True service begins with Christ, who is the Head; and when Christ is forgotten, then the service is defective. It has lost connection with the spring and fountain of all service, because it is from the Head that all the body, by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, increaseth. The body is of Christ, and He loves it as He loves Himself, and every one who would serve it will best learn to do so by knowing His heart and purposes towards it. In a word, it is Christ serves, though it may be through us. We are but "joints and bands." If we are not derivative and communicative from Christ, we are useless. To be useful, my eye and heart must be on Christ, and not on the issue of my service; though, if true to Him, the end will vindicate me too, however disheartening the interval. He who judges of his service by present appearances will judge by the blossom, and not by the fruit; and, after all, the service is not for the sake of the Church, but for the sake of Christ; and if He be served in the Church, though the Church own it not, yet Christ being served, He will own it. Now, the constant effort of Satan is to disconnect in our minds Christ from our service, and this much more than any of us perhaps have fully discovered. Whether in reading, or praying, or speaking, how seldom, if we judge ourselves, do we find that we act simply as towards Christ, and Him alone! How often may sentimentality and natural feelings affect us in our service, instead of simple love to Him!
"The work of faith." Our Lord's was this. He did not see the effects directly. If our motive for working is the effects we shall produce, this is not a work of faith. The Lord may encourage by the way, but the work is to flow from the power of communion with Himself; the love of Christ constraining. We should labour and not faint; therefore, we have need of patience. The more we understand the character of Christ's disappointments, the more holy will our labours be. We look for that which will satisfy us here, when we ought to be looking for it there. Not only ourselves, but our work is in the sight of God. The work must be carried on as if God were there, there being no allowance of anything He would not approve. It is not enough that the end we have in view be right, our way of working must be right also.
It is a miserable thing for a Christian to be acting for a testimony. God may make that which I do turn for a testimony. Whilst all the frankincense (Lev. 2:2) was burned on the altar to the Lord, those around smelled the sweet savour. But a testimony is not my object. Those who set up for a testimony will soon make a show of themselves.
Ananias and Sapphira wanted to get the character of devotedness (such as the Church had) without the cost of it. Love of money really governed, modified by love of Church reputation.
Are we to say, 'I will not act on what I do know, till thou tellest me all my course on to glory'? The Lord continually exercises His children, giving light enough to make a thing a matter of plain Christian obedience, and not showing all the happy, and blessed, and full consequences till faith acts on that: it is just a holy and excellent trial of faith. He says in principle, 'I am the door.' The mind may say, 'Where to?' The Lord answers, 'I am the door;' and wherever the soul finds Christ, or the will of Christ, if walking in faith, it trusts that, and the blessing follows. It soon goes in and out, and finds pasture. Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went. It is better to trust God in doing His will than the consequences which doing His will may produce, however blessed. Nor shall he that followeth Him walk in darkness, though he may only know that in the very next footsteps Christ has gone before him.
The road from London to York is the road to York; and the road from London to Dover is the road to Dover; and they are in opposite directions. Any one that knows the country, knows that; and also knows that no measure of persuasion of my own mind that I am on the road to York will get me there, if I am tracing my way on to Dover. God may and will bear with ignorance perhaps, if in ignorance I accredit persuasion of my soul after prayer in the place of the instruction His standard, the Bible, affords: but still His standard has a voice of its own, and it is a fixed standard; and so far as I am not conformed to it, I am in the wrong, and a loser. And, moreover, every one that judges me by it can see that I am wrong and a loser, though I may not do so myself.
The Lord keep us from resting upon a religious reputation. Of all the terrible things that can befall a saint of God one of the worst is trusting in a religious reputation, especially for one engaged in ministering. How often have we seen a person labouring devotedly, diligently, blessed in his labours, gathering souls in truth to Christ, but gathering a circle round himself. Becoming satisfied with the circle he has made, resting in the fruits produced, and not in Him who is alone the power of life, his usefulness is gone, and he himself stops short of the end.
If raging billows rise in countries around us, and the preaching of the gospel is forbidden, still all is in His hand, "who hath the key of David, who openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth." I might desire that the gospel should be preached in a certain land, and the hindrances might seem to be too many and too great, but it is my comfort to know that Christ has the key, and all the divine power of God at His disposal. None could shut out His testimony; all the powers of earth - the Pharisees, the lawyers, the chief priests, the governors, the Pilates, and the Herods could not hinder one poor sheep from hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd. So now. This is our confidence. With all the liberty with which we are blessed in this highly-favoured country, I could not count upon a single year more, but for the simple promise: "I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it;" and I could go fearlessly into any country, whatever the outward circumstances, if I saw that the Lord had set before me an open door. Of course we must wait His time to have the door opened. Paul was forbidden to speak in Asia at one time, and then we find him there for three years afterwards, the Lord owning his labours; so that all Asia, of which Ephesus was the capital, heard the word of God. We must be content to lean in faith on the arm of Him who holds the key, and in our patience possess our souls; for there will always be circumstances to exercise our faith, and God will allow them to arise to prove to us that we cannot do without Him, for then it is that we find that we have no strength, and that God answers our weakness according to His own strength. If Christ has opened a door, no man, devil, or wicked spirit can shut it.
Whenever God works, the first point with Him is to secure manifestly His own glory in what He does. When unrenewed man works, or when renewed man works like an unrenewed man, God's glory is left out of the question.