“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant; the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, that He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.” (Luke 1: 68-75.)
Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist and the author of this song, was practically the last of the priesthood. Because of his priestly office he was chosen to be the father of John the Baptist, and thus, both directly and through his son, the witness of the coming dispensation and the Messiah. God so ordered it that Judaism bore witness to Christ, although Judaism afterwards rejected Christ notwithstanding its own testimony. True to the spirit of Judaism, when the message came to Zacharias about the birth of his son, his unbelief refused to accept it, and God visited him with dumbness and silence until the birth of John. The silence of Zacharias was significant of the silence that was to fall on Judaism as she gave place to the testimony of Christ and sank back into silence at His feet, while all heaven proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”
How different was the spirit of Mary when the message came to her requiring even greater faith! More truly she represented the spirit of Christianity. She implicitly believed it, and her answer was, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” But at length Zacharias’ lips were opened at the circumcision of his son, and with this last song his voice died away with the voice of Judaism into eternal silence. There is a beautiful bird which has but one song, and that its own death dirge. After silently sailing the waters for its whole life long, the beautiful swan at last, on the bosom of some peaceful lake, perhaps as the shadows of evening are falling and darkness is passing over its simple brain, opens its mouth and pours out the strangest, saddest song that ever fell upon the ear, and then its beautiful, graceful neck relaxes, and it sinks upon the waves in the silence of death. It has breathed its life out in its one last song. So Zacharias passes out of view with his own song, but it was a song worthy to be lost in, for it is the keynote of redemption, and yet shall re-echo in the song of Moses and the Lamb. There are three strains in it; like all great songs, it is extremely simple, but swells out into infinite echoes of glory and blessing.
He Has Visited His People
We love to receive a letter from a friend, but how much more the friend himself! Sweet is the message of affection, but sweeter the visit of our loved ones! The glory of Zacharias’ song was that God was about to visit His people. This was the cry of Moses, “If Your presence goes not with me, do not carry us up hence. For wherein shall we differ from all the other people of the earth, except it be that You go with us.” Not even an angel’s presence would satisfy or fill the place, none but God Himself. This was the burden of all Isaiah’s promises. The Lord Himself shall come to visit His people. This is the preeminent glory of redemption. God Himself has undertaken it. The Eternal One has come to our world in person and identified Himself forever with humanity.
It tells the story of the incarnation. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” He has come into our house of clay, and He has come to stay, and to the latest ages of eternity, as generation after generation shall visit the metropolis of the universe and lift up their eyes to look upon God, they shall see the face of a man, a form like our own, God in the likeness of humanity. He has come so near to us that He has come into our own nature. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death. . . . For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God.”
When the first missionaries went to St. Thomas, they could not get near the suffering and degraded slaves until they took part in their bondage and asked the masters to make them slaves also. Then they were received with perfect confidence and were able to bring multitudes of the poor savages to Christ. They trusted them when they saw that they had become identified with their own very life and lot. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He has visited and redeemed his people.”
But He comes closer. These missionaries could work by the side of the slave; but they could not come into their hearts. I can sit down and talk with you in your home; but I cannot walk into your brain and into your spirit and put my being into yours, so that you shall have my thoughts and feelings and life. In some measure love can impart almost its own soul to the beloved one, and yet only in a faint measure compared with the great and divine example which Christ has forever set before us; for He not only has visited our race, but He has visited our hearts, and made our very bodies His temple and home. “For thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I will dwell in the high and holy place with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” “I will set my tabernacle among you . . . and I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”
Has He visited you, beloved? Has He come into this brain and possessed all its thoughts, and given to you His light and wisdom, His understanding and mind? Has He come into this will and taken the key of the chamber from which all the acts and purposes of your life are directed? Has He been admitted to the boudoir chamber of your confidences, where only your dearest ones ever come, and does He control all your heart’s affections, and supremely hold them for Himself, so that you have no life apart from Him? Has He found His way without restraint into every inmost apartment, until you find they are being enlarged by His ministry and filled in every capacity with His love and life, as He thinks in you, trusts in you, wills in you, rejoices in you, speaks in you, prays in you, praises in you, and pours out through your whole being the fullness of His life — not a transient visitor, but a perpetual Guest? Oh! how much He will do for the heart that thus receives Him!
Happy was the loving woman of Shunem the day that Elisha passed her door that she received him in the name of the Lord, and made him welcome to her home and her heart. Little did she dream that it was going to bring her, in the coming years, deliverance from her sorrows and her trials, the child of her affection, and that child a second time restored from death itself. What care He will take of the house that He owns and lives in! How He will love to heal, strengthen, beautify and glorify the temple of His indwelling, and what infinite rest it is to live with Christ in His own house, and have Him bear all the burdens and responsibilities, while you dwell a happy guest in the house you once called your own.
And then He is coming in a little while on a still more glorious visit, with sound of trumpet and mighty processions of angels and ransomed men, while earth and heaven shall signal His glorious advent by signs and wonders such as the universe has never beheld.
The King of kings is passing by these days of time, a lowly man and a wayfarer. He asks a sacrifice of you. He asks a welcome from you. He asks the key of your heart’s inmost chamber. Will you trust Him? The day is coming when it will be much to have one glance from His glorious face, to have Him recognize you among the myriads of the resurrection and say, “Come my little child, and sit with me on my throne, and share my kingdom; for on earth you received me, and even so do I now welcome you.” Yes, He is coming again to visit our earth and to leave it no more. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men,” will be the announcement of that glad day, “and he will dwell with them . . . and God himself shall be with them. . . . And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there.” And even when the glad Millennial age is ended, it will expand into a gladder and better time, and the new heavens shall be added to the new earth, and redeemed humanity shall colonize over all this great universe, and we may have stars for kingdoms, and worlds for our inheritance. Then shall we sing as we cannot now, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited . . . his people.”
He Has Redeemed His People
This is much more. The missionary can stoop to the lowly condition of the heathen slaves; but he cannot set them free. He can die with them in their chains; but he cannot break the fetters. But Jesus not only visited His people, but He has redeemed them. He has given His own freedom for ours, and the ransom suffices, and the great manifesto has gone forth. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek … to proclaim liberty to the captives.” This word ‘redeemed’ is the characteristic term of the gospel. It speaks of the crimson tint of sin and the deeper crimson of Calvary’s blood. It tells of a heaven that has cost something, a salvation that is established on the eternal principles of justice and righteousness, that has met every claim of law and right, and that has placed the ransomed soul in as good a position as if he had never sinned.
All human hearts instinctively know that such a redemption was demanded. The rudest savage is conscious that some propitiation must be made for sin and that evil cannot be lightly passed over even by clemency, without some satisfaction. When the proud and haughty Tarquin sat upon the bench to judge his own son, with the Roman instincts of justice he could not acquit him. When the mother pleaded for her boy with bitter tears, and brothers and sisters claimed his life, and the citizens who loved him interceded, the father could only answer, “The father loves him as much as you, but the judge must punish him,” and to the lictors he was delivered without mercy, to be beaten and slain, because law and justice could know no mercy.
Very beautifully have the Hindu legends embodied this truth, and at the same time foreshadowed the mystery of the gospel through which love has triumphed over justice, and yet has left justice uncompromised and vindicated. In the ancient Hindu legends there is a story of a poor sinner pursued by the spirit of retribution in the form of a demon. Flying from its pursuer and about to be overtaken, the sinful spirit cried to Vishnu, the goddess of Mercy, for help, and she immediately changed the fugitive into a dove. With a glad cry of gratitude the dove swept up into the air, striking her wings upon the firmament and bore away above her pursuer, thanking her kind deliverer. But a moment later the demon had been changed into a hawk, and she found herself pursued by a stronger wing and a swifter flight than her own, and she was about to be struck down by the cruel talons of the hawk, when suddenly she lifted up her prayer again to Vishnu, and the goddess opened her bosom as an asylum for the fluttering dove, and folded her wings about her as she lay there secure from her enemy. Then the hawk approached the goddess and demanded his prey. “She is mine,” he said, “by every right of justice. You, Vishnu, have declared and know that sin must be punished and that I am entitled to my victim, and I demand her life or its equivalent.” Vishnu answered, “I recognize your claim. Her life you cannot have, but you may have as much of mine as will be its equivalent.” And with that she opened her bosom to the devourer and bade him thrust his fierce beak and talons into her quivering flesh until he had torn from her breast as much as he would have consumed if he had devoured the little dove. Satisfied, he withdrew, and the trembling dove looked upon the bleeding breast and knew what its life had cost its deliverer: and as it floated away a little later, with the stain of blood upon its wings, it never could forget what its redemption had meant. Beloved, you and I were that dove. Justice pursued us with every claim of right. Even God could not forego its claim, but must execute it or cease to be God; but the blessed Redeemer opened His bosom, gave His life and blood to meet the claim, bore the judgment we deserved, and now sprinkled with this precious blood, we sing, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood . .. be glory and dominion for ever and ever. . . . Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, . . . and glory, and blessing. . . . For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood . . . and have made us unto God kings and priests.” “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his people.”
He Has Raised Up an Horn of Salvation for Us
Salvation is the fruition of redemption. Redemption purchases it, salvation realizes it and brings it into our actual experience. Zacharias speaks not so much of salvation as of the “horn of salvation.” This bold figure, perhaps, originated in primitive times, when mighty hunters, like Nimrod, returning from the chase, loved to grace their tents with the splendid horns of the animals that they had slain, the antlers of the deer, the tusks of the elephant, and the horn, perhaps, of the mighty rhinoceros. And so the word “horn” came to be the figure of beauty, power and dominion. It has passed into the imagery of inspired prophecy and song, so that we find the earthly powers described by Daniel and John as horns upon the head of the beast.
And so we find the Psalmist speaking of God as his Horn of Salvation and his High Tower. In speaking, therefore, of Christ as a Horn of Salvation, Zacharias meant to emphasize the glory and beauty of the Savior, His supreme and universal dominion, and His infinite and divine power. It is Coronation, singing, “Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown Him Lord of all.” The verse that follows explains this thought more perfectly than any words of ours can do. This glorious salvation does five things for us.
1. It delivers us from all our enemies. Christ has come to overcome everything that is against us. Never does He want us to be crushed or defeated. Always He causes us to triumph if we will but trust and allow Him. How beautifully does the prophet Zechariah illustrate the words of his New Testament namesake, as in his first chapter he gives us his vision of the four horns, horns that were lifted up against Judah and Jerusalem, representing the evils that are opposed to us from all sides, so that whichever direction we look, north, south, east or west, we sometimes can see nothing but enemies. But he saw four carpenters following the four horns, and as he asked the meaning of this vision he was told that these were come to fray the horns, that is, to soften them, to peel them down, to take their sharpness from them, to render them harmless.
How wondrously does God do this for His people! How He takes the point out of the devil’s sting and the enemy’s sword-thrust, and quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one with the shield of faith, so that things that seemed sufficient to destroy us pass away harmlessly, and we wonder in great amazement at the providential goodness of our wonderful God. Each of us has often had enough perils to wreck our life and work many a time, but as we look behind we cannot even trace a shadow of the clouds that once covered all our sky, and everything that seemed against us has become a voice in the chorus, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
2. We are delivered from our enemies that we “might serve him without fear.” Our fears are sometimes worse than our enemies. Who of us is there that has not spent hours and days fighting clouds that never came to rain or lightning. They seemed intensely real, and they hurt as much as if they were real. Christ comes to deliver us from all our fears. He tells us that the king of fear is the devil, and that fear from him must always be recognized. As long as we abide in Christ, it is a voice from Satan. If it is a voice from Satan, it is a lie; therefore it is not to be allowed to come into the soul. Indeed, we may turn it into a benediction, and say to Satan as he holds up the shadow, “Thank you very much, for now I know that the opposite is coming — a blessing as glorious as the shadow has been dark.” This is the way to get the victory over your fears. Refuse them and extract good out of them, even as the woman of Canaan did from her Savior’s refusal and from the dark and discouraging prospect that for a time seemed to overshadow all her cares. God cannot use you fully in His service if you are loaded down with a pack of worries. You must be rested workers. You must come to Him for rest and then take His yoke upon you.
3. We are delivered that we might serve “in holiness and righteousness before him.” You will observe that it is not righteousness and holiness, but holiness first. We often begin the wrong way, and try to get our lives right before our hearts are pure. Like Elisha, let us go up to the spring and put salt there, and not in the channels of the river below. Cleanse the fountain and the waters will always be pure. Get the holiness of Christ in your heart, and your life will be regulated with the full tides of life and love. Divine life regulates itself and the more it overflows the more it purifies.
4. We shall serve all the days of our life. We used to think that holiness and victory were for our last days, and that if we got too near to God we were being prepared to die and might go soon; indeed, that it was not very safe to be too devout. But thank God, we have found that holiness is to live by, and that we need it for earth’s duties and trials much more even than for heavenly enjoyments. Christ sanctifies us to “serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” We can spring into the very fullness of His grace from the very morning of our conversion. We can go from Egypt to Canaan in less than three months and need not spend forty years wandering in the wilderness of sin. “Oh, if I only had known of this twenty-five years ago, how sweetly I could have lived,” said the dying Payson as he stood in the last moments of his life looking into heaven, realizing the full salvation that he might have known all his days. Beloved, shall we take Him for all the days, and go forth singing,
I’m so glad I’ve learned to trust Him, Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend; And I know that You are with me, Will be with me to the end.
There are two closing thoughts suggested by this figure, on which we shall dwell for a moment. In the blessing of Joseph in Deuteronomy 33, it is said that his horns shall be like the horn of the unicorn. The unicorn has only one horn, and the idea suggested by the strong figure is that they alone are strong who have no strength but God. The glory of my strength is to have God alone. God is never the fullness of power to us until He alone is our power, until we can say, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside You.”
The other reference is in connection with the sublime vision of the Lamb in the fifth chapter of Revelation, where we behold Him standing in the midst of the throne having seven horns and seven eyes, representing the seven-fold power and authority with which He is invested, and the seven-fold wisdom of the Holy Ghost which He administers. It is as the Lamb that He has the seven horns. It is because He suffered and redeemed us that God has invested Him, not only with His own eternal deity and power, but with all the resources of the Father’s own fullness, so that He could say as He ascended from earth to heaven, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” And yet that power is in the hands of One whom John describes as a “little Lamb.”
Oh! the ineffable gentleness and nearness combined with majesty and power expressed by this figure. With a hand as soft as a child’s, a touch as gentle as a mother’s, and yet a scepter as mighty as omnipotence, He sits on the heavenly throne, so near and yet so great, so tender and yet so mighty, the blended gentleness and almightiness of the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne.
He is our Horn of Salvation. He has visited us and redeemed us, and He must reign until all our enemies shall be made His footstool. Let us join in the chorus that swells in this chapter in billows and billows of praise, surging and surging out to the confines of the universe until “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, (are) heard . . . saying, blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”
“These things says he that is holy, he that is true, he that has the hey of David, he that opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens.” (Rev. 3: 7.)
The seven epistles to the churches in Revelation contain the last message of Christ to the church today. It would seem very natural to suppose that the seven churches which He chose to receive these final messages were in some respect representative of the whole catholic church to the end of time. They are singularly descriptive of the epochs that have passed over the church since the days of John. The first, the church in Ephesus perfectly represents the church of the days of John, strong in works, but beginning to decline in love. The next, Smyrna, is true to the life of the next age of Christianity, the age of persecution. The third, the church in Pergamos, has some strong resemblance to the worldly church of the days of Constantine and succeeding emperors. The church in Thyatira is almost a perfect type of the apostasy which followed through the rise of the Papacy, with that woman Jezebel on the throne and the depths of Satan beneath her seat of ecclesiastical pride and wickedness. Then comes the church in Sardis. “You have a name that you live, and are dead.” This is a sure and perfect type of the middle ages and the absolute death of spiritual life, with the exception of a few names, even in Sardis, “which had not defiled their garments.”
Then there is a sudden burst of light — the church of Philadelphia. This message is all promise, encouragement and love. It is the dawn of Reformation. It is the gathering out of the little flock before the end. They have kept His word; they have not denied His name; they shall be kept through the hour of temptation and tribulation. They shall be established as pillars in the temple of God. They shall be enrolled in the New Jerusalem. They shall be received into the intimacy of Jesus. They shall have an open door which none can shut. There is one more picture, the church of the Laodiceans, strong, proud, wealthy, self-sufficient, lukewarm, and about to be rejected.
his is the second apostasy. It is apostate Protestantism. It is the worldly church, which already in our day is beginning to show signs of this final portrait; and with it comes the Master’s hand upon the door, and the solemn warning, “I stand at the door and knock.” The end is just about to come. But in the previous picture the end is also about to come, and the solemn message even there is, “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which you have, that no man take your crown,” so that these two pictures of Philadelphia and Laodicea both belong to the end. The one is the picture of the little flock of simple faithful ones; the other is the picture of the great worldly church contemporary with Philadelphia, and about to be rejected by the Lord at His coming.
It is of this sixth picture of the little Philadelphian church that we wish to consider, or rather of the Master in the attitude in which He addresses it, and the precious names He assumes as He addresses to them His cheering message. There are three great and blessed names.
He That Is Holy
He is holy; therefore He expects us to be holy; for His message is, “Be holy, as I am holy.” He is our example, our standard, and we can never rest behind His footsteps.
He is holy; therefore He enables us to be holy. His holiness is the source of ours, as well as the sanction and the ground of obligation; for He gives us His own holiness. He enters our heart, becomes our life, and lives in us His own pure, heavenly life. Therefore the apostle has said, “For both he that sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” Therefore He said in His own parting prayer, “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified.”
This did not mean that Christ required to be made holy, as if He were unholy, but He devoted Himself in the sense of entire consecration to this one thing, the sanctification of His people. He set Himself apart for our sakes that we might be truly sanctified, and as we receive Him to dwell within us we receive the sanctification. We receive the Holy One and He becomes our holiness, and is “made unto us . . . sanctification, and redemption.” This is the secret of our holiness, to receive Him that is holy, to abide in Him that is holy, and to let Him live in us His own heavenly life.
He That Is True
This is the picture of the Faithful Promiser. It means His words are true. “Has he said, and shall he not do it? Or has he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” How many precious words of promise has He spoken! How many things has He spoken to us! How many has He to speak to us today! Earth and heaven shall pass away, but one jot or one tittle of His promises shall in no wise pass away, until all be fulfilled. Every one of them has come to us with the mighty preface, “This says he that is true.” Let us rest in them, let us wait for them, for though they tarry, they shall surely come, and they shall not tarry too long. He Himself has endorsed them and is their personal Guarantee.
On an old mosque in Syria there is a strange and beautiful illustration of God’s eternal and unchanging word. It was a Christian church and it had on its front, worked in the stone, the words of God, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your truth endures to all generations.” When the Moslems conquered Pales tine, they captured the old church, plastered over the front, and wrote another inscription in honor of the false prophet in blazing and resplendent letters of gold. But as the centuries have gone by, the plaster has fallen off. The transient record of human sin and pride has perished, and the deeply written record of God’s Word stands out bold and clear, as a solemn intimation that all men’s works and words shall pass away, but the Word of our God shall stand forever.
But it means much more than this. Back of all is His own true heart. He Himself is true, our faithful, unchangeable Friend, and the Guarantee of the certainty and stability of everything that we value and hold in Him. God is much more to the Christian’s faith than even His Word. Abraham believed God, and therefore he believed His word. It is because we can trust Him that we can trust His promises. How we value a true heart! How we rest in a faithful friend! How we love to lean on one that we know is loyal to the core! Christ is absolutely true. He loved us from the beginning; He will love us to the end. It is because He chose us knowing all, anticipating all, prepared for the worst, that His love is everlasting. He is so true that He will keep us true. Think of some of the assurances of His faithfulness. He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, “who will also confirm you unto the end, that you may be blameless in the day of Jesus Christ. God is faithful . . . who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it. . . . Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. . . . The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it.” So that we have the faithfulness of God vouched for our sanctification, for our preservation, for our deliverance, for our temptation, for our comfort and support in trial and suffering, for all we can trust Him up to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; and we can trust Him with all our heart, with all our weight, casting all our care upon Him, for He cares for us, trusting in the Lord Jehovah forever, for He is the Rock of Ages.
But still further, “He that is true” is the Guarantee of our true-heartedness and stability. He will keep us true. We can take Him for our steadfastness. Not only is God at the heaven-side to anchor the cable yonder; but He is also at the heart-side, through the Holy Ghost, to fasten it here, so that it will not slip as it holds us. And so this precious epistle is full of promises of keeping. While on the one side it bids us hold fast that which we have, that no man take our crown, on the other it promises, “I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world to try all them that dwell upon the world,” and still more strongly, “Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.” Thank God we can take Him for our courage, for our steadfastness, for He “is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” Blessed is He that is holy, He that is true.
He That Has the Key of David
This, of course, is a description of Christ as a King, as the real successor to David, King of Israel, the Sovereign Lord of Nature, Providence, the Church, and the Millennial World, the One that controls all destinies, and possesses all power and dominion in heaven and in earth. But more particularly, He is the holder of the key of David, “He that opens, and no man shuts; and he shuts, and no man opens.”
How many things He opens, and opens forever to His people! He opens the gates of life; for, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” He opens the gate of heaven; for into that city shall those only enter that are written in the Lamb’s book of life, and over the gate are written the words, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” He opens our heart for His incoming. He won our stubborn will and taught us to trust and love Him and yield ourselves to Him, and He alone can rule and subdue us with His scepter of perfect love.
He opens our eyes to understand His will, and He opens His Word to our understanding, so that we may behold wondrous things out of His law and possess all the treasures of His glorious truth. He opens for us the gates of difficulty and breaks in pieces the gates of brass and cuts in sunder the bars of iron and enables us to go forward through what seem impassible barriers in His work and will. He holds the key of knowledge and opens to us every problem that perplexes and every question that baffles, and will be our wisdom and guide in every trying hour.
He opens our way of service, our door of usefulness, and prepares us for them, for our work, and our field, and He says to us, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it.” He prepared Paul’s work and gave it to him, and He will give you yours if you are ready to do it, and none can hinder, for when He gives it, everything must go away. He holds the key of human hearts and can open them to your message. He can convict the conscience, influence the will, persuade the heart, draw the sinner to His feet, and constrain the reluctant to be willing in the days of His power. He holds the key to every safe and pocket-book, and He can say to you, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places,” and He will provide the means that you need for every undertaking on which He sends you.
He holds the key of providence and can control all events and circumstances in your eternal life, to cooperate with you, or become tributary to you in your service for Him. He that opened the prison gates for Peter and rent the bars of the Philippian jail is still the same. He who gave Esther and Daniel favor in the courts of Persia and Babylon, and made Joseph to be beloved of all he met in the land of Egypt, and gave Paul the friendship of the captain of the guard, and made Cyrus, in the flush of his pride, send forth the captives of Israel to their land, can still open every door and control every heart. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of waters he turns it whithersoever he will.” He will open for you the pathway of His will, the way in which He would have you go. “I will bring the blind,” He says, “by a way that they know not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them and not forsake them….I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways….I will work, and who shall hinder it.” His people’s path may lead through Red Seas and Jordans of swollen tides, and Jerichos of formidable and definite power, and Euroclydian’s wild tempestuous fire; but He who has already burst through the gates of death and hell will fulfill all His counsel and accomplish all His perfect will.
When He makes bare His arm, Who shall His power withstand, When He His people’s cause maintains, Who, who shall stop His hand?
Beloved, will you use your key more faithfully, more trustfully, more constantly? Will you prove more fully than ever that you have One with you “who opens and no man shuts”?
How many things He shuts! He has shut for us the gates of hell, blessed be His name forever. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,” and they shall not come into judgment, but have passed out of death into life. He holds the keys of death, and its darts cannot touch His children until He permits them. He holds back the gates of temptation. Satan cannot touch one of His children even with a tormenting thought until the Master permits. There is an “if need be” in our manifold temptations. We are led out of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Between every dragon wing or hellish dart and us is the presence of the Holy Ghost, the bosom of Jesus, and the shield of faith, and He that was begotten of God keeps us and that wicked one touches us not. And therefore He says in this verse, “Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world.” This probably means the last and terrible tribulation from which the saints of God shall be taken out and preserved; but it also means many other hours of temptation from which His people are free. One of the terrible calamities of the wicked is that they are tempted above that which they are able to bear; but one of the most blessed promises to a saint is that he shall not be so tempted, but that he shall be guarded, and when the pressure would be too strong it shall be held back.
He also keeps back the floods of sorrow and calamity. In the seventh chapter of Revelation we behold an angel standing in the sky and holding back the winds, lest they should blow upon the earth before the saints of God were sealed. And so God shuts the doors of the natural world, the flood-gates of the tides of all evil, and says, “Thus far shall you come and no further,” and there the waves are stopped. Fear not, He will deliver you in trial. The floods may have lifted up their voice and made a mighty noise, but the Lord that is on high is mightier than the noise of many waters and the great sea billows. The Lord sits King above the floods; yes, the Lord sits King forever.
There is another door that He shuts, and that is the door of the inner chamber, where He hides us with Himself, where He takes us into His fellowship, where He gives us His eternal covenant and seals and secures to us that “which (we) have committed unto him against that day.”
In this closing verse He says, “Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God .. . and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” When God put Noah in the ark He shut him in. When He takes us into His bosom He shuts us in. When He gives us His promises He guarantees them, seals them, and keeps them for us.
The ideas underlying these beautiful figures are stability, security and intimacy. He will keep us. He will make us a part of Himself, which is the meaning of the name of God. He will make us part of the New Jerusalem, giving us a place in His millennial glory and writing the very name of that city upon us as if we inseparably belonged to it. And He will give us the pledge of His own personal and pure intimacy, writing upon us His own new name. This refers back to the white stone and the name written upon it, which no man could read except he to whom it was given. This is the token of the secret love, the special covenant, the confidential friendship, the inmost, uttermost love of Jesus.
Now unto Him that is holy, that is true, that has the key of David, “that opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens,” be glory forever. And He answers back to us, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it.” It opens up to the glory of His coming with the crown shining in the light of vision, as He cries, “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which you have, that no man takes your crown.” And we take Him to hold us, and to hold for us our crown, and then to let us lay it at His blessed feet forever and say, “You who are holy, You who are true, You who have given all and kept all, You shall have all the glory forever. Amen.”
“Out of him came forth the corner, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow.” (Zech. 10: 4.)
The reference of this verse is to the tribe of Judah, out of which was to come the corner, the nail and the battle bow. This may have referred, in the first instance, to earthly kings and defenders; but, undoubtedly, their ultimate typical application was to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to Him indeed the same figures are elsewhere applied so explicitly as to leave no doubt as to the Scriptural validity of this interpretation.
This metaphor is directly applied to the Lord Jesus Christ by the apostle Peter in the second chapter of his first epistle, verses 4-7, “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, you also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner.”
1. The corner stone is the foundation of the building. It rests upon it. So Christ is our Foundation. There we rest our hopes for eternity and for everything. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
2. The corner stone regulates the entire building. From the corner stone all other locations and measurements are taken. So Christ gives direction to all our life. Everything should be shaped with reference to Him as the Center. We can build no broader than the foundation and corner, and so our lives can never pass beyond Christ, but simply be the filling up of that which He has already in Him. The plumb line falls until it reaches the corner stone, and the walls must be ever vertical to it or they will fall. Our whole Christian life must be under the absolute control of the Lord Jesus, and both in its lateral and vertical lines, as it reaches toward others and touches heaven, it must be according to His mind and will, His Spirit and holy example.
3. The corner stone unites the building. Without it there can be only one wall, and a wall is not a building. It is in Jesus that we touch each other and become united in our Christian life and in our inmost spirit. A common creed will never unite us; a common work will not permanently unite us; only a common life will. The true secret of catholicity in the church is to live closer to Jesus. A deep spiritual life will always sweep away the consciousness, at least, of sectarian barriers. If we would love each other and be closely united, let us be filled with His love, and pressing hard to His bosom, we shall touch each other in the sweetest fellowship of Christian life.
4. The corner stone bears the record of the building. The name is upon the stone, and so we should bear the name of Jesus, and no name be seen but His. The date is there, and, although the stone was laid long before the finishing of the building, yet the edifice always bears the date of the stone. So the true date of our salvation is Calvary and the resurrection. It was then that we died with Him; it was then that we rose with Him; it was then that our salvation, our healing, our redemption was finished; and we simply receive the completed work of Christ. And so the story of the building is written upon His hands, His feet, and His heart, and the eternal recompenses will be given according to the inscriptions that He holds.
5. The corner stone is the ornamental stone of the building. It is often made of polished granite or marble, or still more precious material, and it is the object of observation and the ornament of the structure. So Jesus bears the glory. Unto you, therefore, who believe, He is precious, or literally, is for an ornament. We are not to bear the praise or the glory, or to decorate ourselves with the insignia of human grandeur, but to be hidden upon His bosom and to hold Him up before the world as our honor and our praise, ever crying, “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be . . . unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”
Not I, but Christ, be honored, praised, exalted; Not I, but Christ, be seen, be known, be heard. Not I, but Christ, in every look and motion; Not I, but Christ, in every thought and word. Oh, to be saved from myself, dear Lord, Oh, to be lost in Thee; Oh, that it might be no more I, But Christ that lives in me.
In the twenty-second chapter of Isaiah this figure is more fully referred to: “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons.”
In the third chapter of Revelation this passage is quoted by the Lord Jesus with respect to Himself: “These things says he that is holy, . . . he that has the key of David, he that opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens.”
The passage here refers directly to Christ, and it is in this passage that He is called the “nail fastened in the sure place,” on which is to be hung all the glory of the Father’s house. There are two special uses of a nail. The first is to secure and fasten, and so Christ is the security of our hopes and lives. He keeps us by His intercession, by His life, by our union with Himself. Second, a nail is to hang things upon, and this is the special sense in which it is here used. The Father has hung everything upon Jesus. All the glory of the Father’s house is upon Him. “All things are delivered unto me of my Father,” He says. “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.” There is no attribute of power, wisdom or love in God which Jesus does not fully possess, and has not the right to communicate to us to use for our well-being. But not only has the Father hung everything upon Him, but He can hang all our graces upon Him. We are not to hang them upon ourselves. We do not and never shall possess anything of ourselves. It is not that we are to add our virtues to our own person, but we are to take Christ to be in our hearts “as a nail fastened in the sure place,” and then upon Him we may hang the faith, the love, the peace, the gentleness, the patience, and all the graces of spirit, until our heart becomes a wardrobe with a thousand dresses ready for use as we need them in each new situation and act of life.
The figure represents the nail as bearing upon it, not only all the glory of the Father’s house, but the offspring and the issue, and all vessels, both the small vessels and vessels of flagons. The offspring and issue have reference, perhaps, to our being born of Him as His very offspring and issue, and fastened to Him by ties of blood and life; or it may refer to our offspring and issue, our spiritual fruit, all of which we must receive through Him, for our power is not our own, but is hung upon Christ, and all our work must be handed over to Him and kept by Him as the nail on which we leave every precious thing. The vessels and flagons hung upon this nail have reference to the various needs of life, all of which are supplied from Him. On this blessed nail are hanging cups of every size, which we can fill, and from which we can drink whenever we are thirsty, and there is no want so small but we can find it met in His name, and life, and love. The flagons, or vessels of wine, refer to the deeper joys, blessings of our communion with Him. As there is no cup too small for Him to fill, so there is no need too deep, no joy too divine for Him to satisfy.
The sure place in which this nail is fastened has reference to the certainty and security of the blessing which we have in Christ. All else is liable to fail, but that which we hang upon Him will stand forever. The confidences we repose in others and ourselves are fragile, but this only can never be removed. This hope is an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.
First, this nail has been fastened into the cross of Calvary, where our salvation was completed.
Second, this nail has been fastened into the throne in the ascension and resurrection of Christ, guaranteeing our complete salvation.
Third, it may be fastened in our hearts as the very essence and substance of our inmost life, a life so certain, a keeping so infinite and divine, that we can say, “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.”
There are two ways of fastening a nail. One is to drive a cut nail into the wood and just leave it. The other is to take a wrought nail made of malleable iron and drive it through and a little beyond, and then clinch it. This kind of work never draws, and this is the sort of nail that Christ is when truly taken in the committal of faith.
Christ has clinched the nail on His side. “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” This is the nail driven; but listen, “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” That is the nail clinched.
The Battle Bow
The first thing suggested by the bow is that Christ is the spring of our lives. If you want a spirit that sweeps the heavens and reaches out into the infinite possibilities of God’s boundlessness, take Christ to dwell in your heart.
Next, the figure suggests defense. Christ is our defense against the enemy, but we have to use Him as you would use a bow. A bow lying on the ground is of no use. A bow unstrung is of no use; but you must take it and draw the string, and pull the bow, and shoot the arrow, and your enemies shall fall with every shaft. Again, the bow suggests an arrow. The bow is useless without an arrow. The arrows are God’s promises and our prayers, pointed by definite desires, directed by the will of God, winged by faith and holy expectation, and then sent forth with the strong hand and the full momentum of the faith of God to reach the heavens and the uttermost parts of our needs and our difficulties.
We have a beautiful example of these arrows in the thirteenth chapter of Second Kings. The great prophet of Israel was dying, and Joash, his grateful king, came to visit him, and cried, as he knelt beside him, “O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” Then Elisha proceeded to give the king some expression and evidence of his real help, stronger than mere words. He bade him take a bow and arrows that were lying by his side, and, putting his hands alongside the king’s he commanded him to pull the string to its utmost tension and shoot an arrow; as it sped away into the fields beyond, he cried, “The arrow of the LORD’s deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance from Syria: for you shall smite the Syrians in Aphek, until you have consumed them.” But this was not enough. He must take up the arrows and prove for himself the strength and completeness of his faith, and so the prophet bids him strike upon the ground. He does it three times, and then stops. The old prophet looks grave and angry. “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have struck Syria until you had consumed it: but now you shall strike Syria only three times.” He had only taken half a blessing, and that was all that he would have.
As we take the bow of faith, there is another hand that holds and guides it. Let us not fear to pull the string to its utmost tension, for this bow will never break. Christ is the battle bow, and His hand is pulling the string with ours, and we can have all we dare to claim. Let the arrow be very definite, and then let us not stop until we have covered the whole circle of possible need and blessing, and He will be only too glad to give us all we dare to claim, and grieved only because we take so little. May the Lord help us to know “the exceeding greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.”
“But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD, an offering in righteousness.” (Mal. 3: 2, 3.)
This is the last Old Testament prophetic message respecting the coming Messiah. The first verse tells of two messengers who are soon to appear: one is the forerunner, the other the Savior, the great angel of the covenant who appeared to Abraham and Moses, and who in the Old Testament ages was the manifestation of Jehovah to His people. The special reference is to His purifying work. He is to be distinguished from all former teachers and messengers by His sin-cleansing power. He is to “sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,” and to “purge the sons of Levi . . . that they may offer . . . an offering in righteousness.” Other messengers could bring reformation; but He is to bring regeneration. Others were reprovers of sin; but He brings the power that takes the sin away.
Malachi’s message was echoed four centuries later by John the Baptist as he stood among the thousands who came to him for deliverance from their sins, and he felt his helplessness to grant them what they needed, and longed for a stronger and diviner hand to cleanse and keep. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance,” but while he said it he knew that the men who came to him to confess their sins would before long be again immersed in sin and powerless to overcome it, and he longed intensely for one who could not only reprove and forgive, but who could renew and radically cleanse the heart from intrinsic evil. And so he added: “There comes one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. . . . He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” This was indeed the meaning of the glorious name given to the Savior before He came, “JESUS, for he shall save his people from their sins,” and this is one of the radical distinctions between the Old Testament and the New. The latter provides for a complete and perfect cleansing and purification of our entire being from the power of evil, such as the law could never bring.
Let us inquire for a little what are the essential differences between the Old and the New Testaments, the Law and the Gospel in the provision they make for our spiritual cleansing.
First, Christ brings us a far higher standard, no less indeed than a divine example. His command to us is, “Be holy; for I am holy. . . . Be therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” He requires of us not only a lofty human character, but complete resemblance to the divine image. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” He has chosen us that we should “be conformed to the image of his Son. . . . Put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” He that abides in Him ought, “to walk, even as He walked.”
Not only does it unfold a higher standard, but it reveals a deeper, more interior life, a life that reaches even to the heart, the thoughts, the motives, the desires; which requires us to love the Lord with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength; to not only abstain from impurity, but from unholy thought and feeling; not only to do right, but to do right from a right motive. The word for purity in the New Testament is singleness of heart, murder is hatred, adultery is evil desire, and the righteousness of the kingdom a radical and divine renewing of the inmost being and all the principles, motives, and aims of life.
Not only so, but the righteousness of the New Testament reaches to all sides of our being and relationships, internal as well as external. The Old Testament had sacred persons, times, and things; but under the New Testament everything is sacred. One day in seven was holy to the Lord; but now, every day should be a Sabbath in its true spirit. One place was His sanctuary; but now every place should be dedicated to His glory. One class of men were separated to sacred priestly functions; but now we are “all kings and priests unto God,” and expected to be equally holy and near to Him. One class of duties was holier than another; but now everything we do may be done unto His glory, and pleasing in His sight.
And so the standard of New Testament holiness is higher, deeper, and broader than the Old. Therefore, we find some things even in the morality of the former which would not be accepted under the New. Zechariah, the prophet, dying under the hand of Joash, prayed, “Lord, look upon it, and require it.” Stephen looked up from the blows of his murderers and cried, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”
Second, Christ makes complete provision in His atonement for our cleansing. The offerings of the Old Testament were types of this future provision for the cleansing of the offerer; but the Apostle well says in Hebrews, that they never could “make the comers there-unto perfect,” but Christ has come with His own blood to make full and final provision for our entire cleansing. “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away our sins.” Then said He, “See, I come to do Your will, O God . . . by whose which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . For by one offering he has perfected forever them that are sanctified.” It is therefore true that the atonement of Jesus Christ has provided for our entire cleansing from evil and the sanctification of our entire being to God. If this be so, whatever the difficulties may be, it is our redemption right, and if it be so, it is the redemption right of all believers. It is not an exclusive or exceptional distinction which a few saintly ones may claim, but it is covered by the blood of the cross and the “whosoever” of the gospel, and if we are not entering into it as a personal experience, we are to that extent allowing Christ to have died for us in vain and coming short of the full inheritance. Beloved, do you realize that it is your privilege, your purchased right, to be holy, and that for this purpose your Savior shed His precious blood, and you are stabbing Him with a new wound if you let Him die in vain?
Third, Christ has not only revealed a higher holiness and purchased for us the right to it; but He has risen again to become for us the living source of that holiness through union with His own person; and He has offered to come to us in His person, and to become to each of us an indwelling life which will literally reproduce in us His own purity and enable us to live among men even as He lived. This is something which the Old Testament saints never knew. God was with Moses and Elijah and the men at Babylon; but God is in the humblest of His saints who sincerely receive Him. This is the mystery hid from ages and generations, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” This is “the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the wisdom . . . which none of the princes of this world knew,” Christ “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” This is the great provision of the gospel, a living personal Savior, Christ our life. This is our all-sufficiency for every situation and trial and difficulty, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This is the source of holy living and holy usefulness, “He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.” This renders our failures inexcusable. This makes our responsibility for a holy life tenfold greater. Beloved, have we recognized that God is meeting each of us with a full divine provision for a life of holiness and victory, and that He holds us responsible, not so much to do it ourselves, as to receive from Him the grace and power that will enable us to do it?
Fourth, the preeminent provision Jesus Christ has made in the gospel for our cleansing is the gift of the Holy Ghost. He sent to us from heaven the third person of the Divine Trinity to take up His abode in our heart, to impart to us the very life of Christ, to teach us, to lead us, to train us in our Christian life, and to carry on the whole work of our cleansing and spiritual perfecting, until the Refiner can see His image mirrored in the silver, and we are prepared to be jewels in the day of His coming. It is to this deeper, quieter, more patient working of the Holy Ghost that the text especially refers. It is one thing to be cleansed from sin, and surely that ought to be true of every Christian, but it is a different thing to be refined by God’s holy fire until we have been brought into all the fullness of His will and reflect in all things His holy image. It is this thorough work of the Holy Ghost to which God is calling us in these words, where He sits as “a refiner and purifier of silver,” calmly, working and waiting until His purpose is fulfilled.
In the picture given of the Holy Bride as she sits waiting for the coming Lord, it is said in the book of Revelation that it was granted to her to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, or lustrous. It is one thing to have the linen clean: it is another to have it bright and lustrous. You may take your linen from the clothes line, and there is no spot on it; but when you take it from the laundry, it is not only spotless, but lustrous, polished, shining with the gloss of skillful hands, as if it be costly embroidery or lace adorned with all the delicate touches of the needle and the loom, arranged in beautiful order and taste. It is one thing for the gold to be cleansed from the dross: it is another for it to be shaped in all the skill of the silversmith’s art. It is one thing to have sin burned out: it is quite another to have the glory burned in.
And so we read in Daniel, “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried.” The purification is the primary work of sanctification; but the making white is that which John expresses by the word lustrous; it is the refining, the adorning, the completing of the work in the minutiae of detail. This is the work which the Holy Ghost is carrying on in all our hearts as fully as we will let Him. Perhaps He has delivered you from sin; but now He is endeavoring to deliver you from self. There is nothing more truly productive of miseries and failures in Christian life than the spirit of self, even in good persons.
Ask yourself the source of all your cares and worries, and you will find from some thought of self, from some fear about yourself, from some consideration of your interests, rights, wrongs, grievances, or troubles. It will be a haven of rest to you, and a source of great blessing to others, if you will wholly cancel all thoughts of yourself, and will truly say that all your acts and prayers are for others and for your Master’s cause. The moment you begin to live this life you will enter into perfect peace and you will find that God has taken up your cause.
Perhaps He is refining you from your natural life and lifting you into a spiritual life and love. Your affections are, perhaps, merely human, and they are absorbing others for your own gratification rather than for God’s will and glory, and are keeping you on a lower plane. God wants them transformed and transfigured into the heavenly love that will be abiding and eternal, the millennial life into which He is leading you already, even before the coming of your Lord. He is crucifying you to your loves and links, that they may be reformed in God and so formed that they may be forever.
Have you ever seen a skeletonized bouquet? The leaves in their natural beauty are soft and green, but fading; in a few hours they will wither away, and their beauty will be dead. But after some skillful woman’s hands have touched them, they come forth from the bleaching whiter than the driven snow, delicate, ethereal, as flowers of paradise, every fibre of the skeleton standing out in fine and clear relief, and yet so purified from the earthly and fleshly covering that they are more beautiful than before. Their beauty will never wither. They stand in your vase or cabinet the same through the passing years, the substance of that which you once possessed in a lower form. It is a cold and imperfect figure, yet it expresses something of the refining process through which God is putting our hearts and transforming our earthly loves into heavenly ties that will last forever, not like those dry, skeletonized leaves, but with a deeper love than they had before, a love more calm, more pure, more peaceful, more unselfish, more divine.
Perhaps He is teaching you the higher grace of love and leading you through the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Some of you know how slowly you get through it. Perhaps you have the longsuffering and kindness, the humility and modesty of the fourth verse. Perhaps you have the unselfishness of the fifth verse, but have you progressed to the “not provoked,”to the “thinks no evil”? Perhaps you can bear all things in the seventh verse with a grin-and-bear-it stoicism, but have you reached the next clause, “believes all things, hopes all things”? Do you have the spirit that so refuses to believe evil that there is really nothing to bear, that cuts the sinews of your troubles by ignoring them and refusing to believe them, and by looking at the people that have wronged you with such a loving trustfulness that you will not believe evil of them even if it seems to be true, and if you cannot quite believe that it is not so, you will, like your heavenly Father, say, “It should not be, and I will think of them as if it were not true”?
For my own sake I always try to refuse to believe it if I can, and if I cannot believe good of people at the present, it is an infinite comfort to me to ask the Lord to make it true. Then I believe that He will make it true, and hope for them with that confidence which enables me to count the things which are not as if they were, and henceforth think of the erring one in the light of my hope, in the light of their own future, as though already in heaven and the perfection and glory of the Father’s life.
Beloved, that erring brother some day will be brighter than the sun, and you will love him without a recollection of your present grievances against him. Think of this now as if it were so, and so anticipate the future and so rise out of the present that you act under the influence of that which shall be, and you can so labor and pray to make it real.
What about the eighth verse, “love never fails”? You have a great deal of love, and uniformly triumph, but once in a while you sort of claim the privilege of a temporary failure. You do not think it very wrong if you occasionally break down, and so your weak link destroys the entire chain. God is leading you through this to that victory which never fails, to that love which goes forth exclaiming, “Thanks be unto God, Who always causes us to triumph in Christ and makes manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place.”
The Refiner may be taking you through the experience of patience, and strengthening you with all might according to His glorious power unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness. Perhaps you have the patience and the longsuffering, but do you have the joyfulness? And so we might take all the lessons, and trace His gentle leading and teaching through the discipline of our spiritual life as He is bringing us closer and closer to His own glorious likeness.
A jeweler once told a lady that he kept the silver in the fire until he could see his face in it; and so the great Refiner sits down quietly, slowly, at the crucible where our hearts are consuming, and waits until He can see His image in our hearts and souls. Then He dismisses the firemen, carries away the ashes, stops the flame, and takes the silver and pours it into the mold of something lovely and heavenly, where it becomes a vessel for His grace and love, or perhaps as flagons to carry His wine and water to His perishing, suffering children, for He is refining and purifying us as silver is tried.
The service of sanctified men and women is immeasurably more precious to God in its most trivial forms than all we can do or give when our hearts are swept by earthly passion or influenced by selfish or unholy motives.
“Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is He who baptizes with the Holy Ghost.” (John 1: 33.)
This is one of the names given to our dear Lord. And it is especially becoming that we should greatly honor the Holy Ghost; for He never honors Himself, but ever holds up the person of Jesus Christ, and hides behind the glory of Him whom He loves to reveal. It is not, however, of the Holy Ghost directly that this passage speaks, but of Him who sends the Holy Ghost, “He who baptizes with the Holy Ghost,” our blessed Lord, to whom we owe this most precious gift of the New Testament dispensation.
In What Sense Does Christ Baptize with the Holy Ghost?
The Spirit is His gift as He is the Father’s gift. The greatest gift of the New Testament was Jesus; the greatest gift of Jesus was the Spirit. The Father sends the Son; the Son baptizes with the Spirit; and the Spirit brings both the Father and the Son into our heart and life.
1. Jesus is the giver of the Holy Ghost inasmuch as He has removed the hindrances to the coming of the Spirit into our hearts. The great hindrance was sin. The Holy Ghost is just the presence of God, and God cannot dwell in an unholy temple any more than Noah’s dove could rest upon the earth while the floods of judgment and the carcasses of corrupt flesh covered the earth. Not until the flood was passed and all flesh had died, and the earth was cleansed by its great baptism of judgment, could the dove rest, not merely for a moment upon the boughs of the olive trees, but all over the land, to fly abroad and build its nest and rear its broods wherever it could find a sheltering branch. So the Holy Ghost, under the Old Testament, could not rest in the hearts of men. Often He visited them, even as the dove went forth from the ark; often He revealed the olive branch of peace and covenant; often He came to the hearts of men with divine light, life and help; but the human breast was not His home until after Jesus had finished His work of atonement. But when, through the cross of Calvary, the judgment of sin was accomplished, and, in the death of the Substitute, sinful man was recognized as dead to the flesh, as judged, as crucified; then He went forth to rest and reside on earth and to make the hearts of men His home.
Just as soon as it was demonstrated by the ascension of Jesus that sin was judged and God was satisfied for guilty man, immediately the Holy Ghost came down from heaven. And so in the individual life, just as soon as sin is confessed and judged and the blood of the great sacrifice is appropriated and Jesus Christ accepted as the propitiation and the cleansing of the heart, the blessed Comforter loves to come into the holy temple of our inmost being to dwell as our Guest, our Friend, our Guide, our Master, the Representative to us of God, and the Executive in us and for us of His holy will. To Jesus we owe all this. But for His redeeming work, the blessed presence of God could never come to dwell within us; but now the message has gone forth to every sinful soul, “Repent, and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
Beloved, have you accepted the great atonement? Have you received the cleansing blood? Have you been reconciled and sanctified, and has the way been opened by the precious blood of the great High Priest into the Holy of Holies of your inmost being, for the Shekinah of His glory to shine within and reveal the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus? Is there any cloud of sin hiding and hindering that divine indwelling? He is able to clear it all away. Come to His blessed feet, come to His sprinkled blood, come to His throne of grace, come to the great Sacrifice, come to the cross of Calvary, come to the great High Priest, come to Jesus, and He will cleanse you by His blood, and baptize you with His Holy Spirit.
2. Jesus baptizes with the Holy Ghost inasmuch as He received the Holy Ghost into His own person, and for three and a half years walked through Galilean Judea “in the Spirit,” which He now gives to us; He received the third person of the Godhead into personal union with Himself so that He could send Him forth, not as another Spirit, but as His own Spirit. This is very precious and truly wonderful. The Holy Ghost is not to us now what He was under the Old Testament, purely the Spirit of Deity; but He is, if we can understand what it means, the Spirit that dwelt in the human and divine Christ; the Spirit that (if we may say it with reverence) was softened and in some sense humanized by union with Jesus; the Spirit that loved John and Mary, that took the little children to His bosom, that had compassion for the multitude, that wept for Jerusalem, that said to the poor woman, “Go and sin no more,” that whispered, “Let not your heart be troubled,” that talked with the woman of Samaria, that forgave and restored Peter, that over-looked all Thomas’ unbelief, that bore so patiently the shame of the judgment hall and endured the agony of the cross, that walked and talked on the way to Emmaus, so simply, and yet with such human tenderness and nearness. And so Jesus received Him and spoke all His words, and did all His works through the Spirit; and now He gives to us the very same Spirit that dwelt in Him. In Romans the apostle speaks of the Spirit of Christ, and says, “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness,” and “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
Beloved, He is waiting today to give you His very own Spirit, to breathe upon you and say, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” You may take Him warm from the bosom of Jesus, sweet as the breath of His love, pure as the light of His holiness, mighty as the strength of His omnipotence, and, in some sense, colored and softened by the very humanity of our incarnate Lord.
3. Jesus baptizes with the Holy Ghost in the sense that He distinctly sent Him on the day of Pentecost from heaven to earth. It was His promise that He would do so. “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” And so Peter, speaking of His coming, says, “Having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He has shed forth this, which you now see and hear.” This was a distinct and actual transaction which involved the most stupendous issues and relations. On that day and in that moment a real person, a divine person, actually changed His residence and removed from heaven to earth, and has ever since resided, not in heaven, but in this world. With the sound of that mighty rushing wind, a procession as glorious as the ascension of Jesus took place. The Holy Dove, the mighty Paraclete, came down from heaven to return no more until the dispensation of the gospel shall have closed; and from that hour His residence has been in this world in the hearts of Christ’s people and the sacred sanctuary of His body, the Church.
Let us fully realize this. The Spirit is not now in heaven, and we never need ask Him to come from heaven; but He is present, and we have only to receive Him, for He has already come. The mighty baptism has been commanded and imparted; and, just as the air is charged with electricity and you have but to absorb it from the atmosphere, just as the atmosphere is saturated with moisture and the cool pitcher has only to absorb the dew; so the Holy Ghost is all around us. The spaces about us are filled with His presence. His ear is within whispering distance of every heart, and we have but to become receiving vessels adjusted to His touch, and He flows in to fill every channel of our being as naturally as the air enters the open lungs, as the light floods the lifted window, as the sun shines wherever there is any object to receive his radiance. Beloved, the Holy Ghost has come; the day of Pentecost is past; the Spirit of God is here; will you receive Him?
4. But there is yet a personal baptism with the Holy Ghost which must come to each heart for itself. To each of us must be applied personally the great atonement, to each of us must come the actual presence of the Comforter, and Jesus is the One that will bring this to pass. It is not the Holy Ghost to whom you are to pray, but it is the Savior. It is He that baptizes with the Holy Ghost. Go to Jesus for Him, put yourself at His dear feet, take Him as your Savior, take Him as your Sanctifier, trust ‘Him to give you this most precious gift, claim it, and refuse to let Him go without its fullness. Hold fast to His loving feet, claim your birthright, your redemption right, what He so longs to give you, obey His voice, follow His directions, thank Him for the faintest touch that answers your prayer, follow on in the light that He gives, even in a gleam of radiance, and you shall know the Lord in all the fullness of His glory and love, and eternally praise Him who baptizes with the Holy Ghost.
What Is Involved in This Great Baptism and Blessing?
It is different from the conversion of the soul and the work of the Spirit in regeneration. That is the birth of the soul; this is the baptism. Just as Jesus Himself was born of the Spirit in Mary’s bosom, but thirty years later was baptized of the Spirit on the banks of the Jordan, so each of us is born of the Spirit in the moment of our conversion, but we are baptized of the Spirit when we yield ourselves fully to Christ, and, like Him on Jordan’s banks, enter upon our life-work for God.
It is a direct personal coming of God’s Spirit into the heart and a complete possessing of it by the Spirit for God and His holy will and work. The first, the conversion of the soul, He may do at a distance, or by a momentary act. The baptism of the Spirit is God’s residence in the soul, which is a closer union and a more continuous communion and working. The one is the building of a house, and I may build a hundred houses; the other is my residence in the house and the making of that house my abode.
What are the effects of this divine incoming and occupancy? Let us trace them briefly as Christ Himself reveals them in His own promise.
1. “At that day (i.e., the day when the Comforter comes) you shall know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.” That is to say, the coming of the Holy Spirit will give reality, vividness and intense consciousness to our union with Jesus Christ. We will not be so conscious that we have received the Spirit as that Jesus is dwelling in our hearts and bringing the Father with Him. We shall not believe nor hope, but we shall intensely know by the deepest spiritual cognition and consciousness, by an intuition deeper than any emotional impression or feeling, that “He is in us, and we in him,” and our life is part of His, and His life is part of ours forever.
Do we not long for this? Does not Jesus sometimes seem far away? Is it not difficult for you to conceive and grasp His personal reality? Does your heart not hunger for a keen, sweet, constant sense of His substantial reality? Oh! will you not cry for the Holy Ghost to make you know that He is in the Father, and you in Him, and He in you. It is His own promise. Hold Him to it, and claim it of Him this day in all His fullness. This is the deepest need of your spiritual life, to know Jesus as abiding in you, to understand the secret, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”; to have no doubt of it, no vague reaching out for it, but a deep abiding rest in His abiding love. Beloved, claim your privilege. Blessed Holy Ghost, make Jesus real to us, and let us know that we are in Him, and that He is in us, as never before, in the deep eternal rest, faith, fellowship and love.
2. The baptism of the Spirit will bring you instruction and light, for “he shall teach you all things.” Our minds need to be instructed, as well as our spirits united to Christ. Our thought needs to be directed in the fullness of divine truth. Our understanding needs to be illuminated in the knowledge of God and His Word. Our Bible needs to be made plain and living to us; and all this the Spirit does. How in a moment He lights up a passage with a strange vividness, which we had often read, and which we had intellectually understood, but had never felt its power! How plain He makes the subject of sanctification by a single touch of heavenly light! How easy it seems to us to claim Him as a Healer when the truth is brought home to the heart by the Holy Ghost, not as a theory, but as a living light from heaven for our suffering life!
Not only does He teach, but He continues to teach; and He repeats His teaching; for He will “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” In a moment of perplexity He will suggest to us with strange appropriateness the very thought and word that will bring us direction. In the hour of temptation He will bring to our remembrance the promise that will deliver and overcome the adversary, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” In the dark night of sorrow He will shed the bright light of His comfort, and the star of promise will shine with a brightness we could not see by day. In the time of service He will bring to our remembrance the truth that we need to speak. “He awakens morning by morning, he awakens my ear to hear as the learned,” that we may, “know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary,” and “it shall be given you in that same hour what you shall speak.”
As we kneel by the side of the inquirer and the penitent He will give to us the appropriate message. As we meet the assaults and the keen criticism of man, He will enable us to know what we ought to answer every one, and will let our speech be always seasoned with grace. And we will often wonder at the strange simplicity and sweetness with which intuitively our thoughts come to us, and someone seems to be thinking in us without our trying. Oh, the blessed help of the Holy Ghost’s suggestive ministry! Beloved, do you want this inward monitor, this continual guide, this sweet voice, this whispering presence, this tender mother and guide and friend? Come to Jesus, who baptizes with the Holy Ghost, and receive His richest gift this day.
3. He will not only teach, but “he will guide us into all truth.” This is more than teaching; this is the direction of our steps, the leading of our feet into the paths of His holy will. Wisdom is more than knowledge, and guidance more than instruction. Wisdom is that which shows us where we are and ought to go and keeps us from error and mistake; and this is the blessed Spirit’s special ministry — to guide the trusting and obedient heart and let it make no mistake, for He “is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” He will show us the way in which we ought to go. He will lead us “in a straight way, wherein (we) shall not stumble.” Oh, how often we have erred, and how sad the consequences of our mistakes! How our feet have been wounded by the thorns, and our hearts have been pierced by the stings that have followed our disobedience, when we knew not why we stumbled! But the blessed Spirit will give us light and keep us right, if we will but trust Him and follow Him, and receive Him in His fullness.
4. He will give us success in all our work for Him, for “when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” We cannot convict men of sin. We may pierce them with a thousand accusations, we may sting them with our reproaches, we may warn them with our most solemn messages, we may plead with them with the utmost pathos and tenderness, but we cannot bring conviction to their consciences. But He can. He can make a single word enter the heart like a barbed arrow, and slay the pride and self-confidence, and lay the sinner in the dust. He can make a single look send Peter down to weep the tender tears that melted but did not break his heart.
And He can convict them of righteousness. He can show them the Savior as their Righteousness, and He can enable the poor sinner, as we point him to Jesus, to “behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world,” to trust himself in His loving arms, to take Him as his own personal Savior, and to know that He does save, forgive, and sweetly accept forever. He can show the poor, struggling heart God’s righteousness, Jesus as the Sanctifier, the Keeper, the Rest; and enable us to commit our souls to His keeping, and know that what we have committed to Him He is able to keep against that day, and so go forward in victory and praise.
He can convict the world “of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” That is, it seems to us, He can make the poor, baffled, beaten heart to know that Satan is overcome, that through Jesus he is a conquered foe, and that now we need fear him no more, but may stand in complete victory and know that neither life, nor death, nor earth, nor hell can ever separate us from the love of Christ.
5. He gives us power. “But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you,” was the Master’s parting word, “and you shall be witnesses unto me.” This is not the power of human persuasion or natural ability of any kind, but it is the divine power working through us. It is that which makes our words and acts effectual. It is that strange influence which makes things tell and often brings out of the very little things mighty and lasting results. This made Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, although the utterance of a few simple words of truth, the means of converting thousands of souls. This made Paul’s ministry mighty through God to the establishment of Christianity in all the world. And this will make the weak things to confound the things that are mighty; the things that are despised, the foolish things, yes, the things that are not, to bring to nought the things that are, that the weakness of God may be stronger than men and the foolishness of God wiser than men; for Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God through the Holy Ghost.
6. The Holy Ghost gives us courage. “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John . . . they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus,” and so “God has not given us the spirit of fear.” The Holy Ghost is courage. He makes the heart strong, and sets the face like a flint in the steps of faith and the path of duty and the battle of the Lord. Timid one, would you be brave; fearful one, would you be strong; shrinking one, would you stand firm? “Receive the Holy Ghost.”
7. He gives us wisdom. This was the endowment of Stephen and his brethren. This was the apostle’s assurance to Timothy: God has given us the Spirit “of a sound mind.” It was He who guided and governed the apostolic church. It was He who enabled Paul to form his plans and purposes. Especially do we read in the life of Paul that at a certain crisis he purposed in the Spirit that he would adopt a certain plan of work and pursue certain lines in his missionary journey; and, although every influence on earth and every power from beneath seemed leagued together to defeat his purpose, and even the very saints of God and the prophets of inspiration tried to turn him aside, that purpose which had been formed “in the Spirit” was literally fulfilled, and he was held to it with the tenacity of victorious faith. So He will guide our plans, establish our purposes, and accomplish our highest, holiest desires for the glory and work of God.
8. He is the Spirit of love. After the gifts of power referred to in the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians, the apostle tells us that the greatest of these is love. It is emphatic, it is important to notice that the terms in which this is spoken of distinctly imply that it is not a human virtue or the exercise of any will of our own or any feeling of our natural heart, but it is a distinct and supernatural gift of the Spirit.
The word for love is ‘charitas’, and the word for the gift of grace is ‘charis’, so that it is distinctly recognized as a divine gift, and not in any sense a personal quality. He will give us this wondrous love in all its fullness, sweetness and victorious power.
Would you have the love that suffers long and is kind? Receive the Holy Ghost. Would you have the love that vaunts not itself and is not puffed up, but acts ever with sweet and lowly meekness? Receive the Holy Ghost. Would you have the love that does not behave itself unseemly, and cannot do a rude act or speak a hard and harmful word? Receive the Holy Ghost. Would you have the love that seeks not her own, but is ever self-forgetful, lives for others and for God without thinking for itself? Receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Would you have the love that thinks no evil, that allows no thought of suspicion ever to touch you, that imagines no wrong in a brother, that would rather be deceived than think evil, that believes all things with simple, artless confidence, that hopes all things, even though the present seems all wrong, and covers the future with faith and prayer and blessing even for the unworthy heart? Would you know the rest of being saved from thinking of your brother’s faults, and living in a constant atmosphere of sweetest confidence and innocency and harmless like a little nestling dove? Receive from Jesus His greatest gift. Receive from the Spirit His richest, His highest grace, the grace of heavenly love. Would you have the love that never fails, that will never again pierce your heart with a thorn, never again sting you with that with which you stung your brother? Come to Him who baptizes with the Holy Ghost, and let Him put into you the same Spirit that made Him holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners, the Christ of love.
9. He is the Spirit that shields you from temptation and gives you victory in the hour of conflict; for, “when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him,” and He will so fill you with His own presence that the shafts shall not stick, but He in you shall resist, repel, and hurl back all the wild billows of the adversary’s rage. Like the red-hot iron which repels the slightest particle of water or dust , from adhering to it because of its heat, so the enkindled Spirit shall throw off the touches of the enemy, and you shall move on in glory and victory, and He shall be a wall of fire around you, and the glory in the midst.
10. He is the Spirit of prayer, for, “the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” This is our highest service for God; and they who are ever filled with the Spirit will be able to touch the throne with the very power of God, and the prayer that rises from your heart will be a divine power, and He will know instinctively that it has the answer even before it asks, because it is the thought and will of God reflected back again to Him from whom it came. Would you have the power that will move heaven and earth, that will prevail with God and man, that will take the fullness of Christ’s promises for these last days, that will meet the mighty conflicts that are coming in victorious omnipotence, come to Him who baptizes with the Holy Ghost and be endued with power from on high.
We are in the days of supernatural conflict; we are touching the borders of the tribulation times. We are feeling the dragon-wing that is in a little while to overshadow the earth and blot out the very light of the sun. We are nearing these dark hours from which Christ is to call up His own elect. Deeper, stronger, subtler than ever before; more penetrating, more mighty are the weapons that are against us and the forms that assail and resist us. We must be encased in the armor of fire. We must be filled with the living God. We must be baptized with the Holy Ghost, and baptized as we never have been before with the all-encompassing presence of God, where no joint in the harness can let in an arrow of the enemy, and no slip for a single second give him the slightest advantage. Oh! You who baptizes with the Holy Ghost, hear Your people’s prayer, robe them in Your own omnipotence, clothe them in the garments of Your fire, baptize them with the fullness of the seven-fold Holy Ghost, and keep them abiding in You, and walking in the Spirit every breath and every step.
11. He is the Spirit of hope. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” He, and He alone, can take the fear out of your heart and the shadows from your future. He can thrust away the dark clouds of dread that blot out all light and confidence and that cover everything with the dismal shadow of despair. He can illumine your own path through life with sweet and heavenly confidence. He can unfold to you the vision of the land that is very far off. He can show the stretches of the outreaching of God’s blessed promises for you and all His glorious work for you. Yes, He can show you the coming of the King in His glory, and even touch your heart with the thrill of personal hope and the expectation of beholding Him with these mortal eyes, and preparing this world for His glorious advent.
What Is Implied in Receiving This Baptism?
1. The very thought of baptism suggests the deeply solemn thought of death and resurrection. Baptism is burial and a new life; and, therefore, to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit there must be death — the death of all that will and can die, for only that which is imperishable ought to live. The gold cannot be burned, therefore you need not fear to die in the arms of Jesus to everything that is capable of dying; and everything that will not die is safe, for only that which is divine can stand the fire of God. Yield yourself unto His death in all the fullness of His thought, and then rise into life in all the fullness of His will and be baptized into the Spirit. Therefore you that have died to self and earth have received, and will receive in that measure the fullness of His Spirit and life, even in those very places where you have most truly died. And you that have not received the fullness of His baptism are, perhaps, hindered because in some place you have not died with your Lord, or having died, have not risen again into His resurrection life; for there comes a call to arise as well as to die, and the voice of heaven, which says, “Arise, shine; for your light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.”
2. The term baptism suggests great fullness. It is into an ocean that you are baptized. It is not a sprinkled drop, but it is a great unfathomable sea, and God is calling us to go out into the depths of Himself. Too long we stayed in the shallow surf, swept by its surges, defiled by its miry waters, and beaten by its mighty breakers. Out beyond are the depths of calm, the fullness unfathomable. Let us launch out into the deep, out into the fullness of God.
3. This figure suggests great simplicity of receiving the Holy Ghost. It is easy to be baptized. You have just to let yourself go and sink into the floods, or lie restfully in the hand that upholds you or on the bosom of the wave whereon you repose. So it is a very simple thing to receive the Holy Ghost. It is trust. How little we trust the Spirit! How we strive, and strain, and do violence to nature in the struggle after some deep filling, when in quietness and restfulness we might receive His heavenly life and influence.
The rock of Kadesh was the type of the Holy Spirit’s deeper overflowing; and the command of Moses wag to speak to the rock, but on no account to strike it; and his striking the rock became a sin and offense, which did not hinder the water coming, but hindered his full blessing. There is something very suggestive in this simple thought of speaking to the rock. It is the attitude of simple trust and confidence and quietness. Let us speak to the rock. Let us draw near in the desert, amid the hot and burning sands, thirsty, weary, fainting, everything around us wretched and sad. The face of yonder rock seems hard as flint, but in its bosom are stores of infinite refreshing. It needs no violent grasp, no voice, nor touch to bring them forth. Speak the word of simple trust. Speak to the rock, and see, the waters will gush forth in streams of refreshing, and you shall drink, and you shall bathe in their cool tides until the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall blossom as the rose. It is Jesus who is that Rock. He is standing before you now. He that baptizes you with the Holy Ghost, loves you, has redeemed you, will never fail if you will trust Him. Trust Him for the Holy Ghost, and sweetly receive His infinite fullness, that you may have to give to a thirsty world the fullness which He has given you.
Fainting in the desert, Israel’s thousands stand At the rock of Kadesh, hear! the Lord’s command, Speak to the rock, bid the waters flow, Strike not its bosom, opened long ago, Speak to the rock ’till the waters flow.
Blessed Rock of Ages, You are open still Blessed Holy Spirit all our being fill; Still You are saying, why do you struggle
“I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.” (John 15: 5.)
The vine is the most important production of the vegetable creation; therefore it has been used by the devil for greater harm than anything that God ever made, for Satan ever loves to steal God’s best gifts. God has always used the vine as the symbol of the most sacred things, its juice being the type of Christ’s blood, and its stems and branches the most perfect figure of the mystery of godliness, Christ’s union with His people. The Scriptures give us no profounder view of Christian life than these verses contain. Let us look first at the spiritual teaching, and then at some illustrations of this in the figure itself.
Union With Jesus
The first truth conveyed in the Master’s teaching is that of union with Jesus. There are two sides to this. The first is “in me,” the second, “I in you.” The first expresses our justification; the second our deeper union with Christ in sanctification. To be in Christ is to accept Him as our Savior and to be justified through His blood and righteousness, accepted by the Father for His sake, and received into all His rights and privileges as the children of God and the redeemed family of Christ. There are two races: the Adam race and the Christ race. We are all born in Adam, and in Adam all die, but all who are in Christ shall be made alive. And so we came into Christ by receiving Him as our Head and our Savior and being born again into His life through His Holy Spirit. Every believer is in Christ, and there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, for we are made accepted in the Beloved.
To be in Christ has reference rather to our standing than our actual experience. It denotes the relationship between us and Christ rather than the actual life and realization of His presence and communion. Of course, it will bring an actual experience; but that is more fully described by the other phrase, “I in you.” This is the other side of our union with Jesus. It is that which brings Him personally into actual touch with us, for this is the great mystery of redemption, that Christ actually comes to dwell in the heart that is in Him, making it His personal residence and chosen home, and filling it with His love and joy and purity. In the previous chapter He had already explained this union and declared that it would be the first result of the Holy Spirit’s coming into the heart, that He should reveal it, consummate it, and make it intensely real to our consciousness. “At that day,” He says (the day of the Holy Spirit’s coming to abide with us), “you shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” And still later He added, “If a man loves me, he will keep my commandments, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.” And then He adds still further, “My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” This is the glorious reality to which He refers in this figure, “I in you.”
Again and again it is unfolded in the later teachings of the New Testament. The apostle declares that it was his great mission to unfold it, “the mystery which has been hid from ages and from generations . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” It is the last appeal of the ascended Lord to the churches in Asia, that they will open the door and let Him come in, and sup with them, and they with Him. It is the last thought in His own intercessory prayer as He commits His dear disciples to His Father’s keeping, and prays that “the love with which You have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” It is the secret of peace; for He says, “My peace I give unto you.” It is the secret of joy; for He says, “My joy shall remain in you.” It is the secret of faith; for the apostle says, “Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” It is the secret of holiness; for “Christ . . . is made unto us .. . sanctification.” It is the secret of power; for “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” It is the secret of all things, the solution of all problems, the spring of all spiritual blessings, for they are all in Christ Jesus. Such then, are the two sides of our union with Christ, He in us, and we in Him, even as the branch is in the vine, the members are in the body, the Son is in the Father.
The next truth conveyed here is communion. “Abide in me.” We must act according to the fact of our union, and keep up the fellowship and mutual relationships involved in this union. When the wife is married it is expected that she will act accordingly, and maintain the attitude of a wife by fellowship and dependence. When a partnership is formed between two human beings, they are expected to cooperate according to the agreement; and when the soul and Christ become united, there are certain actual relationships and mutual fellowships which are to be constantly maintained. This is spoken of as abiding, and upon the steadiness and simplicity of this depend the happiness and power of our Christian life. One of the attitudes implied in abiding is dependence. It is the habit of continually looking to Christ for everything; for He says, “Without me you can do nothing.” We are to continually distrust ourselves, feel our utter inability to think a right thought, and to look to Him in utter helplessness; and yet in trustful reliance for every breath, thought and feeling, taking our life each moment from Him., both for soul and body, bringing every temptation to Him, every need, every desire, and living really by Him and on Him, as a babe upon its mother.
Another idea expressed by abiding is fellowship in prayer. There is a near atmosphere of prayer and communion which may be ceaselessly maintained between the soul and the Savior. Its spirit is very subtle, its home is like the Holy of Holies, its atmosphere is pure and fragrant as the inner chamber of the sanctuary. It is sullied by a breath of sin; it is broken by a thought of distrust and disobedience. It is a very close place in the “secret place of the most High . . . and under the shadow of the Almighty.” There it is that we learn to pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks, and like Enoch, walk with God.
Another thought suggested by abiding is the momentary life. It is not a life of drift and impulse, not a life in which we act on general principles, but a moment by moment dependence upon Christ. It is simply finding that the life that can be maintained for one moment can be equally maintained for innumerable moments. It is just living out the simple word of Paul in Colossians, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.”
There are certain principles affecting this life of abiding. It is a principle of human nature that a succession of momentary acts repeated for a certain time produces a habit of thought and feeling, and that which at first is a somewhat labored purpose and requires much vigilance to maintain, gradually grows into a delightful habit of dependence, and the momentary acts of abiding are so simple that they are like the breathing of the lungs.
Our abiding depends upon our obedience. “If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love.” We shall find ourselves, sometimes, in positions where we cannot touch Christ for help and blessing, and the reason is that there is some obstacle between us and our Lord, some disobedience or sin which must be removed. It is a matter not only of trust, but also of rightness, and we will find that our peace and communion depend upon walking closely with Him and listening to His holy will. It is if His words abide in us that we have the promise, “You shall ask what you will.” He will show us faithfully the disobedience or the cloud, and will enable us to put it aside, and then will restore to us the joy of His communion and the fullness of His very Spirit. So let us abide in Him.
The Effects of Abiding
1. Cleansing. “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” This word was spoken in the thirteenth chapter. It came through the washing of the disciples’ feet. And so He still waits to wash our feet from the stains of the way, and unless He washes us, we have no part with Him. We must be cleansed and keep clean in order to maintain our communion.
2. Fruitfulness. “He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit.” Fruit is different from effort. The farmer toils in his garden as he prunes and waters the tree and cultivates the ground, but the tree has no toil or effort, but with spontaneous freedom sends forth its leaves, its blossoms, and its fruits. And so in the Christian life there is no effort in bearing fruit if we have the life of Christ within us. It springs spontaneously from the full heart. The mother of liberty and love, and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and all the sweet graces of Christian life, besides the reproducing of ourselves in the lives and souls we bring to Christ.
3. Answered prayer. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you.” The reason of this is, our prayer will be His prayer, our desire will be His desire, our thought will be His thought, our faith will be His faith, and we will know as we ask that He accepts and gives because He prompts the prayer as He walks with us.
4. Love. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you: continue (or abide) in my love.” It is a blessed thing to live in love. Some people live in an atmosphere of constant duty. Our privilege is to live in an atmosphere of love, and to be so pervaded with the dear love of Jesus that we shall know that He is always pleased with us, though we often make mistakes, yet He accepts our true heart and loves us with all His heart.
5. Joy. “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” If He is in us, His joy will be in us, and our hearts will spring and sing with a gladness not our own, but wholly prompted by His Spirit within us.
6. Obedience. “You are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you.” This is not obedience usually, but it is obedience unconditionally and under all circumstances to “whatsoever I command you.”
7. Friendship. “You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” It is delightful to walk with Jesus in holy confidence, and know that we have His freest communion, and that He treats us as His beloved ones.
8. Permanence in our work. “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” That which springs from Him shall last and shall meet us again, not only here, but in the life to come.
These are the blessings of abiding. How precious, how complete, how eternal! Oh, that we may not miss one of them, but live so closely to our Lord that we shall have all the good pleasure of His.goodness and the fullness of His blessing!
Some Illustrations of These Truths
1. The vine and the branch are one. The vine is not separate from the branch, but the vine includes the branch. And so Christ is not the vine separated from us, but the full Christ consists of Christ the Head and us the body. Christ has become forever so identified with us that He needs us to complete Himself. His joy is not complete without us. His glory is fulfilled in our glory and blessing.
2. The branches need much pruning. Much of the gardener’s work is to prune down the growth that is excessive and that would simply produce show and not fruit. And so our gentle and gracious Father cuts back much of our life that would simply grow into selfish luxuriance, and only leaves that which can bear real fruit unto Him. Let us trust Him. He is not destroying the tree, but only correcting it and its form, and enriching its fruitfulness and value.
3. The branches that bear fruit in the vine are the fresh ones. The little shoots that shall forth this spring, they alone bear the fruit. The old dried branches bear no fruit. They support the ones that do. And so there must be constant freshness and growth to our spiritual life if there is to be fruit. Only that which God is really doing in you, and doing today, will bear fruit to others. You cannot take the experience of a year ago and serve the Lord with that, but you must know Christ today in fresh and ceaseless communion, or you cannot accomplish any effective work for Him.
4. The vine is of no use for anything else but for fruit. It cannot be made into lumber or furniture; it has but one purpose. And so the Christian, especially the consecrated Christian, is worthless and useless, unless he abides in Christ and bears fruit for God. Oh, that we may continually abide and bear much fruit, for, “herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit,” and thus the Son will be satisfied for the travail of His soul and the sacrifice of His life.