Third Series 10. The Lamp and the Light.

Did you ever in descending a dark flight of stairs suddenly reach the bottom before you expected to do so? If you did, you may possibly recollect with what an unpleasant jerk your descent terminated on account of the last false step you took. If there had been a lamp for your feet, the shock would have been avoided.

Now in a spiritual way the word of God is said to be a lamp to the feet (Psalm 119:105), and if you neglect to make use of its light you will stumble woefully. But there is no reason why a Christian should take a single step in the dark. The Lord Jesus said, "I am the light of the world: he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12). And it is by His word that the Lord affords you direction how and when to take the next step.

We have an instance of this guidance by the word of God in the case of the Jewish exiles who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. The people desired Ezra the scribe to read aloud to them from the book of the law that they might learn what the will of God was (Neh. 8:1). They found therein that they were commanded to keep the feast of tabernacles just at that time of the year (Neh. 8:14). The commandment of the Lord shone as a lamp for their feet (Prov. 6:23); and the people at once obeyed His word.

Later on, they read in the book of Moses that the Ammonites and the Moabites must not come into the congregation for ever (Neh. 13:1-3). Their next step was then made visible, and they immediately separated themselves from the mixed multitude or foreigners among them.

Thus these Jews sought the lamp of God's word, and they were led on, step by step, "line upon line, precept upon precept." And such will be the experience of all those who really desire to be guided of God every moment and in everything.

Let us take a practical illustration from what may occur to you. You may meet an agreeable person to whom you are attracted and whom you think would form a desirable companion for you. Now do not act hastily in the matter. Do not take a step in the dark, which may cause you many regrets. Allow the light of the divine lamp to fall upon the question. Consider what the consequences of the companionship may be. Is the person such a one as the word of God commends? If you wait patiently on the Lord in this sincere manner, you are sure not to be led astray.

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But you will remember that in the same verse from which I have already quoted, the word of God is compared to a light as well as to a lamp. The verse reads, "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Ps. 119:105). You will observe that the lamp is useful for the feet, while the light shines upon the path. For the word of God not only supplies direction for your next step, but also the principles which should govern your conduct generally. The light shines on the way ahead of you.

When you have been guided in the matter referred to above — whether such and such a person is a suitable companion or not — you will have proved for yourself the value of the word as a lamp to your feet. But when you also gather from its pages that unbelievers and even worldly-minded Christians are unsuitable associates for a child of God, you have the word shedding its light on your path. It gives you a general rule for your conduct, since this truth applies not to that one case only but to every such case that may arise in the future.

The word of God gives you a sort of bird'seye-view of the path before you. Its light shows you what to do, as well as what not to do; what to follow as well as what to shun. This is helpful for it tells you what is expected of you daily.

Take, for instance, the fact that believers should be continually looking for the personal return of the Lord Jesus, according to His own promise (John 14:2-3), and according to what is taught in the Epistles of the New Testament. These passages tell you of what is your constant duty, lest when the Lord comes He may not find you ready and watching. This is light for our actions not on one day alone, but on every day and all the days.

Then, again, there is another cardinal truth which illuminates the path of every Christian, and will preserve from many a misunderstanding those who heed its light. The believer is instructed in the word of God that his journey through this world will, of necessity, involve a course of self-denial and of endurance of many hardships. As you look along the shining pathway, you see a stiff bit of climbing ahead, and that it is uphill all the way. But then it is sunshine all the time, and that makes all the difference. Who would walk in the darkness?

The word of God makes it clear that directly you become a disciple of Christ, a cross is laid upon your shoulder. Indeed, the Lord expects you to take up the cross. He said to His disciples, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). Note the Lord said, "his cross," not My cross. There is a cross, which is your cross. The light of the word shows you that there is a cross for you, lying in your path. Do not be surprised nor stumbled; but take it up.

The scriptures show us very plainly two great features of the Lord's pathway (Luke 24:25-26; 1 Peter 1:11), and they throw a broad beam of light upon the path of Christians also. These features are: —
(1) sufferings in this world;
(2) glories afterwards on high.

You recollect what the Lord said to His followers, "It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord" (Matt. 10:25). Therefore you may be sure that if you are faithful to the Lord Jesus, your path is where the light shines:
(1) suffering in this world for Christ's sake;
(2) glory to come with Christ on high.

If you grasp this line of truth at once, you will have an explanation in readiness for a great many things that are likely to befall you; and you will not count it anything strange if a great many trials of one kind and another overtake you just because you belong to the Lord Jesus. It will help you to read the life of Christ in the four Gospels, and to "consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Heb 12:3). He has left you an example that you should. follow His steps, and in the track of His footsteps you will have "the light of life."

I earnestly trust that you will assiduously cultivate the habit of consulting the word of God: —
(1) as a lamp to guide you in every circumstance of difficulty and distress;
(2) as a light to counsel you in the plans and purposes you make for your general conduct.

Third Series 20. Heavenly Savings Certificates

My Dear Young Friends,

At times figures are set before us which awaken considerable surprise by their unusual magnitude. And very often they represent such vast numbers that the imagination is not able to form an adequate mental picture of their real significance. I am not now thinking of the myriads of stars and their distances from one another which the telescope reveals, nor the multitudes of minute organisms revealed by the microscope; but of something much more commonplace.

You may have read some statistics issued by one of the Government Departments, from which it appeared that the total value of the well-known National Savings Certificates at the beginning of this year exceeded five hundred million sterling (£500,000,000). What do these figures convey to you? Many can estimate fairly correctly up to 500. Very few have any idea of a million, which is two thousand times greater. But a million five hundred times over is bewildering to most folk. A person counting steadily at the rate of sixty per minute, without ceasing day or night, would be sixteen years before the total of these pounds sterling was reached.

The bulk of all these Certificates is very great, and if the paper was replaced by the gold bullion they represent, no less than four thousand tons of gold of the British standard would be required. This big sum is the accumulation of the small savings of more than a million of persons during the last few years.

It is interesting to notice that we read in the Old Testament of the accumulation of large amounts of treasure. David wished to build a temple in Jerusalem for the worship of Jehovah, but God would not permit him to do so. His son and successor, Solomon, was entrusted with this task. David set to work to collect materials and to provide for the cost of building the temple when he himself should be gathered to his fathers.

Accordingly, gold, silver, brass, iron, timber, stone, were laid up in store by David, and his princes, and his people. And before David's death, the amount of their savings under the king's name was computed so far as possible for the great abundance of the treasures laid up was beyond exact reckoning (1 Chron. 22, 29.). The amount, however, of the savings in bullion "for the house of the Lord" was 100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 talents of silver (1 Chron. 22:14).

Now it is not possible at the present time to compute accurately the value of this gold, saved up for Jehovah's temple, and scholars vary in their estimates. But there is good reason to believe that it amounted approximately to five hundred and fifty million sterling, or fifty million more than the sum stated for the National Savings Certificates. If the value of the silver in Solomon's store be added, the difference between the two sums would be much greater. Evidently the people were very willing-hearted to place their savings in the treasury of the Lord in David's day, just as they were stirred up to contribute freely of their substance for the construction of the tabernacle in Moses' day (Ex. 35:21-29).

Now let us consider the subject of this letter more directly. There are three principal features of the National Savings Certificates which have an analogy to higher things. First, "Savings" implies that they consist of money surrendered by the holders. Secondly, "National" implies that the Government guarantees the security of the money. Thirdly "Certificates" are warrants in writing which indicate to the holders that their money is secure. The whole scheme is to make a provision for the future, which will be as reliable as possible in this world.

Turning to the scriptural subject, we find the Lord, Jesus instructed His disciples to make provision for the future. He said, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matt. 6:19). This is doing something now which will be an absolutely certain advantage in the future. It is, as the apostle says, "Laying up in store a good foundation against the time to come (1 Tim. 6:19).

Shall I mention an example to make the matter quite clear? Our Lord said to His followers, "Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward" (Mark 9:41). We may discern three principal features in this text. First, a cup of drinking water is surrendered. Secondly, the Lord Jesus gives His guarantee (Verily, I say unto you) that it shall not be forgotten and lost, like water spilt upon the ground. Thirdly, we have the Lord's own promise in writing that the cup of water shall not lose its reward, and these rewards are in heaven (Matt. 5:12). The cup given is our "Savings;" the Lord's word is our security, and He being on high where we shall be, makes it "Heavenly;" and the scripture we carry about with us is our "Certificate."

If you love and serve the Lord Jesus, you are hereby encouraged to make sacrifices on behalf of others, particularly on behalf of those that "belong to Christ." The gift of a cup of water is only a typical example, of course, of the manifold gifts of love which are in our power to bestow. There was a young friend who made it a practice to call for a blind brother and conduct him to and from the meeting. He was laying up treasure in heaven. Another denied himself the pleasure of a walk in the country that he might read aloud for an hour to a bedridden sister. Instead of walking over the neighbouring hills in the sunshine, he brought some rays of heavenly sunshine to the poor shut-in one because she belonged to Christ. He was laying up a good foundation against the time to come.

You can do many kindnesses by distributing your cash to the Lord's needy ones, and the money you cheerfully give to the collection box will be faithfully credited to your heavenly account. I am sure you are aware of this. I am anxious, however, to remind you of the value in the heavenly estimation of kind words and helpful acts done in the name of the Lord Jesus to those who bear His name. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10).

Do you ever at the close of the day consider quietly whether you have that day missed opportunities of doing good to others? There was the person to whom you were speaking, and as the conversation was taking a turn, you could easily have spoken a word for the Master; but then you were not ready, and the opportunity passed — wasted. There was a fellow-Christian whom you saw looking rather sad; you might have spoken cheerfully and helpfully as Joseph did in the prison; but you felt glum yourself, and being full of your own troubles you lost the opportunity of doing good to another.

I wish I could stir you up to be diligent and thrifty in heavenly matters, and to live devotedly to the Lord Who loved you and gave Himself for you. Every believer in Christ is certain to be in the glory to come; but the position of each believer in that glory depends upon the character of his life in this world. Selfish words and deeds in the name of Christ will be consumed like stubble, but words and deeds in the name of Christ will abide secure in the heavenly strongholds until the day of rewards.

There is in a churchyard somewhere an ancient epitaph which reads, "What I spent, that I had; what I kept, that I lost; what I gave, that I have." Give freely then, especially to men of God, and you will find like the widow woman of Zarephath that the barrel of meal will not waste, nor the cruse of oil fail, and you will be laying up in store a good supply of heavenly savings certificates against the time to come.

I am, your faithful friend,

Third Series 21. First the Blade

My Dear Young Friends,

I have been for a short walk, and there are certainly some signs that winter is packing up its traps to move a little further north. The days are longer than they were, and the light is not in such a hurry to be off as it was only a little while ago. There is a warm glow in the sunshine, and we have had some winds that were positively genial and balmy.

The garden, for the most part, looks rather forlorn and dismal, something like an uninhabited house, neglected and forsaken. The ground appears cold and damp and brown. Its surface seems hard, beaten flat with the rain and polished smooth with the wind. But here and there, the smooth surface is pierced by tiny green spear-heads.

Ah, this is a pretty sure proof that winter is going and summer is coming. Below the surface of the soil, hidden from our sight, there is the living seed. The germ of life tucked away in its hard dry envelope has felt the power of the increasing warmth and light from the sun more than ninety million miles away in the heavens, and has made a move. The sun called aloud to the minute seed asleep in its bed of earth, "Seed, arise." The seed awoke, stretched itself in its little cot, and then thrust some small rootlets downward, and a tiny green column upward to meet the warmth and light of the sun and air.

Certain evidence is here that the energy of a living thing is behind the green spike. Though so tender and fragile, that the touch of a careless finger might snap it in two, yet it is strong enough to lift the clods and force its way into the sunshine. That little twig, standing an inch and a half above the surface, is dry and dead. An earth-worm has dragged the tiny stalk partly below the ground, but has left its task unfinished. The end now sticks straight up in the air as a monument of misdirected labour on the part of the worm. But the twig will not grow for it is dead, and it will remain where it is until it decays into dust.

The green blade, however, is a sign of life. It is the first evidence presented to the world at large of an invisible centre of life hidden away in the soil beneath it. It is the beginning of its plant-life, which will make daily growth, and eventually end in fruitfulness. The Lord, long ago, described the stages of its progress in the words: "First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark 4:28).

These words are found in a parable which our Lord used to illustrate the way in which the gospel spreads among men. By means of the good news work is begun in the heart of the one who believes it. And faith is frequently in scripture associated with "life." Thus the Lord said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believes on Me has everlasting life" (John 6:47). Such a one is "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides for ever" (1 Peter 1:23).

Now, if this new life is implanted within a person's heart, how does it make itself evident or visible to others? What is the outward indication of a divine life inwardly? "First the blade." But you will say to me that "the blade" is only a figure of speech, and you will want to know what sort of conduct may be regarded as evidence of conversion to God and the possession of eternal life.

Perhaps one of the first signs is prayer to God. By this is meant the real offering up to God the earnest desires of the heart, and not the mere recitation from memory of a form of prayer.

An instance from scripture will help to explain the meaning more fully. As a zealous Jew, Saul of Tarsus had been in the habit of frequent and habitual prayer; but after the Lord Jesus spoke to him from heaven, the fact that he was praying is stated to be an evidence that he was a changed man. We read that he was "three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink." Then the Lord commanded Ananias, one of His disciples in Damascus to go to Saul, to give him his sight and to acknowledge him as a disciple also; and the "green blade," the action that had sprung up as the witness of a new life, was, in the eyes of the Lord, that "behold, he prays" (Acts 9:11).

Convicted as the chief of sinners by the heavenly light which shone upon his conscience, Saul had now turned to God in prayer. The living blade was extending itself upwards to obtain mercy from on high. It was the initial stage in a life of devoted service to the Lord Who called and saved him.

Praying privately is the first peep of green above the soil; but praying in the presence of the unconverted indicates a sturdy shoot. An ex-sergeant of H. M. Forces told me of an incident which took place about forty years ago. He had invited two young Christian soldiers to his house in Dublin to read the Bible together. Knowing what barrack-life meant, he asked them whether any boots or other missiles whizzed past their ears when they were at prayer at their bedside. The young men were silent, and they then had their reading together.

Some three months later, the young soldiers came again, and one of them reminded the sergeant of his question, and admitted how ashamed they had been. Up to that time, they had thought it sufficient to get into bed, and then commit themselves to God. But that same night they got on their knees. Moreover, in the morning, instead of lying in bed, they turned out at reveille, and went on their knees again. This they continued to do in spite of the persecution, which they did not escape, but for which the Lord strengthened them. The "blade" had now grown stronger and stouter, and had become more visible to others.

Prayer is not the only sign of inward life, by any means, but it is very important and one of thy earliest. Reading the scriptures is also important and indicates the desire to learn the truth of God revealed there. It is, of course, possible to read the Bible as a mere matter of form, or as a book of ordinary human composition. This is to be only a rotten stick without life, but to read the scriptures because they are the word of God is the living blade which will produce the ear, and also the full corn in the ear.

You remember how Philip the evangelist was sent off by the Lord from Samaria to go down south to the desert near Gaza, where Samson carried away the gates, posts and all, one night. There Philip intercepted a caravan on the way from Jerusalem to Ethiopia. A highly-placed official in the court of Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, her chief treasurer, was reading the Hebrew prophets as he journeyed, without understanding what he was reading.

Philip was sent to preach Jesus to him, as the One of Whose sufferings and death Isaiah had prophesied. The eunuch had recognised the scriptures as the voice of God. There was a case of the young she of springing upwards. Then the gospel was brought to him by Philip the evangelist, and next we read that when they came to "a certain water" the eunuch commanded the chariot to stand still, and they both went down into the water, and he was baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. The blade then became visible to all his retinue. "And he went on his way rejoicing" (see Acts 8).

Now, I hope my young friends will remember that as the green blade requires light from the sun, and rain from heaven in order to produce the ear and the full corn in the ear, so in the Christian life both prayer and the word of God are indispensable for growth and fruitfulness. In prayer you will be consciously in the light of God, Who is light (1 John 1:5). In reading the scripture, God will speak to you out of it concerning His Son, and that will be like showers of refreshing rain upon your heart. By this means, you will "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."

With greetings to you all,
Your servant for Christ's sake,

C. A. Hammond, 3 & 4 London House Yard, Paternoster Row, E.C. 4.
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