Christian Friend, vol. 9, 1882, p. 205 etc.
In John 14:23 the Lord gives this as an evidence of love to Himself: "If a man love me, he will keep my word" (not words). In Rev. 3: keeping His word is given as one of the characteristics of Philadelphia. It is clear therefore that too much importance cannot be attached to it. What then is keeping the word of Christ? It is more than obedience; it is rather that from which obedience flows. It is so prizing a word that it is treasured up in the heart, where it becomes formative, through the power of the Holy Spirit, producing divine thoughts and affections, sanctifying through the truth — separating from evil, and purifying even as Christ is pure. Thus kept within the heart it becomes the light of the daily path, governing the whole life of the believer. Then it should be remembered that the word of Christ — i.e. the sum of His communications to His people — is, in fact, the revelation of Himself. Thus every precept given to us through the Scriptures is some trait of His own life. For example, if we are told to "put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind," etc. (Col. 3:12), it is because He exhibited all these things in perfection in His pathway through this world, yea, indeed, because He is all these things; for these graces are but the rays of the glory that now shine from His unveiled face at the right hand of God. Christ Himself therefore, as revealed in His word, is our only standard — our standard for walk, and our standard for holiness; and hence keeping His word, only that which is pleasing and suitable to Him will be accepted; all else will be refused.
If this be true, keeping the word of Christ cannot be an ecclesiastical term; nay, it covers of necessity the whole ground on which the believer stands — his life and walk as an individual saint; his relationship to the saints and to Christ, as being with them, a member of His body, and all his and their activities in worship and service. It is possible then to be keeping the word of Christ ecclesiastically, and to be at the same time refusing it in walk and conversation. Nothing can be more dangerous than to assume that we are keeping the word of Christ. If we do this, so beguiling are the artifices of Satan, it is the sure proof that we are the victims of self-deception, and that we are really cherishing a Laodicean spirit. If we only desire to keep His word, we shall constantly use it to test all our ways, all our methods in the Church, and all our associations; and we should instantly reject every suggestion not sanctioned by it, or which presented a temptation to departure from it.
It need scarcely be added that it is the pathway of all blessing. It is the one lesson of the book of Deuteronomy, and indeed of every book of Scripture. Thus whenever God's people of any age or dispensation have been found delighting in His word, they have invariably dwelt happy and secure, proving day by day more and more His goodness, grace, and love; and whenever they have neglected, forsaken, or rejected it, their constant experience has been one of sorrow and misery. This teaches unmistakeably that, whatever our trials or difficulties, the means of restoration lie in a return to the word of Christ. We should begin by self-judgment — judging ourselves and our ways by its help; "for the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto theeyes of Him with whom we have to do." (Heb. 4:12-13.) We should resolutely search out our first departure from it, test every existing thing with which we are connected by it, and unflinchingly refuse whatever does not an swer to it, however sacred it may be in our eyes from reverence or affection. Then humbling ourselves before God with confession and true brokenness of spirit, and seeking grace from Him to enable us to enshrine the word of Christ in our hearts, to have it dwelling richly in us (Col. 3.), we should soon rejoice in renewed unity and blessing. The Lord Jesus Christ must have the pre-eminence, and practically we give Him this place when our hearts are in subjection to His word.
We do not forget our feeble condition, or the fact that the perilous times have come upon us; but while bearing this in mind, it is not too much to say that if any company of Christians were, by the grace of God, and in the power of His Spirit, led with true purpose of heart to seek, as their one object, to keep the word of Christ, they would find that there was no limit to their blessing; they would prove the presence of the Lord in their midst, when gathered together to His name, in a manner rarely experienced; they would be permitted to see, as they had seldom done before, the testimony of His word accompanied with the demonstration of the Spirit and with power, and individually they would enter upon the enjoyment of the richest of all blessings — the manifestation of Christ to their souls. (John 14:21-23.) May the Lord work in many hearts to produce an unquenchable desire to be found keeping His word for His name's sake.
Expository Jottings II. Substitutes in Service.
Christian Friend, vol. 9, 1882, p. 208.
Almost all accept the principle of individuality in service, and consequently of direct responsibility to the Lord, and to Him alone. There is nothing indeed more distinctly taught in the word of God. As in the case of Bezaleel and Aholiab (Exodus 31), the Lord designates and qualifies for the service, and directs in its performance. A condition, therefore, of all true service is, that it be received immediately from the Lord.
Thus Isaiah, when he "heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" replied, "Here am I, send me." (Isa. 6:8.) Saul likewise, when subdued at the feet of the risen and glorified Christ, said, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" There is only one example, as far as we can discover, of anything like substituting one person for another in the Lord's work. When Elijah fled from fear of Jezebel, and, in utter weariness and despondency of soul at the failure of everything round about him, desired only to die, he was comforted by angelic ministrations, and finally found himself at Horeb, the mount of God. There the Lord, in His grace and tenderness, dealt with and corrected his servant, and commissioned him anew; and one of His instructions was, "Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room." (1 Kings 19:16.) It must be borne in mind, however, first, that this was a divine substitution (if it were exactly that) of one for another; secondly, that it was by no means sending Elisha to do the work of Elijah; and lastly, that it is the continuation of Elijah's ministry, in this special way, which makes it so remarkably a type of the ministry of Christ in its twofold character; viz., while on earth and in resurrection. Elisha was, therefore, a prophet in the room of Elijah only in the sense of continuing his service, though in a new character, with a view to its typical significance. There is nothing whatever in the case to militate against the principle affirmed of the individuality of service and individual responsibility.
If this be so, do not many of the methods and practices of this day require examination and revision? For example, if a servant of the Lord is led to undertake any special service, and is hindered in any way, either by unexpected circumstances or by sickness, can it be incumbent on him to find a substitute? It is an easy way out of the difficulty; but is it not possible that in accepting this solution he frustrates the Lord's object in raising up the hindrance, and also prevents that exercise of soul which the Lord would produce? For surely, if I had thought the Lord was sending me on a distinct mission, and I am not permitted to go, it should raise many a question in my soul as to how it was that I had mistaken the Lord's mind. If indeed the principle laid down be scriptural, responsibility in service cannot be transferred. Could Isaiah, for example, after offering himself for the Lord's work, have requested Micah, who was also a prophet at the same period, to fill his place? Could Paul have asked Peter to undertake his mission for him? or could Timothy have changed places and service with Titus?
Again, if the Lord specially uses one of His servants in some distinct branch of service, and He Himself terminate the labours of His servant by taking him to be with Himself, are we in the current of His mind when we seek to provide a successor? It would be indeed a most blessed occupation to be found waiting on Him with regard to it, looking to Him to raise up and send another of His servants, if it should be His will. But together with this, it should be also remembered that each servant, as we have seen, must receive his own mission from the Lord, and that it is not the Lord's way, therefore, to send a servant to carry on another's work, even though he labour in the same field. No, the Lord is sovereign; and He says to one, Do this; and to another, Go here, or, Go there; and the service is blessed in its performance ,just in proportion as it is directly received from Him, and done with a single eye to His glory in obedience to His will.
One other question is suggested by the foregoing considerations. It is, Whether this divine principle of responsibility admits of the undertaking to provide for any branch of service? For example, have we in the Scriptures anything like the practice, which has grown up in modern days, of one servant engaging to find other servants to carry on the Lord's work in preaching the gospel in a particular place? It is fully and thankfully admitted that the Lord may speak to His servants, and even give them their work, through one of His people; but that is a very different thing from appointing a brother for the purpose, or allowing him to occupy the position, of arranging for the ministry of the word of God.
In offering these observations the difficulties of service are not forgotten. These will increase with the increasing confusion, and with the fuller development of the characteristics of the perilous times. The time has already, as in fact it has always been, come when all true service must be conflict — conflict with the adversary, and conflict even with many believers, for the maintenance of the truth. And just because of this, it is more than ever necessary to test all our ways by the written Word, to return in all things to divine principles. No amount of weakness or confusion justifies the adoption of unscriptural methods. Nothing is expedient that is not according to the word of God; and it is only when we are in subjection to it that we can assuredly count upon the Lord's presence and the Lord's blessing. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." E. D.
Expository Jottings I. "The Testimony of our Lord."
2 Tim. 1:8.
Christian Friend, vol. 9, 1882, p. 268.
It has long since been pointed out, that the proclamation of accepted truths involves no reproach. Even worldly men and politicians will contend for popular creeds, and, like Demetrius, the Ephesian, will not hesitate to rouse the passions of the multitudes in their defence. It is new truth — whether for the first time revealed, or recovered after having been long ignored or forgotten — which tests the heart and excites its enmity, and which therefore requires courage on the part of its heralds. This fact will explain the special exhortations addressed to Timothy in this chapter. Some have thought that timidity, or even cowardice, was his peculiar snare. Be this as it may, very clearly he needed no common boldness and endurance in the accomplishment of the mission with which he had been entrusted, and for this very reason, that his work was in connection with "the testimony of our Lord."
What then are we to understand by this term? Is it to be confined to the truth of "the mystery of Christ"? (Eph. 3:4.) All will admit that this was the special ministry confided to Paul, while Colossians 1 makes it plain that it was not the whole of his ministry. It will be perceived that the apostle uses the term "gospel" in this same scripture as co-extensive with "the testimony of our Lord," and he connects this again with God's "purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and brought life and incorruptibility to light through the gospel: whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles." (vv. 8-11.) "The testimony of our Lord" could not. therefore embrace less than the whole ministry of the apostle, which he often expresses in the one term "the gospel," or "my gospel." (See 1 Tim. 1:11; 2 Tim. 2:8.) But then the farreaching significance of "the gospel" in the apostle's mouth must be carefully borne in mind. It is so narrowed in our conceptions from its popular use that we are apt to forget what "the gospel" implies. It is a term that will include what we understand as "the gospel of the grace of God," and "the gospel of the glory," according to 2 Cor. 4, a gospel, which, in its fullest expression and consequences, contains the truth of the body of Christ. For the knowledge of the glory of Christ on high, the fact that He is glorified as man at the right hand of God, is fundamentally requisite to the truth of the mystery. As the glorified man, He is the Head of the body, and it is through the reception of the Holy Ghost by those who have believed the gospel (Eph. 1:12) — thus sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise — that souls are united to Christ, and made members of His body.
Such then was "the testimony of our Lord;" and it is easy to perceive how its proclamation would stir up the fanatical prejudices of the Jew, as well as excite the opposition of Jewish believers. Peter preached that God had made that same Jesus, whom the Jews had crucified, both Lord and Christ; but this testimony, if received, was in no way, in and by itself, destructive of the special privileges of the Jewish nation. Nay, in Acts 3. Peter tells them, in the long-suffering grace of God, that, if they will repent, God would send back Jesus Christ to them. But Paul's testimony annulled all distinction between Jews and Gentiles, and he plainly declared, again and again, that in Christ there is "neither Greek nor Jew," etc. (Col. 3:11; see also Eph. 1, 3.)
We can well understand therefore that the apostle might need to exhort Timothy to stir up his gift, to remind him that "God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind;" and to exhort him not to be "ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner," because, as we have seen, identification with such a ministry must entail incessant reproach and persecution. Nor will it be less so now when Paul's testimony is fully declared. Keep back part of it, make something of man, and you may be a popular preacher even in Christendom. Declare it fully — the truth of Christ's rejection, and of His glory at the right hand of God; the consequent end of man, and the judgment of the world in the cross; the truth of Christianity, involving the presence of the Holy Ghost on earth, and the union of believers to Christ by the Holy Spirit, together with the heavenly calling and waiting for God's Son from heaven, and you must still be accounted "as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things."
It should, however, be distinctly remarked, that this testimony could never be divinely rendered unless the state of the witness answered in some measure to it. The testimony itself is purely objective; i.e. an external thing; but a sadder exhibition could not be witnessed than a falsification of the truth by the life and associations of any who proclaimed it.
One interesting particular remains to be noticed. "Be not thou therefore ashamed," says the apostle, "of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner." The connection of these two things is most significant. Paul was so completely identified with "the testimony of our Lord" as to make it impossible to accept the one without the other. To profess to receive the testimony, and at the same time to be ashamed of him who was the Lord's prisoner on account of it, would but be an evidence of insincerity and unreality. And yet how often is it the case that truths are avowedly held, and even delighted in, while the standard-bearers of those very truths are condemned and proscribed, and in some cases the light which has thus been received is used to cover with reproach the vessels through whom the light has shone. (See Phil. 1:15-16.) Such conduct may satisfy man, but it can never be pleasing to the Lord. His witnesses are as sacred in His eyes as the testimony they bear. He thus said to His disciples, on the eve of His departure from them, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth Him that sent me." (John 13:20.) There are many Christians today who would not hesitate to receive "the testimony of our Lord" if they might be ashamed of the cross connected with it; viz., identification with those who bear the testimony. But God has joined the two things together; and if we separate them, we can neither be under the power of the truth itself nor in fellowship with His own mind.
Expository Jottings II. The Attraction of Power.
2 Chronicles 15:8-9.
Christian Friend, vol. 9, 1882, p. 272.
After the separation between Israel and Judah, it was impossible that there could be true peace and amity between the two kingdoms. Jeroboam immediately discerned where his danger lay. Judah had the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, where God dwelt between the cherubim, and where alone the perpetual burntoffering as well as the other sacrifices could be presented, and where only the divinely-appointed priests could draw nigh to God on behalf of the people. The ten tribes were aware of this fact as well as their king, and fearing lest the kingdom should return to the house of David, Jeroboam said in his heart, "If this people go up to sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their Lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." (1 Kings 12:26-28.) This was a bold and clever, though selfish, project, but one which, reminiscent as it was of the apostasy of Israel in the wilderness, ought to have excited their determined opposition. But so far from this being the case, they readily fell in with the thought of the king, and straightway they had priests and feasts after the pattern of those which had been divinely instituted. The new religion of Israel was one of imitation, leaving God out of the question. Henceforward there were the two religions side by side — the one founded upon the word of God, and the other, whatever its pretences, simply idolatrous. In the reign of Abijah, the son of Rehoboam, there was war between him and Jeroboam, and on the eve of the battle Abijah appealed to the consciences of the men of Israel, and used with great force the argument, that whilst Israel had forsaken Jehovah, Judah still clave to Him, and had the true priesthood and sacrifices. Jeroboam answered his appeal by strategy; i.e. by seeking, through human methods in the art of war, to accomplish the overthrow of Judah. But Judah cried unto the Lord, and the priests sounded with their trumpets (see Numbers 10.), and God delivered the Israelites into their hand. (2 Chr. 13:4-20.) The Lord's presence was thus the source of Judah's strength and victory. And it should be carefully noted that no pretensions, however lofty, and no human wisdom, however clever in its method, can either command the presence of the Lord, or deliver in the time of danger.
Passing now to the reign of Asa, the son of Abijah, another striking lesson is recorded. Asa, on the whole, did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God (1 Chr. 14:2), and blessing therefore marked the time of his reign. Listening to the exhortation and counsel of the prophet Azariah, the son of Oded, "he took courage, and put away the abominable idols out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from mount Ephraim, and renewed the altar of the Lord, that was before the porch of the Lord. And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and the strangers with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon; for they fell to him out of Israel in abundance, when they saw that the Lord his God was with him." This is what we have termed the attraction of power. As before pointed out, Judah had the temple which was the dwelling-place of God, the divine priesthood and the sacrifices. They were, in a word, on the true ground, and had the truth; but it was not this which drew so many to them from Israel, but the fact that the Lord's presence and divine power were displayed in connection with the truth. So now it is not enough to say that we have the truth; for we shall find that the truth as truth will never win souls. It has been said, for example, that you cannot meet Satan with mere truth; that unless the truth is held in communion with a living Christ you will be powerless against Satan's devices. In like manner, unless, in combination with the truth, the Lord's presence is seen working with it, and on behalf of those who hold it, there will be no power to deal with souls, or to attract them to the truth presented; for indeed Christ is the truth, and if therefore He is left out the truth becomes only a formal creed, which, while it may contain nothing but the truth, has neither life nor power.
It is therefore a mistake to expect others to be drawn to us because we have the truth. It must be seen that the Lord is with us; for He is the magnet of His people's hearts. How then may we ensure the Lord's displayed presence? Azariah proclaims the condition: "Hear me," he says, "Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you, while ye be with Him." (v. 2.) So it ever is. If we are with God — with God in His judgment of ourselves, of everything round about us, in true separation from evil, and in subjection to His word — if we are thus walking with Him, He will never fail to show that He is with us. And just in proportion as His presence is thus manifestly with us, will there be the outgoing of power to attract the hearts of other believers. Our dependence then in our service, position, and conflict, should not be on the possession of the truth, but on having the Lord with us and working for His own glory in bowing the hearts of others to acknowledge His truth. E. D.
Expository Jottings I. Christian Sacrifices.
Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:15-16; 1 Peter 2:5.
Christian Friend, vol. 9, 1882, p. 295.
All believers now are priests. During the Jewish dispensation the priesthood was confined to one family, and no one outside of that divinely-described circle dared to penetrate into it. But Aaron and his sons were a figure of the whole Church as a priestly family, of the Church as a priestly family in association with Christ; for blessed as is the place into which believers are now brought, and precious as are the privileges with which they are invested, all these things are only enjoyed in connection with Christ. All alike, therefore, are priests, and all alike have access into the holiest of allinto the immediate presence of God. (See Heb. 10:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5-9.) This dignity and this access pertain to them solely on the ground of the priesthood of Christ and the everlasting virtue of His one sacrifice for sins.
As priests we have an altar (Heb. 13:10), and on that altar we have continually to offer our sacrifices to God. What then, let us inquire, are the sacrifices of Christian priests? They are twofold in character. First, there is "the sacrifice of praise;" i.e. as the Spirit of God Himself explains, "the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name." (Heb. 13:15.) With this will correspond the "spiritual sacrifices" of St. Peter. From this we gather that all true worship, thanksgiving, and praise are sacrifices; and this again will help us to determine what true worship, thanksgiving, or praise is. We read of our blessed Lord that, through the eternal Spirit, He offered Himself without spot to God. (Heb. 9:14.) All true worship, therefore, must be characterized by three things. It must be presented in the power of the Holy Ghost (compare John 4:24; Phil. 3:3), Christ is the medium through which it must be presented (for He indeed is the Christian's altar), and it must be offered to God. The psalmist, when meditating upon the beauty of the tabernacles of the Lord of hosts, cries, "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee." (Ps. 84:4.) This blessedness belongs now to every saint of God; nay, we are ourselves built up a spiritual house, and as a holy priesthood it is our privilege to offer perpetual praise. God was said to inhabit — i.e. to be surrounded with, to dwell in the midst of — the praises of Israel. Much more should it be so now when in His infinite grace, and through the efficacy of the work of Christ, He has brought us to Himself, and delights Himself in the adoration of our hearts.
Secondly, there are sacrifices of another sort which we are called upon, or rather which it is our privilege, to offer. These are connected with ministration to the needs both of the saints and the servants of God. We read thus in the Hebrews, "To do good, and to communicate, forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." Again, in the Philippians, the apostle speaks of the gift which had been sent to him through Epaphroditus as "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." It constituted, to borrow language from the Old Testament, a sweet savour offering. How grateful to God then is ministry, sacrifices of this kind! But it must be remembered that mere giving — giving, for example, reluctantly, or only because of importunity — would not make the gift a sacrifice. As in the sacrifice of praise, the gift must be presented through Christ, to God, in the power of the Spirit. It is only of such gifts that it could be said that they are "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God."
The application of these principles can easily be made by those who desire to test the character of their worship and of their benefactions; and while the application cannot fail to humble the most of us, by showing how much of our service is really worthless before God, it will surely be productive of blessing if it lead us in every exercise of our priesthood to judge ourselves as in the light of the presence of God.
In Romans 12 we read of another sacrifice, which, though not connected in this scripture with our priesthood, may yet be briefly explained. The apostle says, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable" (or intelligent) "service." (v. 1.) This exhortation connects itself, as its ground of appeal, with the close of Rom. 8, and, as to its subject-matter, with Rom. 6; that is, the mercies of God are all the mercies which have been expressed, in the grace of God, in our redemption — as traced out in Rom. 1-8 — and the appeal as to our bodies flows from the truth stated in Rom. 6. Delivered from the power of sin through death with Christ, sin is no longer to reign in our mortal body, that we should obey it in the lusts thereof. (Rom. 6:12.) No; our bodies are to be yielded up henceforward to God, that as they had been before the instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, so now our members are to be instruments of righteousness unto God.
Coming then to Romans 12, we learn the character of the presentation of our bodies to God. They are to be presented "a living sacrifice;" not as a slain animal, a dead sacrifice, laid on the altar, but because our bodies are not dead, and sin is in us, they are always to be kept under the power of death ("always bearing about in the body the 'putting to death' of Jesus"), and thug, presented to God as a living sacrifice. They are presented to Him for His service, that, instead of their being governed as they had always been, by our own wills for our own ends, He in His wondrous grace might henceforward use them as organs for the expression of Christ. Such a yielding up of our bodies to God, let it be again stated, involves the constant application of the power of death, and consequently it becomes a living sacrifice. Christ being in us, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And such a sacrifice, as it is, on the one hand, holy and acceptable to God, so it is, on the other, our intelligent service — a service suitable to the claims which God has upon us on account of redemption, and one, it may be added, which should be joyfully as well as intelligently rendered.
One more remark may be made. It will be observed that in this case also the sacrifice is presented to God (to whom else could it be offered?) on the ground of redemption; that is, through Christ; and it is also true that it can only be accomplished in the power of the Holy Ghost. It follows then that we are to live priestly lives; that whether we are occupied in praise and adoration, or engaged in ministering to the needs of others, or in the busy activities of our callings (see 1 Peter 2:9), we are to behave ourselves as priests at the altar in the presence of God.
Expository Jottings II. Christian Song.
Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 4:16.
Christian Friend, vol. 9, 1882, p. 299.
There are two divinely appointed channels for the emotions which are the fruit of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer: "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms." (James 5:13.) Our sorrows should thus find expression before God in prayer, and our joys in song. Concerning ourselves in these remarks only with the latter, it may be profitable to notice the teaching on this subject of the two scriptures which stand at the head of this article.
In Ephesians our praise and thanksgiving are to be the result of being filled with the Spirit, and this in contrast with being drunk with wine. Wine, in this connection, while not excluding its literal meaning, is used rather in its typical significance. The Christian is not to be intoxicated with earthly joy, but he is to be filled with the Holy Ghost. It is very noticeable on the day of Pentecost that the multitude mistook the action of the Spirit in the apostles for the effects of wine — showing that the action of wine on the natural man simulates or counterfeits the action of the Spirit of God in the believer. In fact, when any of the early Christians were filled with the Spirit they were lifted up out of themselves, and were used as vessels for the expression of the Spirit's power whether in testimony or in praise. In such a state souls cease to be occupied with themselves; for it is the Spirit's delight to lead out our hearts in the contemplation of Christ, according to that word, "He shall glorify me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." (John 16:14.) Thus lost in the view of Christ, His perfections, excellencies, His worthiness, and His perpetual and tender ministries of love, from His place at the right hand of God, as well as in the anticipation of the joy of seeing Him face to face, and of being for ever with Him, God would have us speak to ourselves (or, perhaps, to one another) in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our heart to the Lord. When in such a state it would be impossible for the soul to find a voice for its feelings except in exalted strains of praise and adoration.
In Colossians, on the other hand, the same result is produced by the word of Christ dwelling richly in us. The effect, in the first place, is to be seen in our teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and then in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing with grace in our hearts to God ("to God" is the true reading). We have seen that praise is produced in Ephesians by the Spirit occupying the soul with Christ. So also here; for the word of Christ is but the unfolding and display of what He Himself is, and hence, when it dwells richly in us, we have Christ - Christ in all His glories — constantly present to our souls. It is of necessity therefore that we worship with the voice of praise and thanksgiving.
Surely it need scarcely be pointed out that none but believers could share in such songs of praise — and, in the measure of these scriptures, only those believers whose hearts are under the direct action of the Holy Spirit and the word of Christ.
Another observation is important. In both passages we have psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We have no means of interpreting the exact force of these different terms; but it may be safely said that they include human compositions. In the energy of the Spirit of God, especially in these early days, the affections of the soul to Christ could not but delightedly pour themselves out in strains of praise and melody at His feet. And He on His part could not but gratefully feed upon the fruit which His own Spirit had produced and ripened in the souls of His saints. It was in this way that many, like Mary, would bring their alabaster box of ointment to anoint the feet of their Lord, and the house would again, as before, be filled with the odour of the ointment. (John 12.)
It is very evident that both scriptures point to such songs in private as well as in the assembly. And the question may perhaps be raised whether Christian song occupies its due place, either with individuals, or in the families of the saints. For it has many uses. First and foremost, it is a relief to the heart; i.e. to the heart that is overflowing with the sense of the love of Christ. Even more, it is a relief to the heart in time of trouble; for though our circumstances may be trying, we can always find matter of praise to God. The line of a popular hymn, though badly expressed, contains a truth. It says —
"I sing a song to Jesus when the heart is faint."
Let the troubled Christian do this, and he will find that his burden is lightened and his heart eased even while in the very act of making melody to the Lord. Again, it is a means of edification; i.e. supposing the hymns sung are according to truth; and, lastly, it may become a testimony. This would seem to have been the case with Paul and Silas. Cast into prison, with their backs still sore from the stripes of their persecutors, like the apostles Peter and John, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ, and at midnight they prayed and sang praises to God; and the prisoners heard them. It was a new thing for such a sound to be heard in that prison-house. Satan had roused the city against these servants of the Lord, and thought he had gained a great victory by securing their imprisonment. But God would be glorified over the adversary, and He thus filled the mouths of Paul and Silas with praise in the very seat of the enemy's power, and so mighty was the testimony rendered in connection with the events of that night that the jailor (who was used of Satan to afflict the apostles) and his family were turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. Songs had been given to them in the night, and while they ascended as sweet incense before the throne of God, they also were accompanied by a testimony which bore fruit for eternity in the salvation, through the sovereign grace of God, of the jailor and his house.
May we all be so continually under the power of the Spirit, and all have the word of Christ so richly dwelling in us that our lives may be characterised by perpetual praise to God! E. D.
Christian Friend, vol. 11, 1884, p. 9.
THE utterance of this man, who had the privilege of sitting at table with the Lord Jesus, seems at first sight to be a very pious reflection; but looking deeper it is seen to be an attempt to turn aside the application of the Lord's words. The Lord, as men speak, had been intensely personal, and many at the table must have felt very uncomfortable; and the speaker comes to their relief. He said, as it were, Let us raise our thoughts to heaven! Souls in a bad state never like the word to reach their conscience. E. D.
Christian Friend, vol. 11, 1884, p. 28.
Joseph is a well-known type of Christ; but it is not every reader of the Bible who delights to trace out the application and fulfilment of the type. Take, for example, John 4:6. Why is it mentioned, "Now Jacob's well was there"? Surely to arrest our attention in some special way; and Gen. 49:22 discovers the secret. Joseph, we read, is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall. In this wearied Man, therefore, who in that noontide heat sat by the well of Sychar, we see the true Joseph; and even while we gaze upon Him we behold His branches running over the wall of Judaism, and reaching, with their goodly fruit, this poor woman of Samaria. And if not actually, yet morally (for this characterizes this gospel), the archers had sorely grieved Him, and shot at Him, and hated Him; but His bow abode in strength, etc., as is shown by the deliverance He wrought that day for this poor captive of Satan. E. D.