The first emblem under which we see the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is the dove descending upon the head of Jesus at His baptism on the banks of the Jordan.
The first emblem under which the Holy Spirit is presented in the Old Testament is also a dove. In the story of creation, in the first chapter of Genesis, second verse, we read: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness brooded over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God brooded upon the face of the waters.” This is the figure of the mother dove brooding over her nest and cherishing her young. What a strange background for such a picture: chaos, desolation, the seething waters, the hissing flames, the wild abyss, the starless night, the reign of ruin, death, and desolation! This was the scene where the mother dove of eternal love and peace began to build her nest, and she rested not until out of that scene of wreck she had evolved a bright and happy world, and a smiling paradise, with its human family and its pure and heavenly happiness and hope.
We pass over seven chapters, and we come to another scene of desolation and wreck. The waters of the deluge are sweeping around the world. The work of twenty centuries is submerged beneath that awful flood, and the world’s countless millions are lying in death beneath those waves. One solitary ship is riding above the storm with eight human beings within its walls, the sole survivors of all earth’s population.
Once again we behold the figure of the dove. We read in Genesis 8: 6-12: “And it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made; and he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. Also, he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; but the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark. And he stayed yet another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf, pluckt off; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. “And he stayed yet another seven days, and sent forth the dove, which returned not again unto him any more.”
Back of this dove there is another figure, the black-winged raven, the emblem of Satan, as the other is of the Holy Ghost.
And now we see three very remarkable stages in the sending forth of this dove, and they seem to speak of three dispensations of the Holy Spirit. First, we have the dove going forth from the ark, and finding no rest upon the wild and drifting waste of sin and judgment. This represents the Old Testament period, perhaps, when the Holy Ghost visited this sinful world, but could find no resting-place, and ever went back to the bosom of God. Next, we have the dove going forth and returning with the olive leaf in her mouth, a symbol and a pledge of peace and reconciliation, a sign that judgment had passed and peace was returning. Surely this may beautifully represent the next stage of the Holy Spirit’s manifestation, the going forth in the ministry and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to proclaim reconciliation to a sinful world. But, as yet, He is not at liberty to reside in this sin-cursed earth. There is, therefore, a third stage, when, at, length, the dove goes forth from the ark and returns no more, but makes the world its home, and builds its nest amid the habitations of men. This is the third and present stage of the Holy Spirit’s blessed work.
Thus He has now come forth, not to visit this sinful world, returning again to heaven, but to make it His abiding home. During the ministry of Christ on earth the Spirit dwelt in Him, and not in men. Jesus said He was with the disciples, but He adds, “He shall be in you.” Like Noah’s dove, still lingering in the ark, and going forth only to visit the earth, so the Holy Ghost dwelt in Jesus, and touched the hearts of men from time to time.
But now Jesus has sent Him forth, and His residence is no longer in heaven, but in the heart of the believer, and in the bosom of the Church. This earth is now His home; and here among sinful, suffering men, the same dove is building her nest and rearing her brood for the celestial realms, where they shall one day soar and sing in the light of God. Such is the symbolical unfolding of the Holy Spirit in these two first pictures of the Old Testament. Let its now gather out of the figure itself, some of its most pointed lessons and suggestions.
The first thought is motherhood. It is the figure of the mother dove. In one of the recent and most brilliant works of Mr. Drummond, he develops with great fullness the idea that the goal of nature is always motherhood. In the vegetable creation everything moves toward seed and fruit. The flower is but the cradle and the swaddling bands of the living germ. The plant lives simply to develop the life of another plant, to reproduce itself. Thus, in the natural world, the first appearance of love is not in the sexual, but in the maternal relations; and in like manner, the great thought in the heart of God is motherhood, and God Himself possesses in Himself that true nature which has been manifested in the creation.
There is in the divine Trinity a personality corresponding to human relationships. Human fatherhood expresses a need which is met in God the Father. Human motherhood has its origin in the Holy Ghost. Human brotherhood, and the higher, closer fellowship of the husband and the bridegroom, are met in Christ, the Son of God, our Brother and our Bridegroom. We cannot reason out the divine Trinity, but God can make it real to our spiritual instincts.
There are times when we need a father’s strength and love, and our pressed spirits cry out, “Oh, if my father were only here, how quickly he would help me!” And God our Father answers that cry.
There are times when the orphaned spirit feels the need of a mother’s more delicate and tender touch, and we think how mother once used to comfort and help us as no other friend could do. Then we need the mother heart of God. I envy not the man who has outgrown the weakness of needing a mother’s love, and whose heart finds no response to such words as these:
Who fed me from her gentle breast? Who taught me in her arms to rest? And on my lips sweet kisses pressed? My mother.
Who ran to help me when I fell, And would some pretty story tell, Or kiss the place to make it well? My mother.
The Holy Ghost, the author of the mother’s heart and the child’s dependent love, is able to meet in us the deep need which has outgrown our infant years, and still looks up to God with its orphaned cry for love and sympathy.
Also there is in every human heart the memory of some brave, true brother, and a longing for a divine arm that can uphold us with a love “that sticketh closer than a brother.” Yes, there is a deeper longing for a friendship more intimate and a fellowship more dear, which Jesus meets as the divine Husband, the Ishi of our heart.
All the representations which the Scriptures give us of the Holy Ghost are in harmony with this thought of divine motherhood. The regeneration of the soul is described as a new birth, and the Holy Ghost is the mother that gives us this birth. The guidance and nurture of the Spirit after our conversion are described in language borrowed from the nursery and the home. In the deeper needs of the soul, the comfort of the Holy Ghost is described to us under the very image of a mother’s caresses and a mother’s love. “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you, and ye shall be comforted, saith the Lord.”
In turn, as we are filled with the Holy Ghost, we ourselves have the mother-heart for others, and are able to reflect the blessing and dispense the comfort which we have received. Our prayers for others become maternal longings, travails, and soul-births, and we learn to say with the apostle, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you,” and to understand such language as this, “As soon as Zion travailed she brought forth.”
The Holy Ghost in the consecrated heart often gives a yearning for others, and a prayer for the lost and the tempted, as intensely real as the pangs of maternal anguish and love; and people are born of us as truly as the children of our households, and are linked to us by bonds as real as our natural kindred.
The figure of the dove is suggestive of peace. The dove from the ark was the messenger of peace, and brought back an olive branch as the symbol of reconciliation. Thus is the Holy Spirit the messenger of peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. He leads the soul to understand and accept the message of mercy and to find the peace of God. He then brings the deeper “peace of God, which keeps the heart and mind through Christ Jesus.” Wherever the Holy Spirit reigns there is peace.
Back of the picture of the dove is the raven, restlessly passing to and fro, to and fro, to and fro, a type of the troubled spirit of evil, that finds no rest even in the pleasures of sin, but is driven from excitement to excitement in the vain pursuit of rest, until at last it is thrown upon the wild billows of a lost eternity, the victim of everlasting disquietude and unrest.
But the spirit in which the Holy Ghost rules is at rest. It has a peace that nothing can offend, “the peace of God that passeth all understanding.”
THE DOVE IS THE SYMBOL OP PURITY
“Harmless as a dove,” is Christ’s interpretation of the beautiful emblem. The Spirit of God which is purity itself, cannot dwell in an unclean heart. He cannot abide in the natural mind. It was said of the anointing of old, “On man’s flesh it shall not be poured.” The purity which the Holy Spirit brings is like a white and spotless little plant which grows up out of a heap of manure, or out of black soil, without one grain of impurity adhering to its crystalline surface, spotless as an angel’s wing. So the Holy Spirit gives a purity of heart which brings its own protection, for it is essentially unlike the evil things which grow around it. It may be surrounded on every side with evil, but it is uncontaminated and pure because its very nature is essentially holy and divine. It cannot be soiled, because like the plumage of the dove, which, protected by its oily covering, comes forth from the miry pool unstained and unsullied by the dark waters, it sheds off every defilement and is proof against the touch of every stain.
THE DOVE IS THE SYMBOL OF GENTLENESS
The Comforter is gentle, tender, and full of patience and love. How gentle are God’s dealings even with sinners! How patient His forbearance! How tender His discipline with His own erring children! How He led Jacob, Joseph, Israel, David, Elijah, and all His ancient servants, until they could truly say, “Thy gentleness hath made me great”! The heart in which the Holy Spirit dwells will al-ways be characterized by gentleness, lowliness, quietness, meekness, and forbearance. The rude, sarcastic spirit, the brusque manner, the sharp retort, the unkind cut — all these belong to the flesh. They have nothing in common with the gentle teaching of the Comforter. The Holy Dove shrinks from the noisy, tumultuous, excited, and vindictive spirit, and finds His home in the lowly breast of the peaceful soul. “The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, meekness.”
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE SPIRIT OF LOVE
The dove is the special emblem of affection. The special object of the divine Comforter is to “shed abroad the love of God in our hearts,” and to show that “the fruit of the Spirit is love.” Wherever He dwells there is to be found a disposition of unselfishness, consideration for others, loving helpfulness, and kindness; and He wants love from us. He asks not so much our service as our communion. He has plenty to serve Him; but He wants us to love Him and to receive His tender love for us. He is longing for our affection and is disappointed when we give Him anything else.
A very sweet thought connected with the symbol of the dove, and true also of the Holy Spirit, is that we find in the Scriptures many allusions to the mourning of the dove. It is a bird of sorrow, and its plaintive notes have more of sadness in them than the voice of any other bird. Any one who has heard the cooing of the turtle dove will never forget the plaintive sadness of its tone. How can this be true of the Holy Spirit? Simply because love is always sensitive to suffering. The more we love, the more we sorrow, especially when the loved one disappoints our expectations, or our affection. The lone dove coos for its lost mate, and mourns for its scattered brood. And so the Holy Spirit is represented as loving us even unto the extreme of sorrow. We do not read of the anger of the Holy Ghost, but of the grief of the Spirit. “They rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit,” and we are warned, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”
There is a beautiful passage in James which has been unhappily translated in our Revised Version: “The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy.” It ought to be, “The Spirit that dwelleth in us loveth us to jealousy.” It is the figure of a love that suffers because of its intense regard for the loved object. The Holy Ghost is so anxious to accomplish in us and for us the highest will of God, and to receive from us the truest love for Christ, our divine Husband, that He becomes jealous when in any way we disappoint Him, or divide His love with others. Therefore, it is said in the preceding passage, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?”
Oh, shall we grieve so kind a Friend? Shall we disappoint so loving a Husband? Shall we provoke so tender and unselfish a jealousy? Shall we not meet the blessed Holy Spirit with the love He brings us, and give in return our undivided and unbounded affection? Strange, indeed, that God should have to plead with us for our love. Strange that He whom all Heaven adores should have a rival in the hearts of the children whom He has created, and the beings who owe everything they have to His infinite mercy! Strange that so gentle a Friend should have to plead so long and so tenderly for our affections! Let us turn to Him with penitential love, and cry:
“Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove, With all Thy quickening powers; Kindle a flame of sacred love In these cold hearts of ours.”
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2: 7. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” John 3: 8. “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” John 20: 22.
The first of these passages contains the second reference to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, and the other passages prolong the line, and fix the application of the beautiful picture in Genesis to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The emblem under which the Spirit is here presented to us is the breath and the air, the atmosphere in which we live, and the act by which we inhale or exhale its vital properties and its vitalizing power.
The value and importance of the atmosphere is self-evident. We can live for days without food, and for a lifetime without sight or hearing, but we cannot live an hour without breath. To breathe is the most essential of all our physical functions and is in the Scriptures almost synonymous with life. Again and again we find such expressions as, “Every living thing that hath breath upon the earth.” We cannot see it, we can scarcely feel it, and yet around us there is an ocean of air without which we could not exist, and without which almost all of our senses would be blind, deaf, and vain. Sound could not be communicated without air, the sweet hymns that we have sung could not have been uttered or heard, the voices of our friends would never reach us, and the harmonies of music would be silent and dead. Sight also is dependent upon the atmosphere. Yonder sun seems like a ball of fire in the midst of a pall of darkness, when we get beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Like a fine, transparent lens, the atmosphere receiving the solar rays, diffuses them in floods of light for the organs of vision. Without the atmosphere heat would be unknown. In yonder upper spaces, although seeming to be nearer the sun, there is an everlasting frigid zone; and every drop of blood in our body would be frozen into ice in an instant, were we to pass beyond the tempering air which receives and distributes the solar heat.
Such is the striking and beautiful image under which the Spirit of God is represented. He brings to us the very breath of life for spirit, soul, and body, and creates the atmosphere in which we see the things of God, hear His voice, and dwell in the warmth and radiance of His love. The present passage unfolds the work of the Spirit in man’s original creation, and also suggests the Spirit’s work in the higher unfolding of His restoring and quickening grace.
The first thing we notice in this passage is the marked distinction that is made between the creation of man and that of all other animals. At the creative word, they sprang immediately into existence, and fell into their places in the great economy of nature, without further note or comment. But when man’s creation is about to begin, everything is different. By a significant pause our attention is called to a most important crisis. Then, step by step, the great transaction is accomplished, and we see the first human being coming forth from his Creator’s direct touch in all the completeness of his manifold nature, the wondrous handiwork of God.
We see even the Creator Himself appearing under a new name and in an entirely new aspect. The higher criticism has been fond of questioning the unity of the book of Genesis, because this second chapter gives an entirely new name to God. Because we here meet with Jehovah Elohim, the critics have worked up the astute hypothesis that this is a different God from the Elohim of the first chapter, and that this chapter, therefore, must have had a different author. They tell us also that this is another of the old fragments of Hebrew lore that have come down to us along with Babylonian and Egyptian scrolls and tablets, and that this distinctly proves that Moses could not have been the author of both these chapters. Ah, how much deeper is the thought of God! They used to tell us that the creation of the sun on the fourth day contradicted the statement that light was formed in the beginning. But science has lately discovered that light did exist before the sun, and still exists apart from it; and thus has this earlier wisdom fallen into a ruinous mound of folly.
Moreover, reverent and heaven-taught scholarship has found that there was an infinitely wise and beautiful reason for the change in the divine Name in the second chapter of Genesis. In the first chapter the writer is speaking about dead and soulless matter, and it is quite proper that he should thus speak of God as the Creator of matter. In the second chapter he comes to deal with God in direct relation to His children. It is the Father coming to His household. Man in his spiritual nature is now to be created and presented to us in all the tender spiritual relationships which he is to sustain to God, and to his own race. Therefore, it is as a Father that God comes down into human relations with man and reveals His name as Jehovah God, the God of infinite love and tenderness, the God who was about to send His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The very change of name is both a mark of the kindest design and the tenderest proof of love.
Next we see the formation of the human body out of the dust of the earth. Man’s form was not created out of nothing. The elements of matter were made from nothing, but man was made out of elements already existing, made however, not by a process of evolution which gradually developed a human being of a higher order, but made immediately a complete human form. It was still lifeless, until God touched it with His divine breath, from His own lips; just as in the vision of Ezekiel, where the picture of the final resurrection shows the body first appearing reorganized in all its constituent parts, “bone to its bone, with flesh and skin to cover them above; but there is no breath in them.” There is no evolution here, but the immediate act of creation, succeeded by another act of animation, inspiration, and the divine quickening of the soulless matter into immortal life.
We see here surely, the sacredness of the human body and the value and importance of life. It is the direct work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the life of a man is infinitely more precious than the life of a beast; and the crime of murder is recognized by God as a blow struck at God’s own life, and one which He will most terribly avenge. The daring act of suicide, therefore, is a defiance of the Creator and a reckless destruction of His grandest work. It is one of the awful signs of our times that not only are men killing others, but that in our public press, one of the leaders of infidelity has been allowed publicly to discuss the question of suicide, and to point out the perfect right of every man to do what he chooses with his own life. It is no wonder that such discussions have been followed by an awful increase of suicides in our midst. Such men are desperate and dreadful criminals who pass red-handed in the very act and crime of rebellion into the presence and up to the judgment seat of God. No man has a right even for an instant to entertain such a thought. Life is God’s gift and man’s momentous trust, to be used for God and given back to Him at last in the great account.
We see here that human life comes through the human soul, not through the human body, and springs from the direct touch of the Creator and the inspiration of the Almighty. Man’s life is not, like the life of the brute, a part of his physical organism. The human organs are complete before they receive the touch of life. Our life came not from the ground, nor from the physical forces and functions, but from the imparting of the human soul through God’s direct in-breathing.
Man’s life is so sacred, because it is the direct gift of God’s love, and the very communication of God’s own life. We see the Holy Spirit presented here as the author not only of life, but also of mind and soul. What a glory it gives to our conception of the Holy Ghost, to think of Him as having part in creation! Job says : “Thy Spirit hath garnished the heavens.” The glowing stars, the beautiful firmament, the rainbow, the golden sun, the silvery moon, the sunset clouds in all their radiant glory, are but touches of His infinite wisdom and taste. The talents and endowments of the highest minds, the splendid genius of a Homer and a Milton, the refined taste of a Phidias and a Rembrandt, the sublime musical harmonies of a Haydn and a Beethoven, as well as the seraphic and lofty flights of an Isaiah and a John; all these likewise came originally from the Holy Spirit, and all must reflect the higher qualities of wisdom, grace, and glory which constitute His infinite attributes.
True, man has perverted these splendid gifts, and often made them become selfish, unholy, and even diabolical; but they are none the less splendid, and they were no less originally the gifts of the Spirit and the proofs of His wisdom and power. Is it not inspiring to think that this Holy Ghost who fills our heart, is no mere sentiment of spiritual ecstasy or emotional joy, but is the great Mind from which all minds come, the mighty Soul by Whom all souls were made, the Infinite Spirit from whom all being emanated? As we look at the rainbow as it spans the cloud, and the verdure as it crowns the mountain, the fragrant blossoms that hide in every nook, clothe every rock, and smile on every field, let us think that these are only some of His royal robes, revealing to us a little of what His own essential glory means, and making us think : “How beautiful, how glorious, how infinite is the blessed Holy Spirit!”
Brother, sister, He made thy soul, He gave you your mind, He created for Himself and His high purpose your talents and your powers of both brain and being. What are you doing with your trust? What will you say, when He will ask it back, and call upon you to give an account of your stewardship?
We see here the peculiar characteristic of man as originally created. “Man became a living soul.” The predominant characteristic of natural man is expressed by this word, “soul,” just as the predominant characteristic of the new man in the New Testament is expressed by the word, “spirit.” The soul represents the intellectual and emotional elements that constitute man. The spirit represents the higher and the divine life which links us directly to God, and enables us to know and to come into relationship with divine things.
There is no doubt that man, as originally created, had also a higher and spiritual nature, because the true translation of this passage is, “The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” His life was manifold. There was physical life, mental life, and spiritual life, but the controlling element was soul. So we read in Corinthians, “The first man Adam was made a living soul, the second man Adam was made a quickening Spirit.”
It would seem as if, at his fall, man lost his spiritual life, or, at least, it became so utterly subordinated to his soulish nature that the natural man was not spiritual. He needed to be born from above by the Spirit of God, and to receive a new spiritual being, in order to be saved. Even in his highest estate Adam was distinctively a living soul, rather than a lofty spirit. His soul-life was predominant. It was sinless and loyal to God, but it was a lower life than that which redeemed men now enjoy.
It was, notwithstanding, a very glorious life, received as it was by a very significant and glorious touch from the Spirit of God. “The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The Great Artist fashioned his outward form from the finest clay, and perfected every feature and every function; and then, like a fond mother, kissed the cold lips with His own warm breath of life, flashing into the lifeless form the spark of His eternal life, and lo! the beautiful form sprang into His arms, and man became the living child of his loving Creator. It was only a touch of life, a touch of love, that forever separated and distinguished man above all other beings as the special object of God’s infinite love and care.
“Lord, what is man? Extremes how wide In his mysterious nature join; His flesh to worms and dust allied, His soul immortal and divine.”
Such was the Spirit’s work in the original creation of man. Our text suggests, what the New Testament so freely unfolds, the higher work of the Holy Spirit in the new creation. The Lord Jesus in His discourse respecting the new birth, in the third chapter of John, gives us a very significant hint of this work under the same figure which we find in our text. There He introduces the figure of the wind in its invisible, yet mighty energy and potency, in connection with the regeneration of the human soul by the Holy Ghost.
In His closing interviews with the disciples, in the twentieth chapter of John, “He breathed upon them, and said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’” That picture is so much like the picture of our text that the one seems the complement of the other. In the one case we see the Spirit breathe the old creation into life, and in the other the same Spirit breathes into the new creation the life of God and the power of a higher principle. The figure of the new creation runs through all the Epistles of Paul. “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation.” “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” “After God” distinctly implies not only resemblance to God, but derivation from God.
Now, what is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in this new creation? Is it simply the restoration of the Adamic nature in perfection, or is it something higher and more divine? Most assuredly it is the latter. “The first man,” the apostle tells us, “was of the earth earthy, the second Man was the Lord from heaven; the first man was made a living soul, the second Man a quickening Spirit.” Then he adds, “As we have borne the image of the earthly, so shall we also bear the image of the heavenly.”
The Adamic life at its best was only a human life. The Christ life is divine. Natural life is soul life. Divine life is Spirit life.
When the New Testament talks about the natural man it does not mean a gross, sordid, sensual, brutal wretch, groveling in swinish lusts; but it means a man with all the graces and gifts of the highest genius and the most refined culture. He may be a poet like Shakespeare, a composer like Mozart, a sculptor like Phidias, a painter like Raphael, an architect like Wren, an orator like Cicero, or a man with a face as beautiful as an angel and a life as virtuous and stainless as a marble statue, and yet be purely natural, earth-born, and merely a soulish man. When the apostle speaks of “the natural man who perceiveth not the things of God, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” he uses the word “psychical” man. Now everybody knows that Psyche was not the figure of sensualism, but of beauty, virtue, and moral purity.
The spiritual man is entirely distinct from all this. His life ever finds its center in God, and its delight in His will and fellowship. Its sphere of existence is not the earth, but the coming world, the heavenly kingdom. It does not belong here. Its very instincts turn higher. It has its natural affection and qualities; but they have been transformed by death into a higher life and have risen from the old to the new life, from transient to everlasting. It is true by the very nature of things that “they that are of the Spirit do mind the things of the Spirit.” As the river runs to the sea, as the fire ascends to the sun,
“So a soul that’s born of God Pants to see His glorious face; Upward tends to His abode, To rest in His embrace.”
Thus the chief characteristic of the spiritual man is to have his abode with the Heavenly Spirit. It is not so much the man, as the addition to the man, which constitutes his high character and heavenly power. A spiritual man is not so much a man possessing a strong spiritual character as a man filled with the Holy Spirit. So the apostle says, “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.”
The glory of the new creation, then, is not only that it recreates the human spirit, but also that it fits it for the abode of God Himself, and makes it dependent upon Him for its life, just as the flower is dependent upon the sun, and the child upon the mother. The highest spirituality, therefore, is the most utter helplessness, the most entire dependence, and the most complete possession by the Holy Spirit. The beautiful act of Christ in breathing upon His disciples, and imparting to them from His own lips the very Spirit that was already in Him, expressed in the most vivid manner the crowning glory of the new creation. When the Holy Spirit thus possesses us, He fills every part of our being. Our spirit is His central throne, our soul is under His control, and even our body becomes “the temple of the Holy Ghost.” We may be sanctified wholly, that is, in the whole man; and our whole “spirit, soul, and body preserved blameless unto the coming of Jesus Christ.”
The final stage of this glorious indwelling will be reached when the vision of Ezekiel is fulfilled, and the Spirit shall breathe into the resurrection body the life of glorious immortality. “And we shall be like Him when we shall see Him as He is.”
There are some lessons which we may learn from this picture and from the whole subject.
1. The lower is dependent upon the higher, and should be kept subordinate to it. Man’s physical frame was lifeless until his higher nature, the soul, entered it; and then he lived. So, still, our life is dependent upon our higher being; and life and health come not from below, but from above and from within. This is the essential principle of divine healing, founded as it is on the great law of creation, and expressed by Christ Himself in His answer to the tempter, about His own physical life and ours, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that passeth out of the mouth of God.”
Our higher spiritual nature should control the soul. Just as the soul is superior to the body, so the spirit should be predominant to the soul. The fatal defect of natural life is that the soul is predominant, and the natural mind controls both spirit and body. The cultivated Athenian, therefore, is just as much in the flesh as the brutal African savage. The true life is where the body and the soul are under the control of the spirit, and the spirit is under the control of the Holy Ghost, the indwelling Spirit and Life of God.
2. The beautiful figure of the breath and the air teaches us some practical lessons about the receiving of the Holy Spirit. It is a simple law of nature, that air always comes in to fill a vacuum. You can produce a draft at any time, by heating the air until it ascends, and then letting the cold air rush in to supply its place. Thus we can always be filled with the Holy Spirit by providing a vacuum. This breath is dependent upon exhausting the previous breath before you can inhale a fresh one. We must in like manner empty our hearts of the last breath of the Holy Spirit that we have received; for it becomes impure the moment we have received it, and we need a new supply to prevent spiritual asphyxia.
We must learn the secret of breathing out, as well as breathing in. Now the breathing in will continue if the other part is rightly done. One of the best ways to make room for the Holy Spirit is to recognize that the needs that come into the life as vacuums are for Him to fill. We will find plenty of needs all around us to be filled; and, as we pour out our lives in holy service, He will pour His Life in, in full measure.
A board of trustees once put a heating apparatus into a church, and then put in a furnace, and announced the opening service. But the church was as cold as a barn. The hot air would not come in, although the ducts were open and the fire burning at its hottest. An expert was called in, who quietly told them that while they had made provision for letting in the fresh air, they had made none for letting out the old air in the building, and that no fresh air could come in until the old air was expelled. As a result the people sat there shivering.
Thus some of us are shivering and wondering why the Holy Spirit does not fill us. We have plenty coming in, but we do not give it out. Give out the blessing you have; start larger plans for service and blessing. You will soon find that the Holy Ghost is before you, and that He will present you with blessings for goodness and will give you all that He can trust you to give away to others.
There is a beautiful fact in nature which has its spiritual parallels. There is no music so heavenly as that of an Eolian harp. This harp is nothing but a set of musical cords arranged in harmony, and then left to be touched by the unseen fingers of the wandering winds. As the breath of heaven floats over the chords, it is said that notes almost divine float out upon the air, as if a choir of angels were wandering around and touching the strings.
It is possible to keep our hearts so open to the touch of the Holy Spirit that He can play upon them at will. As we quietly wait in the pathway of His service, again and again the touch of hands unseen will wake the echoes, and the heavenly song will spring within the depths of our being, and we shall wonder at our strange gladness. But it is still the Eolian harp of a heart wholly consecrated and attuned to God, and under the touch and breathing of the Holy Ghost.
This is what it means, “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing.”
“So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”—Genesis 3: 24. “And the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”—Eph. 6: 17. “For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”—Hebrews 4: 12.
We are accustomed to think of this scene at the gate of Eden as a picture of terror and judgment. Cowering under their awful curse, the fugitive pair stand in the front of the picture, hurrying forth from their happy Eden home, to return no more; while behind them, and above the gate that was closing upon them forever, a fiery sword flashes with angry severity, to keep the way of the tree of life from which they are henceforth to be debarred, as they go forth on their sorrowful journey to the grave.
But as we take a second look at that glorious symbol, it assumes a brighter phase; until, after a little while, we learn to behold it as a symbol of grace, and not of judgment. Doubtless it so became to them, and ere long, the very symbol of the divine presence that marked the place of worship where they came to meet with their covenant God at the gate of Eden.
The figure of the cherubim, which appears for the first time in this chapter, becomes in the later Scriptures the very signal of God’s covenant love and manifested presence. We see it in the tabernacle of the wilderness above the mercy-seat. We see it in the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel in connection with the throne of God. And it reappears in the Apocalypse in the vision of heavenly glory.
It was doubtless a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, or, at least, a symbol of His person and glory. The four faces of the lion, the ox, the eagle, and the man, represent His kingliness, His sacrifice, His humanity, and His Deity; and the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are just an unfolding of His person in these four glorious aspects.
As this figure appeared at the gate of their lost Eden, it became to our first parents the symbol of Him, the promised seed of the woman, in whom that lost inheritance was to be restored and that forfeited paradise regained. It did not mean that the tree of life was lost forever; but rather it pointed out the new way by which that tree could be restored again, restored by way of the cherubim, through the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SWORD?
The sword was the token and emblem of the Holy Spirit, even as the cherubim was the figure of Christ. The word in the Hebrew is, The Lord God Shekinah, the cherubim, the flaming sword. This was the same Shekinah that afterward appeared in the Holy of Holies. This flaming sword, therefore, was nothing else than the special symbol of God’s immediate presence with the Holy Ghost.
It was the symbol, therefore, of grace rather than of judgment; and while it involved essentially the principle of the divine righteousness, which could no longer permit a sinful race to partake of the tree of life in the old way, yet it also pointed forward to the coming redemption and the provision through Jesus Christ which was to open those gates of mercy even to sinful men through the blood of Jesus and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit.
The flaming sword at the gate of Eden was the embryo of the cross. It emphasized the great truth that judgment must come before mercy, that death must be the gate to life, and that the old natural life must fall before the piercing sword, ere we can enter through the gates of the new paradise, and partake of the tree of life, that life that is incorruptible and everlasting.
It represents the slaying power of the Spirit. The sword is the symbol of death, and death is the deepest revelation of Christ’s great salvation. The grave is forever the symbol of the Gospel, and the Cross means not only His death, but ours too. Therefore Satan hated it, and tried to make Peter reject it, as he cried, “Pity Thyself, Lord”; but Jesus refused it, and told him his thought was born of Satan.
The reason men try to get the Cross and the Blood out of their new Gospel is because they have a shrewd suspicion that as there was a cross for Him, so there must also be a cross for them; but in no other way can we enter into life everlasting. All that is born of the flesh is flesh, and under the curse. Every fragment and fibre of the natural life is evil. You may coax it, you may flatter it, and it will smile upon you; but some day, if you cross its will, it will spring upon you and strike you.
Therefore, the sentence of death has passed upon all the Adam race, and the fiery sword must destroy every vestige of the old humanity before the new life can enter in and partake of that life-giving tree which stands behind the glorious cherubim.
And this is the work of the Holy Spirit, to put to death the life of self and sin. We cannot do it, He alone can. We may try to crucify ourselves and mutilate ourselves with a thousand blows; but every time we will succeed in just missing a vital part, and the old ‘I’ will come through the process, all alive still. Only the flaming sword can smite to death the self-centered, self-destroying life of the natural man. We, therefore, read in the eighth of Romans, “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”
We see this truth foreshadowed through the whole Old Testament. The destruction of the race by the flood was but a figure. The Apostle Peter says of the true baptism, “The like figure whereunto baptism doth also now save us, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, the apostle intimates that the eight souls who passed through the waters of the flood were saved by water, not from water.
The flood that destroyed and swept away the ungodly race that was engulfing everything in corruption, was God’s merciful judgment, sending salvation through destruction. God Himself had said, “The end of all flesh is come before me.” The deluge was just the death and burial of the great putrid carcase of corrupt flesh into which humanity had ripened.
The sacrifice on Mount Moriah was another foreshadowing of the life that comes through self-surrender. The sufferings of Joseph were the very pathway to his elevation and coronation. The passage through the Red Sea was Israel’s baptism of death. The death of the first-born and the destruction of Egypt’s host in the same flood emphasized and vivified the same picture. And the redemption of Israel’s firstborn was God’s own striking figure of the fact that the whole nation was accounted dead, and saved as from the dead.
Before Israel could enter Canaan, the old generation was left in Egypt to die, and a new race passed through the gates of Kadesh. The passage of the Jordan was but the type of deeper death. The death of Moses and the succession of Joshua who alone could bring them into the promised land, still further emphasized the death-side of their higher inheritance and ours.
The circumcision was the figure of God’s death-stroke upon our natural life. All the types of the canonical law were touched by the death-mark. Through the blood of burnt offerings, sin offerings, and peace offerings, the Hebrew worshippers and the Aaronic priests entered into their place of privilege and acceptance.
The cleansing of the leper was accompanied by the touching figure of the death of the little bird and the sprinkling of its blood upon the wing of its companion. The two were the parable of God’s cleansing of the sinful heart of man. Even the razor must cut off the last hair of his natural strength before he could pass in among the worshippers. And in the ordinance of the red heifer, not only the scarlet wool that was the figure of sin, but also the little hyssop which represented our natural life and the finest tendrils of its strength and beauty, must be consumed with the burning heifer.
Not only must “the grass wither, but the flower of the grass must perish, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it.” The death sentence must be executed against the beauty and the blossom, as well as against the grossness and the sensuality of the natural life.
Even the very best things become a curse to us so long as we hold them with our natural hands and hearts and self-centered spirits. That sweet and innocent child whom God has taught you to love, can be only an idol until he ceases to be your child, and becomes God’s child, and the death stroke passes upon your love, and you learn in the resurrection life to hold him for God, and love him not as a selfish pleasure but as a sacred trust.
Even the husband into whose strong hand God may have put your trusting little hand, may become but a substitute for your God, and a separating influence from Him, until you die to your own selfish affection, and learn to love him not for your own gratification, or his, but in God and unto God and for his own highest good.
Money cannot hurt you if you do not love it for its own sake. It is not your fortune that hurts you, but your clinging fondness for it; and so long as that fondness is alive, your little world of five hundred dollars a year is as much a hindrance to you as would be a millionaire’s palaces and vast investments. It is not the size of your world that God sees, but the extent to which it fills your heart.
Even your Christian influence, your reputation as a worker for God, and your standing among your brethren, may be to you an idol that must die, before you can be free to live for Him alone. If you have ever noticed the type on a printed page, you must have seen that the little “i” has always a dot over it, and that this dot elevates it above the other letters in the line.
Now, each of us is a little ‘i’; and over every one of us there is a little dot of self-importance, self-will, self-interest, self-confidence, self-complacency, or something to which we cling and for which we contend, which just as surely reveals self-life as if it were a mountain of real importance.
This ‘i’ is a rival of Jesus Christ, an enemy of the Holy Ghost, and of our peace and life. Therefore, God has decreed its death, and the Holy Spirit, with His flaming sword, is waiting to destroy it, that we may be able to enter through the gates and come to the Tree of Life.
How can this be accomplished?
We must ourselves consent to it. We must recognize the true character of our self-life and the real quality of the evil thing. We must consent to its destruction, and we ourselves must take it as Abraham did Isaac, and lay it at the feet of God in willing sacrifice. This is a hard work for the natural heart; but the moment the will has been yielded and the choice has been made, that death is past; the agony is over, and we are astonished to find that the death is accomplished.
Usually the crisis of life in such cases hangs upon a single point. God does not need to strike us in a hundred places to inflict a death wound. There is one point that touches the heart, and that is the point God usually strikes, the dearest thing in our life, the decisive thing in our plans, the citadel of the will, the center of the heart. When we yield there, there is little left to yield anywhere else; and when we refuse to yield at this point, a spirit of evasion and compromise enters into all the rest of our life.
The man or woman who has honestly and entirely met God at the decisive point will always be found uncompromising and thorough at every other crisis; and the man or woman who has begun with a half-surrendered will always has a reservation up to the end of the chapter, unless he meets with God at some later point and begins where he ought to have begun before.
The cause of Saul’s ruin was his unwillingness to obey God and yield up Agag and Amalek to death. Saul carried out the divine commission through every chapter but one. He fought his battles bravely, he managed his campaigns skillfully, he subdued Amalek, he captured Agag, he left no point in the possession of the enemy; but he kept the best of the spoil and the life of the king for his own gratification, pretending that he did it for the worship of God.
This was the cause of his ruin. Old Samuel gave to the ages to come an object lesson of what God meant when he took his great broadsword and hewed Agag to pieces before the king, and told his cowardly master “that obedience is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”
At one time when we talked with a dear friend who had been struggling for years to enter into a satisfactory spiritual experience, she told us how disappointed and unsatisfied her heart was. As we looked at her earnest face it seemed to us that there must be something in the way, and we asked her if there were not some reservation in her entire consecration. We did not need to wait for the answer for it bespoke itself. We then asked her if she would not be brave enough to let the last cord go, to give herself unreservedly to Christ at any cost, and especially to let go the thing that she shrank most at the thought of surrendering. She looked so sadly in our face, and answered, “I have not the courage.”
Alas! it is the old and oft-repeated story; and yet those cowardly hearts who shrink from God’s gentle sword will yet have to bear sufferings inconceivably more severe, and to be pierced with sorrows that make one’s heart ache even to think of. The brave heart that dares to die once for all and forever is the wise heart, the happy heart, the heart that finds “the yoke easy and the burden light.”
Beloved, will you dare to die, or rather to yield unto death that thing in your heart, your life, your will, which constitutes the strength of your natural life, and the axis around which all your being is enfolded?
Having yielded yourself unto death, you must next believe that God accepts you, and that the Holy Ghost undertakes the work, and really accomplishes it. The command of the Scriptures is very simple and explicit at this point, “Reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This act is purely a matter of faith. Faith and sight always differ to such an extent that, while to your senses it does not seem to be so, your faith must still reckon it as true. This is a very difficult attitude to hold, and only as we thoroughly believe God, can we thus reckon upon His Word and His Working. As we do so, however, faith will convert it into fact, and it will be even so.
These two words, “yield”and “reckon,”are passwords into the resurrection life. They are like the two edges of the “Sword of the Spirit” through which we enter into crucifixion with Christ.
This act of surrender and this reckoning of faith are recognized in the New Testament as marking a very definite crisis in the spiritual life. It does not mean that we are expected to be going through a continual dying, but that there should be one very definite act of dying, and then a constant habit of reckoning ourselves as dead and meeting everything from this standpoint.
In the sixth chapter of Romans, the apostle takes the position that we are to meet God as those that are alive from the dead, and thus enjoy the benefit of an accomplished act of crucifixion. Once for all we are to hand over our sin, our self, and all our belongings to the Holy Ghost; and henceforth, whatever comes up in us, we are to reckon it as no longer a part of ourselves, but to steadily refuse to recognize it, and count it simply as a temptation. Thus we shall have power to overcome it, and shall be able to maintain our consciousness of purity and victory unmoved.
As any evil comes up, and the consciousness of any unholy thing touches our inner senses, it is our privilege at once to hand it over to the Holy Ghost and to lay it upon Jesus, as something already crucified with Him; and as of old, in the case of the sin offering, it will be carried without the camp and burned to ashes.
There may be deep suffering, there may be protracted pain, it may be intensely real; but throughout all there will be a very sweet and sacred sense of God’s presence, of intense purity in our whole spirit, and of our separation from the evil which is being consumed. Truly, it will be borne without the camp, so that even the smell of the burning will not defile the holy sanctuary of the consecrated heart; and we shall come out of the fire without even the smell of the flames upon our garments.
It is so blessed to have the Holy Spirit slay things. No sword but His can pass so perfectly between us and the evil, so that it consumes the sin without touching the spirit. Just as the skillful surgeon, with brave heart and keen instrument, can pass between the arteries and veins with such exquisite delicacy that no fibre is severed, and no injury done to a single organ, so the blessed Holy Spirit, and He alone, can separate the evil from the good, and “pierce even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow.”
This brings us to the searching power of the Holy Spirit, for this fiery sword is a heart-searching weapon as well as a sin-destroying power. Undoubtedly the passage in the fourth chapter of Hebrews already quoted, refers to this ancient figure. “The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight.”
There is a strong and subtle power in electric fire to search out and discriminate between substances and detect abnormal and unwholesome conditions. When the electric sponge passes over the human frame, it leaves no sensation in the healthful places; but if there is disease anywhere it will cling to the spot and seem to search it out and penetrate it with a subtle touch, often with the keenest pain.
In like manner the Holy Ghost passes through those portions of our being that are right and pure, without any sense of resistance, or, perhaps, without any sensation whatever. He has such free course that He just seems to blend with our own consciousness. But when He comes to anything wrong, there is immediate resistance; and as He presses His hand upon it, there is intense suffering. The sword of the Spirit is searching out the evil and compelling it to declare itself, just as the skirmishing companies in the advance guard of the army, by their firing and their feint attacks, bring out the foe and compel him to show his position. The greatest hindrance to our spiritual life and progress is found in the disguise of the enemy and the deception of our own nature. The evil cannot be crucified until it is recognized, diagnosed, brought into the light, and delivered over to death.
Self clothes itself in so many disguises that nothing but the piercing sword of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures can compel it to take its true place, and own its evil character. Some one has said that it is half the battle of life to call things by their true names. The Holy Spirit searches out our sins, and He finds sin in many places where our own self-complacency would never have suspected it. Not only does He detect and condemn the grosser forms of immorality and disobedience, which have to deal directly with the ten commandments and the law of righteousness; but He brings us face to face with the law of love, and shows us that even the unkindly thought is murder, the unforgiving spirit is an unpardonable sin, the habit of living to ourselves rebellion against God, and a selfish motive, even in the holiest act, a soul-defiling sin.
He brings us face to face with the law of faith, and shows us that to doubt God is a crime, to treasure an anxious care for the morrow is wickedness, to pray in unbelief is to take the name of God in vain, and, in short, that “whatever is not of faith is sin.” He takes us through the realm of truth and error. He gives us the touchstone whereby we detect the false, and learn to answer even Satan’s quotation of Scripture by Christ’s own weapon, “It is written again.”
He discriminates between the false peace and the true, the earthly and the incorruptible joy, the love that is purely a natural instinct and the charity that is Christ’s love, which never fails, the zeal of Jehu, which is but a selfish passion, and the holy zeal that burns as strongly when no man approves, and stands as firmly when it costs us our very life as when it leads us to a throne. He discriminates between the false and the true worship, the prayer prompted by the Holy Spirit to the Father who seeth in secret, and the religious emotion which is kindled in the aesthetic nature by an eloquent sermon, a pathetic story, a sentimental appeal, or a sublime musical symphony which may bring tears to the eyes while the heart is as hard as adamant to God and our fellow-men.
He shows us the difference between true and false submission and the weakness that yields to sickness and Satan. On the other hand, He shows us the true patience that lovingly bows to the will of God, but refuses the weights that the adversary would put upon us.
He leads us to pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” He gives us that perfect abandonment of spirit which makes us willing to be searched and glad to be laid open to the eye of God, and to cry, “See if there be in me any way of grief,” as the margin reads, or “any way of pain,” as the new version renders it. It makes us glad to be sanctified from not only the wicked but also the earthly thing, and to be so separated from all self-life that every way of pain shall be prevented, and everything in us that could hurt us will be subdued. Thus shall we be enabled not only to lay aside the sin that so easily besets us, but every weight that would so lightly hold us back.
The blessed Holy Spirit, who possesses the consecrated heart, is intensely concerned for our highest life, and watches us with a sensitive, and even a jealous love. Very beautiful is the true translation of that ordinary passage in the Epistle of James, “The Spirit that dwelleth in us loveth us to jealousy.” The heart of the Holy Ghost is intensely concerned in preserving us from every stain and blemish, and bringing us into the very highest possibilities of the will of God. The Heavenly Bridegroom would have His Church free not only from every spot, but also from “every wrinkle, or any such thing.” The spot is the mark of sin, but the wrinkle is the sign of weakness, age, and decay. He wants no such defacing touch upon the holy features of His Beloved. Therefore, the Holy Ghost, who is the Executor of His will, and the divine Messenger whom He sends to call, separate, and bring home His Bride, is jealously concerned in fulfilling in us all the Master’s will, and is ever searching us through and through, with more and more tenderness, and with the most earnest solicitude, to find out every hidden fault and every unsupplied lack, and to bring us up into the fullness of the stature of spiritual manhood and entire preparation for the marriage of the Lamb.
Will we welcome His loving scrutiny and His faithful care? Will we cry, “Search me, 0 God, search me and know my heart, Search me and try me in the hidden part; Cleanse me and make me holy as Thou art, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
THE SUBDUING POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
The Holy Ghost is God’s Executive not only for the salvation and sanctification of His people, but for the conviction of sinners and the judgment of wicked men, the destruction of the enemies of God, and the final punishment of the devil and his angels. This sword is God’s weapon for slaying the proud and willful sinner and laying him at the feet of mercy. We can entertain and interest men, but only the Holy Ghost can convict them of sin, and pierce them to the heart with profound and soul-saving conviction. We are so glad that there is One who bears this mighty sword, and uses it through His Holy Word, when faithfully presented, to break the sinner’s heart and bring him to the feet of Jesus.
But the Holy Spirit is also God’s mighty hand to avenge His honor against the wicked, and punish those who disobey Him and harm His people. The same power that struck down Ananias and Sapphira in Pentecostal days is still in the church and the world; and wherever God’s presence is, there, in a remarkable degree, His judgments are made known. It is a very solemn thing to presume against the Holy Ghost. He is the author of human life, and in a moment He can take it away. “If I whet my glittering sword, and my hand take hold on judgment,” God Himself has said, “Who is he that can deliver out of my hand?” That is a true and awful word : “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord,” and again, “Defraud not one another, for God is the avenger of all such.” I would not like to have orphan children and widowed wives cry out against me to God. I would not like to have the little hand of wronged and innocent children pleading to heaven for my punishment. I would not like to have to meet that tremendous sentence, after a life of reckless evil-speaking against the servants of God, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” I would rather play with the forked lightning, or take in my hands living wires with their fiery current, than speak a reckless word against any servant of Christ, or idly repeat the slanderous darts which thousands of Christians are hurling on others, to the hurt of their own souls and bodies.
You may often wonder, perhaps, why your sickness is not healed, your spirit filled with the joy of the Holy Ghost, or your life blessed and prosperous. It may be that some dart which you have flung with angry voice, or in an idle hour of thoughtless gossip, is pursuing you on its returning way, as it describes the circle which always brings back to the source from which it came every shaft of bitterness, and every idle and evil word. Let us remember that when we persecute or hurt the children of God, we are but persecuting Him, and hurting ourselves far more.
Finally, there is an hour coming, in which “the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan, the piercing serpent, even leviathan, that crooked servant; and He shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Then even Satan himself will feel the sharp and fiery force of that flaming sword, which he saw for the first time in its awful gleam, as he went out from Eden’s gate with the fearful crime of man’s destruction upon his head, and the tremendous curse which that fiery sword is yet to execute. That hour has not yet fully come; but even yet, thank God, that Blessed Holy Spirit is here to resist and to overcome the power of the destroyer.
He was Christ’s strength and defense in the conflict in the wilderness, and He Himself has said, “When the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”
There are some things that only God can wither; and it is very blessed that, in connection with the only miracle of judgment that Christ performed, the withering of the fig tree, He gave to us His strongest lesson touching upon human faith, and told us that we might claim such faith as would wither the barren fig tree, and destroy the powers of evil that were too strong for us.
It is blessed to have a God who knows how not only to cleanse and purify us, but to destroy our spiritual foes, and to deal even with our human adversaries. “Our God is a consuming fire, and the Lord shall judge His people.” If we could only realize what those tremendous words mean, “Our God is a consuming fire,” we should feel so sorry for the man who wrongs us, that we should wish him no evil, but would tremble at the thought of his judgment. We would get down upon our knees and plead with God to have mercy upon him.
Beloved, let us pass through this flaming sword without a reservation. Then we shall not only be fearless of its power to harm us, but it will be our mighty weapon against every adversary and every evil, and the power of our aggressive warfare for the service of men and the triumph of our Master’s Kingdom.
“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: he took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” Exodus 13: 21, 22. “And the Angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud of darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all night.” Exodus 14: 19, 20. “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: but if the cloud were not taken up then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and the fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.” Exodus 40: 34-38. “And the cloud of the Lord was upon them by day, when they went out of the camp. And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, ‘Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee.’ And when it rested, he said, ‘Return, 0 Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel.’” Numbers 10: 34, 36. “Moreover, Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. ” 1 Corinthians 10: 1, 2.
The application to the Holy Spirit of these beautiful passages, and of the sublime figure that runs through all of them, is rendered certain by the words of the prophet Isaiah, in the sixty-third chapter. “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them: and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled, and vexed His Holy Spirit: therefore He was turned to be their enemy, and He fought against them. Then He remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? Where is He that put His Holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses with His glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make Himself an everlasting name? That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble? Asa beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest: so didst Thou lead Thy people, to make Thyself a glorious name.”
The prophet expressly recognizes the Holy Spirit as the presence who dwelt in the midst of Israel, and led them through the Red Sea and the wilderness. The figure under which He is represented in these passages is striking and sublime. It was customary for ancient armies, when marching through a foreign country, to be led, especially by night, by great illuminations of torches and beacons carried in front of the advancing host, and rising in the darkness with lurid smoke and flame. It would not, therefore, be altogether surprising for the host of Israel to see in front the majestic signal of the pillar of cloud and fire; and yet, this was no merely human beacon light. With a majesty unearthly and divine, it reared its fiery column to the sky, and marched, like a mighty sentinel, before the host, pausing when they were to rest, moving when they were to advance, separating them from their foes, and sometimes spreading its folds like the canopy of a great celestial tent about their heads, and sheltering them from the fiery heat of the desert, sun.
1. It was a supernatural symbol. They were to be guided henceforth by Jehovah Himself. This was their peculiar distinction, that “the Lord alone did lead them.” This was the place where Moses was interceding for them with God. “Wherein shall we be distinct from all the other people of the earth, except Thou go with us,” and His gracious answer was, “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.” The pillar of cloud and fire did not represent even an angel’s guidance and guardianship. It was the sign of God’s own presence.
In the same way the Church of the living God has a supernatural leadership. The Christian has a divine guide. Our holy Christianity is not a collection of wise human opinions, and an organization combining the strongest forces of human wisdom and power. It is nothing, if it is not divine. Give us a supernatural religion, or none at all.
The church of the Apostles was a living miracle, and so should the church of the nineteenth century be. Anything less and anything else is a disappointment to God and to every true man. Not with such transcendent portents as in days of old does He now appear. But none the less real are His living presence and His mighty working in the hearts of His people and in the events of His providence. Why should God be less real and glorious today than in the days of Moses, the triumphs of Joshua, and the miracles of Pentecost? Let us send up to Him the heartfelt prayer, “Awake, O arm of the Lord, as in the days of old!” And let us hear in answer, His own summons to us: “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion, thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem!”
2. The pillar of cloud and fire was a source of light, of truth and guidance to His people. Barbaric superstition delights in the wonderful, but divine power manifests itself in the practical and the useful. God wants not to play with us, as a magician with his wondering audience, but to guide us as a shepherd would his flock. Because He wants to give us His life, His Word has little to say about subjects that appeal principally to our curiosity, but speaks mainly to the intelligence, the understanding, and the heart.
The Holy Ghost comes not to give us extraordinary manifestations, but to give us life and light. The nearer we come to Him, the more simple will His illumination and leading be. He comes to “guide us into all truth.” He comes to shed light upon our own hearts, and to show us ourselves. He comes to reveal Christ, to give, and then to illumine the Holy Scriptures, and to make divine realities vivid and clear to our spiritual apprehension. He comes as a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, to “enlighten the eyes of our understanding, that we may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.”
Without Him there is no true light. These holy mysteries, these divine realities which to us are so dear, are incomprehensible to the most intelligent human minds. Two men sitting side by side hear the same truths, read the same words, live under the same religious influences. To the one they are uninteresting and unreal, while to the other they are his very life. As of old, when the same cloud was light to Israel, and darkness to the Egyptians, “so that they came not near each other all the night,” so still it is true that “the natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither indeed can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned; but he that is spiritual searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”
3. As it was a pillar of cloud as well as of light, so, as we have seen, the Holy Ghost is as dark to the unbeliever as He is light to the saint. The things of God are as dark to the world as they are beautiful and plain to the true disciple. And even to God’s children there is an element of cloud, as well as luminousness.
There is a veiled light which is as necessary sometimes as the unclouded sun. The Holy Ghost is given to reveal many things to us, “but we cannot bear them now.” He reserves His deeper teachings until we can stand them and understand them. We do not always see our way, and it is better that we do not. We must learn, as well as trust, even in the cloud. The very highest lessons on faith are taught by the veiled light, and the way we cannot understand. “I will lead them by the way they know not,”is still His word to every trusting child; but He always adds, “These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”
The presence of clouds upon your sky, and trials in your path, is the very best evidence that you are following the pillar of cloud, and walking in the presence of God. They had to enter the cloud before they could behold the glory of the transfiguration. A little later that same cloud became the chariot to receive the ascending Lord, and it is still waiting as the chariot that will bring His glorious appearing. Still it is true that while “clouds and darkness are round about His throne,”mercy and truth are ever in their midst, and shall go before His face.
Perhaps the most beautiful and gracious use of the cloud was to shelter them from the fiery sun. Like a great umbrella, that majestic pillar spread its canopy above the camp, and became a shielding shadow from the burning heat in the treeless desert. No one who has never felt an oriental sun can fully appreciate how much this means, a shadow from the heat. So the Holy Spirit comes between us and the fiery, scorching rays of sorrow and temptation, and under His shadow we sit and sing:
“All my hope on Thee is stayed, All my help from Thee I bring; Cover my defenseless head With the shadow of Thy wing.”
4. It was a pillar of fire. Fire is more than light. It not only illumines, it warms, it purifies, it destroys. It is the same Holy Ghost who baptizes with water and with fire, but it is not the same measure of the baptism. The baptism of fire is a baptism that penetrates the inmost fibers of our being, consuming the old life, cleansing and quickening our entire being, and enduing us with power from on high. God wants to bring every one of us to such a place, that we shall not fear the fire, because everything combustible will have been consumed.
5. The pillar went before them. They saw it first in front of them, far off, and far above them. It came to them first when they were in Egypt, and it led them out of the land of bondage. And so the Holy Spirit comes to us even in our life of sin, and leads us out of the world to Christ, and to begin our pilgrimage toward our Promised Land. The presence of the Holy Ghost in His first manifestation is distant, and we shrink, perhaps, from His closer touch. We know Him as One that brings to us the knowledge of God, the message of Christ, and the hope of salvation, and guides us in our first steps into Christian life; but we have not yet come to know Him as our indwelling Guest and our everlasting Comforter.
6. The pillar of cloud came closer to them, passed through the camp, and baptized them in its very presence, and then passed and stood behind them. This was as they went through the waters of the Red Sea. When that hour of peril came, and they walked down by faith into what seemed a living death, then their glorious Guide came nearer to their trembling hearts, enfolded them in His very arms, and then stood behind them like a wall of defense against their foes. Thus when we step out in living faith, and cross the Red Sea which separates us from our past and sinful life, and we go down into the waters of death with Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes nigher and baptizes us with His very touch and presence.
The baptism of water, which is the type of death, is significant of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. When Jesus went down into the Jordan and received baptism at the hands of John, “He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit, like a dove descending, and it abode upon Him.” And the promise of the Spirit, in Acts was connected with baptism. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remissions of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” So we read that “they were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” As they stepped into the Red Sea, the heavenly cloud enwrapped its folds around them, and they were immersed in both baptisms. Probably at the moment when the cloud passed through the midst of the camp, they were less conscious of its presence than they had been when it stood in the front.
So when we pass into the cloud we are not conscious of it. All we are conscious of is mist and darkness, so that, frequently, when we receive the Holy Ghost we are not directly conscious of what is occurring. We are, perhaps, so plunged in darkness, so consumed with hunger and desire, and so constantly reaching out to God that we do not realize our own condition. All the better, should it be so. A friend said to me the other day, “I am so hungry. I so long for the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” I asked him, “Who made you so hungry? Who gave you this longing? It was the very Holy Ghost. He is already with you in the shadow-side of the blessing, and He who gave the capacity for the appetite is Himself near to meet it and satisfy it.”
7. The pillar stood behind them. The Holy Spirit is ever our rearguard. He takes our past and hides it from us. Behind them lay Egypt and the Egyptians, all the past with its sin and its shame, and all their adversaries. Thus the Holy Ghost shuts us off from all that we have been, and from all that can come against us. Oh, how blessed it is, to put Him between you and your sins, between you and your troubles, between you and your enemies, between you and your memories, and to have Him for your glorious rearward!
8. The pillar of cloud and fire, a little later, came and dwelt within them. There came a day — and it was an era in their history — when a very wonderful change occurred in the position of that pillar. It was the first day of the first month, in the second year of their history. They had just completed the erection of the tabernacle, that simple and divinely planned little sanctuary, which was God’s perfect pattern and type of the Church and the individual saint. Every board, tache, loop, and curtain had been finished and placed according to God’s precise command. Every article of furniture was in its place, and they simply took their hands off, and gave it God, anointing it with oil, as the symbol of the Holy Spirit’s receiving and accepting the offering. Immediately that majestic cloud which had crowned the mount with its fiery glory, and floated in the heavens in its lofty grandeur, stooped from the skies and entered that holy place; and there, in the Holy of Holies, between the wings of the cherubim and the mercy seat, it took its place as the glowing Shekinah, that mysterious light and awful flame, which henceforth became the supernatural sign of God’s immediate presence, and which lit up the holy chamber with supernatural light and glory. God had moved into His consecrated and accepted abode, and henceforth He was no longer at a distance on a throne of glory, but within the midst of Israel, seated on the throne of grace.
And so in the opening verses of the very next chapter we read that God spoke unto Moses, not from the mountain, nor from the cloud, but from the tabernacle. Mystery of mysteries! Gift of gifts! Privilege unspeakable and divine! This is the promise which He has at length fulfilled to His Church and His people, and which every believer may now personally claim. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” “If any man will hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in unto him, and sup with him, and he with me.” “He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” “If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”
Where is thy God? Yonder on a throne of glory, in the heights of heaven, or here in the sanctuary of your heart, enthroned within you? Yes, this is the second great era of Christian life, the first day of the second year. The first year was the Passover, the sprinkled blood, the acceptance of Jesus as the Savior. That was the beginning of Israel’s history, for God said it should be the beginning of months. But this is the second blessing, a crisis just as definite, an era just as marked, a moment just as eternally memorable. That was Calvary. This is Pentecost. It has its time, and there is a day, when Pentecost has fully come. No soul that has ever known it can mistake it or forget it. Beloved, has it come to you, or rather has He come to abide in you forever?
9. The pillar of cloud and fire continued to lead them thenceforward in all their journeys. When they were to march, it moved before them. When they were to rest, it paused and spread its covering wings above them, as the mother bird brooding over her young, as the mighty canopy of a heavenly tent under which they were gathered. And so the Holy Spirit is our Guide, our Leader and our Resting-place. There are times when He presses us forward into prayer, into service, into suffering, into new experiences, new duties, new claims of faith and hope and love; but there are times when He arrests us in our activity, and rests us under His overshadowing wing, and quiets us in the secret place of the Most High, teaching us some new lesson, breathing into us some deeper strength or fullness, and then leading us on again, at His bidding alone. He is the true guide of the saint, and the true leader of the Church, our wonderful Counselor, our unerring Friend. He who would deny the personal guidance of the Holy Ghost in order that he might honor the Word of God as our only guide, must dishonor that other word of promise, that His sheep shall know His voice, and that His hearkening and obedient children shall hear a Voice behind them saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.”
And now let us notice that the pillar of cloud which had entered the tabernacle did not linger there and cease to be visible externally; but it rose from the presence chamber where the Shekinah shone, and hovered above it, and then spread over the sky just as before, an external as well as an internal presence. The difference was this. In its first stage it was an external sign only; then it became an internal presence; and then, finally, it become both internal and external, the Shekinah within and the cloud above.
So in our earlier experiences we know the Holy Ghost only at a distance, in things that happen in a providential direction, or in the Word alone; but after awhile we receive Him as an inward Guest, and He dwells in our very midst, and He speaks to us in the innermost chambers of our being. The external working of His power does not cease, but it is increased and seems the more glorious. The Power that dwells within us works without us, answering prayer, healing sickness, overruling providence, “Doing exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the Power that worketh in us.” There is a double presence of the Lord for the consecrated believer. He is present in the heart, and He is mightily present in the events of life. He is the Christ in us, the Christ of all the days, with all power in heaven and earth.
As that pillar led them all the way, triumphing over their enemies, dividing the waters of the Jordan, and never leaving them until they entered the promised land, so the Holy Ghost is our Wonder-worker, our all sufficient God and Guardian. He is waiting in these days to work as mightily in the affairs of men as in the days of Moses, of Daniel, and of Paul.
10. It will be noticed, however, that after they entered the Land of Promise, all the external manifestations of God’s presence disappeared, and the vision that came to Joshua in front of Jericho — the Son of God with a drawn sword in His hand — became henceforth a pledge of the same presence, protection, and power. Henceforth, the external sign was withdrawn, and their Leader was to be with them by faith and not by sight. In like manner, when we come into the fullness of Christ, we have fewer signs, we have less of the wonderful in form; but we have more of the working of faith and power.
God showed Himself to Joshua, not by the luminous cloud, but by the falling of the walls of Jericho, by the defeat of the Canaanites at Beth-horan, by the capture of Hebron, by the conquest of the Anakim, and by the subjugation of all the thirty-one kings of Canaan. These were the wonders of His power and the signals of His presence.
Thus God, as He leads us into a deeper life of faith and power, will show to us His mind, and manifest His presence by the things He does every day through us, by the salvation of souls around us, by the breaking of proud and sinful hearts, by the opening of heathen nations to the Gospel, by the working of His providence in the events of our time, by the evangelization of the world, by these mighty overturnings which are to bring the glorious advent of His Son.
But in all this, the blessing will be given to faith, and not to sight. We must learn to trust the Holy Ghost, even when we cannot perceive the signals of His presence.
In conclusion; have we kept pace with this advancing cloud? Have we followed Him from Egypt down into the depths of the Red Sea and the floods of the Jordan? Have we let Him lead us into the Promised Land? Has He come to be our holy Guest, our indwelling Presence? Have we proved His mighty works with us as well as in us, and has He led us out into victories of faith and service for which His own heart is longing, that He may glorify Jesus and hasten His return? Shall we not send up the prayer:
Holy Ghost I bid Thee welcome, Come and be my holy Guest; Heavenly Dove, within my bosom Make Thy home, and build Thy nest.
“And all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” 1 Cor. 10: 4. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10: 19-22.
There is no emblem of the Holy Spirit more frequently used in the Scriptures than water. Naturally suggestive of cleansing, refreshing, and fullness, it expresses most perfectly the most important offices of the Holy Ghost. It is not possible for us to refer to all the passages and incidents which are based upon this figure; but we shall call attention to four remarkable passages which unfold in logical and chronological order the work of the Holy Spirit in our redemption and complete salvation.
1. The first of these passages, quoted above, refers to the first three of these unfoldings of the Holy Spirit. They are all connected with incidents in the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness. The first is the smiting of the rock in Horeb, of which we read in the seventeenth chapter of Exodus. They had come to the fountain at Meribah, but found it dry; and, as usual, instead of trusting and praying, they began to murmur and complain. Then God commanded Moses to lead them to the rock in Horeb, and to smite it with the rod wherewith he had divided the Red Sea and performed the miracles of judgment in Egypt. The cleft rock gave forth a flood of water, and the people drank abundantly, and their cattle.
The smiting of the rock in Horeb was, of course, a type of the Lord Jesus Christ and the stroke of the Father’s judgment on Calvary by which our guilt was expiated and the fountain of mercy was opened for sinful men. But the water which flowed from that rock was also a type of the Holy Spirit, purchased for us as the most precious gift of His redemption. Water is always a type of the Holy Ghost. Jesus, Himself, has explained the symbol in John 7:38-39, where, after speaking of the living water which was to flow from the believer, he added, “This He spake of the Holy Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive.”
The water from the rock in Horeb was the type of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, in consequence of Christ’s accomplished redemption. This is its dispensational meaning. So far as the successive eras of our Christian life are concerned, it prefigures our first experiences of the Holy Spirit after our conversion. There is a very real sense in which the Spirit of God is given to the believer as soon as he accepts the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior. There is a deeper fullness which follows at a later stage. But let not that discredit nor displace the other real experience in which He comes to the believer, in so far as the heart is open to receive Him. This was the first promise to the infant church and the youngest believers of Pentecost, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; for the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, as many as the Lord, our God, shall call.” This is the only security for the establishing and standing of any believer; and no convert should be left until he has definitely received the Holy Spirit, and been sealed unto the day of redemption by the indwelling power and the presence of God.
2. In the twentieth chapter of Numbers we have a second incident very similar to the first and yet essentially different. Again the people come to the place of extremity. They are without water and ready to perish from thirst. Once again, God interposes for their deliverance. Once again, He leads them to the rock and the waters flow in abundance for the supply of all their need, “and the people drink, and their cattle,” and they are refreshed and satisfied. All this seems exactly like the other miracle, but when we look a little closer we find important differences. In the first place, it is forty years later in their history. The first miracle was at the beginning of their wilderness life. This is near its close, and is intended, therefore, to mark some advanced stage in their experience. It is at a different place — Kadesh. The word “Kadesh” means holiness, and we know that Kadesh was the gate to the Promised Land. This, therefore, would suggest that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit here set forth has reference to the more advanced stages of our Christian life.
There is an era in every complete Christian life; there is a Kadesh where God brings us into His holiness and gives to us the Spirit to dwell within us, and causes us to walk in His statutes and keep His judgments and do them; there is a promised land whose gateway lies at Kadesh, into which we enter by receiving the Holy Ghost in His fullness. There is a place where we either pass out of the wilderness into the “rest that remaineth for the people of God,” or where we pass on to the ceaseless round of failure and disappointment in which so many are living.
There is an infinite difference between this reception of the Holy Spirit and His coming to us at our conversion. There He comes to witness to our acceptance and forgiveness; here He comes to accept our perfect offering of ourselves to Him, and to possess us fully for Himself, bringing us into personal union with Jesus, and keeping us henceforth in obedience and victory.
Again, it will be noticed that the manner of the miracle was entirely different. In the first instance, the rock was to be struck by the rod of the lawgiver, but in this case it was not to be struck. Moses was simply to speak to it, and its would give forth its waters at the quiet voice of faith and prayer. Moses disobeyed this command and vehemently struck the rock repeatedly. “Hear now, ye rebels, must we fetch water out of the rock?” God, displeased with his haste and unbelief, severely punished him by excluding him from the Promised Land; yet He honored His own promise by giving the water to the people, notwithstanding the failure of Moses.
All this action is exceedingly significant. The rock was not to be struck again, because it was already smitten and opened, and the waters were already flowing freely. All that was needed was to receive by faith what had already been secured by the great sacrifice. And so for us, the Holy Ghost is given, the sacrifice is finished, the price is paid, the conditions are fulfilled, the heavens are opened, and the Holy Ghost has come. Let us not crucify Christ afresh, or ignore the value of His death by trying to bring down the Spirit again from heaven. All we have to do is to simply receive Him and make room for His entrance. Our part is not to strike but to speak to the Rock, and, as we come in the simplicity of trust, quietly, expectantly claim His entering in; more willingly than a father would give good gifts to his children, will the Father on high bestow the Holy Spirit on them that ask Him. Not like the priests of Baal, with noisy clamor and unbelieving repetitions are we to ask for Him, but in unhesitating confidence and full assurance of faith are we to come and receive what He is waiting to bestow.
The bells within the innermost shrine of God’s holy dwelling-place are very delicately hung, and a rude touch will jar the exquisite wires and break the delicate mechanism. All you need is the lightest touch. In the days of your childhood, you got access to a building by pounding on the door with a rude knocker; but now you come and softly touch a little button, and the electric current signals to the highest storey your approach. God’s bells all move in answer to electric wires, and your rude, clumsy blows only hinder your petition.
The Holy Ghost is very sensitive, as love always is. You can conquer a wild beast by blows and chains, but you cannot conquer a woman’s heart that way, or win the love of a sensitive nature. That must be wooed by the delicate touches of trust and affection. So the Holy Ghost has to be taken by a faith as delicate and sensitive as the gentle heart with whom it is coming in touch. One thought of unbelief, one expression of impatient distrust or fear, will instantly check the perfect freedom of His operations as much as a breath of frost would wither the petals of the most sensitive rose or lily.
Speak to the Rock, do not strike it. Believe in the Holy Ghost and treat Him with the tenderest confidence and the most unwavering trust, and He will meet you with instant response and equal confidence. Beloved, have you come to the rock in Kadesh? Have you opened all your being to the fullness of the Spirit? And then, with the confidence of the child to the mother, the bride to the husband, the flower to the sunshine, have you received by faith? And are you drinking of the fullness and dwelling in the innermost center of His blessed life?
3. We come to the third stage in the following chapter, Numbers 21. We have a very striking little picture: “And from thence they went to Beer: that is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water. Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it; The princes dug the well, the nobles of the people dug it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves. And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah.”
At first sight the meaning is a little obscure, but as we look more closely, we see a very striking picture. The people have passed on from Kadesh, and again the parched desert is all around them. There are no oases, rills, or flowing streams in sight, and they are famishing with thirst. Then comes the divine command: “Gather the people that I may give them water.” “Where shall they be gathered? Gathered to the well of Beer. Oh! there is no well in sight.” “Never mind, gather them all the same. Right there in the desert sand, bring them together.”
Now the command is given to the nobles to bring out their pilgrim staves and to dig the well in the desert sand; and while they dig, the people are gathered around and are commanded to sing. And so they dig and sing, and sing and dig, and their song is given us in this simple refrain: “Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it.”As they sang, the waters burst forth from the depths, and overflowed and ran like a river through the camp; and the people drank and sang and wondered.
This is the explanation of that strange expression in the text, “They drank of that rock that followed them.” This is the way it followed them. The rock did not travel through the desert behind the camp, nor was it carried about with them in their caravan, like some fetish or car of Juggernaut; but the water of the rock followed them. It ran under the desert sands, a subterranean stream. They could not see it on the surface, but it was there all the same. All they needed to do was to gather above it, and with their staves dig the well and sing the song of faith and prayer, and lo! the waters flowed abundantly.
What a beautiful picture of the abiding life in the Spirit, and of the continuous sources of our spiritual life! When we receive the fullness of the Spirit, the same blessed promise of life and salvation continues to follow us through all our wilderness journey. Not always will we see the water, or be able to trace the channel of the river; but it is there beneath our feet, even under the fiery sun and burning sands of the hottest desert, and all we need to do is to dig the well of need with the staff of promise, then sing the song of trust, and the Holy Spirit will be found springing up, as ever, in His infinite supply for all our need.
Every promise in the Bible has some fitness to some need in our life. As we use the promise faithfully and meet its simple conditions, we shall find that the waters will spring and our wants will be supplied from the Fountain of Life. To dig is not always very pleasant work. There is a good deal of excavation, and room has to be made by scooping out the sand; and so the promises of God have their sharp edges as well as their gracious fullness. They empty us as well as fill us; but as we meet the conditions, we shall always find them faithful and full, “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”
This striking figure of the desert well teaches us the secret of abiding in the Spirit. Our deeper life in Christ is not always apparent even to ourselves, for it is hid with Christ in God; but the fountain is always there, and we may ever drink from its hidden depths and find the supply of every need in Him.
4. There is another figure of the Holy Spirit suggested by the passage quoted from the Hebrews. There we see the worshiper entering into the Holy of Holies with his body washed with pure water. This suggests the ancient laver which stood at the entrance of the tabernacle, and was intended for the use of the priests who went within to wash their faces and their hands and cleanse their robes from every spot and stain whenever they entered the holy precincts. It was made out of the looking-glasses of the women of Israel, and it is probable that externally it was a great polished mirror in which they could see themselves and their defilements, Then in the water they could cleanse away the stains.
This laver was the type of the Holy Spirit as our fountain of cleansing and our way of approach to the holy place of Christ’s immediate presence. Only as we are cleansed in that laver can we enter in as the priests of God and feed upon the Living Bread, dwelling in the light of the golden lamps, and breathing the sweet odor of the incense that fills the presence chamber with the atmosphere of heaven. At once it reveals and removes the defilements of our hearts and lives. There is a sense in which, once for all, the Holy Spirit cleanses us. This was what our Master meant when He said, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.”
But there is a constant liability to contract at least the stains of earth, if not the taint of sin. The very atmosphere we breathe is so laden with the breath of evil that it is almost impossible to escape its touch and taint; but the blessed Holy Spirit stands ministering within the sacred temple of the heart, and is ready every moment to wash away the faintest touch of earth or evil, and to keep us spotless, undefiled, and perfectly accepted in His sight.
“If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with the other, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” The laver speaks to us of the permanent and unceasing operations of the Holy Spirit. The rock in Horeb and Kadesh, and even the well in the wilderness, were but the transient types of these spiritual verities. But the laver was God’s abiding symbol, and continued in the tabernacle through all their future national life. It speaks to us of that continual provision which He has made for our abiding life. Let us, therefore, receive Him and abide in Him; let us wait in the Holy Place; let us not only come for cleansing, but let us keep coming; and let us so dwell under the continual influences and in the very atmosphere of His love that we shall never be out of communion, and that we shall be kept cleansed from all sin.
We read, in the description of the tabernacle, not only of the laver but also of its foot. What was the intention of the foot of the laver? Perhaps it was a little outlet through which the waters could more easily flow within the reach of one who sought cleansing. The laver itself was too high to be easily reached, at least at its brim; but through this little pipe, which probably could be opened by a simple mechanism, the waters flowed to the ground and were always within the reach of even the littlest child, had it needed to come.
How truly this illustrates the blessed nearness of the Holy Ghost! Not in the highest heaven do we need to seek Him, not afar off do we have to cry to Him; but He is our Paraclete, One by our side, One very near and ever near to help in time of need. He is to us the presence of the Holy God, already given and ever present in the heart of His Church. He is as ready to enter the yielded and trusting heart as light is to flow into the open window and sunshine to meet the petals of the opening flower. Let us send up to Him the simple, whole-hearted prayer,
Blessed Holy Spirit Welcome to my breast; In my heart forever Be my Holy Guest.
“Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God.” 2 Cor. 1: 21.
The use of oil is more common in eastern lands than it is with us. The olive tree is one of the typical trees of Palestine. It is a wonderful tree. Its leaf is lustrous and seems always as if it had been bathed in the oil of its own olive tree, and the tree itself seems almost indestructible. It is usually crooked, gnarled, twisted, and almost torn to pieces. Nearly every tree is hollow, and often you see the larger part of the trunk apparently torn away, with perhaps a single root adhering to the soil; but above it rises a luxuriant mass of boughs and foliage seeming to be imbued with imperishable freshness. Some of the olives of Gethsemane must be at least a thousand years old; indeed the olive tree seems as if it could scarcely die.
It is a good type of the Holy Spirit and the soul anointed with His life and power. He may be exposed to all the trials of time; but, filled with the elixir of imperishable life, his leaf is always green, and he shall not cease from yielding fruit even in the parched land and the most inhospitable climate.
The ordinance of anointing with oil was one of the most common and significant ceremonials of the Old Testament. The leper was anointed, the tabernacle was anointed, the priests were anointed, the prophets were anointed, the kings were anointed, the guest was anointed, the sick were anointed. It was the special symbol of the Holy Ghost and the dedication of the person anointed to His service and possession.
I. THE PREPARATION OF THE ANOINTING OIL
We have a full account of this in Exodus 30: 23-33. “Take thou unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calumus two hundred and fifty shekels, and of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin: and thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil. And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all his vessels, and the candlestick and his vessels, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all his vessels, and the laver and his foot. And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy: whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy. And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.”
The method was particularly prescribed in every de-tail, and no counterfeit was allowed under the most severe penalties. It will be noticed:
1. That this oil was specially prepared. It was not ordinary olive oil; but other ingredients were added, chiefly perfumes, making it exquisitely fragrant, so that it not only was visible to the eye, but expressed to the sense of smell the sweetest suggestions of the divine presence, of which fragrance was always a peculiar sign.
The Holy Ghost has been prepared in like manner for His special work in us, just as the body of Jesus was prepared and His incarnation arranged for, so that He might come to us, not as the pure Deity alone, but as God manifest in the flesh. So the Holy Ghost has been prepared to dwell within us and to bring us into the presence of God in the way best adapted to our weak human nature.
The Holy Ghost who dwells in the believer is not the Deity who comes directly from the throne in the majesty of His Godhead. He is the Spirit that dwelt in the human Christ for three and a half years, the Spirit who wept in His tears, suffered in his agonies, spake in His words of wisdom and love, took the little children in His arms, healed the sick and raised the dead, allowed John to lean upon His bosom, and said to the sorrowing disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” This is the Spirit, therefore, that comes to us, softened and humanized by His union with the blessed Jesus, and calling Himself the Spirit of Christ, so that in receiving Him we receive the heart of Jesus and the person of Jesus into our inmost being. How gracious of the Holy Ghost to come to us thus fitted to meet our frailty and our need and to satisfy the wants of all our being!
2. As the oil was fragrant and sweet, so the Holy Ghost brings to us the very sweetness of heaven. All these spices have, perhaps, some special significance. The myrrh used, as we know, for embalming the dead, suggests to us the comfort of the Holy Ghost; the cinnamon was sweet to the taste, and fitly expresses the delightful and joyful influences of the Spirit; and the cassia, a healing and wholesome ingredient, reminds us of the Holy Ghost as our Health Bringer and our Sanctifier.
3. The oil was not to be counterfeited or imitated. Neither can the Holy Ghost be imitated. Satan has always tried to simulate the Spirit of God, and to get us to worship him instead of Jehovah. Even in the days of Moses men sometimes brought strange fire; but they were met with fiery judgment from the jealous God, who will not suffer His holy things to be profaned or confounded with evil. Men are still constantly in danger of accepting the false for the true. Spiritualism, Christian Science, and Theosophy come with their unholy imitations, but no deep discernment is needed to detect their disguises. He would be a bold man who willingly would be mixed up with these sorceries and Satanic delusions which leave a blister and a scar wherever they touch the soul.
There are other counterfeits less glaring and daring. Intellectual brilliancy, eloquence, and pathos often presume to imitate the operations of the Spirit and produce the impression which only He can bring. Music attempts to thrill our esthetic nature with the emotions and feelings which many mistake for real devotion. Architecture and art are called into play to impress the imagination with the scenic effects of sensuous worship. But none of these do the work of the Holy Spirit. People can weep under entrancing music and heart-stirring eloquence, and yet as much as before go out and live lives of cruel selfishness and gross unrighteousness. People can bow with a kind of awe under the imposing arch and before the vivid painting, or the impressive pageant of ceremonial worship, and yet have no fear of God before their eyes. There is no substitute for the Holy Ghost. He alone can produce conviction, divine impression, true devotion, unselfish life, and reverent worship.
4. The oil must not be poured on man’s flesh. It was to be used exclusively for the consecrated and separated ones. No stranger was to receive this anointing. It was the badge of separation to God. Thus the Holy Ghost comes upon the separated, dedicated, consecrated heart. You cannot receive it upon a carnal and fleshly soul. God will not dwell in a sinful spirit. You must separate yourself from evil, dedicate yourself to Him, and be crucified with Christ to self and sin before He will make your heart His abiding place. His promise is: “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and a new spirit will I put within you.” Then he adds, “Iwill put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them.”
You cannot get power from God until you receive holiness. Simon Magus wanted this power from the Apostle Peter; but his wicked heart received only God’s terrific rebuke and the awful words, “Thou art in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” Men are still trying to get power without holiness, but it can only bring disappointment and danger. In their search for power they will probably end where Simon Magus did, with the unholy power of the wicked one and the curse of a holy God. The Spirit’s first work is to cleanse us, to separate us, to sanctify us, to dedicate us wholly to God. Then as the property of God, He takes possession of us for God and uses us for His service and glory alone.
II. PARTICULAR CASES IN WHICH THE ANOINTING OIL WAS USED
1. The anointing of the leper is described in Leviticus 14. This represents the Holy Spirit’s cleansing and consecrating work upon the sinner. This poor leper outside the camp represents our worst estate, and it is for such sinners that the Holy Ghost has come to bring all the fullness of Jesus.
First, the poor leper must be met and welcomed, and then brought by the priest inside the camp and under the cleansing water and sprinkled blood; then the anointing oil is applied, and he is touched over the blood-mark that has already been given, upon his right ear, his right thumb, and his right toe. This means the consecrating and the filling of all his powers of apprehension and reception represented by the ear, all his powers of appropriating faith and holy service represented by the hand, and all his steps and ways represented by his feet. All these are dedicated to God and taken possession of by the Holy Ghost.
The oil does not come first, but the blood. Then the oil is placed upon the blood. The Holy Ghost comes only to those who have received Jesus. There is no spiritual power apart from the cross and the Savior. Those higher revelations and deeper teachings which discard the blood of Calvary come from beneath. Like the ancient St. Francis, we can always know the true Christ by the print of the nails and the spear. However, we need the oil as much as the blood. Our ears, our hands, and our feet must be divinely quickened, possessed, and filled before we can rightly hear and understand for God, rightly appropriate the things we know, rightly work for Him, and walk in His holy ways.
But this is not all. This is but a drop of oil. We now read that the remnant of the oil was poured upon the head of him who was to be cleansed. This is a much larger filling. The very word “pour”means a fullness of blessing, and the remnant of oil means all the oil that was left, all that was in the priest’s hand. We know that the priest is no one else than the Son of God, the Mighty One, who holds the ocean in the hollow of His hand, and, therefore, the rest of the oil that the palm of His hand can hold is an ocean of infinite fullness. It means that all the oil, that Jesus himself had, is poured upon our head. The same anointing came upon Him that He also shares with us. All this for a poor leper!
Beloved, have you received the remnant of the oil?
2. The anointing of the priest is unfolded in Exodus 29: 7-21, and Leviticus 8:12, 30. Here we find a different application of the oil. It is applied to the priest with the object of fitting him for service in waiting upon the Lord and ministering in His presence. We also must receive the holy anointing, not only for cleansing but for service. We are not fit to represent God in the world or to do any spiritual work for Him until we receive the Holy Ghost.
You will notice a double operation here in connection with the oil. First, Aaron is anointed, and then afterwards his sons are anointed with him. Aaron is anointed alone, even as Christ received the baptism of the Holy Ghost first upon Himself on the banks of the Jordan; and then later He shed the same spirit upon His disciples. Even as He, we may receive this divine anointing. The oil that falls on Aaron’s head goes down to the skirts of his garment. The Spirit that was upon Him He shed upon His followers. Standing in their midst, He breathes upon them and says unto them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” and then He explains the great enduement and the great commission by the strange and mighty words, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”
This is our true preparation for the highest of all priestly ministries, for prayer, and for every other service in which we would represent God or bless men. Even the Master did not venture to go forth to fulfill His great commission until He could stand before the world and say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, . . . . to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” For any man to presume to represent the Son of God, to stand between the living and the dead, to acts as ambassador for Christ, to bear salvation to dying men, to bring men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God without the anointing of the Holy Ghost, is the most daring presumption and the most offensive impertinence to the God whom he misrepresents and to the men on whom he imposes.
3. The anointing of the tabernacle represents something higher than even cleansing or service; namely, the indwelling and abiding presence of God Himself in the believer, as His consecrated temple. We read the full account of it in Exodus 40: 9-16. As we have seen in a former chapter, it is a great day; it marks a special era in their national history. It was on the first day of the first month of the second year. It marked a new departure and a higher experience. The glory that had hitherto marched in front of them or shone above them in the cloud or on the mountain, was henceforth to be brought into their very midst in the Holy of Holies. But before that presence could come and dwell among them, that tabernacle, that was to be its shrine and home, must be completed according to the divine commandment in every part, and then presented to God in the solemn ordinance of anointing.
It was definitely laid at the feet of Jehovah, and the sacred oil was poured upon it, as a symbol that God Himself now took possession of the sacred edifice and was to make it henceforth His personal abode. Then the cloud descended and the tabernacle became the very throne of the divine presence.
And so, when we present our bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,”we become the sacred abode of the Holy One. Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transfigured, is the apostle’s inspiring message to such consecrated lives. Life henceforth becomes a transfiguration and we go forth shining like the Master, with the glory of the inward presence which the world cannot understand, but which the angels perceive, and which makes the consecrated heart the house of God and the very gate of heaven. Beloved, have we come to this also? Have we reached the glory of this mystery, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”?
Ancient minds in heathen lands dreamed of something like this, when they cut in marble their ideals of beauty and grace and then called them gods. It was the dream of the human heart, trying to bring God down in union with man. But Jesus has accomplished it through His incarnation in our image and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in our hearts, the incarnation of the Father in Jesus and the incarnation of Jesus in us by the Holy Ghost.
This is the climax; this is the consummation; this is the crowning glory of redemption; and all that which is now being realized in the individual, shall yet, some glorious day, be gathered together into the whole number of glorified and transfigured ones. Then when the whole Church of Christ shall meet and the body shall be complete, and the building shall be crowned with the glorious headstone, then the universe shall look upon a spectacle for which all ages have been preparing, the infinite and eternal God, enshrined in glorified humanity. And the heavens shall cry, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.”
There are three or four other instances of anointing, to which we shall briefly refer, inasmuch as they will be considered more fully in a later chapter.
4. The ancient prophets were anointed. Thus Elisha was called to his high office. And thus we are called and qualified by the Holy Ghost to present the will of God, to bear the Word of God to our fellow-men.
5. Kings were anointed, as David was set apart by the anointing oil to be God’s chosen king. Likewise we are anointed kings and priests unto Him — a royal priesthood of love and victorious life, to bear upon our brow the majesty of the saints of God as the joint heirs with Christ in His coming kingdom.
6. The sick were anointed for healing. The Holy Ghost becomes to us the quickening and health-bringing power, who imparts the life of Jesus to our mortal frames, expelling disease and bringing us into the divine and resurrection life of the Son of God.
7. Guests were anointed. We read in the twenty-third Psalm the beautiful picture of the guest sitting at the table of the royal banquet and exclaiming, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” We find Jesus complaining to the Pharisee, “My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but she hath anointed my feet.” The ancient host received his guest with great courtesy and took him into the bathroom, where the stains of the wayside were washed away, where fresh garments were put upon him. Then sweet and fragrant oil was poured upon his head.
So the blessed Holy Ghost not only becomes our guest; but He turns around and makes us as guests, and then anoints us with the sweet, fragrant oil and feeds us with the heavenly banquet of His love.
A missionary of the Northwest tells us that once in a while he and his wife used to visit the Indians and have a little feast with them in their homes. The missionary’s wife would tell the Indian mother on Sabbath at the little chapel to be ready for her on a certain day that week, and to prepare her best for dinner. The poor squaw perhaps would answer that she had nothing worthy of the missionary save a little fish. But the missionary would tell her to prepare what she had and to have everything clean and bright, and it would be all right. So on the appointed day the missionary would arrive, and she would take from her dog-sleigh bundle after bundle of things. There were tea and coffee, there were sugar and bread, there were potatoes, and perhaps butter and little delicacies that the poor savage never had seen before. When all was ready the missionary husband would arrive in another dog-sleigh from visiting the stations, and then the feast would begin, and they would dine together. The missionary and his wife were the real host and hostess, and the poor Indian family ate of things that day that they had never tasted before; and the missionaries found their joy in the joy which they brought.
Ah, that is the way that our precious Lord loves to do with us. We take Him into our humble home, and we give Him our best, although it is very poor at the best, and He condescends to accept it; and then He brings His best — all that heaven affords — and He feeds us out of His bounty, and it is true, as He promised, “I will sup with him and he will sup with me.” He takes what we have to give, but He brings His richer gifts to us; and as we sit at His table and feast upon His love we say with the Psalmist, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies ; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
“He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” Matthew 3: 11. “For our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12: 29.
Fire is one of the most powerful and striking elements of the material world. It has always been an object of importance and of superstitious regard in the religious ideas and customs of all nations. In ancient Greece and Rome the sacred fire was guarded by consecrated priests and vestal virgins, and was the center of the commonwealth and the home. When the fire went out, all executive and national affairs were suspended, and it had to be rekindled, either from the lightnings of the skies, from the concentrated rays of the sun, or by the process of friction and the rubbing together of two pieces of wood.
The foreign ambassador had to walk by the holy fire before he could be received in the Council of State. The Slavonic and Teutonic bride had to bow before the holy fire as she entered her new home. The Red Indian sachem walked thrice around the camp-fire before he would give his counsel or confer with his public visitor. The twelve Grecian tribes brought their twelve firebrands to Theseus, and were thus consolidated into the State, and their sacred fires were combined in the Oracle of Delphi. The Persian fire-worshipers looked upon the sun and the flame as sacred things, and it was an unpardonable profanity to spit in the fire or commit any impropriety in the presence of these holy elements. Fire was recognized as identical with life, and the Parsees of India today worship it with holy veneration.
God had always recognized it in His Word, not as an object of superstitious regard, but as the symbol of His own transcendent glory, and the power of His presence and His Holy Spirit.
As the discoveries of science and the progress of human knowledge increase, we learn to trace the deeper analogies and more significant lessons in this sacred symbolism. Fire is the most valuable physical force with which we are acquainted. In yonder sun it is the center of power in our whole planetary system. Stored up in our vast coal-mines, it is the power that drives the engines of commerce and the wheels of industry throughout the world. We see it in the tremendous forces of modern artillery, the torpedo, the bomb, the dynamite, the nitro-glycerine, and the death-dealing cannon. It is the prime factor in all the implements of modern warfare.
In the still higher forces of electricity, with their countless and ever-increasing adaptations, it is revolutionizing all the methods of modern business, and directing the whole course of trade and labor. Science is beginning to believe that the ultimate force of all nature is just electricity, and that the power that moves the planets in their orbits and the stars in their courses is but a form of electric fire. The truth is, that when they get to the end of their ultimatum they will find that God Himself is there, the personal source of all these forces, and by His own will directing this tremendous battery by which the universe is kept in motion. For “power belongeth unto God.” and He is the “Consuming Fire” from whose bosom all other forces emanate.
The Holy Ghost Himself has taught us to recognize in this tremendous force His own appropriate symbol, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” There is something very striking in the analogy between the story of fire and the dispensational unfolding of the Holy Ghost. There was a time in the history of the natural world when yonder celestial fires were the objects of mystery, uncertainty, and almost dread. The lightnings of the skies were known to be real forces, but men knew not when they would strike, and dared not attempt to use or control them. But in these last days science has scaled the heavens, has caught the lightnings, and has brought the tremendous forces of electricity under the direction of such laws that the simplest child can use them at pleasure. They have become the instruments of our everyday life, ringing our front doorbells, driving our streetcars, lighting our chambers and our streets, moving our machinery, carrying on our business, and even conveying our messages on the phonographic and telegraphic wires over the world.
So, in like manner, there was a time when the Holy Ghost’s heavenly fire was a mysterious force, flashing, like the lightning in the skies, we knew not why or whither; coming now upon a Moses, and again upon an Elijah; sometimes falling as at Carmel, in awful majesty upon the altar of sacrifice; sometimes striking, as in Israel’s camp, in the destroying flame of God’s anger; sometimes appearing, as in the burning bush at Horeb, as the strange, mysterious symbol of Jehovah’s presence.
But since Christ’s ascension the Holy Spirit has condescended to dwell amongst us under certain plainly revealed laws, and to place at our service and command all the forces and resources of His power, according to definite, simple and regular laws of operation, in accordance with which the simplest disciple can use Him for the needs of his life and work just as easily as we use the force of electricity for the business of life. He has even been pleased to call Himself “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”
He has come down to the level of our common life, and is ready to meet us in every need of our being, and to become to us, not only the Author of our higher spiritual life, but the Director and power of our daily conduct, and of all our work here, whether in the secular or the spiritual sphere. Let us first look at some of the illustrations of this figure in the Scriptures, especially the use of fire in the Mosaic ritual.
At the very beginning of the Exodus we find God revealing Himself to Moses under the symbol of the burning bush, the tree that burned but was not consumed, thus making the emblem of fire the special symbol of His presence with Israel. The pillar of cloud and fire was but a grander manifestation of the same glorious emblem. As in the vision of Abraham, centuries before, the symbol of the divine presence that appeared in the night vision given to the patriarch, was a burning lamp and a smoking furnace, so all through the wilderness it was by fire that God manifested His presence. In Mount Sinai He descended in fire and spake to the people from the midst of the fire. The Shekinah glory in the midst of the Holy of Holies was probably a glowing flame of fire. It was by fire that He answered the prayer of Elijah on Mount Carmel, accepted the sacrifice of Samson’s parents, and revealed His presence in times past to His servants.
In all the sacrifices and offerings fire was an important element. The paschal lamb was roasted in the fire and eaten by the people as a symbol of Christ’s flesh prepared for us and ministered to us by the Holy Ghost as our Living Bread. The sin offering was carried without the camp and burned with fire, as a symbol of our sin laid upon Jesus and consumed by the Holy Ghost outside the pale of our consciousness, so that we have nothing more to do with it, but simply to lay it on the Lamb of God and leave it with Him. The burnt offering was consumed upon the altar by fire, the type of Christ, offered not for our sins, but for our acceptance with God, and the type of our true consecration as we yield ourselves up to God by the Holy Ghost.
As the fire was kept ever burning, so the Holy Ghost in the consecrated soul will make our whole life a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God. The peace offering was also connected with the sacred fire. It was the type of our communion with God. In this sacrifice the fat and the inwards were given to God, and consumed upon the altar by the fire. This was the type of God’s part in the communion of the believer. Then the shoulder and breast were given to the priest and eaten by him, a symbol of our part in this holy communion. But it is the Holy Ghost alone that can maintain the true fellowship of the peace offering, and enable us first to give to God the worship and homage due to Him, and then to take our part and feed upon Christ as our Living Bread.
Next, the meat offering was an offering by fire. It was fine flour baked in the fire, mingled with oil and frankincense, and free from leaven and honey. It was the type of Jesus Christ, our spiritual sustenance, nourishing and feeding us with His own life by the fire of the Holy Ghost. It is one thing to feed upon the truth; it is another thing to feed upon Christ. Only the Spirit of God can make even the life of Christ our Living Bread. The difference is just the same as if you should attempt to feed upon raw wheat instead of prepared bread. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to prepare for us the Bread of Life, and to minister it to us as the Living Christ.
One of the most beautiful of all the offerings was the incense presented in the holy place. This also was an offering by fire. The sweet spices were ground and mixed, some of them beaten very small; and then they were burned in the golden censer, and their sweet fragrance went up in clouds of incense before the Lord, filling all the holy place with fragrance, and breathing out the very spirit of worship continually. This is the type of Christ’s priesthood first, and then of our true ministry of prayer. Like the incense beaten small, it may have to do with the most trifling things. Like the spices, whose very names we do not now understand, and whose nature is unknown, except the frankincense, so in all prayer there is much of mystery, and much that even the praying heart does not fully comprehend. And yet, like the frankincense, which was well known, there are ingredients and elements in prayer of which we do know, and things for which we ask of which we are definitely aware, and for which we may definitely believe.
But above all, the fire which consumed the incense is the type of the Holy Ghost, without whom all our prayers must stop short of heaven, and through whom alone our desires can reach the throne and become effectual with God. There is no deeper experience in the Christian life than this ministry of prayer in the Spirit. “For we know not what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the heart knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
Again, we see the use of the fire in the ordinance of the red heifer. This type was especially for God’s people in their wilderness life. The red heifer represented Christ our Sacrifice, slain and consumed for us on the altar of God. But in the burning of the heifer there come the scarlet wool, the cedar and the hyssop leaves, representing something which is to be consumed, along with the death of Christ. The scarlet wool represents our sins, the cedar our strength, and the hyssop our weakness and the clinging element in our nature. All these things are to be crucified with Christ, and this can be done only through the power of the Holy Ghost. We are not equal to the task of self-crucifixion, but we can hand over anything and everything to Him, and consent that it shall die. Then by the power of His Holy Spirit He will put it to death and make the crucifixion real.
Even after the death of the heifer the fire was to be preserved and made perpetual by the preservation of the ashes. You know ashes are a kind of preserved fire. By pouring water upon these ashes you create lye, a very acrid, pungent, burning substance. Now, these ashes were preserved and water poured upon them, and used as a water of separation or purification when any one had contracted any sin or defilement whatsoever. It was the type of the work of the Holy Spirit in constantly cleansing us from defilement or pollution contracted from earthly things and absorbed from the atmosphere in which we live. This cleansing is not always pleasant. It is sometimes like the touch of lye, a consuming fire; but it is a wholesome thing, like the burning away of proud flesh by caustic, to have our very nature purified for us from self and sin. It is blessed to be able thus to come in every moment of defilement, and to walk in the constant cleansing of the Holy Spirit, knowing that we are not only cleansed but kept clean, ever acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, and ready for constant fellowship and holy service as He may require.
We find the fire manifested in a very remarkable way in connection with Elijah’s history. On Mt. Carmel the fire came from heaven as a special sign of God’s acceptance of the sacrifice and the manifestation of His power to His returning people. As it fell upon the altar it not only consumed the sacrifice, but it licked up the water in trenches. To complete the faith of the people in Jehovah, He made the miracle as difficult as possible by covering the altar and filling the trenches round about with floods of water, so that deception was impossible. God met the faith of His servant, and wrought a work so glorious and divine that it was manifest to every eye that it was the finger of God; and the great multitude sent up the cry, “Jehovah, He is God! Jehovah, He is God!”
The Holy Ghost is thus the power of God in our work, the fire that all the devil’s floods cannot extinguish, the fire that delights in the hardest places and the most difficult undertakings. We need not fear to claim this power for even the impossible, but may boldly bring to God the mightiest difficulties, and glorify Him all the more in the face of Satan’s fiercest and most formidable opposition.
Once more, we see the fire as the emblem of destruction. When the presuming priests dared to offer strange fire before the Lord, then God’s consuming fire fell upon them and destroyed them. And so the Holy Ghost is still present as God’s avenging power. He that struck down Ananias and Sapphira in their presumption and hypocrisy, is still present in the Church as the Executive of Jehovah, and the “consuming fire,” to whom we can safely leave all our enemies and all the hate of earth and hell.
There are several lessons which we may learn from the figure itself. Fire is a cleansing element. It differs from water in this, that, while water cleanses externally, fire purifies internally and intrinsically, penetrating to the very substance of things, and filling every fibre and particle of matter with its own element. The baptism of John represented the cleansing of our life and conduct, the reformation of our character, and the work of the law and the truth upon human hearts. But Christ’s baptism was by fire, and went to the roots of conduct. The purity He required included motives, aims, and “the thoughts and intents of the heart.” He not only requires but He gives the purity that springs from the depths of our being. Like the flame that consumes the dross and leaves the molten metal pure and unalloyed, so the Holy Ghost separates us from our old sinfulness and self-life and burns into us the nature and the life of Christ.
Again, fire quickens and gives life. The returning spring and the solar heat call into life the buried seeds of field and garden, and all nature springs into beauty and fruitfulness. The heated greenhouse germinates the seeds and plants of the gardener and pushes them forward into rapid and luxuriant growth. The process of heat incubates the little birdling in its shell and nurses it into life. So the Holy Ghost is the quickener of life. We are born again by the Spirit, nursed into spiritual being, and cherished into growth and maturity, by the Spirit of God.
Again, the Holy Spirit warms and quickens the heart into love. Like the change from the cold winter to the vernal sunshine of the spring is the transition which He brings into the heart. It is His mission to break the fetters of fear and sorrow, and to kindle in the heart the love of Christ and the joy of heaven, warming every affection of the new nature, and shedding abroad the love of God in the soul until it becomes a summer-land of love.
And, finally, fire is an energizing force. It gives power. So the Holy Ghost is the source of power. Surely, if He has been able to give to the forces of nature their tremendous power; to give to the sun the force that can hold the planets in their course, and quicken and warm the earth into life and luxuriance; if He has stored up in the lightnings, and the coal-mines, and the atmosphere, the yet only half-revealed dynamics which propel the industries of the human race, He Himself is able to accomplish more than any of His agencies or works.
How blind are they who are trying to do the work of God without His power! How we would laugh at the man who today would try to turn the great driving-wheel of a factory by a treadmill, with a dozen men turning it with their weight, as they still do in China! And yet thousands of Christians are trying to carry on their Lord’s work by their own puny hands.
Science has grown wise enough to turn on the forces of steam and electricity. Oh, let faith turn on the dynamo of heaven and the power of the Holy Ghost! This is the secret, of victory over temptation and sin and all our spiritual enemies. Archimedes of old was said to have consumed the vessels of the enemies of his country by setting fire to them in the harbor of Syracuse by a burning-glass, by which he attracted the solar rays in a focus upon the hostile fleet; and they went up in a blaze of destruction. So let us consume our enemies and His by the fire of the Holy Ghost.
When the little camp on the vast prairie finds that a wave of fire is sweeping over the plain, and that in and hour or two they will be engulfed in flame and destroyed by the resistless element, they are wise enough to clear an open space around them and then start another fire from their own camp and send it out to meet the approaching wave. As it rolls across the open plain, destroying every combustible thing that is in the way at length it meets the advancing fire; and the two leap up to heaven in one wild outburst of fury and then expire for the want of fuel, The travelers are left in safety on the prairie, where there is nothing to feed the fire.
So let us meet the fire of evil with the fire of the Holy Ghost. We have divine resources. Why should we stoop to the human? We have God to fight our battles for us. Why should we do it ourselves?
In ancient Rome when the fire went out all state business had to cease. They dared not do a thing without the sacred fire. So all true work ceases when the Holy Ghost is withdrawn from the Church of God and from the midst of the work. God does not accept anything that is not done in the power of the Spirit. In ancient Rome the fire had to be rekindled either from the lightnings of the sky, or from the sun, or from the friction of two pieces of wood. So sometimes God sends us the lightnings of his power to rekindle the flame. Although this is often a very dangerous thing, He has sometimes to strike with a stroke of judgment before His people awake to their need. We can always draw the fire by the burning-glass of faith from the Son of Righteousness. And God has yet another way of increasing our spiritual fire, and that is by friction. The other day, in one of our cities, I was asked to notice the factory where the electric force was generated for the trolley engines. I found it was generated entirely by friction. Great wheels were constantly revolving and producing the electric force by rubbing together.
So God in like manner often quickens our lives and deepens our spiritual force by the tests and trials which throw us upon Him, and compel us to take more of His life and strength. Then let us, instead of quarreling with our circumstances and mourning over our trials, use everything that comes to bring us more of God, and strengthen us for higher service and mightier usefulness, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
“God hath . . . given us the Spirit . . . of a sound mind.” 2 Tim. 1: 7. “Thou gavest also Thy good Spirit to instruct them.” Nehemiah 9: 20.
The latter passage suggests the work of the Holy Sprit as the teacher and guide of God’s people through their history in the wilderness. The previous verses connect the passage with the history of Israel during the forty years of their wandering, and identifies the pillar of cloud and fire which led them through the wilderness as the Holy Spirit who is our Leader and Guide. The other passage from the Epistle to Timothy presents to us the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of wisdom and of a sound mind.
It is interesting and instructive to trace the revelation of the divine Spirit in the Old Testament, as the Spirit of wisdom and guidance. Let us look at a few special examples.
1. The first is the case of Joseph, referred to in Genesis 41: 38-40. “And Pharaoh said unto his servants, ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?’ And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, ‘Forasmuch as God has shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: thou shalt be over my house, and according to thy word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than thou.” Here we get a glimpse of the secret that lay back of Joseph’s extraordinary life; it was the Spirit of God. Perhaps there never was a life that touched more closely the common life of suffering humanity. We see in him a true and noble nature exposed to the discipline of the keenest suffering; separated from home and friends; carried into captivity in a foreign land; misunderstood, traduced, unjustly condemned, and cast into a prison under the deepest and most unjust opprobrium and disgrace; and yet, so heroically standing true to God and righteousness, and so steadfastly trusting in the divine faithfulness and love, that he triumphed at length over all his difficulties, rose from the prison to a princedom of honor and influence, and from the very lowest place found a pathway to the highest position that it was possible for a mortal to attain. Was there ever a more extraordinary transformation, was there ever a more striking object lesson of the power of high and holy character?
But the passage we have quoted reveals the secret of it all. It was not the triumph of human character, but the result of a divine direction that led him through all his steps and lifted him above all his trials. It was a beautiful illustration of the work of the Holy Spirit in the practical affairs of human life, and the commonplace sphere through which the largest part of our existence here has to pass. The most beautiful fact about it all was, that even Pharaoh himself, the proud and ungodly king of Egypt, was the first to recognize this divine presence in Joseph’s life. Joseph did not have to advertise himself as one possessed of the Holy Spirit; but as the men of the world watched him, they themselves were compelled to say, “Can we find such a one as this in whom the Spirit of God is?”
It is so beautiful when even ungodly men are compelled to see and glorify God in our lives. There is no greater triumph of holy character than to compel the testimony of the men of the world to the power of God in us. This was the glory of Daniel’s life, that even his worst enemies had to say, “We can find nothing against this man, except it be as concerning the law of his God”; and the grandest testimony ever given to Jesus Christ by human lips was that of His judge, Pontius Pilate, when he was forced to say, “I bring Him forth to you that ye may know that I find no fault in Him.”
O, men of the world, O, young men, looking out upon the future and wanting to know the secret of the highest success, would that you might know that the same Spirit that guided Joseph’s steps, and led him through his painful pathway until from the dungeon of Pharaoh and the kitchen of Potiphar he reached the premiership of all Egypt, and indeed of all the world, is ready to be your Guide, your Teacher, your Wisdom, and the Source of all your strength, success, and happiness.
2. The next example is the case of Moses and Aaron: Exodus 4: 10-16. In this passage we have an account of God’s call to Moses to undertake the leadership of Israel from Egypt to Canaan, and the special task of going to Pharaoh to demand the release of God’s people from their bondage. We find Moses shrinking from the task because he was slow of speech and asking God to send somebody else. God answers Moses by saying, “Who hath made man’s mouth, or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” Still Moses was unsatisfied and unwilling, and then God became displeased with him and bade him call his brother, Aaron. “And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.”
Here we see God offering to be to Moses not only the wisdom to know what he ought to say, but the power of utterance to say it rightly. The faith of Moses, however, was not quite equal to the mighty promise. God, therefore, indulged him in his timidity and unbelief by sharing the commission with another, and giving him Aaron to be a voice and an utterance for him.
In accepting this compromise, Moses lost a great deal, for the same God that gave Aaron the power of utterance could just as well have given it to him. It was all of God from beginning to end, and Moses might just as well have had the whole blessing as the half. Indeed, as the sequel proved, the partnership of Aaron was perhaps a doubtful blessing, because the day came when this same Aaron became the tempter of Israel and the snare of Moses. It was he who made for the children of Israel the golden calf which they worshiped in idolatrous wickedness at the foot of Mt. Sinai, thereby bringing down upon their heads the anger and judgment of an offended God. So that, instead of being altogether a help to him, the prop that he leaned upon broke under his weight and pierced his own hand and heart.
The lesson is a very practical one for us. The same Spirit that called and commissioned Moses for his great undertaking is promised to us as our enduement of power for the service to which He sends us. He is able to be to us a “mouth and wisdom, which all our adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist.” But if we look to our own strength or weakness, or lean upon the strength and wisdom of others, we, like Moses, shall find that our earthly reliance will become a snare, and we shall be taught by painful experience the wretchedness of “the man who trusteth in man and maketh flesh his arm,” and the safety and happiness of depending only upon God for all our resources of wisdom and strength for the work for which He sends us.
3. The next example of the Spirit of wisdom we find in Numbers 6: 11-17, and also verses 24-29. This passage is similar to the last in its general significance. We find Moses feeling the heavy pressure of the responsibility that rested upon him as the leader of the people. Their unbelief and rebellion were continually grieving and breaking his heart, and at last he breaks out with a discouraged and petulant complaint against God, “Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant? . . . that Thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? . . . I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.” God took him up immediately, as He is always ready to take us at our word.
It is a very serious thing to speak hasty words to God and words of discouragement and distrust. It is a very sad and solemn thing to ask God to relieve us of any trust that He has put upon our shoulders. It is very easy to miss our crown and our life service by petulance and unbelief. “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, . . . and I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the Spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bearest not thyself alone.’” And a little later it is added, “The Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.”
Now, at the first sight, all this looks like a very great increase of help and power to Moses; instead of bearing the burdens of the people alone he gets seventy men to help him, men of wisdom and experience, men possessing the same Spirit which was upon him. But when we look more closely at it we notice that these men did not receive any additional power whatever, but only a portion of the same Spirit which was already upon Moses. In other words, God took a little of the power that Moses already had and distributed it among a number of persons, so that instead of one person having the power, seventy-one persons now had it; but there was no more power among the seventy-one than there had been upon the one. All the wisdom of God and all the strength of God had been given to Moses personally, and God had no more to give to the seventy elders. It was spread out a little more and over a wider surface. Nay, before the story was ended, these seventy elders became as great a trial to the heart of Moses as Aaron, his brother. Indeed, they were the beginning of the famous Council of Seventy, who afterwards were called the Sanhedrin or Council of the Seventy Elders, the very Council of Seventy who afterwards condemned to death and became guilty of the crucifixion of the Son of God Himself. These, the seventy elders for whom Moses in his unbelief asked, instead of being a real help, became, perhaps, a hindrance.
What is the lesson for us? That the Spirit of God is our All-Sufficiency for every work to which He sends us, and that He is able to work as well by few as by many, by one as by one thousand. Our trust should not be in numbers or in human wisdom, but in the strength of God Himself, whether that strength is given without human instrumentalities, or through the sympathy and help of multitudes. Men may help us in the work of God, but only as God sends them and fills them with His own power.
A little later in this narrative we have the account of two of the elders, namely, Eldad and Medad, verses 26-29, who were found prophesying beyond the limits of their special appointment. Moses’ friends were disposed to rebuke them and restrain them, but Moses in his large-hearted wisdom recognized the fact that God’s gifts often overrun all ordinary channels and that the Holy Spirit cannot be confined by our ideas of propriety. He let them alone, as we should do with our brethren when we see them working for God and witnessing for the truth, even outside the pale of our conventional forms and organizations. God’s power is greater than our petty programs, and if a man is but honoring Christ and witnessing for Him in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us not try to bring him into our particular set or make him pronounce our petty Shibboleth.
4. The next example of this divine enduement is Joshua, Numbers 27: 18. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight.”
In this passage we see Joshua already possessing the Spirit before Moses ordains him to a special charge, showing that personal preparation must always come before public ordination. It is not the act of ordination that gives a man the Spirit, but it is the possession of the Spirit that entitles a man to public ordination. God must make a minister first by his own direct enabling. When God has given him the Spirit, it is the part of man to recognize what God has done and to set apart the truly consecrated instrument for special service.
There is another passage, Deuteronomy 34: 9, which shows how the act or ordination may be followed in a truly consecrated person by added blessing and deeper fullness of the Spirit. “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the Spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him.” Here we see that after Moses laid his hands upon Joshua there was added fullness of blessing. There are two stages, therefore, in Joshua’s spiritual history: first, he has the Spirit before he was called to his great trust; and then, his call to the trust brought him a higher fullness of the Spirit. Would we be honored with special service for God? Let us be filled with the Spirit continually, and ready at His hand for whatever ministry He needs us, and we shall be more likely to be called. Have we been called to special service? Then let us throw ourselves upon Him for larger measures of His grace and, like Joshua, be filled with the Spirit.
This was the secret of Joshua’s wondrous life. While Moses was divinely endued for his great task by the Spirit of wisdom, and Joseph was fitted for his practical life by the Spirit of righteousness, discretion, and courage, Joshua needed just as distinct and divine an enabling for his mighty undertaking. He was to be the military leader of Israel’s great campaign, the warrior captain of the Lord’s triumphant host, and he needed peculiar equipment for his mighty task. He was sent against the mightiest nations of antiquity, the powerful Hittite kings, who, as we learn from the records of the post, were the rivals of the Egyptians themselves in military prowess. He was sent with an army of undisciplined men to attack the mightiest strongholds of powerful nations. Before his victorious legions in a few short years their mightiest citadels fell, and no less than thirty-one powerful sovereigns were brought into subjection.
No grander military campaign was ever fought, and the very highest qualities of wisdom, strategy, courage, faith, and perseverance were needed for this mighty undertaking. All these were given by the Holy Spirit; and all these the Holy Spirit can still give to the soldier of Christ and the servant of God for conflict, leadership, service in the grander undertakings of these last days when Christ is marshaling His hosts for the conflict of the ages and the coming of the King.
5. We have yet one more example of the practical gifts of the Holy Spirit. In some respects it is the most remarkable and encouraging of all. We find the record in Exodus 35: 30-35. It is the story of Bezaleel and Aholiab, who were specially skilled as mechanics and artisans to prepare the skilled work for the erection of the tabernacle in the wilderness. And Moses said unto the children of Israel, “See, the Lord hath called by name Bezaleel . . . and hath filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; and to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, and in the cutting of stones to set them, and in the carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. And He hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he and Aholiab . . . Them hath He filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work.”
Here we have a list of almost all kinds of mechanical and artistic work. It is work of the most practical kind and of the very highest style of decorative art, the work of the jeweler, the carver, the embroiderer, the sculptor. All this is the result not of education, nor of careful training, but of direct divine inspiration. Here were people who had come from the brickfields of Egypt, a race of slaves without the advantages of culture, and yet God divinely enabled them in the hour of need, to devise and execute the most elaborate and ornamental designs for the most perfect and beautiful edifice which ever was constructed by the hands of man.
What a lesson for the toiling artisan, for the hard-working Christian, for the man of business, in the practical affairs of our work-a-day life. Here we have the divine Presence revealed as not only for the pulpit, the prayer meeting and the closet of prayer, but just as available for the factory, for the workshop, for the business office, for the schoolroom, and even for the kitchen. Here is a Holy Spirit who is just as much at home amid the toiling hours and heavy pressures of Monday and Saturday, as in the holy worship and the religious occupations of the Sabbath. Here is a divine sufficiency, not only for our spiritual experiences and our religious duties, so-called, but for everything that fills up our common life.
Oh, how it helps and comforts us in the plod of life to know that we have a Christ who spent the first thirty years of His life in the carpenter shop at Nazareth, swinging the hammer, covered with sweat and grimy dust, physically weary as we often are, and able to understand all our experiences of drudgery and labor, One who still loves to share our common tasks and equip us for our difficult undertakings of hand and brain!
Yes, humble sister, He will help you at the washboard and the kitchen sink as gladly as at the hour of prayer. Yes, busy mechanic, He will go with you and help you to swing the hammer, or handle the saw, or hold the plow in the toil of life; and you shall be a better mechanic, a more skillful workman, and a more successful man, because you take His wisdom for the common affairs of life. The God we serve is not only the God of the Sabbath, and of the world of sentiment and feeling; but He is the God of Providence, the God of Nature, the Author and Director of the whole mechanism of human life. There is no place nor time where He is not able and willing to walk by our side, to work through our hands and brains, and to unite Himself in loving and all-sufficient partnership with all our needs and tasks and trials, and to prove Himself our all-sufficiency for all things.
Such then is the Old Testament picture of the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of wisdom and of a sound mind. In Joseph we see Him in the trials of human life. In Moses we see Him qualifying a great leader for his high commission, and able to sustain him through the most trying emergencies and pressures. In Joshua we see Him able to equip a mighty warrior for his conflicts and campaigns and to crown his career with splendid victory, and in Bezaleel and Aholiab we see Him coming down to the level of our secular callings and our commonplace duties, and fitting us for all the tasks and toils of life.
Blessed Holy Spirit—our Wisdom and our Guide! Let us enlarge the sphere of His operations, let us take Him into partnership in all the length and breadth of our human life, and let us prove to the world that,
“We need not bid for cloistered cell, Our neighbor and our work farewell. The daily round, the common task, Will furnish all we need to ask. Room to deny ourselves a road To bring us daily more of God.”
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence. 1 Cor. 1:27, 28, 29.
The book of Judges marks the deepest depression and declension in the Old Testament records, just as the book of Joshua which precedes it, marks the most glorious triumph of Israel’s history. That triumph stands between the story of the wilderness on the one side, with its forty years of wandering, and the story of the Judges on the other, with its four hundred years of declension.
The dark cloud that followed the conquest of Canaan was far deeper and denser than the one that preceded it, and it lasted through four and a half centuries, until the time of the Reformation under Samuel and David. But God loves to use the darkest clouds as His background for the rainbows of His most gracious manifestations. The brightest exhibitions of God’s grace have always been in the face of the adversary’s most fierce assaults.
The ministry of Elijah came in the dark hour of Jezebel’s idolatrous rule. The story of Jeremiah stands over against the sorrowful scenes of Judah’s captivity and Jerusalem’s fall; and the book of Judges, with its four and a half centuries of idolatry and sin, have given us the beautiful incidents of Othniel and Deborah, Gideon and Barak, Jephthah and Samson. Each of these is an object lesson of the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, in calling and using His own agents and messengers for the great work for which He needs them.
1. Othniel represents the Spirit of courage, Judges 3: 10: “And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the Lord delivered Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand.” Othniel was the first of Israel’s judges, and by the power of the Holy Spirit he conquered the mighty monarch of Mesopotamia, and secured for his country nearly half a century of peace.
All this is directly attributed to the Spirit. The same power that fitted Moses for his legislative work, and prepared Joshua for his military career, called and qualified Othniel for his successful presidency over the affairs of his nation, and gave him the lion-hearted courage that enabled him to defy the mightiest potentate of the world.
But as every distinguished career has an earlier chapter behind it, so there was an hour in the story of Othniel of which all his subsequent career was but the sequel. The earlier chapter is given to us in Joshua 15: 16, 17. It is the little incident connected with the capture of one of the strongholds of Canaan. After Caleb had conquered Hebron, he found an adjacent city, Kirjath-sepher, which was the literary capital of the Canaanites. It means “The City of Books.” To the brave warrior who should conquer it he offered the hand of his fair daughter Achsah. Othniel was the hero who accepted the challenge and won the double prize.
When we see some public character accomplishing distinguished service before the eyes of the world, and leaping apparently from obscurity to fame in a moment, we are apt to forget that back of that brilliant success there lies some little incident that happened, perhaps long years before, but which really struck the keynote of that life, and prepared that individual for the public service which the future held in store.
God is always preparing His workers in advance; and when the hour is ripe He brings them upon the stage, and men look with wonder upon a career of startling triumph, which God has been preparing for a lifetime. That was a wonderful day in Israel, when, in a moment, the chambers of the dead heard the voice of God, and the first human spirit came back from the world beyond to the tenement of clay, and her living son was placed in the arms of a Hebrew mother at the word of the prophet Elijah. But if we look back a few years, we find the key to all this in a little incident that happened one day in that Hebrew home. The old prophet was passing by when he met that mother and asked of her a mighty sacrifice, even that she should take the last morsel in her famine-stricken home, prepare it for him, and leave her child to die of want along with herself. But she shrank not from the test. Without a moment’s hesitation she obeyed the prophet’s command, and from that hour she and her little son lived in that home on the bread of heaven. When the test came that required a faith that would bring back her child even from the dead, she was ready for the hour.
God is preparing His heroes still, so that when the opportunity comes He can fit them into their places in a moment while the world wonders where they came from. Let the Holy Ghost prepare you, dear friend, by all the discipline of life, that when the last finishing touch has been given to the marble, it will be easy for God to put it on the pedestal, and fit it into the niche. There is a day coming when, like Othniel, we, too, shall judge the nations, and rule and reign with Christ on the millennial earth. But ere that glorious day can be, we must let God prepare us as He did Othniel at Kirjath-sepher, amid the trials of our present life, and in the daily victories, the significance of which, perhaps, we little dream. At least, let us be sure of this, that if the Holy Ghost has got an Othniel ready, the Lord of heaven and earth has a throne prepared for him.
2. Deborah shows forth the ministry of woman, Judges 4. Deborah is the first example of a woman called to public service by the Holy Ghost. True, Miriam had already been known as the leader of sacred song in Israel, but this was the first time that a woman had been called to exercise the public functions of a leader.
What a glorious multitude of noble women have followed in her train ! The great ministry of the Church today is being done by holy women. It is less than half a century since women began to go to the foreign mission field, and already more that half the foreign missionaries in the world are women. They are the most potent spiritual and moral forces of our age. Deborah’s name means “a bee,” and her little beehive under the palm tree of Mount Ephraim has swarmed and spread over all ages and lands until the hearts of millions have tasted of the honey, and every form of evil has felt the wholesome sting; but Deborah, like every true woman, had a good deal more honey than sting.
It is too late in the day to question the public ministry of woman. The facts of God’s providence, and the fruits of God’s Spirit, are stronger than all our theological fancies. The Holy Spirit has distinctly recognized woman’s place in the Church, not only to love, to suffer, and to intercede, but to prophesy, to teach, and to minister in every proper way to the bodies and the souls of men. And yet, when we have said this, all this, there yet remains a restriction which every true woman will be willing to recognize. There is a difference between the ministry of woman and of man. God Himself has said that the head of every woman is the man, and the head of every man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God. “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man.” After all that can be said on both sides of this question, it seems to remain, as the practical conclusion of the whole matter, that woman is called without restriction to teach, to witness, to work in every department of the Church of Christ, but she is not called to rule in the ecclesiastical government of the Church of Christ, or to exercise the official ministry which the Holy Ghost has committed to the elders or bishops of His Church; and whenever she steps out of her modest sphere into the place of public leadership and executive government, she weakens her true power and loses her peculiar charm.
Deborah herself, the first public woman of the ages, was wise enough to call Barak to stand in the front, while she stood behind him, modestly directing his work, and proving in the end to be the true leader. It is no disparagement of woman’s ministry to place her there. Who will say that the ministry of Moses as he stood that day on the mountain, with his hands up-lifted to God, while Joshua led the hosts in the plain below, was a lower ministry than that of Joshua? He was the true leader and the real power behind the hosts of Israel, although he was unseen by the eyes of men. This was Deborah’s high honor, and no one was more ready than Barak himself to acknowledge her pre-eminence. May God more and more mightily direct and use the high and holy ministry of woman, in these last days, for the preparation of her Master’s coming!
3. Gideon, or the Holy Ghost, used the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. There is something dramatic and almost ludicrous in the calling of Gideon. When hiding behind his barn for fear of the Midianites, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and called, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.” Gideon was taken by surprise with the strange greeting, and seems himself to have felt as if the angel were laughing at him, for he was anything but a mighty man of valor; indeed, at that very moment, he was hiding from his enemies in abject fear. His answer to the angel seems to express this feeling, but God meets him with the reassuring word, “Go, in this thy might, and thou shalt deliver Israel from the Midianites.” The new might which God had pledged him was His own great might, the power of the Holy Ghost. Accordingly, every step of his way from that hour was but an illustration of the principle of our text, “that God hath chosen the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty.”
Next, we see the same principle in Gideon’s workers. God could not use the great army that gathered to his standard. They were too many to afford an opportunity for God to work and, therefore, He had to sift them, and then resift them, until from over thirty thousand they were reduced to only three hundred. It is beautiful to notice how the Holy Spirit sifted them. He allowed them to do it themselves, by a natural process of reduction. First, all the timid ones were allowed to go home, and this thinned out two-thirds of the crowd. Next, all the rash and reckless ones were tested by giving them the opportunity of drinking at the brook that lay across their line of march; and, as Gideon watched, it was not difficult to find out, by the way they drank, the character of the men. The reckless ones just got down on their hands and knees and drank, without even stopping to think of their danger or their enemies. The prudent ones, on the contrary, looked carefully around, and keeping guard against a surprise from their foes, drank with prudent care, dipping up the water with their hands, and looking carefully around with their watchful eyes; thus were the wary ones chosen, and the others dismissed.
God wants not only brave men, but prudent men, for His work and warfare; and every day we live we are passing judgment on ourselves, and electing ourselves either to places of honor and service, or to be left at home, because of our unfitness. God wants fit men for His work, and He lets every man prove his fitness or unfitness by the practical tests of his daily life. We little dream, sometimes, what a hasty word, a thoughtless speech, an imprudent act, or a confession of unbelief may do to hinder our highest usefulness, or to turn it aside from some great opportunity which God was preparing for us.
Although the Holy Ghost uses weak men, He does not want them to be weak after He chooses and calls them. Although He uses the foolish things to confound the wise, He does not want us to be foolish after He comes to give us His wisdom and grace. He uses the foolishness of preaching, but not, necessarily, the foolishness of preachers. Like the electric current, which can supply the strength of a thousand men, it is necessary that it should have a proper conductor, and a very small wire is better than a very big rope. God wants fit instruments for His power, wills surrendered, hearts trusting, lives consistent, and lips obedient to His will; and then He can use the weakest weapons, and make them “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”
Again, we see the Holy Spirit using the weak things of this world in the weapons of Gideon’s warfare. They were very simple — lamps, pitchers and trumpets. That was all. The lamps, or torches, were expressive of the light and fire of the Holy Ghost; the pitchers suggested the broken vessels of our surrendered bodies and lives; and the trumpets signified the Word of God and the message of the Gospel that we are sent to proclaim. These are sufficient to defeat and destroy the hosts of Midian; and these are the weapons of our warfare, which are still mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.
A single officer of the court, with the proclamation of the president behind him, is stronger than a mob of a thousand men; and the humblest servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, armed with the Holy Ghost and the Word of God, stands with the whole power of heaven behind him. Men reject His message at their peril; for Christ has said, “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that rejecteth you rejecteth me.” The true secret of all power with God and men is to stand behind our message and our Master, and, like Gideon’s pitchers, to be so broken ourselves, that the light of our heavenly torches can flash through the broken vessels through which the message comes.
4. Jephthah, or the Holy Spirit, used “the things that are despised.” Jephthah, through no fault of his own, was the child of dishonor. He had the bar sinister on his breast, and was an outlaw from his father’s house. But God loves to use the things that man dispises. The stone which the builders disallowed has often become the head of the corner. It was Isaac, not Ishmael, the first-born; it was Jacob, and not Esau, the father’s favorite; it was Joseph, the persecuted, wronged and outcast son; it was Moses, the son of a race of slaves, and the foundling child of the Nile; it was David, the shepherd lad of Bethlehem, and the despised one of Jesse’s house; these were they whom God chose for the high place that each received in the story of His chosen people. Accordingly the outcast and the outlaw of Gilead, poor Jephthah, was chosen of the Lord to deliver his people from the Ammonites. The call of Jephthah is expressly ascribed to the Holy Spirit. “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed over . . . unto the children of Ammon . . . and the Lord delivered them into his hand.” 11: 29.
The Lord still is using the things that are despised. The very names of ‘Nazarene’ and ‘Christian’ were once epithets of contempt. No man can have God’s highest thought and be popular with his immediate generation. The most abused men are often the most used. The devil’s growl and the world’s sneer are God’s marks of highest honor. There is no need that we should bring upon ourselves by folly or wrong the reproaches of men; but if we do well, and suffer for it, fear not, but, “let Shimei curse, the Lord will requite us good for his cursing this day.”
There are far greater calamities than to be unpopular and misunderstood. There are far worse things than to be found in the minority. Many of God’s greatest blessings are lying behind the devil’s scarecrows of prejudice and misrepresentation. The Holy Ghost is not ashamed to use unpopular people. And if He uses them, what need they care for men?
There was once a captain in the British army, promoted for merit, but despised by his aristocratic companions. One day the colonel found it out, and determined to stop it. So he quietly called on the young officer, and walked arm and arm with him up and down the parade ground, the captains meanwhile being obliged to salute both him and his companion every time they passed. That settled the new captain’s standing. After that there were no cuts nor sneers. It was enough that the commanding officer had walked by his side.
Oh, let us but have His recognition and man’s notice will count for little, and He will give us all we need of human help and praise. Let us make no compromise to please men. Let us only seek His will, His glory, His approval. Let us go for Him on the hardest errands and do the most menial tasks. It is honor enough that He uses us and sends us. Let us not fear in this day to follow Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach, and bye-and-bye He will own our worthless name before the myriads of earth and sky.
5. Samson in whom the Holy Ghost is the source of physical strength. There is no more remarkable figure in the Bible than the sturdy giant of Timnath-serah, who represented in his own body, as no other man has ever done, the connection between physical strength and the presence and power of the Holy Ghost. The strength of Samson was not the result of physical culture and unusual size and vigor of bone, muscle, or members, but was entirely due to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him and working through him. The secret of his great strength is given very simply and plainly in such passages as these: Judges 13: 25; 14: 6, 19; 15: 14. In all these cases it will be noticed that it was the Spirit of the Lord that moved upon Samson and gave him his superhuman strength of body. It was not the strength of muscle or frame which comes from food or stimulants; but it was the direct power of God Himself working through his being. This was connected entirely with his separation to God and his obedience to his Nazarite vow. The strength of Samson, therefore, was divine strength given through spiritual conditions and entirely dependent upon his righteousness of life and obedience to God.
This is the very principle of divine healing, as God is teaching it to us in these last days. It is not the self-constituted strength of physical organism; but it is the supernatural force of a divine presence, filling our frame and quickening our vital system when we are wholly separated from earthly and forbidden things and living in touch with the Holy Spirit. It may be enjoyed even in the fullest measure by a feeble constitution and a man or woman naturally frail. It is not our life, but the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal flesh. It is a very sacred life, for it keeps us constantly separated from the world and unto God, and is a wholesome check upon the purity and obedience of our lives.
Samson lost his strength the moment he touched the forbidden world and the lap of Delilah. For us, too, the secret of strength is this: “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” This is the blessed ministry of the Holy Ghost; first, to give us this practical righteousness and keep us in the perfect will of God, and then to give us the physical life and quickening promised in connection with obedience. His own promise is, “If the Spirit of Him which raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal body by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.”
Such, then, is the blessed fullness of the Holy Spirit as unfolded in this ancient book of Judges. How much more rich and full the grace we may expect from Him today!
Shall we take Him with Othniel as the Spirit of courage; with Deborah, for woman’s high and glorious ministry; with Gideon and Jepthah, to use the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, and the things which are despised, yea, and the things which are not, to bring to naught the things which are; and shall we, like Samson, “out of weakness be made strong, wax valiant in fight and turn to flight the armies of the aliens”?
“But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” Job 32: 8. “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.” Job 33: 4.
The book of Job is the oldest poem in the world. It has come down to us from a period somewhere between the time of Abraham and Joshua. It is a profoundly interesting drama, unfolding some of the most important principles of the divine government, and revealing God’s personal dealings with His people through the Holy Spirit.
First, Job himself appears upon the scene as the type of a high and noble character, a man of perfect uprightness, one who represents the very highest ideal of human character. Next, we see God testing this man, revealing to him the depths of self and sin which lie concealed in every human soul, until, at length, Job appears under the searchlight of the Holy Ghost a pitiful spectacle, not only of disease and suffering, but of self-righteousness, self-vindication, and rebellion against God Himself. One by one various characters appear upon the scene, representing the wisdom and comfort and friendship of the world — in fact, all that the world can do to help us in our trouble. We have Bildad and Eliphaz and Zophar representing, perhaps, the wisdom, the wealth, and the pleasure of the world, but all failing to bring to Job the comfort, the instruction, and the discipline that he needs.
Finally, Elihu appears upon the stage; and, for the first time, he brings the message and the help of God. His very name signifies God Himself, and his words are in keeping with the source from which his message comes. Let us look at him as one of the oldest examples of the indwelling, inworking, and outflowing of the Holy Spirit. First, we have the man. Secondly, we will consider his message. And then we will notice the effect of his message in its influence upon Job, the object of attention in the whole drama of this wonderful book.
First, he tells us himself that he was a young man. “I am young,” he says, “and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you my opinion.” God can speak to and through even the youngest of His disciples. But notice the modesty of Elihu. He was sensitive, shrinking, and full of that modest diffidence which is always the criterion of true worth. The more God uses us, the more should we shrink out of self-consciousness and human observation. Then, we see not only his modesty, but his respect for others and his beautiful disposition to wait and to show the utmost deference to those who are naturally his superiors. There is no reason why we should thrust ourselves forward because we have the Holy Spirit and are trusted with His messages. The Spirit-filled man will always be filled with deference and consideration for others. In speaking to the New Testament assemblies, the apostle tells them particularly to guard against this very thing, for He says, “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” When God gives us a message He can afford to have us wait. So Elihu waited till the others were through, and then he spoke with effect.
But while Elihu is respectful and modest, he is at the same time perfectly independent of the opinions of people, and is bold and fearless in obeying the voice of God, which he has heard in the depths of his own soul. “Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person; neither let me give flattering titles unto man. For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my Maker would soon take me away.” And so the Spirit-filled man is free from all men. He does not try to copy any man, but listens directly to the voice of God through His Word and His Spirit. So many of us are parrots, catching the opinion and the ideas of others. God wants individual characters and individual messages, and every one of us to be himself filled and taught of the Holy Ghost. We see in Elihu a man so filled with the Holy Ghost that he cannot keep back his words. He says, “The Spirit within me constraineth me. Behold, my belly is as wine which hath no vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles.”This is the way the apostle felt, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” We need this volcanic power to give force and propelling power to the message with which God trusts us.
Again, we see in Elihu a man supremely anxious to glorify God, and grieved because Job’s friends have not answered his questions and vindicated God. His one desire is to glorify his Maker and his Master. Such a man always will be taught and used of His Master. The Holy Spirit is waiting for such men and women.
II. THE MESSAGE OF ELIHU
It is a very wonderful message. It unfolds the deepest principles of God’s moral government, and rises to the loftiest height of inspired eloquence. There is no profounder discussion of God’s dealings with His children. God is always speaking to His people. “God speaketh once, yea, twice, yet man perceiveth it not,” is heedless, or blind and deaf, failing therefore, to understand his Father’s voice.
Then God has to speak again through sickness and physical suffering; and so we have the picture in the thirty-third chapter, from the nineteenth to the twenty-second verses. It is the picture of a poor sufferer chastened with pain, sinking day by day into emaciation and exhaustion, until he is ready to drop into the grave. This, however, is not God’s last voice; there is another message, but oh, how rarely and how seldom the true messenger is found! “One among a thousand.” What a blessed message He brings! He shows man His uprightness, the loving kindness of His chastening, leading him to repentance, and then He unfolds the blessed message of the great atonement, and cries, “Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom.” What is the effect of this? “His flesh shall be fresher than a child’s; he shall return to the days of his youth.”
This is the blessed Gospel of the Atonement — atonement for sickness as well as sin; this is the blessed Gospel of Healing — healing for body as well as soul. It was God’s ancient thought, and it is still unchanged — His will for all who will simply believe and receive. This is God’s uniform principle of dealing with His children. “These things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.” God’s chastenings are not the zigzag lightnings of the sky, that strike we know not where or when, but the intelligent, intelligible, loving dealings of a Father, who will let us understand why He afflicts us. He Himself has told us in the New Testament, “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” This is God’s object in dealing with His children, to bring them out of some position that is wrong into His higher will; and as soon as we learn our lesson, He is glad to remove the pressure, and to bring us into the full manifestation of His favor and blessing for both soul and body. Can we find anywhere a wiser, broader, truer unfolding of God’s gracious providence and His loving, faithful dealings with His children than in the old message of Elihu, more than three thousand years ago.
Then He passes on to a more sublime discourse, in which He sweeps the whole circle of the heavens and the whole field of nature, and unfolds the glory and majesty of God in all His works. At length, as He reaches His loftiest height, God interrupts Him, and closes His sublime oration with a yet grander peroration, as He speaks through the whirlwind to Job with a voice that he can no longer answer nor gainsay.
III. THE EFFECT OF THE MESSAGE
This brings us to the effect of the message upon Job himself. This is the great central thought of the whole book and the entire drama. Job meets us as the central figure and the type of ourselves. He represents man at his best, just as Elihu at the close represents man at God’s best.
We see in Job an upright man, the best man of his time, the best that man can be by the help of divine grace, until he dies to himself altogether and enters into union with God Himself.
The first picture of Job is a favorable one, both to himself and to everybody else. He seems to be all right, until God brings the searchlight and the surgical probe to bear upon him, when, like everything else that is human, he breaks completely down, and shows himself in all the weakness and worthlessness of our lost humanity. The worst thing that we find in Job is Job himself. God was not trying to convince him of any glaring sin, but of his self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, and self-confidence. The thing that we have to deny is self. The hardest thing to see and to crucify is our own self-confidence and self-will; and we have to pass through many a painful incident and many a humiliating failure before we find it out and fully recognize it.
Accordingly we find Job, under the divine searchlight, signally failing, revealing his unbelief, vindicating himself, and even blaming God for unjustly afflicting him. One by one his various friends appear upon the scene representing the wisdom, wealth, and pleasure of the world; but Job sees through the fallacy of all their arguments, and refuses their messages, until, at length, Elihu comes with the inspired message of God. God follows it by directly revealing Himself to Job, and speaking from the whirlwind with a voice that he can no longer resist. Job, in the light of God, at length wakes up to his own worthlessness and nothingness, and falling silent at Jehovah’s feet, he cries, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” This is, at last, the death of self; and now God is ready to pick up His servant, to forgive his errors and faults, and even to vindicate him in the face of his friends.
Then, for the first time, we hear God approving Job and saying to his unwise friends, “Ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, as my servant Job hath.” What was the thing which Job had spoken of Him that was right? It was his language of self-condemnation, humiliation, renunciation. Job had now ended and God was ready to begin. God immediately responds to him not only with His favor and blessing, but with all the prosperity and blessing which he had lost; and Job rises to a new place in every way.
This is the resurrection life unfolded in the ancient type. This is the resurrection life into which the Holy Ghost is waiting to bring all who are willing, like Job, to die to the life of self. God was not looking in Job for any open sin or flagrant wrong; but He was searching for the subtle self-life which lies concealed behind a thousand disguises in us all, and which is so slow and so unwilling to die. God has often to bring us not only into the place of suffering, and to the bed of sickness and pain, but also into the place where our righteousness breaks down, and our character falls to pieces, in order to humble us in the dust and to show us the need of entire crucifixion to all our natural life. Then, at the feet of Jesus we are ready to receive Him, to abide in Him, to depend upon Him alone, and to draw all our life and strength each moment from Him, our Living Head.
It was thus that Peter was saved by his very fall. He had to die to Peter that he might live more perfectly to Christ.
Have we thus died, and have we thus renounced the strength of our own self-confidence? Happy, indeed, are we if this be so; for we shall have Christ and all His resources of strength. Then He can afford to give to us, as he did to Job, all the riches of His goodness and all the gifts of His providence that we need in our secular and temporal life. We begin life with the natural, next we come into the spiritual; then, when we have truly received the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, the natural is added to the spiritual, and we are able to receive the gifts of His providence and the blessings of life without becoming centered in them or allowing them to separate us from Him.
This is the sweet lesson of the life of Job. This is the bright and happy sequel to all his sorrow. This is the ripening of the seed of death and pain. This is the blessed fruition of all his affliction. This is but a little type of that richer resurrection life which the New Testament reveals.
The blessed Holy Spirit is waiting to lead us all into the path of life through the gates of death. Some one tells of a gentleman who called upon an old friend and was invited by the proprietor to go with him to survey his splendid new warehouse. As they started to go to the upper floor, the visitor began immediately to climb the stair. “Oh,”said his friend, “this way,”and opened a little side door and led him down a few steps to a platform where a door opened into an elevator. “This is the way we go up now”; and then they mounted by that elevator to the very top of the building, eight or ten stories high, and came down from floor to floor without the slightest effort. As they returned to the office the gentleman said: “I have just been thinking that this is God’s new way of ascension. He leads us down first, and then He puts us into His elevator and lifts us up to Himself.”
This is the story of Job. This is the story of Jesus. This is the story of every true life. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” God help us to die. Fear not the pain, the sacrifice, the surrender. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil: for thou art with me.”And on the other side you shall say, “Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Oh, how sweet it is to die with Jesus, To the world and self and sin! Oh, how sweet it is to live with Jesus, As He lives and reigns within!