Occasional Addresses and Papers by
W G Turner
Selected and Revised
London: F E Race (C A Hammond)
This small volume of occasional addresses and papers on the Christian life, is sent out in response to a frequently expressed desire that they should be issued in a more permanent form than that in which some of the latter originally appeared. They are chiefly taken from the Young Believer's Monthly and the Bible Treasury, but a few are new. May the Lord graciously bless the message to such as read them.
The Christian Life.
The Christian Life is a life commenced in faith, continued in patience, and consummated by perseverance. It is a Divine life into which only those born again through the word of truth enter. It is an eternal life, for "I give unto My sheep eternal life and they shall never perish," says the Good Shepherd. It is possessed by every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ simply because he or she is a believer in Him. It is not at all an attainment, but the gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is not a renovation of human nature but a new life; not a mere reformation but a regeneration by God the Holy Spirit. Strictly stated the real Christian life is the life of Christ lived in the Christian.
Any attempt at delineating it must perforce include its four clearly marked characteristics; each of these being distinct from the other, yet all alike necessary to a full-orbed presentation of the character of a true Christian life. These are, briefly stated:
none of which may be omitted from the consideration of the subject without doing violence to the whole.
The devotional side of the Christian life is really the heart of the believer occupied with Christ; that is, the Christian having Christ as the one Object before the heart.
The mystical side of the Christian life is rather Christ occupying the heart of the believer — Christ dwelling in the heart by faith — Christ in you the hope of glory.
The practical side is clearly defined and emphasised by John, in the familiar words: "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked."
The ecclesiastical side of the Christian life also finds emphasis and expression in the words of Paul, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" — that is the organ through which the ascended Head now operates and fulfils His ministry of grace in the world. The world sees Him no more, but we are His epistles known and read by all.
This chapter proposes to deal with the first named of these — the devotional, for if this be lacking there is certainly cause to doubt the existence of any of the other mentioned characteristics of the Christian life. The devotional side of the Christian life is evidenced by: —
(1) A personal knowledge of the grace of the Lord Jesus,
(2) A growing attention to the words of the Lord Jesus,
(3) An increasing appreciation of the Person of the Lord Jesus,
(4) A wholehearted recognition of the Mastership of the Lord Jesus.
We select four illustrations from the Gospels of devotion to our Lord, which may be profitably meditated upon by all who desire to grow in grace in the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour. The first of these occurs in the seventh chapter of Luke, where in verses 44 - 50 the Evangelist portrays:
(a) A forgiven sinner,
(b) Saved entirely by faith in Christ,
(c) Conscious of having been forgiven much,
(d) Clinging in gratitude to Him.
She speaks no word, but here, as elsewhere, actions speak louder than words.
Gregory the Great said he could never refrain from weeping when preaching from this incident — so human — so tender — so divine.
"Forgiven much . . . loved much." This is of the essence of a devotional Christian life.
As an old writer has said, "May we welcome Him not only with water for the feet — the cleansing of our souls from the dust and stains of daily sins, negligencies and ignorances; not only with the oil for the head — the intellectual preparations and due appreciation of the nature of His service, but also with the kiss — the fervent, unstudied outpouring of heart affection — the clinging of the whole soul to One it loves."
In the tenth of Luke a further element of this devotional side of Christian life finds illustration. In verse 42, "One thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her"; and verse 39 clearly defines what that good part was. "Sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word."
This is the attitude of spirit which ensures insight to the mind of Christ. "Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart." It is well to note that it is the contemplative, listening, quiet side of the Christian life which gives tone and character to the disciple of the Lord Jesus. This takes time to develop, and needs to be as carefully planned as hours for recreation, meals and sleep are for the body. As with the noble-hearted Elijah — nature in none of her varied moods could meet the need of his heart — only the voice of gentle stillness — so with ourselves, we need to be alone with our Lord long enough to become conscious of His Presence and thus to be changed by beholding the glory of the Lord. As Whittier sweetly sings:
"Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy Peace."
Sitting at His feet, listening to His word, looking up into His face in quiet devotion of heart, occupied with Himself.
A third Scripture incident recorded in Mark 14: 3-9 deals with a further development of our theme. This story is chiefly interesting from the fact that Mary of Bethany displays a spiritual intelligence beyond any of the Apostles and is so fiercely criticised by them for her devotion to their common Lord. She alone in spirit seems to enter in any measure into His entire rejection, death and burial. She is not found among the other women at the Cross a week later, having already in spirit passed through this when she anointed His body for the burial with her precious ointment. "Knowing the fellowship of His sufferings, being comformable to His death." Such devotion is always criticised by cold calculating spirits like Judas, and alas! even by real believers also; but it is always commended by Him who knows the heart and estimates perfectly the value of the motive. "She hath done what she could," and can one possibly do more? But do we do what we can? That is the question which the honest disciple will face.
The criticism of the Apostles amounted to saying that some things were too costly to spend on Him, too good for the Master. Love, however, does not reckon in this way. Again we notice the devout soul is not here shown as talking but as doing.
A fourth Scripture bearing upon the subject of our paper is found in John 20: 16, "Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni; which is to say Master." Here the Good Shepherd, calling one of His own sheep by name, evokes from her heart the glad recognition "My Master." Then with her heart comforted by His Presence she is commissioned by Him and goes out in obedience to His word in loving, blessed, helpful, uplifting service to others.
How far do we know the joy of this recognition of the Lord as Master? We call Him Master and Lord, and we say well, but do we do the things He says, for that is surely better?
Here then, briefly, we review the open secret of the devotional Christian life:—
(1) Forgiven much, to love much too.
(2) Learning of Him, by listening to Him.
(3) Counting nothing too good for Him.
(4) Joyfully accepting His Lordship over the life.
In conclusion, no harm, but great good will come to our hearts as we quietly and honestly challenge them in His Presence.
Take time for the interview with Himself, asking that the Holy Spirit may help as we seek to face the real facts of our inner spiritual condition.
Have I been forgiven much? Do I love much?
Have I chosen that good part? Do I hearken really? Do I know ought of the fellowship of His sufferings, being made comformable unto His death?
Is His commendation more than all else to me? Do I practically own Him as Lord of my life? Do I do the things which He says?
These are the questions which those who wish to know the joy of the Christian life must face for themselves. But let no dread of Him alarm the soul; no anxiety burden the spirit. Rather with simple sincerity of heart tell Him all the truth and count on Him to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.
Christian Baptism and the Christian Life.
Christian Baptism was instituted by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ after His resurrection and before His ascension. The occasion is recorded in the gospel by Matthew chapter 28, where in verses 18 to 20 it is written: And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach [lit: make disciples of] all nations, baptising them in [to] the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
The fuller revelation of the Godhead as Father, Son and Spirit — one Name — one God — Three Persons — the ever-blessed Trinity, and the giving of a wider commission to His Apostles, are the circumstances under which Christian Baptism was commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ. How the Apostles understood the charge is seen by their action in the Acts of the Apostles, where, to mention but one instance of many, "He [Peter] commanded them to be baptised in the Name of the Lord." Acts 10: 48.
It is therefore by the authority of the Lord, and according to the example of His Apostles, that believers are now to be baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Pious persons sometimes baptise unconscious infants, and unbelieving households; but there is no word in the New Testament to warrant such practices, believers alone being the proper subjects of Christian Baptism. This to an unprejudiced reader is demonstrated by the fact that in every New Testament instance, baptism follows upon the hearing of faith. "He that believeth and is baptised" — note the order. Baptism is in contrast with circumcision generally and not a complementary rite carried over into Christianity from Judaism; although by way of likeness, this may be noted, that as every circumcised Jew of necessity had natural life before circumcision, so in every case now real spiritual life precedes true Christian Baptism. But in the consideration of Christian Baptism it is absolutely essential that we keep the Lord Jesus Christ Himself clearly before us, so that the ordinance does not hide the Saviour, Whose death and burial, alone give point and meaning to it.
The Lord Jesus Christ, alone, apart entirely from all other persons and things, is the sole object, suited alike to the heart of God and every need of saint and sinner, in the glorious sufficiency of His Own proper Person and atoning work. Any value, therefore, that Christian Baptism, the Lord's Supper, Fellowship and Ministry possess for the believer, is derived solely from Him Who instituted and appointed them. It is helpful in this connection to bear in mind also that the Church, as such, neither teaches, preaches nor baptises, but individual servants of the Lord do all these things solely by His permission and appointment.
The sixth chapter of Romans affords simple, satisfying teaching as to the proper subjects of Christian Baptism, the manner of its administration, and its true meaning. In verses 3 and 4, we read "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptised unto Jesus Christ were baptised unto His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
Here the Apostle is recalling the fact and meaning of his own and their baptism, and pressing its significance upon the Roman believers. From these verses, and verse 6, we learn, first that there has been a crucifixion of Christ and of their old man [old Adam nature] with Christ. Secondly, Christ's death and burial has taken place, and the sentence of death passed on self and its activities thereby; necessitating, since they (verse 8) be dead with Him, that they are now buried with Him by baptism unto death (verse 4).
There is a burial — a formal putting out of sight what is dead. Christ's death and burial did this for our sins. We now by this solemn, significant act of baptism by immersion in water, put off the old man [the activities of the old Adam nature] which is corrupt. Taking our place in the silence of the typical tomb, we confess our identification in death and burial with the One Who died for our sins according to the Scripture, and was buried. "Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (verses 8-11). In baptism, the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ confesses deliverance from the tyranny of Satan and the thraldom of sin through the death and resurrection of his Lord and Saviour. For the true believer is, in Christ, delivered from all condemnation, freed from the law of sin and death, and perfected for ever by the one Offering — the body of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10).
Thus being baptised unto Christ's death, the believer owns that he has died with Christ out of the old life; that Christ died for him, and he died in Him to the world with its hostility to Jesus our Lord; to the flesh with its seductiveness; and to the devil with all the power he has usurped over man through sin. It is a present, personal and permanent deliverance, to the praise and glory of the Lord Jesus, in which that believer rejoices, who reads aright the meaning of Christian baptism. Buried with Christ in baptism unto death he thus confesses the real lordship of Jesus. Christ, who died for our sins according to the scriptures and was buried, rose again on the third day as Victor over death and the grave, and we exultantly hail Him as Lord of our life and the God of our salvation. We rise again from the typical grave of our baptism to walk with Him in newness of life; for as surely as we died with Him we also live together with Him. This we confess, as we steadily set our minds on the things that are above, where Christ our Risen Lord now is.
Here is the open secret of Christian Baptism.
(1) There has been a crucifixion and a death not only for our sins, but to sin.
(2) There has been a burial and a resurrection, and we are risen with Him, Col. 2: 12.
(3) There has been by baptism an outward identification with all this on the part of "as many of us as were baptised unto Jesus Christ."
Historically in the case of the Lord Jesus Christ, and experimentally in the case of the baptised believer in Him there is a resurrection to a new condition of life and a holy walk in the Spirit awaiting the bodily ascension up into heaven.
As to the Blessed Lord personally, "He showed Himself alive after His Passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." Acts 1: 3. "It is the Lord Himself, risen from the dead, but a real man, with hands and feet capable of being handled and seen, not a spirit, but a spiritual body. . . He leads the disciples for the last time on earth, and in the act of blessing, with uplifted hands, He parts from them and is borne upon into heaven — the risen Man, the Lord from heaven."
Forty days of holy walk in the Spirit after His glorious resurrection, precede His joyful ascension to the right hand of the Majesty on high. Thus historically was it in the case of the Lord Jesus; and experimentally for as many as are truly baptised unto His death, there is the resurrection with Him and a holy walk in the Spirit awaiting the day in which they, too, will be taken up to the Father's house. It is a walk of faith to which our identification by baptism into Christ's death with the Risen Lord calls us. Hence the exhortation of verse 11, "Like[wise] reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Faith adopts God's reckoning, accepts God's word, and adjusts life to God's standard, as a new activity, a new fellowship, a new hope, and a new outlook on men and things here on the earth, result from having taken the true Christian position by baptism unto His death.
The old man is not dead, but to be reckoned so by faith in the Living Lord; so that the life lived in the flesh [body] is lived by faith in the Son of God. "I am crucified with Christ" — henceforth not I but Christ. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." Gal. 2: 20; 6: 14.
This is what my baptism teaches me ever to bear in mind.
Lest Ye Faint in the Christian Life.
Of all the reproaches flung into the heart of our Blessed Lord in the hour of His unspeakable humiliation, none probably had a more bitter sting than the words recorded in Matt. 27: 43. "He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God."
The bitterness of its sting lay in the truth of the sneer, and in its apparent reasonableness. For none ever trusted in God as did this Suffering One. His whole life had been one of unwavering confidence in God, so that of no other could be said so truthfully and emphatically, "He trusted in God."
Yet the scoffers around the cross meant an untruth what time they spoke the truth; for their taunt reproached Him with being veritably an impostor, since God's word and human experience alike affirmed that God had never failed to deliver any who really trusted Him.
So the blinded, ignorance of the human heart reasoning rightly, reached a wrong conclusion; and reasonable as the taunt appeared to them the deduction drawn by their prejudiced, bigoted, superficial minds was altogether false. They were entirely ignorant alike of the true God and of Jesus Christ the Sent One.
A further bitterness was added to the reproach by the opportuneness of the moment. "Let Him deliver Him now." Now — with hands and feet transfixed, with disciples fled, with the crowd gaping, the rulers sneering, the soldiers making game of Him, the robbers speaking insultingly, (see Luke 23 New Trans.) — now, is the moment when the perfect trust, if it exists, should surely be vindicated. So they reasoned, while He endured in meekness and silence the reproaches heaped upon Him.
For not only was He there so soon to make an atonement for the wrong which sin had done to God; to make expiation of the guilt of sin; to give His life a ransom for many, and bear their sins as the Substitute from God; to give Himself a ransom for all to express God's love for the whole world: to die the just One for us the unjust ones to bring us to God, and to fulfil the entire divine purpose for which He became the Lamb, foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world and manifested at the end of the times; but He was also there to crown a life of unbroken obedience and complete trust, by a death of entire devotion.
The moment of vindication was not then; He was to be faithful unto death. Deeper waters were yet to be crossed; depths of unutterable loneliness and anguish had yet to be fathomed by the patient, spotless Sufferer, but His unbroken trust in the One who sent Him should yet find expression in those words of sublime confidence uttered at the last, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit."
Yet again, consider the sneer flung into the sensitive heart of our Lord, by the chief priests and scribes and elders, who could say, "Let Him deliver Him now, IF He will have Him." "If He will have Him!" and with these words in His ears, the lonely Sufferer hangs in silence with no answering heavens to witness to Him then; while yet a further note reveals the actual forces arrayed against Him as the voice of Satan, in their concluding reminder — "For He said, I am the Son of God."
Here is the echo of the old wilderness temptation "If Thou be the Son of God;" and here also the perpetual temptation of the people of God in all ages — if — why — ? If you are the child of God why is this allowed to come upon you? If you do trust Him, why are you left in this condition or circumstance?
The Lord Jesus has left us an example that we should follow His steps. God had one Son without sin, but none without suffering; and the lesson of it all to our hearts is to trust Him at all times; in spite of the enemy, in spite of misunderstanding, in spite of our own hearts. Evermore while passing through the world the suggestions of Satan will come — to act independently as though man were self-sufficient; to act recklessly, depending upon a garbled quotation of Scripture, may be; to act cautiously and so avoid the cross with its reproach. But the Lord Jesus has met them all; and, spite of appearances, spite of heart-breaking reproach, spite of loneliness and general desertion, He trusted in God, and unswervingly finished the course; leaving us an example and an inspiration, that we, considering Him, may not faint in our minds, but run with endurance the race before us, looking unto Jesus the Leader and Completer of faith.
For the cross with its shame was not the end of that life of wondrous trust and devotedness. The glorious resurrection on the third day began to answer the questions of the taunts of Calvary, for He was raised by the glory of the Father, and declared to be Son of God in power by resurrection of the dead. His joyful ascension up to where He was before, answered the taunting query "If He will have Him"; for "He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all heavens that He might fill all things." His coronation with glory and honour; His session at the right hand of power until His enemies be made His footstool; His return in power and great glory with His saints and holy angels; His kingdom and eternal glory; all combine to furnish an answer to the trusting devoted heart once broken by reproach.
"Beloved, now are we children of God"; and as we await the manifestation of the sons of God, let us more closely contemplate the divine perfection of our adorable Lord, so that we may gird up the loins of our mind, be sober, and hope with perfect stedfastness in the grace which will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. For when by the grace of God we too shall sit with Him in His throne, then shall the life of trust in God be eternally vindicated in the person of Christ and His members.
Till then may we say:—
"Glory to Thee for strength withheld,
For want and weakness known;
And the fear that drives me to Thy breast
For what is most my own.
I have an heritage of joy
Which yet I may not see,
But the Hand that bled to make it mine
Is keeping it for me."
The Enemy's Mistake as to the Christian Life.
The enemy said, "Their gods are gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them on the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they" (1 Kings 20: 23).
However, the sequel of this story, recorded "for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope," proved the enemy to be quite wrong in his assertions and assumptions, for the God of the hills showed Himself to be God of the valleys too. He appeared on behalf of His people, for the glory of His own name, to the utter confusion of their foes.
If we look beneath the merely local and temporary, in this old time story of the Benhadad campaign, we can discern an eternal principle enshrined in the narrative having a present application to ourselves. For are we not often tempted to assent to the entirely artificial division of life into compartments labelled sacred and secular respectively, until we come very near to the folly of endorsing the suggestion of the enemy, namely, that God is indeed the God of the sacred with all its vision and communion, but not the God of the secular with its daily round of home duties, business obligations, and social intercourse?
We dismiss as obviously absurd the idea of God as Almighty on the hills, but impotent on the plain — in theory; but may we not very profitably enquire how does our practice tally with our profession? Upon the horizon of our lives, thank God, the lofty mountain tops do appear. In some measure we know something of real conscious communion with our Lord in the place apart and remote from the business of the world with all its bustle; we know the steep slopes of the rugged hills of perplexity, trial and temptation, where we found the present help and strength needed in the secret of the Presence; in some measure also, when actively engaged in labour for the Lord, the hill Difficulty has made us cry out: "Who is sufficient for these things?" and the God of the hills has taught us to know that "our sufficiency is of God." Yes, we have frequently experienced the truth that "God is the God of the hills"; but, alas! on the plains of home life; in the business zone; and among the valleys of social intercourse, how often has our fretful, selfish, crooked conduct given an occasion to the enemy to say: "Their God is the God of the hills, but not of the plains and valleys, therefore let us fight them on the plains."
There is a cynical Scotch proverb: "A kirk saint and a hame deil," which appears at times to contain an element of truthful description of character in it; at any rate, there is always a lurking danger of one living up (or down) to it.
Worldly men have a business maxim, "Each for himself, and the weakest go to the wall:" which also appears to be clean contrary to the law of Christ. Do we endorse this? Sometimes too, when the enemy is seeking to gain an advantage over professing Christians in the realm of social intercourse, the looker-on sarcastically repeats the phrase which so aptly and beautifully described the attitude of the early Christians towards each other — "How these Christians love one another!"
But why, we may enquire, are we so often defeated in the home circle? Is it because in the valley of self-indulgence we forget that "even Christ pleased not Himself"; and that we fail to remember the words of the Lord Jesus how He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"?
Can it be that we insist upon our opinions, preferences, and comfort until the mark of the cross upon our lives becomes daily less pronounced in us? Is it that we feel competent to conduct the campaign on the plains of ordinary duties and need no constant spirit of dependence upon the Lord for such every day affairs? No wonder, in that case, that the battles are so frequently lost.
Why again, we may ask, is there so often failure in testimony for the Lord on the plains of business life? Is it that, spite of what we profess when on the hilltops of life, we really do descend to the level of the world, and doubt both our Father's ability and interest in the business life of His children? A modern writer says, "The teaching of Christ has been tried and found too difficult"; but a wiser critic, reviewing the work, caustically remarks: "Not so. The teaching of Christ has been found difficult and not tried."
Down in the valleys of social intercourse, too, there often arises a sense of failure, an unhappy impression that its opportunities have been largely missed by us, and that the fear of man, with all its conventional insincerities, snobbery and uncharitableness, has practically governed us instead of the fear of the Lord. And the watchful enemy says: "Their God is a God of the hill's, not a God of the valleys."
But the enemy is wrong; there is no need for a child of God to wander along depressed, disheartened and defeated. Our God is the God of the plains and valleys as well as of the hills, and we may confidently count upon Him for victory where we have so often been defeated. "In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."
The Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for all the needs of all His people, and the one who seeks grace to walk well-pleasing to the Lord will assuredly find no lack of that present help and unfailing care which He delights to minister. Upon the hill-top in moments of communion the heart of such an one occupied wholly with Christ shall find the Lord veritably transfigured before him as he grows in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus; in the valley and upon the plain our God shall make all grace to abound so that ye shall have need of nothing. Our God "is the God of the hills and of the valleys."
"If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the beauty of the Lord."
The Reality of Discipleship in the Christian Life.
One evening on entering a little room at the back of a hut at a Training Camp, one found a dozen or more lads of about eighteen or nineteen years of age kneeling down engaged in prayer, and was glad to kneel with them and join in their fervent supplications. After a season of prayer a few familiar hymns were sung very heartily, and then it was suggested that if one had any word of God for them they would be glad to hear it. The Lord graciously gave a word to the comfort of both hearers and speaker.
Upon making enquiry as to the origin and object of the meeting, the explanation given was that it was a "Fellowship Class" especially formed to enable these young believers to meet nightly as soon as duty permitted, to strengthen each other's hands in God; and further enquiries elicited the information that they met to help each other to keep straight, and also with the purpose of winning fresh comrades each night, if possible for the Saviour. Some who came in with a professed faith, but a rather wobbly kind of Christian walk, found strength to go on better in the company of these devoted lads. It did one's heart good to hear them exhort each other, and to hear on every occasion a clear invitation given to make quite sure now. God owns devotedness to Christ, and to one's personal knowledge some of these lads have been used almost nightly to the conversion of others.
When a lad confesses Christ as Saviour in the Camp it is a very real thing; and one great joy in the work is found in seeing a dozen or more converted every week, who in their turn at once begin to look about to bring others to the Saviour. There are many counter-attractions in the Camps organised by well-meaning, professedly Christian people; but it has been a real joy to find the holy word of God, and prayer, and fellowship with those who love the Lord Jesus Christ, proving a greater attraction to so many young lads.
"Men ought to pray," said our Blessed Lord; and the Apostles of the Gentiles could urge believers "for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, to strive together in prayers to God." Do we realise the present urgency of the need for prayers to God?
One hears of Christian people leading self-satisfied lives unmoved amidst all the sorrow, bereavement, and trouble, through which many others are passing.
Oh! that God's people would awake to the unique opportunities and responsibilities of the present hour, and place themselves and all they have at the disposal of the Sacred Hands that were nailed to the Cross for us. It is, however, of little use to talk in a vague way of giving up all to Him Who really gave up all for us, but it is of great practical utility to exercise sanctified common-sense and definitely give something to Him. If I have only sixpennyworth of interest in the work of the Lord, at least may I be honest enough to pay up, and not soothe my conscience with the opiate of a holy emotion or a happy thought. The work of the Lord Jesus on the Cross was a real work, and His work to-day, to which He calls His people, is a real work too, calling for time, talents, prayer and money.
The fresh, fervent, happy piety of these young believers was truly refreshing to one's own soul, and an experience to thank God for. But what about ourselves? The question is, are we really Christ's disciples or have we missed the meaning of our Lord's solemn declaration (in Luke 14: 26-35) of what His terms of discipleship are? As the late J.N.D. remarks on this passage, "Cost what it may, He must be followed; and one must know how to hate one's own life, and even to lose it, rather than grow lax in following the Lord"; or as the late W.K. on the same subject emphatically says, "There is such a thing as persons beginning well, and turning out good-for-nothing. 'Salt is good'; but what if it become savourless? 'He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.' "
Let us gird up the loins of our mind; let us occupy till He comes; and may God keep us from being among the number of those who know their Lord's will and yet find plausible excuses for not doing it. If we are His disciples the marks of the cross will be somewhere discerned upon our lives.
The Peril of a Busy Life even in the Christian Life.
"As thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone," 1 Kings 20: 40. These are not the words of an idler but of a busy man, and contain the startling confession of having missed all that could make his activities of value. The prophet uses them to arouse in King Ahab some sense of the stupendous blunder he had made in missing the opportunity of his reign.
Paul in his first Corinthian epistle warns believers that as the narratives in the Old Testament are written for our admonition: "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall," 1 Cor. 10: 12. So we consider what application this story of Ahab's tragic mistake may have for ourselves.
How aptly the phrase "busy here and there" describes our lives, for it is surely unthinkable that a believer can be an idler, a shirker of duty, or a lazy person. Yet in a busy life there always lurks a subtle but very real peril of which we are often not sufficiently aware. It is the peril of losing conscious touch with Him, Who alone makes all or any of our activities of real value. It arises from the fact that our hearts so easily get hardened through the deceitfulness of sin; things are allowed in daily life and business, of which He Whose eyes are as a flame of fire sternly disapproves; and such is the peculiarity of a hardened heart, that, frequently, outwardly spiritual activities increase in proportion as living, conscious communion decreases. For the heart of man is restless, "deceitful and desperately wicked," and "Whoso trusteth his own heart is a fool."
The heart, too, may become like a dusty high-road over which all the traffic and bustle of worldly business passes until the earth-born cloud hides the Master from His servant's eyes, and He Who matters so much to us is gone from our thought.
In so-called Christian service (for all service should be surely done by us as serving the Lord Christ) the danger is equally present, for it is comparatively easy to be "busy here and there" in congenial service, until the service occupies the heart instead of the Master. Busy here and there, one may alas! lose the deep, real, solemn sense of the Master's Presence, and become careful and troubled about much service, forgetting that one thing is needful. This is a tragedy indeed, robbing the business of real value, for "apart from Me, ye can do nothing," John 15: 5. When life's little day, with all its bustling activities is reviewed at the Judgment Seat of Christ, what an unspeakably tragic discovery for a soul to make, that "While I was busy here and there He was gone"; and as a result, though saved so as by fire, yet to find the labours of a busy lifetime reckoned by the Master of no account because not wrought in communion with Himself!
Such an awful possibility needs guarding against at all cost, and "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Thank God, He is able to make us stand, and to keep us from stumbling. "But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
The faith once delivered to the saints, the present energy of the Holy Spirit Who helpeth our infirmities, the unfailing love of God, and the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ which keeps us now and will present us without spot before God unto eternal life are sufficient — our wisdom and privilege being to cultivate communion with Him Who is able to keep us from stumbling. Thus, however busy here and there, a sense of His Presence and power will enable us so to begin, continue, and end all our activities of service in Himself, that we shall in all things glorify His holy Name.
The Prayer of Jabez, and a Fuller Christian Life.
"And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coasts, and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested." 1 Chron. 4: 10.
Among the list of names in the early chapters of this book of the Chronicles — each of which we are apt to forget, represents a person with experiences as real as our own — that of Jabez stands out in bold relief on account of his prayer, to which God returned so full and explicit an answer. One is tempted to wonder whether Jabez wrote this prayer down; or if it so impressed others that they kept a record of it; until, when this book of the Chronicles was being compiled the Holy Spirit led the compilers to insert this fragment of Jabez' history into the inspired word, for the perpetual comfort and education of the people of God. The three outstanding facts of the story are (1) The God of Israel — the unfailing resource of every true Israelite, whatever the sense of limitation, of weakness, or of the power of evil, (2) An exercised human heart with its struggles, wants, sorrows, cares, hopes and fears waiting upon the God of Israel, and (3) A prayer made and fully answered.
The record of this is made and "written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the holy writing might have hope." Our gracious God and Father cares for the education of His children, desiring that we may "abound in hope," and be "strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness;" and nothing is so productive of this in us as being guided by the Spirit of God to consider His ways at all times with His people.
One man — among the many thousands of Israel — what ground has Jabez for expecting the God of Israel to interest Himself in his case? This is ever a ready suggestion arising from our evil hearts, which suggestion carefully fostered by the enemy of souls alas! so often leads us to settle down in unbelief with a sense of limitation in our service, of weakness in our spiritual testimony, and of being overwhelmed by the power of evil on every hand. But this story was graciously recorded by the inspiration of God's Spirit to teach His people that no one of them is insignificant in His eyes; that as God has given us each distinct features, or handwriting, so each has a distinct personality which is dear to our Father-God, and is never overlooked by Him in the multitude of His people. The weaker the child the more limited the circumstances, the greater the power of evil — the more certain is the loving, powerful interest of our Father; for our Lord Jesus Himself said, "The Father Himself loveth you."
God is revealed as the God and Father of each individual believer, for they are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus; He is also the God and Father of all the one great family of faith. Likewise "Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it"; but He is also the One. "Who loved me and gave Himself for me."
So when the old temptation arises to think of yourself as only one among the great number of the redeemed, instead of drooping, lift up your heart with thankfulness to God that (if a believer in the Lord Jesus) you are one, and that the Lord knoweth them that are His.
"I love the Shepherd's voice,
His watchful eye shall keep
My pilgrim soul among
The thousands of His sheep."
A further lesson taught by the prayer of Jabez is, that although every life has its limitations — so easily makes mistakes — so fallible — so imperfectly grasps God's purposes, yet we are not to give up on that account; but, encouraged by the story of this man, may ourselves discover the possibilities of a prayerful dependent life. Our Lord is "He that openeth and no man shutteth." He says to the little, faithful, dependent one, "I know thy works: behold I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." We are also encouraged by the word of the Apostle Paul, "When I am weak, then am I strong," but chiefly by the assurance of our Lord Himself, "My grace IS sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
By considering what God did for this man; and by recollecting that He is unchanging in power, and love, and goodness; and by expecting a bright to-morrow either here or there; this record educates the believer's heart in hopefulness. With such a God as our God there are infinite possibilities before the believer. Our circumstances may be narrow and straitened; our consciousness of weakness may be growing daily; our sense of the power of evil may be increasing, but our God is able to make all grace abound and to keep us from falling and to deliver us from evil. He it is who exercises patience with us and produces patience in us; He it is Who comforts our hearts and enables us to comfort others; He it is Who as the God of hope, inspires us too with hope, desiring us always to abound in hope. All this is according to Christ Jesus Who was Himself perfect in endurance, perfect in the comforting of others, and perfect in hope as Man for Himself and for others too.
And God's loving interest in the development and expansion of the lives and opportunities of His children is only equalled by the readiness with which He grants all we request in believing prayer for: —
(1) Expansion of opportunity for service and fruitfulness.
(2) Assistance in the undertaking to which He calls us.
(3) Protection from all evil.
"And God granted him that which he requested."
May God increase in our hearts the desire for His blessing so that enlargement, assistance, and protection may be more confidently sought of Him not as the God of Israel — blessed as He is in that character — but as the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Whose we are and Whom we serve.
Study to Show Thyself Approved in the Christian Life.
To study to know the will of the Lord more accurately, that one may do it more perfectly is far removed from using truth merely as a means of enlarging the range of one's Biblical knowledge. The former is consonant with the mind of the Lord; the latter is risky and deceitful, akin to handling the word of God deceitfully, for knowledge is privilege, and privilege entails responsibility. We read of those servants who knew their Lord's will and did it not. "And to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."
Satan's end is gained, if by any means souls are deterred from carrying out in everyday life and duty the word of the Lord, and the clearly defined trend of much of the present day orthodoxy, popular, pleasing, and palatable, is that one may be a loyal student of revealed truth, accepting the scriptures as the inspired, infallible word of God from cover to cover, evading no difficulty, welcoming all the truth which normally has a separating effect from evil, and yet remain equally loyal, amidst all the conflicting creeds and theories of church government with which Christendom's Babel city of religious confusion is cursed, to one's own denomination and theological opinions. But truth, because it is truth, is incorrigibly intolerant of, and refuses to accommodate itself to, human theory.
"If ye know these things happy are ye if ye practise them." Another point needing emphasis is that even believers unfettered by any ecclesiastical system need the reminder, that as was indicated to Joshua, and by the Psalmist in Psalm 1, and by James in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit shows the pathway of true spiritual prosperity; so to-day if the written word of God is pondered with a view to actually and practically carrying out, in conduct, character, and conversation, then will the vitality, virtue and adaptability of the truth be increasingly evident to the soul. The best Christian evidence is the Christian in evidence. "Sanctify them by thy truth. Thy word is truth."
May we then see to it that we give such attendance to reading and meditation upon these things that our real profiting may appear to all.
For the word of God reverently read, with an ever-growing sense of need of dependence upon the Holy Spirit for true insight into its meaning, will lead to such self-searching and comparison of the actual practice with the holy precept therein contained, as will effectually guard the believer against the misuse of revealed truth; and, at the same time will assuredly lead to a right use of that which is divinely declared to be to the obedient soul "a lamp unto the feet, and a light unto the path." We need increasingly to be girded to serve our Lord; girt about the loins with truth, while in the day of conflict we seek to cleave to His name and word.
It is a human instinct to make truth either a means of satisfying curiosity, or of extending the boundary of one's knowledge, as an end in itself. But neither of these is the object for which truth has been revealed. Yet one age-long evil has been this tendency to use divine truth for the satisfaction of spiritual curiosity — a mere mental exercise. Hence have arisen multitudes of ingenious theories based upon certain passages of holy scripture. Men led away by imaginary discoveries, inflated by self-importance and governed by an insubject spirit, have drawn away unstable souls, striving about words to no profit, but tending, as the apostle says, to the subverting of the hearers (2 Tim. 2: 14); and effectually playing into the hands of the enemy by wasting invaluable time and starving souls through making speculation and not Christ the object of the heart. As surely as He is the Way, so emphatically is He the Truth, and such speculations as make unfulfilled prophecy, ecclesiastical order, or even distinctive dogmas such as predestination and election, or baptism, an end in themselves to which the mind constantly reverts, lamentably miss the mark, because the objective is, as we have said, not Christ, but the satisfaction of curiosity, even though it be of a spiritual kind.
Yet even cursory observation reveals the undeniable fact of the possibility of such a state through a failure to apprehend the reason of revelation. Any use of the written word which fails to bring the soul into the immediate presence of Him who is the Word incarnate, either to worship or for encouragement, instruction or reproof, is a perversion of the divine attention, and a misuse of truth, however gratifying to a pseudo-spiritual curiosity.
On Being Stedfastly Minded in the Christian Life.
Among the many interesting and lovable characters in the Old Testament few possess the charm and interest attaching to that of Ruth the Moabitess.
Living in a singularly rude and warlike age, related by marriage to a family of backsliders in Israel, she yet displays characteristics so admirable that the Spirit of God has had them recorded for our learning. She is presented to our attention as one who is stedfastly minded as to her duty and privilege; and as one who is not turned back from the right path either by the example of her sister or the urgent persuasions of her mother; one, too, whom the most hopeful prospects in her old associations fail to deflect from her purpose of heart.
A stedfastly minded woman is Ruth; one destined to be not only richly blessed herself, but to be such a blessing to others that, though herself once a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel, she becomes the channel through which He shall come into the world, Who is Himself the Glory of God's people Israel, and the Light to lighten the Gentiles.
Little did Ruth on that eventful day, when standing with Naomi and Orpah on the hills of Judea, anticipate her glorious destiny, but the great decision then made irrevocably bound her in life and death to the God of His people.
A poor lot the people were to whom she so wholeheartedly joined herself; but their God was rich in mercy and He had visited His people in giving them bread.
In words that still thrill the reader she uttered her great decision, "Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and Thy God my God; where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. When she (Naomi) saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her." Ruth 1: 16-18.
Stedfastly minded people always do go on, and on account of Ruth being such, God's providence shaped her circumstances. Four thoughts suggest themselves in the consideration of this stedfastly minded person's life.
First, in spite of the restless times in which Ruth's lot was cast, she herself lived a restful life.
Secondly, Ruth's unselfishness is written all over the story of her restful life.
Thirdly, she has a very thankful spirit, and
Fourthly, her life is a happy one.
1. Having once decided that the people of God were the company she desired; that the God of the people must evermore be her God; that the promised land was the only place for her; she resolutely turns her back on all other people, places, and objects of worship, and with full purpose of heart goes forward to a future all unknown, but holding within it such possibilities and prospects both near and distant, as could never have entered into the mind of a poor Gentile girl, not even in her wildest dreams. For to be linked for life as the wedded wife of a wealthy man who loved her as his own soul; and to become the ancestress of Israel's great king David, and thus of great David's still greater Son and Lord — this, the portion that the God of Israel had destined for one insignificant daughter of Moab — was more than her heart could have conceived in the days when she faced the untrodden future, being stedfastly minded to go to the good land with the people of God. But what rest of heart must have been enjoyed by her; what quietness and confidence in the goodness of God as the years sped by.
She had heard in her own land that God had visited His people, and despite the fact that those of His people with whom she had been personally connected were but poor samples of what God's people should be, yet her heart, that is to say her mind, affections and will, had turned stedfastly to the Blesser and the land of blessing. She came to trust herself under the wings of the Lord God of Israel. Ruth 2: 12. Happy position for a poor Gentile girl to take! "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; His truth shall be thy shield and buckler." Psalm 91: 1, 4.
We too, my readers, as sinners of the Gentiles, have heard how that God has visited His people, giving as the Bread of Life His flesh for the life of the world, of which if a man eat he shall live for ever. We too, if believers in the Lord Jesus, have come to trust under the shadow of the merits of our Saviour — God. We too, have a glorious destiny in the land of God's delight with all His redeemed people — the holy nation. We too are linked in death and life, and for eternity with the Lover of our souls; we too are brought into blessing that we may be a blessing to others. Are we stedfastly minded about this; determined to cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart? If so, and just in the measure that it is really true of us, we live restful lives even in an unrestful age.
2. Briefly let us note the second feature of Ruth's character mentioned above, namely, her unselfishness. Her chief concern appears to have been to minister to the support and comfort of Naomi. For this Ruth goes out to work in the fields; for this she returns at evening with her little store of food; for this she defers to Naomi, seeking her counsel, and the whole story is a lovely illustration of care, labour, deference and love unselfishly rendered by Ruth to her somewhat depressing and trying relative. Even in the hour of her maternal joy it is the mother-in-law who receives the congratulations of friends and neighbours, and who is greeted as a mother in Israel.
Beautiful Ruth, beautiful alike by name and disposition, shows how beautiful a life lived for others may be. There is a beauty about the life of one who has done with all self-seeking that may be admired, but can never be successfully imitated. It must be the genuine article, and is only ever produced in the life of one who is stedfastly minded to follow Christ's steps.
Mere circumstances are nothing in this matter; a stedfast mind to live to the will of God and please Him, is the one thing needful.
Of this, Ruth is an illustration, for Naomi does not strike one as being a particularly helpful, hopeful, or cheerful person to live with; seeming rather to have been of a peevish, bitter spirit, with a readiness to blame God for the results of her own backsliding. But Ruth, who had come to trust under the shadow of the wings of the Lord God of Israel, doubtless was stedfastly minded to keep His commandments, of which one was, "Honour thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and that thy days may be long in the land" — and in keeping His commandments she found great reward.
Lack of consideration for parents and aged people, on the part of professed disciples of Christ must be specially objectionable and displeasing to Him, Who in the hour of His own bitter need, thought of His mother's sad heart and provided for her future comfort by entrusting her to the charge of the disciple whom He loved.
No attainment spiritually, intellectually or socially, can in the slightest degree dispense any Christian from the obligation to honour, in the fullest sense, parents, and those whose age and infirmities make claims upon our respect. Moses commanded, "Thou shalt rise up before the face of the old man." Are we stedfastly minded in this as in all else to act according to God's revealed will?
3. The thankfulness of Ruth's spirit is found running through to the end of her story. She is overwhelmed by the kindness shown to her. As she sees the provision made for her means of support, and for refreshment meanwhile, and notes the delicacy of the arrangements, and listens to the kind words of the master, "she fell on her face and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?"
Happy type of the thankful believer in the Lord Jesus who can never feel sufficiently thankful to the One Who has taken knowledge of us in our lost estate, though we were strangers to Him, and in Whose eyes our souls have found grace.
Then as Boaz makes known the kindness of God to her and speaks of recompense and reward to the trusting soul, she replies, "Thou has comforted me, and spoken friendly to thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens." The narrative presents this stedfastly minded woman filled with wonder and thankfulness at the grace shown to her, and at the same time with low thoughts of herself — I am not like one of thine handmaidens — only a stranger, and yet have found grace, and have been spoken to friendly and been comforted.
May our hearts abound with thanksgiving to the One Who, greater than Boaz, has done much greater things for us.
4. Then think of the happy-hearted girl as she wends her way home at eventide to her mother with all the news of the day's happenings. The whole story of Ruth is a happy one from the day when she was stedfastly minded to cast in her lot with the people of God who were going to the good land, onward to the end with its marriage joy.
Happy in her stedfast mindedness, proving her election by her perseverance; happy in her unselfishness, losing her life in service but finding it richly again; happy in her thankful spirit; and happy in all the good things which God had given her.
Would the reader know this happy, thankful, unselfish, restful life? Cleave to the Lord with stedfast purpose. Remember that in an age of fickleness, indecision, and general unsettlement the ancient promise still finds modern fulfilment, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee."
Still may the stedfastly minded believer thankfully repeat the inspired words which form a threefold cord, not easily broken, binding the soul to the Saviour-God, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded (stedfastly minded) that He is able to keep what I have committed unto Him against that day." 2 Tim. 1: 12. "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God." Rom. 8: 28.
"We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." 2 Cor. 5: 1. With these great truths to sustain our hearts we may well be STEDFASTLY MINDED.
Wilderness Desires of the Christian Life.
"O God, thou art my God; early will I seek Thee; my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is; to see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary." (Ps. 53: 1, 2.)
David the outcast, the fugitive, the man with more than an average share of life's difficulties, perplexities and dangers, is one who treasured in his heart never-to-be-forgotten memories of the God he had seen in the sanctuary. As he utters the words of this Psalm in the wilderness of Judah his mind goes back to the experiences of other days when he had been in the sanctuary; and, whatever passing circumstances may now be, the reality of those happy seasons can never be denied. So with eager-hearted longing he turns in the wilderness to the God of the sanctuary.
Was it one morning at break of day that the Psalmist arose and beheld the glory of the rising sun over the Judean hills and like his ancestor exclaimed, "Surely God is in this place and I knew it not?" or at eventide did the wonder and splendour of the sunset over the Great Sea turn his thoughts to Him Who appointeth the sun his going down? We cannot say; but we know that as we behold the wonders of God's hand in the temple of Nature, the heavens declare His power and His glory, and the reverent beholder worshipfully says, "All Thy works praise Thee, O Lord, and Thy saints bless Thee,"
"For beauty seen is never lost,
God's colours all are fast;
The glories of the sunset sky
In to my soul have past."
In Nature, in Providence, in Grace, the child of God receives impressions which can never be forgotten. In Nature, the gorgeous sunset — the first sight of a mountain — the great and wide sea, may open a window through which to behold the power and glory of God; in Providence, recovery from an almost fatal illness — the birth of the first child — bereavement, may be used to show us yet deeper wonders; in Grace — the happy day of conversion and peace with God — the day of baptism — the day when first "He was known to us in the Breaking of the Bread," all are red-letter days in the calendar of the soul's experience. "There He spake with us," and no subsequent happenings can efface the marks from our lives.
How real the sanctuary experiences of God's people always are; days of heaven upon earth; times when doors being closed on earth they find a door opened in heaven, so that the way-worn pilgrim in the wilderness may behold the glory of God and Jesus Himself in the midst; days they are too, when the vision glorious overwhelms the soul, until the realisation of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord lifts the heart above the weary wilderness of earth, and the pilgrim goes on the way with lighter step and gladder heart.
How many of our readers will ever forget the recovery from an almost fatal illness, either on their own part or of one they dearly loved? "The Lord was very good to me then," they say, as they remember His providence. And when in an hour of dark bereavement, when sorrow surged into the soul, some may recall how the heart turned brokenly to One
". . . Whose loving heart
Can feel my smallest woe;
Who in each sorrow bears a part
That none can bear below."
We are told that "Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah." Is there a hint here that the tremendous responsibility of parenthood, the wonder and mystery of linking the past on to the future, and the immense possibilities of that tiny life now entrusted to his charge, caused Enoch to realise his deeper need of God, and to seek to walk with Him that he might fittingly fulfil his duty? In any case, to many another the responsibilities of life have been so used, and a little child has led them in to closer touch with God.
But what shall we write of that ever to be remembered hour when first we knew the Lord! "The happy day" of which the ransomed sing "when Jesus washed my sins away." Whatever has happened since, or however our joy may at times have drooped it was a happy day, for then we saw God's power and glory in the miracle of His grace to us. And, at our Baptism — the day when in simple obedience we openly identified ourselves with our Lord in death and burial — how real it was. Never will the writer forget the awful solemnity and joy as the Sacred Name of the Triune God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — was spoken over him in that place of witness to death with Christ and of issue into a walk of newness of life.
Still more vivid is the recollection of His power and glory as the Lord makes Himself known in the Breaking of the Bread to those who enjoy this delightful privilege. Here the experience is beyond expression, because there can be no adequate description given of the unearthly joy He grants in the manifestation of Himself to those who, having heard His words "This do for a remembrance of Me," seek in simple faith and devotion thus to meet the desire of their Lord and Saviour.
They stand upon the hills of God with sunshine in their souls; they see by faith what others fail to see; they hear, and touch, and taste the things eternal, until as they go on their way through the wilderness of earth the language of their hearts is akin to that of David the Psalmist in the wilderness of Judah, "O God, thou art my God; early will I seek Thee; my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is; to see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary."
This all leads David to desire a fuller knowledge of, and a closer communion with the God of his sanctuary experiences, because of the present wilderness of Judah wherein he has no certain dwelling place. This desire is no mere passing whim of the moment, but the meditated purpose of his will. So we note the steps by which he proposes to realise this desire. (1) My lips shall praise Thee, v. 3. (2) I will lift up my hands in Thy Name, v. 4. (3) My soul shall be (or is) satisfied, and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips, v. 5. (4) I remember Thee . . . I meditate upon Thee. Thou hast been my help, v. 6, 7. (5) My soul followeth hard after Thee: Thy right hand upholdeth me, v.8.
Praise, prayer, thanksgiving, meditation and diligence in following after the Lord are the five steps which lead the heart up from the wilderness experience to the sanctuary experience. If David had ground for praise how much more those who know God as David never could in his day; if he could value prayer what of ourselves who can now pray in the Holy Spirit and in the Name of the Lord Jesus; if he had much to be thankful for how much more have we; if his meditation was sweet ours should be surely sweeter; and if he gave diligence to follow hard after God, how much greater the obligation on our part to cleave to the Lord with full purpose of heart.
The wilderness will not last for ever; passing things are passing things; and the children of God are heirs to eternal things.
Meanwhile, whatever the dryness of the world and the thoroughly unsatisfying character of everything here to the believer, yet it must never be forgotten that there is abundant spiritual refreshment and joy for our hearts in the Lord Jesus. We see not yet all things put under Him, but we see Jesus crowned with glory and honour, and this is an unfailing spring of comfort and satisfaction to all who truly love His Name. He has entered into heaven itself for us; He ever liveth to make intercession for us; He is set down on the right hand of the majesty on high; He is in the midst of the Throne of God.
These bare facts laid hold upon by faith are a cause for great exultation to all believers, young and old alike, because of what they mean for Him and ourselves.
"While sorrowing, suffering, toiling here,
How does this thought our spirits cheer —
The Throne of glory's Thine."
As J. G. Bellett truly says: "Our souls should know these secrets. Did not Peter know them when he slept [in the prison], and Paul and Silas when they sang praises in the prison? There was no sanctuary around them, but the Holy Spirit had spread within a kingdom of light and liberty and joy in God. They were citizens of a city that needed not the light of the sun."
"Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer (i.e., of a brave heart); for I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me."
Serving the Lord Christ in the Christian Life.
The Apostle Paul evidently considers it quite sufficient an incentive to hearty service to remind the servants of Christ Who their Master really is. He knew full well from personal experience that a realisation of Whom they served would enhance the value of their splendid opportunities of service. He knew that nothing furnishes so great an inspiration for service as love; and to remember that "the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" had called him into His own service, caused the Apostle to say, "The love of Christ constraineth us."
Thus the recollection that we serve THE LORD CHRIST causes an inspiration of gratitude to spring up in our service, which, like the Gulf Stream, diffuses its genial warmth and causes fruitful conditions wherever it goes, until we serve heartily, for we serve the Lord Christ.
The reminder of Him in Whose service they were would enable them to realise the dignity of His service. The Queen of Sheba could say of the servants of Solomon (1 Kings 10: 8), "Happy are thy men, happy are thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom." But a greater than Solomon is our Master, for we "serve the Lord Christ." Are His men happy? Are His servants happy which stand continually before Him and hear His wisdom? Ask those who know.
A returned missionary, after spending years in the Congo, recently remarked, "Someone sent me a letter signed, 'Yours in His happy service,' and he added emphatically, 'So I am.'"
Ask the Apostle himself; mark how he boasts of being the bond-slave, the servant of Jesus Christ, as though it were the highest honour on earth to which a man could aspire. It is to him an evident matter of happy thankfulness that such a position has been granted him. He parades his chains, and boasts of the liberty wherewith Christ has made him free. He speaks very confidently of the One "Whose I am and Whom I serve."
There is no disgrace attaching to the bond-service of the slave of Jesus Christ; for the dignity of His service is such that the meanest task becomes a matter of honoured privilege to those who know that they "serve the Lord Christ."
The possibility, too, of receiving the eternally to be coveted "Well done, good and faithful servant," from His lips, is one that sends the blood coursing through the veins with ardent aspiration and desire. "Ye serve the Lord Christ," and many, many times does Paul glory in the fact that he, at any rate, is the SERVANT OF JESUS CHRIST.
Then the reminder that "ye serve the Lord Christ" breathes a spirit of glad adventure — of daring faith — of high endeavour into the servant's heart. For what glorious possibilities there are in His service! What potentialities lie hidden in the opportunities afforded us! Who can tell what may happen? — for all things are possible with Him our Master, to "Whom all power in heaven and earth is given." And all things are possible to him that believeth.
It was this spirit of glad holy adventure, of daring faith, and of strenuous endeavour which characterised the Apostle himself. "Ye serve the Lord Christ" and who can tell where it will end? Multitudes may yet rise up and call Him blessed because you served Him faithfully.
"Ye serve the Lord Christ," and Christ the Lord works with His servants as they go forth everywhere at His bidding. He opens doors before them which no man can shut. Happy are His men, happy are His servants which stand continually before Him and hear His wisdom.
"Whatever ye do," says the Spirit of God through the Apostle, "do heartily, for ye serve the Lord Christ."
His happy men. His happy servants. Standing continually before Him as they wait upon Him in prayer and communion. Hearing His wisdom as by the Spirit through the Word in reading and meditation they find Him speaking to their hearts. Heartily serving Him, with an enthusiastic loyalty and contagious zeal. Happy in His service, for ye serve the Lord Christ, and the joy of the Lord is your strength. As Faber sings:
"Workman of God! O lose not heart!
But learn what God is like;
And in the darkest battlefield
Thou shalt know where to strike.
Thrice blest is he to whom is given
The instinct that can tell
That God is on the field, when He
Is most invisible."
True Belief and the Christian Life.
Do ye now believe? John 16: 31.
Among the many familiar words spoken by our Blessed Lord on the night of His betrayal, those at the head of this chapter are perhaps little considered. Yet if rightly understood they give pause to our somewhat hurried Christian lives, suggesting a latent peril of which we may be scarcely aware.
To "believe," in the New Testament sense of this term, is to have a faith that moves the whole of one's moral nature — the mind, the affections, the will — in the line of God's revealed purpose. Not intellectual attainment or systematic thinking upon Divine things merely; nor waves of mystical emotion or sentiment; nor, yet again, a mere hard unyielding persistency of purpose; but a personality tuned in harmony with the Will of God, Whose nature is love, Whose wisdom is unsearchable, and Whose power is limitless.
The eleven Apostles on that night of mystery were baffled by the apparent contradictions between what they understood of the Master's teaching during the three happy years now ending, and His present parting discourse. Peter, Thomas, Philip and Jude, each in turn voicing the general thought of the Apostolic band, asked, "Why? How? Show us the Father. How?"
So with infinite patience to them, and profit to His disciples for all time, the Lord explains as much as they could bear at that time, and in closing remarks, "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father." The disciples straightway pass from one extreme to another, and now avow entire belief in Himself.
Our Lord then asks this question, "Do ye now believe?" following it up by throwing the light of His foreknowledge across the, as yet, untrodden pathway of their near future. This, too, is where our hearts may find themselves exercised. We believe and are sure, but what difference does our belief actually make in the practical realm of conduct, character, and conversation?
How startling the declaration of the Lord must have been to them: "Behold, the hour cometh, yea is now come, that ye shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me" (John 16: 32).
"Ye shall be scattered" by the instinct of self-preservation; "and shall leave Me alone," for I shall matter less to you than your other interests then; "every man to his own," leaving the Master solitary. "Oh! recreant disciples," our hearts are ready to cry; "ye believe and are sure, and is this the issue of your belief and assurance?" Still we must consider the time of stress that came into their lives; the storm of fear and perplexity that swept over them; their alarm and amazement at the turn affairs had taken; the unnerving peril that faced them; the panic that seized their hearts when "they all forsook Him and fled." And lest we be tempted to cast stones at them, and to dub them craven cowards, let us enquire within as to whether we have ever sought our own at the expense of His company, His reproach and His interests. Paul, writing of Timothy's interest and devotion to Christ, said that in his day, "All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's" (Phil. 2: 21). Is this less so to-day?
In the careless days of peace and safety very little demand is made upon our faith, and much passes for real belief and assurance that will sadly fail to stand the test of the hour of real trial. The trimmings of the garment of praise and piety are often mistaken for the garment itself. The fear of the Lord in its true sense of reverential trust and hatred of evil is fast fading away. Familiarity with God is becoming the hall-mark of sacred songs, prayers and public addresses, while intimacy with God is little cultivated. The love of pleasure, and success in business are marks of the times, discernible alas! on believers as well as on unbelievers; the Rationalism of the modern mind, even when propounded in so crude and unphilosophical a fashion as in the New Theology, was eagerly welcomed and acclaimed by professors of all denominations, and by men of none, as though the exaltation of man by the dethronement of the Lord Christ was the chief end of man; the Ritualism too, of those who in effect say they are Jews [traditional religionists with sacrificing priesthood] and are not — whereby the worshippers are placed at a distance, and the ceremonial form takes the place of the spiritual reality in the approach to God has attracted many real believers into its meshes; it having indeed an appearance of wisdom in voluntary worship and humility and harsh treatment of the body. Both these much vaunted religious systems, on the one hand of philosophy and vain deceit, and on the other of will-worship so fascinating to the natural mind, are in reality dishonouring to the Christ of God, either by assailing His most Holy Person or presumptuously supplementing His perfect work by human aids and forms of devotion. In all these things, while claiming to believe, men — professing disciples of Christ too — are scattered, seeking every one his own ideas and things.
But what of ourselves? Has the sifting of the past few years led us to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God? Do ye now believe? Have our prayers become more fervent, simple and real than they were? Do we know the intimacy of children with the liberty of sons before our God? Has our outlook on life broadened, or is it still an opportunity solely for gain and pleasure, though veneered by professed belief in Christ?
The judgment seat of Christ should be constantly borne in mind as we consider that not what we have, but what we are, is the supreme thing in the sight of God.
Whatever the profession of the lips, "as he thinketh in his heart so he is." "All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits" (Prov. 16: 2). "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the hearts" (Prov. 21: 2. N. Trans.). "Will not He that weigheth the hearts consider it?" (Prov. 24: 12. N. Trans.).
The Gospel by John and the Christian Life.
The object of this paper is to suggest lines of thought and study, which, if pursued, may serve as a key to unlock the treasury of the Fourth Gospel. It, and the succeeding chapters, are selective and suggestive, and on that account may appear somewhat disjointed; but the Gospel itself, both from its attractive simplicity and amazing profundity, holds and exercises an increasing fascination for believers in every stage of Christian growth.
It will be found instructive to carefully note its distinctive features, namely:—
1. Its subject.
2. Its object.
3. Its character.
4. Its keywords.
5. Its omissions.
6. Its additions.
7. Its seven miracles.
8. Its sevenfold subjective sign.
9. Its fourfold witness to Christ's Person.
10. Its threefold division because of Him.
11. Its two great parables.
12. Its one great principle.
13. Its idylls.
This is clearly defined in chapters 1: 12, 14: 9, to be the Eternal Son — He Who never ceased to be what He was, by becoming what He in grace became — revealing the Eternal God as the Father, to all who receive the Son.
From chapter 20: 30, 31, we learn that out of the many other things that Jesus did and said, these are selected, grouped and recorded, to establish, illustrate and explain the one great fact that Jesus (of Whom the Evangelist writes) is the Christ, the Son of God, in Whom believing, we may have life through His Name.
The character of this Gospel is plainly significant, it being a record of signs which Jesus did thereby manifesting forth His glory, i.e., declaring His real character.
These are Light, Life, Love — being the Revelation of the essential Being of God, by the Only-begotten Son. Chapter 1: 18.
ITS OMISSIONS (as compared with the Synoptic Gospels).
These are of peculiar interest, in view of the fact that the writer was one of the favoured trio present on the holy mount; occupied a position of intimacy at the Last Supper; was in Gethsemane; the only one of the Apostolic band at the Cross; and he, moreover, to whose care the mother of the Lord was specially entrusted; yet, he omits to record any mention of the Nativity, the Temptation, the Transfiguration, the Lord's Supper, the Agony in the Garden, and the Dereliction upon the Cross. These, needless to remark, not from any lack of information, but of divine design.
ITS ADDITIONS (to the Synoptic Gospels).
In the light of Christian experience, these are illuminative to an extraordinary degree. They are: —
(1) The title of Lamb of God in connection with sin, chap. 1: 29; apart from all mention of sin, verse 36. Cf. Heb. 9: 28.
(2) The position taken by Jesus as the Gathering Centre for all who received God's testimony by the prophets in the person of John the Baptist, the last and greatest of them all. Chap. 1: 37-42.
(3) The frequent use of the exclusive name of God, "I AM" (cf. Exodus 3: 14, 6: 2, 3), with its tacit assumption that Jesus and Jehovah are one and the same Person.
(4) The washing of the Disciples' feet, with its doubly typical character. Chap. 13: 1-17.
(5) The Paschal Discourses. Chap. 14 — 16.
(6) The Intercessory Prayer of the Lord in chap. 17, with its significant threefold address to the Father as (a) Father, in personal relation, (b) Holy Father in relation to His own who are in the world, (c) Righteous Father in relation to the world in which His own are.
(7) The public restoration and re-instatement to office by the Lord, of Peter at the lake-side. Chap. 21.
ITS SEVEN MIRACLES.
These constitute a sevenfold objective sign proving His real character by the exercise of the power of the Creator, over nature, disease, death, and life. (a) At Cana in Galilee, chap. 2: 1, (b) At Capernaum, chap. 4: 54, (c) At Bethesda, chap. 5: 1-9, (d) Galilee, chap. 6: 5-14, (e) Giving sight to a blind man, chap. 9: 1-7, (f) Raising to life of Lazarus, chap. 11, (g) The extraordinary draught of fishes at the sea of Galilee, chap 21.
ITS SEVENFOLD SUBJECTIVE SIGN.
This reveals Him as a Man Who dealt effectively with the secrets of men; as One who knew the thoughts of men (cf. Ps. 139: 2), thereby proving Himself to be more than man, (a) Nathanael's surprise and confession, chap. 1, (b) The Lord's general attitude towards men and the reason given in chap. 2: 24, 25, (c) At Sychar, chap. 4: 29, (d) In the temple at Jerusalem, chap. 5: 14, (e) In the temple again in chap. 8: 7, (f) At the Last Supper to Judas, chap. 13: 27, (g) To Thomas the Apostle in the Upper Room, chap. 20: 27.
ITS FOURFOLD WITNESS TO CHRIST'S PERSON.
(a) By the Father, chap. 5: 27, (b) by the Scriptures, chap. 5: 39 and 47, (c) by the Baptist, chap. 5: 33, (d) by the Apostle Peter, chap. 6: 68, 69, the whole constituting a complete witness on earth as to Who Jesus was.
ITS THREEFOLD DIVISION BECAUSE OF HIM.
This feature of the Gospel of John is startling by its modernity, for the division is (a) because of His person, chap. 7: 43, (b) because of His work, chap. 9:16, (c) because of His word — His sayings, chap.10: 19, just as at the present day. The Person, Work and Words of Christ are still what divides men down to the very roots of their being cf. Luke 2: 34, 35.
ITS TWO GREAT PARABLES.
(a) The Good Shepherd, chap. 10. (b) The True Vine, chap. 15.
ITS ONE GREAT PRINCIPLE.
There is running through the whole Gospel like a golden thread the one supreme principle of believing God. (a) Knowledge, chap. 7: 17, (b) Sight, chap. 11: 40, (c) Certainty, chap. 6: 69 and (d) Blessedness, chap. 20: 29, are all seen to spring from accepting God's testimony.
An exquisite loveliness in the human nature of our Divine Lord is revealed in this Gospel record by the story of (a) the home at Bethany, and of (b) the disciple whom Jesus loved and of (c) Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. There is a tenderness, a winsomeness, and beauty radiating from these simple glimpses, which seem to fill the chambers of devotional contemplation with a fragrance as of the ivory palaces. (cf. Ps. 45: 8), as we think of the place where He Who had nowhere to lay His head was always the honoured and welcomed guest; of the disciple who knew the love of his Master most intimately; and of the woman whom nothing on earth could compensate for the loss of Him whom she so touchingly called "MY MASTER." It is when we think on these things, that we realise a little more clearly that no amount of knowledge, or activity in service can ever dispense with simple, genuine, devotion to, and affection for, the Person of our Blessed Lord.
In closing this necessarily brief and somewhat scanty outline of the Gospel by John, we may remark that it is deeply significant to notice that from the first mention of them, the Feasts of Jehovah have become merely Feasts of the Jews; and that from the beginning of His public ministry here He is the rejected One. There is also a strongly marked vicious undercurrent of hostility and hatred always latent in this Gospel record.
From this introductory chapter, the young believer will gather something of the character and contents of the Treasury of John's Gospel.
The Gospel by John and the Christian Life.
Having briefly indicated the object, subject, and characteristics of our Gospel, we now proceed to look more closely into its contents, considering, in the first place, its significant additions to the narratives recorded by the other Evangelists.
(1) In chapter 1: 29 we find the title of the Lamb of God given to our Lord by John the Baptist; and meditation upon this theme leads the soul back before the foundation of the world, and on to the golden age when the kingdoms of this world, having become the kingdoms of our God, and of his Christ, God shall be all in all. It is an inexhaustible subject. In the volume of the Book, in type, by symbol, through prophecy the Lamb of God — the Revealer — the Reconciler — the Ruler is shadowed, shown and witnessed to. The true inwardness of the words of Abraham to his son on the way up to the place of sacrifice is seen. "My son, God will provide Himself a lamb," says the Patriarch, the father of the faithful, the friend of God. "Behold the Lamb of God," cries the Baptist, the last and greatest of all the prophets, as he sees Jesus coming to him, "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world."
The Passover story and ritual; the continual sacrifices under the Levitical economy; the Evangelical prophecies of Isaiah and Zechariah; the Pagan sacrifices, with their dim groping after propitiation telling of mingled hope and despair; all find explanation and fulfilment in Jesus and His Sacrifice, as Lamb of God; for the title of "Lamb of God" in connection with sin speaks of the love of God providing a sacrifice. Jesus is God's Sacrifice, the outcome of God's love to man. He, who ever was God, became man, that He might die for sinful man, and bring redeemed men into vital and eternal union and communion with God upon a righteous and, therefore, entirely satisfactory basis cf. 1 John 4: 9, 10.
So in the consideration of this title of our Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God, we at least discover the love of God in the Sacrifice of God, making atonement to God for the wrong sin had done to God, and manifesting the mercy of God to the sinner, at the same time eternally securing blessing to every believer in Himself.
(2) Next we find in ch. 1: 35-51 the Lord Jesus as the Gathering Centre for such as receive God's testimony.
John the Baptist, looking upon Him as He walked exclaims "Behold the Lamb of God." It is the outcome of his heart as occupied with the Person of the Lord Jesus. The immediate result, possibly unlooked for, but not resented by the Baptist, is, that two of the men who had been drawn by his faithful preaching to become disciples, leave him to follow Jesus. John had been hitherto the highest and most spiritual they had known; probably most of their knowledge of God had come through that greatest of all the prophets, but "every one who hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto Me," and henceforth, not the eminent servant, but the Blessed Son of God was to be the object of discipleship.
Jesus turns and sees them, welcomes, invites and satisfies their hearts, and they stay with Him that day. This is but a picture of the present day exercises of the heart which receives God's testimony as to the Sin Bearer, the Lamb of God; for to such He Who once appeared to deal with and effectually settle the question of sin and sins, shall appear again the second time apart from the question of sin altogether, and they shall see where He dwells, cf. John 16: 3, 17: 24, and shall abide with him throughout God's eternal day.
The prophetic indication of this position as gathering centre is clearly given in the blessing of Judah (the tribe from which our Lord came) by the Patriarch Jacob, Gen. 49: 10, "Unto him shall the gathering of the people be." The people, chosen, scattered, peeled, shall be brought into blessing again, cf. Rom. 11: 26, "all Israel shall be saved," for the day will come when they shall say of Him, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Jehovah." So Jesus is God's gathering centre for the people, i.e., Israel; further, the Apostolic declaration in Eph. 1: 9, 10, re-affirms this principle, but with a far wider application — all things in the heavens and which are on earth, to be gathered together in Christ. He is declared by prophetic and apostolic revelation to be God's great gathering centre. He Who in lowly grace humbled Himself that God's essential glory or character, might be revealed, and that man might thereby be brought into eternal blessedness, is most rightly accorded this pre-eminence. No individual life, no company of believers can glorify God except and in the measure that the Lord Jesus has His rightful place.
(3) Next we discover in the reading and study of John's Gospel the peculiarity of the frequent use of the exclusive name of God, "I AM." The name "Jehovah" is never applied to any other than the Supreme Being — He Who IS, being the Name formally adopted in Exodus in relationship with Israel (cf. Ex. 3: 13, 14; 6: 3). Yet this specific term "I AM" is appropriated by this One Whom all could see was really man. However faintly our translation may convey this, there is no kind of question at all that the Pharisees and our Lord's contemporaries recognised it, resented it, and made it the ecclesiastical basis of their relentless opposition to Him (chap. 8).
Note then, that this frequent use of the name "I AM," with its underlying assumption that Jesus and Jehovah are One and the Same Person, demonstrated by the signs in this Gospel, is peculiar to John, and illuminates the doctrine of the Incarnation by the dignity and humility of the Lord Jesus.
(4) The washing of the Disciples' feet in chap. 13 is the next addition to be noticed in order. It is a sweetly suggestive incident. He, knowing that He was come from God and went to God, riseth from supper and (1) laid aside His garments, as He had already laid aside the form of God, and (2) girded Himself with a towel, as He had already taken upon Him the Form of a servant, (3) then proceeds in lowliest humility to wash their feet. He had already told them that "the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10: 45), and as the heart meditates upon the scene in the Upper Room, and remembers how soon His sacred head, then bowed in lowly service over their feet, was to be bowed in death on the bitter Cross for our salvation, some inkling of the typical meaning of that act dawns upon the soul.
He Who, like the Hebrew servant in Exodus 21, might, having served His term, have gone out free, elects, for the love He bears to His Master, and His Church collectively, and His people individually, to remain a Servant even in death. Cf. Matt. 26: 53, 54; Heb. 10: 5-14; John 6: 38.
Typical, too, is the incident of His present occupation. Exalted again by the glory of God, yet a Servant for ever. He lives, as He died, to serve His people cf. John 15; Luke 18: 37. "He restoreth my soul." "Because I live ye live also." "Saved by His life." Ps. 23: 3; John 14: 19, Rom. 5: 10. It is His loving unwearied service which cleanses His own who are in the world from the defilement contracted in their walking through it. Eph. 5: 25-27. How much we owe to Him in this way we can never tell. For it is Himself and His service in life and in death, which calls out the Father's supreme delight, the Church's eternal worship, and the individual believer's loving loyalty.
But of that significant action He expressly said it was an example given by Himself of what His disciples were ever to do. Peter never forgot it, and in his first epistle, written a quarter of a century later, he exhorts his fellow disciples to be "clothed with humility" (1 Peter 5: 5), "bind on humility" (J.N.D. Trans.), "gird yourselves with humility" (R.V.). Never could the Apostle forget the sacred head bowed over his unworthy feet. Paul also exhorts to the same end. Phil. 2: 5, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." "By love serve one another" (Gal. 5: 13). The measure and the standard of the exercise of this, is set by the Lord Himself, "As I have done to you" (John 13: 15). This transcends the golden rule of Matt. 8: 12, presenting not merely an ethic, but an Exemplar. My debt to Him is the measure of my debt to my brethren. Let me take care that when girded with humility, the water wherewith I seek to wash my brother's feet is neither too hot nor too cold, so that the desired end may be reached, and his soul restored again.
(5) The next feature peculiar to this Gospel is found in the Paschal discourses recorded in Chap. 13: 31 — 16.
There the hope of the Lord's return, the interval meanwhile filled by the Presence in them of the other Helper — the Holy Spirit — with the effect of that abiding Presence, is the prominent theme.
Christ's peace is left to them, that they too may know His joy in the world, and the characteristics of His real disciples are clearly marked. By fruit-bearing — bearing much fruit — fruit that remains, they are proved to be His disciples.
By love one to another they reveal themselves to all men as His disciples.
By answered prayer begotten of obedience and communion it is again demonstrated that they are disciples of His indeed. Tribulation, the process of sifting, or winnowing by passing circumstances, is assured in the world, but a brave-heartedness, good courage, is likewise enjoined upon all His disciples, for says He, "I have overcome the world" (chap. 16: 33). Cf. 1 John 5: 3-5. So these precious, enheartening discourses given on the same night in which He was betrayed, furnish the disciple with chart and compass, port and Pilot on his voyage across the stormy sea of time, and assure the faithful learner who is daily endeavouring to practise the lessons learnt, of an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour.
The question asked later, on that same night, and recorded alone in this Gospel, "Art not thou also one of His disciples?" is at once personal, pertinent and important, for this Man still has disciples, and amidst the mass of rank profession in Christendom the cynical enquiry is still made by the world of the professor; and within the heart of the backslider the grieved Spirit of God ceases to comfort, but presses the same enquiry on the attention in holy reproof earnestly and lovingly, "Art not thou one of His disciples?"
Those who are disciples indeed, are privileged to know that elevated calm, that sweet reasonableness, that quietness of spirit which comes from a mind stayed upon God; the art of living this day in the light of "that day," 2 Tim. 4: 8.
(6) Next in order in this Gospel follows the Intercessory Prayer of our Lord, in which His personal ministry blends with the perpetual ministry of the Blessed Spirit although He is not mentioned here.
The threefold address to the Father was noted in our introduction, but it is of the first importance to remember that the key to the whole prayer is the name of the Father. This He had fully declared, this He would continue to declare cf. 1 John 1: 3.
Note in verse 5, His inherent, unshared glory, the glory of the Eternal Son enjoyed ere time began; cf. Prov. 8: 22-32; also in verses 22 and 24, His conferred glory, given to, and beheld by His own.
Consider the provision in verses 13 and 24 respectively for the present and the future. Now — "My joy fulfilled in themselves." Then — "with Me where I am that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me."
The hour had come! and He who had in patient love and lowly grace declared the true God in a world that hated both Him and His Father, now solemnly appeals to that Father in relation to the world as Righteous Father; cf. Isa. 49: 3-12; Phil. 2: 10, 11; Heb. 1: 2.
There is likewise to be noted the threefold unity of believers, namely, the unity by pressure from the hatred of the world because of the word given; then the unity from within by the blessed oneness of communion with the Father and the Son by the Spirit; and lastly the unity which the world will know as they behold the character of God delineated in the disciples of Christ here below.
(7) The next and final addition peculiar to John's Gospel is in Chapter 21, and deals with the public restoration and re-instatement to office by the Lord, of Peter the Apostle.
The Gospel by John and the Christian Life.
In the consideration of the sevenfold objective signs given in John's Gospel, it is of the last importance to remember that "these things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (chap. 20: 31).
They in each instance show the glory or real character of the One Who performs the immediate work of power. In the first miracle or sign which Jesus did as recorded in our Gospel, we observe the power of the Creator in exercise upon inanimate nature. A true case of transubstantiation occurs. The element water is changed so completely into wine that colour, taste and smell proclaim the fact; the governor of the feast bearing eloquent though unconscious testimony to the miracle wrought (chap. 2: 9, 10). Who but the Creator can change the nature of things? And the Evangelist tersely and illuminatively comments, "This beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory"; "the glory or character as of the Only Begotten of the Father" (chap. 1: 14).
The second sign was given at Capernaum, where the bare word of the lowly Jesus of Nazareth kindles faith in the nobleman's heart, and arrests disease in his child. That word too, be it noted, spoken at a distance from the afflicted lad (chap. 4: 46-54). Again the unbiassed reader beholds in this sign the character of Him, whose words as Man had the authority of God.
In Galilee of the Gentiles this light had shined, but now the story leads to Jerusalem the capital city; and the anointed King, the Christ, the Sent One of the Father at His entrance, finds by the sheep-market a scene speaking both of Himself the true Bethesda, the constituted and manifested House of Mercy, and also of the world He had come to bless. For before His gaze there lay outspread a world in miniature, a picture of world-wide human need; the impotent folk, the blind, the lame, the withered, all waiting in almost hopeless despair. At best but a limited blessing could be expected; and so true to human experience was the actual realisation that they who needed it most were least able to get help. Singling out a case of chronic infirmity, very old standing, and a sufferer who had experienced many bitter disappointments; one to whom angels' visits but intensified his inability and friendlessness, Jesus, with a word of power, delivers him from his malady, and brings to his despondent heart a vision of true friendship, new life, and wide and increasing opportunities for activity. It is a miraculous cure, a sign of the character of the Person by Whose word it had been wrought.
In Galilee again, the Lord finds the setting for the next sign by which His glory is to be shown. It was the need of men which gave fresh occasion for the display of His power. In chap. 6: 5-15 we are reminded that, as ever, so then, He thought of the need; He provided suitably and sufficiently for the need; and "as much as they would." If there was no waste, neither was there any stint. So now He,
"With Heavenly Bread makes them that hunger whole,
Gives living waters to the thirsty soul."
The incident is unusually full of instruction; teaching us in one way that not Philip's wisdom was needed, but Philip's faith; again pointing to the unobtrusive but invaluable service of Andrew the Apostle, who is always found introducing to the Master someone who can do what he personally is unable to accomplish; again, the godly order is instructive; He Who alone knows the extent both of the demand and the supply, and Who is alone competent for the occasion, gives thanks, linking God and the need together thereby, and then distributes to His disciples, who give the food to the multitude. Wondrous is the grace and moral glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who in His own Person and by His own act joins God and the disciples together in meeting the need of individuals. Now, as then, "things done decently and in order," bear the mark of the Perfect Servant, Who is also the Eternal Son.
One further note must be made. A little lad, putting all he had into the hand of Him Who could by His own power make it sufficient for the needs of all, must certainly encourage every teacher of the young to more strenuous endeavour to act as Andrew did, and bring them into touch with Jesus Himself.
But over and above the narrative there arises the conviction expressed by the men in verse 14, "This is indeed that Prophet that should come into the world." By this miraculous multiplication of bread and fish, a further sign is given that the Man Who did this is none other than the Creator though veiled in human flesh; and these things are selected by the Spirit through John, "that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God."
They would have made Him a king — a bread king; but the time for the kingdom was not then, for He was already rejected by those who, had they believed their own Scriptures, would have recognised Him indeed as the son of God, and the King of Israel (chap. 1: 49).
The fifth of the sevenfold series of objective signs or miracles occurs in chapter 9, and is up to this point in the Gospel perhaps the most significant of any recorded. The giving of sight to one who had not previously possessed it, is undoubtedly the work of God; but the mode in which this gift was conveyed makes it doubly significant.
By making clay and putting it upon the man's sightless eyes, He rendered him doubly blind; the exact condition of the favoured nation who were blinded by the fact of the Incarnation, spite of the possession of the Scriptures. Boasting of Moses they refused both Christ and the Father Who had sent Him. This acted parable now takes place before the eyes of those who said "We see," and the blind man is directed to the pool of Siloam, the meaning of which, given in the text, is "SENT." Obeying the word of Jesus, he goes, washes, and returns seeing. An historical happening, yet withal a significant parable both of the state of the people, and of the Sent One of God in their midst Who worked effectually in the midst of human incapacity. Further, he who had acted upon the testimony of the Sent One is led to confess him as the Son of God.
In the next sign given by the Evangelist we are led still more clearly to see that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
For at the grave of Lazarus "was a Man Who, insisting that He was sent of the Father in grace, calls a dead man from the tomb with authority, and in fact, quickens him and raises him. The Son of God was there, overturning the power of Satan, destroying the dominion of death, and setting man free from the state to which he had been subjected by sin: He was there the Son of God, the Resurrection and the Life, presented to man, declared Son of God with power."
Martha owns Him as "the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world" (chap. 11: 27).
This of all the recorded signs given in John's Gospel is the grandest proof of the personal glory or character of the Lord Jesus. Not merely, as earlier, did He say, "I will raise them up at the last day," but joining the exclusive title of God with the authority over life and death, He affirmed "I am the Resurrection and the Life," and forthwith proceeded to demonstrate it, yet in entire dependence upon the Father Who heard Him always. Never did the Lord insist on His own glory, or work one sign apart from the living Father Who had sent Him. "I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of Him that sent Me." But these things are written, that the Divine character of the Blessed One Who in lowly dependence did the works, might be clearly and unmistakably seen, for "God will have all men honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him" (chap. 5: 23).
Never can the lowly place taken by the Eternal Son in purest grace, be allowed by the Eternal Father, and the Eternal Spirit to eclipse under any pretext the place which is His by inherent right. On the other hand, because of the Divine humiliation, the Divine exaltation is decreed. Phil. 2: 6-11.
(7.) The final objective sign recorded by John is that in chapter 21, where the Risen Lord, but the same Jesus, again manifests the power of the Creator, and this time over animate nature. The fishes at His will fill the nets of the hitherto unsuccessful professional fishermen; and it is worthy of note that the disciple whom Jesus loved immediately says in awed recognition, "It is the Lord." One emphatic note of every day interest is sounded in this incident. First, here are a complete number of disciples, all of one mind, all in the same place, all workers, yet all together quite unequal to bringing their proposed task to a successful issue — for "they caught nothing."
Then there comes the recognition of the glorious Risen Master. "It is the Lord," Who was on the shore, in the place of stability and power, directs operations, — by enquiry, that they may realise and confess their inability — by counsel, that they may know what to do; and commands an extraordinary and significant blessing.
Writ large across the story is the old but oft forgotten lesson, "Without Me ye can do nothing."
Therefore, says the lesson, make sure of the Master, obey Him absolutely, and expect tremendous blessing because of His word. "It is the Lord," absolute and supreme, in personal life, in Christian service, Who inspires confidence, sustains the heart, and assures victory.
These things written, selected, and grouped are recorded as objective signs of the glory or real character of the Lord Jesus, believing in Whom, we have the life eternal.
The Gospel by John and the Christian Life.
Running concurrently with the objective sign in this Gospel is an equally suggestive sevenfold subjective sign, whereby as the Searcher of hearts, dealing effectively with the secrets of men's lives, Jesus again manifests forth His real character as the One who came forth from God.
In chapter 1 Nathanael the guileless Israelite, taken by surprise at the intimate knowledge of himself and his inmost thoughts displayed by the One Whom Philip introduces as Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph, confesses outright, "Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou are the King of Israel."
He rightly realised that none but He of Whom the Psalmist writes in his 139th Psalm could be before him; and with the transparent sincerity of a genuine seeker after truth, he responds to the light given, and makes the great confession. In chapter 2 the Evangelist records our Lord's general attitude towards men, giving as a sufficient reason in verses 24 and 25, "Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man." So amongst men He moved as a man; but with such a knowledge of men as revealed Him to be more than a man, and to all who had eyes to see manifested forth His glory. In chapter 4 at Jacob's well, again is seen this exercise of a power which causes the Samaritan woman to say, "He told me all that ever I did. Is not this the Christ?"
Let us keep steadily before our minds that "these things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." For what a display of the grace of God is discovered in the ever interesting story recorded in this chapter. By the unerring touch of this One, the sinner is revealed to herself, and finds the revelation of God in Him to meet her deepest needs. Yet to effect all this, an apparently casual reference to her home-life is used; but the ultimate issue of the conversation is seen when the confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Saviour of the world, is made not only by the woman, but by many of her fellow townsmen.
In chapter 5 the grave and unique warning uttered by the Lord Jesus to the man whom He had healed is profoundly significant of the character of Him Who, while not then sent to judge the world, was nevertheless the One by Whom the secrets of men will be judged.
The man who has been healed of a chronic infirmity meets his Healer in the temple and receives the severe and quite unusual admonition, "Behold thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." What does it mean? Surely that the Divine knowledge of the sinful past leading to thirty-eight years of chronic infirmity, is possessed by the One Who has healed him. Yet with this warning light flashed upon his conscience the man immediately proceeds to demonstrate his craven worthless character, for "the man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus which had made him whole. And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay Him." Probably, with the sole exception of Judas Iscariot, there is no more despicable character in the Gospel narrative than this man, who, having been healed by the pure grace of Jesus, seeks to save his worthless skin at the expense of his Healer.
In chapter 8, the exercise of this Divine knowledge of men results in an unmasking of hypocrisy, and furnishes clear evidence of the character of the One into Whose Presence they dragged the convicted sinner. By His action, by His simple but sufficient remark, the scorching flame of Divine light probed and searched the hearts of the woman's accusers, so that "being convicted by their own conscience, they went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last."
In the presence of that intensely white light, the differences in degree of guilt between the woman and her accusers vanished, as each man realised his own unfitness to undertake the office of executing judgment on a fellow sinner.
In chapter 13, amidst all the most tender and sacred associations of that night in which He was betrayed, we are again shown the Lord Jesus effectively dealing with the secrets of men. Judas Iscariot, at the word of Jesus, is dismissed from the Apostolate, and goes out into the night of unrelieved gloom a declared son of perdition. Yet that word is so spoken by the Lord that, "no man at the table knew for what intent He spake this unto them." For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, "Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor."
But Judas realised that his treachery was unmasked, and that all his secrets were open to the eyes of his Master, and he swiftly goes out from the presence of the Lord a convicted traitor. So is again shown the character of the Man to Whom all hearts are revealed, to Whom all secrets are known.
In chapter 20 Thomas the Apostle finds himself again in the company of the Master Whom he had loved and mourned as lost. Lovingly loyal, and tenderly devoted as he was, he had unbelievingly nursed his great grief spite of the witness of those who had seen the Lord after His resurrection, until in a mood of despondency he had gone to extreme lengths of wilful disbelief. To him then on the second Lord's Day comes the Risen Master and surprises His loving but faithless apostle by revealing His acquaintance with the unbelieving thoughts of his heart. The glad confession "My Lord and my God" is the answer to the grace of the One Who so tenderly but effectively dealt with the secret of his heart.
These things are written, says the Evangelist, "that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name."
The Gospel by John and the Christian Life.
We approach a very interesting and instructive portion of the Treasury of John's Gospel in considering the fourfold testimony to the Lord Jesus as recorded by our Evangelist. Bible students will hardly need reminding that the use of the numeral four in Scripture is clearly intended to be an indication of a complete witness on earth to any given fact. Examples of this are abundant, but two may be cited as illustrations, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. In the former we find the four offerings in the book of Leviticus typically setting forth the Perfect Work accomplished by our Lord on earth; while in the four Gospels we have a complete witness to the Perfect Life lived here. For our present study we turn to chapters 5, 11 and 12, and therein discover witness (1) borne by the Father; (2) by the Scriptures; (3) by John the Baptist; and (4) by Peter the Apostle.
First in importance is the objective witness borne by the Father through the works, to the character of Him Whom men only knew as Jesus of Nazareth! Our Lord appealed to the works wrought as being a plain, positive, palpable confirmation of His Divine mission. "The Father that sent Me, He doeth the works." To Him we find this testimony borne in chapter 5: 36, 37 as the Sent One — the Christ. In chapter 11 by resurrection of the dead witness is borne to Him as Son of God, cf. Romans 1: 4, for issues of life are in the hands of God alone. In chapter 12 by the entry into Jerusalem, which the Evangelist claims as a fulfilment of ancient Messianic prophecy, unmistakable testimony is given to Him as the Son of David, the King of Israel; while in the same chapter by the coming of the Greeks He is witnessed to as the Son of Man, Whose mission of grace overleaps all racial barriers, reaching right down to the fundamental needs of fallen humanity. He therefore solemnly announces His death here, by which alone much fruit is to be brought to God, and by which Gentiles and Jews may alike become fellow heirs of the rich grace of God. To Jew and Gentile He becomes by His rejection upon the cross the Centre, the One by Whom alone the true believer comes to God.
Secondly, we notice the Scriptures are themselves cited as bearing their testimony to the Person of the Lord Jesus as man here on earth. In chapter 1, anticipating somewhat the general declaration of chapter 5, we find one of the earliest disciples, Andrew, assuring his own brother that "we have found the Christ"; and yet more definitely in verse 45, Philip affirms in greater detail to Nathanael, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth the son of Joseph." Next in chapter 5: 46, our Lord Himself, when remonstrating with Jewish Scripture readers, exclaims: "Ye search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me."
For the holy Scriptures when opened and read give their emphatic testimony as to Who the Jesus of Whom they witness really is; to the Deity and Humanity in One Person of Jesus the Christ, they bear definite insistent testimony such as compels conviction to the genuine humble searcher after truth.
Thirdly, the witness given by John the Baptist to Jesus is both of an objective nature and emphatic character, e.g., "Behold the Lamb of God"; "I saw the Spirit descending and abiding on Him."
This witness of John the Baptist, at Bethabara as the Lamb of God and the sin-bearer in chapter 1: 29, and as the Son of God in chapter 1: 34, is supplemented by that borne by him at Enon as the Christ of God the Sent One Who speaks the word of God in chapter 3: 26-30.
It is specially helpful in this connection to notice the effectiveness of John's testimony to the Person and work of Jesus, for in chapter 10: 41 we find his hearers saying: "John did no miracle but all things that John spoke of this Man were true."
Also our Lord in His eulogy of His faithful forerunner, says: "He was a burning and a shining light."
These two utterances should give us pause, and lead us to consider the quality of our actual testimony as servants of God. We may indeed do no miracle, but surely we can at least speak truly of Him; and since what God has joined together, no man may put asunder, the reflection presses upon the mind that shining and burning are really two aspects of the same character. Unless our hearts burn with meditation upon the word of God, and with the constraining love of Christ, there will be little shining visible in walk or work. The final testimony completing the fourfold witness on earth given in our Gospel to the character and Person of Jesus is that rendered by Peter the Apostle. In chapter 6: 68, 69 he gives it in the familiar words: "Lord, to Whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ the Son of the Living God." This is not objective but subjective. The words to which Peter and the rest had listened so often were realised in the deeps of their being to be "words of eternal life" — words of God searching the hidden depths of man in a powerful and operative fashion until "we believe and are sure."
Here emerges a great principle underlying the spiritual structure of the Gospel by John, namely, Knowledge, Sight, Certainty, and Blessedness, all alike springing from the soil of believing God. Cf. chapters 7: 17, 11: 40, 6: 69, 20: 29. "We believe" ("believe" is not a barrier, but a bridge) "and are sure." "Said I not unto thee that if thou wouldst believe thou shouldst see?" "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed," the additional Beatitude pronounced by the Lord during the great forty days of His risen life on earth is the last word on the subject for such as hearken to His voice.
The Gospel by John and the Christian Life.
We now briefly glance at the threefold division because of the Person, the work and the word of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded by the Evangelist in the fourth Gospel. At once we note how modern is the character of the subject and how far-reaching its application. For when once men are faced with the claims of Christ they discover that thought, character and destiny are so involved in the issues raised that whatever else they do they cannot ignore Him. He is the One with Whom we as men have to do, all judgment having been committed to Him because He is the Son of Man. So in chapter 7: 43, we read "There was a division among the people because of Him." Some said "He is a prophet"; others said "No, He is the Christ'': others again truly remarked, "Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem where David was." "So there was a division among the people because of Him."
Every student of Church history is sadly aware that most ancient and modern heresies and controversies have raged around the Person of our Lord. His Person is unique and to our finite minds presents an intentionally unfathomable object of worship. "No man knoweth the Son but the Father." It has pleased the Godhead to dwell bodily in Him Whom we know as the second Person of the ever blessed Trinity; and as the believing mind thoughtfully and reverently contemplates the mystery of very God and true man in One Person, one is led to worship in the presence of the Divine wisdom that has ordained that the One Who stooped in infinite grace to the lowest depths of humiliation (cf. Phil. 2) should be the One, the mystery of Whose Person is inscrutable,
The active mind of man seeks to pry (as in the olden days) into the true Ark of God, with the result that He Who is ever an object of worship, becomes to them a subject of mere speculative controversy.
For all who are brought into contact with Him are inevitably divided into worshippers and others. Differing degrees of apprehension may exist; confusing modes of expression may be used; but one who knows, the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord is distinctly and definitely separate down to the very roots of his being from one who knows Him not. It is Christ — and a man's attitude to Christ — that clearly and finally divides. "There was (and is) a division among the people because of Him." While men may impertinently place Him as one of the prophets, or as being what every thinking man must admit, no ordinary man, the heart taught of the Father confesses Him as the Son of the Living God. If this was so in the days of His flesh, it is equally so to-day; and the Person of "Jesus Christ Who is the same yesterday, to-day and for ever" becomes the infallible revealer of the thoughts of the hearts of all who are brought into contact with Him.
His WORK — the work of atonement to God for the sin of the world, of substitution for the sins of all who believe in Him — is likewise a subject dividing the thoughts of men. In His death the believer sees the Lamb of God Who beareth away the sin of the world; and the true Passover Who is sacrificed for us. Between those who thus behold that "great sight," considering well also "the great price" paid for their freedom, and those who see nothing in Christ's death beyond a martyr's end, an example of devotedness, or an abrupt termination to His life through collision with vested religious interests, as a modern divine affirmed — there is a division, a separation, a great gulf fixed.
His WORDS, too, are decisive to all who hear. "My sheep hear My voice." His voice calls men from the mass of humanity into a select fellowship — the fellowship of the children of God. His voice calls men apart to become the instruments in His hand, for the accomplishment of His purposes. His voice gives vision of the infinite possibilities of a human life lived to the will of God. His voice creates mission as He says, "As the Father sent Me, so I send you." His voice awakens deeps of devotion and inspires to high enterprise, as He says, "Lovest thou Me?" "Tend My sheep."
His voice enheartens the drooping one, and encourages the faint-hearted warrior as He says, "BE OF GOOD CHEER. I have overcome the world." His voice inspires to a perpetual remembrance of Himself as He says, ''Do this for a remembrance of Me." Happy are they who hear.
His words, equally with His work, and His Person, divide all who hear into those for whom His word is full, final and authoritative; and those to whom life is an enigma, death a terror and the hereafter a sad perplexity because He Who is Way, and Truth and Life is unknown by them.
The Gospel by John and the Christian Life.
There is a very touching narrative, which comes closely home to our hearts, recorded in the last chapter of our Gospel. It has a background in this lakeside picture which heightens the moral beauty of the scene.
The upper room at the last supper, where the self-confidence of the apostle vaunted itself in a boastfulness and a depreciation of others by his saying, "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise," throws into relief the deep probing questions of the morning by the lake. The crowded hall of the high priest's house at night with its fire of coals, its weakness and threefold denial, contrast vividly with the quiet lakeside and the threefold confessions of loving attachment to his Master.
But one great Figure is the same; one strong tender Heart is common to both pictures; through all the lights and shadows of the terrible tragedy of that dark night in which he was betrayed by one, denied by another, and forsaken by all, the atmosphere of the gentleness of Christ pervades the whole. To Judas the traitor, the reproof and dismissal from the apostolate are given in such gentle terms that none at the table knew for what intent He spake; to Peter, ignorant of his own weakness and boastful of his ability, "Simon, Simon, I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and when thou art converted (or, restored), strengthen thy brethren," is the utterance of the Lord who knew him fully.
At the high priest's house, when the recreant apostle has thrice denied with oaths and curses that he ever knew his Master, then the Lord turned and looked upon Peter. No upbraiding, no reproaches, no scathing denunciation, but a look, one well believes, of such infinite pity and sorrow for His poor, craven-hearted follower, that Peter went out and wept bitterly. Who amongst the followers of the Lord Jesus does not know something of this — the gentleness of Christ?
Now, on this calm, peaceful morning, the same holy Master awaits His follower, and, thoroughly dealing with him, restores and re-instates him to office.
But note the gentleness of the Lord as He trusts the restored man again, and entrusts to him a yet greater share of His interests. This gentleness made Peter great, and in after days we find this apostle teaching the lessons learnt that day cf. 1 Peter 2: 21; 5: 2-4.
It is interesting to observe that the enquiry of the Lord is not "Lovest thou My sheep?" but "Lovest thou ME?" Then, "Feed my lambs"; "Shepherd my sheep," "Feed my sheep" — incidentally reminding us that no amount of affection for the sheep will guarantee sufficient impetus to maintain a course of unwearied service to them. The people of the Lord are sometimes difficult to get on with; they have moods and opinions and are sometimes apt to be very viewy and trying; likewise the pastors or shepherds, being human, may magnify themselves and not their office, or cease to be ensamples to the flock of God, and so the relationship fails of its divine intention.
But the Unchanging One to Whom Peter realised his eternal indebtedness, Whose love had entirely won him, Whose gentleness had made him great, with unerring wisdom touches the vital question of all true service, whether towards the people of God or to sinners needing salvation, "Lovest thou Me?" thus presenting Himself as the sole object for the heart of the servant, and the sufficient motive for the most arduous, unwearied, patient, willing service to man.
One further thing calls for notice in this incident, namely, no sooner is Peter restored and re-instated to office, than a hint of the old disposition appears. The final words of commission have been spoken by the Lord, and the emphatic injunction, "Follow Me" has been placed upon him, when he, turning about, began to be occupied with another disciple.
An eye off the Master, and on a fellow disciple leads to an outburst of curiosity. The turning about, and the occupation with some other one than the One he was called to follow was and is the cause of the mischief. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was probably morally and spiritually the best of the apostolic band, but anyone or anything that diverts the gaze of the believer from his Lord is a hindrance to the close following of His steps.
So the Lord in His tenderness rebukes the incipient wandering of this one, who once before "had followed afar off," with, "What is that to thee? Follow thou Me."
There is but one Lord, and He the sufficient object for the heart of the saint; and the Lord here briefly indicates what is the life-long occupation for Peter, and for ourselves, "Follow thou Me."
"Oh, guard my soul then, Jesus,
Abiding still with Thee;
And if I wander, teach me,
Soon back to Thee to flee;
That all Thy gracious favour
May to my soul be known,
And versed in this, Thy goodness,
My hopes Thyself shalt crown."
After all this — the Warning for the Christian Life.
2 Chron. 35: 20.
These words mark an epoch in the inspired record of the life of Josiah, king of Judah. They indicate the close of a career of brilliant usefulness, and the commencement of a course of self-will leading to defeat, disaster and death. To the saints of God the whole story is full of solemn warning, and furnishes food for reflection. "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning; that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15: 4). "All these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition . . . wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10: 11, 12).
Like a sign-post on the highway of Josiah's life-story there stand these three ominous words, "After all this." They point backwards to many distinctly marked evidences of early piety with all their wealth of promise. Josiah began well, for at the age of fifteen he began to seek after the God of David his father, and when only nineteen years old was so zealous for the honour of Jehovah, that he commenced a national revival by purging Judah of the high places, images and idolatrous emblems which by their defiling presence dishonoured the true God, and disfigured the place He had chosen.
Josiah's zeal increases as the years pass, and produces four most important results. The temple is cleansed; there is a re-discovery of forgotten truth and prophecy; a voluntary, personal self-dedication takes place; and the greatest passover kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet is solemnly celebrated. Truly a marvellous record for a young man to achieve; and, more happy still, is the gracious moral effect upon his own heart; Josiah's humility and tenderheartedness receiving special mention by God. Add to this his splendid character given in 2 Kings 23: 25, and we have afforded us a pen portrait, up to a given period of his life, of a pious, zealous, humble-minded, tenderhearted servant of God. Then, like a note of tocsin, sounds these three terse words of ominous import, "After all this," with an abrupt introduction to a collapse, pathetic indeed, and full of tremendous warning for saints to-day.
There are many striking points of resemblance between the circumstances of Josiah's time and those of our own.
Christendom, like Israel when Josiah ascended the throne, had slipped away from the simple sufficient rule of the word of God as the true believer's rule of life and directory of worship; and, by additions, and accretions which had gathered around the revealed will of the Lord, had created a situation fairly corresponding to images, high places, and groves, namely, worship and service fashioned after human devices, imaginations, and long-grown religious customs.
Nearly a century ago, however, by the discovery of long forgotten truth, many were humbled by the church's failure and became tenderhearted; zeal and piety revived to a surprising degree; and once again the Lord's death was shewn week by week in the breaking of bread after the simple, primitive, and apostolic manner recorded in Acts 20, the whole church of God being contemplated in its observance. Upon the ground of the one body of Christ, saints gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus and rejoiced to keep the feast, knowing that Christ our Passover were sacrificed for us.
It was the re-discovery of the will of the Lord in His word which constituted the sole sufficient authority for so acting in independence of any mere churchly sanction or human rules. Freshness, joy and holy enthusiasm reigned, but "after all this" came the long years of quiet simple testimony; and these are the days of real testing.
It is interesting and instructive to note that between the glowing account of Josiah's great passover — the high water mark, so to say, of his reign, and the record of his decline, there occurs one of those silences of scripture which speak so loudly to the thoughtful reader. Thirteen years elapse without any mention made of their passing. They speak of the long quiet years when principles are being tested. No great work of idol-breaking done; no excitement caused by new discoveries of truth; no stirring of emotion by great spiritual crises such as the wonderful passover and the service of voluntary self-dedication; but a tranquil period, a testing time, the long and uneventful years of maintenance, of holding fast to known truth and position.
Individually the condition of many a young believer morally resembles that of king Josiah. The first flush of youthful piety is very gracious; the earnest, zealous willingness to serve the Lord is very delightful to behold; the ardent devotion to His blessed Person is very beautiful; the holy emotions of sacred seasons at His table are peculiarly sweet; but after all this — what? Shall we adopt the easy path of least resistance, and by dalliance with the world, the flesh and Satan prepare for deterioration, or, rather reading the inspired history of Josiah's life, hearken to the striking note of warning and alarm sounded in: "After all this"? For these words appear to signify that the years of quietness had in his case bred deterioration, the parent of declension and self-will.
"After all this" we hear of Josiah's meddling with God, and of his being sorely wounded in affairs which neither concerned his person nor his position. What an ending for one who had such a splendid record of piety and service behind him! Yet, as we ponder, we are afresh reminded that "the best of men are but men at the best," apart from the grace of God. His motives were probably good. He may have thought that his knowledge and position warranted interference on his part; but the inspired history records three facts which, may we not say, are of singular significance for saints and servants of the Lord to-day. First, it is quite evident that he acted independently; then that he refused advice, not hearkening to the word of God; and, lastly, he disguised himself, acting unlike himself, appearing other than he really was.
"After all this!" Warned, wilful and wounded, Josiah is now cut off from all further usefulness in his prime at the early age of thirty-nine years! The more noteworthy is this, in that length of days was a mark of divine favour to a godly Israelite. How entirely unlike the true Servant of Jehovah, Who — we say it with reverence — not only began well, but eaten up by the zeal of God's house, continued in holy dependence, confidence and communion throughout His life here, and in those last hours upon the cross gained more glory to God than ever man and Satan combined had robbed Him of. Blessed be His holy name for ever.
The believer who acts independently of the will of the Lord, meddles with God; leaves the position of true usefulness (albeit perhaps with the notion that he is well employed); and of necessity, like king Josiah, disguises himself. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
Nothing can ever dispense with the need of constant dependence upon God, the continual looking to Him for direction, and the reverent, habitual searching of the word. However splendid a record one may have for piety, zeal, devotion, humble-mindedness and tenderheartedness, nothing will keep the heart fresh and true to the Lord, like the threefold mark of the Lord Jesus when here as man, namely, absolute dependence upon the living God, unwavering confidence in Him, and unbroken communion with the Father.
Only by this, practically known, shall our conduct, character and conversation be such as becometh saints in days when the marked tendency is to surrender much that was once prized. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."