An apple a day for twelve days.
W. J. Hocking.
Second Edition, C. A. Hammond, 1945.
“As apples of gold in pictures (baskets) of silver
is a word spoken in season” (Prov. 25:11 N.T.)
The Night of Weeping
“O My God, I cry . . . in the night season, and am not silent” (Psalm 22:2)
In that memorable night of Israel's first passover, there arose a great cry throughout the land of Egypt such as had never been heard before, nor should be heard again (Ex. 11:6; Ex. 12:30).
The mansions of the great and the hovels of the poor were alike filled with the sobs and bitter groans of the bereaved. All the families of the great empire mourned in concert for their firstborn sons, taken from them by a single stroke. The darkness of that night of judgment became resonant with a weeping and a wailing, for which there was no relief.
The name Bochim (“weepers,” Judges 2:5) might well have been applied to the land of Egypt, for at midnight the haughty kingdom had suddenly been transformed into a nation of weepers. It was due to one proud man fighting against God and resisting His will.
Pharaoh, by his stubborn resistance to the will of Jehovah, had brought this lamentation and woe to his subjects. Proudly and persistently the great potentate had defied the Omnipotent of the heavens, saying, “Not Thy will, but mine be done.” He refused to free from their bondage Israel, the firstborn of God, well knowing and yet daring the dreadful alternative for the firstborn of Egypt. Hence, through man's obstinate self-will, the hope and promise of a mighty nation perished in that night of weeping.
Leaving Egypt and its smitten households, let us draw near to Gethsemane and the Man of sorrows. In Olivet's garden another midnight hour of grief rises ever and again before us. From thence come to us the cries of the Strong Man in His “agony” and His sweat of blood.
It is not now a myriad grief-stricken voices rising from among the architectural glories of the dwellers on the Nile. In the quietude of the garden retreat outside the city we hear one single voice, quivering from inward anguish in the fervency of its supplication, offering up with strong crying and tears that prayer of prayers, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
What a night of weeping was this! There in the loneliness of Gethsemane's garden, the Blessed Saviour and Lord became sorely troubled and very sorrowful, even unto death. There He fell upon His face, knowing fully what the morrow would bring forth for Him.
There His sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground. Thrice the Perfect man and Holy Son of God cried aloud in the night season to His Father, and “was not silent”: “Take away this cup from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt.”
A stone's cast away are the sleeping disciples. But, beloved reader, let us not sleep as do others. Let us watch with Him one hour even now. Let the privacy of our own hearts be the Gethsemane of our souls. There let us kneel with Him. There let us mingle our tears with His. There let us gaze with holy horror upon the dreadful cup, brimming with our sins and God's wrath, so soon to be drained on Calvary's cross. Let us seek to have what fellowship we may with the Lover of our souls in His great sorrow.
In Gethsemane's night of weeping we hear the cries, not of the disobedient and rebellious smitten for their sins, as in Egypt, but the anguish of the Obedient Man, viewing His coming cross and death in the light of His own Omniscience.
His strong crying and tears were unto Him Who was able to save Him out of death. And in this dread appeal the Son, though the cup did not pass from Him until He drank it (Matt. 26:42; John 18:11), was heard because of His piety (Heb. 5:7, N.Tr.). On the third day He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father.
After sorrow comes rejoicing. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. The noonday darkness of Calvary exceeded the midnight darkness of Gethsemane; nevertheless, there was beyond both a morning without a cloud or a pang, the morning of resurrection and heavenly glory. Here darkness and tears; there no night, no tears, neither sorrow nor sighing.
“Hark! What sounds of bitter weeping,
What submissive anguish deep!
'Tis the Lord His vigil keeping,
While His followers sink in sleep:
Ah, my soul, He loved thee;
Yes, He gave Himself for me.
He is speaking to His Father,
Tasting deep that bitter cup;
Yet He takes it, willing rather
For our sakes to drink it up:
With what love He lovèd me;
Gave Himself, my soul, for thee.
Then His closing scene of anguish!
All God's waves and billows roll
Over Him, left there to languish
On the cross, to save my soul:
Matchless love, how vast, how free!
Jesus gave Himself for me.
Hark again! His cries are waking
Echoes on dark Calvary's hill;
God, My God, art Thou forsaking
Him Who always did Thy will?
Ah, my soul, it was for thee,
Yes, He gave Himself for me.”
Resting in His Shadow
“As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved among the sons: in His shadow have I rapture and sit down; and His fruit is sweet to my taste” (Canticles 2:3)
Which of us in the hurrying occupations of life has not longed for a quiet hour — for a few moments of leisure, that our jaded energies might relax? More than that, we all know the sweetest rest of all would be in the company of our Beloved Lord and Master — resting in His shadow.
But many fail to find this blessed shadow. They search in vain, plodding on wearily and painfully day after day, crushed down beneath the burden of their daily cares. “Seek and ye shall find,” said our Lord. But these fail to find rest because they seek a place, and not a Person. Christ Himself is “the apple-tree.” At His feet there is both rest and rapture.
Some wearied hearts seek rest in the solitudes of nature. But that shadow which gives rest for the believer's soul is not to be found amid lonely hills nor in some secret forest glade. Some seek peace for their weary hearts in dim cloisters of religious fame.
Some retire to the quiet routine of a monkish retreat, where relieved from life's duties and responsibilities the heart fondly but vainly hopes to find within the prison walls of earth the tranquility of heaven. They may perhaps find relief for body and mind, but there is no rest for the soul apart from Christ Himself known and enjoyed by the inward man.
Only the shadow of the apple-tree, Christ Himself, will satisfy and refresh wearied saints. We must seek Him Whom our souls have learned to love. No one else and nothing else can be a substitute for Him. Like the bride in the Canticles, let us say, “I will rise now, and go about the city; in the streets and the broadways will I seek Him Whom my soul loveth” (Cant. 3:2). I will sit down in His shadow with great delight.
* * * * *
Shadow used figuratively frequently occurs in Scripture. The figure varies slightly in the application of its meaning, but in general it sets out the relief and the protection which God affords to those who trust in Him.
In one passage, it is the shadow of a cloud in the heavens screening from the scorching heat (Isa. 25:6, 5); in another, the shadow of a great rock to the weary traveller in a thirsty land (Isa. 32:2); and in yet another, the grateful shadow of a beautiful apple-tree with its green leaves and its luscious fruit (Cant. 2:3). But the One figured in all the passages is the same. He is the One beloved and adored by all saved men. His shadow is an unfailing and a celestial delight.
Shadow! How vividly the figure of shade speaks even to us! But think of the wearied pilgrim in Bible lands toiling across the desert sands in the glare of a sultry, cloudless sky, his hands listless, his feet leaden, his life-force ebbing fast. And think what the sight of a shadow-patch means to him! It seems life itself to him. In the cool shadow, he who was ready to die can rest and recover his lost energy.
So many of God's people become weary in well-doing because they find themselves overburdened with the cares and anxieties of this present life. In the home, the office and the workshop, in private and in public life, there is an incessant drain upon the vital energies of mind and body. Every nerve cries aloud for relief, for rest.
Modern conditions form a continual menace to the welfare of the soul. Time, thought, and financial means are taxed beyond endurance to make ends meet in matters of everyday existence. True children of God are heated and bothered. They are so exhausted that they seem unable to find a quiet moment for prayer, praise, and Bible-reading.
Then, as the nerve-strain brings them nearer and nearer the breaking-point, how they long for some relief! The very burden and heat of the day cause them to scan the horizon eagerly for the sight of some shadow-patch. Up to now they have forgotten Him Who is their Shield and Defence, and have been struggling along, doggedly yet despairingly, in their own strength. Now, these fainting souls cry out, “Tell me, O Thou Whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest Thy flock, where Thou makest it to rest at noon?” (Cant. 1:7, R.V.)
It is sad that any one of the saints of God should lose personal touch with the Master. It is sad that any should, through facing the responsibilities of life in their own strength alone, become overwrought, nervous, borne under by the strong, sweeping current of daily duties. Why should the children of God exhibit to the world such lamentable weakness and failure when the Mighty One is near at hand to bear them up, to carry them through, to ensure for them victory over every foe?
Why should we labour on and on in the scorching sun-rays when the coolness of His shadow is nearby for our present rest? There in Him we may abide — resting not for a moment only, but always. For, if we will, we may prove even now the truth of that millennial promise: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps. 91:1).
Oh, the quietude and delight of the shadow of Omnipotence! There we find absolute protection and fullest relief. But there also we find communion with the Lord, and this is sweeter far than mere freedom from care. “Under the fig-tree, I saw thee,” the Lord once said to the surprised Israelite, to whom these words were a revelation. And Nathanael confessed, “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.”
Seated under His shadow, we too shall learn from His own words to us the secrets of His Person. In the refreshing quietude of His presence, we shall learn Who He is, what He has done, and what He can do; just as when we are staggering and stumbling over the sun-scorched sands we learn the humbling lessons of what we cannot do.
There was shadow under the palm-trees of Elim for the pilgrims of old. And there is now a shadow for rest provided for all the weary. The Lord calls us to keep this tryst with Himself. He says, as He said to His disciples long ago, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31).
Do let us remember that we have not to go far to find this shadow. The Lord is at hand. Only having found it, let us sit down there, making His presence our abiding-place.
There we learn how the Lord besets us behind and before; how His hand leads us; how His right hand upholds us. Resting in His shadow we shall fear no other shadows: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).
“We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them” (Hebrews 2:1, R.V.)
A dead tree-trunk blown into the upper waters of the River Amazon on the eastern slopes of the Andes is eventually discovered on the shores of the Scandinavian peninsula. The great log has had a tortuous journey of many thousands of miles across South America and northward through the Atlantic Ocean — by drifting.
Yet, of itself, the baulk of sodden timber did not move an inch. It exerted no energy, but by passively yielding to the force and mercy of surrounding elements it at last arrived at that immense distance from the point of its departure — by drifting.
Brethren, there is a very great danger of our becoming like so much dead driftwood, carried about by winds of doctrine and waves of circumstance.
This warning to saints of God is an old one. Paul uttered it when writing to the Hebrews. Its exact force is disguised in the Authorised Version, which reads, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” The general idea conveyed by the words, “let them slip,” is that we should be careful not to let them escape from us.
But the text is rendered more correctly by the Revisers: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them.”
The change is an important one. By the amended translation we see that the faith once delivered to the saints is regarded as a fixed and permanent thing, but that we are in danger of being carried away from the truths of God. Our drifting away from them, not their drifting away from us, is the point of the warning.
The gradual glide away is usually unperceived, and is therefore more to be dreaded than the sudden shock of the smash-and-grab enemy. Most saints would strenuously resist open and violent efforts to rob them of the truth; even the timid and the meek are apt to “put up their backs” when persecution comes.
But while most are on the alert against thieves which break through and steal, all are inclined to neglect the moth and rust that secretly corrupt. We ignore or undervalue the effects of the popular opinions of the day upon our proper esteem for the revealed truths of Scripture.
But insensibly reverence for the oracles of God is weakened, and our confidence in them is undermined. Though the movement is unrecognised, drifting away from the truth has begun, and open declension and denial will surely follow.
In the early church we have an instance of the tendency to drift away from the truth. The movement, imperceptible at first, began at Antioch, and rapidly increased in effect until Peter, Barnabas and many other Jewish Christians were all but carried away from the truth of the gospel.
How did the drifting away begin? It began with Peter who seemed to be a pillar of the church. When he came to Antioch, he separated himself from the Gentile brethren, making a difference in his treatment of them because they were not Jews (Gal. 2). Many other Jewish brethren at Antioch followed the apostle's example.
It might seem a negligible matter for Peter to treat the Jewish brethren as Jews and the Gentile brethren as Gentiles according to the practice of his nation in past centuries. But in doing so, Peter was actually denying what he himself had established in preaching the gospel — that God now put no difference between Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15:8, 9).
However insignificant Peter's behaviour might appear to some, the apostle Paul discerned what direction the drift was taking. He declared that Peter and those with him were not walking “uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel.” The fundamental teaching of Christianity is that there is no difference in man's guilt nor in divine mercy to all that call upon the Lord (Rom. 3:22, 23; Rom. 10:12, 13). This was being set aside at Antioch by those who still made a difference between Jews and Gentiles.
Through Paul's bold and decided protest, those who were beginning to drift away were saved from further departure from the truth. But the incident stands in Scripture as a beacon-warning to us to beware lest we be carried away also by the undercurrents of human opinion and popular theology.
Peter feared what Jewish brethren would say (Gal. 2:12), and he was caught in the snare that the fear of man brings. We, too, are liable to be influenced by the opinions of others, and thereby to drift away from the scriptural teaching and practice which we have received of God.
It is desirable at times to examine our bearings, and to ascertain whether we are being carried away from Scripture, which is our infallible chart for reference in checking our course. Let us consider the following questions each for himself.
Are you as confident as ever that the Lord Jesus Himself is in the midst of two or three gathered to His name? Or is there some doubt in your mind about it? Have you drifted away from the happy experiences you once had in the assembly of His saints?
Is your attendance at the prayer meeting and the Bible-reading as regular as it used to be? Or have you drifted into the habit of finding, if you can, some colourable excuse for being absent?
Is your contribution to the assembly collections less than it used to be, although your income is greater? Have you lost the sense of your stewardship of your Master's goods, and taken up the idea that others are quite able to make up what you withhold?
Is there such a flavour of piety about your home as there was at one time? Have you noticed that family worship and prayer, hymn-singing and Scripture study are not now practised generally by those professing godliness? And have you therefore found in this neglect by others an excuse for giving up these pious habits entirely in your own home?
Do you recognise your responsibility to train up your children in the “nurture and admonition” of the Lord? Or, have you drifted into the fashion of the times to pay someone else to take this load from your shoulders? Surely, you have not succumbed to the offer of a high standard of education at low fees, and imperiled the souls of your children by sending them to Roman Catholic schools!
In your daily occupation, is your word your bond, and is your workmanship not with eye-service as men-pleasers? Or, have you drifted into the “tricks of the trade,” practised now more than ever?
Know this of a truth, beloved, if we have drifted away from the truth once known and practised by us, we shall not know any outward and manifest blessing from God. His word is, “Return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good” (Jer. 18:11).
God's Son in the Fourth Gospel
“Nathanael answered and said unto Him, Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God” (John 1:49)
The Fourth Gospel might almost be styled the Gospel of the Holy of Holies. In the Jewish tabernacle, the light of the Shekinah of glory always shone through the vail filling the holy place with its glory, so in John's record of the Life of lives there always shines upon the worshipping hearts of its readers the divine glory of Christ.
In the Gospel story, the incarnate Son of God is displayed as the translucent Vail, on which the blue of heavenly glory blends With the scarlet and purple of Messianic glory in an exquisite harmony, wrought by the Holy Spirit.
The transcendent theme of the evangelist is the Creative Word become flesh, tabernacling among men, manifesting forth His glory, the glory as of an only-begotten from beside a Father.
John presents to us the very words of the Lord that by them we may know the Eternal Son and the Father He came to declare. In the other Gospels, a multitude of miracles, wonders and signs is associated with His ministry. They are the credentials of His official glory; but here His words, coming from the fullness of His heart, declare His personal glory as the Son in the bosom of the Father.
The few signs recorded by John are introduced only as preludes to deep unfoldings of grace and truth by the Lord's own blessed lips. Thus, the feeding of the crowds with a few loaves and fishes forms an introduction to the Lord's great discourses concerning Himself as the Living Bread come down from heaven, to give life to the world and to sustain life in His own (John 6).
Taking but one more instance, the account of the Lord of glory rising from supper and girding Himself for the menial task of cleansing the feet of His disciples (John 13) is an introduction to His final farewell and instruction to His own in the chapters that follow.
How shall we measure the value of those valedictory words! They occupy about a sixth part of the entire Gospel, and they set out in undying terms that during His absence those who believed on Him would be the objects of the ceaseless activity and tender care of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
From our hearts we thank God for the rich unfoldings of the Fourth Gospel. Read in it wherever we will, and we know ourselves in the presence of the Thrice-Holy One. Everywhere we hear His life-giving voice; we see His Filial glory; we gaze, like the awe-struck trio upon the mount of Transfiguration, upon One Whose countenance shines as the sun, and Whose Form is radiant with the effulgence of the glory-cloud. We are constrained to say to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Moreover, in this Gospel, we not only see Him displayed in His personal glory, we also hear His voice, as the voice of the Son of the Father's love. In former days, God in various ways spoke to men by holy men. In this Gospel, God's Spokesman is God's own Son. The Eternal Son is the Everlasting Word, Who declares the Father.
And how tender and sweet is the voice of Jesus, the Son of God! Of old, the Voice of Jehovah in resistless might broke down even the cedars of Lebanon (Ps. 29:5), and at Sinai that Voice caused men to shudder with fear and dread (Ex. 20:18-20; Heb. 12:19).
How different today! In the Gospel of John, the words of the Lord Jesus are to us as a “honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” In their fragrance, they are as “ointment poured forth.” They do not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. They woo the feeblest, and they win the strongest, a bluff Simon as well as a timid Nathanael.
This Gospel shows us how the voice of the Son of God was graciously modulated to suit every occasion and every condition among men. We hear Him speaking in Judea, in Galilee, and even in Samaria; in the temple at Jerusalem, and in the synagogue at Capernaum; in Solomon's porch and by Jacob's well; on the stormy sea and by its peaceful shore amid the joy of the wedding feast in Cana and the grief of the graveside in Bethany; to a rich rabbi by night and to a blind beggar by day.
The words of Jesus, the Son of God, were not like a sharp sword nor a deceitful bow, but were sweet to the taste. Even some who were not His disciples said, “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). And no wonder for grace was poured into His lips, and grace and truth came by Him. These words are enshrined for us in the Fourth Gospel especially.
Abiding in Christ
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me” (John 15:4)
There were eleven sad men in the moonlit streets of Jerusalem, following their Master, Who was on His way to Gethsemane, to Gabbatha, and to Calvary. He had come forth from God into the world, and now He was about to depart out of the world unto the Father.
Sorrow was fast filling the hearts of His followers because this was their last walk with Him, and they would see His face no more. Three years before, these men had left all they had in the world to follow the Lord Jesus; what would they do when He had gone back to God (John 13:3) and they were left alone?
While He was with them they lacked nothing, and He had covered them with His protecting hands from the power of their worldly enemies. “If ye seek Me,” He said in the garden to the constables, let these go their way.” And as they looked back in memory, they recollected that, since they had known Him, it had always been His habit to stand between them and the foe.
Then the Lord spoke to these sorrow-stricken hearts, whose fears and misgivings He knew so well. And to meet their distress at the very thought of losing the Face, the Voice, and the Presence of their Lord, He uttered the strange injunction, “Abide in Me.” He was leaving the company of His own, and was going to the Father's house; but to those remaining behind in the world, His farewell word of comfort was “Abide in Me.”
Very shortly, these eleven men would see their beloved Master float upward from their midst on Mount Olivet until a cloud received Him out of their sight. Then, on their way back to the holy city, would not the words of the Vanished One, “Abide in Me,” ring again in their ears? What a link with the Absent One was formed as they fulfilled this word in their daily lives!
In the Scripture we have the last words of Jacob and of Moses, of Joshua and of Samuel, as well as of others. But we never find such a farewell word as this given to soften the separation from a loved leader and guide.
There is no hint anywhere of abiding in Abraham or in Moses, in David or in Daniel. Only One could say before departing, “Abide in Me,” setting Himself by a single pregnant phrase as their defence against a hostile world, and inviting its outcasts to abide in Himself for fruitfulness and power and peace.
Happy, holy abiding-place! Peter in prison, Paul in Rome, John in Patmos, found the secret of the Lord's words, and abode in Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, had passed through the heavens, and was seated at the right hand of God, and they, His disciples, were invited to abide in Him there.
Faith carried them up the shining way with Christ, and in Him they entered into what was within the vail. There they abode — in Christ. There, for them and for us, is the abiding city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. We do not see that city afar off, as the patriarchs did, for our citizenship is in heaven. There we abide in Christ, there we dwell in Him Whose Name is Secret, Wonderful (Judges 13:18).
The Psalmist had some dim aspirations after such a secret person or place, but he sought for it mainly as a refuge: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. . . . He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust” (Ps. 91:1-4). God Himself was the singer's retreat from every peril.
And it was the One of Whom the Psalmist sang as the Perfect Abiding-place Who said to His disciples, “Abide in Me.” But, while in the Old Testament He is portrayed as a Refuge and a Fortress, in the New Testament He is the Vine. He is the source and sustenance of spiritual vitality for all who abide in Him. He is the Life itself: and abiding in Him, that Life expresses itself in the branches by their fruit-bearing.
The Father is the Husbandman of the Vine and its branches. His good pleasure is that every branch shall bring forth more fruit. One special function of fruit is the propagation of its own species (Gen. 1:12). And this multiplication of fruit-bearing branches is one result of fruitfulness in the Vine.
When the descendants of Abraham, to whom the promises of God were made, were in Egypt, they “were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty” (Ex. 1:7). They were like the sand on the seashore for multitude. This was the vine God brought out of Egypt (Ps. 80:8).
And after the departure of Christ, multitudes in all parts of the world believed in the Lord Jesus through the word preached by His witnesses, as He Himself said would be the case (John 17:20). The early believers abode in Christ, and were fruitful in this respect because of Him in Whom they abode.
There are other directions in which the branches of the Vine may bear fruit, but letting this instance suffice for the moment, those must be counted happy people who are effective proclaimers of the word of life, that incorruptible seed by means of which men are born from above. Soul-winning is fruit for the Father, and it is fruit that will remain.
But only the obedient are fruitful. Let us ponder upon the fact that the Lord makes fruit-bearing contingent upon our obedience to His precept, “Abide in Me.” He went on to say, “Without Me (that is, separate from Me; otherwise than abiding in Me) ye can do nothing.”
Because there is a tendency in us to depart, the Lord says, “Abide.” “Many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him,” we read (John 6:66). We are not regarded as immobile substances having no life, that stay just where they are placed, like the memorial stones set up by Joshua. “They are there unto this day,” said the writer of that history (Joshua 4:9).
We are sheep as well as branches of the Vine, and sheep have the propensity of straying. Hence His injunction, “Abide in Me.” Apart from Him we shall be barren, fruitless branches. Let us then not be like the church that left her first love (Rev. 2:4), but let us keep His commandments that we may abide in His love (John 15:10). And let us ever cry,
“Oh, keep my soul, Lord Jesus,
Abiding still in Thee;
And if I wander, teach me
Soon back to Thee to flee.”
The Healing Stripes
“The chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” “By Whose stripes ye were healed.” (Isa. 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24)
The sufferings of Christ form a choice theme for the devout contemplation of the saints of God in every age. From the bruised heel of Genesis to the slain Lamb of the Revelation they are set out in various ways throughout Scripture.
The prophet Isaiah, looking onward, in the power of the inspiring Spirit, beheld the suffering Servant of Jehovah, and chronicled his vision (Isa. 53) in language beloved of all who look backward to Calvary by their aid: “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.”
In the reading and remembrance of these few words the wonder of divine suffering ever grows upon us. The Servant of Jehovah is before us, enduring stripes; “by Whose stripes ye were healed,” as Peter quotes. Stripes! Stripes are for the back of fools, so the wise man teaches us (Prov. 19:29); and the law of Moses ordained that a judge in Israel, finding a man guilty in the courts, might sentence him to receive stripes, but never to exceed forty in number (Deut. 25:1-3).
Now, in the eyes of both God and man, the Lord Jesus was found without guilt. “I find no fault in Him,” said the Roman governor. The Father declared from heaven that He found His good pleasure in His beloved Son. Jehovah said, “Behold My Servant, Whom I uphold; Mine Elect, in Whom My soul delighteth” (Isa. 42:1). Yet it is of this spotless, unblemished One that we read, “With His stripes we are healed.”
Turning the leaves of Isaiah's great prophecy, we find the words of the suffering Servant Himself, “I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair” (Isa. 50:6). And these words were fulfilled in amplest measure when the Jews smote the Lord Jesus with the palms of their hands, and the Gentiles scourged Him (Matt. 26:67; Matt. 27:24).
Terrible as these indignities from violent men are to contemplate by the worshippers of the Lord, they are not the stripes that healed us. Upon the Holy Sufferer there came smiting by God as well as smiting by man. “They persecute Him Whom Thou hast smitten,” said the Psalmist (Ps. 69:27).
In Scripture, “smiting” is a term describing an act of divine judgment. Jehovah smote the rebellious and idolatrous land of Egypt by the death of their firstborn (Ps. 78:51; Ps. 105:36; Ps. 135:10). We also know that He smote the Good Shepherd of the sheep (Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31). How marvellous that there should have been the infliction of divine wrath upon the Lord Jesus, and that with His stripes we are healed!
God's ways of grace are not as our ways. In righteousness, the servant who knew his master's will, but did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes (Luke 12:47). In grace, the Lord Jesus, Who knew the will of God, and Who did it to the uttermost, received in Himself the stroke of God's wrath — and by His stripes we are healed.
The apostle Peter in his context to the quotation from the prophet Isaiah amplifies a little the subject of those sufferings on our account. He brings together many phases of Christ's sufferings during those dark hours that our adoration may be intensified as we read of Him Who bore our sins.
“Christ . . . Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; when He suffered He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously: Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree . .. by Whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:21-24). Those stripes for our healing came upon the meek, submissive Christ from “Him that judgeth righteously,” — upon the One Who “did no sin.”
How awe-inspiring the dark noontide of Calvary! The eye of faith penetrates the dense darkness covering the land from the sixth hour to the ninth hour, and dimly discerns the unseen, unreckoned, unmeasured, unmitigated stripes that descended with horrid force upon the Holy Sufferer for our healing.
“The cross! 'twas there Thou bowedst Thy head;
There deeper pangs than mortals know
Did rend Thy heart, and deepest floods
Of wrath divine did Thee o'erflow.
Thy cross, Thy cross! 'tis there we see
What Thou, our blessed Saviour, art;
There all the love that dwells in Thee
Was labouring in Thy breaking heart.”
Alas, alas! only the rod upon Another could bring healing to us. Without the cross and its stripes there could be no balm of Gilead for wounded men. It was when the Golgotha tree of cursing was cut down and cast into the Marah waters of judgment, that those waters were made sweet and pleasant to quench the thirst of penitent sinners and to refresh the weary hearts of burdened saints.
And so the voice of the smitten Sufferer comes to us, “I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Ex. 15:26). He Who was wounded for our transgressions “bindeth up the breach of His people, and healeth the stroke of their wound” (Isa. 30:26; Isa. 57:17, 18).
All our blessing flows from the Holy Sufferer upon Calvary's tree of cursing. By His stripes we are healed, and the tree of death becomes the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God. Eating of Him, we never hunger any more.
“Precious are the stripes that healed us,
Perfect is the grace that sealed us,
Strong the hand stretched forth to shield us
All must be well.”
Fire for the Chilled and Food for the Hungry
“When therefore they went out on the land, they see a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread” (John 21:9)
God's care of us in the common things of life, though so constant, often comes to us in the nature of a surprise. Have we not at times said plaintively and anxiously: What shall we eat on the morrow? Then in the morning, drawing aside the tent curtains, we have seen at our very door little, round, eatable things, fallen from heaven? Day by day, our daily bread!
While we were sleeping, angels, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation, had spread for us a table in the wilderness. How the sight of this choice provision by heavenly hands filled us with shame and self-reproach! We forgot that our Father knew our need of food, for both body and soul. Truly, our “flesh is weak” in faith, but our God is faithful.
God enables the unable, too. Elijah displayed a mighty energy when he ran before the chariot of Ahab from Carmel to Jezreel. But he so ran because he knew the secret place of strength. The praying man of God would not rise from his knees until the little black rain-cloud appeared. Then he rose on wings as an eagle; after three years of famine, he ran and was not weary.
But even the fine gold may become dim. And Jezebel's sharp tongue filled with fear the prophet who alone on Carmel had faced the four hundred priests of Baal. Fearing the wrath of the queen, he fled into the wilderness, and fell asleep under a juniper-tree, praying in his hunger and despair that he might not awake. The prophet of God was cold and famished in a barren land.
But a surprise was in store for Elijah at his waking. No ravens were there with a ration of bread and flesh. The touch which aroused him was not that of a widow woman with her bottomless meal-tub and a few sticks for a fire. Elijah found his Bethel when he was under the juniper-tree. He was not to die, but live. An angel of the Lord had provided for his wants. Fire and food, the gifts of his God, were at his elbow.
At the prayer of Elijah, fire had fallen from heaven upon the sacrifice on Mount Carmel. Water had fallen upon the parched land from the windows of heaven, opened at the prayer of that same righteous man. But the burning coals, the hot cakes, and the cruse of water were given him of God unasked. How faithful was and is our God!
Jehovah knew the long and toilsome journey before His servant. The angel provided him a second meal after further sleep. In the strength of that food, not prepared by human hands, Elijah travelled for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mount of God.
As David sang, so also might Elijah have sung, “It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect” (Ps. 18:32). Truly, our God ever prepares the way for us, as He also prepares us for the way. Wherefore should we doubt Him? Though we may well distrust ourselves, not occasionally, but always.
Let us come now to the sea of Tiberias. “After that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee,” said the Lord to His disciples on the night of His betrayal. To the women at the empty sepulchre, the angel said, “Tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you” (Mark 14:28; Mark 16:7). Accordingly, the disciples, knowing that their Master was risen from the dead, went in due course into Galilee that they might see Him. Thus far this was commendable obedience.
But weak flesh is impatient of delay. It was too tedious for them to wait patiently for the Lord to appear and direct their steps. “I go a-fishing,” says one. “We come with thee,” say the rest. Oh, ye followers of the risen Christ, think of the impetuous Saul, that disobedient king who refused to wait for Samuel to offer the burnt sacrifice (1 Sam. 13:8-14). His fleshly haste cost him his kingdom. Sheep of Christ, will you not wait in patience for the Great Shepherd Who was smitten for you? Do not spoil your obedience by your impatience!
But the seven disciples, well aware of the Lord's promise to be in Galilee before they were, sailed away on their fishing adventure, though the Master had not yet disclosed Himself to them.
Was there no one of them who recalled those words in the Lord's farewell, “Without Me ye can do nothing”? At any rate, they all proved their truth that night on the Sea of Tiberias. For all their strength, their skill, their sagacity, their seamanship, were unavailing; that night they caught nothing. And the early morning light found them a weary, dispirited, listless, hungry crew, overwhelmed with the shame of a fruitless enterprise.
Whose form now appears upon the strand in the misty dawn? Whose voice rises above the sound of many waters breaking on the shore? It is a question. What is it? “What sort of a night? What catch? Have ye any fish?”
No; this was not the Lord's word. Such an inquiry might seem to the disappointed men a sting of reproach for their self-devised and fruitless expedition. Such a rebuke would be well deserved, but the One Who was speaking knew how “to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” Compassion came first, chiding may follow.
“Children, have ye aught to eat?” How the word fitted the state of the famished men! It came from Him Who for the past three years had kept His eye upon them to see that they lacked nothing.
This voice that hailed them across the waves was the voice of Him Who had pitied the weary multitude on the neighbouring hillside because they had nothing to eat, and would surely faint on their way home. “Give ye them to eat,” He had said to His apostles, and then He Himself had “filled the hungry with good things.”
The Gracious One knew that men without food are men without spirit, “ready to perish.” What have these seven shivering men to say?
The Lord asked them, Children, have ye anything to eat? Did ye forget to take bread, as once before when crossing this lake? They have to confess that now there is no food in the ship: and “they answered Him, No.”
Before displaying His mercy to them, the Lord by His gentle question made them feel the foolishness and failure of their adventure. They would then appreciate the more the refreshment He had prepared in readiness for them. There was fire and food on the shore.
Fire for the Chilled and Food for the Hungry
Seven men in a boat! A night's toil! No fish! Failure admitted! A Master neglected! What sort of disciples are these? Shall they not eat the bitter fruits of their own folly? Many a master would agree they they deserved this at least. But what master is like our Master? and what beloved is like our Beloved?
In a word, the Lord indicated the exact spot where they would now find in abundance the fish they had vainly sought throughout the watches of the night; and there the net was quickly filled. The great fishes were on the right side of the ship, about two hundred cubits from the land, near the Master. Far out on the waters, where the Master was not, they could not catch one.
The party came ashore. When they had landed, they beheld further evidence of the Lord's thoughtfulness and loving care. They saw a fire of coals, and there was also food — a fire of coals, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
The little company found themselves in the presence of the Lord of the land and the sea. He brought them into His banqueting-house. He did not say to them, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled,” where ye can. In the fullness of His love as of His power, He provided the fire and the food, “needful to the body,” and refreshing to the soul.
“Come to breakfast,” said the Lord, Who delights to serve His own, while He added, “Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.” But He was their Host. They were at the Lord's table. He took bread and gave them, and fish likewise. Which fish? Those on His fire, or those in their net?
The Lord had said, “Bring some of the fish which ye have now caught.” The truth was they had toiled all night and had caught nothing. The fish, therefore, that they hauled ashore were His. At His word, they cast the net; in that spot, these fish were found. They could only bring to the morning banquet what He Himself had given them out of the sea.
This was indeed true, but, knowing it was the Lord, they did not query His word, but accepted the loving grace that passed over without remark their long hours of wasted toil without Him, and credited them with the brief but prolific moments of their labour, when it was in and with the Lord.
In communion with their risen Lord, these seven men ate of the food brought by Him out of His secret storehouse; and He ate of the fruit of the labour in which He had guided their hands. He first knocked; they opened the door; He entered; they supped with Him, and He with them.
What care the Lord has for us as men “in the flesh”! Our blessed Lord is no ascetic. The Son of man came eating and drinking. Once, He said to the apostles, “Come ye apart into a desert place and rest awhile; for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.”
He knows our frame and its need of regular supplies of food and rest; He remembers that we are dust. Of old, He made the thousands of tired men and weary women in His audience sit down and rest themselves on the soft green grass, while He fed them with bread and fish — the produce of land and sea.
In this care for others, the Lord was unchanged after His resurrection. Looking upon the seven disciples, He was touched with the feeling of their infirmities. They were cold and wet, weary and hungry. Without their aid or their asking, He provided food and warmth to revive their exhausted energies.
The Lord had a care for their souls, too, but first they ate together. They were too weak, worried, and disappointed to profit fully by His words until they were warmed and filled. But “when they had dined,” the Lord, as it were, took a towel and girded Himself for further service. With the basin of the water of His word, He went to Peter's feet, and said, “Lovest thou Me?” In chapter 13 it is the body; here it is the soul.
Then, in the flickering firelight, Simon Peter saw himself among the brutal soldiers, and heard the voice of a servant-maid, and the crowing of a cock. Love's labour had awakened reproachful memories of the apostle's threefold denial of his Master, but love's ministry did not cease until his soul was restored, and Peter confessed before them all, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.”
* * * * *
There are today many dispirited souls who need the fire and food of the Lord's own ministry. Many disciples of Christ have gone into a warfare at their own charges. Some impulsive brother has said, I go a-fishing. Others catch the enthusiasm, and troop off with him.
They forget that the first essential feature of faith is to wait for the Lord, that His unseen presence is near at hand, that He must be sought to be found, that without Him they can do nothing.
Nevertheless, off they go without His word of approval, though inwardly they cherish a general hope that He will bless their plans. But they cast their nets, and haul them in empty — again and again; until, even to themselves, it is clear that the enterprise is a failure. They are then sad and dispirited. They for their reviving need fire and food in the Master's presence.
Think of the many derelict schemes and “lost causes” among Christians, launched with much fervour and outward promise, but ending in a blank of disappointment. Think of dwindling companies, of men failing to “keep rank” in the assembly, of lifeless worship, of formal prayers, of unseasonable and unprofitable ministry, of disunited households, of barren gospel preaching — of empty nets.
Oh, Lord, pity the shivering and starving among Thy saints, and come to meet them with Thy fire and Thy food, as long ago Thou didst come on the Galilean shore!
Indeed, we do not need to pray thus to our loving Lord, the Great Head of His church. He never forgets even those who are cold and hungry through their thoughtless neglect of Him and His word. For such especially He kindles the fire and prepares the food. His delight is to warm the affections and to strengthen the inward man. His joy is to make His own lie down in green pastures, and to lead them beside the still waters that He may restore their souls by His own pastoral care.
Casting Away the Garment
“And they call the blind man, saying to him, Be of good courage, rise up, He calleth thee. And, throwing away his garment, he started up and came to Jesus” (Mark 10:49, 50)
What a vivid picture Mark draws! A blind man is seated by the dusty wayside. The distant hum of busy talk and the dull shuffle of sandalled feet fall upon the quick ears of the sightless mendicant. He hears that Jesus the Nazarene is drawing near, of Whom such heart-searching reports of compassionate healing were spreading everywhere.
Often had Bartimaeus in his idle moments pondered upon those tales of His mighty deeds of healing power and His words of gracious speech. How beautifully, as it seemed to him, those tales fitted the ancient prophecies and promises he had heard read in the synagogue every sabbath day!
Surely, Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the long-expected Son of David. Was He not born in Bethlehem, and would He not now be on His way to Jerusalem, the city of the Great King?
Now the blind man learns that with this oncoming crowd Jesus of Nazareth is passing near him. Filled with the sense of his poverty and wretchedness, he calls aloud to Him for mercy — mercy from the Son of David — blessed mercy at the gate of Jericho, the city cursed by Joshua — mercy for blind Bartimaeus the beggar as there was for Rahab the harlot — mercy for his blindness as it had been shown to other blind men.
His cries for mercy were insistent, dominating the casual chatter of the crowd by the pitiful need behind them, and their very reiteration proved the intense fervency of the appeal. They instantly drew forth the Lord's compassion. His comforting and healing word was soon addressed to the earnest pleader.
But first, a regal summons to His presence was willingly passed to the eager suppliant. He who had been calling so loudly to Jesus heard the words, “Rise, He calleth thee.”
Consider this marvel of mercy! The ark of God with its golden mercy-seat, passing the walls of Jericho, is standing still, and the son of Timaeus is summoned into the presence of Him Who, though lowly Son of man, is the Lord of all the earth. He is invited to press His suit for mercy at the very feet of David's Son and David's Lord.
Obediently to this message from the Lord, Bartimaeus rose up from the posture of alms-seeking, and in his eagerness to obey he threw aside his covering cloak. Herein lies the lesson the blind man teaches today.
It matters not whether the garment discarded was a tattered rag or a costly robe, nor whether Bartimaeus thought that a garment good enough for him when begging alms by the roadside would be unsuitable when he stood before the King. Its renunciation conveys the lesson.
The truth was that the beggar was very properly in a great hurry to obey the royal mandate. The manner of his rising up showed this keenness. He sprang to his feet. This readiness to answer the Master's call also caused him to abandon his long cloak. It would flap about his feet, and hinder his progress. He did not stay to gird it about his loins. He would move more quickly without it altogether. Let it go then. “Throwing away his garment, he started up and came to Jesus.”
Sometimes, then, even the garments that seem necessary to us may hinder our promptness in obeying the commandments of the Lord. Any enveloping circumstance of convenience and comfort may in our case answer to the beggar's robe.
Comfort and convenience are but relative terms, and vary widely, but may hinder equally. A moth-eaten mantle is not to be despised when one is sitting by the wayside, hoping that some passer-by will throw down a farthing, or at least a mite, and all the while the shrewd winds are blowing.
Other men's standards are higher. They require to be clothed in purple and fine linen and rich furs, with coal fires and well-built houses, with fruitful fields, large incomes, and wealthy friends. With what difficulty they enter the kingdom and come into the presence of the King
But, rich or poor, how often the things of this life, whether surplus or necessary, prevent a quick response, or even any response at all, to the words of the Lord Jesus! He once said to the young man who came to Him in the gay clothing of rich possessions, “Come, follow Me.” But his riches entangled his feet. All that he had was too great a sacrifice. He went away. He was not ready to throw aside his garment of respectable religion and follow Jesus in the way.
The call of the Master always decides whether there is active faith in the heart or not. Those who believe in the Lord Jesus, in His kingly greatness, in His ineffable love, are the ones who with alacrity obey His call, “Come, follow Me.” Then, boats and fish, father and home, are, like the beggar's garment, thrown aside as impediments to a wholehearted devoted discipleship.
If we do not strip ourselves for the race, how can we run well in the way of His commandments? If we would closely follow the Lord Jesus, the Leader as well as Completer of faith, there are weights for us to lay aside, and also sin that so easily entangles us. Freed from such fetters we shall run and not be weary.
To get to the breaking of bread, to the gospel preaching, to the prayer meeting, to the reading meeting, requires some effort, some sacrifice of selfish ease. To be regular in one's private prayer and Bible study calls for energy to jettison the pillows and cushions and rugs of comfort. Rise up, He calleth thee.”
These and a thousand other forms of Christian activity await our fulfilment. But, in order to undertake any or all of these tasks as fully as we might, we must forgo our hours of ease, of indolence, of indulgence in the world's favours and pleasures. We must throw away the garment, and spring to attention for ready obedience to the Master's word.
Denial of self is essential for true devotion to Christ. To be “crucified with Christ” is not painless. Like Paul, we need mercy from the Lord in order to be found faithful to Him. To those who, like Bartimaeus, cry to Him for that mercy, the message still comes, as it came along the Jericho road, Be of good courage, rise up, He calleth thee.
Let us then throw aside the rags of our unprofitableness and penury, and come to our Lord that we may receive the “garment of praise” for the “spirit of heaviness,” and also His constant directions for our service as we follow Him “in the way” we have never travelled before.
Running my race in a darkening day;
Hearing His voice, my guide for the way;
Doffing the garment of self and sin;
Striving the goal and its prize to win;
Rising from ease, impelled by His grace;
Quitting the pleasure that slackens my pace;
Freeing my heart from each selfish aim;
Yielding my will to my Master's claim;
Listening to Jesus His word to obey;
Treading His steps in the rough pilgrim way;
Serving and suffering close to His side;
Praying each day with Him to abide;
Counting my garment but dung and dross
Scorning for Him all my shame and my loss;
Won by the love that a beggar could call;
Praising, adoring, before Him I fall.
The Supper in Bethany
“There they made Him a supper; and Martha served; but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with Him” (John 12:2)
The supper in Bethany is quite distinct from the paschal supper in Jerusalem two days later. In the latter instance the Lord Himself directed its preparation. He said to His disciples, “Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with My disciples” (Matt. 26:18).
But in Bethany the supper was prepared for Him by others. A few there remained faithful in their attachment to the Lord Jesus, and “they made Him a supper.” Their entertainment of Him was of a private and personal nature, unlike the paschal supper, which was the appointed annual observance for the nation at large.
The supper in Bethany came during the final week of our Lord's service among men — a week fuller of disappointment to Him than any. Daily, while teaching the people in the temple courts, His adversaries by cunning questions sought to entangle Him in His talk. Hungry for fruit to His labour, He sought it in vain upon the fig-tree, for it was barren.
Weary with the relentless repulses of His devoted service, the Lord sat upon the Mount of Olives over against the temple, and unfolded to His disciples the long vista of sorrows which would fall upon that doomed city before the millennial day should come when she would know and enjoy the peace and prosperity promised of God, which He had come to bestow.
What an ending to the ministry of Jehovah's perfect Servant! His intense love for man was rewarded by man's bitterest hatred and profoundest contempt. But the greater the sins of the nation the more arduous had been His service. Now at its close, He has to take up the prophetic words concerning that Servant, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent My strength for naught” (Isa. 49:4).
But if the nation despised their Messiah, there are a few to honour Him. If the mass turned away their faces from Him, a little remnant seek to minister to His wants, and to do Him reverence.
There is always an Abigail to own the fugitive David as the anointed of Jehovah, and to supply him with food in the wilderness. And when David's royal rights are disowned in Jerusalem, Barzillai, the aged Gileadite, brings lavishly of his substance to the impoverished and exiled king.
Now, in Bethany, loving hearts and loving hands were waiting to refresh, so far as they were able, the One Whose faithful service for God has aroused the enmity of the Jews, and was drawing to its close.
“Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening” (Ps. 104:23). And the evening of the Lord's life on earth was at hand. Even then its shadows were falling, for it was but two days before the final passover and its fearful fulfilment. The hour of Christ's supreme anguish was about to strike.
It was at this juncture that the Father put it into the hearts of these devoted disciples in Bethany to prepare refreshment for Him, which they did in the house of Simon the leper.
But the glory of that house was its Guest. All present had eyes, not for the host, but for the Guest. The Lord had the pre-eminence; they sat at the table “with Him.” The order of heaven prevailed in Bethany.
Custom forbade that the women should be at the table, but they had their part at the feast. Martha served. Mary brought forth her vase of precious ointment, and anointed both the head and feet of her Master and Lord. The fragrance of this act of devoted worship was perceived by all in the house, but its true significance was known only to the Lord and to herself.
Mary, who once in her listening chose “that good part,” now in her doing wrought the best of all. Like Mary, the mother of our Lord, she had kept all sayings in her heart. His word was her secret treasure, her meditation day and night, more precious to her than her precious spikenard. That word now taught her the right thing to do.
Now, two days before the passover, nothing was more vividly present to her heart than the crucifixion and death of Him Whom she had heard say at her brother's grave, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” She had learned that the Lord Who had raised to life Lazarus after four days' bondage to death would Himself lie three days and three nights “in the heart of the earth,” and then rise again.
Oppressed as Mary was with forebodings of what awaited her Master, she did not wail and lament like the daughters of Jerusalem when Jesus was led to Calvary. Her faith rose above the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death, and expressed itself in a more excellent way. Her ointment was not for the dead body of her Lord, but for His living head and feet.
In advance, Mary brought her costly and treasured spikenard to anoint that holy body, which, though it would rest in the tomb, would “see no corruption.” Her offering of sweet spices was her fragrant tribute to her living Lord, to Israel's anointed King, Who had come to Zion, crowned with meekness and robed with humility and obedience as far even as death, and that the death of the cross.
For Mary, the day of the Lord's burying had come, and her sweet spices had been prepared beforehand and were reserved for this day. Her anointing was an act of faith working by love. The Lord said of the good work she wrought that day, She hath done what she could; she is come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying” (Mark 14:8).
“She broke her hoarded box with yearning love,
And poured the ointment o'er His sacred feet;
And round her name in earth and heaven above,
The odour of her ointment still is sweet.”
The Holy Spirit in the narrative gives prominence to the act of Mary. Lazarus at the table was the living witness of the glory of God in resurrection. Simon's house was full of those who knew that death had been robbed of its victory in Bethany. Those who had mourned at the tomb were now rejoicing at the table.
But Mary knew more of the secret of the Lord than all the others. She was aware that He Who wiped away the tears of bereavement would not exempt Himself from the dominion of death. Like a subdued spiritual song to the Lord alone, Mary's perfume shed abroad her soul's conviction. The broken box let loose the imprisoned thoughts of her heart. The shattered vase was her memorial of her Lord's death.
We, too, may bring the memorial of the Lord's death to His table. He is still rejected by His own people, Israel. And His word to those who form His assembly is, Do this for a memorial of Me. And in partaking of the loaf and the cup, we show the Lord's death “till He come.”
But the secret of the alabaster box of ointment always is between the Lord and the individual worshipper, though the perfume itself may fill the whole house. It is an honour for us to be at His table; it is grateful to Him when we break our box of precious things at His feet — pouring out before Him the precious things we have gathered up and stored for the occasion.
Establishing our Goings
“He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:2, 3)
Up from the quagmire of sin to the mountain-peak where no clouds dim the glories of the ascended Christ; up from the pit of shame to the “Rock that is higher that I” — such is the uplift of grace.
There in those heights of divine favour the redeemed of the Lord, though in the wilderness, can sing their new and heavenly songs, far above the din of earthly strife, in faith at the very gate of bliss itself, though not yet in fact within the courts of eternal peace and joy.
Is then our new life to be a ceaseless song only? Certainly, we must ever sing; “without ceasing, sing.” But there are also other experiences. There are cliffs to scale, torrents to ford, deserts to cross, enemies to conquer. These are our “goings.”
There is a new “standing” that we have upon the Rock, but there is also a new “going.” It is good to be no longer struggling and slipping in the miry clay, but to be resting steadfastly with the feet upon the living Stone, the Rock of ages. But it is not enough to be always standing, whether “at ease” or even at “attention”; in the Christian life there must be movement; progress must be made. The believer is not a statue set upon a solid pedestal; he is a traveller, a climber. There are “goings” behind him and before him.
The word of the Lord to us, as it was to Israel of old, is “Go forward.” The life of faith is one of steady movement onward and upward, of painful striving towards a goal, of pedestrian effort rather than easy, comfortable, speedy transport.
There are no motor roads for faith, but rugged foot-tracks over desolate moors and craggy mountain-peaks. We need One to prepare our way before us. And we have such an One in the toilsome journey of life. Our God establishes the goings of those Who place their trust and confidence in Him, the living God and Father. Our Lord is near to keep us from falling.
In the Gospels we have many a picture of the lame made to walk. Come to the pool of Bethesda, and the crowd of impotent folk in its porches. Regard one hopeless case among them. Think of thirty-eight long years, prostrate in feebleness; thirty-eight years of failure to plunge first into the waters of healing and gain strength to stand upright and walk as a man should do.
Then think of that same cripple's sight of the Man of Nazareth — a bending Form, a pitying look, a whispered word. Behold him rise, stand erect, take up his bed and walk. For such a man, only to stand was a miracle of effort; to walk was a miracle of motion. The Lord established his goings, and afterwards found him in the temple.
Thus the infirm man, by the word of the Lord, was brought up out of the miry pit of weakness and despair, where there was no standing for him. The Saviour's power made him to stand upon the rock of salvation. That same power established his goings so that he walked in the presence of the great multitude of impotent folk assembled there.
It might be said of the healed cripple in Bethesda, as it was of another one also in the temple courts, “All the people saw him walking and praising God” (Acts 3:9). Both had been brought up out of the miry clay, and their goings were a progressive testimony to the Name of the Lord Jesus.
The word “goings” is equivalent to “steps,” and the phrase “established my goings,” in Ps. 40:2, is in another translation rendered, “enabled me to step firmly.” Freedom, strength, and steadiness had been bestowed.
Firm steps are not possible when one's feet are in the miry clay. But stability comes when the feet have been placed upon the Rock. At the bidding of his Master, Simon Peter was enabled to set his feet firmly even upon the “liquid” waves; and by his “goings” over the waters, he became a striking witness of the power of Christ causing a man to rise above the extreme limitations of nature.
But, when Peter walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and stood in the way of sinners, and sat in the assembly of the scornful, his steps declined from the way of faithful testimony. In the high priest's palace, Peter was in the miry clay again, and his steps began to slide.
If the apostle had been a prudent man, and had been looking well to his goings (Prov. 14:15), he would have watched and prayed in Gethsemane, and avoided the place of temptation amongst the enemies of Christ. But there Peter's feet were almost gone; his steps (goings) had well-nigh slipped (Ps. 73:2). Mercifully, the Lord held him up, and made him safe (Ps. 119:117). He brought him up out of the horrible pit, and established his goings.
But even if we are careful not to choose the slippery paths of temptation, we must not expect to escape the rough roads of difficulty and trial. Nevertheless, in the latter, He Who according to this Old Testament phrase “establishes our goings,” says to us, in New Testament assurance, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
In the stony ways of discipleship to Christ, we can always count upon Asher's blessing, “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength (or, rest) be” (Deut. 33:25).
When the foundations of pure testimony seem destroyed, and it is difficult to stand against the crowd of deserters from the faith, we can sing, like Habakkuk, “The Lord God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds' feet; and He will make me to walk upon my high places” (Hab. 3:19). The prophet's goings were established, though the Chaldeans overran Judah and Jerusalem.
We are on the way, and our “goings” lead to the Father's house. Do we sometimes say, like Thomas, “How can we know the way?” The Lord's answer is recorded to establish our goings: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:5).
As He is the Way there, we must walk with Him, and we shall find His yoke easy, and His burden light. Walking after Him, our goings are truly established, for they become like His goings (1 John 2:6). Our progress is steady. We learn to “keep rank” with Him and with one another.
Following Christ closely in the way, we do not stumble or stray. His hand supports and guides us. The Israelites needed guidance in the wilderness; they knew not the way, and were “prone to wander.” Hence Jehovah took them by the hand, and guided their steps (Jer. 31:32). So when the Lord Jesus took the blind man by the hand, and led him out, his goings were safe and sure in the hand of Jesus (Mark 8:23).
Do not we feel our need of the personal touch of a Hand from on high? What else but the Omnipotent Hand of Love can establish our goings, and keep us steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord?
Blest Lord of love! Through all my pilgrim days,
Hold Thou my hand!
In wilful moods, in idle moments, too,
Hold Thou my hand!
Thy hand upholds the heavens, the earth, the sea
In pitying grace Thy hand was pierced for me.
Should crowding trials shake my faith in Thee,
Hold Thou my hand!
When hellish hosts my onward way oppose,
Hold Thou my hand!
No foe I'll fear, nor sorrows keen and deep,
Since Thou art near, my trembling heart to keep.
When days be bright, and sunshine cheers me on,
Hold Thou my hand!
Should warfare cease, and Satan seem to sleep,
Hold Thou my hand!
My treacherous heart might lead me far from Thee,
Forgetting soon Thy death, Thy life, for me.
Blest Lord of grace! So patient, tender, true!
Hold Thou my hand!
So changeful I! So apt from Thee to turn!
Hold fast my hand!
May Thy strong hand still hold me evermore,
Till home at last, my pilgrim needs be o'er.
Tears in Bethany
“Mary therefore when she came where Jesus was, having seen Him, fell at His feet. . . . Jesus therefore, when He saw her weeping, and the Jews that came with her weeping, was deeply moved in spirit, and troubled Himself. . . . Jesus wept” (John 11:32-35, W.K.)
Are tears discreditable to a Christian mourner? Is it wrong for believers to weep at the loss of loved ones? Never, if we, like Mary, weep at the feet of Jesus. Our Lord has an understanding heart. He knows the depths of our grief better than our dearest friends. Seeing our tears, He comes to us. And His very presence brings a greater relief than our tears.
The pangs of the human heart are known to Him, though He is on high. This was true of old. When Hezekiah was sick unto death, Jehovah's message to him was, “I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears and thy shuddering at the thought of the grave” (2 Kings 20:5). The king's sorrow had brought the Lord and His anointed together, and Hezekiah's life was spared, and his sadness was turned into songs.
But the divine sympathies with human grief were not fully exhibited until the Son of God Himself came into this world of tears. Now we have seen in Him the comforting power of divine love. Those who saw His sympathy with the mourners in the days of His flesh can say in the words of the prophet, “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4).
Jacob, Joshua, Jeremiah never knew the revelation of divine sympathy made in Capernaum and Nairn and Bethany. The pious and patient Job lacked some heart to share his great sorrow, while his eye poured out his tears to God, and his face was “foul with weeping (Job 16:16, 20).
Job sat himself down in the ashes, silently nursing his grief for seven days and seven nights, his three friends uttering not a single word of sympathy. Heaviness of heart had sealed up his own lips also, and dried up his spirit. In those sad days, the lonely and friendless Job knew nothing of the living presence of the Man of sorrows, Who came to the mourners in Bethany.
Mary sat alone in the house at Bethany, grief-stricken, overwhelmed with sorrow because the dwelling-place that had known the presiding presence of her beloved brother, Lazarus, would know him again no more for ever. She herself had lost the support and solace of her affectionate brother.
But besides her sisterly grief for Lazarus, another dark shadow was upon her heart as a cloud which deepened as day after day passed and Jesus did not come. Why was her prayer for her brother unanswered? She sent a special message to the Master. Why had He not come and preserved the life of Lazarus, His “friend”?
Again, another momentous consideration would add still to Mary's perplexity and grief. She had learned that Jesus was the Sent One of God, the Hope of Israel. As the long-promised Messiah, was He not about to establish His kingdom, and reign gloriously in Zion?
Oh, why then should Lazarus, her brother, whom she knew that Jesus loved (ver. 3), become the prey of death on the eve of that kingdom? Why should he, more than others in Judea less pious, be snatched away from the coming joys of living under the rule of the long-promised Messiah?
Truly, bereavement so often brings many a dark and puzzling thought to the brooding heart, but, thank God, it also brings the Lord Himself to the mourners, as He came to those in Bethany. When Mary saw the Lord, she fell down at His feet in humble prostration and welcome relief.
There, where once she sat to drink in His words of truth and grace, she now utters the plaint of her soul, “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” In these words, there was a little truth, for she believed the Lord had power over death itself; a little misunderstanding, for she had thought He must needs come to Bethany to preserve her brother's life; a little ignorance, too, for she did not know that the death of Lazarus was for the glory of God, and that a surprise for her was to come out of the tomb itself.
But the Lord saw Mary's tears. Her words of mild complaint He accepted just as they were uttered, and He made no remark. Her tears, however, awakened and made manifest His inner sympathies. Her brimming eyes told Him the depths of her grief far more than any words could. Even the Jewish neighbours wept also, for sobs and tears are infectious.
But the marvel of marvels was yet to follow. The blessed and Eternal Son of God joined Himself with the weepers. “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping . . . He groaned in spirit, and was troubled . . . Jesus wept.”
How blessed the tears of Mary that drew forth the tears of Jesus! How we love that shortest and sweetest of all the sweet verses of Scripture — “Jesus wept (shed tears).” Tears of tenderest sympathy telling of the infinite love of His tender heart, burdened also with the myriad griefs of a groaning world!
Though He knew that in a moment or so Mary would behold and embrace the brother she mourned, yet Jesus “shed tears” — tears for the mourners, and tears with the mourners, every tear telling the tale of His sympathies.
Precious monument of divine sympathy raised in Bethany for the sorrowing years that should follow! Today, multitudes of sad-eyed ones are burying their dead loved ones out of their sight. For them all in their sorrow, did they but know it, “Jesus wept.”
But more: that same Jesus, the Son of God, is still “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” So that, as we believe in His unchanging love, we are comforted by the memory of His tears in Bethany and by the assurance of His present-day sympathies from the throne above. We remember too His promise, “I will not leave you orphans: I will come unto you” (John 14:18). And when He comes into the heart, we know His sympathy and priestly love, and the desolate places of the soul are refreshed by His encircling presence.
“We know Him, as we could not know
Through heaven's golden years;
We there shall see His glorious face,
But Mary saw His tears.
The touch that heals the broken heart
Is never felt above;
His angels know His blessedness,
His way-worn saints His love.
When in the glory and the rest
We joyfully adore,
Remembering the desert way
We yet shall praise Him more.”