Table of Contents
“His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6.)
The idea of a child king was not unfamiliar to the Old Testament. Little Samuel had been Israel’s best prophet and judge; young Josiah, wearing a crown at the tender age of five, was the best of Judah’s kings after David. In English history the most honored name, perhaps, is Edward VI, the youthful king of the sixteenth century.
All these were types of Jesus, God’s holy and anointed King. With beautiful simplicity, even after His resurrection and ascension, the apostles speak of Him in their prayers to the Father as “Your Holy Child, Jesus.” He Himself has told us that His best representative on earth is a little child; for, “Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name (that is, belonging to me) receives me.” And even His Father in heaven is not ashamed to be represented by the same little child. “He that receives me receives him that sent me.”
There is nothing more beautiful in an old and venerable man than the simplicity of childhood which often characterizes the greatest minds. Perhaps when we meet with our God, we will be touched most of all by the simplicity of His presence. At least, it is very beautiful to know that the Christ who comes still to guide and govern us is a child Christ, gentle as the touch of an infant’s hand, accessible as your own little ones, easy to approach, simple and loving as an innocent child; yet mighty as the Mighty God and the Everlasting Father. It is very touching to notice in the Apocalypse that Jesus is continually described by a diminutive term of peculiar endearment; not the Lamb, as it is translated in our version, but literally, “the little Lamb, the dear Lamb of God.”
Let us look, however, at the other side of the picture, and, as we do, let us carry with us the concept of the child. Four illustrious and glorious names are here given to Jesus.
The Wonderful Counselor
This name has reference to His prophetic work and office; for He is our prophet as well as our king, the great teacher and guide to His people. The term “counselor” has reference to His guidance rather than to His teaching. One may know much and be able to say much, and yet not be a good counselor. Jesus is our wisdom and leads His trusting children in the right paths wherein they shall not stumble.
1. He often leads us contrary to the ideas, opinions, and judgments even of wise men, and His thoughts are as high above our thoughts as the heavens above the earth. If He is our guide, He will often bid us do things which prudence regards as folly, possibly as fanaticism; but God will vindicate His own wisdom in the end, and “wisdom is justified of her children.”
It seemed a very foolish thing to the Canaanites for an army to march seven days around their city walls and then simply blow their trumpets and shout, but it was the wisest way to take Jericho. It seemed a very foolish thing to ask a widow to give away her last handful of meal to a stranger when she and her boy were starving, but it was the best way to save her and her boy from starvation and to open the way for a continual supply for the coming months. It seemed an absurd thing for young David to face the giant Philistine with a simple sling and stones, but it was the only way by which he could have obtained the victory. It seemed absurd to commit to twelve fishermen the task of evangelizing the world; but it was God’s wisdom, and it became God’s mighty power. It may have appeared very strange to Philip for the divine message to come to him to leave Samaria in the height of his great evangelistic work there and go down into a lonely desert where he could not expect to meet a soul, but it was God’s way to preach the gospel to the Prince of Ethiopia, and, through him to the whole of Northern Africa. He leads us by a way that we know not; but it is ever the right way, and we shall thank Him at last that He has proved our Wonderful Counselor.
2. He is a Wonderful Counselor because the people He leads are such weak and foolish people. When we commit ourselves to the guidance of Christ we become weaker in ourselves, ceasing to look to our own wisdom. Without His guidance we should indeed be utterly helpless, but this is our very strength. The little child who knows nothing of the way through the strange city is safer than the one who knows a little, because the latter is very apt to trust in its imperfect knowledge and go astray; whereas, the former, knowing nothing, simply holds its mother’s hand and is safely led by one who knows better. And so it is said of the heavenly pathway, “The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” “Not that we are sufficient,” says Paul, “of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God,” and it is indeed wonderful how the most simple-hearted and uneducated minds are led by the Holy Spirit, not only into the full knowledge of God’s Word, but kept from error and mistake, and guided safely through all the mazes of life’s pathway!
3. This Counselor is wonderful in His patience and love. He is willing to take infinite trouble with us. Over and over again He teaches us the lessons we are so slow to learn. Over and over again He repairs our mistakes and lifts us up from our stumblings, saying to us, “How is it that you do not understand?” There is no difficulty too intricate for Him to unravel. There is no little detail of life too petty for Him to take an interest in. There is no toil too tedious for Him to go through with us. There is no tangle too involved for Him to unthread and loose. There is no complication of difficult circumstances too extreme for Him to be willing to take hold of and lead us gently out into the light. Even our stupidity and rebellion have not always provoked Him to leave us; but He waits, loves, and leads us, until at last He brings us into His perfect will and our hearts are ready to say, “Wonderful Counselor, patient Teacher, gentle Christ — who teaches like Him?”
4. The best of all about this Wonderful Counselor is that He does not merely tell us what to do and give us a chart of the way, but He comes with us every step of the way and becomes our personal guide. If you were to go to Cairo and try to find directions about the best way to cross the desert from some Bedouin, or perhaps some map of the way or some itinerary of stations, he would laugh at you and say, “Why, you will never find your way in that manner. I cannot tell you the way, but I will go with you and show you the way. I will be your personal guide.” This is exactly what Jesus does. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He says that when He puts forth His own sheep, He goes before them, and they know His voice, and a stranger will they not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers. “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost,” shall “abide with you forever,” and “he will guide you into all truth.”
How may we have the guidance of this Wonderful Counselor? First, it is always necessary that we be wholly yielded to follow His guidance and have a single purpose to please Him only. Willfulness will ever miss the way, but “the meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek (the yielded ones, the little and bending hearts) will he teach his way.”
Second, we must bring to Him every particular need and acknowledge Him in all our ways, and He shall direct our steps. It will not do to take it as a matter of course and say it will be all right anyhow, for the very thing in which we ignore Him is most likely to go wrong just because we have trusted in general and not specifically recognized Him.
Third, let us not expect startling revelations to come, but go by the simple light of His Word and our sanctified judgment and the voice of the Spirit as He speaks to us through quiet convictions, intuitions, and impulses. There are voices and voices. There is light which will come to us all, but it is false light. It may often be known by its blaze and glare. God’s light is the soft and simple light which rests us and brings the satisfying sense of His presence and peace.
Last, if we have His light, let us be willing to take it step by step. We shall not see all the way at once, but as we follow on we shall know the Lord in all His fullness, and all His purposes will ripen and unfold in all their fullness.
The Mighty God
He who is our Counselor is also abundantly able to carry out His plans, and He always follows up His directions with His strong and mighty hand. He never sends us on any path without standing by us and seeing us through. He who sends Israel around Jericho never fails to level the walls at the right moment. He who bids the people go forward into the sea never fails to divide the floods. He who sends us through the waters and the fires never fails to go before us and keep them from overflowing us. He who bids us march up against the gates of brass never fails to precede us and break in pieces the brazen gates and make the crooked places straight. When the Holy Spirit is working in us, the mighty Providence of God is always working outside of us in perfect correspondence and preparation.
The Christ of the Gospels is the Jehovah of the Old Testament — the God who said to Jeremiah, “Is there anything too hard for me?” He is the God of creation and of providence — the God who said to Moses, “I lift up my hand to heaven and say, I live forever . . . neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.” He is able to control all the forces and elements of nature, able to restrain all the influences and movements of society, able to turn the hearts of men at His pleasure and overthrow their counsels and their works. He is able to save the lost, to pardon the guiltiest soul, to cleanse the blackest heart, to renew the most wrecked and ruined life. He is able to fill the heart of sorrow with untroubled gladness. He is able to take away the strongest tendencies to sin and give the degraded and selfish soul the power to do that which is right and holy. He is able to satisfy our inmost, utmost being. He is able to put His own heart and nature in the most corrupt and helpless soul. He is able to touch the springs of physical life and fill them with His own strength and healing. He is able to meet the temptations that overcome us and to make us more than conquerors in all things through His love. He is able to make even our little lives mighty forces for everlasting good, and so clothe us with His power that we shall be able to open the blind eyes, and turn men from darkness into light and from the very power of Satan to God. He is still standing in our midst and saying: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth . . . and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
He is greater than the greatest difficulty, the greatest sin, the greatest sorrow, the greatest failure in your life. From this day place Him, your mighty God, over against the things that are too strong and too hard for you. Only touch the hand of that little Child, and lo, all the forces of Omnipotence, if need be, will be called forth to blast the very rocks of adamant, to roll back the tides of the ocean, to prepare the way for His ransomed.
When He makes bare His arm,
Who shall His power withstand?
When He His people’s cause defends,
Who, who shall stay His hand?
The Father of Eternity
This is the true translation of this strange verse. It means that His being is unlimited, His years eternal, His element boundless, and all His plans and thoughts shaped and drawn on a gigantic and infinite scale. When we come into God, we come into the infinite. Eternity begins for us before time ends. The life we have now is eternal life. It takes hold upon illimitable things. There is about it a depth and a height, a length and a breadth that defy all calculations and computations, and the things that we take from God and do for God are eternal things. We now see but a little of what shall be revealed, but when He appears we shall be like Him. But let us build today for eternity. Let all our thoughts, plans and hopes be in view of the gigantic future, the colossal scale which is to unfold when we pass through the narrow gates of the earthly life into the illimitable beyond. Let us ever see ourselves as we shall be then, and our work as it shall seem then. Let us be content with nothing that is not going to last. Let us, like Him, belong to the ages to come. Ours is not an ephemeral breath of life, like the fluttering moth or butterfly, like the flashing meteor of the sky. We shall live when the sun is burned to ashes and the stars have faded away or taken on their new and everlasting forms. Could we see today the scope of our future being, the height of our future glory, the grandeur of our future recompense, we would be afraid, we would be paralyzed with awe and then with shame at the pettiness of our conceptions of God and our expectations from Him. Let us give our future to Him who is the Father of Eternity; let us lay up our treasures in hands that will give them back there with the compound interest of their glory. Let us take more of the vastness, rise to more of the boundlessness of thought and purpose, of love and faith, of joy and service, which He expects of those who would be worthy of His great and infinite heart which throbs within our breasts.
The Prince of Peace
There is an allusion here to the kingdom of Solomon, whose name was significant of peace and whose reign was typical of the coming King, his greater Son. It is to Him that the seventy-second Psalm is dedicated, with its beautiful words, “The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. . . . In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endures.”
His first conquest is through the gospel of peace. Having made peace through the blood of the cross, He came to preach peace to them that were afar off and to them that were near. His coming was heralded with the words, “On earth, peace, good will toward men.” His last bequest before He died was, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” His benediction as He arose and met them in the upper room was, “Peace be unto you.” “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” He brings to the guilty heart the sense of pardon and eternal peace, and then He brings to the surrendered heart the deeper rest that comes from passion and sin subdued and perfect trust in Him as the sovereign and keeper of the soul. He brings peace by conquest, but His conquest is that of love, the soul subdued into harmony with Him by its own consent, and every part of the being in harmony with itself.
His glorious kingdom of peace extends further, for it brings us into perfect harmony with all the relations of life and circumstances that surround us, so that the soul in which this glorious Prince reigns easily adjusts itself to every situation. It finds God adjusting everything in its life in glorious rest and fitness, so that it is true that when a man’s ways please the Lord He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him; and where things are at war with us we have a still higher victory, and can cry, with the apostle, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”
And so the government shall be upon His shoulder; and when it is, it is true that “of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” They that fully trust Him will find Him able to carry on His shoulder, not only the government of their own life, but all the things that concern them.
Wonderful names! Wonderful Savior, Counselor and Prince! Let us give Him the increase of the government and enter into His perfect peace. Then in a little while we will find ourselves in the glorious millennial kingdom of His everlasting peace, where the last enemy will be destroyed and universal nature will at length be brought into perfect and everlasting accord with His love and will. War will cease and strife will disappear; sin will come no more, and sorrow will have passed away. Satan will be cast out, the storm and tempest will never darken its sunny skies. Universal peace and everlasting love, like a golden chain, will bind the heavens and the earth together in one long endless kingdom of felicity and peace.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You: because he trusts in You, Trust in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.” (Isa.26: 3, 4.)
The literal translation of this beautiful verse, as it will be found in the margin of our English Bible is, “The Lord JEHOVAH is the Rock of Ages.” This is the foundation of that beautiful hymn which is one of the favorites of the English-speaking Christians in the world: a hymn without which any collection would be absolutely incomplete. The imagery is very familiar to every Bible reader; rocks and mountains are associated with every important incident and epoch in the Bible. It was on Ararat that the new world began; on Moriah that the faith of Abraham was perfected; on Sinai that the law was given; on Horeb that the Tabernacle was designed; on Nebo that the Land of Promise was unveiled; on Zion that the capitol of Judah was fixed; on Moriah that the temple was reared; on Carmel that the nation of Israel was called to their covenant God; on Mount Hattin that Jesus preached His sermon; on Hermon that He was transfigured; on Calvary that He died; and from Olivet that He ascended. It is not strange, therefore, that the mountain and the rock have become favorite expressions of sacred things, for which their natural defenses, their immutable and changeless features, their colossal strength, their lofty eminence, their wide-reaching prospects of vision, and their beauty, so specially fit them.
The metaphor is repeated over and over again. “The Lord is our rock.” “The rock of our heart.” “The rock of our salvation.” “The rock that is higher than we.” “The shadow of a great rock in a weary land”; and here, the most sublime of them all, “The Rock of Ages.” This is the only passage in the Scriptures where this particular phrase, so full of deep meaning and majesty, is found.
Like some sublime mountain face, this text is a mighty and isolated rock in which we can trace the face of Jesus, our Rock of Ages. As we sit down under its mighty shadow, as we rest upon its velvet slopes, as we drink from the crystal fountains that flow from its side, we hear the sweet echo of our text: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You: because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord JEHOVAH is the Rock of Ages.”
Higher even than its fine natural suggestiveness is the perfect Scriptural significance of this verse. It looks back to some of the most instructive and striking types of the Old Testament.
1. It recalls the rock in Horeb and speaks of Christ as our Savior. “I do not want you to be ignorant,” says the apostle, addressing us New Testament Christians, “how that all our fathers . . . did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” Perishing with thirst, the Israelites were led by Moses to the face of the rock in Horeb. Then the lawgiver lifted up his rod and smote the rock at God’s command upon its naked face. Immediately it burst open, and from the cleft there poured a living stream, running through the camp in rivulets and floods of living water, until the thirsty thousands drank, and drank again, and gave their children and their cattle to drink until their thirst was fully satisfied. And they praised God for His great deliverance.
This incident has been applied with full Scriptural authority to the crucifixion of the Savior. He, for us, was smitten by the rod of the Lawgiver and Judge as our sacrifice and substitute, and from His pierced side there flows for us the water of life, where we can drink of His boundless mercies, His forgiving love, His renewing grace and thankfully sing,
Rock in Horeb, riven for me
By the law’s avenging rod,
Flowing from thy side I see
Streams of water and of blood.
And I wash my crimson soul
Whiter than the wool and snow,
While the cleansing waters roll,
And the living fountains flow.
2. The Rock of Ages reminds us of the rock in Kadesh: the type of Christ, a fuller and more perfect Savior. Forty years after the rock of Horeb was smitten, the camp of Israel came to Kadesh. The old story was repeated again. Thirsty and hungry they murmured instead of praying, and once again their lawgiver led them to the rock. This time the command was different. He was not to smite the rock as before, but simply to speak to it, and the promise was given that the water should immediately gush forth. In a moment of haste and disobedience he exceeded his orders and smote the rock repeatedly with words of irritation, perhaps of unbelief. God honored His promise by sending the water abundantly again, but He was grieved with His servant for disobeying the explicit command; and for this offense Moses was excluded from the promised land. The waters, however, came forth, and the people drank abundantly, and the river continued to flow through the desert.
This is the type of the deeper fullness of Christ our Savior, and of the infinite grace of the Holy Spirit, which is simply awaiting the call of faith on the part of every believer. This is not the atonement which first opened the rock of salvation for us; but this is the deeper fullness of the Holy Ghost, sanctifying and satisfying the soul.
The word “Kadesh” means righteousness, or holiness, and so this is the type of Christ our Sanctifier and Satisfier. This does not teach us of the Holy Spirit procured and sent down from heaven through the finished work of Christ, but the Holy Spirit already given and simply awaiting the call of faith to be received. We do not need now to smite the rock, to crucify Christ again, or to go through a desperate struggle and strain; but we need simply to look and live, to take and have, to speak the simple word of trust, “Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,” and He answers quickly to our cry, and our prayer is changed to the song of praise:
Rock of Kadesh, flowing still,
From the Savior glorified;
All my empty being fill
With thy Pentecostal tide.
3. The Rock of Ages looks back to another beautiful picture: “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them.” What can this mean? “Following rock.” Not that the rock moved through the desert, but the river that ran from the rock followed them through the desert. The rock followed them with its floods of life and cleansing. The Psalmist tells us the water ran in the desert like a river. The historian tells us that when once in the desert they were perishing for want of water, they simply gathered in a little circle upon the burning sands, and with their staves dug a little well in the sand, and lifted up their voices to God in songs of praise; immediately the waters sprang up from the depths below, and overflowed again, as at Horeb and Kadesh, from the subterranean springs. So the Rock of Ages sends its living fountains all along our way, and although the desert may be all around us and the wells may all seem dry, yet faith has only to make room and lift up the song of praise even in the hottest desert, and immediately the waters will spring forth in abundance, and we shall sing again:
Following rock, from day to day,
Sending forth on every hand
Rivers all along the way,
Underneath the desert sand.
Open deep the living well,
Where Thy hidden fountains flow;
Ever near Thee let me dwell,
As I through the desert go.
4. The Rock of Ages is also a sheltering rock. This is the rock of which the Psalmist cried, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”He shall be “as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” A little rock only reflects upon us the more intensely the heat which it has absorbed; but the great rock drinks in the warm rays on one side, and on the other has a cooling shadow for the traveler who rests under its overshadowing cliffs. So, weak and selfish hearts only irritate us and throw over us the reflection of their burdens; but Christ is the shadow of a great rock. Occupied every moment as He is with the cares of others, with the sorrows of a weeping world, with the myriad prayers that are every moment surging into His ears, with the dying cries and groans of sinking souls, with the despairing shrieks of the wretched ones that are every moment drifting into eternity. He is always at leisure for us. He is always at our call, and His whole heart is ever ready to comfort and rest us, as though there were no others in the wide universe but us requiring His sympathy and rest. Oh, the delightful peace, the safe refuge, the perfect security they enjoy who have found their home within the cleft of the Rock of Ages!
Shadowing rock in weary lands,
Let me rest beneath Thy shade;
Traveling o’er the burning sands,
Shelter my defenseless head.
Covert from the tempest rude,
Refuge from the raging tide,
Fortress when by foes pursued,
Let me in Thy bosom hide.
5. The Rock of Ages is also a foundation rock. It is a place to build upon. It is the resting-place of faith and hope. There trust finds its full assurance as it leans upon the promise, “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life.” There the soul can struggle with self and sin as it reposes all its weight upon the everlasting promise, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” There hope anchors all her cables as she commits all her destinies, her affections and her treasures to this immovable rock and cries, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” The mountains shall depart, and the hills shall be removed; but this rock shall stand. Our most substantial edifices shall crumble into dust; our oldest institutions shall vanish away; our securities and investments shall be ashes in the flames of a dissolving world; but the Rock of Ages will remain unshaken and immovable, and, standing upon it amid the awful roar of the last great convulsion, we shall indeed be able to say, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; . . . though the mountains shake with the swellings thereof. . . . God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.”
Rock of Ages, fixed and sure,
Be my faith’s foundation stone;
Hopes we built on Thee endure,
Stable as Thy steadfast throne.
While my heart on Thee is stayed,
Winds may howl and torrents pour;
I shall never be afraid,
I am safe forevermore.
Such are some of the Scriptural suggestions of this beautiful name. There are further depths of significance in it that no words can fully unfold. It recalls to us not only the past associations of the Bible, but the past associations of the people of the church of God and our own experience. It is the rock of the past. How touching it is to travel in Bible lands, and, as you sit down at the well of Nazareth or Bethlehem, to think of the thousands who in every generation have drunk of that fountain and rested at that well! There Abraham rested and drank. There Jesus came as a little child with His mother. There crusaders, pilgrims, and great travelers have quenched their thirst. How touching, how wonderful! It is the well of ages. This is the Rock of Ages.
How it quickens one’s pulse and moistens one’s eyes to go through the tower of London and read upon the walls the last messages of saints and martyrs — the verses of Scripture which they were leaning their heads upon in view of the scaffold or the stake upon the morrow! How wonderful to take that twenty-third Psalm and trace its record as it has been written, not only in Bibles and letters bathed in love and the prayers of human hearts and heavenly anointings, but as it has been written on prison walls and dungeon floors! Oh, how awesome one feels, as he reads its verses, that he is treading on sacred ground, and that every syllable is marked with the footprints of some sufferer or victor that has gone before!
And so, this Christ to whom we come has been the Rock of Ages. The comfort He gives us has been proved often before. He is a tried stone, a sure foundation; and he that believes on Him shall never be ashamed. He has been proved in temptation, in sickness, in sorrow, in death. Other generations have proved Him. Our fathers and mothers have proved Him. Our past trials have proved Him.
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus,
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!
And, as the Rock of Ages, He will live through future ages. He covers all the future, and He is keeping all that can ever concern us forevermore. Oh, let us trust in the Lord JEHOVAH forever: for the Lord JEHOVAH is the Rock of Ages.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever.”
This blessed Rock is our place of rest. It is a place of perfect rest. “Peace! Peace!” is the marginal and more beautiful translation of this picture of the Christian’s rest. There is a double peace. There is the peace of conscience that comes with justification, and the deeper rest of God that comes with His indwelling, and the best of this is that He keeps it. It is a peace that abides forever and that keeps the heart in which it reigns: “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
But there are conditions on our part. The first is trust. This is the sweet Old Testament word for faith — its child phase. It is not so much the intellectual act of believing as the heart attitude of confiding and trusting.
The next condition is staying. We not only trust, but we stay trusting. There is a passive rest which is the result of indolence and inaction. It is simply drifting. The Christian’s rest is an active reliance on the loving and everlasting arms of God. This will illustrate it. Look at yonder boat running before the breeze. Let that helm go lax, and lo! the sails flap in the winds, and the boat drifts and tosses with the tide, dashed about at the mercy of the billows, without any fixed course or steady poise. This is the attitude of many a life — simply drifting, trustless, restless, tempest-tossed, and tending nowhere but to deeper unrest forever-more. But look at that boat now, as the experienced seaman sits down at the stern and puts his strong and steady hand upon the helm, pressing hard against the wind. See how the sails quickly fill and lean against the wind, like white-winged birds upon the air. Notice how the tossing vessel rights up and sets her prow against the waves in a steady course. Observe how the drifting and tossing ceases, and the pitch and poise of the little ship are like the movements of a thing of life. Notice how swiftly she cuts her way through the raging waters, obedient to the joint impulse of the sail above and the helm astern. Notice how the very winds that almost cross her path, or blow in her very face, help her on her course. Beautiful picture of the soul that is stayed upon God! The pressure of His providence, the very difficulties that confront us but quicken our steadfast trust, and we meet them with the firm hand and fixed will of humble, holy confidence in God. How the will springs into steadiness and power! How its tossings are stilled, and its whole movement is quieted, intensely alive and active, yet intensely restful! It presses on, like that noble little ship, through wind and tide, in the will of God and the work of life. This is the picture of a soul stayed upon God.
There is, further, a distinct reference here to the thoughts of the mind and their bearing upon the spirit of trust. It is the mind that is stayed upon God. Just translate this word “stayed” as “stopped,” and carry with you the idea of a suspending of your busy thoughts, cares, and activities, and you will understand better the prophet’s meaning. The rest of faith is usually hindered most by the restlessness of our ever busy thoughts. We get to reasoning, questioning, wondering, fearing, looking forward to this emergency and that contingency, and our soul is disquieted by a whirlwind of conflicting thoughts. God wants us to stop thinking.
A lady came to spend a week or two in our home to learn the secret of our deeper life in Christ. Her face was clouded with care, and her heart was distracted with doubts, anxiety and fears. She was really in danger of losing her mind through spiritual unrest. She came to our Friday meeting to be anointed for healing of this terrible pressure upon her brain. As we knelt by her side, we asked her if she would promise the Lord to stop thinking for a week. She said she could not, that at every instant she was like one swept by a hurricane of troubled thoughts. We told her she could and she must, that she needed to set her will firmly in the strength of God — like the ill birds that might beat their wings upon the window pane, she need not open the window and let them in; like the wild billows that might surge against the ship, and even flood the deck, she need not open the hatches and let them down into the cabin. She could simply stand guard at the door of her mind and refuse to receive these thoughts, to dwell upon them, to harbor them, to enter into sympathy with them. She could simply say, “I won’t think,” and as surely as she would do this and hold steadily to this attitude, the habit would soon become established, and her thoughts would be controlled.
“But,” she said, “shall I give up my good thoughts?” “Yes,”our answer was, “everything at present, for all are unrestful. Even your good thoughts are evil, and when God gets you fixed in the habit of stillness, then He will breathe into you His thoughts without an effort upon your part.” At length she reluctantly consented to make the promise and set her will like a flint, in the name of the Lord, against all thinking, and promised to learn to be perfectly still. Before the week had passed her whole face and heart were perfectly transfigured. “The peace of God that passes all understanding,” had taken possession of her soul, and she was rejoicing in the Lord and testifying to His victorious keeping grace and power. Beloved, stay your heart on God; not on thoughts nor feelings, but on that Presence that will possess you utterly, and fill you with that “peace that passes all understanding,” as you turn away from all else to Him alone.
Trust and rest in Christ forever,
Lean thy head upon His breast;
Nothing from His love can sever
Those who simply trust and rest.
Trust and rest in hours of sorrow;
Every wrong shall be redressed,
In some happy, bright tomorrow,
If you only trust and rest.
Trust and rest when all around thee
Puts thy faith to sorest test;
Let no fear nor foe confound thee,
Wait for God and trust and rest.
Trust and rest with heart abiding,
Like a birdling in its nest,
Underneath His feathers hiding;
Fold thy wings and trust and rest.
Trust and rest till gentle fingers
Fold thy hands across thy breast,
While the echo softly lingers,
Everlasting trust and rest.
“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” (Rev. 22:13.)
As we think of the friends of life, how few there are that were linked with our earliest associations and memories! There was a period when every friendship began, and many of those we love the best we only knew for the first time a little while ago. But here a Friend addresses us who was before all other friends, who loved us long before we knew the love of brother, or even mother; long before we were even conscious of our own existence. ” The Lord has appeared of old unto me, saying, Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Jesus is indeed the First.
And then, how many of those that were the first in our life are not the last? The very mother, on whose sweet face our eyes gazed before they recognized any earthly countenance, has long since passed from our view. Only a few of the friends of youth remain, and how many of the fondest attachments of life have been like rivers that run into the desert and are lost amid the sands. But here we have One who will be there at the close, who will remain when all others have passed away; for Jesus is the Last.
Amid the passing years and the passing forms of loved ones and the changing scenes of life, how sweet it is to know that Jesus is the First and the Last! Let us gather up by the help of the Holy Ghost some of the precious lessons of this wonderful name that covers all the present and the future.
1. This expresses the eternal pre-existence of Christ. We find Him constantly declaring this in His own addresses in the Gospel of John. “He was before me,” is the witness of John to Him. “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world,” is His own testimony. “Before Abraham was, I am.” Even in the Old Testament we have some sublime pictures of the eternal Christ. “His name shall be . . . The everlasting Father (or the Father of Eternity),” is Isaiah’s picture. “Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” is Micah’s picture. “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth. . . . When He prepared the heavens, I was there: when He set a compass upon the face of the depth . . . then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him; rejoicing in the habitable part of His earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.” This is Solomon’s inspired picture of the eternal Logos, His ancient love to the world, and the men that He was coming in the fullness of the ages to redeem.
2. This expresses His preeminence. This also is most clearly taught by the Holy Ghost in the Scriptures and claimed by Christ Himself. “That in all things He might have the preeminence,” is the Father’s purpose regarding His dear Son, for His is the preeminence of deity. He is higher than all men, higher than all angels, very God of very God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, the express image of His person, the King of kings and Lord of lords. There is no doubt that this is what He claimed Himself, and for this claim His life was threatened again and again by the Jews, and taken at last in His final judgment and crucifixion. “He ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God,” was their charge. The hands into which we commit our souls are divine and infinite hands. The ransom which has been paid for our sin is of the infinite value of deity. The grace that is sufficient for our full salvation is the grace of the infinite God. The kinship to which He has raised us is nothing less than to be partakers of the divine nature, and sons and heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. Let us not fear to bring forth every diadem and crown Him Lord of all.
3. This expresses His relation to the work of creation and providence. This thought is expressed by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Colossians in these strong and significant words: “For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” This expresses Christ’s relation to the natural creation and to the affairs of Providence. It was through His hand that the material universe was framed, and it is by His constant superintendence that the whole machinery of Providence is carried on. By Him all things consist, or, literally, “hang together.” He is the cohesive force that holds the whole universe in order and harmony. All power is given to Him in heaven and in earth. Like the Roman centurion, all beings and forces are at the service of His will, and He can say to this one, “Go,” and he goes, or to this one, “Come,” and he comes, and to all things, “Do this,” and they do it.
To Him we ascribe all the sublime descriptions which Jehovah gives us in the Old Testament of His sovereign power and glory. Every robe of majesty and might will fit the Son of God as perfectly as the Father, for it is He that does according to His will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand from working, or say, “What are You doing?” In the midst of the throne ever sits the enthroned Lamb, while all angels and all creation sing in adoring reverence and love, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. . . . Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” This is our Christ: the first and the last.
4. This expresses also His relation to the Bible. Christ is first in these sacred pages. The one object of the Holy Scriptures is to reveal the person and portrait of Jesus. This is the key to its interpretation; this is the glory of its pages — Jesus in the story of creation, already planning the new creation; Jesus supreme above the ruins of the fall; Jesus in the ark, the rainbow and the dove; Jesus in the sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the ladder of Jacob, and the story of Joseph; Jesus in the Paschal lamb, the desert manna, the smitten rock, the smoking sacrifice, the fragrant incense, the suffering scapegoat, the enrobed priest, the golden candlestick, the sacred ark, the sprinkled mercy seat, the hovering cherubim, the awful Shekinah, the glorious tabernacle and all its ministries and furniture; Jesus in the land of promise, in the temple of Solomon, in the story of Joshua, the Psalms of David, the throne of Solomon, the visions of Isaiah, and the panorama of ancient prophecy as it unfolds toward the advent, the manger, the cross and the throne; Jesus in the apostles; Jesus in the Apocalypse. The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy. The face of Jesus can be traced like water lines in fine paper back of every page, for He is the Alpha and the Omega: the first and the last of this Holy Book.
5. This expresses the relation of Jesus Christ to redemption. He is the first in the plan of salvation. Long ago He was heard exclaiming, “Lo, I come. . . . I delight to do Your will, O my God.” It has all been accomplished through Him, and His glory is all to return to Him, and He is forevermore to stand as the center and head of God’s grandest work — the restoration of a ruined race, the salvation of sinful men. Christ is not only first in redemption: He is all. This winepress He has trodden alone; none can share with Him this glory. His was all the cost; His alone the honor shall ever be. No name is so sublime in heaven as the Lamb, no song so loud as that which celebrates His redeeming love, and therefore all that receive this great redemption must give Jesus the supreme glory, or they cannot share it.
6. This expresses His relation to our individual salvation, for every soul must acknowledge Jesus as the first. “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” He tells us. The first desire to come to Him came from Him. The very hunger that longed for Him was His grace beginning to enter our hearts. He has loved us with an everlasting love, and, therefore, with loving-kindness has He drawn us. Not only has He pardon for us when we repent, but He is exalted to give repentance to Israel and the remission of their sins. Not only will He fulfill our earnest prayers, but He makes intercession within us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Not only will He meet us in blessing if we will come to Him, but He will even take our will, and work in us both to will and to do His good pleasure. His arms reach down to us at the lowest depth. His grace is beforehand in all its manifestations. Christ will take us at the very alphabet of Christian life, and from the very beginning will count us His disciples, and then will set us free. Let us fully learn this precious truth, and always take Him for the very thing we need the most and the first, and even the very thing for which we ourselves are responsible and yet insufficient; and He will not only do His glorious part, but He will enable us to do ours.
7. This expresses the relation of Christ to our Christian life and work. This is the true aim of a consecrated life — to make Jesus first. Let us give Him the first place in our heart, in our thoughts, in our aims and motives, in our plans, in our affections, friendships, occupations, our business, our pleasures, our families, and our whole existence. Let us come to Him first for help always. Let us bring to Him the very first beginnings of temptation. Let us catch the lions and the dragons while they are young, and so shall we trample them under foot; and we shall never see any old lions if we do so without fail, for they will all be disposed of before they have time to grow formidable. Let us take to Him the merest thing that needs help, whether it be for soul or body, for secular business or sacred experiences. Jesus first — let this ever be our simple watchword, and life’s tangles will all be unraveled, will not have time to grow serious, and so the touch-stone which will settle every question of perplexity and duty will be Jesus first. Shall I do this? Shall I please this person or Him? Shall it be something else, or shall it be Jesus first? Oh, how this will consecrate, elevate and glorify our lives, and enthrone Him and us with Him in a kingdom of constant peace and victory! Beloved, shall we bring the crowns and lay them at His feet, and write on everything: “Henceforth, Jesus first.”
1. This implies the eternal existence of Jesus. He is, as He Himself expressed it, alive for evermore; or, as the old prophet put it still more sublimely, the Father of eternity. It is glorious to have one that covers all the future and has in His hand the scroll of every destiny and the control of every future event. The Lamb in the midst of the throne holds the sealed book of all our destinies, and for evermore can fix every event of our existence. No matter what is coming, Jesus is coming with it. Though it be trial, temptation, or death, He will be there. The heavens and the earth shall pass away, but He will remain. The friends we have known will disappear, but He will abide. We will change; but He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The things we commit to Him are committed against that day. The interests that He is guarding are safe forever. Beyond the smiling and the weeping, beyond the parting and the meeting, He stands in eternity with our title and our crown safe in His keeping. How often have we felt that the present sorrow or even death were nothing if it were all safe beyond, if it would be all safe at last! Blessed be His name! He is the last, and His mighty works reach beyond all present vicissitudes and guard our treasures and trusts for evermore. The things He gives us will stand. The things that are linked with Him are eternal.
There is One amid all changes
Who standeth ever fast;
One who covers all the future,
The present and the past;
Jesus is the Rock of Ages,
The first and the last.
Jesus is the first;
Jesus is the last;
Trust to Him thy future,
Give Him all thy past;
Jesus is the Rock of Ages,
The first and the last.
2. Christ will finish His work in us and carry to consummation all that He begins. Therefore, He is called “the author and finisher of our faith.” “He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” “My sheep hear my voice,” He says, “and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” He takes us forever, and He will not leave us until He has done all that He has spoken of to us. He never leads His flock out to desert them in the hour of need. He never leads us out into the difficult enterprise without promising to stand by us and crown our work with success. He says of every true enterprise begun in His name and at His bidding, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands also shall finish it; and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me unto you.”
3. Christ is not only the finisher of our life and work, but Christ Himself is the end and substance of all things. When we are done with things and people and see Him as He is, we shall find that His heart is the fountain of all love, His smile the substance of all joy, His life the life of all life, Himself the first and the last of everything, and we shall have nothing that is not part of Him and linked with Him. Every face we see shall simply reflect His beauty. Every joy we feel shall be but a radiation from His heart. Every glory we wear shall be but a reflection of His holiness. Every throb of our immortal life shall be but a pulsation of His being, and Christ shall be all, and in all, and we shall have reached the last line of the old chorus, “Everything in Jesus, and Jesus in everything.” So let us step out writing over every day and hour and moment, “Jesus first,”and we shall find surely that Jesus is “the last.”
“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an 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. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” (Heb. 10: 19-24.)
These profound words tell us of five things: two things which we have, and three things which we are to do.
The Things We Have
1. We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. We see before us a model of the ancient tabernacle — God’s most perfect type of Christ and our Christian life. Entering the gate and the court, we are beside the altar of sacrifice and the laver of cleansing, which tell us of Christ’s atonement for our sins, and the Holy Spirit’s cleansing work in our hearts. Passing still further in through the door we come to the Holy Place; and the candlestick, the table of shew bread, and the altar of incense proclaim to us, in symbol, the illumination of the Holy Spirit in the heart where He dwells, the living bread with which Jesus nourishes those who abide in Him, the sweet communion with God which that altar and its incense set forth, and all that is meant by abiding in the secret place of the Most High and dwelling in intimate fellowship with Jesus. Still further in stands the Holy of Holies, separated only by the veil, and entered only by the High Priest once a year on the Great Day of Atonement. It is the symbol of the presence and glory of God, of the heavenly world and of the access into it, which even here we may enjoy in the sweet fellowship of Jesus.
All this imagery is called up by the text. Dean Alford translates the phrase, “Holy Places,”and so makes it mean all the chambers of the tabernacle, even the court, and including the Holy of Holies. Thus it would express all the fullness of our spiritual privileges in Christ — the life in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, as the apostle calls it in the epistle to the Ephesians. Especially, however, it refers to the inner chamber and expresses our complete and unobstructed access to all the fullness of God.
Had you stood in that tabernacle three thousand years ago, you would have seen the view of that inner chamber obscured by the heavy veil covered with its symbolical embroideries which hung between: this veil and its embroideries spoke of Judaism and its types, which as yet obstructed the full view of the heavenly world, and yet in a measure foreshadowed them. Had you stood in that tabernacle, however, on the Great Day of Atonement, you would have seen a solitary man, robed in priestly garments, pass through that veil, with a censer full of burning coals and a bunch of hyssop saturated with sacrificial blood, and for a moment stand within that holiest place and sprinkle that altar with the blood while he made intercession for the waiting congregation outside; and then you would have seen him retire with solemn awe, close the veil behind him, and enter no more until the year was ended.
All this received its literal fulfillment on that day when, outside the eastern gate of Jerusalem, the Son of God died on Calvary, and His mortal flesh was rent by the death-stroke. Suddenly, the watchers in the temple beheld that mighty veil, that hung so high that human hands could not have reached it, rent asunder from top to bottom, proclaiming that from henceforth the way to the holiest of all was opened, and that there was no barrier between the believing sinner and the holy God.
The way is opened to us to the altar of atonement for full and complete forgiveness, to the laver of cleansing for the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, to the golden candlestick for the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s light and teaching, to the table of shew bread for the living bread which will sustain us in our spiritual and physical being, to the altar of incense for Christ’s own intercession for us and constant access ourselves for communion with God.
The ark of the covenant, guarding and keeping for us God’s holy law, tells us of our access to complete sanctification in Christ, and the blood of sprinkling that keeps us ever accepted in His sight. We may come even to the very Shekinah of His presence to walk ever in the light of His countenance and dwell in the bosom of His love. Not timidly and with a sense of unworthiness are we to walk, but boldly, knowing that we are unworthy, but that Jesus Christ has purchased for us all these redemption rights, and that we may fully claim them without doubt or fear. We have boldness by the blood of Jesus. We can take as much as that is worth. We were unworthy, but all has been covered by His satisfaction. We could not have come ourselves, but He has become our living way. We could not have put that veil aside, but God rent it from top to bottom through the death of His dear Son, and our crucifixion with Him, for the veil is His flesh.
In His earthly body He represented our sinful humanity, and bore in His own person all the liabilities of lost men, and was really counted a sinner in the eye of the law of God. That flesh stood between us and God; therefore it had to die in place of the guilty race, and when Christ’s flesh was crucified on Calvary, it was the same as if the guilty race had been judged and slain. The obstruction was immediately removed, and the way for access into the presence of God was opened.
There is a very deep spiritual application in all this for us. Before the Holy of Holies can be fully opened to our hearts, and we can enter into the immediate presence and communion of God, the veil upon our hearts must be rent asunder, and this comes as it came on Calvary — by the death of our flesh. It is when we yield our own natural self to God to die, and He slays us by the power of His Spirit, that the obstruction to our communion with God is removed and we enter into its deeper fullness. The greatest hindrance to our peace and victory is the flesh. Whenever the consciousness of self rises vividly before you, and you become absorbed in your own troubles, cares, rights or wrongs, you at once lose communion with God, and a cloud of darkness falls over your spirit.
There is really nothing else that hurts or hinders us but this heavy weight of evil, this seed of Satan, this embodiment of the inmost essence of sin, this great mimic and antagonism of God, whose place it usurps, whose throne it claims, whose prerogatives it dares to monopolize. We can never rend it asunder, but the Holy Spirit can. It dies only on the cross of Jesus and on the pierced bosom of His love, under the fire of His descending Spirit. Bring it to Him, give Him the right to slay it, reckon it dead, and then the veil will be rent asunder, the Holy of Holies will open wide, the light of the Shekinah will shine through all the house of God, and the glory of heaven shall be revealed in your heart and life, and your inmost being become like that ancient tabernacle when illuminated by the golden candlestick and the Shekinah of God’s visible presence.
2. We have a High Priest over the house of God. Not only have we a home to shelter us, but we have an Elder Brother to welcome and love us.
The ministry of the ancient high priest was very important. It was he that opened the way into the holiest and made reconciliation for the sins of the people. So our great High Priest has opened for us the way and keeps it ever open, “seeing he ever lives to make intercession for (us).” It is His business to settle for us the question of our sins and to keep us cleansed from their power and saved from their effects. The time to go to Him is not when you feel strong in your victories, but when baffled, defeated, and crushed by temptation and conscious unworthiness. He that washed the disciples’ feet still stands in the heavenly court girded with the towel of priestly service, and with open bosom ready to pour His precious blood over all your stains. Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, even to obtain mercy, as well as to find grace to help in time of need.
The ancient priest also ministered to the suffering and the sick. It was his business to inspect the leper, to offer the sacrifices for his cleansing, to pronounce him clean; and so our great High Priest is also our great Physician, and heals all our diseases, comforts all our sorrows, and binds up our broken hearts. He is able to be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, for He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
Also, he bore upon his shoulders and upon his breast in jeweled letters the names of Israel’s tribes, and so Christ bears us upon the shoulders of His strength and the bosom of His love in unceasing faithfulness and unfailing strength. He presents our prayers before the throne with acceptance to His Father and ours. He keeps our relations with God always right. He remembers us in constant intercession, even when we ourselves may not know our need, nor what to pray for as we ought.
In a word, He superintends and carries on the entire business of our spiritual life, and is for us “the author and finisher of our faith.” We have such a High Priest. He is there in our behalf. He has been appointed by His Father for this great trust; He has given Himself to us for this great business. We have accepted Him as such; He belongs to us. Let us make use of this glorious opportunity, and “seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. . . . Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
What We Should Do
1. “Let us draw near.” This is to say, let us not live a distant, cold, and timid life, but let us enter into all the fullness of our privileges, and live in the intimate friendship of our Savior. Let us come with a single purpose to please and obey Him with a true heart and an honest single aim. Let us come in full assurance of faith, not timidly dreading a reproof or a blow but sweetly knowing that we are welcome, and like a happy child pressing right up into the bosom of our Father. And even if we are conscious of unworthiness, let us come with a heart sprinkled from an evil conscience, and bodies washed with pure water. There is cleansing for us, if we have erred, in that precious blood and that renewing Spirit’s grace, and not even our imperfections should keep us back from communion with God and the joy of His presence.
It is a very beautiful provision of the old time that the blemished priest might not minister at the altar, but he may eat of the priestly bread. A broken limb or a crooked joint disqualified him from standing at the altar as an officiating priest, but not from entering the Holy place and feeding upon the provisions for the priesthood. This is a beautiful token that Christ’s most imperfect children are welcome to His love and grace, and may ever draw near for His help and comfort, and while this must not encourage weakness, yet let it ever keep us from discouragements, and constrain us to draw still nearer to His breast, and so to live that we shall ever please Him, and not have sin to bring Him, but grateful love and holy service.
2. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)” or rather, let us hold fast the faith or hope which we have professed. This hope of ours and this faith refer to the great eternal goal of faith and hope — our complete salvation through Christ Jesus. But it also applies to every confidence which God has given to us, and every promise which He has permitted us to claim. Let us stand steadfastly in the trust which He has given us, and let us do so without a faltering movement nor a trembling fiber. Let us stand unshaken in our confidence, and let us do so because He stands firmly at the other end. The cable yonder is fastened round the throne. Let it be fastened around our hearts in inflexible and immovable security, and thus standing upon His promises and holding fast our confidence, He is not hindered on His side in fulfilling all His purposes of blessing.
3. “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” Such glorious privileges should make us unselfish and devoted and find expression in lives of loving service. As travelers ascending dangerous mountains tie their bodies together with strong cords, so that if one should fall the others will support him; so God has linked our hearts and lives together by innumerable cords of sympathy, suffering and mutual influence; and if one member suffers all suffer. Particularly are we, who have entered into the holiest and are walking into the inner presence of God, expected to be loving, and cheerful, and helpful to one another, and to bear the burdens of the weak and suffering. The best evidence you can give that you are a strong Christian is to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please yourself, “for even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached you fell on me.” Therefore let us consider one another, hold up each other, bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Let us carry one another in the sweet ministry of prayer. Let us be patient with each other. Let us be very considerate of each other’s faults and failings, and let us prove that we have indeed a deeper life and a fuller blessing, by pouring it out abundantly on those who lack.
Such, then, beloved, are our privileges and responsibilities. Let us more fully possess the former, and more faithfully shall we perform the latter. More intimately let us draw near, more constantly let us dwell in the secret of His presence, and more faithfully shall we fulfill our duties to others in every earthly relationship, and let us do this so much the more as we see the day approaching. Our Lord is coming before long, and this blessed hope, if fully realized, will make all our trials, irritations and provocations seem light and small in comparison with the one great object of winning His approval and wearing the crown which He will give to him that overcomes.
“He is the mediator (or surety) of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” (Heb. 8: 6.)
“For all the promises of God in him are yes, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” (2 Cor. 1: 20.)
“He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.” (2 Sam. 23: 5.)
Covenants are more common and more sacred in Oriental countries than in our modern life. The Arab chief will guard with his life the person with whom he has made the covenant of bread and salt. God has accommodated Himself to human speech and customs by revealing the glorious plan of mercy to us under the figure of a covenant, and has bound Himself to us by bonds so secure and sacred that they are an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, if we have fled for refuge to the hope set before us in the gospel.
The Covenant of Redemption
This takes us away back to the ages before the fall and the revelation of God’s mercy. In the counsels of eternity the covenant was made between the Father and the Son. Then it was that, foreseeing the ruin that was to come upon the human race through the awful power of sin, God the Father entered into a covenant with His beloved Son, guaranteeing to Him, on condition that He should assume the liabilities and the nature of the fallen race, to give to Him for them a complete salvation.
On the part of Christ it was necessary that He should take the sinner’s place, that He should stoop from His high and exalted position and become, not only a man, but a despised and rejected man, a man of sorrows, that He should die upon the cross as a sacrifice for sin, that He should bear the taunts and cruelties of man, the pains of death, the assaults and insults of the devil and all his legions, that He should go down into the gloomy regions of the dead, and then that He should come forth, and for ages sit upon the throne of intercession as a merciful High Priest, bearing the burdens of His people, making continual intercession for them, enduring their provocations, infirmities and failures, and guarding them with unceasing love, until His work might be completed in all their lives.
On the Father’s part, He promised on account of the fulfillment of these conditions that He should give eternal life to all that received His Son, and freely forgive and justify them from all their transgressions, and create within them a new heart. He also promised that His Holy Spirit should sanctify and perfect them in holiness, should supply to them all needed grace, power, love, and blessing, should accept them as the sons of God, make them the heirs of His glory and partakers of the divine nature, and should at last raise them from the dead and glorify them with Jesus in the ages to come, with a place of honor and blessing higher than Adam ever knew, higher than angels shall ever possess, and more than compensating for all the evils and miseries of the fall. This covenant Jesus Christ accepted. “See, I come!” was His glad answer, “I delight to do your will, O my God: yes, your law is within my heart.” And so He came, lived, loved, and died, and at last could say, in His closing prayer, as He committed His work to the Father, “I have finished the work that you gave me to do,” and on the cross could shout, “It is finished.”
Then the Father put His seal upon the finished work by raising Him from the dead, and so declaring forever that the covenant had been fulfilled, the conditions met, and the great redemption completed. Christ’s ascension from the tomb was the seal of this; the coming of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost was a second seal; the conversion of every believer since has been a further seal that the covenant is ratified and forever holds fast. Every answer to prayer in the name of Jesus, every blessing that comes to our spiritual life, is an echo from the cross repeating, “It is finished”; and we know that the covenant is fulfilled, and “ordered in all things, and sure.” This is the ground of our salvation. It is not because we have a covenant with God, but Jesus has; and we simply accept Him. We come into His covenant, for He could say to the Father, “You have given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him”; and then He could add, “Keep through your own name those whom you have given me, that they may be one, as we are.”
Our salvation, therefore, is wholly dependent upon our accepting Jesus, and this brings to us all the promises of the covenant that He has ratified and fulfilled. Therefore, “All the promises of God in him are yes, and in him Amen.” Therefore, to the last moment of our life, we have no personal claim upon God for anything. Everything we receive is the infinite mercy of God in Christ and for His sake; and to the last breath of life, we shall never receive anything that is not the pure undeserved mercy of God for His sake. How very simple this makes salvation! How very strong our consummation in Christ! How very sacred our hope! How mighty the anchor that holds us in the storm of temptation, and doubt, and fear!
The Revelation of God’s Covenant
The law of Moses was not the covenant of God which He designed to be His permanent bond of union with His people. It was simply a temporary revelation, similar to the covenant of works made at the creation of man, which God knew they would not keep, and which was designed, not to save men, nor to sanctity them, but to reveal to them their sin and to show them the need of a higher covenant of grace and mercy in Christ, even the covenant of grace which Christ has brought in.
The first full revelation of God’s covenant of grace was made to Abraham, and the covenant of Abraham still holds good for all believers. This was not intended for the Jewish people exclusively, but it was designed to include all the children of faith, of whom Abraham was the spiritual father. This the apostle clearly teaches us in the epistle to the Galatians, where he tells us that “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In you all nations shall be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”
The essence of the covenant with Abraham was the promise of the seed, and this was Christ, so that Abraham’s covenant was just that Jesus was to come and do all things in accordance with the eternal covenant of redemption, of which we have previously spoken. This covenant Abraham received in the simplest way by naked faith, but he did not do anything to deserve it. He just believed God. God came to him with a revelation of His promise and mercy, and Abraham accepted it like a child and began to act accordingly, and his life was simply one of trust and trustful obedience, and for this, God blessed him with His friendship and made him father of all who have since been received into that covenant friendship.
Much more fully in the later Scriptures do we find this covenant unfolding. Particularly in the writings of Jeremiah does God reveal to His people, in the darkest hour of their sin and suffering, His future plans of grace and mercy. “Behold the days come,” we read in Jeremiah 31:31, “that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, says the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, says the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
That this is the covenant of the gospel is perfectly certain from the fact that in the epistle to the Hebrews it is twice quoted by the Holy Ghost as the rule of God’s dealings with His people today, and as the bond into which He brings them in Jesus Christ, who is the surety of this better covenant established upon better promises.
The promises of this covenant are very wonderful. The first of them is our sanctification. It is very glorious that the thing that God first undertakes to do is to make and keep us right. Instead of giving us an outward law and compelling us to keep it without power, He promises to put it in our hearts, to make us live it, to make us incorporate it into our being, to enshrine it in our affections, to make it our very nature, until we shall live it and keep it, spontaneously, joyfully, lovingly, and with our whole heart. This is what the Holy Spirit does, and therefore, on the day of Pentecost, the anniversary of the giving of the law, He came to be the inner law of holiness and power in every believer’s heart.
Next, He promises to be our God. He next comes to us to be our all-sufficiency for every need. He lets us own Him and possess Him as our God, and use Him in His infinite resources for every need. Further, He promises that we shall know the Lord for ourselves and have His light and guidance, not being dependent upon others to teach, but receiving directly from His will and mind for us. And finally, it includes complete forgiveness and eternal obliteration of all sin and transgression, the blotting out of the past, entire justification, and the treating of His children as if they had not sinned. Beloved, will you take this mighty covenant? It is yours by purchase of the Redeemer’s blood; and if you simply accept Jesus, “how shall he not with him, also freely give us all things?” What can you need besides this mighty provision?
The Security of This Covenant
He says, “It is an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.” Again He says, “The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the LORD that has mercy on you.”
The reason it is so secure is that it is not dependent upon us at all, but on its great surety, the Lord Jesus Christ. If we were dependent upon our works in the slightest particular, we should fail and wreck all our prospects; but He has confirmed it and therefore it must stand, and if we simply, stand in Him, trusting and following Him, He will accomplish all its provisions in us and for us. Therefore the apostle says, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.” If it had been of works it could not have been sure; but it is by faith, and faith is nothing but receiving a gift, thanking Him for it, and continuing to trust Him for it.
Again, it is sure because God not only promised it, but He has covenanted it and sworn to it. The very strongest language has been employed to emphasize the absolute security of this great promise of mercy, “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” If we simply have fled for refuge and are holding fast to our hope in Christ and to Christ our hope, the anchor must hold amid all the storms of doubt and temptation.
Again, it is secure because it is based on God’s pure mercy and not upon our deserving. He takes us from the beginning and He holds us to the end as the children of His mercy. It is not merely that He takes us at first in mercy and afterwards treats us according to our deserving, but all the way along we must recognize ourselves as worthless and undeserving, living upon His mercy, and saved and sanctified through His free grace. Therefore our very sanctification, instead of being a merit, is simply a richer mercy, and the apostle says, “They which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one Jesus Christ.”
It is so sweet to feel that we are ever lying in the bosom of His mercy, and that we claim His great salvation with the consciousness of our nothingness and worthlessness and yet of our infinite and everlasting life in Christ! Therefore the apostle has said that “all the promises of God in him are yes, and in him Amen.” Everything we ever claim in answer to believing prayer must come through His mercy and covenant; but we claim them all for this great reason, “for Jesus’ sake.” They all are yes at the beginning, and shall be Amen at the end; for we simply claim them and hold to them for His sake and in His name. He is the surety of our covenant.
Or, shall we say that the yes is God’s assurance, His repeated word, His second immutable thing, and the Amen is the echo of our faith as it takes Him at His word, and declares it shall be done. Thank God for His secure and everlasting covenant. Thank God that in Christ it covers us. Beloved, let us take it, and let our names be written to it afresh, and cover with it all our future way. Let us cover with it our sins behind, our hearts within, our way before, our hours of temptation and conflict, our hours of suffering and trial, our hours of prayer, our hours of service, our ignorance and helplessness, our perils, and our paths of difficulty all the way down to the tomb, all the way up to His coming. It covers all right up to the throne; and the anchor will hold, until, within the veil all the storms are past and the surges swell no more, and we shall say around the throne, with a great shout, “Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”
Beloved, have you been thinking mostly of your faith and your works and your fidelity to God? Have you not, perhaps, been somewhat under the covenant of Sinai, and therefore weakened and crushed? Oh! hasten to Calvary, and take refuge in the hope set before you in the gospel with a heart humbly and simply yielded to Jesus. Take His great covenant rather than yours, and rest in His faithful and everlasting pledge to carry you through all, and say, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” It is not the babe’s arms that hold the mother; but the mother’s arms that hold the babe.
It’s not my love to You,
That I delight to tell,
But on Your love, O Christ to me,
How I delight to dwell!
Ere the creation rose,
Or angels sang above,
The records of the past disclose,
Your everlasting love.
Lord, help me to believe
Your wondrous love to me,
So shall my heart more fully give,
Your own love back to You.
“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor. 4: 7, 8.)
The Jewish Passover is one of the most lasting memorials of God’s covenant with His ancient people. After three thousand years have passed away, after temple and tabernacle worship have ceased, after the scattering of Israel’s sons in another land, after the cessation of sacrifices and ceremonial worship in almost every other particular, after the treading down of Jerusalem for nearly twelve centuries, you can still find as every Nisan returns, every Hebrew household in the world gathering around their table at the evening hour of the Passover week, eating the flesh of the lamb and the unleavened cakes with bitter herbs, while the father of the household, with lighted candle, passes through the chambers and searches under every article of furniture to see if he can find a single particle of leaven, and then solemnly pronounces that all the leaven is cast out. They sit down together under the sprinkled blood and partake of the paschal supper. How vividly it all interprets the words of our text, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
The Paschal Lamb
In the book of Exodus we find the story of the first Passover. It was the beginning of months to Israel, even as the acceptance of Christ as our Savior is to us the beginning of life’s record in its eternal form.
1. The first thing was the selecting of the lamb. It was chosen on the tenth day of the month, the time suggesting the fullness of the time when God sent forth His Son. The lamb was first separated and set apart for three and a half days under the observation of all the people, and known to be without blemish and without spot. Even so at His baptism on the banks of the Jordan the Lord Jesus Christ was set apart by the Holy Ghost for three years and a half to the observation of all men, before He was sacrificed for the sins of the world.
2. The lamb was unblemished. So Christ was perfectly harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners, with no guilt of His own to expiate, and therefore wholly free to be an atonement for the world. His perfection was witnessed by all men. His blamelessness could be seen in all possible circumstances. His life was as open as the noontide blaze, and none could find fault with Him in anything that He ever said or did. Even in the judgment of His enemies it was the most perfect and beautiful life ever lived below the skies. Even if there would have been no historical Christ, the Christ of the Gospels is a faultless and irreproachable picture, which infidelity gazes upon with astonishment and admiration.
3. The lamb was next slain by the congregation of Israel. And so Christ was sacrificed by the decision of the Jewish Sanhedrin and the act of the entire nation, and was thus in some sense the public and official oblation made by them for their sins. The words of Caiaphas just before his death had a peculiar significance, which he did not understand. “It is expedient,” he said, “that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” Thus Judaism, like the great High Priest, offered up its own Messiah as a sacrifice and an offering for the sins of the world; and as they gazed upon the quivering bosom, the failing breath, and the flowing blood of that gentle lamb, how vividly they must have realized the meaning of sin and the cost of salvation! Even so we still behold the dying agonies of the Lamb of God, and in the memorial of His death realize afresh that “He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.”
Mercy’s streams in streams of blood,
Plenteous grace our soul bedewing,
Plead and claim our peace with God.
What was the full significance of that death? It was the substitute for their death. The first-born of Egypt fell before the destroyer’s stroke; but that death took the place of their own death, and they escaped. And so, for our life His life is the sacrifice, and with that blood over us our spiritual life is redeemed and our physical life is safe until His will shall call it home. No destroying angel can touch us, though he may hover near, as long as we are under the blood and that death is our substitute and sacrifice.
4. The blood of the lamb was sprinkled upon the door posts and lintel of every home. It is not enough that Christ should be sacrificed; He must also be appropriated by each for himself. It is very sweet to know that the sprinkling was not done by other hands, but each household sprinkled its own doors; and so can each of us apply to ourselves the precious blood of our Redeemer. It was freely shed for all, and each of us can take it as freely as we may. How precious to know that this blood is for us still! Take it, dear sinner, and you can cover yourself from this very moment so that no angel of destruction can touch your being; but you shall stand by the very throne of God sheltered from all harm in the precious blood of Christ. “You are come . . . to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than that of Abel.” Have you applied it? Apply it now and ever walk under its sheltering, cleansing covering.
Not only was there a sacrifice, but there was also a feast. Not only was the blood shed for the remission of our sins, but the life of our dear Lord was also given us for our life. They were to eat the flesh of the lamb as well as sprinkle its blood. It is not even necessary to say that this represents Christ’s own very life given to us as the food and nourishment of our whole being. “I am the living bread . . . he that eats me, even he shall live by me.” “The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” They were to eat the whole lamb, with the head, the legs, and the pertinence thereof; and so we are to feed on the whole of Christ. We need His head for our thoughts. “We have the mind of Christ.” We need His legs for our walk; and the pertinence thereof covers everything that pertains to our life, and so there is nothing but Christ covers, supplies, fills. They were to leave none of it until the morning, and so there is nothing in Jesus that we can afford to leave unappropriated. He wants to fill all our life, to satisfy all our being, and to lead each one of us into the very fullness of union with Him in every particular. Let us take our sacrificial feast. It is not merely food; it is a feast. God does not merely supply all our necessities; He gives us abundance, wine upon the lees, fatness full of marrow, overflowing and boundless grace and blessing. So let us keep this sacred feast.
They were not to eat of it raw, but cooked with fire; and so the Holy Ghost must prepare Christ for us and make Him to be suitable nourishment. He only can; and He loves to minister Jesus to the hungry and thirsty heart, to take His fullness and feed it into us, until every part of our being is sweetly satisfied and strengthened by the living bread. And they were to eat this feast together. It was not a solitary meal. It is not possible for you or me to take Christ alone in all His fullness. It is with all saints that we enter into the height and depth and breadth of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. The more narrow and isolated you are in your Christian life, the less full and rich it will be; and the larger your heart and the fuller your fellowship in Him, the more of Him will you enjoy. If their family was not big enough, they were to take in the stranger; and so God wants some of us to enlarge our circle of love, to unite our hearts with others in the full fellowship of holy love, fitly framed together to grow up into all the maturity of our Christian life.
There were some bitter herbs in this feast, but they only added zest to the sacred meal, even as our trials are turned into blessings and become the bitter sweet of life when truly sanctified by the Holy Ghost to a loving, obedient heart.
This represents the element of corruption, fermentation, impurity. Therefore we are to purge out the old leaven that we may be a new lump, because we are unleavened. The leaven represents all that which is earthly and sinful, and we may know the leaven by its effects. That which produces the ferment of earthly passion, agitation, and unrest, selfish and unholy desire, rebellion against God, disobedience and sin, is leaven. There are two leavens. There is the old leaven. the natural life which God wants us to lay down, and then be taken up in His pure and heavenly life. And then there is a worse leaven, the leaven of malice and wickedness. All this must be purged out.
The purging is sometimes severe, for the evil is obstinate. As we have already said, the Jewish father searches the house with lighted candle to see if there is a crumb of leaven, and having done so, he solemnly pronounces the house to be clean. So with the Word of God, we are to pass through the chambers of our heart, and having found any evil thing, cast it out, lay it down at the feet of Christ and under the blood. And when we can find nothing for which our heart can condemn us, we are to rest, we are to pronounce the house clean, the lump unleavened, and hear the Master say to our peaceful heart, “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you.”
God does not want us to be in continual unrest and self-reproof; but in quietness and confidence to trust Him to keep us pure and holy. The enemy will love to sit upon us in judgment and to have us to help him, but this is not promotive of holiness any more than the opening up of the grave and the upturning of the bones of the dead could be promotive of health. Let us walk in innocency of heart, believing that we please God and sweetly resting in His love. We cannot purge out the old leaven, but we can give it to Christ, and He will cleanse us by His own precious blood and Holy Spirit. And having yielded up to Him, we must believe that He does cleanse us, and walk in simple faith and self-forgetfulness, with holy vigilance, and yet with holy confidence in His leading and keeping grace and power.
“The unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Not only are we to be ourselves unleavened, but our daily bread must be unleavened. We cannot feed upon mixed food. The cause of weakness and suffering in most cases is that we feed so much upon earthly diet and forbidden bread. Sincerity literally means singleness, and truth suggests the idea of God’s Word, which is indeed our daily food. As we feed upon it unmixed with the exciting thoughts of man, we shall be fed and nourished in all godliness and sincerity, and we shall grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
They were to eat their Passover in haste, with loins girded and shoes on their feet and staves in their hands. They were to go on their way further to their full inheritance; and so we go forth from the Passover to all the fullness of our Father’s will and our future inheritance. Let our loins be girded for service. Let our feet be shod for our holy race. Let our hands hold the hand of promise. Let our vision be set firmly toward His coming and all His holy will. Thus covered with his blood and feeding upon His flesh, separated from all evil, and pressing on behind the pillar of cloud that leads our way, let us walk as strangers and pilgrims upon the earth, looking and hastening unto the coming of our Lord, and preparing for it by lives of holy service and consecration.
“A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall you hear.” (Acts 7: 37.)
The Hebrew prophets were the noblest class of men in ancient Israel. The priests were not always pure and true to God, for even the sons of Aaron brought dishonor upon themselves in the first generation; and the kings with few exceptions were unfaithful and unholy in the influence of their lives. The very best of them, David, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah, were marked by the strongest imperfections, and many of them were blots upon the history of their country. But the prophets of Israel were always true, from Moses, the first glorious leader and teacher of God’s inheritance, to John the Baptist, who closed the ancient dispensation and ushered in the new. They were all types of the great Prophet, whom Stephen announced as their divine successor, and the great apostle and prophet of our profession, Jesus Christ. Let us look at His prophetic office as it is illustrated by their functions and their lives.
The Functions of our Great Prophet
1. In general, the ancient prophet was the messenger of God to the people and the representative of His will concerning them. So Jesus Christ to us is the messenger of Jehovah, the Word of God, the voice of divine authority and divine love, who brings to us God’s will, and reveals to us His plan of salvation and life.
2. More particularly He is our Teacher, leading us into all truth and building us up in our faith and life. It is He who gives us the first ray of light that dawns upon the darkness of the natural heart. It is He who shows to us ourselves and Himself, and enables us to trust Him as our Savior. It is He who opens our inner eyes to see the light that streams from heaven through the Word. It is He who shows to us the deeper truths of the Christ life; Himself as our Sanctifier, our Life, our Healer, our help in every time of need. It is He, who as fast as we believe, enlarges our vision, our hope, our desire, our knowledge, our faith, and shows us the King in His beauty, and the land that is afar off. It is He who anoints our eyes with salve that we may see, and then opens to us the light which we are able to receive. It is He who makes the truth not only light but life, and enables us to appropriate it, to believe it, to feed upon it, to be strengthened, quickened and sanctified by it. He is our wonderful Counselor, our unerring Teacher, our Faithful Prophet.
3. As our Prophet He guides us in perplexity and shows us the way we should go. He not only gives us truth, but light upon our path. “He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” The ancient prophets were the counselors of the king and the nations in hours of perplexity. Nathan came to David with the Lord’s word concerning his important acts. Elisha was the counselor of the king. Samuel was the guide of Israel. Jesus is our leader and guide. When He puts us forth, He goes before us, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice. He will not let us err. He will lead us in a straight way, wherein we shall not stumble, and He will stay with us nearest of all in the dark perplexities and crises of life.
4. As our Prophet He unfolds the vision of the future, showing us His plan concerning the world and the church, especially His own personal coming, preparing us to work for Him in intelligent hope and cooperation, and showing us as much of His plan for His own life as we need to know to inspire us with courage and enable us to meet with intelligence the duties and claims of life. He whispers to our hearts the assurance of His answer to our prayers, leads out our new hopes in holy aspirations for service and blessing, and gives us glimpses of the great and mighty things He would have us aspire to and expect from Him.
5. As our Prophet He is the great wonder worker, for the prophet of old not only brought the message of God, but accredited it by signs and wonders, proving by their supernatural working that their message was indeed divine. So our Lord Jesus Christ, our own dear Prophet, brings us not only words, but deeds, fulfills what He commands, and ever seals His message to us by His own omnipotent and blessed working.
Illustrations of Christ’s Prophetic Work
1. In Moses we behold the first type of our great Prophet. Born of the oppressed race, he was one of them and could come near to their hearts in deepest sympathy. So Christ is a brother born of our flesh and blood, and further, a brother born for adversity. He was the revealer of God’s purpose of deliverance and redemption to them, and he led them out of Egypt into their covenant with Jehovah. So Christ reveals to us the great redemption and leads us into it. He was the revealer to them of the law of God and the gospel, as unfolded in the wondrous tabernacle and types; and so Jesus Christ is our teacher, not only of moral and spiritual truth, but especially of salvation, that glorious salvation of which the ancient tabernacle was the wondrous type.
Above all else, he was their devoted, faithful and unwavering friend, utterly true to their interests amid the great discouragement and provocation, and never failing them even when they failed him and proved wholly unfaithful to their God. How often they disappointed him and provoked their God, but never once did he falter in his faithful love. How often did they speak against Moses and Jehovah, murmuring in the wilderness, but he ever met them with new light and deliverance. And even when Jehovah seemed for a moment about to reject them and offered Moses a new inheritance of his own if he would give them up, Moses refused, and offered himself a sacrifice for the people he loved, crying, “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray, out of Your book.”
Again, when a more terrible crisis came, and they refused to enter the land of promise, and were driven back into the wilderness for forty years to perish in their unbelief, Moses did not leave them, but went back with them every step of the way, clinging to his unworthy children with more than a mother’s love, until once more he brought them to the borders of their inheritance which he lost through their provocation.
Beautiful type of the more gracious, tender, faithful Prophet whom we follow! How often we grieve Him, and how faithfully He loves us and keeps us, “for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” until He shall have accomplished all His gracious will for all of us! More than the love of Moses is the love of Jesus! How we have proved that love already! We can trust it still, for He has said, “The mountains shall depart, and the hills shall be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the LORD that has mercy on you.”
2. Shall we look at Samuel, the great reformer, the prophet of Israel’s return to God from the dark and long apostasy under the judges, when for four hundred years the light of God’s covenant presence was almost extinguished. He was the prophet who established the whole school of Hebrew prophets, and so shaped and formed out of the chaos of sin and wretchedness amid which he was born, the elements of unity, strength and stability in the kingdom of David, which he left as his heritage to Israel, and which were far more the work of his life than even of David’s own faith and fidelity to God. Samuel, the faithful friend of weak and inconstant Israel, expressed his noble spirit in the words which he said to them on one occasion, “God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way.”
Samuel was the type of Jesus, the prophet of the poor backslider, the Christ that restored Peter and Thomas, and still tenderly and faithfully awaits to welcome back the wanderer to His bosom again. How tenderly He loves the contrite heart! How graciously He restores the child! How sweetly He forgives! How mightily He keeps! How faithfully He loves! How perfectly He heals our backslidings, and becomes the dew upon Israel, revives us as the corn, causes us to grow as the vine, and our scent as Lebanon. He leads us on and up until we are established, strengthened, built up, and settled, and become like Israel of old, His own royal kingdom and throne.
3. Elijah tells us of the great prophet of reproof and correction, the loving teacher who has sometimes to show us our faults and to chasten us for them in tender love. Elijah was the faithful reprover of sin, and represented the judicial element in God. So our great Prophet has often to correct His people and show them their faults and lead them from the error of their ways by His heart-searching discipline. But He is a better reprover than Elijah; for there is no better evidence than the life of Elijah himself of the failure of even that greatest of prophets, and the tender faithfulness of the true Prophet who dealt with him as He does with us. Would we see the true spirit of Jesus our Prophet? Let us look at the God of Elijah, as the poor broken prophet lies under the juniper tree, a fugitive and a failure after the highest triumph of his glorious life. How gently God deals with him! He first rests him with sleep, and then feeds him by angel hands, then sends him alone to Horeb, and asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” True He speaks with the earthquake, the whirlwind and the fire, but He ends with the still, small voice. The last message is a restoration of his commission and a renewal of his call to service as He sends him forth to anoint Jehu, Hazael and Elisha for the work that yet remains to be done. So gently yet faithfully does our dear Prophet teach us; not crushing the spirit that would fail before Him or the souls that He has made, but tenderly leading us into all His light, and then making the very best of us, notwithstanding our worst failures. Let us never doubt our faithful Christ, our wonderful Counselor, our mighty God, our everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace.
4. The most beautiful prophetic life of the Old Testament was that of Elisha, and he is a perfect type of Jesus Christ, our Prophet. Elijah represented the law; Elisha, the gospel; Elijah, the discipline of judgment; Elisha, the salvation of grace. Elijah was the thunderbolt and lightning; Elisha, the sunshine and light. Elijah was the woodman’s axe and fire; Elisha, the husbandman with his seed and watering pot, with fields of green and harvests of golden grain.
Elisha’s is the ministry of love — the ministry of Jesus. He begins by healing the barren land and the water by sprinkling salt in its fountains. He was like the great Prophet who does not blame the outflowing of our lives so much, but rather goes to the fountainhead and heals the source of our thoughts, motives and actions by the touch of His mighty love.
Look at him again as he meets the baffled kings of Judah, Israel and Edom in the valley of death and famine; and instead of blaming them for their mistake, he gently interposes for their deliverance, commands the valley to be filled with ditches, claims from heaven the floods of water to fill all the mighty spaces and overflow in blessing for the perishing armies. So our great Prophet comes to us in the calamities that we have brought upon ourselves, and delivers us, and then gently leads us to greater blessings.
Look at him again as the poor widow appeals to him for help against the creditors who are about to seize upon her sons for her debts. “What do you have in the house?” is all he asks, and then commands the pot of oil to be brought forth and poured into all the empty vessels she can find or borrow, until they are filled to overflowing, and she is rich with a harvest of faith; and then he bids her sell the oil, pay her debts, and live upon the rest. So our great Prophet meets us in every emergency by showing us that we have within our house the one remedy for everything that tries us. The little pot of oil, the Holy Spirit, so faint it may be in His manifested presence that it seems less than the little finger of our hand; but that is the little finger of God, and back of it lies all His omnipotence, wisdom and love. All we have to do is to take that Holy Spirit and pour it into every vessel of need, both for ourselves and others, and see the vessels overflow and the blessings only cease when we cease to make room and to pour out.
Look at him again as the sons of the prophet lose their borrowed axe in the river Jordan where they had been cutting wood for their house, and the axe had slipped from the handle to the bottom of the river. Instantly he orders a branch or handle to be dropped into the river, and immediately the axe rises to the surface, and the lost implement is recovered by the hands of the young men. So our great Prophet is equal to the smallest as well as the largest emergencies. We, too, lose our axe sometimes — our power for service, our victory over temptation, our peace and joy, our consciousness of Christ’s presence; but there is a piece of wood — the pilgrim’s staff, the sacred promise — that we can ever find equal to the emergency, and, as we cast it into the water, our blessing will rise to meet it, our lost axe will come back to us. The very laws of nature may be suspended, the iron can swim again, the thing that was heavier than lead can rise with buoyant wings, the heavy heart can mount above and sing and trust with new power and victory, and we can praise Him whose faithful love has turned darkness into day and sorrow into joy.
Or look again at his triumph over his enemies. The armies of Syria surround him and his servant, and the servant gives a cry of despair, “Alas! my master,” as he sees no possible way of escape. All that Elisha asks is that the eyes of his servant may be opened, and see on the mountain round about there are armies of angelic horses and chariots and soldiers, and instantly their fears are calmed, and they know that all is well. So, beloved, our great Prophet can show us, though every avenue of escape be shut off, that there is ever an upper way that carries us above our foes, and a superior host that has the advantage of position over all our foes. But that is not all. He then asks the Lord to blind the soldiers, and so he goes down to them without a fear, and leads them all the way to the city of Samaria. It is indeed a triumph as amusing as it is sublime. When they reach the city the king is so delighted to have his enemies in his power that he wants to slay them. Elisha treats the proposal as absurd, and orders that a magnificent banquet be prepared for them; and so they feed them and feast them until the men are astounded, paralyzed with wonder and dismay at the treatment they have received, and when all is over, they are sent back to their own land to tell how easily the prophet of Israel has defeated them without a blow, except from the hand of love. We need hardly wonder when it is added that the bands of the Syrians came no more unto the land of Israel. And so our great Prophet teaches us to triumph over our foes by the weapons of heavenly love, that the surest way to kill our enemies is by kindness, to consume them by the coals of fire of loving deeds, words and recompenses.
Such is the great and gracious Prophet who is willing to walk by our side, who is willing to dwell in our heart of hearts, to be our wisdom, our guide. Happy they that walk in His fellowship and in His love! For them no emergency can be extreme, no situation can be desperate, no adversary can be formidable. No purpose formed from above can fail. Blessed Prophet, You are ours! Help us to abide in You and follow You evermore!
5. Isaiah, the prophet of high and holy teaching, is the type of Him who leads us into the high and loftiest heights of heavenly truth and life, where the seraphim veil their faces and feet with their wings, and exclaim, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory”; where faith mounts up on high to see “the king in his beauty: and the land that is very far off”; where peace nestles under the shadow of the Rock of Ages; where hope looks out upon His coming, and sings, “The ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” “Your sun shall no more go down; neither shall your moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.” Holy service waits His power and bidding, and exclaims, “He awakens me morning by morning, as one that has been instructed that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary”; or, going forth to do His bidding, sings, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings, that publishes peace; that brings good tidings of good, that publishes salvation; that says unto Zion, Your God reigns!” Prayer reaches out in the name of Jesus, with mighty faith, and obeys the great injunction, “Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command me.” Holy gladness lifts up its voice and sings, “Therefore with joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation. . . . Cry out and shout, you inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of you.” So still our Prophet speaks to us, teaches us and leads us as we abide in Him.
6. Daniel, the prophet of the future, is the type of Him who unfolds to us the vision of His coming and as much of His will for us as it is best for us to know or hope for, for Jesus also shows to us the things to come, and leads us into the life of hope as well as of faith and love.
Such is our glorious Prophet. Is He not dearer to us today? Shall we not trust Him more fully, follow Him more closely, listen to Him more lovingly and obediently, and seek to send abroad His glorious truth among all nations, until the Prophet and the Priest shall have become the King of kings and reign from shore to shore.
“All these … were of one heart to make David king.” (1 Chr. 12: 38.)
In one of the chapels of Oxford University there is a beautiful stained glass window, the exterior of which is decorated with sacred pictures from the Old Testament, the interior with corresponding pictures from the New, so that, when the sunlight falls upon the window, the two pictures are blended. An observer, standing inside of the cathedral, beholds the soft evening light falling upon the picture of Mount Moriah and Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac, and at the same time upon the cross of Calvary, which interprets the Old Testament type; or again, perhaps, he will gaze upon the brazen serpent as it blends with the great sacrifice of the Son of Man. Beautifully does this illustrate the connection between the Old Testament and the New, and the glorious fact that all the scenes of the ancient Scriptures are but figures, whose full meaning must be learned in the light of the gospel and the life and death of Jesus Christ!
Of all the Old Testament types of Christ, none is more remarkable than David — born in Bethlehem, as Jesus was, a simple shepherd foreshadowing the great Shepherd, a sufferer and an exile like the Man of Sorrows, he at length became king, and is preeminently the type of Christ as our great King and Lord. In this respect he differed from Solomon, his son. Both of them are types of our coming King, but Solomon is the type rather of the kingdom after it shall have become established in peace and righteousness. David, on the contrary, foreshadows the King of kings in the years and centuries of His rejection by the world, and as He slowly conquers His kingdom and wins the crown which He is to wear with His saints through the ages of glory.
This is His position today. Like David He has been anointed and proclaimed the King of the church and the nations, but like David He is rejected by the great majority of mankind, and a counterfeit king usurps the throne, of whom Saul was the type. The world today is not subject to the will of God and the scepter of Jesus, and never will be until He comes a second time. Even the church has refused, in large measure, to be subject to her King, and has allowed the spirit of the world to control and contaminate her. But the true David has still His loyal friends and followers, although, like the followers of David in his exile, they are often the humblest of men and yet more and more will be the very outcasts of the world, but their connection with David made them illustrious, and to serve Jesus is enough to dignify and glorify any human name.
This is the great business of all true Christians today — to make Christ King. Let us first look at the way in which this may be accomplished, and second, at the character of the men on whom He depends to accomplish it, as illustrated in the picture of these ancient worthies who followed the fortunes of David and won for him his crown.
Making Christ King
1. Each of us can give Christ the kingdom of our own heart. He will not use us to establish His kingdom in the world until He occupies the throne of our entire being and becomes the King of our affections, our motives, our will, and all our heart. This must be done by the full surrender of love — a love that supremely gives Him the highest place and makes Him our all in all. The ancient Pantheon offered a niche to the Christians for the image of Jesus, but they answered, “Our God must reign alone; we can have but one king, and Christ must be the sovereign of all our hearts.” He is preparing today a people for His glory, and this is to be the test, that they follow the Lamb whithersoever He goes, and give Him the bridal love which displaces every other which could for a moment hinder His supremacy. Beloved, have we given Christ all our heart, and do we gladly do it now? The answer of your consciousness is the best test of your consecration.
2. You can take Christ as the King of your life by giving Him your difficulties and adversaries to overcome, and permitting Him to subdue all His enemies and yours and reign the Lord of all. Everything that comes up in your life is but another opportunity of giving Him a larger and richer crown. It is too strong for you, but not for Him. Your land of promise is not a luxurious inheritance of self-indulgent ease, but a battlefield of countless foes and ever harder, nobler triumphs. Every confederacy of hostile kings that comes up to meet you is but another challenge to prove the might of your great Captain and all-conquering King, and, instead of shrinking and complaining that the conflict is so hard and the foes so mighty and so many, you should recognize them as His foes rather than yours, and hand them over to Him for still more glorious victories.
It was of the Lord that those kings should have come against Joshua with the intent that they might be utterly destroyed. Every son of Anak that marched out against the armies of Israel was sent forth at God’s command, not to destroy Israel, but to meet their own destruction; and but for the battle there never could have been the annihilation of the foe. And so he says to us, “In nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.” Nothing ever comes up in your life but Christ anticipated it long ago, has been prepared for it from the beginning, and, if you will let Him, will carry you through it in glorious victory. This is the meaning of His kingdom; He is thus winning for you and Himself a mutual crown. Will you, beloved, exalt Him over all your difficulties and trials, and crown Him Lord of all?
3. We can make Christ King by laboring for the evangelization of the world and the spread of His glorious truth and work. We can win for Him the crown of many hearts, and thus hasten His glorious coming.
There are two ways especially in which this can be done. The first is in calling out His bride even from the church; not necessarily in the sense of separating them from the communion of the church, but rather in the sense of separating them unto Him in entire consecration. He is preparing for Himself a bride, not consisting of mere professors, but of those who are wholly His, separated from the world and sin, robed in the whitest garments of His perfect righteousness, and wedded in affection to Him alone as their Bridegroom and Lord.
We can accomplish this by spreading the gospel among the unsaved and sending it out especially to the heathen world. The great call of the Master today is to the evangelization of the nations; and when this has been accomplished, there will be no barrier in the way of His immediate return. Are we thus laboring to make Christ King, spreading His glorious truth, and calling all nations to prepare for His millennial reign? This is the real purpose of God for His church today; not so much to build up great and permanent institutions, as to be a messenger of the glad tidings and to publish among the nations the glorious news that the King is about to come.
Napoleon, in his hour of pride, refused to receive a crown from human hands, but, taking in his own fingers the royal diadem, and placing it upon his brow, he exclaimed, “These hands have won; these hands alone shall give the crown of empire.” But the Lord Jesus desires to receive His crown from those who love Him, and honors us with the great privilege of winning it for Him and laying it at His dear feet. The Lord help us to hasten His kingdom and to add to the glory of His many crowns!
Those Who Make Him King
1. David’s men had all been unhappy, helpless, and indeed, we might say, worthless, for we read that whosoever was in debt or in any kind of trouble resorted to David in the cave of Adullam, and David made them one of his mighty men. Before they came to him they were the outlaws of society, but the moment they touched David they became ennobled, and afterwards were raised to be his princes and the officers of the kingdom. Even so we, whom Christ has chosen as His friends and fellow-workers, are by nature poor, unworthy sinners, with nothing to recommend us but simply this — that we have followed Jesus, and that He has touched us with His royal hand; and this is enough to make us glorious and illustrious. Sinners by nature and practice, we have been washed in His precious blood, and our love to Him is accepted as better than royal blood, and by-and-by He will say to us, “You are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father has appointed unto me; that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
2. In the description of the respective tribes that came up to make David king, we read of the Benjamites (1 Chron. 12: 2), that “they were armed with bows, and could use both the right hand and the left in hurling stones and shooting arrows out of a bow.” They were two-handed men, i.e., all their power was given to their master, and they were ready, not only in season, but out of season, for service and warfare. So Christ would have His true soldiers not only speak out of a pulpit, or to read from a manuscript, but ever prepared to speak a word of warning or comfort or salvation as opportunity requires.
3. They were armed men (verse 8). They “could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains.” There is a difference between a shield and a buckler. A shield is something that you yourself hold, but a buckler is something that is fastened upon the arm and that cannot be lost. There is a kind of faith that we cling to, and there is a faith that holds us and that we cannot lose — even the faith of God — like the buckler on the arm which we retain in the heat of battle, and which even the dying warrior still holds above his breast. This is the faith that Christ would have us receive and in which He would have us conquer.
4. They were courageous men; they feared no danger (verse 15). “These are they that went over Jordan in the first month, when it had overflown all his banks; and they put to flight all them of the valleys, both toward the east, and toward the west.” They had a hard test. As they approached the Jordan there were enemies upon the east, but they scattered them like the smoke before the wind. Next, the Jordan had flooded its banks and could not be forded, but they sprang into the flood and swam across, fearing neither flood nor foe. When they reached the farther shore, still the enemy stood facing them along the banks, but they put them to flight. Perhaps they did not even wait for the battle, for men so brave were not likely to meet a formidable resistance. And when we press through the tides of opposition and the hosts of hell, we shall find our enemies still encamped before us, and each battle will be on the verge of a greater victory still to come.
5. They were true-hearted men (verses 17, 18). “And David went out to meet them, and answered and said to them, If you have come peaceably to me to help me, my heart will be knit to yours: but if you have come to betray me to my enemies, seeing there is no wrong in my hands, the God of our fathers look thereon, and rebuke it. Then the spirit came upon Amasai, who was chief of the captains, and he said, Yours we are, David, and on your side, you son of Jesse: peace, peace be unto you, and peace be to your helpers; for your God helps you.” So Christ wants loyal friends: loyal not only to Him, but loyal to His people, too. Their cry was not only, “peace be unto you,” but “peace be to your helpers.”
6. Next, they were wise men (verse 32). “And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” And so our King wants wise men today; men that do not waste their strength in misguided efforts, men that are not fighting over old issues long since obsolete, or beating the air with mere speculations and theories that have no practical bearing, men of today that understand the Lord’s meaning for our times and catch his thought for their generation, and are living for the work of the present hour. Such men, like the men of Issachar, have all their brethren at their command and exert the sacred influences which control their minds and make them leaders of the great hosts of God.
7. They were men that could “keep rank” (verse 33). That is, they were adjustable and congenial men who could work in cooperation with others; not narrow, bigoted and impracticable people, with whom nobody could work, as Christians sometimes are, but large-hearted, loving, humble workers, who knew their places, who took any place, who were not afraid to take the lowest place, who could obey orders as well as give them, who could walk in fellowship with other soldiers, who could keep step with other soldiers and maintain the unbroken rank in the host of God. God give us this spirit! The nearer we are to God the less angular we will be, and the easier it will be to work with us.
8. Again, they were single-hearted men (verse 33). “They were not of double heart.” Their whole heart was with David. Their whole interest was invested in his kingdom. Their whole being was given to his honor and advancement. And so we cannot be true soldiers for Christ unless we have given Him all our heart; and nothing can separate us from Him when we are utterly devoted to His honor and interest, every other attachment and every other interest being subject to His highest will and glory, and eternally linked with His kingdom. We cannot have our heart in the world that has no interest in Him and on things that must perish, but every part of our being must be invested in His coming and His glory.
This is also the meaning of the perfect heart referred to in verse 38. God give us such a spirit in the blessed work of hastening the coming of our blessed Lord!
Beloved, we are passing through the days of David’s suffering and humiliation. He is not yet upon the throne of this world, although He has the right to reign, and a sure decree has been passed in heaven, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” But He is now in the days of His obscurity, and the badge of His service is a cross and a crown. He is passing through the world and picking out His future princes, testing them by their loyal devotion to His person and will. Oh, that we all may be true in these days, and honored with a part of the glory in that day.
It is said that the great Ivan of Russia used to go among his people in disguise and test them. One night he went through the suburbs of his capital and knocked at many lowly cabins as a poor, wandering tramp, asking for a night’s lodging and a crust of bread. He was refused from door to door, until at last he came to a humble cabin, where a poor man was attending his wife and newborn babe. He opened the door at the knock of the wanderer, kindly invited him in, treated him with courtesy and attention, gave him a rude bed and a humble supper, and bade him goodnight with great kindness. The emperor lay, sleeping little and thinking much, and in the early morning he took his leave amid many thanks. Late in the afternoon the royal chariot drove to the door and halted. The poor man fled to the gate in great alarm, prostrated himself at the feet of his emperor, and asked him if he had committed any crime to cause his displeasure. The emperor assured him it was all right, and then added, “I have simply come to thank you for your kindness to your emperor last night. He came in the disguise of a beggar to test your love, and now he comes as your sovereign to reward your loyalty. This bag of gold is for your newborn child. As he grows up I will adopt him as my child and will give him a place of high and honorable service in the empire, and if I can be of any service to you and yours, command your emperor.”
So Christ is passing by today. He is coming soon. The Lord help us to know Him and receive Him in His lowliness, and may ours be the joy in that day of receiving His smile and recognition in the midst of a dissolving world and a despairing multitude!
“And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell.” (Col. 1: 18, 19.)
The human body is the paragon and crown of the material universe. It was the last thing that God ever created, and so satisfied was He with His glorious work that He chose this wondrous and beautiful temple for His own abode, and has made the form of man forevermore the embodiment of His own eternal Son. The fact that Jesus Christ is incarnate in a body like our own has placed humanity on the pinnacle of creation and the throne of God. Forever and forever a wondering universe will come to behold their God and will see Him in a form like yours and mine. It is little wonder, therefore, that this exquisite workmanship of God should be worthy of the honor and dignity conferred upon it, and should show in all its structures the works of infinite wisdom, power and love. Even David, long before the study of physiology had revealed the wonders of the human frame, could say, “I will praise You; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” How much more profound the wonder and praise that should fill our hearts as the progress of human knowledge enables us to understand better the exquisite and infinite skill displayed in the creation of a single member of our body!
Perhaps the most striking evidence of Christianity ever presented in Christian literature was the Bridgewater treatise on the human hand, showing the delicate mechanism of the numerous bones, nerves, vessels, and the varied and perfect functions of the various parts of even that little member. How much more delicate and perfect the structure of the human brain and the relation of the head to all the physical organism of the vital functions! This is the figure which the apostle uses to express the relation of Jesus Christ to His people and their mutual relationship to Him as the body of Christ. May His Spirit enable us to apply the beautiful figure in such a way that we shall be drawn closer to our living Head and to one another in Him!
1. In the human body the head is the seat of will and authority, and the body is obedient to its volitions, and these commands are so simple and so instructive that the body obeys without an effort. It is perfectly natural to follow the wishes of the head; so the Lord Jesus Christ our living Head is the true Lord and sovereign of His people’s lives, and it is the place of their bodies to be instinctively obedient to His every wish. If He is indeed our Head, it will be our second nature to do His bidding. Indeed, no other part of the body has any power to will, and none of Christ’s children should have any will apart from their Master’s. There is a great difference between being guided by your own head or somebody else’s. If Christ is not your living Head, you will not want His authority and government. Before, therefore, we can truly obey Him, we must fully receive Him and be so united with Him that His interests are ours and His will is just the expression of our inmost being.
2. In the human body the head is the source and seat of life, and so the Lord Jesus is the source of His people’s life. There is no life apart from the head, and we have none apart from Him. Our regeneration comes through the quickening power of His life; our sanctification is His indwelling in us. Our physical life may be made manifest in the flesh. We are dependent upon Him for our fruit, for our joy, for our love, for all our spiritual grace and experiences, and He loves to impart His life to us and fill us more abundantly if we will but receive it. We are not held responsible for our own life. We are not expected to manufacture either faith or love, but to receive from Him life and love and the grace that He is ever longing to impart.
3. The head is the source of sensation. All feeling comes from the brain and resides in it. When you hurt your hand it is not your hand that feels, but your head, although it seems to be in your members. Beautiful parable of the sympathy of our living Head! Every sorrow and pain we feel is instinctively telegraphed to Him and touches His living heart to the quick. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” When Paul was outraging the saints of God and compelling them to blaspheme the name of Jesus under penalty of death, the voice of the Master called to him from heaven, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He was hurting, not others, but the Master’s heart. The heavenly Head was suffering for the earthly members. The hurt hand was communicating its pain to the Head in heaven. How quickly the head sends relief to the suffering hand or foot! Have you ever noticed when you receive a blow or are pierced with a thorn, how quickly all the blood in the body rushes to the injured place, and it flushes with a crimson tide? It simply means that the brain has become concerned for the suffering member and has ordered all the resources of the system on duty, and every drop of blood in the body is coursing to the sore place to give it a touch of relief. What you call an inflammation is just the effort of nature through increased circulation to wash away the intruding pain and stimulate and quicken the system to throw it off.
So Christ is ever nearest the sad heart, the tempted child, the wandering one, and all the resources of His grace are at our service in every time of need.
When Margaret Wilson was standing tied to a stake on Solway Beach, waiting for the tide to come in and take her martyred life, her persecutors placed an older saint farther down the beach that little Margaret might see the saintly woman die before her turn should come, and thus be dissuaded by terror from her bold testimony to Jesus. But as the cruel waves leaped on Margaret McLaughlin and trampled out her life, and the rough soldier by Margaret Wilson’s side asked, hoping to turn her back from her purpose even at the last, “What do you think of that?” she meekly answered, “I think I see Christ in one of His members suffering there.” How beautiful! How true!
When the pressure seems intolerable, when sorrow gnaws the heart, when Satan hurls his arrows of flame into our quivering spirit, when the world opposes us as it once did Him, and flesh and heart are ready to faint and fail, it is just Christ in one of His members suffering there, and the living Head will not fail nor forget to help the suffering member.
All sensation must come from the brain, and so all spiritual feeling must come from Christ. Let us not, therefore, try to work up our feelings, but keep close to Him, and the tides of His love will flow into our consciousness and spiritual sensibilities. The secrets of joy and love simply lie in nearness to Jesus, and His joy and love will spring within us from the Head. The most artless and spontaneous life will ever be the best. Oftentimes He may wish us to be quiescent. Let us be acquiescent in this, and when He rests in His love, let us rest with Him, and when He rejoices over us with singing, let us swell the chorus in glad response, our hearts keeping time to His, as the sand upon the ocean shore is wet or dry as the ocean tide rises and falls in the sea below.
4. The head is the seat of power, and so Christ is His people’s power. We are not strong in ourselves, but He is our strength. “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth . . . and, see! I am with you always.” We shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon us. This, therefore, is the secret of effective service. You shall always feel your own lack of power; but as you go forth obedient to the orders of the Head, the Head will follow up your obedient steps and render effectual your service. Christ never sends His people on any ministry without equipping them, sustaining them, and rendering their work effectual. Your usefulness does not depend upon natural gifts or conditions, but upon your closeness to your Head.
A very humble Christian ever filled with Jesus will so speak, so look, so grasp your hand, so do the commonest things of life, that strange and everlasting forces will spring from the act and touch hearts on every side. A very small wire filled with electricity will make everybody conscious of strange power.
It is a glorious and mighty thing to stand among men and be conscious that you have the authority and power of the Almighty, and that He is charging your message with a weight and responsibility which will meet those men in the judgment and which will move and influence their whole earthly life whether they hear or whether they forbear.
5. The head is the seat of thought, intelligence, judgment, direction, knowledge. So Christ is our wisdom, our guide, our mind. We need not think so much, or rather He will think His thoughts in us if we suspend our judgment and draw upon His glorious mind for our knowledge, our light, our views, our opinions and plans. It is not the business of the hand to be planning and thinking, but simply to go forward at the bidding of the brain. So He has said to us, “Take no thought for your life. . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.” “Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you.”
6. The head is the seat of honor, glory, and beauty. It supports the lovely face; it crowns the glorious temple. It is borne aloft in dignity and majesty, and in all things has the preeminence. It wears the crown of royalty, or the wreath of beauty, and is the expression and embodiment of dignity and preeminence. So Jesus Christ is the glory of His people, the crowned Head of His church to whom alone belong all dominion, praise and love forever and ever. To Him, not to us, belongs the honor. He is our Head and our glory, and He forever shall receive the many crowns of all His dear ones whose joy it shall be to lay them at His feet or heap them upon His head. All His richest blessings must lead us from them to Him. All His dearest children must be but links and channels to lift our hearts to Him from whom comes all love and all loveliness in earth or heaven.
The body is as necessary as the head. A bodiless head would be as abnormal as a headless body, and so our blessed Lord needs us as much as we need Him. He has separated Himself from His old place of absolute Deity and chosen for His inheritance His people, and without them His life is incomplete. All the gifts that He has received from the Father need an outlet, and we are the channels through whom they find expression and development. His love to men, His purpose to redeem them, His grace and power can only reach them through our intervention. When we are not at His bidding and open to His influence, He is paralyzed in His purpose and baffled in His designs, like a man whose brain is full of magnificent energy and purpose, whose heart is throbbing with boundless love, but whose limbs are paralyzed, and whose hands are limp and dead, his body refusing to perform the wishes of his brain and clogging and depressing him with its helplessness, his love all vain because of the want of harmony and the lack of correspondence between the body and the head.
Christ has been hindered by the paralyzed, disjointed, diseased condition of many members of His body, and the work accomplished by the church has been limited by the fact that the body has been diseased and enfeebled in many of its parts. Oh, what might not be realized in a few days for the accomplishment of redemption if the entire body of Christ, without an exception, were open to the love of the Head and obedient to all His wishes and will. Pentecost would be repeated with a multiplication as vast as the difference between the one hundred and twenty millions of Christians today and the one hundred and twenty brethren in the upper room. There are millions of times as many members in the body today as there were then, but the very number restrains the body all the more when they are not perfectly adjustable and responsive to the Head. Will you remember, beloved, that Jesus needs you, and that even if you be the weakest and smallest member, you have the power by becoming diseased and inflamed to spread disease through the whole body, even as the smallest finger on your hand can paralyze your hand by simply getting sick and sore?
Three things especially are emphasized by the apostle in his beautiful teaching about the body of Christ.
1. Its variety. “We have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ.” In your body there are thousands of constituent elements. Every one is necessary. The very diversity of those members is your strength. Members of the church of Christ are not all alike. The greater the diversity, the more their power. Each of us has our natural individuality, and this is the element through which God molds our spiritual life and our life plans. He has made each of us for a certain place and service, and the very things that constitute our personal identity are the things He wants to use in us.
Sometimes our very eccentricities are elements of force when consecrated to God and baptized with the Holy Ghost. Sometimes the very facts of your previous history, even your sins and errors, become features which God can utilize for His kingdom. Do not, therefore, criticize your peculiarities. They are the very things God wants, if they be not defects. Your very littleness may just fit you for the place He wants you to fill. In making up a body He sometimes wants a finger only or a single hair. Now if you were a thumb, or a glowing eye, you would be needless, because, you see, there are enough of these already, and you are just required to fit into your place and functions. Do not criticize in others their idiosyncrasies, as you are pleased to call them, for in the body there are some curious members, and the apostle says that those that have least honor, to them God has given more abundant honor, and the time often comes when those obscure and uncongenial persons become, perhaps, the greatest blessings of your life, and draw you to them as the Lord Himself.
2. Its unity. These diversities may all be blended and kept by a common band of love and life in Jesus. If completely united, the very diversity adds greatly to the scope and influence of the church of Christ. On the field of Gettysburg a little pool of blood was found, into which flowed five tiny streams, and when the men from whose wounds the life tides were issuing were found, they proved to be the sons of different races, so that in that little crimson pool the heart of a German, a Frenchman, an Irishman, a Negro and an American were all blending; and it had but one color and one meaning, the love of country that was not afraid to die. If Christ’s love is in our hearts, all differences become small. A creed will not unite us; a work will not unite us; a love, and a love only, can unite us. Closeness to Jesus brings closeness to each other. The little birdlings that are always nestling against the mother’s bosom are always pushing against each other, and if you and I are determined to be nearer to Jesus, we shall never be far apart. A lack of unity in the body is fatal to health and power. An obstructive joint will bring rheumatism and paralysis. The reason today that the power of the Holy Ghost is so limited is because the inflow and the outflow of the life of Christ are hindered by the divisions of Christianity, and still more by the lack of heart-oneness to Him.
3. Its relationship. We owe to each other certain mutual obligations expressed by the phrase, “fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies.” While every member of the body sustains a relationship in some sense to every other, yet some are closer than others, and in those intimate relationships there must be perfect freedom, fellowship and holy activity. The joint and the socket must move together without friction. The least friction will produce inflammation, irritation, pain, disease, paralysis. God adjusts us to each other by His Providence and Spirit, and He will enable us to recognize our relationships, to meet them, and to fulfill them perfectly with holy wisdom and love. Each of us sustains many relationships, but the Holy Spirit in us will adjust us to each with a perfect freedom and delicacy, so that we shall love one another in Christ in the places where we belong with a heart as free as heaven and as pure as Christ Himself. You shall have a boundless love for each of God’s children, each in his place. You will love your family, your children, your friends, your brother in Christ, each in his or her place with perfect simplicity of heart, and yet without a jar in the various relationships. For if Christ is abiding in us He will adjust to every relationship even as He Himself meets each of us His members with the fullness of His heart, and yet the special adaptation of each one is what their situation requires.
The recognizing of our oneness with Christ will make us considerate of one another and will give to our duty to each other a higher sacredness, inasmuch as it affects the whole body and the Head Himself. When you hinder or hurt a single brother, you hurt the whole body just the same as in your physical body a jar in one part will hinder. And not only so, you will come to recognize the necessity of being right with God, for otherwise you may hinder the entire work of Christ. It is not necessary for a man to be sick all over to be helpless; a single organ will render him helpless.
And so, if you choose, you can, by becoming an irritation and an offense, arrest and obstruct all God’s work to a certain extent. Of course, there is provision in the human body for getting rid of such a member, and sometimes the only thing is to cut it off. God has the same provision for His church, and He will separate you from His people if you are not willing to work with them in harmony and holiness. And yet excision always leaves a scar and often a lack. The law of love and the desire of the Master is that we should be so true to Him and to each other that He can accomplish in us and through us His highest purposes of love and blessing. It will help us infinitely in our relationship with people to recognize them in Christ and not in themselves. Then our love to them may not be personal and selfish, but will be heavenly and holy. Then also we shall be enabled to love what naturally we could not even tolerate.
Oh, we little know the depths and heights of joy and power that lie hidden in recognizing the mystery of the body of Christ, and Christ Himself in all His members! Then our service will be all unto Him, and a cup of cold water given to a disciple for Jesus’ sake will bring a great reward, and some day the Master will say, “You did it unto me.” Then also it will be found that the simplest and humblest services have been of the greatest value, even as the poor old widow in ancient Constantinople who could only sprinkle the grass upon the rough stones as they dragged them to the temple, is represented in the old legend as having her name inscribed on the front of the Cathedral in letters of gold traced by an angel’s hand, “This house the widow Eudoxia built for God.”
Then also will we know the exceeding joy of doing much of our work through others, and doing the rest almost unconsciously and impersonally until the day comes when He will trace each constituent, and give to each his proportionate reward. I am so glad to feel that in that day most of my work for the Lord will be rewarded to others who have helped me oftentimes by sprinkling grass for the rough stones and making it easier where it would have been so hard, but for the love and prayers of God’s dear children. God is preparing His church for the most glorious spectacle the universe has ever beheld, in that crowning day when the whole of creation will be summoned to gaze upon the face of the bride, the Lamb’s wife, and as they gaze they will see not only the face of the Bride in all the beauty of her myriad-fold individuality, but as the unity and light of all the phases of the Lamb Himself reflected in them all, and, while it will be a picture of glorified humanity, it will be still more a picture of the Son of Man.
A dear friend has given me this beautiful illustration suggested by a single painting. Here is a woman’s face. It is loveliness itself as its features are traced upon the canvas in the soft, vivid light of Italian art. There is the perfect form, the warm color, the modest yet noble brow, the rich tresses of hair, the expression of loveliness, the repose and strength of character, all seeming to speak with the light of life itself. Such is the picture as you see it at a distance, but when you come a little closer a strange transformation takes place. Making up that one face you see a hundred other faces and objects, and you find that it is a composite painting made up of many minutiae, so shaded and compounded that at a distance the combined effect was that of a single face, but at closer inspection it is a cluster of many objects. There, forming the rich color of the lips, are exquisitely shaded flowers; the hair is formed of trailing vines and grasses; little faces of beautiful children fit into the countenance; rich clusters of fruit the eye; and all blended together in infinite diversity and yet perfect unison.
Such will be the face that this universe will yet behold — Jesus, shining in all, all in all. Your face will be there, in perfect identity, and yet blended in the soft light of His countenance and reflecting the radiance of His smile. So let us abide in Him and grow up together into Him, until we shall see the fullness of the stature of Christ Jesus.