One great principle in all true service is the consciousness of being upheld therein by God. It was, thus with the perfect Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. "Behold, my servant, whom, I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth." The grand feature in His service was, that He never acted of Himself: "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." "When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that hath sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him." The moment a servant acts independently, he acts from himself, and out of character.
There is great danger of mistaking the busy activity around us at the present day for true service to God. I believe that God intends to mark very distinctly what man's natural understanding and power can effect, and what the power and wisdom of the Holy Ghost can effect. Our endowment as Christians is "the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, to make of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord."
Whenever we are living before men, instead of before God, there will be restlessness and disquiet. There may be the desire to do many things that are written in the word, but they will not be done in quiet and peaceful joy. We are never really preserved from hypocrisy unless we are living before God. It is the very best possible cure for the overweening conceit we have, all of us, naturally of ourselves.
But let us seek to gather a little instruction from the history of "Moses the servant of God."
Moses was an eminent type of the Lord Jesus. And I would just notice, in passing, that they are the only two persons mentioned in Scripture whose course we are able to trace from their birth on to the glory.
It is worthy of remark that the life of Moses is divided into three distinct periods of forty years.
The first forty he spent in Egypt as the "son of Pharaoh's daughter."'
The next forty in the wilderness tending the flock of his father-in-law. There, at the mount of God, he had a vision of glory, such as could never have been revealed to him in Egypt.
In the last forty we have the account of the sorrowful and trying course he had to run, as the servant of God and of His people Israel, in bearing the burden of that people.
The first portion of his life was spent in Egypt. And Stephen speaks of him as being "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and mighty in words and in deeds." (v. 22.) But this wisdom of Egypt was not any thing that God could own. Doubtless, Moses knew that God was about to use him as the "deliverer" of His people; but that which had been acquired in Egypt could not deliver the Lord's people from Egypt.
Moses' parents could but recognise the remarkableness of their child. (See Heb. 11:23.)
And Moses himself, "by faith, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward." (Heb. 11:24-26.)
"When he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel." (v. 23.) Whatever ease and comfort Moses might have enjoyed in Pharaoh's house - its luxury and its refinements, "the treasures in Egypt," were all his - his heart yearned over his brethren. He went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens.
"And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian." (v. 24.) "Mighty in deeds," on behalf, too, of the people of God, but acting in the energy of the flesh, not as sent of God (hence what followed), Moses was thinking how Moses was to deliver the people. "He supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them." (v. 25.) But no, "they understood not." Moses had another lesson to learn. God had to teach him that He would only be served by the power and strength that come from Himself, not by the strength or wisdom of Egypt. There cannot be two things more different than a person acting in the energy of the flesh, and one acting in the power of the Spirit. In the first case, there is always disappointment and surprise at the failure of our efforts.
When Moses had spent forty years in the wilderness, doing, as it were, nothing, we find him (Ex. 3) answering God's message, "Come now, therefore, and I will send thee," etc., thus, "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" When he comes to be sent of God, there is the deep sense of the responsibility of it laid upon him, and he shrinks from it. Before, when going forth in the energy of the flesh, he was bitterly disappointed at the failure he met with; now, he has learned his own insignificance, and he says, "Who am I?"" And it is ever thus. When a saint feels that he is sent of God on any mission, there is always the deepest prostration of spirit. This may be brought about by painful discipline of soul, but the end of God's training is to break down self-confidence, so that, when at last the person goes forth in service, it is with the feeling, "Who am I?" One great characteristic of the flesh we have acquired by being so long in "Egypt" is, the dislike to say, "Who am I?" But God must produce this frame of mind before He uses us. The most cultivated understanding, human wisdom, and research will not stand in any stead in the service of God.
"And the next day he showed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? But he that did his neighbour wrong, thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?" He only gets misunderstood by those whom he seeks to serve. When he would be the man of peace, his reward is the taunt, "Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?"
Mark this, beloved. I am speaking of Moses as one quickened, one knowing, in a sense, what communion with God was, but who had not learned as yet to throw off Egypt's strength and wisdom. We must fail when we go to warfare at our own charges.
Many a saint runs on for a while (just after his conversion, perhaps), in the eagerness and zeal of the flesh, doing right things, but not in the spirit of dependence on God; by and bye his energy flags, and he feels as though he were entirely useless, as though God could never again employ him in His service. Now this is a profitable lesson, though a deeply humbling one. The Lord often trains an individual thus, for much after usefulness in the Church.
Just so was it with Moses.
"Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Midian." (v. 29.)
These first forty years of Moses' life are passed over very slightly by God. No doubt, had man written the history of them, we should have had given to us a wonderful account of all that Moses did and said in this land of wisdom. The Spirit of God is silent. And why, beloved? Because the wisdom of "Egypt" is foolishness with God, and the strength of "Egypt" weakness with God.
During the next forty years Moses is lost to Egypt and to Israel. But then he is alone with God. In solitude (Ex. 3) the Lord meets him at Horeb - "the mount of God." And I doubt not that Horeb is thus named because it was a place where Moses had enjoyed communion with God, and where he had learned a lesson which he never could have learned when in Egypt - dependence on God. In secret, he is being prepared for all those mighty achievements he was soon to be called on to perform before Pharaoh, and Egypt, and Israel.
It is in solitude that God chiefly teaches His people. The blessed Jesus sought for refreshment on this earth in being alone with God. And this is the place where the saint learns his own weakness and God's strength. He enters into the depths of his own evil, but also into the depths of God's grace. He learns to deny self, to subdue imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God. He proves the necessity of the cross.
"And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them." (Ex. 2) "The time of the promise" (v. 17) had at length come, and now we find Moses about to be prepared and sent forth as the "ruler and deliverer" of Israel
One preparation had been forty years passed in solitude, in secret training with God, in the wilderness, but there was another thing needful - the manifestation of God's glory.
"And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sinai, an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush." (v. 30.) There had never been aught like this seen in Egypt. Egypt was not the place for God to show His "great sight." The wonders of nature were exhibited there, in the periodical inundation of the river, and the like. The wonders of art were also there. But here was something that Moses' Egyptian wisdom failed in unravelling. "When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight" (v. 31): "the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed."
But unless we have wisdom to understand why the bush was not consumed, we have not the real wisdom of God. It is impossible in Egypt to see the glory of the living God. It is above all human thought or conception. It is something which man has no power of explaining. We may tell people of the sight, but they will not credit us; man's wisdom is at fault. Where did Moses see the same glory? In the pillar of fire which accompanied Israel through their wanderings in the wilderness. When shall it be seen again? When the Lord shall be revealed in flaming fire which will burn up His adversaries.
"And as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold." (vv. 31, 32.) This "great sight" cannot be spoken of by Egyptian lips, it cannot be understood by Egyptian ears, and we must have the anointing of the eye-salve to see it.
In the poor, feeble, worthless bush, in the midst of which the fire burned without consuming it, we have a blessed emblem of that which, though weak and uncomely in itself, is encircled with the glory of God - the Church. What Moses learned was this: that it was God's purpose to encircle Israel with His own glory. And how could this be (either with regard to Israel or the church) without its being consumed by that glory? It was to be encircled with God's salvation.
Until a person knows the security of the Church - how precious it is to God, and that nothing shall prevail against it - he is not qualified to be the servant of God unto it. Salvation has God appointed for walls and bulwarks. One feels increasingly the importance of a deep sense of our own insignificance. All that is merely natural must wither before the glory of God.
What a marvellous thing that there should be a little weak bush, as it were, on this earth, with everything against it, and yet nothing able to prevail. Has God associated the Church with His own holiness? And this is a deeply important truth. "Our God is a consuming fire." Well, we would not have it otherwise, for the bush in the fire is not consumed. He will not allow any sin connected with that church to come before Him. He has judged it in the cross; sentence has not only been passed upon it, but executed. When once the cross is really understood, the very holiness of God is seen to be the guarantee of the security of the church.
"Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground." (v. 33.) We are brought by grace into the place of holiness, and to rejoice in God's holiness. There the soul learns its deepest lessons of what sin is; it sees not only its own nothingness, but its oppositeness to God. There it learns that salvation must be of grace from first to last. These things are only fully learnt in the sanctuary. The moment we are rescued from the world we are brought to stand in the place of holiness, and God deals with us accordingly. The reason for His chastening and admonition is that we may be thereby partakers of "His holiness." He desires that we should be as near Him in spirit as we are in our head.
What must Moses' thoughts have been respecting all the glory of Egypt when he turned aside to see "this great sight"? And what would ours be, beloved, with regard to the world, were the eye always and steadily fixed on the glory? When Moses was engaged in solitarily feeding the flock in the wilderness there might have been some longings after the glory of Egypt; but these must have ceased when he had this manifestation made to him of the glory of God, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. So with ourselves. When we think of the true glory of the Church, we are able to look at the glory of "Egypt" and feel ourselves weaned from it, as well as weaned from the wisdom and power of "Egypt." But if our souls are only looking at their own weakness, we shall very likely, be tempted to long after "Egypt" and the things of "Egypt."
Paul was qualified to serve the Church by his apprehension of its being one with Jesus in the glory.
In Moses needing a spokesman (Ex. 4:10-16), we are taught that neither the wisdom nor the eloquence of "Egypt" will be of any avail in God's service.
Very often there may be busy activity in service, but not the quiet sitting at the feet of Jesus, drinking in from His lips our knowledge of truth and grace. We need much to realise that we have to do with God, even when we are serving others.
Mark what follows. "I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt. This same Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush." (vv. 34, 35.)
But God must bring Moses out of Egypt first. He could not make such a communication to him there. It was the bane of Abram to get into Egypt. Abram had no altar there. And so it is with us. When we get into the world it is the same thing. We cannot have our altar. Communion is interrupted.
In the first place, God reveals His name: "I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham," etc. (v. 32.) Secondly, His grace: "I have seen, I have seen the afflictions of my people," etc. (v. 34.) (How blessed to be assured that there is not one sorrow of His people, not one groan, but that He knows it altogether.) Then we get the formal commission "And now come, I WILL SEND THEE into Egypt."
"And Moses said unto God, Who am I?" etc. (Ex. 2) After he had worshipped God as an unshod worshipper, there was a shrinking from that which God had laid on him, though, forty years before, he had been most eager to enter upon the same sort of service. It is a most solemn thing to have to do with the people of God. The responsibility involved is that under which we must sink, if left to ourselves.
Moses now knew that he that would serve Israel must have a great deal of shame and obloquy to encounter. Hence the need of the training through which he had been put. So with regard to service in the Church. If Paul is a "chosen vessel" "to bear His name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel," the Lord, in making this known to Ananias, says, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." And what was Paul's after experience's "I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches," etc.; again, "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."
Paul had the flesh crushed at the outset, crushed again after he had been taken up into the third heavens, crushed all the way through. He never went on, in service, in the energy of the flesh, but as one who knew that it must be endurance to the very end.
How often does a young Christian think, 'I will tell others of the Lord's love, and they must believe me;' or, 'I will tell Christians of the security of the Church, of the coming of the Lord, of the heavenly calling of the saints, and the like; and they must receive it.' But no! we need to learn that we cannot carry every thing before us. Where there is the most ascertained mission from God, there is always the deepest humility. Paul, in speaking of his arduous service, says, "I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
The preparation for active service is in secret with God, in learning ourselves in communion with Him. There the battle is really fought. Power for active service is acquired not in active service, but in intercourse with God in secret.
Whatever we do in service we ought to do as worshippers. Our service would then be carried on in felt responsibility to God, and it would bring blessing to others and to our own souls.
I believe the saints often think that it is an easy thing to serve God. But no; it is a hard thing to serve Him in spirit and in truth. To serve God in the sense of our being nothing, and His being every thing, is a hard thing. The place of the servant of God is to hide himself, and let God appear. Thus it was with THE perfect servant. The most splendid achievement, without this, is not service.
There would be much more profitable, happy, useful service if we only saw more of God's order. One delights to see activity in service; but, then, it should be connected with the being in secret with God, and the seeing His purpose with regard to the Church. Thus we should serve happily and holily, not as though God needed our service, but as desiring to glorify Him in our bodies and spirits, which are His.