1 Samuel 7.
It is one thing to be a Christian, it is another thing to be a happy Christian. To know the Scripture doctrine of the believer's position and privileges is very different from having the possession and enjoyment of them. The fact is, that we are slow to enter upon, and make our own, the blessings God has graciously given us in Christ.
In Samuel's day, the people were characterized for a long time by lamenting after the Lord; and this, we fear, describes the state of heart of thousands of Christians now. They are desiring rather than possessing — longing for instead of enjoying fellowship with the Lord Himself; hoping to have, instead of entering into God's thoughts and purposes, and tasting His joys. Why is this? In Israel's day there was unjudged evil among them, and the eye and heart were not single. Hence they were told to "put away the strange gods, and Ashtaroth," and also to "serve the Lord only." So now there are "strange gods," some things occupying the heart contrary to the truth, something between the soul and the Lord; it may be the world, its pride, wealth, honour, pleasure, in some shape or other; or it may be darling lusts, self-love, self-exaltation, or something else cherished or allowed, which the word of God positively condemns. The eye, therefore, cannot be single, nor the heart only desiring the glory of God — serving Him only. The affections are not set on heavenly things; the eye and heart are not exercised in the life and walk of faith; and things of time and sense so occupy the soul, that there is desire to have rather than present possession and enjoyment, so that, like Israel of old, they go on year after year lamenting after the Lord. (vv. 2, 3.)
The people, however, hearkened to the prophet's counsel. They were willing to think badly of their ways. They took the place of self-judgment. Their errors were made manifest. They determined at all costs to separate from evil. They were conscious of having sinned. They saw that their strange gods and Ashtaroth had displaced and dishonoured Jehovah. They resolved therefore to "cease to do evil," by putting them away from among them. So far this was good, but the next step would be "learning to do well." Separation from known evil was not enough — they were to pursue positive godliness and devotedness. We, therefore, read of their humiliation before God for such deep dishonour to Him, fasting before the Lord, confession, saying, "We have sinned;" and of taking the place of conscious weakness, and of relying only upon the strength of the living God, as their desire for the prophet's prayer plainly intimated. This was learning, to do well. The result was that they were soon delivered from the power of the enemy that had so long oppressed them, and their joy in the true God was manifest by their setting up a stone, and calling it "Eben-ezer; saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." (vv. 4-12.)
How simple is all this, and yet how full of instruction and admonition to us! What searching of heart and ways should this inspired account produce in us! If our walk be so careless that unjudged sin is covered up, no marvel that the Holy Spirit is so grieved that we are not possessing and enjoying the Lord's presence and truth. And if the eye be not single, and the heart really set upon serving Him, and Him only, it is not surprising that weakness and lamentation characterize us both individually and collectively.
How different is the condition of saints as contemplated in the epistles. There we read "we joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Being "in Christ," "complete in Him, who is the Head of all principality and power," our state is supposed to be rejoicing in the Lord always, rejoicing evermore, rejoicing in Christ Jesus — happy, and making others happy. It is a mark of our being really happy in the Lord when we are making others happy. As love provokes love, so there is something infectious in real spiritual joy. Who visits saints much, and does not often prove this? If we cannot make others happy in the Lord, the inference is strong that our own souls are at a low ebb. The apostle said, We "comfort others with the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."
Is it not possible that the standard of practical godliness is too low among us? To have as much of the world as possible, and to satiate the desires of the flesh as far as can be, and still to maintain credit among the saints of being "consistent Christians," as the term is, may be the conventional thought of this day; but it will not do, for such a standard opens wide the door to many a "strange god," and gives a lodging-place to many an "Ashtaroth." Whether we think of ourselves as individuals, or of the church of God collectively, there can be but one question as to the standard of practical conduct, and it is this, Does it suit Christ? When you hear a person say, "What harm is there in this or that?" you may be sure that he has not the sense of the holiness due to the place and relationships the grace of God has brought him into, nor of the claims of Christ; for we are not our own, but are bought with a price. Does this suit Christ? should be the question, and it carries with it an answer for all the difficulties of the most active imagination of the fleshly mind. To "walk worthy of the Lord" is how Scripture puts it.
The truth is that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. We have been made alive, raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ. Observe this word "made." It is done. We are already associated with Him who is exalted at God's right hand. We have the present possession of life eternal in Christ, we are in Christ in heavenly places, we are fully blessed in Him, we are sons of God. Marvellous blessings! Should we then be lamenting after the Lord? Certainly not, but rejoicing in the Lord; seeking the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God — our minds set and fixed on things above, and not on things on the earth. In a word, possessing and enjoying all that God has made us and given us in Christ; yea more, joying in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received these amazing blessings. If you say, How can I possess and enjoy all this? we reply, not by efforts and resolutions, but by simply believing God's own statements as to His rich mercy in thus blessing us in Christ.
Beloved fellow-Christians, let us beware of the snares of unbelief, by whomsoever presented, or in whatever shape. Let the Scriptures be the sole and exclusive authority to our hearts and consciences. What can be worse than not to receive implicitly what God has written? Let us watch against the Christ-dishonouring, soul-damaging ways of false humility and doubt. When Scripture gives us the plainest possible statement, what but unbelief could suggest the question, What does it mean? In these days of growing rationalism, we need to guard against every insinuation which refuses the direct and absolute authority of the written Word of God. Let us not take lower ground than it gives us, notwithstanding the scorn of unbelief, and charge of presumption that sceptical minds may intimate. "Let God be true, and every man a liar," was, and still is, the motto of believing souls. To have "strange gods" among us — the heart set on things of earth — and to be faithfully serving the Lord too, is simply impossible. To be consciously and happily one with Christ, and to be practically taking a place of one with men in the flesh, cannot be. No man can serve two masters. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. If the world, and men in the flesh are worthy, or if the interests of self in your esteem have the first place, let it be so, and honestly abandon Christian ground, and say, "Baal is my god." But if Christ be worthy, if He who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, has in our esteem most justly the first and only claim, then let us serve Him only, follow Him closely, and walk worthy of the Lord who hath called us unto His kingdom and glory.
"My Saviour, keep my spirit stayed
Hard following after Thee,
Till I in robes of white arrayed
Thy face in glory see."