The eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews contains the most complete treatise on faith to be found in the Scriptures. It is introduced by a definition of faith, as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This definition teaches us:
First, that faith is not hope, not a mere expectation of future things, but a present receiving of that which is promised in a real and substantial way. It is accepting, not expecting.
Secondly, that it is not sight, for it deals with things not seen. The region of the visible is not the realm of faith. When a thing is proved by demonstration, it is not a matter of faith, but of evidence. Faith asks no other evidences than God’s Word and its own assurance. It is the evidence. It is not true to say that “seeing is believing.” Faith believes where it cannot see; nay, believes what sight and evidence may even seem to contradict, if only God has said it.
When God said to Abraham, “I have made thee a father of many nations,” there was no sign of it; indeed, the evidence of sight plainly contradicted it. But God said it, and Abraham believed, for faith “calleth the things that are not as though they were.”
And so Abraham “considered not his own body, now dead,” but “was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was able also to perform.
Thirdly, faith recognizes in every case an act of creation. It does not require any material to start with, for it believes in a God who can make all things out of nothing, and therefore it can step out upon the seeming void and find it full of the creations of His power.
In giving His greatest promises in the Old Testament, God reveals Himself as the Creator of that which He is promising. “Thus saith the Lord, the Maker of it, Call unto Me and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” There may be no sign of it, no probability of it, no germ of it from which to start, but God is able to make it out of nothing by a word. He does so make it by the word which faith claims. He needs no protoplasm to build His magnificent edifices of worlds. “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” Into the soul that has no basis or remnant of goodness, but is dead in trespasses and sins, He can speak life and holiness. Into the body, whose constitution is exhausted and its springs of life run out, He can command health and strength. And so faith begins where human hopes and prospects end; “man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.”
Now this faith, the apostle declares, is indispensable in order to please God. No wonder; anything less is to treat God as if He were unreal and unreliable, and is practical atheism. It is to make His Word less sure than a mere material fact of nature and perception of the senses; it is to trust God less than we trust His works.
The reason why God requires our absolute trust is very plain. The ruin of the human race came by discrediting and doubting God’s word to our first parents. “Hath God said?” was the fountain of all sin. “God hath said” is the foundation, therefore, of our restoration. Only when we thus implicitly believe His Word will we love and obey Him. And as unbelief stands in the foreground in the first picture of our fallen race, it leads the procession of the lost, in the closing scene in the tragedy of mankind. “The fearful and the unbelieving shall have their portion in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Let us “take heed, therefore, lest there be in any of us an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”
Having given general principles respecting faith, the apostle next proceeds to illustrate them by a series examples from the Scriptures. The first seven are taken from the Book of Genesis and represent various aspects of faith in human life.
The two men who stand worshipping at the gate of Eden introduce us to the two races of mankind, believers and unbelievers.
The earthly man has far more culture, taste, and beauty in his religion. He brings the fruit of his toil, and the first and best of it. He brings the pure, sweet blossoms of spring, and the rich ripe fruits of summer, and perhaps his altar is festooned with rare beauty and taste, and contrasts most favorably with the rude mound of clay on which Abel offers the ghastly and revolting sacrifice of a bleeding, dying, consuming lamb.
But Cain’s whole offering was a direct denial of all that God had said about His curse upon the ground and all its fruits, of the fact of sin and of the need of an atoning Saviour, which had been already typified in the coats of skins of Adam and Eve, and no doubt fully taught by God already. Abel’s sacrifice was a simple and humble acknowledgment of all this, and a frank acceptance of God’s way of pardon and acceptance.
The first act of faith is to believe what God says about sin. We do not need to try to work up a feeling about our sins. It is enough to believe that we are sinners because God says it. Abel did so. He took the sinner’s place, and instantly he found the sinner’s Savior. The publican did, and, lo, “he went down to his house justified.” Cain would not see his sin, and the result was that he fell into deeper sin, and came at last to the other extreme where he had to cry, “My sin is greater than can be forgiven.”
The devil’s first trick is to get us to say, “I have not sinned.” And then his last blow is to make us think, “My sin is too great to be forgiven.” But humble faith accepts God’s judgment upon itself, and escapes judgment.
An emperor of France was once leading a foreign king through the prisons of Toulon. As a special courtesy he said, “You can set any prisoner free you please.” He spoke to several but found no one that seemed to deserve it. All were innocent, much-abused men. At last he found a sinner, a poor fellow, who could only say, “O Sire, I am an unworthy man, and am only thankful my punishment is not worse.” At once he set him free, saying, “You are the only man I can find who has anything to have forgiven. You are pardoned by the emperor’s commands.” So the self-righteous miss the great salvation, and the lost are saved. Thus let us take the place of guilt and find pardon through faith in God’s Word and the blood of Christ. He condemns in order that He may save. “He hath concluded all under sin, that He might have mercy upon all.”
Abel’s faith not only recognized the sin, but also the Divine provision for it by sacrifice. He did not look at his own character or his own works. It was his gifts that God testified to.
Two men go up to yonder bank cashier, both holding in their hand a piece of paper. The one is dressed in expensive style, and presents a gloved and jeweled hand. The other is a rough, unwashed workman. But the first is rejected with a polite bow, and the second receives a hundred pounds over the counter. What is the difference? The one presented a worthless name; the other handed in a note endorsed by the president of the bank. And so the most virtuous moralist will be turned away from the gates of mercy, and the vilest sinner welcomed, if he presents the name of Jesus.
What shall we give to infinite purity and righteousness? JESUS. There is no other gift worthy for God to receive. And He has given Him to us for this very end, that we may give Him back as our substitute and satisfaction. And He has testified of this gift what He has said of no other, namely, that in Him He is well-pleased, and all who receive Him are “accepted in the Beloved.” Shall we accept the testimony that God is satisfied with His Son? Shall we be satisfied with Him?
An old Scots carter told me once how he was converted. Riding along in his cart, he was crushed by the load of his sins, and the thought kept coming to him all the time — “What shall I give to God to satisfy His claims?” And he thought of his reformation, his promises, his services, his tears, and everything he could, but all seemed to fail. At last something said, “Offer JESUS.” He did so, and instantly his soul was filled with the sweet sense of acceptance and blessing.
A Scots evangelist tells his story. When he was a lad, his father was a shepherd. One morning a lamb was dead. Another lamb was also motherless. He asked his father to give the little orphan to the mother who had just lost her lamb. But she would not have it. He tried again and again, but she would only rebuff it. At last the father took the dead lamb, and removing its skin placed it on the living one. Instantly the mother welcomed it, and began to caress it and receive it as her own.
God covers us with the righteousness of Jesus, and loves us with the same love He bears to Him, seeing us only as in Him, and accepting us as His very sons and daughters for Jesus’ sake.
Abel’s faith “obtained witness that he was righteous.” So we must not only accept the great atonement, but must also believe that we are accepted and justified. This does not merely mean that we are pardoned and exempted from judgment. It means that we are declared and counted righteous, utterly and forever justified, and placed in the same position as if we had never sinned — nay, had kept all the commandments of God, just as Christ has done.
Now, we get this assurance only by faith. We simply believe the record that God has given of His Son; that He has given Him to us as our complete righteousness, and He is ours, just because we have accepted Him. We may weep and pray, but all will bring no rest until we simply believe that God has accepted us, justified is, and for ever loves us in Jesus; and, as dear George Muller puts it, counts each of us “His darling child.” they who thus believe have peace with God, and know that they have eternal life.
The moment the soul accepts its justification and stands clear of the awful shadow of the curse, it springs at once into freedom, love, and power. The secret of weak love and strength is feeble faith. A doubt about our perfect acceptance will paralyze spiritual power. An Eastern artisan in the employ of a great prince suddenly became an unsteady workman. His exquisite jewelry was marred, and his hand refused to work with its old cunning. His king sent for him and asked the reason. He found that the man was hopelessly in debt, and was expecting every day to lose his wife and children as slaves for his indebtedness. The kind prince paid his debt, and in a moment all was right. The man’s hand recovered its spring, and his work its beauty. His burden was gone, and he was free. So God sets us free to serve Him, and a full assurance of complete justification is necessary to entire sanctification.
Dr. James, of Albany, the author of the remarkable volume, Grace for Grace, and one who was much used of God in personal dealings with burdened souls in all parts of the land, gave as his experience the statement that the greatest hindrance he found to the full acceptance of Christ as an indwelling and sanctifying presence, was the prevalence of vague ideas and imperfect assurance respecting the absolute and eternal acceptance in Christ on the part of those with whom he was called to deal.
Do we dare to believe that we are absolutely, utterly, eternally accepted in Jesus Christ, in the same sense as He is accepted, and righteous even as He is righteous, so that our very name before God and heaven is: “The Lord our righteousness”; His own very name of ineffable holiness (Jer. 23: 6) given to us (Jer. 33: 16), even as the bride bears the husband’s name?
Now this all comes by a simple act of believing God’s testimony. God declares it of us because we have accepted Christ’s atonement, and we believe the declaration, and take the new place assigned us. The bride stands at that altar and believes the word spoken by the minister, and she fearlessly takes the place of a wife. The French soldier saves his emperor’s life, and hears him say in gratitude, “Thank you, Captain,” and answers, “Of which company, sir?” and steps at once to his new position. The sinner believes God’s declaration, and “goes home to his house justified.” “He that believeth not, hath made God a liar.” There is one spot on earth covered evermore by the great sentence, “No condemnation.” That spot is under the cross of Jesus. The moment we step there and claim the sentence, it is ours, and God cannot break His eternal Word.
In Enoch the human race reached its seventh generation. Seven is the Hebrew number of perfection, and the type, in this case of ideal humanity, both as respects character and destiny.
As respects his character, he was the first pattern of holiness since the Fall; and as respects his destiny, he was the first who rose above the curse of death, and gave pledge and promise, in his translation, as well as in his teaching, of the glorious immortality that awaits the people of God at the Second Coming of the Lord.
1. ENOCH’S CHARACTER. Enoch’s holy life is described by two sentences: “He pleased God” and “He walked with God.” The divine pleasure or will is ever the standard of holiness. “I do always those things which please Him,” was Christ’s simple account of His own perfect and blameless character and life.” That ye may walk worthy of God unto all pleasing,” is the Apostle’s prayer for believers. The very expression is infinitely tender and attractive, showing that God is willing to take real pleasure in our love and obedience, nay, even to delight Himself in the heartfelt and sincere attempts of His earthly Children to meet His approval. And on our part it intimates something more than mere obedience, righteousness, and rigid duty, and expresses the spontaneous love that wants to win His smile, and not merely escape His judgment.
There is a way of trying to fulfil the will of God which makes it like a wall of adamant and a bond of iron. But there is a sweeter way which recognizes it as the love of the Father, a gracious will adapted to our capacity and resources, and which the sincere and loving heart may be enabled to fulfil so as constantly to please Him. The little child in the A B C class at school may please her teacher as perfectly as the highest graduate, and yet she cannot even attempt the tasks of the higher class. But she is not expected to do so; she has only to meet the teacher’s will from day to day, and that will is gauged by her progress and ability. So God’s will for the humble believer is not a rigid abstract rule, nor does it demand the same obedience and service as He requires of angel and archangel; but it is a tender, gracious rule, adapted to our situation and growth, and unfolding from day to day into all the good pleasure of His goodness, as we are able to bear it.
To please God is the aim of the sanctified soul. He does not try to please the world, and perhaps he seems to others a very narrow, disagreeable and one-sided man. He does not live to please himself; and yet no other man has so much real pleasure, or so much after his own way; for, before making a choice or taking a step, he always waits to know God’s pleasure, and by keeping his will in the line of God’s will, he is not crossed and fretted as others are. His “ways are ways of pleasantness, and all His paths are peace.” He has been blessedly delivered from the spirit of bondage, and lives perpetually in the glad sense of God’s acceptance and love. To him have come the sweet words, “I have sworn that I never will be wroth with thee nor rebuke thee.” The smile of God shines evermore on his path, and he lives in the land of Hephzibah, the land of which the Lord hath said, “My delight is in her.”
“Thee to please and Thee to know, Constitutes my bliss below, Thee to see and Thee to love, Constitutes my bliss above.”
But how can we thus please God? Is it possible for sinful man ever to please God? Is it not true, that the best that man can do is as filthy rags, and that the holiest men have ever laid themselves lowest in the dust, and thrown themselves wholly upon the mercy and the grace of God? Yes, it is all true, and yet it is also true, that we may receive from God that with which we can please and even satisfy Him, so that we shall stand before Him without fault or blame. Ah, here is the mystery of godliness, of which Jesus is the wondrous solution.
There is but one man who ever perfectly pleased God. It is He of whom the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And there is but one way by which we can perfectly please God, and that is by being so united to Him, and having Him so dwell in us, that He shall answer for us in everything, and we can present Him to God as our perfect offering and complete life. This is the secret of justification: we accept His blood and righteousness, and we are made “accepted in the Beloved.”
And this is the secret of sanctification; we received Him as our inner life and holiness, “made unto us of God sanctification,” and our holiness is no longer human but divine, no longer our filthy rags, but His seamless robe, and the Father is pleased with us even as He is with Him, and the wondrous prayer is fulfilled, “THAT THE LOVE WHEREWITH THOU HAST LOVED ME, MAY BE IN THEM, AND I IN THEM.” It is because He is in us now that we are loved with the very same love, for we are now a part of Him:
“So dear, so very dear to God, More dear I could not be, The love wherewith He loves His Son, That love He bears to me.”
There is no other way of holiness that can ever reach God’s high standard or man’s low level of perfect helplessness. All else is human, this is divine. It is higher than the best that man can do, yet easier than the least of His own struggles. It is not an attainment, but an obtainment. It is not a task, but a gift. It is ” Not I, but Christ that liveth in me.” It is not our best, but “God’s best.”
Now all this is brought out with great beauty in the next expression, employed to describe Enoch’s holiness.”He walked with God.” His life was a personal companionship with God, not a self-contained and self-sustained righteousness. It was dependent on the divine fellowship, and was just as personal as our walk with Jesus now.
For the same Jesus came then to the future scene of His toil and suffering, and made Himself known; and He was the constant Companion of Enoch’s life and walk. This is the secret of the Christian life, “the mystery hid from ages and generations, but now made manifest unto the saints, CHRIST IN YOU, the hope of glory.”
It is not a wonderful state or a marvelous experience, but a perfect union with Jesus, the living and perfect One. We do not merely receive grace, but the God of all grace; not merely holiness, but the Holy One; not merely power, but the Mighty One in the midst; not merely wisdom, but the companionship and counsel of the Wonderful Counselor. This is still the secret of divine holiness. It is union with Jesus, abiding in Jesus, dependence upon Jesus every moment and for everything. “Out of His fulness have all we received, even grace for grace.” Our graces are just the transfer of His grace to us. As the transfer picture is laid upon the piece of silk and stamped into its texturewith a hot iron, so the Holy Spirit takes the things of Christ and translates them with His burning touch into our life. Is it purity, we put on His purity; is it faith, we receive the faith of God; is it love, His love is shed abroad in our hearts, and herein is our love made perfect, “because as He is, so are we also in this world.” Is it peace, “My peace I give unto you.” Is it joy, “That My joy may remain in you and your joy may be full.” Is it power, “All power is given unto ME, and, lo, I am with you always.” And so it is all Christ’s grace, and power, and personal presence.
It is not a wealthy friend, advancing a large sum to aid us in our business, but coming into it Himself, and giving us His partnership, His counsel, and His capital. And it is received by faith, as the free gift and finished work of our complete Savior. In one single act we renounce ourselves and all our sin and self-confidence, and take Him and His all-sufficiency for every future need. Henceforth our life is simply putting on Christ more fully from day to day, and ceasing from self. In that blessed moment of appropriating faith He gives Himself to us as our complete life, covering all our future need, and day by day we just enter into it step by step.
Not long ago an iron ship was set up on the Clyde in sections, screwed together, and launched, a complete vessel in every part. But this vessel was destined for Central Africa. Her future element was to be the Upper Congo. And so she was transported in sections, slowly and separately, to Stanley Pool, and there piece by piece set up and completed, according to the originalplan. And now she is the missionary ship carrying the Gospel to the natives of the Dark Continent.
This may illustrate imperfectly what we mean by the transfer of our spiritual life from Christ. In Him we are now complete. Our whole character, the perfect pattern of the life, is now in Him in heaven, even as the little ship was planned, and prepared and completed on the Clyde.
But it must be wrought into us and transferred to our earthly life; and this is the Holy Spirit’s work. He takes the gifts and graces of Christ and brings them into our life, as we need and receive them day by day, just as the sections of the vessel are reproduced in the distant continent, and thus we receive of His fulness grace for grace, His grace for our grace, His supply for our need, His strength for our strength, His body for our body, His spirit for our spirit, Himself “made unto us of God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” But it is much more than mere abstract help and grace, much more even than the Holy Spirit bringing us strength and peace and purity. It is personal companionship with Jesus Himself. It is Christ dwelling in the heart and walking with us as
“A living, bright reality, More dear, more intimately nigh Than e’en the closest earthly tie.”
An American gentleman once visited the saintly Albert Bengel. He was very desirous to hear him pray. So one night he lingered at his door, hoping to overhear his closing devotions. The rooms were adjoining and the doors ajar. The good man finished his studies, closed his books, knelt down for a moment and simply said, “Dear Lord Jesus, things are still the same between us,” and then sweetly fell asleep. So close was his communion with his Lord that labor did not interrupt it, and prayer was not necessary to renew it. It was a ceaseless, almost unconscious presence, like the fragrance of the summer garden, or the presence of some dear one by our side whose presence we somehow feel, even though the busy hours pass by and not a word is exchanged:
“O blessed fellowship, divine, O joy, supremely sweet; Companionship with Jesus Christ, Makes life with joy replete; O wondrous grace, O joy sublime, I’ve Jesus with me all the time.”
2. ENOCH’S DESTINY. And for such glorious living there is a worthy consummation. “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” He became the glorious pattern, not only of man’s perfect spiritual life, but man’s physical immortality and resurrection glory.
It is indeed doubtful, if those who fail to enter into the fulness of Christ’s grace here shall know the completeness of His glory at His Second Coming. The summons to holiness is very closely linked with the warnings of the Advent, and the promise of the marriage feast.
“They that are with Him are called and chosen and faithful.” “He that overcometh, shall sit down with Me on My throne.” “Behold I come as a thief, blessed is he that keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” “The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready; and to her it was granted that she should be arrayed in fine raiment, clean and white; the fine raiment is the righteousness of the saints.”
Let us take, and let us keep these garments, which are granted to all who will receive and wear them, and let us know the blessedness of these two walks:
“HE WALKED WITH GOD.” “THEY SHALL WALK WITH ME IN WHITE, FOR THEY ARE WORTHY.”
“‘Tis so sweet to walk with Jesus, Step by step, and day by day; Stepping in His very footprints, Walking with Him all the way.
Here a while we walk with Jesus, But the time will not be long Till the night shall change to morning, And the sorrow into song.
Then, with all who walk with Jesus, We shall walk with Him in white, While He turns our grief to gladness, And our darkness into light.”
The great lesson of Noah’s life is the necessity of separation from the world. By his faith, we are told, he condemned the world. He did not save it, although he tried to do so for one hundred and twenty years; but he, at least, bore witness against it, and left the world without excuse. When George Whitefield was asked by his roommate, in a country inn, what he had gained by leaving his bed and going down into the bar-room to warn men — to be met only by mockery and scorn — he answered, “I have gained a good conscience, and left them without excuse.” So, our business is not always to save, but simply to be faithful witnesses.
The cause of the Deluge was that very thing which is bringing about the last apostasy, namely, the mingling of the Church and the world. God told His children at the beginning that there must be enmity between the two seeds, the woman’s and the serpent’s. He soon made the truth terribly plain in the deadly hate of Cain and the murder of Abel. In Seth’s day the races were kept separate, for we read of Seth’s family, “Then began men to call themselves by the name of the Lord “(marg.). But in the days of Noah the fatal compromise had begun. “The sons of God,” or the godly race, saw “the daughters of men” — no doubt, the seed of Cain — “that they were fair,” and, thinking only of their own earthly desire, and not of God’s will, “they took them wives of all THEY CHOSE.” The offspring of these unions was a race marked by splendid physical culture, but equally characterized by depravity and moral degradation. These giants in stature were monsters of wickedness, and their violence filled the earth with blood. The early geological specimens of the human race show a man of gigantic stature, and by his side lies a woman with her skull crushed in by a murderous blow; corresponding exactly with God’s picture of primitive man.
This is the result of the devil’s unholy alliance between the Church and the world. It is filling the Church once more, and it will bring another flood — A FLOOD OF FIRE. Its forms are innumerable. The world invades the home, the sanctuary, the pulpit, the seminary, the whole fibre of modern religion. It is the devil’s snare, and its evil touch is forbidden by God in urgent and reiterated warnings. When Balaam could not destroy Israel by his curse, he ensnared them by the world’s fascinations. “Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world.” “Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you.” “What fellowship hath light with darkness? What communion hath Christ with Belial? What fellowship hath he that believeth with an unbeliever?
These are some of God’s signals over the inviting archways of the forbidden land. And yet Christians walk coolly past them, and only awake to their danger when too late to return. Like the eagle that sat down on the frozen ground to feed upon its prey, and when it would have risen, found its great wings so frozen to the ice that it could never rise again, but perished beside its costly pleasure; like the ship that sailed so close to the current that it was impossible to stem the awful tide that drove it over the abyss — so Christian men and women are trifling with forbidden things until they have neither heart nor strength to rise to their heavenly calling.
A Christian has no more business in the theater than Jesus had. A Christian mother has no more right to give her child’s hand to an unbeliever, or a Christian minister to unite them in marriage, than to sell her into a Turkish harem. And yet, such ideas are considered obsolete and narrow; and not only does the membership of the Church patronize the broadest and most popular theaters, but the Sunday-school picnic and the religious entertainment are vying with the drama for popular attraction. All this is bringing in the latter days. The end is judgment. The only remedy is the faith and faithfulness of Noah. Never will the world be saved by compromise with it, but only by standing on God’s level, and lifting men up to His side.
And we can only take this place of separation as we have Noah’s faith. It was because Noah had found a better world that he let the old world go; and only they who have learned the value of the true treasure will throw the tinsel away. The raven will settle down upon the carrion feast of the world; but the dove will take the olive leaf as her pledge of a future world of peace and blessedness, and wait in the ark (until the evil days are past) for freedom and inheritance.
A gardener had a willow tree which he tried in vain to make symmetrical. It would send out all its branches to one side only, and in spite of pruning, it grew lopsided. At last he found the reason. There was a little subterranean stream running on that side of the tree, from which it drew its nourishment, and the tree grew toward the source of its life. He immediately changed his tactics. He stopped his pruning and dug a channel on the other side of the tree, diverting the water from its old course, and supplying it on the neglected side. And lo, ere another year had passed, the tree had wholly changed its form. It sent out roots below and branches above, toward the welcome waters, and grew symmetrical and beautiful without an effort. This is the secret of the great Husbandman, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above; set your affections on things above, and not on things upon the earth; for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.”
The Apostle Peter, in speaking of Noah, says a most singular thing about him. He says his household was “saved by water.” Most persons would think they were saved from water. But it was not so. “The like figure wherewith, even baptism, both also now save us . . . by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” The water of the Deluge, like baptism — which is a similar figure — was significant of our death and resurrection with Christ. Noah was saved from the flood of the world which had almost engulfed his family, by that other flood of water; and so we are saved from the world by the Cross of Jesus Christ, “by which the world is crucified unto us, and we unto the world.” It is only as we really know in our spirit the meaning of that death, and let our spirit die with Him to all the old natural life of the flesh, and rise with a new nature, even His own, to a new inheritance, even His kingdom and His throne, that we can rise above the world. It can attack us no more. We are not of the world, even as He is not of the world.
As when the magnet, drawn through a box of earth mingled with iron filings, draws to it every particle of iron without an effort, so the heaven-born spirit springs to Christ, and the earthly neither knows nor cares for His call:
” Rivers to the ocean run, Nor stay in all their course; Fire, ascending seeks the sun— Both speed them to their source.
So a soul that’s born of God Pants to see His glorious face, Upward tends to His abode, To rest in His embrace.”
We need not go out of the world to be separated from it. The water spider makes its home beneath the surface of the pool, but no drop of water ever touches its soft and downy coat. From the upper world it takes down with it a globule of air, and anchors it under water — a bubble of buoyant air which displaces the water; and in its center the spider makes its nest, living beneath the waves, but breathing the air of the upper world.
So can we be shut in by God’s Holy Spirit, like an encompassing world of light and life, beneath the dark waves of the world and sin, but separated even from its touch in the secret of His Presence:
“Tell me not of earthly pleasures, Tempt me not with sordid gain; Mock me not with earth’s illusions, Vex me not with honors vain. I am weaned from sinful idols; I am henceforth not my own; I have giv’n my heart to Jesus, I belong to Him alone.”
Abraham has been called “the Columbus of Faith.” Not that he was the only one that has traversed the great and trackless wastes, but because he was the first. Moreover, so wide and comprehensive was the range of his faith, and its trials and triumphs, that he has been called by God Himself ” the father of all them that believe.” His faith shines out in SEVEN rainbow-like hues of distinct and glorious luster.
1. FAITH OBEYING GOD’S COMMANDS. — “By faith Abraham, when he was called, OBEYED.” Faith, therefore, meets us in the very beginning as an act of obedience, and thus God regards it and enjoins it. It is not an option with us whether we shall believe God’s word or not, but “This is His commandment, that we should believe on the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ.”
This makes the act of faith at once most imperative, and yet most simple and easy. Imperative, because if He has commanded we have no choice; easy, because if He has commanded, He is responsible to carry us through and fulfil His promise to us. God is as much bound by His word as we are. Therefore, whenever faith can clearly know that He has spoken, all it has to do is to lay the whole responsibility on Him and go forward. “Hath He said, and shall He not do it; hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?”
2. FAITH TRUSTING GOD IN THE DARK. — “He went forth, not knowing whither he went.” That is the next stage. It is faith without sight. When we can see, it is not faith, but reasoning. In crossing the Atlantic, we see no path upon the sea or sign of the shore. And yet, day by day, we are marking our path upon the chart as exactly as if there had followed us a great chalk line upon the sea. And when we come within twenty miles of land we know where we are as exactly as if we had seen it all three thousand miles ahead. How have we measured and marked our course? Day by day our captain has taken his instruments, and looking up to the sky has fixed his course by the sun. He is sailing by dead reckoning, by the heavenly, not the earthly lights. So faith looks up and sails on, by God’s great Sun, not seeing one shoreline or earthly lighthouse or path upon the way.
Faith sails by reckoning too. Often its steps seem to lead into utter uncertainty, and even darkness and disaster. But He opens the way, and often makes such midnight hours to be the very gates of day.
Once, in going down an Alpine path, the travelers found their way wholly closed. The little path down the mountain torrent suddenly ended in a vast ice cliff, under which the torrent plunged and disappeared. What were they to do? Suddenly the guide leaped into the stream and bade his companions follow. For a moment there was darkness and fear, then they were carried under the ice mountain, and a moment later flung on the banks of green in the valley of Chamonix. So faith has often to go right into the darkness, and find God and deliverance in what seems to be a veritable death-plunge. In many a step of faith the way seems to close up, and when all seems threatened with disaster, God delivers. The more fully God purposes to teach us faith, the more will He shut us up to Himself alone, and shut out of our view the human sources of help which He holds at His command until we have learned to trust Him fully without either sight or sign.
3. FAITH BELIEVING GOD’S DEFINITE PROMISE. — For a while Abraham had only God’s general promise of guidance as he went on from day to day. But ere long the promise grows more specific, and at last it is clear and plain, a star of fixed magnitude upon the sky of his future, the promise of an inheritance and a child. Faith now changes from a simple trust in His wisdom and love to a specific expectation. And here he must stand and believe, and wait for God to fulfil. Here we, too, must follow him.
In this Abraham is our great forerunner, and our part is to follow in the steps of our father Abraham, and as we follow we shall find that all his steps were steps of faith. But Abraham’s faith was not as yet perfected; and God had now to give him a startling object-lesson of what it really means to believe God. And so He does much more than talk to Abraham. He requires Abraham to meet Him and answer back by the actions of responsive faith. And so we see in the following verses the most dramatic picture of the steps of faith to be found in the Bible.
First, God gives Abraham the promise of future blessing. “I will make My covenant between thee and Me.” Abraham meets this promise, and goes down upon his face before God to claim it. Then follows, secondly, the next tense of faith, which is the present tense. “As for Me, behold My covenant is with thee.” The thing that God would do He now does. The thing that Abraham expected he now accepts and takes as a present fact. The future becomes the present tense, and faith becomes action. But there is still a third step of faith. “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.” It is now the perfect tense. The thing that was promised was done, and is now finished. Action has become transaction, and has passed even beyond the present tense, and therefore Abraham must take the position of one who has passed through all these stages, and has actually received his yet unseen blessing. He must change his name and stand before the public and be laughed at and called a fool, an old man in his dotage, a dreamer, as his neighbors ask him the reason of the strange difference in his name, and he tells them that God has made him the father of many nations. Faith must be sealed by testimony, and testimony must be steeped in trial, shame, and many a waiting hour of trusting in the darkness.
But at length there comes a day of vindication, when the laugh is turned upon them, and little Isaac is called by the name “Laughter,” because God has made Abraham to laugh instead of those who scorned his faith.
This, beloved, is the way in which we must meet El-Shaddai. We must not only take the promise for the future, but we must bring it into the present, and claim it as an immediate fact in this moment of our lives. Then we must translate it into the past, and take the position that it is an accomplished fact, and call it so, never ashamed to have men know that we believe our God and venture on calling the things that are not as though they were. This is the committal of faith. This is the place where so many fail to enter in, but this is the very ladder of blessing described in the 37th Psalm, where David says, “Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He worketh. Rest in the Lord, be silent to God and wait patiently for Him, and He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light and thy judgment as the noonday.”
4. FAITH NOT ONLY BELIEVING BUT CONFESSING ITS CONFIDENCE. — Abraham no sooner believed the promise of his seed, than he had to change his name, as we have already seen, and take in the sight of all men, a name that literally signified his great and stupendous claim. Christ ever asks us, “Whom SAY YE that I am?” Faith must always set its seal to it that God is true, and “SAY of the Lord, He is my Helper.”
Faith will die without confession; but a true and humble acknowledgment commits it and confirms it. If the healed demoniac had not gone home to his friends and put himself on record for Christ, he would probably have fallen; and if Simon Peter had fearlessly followed with Christ’s little band he would not have denied Him. We must not merely believe, but we must even CALL the things that are not as though they were, and take the witness-stand for God in regard to all He has called us to.
5. FAITH YIELDING UP THE WORLD BECAUSE IT HAS A BETTER INHERITANCE. — It was not long ere Lot, with his earthly spirit, began to contend for the best of the land. Abraham let him have it, and that same night God appeared to Abraham and told him it was all his own, Lot’s portion as well as the rest, and it was not long ere even Lot had to look to Abraham to defend even the portion that he chose. The man of faith can let the present world go, because he knows he has a better; but even as he lets it go God tells him that all things are his because he is Christ’s.
6. FAITH CONTENDING AGAINST THE DEVIL FOR ITS FULL INHERITANCE. — Abraham would not contend with Lot for the best pastures, but when the Kings of the East invaded Canaan and set their foot on his inheritance, he rose up in the might of divine faith, and in the most chivalrous exploit of ancient times, defeated and drove them from the land, and rescued Lot and his family. Faith can fight as well as yield, but it always fights against the enemies of God, not against God’s servants. God wants us to know and use the authority of faith, and say to this mountain, “Be thou removed and cast into the sea, and it shall obey.”
7. FAITH BEARING THE SUPREME TEST, AND THEN ENTERING INTO REST AND RESURRECTION LIFE. — At length the very promise he had received, claimed, and confessed, seems challenged. Isaac, the link of all the promise, must be given up. Was it then a mistake that in Isaac all the seed was to come? No, not for a second did he question. Isaac might even die, but God could not break His word. It must all come, even if Isaac was raised from the dead. This was really what Abraham looked for. It was his faith, therefore, not only his obedience and love that were tested. And it was because he believed that God would give Isaac back that he was able to give him up. So God would have us stand in the most trying hours, knowing that He cannot lie, and so fully trusting Him that we give up our very blessings to His hand, and our very promises to His keeping, knowing that He is faithful that promised. Such trials only bring out the richer preciousness and overcoming power of faith.
In the desert there is a flower which only blooms when the winds blow. Then amid the fiercest blasts there comes out on every stem a little star-like flower. So faith blossoms when the winds of trial blow the fiercest, and finds its very soil and nurture in the difficulties and testings of life. May the Lord so fill us with the faith of Abraham, that God can not only give, but give back, the Isaacs of His love, and lead us into the rest, the fulness, and the fruitage of the life of faith which made Abraham worthy to be called “the Friend of God.”
The life and character of Isaac is one of the quiet pictures of the Old Testament. He is not an actor in great or exciting events, but rather, he moves in a placid, passive sphere, acted upon rather than acting, and yielding and suffering rather than aggressive and strong.
And yet this gentle and shrinking man, more than any of the patriarchs, was the chosen type of Jesus Christ, and the example for us of the very hardest and highest thing in our Christian life, namely, the death of self and the love that suffers long and endures all things.
God has appointed our path to life through the gates of death. Some one has sung:
“Life evermore is fed by death And joy by agony, And that a rose may breathe its breath Something must die.”
The Great Master and Martyr said of Himself and us: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.” Our Christian life is not the culture but the cutting down of the old plant, and the engrafting of a new nature born from above and rooted in Christ. Anything less than this must end in failure, and a far worse death. Of the old Adamic life it can be said, uncompromisingly, as the old general said of the opposing army, as riding down the ranks he pointed to their banners, and cried, “Soldiers, there is the enemy, if you don’t kill them they’ll kill you.” There can be no compromise. The old man must die in us, or we will die with him for ever.
When God led His people out of Egypt He caused them, in symbol, to pass through four deaths. First, the Red Sea, the type of death to the world. Secondly, the Jordan, the type of death to the old wilderness life. Thirdly, Circumcision, the type of death to the flesh in its vital and self-propagating principle. Fourthly, Joshua’s vision of the Captain of the Lord’s Host and His absolute prostration at His feet, a type of death of our self-confidence in the work of God.
Now, this is the lesson of Isaac’s life, the death of self, and the life of meekness, patience, and lowliness:
1. His first experience as a child was one of painful trial. He was the younger brother and rival of Ishmael, and was persecuted and scorned by him for his faith. At length Ishmael was cast out, and Isaac was delivered from that which was a type of the earthly and fleshly man.
2. But soon he must die in a much more radical way. We hear much of the obedient faith of Abraham, but do we think enough of the faith of Isaac in yielding up himself. That was a real death on Mount Moriah, the death of the will, and this is ever the real self which has to be slain. That scene was not only the foreshadowing of Christ’s death, but also of yours and mine. Have you died? Will you? It is not your vices, your tempers, your sins, but YOUR SELF.
3. We next see him in the same beautiful aspect in the yet deeper life of his heart, in the matter of his affections, in connection with his marriage. There is no part of our life which so influences our character and destiny and so tests our real consecration as the determination of our affections. Therefore, God has from the beginning made the most stringent provisions for the regulation and government of marriage. Knowing so well that the entangling of our hearts with unholy alliances will draw them away from Him, and our tenderest earthly ties must be linked with His love and blessing, He has strictly forbidden the intermarriage of His people with the wicked or worldly, and requires that their choice should be made in and for Him, and ever with His direction and approval.
It was the intermarriage of the sons of God with the daughters of men that brought about the corruption that preceded the Deluge. It was the intermarriage of the Israelites with the Canaanites that led them back to bondage in the days of the Judges. It was Solomon’s marriage with heathen wives that corrupted his heart and destroyed his kingdom. And many a life has been blighted and separated from God by a selfish and worldly friendship, and many a consecration sealed and consummated in the sacrifice of an affection that could not be held in harmony with the will of God.
Many a sacrifice might have been saved by waiting to know God’s will before making a choice. This was just what Isaac did. He put his will in abeyance to the will of God, and allowed God to choose for him the companion of his life and the mother of God’s futureIsrael. It was a beautiful instance of self-renunciation, and it was honoured by God’s most signal interpositionin directing the instrument employed — the faithful Eliezer. Eliezer stands in this, as his name signifies, as a type of the Holy Ghost, just as Abraham does of the Father. It is not meant that in a matter so delicate and important we are to submit our hearts and happinessto the decision of any man or woman, but committing our way and will to the Father, and holding our hearts subject to His choice, we are to ask and expect the Holy Ghost to guide us, and form all our attachments, friendships, and relationships only in and for Him. This is true self-renunciation, and the ties thus formed will be more strong, pure, and happy than mere earthly passion.
The affections enkindled by the Holy Ghost glow with the calm, deep strength of a divine love, and the gift dedicated to God will be made by God a tenfold blessing to the heart that consecrates it.
But this, let us remember, was the meekness not of nature but of faith. It was because Isaac trusted implicitly that he committed his happiness absolutely to God. We cannot commit our lives to God unless we trust Him to do better for us than we could for ourselves. So let us trust Him:
Our times are in Thy hand: O God, we trust them there, Our hearts, our lives, our all we leave Entirely to Thy care. Our times are in Thy hand, Why should we doubt or fear? A Father’s hand will never cause His child a needless tear.”
4. We next see Isaac’s faith and patience in relation to the trials of life. Famine first drives him from his home to take refuge with Abimelech, king of Gerar. Next his very wife is threatened with dishonor, and in an hour of weakness he repeats the sin of his father Abraham and denies her. God blesses him with great prosperity, but like many another rich man, the Philistines envied him, and at last asked him to leave them. Meekly and patiently he went away and left even the wells of water which he had opened in the valley. Again he opens the wells in the valley of Gerar which his father had dug, but the Philistines again strive with him and claim the wells, and again he yields and moves away. A third time he moves to a new home and digs again the wells which, to an Oriental, are more than food to us; and yet again contention vexes his patient spirit and compels him to move once more. The fourth time the wells are unmolested, and patience has its reward. The Philistines are subdued by a man they cannot quarrel with, and his enemies are killed with the sword of kindness, the wells of Esek and Sitnah recompensed in Rehoboth and Shebah. The Lord has made room for him and brought him into a large place, and soon his old enemies are coming to him requesting his alliance and declaring, “We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee, and we said, let there now be an oath betwixt us, and let us make a covenant with thee that thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace, and thou art now the blessed of the Lord.” That is worth a hundred wells. Yes, consistency and meekness will win the day. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This is the fruit of faith. It can trust the Lord to fight its battles and vindicate its innocence, and it can wait its time, through shame and loss and the triumph of wrong and pride. The men and women who fight so hard have no God to fight their battles, and no faith in Him for it. But let us who know His name put our trust in Him. Let us who know His love and faithfulness and power stand still and see the salvation of our God:
“Leave to His sovereign will To choose and to command, So shall thy soul with rapture know How wise, how strong His hand.”
5. Isaac’s last trials were with his children. He was himself to blame for many of them. Had he believed as fully as his wife the divine promises and predictions that preceded their birth, he would have better known the will of God for them, and been saved the vain struggle he afterward had, to carry out his own preconceived ideas. Looking at the natural rather than the spiritual, he set his heart upon the first born, the bold, manly, generous Esau. Ah, Isaac, you must die once more to all the pride of earth, and all your ideas and preferences must be given up for God’s will and word about your children. How many parents have died to the world in themselves but not in their offspring !How many plans and prospects they have that are not of God! How often God has to humiliate and disappoint them in the very objects of their idolatrous love or worldly compromise?
So Isaac had to see his plans shattered and hear the bitter cry of his eldest born, and give the covenant blessing to Jacob. But when he saw the divine will he struggled no more, he acquiesced at once, and added his own amen, “Yea, and he shall be blessed.” Isaac had to die more than once, but when he did, he did it gloriously. He plunged right into the will of God and there was no more about it. The trial did not soon end, but the obedience was complete. Esau continued to be a deep grief by his worldly marriages and earthly-minded life. Jacob went forth for more than a score of years, to see his face no more till both he and Esau gathered at his dying bed. The shadow of a deadly hate between the brothers filled his heart, no doubt, with keenest bitterness, but not once do we see a shadow upon his spirit.
Patience had its perfect work. He became in age as well as youth the type of the suffering Savior, the meek and lowly in heart, and the pattern of those graces which God burns into willing and waiting souls by fiery suffering, but which rank in the first and last places in the divine procession of love. “Love suffereth long and is kind, love beareth all things, love endureth all things.”
“But what has all this to do with faith?” you ask. Ah, this is the work of faith. “How oft shall my brother trespass against me and I forgive him — until seven times? I tell you, not until seven times but until seventy times seven.” What was their answer ? “Lord, increase our faith.” Why did they not say, “Lord increase our love?” Because they saw that only stupendous faith could bring such love; only Christ’s own love in us, received by faith, could thus triumph. And so the Apostle says to the Colossians, “Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all,” — what, work? No, but “unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.”
The most illustrious of all the patriarchs, the one who, humanly speaking, founded the Hebrew nation and gave his name for all time to Israel — the literal progenitor of the tribes of God’s chosen people — was naturally the least noble and attractive of all the patriarchs, nay, was the meanest and most selfish of all the characters of the series. Twelve hundred years later the prophet Isaiah speaks of him as the “worm Jacob,” and the figure well expresses the insinuating and undermining nature of the man. And yet, out of this wretched material God made His own great Prince, to show to poor sinners what grace can do with a sinful man, if willing to receive the divine discipline. Let us look at the five chapters of his history.
I. HIS CHOICE
Jacob chose the birthright and the blessing which it involved. He set his heart upon the covenant blessing of his race. Selfish, grasping, intriguing, he may have been, in the means that he took to accomplish his purpose, but nevertheless the one thing which eternally distinguishes him from the earth-born and earthly-minded Esau is this, that he appreciated and claimed, with every fibre of his being, the great, the one all embracing prize of God’s covenant promise, which Esau on his part profanely despised and cheaply bartered away. Below and beyond all the other defects in Jacob’s character, the eye of God saw this one thing, the preference, the choice of his will, for spiritual and divine things. And so Jacob represents the first germ of the spiritual nature in any soul, the determination of the will, the direction of the heart, the singleness of the purpose, the value which man may place on eternal things.
Here Esau is superficial, transient, sordid, earthly-minded, animal. His highest good is the present gratification; his horizon stretches only to the setting sun. His deepest desire and aspirations are the instincts, passions, wants of his animal or physical nature. He is impulsively generous, frank, and affectionate, but it is an animal instinct. He is the fleshly man. “Behold I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birthright do to me?” That was the very time when faith would have looked out on the eternal profit, or claimed that, with such a promise, he should not die till the birthright covenant was fulfilled. But Jacob saw “the land that was very far off,” and sprang to meet it; sold all that he had for the pearl of great price; and grasped with both hands the priceless blessing of which his fond mother had often told him, but whose full significance, so far, he could dimly comprehend. But this he knew, that it was linked with all the promises of God and all the hopes of his race.
God loved Jacob for this choice. It was the mightiest thing in his life. It is the mightiest thing in any life; a will that sees the heavenly prize, and gets its hand upon it to let it go no more forever, to claim it and hold at any cost the great inheritance. It was this same mighty will which afterward, at Peniel, held fast to the angel presence and cried, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” This is the very essence of faith — to choose God, His promise, His inheritance, His blessing, and let heaven and earth pass away rather than relinquish the claim. It was of this Christ said to Mary, “She hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” It was of this He said to the Syrophenician woman, “O woman, great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
Jacob’s faith was not complete. Had it been so, he would not have begun to work out so cunningly his chosen destiny, but rather would have trusted God to do what He had promised before his birth. All this he had slowly and painfully to learn, so as to be saved from the scheming, supplanting, restless spirit of Jacob. But he had the germ, a single aim, a fixed will, and a perfect heart toward the covenant blessing, and God could well afford to hew and polish and cut away the rest.
As to Esau, there was nothing to prune and purify. The roots of his nature were all in the world. He had not one chord in common with the heart of God. He was, perhaps, handsome, generous, and large-hearted, but so is many a dumb creature that knows not God. A noble dog, a generous horse, a fond mother-bird are attractive too, but they are only animated clay, and for man to lift his eyes and heart no higher is to be lost for ever. The world is full of Esaus, fine fellows in their way, but “their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they mind earthly things.”
2. HIS FIRST REVELATION
Jacob has chosen God, through his mother’s teachings, no doubt: but he has not yet seen God for himself. The Most High has not yet spoken to his heart. He is a good deal like the soul that has given itself to Christ on simple faith and choice, but has not yet received any deep experimental sense of eternal things. But now the time has come for further knowledge. As often happens, it comes in the dark and trying hour. Separated, for the first time, from his home and his mother’s tender love — through the consequences of her artifice and his own — he lays his head on a stony pillow, which might well represent the feelings of his heart; and so he goes to sleep. In his dreams the Lord meets him in His first revelation of covenant grace. A ladder set up on the earth, its top reaching to heaven, was the fitting figure of God’s own high purpose. He, too, has set his ladder no lower than the skies, and God meets him at the top as the God of Abraham and Isaac, and gives him in covenant the promises he had claimed, pledging to him His constant presence until all His promised will is finished: “I am with thee in all places whither thou goest, for I will not leave thee until I have done all that I have spoken to thee of.”
Jacob awakes with a solemn sense of God’s immediate presence, and while his words express the deepest reverence and the same inflexible purpose, yet there is all the distance and the dread of the yet unsanctified heart. “How dreadful is this place,” is the language of the soul that does not yet know its sonship. But he is a true servant, and knows henceforth that his choice is sealed, that the God of Abraham is his Lord, that the covenant blessing is now his own, and that the angels of God’s providence are henceforth encompassing his path, and with ministries of constant blessing are ascending and descending the shining way.
For us the vision means more than Jacob saw. That ladder is the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Heavenly Way, through whom God becomes our Covenant Father, and all heaven’s blessings are made our inheritance. Has our faith claimed the glorious revelation, and have our feet begun to climb the blessed ascent?
3. JACOB’S DEEPER REVELATION AND CONSECRATION AT PENIEL
More than twenty years have passed by, and Jacob has grown little, if any, in his spiritual life. He has been just like we all have been in the low plane of spiritual life with which we began and were so long content. He has allowed idolatry to be retained by his wives; he has continued to plot and scheme in order to outwit the crafty Laban; he has accumulated a fortune in herds and flocks, and perhaps his heart has begun to rest in the prosperity of his outward estate. But God lets new troubles gather around him, and as he goes back once more to his old Canaan home, the most terrible peril of his life confronts him. Esau with an armed band is coming to meet him, and all the treasured bitterness of a quarter of a century, no doubt, is waiting for the opportunity of terrible vengeance. It is the crisis of his life, and all his policy and shrewdness are insufficient to meet it. Still he does all that tact can do. He sends on a costly present to Esau, and separates his little band in the safest way he can contrive; and then, with a desolate sense of his utter helplessness, he falls at the feet of God. It is again with Jacob the midnight of life, and again it is the dawn of a brighter morning. The hour of despair becomes the hour of self-renunciation and divine victory. Alone with God at Jabbok’s ford, he wrestles in all the strength of despair, and when his strength is gone, and he sinks under the withering touch of the angel’s hand, he finds the secret of power, and exchanges his strength for God’s omnipotence.
It was not that the mighty wrestlings of Jacob’s prayer were wrong, or are wrong for us — all things are born in the throes of travail — but it was that he should learn that another than he was wrestling too. “There wrestled with him an angel.” And when he yielded himself up to that presence in the submission of perfect trust, then came the fulness of God’s working and God’s victorious love. Ah! this is what we must learn — that the secret of our deepest desires after God is His own preventing grace; the spring of our mightiest doing and praying must be His doing and praying in us, so that we shall ever say with Paul, “I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.” Jacob rises from that hour a new man. “Thy name shall no more be called Jacob, but ISRAEL shall be thy name, for as a prince hast thou had power with God and hast prevailed.”
Jacob has not a word now to say about Esau, or the trouble that had almost distracted him before. God had not even mentioned it, and Jacob had lost all thought of it in another presence. He has God Himself now, and with Him he must have all things. Oh, when the soul reaches the heart of things in Him, all its cares and questions are fled. It is not even that He has spoken of them, but He Himself is the answer to them all. Perhaps the trouble was the occasion that brought us to Him; perhaps we came thinking of little else and with very little thought of Him, but we go away lost in a presence that bears us and our burden too. It is well to bring our difficulties, even the very least, to Him; for an aching finger is as good an occasion to know God as the vastest issue of life. But it is the Blesser and not the blessing; it is the Lord and not the deliverance, that is the real benediction. Oh how often has some commonplace thing, some trouble or difficulty that others might call simply secular, become a link to bind us forever to the very throne of God, and to form a chain of communication for infinite blessing! And, as a little bit of common glass is sufficient to reflect the full glory of the sun, so the smallest trifle has often had room in it for a whole heaven of God’s love and help to come to us.
The trouble with Esau is all right. The brothers meet next day with tears and embraces of affection from spirits that God had touched while Jacob prayed. Could you have seen behind the curtains that night, you would have beheld a sleepless man in his Idumean tent, tossing on his bed as he reflects upon childhood’s memories, and fights with bloody purpose of revenge; and you might have said that it was the impulse of a generous nature that made him spring to his feet and resolve that bygones should be bygones, and ride forth to meet that forgiven brother with the traces of tears still on his rugged face. No! it was God, it was prayer, it was the law of faith that binds unseen all hearts to the touch of His hand, and the hands that touch His throne.
But this was the least part of it by far. Esau had soon come and gone, but Jacob’s life is moving on, still moving upon the higher plane which began that night. Henceforth he was God’s Israel, and fit to become the head of the chosen tribes. Now, how different God is to him; He is not now at the distant top of the ladder, but near at hand, in his very embrace, and encompassing all his future life with His presence and blessing.
4. THE DISCIPLINE OF TRIAL
Jacob has got his blessing. God now begins to burn it into him in the crucible of suffering. We never know the full meaning of trial until we fully know the Lord. And so Jacob’s severest trials came after his consecration. First is the dishonor of his daughter Dinah, and the murder of the Shechemites by his wilful sons, thus involving him in future strife with the inhabitants of the land. This was not so much a trial as a punishment for his unjustifiable lingering on forbidden ground. God had sent him back to Canaan, and he had no business tarrying. We cannot remain upon the borders of an evil world without peril to us and our children. Immediately after this the command comes, with great and solemn emphasis: “Arise, and go up to Bethel and dwell there, and build an altar to the Lord!” “The house of God and the very gate of heaven ” is henceforth to be his dwelling-place. And so, renewing his consecration and separating himself and his household from every doubtful thing, he goes back to the scene of his early blessing, and rears at once the tent and the altar to the God of Bethel. It was well he did not wait, for the great and bitter trials soon began which needed the refuge and support of the divine presence.
First, his beloved Rachel was torn from his side in the pangs of Benjamin’s birth. Then Reuben committed an unnatural crime, and dishonored his father’s name in a way which, on his dying bed, the old patriarch remembered with fatal emphasis. And then came the saddest, longest, darkest, strangest of all — the loss of Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn son. For a quarter of a century, perhaps, that weary trial dragged along, and not one ray of light fell on the blackness of his desolation. And then came the years of famine, the necessity for the journey to Egypt for corn, and, the last drop in the overflowing cup, the demand for little Benjamin, too. It was too much for the broken heart to bear, and he cried out in agony, “Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away; all these things are against me!” But even this drop must be drunk, and all he has on earth must be left in trust and complete abandonment in God’s sole hands. And so he waits the issue.
It is enough. The cup is empty at last, and it shall be filled with “a joy so strangely sweet” that even Jacob’s faith shall scarcely be able to believe it. To think that God could have for him, after these buried years, so great a joy — not only Benjamin safe, but Joseph, too! Oh! it needed the sight of Joseph’s wagons to convince him that it was true, and Jacob cried, “It is enough — Joseph, my son, is yet alive.”
5. THE TRIUMPH
First, all evil was overruled by God’s great hand, and out of the darkest Providences he saw come blessing and honor to his child, joy to his own heart, teaching to his wild and wayward sons, and salvation from famine for the whole world, and he could truly say, instead of “all these things are against me,” “THE ANGEL WHICH REDEEMED ME FROM ALL EVIL, BLESS THE LADS.” Secondly, Jacob himself had learned to be still at last. The eager doing spirit had got quieted, and with a sense of all it meant he could say in his death-bed benediction, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord.”
Out of filthy rags, human skill loves to create the exquisite sheets that form our printed volumes, the illuminated card, the glowing picture, the letter of affection, the Sacred Bible. Out of the soiled and wrecked remnants of human worthlessness God is making the tablets on which He loves to write His character, His thoughts, and His own glorious image. So Jacob glorified the exceeding and marvelous grace of God. Let us trust Him, too; and in the ages to come He will show also the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness to us by Christ Jesus.
The lesson derived from Joseph’s life is the victory of faith over suffering and wrong. Jacob’s sufferings were the discipline which his own waywardness brought upon him; Joseph’s were the sufferings of an innocent and noble spirit. The first were designed to teach us how divine grace can overrule suffering for our spiritual good; the second to show how divine love can deliver us from the most trying difficulties and overrule them for our own good, and the good of others.
Joseph’s early visions were the foundation of his faith. He did not have, like Jacob, a divine prediction through his mother’s lips, announcing his future life and place of covenant blessing. But to his young heart there came in the visions of the night the foreshadowing of his future greatness, and, with ingenuous soul, he accepted it and believed it. His faith was tested by the ridicule of his brethren, and even the grave surprise and questioning of his old father, but he kept it and confessed it, and the day came when he saw it all fulfilled.
To all who wait upon His will, the Master gives some word of faith for the future. Not now in dreams and visions, but in His Word and its bright illumination by the Spirit, does He draw aside the veil enough to give our faith a resting-place and an anchorage. So to Timothy, Paul speaks of “the prophecies that went before on thee that by means of them thou mightest war a good warfare.” We must see the land before we can possess it.
It was this that carried David through his nine years of exile and persecution. It was this that sustained Paul through all his stormy vicissitudes; God had said,” Thou must see Rome,” and he counted not his life dear unto himself that he might “finish his course with joy.” And for each of us there is in life a destiny which God would have us claim and complete in faith and victory, and feel that if we trust Him He waits to carry us through. “Lift up thine eyes; all the land that thou seest, to thee will I give it.”
The stern realities of life soon tested his ardent anticipations, and proved whether they were the dreams of an enthusiast or the outcome of faith in God. God will put our trust into the crucible, and all that is not founded on His will, will dissolve like snow. But in that hour the faith of God shines with a luster brighter and clearer because of the darkness and the trial. First came the cruel envy of his brethren, and their heartless crime, which sent him into banishment and slavery, and broke his father’s heart with suspense and sorrow. Next came the base and false accusing of Potiphar’s wife, and his languishing in prison for months, and perhaps years. Then came the neglect and desertion of his companion in bondage, whose deliverance he had foretold only to be forgotten and left to his fate.
If there be anything still more hard to bear it is unjust accusation and inability to prove one’s innocence under the charge of atrocious crime. Such was his keen wound, and it was pierced to the quick by the desertion, at the last, of the very friend he had tried to help in their common distress. Under such circumstances any one of us would naturally have broken down completely and said, perhaps, “There is no use trying. The more one attempts to do right, the more he is hindered.” Of course he is. The devil does not try to hinder people who are going down. The law of gravitation only works against you when you ascend; it helps you downward. So does the law of sin and death. But shall we ask Satan’s leave to be right and true and brave and victorious? Shall we get a passport from him before we walk through the gates of victory? Or shall we not rather count his fiercest challenge our best and most complimentary certificate, and say with one, “The highest evidence you can have that you are right is the devil’s growl.”
How did Joseph act under trial? Did he get morbid and discouraged, and mourn his hard fate? Did he wait until circumstances got favorable? No, he at once accepted his position, and made the best of it, doing his duty in the kitchen so faithfully that he soon became the foreman over all his master’s house; and when, afterwards, he was sent to prison, he did his work in prison so faithfully that he soon became the master of the situation, and the overseer of the prisoners.
The world is full of young men who are waiting for something worthy of them, and have no heart to do better because they are unfavorably situated. The man who is going to succeed on the throne must first succeed in the ranks. A young man came to the writer once, without work. He had been a bank officer. Next day he started out to mop out cars with a soap bucket and brush. He did it well and gladly. He was thankful to have that to do, and determined to do his best. It was not a week till he was in a valuable post in that railway company. Such men will succeed. God will bless brave, manly, patient courage everywhere. Brother, begin where you are. There was no other road to Pharaoh’s throne except through the dungeon. Had he not been there amid wrong and shame Joseph could not have been brought to the notice of the king as he was, and raised to his princely place. Instead of quarreling with your trying position, and blaming some one for putting you there, why don’t you look for the side door that leads to the kingdom? There is always such a door of faith for those who trust God in all things. The secret of Joseph’s victory was simply this: He believed that God was in the bitterest of his trials, and would carry him through and give him double for all his shame. And I doubt not that often the memory of his early visions came floating over his spirit to point to the bright future which God was still holding for him when the ordeal was past.
His deliverance and triumph came at last. It came directly through his prison cell and his hardest experience. It came with an uplift so glorious, that his former troubles were forgotten. It came with an opportunity for the noblest revenge, for it not only laid the land of Egypt at his feet, but it brought his own brethren to his feet too, to see the fulfilment of his dreams, and the failure of their envy, and to claim at his hands the kindness which gave him his crowning victory. Oh yes, wronged and trusting one, “God will lift up thy head.” He says of thy enemies, “I will make them come and worship at thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” The pendulum must swing back with equal rebound, and as we are partakers of His sufferings, so we shall be of His consolations:
“The light of smiles shall fill again The eyes that overflow with tears, And weary hours of grief and pain Are harbingers of happier years.”
God’s blessed “afterward” always comes, and “the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby.” Then the teardrops and blood-drops shall be crystallized into pearls and rubies in our crown. God has a wonderful way of balancing accounts, and no true child of His need fear the touch of sorrow, for He can ” turn the curse into a blessing,” and overturn, when His time has come, the mightiest adversary, and turn the light affliction which was but for a moment into a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Like the contrary wind which the skillful sailor, by tacking, makes carry his vessel on her way, so God makes “all things work together for good to them that love God,” and nothing can be against them.
The best thing about Joseph’s triumph was that it was a victory of love. He did not use his exaltation for himself, but as a benefactor and savior of the world. And his highest joy was to be able to return good for evil to the very brethren who had wronged him. It was not the joy of a mean revenge which filled his heart as he found the betrayers of his youth in his power, but it was the gladness of being able to do them a kindness. And how noble was that kindness; how wisely did he endeavor to awake in their consciences a true sense of sin; and yet how magnanimously did he try to efface all sense of remorse, and lead them to see in it all God’s overruling love and power in bringing about their own deliverance as well as the saving of “much people alive.”
How can we have such love? What did the apostles say when Christ told them about the love that forgives until seventy times seven? “Lord, increase our faith.” Yes, it is only when we see God above all our trials that we can forgive and forget the human instrument. Overruling and counteracting all their hate, we behold the hand of infinite power and love, and we fear them not; we feel only sorry for them, as we see their ultimate discomfiture and sorrow, and we can even love and bless them that curse us.
If we could ever see the Hidden Hand that lies back of all other hands, we would ever have the victory of faith and the victory of love.
Is it not sublime to hear this wronged and outraged brother saying, “Now, be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither, for God did send me before you, to preserve life . . . God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So, now, it was not you that sent me hither, but God, and He hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt “? And then again, a little later, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass as it is this day, to save much people alive.”
That is faith’s after-view of trial. It sees God’s hand over all, and recognizes no evil ultimately. To such a soul nothing can be amiss.
Joseph had not only looked over the span of life with victorious faith and hope, but his vision out-reached the horizon of Time and took in the Eternal. His last words were as full of glorious expectation as his first. He “made mention of the departing of the children of Israel, and gave commandment concerning his bones.” Yes, he saw in the distance their redemption, and a little farther on the Great Redemption itself, and beyond that, the Glorious Resurrection; and in that day he claimed his place with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the millennial earth, and the deathless, sinless, glorious kingdom of that Greater Sufferer, who, like himself, was to be rejected and betrayed by His brethren, innocently accused and condemned, cruelly wronged, and then divinely exalted to be a Prince and a Savior, to deliver His people, to be made known to His long-alienated brethren, and to be ruler of all the families of the earth.
Yes, it was fitting that Joseph should be the most beautiful and perfect type of Jesus. It was meet that this innocent and blameless life should point forward to Him “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His lips. It is meet that in this wronged and patient sufferer we should see His marred and bleeding face who “was taken from prison and judgment . . . despised and rejected of men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . . reviled and He reviled not again, suffered, and He threatened not.” It is blessed to see in that forgiving brother the love that sought and waited and made Himself known to us, and then, forgiving us all, helped and taught us to forgive, and draw some good even from the lessons of our sinful past. And it is glorious to rise from Joseph’s exaltation to Messiah’s glory, and see Him reigning as a Prince and a Savior, not for Himself, but for His people’s good, and saving and feeding a perishing world by His gracious hand. It was He who lived and triumphed in Joseph, and if He lives in us we shall also find it true, “If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign.”
This is classed by Job among some of the basest and most abominable offences against God and humanity. He gives us a catalogue of seven different crimes of which men are guilty, and solemnly asseverates his innocency of all.
The first of these respects the law of purity; the second, of honesty; the third, charity toward the poor and helpless; the fourth, greed and avarice; the fifth, pride and vainglory; the sixth, idolatry; and the seventh, vindictiveness and malice toward his fellow-men. To have eaten his morsel alone places him in the same category with all these gross and glaring vices, and to his lofty sense of right it is just as odious and abominable as licentiousness, idolatry, or greed of gain.
The expression here used stands for selfishness in all its forms. It represents the heartless and self-centered spirit that absorbs all the blessings of life to itself, and neither thinks nor cares about the needs and sufferings of others. Our Lord has given us His estimate of this spirit in the parable of the rich farmer, who lived only for his wealth, and who is described as saying to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” The parable has told the story of his fearful doom, and lighted it up with the solemn moral, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Selfishness has a thousand forms, but no matter what its aspect, it is always the deep fountain of all human sin and the worst foe every one of us has to face. Archbishop Whately said: “If you ask me to tell you who it is that causes you the greatest trouble, and threatens you with the direst danger, I can only say that if you will look in the glass, you will see an excellent picture of him.” The sin of selfishness puts you in the place of God, and is high treason against the sovereignty of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Let us look a little at this monster who so easily disguises himself that he has become the rival of heaven and the idol of every human heart.
Selfishness is contrary to the very law of nature itself. The scientist will tell you that every plant and animal is adjusted according to a law of mutual dependence and helpfulness. It takes two flowers to produce the seed that will reproduce and perpetuate the blossom. They must meet in the exchange of the fertilizing pollen which gives life to the plant, and in the distribution of the pollen every element of nature and multitudes of living creatures are made to minister to future generations. The honey bee, as he sucks from flower to flower the sweet nutrition, deposits the fertilizing pollen of some other flower in the cup that he visits, and thus ministers to others while satisfying his own industry and appetite. The very life of a plant is built on the principle of its death in order to give life to the next generation. The beautiful blossom withers and dies, but out of its sepulcher comes the little seed pod which is to create a new summer of radiant blossoms. The wild creatures of the wilderness and the birds of the air band together in herds and flocks for mutual protection, and the instinct of motherhood leads them to provide for the next generation with the most self-sacrificing care, and even lose their very lives for their young.
All nature is full of interdependence and helpfulness. The philosopher calls this altruism. It is just a little foreshadowing of divine love. Emerson has well expressed it:
“All are needed by each one; Nothing is fair or good alone.”
And Burns has put it still more strongly:
“God never made an independent man; ‘Twould mar the general concord of His plan.”
The very animals themselves are inspired with the instinct of helpfulness to the suffering. A dog will risk his life to save a belated traveler or a wandering sheep. Not long ago the papers told about a noble dog that had been cruelly beaten by a rough man. In the scuffle the man fell into the river, and then the noble dog leaped in and rescued him, and brought him safe to land.
A missionary surgeon in Madras tells how one day he set the broken limb of a little dog that he had found on his doorstep, and the next morning he heard a scratching and whining at the office door; and when he went out there was the little dog whom he had healed with another dog who also had a broken limb, and the grateful little animal had brought him to the friend that had helped him in his distress.
Oh, ye who are eating your morsel alone, who are hoarding the gold of earth or the Gospel of heaven while others are perishing! The very creatures that you despise will some day rise in judgment and condemn you for a selfishness which is worse than inhuman, nay, worse than brutal, because the very brutes themselves would be ashamed of it.
Selfishness is contrary to every instinct of humanity. God has put upon the heart of man an intuitive feeling of consideration for others and appreciation of benevolence and self-sacrifice. There is nothing more wonderful than the social law which binds humanity together in families and communities. Henry Drummond has given us a beautiful picture of the development of love in the human breast. It did not spring from lust, but from a far sweeter, purer fountain; namely, the beauty and influence of a little child. Is there anything more touching than to see some strongman pursuing his daily toil in the dirty mine or the rushing factory, or the sun-scorched harvest field, day after day and year after year, in exhausting labor for the small pittance of his weekly wages, but happy and satisfied if, on a Saturday night, he can take to his little home the means to supply the wife and children whom he loves better than his ease and selfishness, and rewarded over again a thousand times by their smiles of affection and the happy gladness of the little ones as they climb upon his knees, or tax perhaps his strength in hours of watching by their beds of pain? The secret of it is the instinct of love which God has put in every human breast. Once this man cared for none of these things. His life was free, his pleasures were coarse and selfish, but a gentle hand has touched his heart, the magician Love has bound his life with the bands of God, and he never again can be willing to eat his morsel alone.
True, we find everywhere, even in human nature, exceptions to this law — the coarse and brutal and selfish natures that can prey upon a famine-stricken land, and put up the price of corn to fill their coffers just because the poor are starving; the capitalists who can keep back the coal from the perishing, and with fiendish delight rejoice in its rise in value, caring nothing for the helpless women and children that pine; the ruffians that fight for life in the burning ship or flaming building, and trample down the innocent and helpless in their struggle for escape; the boors that can monopolize the best seat and look out for the main chance, and laugh at their shrewdness, while they get the best of the weaker and duller minds around them: these are abnormal types.
But this is not true human nature. Public opinion and humanity condemn it and denounce it, and all the heroism of history are made out of the very opposite material. The noble captain standing upon the deck till the last of the passengers is saved; the brave swimmer plunging into the surf to rescue the drowning victims; these are the types of character that win the admiration of the world; these are the heroes that illumine the pages of history.
Selfishness is contrary to divine law. God’s law is a law of love. His very nature is beneficence. All-sufficient in Himself, and needing no creature to minister to His happiness, yet He called into being this glorious universe and surrounded Himself with the happy beings on whom He poured out the riches of His goodness. Every ray of sunshine, every radiant star, every tinted blossom, every song of warbling bird or holy angel speaks of His love. He might have made this earth a torture to its inhabitants; but He has fitted every color to every sense, and but for sin it would have been a paradise of happiness. God’s blessedness goes out in blessing to others, and therefore He has put a curse on selfishness in its every form. Nothing ministers to our real happiness that is not prompted by love. There is a law of retribution that, in the end, brings upon the selfish one the curse which he seeks to escape.
Aesop’s fable tells of the poor suffering ass that begged his companion, the horse, to draw part of the load. “For, if you do not,” he said, “I fear I shall die, and then you shall have to carry it all.” The lazy horse, however, shirked his load, and the poor ass sank and died under his burden. Then the farmer made the horse carry the load alone, and in addition he laid upon him the burden of the dead ass. “Foolish horse,” said he to himself, “that I was, not to heed my companion’s appeal. Now I have not only to carry a double load, but a dead weight, too.” Selfishness always becomes a dead weight upon every life that is characterized thereby.
Even the heathen tell of the abhorrence of the heavenly powers to selfish purposes and aims. They have a fable of a selfish chief that dug a well and posted a law that none should drink of it but his own family. The well, however, failed to have any water. At length they appealed to the oracle, and the oracle told them that it would be dry until he shared it with the people. Even then he contrived to hold on to his selfishness, but in another form, by announcing that the people could have it all night but he should have it all day. The following day the water failed to come until the sun went down, but then, as the multitudes gathered around with their empty vessels, lo! the gurgling waters came bursting from the springs beneath and filled the well to the brim, and they drank and filled their vessels and went away rejoicing. But when the morning came the water disappeared again until the selfish monster learned the truth that we gain by giving and live by loving. In an old churchyard you may read this epitaph and epigram:
“What I gave, that I have; What I kept, that I lost.”
God’s law is a law of love. Even His commandments to His people, as He told them of old, were “for thy good always.” The denunciations of the prophets of Israel were chiefly brought against the selfishness of their luxurious age. Listen to Amos as he cries, “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, that lie upon beds of ivory and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock and the calves out of the stall; that chant to the sound of the viol, that drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.”
Selfishness is in defiance of the law of Christ. “The Son of Man came, not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” He gave to His disciples a law of love higher even than that of the Old Testament. It is no longer “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” but it is ” Love one another, as I have loved you.” His birth in Bethlehem, His toiling youth, His life of constant self-surrender, sacrifice, and privation, His ministry of benevolence and unceasing blessing, and His death of voluntary shame and agony; all these have lifted up a flaming protest against the selfishness of man — a protest that makes it mockery and blasphemy for any man or woman to call themselves the followers of the Lamb, who are living for gain, aggrandizement, or pleasure.
Selfishness is high treason against the throne of God. It sets up another god instead of Him. The one you seek to please, the one whose will you uniformly obey, the one whose interest you supremely seek — that is your god. Selfishness is the worship of man and worse than the worship of humanity. It is self-worship, it is blasphemy, it is rebellion against the throne of God, and it will bring upon your head the damning curse of a God of love. You that want your way about things, that think the universe was made for your convenience and comfort, and that fret and fly into a passion because things go contrary to you — you are arch rebels against the King of love, and will go down with Satan, your king, to the rebel’s doom.
The followers of Jesus Christ are called to a life of self-sacrifice. Discipleship means learning of Him, following Him and being disciplined by Him. Only those who walk in His steps of self-denial and unselfish love dare call themselves His disciples, and the one badge evermore of true discipleship is the cross mark of the Lord Jesus. As Whittier has sung so truly and so grandly:
“Wherever through the ages rise The altars of self-sacrifice; Where love its arms has opened wide, Or man for man has nobly died; I see the same white wings outspread That hovered o’er the Master’s head.”
Dear friend, have you these cross marks on your life ? Are you welcoming the glory of partnership in His love and sacrifice, and saying day by day:
“The cross of Christ I’ll cherish, Its crucifixion bear; All hail, reproach and sorrow, If Jesus leads me there.”
The selfishness of Christians is in strange contrast with the Spirit of Christ.
Shall we attempt to describe the normal life of the modern church member? A carnival of fashion, dress, equipage, entertainment, and pleasure: fashions and furnishings designed chiefly to afford opportunity for more lavish expenditures than others have been able to reach; not only one home, but even three; a stud of horses, a summer yacht, a summer trip, hundreds of thousands for decorations and art, enough for a single banquet sometimes to send a score of missionaries, and in the humbler walks of life a wretched imitation of the splendid pageant of the rich and great.
Let an angel come down from heaven fresh from listening to the song, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain”; let him read the summer advertisements in our newspapers and magazines; let him take a flying trip to our seaside watering-places, our summer hotels, our lawn parties and summer entertainments, and even our religious amusements, and I think I hear him say as he turns away from the disgusting spectacle, “There must be some mistake. This cannot be the world for which He died. These surely cannot be the men whom my Lord redeemed by the precious blood of Calvary.” Put the picture of our selfishness, our folly, our mad race for money and enjoyment up against Gethsemane and Calvary, and we, too, will want:
“To hide our blushing face, When His dear Cross appears.”
In the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians the Apostle Paul recites the story of Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac, and tells us that this is an allegory, setting forth profound spiritual truths. The casting out of Ishmael is a parable of sanctification through our death to the law and sin, by virtue of our union with the Lord Jesus in His death and resurrection.
But there is a sequel to the story of Ishmael. It is the sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah. And this expresses a much deeper experience than our deliverance from the power of sin. The sacrifice of Isaac represents the yielding up of our very self through crucifixion with Christ, and our death, not only to our bad self, but even to our good self.
“There is a foe whose hidden power The Christian well may fear; More subtle far than inbred sin, And to the heart more dear. It is the power of selfishness, The proud and wilful I; And ere my Lord can live in me, My very self must die.”
This is the experience which the Apostle Paul describes in Gal. 2: 20: “I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.” That covers the experience of sanctification from the life of sin.
But the Apostle advances another stage: “Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” That is the experience of Mount Moriah, the offering of Isaac, the yielding of self, the giving up even of our new life and the substitution of Christ Himself; a substitution so complete that even the very faith by which it is maintained is “the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
We read in the Book of Joshua of three sons of Anak, the heads of the Anakim, a race of giants who held the city of Hebron before Caleb’s conquest. As the story of Hebron is a type, along with the whole of the Book of Joshua, of our higher spiritual victories, so these Anakim properly represent the great strongholds of our natural and sinful life. The word Anak means “long-necked,” and may well suggest the spirit of self-will, self-confidence, and self-seeking, which are perhaps the worst forms of self-life.
Self-will, or the DISPOSITION TO HAVE OUR OWN WAY AND BROOK NO OTHER AUTHORITY OR WILL, is the most obvious form of the life of self. “Ye shall be as gods” was the promise of the tempter to our sinning parents in the first great moral conflict of the race. And ever since then, man has wanted to be a god unto himself. Therefore the first step in the consecrated life is unconditional surrender, and the utter yielding up of the will in submission and conformity to the will of God. Nowhere do we find a more terrible picture of the tendencies of this spirit than in Saul, the first king of Israel, who seems to have been raised up as a great spiritual object-lesson and beacon of warning on the perilous shores of human experience. His downward career began in the rejection of God’s command for his own preference. Samuel’s judgment upon him makes this very plain, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (or devil-worship) and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He also hath rejected thee from being king.”
Self-confidence, or self-sufficiency, represents another of Anak’s race. It is the spirit that relies upon its own strength and ignores the grace of God. It trusts its virtues, its emotions, its religious experiences, its own resources. Its type is Simon Peter. Strong in his self-confidence, and ignorant of his real weakness, he honestly meant what he said when he boasted, ” Though all men should deny Thee, yet will not I.” But he had to fail and fall to find out his own helplessness, and to die to his own self-sufficiency. The sanctified heart is not a self-constituted condition, but simply a vessel to be filled with the grace of God, a possibility of which He must be the impelling force, a capacity to hold the divine fulness, and a condition of constant dependence upon the sustaining and all-sufficient grace of God. The word “consecrate” in Hebrew means to “fill the hand,” and finely suggests the idea of an empty hand which God Himself must continually fill.
SELF-SEEKING IS THE NATURAL DEVELOPMENT AND CLIMAX OF SELF-LIFE. It lives for its own pleasure, pride, and glory. Sometimes it manifests itself in desire for human praise. Sometimes it takes the form of that pride which scorns even the praise of man, and is content with its own self-consciousness of superiority. Whatever its form, it is impious self, sitting on the throne of God, and claiming the glory due to Him alone. Perhaps its most flagrant type is Nebuchadnezzar as he cried, “Is not this great Babylon which I have built, by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty?”
But even the Lord’s servants are not free from the same unholy spirit. It reached its height in Jonah, a prophet of the Lord, honored with unparalleled success, and yet in the very hour of greatest usefulness, so throwing the shadow of his own pride and ambition across his work, that God had to humble him in the dust, and leave him as a spectacle of infamy and warning to all others who might presume to mingle the spirit of self-glorying with the service of a crucified Master.
It is possible to be sanctified from all wilful sin or known evil, and yet to be under the influence of the subtle spirit of self, so that even our very holiness may minister to selfishness and pride. The Holy Spirit wants to probe to the very depths of our being and slay us in the very center of our life. True sanctification is not merely the death of sin, but the death of self. The Apostle does not say, Reckon, therefore, that sin is dead; but “Reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin.” It is not merely that the sinful principle must die, but the sinful person must be displaced by the divine personality, “Not I, but Christ that liveth in me.”
It dishonors God and PUTS SELF AS A RIVAL ON GOD’S THRONE. “Ye shall be as gods” was the devil’s deep delineation of the true character of fallen man, for ever since the Fall man has tried to be a god unto himself. Whenever we act because it is our own will, or for our own interest and ends, we are disobeying the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” And when we put self upon the throne, we become the very antithesis of God, for “God is love ” and love is the opposite of selfishness. Human selfishness, therefore, not only mimics God, but proves its utter unfitness to occupy His throne because of its unlikeness to His nature.
The self-life is akin to the Satanic life. Satan’s own fall began in a form of self-love. Made to be dependent on God, he became independent; and contemplating his own perfection, and counting it his own, he became separated from the source of his being, and fell into eternal rebellion and disobedience. So, still, any soul that becomes self-constituted, occupied with its own virtues and independent of the Lord Jesus, will share the devil’s fearful fall. How awful the tragedy of Saul! He began with Saul and ended with Satan. So self always ends.
The self-life is INCONSISTENT WITH TRUE SANCTIFICATION. The seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a dramatic picture of the good self struggling with the bad self. The good self wants to do right, but is not equal to the struggle, and is constantly dragged into defeat and humiliation. The two “I’s” are in deadly conflict, but neither is strong enough to overcome the other, and the chapter ends with an emphatic statement of the very best that “I myself” can accomplish. That is: “With the mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” That is the best that the good self can do.
But when we pass into Rom. 8, self is left behind, and it is now a man in Christ, and a man with Christ in him, and it is all holiness, victory, and joy. This is the danger of resting in what is sometimes called Adamic perfection, if there be such a thing. If we could receive Adamic perfection today, like Adam we would lose it tomorrow. But if we take Christ to be our sanctification, He will be in us “the same yesterday and to-day and for ever.”
The spirit of self is fatal to harmony with our brethren, and the source of strife, suspicion, envy, jealousy, sectarianism, bigotry, and the whole brood of social grievances that afflict the Church of God. Like the fly in the ointment, it defiles the holiest things and destroys the body of Christ. It is just as bad for holiness people as for worldlings, and splits them up into sects and factions with endless controversies and strivings. It takes the spirit of the world into the pulpit, the Sunday school, and every form of Christian fellowship and work.
And it mars all our work for God. It seeks even the baptism of the Holy Ghost and the gifts of heavenly power for man’s own glory and ambition. It builds up the Church and Kingdom of Christ in the spirit of rivalry and emulation. It makes the house of God a theater for the display of dress or musical talent or oratorical ability. It would even, like Jonah, rather see Nineveh perish than have the prophet lose his reputation. So long as the spirit of self dominates the Christian worker, God can scarcely afford to bless him without compromising His own glory and ministering to human pride.
The only remedy for it is death. It is inveterately bad, and is the very root and essence of the carnal mind and the sinful soul. It cannot be improved. You may educate it, but like the tiger’s cub it would some day strike the very hand that would caress it, and prove that still it has the tiger’s heart.
But you cannot kill it yourself. You may try, like Nero, to commit suicide and stab yourself a hundred times, but you will always miss the vital part. All that you can do is to hand it over to Christ, to pronounce the sentence of death upon it, to sign the death warrant, to give Him the right to slay it, and then to reckon it nailed to His cross and dead through His dying. “For if one died for all, then all died; and He died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him that died for them and rose again.”
Then not only will self pass out with Jesus on the cross, but love will come in with Jesus in the resurrection; and Christ’s life and Christ’s love will displace the old life of self and sin. What a marvelous power love has even in a human life to lift above the tyranny of self! We have seen sometimes a petted and selfish girl surrounded by wealth and admiration until she was wholly spoiled and became the center of the circle in which she lived, her whole being perverted by a refined selfishness. But we have seen that girl in after years a self-denying, loving wife and mother, devoted to the happiness of her husband, sharing his poverty, toiling for his comfort, and with a love that never wearied and a heart that never grew cold or tired nursing the little children that have come into her arms. What has cast out the idol of self from the throne of her heart? Nothing but love. A noble, beloved human friend came in and took the place that self had occupied. So the love of Jesus, when truly revealed by the Holy Spirit, wins the heart and makes us content without the things that once we demanded, because His smile is our sunshine and His love our heaven. It is Christ that displaces self, and turns the earthly heart into a land of Beulah and a Hephzibah of love and joy.
But this can only come through the coming of Christ Himself. Are we willing to believe that He is waiting to win, to occupy, and to satisfy these hearts of ours with His life of love, and the expulsive power of that new affection that will enable us henceforth to live “not unto ourselves but unto Him that died for us and rose again”? Only by the surrender of self can you really find the satisfaction of true self-love. While we seek for happiness we always miss it, but when, as Abraham laid his Isaac on the altar of Moriah, we lay down our life, then we find, as Abraham did, that what we gave – that we have, and what we would have kept – that we should have lost.”For he that saveth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for My sake shall keep it unto life eternal.”