The value and object of time here are very different in God's thoughts from what they are in man's. To look at everything from God's standpoint - to reckon as He does - is the only way of true gain and profit for the believer. It is in measure, at least, understood by believers that this is the day (or time) of God's grace to man, when grace is reigning "through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," and most, too, have some sense that it is the time of His longsuffering with a guilty and rebellious world. But even these great truths we may hold without much exercise of soul as to whether our ways here are rightly affected by them, and our attitude to all around formed thereby.
It is clear from the epistles that these truths are intended to act upon us and give character to our lives and ways here. Not only so, but we find all through the Scriptures that where the ways or actings of God at any given time were apprehended, they were intended to form the conduct of those who knew them in harmony therewith. It was, moreover, the mark of the faithful that this effect was produced, whereas failing to act in fellowship with the revealed ways of God was judged as unfaithfulness. One or two instances may make this clear, and impress the importance of this truth upon our souls.
We find a remarkable illustration of both faithfulness and failure in this respect in the account given of the cleansing of Naaman, the Syrian leper. Naaman was to learn that there was a God in Israel who could cleanse the leper, but it was also intended that he should learn that God acts in pure sovereign grace, that He is a giving God (blessed be His name, He has always delighted to show this out to poor sinful man), who acts in view of the need and misery of man, and not in respect of his fancied greatness and nobility.
Elisha was in the secret of God's mind, and therefore of His grace, even to a poor Syrian leper. Hence he ignores Naaman's greatness, and considers only his leprosy, and gives clear and simple instructions as to his cleansing. When Naaman humbles himself to this he gets to the full the blessing he sought and needed. But he would fain still be the great man, and would reward the man of God for his cleansing. He was not yet quite willing to be a "debtor to mercy alone." But Elisha refuses all his offers. His heart is free from covetousness, and he cares only for God's glory, and that He may be known in His true character. This is very beautiful on the part of Elisha, and affords a fine example of one "knowing the time," and what he himself, at least, ought to do, even when all had gone to ruin in Israel.
How different, alas! were the spirit and purpose of Gehazi, his servant. He, too, knew, or ought to have known, what befitted the occasion; but the honour of Jehovah was not before his soul. He eyed and coveted the silver and raiment of Naaman, as Achan, in his day, did the spoil of Jericho, and he sinks every other consideration to gain his desire, for "when lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Solemn consideration! But nothing is hidden from God; all is naked and bare in His eyes, and so Gehazi soon found it to be. The hidden things are made manifest, and the prophet of God, in pronouncing the solemn judgments about to befall him, does it more especially on the ground of his failure to act in keeping with what the occasion demanded, as it related to God's glory and name, rather than in respect to his deceit and lies, shocking as these were. The latter would, indeed, be readily condemned by the moral sense of his fellow-man, judging of right and wrong only as it relates to himself, but caring little for what affects God's glory, or what misrepresents His character.
Let us mark what the prophet lays stress upon. "Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?" This was what Gehazi forgot. He did not form his ways by the character of the moment as relating to God, but sought what pleased and ministered to himself; and solemn indeed was the discipline he had to undergo, for "if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful, He cannot deny Himself."
On the other hand, how faithful He is in loving-kindness and care to the one that trusts in Him, taking note of the smallest need, and never failing in the ministry of His hand to supply all that is really needed and best!
We must, however, bear in mind that we are not connected with an inheritance on earth. We are partakers of the heavenly calling. Woe to the believer who seeks great things here; he has lost sight of God's thought and will for him, and has forgotten the character of the present time in God's esteem. To any who are in danger of following in the line of greatness here - so serious and disastrous in its results in every way - there is much instruction and warning in the divine message communicated by Jeremiah to Baruch in Jeremiah 45:4, 5. I will not, however, comment upon it, but desire to notice, briefly, another illustration of the importance of "knowing the time," furnished us towards the close of the Old Testament history, and recorded for our instruction in the Book of Haggai, chap. 1. Through their unfaithfulness, God's earthly people had previously been driven out from their own possession. A remnant had, however (through God's sovereign mercy), been restored to the land, that they might there, in feebleness and fewness of numbers, be, on the one hand, the witnesses of Jehovah's power and grace in preserving them and in maintaining them in spite of all opposition; and, on the other hand, that they might, though in weakness, maintain the testimony to His name, His holiness, His faithfulness, His truth, and His righteousness; and all in connection with His altar, His house, and His city. And they began in this spirit, and with this purpose and aim. Alas! they soon forgot what was due to Him, and what was called for and suitable for that time. They did not reckon the value of the time from His standpoint, or in relation to His holy house and altar; and so the prophet Haggai has, in his turn, to raise this question of the value of the time, and how they were employing it. True, in their case it was not openly so bad as in that of Gehazi, but in principle it was the same, and, therefore, the appeal and the warning to them are very solemn. "Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways."
Has this no voice for us? Has their case no parallel, no counterpart, at the present time? Are we redeeming the time because the days are evil? Is it our own things - our houses, our comforts, our, it may be, worldly honour and reputation, that we are seeking after? Do we not well to ask ourselves at the close of another year, "What is the aim of my life? What is my heart really set upon, and what is its governing motive?" Should we not "consider our ways," and enquire why there is so little fruit for God, so little zeal in His things, and, hence, so little real joy and happiness; whether we are making provision for the flesh, rather than putting on the Lord Jesus Christ?
Let us call to mind what the Spirit of God addresses to ourselves: "It is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand." Our life here is but like a brief moment, and then we enter eternity. Yet of what immense value is this brief moment in which we have the inestimable privilege of serving Christ; of suffering with Him and for His sake; of showing forth His virtues (not our own); of seeking to testify of Him; to
"Know Him as we shall not know
Through heaven's golden years."
He has loved us as none other has or ever could do. He bore our judgment; washed us from our sins in His own blood; opened up the way into eternal life and glory; and secured all the joys of heaven (yea, of the Father's house) for us.
But He has been rejected here. This is what marks the present time in God's account as regards the course of this world. On the other hand, He is gathering out of it those who are destined to be joint-heirs with Christ, and forming the Bride for His Son, and by the Spirit revealing and ministering heavenly blessings and glories. And as we know the love of Christ, and thus love Him, we shall find our joy and interests in what is for His glory and joy, and be in fellowship with the mind and heart of God as regards this present time. "The Father loveth the Son"; all is ordered and judged in the light of this. Hence we also read, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha."
God has called us to the fellowship of His Son (marvellous calling!), and this is enjoyed in and by the power of the Holy Ghost, given to all who have truly received Christ. This is our calling, and this the nature and character of the present time in the sight of God. Are we alive to it, and exercised as to the importance of what we profess to believe and hold? Nothing, perhaps, is more solemn and injurious than holding and professing truths, and yet walking in a course which is a practical denial of the reality and value of them. It is like the salt that has lost its savour - fit for nothing good.
May the Lord really exercise all our consciences and hearts as to His own declaration to those who profess to be His disciples, "Ye are the salt of the earth"! If any really desire to be here for Him, and to answer to His purpose for them here, He gives the power and the grace; and the Spirit of God so leads to the sense of His love, that what is surrendered is felt to be as nothing (save dross) in comparison to the great gain! S. M. A.