More than Conquerors (2)

Enlargement

"And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us. Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell. And he answered, Go ye. And one said, Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants. And he answered, I will go. So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood. But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed. And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither, and the iron did swim. Therefore said he, Take it up to thee. And he put out his hand, and took it" (2 Kings 6:1-7).

What highly favoured men these sons of the prophets were in being the companions and disciples of Elisha, for he was the one prophet of grace in that age of law, and showed to a sinful and rebellious people what the goodness of God could do for them when they had all but destroyed themselves. In all this he was a type of the Son of God, who came full of grace and truth, and who is now the Administrator of God's grace — that all-sufficient grace — to guilty sinners and to needy saints. The words of Elisha must have been good to listen to, and it is no wonder that the sons of the prophets crowded to hear him until the place where they dwelt with him could not contain them, and they felt that they needed more room. It was a healthy sign, and their desire had the full approval of the prophet.

As those sons of the prophets dwelt with Elisha are we dwelling with our Lord? "I will never leave thee not forsake thee," He has said, and He will not deny His own word, but are we consciously dwelling with Him? Are we cleaving to the Lord with purpose of heart? We often quote His words, "Where two or three are gathered together unto My Name, there am I in the midst of them"; but are they mere words to us, or a living reality? The answer to my questions is not difficult to find. If we are dwelling with the Lord we are growing; we are being enlarged in our souls, and we shall want to move on in the more abundant life that is ours. Are we growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ? This question of growth is a vital one. A father would be seriously concerned if his children ceased to develop in mind and body, and God is our Father — does He not care whether His children are growing in grace or not? He certainly does. Let us not be indifferent to this matter, for growth and strength go together, and we cannot be strong in the face of the foe if we do not grow and move on in the knowledge of the Lord; we shall not be more than conquerors if we stagnate and are stunted in our growth. Let us turn to a New Testament Scripture. To the church at Corinth Paul wrote: "O ye Corinthians, our mouth is opened unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompense in the same, (I speak as unto my children, ) BE YE ALSO ENLARGED" (2 Cor. 6:11-13). What was it that had straitened and stunted these Christians? The world and the evil things that are in it. They had forgotten that the gospel of their salvation had called them out of the world to brighter and better things, and that they had been united to Christ, who is not of the world, by the Holy Ghost from heaven, and they had formed associations which made it impossible for them to expand in the greatness of the Christian life and portion — they were fettered and not free. And they needed the command, "Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers . . . Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing." We cannot love and cleave to the world and abide in Christ at the same time. To dwell as His disciples with Him means separation from the world, and there can be no spiritual growth apart from this.

It was to JORDAN that these young men went for the material with which to build their larger dwelling, and there is no place like Jordan for enlargement of soul, for Jordan is a figure of death. Death is a great and effectual teacher; it teaches us how great is the fall of man, for death is the measure of it, and it teaches us how great is the love of God, for He "commendeth His love toward us that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." Death shows us the way that God has taken to recover His fallen creature for Himself and to bring him into larger blessing than was possible for him before he fell. The incident of the loss and recovery of the borrowed axe head shall illustrate these things for us. I do not think that I am giving it a fanciful interpretation in so using it; if my readers think so, let them forget the illustration and consider the truth that I am pressing.

The axe head fell from the handle of it and sank beneath the waters of Jordan. The wielder of it was a careless man, for the axe was borrowed; it was not his to lose, but it was lost, nevertheless. Thus carelessly did Adam become a lost soul in the Garden. Nay, in his case it was not carelessness but wilfulness, for he deliberately turned away from the God he did know and listened to the devil he did not know. And by his one act of disobedience death entered into the world. So we read in Romans 5:12, "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; AND SO DEATH PASSED UPON ALL MEN, FOR THAT ALL HAVE SINNED." Yes, the waters of Jordan roll over a whole race of sinners as a result of the first man's disobedience. Adam had no right to cast away his soul, for it belonged to God who had created it and given it to him, but then and there he fell and all his race has been involved in his fall. All Scripture, as well as all history, teaches this solemn truth, but nowhere is it stated more emphatically than in this fifth chapter of Romans. Verse 15 says, "through the offence of one many be dead"; verse 17, "by one man's offence death reigned by one"; verse 18, "by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation"; verse 19, "by one man's disobedience many were made sinners."

This is not a popular doctrine. The foolish theory of evolution suits the modern mind better than the solemn truth. Men want to get rid of the thought that they are responsible to God and must give account to Him. And this is why the fact of the fall is refused; and this is why the fiction of evolution is embraced. It is more pleasant to believe that man is rising up, becoming greater and grander as the ages pass by, to those who do not want God and His grace, than to own that he is sinful, fallen and lost. But the latter is the truth. Just as the nature of the axe head was to sink and not swim, to go down with no power in itself to rise up, so man's nature as a sinful, fallen creature is to go further and further from God; his course is ever downward, as is plainly shown to us in Romans 1:19-32, which solemn Scripture my readers should seriously ponder. Nothing but the truth will satisfy a fully awakened conscience, and the truth is clearly stated in these Scriptures that I have quoted. Blessed is the man who will own it before God!

This son of a prophet was conscious of his loss, and he felt it the more because the axe was borrowed; but he was wise in that he did not waste his time in vain efforts to recover what he had lost, but cried to the man of God "Alas, master!" And here is a fine example for sinful men. The first step to recovery and blessing is to realize the need and the loss, but some who have taken this step are seeking sincerely and earnestly to right what is wrong by their own efforts. They are endeavouring by their works to save themselves, when the Scripture states expressly, "Not of works, lest any man should boast."

The man of God was equal to the situation, and in this he did faintly foreshadow the all-sufficiency of Christ, who came into the world to destroy the power of death and set us free. "Where fell it?" asked the man of God. Then, cutting down a branch of a tree, he cast it into the water, and lo, the iron did swim! How wonderful is the gospel story! It tells us of Jesus, who went into death for us that we might pass out of death into life. Yet the question might well arise, "If death has passed upon all men, if all are dead in trespasses and sins, so that none can deliver either himself or his brother, what was there in Jesus that made Him different to others? Who was He?" He was the only-begotten Son of God, He was the Word, the Creator of all things, and He became flesh and dwelt among us. He became flesh — a man, as truly a man as Adam was, or as any man is today, but THE SINLESS MAN, and in this He differed from all others. In becoming man He did not cease to be the only begotten, eternal Son of God. This great truth we must hold fast in the face of modern infidelity, but He who was in the form of God was found in the likeness of men. He had become a man that He might die for men. Yet as a man death had no claim upon Him, for He was holy. Yes, just as holy as He trod the dusty roads of Galilee as when He sat upon the throne of His glory and created the hosts of heaven. Because He was holy, the one sinless Man, death had no claim upon Him. He could have walked victoriously upon death's fiercest billows, just as He trod upon the waves of the sea of Galilee at midnight. But He came to die. This commandment He had received of His Father, and just as the branch of the tree — the nature of which was to swim — was cast into the waters by Elisha, that the iron — the nature of which was to sink — might swim, so Jesus, upon whom death had no claim, went down into death that we, whom death held in its power, might pass out of death into life, that we might live in Him who died for us and rose again.

This is God's way of salvation, the way that His great love has found, and as we consider it we are greatly enlarged; we are delivered from bondage and set free by the truth, for the truth is that GOD IS LOVE, and "in this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him."

"Take it up to thee," said the prophet, and he put out his hand and took it, a grateful and wondering man. I desire that we might understand better those words of the Lord, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24). If we have taken this life by faith, we live, but how shall we live, and to whom? There is only one right answer and it is a Scriptural one "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that THEY WHICH LIVE SHOULD NOT HENCEFORTH LIVE UNTO THEMSELVES, BUT UNTO HIM WHICH DIED FOR THEM AND ROSE AGAIN" (2 Cor. 5:14-15). We could have no better commentary on our Old Testament story than that Scripture, and that life that is lived unto Christ is the victorious life; in it we are more than conquerors, and in none other. And in it our souls will be enlarged in the knowledge of God and of Christ.

Saving ourselves from the snares of the devil

"Then the king of Syria warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp. And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down. And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice. Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not show me which of us is for the king of Israel? And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king, but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber" (2 Kings 6:7-12).

Every one who has believed the gospel of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, has been delivered from the darkness and bondage of death, and is no longer the property and prey of the devil; he has lost them and lost them for ever. They belong to Christ and He will not let any pluck them from Him; they shall never perish, but eternal life is theirs. There are three words at the end of 1 Corinthians 3 that are full of comfort, they are "YE ARE CHRIST'S." Let them sing their wondrous melody to our souls. Let us make them our boast. They mean not only safety but liberty and triumph and eternal glory. But if we are Christ's the devil hates us, and the world hates us. "Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19). And the devil, who is the god of the world, will show his hatred of us by ensnaring us if he can. He wants to rob us of our joy in the Lord, he wants to rob the Lord of His joy in us, he wants to retard our spiritual growth and keep us from being more than conquerors. His efforts in this regard are illustrated for us in the next story of our chapter. The King of Syria shall illustrate the devil's efforts, the King of Israel shall illustrate the way that we may escape his snare.

A master of strategy was this King of Syria, and carefully and well he prepared his plan of campaign. An ambush here, another there, and still a third, and surely, the unsuspecting King of Israel would be caught! But he wasn't, he SAVED HIMSELF, NOT ONCE NOR TWICE. The Syrian King was baffled, he was a puzzled man. How was it that his schemes all went wrong? Ah, the answer was a very simple one — the KING OF ISRAEL KEPT IN CONTACT WITH THE MAN OF GOD, and in that lay his salvation from the snares of his great foe.

The devil has made a careful study of every one of us; he knows well our propensities and our weaknesses, and he is full of wiles and lays his snares with consummate skill. We are no match for him; if we meet him in our own wisdom and strength we are sure to be ensnared. How, then, may we save ourselves, not once nor twice, from his traps? There is one infallible way: we must cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart; we must keep in daily, constant communication with the Lord. He watches us more closely than the devil does; He knows us better than our great enemy knows us; and He watches us and cares for us with a wonderful, untiring love. He knows every snare that the devil can lay for our feet, and He knows how to minister His own word to us, the right word at the right time, so that we may be able to say, "By the words of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer. Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that MY footsteps slip not" (Ps. 17:4-5). We must be near Him if we are to receive the words of His lips. It will not do to receive things second-hand, we must be in close contact with Him, then we are safe and victorious: more than conquerors through Him.

If we are to work out our own salvation in these things it must be with fear and trembling; we must be conscious of the subtlety and power of the enemy; we must have no confidence in the flesh, no trust in ourselves, and yet we may have great boldness, and shall have, if we know the blessedness of the knowledge of Christ and communion with Him. We shall want to be near Him if we love Him, and we shall love Him if we know that He loves us. Nearness to Christ is the secret. Mary discovered it when she sat at His feet; John discovered it when he leaned upon His breast. We may all know it and triumph over our foe in the joy of it.

Delivered from fear

"And he said, Go and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him. And it was told him, saying, Behold, he is in Dothan. Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about. And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings 6:13-17).

If the devil fails to ensnare us by his wiles, as the King of Syria failed to ensnare the King of Israel, he will change his tactics; he will cease his beguilings and begin to buffet us; he will show himself as an open and implacable enemy. This is his way. It was his plan of campaign against the Lord Jesus. First he endeavoured to allure Him in the desert by the offer of self-gratification, self-glory and self-vindication, and failing utterly in these efforts to turn Him from a life of complete dependence upon God, he retired for a season in order to gather all his forces in the hope of filling the heart of Jesus with dismay and terror. He marshalled all the powers of darkness against Him in Gethsemane and at Golgotha; but he failed; he could not shake the perfect confidence that Jesus had in God, nor drive Him from the path of obedience to the will of God; and it is through Him that loved us and first gained so signal a victory over our foe that we may be more than conquerors also.

Nearness to the Lord will preserve us from the devil's snares, for we shall find a treasure in His love that will satisfy our hearts, and His word will keep us, but if we do this we must be prepared for this change of tactics on the devil's part. He will endeavour to make us feel that a life of faith is beset with dangers and insurmountable difficulties, and so shake our faith in God. This is illustrated in this third incident in our chapter. The city where Elisha was was surrounded by a great force of Syrian warriors, and when the servant of the man of God awoke he was filled with fear. There did not appear any way of escape and he may have begun to feel that it would have been better to have been for the foe than against him, since his power was so great. He was wise in running to his master in his fear, but his cry, "Alas, my master, how shall we do?" showed plainly how shaken he was by the circumstances. Have we ever felt like that? It may be that some are even now finding that their adherence to our Lord has brought them into difficulties that they never anticipated and with which they feel utterly unable to cope? What, then? Is the way of escape to make terms with the enemy? Can you find relief by compromising with him? No, that will not do. Stand fast! Have faith in God. A little faith can overcome great difficulties, for faith is the sight that sees God.

Elisha replied: "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them." But his eyes had to be opened to see these protecting forces, and when they were opened he saw the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. Would he fear when he saw these? God never abandoned a man who stood for Him. The Hebrew youths in the furnace of fire, Daniel in the den of lions, Elisha and his servant in Dothan, proclaim this fact for us. And to us the Lord has said, "I will not leave thee, neither will I forsake thee. So that, taking courage, we may say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid; what will men do unto me?" (Heb. 13:5-6). The devil is just as powerless as men in the presence of the Lord.

It is a great day in our spiritual history when we learn that God has bound us up with the interests and fortunes of His dear Son, and that He is not against us, but for us. If God were against us we could not but despair, but He is for us, and if God be for us, who can be against us? That is a great and triumphant challenge! "I am thy shield," He said to Abraham. He is ours also, to stand between us and every foe, to answer every charge and to drive away all fear of the foe from our breast. Having given His Son for us, will He withhold any good? And if He allows us to suffer, to be killed all the day long for Christ's sake, in these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. The enemy may take a Christian's possession from him and even his life, if God permit it, but he cannot destroy his faith or separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is in the knowledge that God is for us that we are delivered from all fear in the path of faith, and this knowledge will ever be real to us if we keep in the company of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Overcoming the Flesh

"And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way, neither is this the city: follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek. But he led them to Samaria. And it came to pass, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see. And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw, and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. And the King of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father, shall I smite them, shall I smite them? And he answered, Thou shalt not smite them: wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow? set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master. And he prepared great provision for them: and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel" (2 Kings 6:18-23).

The would-be captors were taken captive; for all their show of might they were helpless prisoners when the Lord displayed Himself on behalf of His servants. But now comes the need of special watchfulness. If the wiles and might of the devil both fail to turn us from the Lord and the life of faith, he will endeavour to incite the flesh within us and make us act in times of testing on our natural impulses. The danger that lies here is illustrated for us in the King of Israel's feelings towards these captive Syrians. They were his enemies; much trouble they had given him; they had plotted his overthrow and would have accomplished their purpose if he had not kept in constant communication with the man of God, and now they were in his power, he could repay them for all the evil they had done him, he could avenge himself of them now, his turn had come. His hand flew to his sword hilt and be cried to the man of God, "My father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them?" It is not difficult to picture his eagerness, and we can understand it well; this king was very human, so very like ourselves; we feel that our impulse would have been just what his was if we had been in his place. Indeed, I have no doubt that a feeling of shame begins to rise within our hearts as we see ourselves in this rash king. We have been wronged by someone who ought to have known better and we made up our minds that when the opportunity came we would smite; we would avenge ourselves. We knew the feeling was wrong and we lost our joy and peace by nursing it; but there it was, revenge is sweet to the flesh, and revenged we would be. How often the devil has triumphed over the children of God, by encouraging them to cultivate and display this spirit.

We have to learn that if God had retaliated upon us because of our sins we should have perished for ever, but He did not; He overcame our evil by His good, and He saved us by His grace. We are not now in the flesh but in the Spirit (Rom. 8), and the fruits of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh are to be manifested in us; the life of Jesus has now to be seen in us; we are to be like Him. His enemies were merciless and implacable; they pursued Him with their bitter hatred throughout His life, and were not satisfied until they had nailed Him to a cross, and what did He do when they had done their worst? He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

But it is not easy to forgive. He was so unkind to you and the things be said were so false, and you were so deeply wounded, and she has been so unreasonable and persistent in her enmity that you feel you cannot forgive; no you cannot! But you will if you are near enough to the Lord, just as the King of Israel did, through being near to Elisha. Elisha was the prophet of grace and this was an opportunity for the display of grace; these Syrians must go back to their master, persuaded that there was a spirit in Israel that had no place in Syria, and so Elisha said, "Thou shalt not smite them . . . set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master." It does not appear to have been hard for the King of Israel to do this, he seems to have entered into Elisha's spirit with a very good will, for HE PREPARED GREAT PROVISION FOR THEM: and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master." And the king gained a greater victory by his kindness than he could have gained by his prowess upon the battle field, and the bands of Syrians troubled him no more.

This is the way of victory, to suffer and bear it patiently, to overcome evil with good, to meet enmity with the spirit of grace and forgiveness: this is the Lord's way for His saints and He has left us an example that we should thus follow in His steps: "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: who when He was reviled, reviled not again; 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, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness, by whose stripes we are healed." And we only live unto righteousness as His own life and grace show themselves in us.