Short Sermons for Family Reading
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
God's Afflictive Judgments
"I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." Psalm 119:75
The psalmist prayed for understanding (verse 73), "Give me understanding that I may learn Your commandments." Yet it is plain that understanding had already been given to him, or he could not have felt as he expresses in the text for none but those who are taught of God, take such a view of affliction and of God's providential dealings in general. Any measure of spiritual light, begets a desire for more; and any true knowledge of God, makes us wish to know Him better.
The text is in the form of an address to God. We often find this in David, that when he would express some deep feeling or some point of spiritual experience he does so in this way, addressing himself to God. Those who love God delight to hold communion with Him; and there are some feelings which the spiritual mind finds peculiar comfort and pleasure in telling to God Himself.
"I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right." God orders all things, and His judgments seem here to mean His general orderings, decisions, dealings not necessarily afflictions only, though including them. And when the psalmist says, "Your judgments," he means especially God's judgments toward him, God's dealings with him, and thus all that had happened to him, or would happen to him. For in the psalmist's creed, there was no such thing as chance. God ordered all which befell him, and he loved to think so.
He expresses a sure and happy confidence in all that God has done, and would do with regard to him. He trusted fully in God's wisdom, God's power, God's love. "I know that Your judgments are right." Quite right, right in every way, without one single point that might have been better they are perfectly wise and good. He shows the firmest persuasion of this. "I know," he says not merely, "I think."
But these very words, "I know," clearly show that this was a matter of faith, not of sight. For he does not say, "I can see that Your judgments are right," but "I know." The meaning plainly is, "Though I cannot see all, though there are some things in Your providential dealings which I cannot fully understand yet I believe, I am persuaded I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right."
"Your judgments." Not some of them but all of Your judgments. He takes into his view all God's providential dealings with him, and says of them all, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right."
When the things that happen to us are plainly for our comfort and good, as many of them are then we thankfully receive what God thus sends to us, and own Him as the Giver of all, and bless Him for His gracious dealing and this is right. But all the faith required for this (and some faith there is in it) is to own God as dealing with us, instead of thanklessly receiving the gifts with no thought of the Giver.
It is a higher degree of faith, that says of all God's providential dealings, even when seemingly contrary to our happiness, "I know that Your judgments are right."
Yet this is evidently the meaning here, or certainly the chief meaning. For though the Word "judgments" does mean God's dealings of every kind yet here the words that follow make it apply especially to God's afflictive dealings, that is, to those dealings of His which seem to be contrary to our happiness, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." The judgments which the psalmist chiefly had in view and which he felt so sure were right were not joys, but sorrows. They were not gifts bestowed, perhaps but things taken away. They were blessings in disguise, those veiled mercies, those gifts clad in a garb of mourning which God so often sends to His children.
The psalmist knew, and knew against all appearance to the contrary, that these afflictive judgments were right. Whatever they might be losses, bereavements, disappointments, pain, sickness they were right. They were as right as the more manifest blessings which went before them. They were quite right, perfectly right so right, that they could not have been better, just what were best, because they were judgments of the most wise God. That satisfied the psalmist's mind; that set every doubt at rest. The dealings in themselves he might have doubted but he could not doubt Him whose dealings they were: "Your judgments." That settled all.
"And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." This means that, in appointing trouble as his lot God had dealt with him in faithfulness to His Word, faithfulness to His purposes of mercy, and with a faithful love not a weak love. He had sent him just what was most for his good, though not always what was most pleasing at the time and in this He had shown Himself faithful. Gently and lovingly does He deal with His children. He gives no unnecessary pain but that which is needful, He will not withhold.
Yet it requires strong faith to say this of God's dealings with oneself, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." We can read of the afflictions of those who have gone before us and can see that God's dealings with them were right and faithful and for their good. We can look around on the present trials of others and see and own the same in their case too. But when these painful dealings come to ourselves, and we are those whom God shows His faithfulness in afflicting then it is a harder matter for us to feel that His judgments are right.
We must know God for this. We must be able to see His dealings, not as the dealings of a stranger but as those of a Friend and Father. We cannot understand His providential dealings, until we know Him. It is only when we have acquainted ourselves with God that we can be at peace under His afflicting hand. It is when we have learned to know Him as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus the God of love, our God it is then, and then only, that we see that all that He does is well, and must be well!
We can trust Him then. We can raise our eyes and look beyond the things that are happening to us and see through the cloud that seems to surround us and behold the hand of unerring wisdom and love, ordering all. He sees the end from the beginning. He is working for eternity.
"It shall be well." Let the trial be very grievous some great cutting off, some sad, sad stroke yet does not He send it? Could it come without Him? It is in very faithfulness, that He deals thus with us. That stroke was needed therefore He sent it. But He will not forsake us now. He will be faithful still faithful in supporting, cheering, comforting; faithful in hearing prayer, in sending help, in speaking peace faithful in smiting, and faithful in healing.
Indeed, apart from all other comforts which God can give, there is comfort in the very exercise of faith. Doubtless David felt comforted when he said, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right" and Job, when he said, "Though he slays me yet I will hope in Him." When the heart thus goes up to God from the very depths of trouble then there is a sense of comfort and blessing at the very time. God is felt to be near and His peace is experienced in the heart. Happy are those who have learned thus to feel and thus to speak when God's afflictive hand is upon them. Happy those who are learning this lesson even now in God's school of affliction.
And what are we all, but learners to the last? I said just now that we must know God in order to know His dealings but it is equally true that it is by means of His dealings with us, that we learn to know more of God. Who that has drunk of the deep cup of sorrow, and found it through grace a wholesome draught but can testify to this?
It is a blessed thing to be brought to own God's afflictive dealings right now. All must own them so hereafter. When at last He shall bring down the pride of the stout-hearted and put forth His mighty power against the rebellious and cause every hardened and impenitent sinner to submit then there will not be one but will be forced to own, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right." Not one will be able to say that he has been dealt harshly with, that he was not warned, that no mercy was offered him, that no forbearance was shown him. Every mouth will be speechless before Him or will only speak to own Him right and faithful.
Ah, learn to know Him, love Him, trust Him, now! Submit to His grace now do not wait until you must submit to His power at last. All is dark to one who does not know God in Christ his ways are dark; his dealings are dark; the present is dark; the future is dark. But all is bright to the believer. Through all that befalls him, he can say, or at least he is learning to say, in the confidence of a trusting and loving heart, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me!"
The Continuing City
"For here we have no continuing city but we seek the city that is to come." Hebrews 13:14
Part of this verse is true of all but the other part is true of some people only. It is true of all that here we have no continuing city. It is not true of all that we are seeking the city that is to come. Paul was, and so were many of those to whom he wrote; but probably not all even of them then and certainly not all who call themselves Christians now. Let us take the two parts of the text separately.
1. The part that is true of all: "Here have we no lasting city." The meaning is that here, in this world we have no lasting dwelling-place. We are not to stay here always.
This is nothing new. Everybody knows this everybody believes it no one can doubt it. Yet do all really believe it? Suppose you saw a man busily engaged in improving his house, taking great pains about it, and spending much money upon it, always doing something to make it more comfortable and beautiful and seemingly wrapped up in the work; even if you knew nothing about the man and his circumstances, would you not conclude either that the house was his own, or that he had at least a long lease of it? You would feel sure that he would not do thus with a house which lease was to expire tomorrow. If he had no good prospect of keeping possession of it then he would not take so much pains with it, or lay out so much money for it.
Yet that which is so unlikely about a man and a house is just what thousands are doing in a far more important concern. They know they have no continuing city here on earth yet they act just as if they had! They are quite aware that they have but a short time to spend in this world how short they cannot tell yet they are living as if they were to stay here forever! They give no thought to eternity, or next to none; they are all for this world. And therefore it is very necessary to remind people solemnly of what the text says. Everybody knows that it is true but thousands seem to forget or disregard it. It is believed, and yet not believed; certainly it is overlooked.
"Here have we no continuing city." This is true of us all of rich and poor, of old and young, of the sick and of the strong. Whatever our lot in life may be, whether we have what is called a happy lot or a hard life, whether we have many possessions or scarcely any, this is true of us all: "Here have we no continuing city." We have no ownership, not even a long lease, of this life with its possessions and pleasures. We are but tenants at will the will of God. He will remove us, when it pleases Him; it all rests with Him. And He does not tell us the time when He will do so; only He tells us that our time here on earth is short, and that it may come to a sudden end.
We are warned of this, not only by the Word of God, but also by what we see around us. Death is teaching us this lesson continually.
The mother of a young family is seized with violent illness, and in a few days she is gone! She was but young herself, and it seemed likely that she would live many years and see her children grow up around her. But it was not to be so God willed it otherwise. What does such a case teach us, but that "here have we no continuing city"?
A strong man goes to his work in the morning, and in the evening is brought home a corpse! Some unexpected accident has suddenly cut short his course. Does not this teach us the same?
An old man, who has long been failing, dies at last. Nobody is surprised. It is what all have been expecting. He lived his eighty years or so, and his time seemed to be come. Yet even an every-day case like this says just the same to us, "Here have we no continuing city."
No, even the man who loves the world most dearly, cannot stay in it. He may have strong ties to it and many and great concerns in it. He may have large possessions, a loving family, attached friends, numbers who would keep him here still. Yet when his time comes then he must go to his long home. His ties, his possessions, his mourning friends, may remain; but he must leave them all when God sends for him. Death beckons to whose call he cannot be deaf. Death will not be refused! "Here have we no continuing city." This is true of us all.
2. But there is a continuing city. Not here but beyond the grave. Not present but to come. We are seeking it, says the apostle; "we seek the city that is to come" a continuing city to come, or rather the continuing city that is to come, for there is but one.
Alas! This part of the text is not true of all people. It is called here a city; and in other parts of scripture also the same figure is used. It is a great, holy, happy, glorious city. It was shown to John in the Revelation: "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband . And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb . No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever" (Revelation 21:2, 22; 22:3-5).
This glorious city is a continuing city: it will last forever, and they who once enter it, can never leave it. There will be no going out, no change, no death. This is that city for which Abraham and the saints of old looked: "For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." "But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them!" (Hebrews 11:10, 16).
The saints of old sought this city and the believer now, with clearer light than they had, is seeking the same. True, there is much mixture of human corruption in his desires and aims, much that is worldly still cleaving to him; yet his affections are mainly fixed on the continuing city. Where his treasure is there is his heart also. The whole tone of his life shows it: "For those who say such things, make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own." (Hebrews 11:14). The Christian is no longer wrapped up in worldly pleasures or engrossed by worldly pursuits. He has learned in a measure, the vanity of earthly things and has set his affection on things above.
Yet he does not neglect his duty here below. Never was he so desirous of serving God upon earth, as he has been since he began to seek the continuing city. His heart's desire is, first to do his Master's will here and then to go to that eternal rest and glory which his Master has prepared for him above. Thus he seeks, and thus he serves, not merely now and then, from an occasional impulse but from a deep and abiding principle. This is his life his settled course of conduct. He lives as one whose rest is not here in this poor world. He is but a traveler, passing to his eternal home. Here has he no continuing city, but he seeks one to come and seeks it first, above all other things whatever.
Is this true of you? The former part of the text is certainly true of you; here you have no continuing city; is this part true of you also? Are you seeking a continuing city to come?
Upon what is your heart fixed? What are your aims in life? What are you thinking of, hoping for, looking forward to, and trusting in? Have you begun to seek the continuing city? Oh, if not lose no more time. Set out at once. This is no time for delay! The world is passing away eternity comes on apace! There is but one way to the continuing city Christ is the way. The way is open and He Himself calls you: "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price" (Revelation 22:17).
All is ready the city is ready the way is ready the Savior is ready. May God the Holy Spirit make you ready, too ready to seek now through Jesus Christ, that continuing city which is to come.
"The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:10, 12
The Enduring Words
"Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will never pass away." Luke 21:33
All things around us are passing away and man himself is passing away as well. All the works of man are passing away, even those which are strongest and most durable. A house, a castle, a church may last for hundreds of years and be a wonder to all for its antiquity yet it is passing away. It needs constant repair and, if left neglected soon goes to decay. Many a crumbling ruin throughout the land reminds us of this.
Man himself passes away, and that more quickly than many of his works. Where are the men who used to attack and defend that ancient castle? Where are the former dwellers in that old house? Where are the worshipers who, generation after generation, have knelt in that venerable church? They are all passed away. The buildings remain, but the men are gone.
Even the works of God are passing away: "Heaven and earth shall pass away" that is, the earth and the sky. The earth on which man has trodden ever since he was formed; "the everlasting hills" which have looked down on so many changes and yet have remained unchanged themselves; the sky, to which the eyes of man have been lifted ever since he was placed on the earth even these, which seem so lasting, are passing away (Revelation 21:1). So greatly is this earth to be changed, that it is said to pass away and to become a new earth.
If man and man's works, if even the outward works of God, if all the things which we look upon are thus to pass away is there anything which is not to pass away?
Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away." This strikes us as astonishing. That which seemed so great should pass away; and that which seemed so humble should remain! "My words!" the words of one who was in appearance but a poor, weak man and those words spoken to a few unlearned men in a distant part of the world. If any of the proud and learned and great of those days had known of His words, doubtless they would have thought them almost beneath their notice. What did it matter what that humble teacher said to those poor men? Of what importance were His words compared with great concerns of state, with riches, with pleasures, with business, with cities, with kingdoms? Yet these, and more than these, should pass away while His words should endure forever. His words were more important and more lasting than even the earth and the sky!
What our Lord said about His words may be applied both to the words He was speaking at that very time, and also to His words in general. In the first sense, what He said has already been partly shown to be true. Among other things, He was telling His disciples then of great wars and troubles that were to come. Jerusalem, where He was speaking, was to be destroyed, and its people dispersed. That has taken place long ago. And so will all that He spoke of at the same time. He speaks (verse 36) of "standing before the Son of Man," which must refer to the end of all things. That also will come to pass in its time.
In short, everything that He was then saying, either has come to pass, or will yet come to pass. Great changes have taken place, and greater changes still, are yet to come. History tells us of wars and commotions, of battles fought, of cities taken, of governments changed, of one thing and another thing passing away but the words of Jesus still endure. Through all changes, what He said remains true and must all be fulfilled.
But this is only one view of the text. There is another and wider view. It is equally true of all His words: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away."
How many words He spoke! Words of truth, words of comfort, words of hope, words of salvation, words of life, words of warning. His words are lasting words they will never pass away. It is true of every word that He ever spoke, "My words will never pass away."
We have in the gospel of John, more of the words of Jesus than in any other part of the Bible. Let us look at some of the words written there. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:27-28). "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:1-2). "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth . I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you . Peace I leave with you My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:16, 17, 18, 27).
These are some of the words of Jesus. If anyone could throw a shade of doubt or uncertainty over them; or could prove them to be meant only for that time and for those disciples; or could persuade us that, though kindly spoken, they will not be fully accomplished then how sad and helpless our case would be! But none can do so. He who spoke thus, said Himself, "Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will never pass away."
His truth, His word, is our stronghold. Let us believe it firmly and trust in it without a doubt. Through all time, through all changes His word will stand. Every hope that He gave shall be fulfilled. Every encouraging assurance shall be made good. Not one word shall fail. The pardon, peace, life, and safety, the Spirit's abiding presence, the heavenly home all are real and true; all are given according to His word. Let us trust and be of good cheer.
He also gave many gracious invitations. He spoke words for those afar off, as well as for those who have been brought near. "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). "Whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out" (John 6:37). If those words still remain, that invitation is not withdrawn. His gracious calls to sinners, His loving messages, His encouraging promises may be fully relied on. They are surer than earth and sky. He has not gone back from them and never will, as long as the day of grace shall last. Many things are changed, but there is no change here. Jesus still invites and still makes offer of His free salvation.
But sometimes He spoke in a different way. The words that follow are words of His also: "Strive to enter in at the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' and he shall answer you, 'I do not know where you come from . Depart from me all you workers of evil" (Luke 13:24-27). He spoke also of the sheep and the goats, of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 13:24-30). All these solemn words, these words of warning, are as sure and true as the rest of the words of Jesus. There is no difference all that He ever said is equally true.
His words cannot pass away. Every warning, every woe, every awful threatening, every terrible forewarning of what awaits the impenitent will be fulfilled. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away." Oh, do not disregard His words; do not treat them lightly; do not put off the great concern; do not wait to prove the awful sureness of His voice of warning. Seek Him now seek Him without delay. And let not those other words of His be true of you: "You refuse to come to Me that you may have life" John 5:40.
The Early Prayer
"And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed." Mark 1:35
When the Son of God became man He took upon Him our nature in all its parts, except its sinfulness. As man He had needs to be supplied, bodily weakness to be strengthened, and sorrows under which He stood in need of comfort. When we consider this, we are not surprised to find Him praying. We know that He often prayed. On some occasions the very words He used are told to us. On other occasions, we only know that He prayed. But this is quite certain that prayer was His constant habit.
Jesus is our example. We are not only to look to Him as our Savior, who by His death made atonement for our sins but we are also to follow Him in His life as our pattern. We are to strive to be like Him. We ought to love as He loved, to be kind as He was kind, and holy as He was holy. Like Him, we are to forgive those who have injured us, and to go about doing good. And here we have another point in which to follow Him: we ought to take Him as our example in praying.
The vast difference between Him and us, does but make His example in this point the more forcible. For if He prayed, who had no sins to be forgiven then how should we pray, over whom not a day passes that does not leave behind it some stain of sin which nothing but His precious blood can wash away, and who in our utter weakness, stand in constant need of guidance, grace, and strength!
Let us see, therefore, what our Lord's example here teaches us. We may notice three things about His prayer:
1. It was private prayer;
2. It was morning prayer; and
3. It was prayer in spite of hindrances.
In all these respects, we may learn from His example.
1. This was private prayer.
"And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed." On most other occasions when He wished to be apart from the multitude, He took some of His disciples as His companions but here He chose to be quite alone. While they were still sleeping He went out by Himself to pray.
In the same way, we ought every day to have some time alone with God. Our Lord taught us this when He said, "When you pray, go into your room shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret." He here teaches us the same, by His example. There, with no human eye upon us, we can pray freely and tell to our Father our most secret feelings, and confess to Him our inmost faults and lay before Him every trouble and anxiety.
Nothing can supply the place of private prayer. Public worship and family prayer have each their special uses, but they must not be made an excuse for the neglect of prayer alone with God. Never omit this. Let it be a daily habit. The soul cannot prosper without secret prayer. Growing cold or careless in secret prayer, will surely lead to a general declension in spiritual things.
2. This prayer of our Lord was morning prayer.It was thus that He began the day. Nay, His prayer was before daybreak. "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark." Thus should we begin every day giving our freshest and earliest thoughts to God, and seeking His help before the difficulties of the day begin. The mercies of the night should not be allowed to fade away from the mind without thanksgiving, or to be lost in the new mercies which every day brings. Thanksgiving and prayer should be the first work of each day.
We know not what a day may bring forth. Every day brings with it its own duties, difficulties, and temptations. Oftentimes most unexpected things arise. The post brings some news by which our mind is filled with anxiety. Someone comes to see us, whose visit changes the whole tone of our feelings. A sudden trial of temper, an unlooked-for temptation to sin may arise at any moment. It often happens that, when we have risen all bright and cheerful, before an hour has gone by, something has happened which has ruffled our spirit and cast a cloud over our day. It is well to be prepared for all, by prayer. He who has passed the first portion of the day alone with God, comes down to the cares and duties of life like a soldier going into battle with his armor on; while he who begins the day without prayer, is like one defenseless and unarmed.
If we do not secure the first of the day for prayer then we may find no time for it until the day is gone. Other things will fill the mind; the bustle of the world will be around us; and even if time for prayer is not lacking we shall have lost the still morning hour, when the thoughts are most fresh and clear. Before the world fills the heart be with God in secret prayer.
3. It was prayer in spite of hindrances.Have you hindrances? So had our blessed Lord. But He prayed in spite of hindrances. He led a busy life. Not busy, as the lives of many are in the pursuit of gain or of any selfish object. He was busy in doing good. Just before the text we read, "That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many who were sick various diseases, and cast out many demons." It was thus that a day of toil was closed.
Nor was this an unusual day with Him. Such was His life an active, laborious life; a life spent much in public. He was generally surrounded by a crowd, and His disciples were almost always with Him. As far as we can judge, He had little time to Himself. After such a day, He must have wanted rest. Sleep was welcome to our Lord, when weary in body and weary in mind as welcome as it is to us. He needed rest, but He wanted prayer more. So He did not give many hours to sleep, but long before daybreak, He arose to pray.
How does this shame our sloth! How ready are we to make excuses to ourselves for a hurried morning prayer, or perhaps for no prayer at all! How small a hindrance is allowed to stand in the way!
Not that there are not real hindrances with some. Those of us who live an easy and regular life, have indeed no hindrance that may not easily be overcome. But it is not so with all. The laboring man, the poor mother of a large young family, the servant in a busy household indeed, all who have to rise early and to work hard, have a real hindrance yet not a hindrance which may not be overcome. Jesus overcame the hindrances that lay in His way let His followers set themselves to do the same.
You may lead a busy life yet you must find time to pray. Your daily work may begin early yet let your secret prayer be earlier still. If you cannot find a place to be alone before you leave your home yet let your heart be alone with God. Give Him your first thoughts. Do not fear to kneel down before others. Perhaps as you go to your work, you may find a further time for solitary prayer. The busy mother may secure a few quiet moments before her household work begins. The servant may rise a few minutes earlier to secure the most precious time of all the day. He who has ordered our lot has placed none of us in such circumstances that we cannot pray. It is His will that we should pray, and He will help us to overcome every hindrance. We may pray if only we sincerely desire to pray.
Yes, it is the will that is chiefly lacking. It is not strange that it should be so, with those who have never known the worth of prayer, and whose prayers have never been anything better than a heartless form. But it is strange that they who have experienced the comfort and blessing of prayer should yet be slothful in praying.
Yet so it is. Often have we prayed and received a gracious answer; often have we been comforted, helped, strengthened in answer to prayer yet still how backward we are to pray! How much we need to be stirred up and quickened in the work!
As you love your Savior and desire His grace and blessing then follow His example in prayer. If you would have your days peaceful and happy then begin each day with prayer. If you would meet the temptations and difficulties of each day aright, if you would not sink under its burden of cares, if you would maintain throughout the day a spiritual frame and enjoy holy and happy thoughts then let prayer be your earliest work. Whatever other times and ways of prayer you may have pray in private, pray in the morning, and let no hindrance keep you from it!
Not Far off
"And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, 'You are not far from the kingdom of God.'" Mark 12:34
The scribes in general were opposed to Christ and His Word but this man was not so. He seems to have been a sincere and earnest inquirer after the truth. He had heard Jesus discoursing with the Sadducees about the resurrection; and when they were silenced, perceiving that our Lord had answered them well he himself came to Him with a question, but in a very different spirit from theirs. They asked in a mocking, caviling spirit, thinking to place Jesus in a difficulty; he asked in the spirit of a sincere and humble enquirer.
"Which commandment is the most important of all?" This was his question. What ought he to do above all? What should be the chief object of his desires and endeavors? Our Lord answered him at once. The first of all the commandments was love to God; the second was love to man. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . and you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Again the scribe entirely approved of what our Lord said. This was what he himself had believed before; he was now confirmed in the belief. His answer is remarkable: "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that He is one, and there is no other besides Him. And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." This was much for such a man to say. He was a Jew, a minister of the Jewish religion a religion which consisted mainly in outward rituals and sacrifices. He had been used to these sacrifices all his life, and he must have known well that most of those around him made the whole of religion to consist in its ceremonial parts.
Yet he was able to see beyond them and to perceive the spiritual nature of true religion: that it is not outward, but inward; that it was a thing of the heart; and that love love to God above all, and then love to man is the chief and most important point in it, far more important than any outward observances.
Our Lord approved his answer. He saw that the scribe had answered discreetly that is, with wisdom and understanding and said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." He did not mean from Heaven, but from the kingdom of God upon earth, from the gospel. His heart was in a state to receive the gospel. He could look beyond forms. He saw the spiritual nature of religion. He knew something of the love of God. Such a man was prepared to welcome the Savior. He would probably gladly listen to the gospel when made known to him.
We know no more of the scribe; but we hope that he did become a follower of Christ, a scribe "instructed unto the kingdom of Heaven."
There are several lessons for us in this account:
1. The Lord Jesus Christ knows the spiritual state of each person.He knew that of the scribe not merely from what he said, but also because He could read his heart. Jesus knew that his words expressed his true feelings.
He can read our hearts as well He knows all that we think and feel. At this very time He knows what our state is, with regard to the kingdom of God whether we belong to it, or not. He does not judge by mere profession or by outward religious observances. He knows and judges us by our hearts.
2. The hopeful point in the scribe was this that he saw religion to be a thing of the heart, and that he put love to God above all that was outward and formal; and this, although he had not the light of the gospel, and did not know God in Christ. It is plain that his own heart was affected, in some measure at least.
It is always a hopeful sign when religion begins to be seen and felt to be a thing of the heart and when the affections become in any measure engaged it. With many, religion is but a formal thing cold and heartless, with no life or love. Great is the change when the first spark of love to God is kindled in the heart, when the feelings become interested, when a new warmth of earnestness begins to be felt.
Many in whom such a change has begun, hardly dare indeed at present to think that any true change has been wrought in them. The coldness of their affections in religion and their lack of love to God, are what they are constantly complaining of. They hardly dare to think that they love Him at all. Yet they wish to love Him and are conscious of their lack of love, and a new sense has been aroused within them of the necessity of spiritual religion. They are now deeply convinced that religion is something more than a mere round of outward observances. Surely this is of God.
3. Jesus used words of encouragement to the scribe.He recognized the favorable signs in him, and spoke in such a way as to give him hope and to lead him on.
Our Lord does not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. He does not despise the day of small things. He would encourage every beginner in spiritual things, every honest enquirer.
Does any reader think more seriously about spiritual matters than he used to think? Is he beginning to see the spirituality of religion? Is he more in earnest caring more for his soul, really inquiring after the truth? Does he wish to believe, to love God, to do His will? Whatever imperfections there may be in the thoughts and feelings of such a one the gracious Savior does not despise or disregard him. The judgment of men might fasten on what is faulty or inconsistent in his feelings but Jesus notices what is real, true, and sincere, and would encourage him to go forward.
He said to the scribe, "You are not far from the kingdom of God" doubtless in order to lead him on still further. And this is His gracious will toward every sincere and humble inquirer. Let not such be faint-hearted. Let them seek Him yet more earnestly, and seek in faith. He is willing to be found by those who seek Him. He is waiting to be gracious. God will give His Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.
4. But there is warning here also.Our Lord graciously encouraged this man by telling him that he was not far off but He would not have that man stop where he then was. The very words, "You are not far," seemed to imply that he had not yet reached the desired point.
There are many who seem well content if they can but think they are "not far from the kingdom of God." There they stop and seek to go no further. There are hopeful signs in them. They show much attention and seriousness. They approve right doctrine and are well disposed to spiritual religion. But beyond this point, they do not seem to advance. Alas, this will never save. To be "not far from the kingdom of God" is not enough. We must be in the kingdom, and of the kingdom. We must not stop short of Christ.
We must not rest satisfied with being in a state of mind which seems favorable for receiving the gospel. We must actually receive and embrace it we must sincerely come to Christ. We know more than the scribe knew. We have clearer light we have the full gospel we know of a crucified Savior and of redeeming love and of the Holy Spirit.
Let none stand still coming near, as it were, and there stopping. Sad it will be hereafter, for those of whom the best that can be said will be that once they seemed not far from the kingdom of God! Oh, do not stop short of being in the Kingdom. Be encouraged but do not be satisfied. Press toward the mark. Lay hold on Christ by faith. Seek a saving interest in Him. Never rest until you are His His now, and His forever!
The Universal Rule
"And whatever you do, in word or deed do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father through Him." Colossians 3:17
Religion, to be anything real, must be a thing of the whole life and conduct influencing a man in all that he does, and forming his character under all circumstances.
"Whatever you do, in word or deed," says the apostle. There cannot be a fuller description of the whole conduct; for this comprises all we do and all we say. All is to be governed by one principle. There must be a likeness, a consistency, in all parts of the Christian's conduct.
In whatever company he may be, whether with those who fear God or with those who fear Him not he must show himself a Christian still.
In whatever circumstances he may be placed, whatever he may have to do, whatever events may befall him the same character and principles should be seen in him.
If he is one man with some people and quite another man with others; if he appears serious and devout at times but careless and worldly at others then how can his religion be real? The Bible rule as to when and where the Christian character is to be shown, is simply this: "Whatever you do, in word or deed."
The rule here given, which is thus to govern the whole conduct, is equally simple: "Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." Let us dwell awhile on this rule so simple and yet so full. We may take it to mean:
1. Do all, as bearing His name.We are called Christians, after Christ it is His name that we bear. The "name which is above every name," the name at which every knee shall bow that is the name which we bear. How high an honor! How great a responsibility! We should never forget our name. We should strive to adorn it in all things, and earnestly desire never to do anything inconsistent with it. Oh, how different would our daily life be were this simple rule closely, strictly, watchfully obeyed! How many deeds would be left undone! How many words would remain unspoken!
2. Do all, as being His servants.All who bear the name of Christ are by profession, His servants: "You serve the Lord Christ." The man who lives to himself, seeking day by day only to please himself, with no regard to any higher will than his own cannot be living aright. "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price." We are the redeemed servants of Christ our Lord, and are to do His will.
But can we act on so high a principle in little things? Can we, in "whatever we do, in word or deed" seek to serve Christ? Yes, whatever our Master gives us to do that we are to do as His servants. If an earthly master bids his servant do the most trifling thing then the servant is doing his will as much in doing that little service, as in obeying his most important commands. So it is with us, as the servants of Christ. It is not the greatness or littleness of the thing which makes the difference but the willingness or unwillingness, the diligence or negligence, with which it is done. If even little things are done heartily, as to the Lord He is served in them.
3. Do all, following His example.We have more than the commands of God we have also the pattern of His dear Son. Jesus once lived on earth, and the history of His life is in our hands. We know how He lived, what He did, what He said, and what He refrained from. We know how He acted toward friends, and toward enemies. We know how He bore injustice and ill-usage. We know that He went about doing good, and that not even His bitter enemies could find any fault in Him. He is our example. We are to aim at being like Him, "whatever we do, in word or deed."
We are to do nothing which He would not have done nor to say anything which He would not have said. We are to be like Him not merely in abstaining from evil, but also in doing good. When we meet with reproach we are to bear it as He bore it. As we are called by His name so we are to walk in His steps in all things.
4. Do all, as redeemed by Him.His blood was shed for us. This must never be forgotten; this must give a tone to all our thoughts and all our life. In this sense we must, like the apostle, always bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. This is to be our motive, and the constraining power over our hearts: Christ was crucified for us His sin-atoning blood was shed on our behalf. In this faith, from this motive, by this love we are to live and act. We must have them always, as a deep and abiding principle.
5. Do all, by His grace.We cannot live to God, but by His grace. We shall fail continually, unless strengthened by the Spirit of Christ. Therefore doing all in the name of Jesus must mean also doing all in His strength and by His grace. He Himself, when He was going away, promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach, to comfort, and to sanctify us. More, He said further, speaking of a presence by the Spirit, "Behold, I am with you always even to the end of the age." We are living under these promises now. Jesus, our Master, knows our weakness and need and is ever ready to help us.
How many temptations have we from within and from without! How often do our own evil hearts incline us not to follow Christ! How often do outward temptations arise to lead us astray! We have no strength of our own all our sufficiency is from God. We must lay aside therefore, all trust in ourselves and go forward trusting in His promised grace and help. We must "do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus" looking unto Him as the "author and perfecter of our faith," and feeling with the apostle, "When I am weak then I am strong." Christ is all our strength. We are strongest when in weakness, humility, prayer, and faith we cast ourselves most fully upon Him. His grace is sufficient for us. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower the righteous man runs into it and is safe."
There is yet one thing more in the text thankfulness: "Giving thanks to God and the Father through Him." As all things are to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus so we cannot even give thanks to the Father aright, but by Him. For He is our Mediator; He has opened the way of access for us; He ever lives to make intercession for us; by Him our prayers and praises are acceptable to God.
If we really "do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus," or even heartily strive to do so then it will certainly follow that we shall be of a thankful spirit. For then we shall be continually realizing what we owe to His love and grace in redemption, and setting before us His example of perfect love; and thus we cannot fail to become more and more thankful in heart. To do all in the name of the Lord Jesus and to give thanks to God the Father are sure to go together; they both form part of one character.
This thankfulness for redeeming love will lead to thankfulness for all blessings, both temporal and spiritual. He who has learned to know the love of God in salvation will see the same love in all that befalls him. Indeed the words, "whatever you do, in word or deed," belong to this part of the text as well as to the former.
We are not merely to praise God occasionally our hearts are to give Him thanks continually. Whatever we do, thankfulness should be the spirit in which we do it. Even should we be called to follow our Master in bearing reproach or suffering still we must maintain a thankful spirit: "Give thanks in all circumstances." There can be no circumstances in which the Christian should not be thankful, for there are none which are not ordered in wisdom and love by our God and Father in Christ Jesus.
Happy they who live thus doing all in the name of Jesus, and doing all with a thankful heart! It is not having much of the world, which can make us happy; but only being truly grateful for all that God sends and serving our Master Christ humbly and lovingly. Happy, thrice happy are they who find much of Christ in all their daily life trusting Him, loving Him, serving Him, and following Him!
The Two Marys at the Sepulcher
"Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb." Matthew 27:61
These faithful women, with others besides, had stood beholding afar off while Jesus hung on the cross. The sad scene is past now. They saw Him die; then they saw Him laid in the sepulcher; and now they sit down near His tomb, unwilling still to leave the spot.
They loved Him dearly. One of them, Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, had received a great blessing from Him. She had formerly been possessed by evil spirits, and Jesus had cast them out. The other Mary was most likely "Mary, the mother of James and Joseph," mentioned in the 56th verse of this chapter, and
she is generally believed to have been sister to Mary, our Lord's mother.
These women both loved Him. They had been much with Him following Him from place to place, hearing what He said, and seeing what He did. They loved Him with a faithful love and seem, with the other women, to have shown more boldness in giving proof of their love in time of danger, than the apostles themselves.
They sat opposite the tomb. The stone had already been rolled over the mouth of it, so that they could no longer look on the form of Him whom they loved. But they could think of Him, and doubtless thoughts of Christ filled their hearts while they sat there. They could think of nothing else; and if they could speak at all at such a time they could speak of nothing else.
What may we learn from their example?
One plain lesson, certainly that of a personal love to our Lord. There are many whose religion seems to consist more in right doctrine than in faith and love to Christ as a person. But a doctrine, however true cannot properly be the object of either faith or love. We must have faith in a person we love a person. The object of the Christian's faith and love, is Jesus Christ not merely some doctrine or truth about Him, but Jesus Christ Himself. In Him we are to believe and Him we are to love.
These women had such a personal love to Jesus and in this they are our example. We are to consider Him as coming down from Heaven for us, living for us, dying for us, interceding for us; and for all this, we are to love Him as a person a personal Savior.
But this personal love which these women felt toward Jesus was more than mere natural affection such as is felt toward any companion, friend, or benefactor. They had at least some measure of faith they loved Him as their Redeemer and Lord. They had heard so many of His gracious words, and seen so many of His wonderful works. They were believers though not perhaps at present believing with a clear and undoubting faith. Whatever was their measure of belief in His promised resurrection, whether their hopes or their fears prevailed while they sat sorrowing over against the sepulcher or whether for the time grief swallowed up every other feeling; still they were not mere mourners for a lost friend they were also believers in their beloved Savior.
We have further light than they had. We know the whole history, not only of His death, but also of His resurrection and ascension. And we have learned most clearly from the Word of God why He came, and the great work which He did.
While therefore we feel a personal love to Jesus we must look to it that our love is not a mere personal affection towards Him, as good and kind but that it be love to Him as the blessed Son of God, who redeemed us by His blood. "Greater love has no one than this that one lay down his life for his friends." This is what Jesus did for us and this is the true foundation for our love. Our faith must work by love and our love must spring from our faith.
But though these women doubtless had faith yet it was an imperfect faith; they were not yet far advanced in light and knowledge and spiritual life. Nevertheless, they loved Jesus, and loved Him dearly.
What does this teach us? That love to Christ is not, as some seem to suppose, a feeling which none but advanced Christians can hope to have but rather one which every true believer has, however young in the faith. No sooner does the heart lay hold by faith on Christ's redemption than love to the Redeemer is kindled in it. We cannot truly believe in Him without sincerely loving Him. Our knowledge may be far from clear; our faith may be weak yet if real, it will certainly produce love.
"We love Him because He first loved us." This is equally true of the Father who sent His Son into the world; and of the Son Himself who came and died for us. When once we believe with the heart that Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us, and thus begin to have a hope in Him then we begin to love Him. Faith, which works by love, must always, in every stage, be the description of true faith. It shows itself first in love to God in Christ, and then in love to all for His sake.
It was in deep sadness of heart, that these women sat opposite the tomb of Jesus. As warm and true as it was their love was a sorrowful love. Our love need not be sorrowful we need not, as it were, sit by the grave of our Lord and mourn over a lost Savior. Rather, we may look up in faith to where He is now in His glory and rejoice in His finished work, and be cheered by His gracious mediation and intercession.
The grave could not hold Him. As He had died for us so He also rose for us. And now He is ever at the right hand of God for us. There are indeed sad thoughts for us about our Lord. Well may we be sad when our minds dwell on all that He suffered for us. Sadder still, when we think of our own past sins. And most sad of all, when, through our weakness and corruption, we still go astray.
But the thought of Christ our Lord, as He is now, is the very thought that will best comfort us in all sadness. The faithful women looked at His sepulcher and were sad. We may look up in faith to His glorious abode and be full of joy. Even their sadness was not to last long soon were they to hear the joyful news, "He is not here, for He has risen!"
These glad tidings come to us too. He is not in the grave He is in Heaven. There He cares for us, and is ever making intercession for us. There He is, as our friend and advocate until the happy day when He will come to take us to Himself. We have not lost Him. He is our living Savior. Even now He is with us by the Spirit. And hereafter His own words will be fulfilled, "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me!"
The Fruits of the Fall
"Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to work the ground from which he was taken." Genesis 3:23
When we look into the Bible we see the reason of many of the strange and perplexing things which are around us. For instance, we find ourselves living in a world of labor. Why is labor necessary? Why does not the ground of itself, bring forth food for man? Why must man work, and work hard if he would live? We have the answer in the Bible. Things were not always as they are now. A great change once took place, and the history of it is given in this chapter.
Before the fall, Adam and Eve lived together in the garden of Eden, happy in the favor and presence of God. They had no guilt to make them afraid of Him nor pain, nor sorrow, nor death. They had everything to make them happy. The earth brought forth freely all that they needed. They had no painful toil. All their labor was easy and pleasant. We read that "the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden, to work it and keep it." Thus their time was passed in pleasant work and delight.
But they listened to the voice of the tempter and broke God's command and from that moment, all was changed. They must no longer remain in Paradise. They must leave that happy place, and go forth into the wide world and there work hard for their bread. The very ground was pronounced cursed for their sake. Thenceforth it would need hard and constant labor to make it produce food for man. "To Adam He said: "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."
So it has been ever since, with all the race of Adam, for nearly six thousand years and so it is still. The ground must be tilled. Man's constant labor is required. In the sweat of his face, he must eat his bread. Season after season he must plough and sow and weed and reap rising up early, and late taking rest. If labor should cease then food would fail. He will get no food, without toil.
Thus we see from the Bible how it is that this world is now a world of labor why work is the general lot of man why the child of the laboring man must work as soon as he is able to earn anything and why generation after generation is born to labor still. Our first parent fell into sin and God made labor to be his lot, and the lot of his children after him.
It is true that labor to a certain degree is not painful but pleasant, not hurtful but healthful. There are some also who, in the providence of God, are not forced to live by bodily labor. Yet not the less true is it, that labor is among the fruits of the fall; not healthful exertion of body or mind but weary, wearing toil with cares and anxieties and troubles which were unknown in the golden days of the world, before sin had entered.
Nor was labor the worst part of the consequences of the fall. See the change that took place in Adam and Eve themselves. They used to love God's presence now they shrink from it. Never until now, must He ask, "Where are you?" Never until now, had His voice been heard without delight. But now see them hiding from His presence, and trembling at His call.
Why do they fear? Because they have sinned. Oh, what a change did sin make! To leave the garden of Eden and to labor for their bread was but a change in their condition but this was a change in themselves. Sin had entered into the world. Our first parents were now sinners. And all who have come after them have been so too except for Him who took our nature upon Himself to save sinners.
Fallen man does not love God or His presence. Guilt has estranged him from God. Until renewed by grace, he is far off from God in his heart. Ever since the fall, sin has been in the world. Hence come not only estrangement of heart from God but also the ten thousand evils that man does to man. Hence come crime, misery, war, oppression, and cruelty. All date from that sad day when Adam and Eve fell from God.
Then death also came. Sin came into the world and death by sin. The sentence went forth, "For you are dust and to dust you shall return." Adam went forth, to labor awhile and then to die. From the moment that the sentence was pronounced he and all his seed became subject to death.
The sentence is still in force. We are born into the world. We live here for a few years. We toil, we suffer, we sin. We have our joys and sorrows, our hopes and fears, our changes, sicknesses, losses and then we die. This is our appointed lot, as children of Adam. Dust we are and unto dust do we return.
Is this all that a Christian has all that he may hope for? This short, sad, sinful, toilsome course is this the Christian's all?
Oh, no! Hardly had man fallen, when a hope of restoration was given him. A Deliverer was promised. Again and again, as generation after generation lived and died, the promise was repeated, with more and more of clearness and fullness.
At length, in God's good time, the Deliverer came. The Son of God Himself was born into the world and lived and died and rose again. He is called the second Adam. But He is far greater than the first Adam. He came to restore fallen man to favor and peace with God. He did so by His death upon the cross. He died and rose again. He made an atonement for sin and overcame death and fulfilled the law of God and all for us, to save and restore a ruined race.
Now, in Jesus, there is life for the believer eternal life, pardon, peace, rest, salvation. True, his outward lot on earth is not changed. Still he must labor; still he is subject to sickness and sorrow; still sin cleaves to him; and still he must die. But his hardest labor is cheered by the love of God. In sickness and sorrow, that love is his comfort still. If he falls into sin, he may have recourse to the blood of sprinkling. For him, death itself has lost its sting. He must labor yet not without ceasing. From the very first, God in mercy appointed one day in seven as a day of rest; and the Lord's day is to the Christian his happiest day, happy in itself, and happy as a pledge and foretaste of that rest which remains for the people of God.
There is such a rest. God has promised it to every believer. Let him live in the hope of it. Let that blessed hope sweeten all toil, and cheer all sorrow. In that better Eden no serpent can beguile and there no sin can come. There man will love God with a perfect love and find in His presence fullness of joy. Never again will he tremble at His voice, never fall again, never be called to leave that happy place. Already the believer has some foretaste of that heavenly rest, but it is the hope of Heaven itself that forms his chief joy below.
Oh, make sure of a present portion in Christ. You were born of Adam's race a fallen creature. Look to it that you have a part in the second Adam by faith. Sin, death, and ruin came by Adam. Life and salvation comes by Jesus Christ. He is made known to you in the gospel. A full salvation is freely offered to you in Him. Eternal life is promised to all who believe in Christ. And spiritual life, the pledge of eternal life is promised to all who seek the gift of the Holy Spirit. Ask, and you shall receive.
The Perfect Pattern
"Be imitators of God, as beloved children." Ephesians 5:1
When parents are such as Christian parents ought to be their children should look to them as their example. Nothing on earth can be happier, than a household in which the parents are walking in the ways of God and their children following in their steps.
Alas, how often is it far otherwise!
Believers form one great family, of which God is the Father the household of God. What has been said about earthly families, applies to this family too. All the children of God should strive to follow Him as their pattern. This seems to be the meaning of the text, "Be imitators of God, as dear children." As His children, His dear children copy the example of your heavenly Father, imitate Him in all your conduct.
What a wonderful rule is this! How high a standard does it propose! We say sometimes of a very good man, "He is quite a pattern" and Paul said more than once, "Be followers [imitators] of me." But here we have a far higher example set before us not that of a good man, not that of an apostle but that of God Himself. Be imitators of God. He is to be our pattern. Paul himself would have others follow him but only so far as he followed this pattern: "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ."
But how can God be an example to man? How can we poor creatures, in our little concerns and in our earthly and human duties take our pattern from God in Heaven?
In the first place, God has revealed Himself to us in His word. There He has not only commanded us what to do but has also told us much of His own divine nature. He has set Himself forth to us as perfect in holiness and goodness and has shown Himself so in all the record of His dealings; and He has said, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
But, not to dwell upon this, there is a clearer and more definite way in which we may take God for our example. The Son of God became man and lived upon this earth. If there is a difficulty in seeing how God in Heaven can be a pattern to us then the difficulty is removed when we think of the Son of God upon earth. He lived in our world. He had the same nature, the same feelings, the same everything with us, except sin. The evil that is on all sides of us was around Him too. The difficulties, the trials, the sorrows that we meet with He met with too, and many more. We can therefore take Him as our pattern.
We may fall far short, as we certainly shall; yet it may be our aim to be like Him. We must have some aim, some pattern, some standard Jesus is to be this to us. We are to be imitators of Him of God manifest in the flesh.
That this is the main sense in which we are to take the words, seems plain from what immediately follows: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love just as Christ loved us, and gave Himself up for us." Here one particular point is mentioned in which we are to follow Christ. He loved us and gave Himself for us; and we, following His example, are to walk in love one toward another. In this way we are to be followers of God, as dear children.
Let us pause here for a moment. In a happy Christian family where the children are walking in the steps of their parents one main feature is mutual love. If that is lacking, the whole tone of the household, as a Christian household, is lost. Whatever else of good there may be the lack of love mars all.
So it is in the family of God. All His children should be imitators of His love; and their love to Him, and to one another for His sake should bind them all together. Love is the very badge of God's servants, the special mark of His children. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another."
But we are to follow Christ not only in this, but in all things. All that we see in Him we are to copy; all that we see opposed to His example we are to shun. Observe the list of sins that follow the text: "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person such a man is an idolater has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." There was nothing of all this in Christ and there must be nothing of it in us.
Look at His life then look at this list of sins. Could there be a greater contrast? The greater the difference the more are we bound to shun such things, for He is our pattern. Saints are those who are His by faith, and who are striving to follow Him. They must consider whose they are, and whom they serve and seek earnestly to live as befits their profession. The children of God are also heirs of God they must put away, as children, all that would shut them out from being heirs. They are heirs by being joint heirs with Christ their whole title rests on Him they must seek to be like Him.
I think I hear someone say, "This is going too far; no one can be so good as this all have their faults, and must have." But what is your wish? What is your aim? If you thought you could do so then would you then try to imitate God? Alas, I fear not. One who speaks thus, is not one who hungers and thirsts after righteousness. He who does not desire a perfect holiness does not really desire holiness at all. There is no hatred of sin in such a heart.
What do you in fact say when you speak thus? You declare that you will not follow the example that is set before you in the Bible. No, you will be content with another pattern. You will be guided by your own opinion by your own reason, or by what is commonly done by others. You will copy man, not God. Thus you set yourself directly against God's word, which says, "Be imitators of God."
Let me not be mistaken. Let none suppose that we can follow God perfectly, or save ourselves by our own doings. Thank God, our hopes rest on a surer foundation. But he who aims highest, will reach highest; we must take no other standard than that which God has appointed; and that man cannot have gained a saving interest in Christ who does not desire to be made like Him in all things.
This text is, in fact, not about the way of salvation but about the fruits of faith. Christians, it speaks mainly to you. It is no hard service (and you know it) to which you are called. You are addressed as "dear children" beloved children of God. He loves you, and you love Him and wish to love Him more. He has taken you into His family. He has made you His children by adoption and grace. It is a happy life to which He calls you this holy, devoted, Christ-following life.
I spoke before of the happiness of a well-ordered Christian household but how happy is the great, universal family of God! Some are gone already to the heavenly home some are still here below; but they are all one one in Christ, one in the Father. Those who are gone are happy but those who are left are happy as well. They have betaken themselves to Jesus as their Savior and they know He will never let them perish.
Their feet are upon the rock; they have cast aside all self-righteous hopes, and their hope is built on Christ alone. It is a sure hope, a blessed hope a hope that makes them joyful. They love their Savior and they love their Father. Their service is a service of love. They are children imitating their Father because they love Him, and because they love holiness. They do not complain of the rule, "Be imitators of God." As His "dear children," they delight in it. Whatever His commandments may once have been to them they are not grievous to them now. It is their heart's desire to serve Him and to please Him, and to be like Him.
Oh, may God by His grace, bring many a wanderer into this happy and holy path! And may He make us all to live more in this spirit, walking as His dear children loving Him, following Him, imitating Him!
"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34
Half our pains and pleasures are drawn from the future. We are pleased with a thing not only when we have it, but while we are looking forward to having it. In the same way, the apprehension of evil, is often more painful than the evil itself. Made as we are with hopes and fears, we cannot but look forward. But in doing so we too often give way to worry.
Our Lord alludes here to this habit of the mind, the habit of anxiously looking forward to the future. "So do not worry about tomorrow," He says. He does not mean that we are to be careless about the future, making no provision for it and exercising no forethought about it. But He means that we are not to worry about it, that we are not to pass our days in a state of continual apprehension as to what is to come.
"Tomorrow" takes in the whole of the future; but the use of this word sets the lesson before us in a striking way. We are not to worry about the future at all; not even about that part of it which is close at hand, the very next day: "Do not worry about tomorrow."
How comforting to be told this by our Lord Himself! Then certainly we need not worry He Himself forbids it. If we give way to worry then we are doing what He bids us not do. If we strive against anxious thoughts then we are following His direction. Thus, what is right and what is happy go together.
"Each day has enough trouble of its own." What does our Lord mean by this? Plainly, that He who provides for today will provide for tomorrow also. "Your heavenly Father," He says before, "knows that you need all these things." He knows this, not only with regard to today, but with regard to tomorrow too. When tomorrow comes, the eye that is over us now will be over us still; the same love and care will still be with us.
In ceasing to worry about the morrow we are not leaving it to chance, but to God. We thus acknowledge Him as the God of tomorrow, as well as of today and take things in the order which He has marked out. Step by step, day by day is God's rule for us. We are to live in continual dependence on Him, again and again seeking blessings from His hand, and coming to Him continually as fresh needs arise.
The very title "Father," seems to convey this meaning. The child of an earthly family does not seek to lay up a private store for tomorrow, but is content to trust its parent's care. The father may even be poor and find difficulty in providing daily bread for his children; but the child in general knows little of that, but looks every day for food and all necessary things, not doubting that its parent both can and will supply them.
In the same way would our heavenly Father have us to live day by day in simple trust in Him. There are no difficulties with the Lord of Heaven and earth His power is as great as His will. If the child of an earthly parent does not worry then surely the child of God should not worry.
In the very prayer that He gave us, our Lord taught us what to seek and how to feel: "Give us this day our daily bread, give us day by day our daily bread." He bids us ask, not for tomorrow's bread, but for today's. When tomorrow comes then we may ask afresh. So we should pray, so trust, and so live.
"Each day has enough trouble of its own." Trouble is the cause of worry. Such there is, and such there will be. But it comes day by day, not all at once. Each day's trouble, each day's provision, each day's blessing by itself. The trouble of each day is enough. We could not bear the troubles of our life, if they all came altogether. Then we would be overwhelmed. But this is not how God sends our troubles.
Let us look back on past troubles; for such we have certainly had, if we have advanced far in life. How did they come? Not all at once, but one by one, with intervals of time and of rest. Coming even so, they tried us greatly but they would have overwhelmed us, had they come all together. But worry about the future makes them come all together it heaps tomorrow's troubles upon today's, and thus makes the troubles of today overwhelming. God sends each day such troubles, difficulties, and cares, as He sees fit; and promises withal daily food, daily strength, daily help and comfort. We must not outrun His promises by our worry.
Besides, trouble comes to us for good. Trouble is not really bad, if we receive it aright and taken as God sends it. For then it is a fatherly chastisement, a loving discipline, part of our Father's wise and gracious training of us for His kingdom. But this benefit is likely to be lost, if we do not take trouble as God sends it, in His order and in His measure. Today's trouble is what is to do us good. If we add tomorrow's to it before tomorrow comes then the good may be lost; for then we take it in our own measure and order, rather than in God's.
I have spoken of this exhortation as conveying comfort and blessing and as showing that duty and happiness are linked together. It is indeed a blessing to be told by our Lord Himself not to worry about the future. But in order to take this comfort to ourselves, we must know God as our Father, our reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. Just before the text, our Lord says: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." And a few verses before, "You cannot serve both God and money." We must choose God before all we must seek first His kingdom and righteousness we must go to Jesus as our Savior, seek pardon and peace through His precious blood, and become children of God by adoption and grace. Then, and then only we shall find such words as those of the text to be precious to us.
Yes, precious indeed! For they give us a right to put away worry. "Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." Why should any worry, to whom these words apply? "Your Father knows." Let that be enough for the child of God. What you need today, and what you will need tomorrow all your needs, for body and for soul just what is best for you "your Father knows." And who is your Father? The great God Almighty, the Lord of Heaven and earth. Away with worry then! Away with doubts and fears about tomorrow's troubles, or tomorrow's needs!" Your Father knows." Let that be enough.
But what can they do who know not God as their Father, when anxious thoughts arise? When trouble, loss, want, sorrow, apprehension come what peace can be theirs? Ah, you have not yet cast the burden of your sins upon your Savior how can you take to Him any other burden? You have not yet gone to Him for the supply of your greatest need how then shall you flee to Him for relief when lesser wants press upon you? When will you learn where true safety and happiness are to be found? Not in the vain attempt to serve two masters, not in seeking the world first and God second but only in the full surrender of your heart to God in Christ. None but the child of God is really happy. None but the child of God is even safe. None but the child of God can truly lay aside worry about the future, and live day by day trustful, peaceful, and happy.
The Repentance of Judas
"When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders.
"I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood."
"What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility."
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself." Matthew 27:3-5
We read of two kinds of sorrow for sin: godly sorrow and the sorrow of the world. We are told that godly sorrow, "produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly sorrow produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). Now it is said here that Judas "repented" but it is plain that his repentance was not repentance unto salvation (indeed the word in the original is quite different), but on the contrary it was the sorrow of the world. It was sorrow, not so much for sin as for the consequences of sin; for it was only when he saw that Jesus was condemned that he repented. And it worked death in his case. A bitter remorse took hold of him an insupportable load of despair pressed upon his mind. Yet this did not lead him to God but rather drove him to destruction. His heart was still unchanged. "He departed, and he went and hanged himself."
An unchanged heart often feels remorse but it never feels godly sorrow. A great crime weighing on the conscience has often clouded all the after life of the criminal, and has sometimes driven him to give himself up to justice. And many have passed a sad old age by reason of youth wasted, the best years of life misspent, opportunities gone forever, and perhaps the consequences of sin still felt in ruined health and blighted prospects. All this may be and yet no godly sorrow, no true repentance, no change of heart.
True repentance is the gift of God, and comes only when the heart is changed by grace. Then is there a true sorrow for sin itself. Then the sinner comes to Christ. Then does he draw near to God. With trembling step perhaps and downcast look, like the publican in the temple yet still he draws near. For godly sorrow leads to God while the sorrow of the world only drives the heart from Him.
If repentance is the gift of God, then we may pray for it. Jesus Christ is exalted "as Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31) true repentance, a change of heart. We may seek this precious gift therefore from Him. How earnestly should we seek it! Some say, "I cannot go to Jesus until I repent." Nay, rather, you cannot repent until you go to Jesus. If repentance is His to give then how can we have it but by going to Him for it?
Now observe how little help this miserable man got from his companions in sin. They proved but false friends in the hour of need. But a little while ago Judas and the chief priests and elders were plotting together with one object. Their motives, indeed, were different: his motive was mere gain; their motive was the destruction of Jesus. But they were joining together for one end; they were partners and associates. One might have thought them fast friends.
A few hours only have passed, and see them now. In his deep remorse and despair, Judas comes to the chief priests and elders. "I have sinned," says he, "by betraying innocent blood!" How do his partners receive him? They have no word of pity for him in his misery no help, no comfort, no sympathy. Though every tone and look must have spoken the anguish of his heart Judas meets with nothing but hard-hearted indifference and mocking scorn. "What is that to us? You have done our work, and we have paid the price the business is finished. Your sorrow and His innocence what do they matter to us? What is that to us? See to it yourself."
Ah, there is nothing sure in a friendship or companionship based on sinful, or even on mere worldly principles.
How often in trials at law, do we read of companions in crime betraying one another! Sometimes in order to save themselves, but quite as often from the hope of reward.
How often do old companions, friends as they called themselves fail in the hour of need! They seemed firm friends indeed. They were blessing companions, perhaps. They laughed, they sang, they drank. Many a merry evening did they pass together.
But let one of their number be brought into trouble and how often do such friends as these forsake him entirely! Some fever seizes him perhaps, some contagious fever and they flee from his house as from the plague! Or he comes to poverty and want; he can no longer feast them; he stands in need of the very necessities of life. Often in such a case, he seeks help in vain from these old friends.
Did not the prodigal find it so? Though there was a mighty famine in the land yet all were not brought to destitution, for we know that there was one citizen of that country who still kept his property, and if one, there were probably more. Yet "no one gave him anything." Of all those with whom he had wasted his substance with riotous living there was not one to help him in his need.
How different is true Christian friendship. It is based on the love of God. It is kind, generous, unselfish. It leads men to regard one another as brethren brethren in the Lord. Even where this bond is lacking on one side, the Christian himself is kind and loving to all. Often, when one who has kept company with the worldly and ungodly and shunned, and even scoffed at the servants of God, is brought into some sore trouble he finds at last who are his true friends. While old companions come not near him he finds at his bedside some kind Christian person, whom once perhaps he disliked and despised, and hears from his lips the words of truth and of prayer and receives from his hand those comforts which the sick man needs.
Seek such friends. Be such friends. We should all be helpers to one another helping each other with kindness, with comfort, with sympathy, with gifts. We should be companions, not in sin, not in folly; at times, it may be, in tribulation; but always in godliness, fellow-travelers towards the heavenly city, cheering one another along the way.
The King Who Was Not Received by His Own People
"He came to His own and His own people did not receive Him." John 1:11
When some great man, the owner of property in various parts of the country, pays a visit to a distant estate he is usually received with great honor. The tenantry turn out to meet him; every cottager puts on his best; all try to show respect to their landlord. This is because he comes to his own.
If a king visits a distant part of his dominions, still more earnestly do his subjects seek to do him honor. Great preparations are made to receive him, and the day of his arrival is a day of general rejoicing. This again is because he comes to his own.
But there was once a King who came to His own, and was not received in this way. Yet He was the greatest and best of kings and came in a most remarkable manner. He left the glorious part of His kingdom, where He lived and reigned and came to a poor and base part, the people of which had rebelled against Him. But He did not come to punish them; He came with purposes of mercy. His object was to do them good, to save them from punishment, and to make them happy.
He did not come in royalty but in a poor and humble way. In fact, He came as one of them. He lived among them, and went about doing good among them. If any of them had any complaint to make, He would hear it. If any came to Him for relief, He never turned them away. He was always kind and gracious and did nothing but good wherever He went.
Yet, strange to say, most of the people would not receive Him. Very few would even acknowledge that He was their King. The greater part rejected Him, hated, opposed, and insulted Him and at length they cruelly murdered Him.
I need hardly explain whom I mean. There has been but one such case ever since the world began. Jesus Christ was the King; the world was the kingdom He came to visit; and unbelieving men were those who would not receive Him. As in the cases before mentioned, so here the great point is that He came to His own. "All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made." "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him yet the world did not know Him."
The world to which He came, was His by a right such as no earthly king ever had the right of creation. "All things were made through Him" the world and all things in it. Ages before the men then living were born, the world was made by Him out of nothing and yet, when He thus came to "His own," "His own people did not receive Him."
That mankind would not receive Him is the more remarkable because the lower part of creation did receive and obey Him. The stormy winds ceased at His command; the waters were calmed by His word; He had but to speak and diseases fled; and He cast out evil spirits with a word. Nature and demons bowed to Him but man refused Him. Man, the highest work of creation; man, who could think and believe and know; man alone would not receive the Son of God.
Yet man, like the rest, was His own, and by the same right the right of creation. When all else was made, then "God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" and man was made accordingly. "The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."
Every part and every faculty of man is from God powers of body and powers of mind, thought and sense and feeling. God made man and God sustains man; "in Him we live, and move, and have our being". Yet when the Son of God came, and came to save man did not receive Him.
When we take this general view of the text, we are struck with man's evil conduct. It was so strange, so ungrateful, so unlike what generally takes place even between man and man. It is only from the Bible, that we learn the explanation. The truth is that man is sinfully fallen. His heart is naturally estranged from God; and that very sin which made it needful that a Savior should come kept man from receiving Him when He came. So it has been ever since and so it is now. Most men spurn Christ; few receive Him. The words are still sadly true, "He came to His own and His own people did not receive Him."
How is it with us? We are His, by right of creation at least, for He made us. And He has come to us. For we are among those rebellious subjects whom He came to save; and He has caused us to hear of His coming and dying for sinners; and still He comes to us continually, offering us pardon and life, and seeking admittance into our hearts. Have we received Him?
Let none think this question is out of place among those who profess to be Christians. Alas, among those who profess His name, there are numbers who have not given Him their hearts. But nothing short of this is really receiving Him; it must be heart-receiving or it is no receiving. He came to save, and He must be received as a Savior, or He is not received at all.
They therefore who do not believe in Jesus with the heart do in fact reject Him. He comes to them but they receive Him not. In what state then are they left? They are still His by right of creation subject to His authority and power; but they refuse to submit to Him or receive Him. They are left therefore in a state no better than that in which they were, when He came in mercy to visit them they are still rebellious subjects. Their state is no better, but rather far worse. For they have despised the Son of God, slighted His offers, and refused His mercy. When He comes again He will deal with them in justice.
But some do receive Him. Even of those to whom He came first, some received Him, though but few. And so it is still. Though most reject Him yet some receive Him. What of them? They were His before by right of creation. But now they are His by a new and dearer right His by redemption, His by adoption and grace. "But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name He gave the right to become children of God." They are now at peace with God, and admitted into His family! God is their reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. He loves them and treats them as His children, and they regard Him as their Father. Blessings unnumbered are theirs eternal life, pardon, peace, and salvation; a God ever near, a Savior trusted and loved, the promised grace of the Spirit. And, besides all this, they know that there is a blessed home is prepared for them where they will be forever with the Lord!
This is what is given now to all believers. This is what thousands of happy Christians are now living in the daily enjoyment of. This is what is still offered to all even to those who have long rejected Christ, if they will now at length submit themselves to Him, and receive Him as their Savior and their King.
The Return of the Spies
"At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land." Numbers 13:25
God had promised to bring the children of Israel into a land "flowing with milk and honey" that is, a rich and fruitful country, where all their needs would be fully supplied. After a toilsome journey through the wilderness, they had now reached the borders of Canaan; and Moses, by the command of God, sent out men to search the land. Twelve men were sent a man from every tribe. Their orders were to "See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees on it or not?" And Moses added this charge, "Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land."
The spies did as they were commanded and searched the land as far as Hebron. In the course of their search they came to one place of remarkable fruitfulness the brook or valley of Eshcol. So rich were its fruits, that they there cut "a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs." Thus laden, they returned to Moses and the congregation.
They could not but speak well of a land so fertile. "We came," said they, "to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit." So far all was encouraging. But when they went on to describe the inhabitants and their cities, their tone was changed. "However," they said, "the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there!"
And when Caleb, one of their number, and Joshua with him, tried to cheer the people, saying, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it" the rest of the spies still spoke in the most discouraging way. "We are not able," said they, "to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are."
Thus "they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying: The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim [giants] there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."
The people were filled with fear by this report. "All the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night." They went further, and "grumbled against Moses and against Aaron." "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!" And, despising God's commands to them by Moses and disregarding His promises, "they said one to another: Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt!"
It would be too long to enter at large into what followed. It is enough to say that, in consequence of this unbelief and disobedience the spies who brought the evil report were at once visited with death, and all those of that generation who were grown up to manhood were condemned to wander in the wilderness until they died and never to enter the land of Canaan. Though they were on the very borders of the land when this happened, it was not until forty years afterwards that they, or rather their children, entered it. All except Caleb and Joshua, the faithful two, died in the wilderness.
What do we learn from this sad history? A solemn lesson against unbelief. It is in this way that the apostle applies it, in his epistle to the Hebrews. He first quotes the 95th Psalm. "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put Me to the test and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said: 'They always go astray in their heart; they have not known My ways.' As I swore in My wrath: They shall never enter My rest!"
Then from this example, He gives a warning against unbelief: "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God". He goes on afterwards to apply the Psalm yet more closely: "As it is said, 'Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.' For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?"
And lastly He brings all to this conclusion: "So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief" and thus applies the whole subject, "Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still stands let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it."
Yes, we too have a promised rest, a good land the heavenly Canaan. God, who promised to the Israelites after their journey through the wilderness, "a land flowing with milk and honey" has promised to all who seek it through Jesus Christ, rest and glory with Him in Heaven when they shall have passed through the wilderness of this world. Just as the land of Canaan, fruitful and delightful, lay before the Israelites when the spies were sent out so is the heavenly Canaan prepared for the spiritual Israel, for every believer. God gave Canaan to Israel; they were expressly warned against saying in their heart, "My power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth."
Heaven is a gift likewise, God's free gift for Christ's sake. "The free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."
Yet numbers fall short of it; for when the apostle warns against seeming to come short, He means really coming short. As almost a whole generation of Israel never entered Canaan, though the promise was made to them and the land lay before them so thousands to whom the offers of the gospel come fail to enter into the rest of God.
Why? For the very same reason as kept the Israelites out of Canaan unbelief. They cannot enter in "because of unbelief." Let us look into this more closely. The unbelief of the Israelites was this: not that they did not believe in the goodness of the land, for the grapes of Eshcol must have convinced them of that; but that they did not believe that they could get possession of the land. The strong and warlike inhabitants, with their fortified towns, filled them with alarm. They forgot the promises of God. He had said that He would give them the land. If they had trusted in Him, not all the power of the Canaanites would have been able to resist them. The land was theirs by the promise of God. But their faith failed, and so they could not enter in.
The unbelief of those who do not embrace the gospel offer is of the like nature. They do not deny that Heaven is a place to be desired, though no unrenewed heart has really a longing after Heaven for its own sake. Almost all, however, do profess a wish to go to Heaven when they die. But they see and feel hindrances and difficulties of various kinds.
Some do not believe in salvation as the gift of God for Christ's sake, purchased by His precious blood and freely bestowed. They are not careless about their souls; but they are self-righteous in their views and hope, thinking that there must be some worthiness in them and not willing to trust Christ fully. No wonder that they find no comfort. No wonder that Heaven seems beyond their reach. Christ is the way the only way. No man comes unto the Father, but by Him. They cannot enter in because of their unbelief.
Others do really begin well. They believe the Word of God and seem to embrace the gospel and to enter upon the heavenly road. They even, like the spies, pluck some of the fruits of Canaan, and in their own experience learn somewhat of the blessings of true religion. But they are easily hindered. The first difficulty frightens them. The trials, opposition, reproach, and self-denial of the Christian course discourage them. They do not rely on the unfailing word of God. They do not feel that His grace is sufficient for them. Thus, though they have put their hand to the plow they look back; and they too cannot enter in because of unbelief.
What has been said thus far applies equally to the spies and to the people. But some are more especially like the people, who listened to the spies rather than to God, speaking as He did by Moses and also by Caleb and Joshua. Such are those who are led by worldly advisers to give up serious religion and to follow the ways of those around them instead of taking up the cross and following Christ. They are not ignorant of the Word of God, and perhaps they have been under faithful preaching and have felt somewhat of the power of the truth. But they allow the word of man to influence them more than the Word of God and let this "bad report" outweigh what God has said. Thus they also are hindered by unbelief.
Again there are some whose case is more like that of the spies themselves who not only feared, but led others to fear. How awful a thing it is, to be the means of turning any back from following God! How heavy a weight of guilt must rest on those who hinder others from believing! A backslider, a worldly friend, or even a faint-hearted or inconsistent Christian may do harm of which he little thinks. A beginner in the Christian course is easily influenced. It should be the object of those who are further advanced, to let others see how happy a living faith makes them, and how it gives a tone to their whole life, and thus to lead them on rather than discourage them.
We may apply the subject even more generally. The careless and thoughtless, who live in complete neglect of religion what is it that leads them to such a course but lack of belief? They do not really embrace the Word of God. The things of eternity make little impression on them. Whatever they may profess to hold, they have no real belief in what God has said, whether in the way of warning, of reproof, of invitation, or of promise. It is unbelief that is their chief hindrance. They continue in a careless and ungodly course because they do not believe. What God has said is but so many unmeaning words to them.
They have no real wish for Heaven, no sense of sin or danger or need, no fear of wrath. Or, if ever they are troubled by unwelcome thoughts, those thoughts are quickly put away. They are living in unbelief. Unless they are brought to believe, that unbelief will shut them out of the promised land.
Once more, there may be a partial unbelief even in believers; for weakness of faith is but another name for unbelief mixing itself with faith. Now weakness of faith, though it will not hinder from entering in, if the faith is true does nevertheless deprive of much comfort, and greatly ruffle the peace and cloud the prospect of the Christian. Of every kind and in every degree unbelief is an evil thing. It may take a thousand forms, but its nature is still the same. Let Christians beware of it! Let nothing shake their confidence in their Savior in His precious blood, His finished work, His all-prevailing intercession, His unfailing grace and love. Let nothing lead them to doubt the Word of God. Let those especially who have tasted that the Lord is gracious and have by faith seen somewhat of the goodness of the land of promise, go up and possess the land, fearing no foe, but trusting fully in Almighty power and unfailing truth.
"Charity (love) is patient, and is kind." 1 Corinthians 13:4
This is a very remarkable chapter. It is all on one subject, love. It gives a full-length portrait of this Christian grace. All must be struck with the force, the fullness, and the earnestness with which the apostle writes. One thing we clearly see, that he had considered love in all its workings, that he did most earnestly desire that all should live in it nay, that he thought it absolutely necessary in every Christian. And we must bear in mind that this was not a mere opinion of his but that what he wrote, he wrote by inspiration of God.
Before we go further, let it be clearly understood what charity means. The word is often used for giving to the poor, or for showing kindness to any. If a beggar meets us he asks our charity. If a person is noted for relieving the needs of others he is called a charitable person. But this meaning of the word is not, strictly speaking, its right meaning; nor is it the meaning of it here.
Charity is a feeling or principle not an action. It leads to actions, but it is not itself any action at all. In short, it simply means LOVE Christian love. A spring issues from the ground, and, as it flows down the hill-side, divides itself into several streams. One stream goes this way, another that. One makes those meadows so green; another turns the water-wheel in the valley. Each is useful, but each in its own way. Now it would be wrong to call any one of those streams, the spring. The spring is that which supplies them all. The streams pursue their course, doing good wherever they go; but the spring is on the hill-side, or rather deep below the ground, where the eye cannot see it.
So charity, or love, is the spring and acts of kindness are the streams. The spring is in the heart the streams appear in the life. Like the streams of water flowing this way and that way, and doing good wherever they go so charity, or love, sends out kind thoughts, kind words, and kind actions in all directions. But they are no more charity, properly speaking, than the streams are the spring.
Much is said in this chapter about charity. We are told what it is and what it is not; what it does and what it does not do; how it feels, what it seeks, what it takes pleasure in, and how long it will last. But let us fix our attention now on this one thing that is said about it, "Love is patient, and kind."
Of course when it is said "Love is patient," the meaning is, that the person who has love is patient. In other words, the loving person is a patient person. He is patient and forgiving. He willingly puts up with wrong. Even when treated as he feels he ought not to be treated he is not angry or revengeful, but patient. To many an angry word does he return a soft answer. Many a slight does he pass by unnoticed. Many an unkind act does he repay with kindness.
Is this easy? Far from it. Some are indeed by nature more smooth-tempered than others, but none are disposed by nature to return good for evil. And many a person to whom the words "Love is patient" may now with truth be applied was by no means smooth-tempered naturally.
Formerly the hot temper was ready to rise at every provocation and angry feeling was easily excited and hasty words were often on the tongue. But now there is something within which checks, softens, and calms his anger. It is love God has given him the spirit of love. And so this same person now bears with offenses which he would not have borne with formerly. He is now patient under harsh treatment, which once would have filled him with thoughts of revenge. He now answers gently, with words that would once have called forth the angry and bitter speech.
This is his habit. His patience is shown, not merely now and then, in an occasional fit of forbearance and gentleness but always. Such at least is his desire. He is patient every day to those with whom he lives continually; to those in the same neighborhood, or in the same house; to those who often provoke him, or whose temperament is not pleasing to him. To all such, he tries to be patient at all times. It has often a wonderful effect on them in the end.
But this is not all. "Love is patient, and is kind." Now there is a way of being outwardly patient without being kind. Some people bear things in sullen silence. There is no outbreak of angry passion, no show of resentment, no hasty reply yet, under a calm appearance, there is secret ill-feeling. And there is yet another way.
Some are patient because they are unfeeling. Treatment that would make a hot-tempered person very angry does not make them angry at all, simply because they do not care about it. But neither of these is love's way of being patient.
"Love is patient, and is kind." He who has Christian love in his heart bears ill-treatment, or puts up with what is unpleasing in others, not in sullen silence, or cold unconcern but in a spirit of kindness. He is not without feeling. The harsh treatment of others cuts him to the heart. It pains him to meet with cruelness in word or in deed. But, though pained, he is still kind. He has no feeling of resentment or if such a feeling should rise, it is quickly subdued. He not only endures meekly, but is ready also to do any act of kindness in his power, and is glad if an opportunity occur of doing good to one who has injured him. This is the triumph of love the victory of grace, "to overcome evil with good."
I say "of grace," for it is of grace. Some are by nature more kind and gentle than others but true Christian love is a fruit of God's grace in the heart. Natural kindness is a lovely thing, but it is not Christian love. For love is a Christian principle, drawing its life and power from Christ Himself. His love is its motive; His example is the pattern; and His power in the heart by the Spirit is that which begets, maintains, and increases Christian love.
Yet all merely human instances of charity are imperfect. I said that "love is patient" means that the person who has it, is patient. But how little we have of it! How often our love fails when tried!
In describing how the loving man feels and acts, I have been forced to speak of him as if his love were perfect. Alas, it is not so. But one example we have, that is quite perfect. "God is love," and it is only in Him that we see the words fully made good, "Love is patient, and is kind."
Think of the life and death of Jesus. Consider how He went about doing good, how forbearing He was toward His disciples; how gentle He was to those who opposed Him; how forgiving He was to His enemies. His was love indeed. "But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." Thus He taught and thus He lived. Even on the cross His prayer was, "Father, forgive them!"
And think of God's general dealings. How patient and kind He is! He is patient to His people, in their coldness of heart, their inconsistency, their short-comings and backslidings. He is patient to rebellious sinners, in bearing with them, waiting for them, and sending them again and again, His messages of mercy.
He is patient and kind to all making His sun to rise on the evil and on the good; sending rain on the just and on the unjust; blessing many who never thank Him; supplying the needs of numbers who never pray; and continuing life and health and the means of grace to those who still refuse to come at His call.
He who is love, requires us to love one another. This is to be the badge of Christ's followers. "By this all people will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another." No gifts can make up for the absence of this grace. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." A lack of love, or at least of an earnest desire for it would prove us too surely to be none of His.
But grace can do wonders in smoothing a rugged temper and in subduing an impatient spirit. He who knows our frame and all our manifold infirmities will help us by His grace to love one another.
"Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation." Watch against all that has heretofore led you to offend against the law of love. Pray continually that the Holy Spirit may make you patient and kind. Let the thought be ever present with you as your strongest motive to love that all that you have and all that you hope for you owe to God's free love and mercy in Christ Jesus.
The Blessing for All
"As He said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed!'
But He said, 'Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it!'" Luke 11:27-28
We are not surprised at the feeling shown by this woman; it was but natural and proper. If she believed that Jesus was the Messiah, then her words exactly agree with those of the angel to Mary, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" It was blessed indeed to be chosen to give birth to the Savior of the world. And even if she did not so believe yet it is no wonder that, hearing the gracious words of Jesus and seeing His wonderful works and His pure and holy life she was struck with the happiness of being the mother of such a son.
Our Lord did not rebuke the woman; rather He seems to have approved of her feeling. It was blessed to be the mother of such a son. Yet He corrected her speech and turned her thoughts, and ours, into another channel, showing us a blessedness, if not greater in itself yet greater to us because more within our reach: "Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it!"
Our Lord probably meant especially those who heard from His own lips the Word of God. At that very time He had been speaking many solemn and cheering truths, and this woman had been among the hearers. Blessed were they, He tells her who would not only hear Him speak, but would also keep and treasure up His words.
But what He said applies equally to us, who have the written word of God. We have it in our hands to read, or can hear it read by others and we may hear also the preaching of the word. We "hear the Word of God" more freely and fully than it ever was heard before. This part of the blessedness then is certainly ours.
But this is not all; there is another part. The word must be obeyed as well as heard: "Blessed are those who hear the Word of God, and obey it." We must not hear it carelessly. We must not be hearers only, forgetting it as soon as heard, feeling no value for it, and taking no pains about it. We are to guard it and obey it to treasure it in our hearts as a precious possession, to believe it, and to follow it; then the full blessing will be ours.
But why are they blessed who hear and keep the Word of God?
1. Because the Word of God is the word of life the message of salvation. It tells us of a Savior, speaks pardon and peace, and opens to us God's wondrous way of saving sinners. This can be said of no other book, and no other thing. The works of God in nature tell us much but they do not tell us this. Many books of man are written on these subjects but they are but man's books after all. They do not speak with authority; they bring us no message from God Himself, and all the truth they contain is but drawn from the book of God. Blessed are they then, who hear and keep the Word of God Himself, because it tells them directly from God, how He will save them.
2. They are blessed also, because the Word of God is a guide. It is a difficult path through the wilderness of this world. Many hindrances and perplexities meet us, and many different rules are offered for our guidance: fashion, custom, prudence, man's opinion, etc. The word of God is the only sure guide. A simple, humble, earnest following of this guide is the wisest, happiest, safest course! The poorest and most unlearned who through grace take this course, have more security for going right than the greatest and wisest who follow any other. Therefore, again, they are blessed who hear and keep the Word of God because they have a sure guide through life.
3. The word of God also comforts in trouble, and therefore they are blessed who hear it and obey it. This world has its sorrows as well as its difficulties sorrows many and great; but the Word of God has comfort for all. It is full of comfort. It has invitations and promises, declarations of God's love, examples of mourners whom He has comforted and these in great number and variety. There is no kind of trouble for which some suitable comfort may not be found in the Bible. In time of deep sorrow a comfort and consolation are found in the Word of God which are sought in vain in other books. It is the best of all books for those in trouble.
Thus for these three reasons (to mention no others) they are blessed who hear and keep the Word of God. It is a word of life, a word of guidance, and a word of comfort.
This is a blessedness that is within our reach. Only one could have that other blessedness; and perhaps it was with a feeling of disappointment mixed with admiration that the woman said, "Blessed is the womb that bore You." That blessedness belonged to another and never could be hers.
Not so with the blessedness of which our Lord spoke: "Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it." They not one, but many; not a single highly-favored woman, but thousands, millions all to whom the Word of God should come and who would receive it aright. This makes the blessing ours at least it may be ours.
Is it ours? Have we found the Word of God blessed to us? Has it led us to Christ and to peace? Has it been our guide in difficulty and our comfort in trouble? And is it so still? If not, it must be from some fault in us, for there can be nothing lacking in the Word itself. Perhaps it is because, though the Word has been heard it has not been obeyed. There are two things needful: hearing and obeying it may be that we have only done one. There are thousands of such hearers, hearers who are hearers only.
If it has been so with you hitherto then seek earnestly that henceforth it may be so no longer. You do hear the word now begin to obey it.
First, pray for the Spirit to cause the Word to reach your heart. At every fresh hearing or reading, pray afresh. Seek thus that inward teaching which is from God alone. Then be diligent with regard to the word. Hear it with great earnestness, as the Word of God; think over it, apply it to yourself, examine it "search the scriptures." Consider that, whether you have hitherto found them or not there are priceless treasures in God's word, and that God is willing to give you a share. Never rest until you gain them. "Seek and you will find."
Lastly, watch. Keep the word; guard it; watch against all that might lead you to let it slip or might cause it to become unfruitful. Watch against the love of money, the love of pleasure, too great occupation in business, against the world in every shape. Watch against a cold heart, a trifling spirit, a careless walk. Watch against unprofitable reading and unprofitable company. Be very humble, very watchful, very prayerful.
Thus seek to treasure up the Word in your heart. Keep well what you have learned already and try to add something continually to your store. "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly." Have it ready there for use to guide, cheer, and comfort you. Let it be to you a word loved and followed, your close companion, your bosom friend God speaking by it to your heart, and your heart listening to His voice.
Then you will be blessed indeed called blessed by Christ Himself, more blessed than even she who gave birth to Him would have been, if she had not had this blessing too.
"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest and peace, good will toward men!" Luke 2:13-14
It was to shepherds that the Savior's birth was first made known. Before any of the great or learned knew what had taken place, these humble men heard the glad tidings. Thus early were the words fulfilled, "The poor have the good news preached to them." But though brought to humble men yet an angel was the bearer of the good news. It was an honor even to an angel to bring such a message.
How was it brought? When Jesus was born at Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching their flocks by night in the nearby pastures a general practice in that warm climate and open country. While thus engaged, an angel appeared to them, and a glorious light shone around them. Their first feeling was fear "they were filled with great fear" but the angel bade them not to fear. "Fear not," he said; "for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
There was no cause for fear, but every reason for joy. A Savior was born the promised Messiah was come, Christ the Lord. That very day, in the village close by this birth had taken place, and there they would find Him. Not, however, as they might have expected, in some grand place with all the signs of heavenly greatness: "You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." A helpless infant, born at a village inn, the child of poor parents in this humble guise should they find the Savior of mankind. Such was the message. And then, "Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!"
Thus was the birth of Christ made known to shepherds and thus did holy angels celebrate it. Christmas Day is kept in remembrance of the very same thing. That for which angels thus sang praises Christians also profess to praise God for at this season. Let us learn a lesson of praise from them.
"Glory to God in the highest!" Our hearts should join in these words. To God be all the glory of redemption. His be the praise for His is all the work. Glory be to Him in Heaven above and in earth below. Let the hosts of angels praise Him; let the redeemed in Heaven praise Him; let the redeemed upon earth praise Him too. May millions of souls, redeemed and saved through Him who was born as at this time at Bethlehem, be for the praise and glory of God forever!
"And on earth peace." Man was at enmity with God through sin. A load of guilt lay on him. Man's heart was estranged from God, and his conscience was defiled with sin. But Christ came as "the Prince of Peace." He paid our debt with His blood, atoned for our sins, took away our condemnation, made our peace, and restored us to the favor of God. Every believer has a share in these unspeakable blessings. All who will, may now be at peace with God. The way is open Jesus is the way.
And when thus at peace with God, then men become at peace with one another; not perfectly indeed, for sin cleaves to them still, but in a measure; so that even now wherever the gospel goes, there peace and love are found in the place of war and strife. The happy time will come, when war and strife will be done away completely and forever. That will be, when "the Prince of Peace" comes in His glory and takes to Himself His kingdom.
"Good will toward men." This also was proclaimed by the angels in their song. The coming of Christ was through the "good will," or favor, of God. He looked with pity upon our fallen race and sent His Son to redeem us. And now, whoever has received Christ by faith, is in a state of acceptance; God's anger has passed away from him; he is looked upon with favor; the sunshine of God's love is upon him continually. Not only so, but the believer himself, reconciled and accepted in Christ is enabled to do that which is pleasing to God. Though still sinful in himself, and even his best doings not without some stain of sin yet, as joined to Christ by faith, he is well-pleasing in the sight of God. The fruits of the Spirit appear in him, and he lives to God's glory. Thus by the coming of Christ God is reconciled, and man, sinful man, becomes well-pleasing to Him.
Such are the blessings of the coming of Christ. This is why angels sang praise to God; this is why Christians still rejoice at this season. But let us look to it that our Christmas joy is a right joy, and that our Christmas is spent in a right way.
The birthday of Christ should be kept with joy by Christians for this simple reason that they love Him and honor Him and obtain so many blessings from His birth. Angels rejoiced at His coming. But He came to redeem not angels but men. How ought men then to rejoice! Yet many celebrate Christmas without one thought of Christ and His salvation. This may be joy, but it is not Christmas joy. The only true Christmas joy, is joy for the coming of a Savior; and who can have this joy, but one who has felt his need of Christ, and sought and found Him?
Again, since it is the birth of Christ that we commemorate, let the season be spent in such a way as will please Him. Many make Christmas a time of sinful riot and excess many even of those who profess to regard it as the Savior's birthday! Let not idle, worldly customs be followed about keeping Christmas let there be no senseless, godless merriment. Let Christians remember their Savior let their hearts be filled with grateful, happy thoughts of Him let Him who ought to be often in their minds, be so especially at this season let Him be remembered by each Christian in private, remembered in the congregation, remembered in the family.
And when scattered households meet and fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, again sit together round the hearth and cheerful and loving talk goes round then let not the cause of Christmas rejoicing be forgotten let His birthday he kept indeed, and let Him be the chief guest, the Lord of the feast.
Ebenezer, or the 'Stone of Help' for the New Year
"Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said: Until now the LORD has helped us." 1 Samuel 7:12
Several times in the history of the people of Israel, when any special help or deliverance had been received stones were set up by way of memorial. Such a case is related in this chapter. The children of Israel were put in great fear by the Philistines. They begged Samuel to cry to the Lord for them, and Samuel did so. The Lord heard him and granted deliverance. A great thunder upset the Philistines, and they were smitten before Israel and fled. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up on the spot, as recorded in the text, calling it by the name Ebenezer or the stone of help; and saying, "Until now the Lord has helped us." It was to be both a memorial of the past, and an encouragement for the future, a token of gratitude, and a ground of trust.
God, in His mercy, has brought us to see the beginning of another year. Such seasons should not be allowed to pass without serious thought. We ought to look back upon God's gracious dealings with us and set up a memorial of them in our hearts. How much cause have we all to say, "Until now the Lord has helped us!"
These words in themselves imply dependence on God. There would be no help required if there were not need, insufficiency, weakness, helplessness on our part. This is in truth our condition. Our needs are many. We are weak and helpless and prone to go astray. We have no strength, no wisdom, no grace or goodness of our own. This is always our state. It is so now. It is thus that we are entering on a new year not knowing what is before us; unable to foresee, to order, or to hinder; dependent upon God for all things temporal and for all things spiritual; needing His help in every way. Thus we began last year and thus we begin the present year. Whether we feel it or not, this is always our state.
The Lord has helped us. We have reason to say so with regard to the past year.
Temporally, He has helped us. We are brought thus far in safety. We could not know at the beginning of last year, that it would be so. Perhaps it seemed unlikely with some. Yet so it is. God has helped us thus far. Not all in the same way. His manner of dealing has been various with various people. With some, the year has run a smooth and easy course much like other years that went before. With others, it has been a year of unusual events. Some have been helped through poverty, some through sickness, some through sorrow, and some perhaps through some great and peculiar trial the greatest they ever had. But all have been helped and helped by God.
Let us never be blind to His hand. The Israelites fought against the Philistines yet Samuel taught them to attribute all their deliverance to God: "Until now the Lord has helped us."
He has helped us spiritually also, in soul as well as in body. We have had our temptations, our fears, and our struggles. At least, many of us have. It has not been all sunshine in our souls. The way has not been smooth throughout. Yet we have been helped. To those who have sought it grace has been given according to their need. Prayer has been heard; hearts have been cheered; many a fear has been taken away; much light and comfort have been given.
And in the way of duty duty that seemed difficult and yet was plainly duty, help has been given to many gracious help, full and sufficient help, such as was hardly thought possible.
Look back on these times. Let not past temptations, fears, struggles, prayers, and help be forgotten. Set up a stone of memorial. Say gratefully, "Until now the Lord has helped us!"
Even those who have not sought, have yet found. Many who have felt no need and put up no prayer, have been helped. Such help as the barren fig tree found, they have found. God's forbearance has been shown toward them; they are spared to begin another year. Ah, do not overlook this. Why has this help been given? Why has this forbearance been shown? Was it that He saw you were not ready? Oh, what should this lead you to in the new year which has now opened upon you?
Hitherto has the Lord helped us. We are accustomed to use this word "hitherto" when we have reached a certain point but have still further to go. It is so with us in the journey of life. "Hitherto has the Lord helped us" thus far on our way to the end of another year. Temporally and spiritually, He has helped us up to this point. Each in his own way, His children have thus far received help; and those who are wanderers from Him too, for they have been spared to this time. But the end is not yet reached. We have further to go. The stone of memorial therefore which we set up in our hearts, in gratitude for past help should influence our thoughts with regard to the future also.
In the way of serious thought and self-examination. This "hitherto" suggests, as I have said, that there is still something before us. But that something is less than it was. There is now more behind us, and less before us than there was a year ago. Our "hitherto" expresses a different point in our life, from what it did then. We are so much nearer the end. How shall we live after so much help, so many mercies, and such continued forbearance? How are we living? We are nearer to the end are we nearer to God? We are older in years are we older in grace? Is there any progress, any change, since last year began?
Or are some beginning this year just as they began the last just as cold, as careless, as lifeless as to spiritual things; time and means of grace and God's various gifts, all seemingly bestowed in vain? The barren fig tree was spared this past year also. Oh, let the careless take warning! God's forbearance towards the impenitent will not be forever. This "hitherto" will come to an end.
But the stone of memorial should also encourage us. He who has helped us will continue to help us; all at least who own and seek and trust in His help. Yes, the Lord has helped hitherto and He will not now withdraw His help.
Christians, fear not! He in whom you trust will never fail you. Jesus Christ, your Savior, is "the same yesterday and today and forever"; your Father is an unchanging Father; the Spirit's presence is still promised to those who seek. Be not anxious about the coming year. Fear not even temptations and trials. Watch and pray, but do not fear.
Your Friend will not forsake you. Your Helper hitherto will be your Helper still. He has help sufficient for all times and for every need. The untrodden path of the new year shall be even as the now familiar way of the old. Its events indeed may be different, its course unlike that of any year before but in this at least the future will be as the past, that God will be your God still and Jesus still your unchanging Lord and Savior. Hitherto has the Lord helped you. At every point of your journey you will still have cause to say the same. And never will that help cease, until the last stage in the journey is past, and your Helper shall bring you safely home!
The Faithful Three
"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king: O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this is so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." Daniel 3:16-18
The Jews were at this time in captivity at Babylon, and these three young men were of that people. They were friends and companions of Daniel, and at his request had been set over the affairs of the province of Babylon. This made some of the Chaldeans, the people of the land, very jealous and angry. They could not bear that these foreigners should be put into the high places which they themselves would have been so glad to fill; and doubtless they were continually on the watch to ruin them, as was the case afterwards with regard to Daniel himself.
An opportunity soon arose. King Nebuchadnezzar, in his wicked pride, and forgetting, as it seems, the lesson which God had taught him in the dream interpreted by Daniel, made a huge image of gold and set it up in the plain of Dura and commanded that all people should worship it. The signal was to be given by music. As soon as the sound was heard, all were to fall down and worship; and any who would not do so were to be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace! This proclamation was publicly made, and the people generally obeyed it. At the sound of the music, all fell down and worshiped the image.
All but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They alone did not worship. Where Daniel was, we are not told; but we may be quite sure that if he had been there, he too would have refused to worship the image. Now their enemies thought that they had their Jewish rivals in their power. They went at once to the king and accused them. "There are certain Jews," said they, "whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
The king, full of rage, sent for the men. "Is it true," he said, "O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?" However, he would give them another opportunity. If, even now, they would fall down and worship when the music sounded, all would be well; but if not, then they should be cast into the furnace. "And who," added he impiously, "is the God who will deliver you out of my hands?"
There was much to make them afraid. They saw rage and fury in the king's face; they heard his angry words; they knew his absolute power; they were well aware of the malice of their accusers; they saw that all the people bowed down to the image and that none but them dared to disobey the king. There was much to make them afraid. Yet no sign of fear appears in their conduct. They do not even hesitate. They take no time for consideration. They ask for no delay. At once they reply in the words of the text: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful [have no need] to answer you in this matter." They were not careful to answer the king; they were in no doubt or anxiety as to what they should do; their duty was quite plain. If it came to the worst, their God could save them. Even if the king should cast them into the furnace, He could deliver them from it. Such was their firm belief. But, in any case, they would not worship the idol. If they must die for obeying God then die they would. Come what might, they would not serve the false gods of the king nor worship the image which he had set up.
We know how the history ends. They were cast into the furnace and came out unhurt. Their faith was answered; God saved them from the fire; the malice of their enemies was defeated; the king himself made a decree acknowledging the one true God and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were advanced to further honor.
It is a striking history, one of the most striking in the Bible. But it is much more. It is full of instruction and encouragement.
We live in happier times than Shadrach and his companions. We are not subject to the will of a tyrant; we are free to worship God according to our conscience. The law of the land protects us instead of oppressing us; and so complete is our religious liberty, that no one can either be forced to worship against his will, or hindered from worshiping as he sees right.
Yet, though we are safe from legal persecution, occasions do arise when the servant of God must make his choice between following Him and pleasing man. At such times the conduct of the three Hebrew young men may well be taken as an example.
The customs of the world are often opposed to the Word of God. There are many worldly pleasures, for instance, in which the servant of God must not take part. Yet the world will dislike him if he refuses, and a young Christian finds it hard to meet the scorn and dislike of those around him. But his course is plain. He must be faithful. He must not bow down to the image of public opinion when that opinion is against the Word of God.
Sometimes the Christian must face more than scorn and dislike in serving God. A clerk, a shopman, a servant, a workman, may be required by a master, on pain of dismissal to do what is against his conscience. For instance, orders may be given that such and such goods are to be represented to be what they are not, or Sunday work beyond what is necessary may be required. Is there any doubt what the right course is? None at all. God must be obeyed not man. Even at the risk of loss of employment the plain straightforward line of duty must be followed.
In such cases a real pressure is brought to bear on the person, though he cannot be actually punished for doing right. Men have at all times, much power to do good or to do harm to one another. It must be so. It is no light thing to lose a good employment; it is no trifle even to be scorned and disliked. And persecution of this kind may still take place. Yet what is such persecution compared with that which these three men had to meet? What is contempt, what is loss of employment compared with loss of life itself, and in so dreadful a way?
How noble was their conduct! Perfectly respectful to the king yet prompt, firm, decided, unhesitating. No balancing of one consideration against another, no thought of consequences, no suiting of their principles to their circumstances. Calmly they braved the wrath of the king, prepared to meet all that he could do against them, and trusting in God to deliver them.
When duty is plain then we need not take long to consider what to do. Nay, it is dangerous then to hesitate. The heart is deceitful; and in the face of difficulty and danger, we might be tempted to persuade ourselves against our better judgment that a wrong course was, under the circumstances, allowable. If any danger, if any authority could rightly outweigh plain duty then the danger of an awful death at the command of an absolute king might have done so. Yet these men did not hesitate. Nor must we. We must not stop to think of consequences; we must not give ourselves time to go wrong; we must not pretend to comply. In such cases, the first thought is usually the best.
Observe the fullness and simplicity of their faith. They thought that God would deliver them from the furnace; nay, they seem to have had a firm conviction that He would. "If this is so then our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king!" Yet if not, if it should even please God to take them to Himself by that fiery way still they would serve Him and trust Him; still they would never worship the image.
True faith does not dictate to God, but leaves ways and means, and time and circumstances to Him. Such was the faith of these men. Whatever it might please God to do with them, they would commit themselves to Him and follow Him fully. "But if not," said they, "be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
Sometimes the Christian has been tempted into a less decided line of conduct; he has tampered with the difficulty and tried to take a middle course. Has such a course brought peace? Has it even delivered him from his difficulty? Is it not, in fact, a trying to serve two masters? And we know what the Lord Jesus said of that, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money!"
If ever there has been in us such weakness and unfaithfulness, let us henceforth resolve to serve God faithfully and fully. These three young men never gave way, but were bold for God from the very first, and God owned and delivered them.
But God is gracious and merciful. Even if there has been a lack of faithfulness or an actual denying of Him through the fear of man yet He will forgive for Christ's sake. Peter was pardoned and restored and became, through grace, one of the boldest of the servants of Christ. The like pardoning mercy is ready to be bestowed on all who seek it for Jesus' sake; the same grace will be given in answer to prayer.
Nothing should humble us more than the recollection of past unfaithfulness. Let it humble us, but let it not lead us to despair.
For all past weakness and sinfulness,
for every compliance with wrong,
for all guilty silence when we ought to have spoken out for our Lord,
for all fear of man, for all unfaithfulness to God
there is forgiveness, full and free, through the blood of Jesus.
Let us seek grace to walk henceforth more humbly, prayerfully, and hopefully. Taught by past experience, let the Christian more than ever watch and pray; and let it be his firm and humble determination, made in the strength of God that he will never again give way to sin or the world, but will henceforth follow God fully. This is the right, the safe, the happy course.
Consider Your Ways
"Now therefore, thus says the LORD Almighty: Consider your ways!" Haggai 1:5
This was God's message to the people of Jerusalem; but it is His word to us, as well as to them. He would have all to consider their ways. People are too apt to live without thought. They fall into habits almost insensibly. One person does what he sees another do; there are many who follow custom blindly, and numbers have no other rule than their own pleasure.
God would not have us live so. He would have us think and think seriously. He says to us, "Consider your ways" set your heart on your ways, think about them, examine them well.
Now this is a thing, not merely to hear about or to read about but to do. Each person is to do it for himself, to consider his own ways; and a very serious and important thing it is. For every way has an end; there is no way that does not lead somewhere. In order to help us to consider our ways, here are some questions which we may ask ourselves about them:
1. Has conscience anything to say against our way? Do we know, or even suspect, that our way is not a right way? How is our time passed? What are we doing on our week-days? How are we spending our Sundays? Of what kind are our pursuits, our pleasures, our companions? Has conscience anything to say against us on these points, and does it sometimes speak?
2. Are our ways according to the Bible? It is very important to have a clear conscience, but conscience itself must be taught by the Word of God. It is not enough that we should do what we think to be right we must do what God says is right. Are our ways then according to the Bible? With many shortcomings, can we yet take that blessed book and say, "This is what I desire to follow; this is my rule, my guide, my pattern; this is how I wish and try to live"?
3. Another question we should ask ourselves is this: "What shall we think of our ways hereafter?" Whatever we may think of them now, are they such as we shall look back upon with comfort in time to come? Sickness and the approach of death give very different views of things from life and health. What will our ways seem to us when eternity is near? What will our thoughts be when we look back upon our present time and the way in which we are spending it; upon the opportunities and means, the gifts and talents, which we now have, and which we are certainly using in some way or other? What shall we think of our present ways, when we come to consider them as past ways?
4. Another solemn question may be drawn directly from the Bible itself. We read there of two ways the broad way, and the narrow way the way of death, and the way of life. Our way is one or other of these. Which? This is a solemn question; and all the more so on this account, that many are in the broad way and few in the narrow way. Men do not like to think this. But it is true, as true as the words of God's own truth can make it: "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14). Which are we among the many, or the few? Which is our way the broad, or the narrow way? What will our end be destruction or life?
5. Jesus said, "I am the way." Is He our way? It is not enough to be sincere and in earnest; we must go by that way which God has provided or we shall certainly find that our way is not the way of eternal life. Jesus is the way the only way; no man comes unto the Father but by Him neither is there any other name by which we can be saved. When we are considering our ways, we must not leave out this point. We must make sure that our hopes are built on the right foundation, that we are looking to Christ alone, that our feet are on the rock. If Christ is not to us the way, the truth, and the life then, whatever our ways may be in other points, they are certainly wrong, deeply fatally and eternally wrong!
6. Once more. We read of Enoch that he "walked with God," and the same is said of Noah and that too in an ungodly age. Here is another thing to ask of ourselves about our ways. Do we walk with God? Are we in the habit of holding communion with Him in secret? And at all times, in private and in public do we try to maintain a sense of His presence, to live near to Him, and to follow His holy will? The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?" Is that true of us? Have we the Spirit of God? Are we growing in grace? Are we making progress? As years advance do our souls advance too?
Here then are six different points of inquiry about our ways:
Are they against conscience?
Are they according to the Bible?
What shall we think of them hereafter?
Are we in the broad way, or the narrow way?
Is Christ our way?
Do we daily walk with God?
It is God Himself who bids us consider our ways; "Now, therefore, thus says the Lord Almighty: Consider your ways!" It is a plain direct message from Him, as though the prophet had said, "Now therefore it is not I who speak to you, but the Lord Himself! He who knows all your doings, He whose eye is always upon you, He who is aware of every secret motive that influences you He bids you stop and think. He Himself calls upon you to turn away your thoughts from trifles and from worldly things and to fix them upon yourselves and your ways. This is the Lord's will, the Lord's command."
Why does God thus command us? That if our ways are wrong we may amend them; that we may repent and turn; that we may seek and find mercy; that we may be safe and happy. "God is love." In His very warnings and exhortations, He is love. The people at Jerusalem did consider their ways. We read that they "obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord." And what followed? "Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord's message: I am with you, declares the Lord." Even so will the Lord receive, pardon, save, and bless all who consider their ways, and turn and seek Him by Christ Jesus.
"I am with you" He said to the repentant people of Jerusalem. "I am with you" He says to all who hear, believe, and obey. When God is with us then our ways are happy indeed, happy as they never were before. Then we have a Father in Heaven; then we have a Savior; then we have a Friend in all trouble, and a helper in all difficulty. Then we have pardon and peace, a conscience clear, a mind at ease, and a good hope for eternity. This may be ours, freely and fully ours if we will seek it in and through Christ Jesus; and the very first step is to consider our ways, as before God, asking the help of His Holy Spirit!
Good and Bad Company
"Whoever walks with the wise, becomes wise but the companion of fools will suffer harm." Proverbs 13:20
Men influence one another more than they think. Living, as they do, associated in so many ways they are continually learning from one another. We mix with others every day; we see what they do, and hear what they say, and exchange thoughts and feelings with them. There must be some effect on us from this for good or for evil. It is very important, therefore, what kind of people we mix with.
In part we have no choice. A person can seldom choose his neighbors; he must live where circumstances place him. Nor can a man choose his workmates. They are such as his master is pleased to employ. But in great measure we may choose. Neighbors and workmates we may be forced to take as we find them but our close friends, the companions whom we seek, may be of our own choice. It is of great consequence to choose well.
This text, like so many in the book of Proverbs, has two parts in contrast: the good side of the case and the bad side. We will consider these in their order.
The GOOD side is this: "Whoever walks with the wise, becomes wise." "Wise" here means, not learned men, or those who have worldly wisdom but the truly wise good, upright, religious men, such as have that wisdom which is from above. And walking with them means keeping company with them, making friends of them, and so going in their ways and falling in with their habits. For it will be so, if we make them our companions. The text says so: "Whoever walks with the wise, becomes wise."
It is not that the wise are always advising, warning, and teaching those who are their companions. They do not neglect this when it is right and fit to do it; but it is not so much in this way that they lead others, as by the force of example. They teach more by deed than by word. Mind acts upon mind. Character influences character.
We see how a good man acts under various circumstances, and we learn much from what we see. We see how he behaves in prosperity and how he bears trouble. We hear how he speaks when he is provoked. We notice what return he makes when he is ill-treated. Being much in his company, we not only see what he does but learn often why he does it. His motives, as well as his actions, are clear to his friends.
All this cannot but have an influence with us. When we are placed in like circumstances then we think what he would do. When we are ill-treated or spoken against then we remember how he used to act and speak in return. Thus his example influences us. We can recall perhaps many words of his, full of sound advice; but still more does his consistent Christian conduct live in our remembrance. Almost without knowing it, his companions are the better for such a man.
Not that any power but that of the Holy Spirit can really change the heart, or turn a bad man into a good one. That work is God's and God's alone. But the company of the wise is a means of grace and a very important one. And even if the great change be not wrought some good effect is produced, and perhaps the way is prepared for some other instrument. Do not most of us know some whose society, we feel, does us good? Have we not among our friends someone, at least, by fellowship with whom we feel the tone of our own thoughts to be raised? We do not speak foolishly in that friend's presence. By a kind of instinct, we fall into his tone of conversation and catch the spirit of his character. We never leave his presence without feeling that we are the better for having been with him. So true it is, that "Whoever walks with the wise, becomes wise."
But, alas! The BAD side of the case is equally true: "The companion of fools will suffer harm [shall be destroyed]." Now, here again, "fools" do not mean people without any talent or sense. On the contrary, the very persons here meant may be clever, interesting, and even well educated. But they are foolish, or unwise, in a scriptural sense. With all their gifts of mind and all their pleasant qualities they have no true religion; they are ungodly. And none are really so foolish, as the ungodly.
And a "companion" of such does not mean one who is thrown into their company by circumstances over which he has no control, as by having them for neighbors or workmates or members of the same family. But it means one who chooses them as his companions and makes them his friends when he might choose otherwise. Of such it is said, "A companion of fools shall be destroyed."
This word "destroyed," or "broken," as it is in the margin, may be taken in two ways:
1. The man himself will gradually be corrupted his character will grow worse; his habits will become like those of his evil companions; he will lose his sense of right and wrong; all good principles which he may once have had, will be lost or stifled. Take a case in point.
A young man leaves the home of his childhood, where he has been carefully brought up, and goes out into the world. Forced to part from those who have taught and guided him hitherto he is now thrown among new companions. He does not choose well; he goes with those whose words and actions ought to have shown him at once that they were no proper friends for him; he does not leave their company, even when he finds how much that is wrong is hidden under their pleasant manners. He continues on still as "a companion of fools," and quickly do the words come true he is destroyed that is, his principles are corrupted; his conscience is blunted; his early lessons are forgotten. Soon he learns to do just as those around him do and the very words that shocked him at the first hearing, are his own words now!
But it is not only the young to whom this part of the text applies. How often it happens that persons of riper years and longer experience, let themselves go into company and form friendships that do them nothing but harm. A worldly set of acquaintances is like water wearing down the stones. Such society gradually eats out the life of religion, and lowers the whole tone of the character. Religious impressions grow dim; there is a loss of interest in spiritual things; and the more such society is frequented the less pleasure is felt in the company of the godly, and the less taste is there for the things of God. There is a slow but sure influence for evil.
2. But the word "destroyed," in its full sense, means more than this. "A companion of fools shall be destroyed" that is, he will come to ruin at last! This is the end of the foolish, or ungodly, themselves; and this, unless they are stopped and turned, must be the end of those who seek their company and learn their ways.
The course of the ungodly is a downward course there is no standing still on that road it is from bad to worse. Take the case of a man led into bad company through fondness for drink. When first he began to join this company, he was but a moderate drinker compared with many; but being with them, he does as they do. If they drink more then so does he; if they drink on far into the night then he does so too. He drinks more and more and keeps later hours. He used to be seldom overcome by drink now, he is not often master of himself; he is fast going down hill! Year after year he is growing worse in every way; his whole character and conduct is sinking lower.
What will the end be? True, grace can work a change still. And some, even without a change of heart, have entirely given up drinking, when they seemed to be at the very worst.
But is this common? No, indeed. More often by far, the words come strictly true in such a case, "A companion of fools shall be destroyed." Led on by evil company, the man becomes settled in evil habits and comes to a miserable end the drunkard's end ruin of the mortal body and ruin of the immortal soul!
Yet these companions called themselves friends! And while the cup went around and the laugh grew louder and louder they seemed dear friends indeed.
But change the scene. Let the man be laid on a sick-bed, ill in body, but worse in mind weak, sinking, desponding, in need of comfort. Where are his friends now? Is there one of them all, who will come and watch at his bedside, and help to supply his needs, and speak words of comfort in his ear? Alas, no! He finds out now what the companionship of fools is worth. They courted him in health but they forsake him in sickness and need.
And now, perhaps, the sick man is visited by some whose company he shunned before, and whom perhaps he used to laugh at with the friends of his choice. But they overlook all that; they only know that a poor sinful man lies in need of help and comfort, and they come to give what they can. Happy for him, if it is not too late. Happy for him, if through God's great mercy, the word of life and salvation, spoken by these true comforters, may yet touch his heart, and lead him to One who is mighty to save.
One friend who loves the Lord Jesus, is worth more than all companions in folly or sin! Have you such a friend? Or do you know of any true Christian who would be your friend if you would let him? Prize that man's friendship above all; seek his company; join him in his pursuits for "Whoever walks with the wise, becomes wise"; that very man may be God's special instrument of good to your soul.
But are you thrown much with the ungodly and careless? Join them no more than you need. Be kind and friendly to all but do not make such your best friends, your chosen companions. Beware! Remember how many have been destroyed through the companionship of fools. Do not trust in your good principles or good resolutions. "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed, lest he fall." "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation."
Lastly, let us look at the subject for a moment from another point of view.
If the influence of companions is so great for good or for evil then let us seek that our influence may be for good on all around us. We have an influence, whether we think so or not. We cannot live in the same house or street or neighborhood with others without doing them good or harm by our example. Let us seek grace so to live that all around us may be the better for us. Let our constant aim be the glory of God, and the good of souls. And let it be the dearest wish of our hearts to bring others to the knowledge of that blessed Redeemer, who is the hope and joy of our souls, and who Himself said, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven!"
The Pharisee and the Publican
"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: "God, I thank You that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get." But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.'" Luke 18:9-14
These two men went to the same place, at the same time, and seemingly for the same purpose yet how different were they in heart and character! There is the like difference now among those who meet together in the house of God, and often even among those who come together in a more private way for prayer, and for the hearing of the Word. God alone knows the heart!
But though these two men both went up into the temple yet they did not worship in the same part of it. It may have been because the Jewish law did not allow the publican to be where the Pharisee was (for there were different courts, to which different classes of people might come), or it may have been through his deep humility, that the publican stood "far off," while the Pharisee worshiped in the inner part of the temple.
There are no different "courts" in the Lord's house now. High and low, Jew and Gentile may worship together. The gospel has made all believers one. Whatever differences there may be in other places in the house of God all stand on one footing.
Thus these two men prayed in different places, but their prayers were more different still. "The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus" [or "The Pharisee stood, and prayed thus with himself"]. Some think the meaning to be that he stood by himself while he prayed; and this would quite agree with the general character and practice of the Pharisees, who thought themselves peculiarly holy and wished to keep others at a humble distance. At all events, he stood up boldly in his proud self-righteousness, and spoke the words of prayer apart from others.
Prayer! It is called prayer because it professed to be so but there was nothing of real prayer in it. The words were addressed to the Almighty: "God, I thank You, etc." but his thoughts were upon himself. He was really speaking to himself, rather than to God. What words they were! True, the opening words show nothing wrong; "God, I thank You" fit words with which to begin prayer; but we judge of the feeling from which they sprang by what follows, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men."
In the solemn hour of prayer, how could his thoughts be fixed upon the faults of others? Had he no sins of his own to confess? What had he to do with "other men" at such a moment? Who had taught him to compare himself with his neighbors, rather than with God's holy law? If he had but looked into that perfect law then how different would his feelings and his prayer have been! We can hardly think of anything less like prayer, than this proud Pharisee standing as in the very presence of God, and thanking Him for being so much better than others. Ah, why was he despising the poor publican, whom he noticed at that moment in a distant part of the temple when he ought to have been humbling himself before God? How different from the apostle Paul, who, when he mentioned others as sinners, called himself the chief of sinners!
It may be that there was truth in the Pharisee's words; he may not have been an extortioner or unjust or an adulterer; he may have been free from some sins of which the publican had been guilty. But little did he think that at that very moment, when engaged in the outward act of prayer he was guilty of a sin as great perhaps in the sight of God as extortion, injustice or adultery! The same Word which condemns these, condemns pride also; and we may be sure that there is nothing more displeasing to God, than a haughty self-righteousness and a despising of others.
This was all his prayer. There was not a word of confession of sin, not one cry for mercy, not one acknowledgment of need, not one petition of any kind nothing asked for, either temporal or spiritual. In his blind self-satisfaction, he flattered himself that he was doing something meritorious in praying as he did, and thought that he was bringing something to God, whereas he ought to have gone to God to receive all from Him.
Now let us turn to the other man. How different a prayer is here! Even in outward appearance, all is different. There he stands, the poor publican, afar off. His head is bowed; his eyes are downcast; he smites upon his breast, and the words of prayer that burst at once from heart and from lips are these: "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
This was prayer indeed! The publican had learned what the Pharisee, with far more opportunity, had never learned. He had come to the knowledge that he was a sinner, and in need of mercy. Doubtless the Pharisee was far superior to him in learning; with every part of the Jewish law he was probably well acquainted; he knew perhaps every fact in Old Testament history; he was well versed in the ceremonial of his religion but how much more did this despised and ignorant publican know than he! All the Pharisee's knowledge was in the head the publican's heart had been taught of God.
If the publican had been like the Pharisee, he might have said, "God, I thank You that I am not so bad as others of my trade. I am not wholly set upon gain. I have some care for religion. I come up to Your house to pray." But his thoughts were not upon others, but upon himself; and not upon his imagined excellence but upon his sins. He is smitten with a sense of sin it weighs upon his soul. He seeks not to hide his sin; he comes to God just as he is and sues for mercy. How humbly he sues! With downcast eye and smitten breast, hardly daring to pray yet finding in prayer his only relief. "Can such a one as I hope to be forgiven?" Yes, poor publican! Yes, all of the publican's spirit. You may hope to be forgiven for Jesus Himself speaks comfort and forgiveness to you: "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other." Justified that is pardoned, acquitted, accepted by God!
The Pharisee confessed nothing, asked nothing and received nothing. Proud he came up from his house proud he went back again unhumbled and unblessed.
The publican went up to the house of God with a heavy burden, the burden of his sins. Did he lose that burden there? Surely we may believe that he did. God, who heard his prayer and granted him mercy, doubtless gave him in his heart the sense of forgiveness. The publican went down to his house comforted, as well as justified. His burden was gone his sins were forgiven!
This comfort, this blessing, was not for him alone: "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." There is no comfort for the proud and self-righteous; but there is all comfort for the humble and contrite. Jesus has died for sinners there is the source of all our hopes. It is when we cast aside all thought of our own goodness and approach God as sinners, pleading the merits of Christ alone then it is that we receive pardon and peace.
There are still many who try to comfort themselves with the thought of their religious observances, their moral life, their being not so bad as others. This is not the way to pardon this is not the way to peace with God. Christ is the way the only way. We must go to Him, casting aside all other hope and dependence. "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" we may add, "for Jesus Christ my Savior's sake," for we have a blessing that the publican had not. Jesus has died, and we now know clearly by the gospel that God is "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." The way is open, the ground of acceptance is sure, blessed be God!
Oh, let us beware of proud prayers, heartless prayers, prayerless prayers prayers with no sorrow for sin, no sense of need, no real asking of God! How much we need yet not more than God is willing to give! Just as we are, in all our nakedness and in all our need let us go continually to the throne of grace. The way is clear: the Advocate is there before us the all-prevailing Advocate. He died, He lives for us. We need not stand afar off. Through Him we may draw near, and even come boldly to the throne of grace! "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16
"One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart, to pay attention to what was said by Paul." Acts 16:14
Philippi, where this happened, was a heathen city but there were some Jews in it; not all of them Jews by birth, but probably a considerable number Jews by religion only proselytes, as they were called; that is, people of other nations who had embraced the Jewish religion.
The Jewish women of Philippi were accustomed to go out of the city on the Sabbath and to resort to the river-side for prayer. There they were out of hearing of the din and bustle of the city. There they might worship the one true God undisturbed.
When Paul and his companions were at Philippi, they went on the Sabbath to the river-side, and sat down there and spoke to the women. Among them that day, was Lydia. She was not one of the inhabitants of Philippi. Her home was at Thyatira, a town in Asia Minor, a long way off; but she was staying at Philippi at that time, most likely for purposes of trade, for she was "a seller of purple goods," that is, a dealer either in purple dye or in the garments of that color, then much worn. She was a Jewess by religion, though not perhaps by birth; and probably she was a serious and devout one, being among these praying women.
She heard Paul's words with the rest. There was much in them that was new to her, much that was contrary to her old opinions and prejudices; nevertheless she listened with attention, and the words of Paul reached her heart. The Lord opened her heart, "to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul." She was convinced of the truth of the gospel, believed in Jesus Christ whom Paul preached, and was baptized in His name with her household. She then at once joined herself to the Christians and begged Paul and his companions to take up their abode in her house. Perhaps they were unwilling at first to burden her, for it is said that she "prevailed upon" them. She would take no denial so anxious was she to do them honor and to help them in their work for their Master's sake. This is the story of Lydia. It is very short and simple yet it contains important lessons:
1. Let us observe first, that though she was both engaged in business and also at this time away from home yet she did not neglect religious duties.Some people make both these things, an excuse for doing so.
One person says that when business presses upon him less heavily then he will begin to attend to religion; but that at present, he has neither time nor thought for it; business must be minded.
Another, who pays a decent attention to religion when he is at home, so far at least as not to neglect its outward ordinances seems to leave his religion behind him when he goes abroad. At home he has a character to maintain abroad, he need not, he thinks, be so particular.
Lydia's religion, even before she was a Christian, was not of this sort. Here we find her, though far from home and though she had come to this very place on business yet meeting with the other women for prayer on the Sabbath.
2. It was while she was thus employed, that a spiritual blessing came to her.If she had not been there, she would have missed that opportunity of hearing Paul's message. If she had not heard him then perhaps she would not have heard him at all. And if she had never heard him she might not have heard the gospel from any other lips and might never have had her heart opened to receive the truth. In was in the use of means that she received the blessing.
In the same way, we are never so likely to receive a blessing as when we are using the means which God has given us. God can bless at any time, and even neglecters of the means of grace do sometimes receive grace notwithstanding. But these are cases which it would be dangerous and presumptuous to follow, for we have no reason to expect a blessing which we do not seek. Generally God, who gives us the means of grace and bids us use them blesses us in their use. He who prays, reads his Bible, frequents the house of God, and seeks Him in every appointed way he is the person who is likely to be taught and blessed by God.
3. The Lord opened her heart.But for this, Lydia would have gone out to the place of prayer and listened attentively to what Paul said and yet have returned in just the same state as that in which she went.
"The Lord opened her heart." What a striking expression! The door of her heart was closed before, fast locked against the admittance of the truth. The word might be heard, and heard with interest and pleasure; but it could not reach the heart because the heart was shut against it. But the Lord opened her heart and then all was changed; then light and truth found entrance; then she drank in eagerly what she heard, and every word seemed true; then came conviction of sin; then she began to apply the preaching to herself; then she saw in Jesus one mighty to save. Not only was she convinced in her mind that Jesus was the Christ but she believed on Him with the heart and received Him as a Savior for herself. Happy Lydia, to hear "the joyful sound"! Happy to have her heart opened to receive the glad tidings!
It was not for nothing that she went out that day to the river-side. Perhaps many a past prayer was answered that day many a doubt cleared up and many a longing desire satisfied when her heart was opened to know Christ as her Savior. Never could she forget that place and that day.
We all stand in need of this opening of the heart. Many hear the preaching of the gospel for years, and hear it with interest and pleasure and yet remain unchanged in heart. There they sit, Sunday after Sunday, in the accustomed seat. They are seldom absent when the house of prayer is open they are constant hearers. How is it that so little effect is produced? How is it that they are still unchanged? Perhaps they have never even seen the need of the Lord opening their hearts and of the Holy Spirit bringing home to them what they hear. We do not know whether Lydia had ever felt this need; but, even if not, we enjoy more light than she had. We have been taught again and again the absolute necessity of the Spirit's work in the heart; whereas she probably, like the disciples at Ephesus, had "not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit" (Acts 19:2).
Have we felt this need? Have we asked the Lord to open our hearts? Have we prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit? No sermon should ever be heard without some such prayer. If we would hear or read with profit to our souls, never let us open the Bible or go up to the house of God, without beseeching Him to open our hearts to receive His word.
The Lord alone can do this. It was He who opened Lydia's heart and it is to Him we must look to open ours. But for this, even Paul might have preached in vain. It is not the eloquence of the preacher, his clear statements, convincing arguments, and touching appeals, that can really cause the truth to reach the heart. This is the work of the Spirit alone. Gifts are valuable; powers of mind and a persuasive tongue may be made highly useful in God's service; but preachers and hearers should never forget that all real success depends on the Lord opening the heart. Those are but outward means and instruments the power is His alone.
How differently does one hear, when the heart has thus been unlocked! He attends perhaps the same church and hears the same preacher. Yet all seems changed. It is as though a veil had been removed from his eyes. Now he sees things which were all dark to him before. Now his heart and conscience feel deeply the very truths which used to have no meaning to him. Now the words of scripture seem as if addressed to him in person. He is the sinner who is declared to be truly guilty. He is the person to whom the promise of pardon through the blood of Jesus is made. The comforts, the encouragements, the hopes and assurances of the gospel seem now just suited to his need, and sent expressly to cheer him. What is it that makes this change? The Bible is unaltered; the ministry is the same. The change is in himself. The Lord has opened his heart!
Lastly, this was not a mere passing feeling in Lydia but a real change. She was a Christian from that day a true Christian, believing and showing the fruits of faith. She was at once baptized and became at once a zealous friend of Paul and his companions.
With what humility she speaks! "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord." Here is no loud profession but a humble, almost timid, claim to be owned as a believer, just suited to one only lately brought to the knowledge of Christ. What kindness and love she shows to those who have been the means of bringing her so great a blessing! She felt what she owed to them, and would take no denial; they must lodge with her while they stayed at Philippi. She loved them for the good news they had brought her; she loved them for their Master's sake; and in helping them, she did what she could to further the gospel. Surely her kindness was accepted by Him who will say hereafter, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40). She was not afraid of taking part with Paul and the other Christians, even in the face of danger.
Satan Denying the Word of God
"But the serpent said to the woman: You will not surely die!" Genesis 3:4
This is a sad chapter perhaps the saddest in the whole Bible. For it tells us of the fall of man of sin entering into the world, and death by sin. It is a tale of loss and sorrow and ruin. And it ends with our first parents being driven out from that happy paradise in which they had lived until then, never to return there again but thenceforth to labor for their daily bread until the time should come when they should return to the dust from which they were taken.
How did this sad change arise? All from denying, disbelieving, and disobeying the Word of God. God had said, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die!" The evil one, coming to Eve in the form of the serpent, gave the lie to this word of God: "You will not surely die." The woman listened to the tempter's voice the Word of God was no longer regarded, and she and the man ate of the forbidden tree.
Which word proved true the Word of God, or the word of Satan? Let the state of the world for these six thousand years answer the question. No sooner was the deed done, than its consequences were felt. Then came a guilty conscience, a strangeness toward God, hard labor, sickness and death! From that moment, death lay before Adam and Eve; in due time they died and ever since, the whole race of man has been subject to death.
The word of God came true. It always must come true. The same evil work which Satan did in the case of our first parents he is engaged in to this very day it is still one of his chief aims to lead men to disbelieve the Word of God.
With regard to the Bible as a whole, Satan's object is to throw discredit on it. In the case of Adam and Eve, the Word of God was the spoken word that is, what God had said to them. In our case the Word of God is the written word, the scriptures written at different times and by different men, but all inspired by God.
In various ways, suited to different minds and to different states of thought and of knowledge the evil one tries to do away with the authority of the Bible. To Eve he said boldly, "You shall not surely die," in direct opposition to what God had declared; and sometimes he still dares to give the lie to scripture and tempts men to think it altogether false. But often his plan is more crafty. He seeks to lead the mind into a state of doubt and confusion. The Bible is a good book that he does not venture to deny, lest he should show his object too plainly. But he suggests to the mind difficulties and objections of various kinds.
Inspiration, for instance what is it, and how far does it go, and how can we be sure of it? Though the Bible may be true as a whole yet are there no parts which are not true? And even if true, are we not to look upon much as allegorical and figurative, and not simply true? Who can tell what is to be taken literally and what figuratively? How can this doctrine, be reconciled with that doctrine? Is not such and such a statement against all our notions? Can we believe that God would do this or that?
Some of these doubts and questions may seem, at first sight, to have little, if anything, wrong in them. But closer examination will show whence they come, when they are suggested in a skeptical spirit. Anything that tends to lead away from a simple belief in the Word of God must be evil. It is a device of Satan to ensnare souls; as dangerous a device as that which he used with Eve, when he said, "You will not surely die!" It is perhaps even more dangerous, because more subtle.
Satan pursues the same object with regard to particular truths of the Bible. His aim is to make men disbelieve what God has said. For instance, the Word of God declares that God sees all and hears all and is everywhere present. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good." "Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord You know it altogether."
The tempter seeks to make men disbelieve this. "And they say: How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" At least he strives to lead men to forget it, for there are many who dare not deny the truths of scripture, and yet live in constant forgetfulness of them. And when God is forgotten His all-seeing eye, His all-hearing ear, His presence everywhere then the sinner goes on in his own way, and Satan's object is gained.
Again, the Bible declares endless misery to be the portion of impenitent sinners. It speaks of "the second death" and of "eternal death" and of "damnation" and of the worm that never dies and the fire that is never quenched. And nothing can be plainer than those awful words of our Lord, "These will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life!" (Matthew 25:46).
But many will not receive this truth. The sinner tries to disbelieve it; and some even who have some reverence for the Word of God, do not simply bow to what it says on this point. Eternal misery, they say, means something less than eternal. How vain is this! Eternal happiness and eternal misery rest on the same word. If the punishment of the lost could be proved to be less than everlasting then that very argument must shorten also the happiness of the saved. If "forever" means less than forever in the one case then it must do so in the other too.
Satan cares not what it is that is set up in opposition to the Word of God, so long as it is in opposition; the natural pride of the heart, the vanity of learning, or the mind's instinctive shrinking from a fearful and eternal doom. If Satan can lead men to believe what they presumptuously think God ought to have said, rather than what God has said then his end is gained; and this way of thinking seems to be often the root of a doubt about eternal punishment.
There are many doubters, who little suspect from whom their doubts come. Yet a denial of the eternity of punishment bears a most striking likeness to the words of the evil one to Eve, "You will not surely die." For in the face of the words of our Lord, "These will go away into eternal punishment," men are led to comfort themselves with this lying comfort, "You will not surely die" it is not eternal it is but for a time. These are a few of the ways in which Satan still carries on his work of denying the Word of God.
The Devil is constantly engaged in this work. "When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." On the other hand, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God" (John 8:44, 47). Our Lord places the two in direct opposition. Satan contradicts the Word of God and the child of God hears, believes, and obeys it.
Yet the child of God must watch and pray against an enemy so crafty and so powerful. "I am afraid," writes Paul to the Corinthians, "that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). Satan strives to make men disbelieve the promises as well as the threatenings of God and seeks not only to lull the sinner to sleep in unbelief and forgetfulness, but also to cloud the gospel in the hearts of believers and to turn away the inquiring soul from a simple faith in Christ into a trust in religious forms and ceremonies and self-righteous religious duties. In all points, he shows himself as the denier and opposer of the Word of God.
But the Bible is true it is all true. Its promises and its threatenings, its history and its doctrines all rest on the same footing; it is the Word of God. We may not receive one part and reject another. If we do not receive its warnings then neither may we take comfort from its promises. If we refuse to believe it when it speaks of "the fear of the Lord" then we have no right to apply to ourselves its declarations of mercy. The Bible is one. It comes from one God; it is written by one inspiration; it speaks one unchangeable truth. Once doubt that it is true, absolutely and certainly true then it can be no longer what it is to all who receive it a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.
Thanks be to God, the Bible does not leave us where this chapter places us. The word of God which tells us of death speaks also of life. The Book of Genesis tells us how man fell the gospel shows us restoration and life. Satan lied when he said, "You will not surely die." But wonderful to say, the gospel now declares the very same thing, and declares it truly. For the Restorer has come, the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and by Him the curse is removed; guilt is taken away; and man is reconciled to God. "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die so in Christ all will be made alive." All who are in Christ by faith, do even now live spiritually; and though they must pass through physical death (unless the Lord should first come) yet Jesus has robbed death of its terrors and made it the gate of everlasting life to His people! There is no second death, no death of the soul, for them they are safe in Him. As surely as every child of Adam is subject to death so surely will every one who is born again and has thus become a child of God inherit eternal life.
But only the true believer has a part in this salvation. There must be a living faith, a real repentance, a thorough work of the Spirit. There must be a belief with the heart in the Lord Jesus Christ; and none will really believe in Him, but those who also believe what the Word of God declares about sin and ruin and death.
The gospel says, "You will not surely die!" But to whom? To those only who feel that they are dead and look to Christ alone for life. The disease must be felt before the cure can be had; and it is only when a man knows himself a lost and ruined sinner that he will look to Jesus as his almighty Savior!
Quenching the Spirit
"Do not quench the Spirit." 1 Thessalonians 5:19
All God's gifts, temporal and spiritual may be used either rightly, or wrongly. He gives us life we may either waste it, or spend it well. He gives us talents we may use them either for good purposes, or for evil purposes. He gives us the offers of the gospel we may reject them. He gives us His Holy Spirit but the Holy Spirit may be quenched. For though it is true that a saving work of grace in the soul cannot finally be destroyed yet the promptings of the Spirit may be resisted, and His sanctifying power crossed and opposed. We would not find this exhortation, "Do not quench the Spirit" unless it might be done, and unless there were a danger of doing it.
What is meant then by quenching the Spirit? The work of the Spirit is in the heart. There He . . .
convinces men of sin,
touches the conscience,
moves the feelings,
applies the Word of God,
and leads to Christ and to holiness.
Now quenching is doing anything to stop or hinder this work. It is a figure of speech, taken from the quenching of fire. Water will quench fire either by putting it out, or by making it burn less brightly. A heap of dirt or rubbish thrown on a fire will have the same effect. In like manner the Spirit may be quenched in various ways. Let us consider some of them:
1. By grieving Him. The apostle writes to the Ephesians, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit is grieved when . . .
we sin against conscience,
indulge willfully in any evil habit,
or do what we know to be wrong.
This was the charge against Israel; "But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He turned to be their enemy, and Himself fought against them" (Isaiah 63:10). This is a sure way of quenching the Spirit. God said of old, "My Spirit shall not abide in [or strive with] man forever" (Genesis 6:3). When the Spirit is grieved by willful sin, the conscience becomes blunted, impressions fade away, and the Spirit at length ceases to strive.
2. By neglecting Him. The promptings of the Spirit in the heart are to be diligently attended to the inward voice is to be listened to and obeyed. We should welcome the Spirit, watch for His presence, and submit ourselves to His leading. Otherwise we quench the Spirit by indifference and neglect.
3. By worldliness of mind. The work of the Spirit is in the heart. But if the heart is filled with the world, there is no room for the workings of the Spirit. Or if the love of the world is allowed to gain a hold upon those who have received the Spirit then His work is smothered and quenched, as fire is by water or dirt thrown upon it. This may be done by the world in any shape by gain, pleasure, folly, by too great keenness about even lawful things, and even by human affections unduly indulged. In every heart there should be room left for the Spirit the chief place, or the Spirit is quenched. Alas, in how many hearts is the Spirit quenched by the world.
4. By a lack of watchfulness. If a Christian has found anything to interfere with spirituality of mind in time past such as any amusement, any company, any pursuit, any book, any train of thought he must watch against that thing especially. Otherwise he quenches the Spirit. If he lives generally in an unwatchful way, as if there were no snares around him, not keeping guard within and without then again the Spirit is quenched, and His gracious work is checked.
How often at the close of the day, when we kneel down for our evening prayer and think over all we have done and said and thought, are we deeply humbled because we have quenched the Spirit through unwatchfulness.
We began the day perhaps with earnest prayer. In the early morning, before entering on the duties of the day, we committed ourselves to God and sought His grace and guidance. We prayed but we forgot to watch. And so when some sudden temptation came it prevailed against us, and we fell. We spoke unchristian words, or harbored a wrong feeling, or did a wrong action, or were ashamed of Christ, or gave way to folly. Thus the Spirit was quenched; our peace was broken, and the closeness of our walk with God was interrupted and we find at the end of the day a ruffled mind and a special need of pardoning mercy.
5. By spiritual idleness. I mean by this backwardness in prayer, and neglect of the Bible, and of the other means of grace. God usually works by means, and especially the Spirit is promised in answer to prayer. But if we neglect prayer, we do, as it were, stop up the channel by which the Spirit would come to us. Thus we quench the Spirit.
These are some of the ways but by no means all, in which the Spirit may be quenched. Perhaps conscience may recall others to the mind.
This is not a thing of small importance. In quenching the Spirit, we do ourselves much evil and bring on ourselves great loss. For thus we lose spirituality of mind, and "to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). The spiritual mind is that mind in which the Spirit dwells. If the Spirit is quenched then this indwelling is injured. We lose also the sense of acceptance. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:16-17). But this too is lost, if the Spirit is quenched. There is no inward witness then.
In like manner, when the Spirit is quenched spiritual growth is stopped, for growth is the Spirit's work. The heart becomes cold and dead. It no longer feels and melts and loves. There is no nearness to God, no love of His word, no warmth in prayer.
Let those who have already experienced the work of the Spirit, beware of quenching the Spirit. Have not your best and happiest times been those in which you have most walked in the Spirit? Cherish the Spirit then. Let no sinful indulgence, no neglect of His voice, no love of the world, no careless walking, no slothfulness be allowed to hinder the inward work. As you value spiritual comfort, as you desire spiritual progress beware of quenching the Spirit!
Many are not conscious of any work of the Spirit in their hearts. Yet the Spirit may have begun to work there. Have you ever convictions of sin, uneasy feelings that all is not right with your soul, some faint desire after better things fears, misgivings, apprehensions? Do not try to stifle these feelings or fly for relief from them, to the world lest you should thus be quenching the Spirit. These may be the strivings of the Spirit within your heart, the pleadings of God with you to lead you to Himself. Cherish them, yield to them, pray over them. Your greatest misery would be to succeed in driving away all serious thoughts and to go on in your own way unchecked and undisturbed. For then the Spirit would have left you. Your highest happiness would be to listen to the still small voice within, to follow that gracious guidance, to draw near to God, to seek and to find Christ the Savior.
Subjects of a New King
"He has delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." Colossians 1:13
The people to whom the apostle wrote had been heathen, but were now Christians. This was the change of which he spoke. While heathen, they were subjects of the power of darkness in a state of blindness, sin, and eternal death. But now they were subjects of Christ and partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. It was a great and wonderful change for which he heartily thanks God, praying at the same time that they might go on to a further knowledge of Him and of His will, and might increase in holiness and in fruitfulness.
Alas, the power of darkness has many subjects still, not only in heathen lands, where they may be reckoned by hundreds of millions but in Christian countries too. There are numbers who are Christians in nothing but the name bearing the name of Jesus but not trusting in Him, loving Him, or serving Him. These nominal Christians are still subject to the power of darkness, though light is all around them. A change is necessary; that very change that is mentioned in the text. They need to be delivered from the power of darkness and to be transferred into the kingdom of God's dear Son. The difference between them and the heathen seems indeed to be great, and so it is in many respects; but they yet need that very change which the heathen need, a change of heart, to be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.
It concerns us greatly to know whether this change has taken place in us or not. This is a deep, personal question compared with which all other questions seem trifling indeed. There is no middle state: each person is a subject either of the power of darkness or of the kingdom of God's dear Son. Which are we? Here are some marks by which we may know:
1. Do we no longer love the works of darkness? The apostle speaks of it as a deliverance, to be set free from the power of darkness. Is it thus that we regard it? And have we been so set free? It is not, indeed, a perfect deliverance yet for sin still cleaves to us. But do we no longer love sin? Is it our desire, our endeavor, and our prayer to be freed from it? Do we resist temptation? Do we watch and pray? Do we mourn when we fall? Vain is all knowledge and empty all profession if the works of darkness are loved and followed still. That person is surely no subject of Christ's kingdom.
2. But there are persons of steady and respectable character who would shrink from the thought of being subject to the power of darkness and who, in truth, are very different in their lives from heinous and open sinners. Let us try them, then, by another test let us seek a further mark. We need not look beyond the next verse: "In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Now, can we say that? All Christ's subjects are bound to Him by this tie they are redeemed by His blood, and forgiven for His sake. Have we this proof that we are His? Have we learned the preciousness of the blood of Jesus, our need of it, its freeness, and its fullness? Do we believe on Him with the heart? Surely one who feels no need of Christ and has no faith in Him and is not a partaker of His redemption is not yet translated into His kingdom, though he bears His name.
3. Another mark is the state of the affections. Christ's kingdom is not like other kingdoms it is a government not merely over countries, but over hearts. And this change, spoken of in the text, is a change of heart. What then is the state of our hearts? What do we feel towards Christ? Does this very expression awaken any feeling in us, "His dear Son," the Son of His love? Is He dear to us? Have we any love to Him? All who are true subjects of this king, love Him do we? Not as we would, I am sure. But do we love Him at all? Have we even the wish to love Him? If not, this is a sad sign that we are not subjects of His kingdom yet.
4. But a subject lives by the regulations of the kingdom to which he belongs submits himself to its government, and obeys its laws. Do we obey the laws of Christ's kingdom? Do we submit ourselves to the gospel? Do we strive to rule our lives by the Word of God ? "For this is the love of God that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).
Have we this mark of being Christ's, that the commandments of God are not grievous to us? As greatly as we fall short of keeping them yet do we approve of them and love them? Is it our heart's desire to obey and please our King? Do we "hunger and thirst for righteousness"?
See what Paul's desire was for the Colossians: "So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10). Is that what we wish and pray for? Are our hearts set upon serving our Lord and doing His will? Here is another mark of Christ's subjects a mark which we must have, if we are really His.
All honest self-examination must humble us, for we cannot but discover . . .
much of sin and corruption in our hearts and lives,
many shortcomings in our duty,
much mixture of evil in our motives.
Yet, if we do find in ourselves scriptural marks of being Christ's let us not refuse to own them.
Do we no longer love sin or willfully follow it?
Is our faith fixed upon Christ our Redeemer?
Do we love Him, however feebly?
Is it our desire and prayer that we may do His will?
What are these, but so many marks that we are His?
We cannot doubt that this is of grace the work of the Spirit.
We need not fear to own these marks there is no self-righteousness in doing so, for it is His work He wrought the change He delivered us He transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
If we feel sadly our many shortcomings and inconsistencies, we should but pray the more. Paul prayed for the Colossians, in the same breath in which he thanked God for their conversion. So let us pray, thankfully owning the work of grace while we beg that it may be still carried on, praising and praying together.
But can you find no such marks? Where are you then and whose are you? There is no middle kingdom there is nothing between the power of darkness and the kingdom of Christ. How awful a state, with eternity so near! Yet still deliverance may be had. He who has delivered, can deliver. Jesus is still mighty to save, ready to save. "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom" (Colossians 1:28). But how long? Each warning voice may be the last each call may be the closing call. Will you put off still? Will you run the risk of dying undelivered, the subject of the power of darkness and doomed therefore to be so forever and ever? God forbid!
Companions in Tribulation
"Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world." 1 Peter 5:9
We are naturally inclined to think that our own trials and temptations are greater than those of others because, being our own, we know them better and feel them more deeply. Many a sufferer, thinks there are no sufferings like his and many a person when tempted to sin, supposes that his case is quite peculiar. But this is not true. Whatever trials we may have, there are probably other people who are suffering much the same. The temptations which beset us, are felt by many besides us and some are tempted far greater than us. Now this thought helps us to bear temptation. It is not, as we were inclined to suppose some new and strange thing that has befallen us. We are not alone in what we suffer. We have many fellow-sufferers, fellow-travelers, fellow-soldiers. We do but form parts of one great whole. It is a cheering and helpful thought, and so it seems to be set before us in the text: "Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world."
The person meant by this word "him" is the devil, the enemy of souls, spoken of in the verse before, "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." We are told to resist him. This is the way in which we are always to meet him. He makes his attacks in various ways: sometimes by open assault, sometimes by secret snare; now in the form of outward temptations, now in that of inward suggestions. He seeks occasion against us in our moments of weakness. He strives to lead into sin, unbelief, doubt, fear, self-confidence. He has a thousand different weapons against the soul. But all are to be met with resistance: "resist him." He is an enemy, a deadly enemy. We must not yield, but resist.
Yet not in our own strength, or we shall certainly fall. "Resist him, firm in your faith." Satan desired to have Peter and his brother apostles, that he might sift them as wheat. Jesus prayed for him that his faith might not fail. But Peter was self-confident and thought he could stand in his own strength. What was the consequence? He fell grievously and was restored by sovereign grace alone. Doubtless he was permitted to fall, that he might learn this lesson: "Resist him, firm in your faith." And now we find Him teaching the same lesson to us and to all.
"Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall." "When I am weak then I am strong." The first step toward strength is to know our weakness. We are to be steadfast, not in self but in faith confident in God; relying upon His promises, His wisdom, power, and love. We are to meet temptation in such a spirit as this feeling sure that all temptation and Satan himself, the author of it, are completely subject to God, not doubting that He will help us in answer to prayer; holding fast by Him through all, even though there is no token of His presence; and still exercising faith in Him, though nothing seems to be near but difficulties and enemies.
This is not easy. No indeed. Our enemy is strong, and though our Friend is mightier than he yet our faith is often weak. But we are not alone, even with regard to human companions. We have fellow-sufferers, though unknown by us. There are those whom the enemy is attacking as he is attacking us. There is a great brotherhood in Christ dispersed throughout the Christian world, and the same afflictions are being accomplished in them, as in us.
Take the case of a young man or woman wishing to serve God yet placed by circumstances among ungodly companions and surrounded by temptations. It is not an uncommon case. Perhaps such a person may hear or read these words. You have none like-minded with yourself; you seem to stand alone. Yet you are not alone. God is near. And besides, in that great Christian brotherhood of which I spoke, there are numbers who are circumstanced as you are.
Not to speak of other kinds of temptations and trials, unlike your own and yet as hard to bear there are in the world numbers of young persons like yourself exposed to the very same temptations as you are exposed to! They too are living among the careless and ungodly; they too have to face opposition, dislike, and ridicule. They too perhaps, have fears and apprehensions and feelings of loneliness and depression such as you suffer from.
You do not see them or know them; it may happen perhaps that there is not one such person among your personal acquaintance. Yet there are such, living in the same world as you, fighting the same battle, suffering the same temptations, upheld by the same strength.
Many such have already finished their course and gone to their rest. Many others are still resisting, steadfast in the faith. They are your brethren, though you know them not. They are your fellow-travelers in the journey of life. They are your companions in tribulation. You may be with them in spirit. The thought of them may give you a feeling of companionship. You are not alone. The same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.
It is our comfort to know that over all, is the same gracious eye! If Christians form one brotherhood, it is because they are children of one Father. God is their reconciled Father in Christ Jesus, and they are His children by adoption and grace. They see not one another, but He sees them all. They are not acquainted with each other's temptations and trials; often each one toils on alone but He knows all.
There is not one tried and tempted disciple whom He does not see and know and care for. Their Friend is mightier than their foe. Every moment His eye is upon them for good. Even in the sharpest trial and in the most severe temptation He is near.
The warfare will not be forever. Even here on earth, there will be seasons of rest. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." And at length there will be perfect and eternal rest and glory! "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."
Let none despond then, under temptation. Let none yield to the assaults of the evil one. It would be misery and ruin to yield; but in resisting there is strength, comfort, victory, and peace. Temptation yielded to, is sin. Temptation resisted and overcome, is victory. It is God's command that we should resist it is God's promise that we shall overcome. He will make us more than conquerors through Him that loved us. No cross no crown! No battle no victory! "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
But look on beyond the tribulation, and see what will follow. "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes!" (Revelation 7:14-17).
Those who are now companions in tribulation will be companions in glory then!
Paul at Rome
"And so some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved." Acts 28:24
It was as a prisoner that Paul arrived at Rome and as a prisoner he lived there. It might be thought that no circumstances could be more unfavorable for preaching the gospel yet never perhaps did he do so much for his Master as during his stay in that city. Many of his epistles were written there, and he preached freely to high and low.
Let none say, "I have no opening; circumstances are at present against me; I can do nothing!" We are not so much the creatures of circumstances as is often supposed. A zealous heart is not easily hindered by outward things. God can turn any circumstances into the furtherance of His work.
Wherever Paul went, whether to Rome or elsewhere, and in whatever circumstances He was placed favored or persecuted, a prisoner or free he proclaimed Christ. This was his work, his aim, that which he lived for. It ought to do us good to read of so devoted a life, such singleness of heart and purpose. This was to live indeed.
No sooner then had he reached Rome, than he began to proclaim Christ. Three days after his arrival, he called together the chief of the Jews, to see them and to speak with them and to tell them that it was "for the hope of Israel," that is, for Jesus Christ that he was a prisoner. Then on an appointed day, many came to him, "From morning until evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus, both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets." Not that they were promising hearers. Far from it. For they began by saying, "For with regard to this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against." But he was not discouraged by this from setting forth Christ to them.
What was the result? We read it in the text: "Some were convinced [believed] by what he said, but others disbelieved." It is probable that most, if not all, of those who are here said to have believed believed really. Not only was their understanding convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, but their hearts received Him as such. Most likely they at once joined themselves to the apostle as disciples of Christ. But the rest believed not and perhaps from this time were more decided than ever against the gospel.
And so the words of the prophecy of Isaiah were fulfilled in them: "Keep on hearing but do not understand; keep on seeing but do not perceive." These were probably more in number than those who believed, for from that time, Paul began to preach to the Gentiles at Rome, as though the great body of the Jews there had rejected the gospel. It was in fact, the turning point. The offer was made and either accepted or refused. It was a great division. Some believed, and some believed not.
In this account, we read of what happened in a distant country eighteen hundred years ago. Yet the very same thing is now taking place among ourselves continually. Whatever difference there is, it is chiefly, if not wholly, in the circumstances not in the thing itself.
Christ is still proclaimed as the only Savior for Jew and Gentile. The very same gospel as Paul preached is preached among us. The same Savior whom he on that day set forth to the Jews at Rome is set forth to us continually. Through all the ages since, that blessed gospel has never ceased to be preached that one blessed, saving, gospel. It has been hated, persecuted, corrupted but never lost. In every age there have been those who held it, prized it, and preached it. As in the days of Elijah, when true religion seemed almost extinct there were yet seven thousand in Israel who cleave to God. In the same way, in the darkest times of the Christian Church, there have been some true Christians and some faithful preachers. That same gospel is still proclaimed. There is nothing new in it. We need nothing new. We hear the same glad tidings again and again. They cannot be heard too often by those who believe for they are their joy and stay. Not too often by those who believe not, for they need still to have "line upon line," if so be they may at length believe unto salvation.
The great question with us all, is whether we believe or not. All who hear the gospel are classed thus: those who believe and those who believe not. There is no middle class. There is no one in between.
I said that whatever difference there is between the case of those Jewish hearers and our own, is mainly a difference of circumstances. There is a difference; for they were divided not only with regard to a saving faith, but even as to outward belief some believing that Jesus was the Christ, and some not. We on the contrary, are all agreed on that point. The point of division among us is whether there is a heart-belief in Christ, or a merely notional faith. In this sense as well, some believe and some do not believe. And these two classes make up the whole of every congregation: all hearers, all readers, of the gospel. There are none who do not belong to one class or the other.
In the judgment of Him who knows every heart, all hearers and all readers are divided thus. They may sit side by side and may listen to the same words. But oh, the vast difference in the sight of God! One believes savingly another believes notionally. To one, Jesus is a Savior known, believed in, and loved. By another, He is only heard of not received, not embraced, not made His own by saving faith.
And this difference, this great division, is a difference which will last forever unless the unbeliever is brought to believe. It is, in fact, the very same difference as that between the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats; it is the difference between the saved and the unsaved, between those who will be welcomed to Heaven and those who will be shut out from Heaven.
How is it with you? Do you believe or do you not believe? Are you in doubt upon this point unwilling to say that you do not believe yet afraid to say you do? Do not leave so great a matter in doubt. If, with all your past attention to religion, your serious thoughts, and your deep impressions you are still in doubt whether you have yet believed with the heart then set that point at rest now. Make sure from this time that you do believe. Still the gospel comes to you. Still the Savior offers Himself to you freely. Receive Him. Open your heart to receive Him. Believe in Him now. Approach Him, and say, "I believe help my unbelief!"
But are you careless about the whole subject not much concerned as to whether you believe or not? Then certainly you do not believe. For none who truly believe, are careless about it. But oh, consider what a state this is. Living in the midst of gospel light, again and again hearing of Jesus yet not believing and not even troubled by the thought that you do not believe. Will all these hearings and readings go for nothing? Paul turned from the unbelieving Jews to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. You are running a great risk of having that gospel which you will not believe, taken away from you! It may seem to you a slight difference now, between believing and not believing. But what will you think of it in the day "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and . . . before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left"? (Matthew 25:31-33). Will the difference seem small then? Will you still be unconcerned? Oh! seek to be numbered now among those who believe in the Lord Jesus, that you may not shrink from Him in shame at His coming!
God Dwelling with the Contrite
"For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15
There is nothing more remarkable in scripture than its perfect suitability to our needs. It seems to meet us in all our frames of mind, and to adapt itself to all our circumstances. We never go to the Bible for comfort, without finding something to suit our case.
For instance, what can be more cheering to one who is downcast in heart, than these words of the text? They are just what he needs. No human words could so exactly meet his feelings. Considered even as mere words they are full of comfort. How much more, when we think of them as the words of God!
Yet at first sight there seems something very solemn here, rather than comforting. "Thus says One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity." God is here set forth in His greatness. Can such a one care for a man a worm of the earth? The next words seem even more discouraging: "whose name is holy." If holy, must He not be displeased with me, a sinner? Can I, as unworthy as I am, hope to be looked upon with favor by the holy God? Thus, to the humble and contrite, these opening words seem to bring anything but hope or comfort.
The same may be said of the words that follow, in which the Almighty begins to speak in His own person: "I dwell in the high and holy place." "Ah, yes!" unbelief and despondency may reply, "in the high and holy place far out of my reach, in that high place to which I can never attain, in that holy place which such as I cannot enter." To one cast down under a sense of sin contrite, humble, desponding, these words seem to place God at an infinite distance, and to make Him indeed "a God far away" (Jeremiah 23:23).
But now mark what follows. See how these feelings are met and how God turns the very thought of His power and holiness into a thought of comfort to the contrite: "I dwell in the high and holy place and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite."
The greatness and holiness of God are set forth here not to terrify but to cheer. He, the high and lofty and eternal, "whose name is holy" is not far off, but near. True, He dwells "in the high and holy place," in the Heaven of heavens, where countless angels worship Him and do His bidding but He dwells also with the contrite and humble soul. The high and holy place is not more the place of His abode, than is the heart of the meek and contrite. The same word says that He inhabits both.
Take the case of some person deeply humbled under a sense of sin, conscience-stricken, truly penitent, earnestly desiring mercy, hardly daring to hope yet still feebly looking to Christ. That poor downcast heart what is it? The very palace of the King of kings! He dwells therein. He makes that humble heart the place of His abode. The eye of faith may be so dim that it cannot see Him yet He is there. He says so: "Also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit." He does not say, "With the holy and good." He does not even say, "With him who is strong in faith, with him who is able to grasp the promises." In His grace and mercy, He goes lower than this and declares that He abides with the contrite and humble.
Is not this cheering? Does it not raise your drooping spirit, to be assured that God knows you, cares for you, dwells with you? And that notwithstanding all your fears, your despondency, your conscious nothingness, your deep sense of unworthiness yes, even because of them.
Are you but contrite for sin, deeply humbled, casting away all self-righteousness and self-dependence, and trying to look to Jesus alone? Then God is with you the great and holy God. For He says that He dwells with the contrite, and by His grace you are such.
But the words that follow are more comforting still. Why does God dwell with the contrite? For what purpose, and with what effect? "To revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite." It is not His will that you should go on always as you are. He would have you always be humble but not always desponding; always contrite but not always downcast. He comes to cheer you, to raise you from your despondency, to comfort and revive you.
And that not outwardly, but inwardly. To revive your spirit, your heart just where your trouble lies and where your despondency is felt. Those fears and misgivings which try you so greatly He comes to take away. Those doubts of the reality of your religious impressions, those suspicions of your own sincerity He comes to answer. He comes to speak, by the Spirit pardon, hope, and peace. He comes to encourage you in Christ. He comes to lead you to know and embrace His love.
Do not refuse to be comforted. Shut not your heart against His gracious presence. Try to open every feeling and affection to welcome Him. Lay your sins on Jesus. Believe that He takes the burden from you. Listen to the voice of the Spirit speaking within you. Believe that God is with you, that He is watching over you, that He cares for you and wills your happiness, that He is blessing and will bless you.
What made the disciples in the boat afraid, though Jesus was with them? He was there, whom winds and waves obey; no harm could happen to them while He was near; yet they were afraid and cried out in their terror, "Save us, Lord we are perishing!"
Why did they fear? Because their faith was weak. They were safe, but they did not believe in their safety. And you are safe if you have cast in your lot with the Lord Jesus as they had. He will bless you and keep you and save you. Believe this. Though God has compassion on the weak in faith and gives them many a gracious word of encouragement yet be not satisfied with "little faith." For Jesus, though He helped the disciples yet gently rebuked them, "Why are you so afraid, O you of little faith?" (Matthew 8:23-27).
Aim at being strong in faith. Realize your Savior's presence, power, and love. Trust Him fully. So you will be not only safe in Christ but happy in Him too. So you will be able to look up continually to a reconciled Father and to believe that He is with you. And even your deep sense of sin and your strong self-reproaches will not drive you from God or make you doubt Him but will rather draw you nearer to Him as your only comfort, rest, and strength, your stronghold in the day of trouble. And this comfort you may have, not only when downcast about spiritual things but also under all troubles whatever. The humble and contrite, with whom God dwells have in Him an unfailing friend.
Many and various are the troubles of life. Many are the causes which make us anxious, fearful, and desponding. The humble believer may have recourse to God in them all. When family griefs or fears press heavily, when friends are unkind, in sickness or weakness, in lowness of spirits, at times when a cloud seems to have come over all earthly prospects and the joy of life seems gone then the believer may cast his burden on the Lord and find relief. No tongue can tell how God can comfort those who are cast down what peace He can give to the troubled spirit what rest, even now, to the weary.
How precious is prayer at such times! The soul draws near to God and God draws near to it. The trouble, the fear, the secret thought of apprehension, is told to God; and even in the act of telling it, an answer of comfort seems to come, and it is felt anew that "the high and lofty One" does indeed dwell with the humble and contrite who seek Him.
The proud and self-righteous, the careless and impenitent can know nothing of this. For these are blessings for the contrite and for them alone. Yet the contrite were impenitent once and the humble were once proud and haughty. It is the sovereign grace of God alone which has changed them and brought them down. The same grace can humble and change those who are proud and careless now. And this is the gracious object of God in many of His dealings with those who are at present far off from Him. Losses, disappointments, and trials; pain of body, and grief of mind what are they in numberless instances? Judgments? No, mercies mercies in disguise, the best of mercies, sent by the God of all long-suffering, in order to bring down pride, and soften hardness of heart, and lead the sufferer to Christ in penitence and faith; that so He may visit him and bless him and cause him to know His redeeming love.
True Religion, Both Spiritual and Practical
"I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house." Psalm 101:2
This is one of the psalms of David, expressing his feelings, wishes, and purposes, when advanced to the throne of Israel. In this second verse of the psalm, we see two things about David's religion:
first, that it was spiritual
secondly, that it was practical.
It was spiritual. "Oh when will You come to me?" he cries. These words express a longing desire for God's presence, and they are all the more striking from being introduced in the midst of another subject. He is declaring his determination to behave himself wisely, when this earnest wish breaks forth, "Oh when will You come to me?"
It is the sure mark of a spiritual mind to desire and delight in the presence of God. To hold communion with Him in secret, to lift up the heart to Him, and to feel Him near; to place a happy confidence in Him as no stranger, but a friend and Father this is the delight and the desire of the child of God. Nor is this a happiness which is beyond his reach. It is the privilege of the Christian to enjoy the presence of God. Christ has brought him near. He is the living Way. By Him, the humble believer can approach the throne of grace and seek God's presence in faith, and enjoy the fulfillment of the promise, "My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him."
Yet there are changes in our frames and feelings. We do not always enjoy this blessing alike at all times. Though God's presence itself may not be removed from us yet the conscious sense of God's presence often is absent. We are not always bright we have our dark days too. The words of David, "Oh when will You come to me?" seem to show that he was not at that time in the enjoyment of the conscious presence of God. Rather, they seem to express a temporary lack of comfort. But they are words, not of despondency, but of ardent desire. It is the voice of one who has had the sense of God's conscious presence in times past, and most earnestly seeks it again. The withholding of the blessing, does but increase his desire for it: "Oh when will You come to me?"
Perhaps spiritual comfort is sometimes withheld by God on purpose, to quicken our desires and prayers for we often value a blessing the more from its being withdrawn. Perhaps it is part of God's gracious dealing with us for our good, to hide from us at times the light of His countenance, that we may cry to Him more earnestly, "Oh when will You come to me?"
Let none give way to despondency when the sense of God's nearness seems gone and the brightness of His presence is dimmed; let none think that God has changed -that He has forgotten to be gracious that He will visit and bless no more. Rather, let more ardent desires be called forth, and let the cry go up more earnestly, "Oh when will You come to me!" Pray without ceasing. Pray in faith. Wait on the Lord. He gave the desire and He will not leave it unsatisfied.
But though it may sometimes please God in His sovereign wisdom thus to deprive us of spiritual comfort yet there may be a reason in ourselves some lack of watchfulness, some carelessness of walk or neglect of means. David seems to have had this in his mind when he said, "I will ponder the way that is blameless [behave myself in a wise and perfect way] ... I will walk with integrity of heart [with a perfect heart] within my house." It is not without reason that we find this resolution joined to his desire for God's presence. Knowing that any indulgence in what was wrong would come between him and God, he joined to his prayer this earnest resolve: "I will ponder the way that is blameless [behave myself wisely in a perfect way] ... I will walk with integrity of heart [with a perfect heart] within my house."
The word "perfect" here, as elsewhere, means sincere and upright. The meaning is that he would be guilty of no double dealing with God. He would not beg God to come to him and yet in life and practice depart from God. He would at least be honest and true he would allow himself in no known sin.
He would behave himself wisely. He would not lead a thoughtless, careless life, spending his time in idle folly he would be serious and in earnest. Such should be his walk and behavior that is, his habitual line of conduct. He would strive to be a true, humble, consistent servant of God.
He makes especial mention of his house. He was placed by God in a higher position than most men; for he was a king, the head of a great household, and with almost absolute authority over his kingdom. He would try to use this vast influence aright. In his own personal conduct he would set an example to all around him. In the ordering of his household, he would seek to follow God's holy will. Such was his determination.
Thus his religion was practical as well as spiritual. All true religion is so. We cannot have God's presence unless we walk uprightly. Any sin against conscience, any giving way to worldly customs which we know to be contrary to the Word of God, any allowed indulgence of pride or vanity or evil desires cannot fail to deprive us of the comfort of God's presence. He will not dwell with sin.
In our inward feelings and in our outward conduct,
in private and in public,
in our personal behavior and in our fellowship with others,
in thought and word and deed
we must be upright and sincere, if we would enjoy the presence of God.
We might indeed be all this, and yet not have His presence because not seeking it by faith in Jesus Christ. And though sincerity and uprightness alone could not bring us the blessing the lack of them will certainly deprive us of it.
God will help all who earnestly desire to have Him as their portion through Christ Jesus, and set themselves to do His will. He will give them His presence, and keep them by His grace. There is every comfort for such in His word. Let none bear about the load of unforgiven sin while the blood of sprinkling is open to them. Let none be content to live without the happiness of God's presence when they are encouraged by God Himself to seek it.
Yet let not even the sincere and earnest disciple of Christ expects all to be smooth. Here we must have labor and conflict for this present world is not our rest. But this he may confidently believe:
that through light and darkness, God is with him, while he cleaves to Christ and walks closely with God;
that a strength not his own is given to him in all his weakness, and will be given even to the end;
that God's mercy, favor, and love will never be withdrawn; that infinite love and wisdom will allow him just so much of the sense of God's presence as is best for his soul;
and that the time is not far off, when he and every true believer will enjoy the presence of God perfectly and forever!
The Blessing of the Word
"And when He returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And He was preaching the Word to them." Mark 2:1-2
"He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying: We have never seen anything like this!" Mark 2:12
Our Savior was almost always followed by a crowd. Wherever He went, a multitude of people generally went with Him to see and to hear. It would probably be so in any case in which one went about doing wonderful things which no one else could do especially if they were such things as miraculously healing the sick, and making the blind to see, and the lame to walk. If anyone could do such things now he would have a crowd about him wherever he went. And all the more, if he were a poor and humble man.
Anything new and strange is sure to draw people together. So there is nothing to be surprised at, in a great many people coming to the house where Jesus was, as soon as it was known that He had entered into Capernaum.
But some of them came-not so much to see, as to hear. While many were bringing their sick to be made well, and many more were crowding to the place full of desire to see some wonderful work done others came to listen to what He would say. "He was preaching the Word to them," and they loved to hear it. They were not used to such teaching as His. "No one ever spoke like this man!" There was a power and authority in His words, such as cannot be described. The kindness and love with which He spoke, melted the hearts of those who heard Him. The subjects too on which He spoke were new and interesting. The teaching of the scribes was chiefly about forms and ceremonies and traditions, with little or nothing either to interest the mind or to touch the heart. Not so with the teaching of Jesus.
We are not told what "the Word" was which He preached to them on this occasion, but perhaps we may gather it from what followed immediately afterwards. While He is yet speaking, four men come, bearing a sick man on his bed; and not being able to get at Him for the crowd, they uncover the roof and let down the sick man and his bed.
What are the first words which Jesus says to him? Not, as we might have expected, "Son, your sickness is cured," but "Son, your sins are forgiven." Is it not likely that this was the very subject on which Jesus was speaking, when the sick man was brought? We know what things He spoke about at other times: the redemptive love of God, the way of salvation, rest for the weary, comfort, mercy, pardon, and peace. Probably He was preaching forgiveness of sins at that very time. However this may be we know that He was preaching some words of truth and love.
We are struck with the happiness of those who were His hearers. Think of the state of all the rest of the world at that time. The Jews, it is true, had some light but they did not in general receive Christ. The rest of mankind were in pagan darkness either sunk in ignorance, idolatry, and superstition, or with no better light than that of their own philosophy. In all the world we can find no spot of true spiritual light except just there, in that town of Capernaum, where a crowd of eager listeners is gathered round that open door. How different are they from all mankind besides! There they stand, drinking in the words of life from the lips of the blessed Son of God Himself. Even those on the outskirts of the crowd, who can but catch a word now and then, are happy indeed; for every word is a word of life good and true and gracious and saving.
We are struck with their happiness do we think enough of our own? What is the difference between those hearers and us, and between their blessing and ours? There is a difference certainly. But more in the circumstances, than in the blessing itself. The chief difference is that we see no miracles and that the Word is not spoken to us by the lips of Christ Himself. But that is all.
The same word is preached to us, though not by His lips. The same word, and even more fully. He Himself said to His disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:12-13). The Spirit of truth has come now, and the things which the disciples could not bear then have been made known to us in the Bible and by the Holy Spirit.
Besides, Jesus was not then crucified or risen again. He had not then finished His work or ascended again into Heaven. But all this has happened now, and we know it. A crucified and risen Savior is preached to us continually. We have the full word of God, the plain and clear gospel of salvation. Every Lord's Day the gospel is preached from thousands of pulpits in our land. Every day the scriptures are read aloud in many a Christian family, and in private by millions of readers. The gospel of salvation, the Word of life, unchanged and unchangeable goes down from father to son; and never, in all the history of the world, were the scriptures so plentifully dispersed or so much read. The Book of books, is the cheapest of all books. No book of man's writing is so easy to get, as the Book of God. Every household, nay every person, may have it. It is within the reach of all. Are we not happy?
I spoke of the dark state of the rest of the world, at the very time when the crowd thronged round the door at Capernaum to hear our Lord's words. That pagan darkness that was everywhere else seems to make us think all the more of the happiness of those who heard the Word of life. The case is the same with us. At this very time, while we can hear and read the Bible so freely by far the greater part of mankind are still without it. There are millions to whom the gospel has never yet been preached. How great are our privileges compared with theirs! How rich the blessings we enjoy! What manner of people ought we to be, in all holy conduct and godliness?
Let us learn two things from the text:
1. To prize the Word. This is the greatest blessing we have. Put in the one scale all temporal blessings and in the other the Word of God; and it outweighs them all. In every age since the gospel was first preached, there have been some highly civilized nations, among whom art and science have flourished in various degrees. Greece and Rome of old were learned and polished nations. And the Chinese of our own time are not without learning and art. Yet ancient Greece and Rome, with all their learning, had not the gospel and therefore were dark and miserable. And China, with its 360 millions, comprising nearly one-third of the human race is dark and miserable too, because it is without the gospel. The wisest philosopher of Greece or Rome had less truth, than the simple reader of the Bible in our time. The richest mandarin or nobleman in heathen China is poorer by far than any poor cottager of England who works hard and fares ill, but who knows the precious word of God. Prize the Bible. Thank God for His Word. Of all your blessings, count this the chief!
2. Let us see to it that we turn this blessing to the best account. Use it diligently, both in hearing and in reading it. Be not content with hearing it or reading it only when it is quite convenient. Take trouble about it. Be diligent and self-denying. Think what the Word of God is and for what purpose it is given. Let not a trifle keep you from the house of God, and let nothing short of necessity be allowed to interfere with the daily reading of the Bible in private. "Long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow" (1 Peter 2:2). Let not an unread Bible, or preaching that you would not go to hear condemn you hereafter.
Yet do not be content with merely hearing and reading. These are not the end but only the means. Be not hearers only or readers only. Receive the Word into the heart. Drink in the spirit of it. The Word of God is not merely a sound to listen to or so many sentences to read. It is a message from God. It is His will made known to man the gospel of salvation. It tells us what we are in His sight and how we may be saved. It warns us of danger and points out the way of escape. It shows us whom to go to and what to ask for. It tells us of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. It makes known to us Christ and by Him pardon, life, salvation, Heaven. The very words which Jesus spoke, are written there. The very things which He did, are there related.
The Word of God is meant to lead sinners to Christ the Savior. If it does not lead you to Him then it does not do its proper work in you and you receive it in vain. Oh, do not receive it in vain. Pray for the Holy Spirit to teach you and to impress the Word on your heart. How sad it would be to have the Bible all your life and yet to be found at last with no part in Christ and no share in His salvation.