he studies the life of His Lord, he notes how on one occasion He said to His disciples, "I am among you as he who serves"; and he marks, also, that in very truth He did on one occasion lay aside His garments, gird Himself with a towel, pour water into a basin, and wash His disciples' feet--the Lord and Master, doing the menial work of a servant. So when the Christian marks his Master's condescension to servile acts and servile men--he will not deem anything he can do for Jesus either too low or too vile. The fact that what he does, he does for Christ, lifts it out of the plane of menial duty--and places it in the higher region of holy privilege.
He learns through Christ's words and acts, that . . .
nothing is too low for love;
nothing is too vile for grace; and
nothing is too sinful for atoning blood.
He learns that Jesus, by going down to the lowest stratum of human society, has sanctified each and every class, and ennobled each and every duty.
So long, then, as we have His Spirit and labor for His glory, we are not merely plodding, drudging, ignorant servants--the hirelings of a day; but we become co-workers with God, fellow-laborers with the Lord Jesus--doing in His name, by His strength, for His sake--the grandest of all works--lifting up the fallen, bringing back the lost, and in every way within our means and opportunities, winning souls for Christ!
Such a service ought to call out . . .
unwearied effort, and
thorough sympathy with the aim and purpose of God in the work of man's salvation.
And then, again, mark how even our humblest acts of service . . .
our giving bread to the hungry,
our giving water to the thirsty,
our giving clothes to the naked;
our visiting a person sick in bed, or shut up in prison
--are recognized by Christ, and owned by Him as acts of service rendered personally to Him, when He says, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren--you have done it unto me!"
So that in serving the poor, the sick, the imprisoned--we are serving Christ in disguise! And by and by, those who serve Him thus secretly--shall have their reward openly, before the assembled universe! "Then the King will say to those on his right: Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world!" Matthew 25:34
But, secondly, the text tells us that the Christian is to be a LIGHT-BEARER as well as a servant. Not only must he be dressed ready for service--but he must also keep his lamps burning. The Christian lives in the midst of moral darkness. Sin is darkness, and he lives in a world of sin--a world in which men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. Error also is darkness. It is the result of a darkened understanding alienated from the life of God, and hence the Christian is surrounded by the darkness of error, as well as by the darkness of sin--and together they form a gross darkness which can only be dissipated by "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
As disciples of Him who is "the Light of the world," "the Sun of righteousness," "the brightness of the Father's glory"--Christians are termed "children of light and of the day." They are so, because the light of Christ is in them. The light of His life, the light of His love, the light of His joy, the light of His hope--are to be found in the heart in which Christ Himself is formed the hope of glory.
Where there is this light in the heart--there must of necessity be a raying forth of this light in the thoughts, the words, the daily life, of the believer in Jesus. If Christ is in you--then His light will shine out through you. And if no light shines out through you--it is because there is none in you. Where the light is--there will be the shining. The absence of light--proves the absence of Christ; for you cannot cover up His light or smother His beams. But this light of faith and love and hope and joy--is not given to us for our mere personal satisfaction and delight; we are made light-bearers--that we may be light-dispensers. The light is put within us, not to be hidden away--but that through us, as through a reflecting lantern, it may shine out and give light to all around; so that men may see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in Heaven.
As the light in the Holy Temple was "ever to be kept burning"--it was never to go out; so in Christians, who are living temples--the lights are ever to be burning. The supply of the oil of grace to keep them burning is ever at hand, always ready, and is exhaustless. It is given more freely to those who ask for it, than parents give good things to their children; so that any lack of supply, arises not from deficiency of material--but lack of earnest supplication.
The necessity for these lights being ever burning, arises from the personal need of the believer himself; and from the necessity of showing forth to others the light and truth which he has found in Jesus.
In a profound moral sense, the whole world, as the apostle says, "lies in darkness." In this darkness-swathed world, the Christian lives and moves and has his being. How is he to live and move and act with any peace, security, or satisfaction--unless his lights are burning and throwing light all around his steps, so that he can see his surroundings and his goings, and not stumble and fall into the many snares and pitfalls in his path. The personal security of the disciple, then, requires that he should let his lights be burning.
His spiritual comfort also depends on this. John, after declaring that "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all," immediately adds, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness--we lie, and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another." Showing that a state of moral darkness, is a virtual alienation of the soul from God, and from that joy and fellowship which result from abiding in His light. And so the personal comfort of the child of God depends on living in the light of God.
But these lights are to be kept burning for others, as well as for ourselves:
to light other peoples' way,
to guide other people home,
to protect others from danger,
and to bring others into safety.
We are to shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in Heaven.
There never yet has been a bright example of Christian life, which man has not secretly reverenced and honored and which has not tended to the glory of God. The holier the life--the brighter the light. The more the light shines for others--the greater is the inner glow of our own hearts, and the greater the outer glory given to God.
The absence of light where we expect to find it--often produces most disastrous results. Let but one light-house on but one dark night fail to throw out its beams to warn and guide--and it may cause the wreck of many vessels.
The world has a right to expect light from Christians. They are professedly children of light, and our Lord designates them as the light of the world. If they do not give light, if there is no shining out of Christ-like character before men--then are they blind guides, and dark lanterns; misleading souls and dishonoring the Father of lights.
Lastly, the text tells us that the Christian is to be a WATCHMAN: "Like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks--they can immediately open the door for him."
The watchman-like character of the Christian is to show itself in two ways. First by watching over himself--and secondly by waiting for his returning Lord.
Over himself he must watch, lest he become . . .
careless in duty,
remiss in keeping his light burning, and
be overtaken with drowsiness and indifference.
Self-watchfulness is the necessary prerequisite to spiritual peace and growth. How earnestly does the apostle warn us . . .
of the deceitfulness of our own hearts;
of the power of worldly allurements;
of the devices of the great adversary of our souls;
of the insidious ways whereby we are entrapped into sin and error.
He who does not watch, shows that he is unconscious of danger, and this implies ignorance of his own heart and a virtual disbelief in God's word.
The more we know of ourselves, and especially the more we know of our character as seen in the light of God's countenance--the more are we aware of our danger, and the more do we realize our need of watchfulness, to be on the lookout for approaching evil, and to be vigilant in every duty and at every moment.
Only the self-confident, and the self-ignorant, are unwatchful; and the unwatchful always become an easy prey to the spoiler. All that the great deceiver asks of us is, not that we should openly abandon our religion--but simply that we not be ready for service, let our light go out, and cease to watch. He will finish the work, which we thus by carelessness and unwatchfulness begin.
In addition to this self-watchfulness there is the other position to be taken, namely, waiting for our returning Lord. This may imply that outlook which all true Christians like to take in reference to the Second Advent of Christ, when He shall come again to judge the world. In primitive times, this seemed to be the constant position of the Church: it was looking for and hastening unto the coming of the Lord Jesus. Hopes like these still excite the hearts of God's children. They love to read the prophecies, which tell of His coming again; of His gathering together of His saints; of all the millennial glories which so light up the pages of the Book of Revelation. They love to think that the day is not far distant when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with all His holy angels; and when out of the wreck and burning of this wicked world--shall come forth a new Heavens and earth wherein dwells righteousness.
To the questions, How? and When? will our Lord return--many answers can be given, and on these questions, many volumes have been written. We undoubtedly find in the Bible many striking and glowing prophecies and promises looking to a complete re-ordering of things in this our world and sky, much of which we can neither grasp nor explain. They are put there, not to feed curious imaginations, and beget wild theories, and make men forget present duties in reaching after future glories. But they are put there, as blossoms of hope and joy, which by and by, under new and different conditions from what now exist, will ripen into full flower and fruitage. And so to the Christian, his Lord will return; if not now, at least "after many days"--and then all the grand promises of the Bible shall all come to pass with a richness and fullness, far beyond what our minds with their present capacities, can possibly conceive of spiritual and celestial glory.
Leaving these things, which may be very near or very remote; we do know that it is the duty of the Christian to take the waiting and watching attitude, in reference to that period when to him personally the Lord shall come, and by death cause him to be "absent from the body and present with the Lord." For that day of death at the farthest--is very near; and its nearness and uncertainty, make it all-important that we should have our loins girded, our lights burning, our eyes watching, when that last enemy comes. If by faith our lives are hidden with Christ in God, then when death comes and finds us "in the Lord"--we shall die in the Lord; and of all such the Spirit says, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord!"
There is a sequel to this parable which must not be overlooked here, as it is full of most precious comfort and delight. Our Lord adds, "Blessed are those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them!" This blessedness, be it observed, does not consist in wealth or honor or high places, or in anything which the world esteems; but in the fact that Christ the Master, will change places with us the servants. He will be the girded and waiting servant; and we sit at table. He will come forth and serve us!
What a pregnant description of our Lord's condescension--and the servant's exaltation! The Master girded--the servant sitting! The servant eating--the Master serving! What does all this mean? Does it not mean that in the eternal world, the servant-like character of our work will all be done away. That, freed from the special demands for waiting and watching, which now exist by reason of our sinful natures and our sinful world--we shall sit down as equals at the marriage supper of the Lamb!
The great distance which sin and earth now interpose between the servant and the Master--will then be closed up! The servant aspect--girded for duty, the watching with lights burning as at night, and the waiting for a returning Lord--will all be done away. The inequality will be as it were obliterated. Jesus will no more call us servants--but Friends--and will minister to us, as He passes along, all the pleasures and rejoicings of His heavenly kingdom.
There, the very same Jesus who was crucified, and ascended; the actual personal Savior--will impart to each of His disciples, and to the full extent of the receptive capacity of each--the fullness of his own joy and peace and love! And they shall be His companions, sharers of His light, partakers of His joy, occupants of His home forever and ever! With such exhortations to present duty, with such hopes brightening the future--let us ever seek to be dressed for service, our lights burning, and our souls waiting and watching for our coming Lord!