How to Finish Well

Notes of an Address

It is a great encouragement to younger Christians to see those who are older in the faith go on steadily to the end of life, with an ever-deepening devotion to the Saviour, to see them not less enthusiastic for Him when they say good-bye to earth and enter into His presence than they were when they began their Christian career. Thank God, we have known many such. Yet it is a notable fact that many who began well break down in middle life, or their early enthusiasm wanes and they grow cold and indifferent to the claims of the Lord, or continue with a dead routine as irksome to themselves as it is disappointing to others. The why and wherefore of this should interest us all, for while none of us would willingly backslide from our steadfastness we know that we are no better than others, for us there are the same temptations without and the same tendencies within that have brought others to grief in the Christian conflict, hence the need of exercise and enquiry.

There is not a soldier in the Christian ranks that does not desire to be able to say when life's warfare is done, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7), or to have an entrance ministered to him abundantly to the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1). Paul and Peter and a countless host beside have borne witness to the possibility of this, we are encompassed about with a cloud of witnesses to the fact that we also may be more than conquerors through Him that loves us, so that in spite of the failures, in spite of the cravens who have turned in the fight, or have been hindered in the course, we take courage and face the question as to how we may finish well. The story of David and his friends may help us.

There is no more interesting or instructive story, in the Bible than David's. He is very definitely a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his person and exploits always created great enthusiasm and devotedness for him or the opposite. It is this that the Lord looks for in regard to Himself. "I would thou wert either cold or hot," He says. To be lukewarm, half-hearted or indifferent is to be nauseating to Him.

Jonathan was David's friend, be began well, and outstripped all others at the beginning in his devotion to David. He had every reason for his devotion, for David had jeopardized his life for him. It is not difficult to visualize this splendid prince with his staff about him, watching the shepherd lad going forth so fearlessly against Goliath. He would think, even if he did not say: "I ought to fight the giant, only by beating him could I establish my right of succession to the throne, but who am I that I should face him, I am no match for him. David is going out for me, he is fighting my battle." And when at last the bragging mouth was closed and the head was off that mass of flesh and the victory was complete, Jonathan would lead the triumphant shouts of Israel and say: "David has won the fight for me." No wonder that he stripped himself. No wonder that he laid at David's feet all that distinguished him. No wonder that he loved him as his own soul.

But in the hour of David's victory he was a popular man, and so it was not difficult to stand on his side. It is true that Saul hated him — Saul, the self-centred, jealous, ill-stared and foolish king — type of the flesh that will not tolerate Christ, but "he was accepted in the sight of all the people"; the women sang, "David (Has slain) his ten thousands," and "all Israel and Judah loved David," and "his name was much set by" (1 Sam. 18). It is true that Jonathan went further than them all, he stripped himself of all his honours for David, and we delight in the story of his love, but the testing day had yet to come.

We felt like Jonathan when first we came to Christ. We had been oppressed by Satan, the great foe, who had kept us in bondage through the fear of death, and we had felt our need of a Saviour, a deliverer, and, thank God, we found one in Jesus. He suffered for us. He died for us. He set us free by His own great victory, and we loved Him for it and confessed Him as our Lord. It was easy to do so in the special meetings and when in the company of Christian friends to whom His Name was precious. That early enthusiasm carried us a long way and we were prepared to serve the Lord and even strip ourselves for His sake as we rejoiced in what He had done for us. But more than that is needed. Right and blessed as this holy enthusiasm is, and no soul is right without it, it is not enough.

John the Baptist in his day illustrates this phase of spiritual life, he was the Jonathan of the New Testament. When some came to him and said: "He to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him." He rejoiced and said: "He must increase, but I must decrease," but as with Jonathan, so with John, the test had yet to come.

The test came for Jonathan when David was cast out and rejected; when the people forgot what they owed to him, and the stream ran strongly against devotion to him. Jonathan's feelings towards him did not change, he still loved him as his own soul, but he could not go beyond that. He gave him the first place. "Thou shalt be king," he said. He owned that only one head in the land was fit and worthy to wear the crown, and that head was David's. He was right and true in that, but he added: "I shall be next to thee." He exalted David, but he did not abase self, and that was the crux of the matter, he had not lost sight of himself in his love for David. He was prepared to say: "Thou shalt increase," but he thought of himself and claimed a place for himself, and there he failed. David did not despise his love, it was exceedingly precious to him, he cherished it ever as a most precious memory, but how different a story would have been told had he lost sight of himself and thrown in his lot with David, and gone out into rejection with him.

We do not belittle the love of Jonathan, it is a moving story, and such a surrender as he made to David is a great beginning for any soul who makes the like of it to Christ, but we must go further, and a deeper lesson must be learnt if our early enthusiasm is to deepen into unwavering devotion to the Person of our Lord. The Lord does not despise our first enthusiasm for Him, our first love, nor will He ever forget it, He cherishes it, it is a sweet recompense to Him for what He has done for us, but how soon we leave it, and consider for self, unless the deeper lesson of which I would speak is learnt.

Jonathan was a friend to David when all went well. David was a friend to Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, and in the appreciation of what David was to him Mephibosheth stood where Jonathan fell.

Mephibosheth was not a splendid figure as his father was. A cripple, a beggar probably, without standing or influence, he had nothing to surrender to his king. His relations with David were those of a receiver, yet when he was tested, the heart of him proved how true he was, and we must not forget that God does not judge by the outward appearance, but by the heart.

David was again in exile, driven from his throne by a rebellious son and a false people, and Mephibosheth mourned his absence and remained in seclusion and separation from the festivities of the guilty city until his lord's return. Then he said to him: "All my father's house were but dead men before thee, yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table" (2 Sam. 19:23). A dead man has no rights, he can claim nothing. He can neither stand first as Saul in his day was determined to do, nor "next" as Jonathan thought would be a fitting place for him. A dead man does not count at all, and such, said Mephibosheth, am I before David, and all my father's house; neither in myself nor my ancestry can I boast, Jonathan never reached this point of self-abasement before David, had he done so he would not have been slain by the sword of the uncircumcised on the mountains of Gilboa; he would have lived to see David's glory and to share in it. It is a great day when any of us come to this in our relations with the Lord. It is more than John's, "I must decrease." It carries us beyond that to Paul's great cry — "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, YET NOT I, BUT CHRIST lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). When a soul reaches this point he has disappeared from his own eyes and Christ fills his vision. And he is devoted, not only because the Lord has forgiven him and saved him, but because Christ has displaced self. All doubt has gone, and he never asks as John did: "Art Thou He?" but he says, "for me to live is Christ," the Son of God, "who loved me and gave Himself for me."

But if Mephibosheth had no thought for himself and had nothing to ask for himself, it was because he was satisfied with David and his grace. He says: "Yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table." "Worthless though I am that is the way that you have acted, and since you have done it, nothing can change it. You have done your best for me and it cannot be exceeded." It was in this that Mephibosheth boasted and not in himself. His whole delight was in David's grace for in that grace he had displayed himself. Paul had reached this point when he said: "By the grace of God I am what I am," and again: "The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant." "For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). This deep sense of grace and this self-abasement go together, they are never separated, and it may safely be said that we cannot have the one without the other. And the more fully these things are felt by us, not only acknowledged because they are presented to us in terms in the Scriptures, but felt to be so by the Spirit's teaching within our souls, the more steady and true we shall be to Christ. We shall not lose our enthusiasm for Him, it may be tempered by this deeper knowledge of ourselves and of Himself, but it will be deeper, truer, and more wholly the work of God's Spirit within us.

David had captured the heart of Mephibosheth by his grace, and now his one desire was that David should have his rights and that he should be permitted to be where David had put him. "Let Ziba take all," he said. "I want nothing for myself. It is enough for me that my lord the king is come again to his house in peace."

It is for the lack of this spirit that filled Mephibosheth that many fail in the way. Thoughts of self obtrude themselves upon their relations with Christ and decline sets in. They consider for themselves, the early enthusiasm wanes and dies out, and Satan gains an advantage over them.

He can gain no advantage over the heart that is filled up and satisfied with the immensity of the love that has set us in Divine and changeless favour, love that has done its best for us. In this we are more than conquerors and we can say: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"

This same Spirit of devotion controlled Ittai, the Gittite. He had found a place in David's kingdom and had become firmly attached to his person. "Wherefore goest thou with us?" said the king to him, "Return to thy place, and abide with the king, for thou art a stranger and also an exile. Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? Seeing I go whither I may, return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee." Hear the noble Ittai's answer to the king. "As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also shall thy servant be." What balm to David's sorely wounded heart must this devotion have been, and this Ittai was not a young man, carried away by a passing youthful enthusiasm, he was an old man, who might have thought of his own comfort and ease, but he did not, for David was more to him than self. What could the king say to such devotion as that? Only this: "Go and pass over." "And Ittai, the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones that were with him (2 Sam. 1:19-22). David's story is one for us to consider deeply, one that should send us to our knees with the prayer: "Lord, may Jonathan's enthusiasm for David be the sort that we have for Thee. May Mephibosheth's conception of his own nothingness and of David's grace, be our conception of ourselves and of Thy grace, and may Ittai's devotion to David's person be the sort of devotion that we and ours have to Thyself. Grant this to us, for Thy Name's sake. Amen."