The Pathway to Liberty

In the eleven verses of Psalm 42. the words "I," "me," "my" occur thirty-five times, and six times the Psalmist uses the expression "my soul." He is thoroughly self-occupied, but he is not self-satisfied - he is thirsting for God. Unhappy as such a condition may be, it is ten thousand times better than Laodicean complacency and self-satisfaction. The latter is what characterizes Christendom today, and it is that which we ought to dread more than anything else. Self-sufficiency is a veil upon the heart, which blinds it to everything that is of God.

"Therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar." (v. 6.) The three places here mentioned are suggestive, to my mind, of three ways in which self is reduced to nothingness in the believer: (1) By inward conflict; (2) by the testings of the wilderness; (3) by special discipline from God. We may look briefly at each of the three.

1. In the latter part of Romans 7 we find the experience of one who, through grace, delights in the law of God after the inward man, and is earnestly seeking to carry out God's holy will, but he finds a law in his members - a law of sin - to which he is in helpless captivity. He becomes painfully conscious that sin dwells in him, and eventually reaches the conclusion that in him, that is, in his flesh, there is nothing but sin - good he cannot find. It is by the law that he discovers this - by the effort to carry out God's will; so that which was ordained to life he finds to be unto death. He is brought clown to death. Death is that state out of which nothing comes for God, and if I am truly conscious that good does not dwell in me, I am brought down to death - the "land of Jordan." Paul reached this point in a very short time, because he was in dead earnest. He learned in three days a lesson which it often takes a lifetime to learn. We are long on the road because we are so little in earnest about it. But all this is inward conflict and exercise; outwardly Paul's life was most exemplary. It is not at all outward failure that others might see; it is the inward conflict in which the true character of sin in the flesh is discovered.

2. The object of all the trial and testing of the wilderness was, as Deut. 8:2 tells us, "to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no." God leads us by a trying and rugged path (Hermon means "rugged") that the naughtiness and pride of our hearts may be discovered. God loves us too well to allow us to be deceived as to our true character as in the flesh. He puts us in the very circumstances that bring it out. Not one of us can escape this testing and sifting. And as our true character is thus brought to light, we fret and chafe and murmur. How inexpressibly vexatious it is to always have something turning up that gives occasion to our hearts to show what is in them. If we only had a path in which we could always acquit ourselves creditably, how different it would be. If things would only go as we should like, how well and happily should we get on. Yes, and how supremely self-satisfied we should become. But God will find us out; and so He causes us to traverse this land of the Hermonites, until our hearts in their bitterness say, "Why does God put me into such circumstances as these? Why does He not make it easier for me? Why does something always occur to overturn my efforts to be good, and to make fruitless all my desires to be holy? If God would order things differently for me, my life would not be the contemptible failure that it now is." Has your heart never uttered such language as this? Do you know what it means? Why, it is casting the blame of your sin upon God; and this is the outcome of Satanic enmity - it is the bite of the serpent. In a thousand ways you have proved the goodness and mercy of God, and yet your heart is capable of turning round upon Him and suggesting that His ordering for you is to blame for all your failure. What a discovery this is of those hidden springs of enmity against God that rise in the carnal mind.

3. The "hill Mizar" (the little hill) may represent any special discipline of God by which we are made consciously weak and small. When Paul came down from the third heaven there was given him a thorn for the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him; and this, he tells us, was "lest I should be exalted above measure." It was his "hill Mizar." God allowed Satan so to act on Paul's flesh, by some form of bodily suffering, that he was conscious of nothing in himself but weakness. You may say, "That must be a miserable experience." Well, Paul was not miserable; he was supremely happy. He says, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may tabernacle over me. … I take pleasure in weaknesses … for when I am weak, then am I strong." He was happy to have all his own strength reduced to nothingness, that he might prove instead the sufficiency of the Lord's grace and Christ's strength.

As to these three forms of self-reduction, the first two are instructive, while the third is rather protective. The inward conflict of Romans 7, and the testing of the wilderness, serve the purpose of teaching us what sin in the flesh is, and what is in our hearts; while such special discipline of God as Paul's thorn is rather to protect us from the unaltered tendencies of the flesh. The latter is always needed, and goes on in one form or other to the end of our course here.

It is well for us to get to the end and the bottom of ourselves, for when we really get to the bottom with God we reach deliverance. Paul no sooner reaches "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of this body of death?" than he exclaims, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." The children of Israel, bitten by the serpent and brought down to death, found the way of life opened up by beholding the serpent of brass. When we truly abhor ourselves, we are prepared to rejoice in the blessed fact that our old man has been crucified with Christ, that sin in the flesh was condemned when Christ died, that our whole history, as in the flesh, closed before God in His death, and that this is our title to be free. I have now a righteous title to have done with myself because Christ has died. To prepare me for this I have to learn the necessity for death in my own experience, but the death of Christ is my title to be free. It is by the appropriation of His death that I reach liberty and life: that death has severed me from all that I was as in Adam. "I am crucified with Christ." I am free from myself and free to have Christ before me, and to learn how I am associated with Him in new creation. In a word, I pass from the experience of Psalm 42. into that of Psalm 45.

The change is most striking. It is no longer "I," "me," "my," but "Thou," "Thee," "Thy." The soul has got a totally new object and centre; it has come to God's centre. The old astronomers found the motions of the planetary bodies quite inexplicable, because they looked upon the earth as the centre of the universe. It was not until a bold, free mind travelled forth into space, and found a new centre, that harmony and order were seen to reign where all had seemed confusion before. So long as the soul is self-centred it can make no real acquaintance with, or progress in, the thoughts and purposes of God. But when Christ gets His right place for our souls we begin to apprehend the wondrous depth and perfection of those thoughts and purposes, and then our blessings are all, as it were, glorified. We are then able to leave self altogether behind, and to enter the atmosphere of divine love. Psalm 45 is called "a song of loves," and so completely has it this character that there is not a word in it about what the Lord has done; the heart is engaged with Himself. Love thinks more of the Giver than His gifts - more of the love than of the work which love has wrought. It is when the Person of Christ is thus before the heart that it begins to bubble over and to burn, as did those of the disciples on the way to Emmaus, when the Stranger spoke of "the things concerning Himself." Then, verily, the heart is inditing a good matter; it is absorbed in the contemplation of the altogether lovely One. Self has been learned and given up as worthless, and another Person, who eclipses everything, is now before the soul. - (An. Extract.) C. A. C.