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Title: The Lord's Coming
       Miscellaneous Writings of C. H. Mackintosh, volume II

Author: C. H. (Charles Henry) Mackintosh

Release Date: August 22, 2012 [EBook #40556]

Language: English

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MISCELLANEOUS
WRITINGS
of C.H.M.


The Lord's Coming

Miscellaneous Writings of

C. H. MACKINTOSH

Volume II


LOIZEAUX BROTHERS
New York


FIRST EDITION 1898
TENTH PRINTING 1960


LOIZEAUX BROTHERS, Inc., PUBLISHERS

A Nonprofit Organization, Devoted to the Lord's Work
and to the Spread of His Truth

19 West 21st Street, New York 10, N. Y.

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


CONTENTS

 Pages
"God for Us"1-23
"Who Loved Me"—Poem
The Call of God; or, Reflections on the Characters of Abraham and Lot3-60
"Thou and Thy House;" or, the Christian at Home3-48
Discipleship in an Evil Day3-22
Sin in the Flesh and Sin on the Conscience1-8
God's Way and How to Find It3-16
The Unequal Yoke5-38
Gideon and his Companions3-56
My BelovedPoem
Eternal Punishment2-8
Papers on the Lord's Coming3-111

The original numbering of these writings has been retained.
Many of the above may be had separately in pamphlet form.


 

"GOD FOR US"

(Romans VIII. 31.)

How much is wrapped up in these few words, "God for us!" They form one of those marvelous chains of three links so frequently found in Scripture. We have "God" linked on to "us" by that precious little word "for." This secures every thing, for time and eternity. There is not a single thing within the entire range of a creature's necessities that are not included in the brief but comprehensive sentence which forms the heading of this paper. If God be for us, then it follows, of necessity—blessed necessity—that neither our sins, nor our iniquities, nor our guilt, nor our ruined nature, nor Satan, nor the world, nor any other creature can possibly stand in the way of our present peace and our everlasting felicity and glory. God can dispose of all—has disposed of them, in such a way as to illustrate His own glory, and magnify His holy name, throughout the wide universe, forever and ever. All praise and adoration be to the eternal Trinity!

It may be, however, that the reader feels disposed, at the very outset, to inquire how he is to know his place amongst the "us" of our precious thesis. This, truly, is a most momentous question. Our eternal weal or woe hangs upon the answer. How, then, are we to know that God is for us? In reply to this most weighty question, we shall seek, by God's grace, to furnish the reader with five substantial proofs that God is for us, in all our need, our guilt, our misery, and our danger—for us, spite of all that we are, and all that we have done—for us, although there is no reason whatever, so far as we are concerned, why He should be for us, but every reason why He should be against us.

The first grand proof which we shall adduce is—

THE GIFT OF HIS SON.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John iii. 16.)

Now, we are glad, for various reasons, to commence our series of proofs with these memorable words. In the first place, they meet a difficulty which may suggest itself to the mind of an anxious reader—a difficulty based upon the fact that the sentence culled from Rom. viii. 31 evidently applies primarily to believers, and only to such, as does the entire epistle and every one of the epistles.

But, blessed be God, no such difficulty can be started in reference to the all-embracing, and encouraging words of Him who spake as never man spake. When we have from the lips of our blessed Lord Himself, the eternal Son of God, such words as these, "God so loved the world," we have no ground whatever for questioning their application to each and all who come under the comprehensive word "world." Before any one can prove that the free love of God does not apply to him, he must first prove that he does not form a part of the world, but that he belongs to some other sphere of being. If indeed, our Lord had said, "God so loved a certain portion of the world," call it what you please, then verily it would be absolutely necessary to prove that we belong to that particular portion or class, ere we could attempt to apply His words to ourselves. If He had said that God so loved the predestinated, the elect, or the called, then we must seek to know our place amongst the number of such, before we can take home to ourselves the precious assurance of the love of God, as proved by the gift of His Son.

But our Lord used no such qualifying clause. He is addressing one who, from his earliest days, had been trained and accustomed to take a very limited view indeed of the favor and goodness of God. Nicodemus had been taught to consider that the rich tide of Jehovah's goodness, loving-kindness, and tender mercy could only flow within the narrow inclosure of the Jewish system and the Jewish nation. The thought of its rolling forth to the wide wide world had never, we may safely assert, penetrated the mind of one trained amid the contracting influences of the legal system. Hence, therefore, it must have sounded passing strange in his ear, to hear "a teacher come from God" giving utterance to the great fact that God loved not merely the Jewish nation, nor yet some special portion of the human race, but "the world." No doubt, such a statement would add not a little to the amazement felt by this master in Israel at being told that he himself, with all His religious advantages, needed to be born again in order to see or enter the kingdom of God.

Do we then deny or call in question the grand truth of predestination, election, or effectual calling? God forbid. We hold these things as amongst the fundamental principles of true Christianity. We believe in the eternal counsels and purposes of our God—His unsearchable decrees—His electing love—His sovereign mercy.

But do any or all of these things interfere, in the smallest degree, with the gracious activities of the divine nature, or the outgoings of God's love towards a lost world? In no wise. God is love. That is His blessed nature, and this nature must express itself toward all. The mistake lies in supposing that because God has His purposes, His counsels, His decrees—because He is sovereign in His grace and mercy—because He has chosen from all eternity a people for His own praise and glory—because the names of the redeemed, all the redeemed, were written down in the book of the slain Lamb, before the foundation of the world—that therefore God cannot be said to love all mankind—to love the world—and, moreover that the glad tidings of God's full and free salvation ought not to be proclaimed in the ears of every creature under heaven.

The simple fact is that the two lines, though so perfectly distinct, are laid down with equal clearness, in the word of God; neither interferes, in the smallest degree, with the other, but both together go to make up the beauteous harmony of divine truth and to set forth the glorious unity of the divine nature.

Now, it is with the activities of the divine nature and the outgoings of divine love that the preacher of the gospel has specially to do. He is not to be cramped, crippled, or confined in his blessed work, by any reference to God's secret decrees or purposes, though fully aware of the existence of such. His mission is to the world—the wide wide world. His theme is salvation—a salvation as full as the heart of God, as permanent as the throne of God—as free as the air—free to all without any exception, limitation, or condition whatsoever. The basis of his work is the atoning death of Christ which has removed all barriers out of the way, and opened up the floodgates in order that the mighty tide of divine love may roll forth, in all its fulness, richness and blessedness, to a lost and guilty world.

And here, we may add, lies the ground of man's responsibility in reference to the gospel of God. If, indeed, it be true that God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son—if "the righteousness of God is unto all" (Rom. iii. 22)—if it be God's gracious will that "all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. ii. 4)—if He is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. iii. 9)—then verily is every man who hears this glorious gospel laid under the most solemn responsibility to believe it and be saved. No one can honestly and truthfully turn round and say, "I longed to be saved, but could not, because I was not one of the elect. I longed to flee from the wrath to come but was prevented by the insuperable barrier of the divine decree which irresistibly consigned me to an everlasting hell."

There is not, within the covers of the volume of God, in the entire range of His dealings with His creatures, in the aspect of His character, or in the enactments of His moral government, the very faintest shadow of a foundation for such an objection. Every man is left without excuse. God can say to all who have rejected His gospel, "I would, but ye would not." There is absolutely no such thing as reprobation in the word of God, meaning thereby the consignment on God's part, of any number of His creatures to everlasting damnation. Everlasting fire is prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matt. xxv.) Men will rush into it. "Vessels of wrath" are fitted, not by God, but by themselves, "to destruction." (Rom. ix.) Everyone who gets to heaven will have to thank God for it. Everyone who finds himself in hell will have to blame himself for it.

Furthermore, we have ever to remember that the sinner has nothing to do with God's unpublished decrees. What does he—what can he—know about such? Nothing whatever. But he has to do with God's published love—His proffered mercy—His free salvation—His glorious gospel. We may fearlessly assert that so long as these glowing and glorious words shine in the record of God, "Whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely," (Rev. xxii. 17) it is impossible for any son or daughter of Adam to say, "I longed to be saved, but could not. I thirsted for the living water, but could not reach it. The well was deep and I had nothing to draw with." Ah, no! such language will never be used, such an objection will never be urged by anyone in all the ranks of the lost. When men pass into eternity they will see with awful clearness what they now affect to think is so obscure and perplexing, namely, the perfect compatibility of God's electing sovereign grace and the free offer of salvation to all—the fullest harmony between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

We fondly trust the reader sees these things, even now. It is of the very last possible importance to maintain the balance of truth in the soul—to allow the beams of divine revelation to act, with full power, on the heart and conscience, unimpeded by the murky atmosphere of mere human theology. There is imminent danger in taking up a certain number of abstract truths and forming them into a system. We want the adjusting power of all truth. The growth and practical sanctification of the soul are promoted, not by some truth, but by the truth, in all its fullness, as embodied in the person of Christ, and set forth by the eternal Spirit in the holy scriptures. We must get rid completely of all our own preconceived notions—all merely theological views and opinions—and come like a little child, to the feet of Jesus to be taught by His Spirit, from out His holy word. Thus only shall we find rest from conflicting dogmas. Thus shall all the heavy clouds and mists of human opinion be rolled away, and our enfranchised souls shall bask in the clear sunlight of a full divine revelation.

We shall now proceed with our proofs.

The second fact which we shall adduce to prove that God is for us will be found in

THE DEATH OF HIS SON.

And, for our present purpose, it is only necessary for us to take up one feature in the atoning death of Christ, but that one feature is a cardinal one. We refer to the marvellous fact set forth by the Holy Ghost in the prophet Isaiah, "It pleased Jehovah to bruise Him. He hath put Him to grief." (Chapter liii.)

Our blessed Lord might have come into this world of sin and sorrow. He might have become a man. He might have been baptized in the Jordan—anointed by the Holy Ghost—tempted of Satan in the wilderness. He might have gone about doing good. He might have lived and labored, wept and prayed, and, at the close, gone back to heaven again, thus leaving us involved in deeper gloom than ever. He might, like the priest or the Levite, in the parable, have come and looked upon us in our wounds and misery, passed by on the other side and returned alone to the place from whence He came.

And what if He had? what, reader, but the flames of an everlasting hell for thee and me? For, be it well remembered, that all the living labors of the Son of God—His amazing ministry—His days of toil and His nights of prayer—His tears, His sighs, His groans—the whole of His life-work, from the manger up to, but short of, the cross, could not have blotted out one speck of guilt from a human conscience. "Without shedding of blood is no remission." No doubt, the eternal Son had to become a man that He might die; but incarnation could not cancel guilt. Indeed, the life of Christ, as a man on this earth, only proved the human race more guilty still. "If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin." The light that shone in His blessed ways only revealed the moral darkness of man—of Israel—of the world. Hence, therefore, had He merely come and lived and labored here for three-and-thirty years, and gone back to heaven, our guilt and moral darkness would have been fully proved but no atonement made. "It is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul." "Without shedding of blood is no remission," (Heb. ix. 22.)

This is a grand foundation-truth of Christianity, and must be constantly affirmed, and tenaciously held. There is immense moral power in it. If it be true that all the life-labors of the Son of God—His tears, His prayers, His groans, His sighs—if all these things put together could not cancel one single speck of guilt; then, indeed, may we not lawfully inquire what possible value can there be in our works—our tears—our prayers—our religious services—our ordinances, sacraments and ceremonies—the whole range of religious activity and moral reform? Can such things avail to cancel our sins and give us a righteousness before God? The thought is perfectly monstrous. If any or all of these things could avail, then why the sacrificial, atoning death of Christ? Why that ineffable and inestimable sacrifice, if aught else would have done?

But, it will perhaps be said that, although none of these things could avail without the death of Christ, yet they must be added to it. For what? To make that peerless death—that precious blood—that priceless sacrifice of full avail? Is that it? Shall the rubbish of human doings, human righteousness, be flung into the scale to make the sacrifice of Christ of full avail in the judgment of God? The bare thought is positive and absolute blasphemy.

But are there not to be good works? Yes, verily; but what are they? Are they the pious doings, the religious efforts, the moral activities of unregenerate, unconverted, unbelieving nature? Nay. What then? What are the Christian's good works? They are life-works, not dead works. They are the precious fruits of life possessed—the life of Christ in the true believer. There is not anything beneath the canopy of heaven which God can accept as a good work save the fruit of the grace of Christ in the believer. The very feeblest expression of the life of Christ, in the daily history of a Christian, is fragrant and precious to God. But the most splendid and gigantic labors of an unbeliever are, in God's account, but "dead works."

All this, however, is a digression from our main line, to which we must now return.

We have said that, for our present purpose, we shall merely refer to one special point in the death of Christ, and that is the fact that it pleased Jehovah to bruise Him. Herein lies the striking and soul-subduing proof that God is for us. "He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all." He not merely gave Him but bruised Him, and that for us. That spotless, holy, perfect One—the only perfect Man that ever trod this earth—the One who ever did the things which pleased His Father—whose whole life from the manger to the tree was one continued sweet odor ascending to the throne and to the heart of God—whose every movement, every word, every look, every thought was well-pleasing to God—whose one grand object, from first to last, was to glorify God and finish His work—this blessed One was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God—was nailed to the cursed tree, and there endured the righteous wrath of a sin-hating God; and all this because God was for us—even us.

What marvellous and matchless grace is here! The Just One bruised for the unjust—the sinless, spotless, holy Jesus, bruised by the hand of Infinite Justice in order that guilty rebels might be saved; and not only saved but brought into the position and relationship of sons—sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty—heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.

This surely is grace—rich, free, sovereign grace—grace abounding to the very chief of sinners—grace reigning, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ. Who would not trust this grace? Who can look at the cross, and doubt that God is for the sinner—for any sinner—for him—for the reader of these lines? Who would not confide in that love that shines in the cross? Who can look at the cross and not see that God willeth not the death of any sinner? Why did He not allow us to perish in our guilt—to descend into that everlasting hell which we so richly deserved because of our sins? Why give His Only-begotten Son? Why bruise Him on that shameful cross? Why hide His face from the only perfect Man that ever lived—that Man His own Eternal Son? Why all this, reader? Surely it was because God is for us, spite of all our guilt and sinful rebellion. Yes, blessed be His Name, He is for the poor self-destroyed, hell-deserving sinner, be he who or what he may; and each one whose eye scans these lines is now entreated to come and confide in the love that gave Jesus from the bosom and bruised Him on the cross.

Oh! beloved reader, do come, just now. Delay not! Waver not! Reason not! Listen not to Satan! Listen not to the suggestions and imaginings of your own heart; but listen to that word which assures you that God is for you, and to that love which shines forth in the gift and the death of His Son.


In pursuing what we may truly call the golden chain of evidence in proof that God is for us, we have dwelt upon the two precious facts of the gift and the death of His Son. We have traveled from the bosom to the cross, along that mysterious and marvelous path which is marked by the footprints of divine and everlasting love. We have seen the blessed One not only giving His only begotten Son from His bosom, but actually bruising Him for us—making His spotless soul an offering for sin—bringing Him down into the dust of death—making Him to be sin for us—judging Him in our stead—thus affording the most unanswerable evidence of the fact that He is for us, that His heart is toward us, that He earnestly desires our salvation, seeing that He hath not withheld His Son, His only Son from us, but delivered Him up for us all.

We shall now proceed to our third proof, which is furnished by

THE RAISING OF HIS SON.

And in speaking of the glorious fact of resurrection, we must confine ourselves to the one point therein, namely, the proof which it furnishes of God's being friendly to us. A passage or two of Scripture will suffice to unfold and establish this special point.

In Romans iv., the inspired apostle introduces God to our hearts as the One who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He is speaking of Abraham who, He tells us, "against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb. He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that"—what? That gave His Son? Nay. That bruised His Son upon the cross? Nay. What then? "That raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead"—the very same "who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification."

Anxious reader, weigh this great fact. What was it that brought the precious Saviour to the cross? What brought Him down to the dust of death? Was it not our offences? Truly so. "He was delivered for our offences." He was nailed to the cursed tree for us. He represented us on the cross. He was our Substitute, in all the full value and deep significance of that word. He took our place and was treated, in every respect, as we deserve to be treated. The hand of infinite justice dealt with our sins—all our sins, at the cross. Jesus made Himself responsible for all our offences, our iniquities, our transgressions, our liabilities, all that was or ever could be against us; He—blessed be His peerless and adorable name!—made Himself answerable for all, and died in our stead, under the full weight of our sins. He died, the just for the unjust.

Where is He now? The heart bounds with ineffable joy and holy triumph at the thought of the answer. Where is the blessed One who hung on yonder cross, and lay in yonder tomb? He is at the right hand of God, crowned with glory and honor. Who set Him there? Who put the crown upon His blessed brow? God Himself. The One who gave Him, and the One who bruised Him is the One who raised Him, and it is in Him we are to believe if we are to be counted righteous. This is the special point before the apostle's mind. Righteousness shall be imputed to us if we believe on God as the One who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

Mark the vital link. Seize the all-important connection. The selfsame One who hung upon the cross, charged with all our offences, is now on the throne without them. How did He get there? Was it in virtue of His eternal Godhead? No: for on that ground He was always there. He was God over all blessed forever. Was it in virtue of His eternal Sonship? Nay; for He was ever there on that ground also.[1] Therefore, it could, in no wise, meet our need as guilty sinners, charged with innumerable offences, to be told that the eternal Son of the Father had taken His seat at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens, inasmuch as that place ever belonged to Him—yea, the very deepest and tenderest place in the bosom of the Father.

But, further, we may inquire, was it as the spotless, sinless, perfect Man that our adorable Lord took His seat on the throne? Nay; as such, He could, at any moment, between the manger and the cross, have taken His place there.

To what conclusion, then, are we absolutely shut up, in this matter? To that most precious, that tranquilizing conclusion, that the selfsame One who was delivered for our offences, bruised for our iniquities, judged in our stead, is now in heaven; that the One who represented us on the cross, is now on the throne; that the One who stood charged with all our guilt, is now crowned with glory and honor; that, so perfectly, so absolutely and completely, has He disposed of the entire question of our sins, that infinite justice has raised Him from the dead, and placed a diadem of glory upon His sacred brow.

Reader, dost thou understand this? Dost thou see its bearing upon thyself? Dost thou believe in the One who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead? Dost thou see that, in so doing, He has declared Himself friendly to thee? And dost thou believe that, in raising up Jesus, He set forth His infinite satisfaction in the great work of atonement, and furnished thee with a receipt in full for all thy debts—a receipt for the "ten thousand talents."

Here lies the gist, marrow, and substance of this magnificent argument of Romans iv. If the Man who was delivered for our offences is now in heaven,—in heaven, too, by the hand and act of God Himself; then, most surely, our offences are all gone, and we stand justified from all things, as free from every charge of guilt, and every breath of condemnation, as the blessed One Himself. It cannot possibly be otherwise, if we believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. It is utterly impossible for a charge to be brought against the believer in the God of resurrection, for the simplest of all reasons that the One whom He raised was the One whom He bruised for the believer's sins. Why did He raise Him? Because the sins for which He bruised Him were all put away, and put away forever. The Lord Jesus, having undertaken our cause, and made Himself answerable for us in every way, could not be where He now is, if a single jot or tittle of our guilt remained. But, on the other hand, being where He now is, and being there by God's own act, it is impossible—utterly impossible—for any question to be raised as to the full and complete justification and perfect righteousness of the soul that believes in Him. Thus, the moment that any one believes in God, in the special character of the raiser of Jesus, he is counted perfectly righteous before Him. This is most marvellous, but divinely and eternally true. May the reader feel its power, sweetness, and tranquilizing virtue! Yea, may the eternal Spirit give him the blessed sense of it, deep down in his heart! Then, indeed shall he have perfect peace in his soul; then, too, shall he understand how that, in raising, as well as in bruising and giving His Son, God has declared and proved Himself to be for us.

We had intended to bring under the special notice of the reader Hebrews xiii. 20, but we must allow him to dwell upon that lovely passage for himself, while we proceed to exhibit our fourth proof that God is for us, which will be found in

THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY GHOST.

Here, too, we must confine ourselves to one point in that most glorious event, and that is the form in which that august witness, the eternal Spirit, descended.

Let the reader turn to the second chapter of the Acts. "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now, when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues, the wonderful works of God."

Here then we mark one special fact—a fact of deepest interest—three times referred to in the foregoing quotation. It is this, the Holy Ghost came down to speak to every man "in his own dialect"—not the dialect in which he was educated merely, but "in which he was born"—the very dialect in which his mother first whispered into his infant ears, the sweet and tender accents of a mother's love. Such was the medium, such the vehicle which the divine Messenger adopted for the blessed purpose of making known to man that God was for us. He did not speak to the Hebrew in Greek, or to the Greek in Latin. He spoke to each one in the language which he understood, in the plain vernacular—the mother tongue. If there was any peculiarity in that mother tongue, any idiom, any provincialism in the dialect of each, the blessed Spirit would make use of it for the purpose of reaching the heart with the sweet story of grace.

Contrast with this the giving of the law from Mount Sinai. There Jehovah confined Himself absolutely to one language. If persons had been gathered there "from every nation under heaven," they would not have understood a single syllable. The law—the ten words—the record of man's duty to God and to his neighbor was sedulously wrapped up in one tongue. But when "the wonderful works of God" were to be published—when the blessed story of love was to be told out—when the heart of God towards poor guilty sinners was to be revealed, was one language enough? No! "Every nation under heaven" must hear, and hear, too, in their own mother tongue.

Reader, is not this a telling fact? It will perhaps be said that those who heard Peter and the rest on the day of Pentecost, were Jews. Well, that in no wise robs our fact of its charm, its sweetness, and its power. Our fact is that when the eternal Spirit descended from heaven, to tell of the resurrection of Christ, to tell of accomplished redemption—to publish the glad tidings of salvation—to preach repentance and remission of sins—He did not confine Himself to one language, but spoke in every dialect under heaven!

And why? Because He desired to make man understand what He had to say to him—He desired to reach his heart with the sweet tidings of redeeming love—the soul-stirring message of full remission of sins. When the law was to be given—when Jehovah had to speak to man about his duty—when He had to address him in such terms as, "Thou shalt do this, and thou shalt not do that," He confined Himself to one solitary language. But when He would unfold the precious secret of His love—when He would prove to man that He was for him, He, blessed forever be His name, took care to speak in every language under heaven, so that every man might hear, in his own dialect wherein he was born, the wonderful works of God.[2]

Thus, then, in our series of proofs—our golden chain of evidence, we have traveled from the bosom of God to the cross of Christ, and from that precious cross back to the throne—we have marked the giving, the bruising, and the raising of the Son; we have seen the very heart of God told out in deep and marvelous love, and tender compassion toward guilty perishing sinners. Moreover, we have marked the descent of the eternal Spirit, from the throne of God—His mission to this world to announce to every creature under heaven the glad tidings of a full, free, and everlasting salvation, through the blood of the Lamb, and to announce these tidings not in an unknown tongue, but in the very tongue wherein each was born.

What more remains? Is there yet another link to be added to the chain? Yes; there is

THE POSSESSION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.

It may perhaps be said that our fifth proof is involved in our fourth, inasmuch as the fact of my possessing a copy of the Bible in my mother tongue is, in reality, the Holy Ghost speaking to me in the language in which I was born.

True; but still, so far as the reader is concerned, the fact that God has put into his hand or within his reach the sacred volume—the inestimable boon, the holy Scriptures—is an additional proof that He is for him. For why were we not left in ignorance and total darkness? Why was the divine book put into our hands? Why, each one may say, for himself and herself, was I thus favored? Why was I not left to live and die in heathen blindness? Why was the heavenly lamp allowed to cast its precious beams on me—even me?

Ah! beloved reader, the answer is, "Because God is for thee." Yes, for thee, notwithstanding all thy many sins—for thee, spite of all thy forgetfulness, ingratitude and rebellion—for thee, although as thou very well knowest, thou canst not shew a single reason why He should not be against thee. He gave His Son from His bosom, bruised Him on the cross, raised Him from the dead, sent down the Holy Ghost, put into your very hands His blessed book, all to shew you that He is for you, that His heart is toward you, that He earnestly desires your salvation.

And mark, we pray thee, thou canst not say, nor wilt thou ever dare to say, "I could not understand the Bible; it was beyond me; it was full of abstruse mysteries which I could not fathom; of difficulties which I could not solve; of discrepancies which I could not reconcile. And when I turned to those who professed to be Christians, I found them split up into almost innumerable sects, and divided into almost endless schools of doctrine. And, not only so, but I saw such utter hollowness, such gross inconsistency, such flagrant contradiction between profession and practice, that I was forced to abandon the whole subject of religion with a mingled feeling of perplexity, contempt, and disgust."

These objections will not stand in the judgment, nor keep thee out of the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. Remember this. Yes, ponder it deeply. Let not the devil, let not thine own heart deceive thee. What does Abraham say to the rich man, in Luke xvi.? "They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them." Why does the rich man not reply, "They cannot understand them?" He dare not.

No, reader; a child can understand the holy Scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. There is not one beneath the canopy of God's heaven, who possesses a copy of the holy Scriptures, who is not solemnly responsible before God for the use he makes of them. If professing Christians were split up into ten thousand times as many sects as they are; if they were ten thousand times as inconsistent as they are; if schools and doctors of divinity were ten thousand times more conflicting than they are—still the word to each possessor of the Bible is, "You have Moses and the prophets, and the New Testament, hear them."

Oh! that we could persuade the unconverted, the unawakened, the unbelieving reader to think of these things, to think of them now, to ponder them, in the very hidden depths of his moral being, to give them his heart's undivided attention, ere it be too late. We contemplate, with ever-deepening horror, the condition of a lost soul in hell—of one opening his eyes, in that place of endless torment, to the tremendous fact that God is against him and against him forever; that all hope is gone; that nothing can ever bridge the chasm that separates the region of the lost from the heaven of the redeemed; that "there is a great gulf fixed."

We cannot proceed. The thought is really overpowering. The heart is crushed by the appalling contemplation. Dear, dear reader, do let us entreat of thee, ere we lay down the pen, to turn, this very hour, to a dear loving Saviour who stands with open arms and open bosom to receive all who come to Him, and who assures thee that "him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out." Do come and trust in God's faithful word and Christ's finished work.

Here lies the precious secret of the whole matter. Look away from self, look straight to Jesus, confide simply in Him, and in what He has done for thee on the cross, and all thy sins shall be blotted out, divine righteousness shall be thine, eternal life, sonship, an indwelling Spirit, an all-prevailing Advocate, a bright home in the heavens, a portion in Christ's eternal glory—yes, reader, if thou wilt but believe in Jesus all shall be thine—Himself the best of all.

May the Holy Ghost lead thee, this moment, to the feet of Jesus, and enable thee to cry out, in holy triumph, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" God grant it for Jesus Christ's sake!

C. H. M.


"WHO LOVED ME"

Galatians ii. 20.

Three little sunbeams, gilding all I see.
Three little chords, each full of melody.
Three little leaves, balm for my agony.
"WHO"
He loved me, the Father's only Son.
He gave Himself, the precious, spotless One.
He shed His blood, and thus the work was done.
"LOVED"
He loved—not merely pitied. Here I rest.
Sorrow may come, I to His heart am pressed.
What should I fear while sheltered in His breast?
"ME"
Wonder of wonders, Jesus loved me;
A wretch—lost—ruined—sunk in misery.
He sought me, found me, raised me, set me free.
My soul the order of the words approve:
Christ first, me last, nothing between but LOVE.
Lord keep me always down, Thyself above.
Trusting to Thee, not struggling restlessly,
So shall I gain the victory.
"I—yet not I, but Christ, who loved me."

H. W.


 

THE CALL OF GOD

GEN CHAPTER XII

In a day of such widely extended profession as the present, it is specially important that Christians should be deeply impressed with the necessity of realizing personally the call of God, without which there can be no permanency or steadiness in the Christian course.

It is a comparatively easy thing to make a profession at a time when profession prevails; but it is never easy to walk by faith—it is never easy to give up present things, in the hope of "good things to come." Nothing but that mighty principle which the apostle denominates "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. xi. 1), can ever enable a man to persevere in a course which in a world where all is wrong—all out of order, must be thorny and difficult. We must feel "persuaded" of something yet to come—something worth waiting for—something that will reward all the toil of a pilgrim's protracted course, ere we rise up out of the circumstances of nature and the world, to "run with patience the race that is set before us." (Heb. xii. 1.)

All this is fully exemplified in Abraham, and the exemplification receives additional force from the contrast exhibited in the character of Lot and others who are introduced in the course of the narrative.

In the seventh of Acts, we have the following words which bear directly upon the subject before us. "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and come into the land that I shall show thee." (Vers. 1, 2.) Here then we are presented with the first dawning of that light which attracted Abraham out of the darkness of "Ur, of the Chaldees," and which shining in upon his wearisome path, from time to time, gave fresh vigor to his soul, as he journeyed in quest of "that city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." "The God of glory" caused Abraham to see, in the light of His character, the true condition of things in Ur, and further, to believe, as some one has observed, a report concerning future glory and inheritance, and he therefore hesitates not, but instantly girds himself up for the journey.

However, upon a close comparison of the opening of the seventh of Acts, with the first verse of this twelfth chapter of Genesis, we get an important principle. From the time that God appeared unto Abraham, until he finally gets up into the land of Canaan, an event occurs involving much deep instruction to us. I allude to the death of Abraham's father, as we read in Acts vii. "From thence, when his father was dead, He removed him into this land wherein ye now dwell." (Ver. 4.) This will enable us to understand the force of the expression in Gen. xii., "The Lord had said unto Abram," etc. (Ver. 1.) From both these passages, it would plainly appear the movement made by Terah and his family, recorded in Gen. x. 31, was the result of a revelation made by "the God of glory" to Abram, but it would not appear that Terah had received any such revelation from God. He is presented to us rather as a hindrance to Abram than any thing else, for until he died, Abram did not come into the land of Canaan—his divinely appointed destination.

Now, this circumstance, trivial as it may seem to a cursory reader, confirms in the strongest manner the statement already advanced, namely, that unless the call of God—the revelation from "the God of glory" be personally realized, there can be no permanency or steadiness in the Christian course. Had Terah realized that call, he would neither have been a clog to Abram in his path of faith, nor yet would he have dropped off, like a mere child of nature, ere reaching the future land of promise. We get the same principle illustrated in Laban afterward in Gen. xxiv. Laban, as some one has well observed, was fully alive to the value of the gold and silver jewels which the servant of Abraham had brought with him, but he had no heart to value the report concerning future things, which dropped from his lips. In other words, he did not receive a revelation from "the God of glory," and as a consequence, he remained, as the same writer has observed, "a thorough man of the world."

In the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, we are taught the same truth. There were other persons with him when he was struck to the ground by the lustre of the glory of the Lord Jesus; these persons "saw indeed the light"—they witnessed many of the external circumstances which had arrested the furious zealot; but as he himself states, "they heard not the voice of Him that spake TO ME." (Acts xxii. 9.) Here is the grand point. The voice must speak "to me"—"the God of glory" must appear "to me," ere I can take the place of a pilgrim and stranger in the world, and perseveringly, "run the race that is set before me." It is not national faith, nor family faith, but personal faith that will constitute us real witnesses for God in the world.

But when Abram was released from the clog which he had experienced in the person of his father, he was enabled to enter with vigor and decision upon the path of faith—a path which "flesh and blood" can never tread—a thorny path beset with difficulties from first to last, in which God alone can sustain the soul. "And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord who appeared unto him." (Gen. xii. 6, 7.) Here Abram at once takes his stand as a worshiper, in the face of "the Canaanite." The altar marks him as one who, having been delivered from the idols of Ur of the Chaldees, had been taught to bow before the altar of the one true God, "who made heaven and earth." In the following verse, we get the second grand feature in the character of the man of faith, namely, "the tent," denoting strangership in the world. "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise." (Heb. xi. 9.)

We shall have occasion to notice more fully, as we proceed, these two important points in the life of Abraham, and shall therefore rest satisfied for the present with establishing the fact that the tent and the altar do most clearly present him to us as a stranger and a worshiper, and that as such, he was a man entirely separated from the course of this evil world.

Scarcely had Abram entered upon his course, when he had to encounter one of those difficulties which have a special tendency to test the genuineness of faith, both as to its quality and its object. "And there was a famine in the land." The difficulty meets him in the very place into which the Lord had called him. Now, it is no easy matter when we perceive trial and sorrow, privation and difficulty awaiting us, while walking in "the strait and narrow way," still to persevere—still to pursue the onward path, and especially if we observe within our reach, as Abram did, an entire exemption from the particular trial under which we may be smarting. The men of this world "are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued as other men." This feeling is still further increased by the entire absence of every thing, as far as sight is concerned, which could act as a confirmation of our hope. Abram had not so much as to set his foot upon—famine was raging around him on every side, save in Egypt. Could he only find himself there, he would be able to live in ease and abundance.

Here, however, the man of faith must pursue the path of simple obedience. God had said, "Get thee out of thy country ... unto a land that I will show thee." Abram may, it is true, afterward discover that obedience to this command will involve his abiding in a land where nothing but starvation, apparently, awaits him. But even though it should be so, God had not in any way qualified the command. No, the word was simple and definite: "Into a land that I will show thee." This should have been as true and as binding upon Abram when famine reigned around him, as when peace and abundance prevailed. Famine should not, therefore, have induced him to leave the land, neither should abundance have induced him to remain. The influential words were, "I will show thee."

But Abram leaves this land—he succumbs, for the moment, to the heavy trial, and bends his footsteps down to Egypt, leaving behind him his tent and altar. There he obtained ease and luxury; he escaped, no doubt, the formidable trial under which he had suffered in the land of promise; but he lost, for the time being, his worship and strangership,—things which should ever be dearest to the heart of a pilgrim.

There is nothing in Egypt for Abram to feed upon as a spiritual man; it might, and doubtless did, afford abundance for him as a natural man, but that was all. Egypt would give nothing to Abram unless he sacrificed his character both as a stranger and as a worshiper of God. It is needless to observe that it is exactly so at this very hour. There is plenty in the world upon which our old nature could feed most luxuriously. There are the rich delights "of the flesh and of the mind," and abundant means of gratifying the desires of the heart, but what of all these, if the enjoyment thereof leads, as it must necessarily do, right out of the path of faith—the path of simple obedience.

Here then is the question for the Christian: which shall I have, the gold and silver, the flocks and herds—the present ease and affluence of Egypt, or the tent and altar of "the land of promise"? Which shall I have: the carnal ease and delight of the world, or a peaceful holy walk with God here, and eternal blessedness and glory hereafter? We cannot have both, for, "if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

But, we may ask, why was it that Abram had to experience famine and trial in the land of promise? Why did he not find a home and plenty there? Simply because "the Canaanite and Perizzite dwelt then in the land." (Chap. xiii. 7.) The land had not as yet been fitted up to be the residence of God's redeemed ones. Abram's faith might have enabled him to penetrate through the long and dreary period which should intervene ere the promise could be consummated; but that very principle of faith it was that made him "a pilgrim and a stranger." He could wait for God's time, and until then remain without "so much as to set his foot on." (Acts vii. 5.) So should it be now.

CHAPTER XIII.

This beautiful chapter shows us the man of faith recovering himself, through the faithfulness and loving-kindness of God, who never allows such to wander far, or tarry long away. The gold and silver, the flocks and herds of Egypt, could not long prove a satisfying portion for Abram, while deprived of his tent and his altar, and he therefore once more, in the renewed energy of faith rises, as it were, from the dust of Egypt, and retraces his steps to the land of promise. Happy recovery! Certain evidence of a fixed and honest purpose to serve the Lord. "The ship may be tossed by the waves and the winds, but the magnet still points to the north."

But some expressions in the opening of this chapter confirm most fully a thought already expressed, namely, that Abram gained nothing, "as before God," by his visit to Egypt. Thus, for example, "Abram went on his journeys ... unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, unto the place of the altar which he had made there at the first." (Vers. 3, 4.) The words "beginning," and "at the first," prove that Abram had made no progress while in Egypt, but that, while there, all his time was, as it were, lost. No doubt he learnt a wholesome lesson, and it is well when by our failures we learn to distrust our own hearts, and dread the pernicious influence of the world. Abram learnt that there could be no tent or altar in Egypt. It is only faith that can enable a man to raise an altar or erect a tent, but in Egypt all is sight and not faith, and hence, the moment Abram set his foot there he ceased to show forth the genuine fruits of faith—yea, the very principle which led him to leave the land of promise, led him, at the same time, to relinquish his character as a stranger and a worshiper.

How forcibly are we here reminded of a proposal made long after this, by a king of Egypt, to Abraham's seed. "And Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said: Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land." (Ex. viii. 25.) Thus, it would seem ever to have been the design of the enemy to get the people of God, the holy seed, to defile themselves by worshiping or sacrificing to God, in the world; i. e., to make their character, as worshipers of God, accord with that of men of the world—men holding a place in society where Christ is an outcast; thus, of course, declaring that there is no difference between the religion of the world and the religion of God—a truly fearful delusion, calculated to lead many souls out of the way of truth and holiness.

It is most sad to hear, at times, those who surely ought to know better, in order, as they say, to manifest a liberal spirit, speaking of the religion of the world in all its multiplied forms, as if it were all right; or, as if it were a matter of total indifference whether we remained in communion with error or not. Oh, let us not be deceived! God's principle of separation is as strong and as binding to-day as it was in the days of Abram or Moses. "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing," must hold good as long as the "unclean thing" exists; nor can any outward form alter the character—the true essential character of "the unclean thing" so as to make it "a clean thing."

Moses, then, was not liberal, in the above acceptation of the word, for he at once refused to countenance the religion of the world. "It is not meet so to do." Memorable words! Would that there were more amongst us who, when invited to countenance the religion of the world, would reply, "It is not meet so to do." Abram could not worship in Egypt, neither could his seed.

But Abram had more difficulties than one to encounter in his course. The path which every man of faith is called to tread lies between two dangerous extremes. One is the temptation to return to the world; the other, to strive with brethren by the way. Abram had just recovered himself from the effects of the former, and we have now to behold him buffeting the latter.

The moment Abram emerged from Egypt, he appeared in a special manner to move under a new responsibility, namely, responsibility to his brother to walk with him in harmony. While in Egypt, this responsibility stood quite in the shade. The institutions—laws—habits—luxury and ease of Egypt, would in an eminent degree tend to do away with every such feeling. All these things would have had the effect of erecting barriers around each individual tending to prevent him from recognizing the fact that he was his "brother's keeper." Nor is it otherwise now. So long as we continue in the world—the religious world, as it is termed—we shall find ourselves completely relieved from the difficult task of being our "brother's keeper." Those who advocate a continuance therein may deny this fact, but it is all in vain, for Scripture and experience alike demonstrate it. Abram and Lot did not strive in Egypt, and a religious establishment presents this attraction at least—and it is by no means a feeble one—it effectually prevents brotherly collision; and, of course, where there is no collision there can be no strife—no dispute; where collision takes place, there must be either grace to enable us to walk in unity of mind, or strife and contention. But Egypt saps the very springs of grace by leading us out of a place of simple dependence upon the Lord, (for dependence ever genders grace and forbearance) and because she does so, she, at the same time, teaches us, or attempts at least to teach us, that we do not need grace, by leading us into a sphere in which responsibility to brethren is never realized, thus the need is not felt; weakness is mistaken for strength, folly for wisdom.

When the Christian at first starts on his course, he fondly dreams of nothing but perfection in his fellow Christians; but in this he soon finds himself mistaken, for we have all our infirmities, and as the apostle states, "In many things we offend all." But why, we may ask, was there such a speedy development of infirmity upon their coming up out of Egypt? Because they were now called to walk in the power of a naked principle, without any of the props or barriers of Egypt. They were called to walk by faith, and "faith worketh by love."

Now "the Canaanite," etc., "was then in the land." This should have acted as a hindrance to any strife between "brethren," for the Canaanite cannot understand anything about the infirmities of believers, and he therefore puts all their failure down to some defect in the principle professed.

But in every strife between brethren, there must be fault somewhere. In the contention between Paul and Barnabas there was fault somewhere. Nor can we be at any loss to decide where it lay. Barnabas wished to take his relative with him, but this relative had before proved himself unfit, or at least unwilling, to "endure hardness," therefore it could not have been with a single eye to the Lord's work that Barnabas desired his company. The Lord Himself, too, at once takes Paul's side of the question by providing him with a dear son and fellow-laborer, in the person of Timothy, with whom he had "none like-minded."

So it is exactly in the case before us. We can have no hesitation in asserting that Lot was the man in error here. Lot does not appear to have fully got rid of the spirit of the world, and where there is this spirit predominating in any one he will ever find the path of faith too strait for him to walk in, and so it was, "They could not dwell together."

If, then, it be asked on what grounds one would pronounce Lot to have been in the wrong? The answer is, first, Lot's subsequent conduct; and, second, the Lord's dealings with Abram, "after that Lot was separated from him."

What then did Lot do? "He lifted up his eyes." This is ever our mode of acting when not under the direct power of faith. Whenever we lift up our eyes without divine direction, we are sure to go wrong. I say, without divine direction, for we find the Lord afterwards directing Abram to lift up his eyes, but then that was totally different from Lot's act, which was simply the suggestion of mere human wisdom and foresight. Human wisdom and foresight, however, can never assist our progress as men of faith—no, quite the reverse; human wisdom will ever suggest things which, if acted upon, will lead us right athwart the path of a man of faith. Therefore Lot, in lifting up his eyes, could not penetrate beyond the "things that are seen and temporal." Such was the utmost bound of his range of vision. The things on which his eyes rested were those with which he had been conversant while in Egypt, as we read, "He beheld all the plain of Jordan that it was well watered every where ... like the land of Egypt." (10.) Here we observe that Lot had never been really detached in heart and affection from Egypt—he had never learnt the vanity and unsatisfactoriness of all her resources in the light of a better order of things—he had never contrasted her with that "city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God"—in a word, he "having put his hand to the plow," was now beginning "to look back," and thus to prove himself "unfit for the kingdom of heaven."

There is a striking notice of all this afforded in the opening verse of this chapter, "Abram went up out of Egypt and Lot with him." Here we get the secret of Lot's after instability. He appears to have gone up rather with Abram than with God, and the consequence was that, when he parted with Abram, he had nothing to lean upon. He had been hitherto moving under Abram's protection and guidance instead of being directly before the Lord, and therefore when he lost Abram he went astray.

Now then is the moment for Abram to "lift up his eyes," at the Lord's command, and oh, what a different range of vision was his! While Lot could not penetrate beyond the narrow limits of the present scene, Abram was enabled to survey the length and breadth of God's inheritance. He soars on the strong and rapid pinion of faith, and is, as it were, lost in the unbounded beneficence of God; while Lot, the man walking by sight, is well-nigh lost in the deep gulf of Sodom's corruption.

Let us then, ere we enter upon the next chapter, take a view of the different circumstances of these two men who had started together. "Lot lifted up his eyes," and the prospect on which they rested was, as might be expected, such as suited his natural desires, "well-watered plains," which, however fair in man's view, were nevertheless, in the sight of the Lord, filled with exceeding wickedness. (Comp. vers. 10 and 14.) Abram, on the contrary, had allowed his eye to wander over the length and breadth of the promised inheritance—uninfluenced by all else, he viewed the portion which God was reserving for him and his seed, and took up his position accordingly.

Thus do we find Lot in the unhallowed region of Sodom; and Abram—the pilgrim and stranger, with his tent and altar—"in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron."

CHAPTER XIV.

Here we have a very minute account of a battle fought by "four kings with five," and we may ask, What connection had this strife between "the potsherds of the earth," with the history of the people of God? With Abram indeed none, in one sense, for he was outside it all. His tent marked him as a stranger to all these things—it marked him as one to whom the battle of "four kings with five" would be a matter of very trivial moment. And then his altar marked him as one whose pursuits were quite of another character, even a heavenly. His tent showed him to be a stranger on earth—his altar showed him to be at home in heaven. Happy man! Happy pilgrim! who could thus from his high elevation, even the lofty watch-tower of faith, look down, as a passer-by, upon the battle fields of an evil world. It mattered not to Abram whether the laurel of victory were about to wreath the brow of the king of Sodom, or of Chedorlaomer, king of Elam; his portion was not in danger through their strife, because he had it in that place "where thieves do notbreak through and steal."

But, though it was the happy lot of Abram to have his being and his portion in a place where wars could have no influence, yet such was not the case with his more worldly-minded brother. His position was such as to place him in the midst of the strife, and consequently the issue of this battle could not fail to be of the deepest moment to him. If the child of God will stoop so low as to mix himself up with the world, he must calculate upon being made a participator in its convulsions, and woe be to that man who shall have his portion in the world in that day (now fast approaching) when all things shall be shaken by the mighty hand of God in judgment.

I would here observe that what has ever made the history of nations and the movements of mighty kings and conquerors, matters of interest to the Holy Spirit, has been the connection of such things with the history of the people of God. Beyond this they possessed nothing of moment to Him. He could find no pleasure in dwelling upon the abstract history of man. The busy strife and tumult of nations—the fierce contests of ungodly tyrants grasping after power—the movements of armies, could not attract the notice of the Spirit of peace; nevertheless, when such things became, in the least degree, connected with the history of a "righteous soul," the Holy Ghost can be most minute in detailing the circumstances of a battle, as is observable in the case under consideration.

What then were the results of this contest to Lot? Ruin to him and his family. He was made prisoner and all his goods were taken. (Ver. 12.) He had laid up treasure for himself upon earth, and the thieves had broken through; and thus, while Abram was above it all, in the power—the separating power of communion with God, he found himself a prisoner and a beggar. He had sown to the flesh, and of the flesh he must now "reap corruption."

But this was just the moment for Abram to show himself in the powerful activities of love. He had, as above observed, hitherto surveyed with calm indifference these movements of "kings and their armies," but the very same faith which had made him indifferent about the strifes of men, made him quick to take cognizance of a brother in distress. Faith not only purifies the heart from worldly and carnal desires, but it also "works by love," as is powerfully shown in Abram's case, for "when Abram saw that his brother was taken captive he armed his trained servants," etc. (Ver. 14.)

Now, it is to be observed that it is in the hour of distress and difficulty that the relationship of brother gets the prominent place. In days of unruffled peace, Lot might be known to Abram as "his brother's son," but now he was in sorrow, and therefore the claims of brotherhood act, and act powerfully and effectually.

We are now called to witness a deeply interesting scene. Abram himself is about to meet a temptation—a temptation at once repulsed indeed by the power of God in him, but nevertheless, a temptation. The king of Sodom was about to come forth to display his treasures before the eye of Abram, and he had by nature a heart to value those treasures.

That man knows not his own heart who could say that the world does not present many—very many attractions to the natural heart. There is a species of misanthropy which looks like elevation above the world, but which, after all, is not it. The Cynic philosopher Diogenes, when he told Alexander to get out of his sunshine, was as proud and as worldly a man as Alexander himself. The only true and real way in which to be separated from, and elevated above, the world, is by the knowledge of heavenly things, and Abram was led, through the mercy of God, into that knowledge.

But the victory obtained by Abram, was not owing to any power in himself. He had, as I have observed, a heart to value the things which the enemy had to give him; and, therefore, if he triumphed, it was through the operation of a power outside himself. In all this transaction, the One who had watched over His dear servant during the dark season of his sojourn in Egypt, and who, moreover, had, by that very sojourn, taught him a lesson as to the true character of the world, was now closely observing his ways, and making preparations for his relief; He was cognizant of the movements and designs of the enemy, from first to last, and He therefore prepares to supply a heavenly antidote to nullify his poison.

It is particularly worthy of observation that between the time at which the king of Sodom went forth to meet Abram, and that wherein he made the proposal to him with reference to "the persons and the goods," there is a remarkable character introduced, namely, Melchizedek. This stranger, commissioned by God, was on his way to fortify Abram's heart at the very moment when the enemy was on his way to attack (Comp. ver. 17, 18, and 21). Now, why did not, "the priest of the Most High God" come to meet Abram before? Because this was the very moment in which Abram most needed the strength which he had to bring. The enemy was about to display his gilded bait before the eye of the man of God, and therefore is Melchizedek at hand to display in his view the divine realities of the kingdom. He was about to feed and strengthen his soul with the "bread," and cheer him with the "wine," of the kingdom, in order that, "in the strength of that meat" he might mount above the influence of all the allurements of the world. From all this we may learn that it is communion with the joys and glories of the kingdom that can alone cause the heart to reject the pollutions of the world.

Reader, upon what are you now feeding? What constitutes your habitual food? Is it "the bread and wine" which the Lord provides, or "the goods" of Sodom? Are your ears open to the pernicious suggestions of the King of Sodom, or to the heavenly communications of the King of Salem? The Lord grant that our hearts may ever choose that in which He delights.

But to proceed, Melchizedek leads Abram's soul into present communion with "the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth," and thus completes the wondrous contrast between "the King of Sodom" and "the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth,"—"the goods of Sodom" and the extensive possessions of heaven and earth. Blessed contrast, which faith ever draws! It is needless to say that Abram at once rejects the offer of the King of Sodom. The bread and wine, and the benediction of "the priest of the Most High God," had raised Abram to such a height that he could, in one comprehensive glance, take in the vast possessions of heaven and earth, and further, look down from thence upon the despicable proposal of the King of Sodom and reject it. Melchizedek had just said, "the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth," and Abram had laid hold on these words and made use of them in his reply to the adversary. "I have lifted up my hand," said he, "to the Lord, the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoe-latchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich" (vers. 22, 23).

Abram appears to breathe the very atmosphere of the presence of Him, "who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with a span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance, in whose sight the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance. Behold! he taketh up the isles as a very little thing, and Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt-offering. All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted to Him as less than nothing and vanity." (Isa. xl. 12, 15-18.)

And surely, we may say, it was only thus that Abram could triumph; and let no one who moves not, in some measure, in the same sphere, affect to despise the world—nothing can be more truly vain. There must be the experimental acquaintance with the better thing—the fondly cherished hope of "good things to come"—ere we can obtain full victory over present things, and our own worldly desires. "Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance" (Heb. x. 34). If we are really waiting for the manifestation of the glory, we shall be found standing apart from everything which will be judged in that day: and it is written, "Yet once more, I shake not the earth only but also heaven; and this word, yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain" (Heb. xii. 26, 27).

We have, in the last verse of our truly interesting chapter, a happy feature in the character of the true man of faith. Abram would not force others to walk according to his elevated standard. Although he might be able to reject, in the most unreserved manner, the offers of the king of Sodom, yet others might not be able to do so, and therefore he says, with regard to "Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, let them take their portion." Our walk should ever be "according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith" (Rom. xii. 3). We have seen, in our own day, many persons led, at the outset, to give up a variety of worldly things, and afterwards plunge still deeper into those things; and why? Because they acted through mere excitement or human influence, and were not able to say with Abram, "I have lift up my hand unto the Lord."

CHAPTER XV.

In the opening verse of this chapter, we have a principle fraught with comfort and encouragement to us—a principle eminently calculated to call out into full exercise a spirit of true devotedness to the Lord. We observe here, the Lord's grace in acknowledging and accepting the sacrifice laid upon His altar—the willing offering of the devoted heart of His servant. Our God is never slow in owning such things, nor in rewarding them a hundredfold. Abram had just been manifesting a spirit of self-denial in refusing the attractive offers of the King of Sodom. He had refused to be enriched from such a source, and had taken "the Most High God" for his portion and his reward, therefore the Lord comes forth to confirm the soul of his servant with these words, "Fear not, Abram, I AM thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." "God is not unrighteous to forget the work and labor of love" (Heb. vi. 10). A similar principle is presented to us in chapter xiii. where Abram is seen giving way to Lot, in the matter of choosing the land. Abram's whole anxiety in that matter was about the Lord's honor, as maintained in the harmonious walk of "brethren" before the "Canaanite and the Perizzite." "Let there be no strife," says he, "between me and thee ... for we be brethren." Nor did Abram desire to suppress the strife, by exacting concessions from Lot. No; he was willing to concede everything himself—to surrender every claim—to sacrifice every advantage, provided the strife were suppressed. "Is not the whole land before thee?" Take what you please—possess yourself of the fairest spot in all the region round about. Here, as some one has observed, is the liberality—the unselfishness of faith. What was land to Abram in comparison with the Lord's glory? Nothing. He could give up anything, or everything, for that. How then does the Lord meet this self-sacrifice on the part of His servant? Just as He does in this xv. chapter, by coming in, in the plenitude of His goodness, to make it up to him a hundredfold. "Lift up now thine eyes ... for all the land which thou seest to thee will I give it, and to thy seed after thee" (xiii. 14, 15). How truly gracious it is of the Lord to enable His servant to make a sacrifice for Him, and then reward that sacrifice by a vast increase of blessing. Such are His ways—His ever adorable ways.

We are now called to trace in Abram the development of a feature which, in a special manner, demonstrates the high order of his communion with God. After all God's revelations and promises to him, his soul still breathes after an object without which all besides was defective. True, he had surveyed, with the eye of faith, the promised inheritance—the magnificent gift of divine benevolence; yet, notwithstanding all this, was there a great desideratum—a mighty blank. He sighed for a SON. A son alone could render complete, in Abram's estimation, all his previous privileges. "And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus. And Abram said, Behold to me thou hast given no seed: and lo, one born in my house is mine heir" (vers. 2, 3). Now, we have, in tracing the path of this remarkable man, beheld him, at times, displaying some very noble features of character. His generosity—his high elevation of mind—his pilgrim-like habits—all these things denote a man of the very highest order; yet I hesitate not to say, that we find him, in the passage just quoted, exhibiting a temper of soul, more in harmony with the mind of heaven than anything we have met hitherto. Abram desired to have his house enlivened by the cry of a child. He had been long enough conversant with the spirit of bondage breathed by "the steward of his house," but the titles of lord and master, though all very good in their place, could not satisfy the heart of Abram, for Abram had been taught of God, and God ever instructs His children in those things which He loves, and which He exhibits in His dealings with them. And I would just observe, in connection with this, that we see in the case of the prodigal in Luke xv., the development of a principle very much in connection with what we have been saying. He says, in the very midst of all his misery "I will arise and go unto my Father, and will say unto him, Father." Here we have a fine feature in the character of this poor wanderer. He had such a sense of the grace of him against whom he had sinned, that he could yet say "Father" notwithstanding his long course of rebellion and folly.

But let us observe with what accuracy Abram lays hold of the great principle afterwards brought out by the Spirit in Romans viii. "If children, then heirs." Abram felt that sonship and heirship were inseparably connected, so much so, that without the former the latter could not be. This is the meaning of his question, "Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?" Abram rightly judged that to have "no seed" was to have no inheritance, for the word is, not if stewards or servants, then heirs, but "if children, then heirs" (Rom. viii. 17).

How very important it is that we should ever bear in mind, that all our present privileges and future prospects stand connected with our character as "sons." It may be all well and very valuable, in its right place, to realize our responsibility to act as "faithful and wise stewards," in the absence of our Master; still the most ample privileges—the highest enjoyments—the brightest glories, which belong to us through the grace and mercy of our God, stand intimately connected with our character and place as "sons." (Comp. John i. 12; Rom. viii. 14, 19; 1 John iii. 1, 2; Eph. i. 5; v. 1; Heb. xii. 5.)

In the vision presented to us in the close of our chapter, and which was granted to Abram as an answer to his question, "Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" we have a further illustration of the teaching of Romans viii. Abram is taught by the vision, that the inheritance was only to be reached through suffering—that the heirs must pass through the furnace, previous to their entering upon the enjoyment of that which God was reserving for them; and I doubt not that, were we more deeply and experimentally taught in the divine life, we should more fully apprehend the moral fitness of such training. Suffering then, is not connected, in this chapter, with sonship, but with heirship; and so we are taught in Romans viii. "If children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together." Again, we must, "through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts xiv. 22). The Lord Jesus Himself, likewise, stands as the great illustration of the principle upon which we are dwelling. He occupied the place and enjoyed the favor of a Son from before all worlds, (Prov. viii.) yet ere He could lay His hand upon the inheritance He must pass through suffering. He had a baptism to be baptized with, and was straitened (συνεχομενος) until it was accomplished. So also when He remembered that "a corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die," or else abide alone, His soul was "troubled." Now, we are to "know Him in the fellowship of His sufferings," before we can know Him in the fellowship of His glory; hence it is that the palmed multitude mentioned in Revelation vii. had to pass through "great tribulation" (της μεγαλης θλιψεως) ere they reached their peaceful, heavenly home. Passages of Scripture might be multiplied in proof of this point, but I will merely refer to the following, viz.—Phil. i. 29; 1 Thess. iii. 4; 2 Thess. i. 5; 1 Tim. iv. 10; 2 Tim. ii. 12; 1 Peter v. 10.

But, in this remarkable vision, there are two points which, as they appear prominently in the whole of Israel's after history, deserve to be particularly noticed. I allude to "the smoking furnace, and the burning lamp." (ver. 17.) It has been well observed, by a recent writer, that Israel's history might be summed up in these two words, "the furnace and the lamp." Egypt was a trying furnace to the seed of Abraham. There the fire burned fiercely, but it was soon followed by "the burning lamp" of God's own deliverance. The cry of the suffering seed had come up into the ears of Jehovah. He had heard their groanings and seen their afflictions, and had come down to display above their heads "the lamp" of salvation. "I am come down to deliver them," said He to Moses. Satan might take delight in kindling the furnace, and in adding to its intensity, but the blessed God, on the other hand, ever delighted in letting the rays of His lamp fall upon the dark path of His suffering heirs. So, when Jehovah had, in the faithfulness of His love, brought them into the land of Canaan, they again and again, kindled a furnace by their sins and iniquities; He, as frequently, raised up deliverers in the persons of the judges which were as so many lamps of deliverance to them. Further, when by their aggravated rebellion, they were plunged into the furnace kindled at Babylon, even there we observe the glimmerings of "the burning lamp," and finally it shone out for their full deliverance, in the decree of Cyrus.

Now, the Lord was constantly reminding the children of Israel of the above truth. He says to them, "But the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace." (Deut. iv. 20; 1 Kings viii. 51.) Again, "Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant, which I commanded your fathers, in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace." (Jer. xi. 3, 4.)

Finally, we may ask, are the seed of Abraham now suffering in the furnace, or are they enjoying the lamp of God?—for they must be experiencing either the one or the other—the furnace, assuredly. They are scattered over the face of the earth as a proverb and a byword, a reproach and a hissing among all the nations of the earth. Thus are they in the iron furnace. But, as it has ever been, "the burning lamp" will assuredly follow "the smoking furnace," for "all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, there shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." (Isa. lix. 20; Rom. xi. 26.)

Thus we see how that Israel's eventful history has all along stood connected with the smoking furnace and the burning lamp, here seen in vision by Abram. They are either presented to us in the furnace of affliction, through their own sin, or enjoying the fruits of God's salvation; and even at this moment, when, as has been already observed, they are manifestly in the furnace, we can witness the fulfillment of God's promise, so often repeated, "And unto his son will I give one tribe, that David my servant may have a lamp (margin) always before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen Me to put My name there." (1 Kings xi. 36; xv. 14; 2 Kings viii. 19; Psalm cxxxii. 17.) If it be asked where does this lamp shine now? Not on earth, for Jerusalem, the place of its earthly display, is "trodden down of the Gentiles," but the eye of faith can behold it shining with undimmed lustre "in the true tabernacle," where it will continue to shine "until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in;" and then, when the furnace, seen in this chapter by Israel's great progenitor, shall have been heated to the very highest degree of intensity, when the blood of Israel's tribes shall flow like water round the walls of Jerusalem, even then, shall the blessed lamp come forth from the place where it now shines, and cast its cheering rays upon the dark path of the oppressed and sorrowing remnant, bringing to mind those oft-illustrated words, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help."[3]

CHAPTERS XVI., XVII.

These two chapters give us an account of Abram's effort to obtain the promised seed by hearkening to the voice of his wife, and also of God's mode of teaching him the unprofitableness of such an appeal to the mere energy of nature as that which his effort involved.

At the very opening of Abram's course we find his faith put to the test in the matter of the famine, but here we find him tried in quite another way, a way moreover, which involved a far higher exercise of faith and spiritual power. "His own body now dead and the deadness of Sarah's womb;" although, in the main, "he considered them not," must have acted upon his mind to a considerable extent.

Now, as in the case of the famine already alluded to, Egypt was at hand, holding out a refuge from anxiety as to present supply, so here, "an Egyptian maid,"—one of those maid-servants, doubtless, which Abram had gotten during his sojourn in that evil place—was presented to him as a relief in the time of anxiety touching the promised seed. "Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai."

But why introduce the element of bondage into his house? Why did not Abram's mind shrink from the thought of "the bondwoman and her son" as much as it had shrunk from the thought of "the steward of his house?" Might not the question, "Lord, what wilt thou give me," be asked in connection with one as well as the other? Surely it was as much opposed to the divine economy to grant the inheritance to the seed of "a bondwoman," as to a "servant." In either case it would be an allowance of the claims of nature, which cannot be.

The principles involved in this act of Abram's are fully laid open to us in the inspired commentary given in the Epistle to the Galatians. There we read, "Abram had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." (chap. iv. 22-26.)

The churches of Galatia had been led away from the simplicity and liberty of Christ and had returned to "the flesh." They were beginning to substitute religious ceremonies for the energies of the Spirit of Christ. Hence it is that the Apostle, in the course of his reasoning with them on their unhappy movement, refers to the matter recorded in our chapters, and the way in which he expounds it to them renders it unnecessary to dwell longer upon it. This step of Abram's only "gendered to bondage;" it introduced an unhealthy and an unhappy element into his house which, as we shall see when we proceed further with our subject, he had to expel ere he could reach the highest point of elevation in his course.

In chapter xvii. we have God's remedy presented to us, and most consolatory it is to observe how the Blessed One at once comes in in order to lead back His servant to the simple yet difficult position of faith in Himself—simple, because therein we have but one object with which to be occupied—difficult, because therein we have to contend against the workings of "an evil heart of unbelief," leading us to "depart from the living God."

"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram and said unto him, I AM THE ALMIGHTY GOD; walk before ME, and be thou perfect." Here was at once the effectual cure for all impatient anxiety. "I am Almighty"—I can quicken the dead—I can call those things that be not as though they were—I can, if needs be, raise up of stones, children unto you—no flesh shall glory in My presence. "I am Almighty, walk before Me and be thou perfect."

It is perhaps one of the finest principles with which the mind can be occupied, that our God desires that He may ever be learnt, in the variety of His perfections, by the need of His people. We have already met a striking illustration of this important principle, in the matter of Abram's conflict with the king of Sodom, in chapter xiv. There, when Abram was tempted by the offers of the enemy, he found relief in the apprehension of God's character as "the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth." The character of the communion into which Melchizedek led the soul of Abram was suited to the circumstances in which he stood. So is it exactly in this 17th chapter. Communion with God as "the Almighty" was the sole remedy for impatient anxiety as to the fulfillment of any promise.

Now, when once the Lord exhibits Himself in His character of "Almighty," there can be no obstacle whatsoever to the outflow of His grace; for, when almighty power and almighty grace combine in behalf of the sinner, faith may count upon a rich and an abundant harvest.

The promises, therefore, with which this chapter abounds are just such as we might have expected. "I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." (xvii. 6-8.) Surely these are promises which almighty grace alone could utter, almighty power alone fulfill.

The above promises stand connected with "the covenant of circumcision" which is specially important as looked at in connection with Abram's effort to obtain the seed otherwise than by the operations of God's own hand. It would be profitable to dwell for a little upon the doctrine of this covenant of circumcision but my design in taking up this history, is not by any means to handle it in a doctrinal way, but rather to draw from it some of those valuable principles of a decidedly practical tendency with which it so richly abounds; and therefore I pass rapidly over chapters xvi., xvii. which contain a mine of precious doctrinal truth quite sufficient to occupy a separate treatise.[4]

Ere closing my observations on this section of our narrative, I would add that it is faith alone which can enable one to listen, as Abraham here does, to the promises of Almighty God, and when faith listens, God will surely continue to speak. Abram here gets his name changed to Abraham, and the Lord unfolds to him the future greatness and number of his seed, while Abraham hearkens in the unquestioning silence of faith. But when the "Almighty God" goes on to say with reference to Sarai, "As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her; yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her." (vers. 15, 16.) He is at once overwhelmed by the pledges of such marvelous power and grace to be exercised towards him. They exceeded anything he had as yet known, and "Abraham fell on his face." This is very instructive. Abraham with his face in the dust, overcome by the plenitude of almighty power and grace! Surely, we may say, while dwelling upon such a scripture as this, it is only faith that can rightly entertain the "Almighty God," it alone can give Him His due and proper place and honor Him as He should be honored. When the Almighty displays Himself, self must be excluded, hence we find that Abram is set aside in all this—Sarai is lost sight of—"the bondwoman and her son" are, for the moment, put far out of view, and nothing is seen but "the Almighty God" in the sovereignty and fulness of His grace and power, and the faith that could lie prostrate in the dust, in silent adoration of such a display of the divine glories.

How different is this from the preceding chapter! There we find Abram hearkening to the suggestion of Sarai his wife, with regard to the bondwoman—here we find him hearkening to the voice of Jehovah, as Almighty, who is about to quicken the dead womb of Sarah, and to call those things that be not as though they were, that no flesh might glory in His presence. There it is Abram and Sarai without God—here it is God without Abram and Sarai. In a word, there it is flesh—here it is spirit—there it is sight—here it is faith. Wondrous contrast! Exactly similar to that afterwards displayed by the Apostle to the churches of Galatia, when he sought to restore them from the sad influence of "the beggarly elements" of the flesh and the world, to the full liberty wherewith Christ had made them free.

CHAPTERS XVIII., XIX.

I class these two chapters together because, like those we have just been considering, they furnish us with a contrast—a contrast most marked and striking between the position occupied by Abraham in chapter xviii., and that occupied by Lot in chapter xix.

The Lord Jesus when asked by Judas, not Iscariot, "how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us and not unto the world?" replied, "If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make our abode with him." (John xiv. 23.) Again, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." (Rev. iii. 20.) Now, Abraham furnishes us with an exceedingly happy exemplification of the truth stated in the above passages. "The Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and He sat in the tent door in the heat of the day." (chap. xviii. 1.) Here we find Abraham again in the full exhibition of his stranger character. Mamre and the tent are associated in our minds with the day of his triumph over the king of Sodom. Abraham is still a stranger and a pilgrim "dwelling in tabernacles." The revelation made unto him by the Almighty God had not altered the tone of his character in this respect, but had rather imparted fresh vigor and energy thereto. A simple dependence upon the promise of the Almighty God was the most effectual means of maintaining him in his stranger condition.

Now, it is, in the very highest degree, instructive to see the honor here put upon the character and condition of the stranger. Throughout the wide range of the world there was just one spot in which the Lord could accept the rites of hospitality and make Himself at home, and that was in the tent of "a pilgrim and stranger." The Lord would not honor the sumptuous halls and princely palaces of Egypt with His presence. No. All His sympathies and all His affections hung around the stranger of Mamre, who was the only one who, in the midst of an evil world, could be induced to take God for his portion.

What a season of enjoyment it must have been to Abraham while those heavenly strangers sat with him and partook of the offerings of his generous heart. Mark how he calls forth into action all the energies of his house to do honor to his guests. He hastens from the tent to the field, and from the field to the tent again, and seems to lose sight of himself in his effort to make others happy.

Nor is it merely by partaking of Abraham's hospitality that the Lord gives expression to the high estimation in which He holds him; He renews His promise to him with regard to the son—He opens up His counsels to him with reference to Sodom. "Shall I," says He, "hide from Abraham that thing which I do; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him." (vers. 17-19.)

Here Abraham is seen as "the friend of God." "The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth," but Abraham was made acquainted with what the Lord was about to do to Sodom, while Lot—the one who was so deeply interested in the solemn event—was left in profound ignorance about it.

How then does Abraham make use of his favored position? Does he use it to strengthen more fully, and place on a firmer basis, the future interests of his house? Surely the natural heart would at once have prompted him to make such a use of his present advantage in the matter of nearness to Jehovah. Does he use it thus? Nay. Abraham had learnt too much of the ways of God to act in a way savoring so much of the selfishness of a heartless world. But, even had he thought of such a thing, he had no need to utter a syllable on the subject, for "the Almighty God" had most amply satisfied his heart with regard to the everlasting interests of his house—He had fixed it upon such a foundation that an anxious thought would have evidenced a complete want of moral order in Abraham's soul. He therefore entertained not a thought about himself or his house, but like a genuine man of faith, he takes advantage of his place in the presence of God to intercede for a brother, whose worldliness had plunged him into the very midst of that place which was about to be given over to everlasting destruction. "And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" (ver. 23.) "The righteous!" to whom can he allude? Can it be to the man who had so deliberately turned aside out of the path of faith to take up his abode at Sodom? Yes; he speaks of Lot—he calls him "righteous,"—he speaks of him in the very same terms as the Spirit in the apostle afterward speaks of him when he calls him a "righteous soul." Abraham, therefore, was taught of God when he could recognize in the man surrounded by all the pollution of Sodom "a righteous soul."[5]

I doubt not it will be admitted by every one taught of God that the conduct of Abraham in this chapter, furnishes us with one of the most important results of a holy and separated walk. We observe in it a man pleading with God in a most urgent strain for one who had turned his back upon him, and selected Sodom as the place of his abode. How completely must Abraham's soul have been lifted above "the things that are seen" when he could thus forget "the strife" and the departure, worldliness and evil of Lot, and plead for him still as "a righteous soul." If Abraham appears as "the friend of God" under other circumstances and other scenes, surely he is here seen as the child of God exhibiting most sweetly those principles which he had learnt in communion with his heavenly Father.

We shall now leave Abraham, for a little, enjoying his happy place before the Lord, while we contemplate the last sad scene in the life of one who seems to have valued the things of this life more highly than was consistent with the character of "a stranger and pilgrim" or "a righteous soul."

From the time that the separation took place between Abraham and Lot, the former seems to have proceeded "from strength to strength;" while the latter, on the contrary, seems to have proceeded only downwards, from one stage of weakness to another, until we find him, at the close, making shipwreck of everything, and merely "escaping with his life." The loss of all his goods in the battle between the "four kings and five" does not seem to have had any effect upon the mind of Lot in the way of teaching him the evil of being mixed up with the world; yea, he seems to have become more deeply involved in worldliness after that event than he had been before; for, at the first, he merely "pitched his tent towards Sodom" (chap. xiii. 12); but now we find him sitting "in the gate" (chap. xix. 1), which, as we know, was then the place of honor. When once a man has put his hand to the plow if he begin to look back, we have been told by Him who cannot err, that "he is not fit for the kingdom of God." Nor is it possible to count upon the fearful lengths to which a man may go when once the world, in any one of its varied aspects, has taken possession of his heart, or when once he has begun to turn his back upon the people of God. The terrible declension spoken of in Hebrews x., which stops not short of "trampling under foot the Son of God," has its beginning in the apparently simple act of "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together." How needful, therefore, it is that we should take heed to our ways, and watch the avenues of our hearts and minds, lest any evil thing should get dominion over us, which, however trivial in itself, might lead to the most appalling results.

Now, it strikes me, that we have in the circumstance presented to us in the opening of chapter xix. the full evidence of Lot's fallen condition. The Lord Himself does not appear at all. He remains at a distance from the unholy place, and merely sends His angels to execute His commission upon the devoted city of Sodom. The angels, too, exhibit all the symptoms of distance and strangership—they refuse to go into Lot's house when invited, saying, "Nay, but we will abide in the street all night." True, they subsequently enter into his house; but, if they do so, it is not so much to enjoy refreshment as to counteract the sad effects of Lot's wrong circumstances. How different was the scene at Lot's house from that which they had so lately witnessed at the tent of the stranger of Mamre! The tumult of the men of Sodom—to whom, notwithstanding all their ungodly deeds and ungodly speeches, Lot applies the title of "brethren"—the evident embarrassment of Lot at being discovered in such painful circumstances—the shocking proposal which he is constrained to make in order to screen his guests from the violence of the ungodly men of Sodom—the struggle at the door, and Lot's danger—all these things must have shocked the heavenly strangers, and stood in marked contrast with the holy peace and retirement of Abraham's tent, together with his own calm and dignified demeanor throughout the scene. Well might those angels have been astonished to find "a righteous soul" in such a place, when he could have enjoyed, in company with his separated brother, the peaceful and holy joys of his steady and consistent course.

But the time had now arrived for the pouring out of the cup of divine wrath upon Sodom. "The men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides?... bring them out of this place: for we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it." (vers. 12, 13.) The critical moment which the Lord Jesus, in the gospel, notes by the exceedingly solemn word "UNTIL," was now at hand for the careless inhabitants of Sodom, who dreamed not of any interruption to their "eating, and drinking, buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage." A moment's respite is allowed, during which Lot bears a message to his son-in-law, a testimony as to the rapidly approaching judgment; but, ah! what power could the testimony of one who had voluntarily come in and settled amongst them, have upon those who had lived and moved from their earliest infancy in the midst of the ungodly scene? How could Lot expect that his words would have any weight when his ways had so sadly contradicted them? He might now, with terrified aspect and earnest entreaties, urge them to leave a place which he knew was doomed to everlasting destruction, but they could not forget the calm and deliberate way in which he had at first "pitched his tent toward Sodom," and finally taken his seat "in the gate;" hence, as might be expected, "he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law." (ver. 14.) And how, so far as he was concerned, could it be otherwise? His sons-in-law might be, and doubtless were, responsible before God for the rejection of the testimony; but Lot could not, by any means, expect them to heed him much, indeed, we find that even he himself was tardy in departing from the place; for "while he lingered"—while his heart still went after some object or another that was dear to him—"the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him forth and set him without the city." (ver. 16.) From this statement, it is manifest that, had not the men "laid hold of, and brought forth" Lot, he would, no doubt, have "lingered" on "until" the fire of God's judgment had fallen upon him, and prevented even his "escaping with his life." But they "pulled him out of the fire," because "the Lord had mercy upon him."

But this escape of Lot's only served to put fresh honor upon Abraham, for we read that "when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow" (ver. 29). Thus, as Abraham's sword had delivered Lot in the time of the conquest of Sodom, his prayer delivered him in the time of its final overthrow, "for the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Nor does the contrast between those two men stop here. There is yet another scene in which they stand at a great distance from each other as to the moral condition of their souls. "Abraham gat him up early in the morning, to the place where he stood before the Lord" (ver. 27). Here the man of faith, the holy pilgrim, once more raises his head amid the mighty scene of desolation. All was over with Sodom and its guilty inhabitants, "the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace." Sad spectacle! The din and bustle of that once stirring city was hushed; silence reigned around—the buying and selling—the eating and drinking—the marrying and giving in marriage—all the intercourse of social life had been awfully broken in upon. The solemn "UNTIL" had come at last—the only one in all that wicked place who, notwithstanding his failure, could be regarded as "the salt," had been removed—the measure of Sodom's iniquity had been filled up—the day of divine longsuffering closed, and nothing now met the eye of Abraham but misery and desolation throughout all the plain. How melancholy! And yet it was but a type of the far more terrible desolation which shall sweep across this guilty world when the Son of man makes His appearance, "when every eye shall see Him, and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn and wail because of Him."

Thus, "Abraham stood before the Lord," completely exempt from all the sad effects of the recent visitation, as far as he was personally concerned. His stranger condition which, in the days of Chedorlaomer, had enabled him to live outside of Sodom and all its circumstances, still kept him free, and was the means of his escape from Sodom's unutterable woe and misery. Had Abraham, when solicited by the King of Sodom, mixed himself up with the things of Sodom, he would have been involved, in some measure, as was his brother Lot, in its overthrow. He himself would have been saved, but his work would have been burnt up. But Abraham was looking for "a city that hath foundations," and he knew at once that Sodom was not that city, and hence he would have nothing whatever to do with it. He would "hate even the garment spotted by the flesh"—he would "touch not the unclean thing," and now he was permitted to realize the blessed results of his conduct, for, while Lot had to retreat in confusion and sorrow to a cave in the mountains, his wife and all his possessions being lost, Abraham takes his stand, in all that blessed calmness and dignity which ever characterized him, in the presence of Jehovah, and from thence surveys the heart-rending scene.

But what of Lot? How did he end his course? "Oh, tell it not in Gath! publish it not in the streets of Askelon!" Well may we desire to throw a veil over the closing scene of the life of one who does not seem to have ever realized, as he should, the power of the call of God. He had always displayed a secret desire for the things of Egypt or those of Sodom. His heart does not seem to have been thoroughly detached from the world, and therefore his course was always unsteady; from the time he separated himself from Abraham, he went from bad to worse—from one stage of evil to another, until at last the scene closes with the shocking transaction in the cave; the sad results of which were seen in the persons of Moab and Ammon, the enemies of the people of God.

Thus ended the course of Lot, whose history ought to be a solemn warning to all Christians who feel a tendency to be carried away by the world. The history has not been left on record without a purpose. "Whatever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning," may we therefore learn from the above narrative, "not to lust after evil things," for, although "the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation," yet it is our place to keep as much out of the way of temptation as we can, and our prayer should ever be "lead us not into temptation." "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever" (1 John ii. 17).

CHAPTERS XX., XXI.

Lot has now passed off the scene—his sun has gone down amid thick clouds and a gloomy atmosphere; it now remains for us to pursue, for a few moments longer, the narrative of Abraham's ways, and God's dealings with him.

There was one point involved in chapter xii. which I left untouched, knowing that it would come before us again in this place.

When Abraham went down into Egypt, he entered into a compact with Sarah his wife to conceal part of the truth, "Say, I pray thee," said he, "thou art my sister" (Chap. xii. 13). One evil ever leads to another. Abraham was moving in the wrong direction when he went down into Egypt for help, and therefore did not exhibit that refinement of conscience which would have told him of the moral unsoundness of this mental reservation. "Speak every man truth with his neighbor," being a divine principle, would always exercise an influence upon one walking in communion with God; but Abraham's desire to get out of present trial was an evidence of failure in communion, and hence "his moral sense," as a recent writer has termed it, was not as keen or as elevated as it should have been. However, although the Lord plagued Pharaoh's house because of his having taken Sarah into it, and further, although Pharaoh rebukes Abraham for his acting in the matter, yet the latter says nothing whatever about the deliberate compact into which he had entered with his wife, to keep back part of the truth; he silently takes the rebuke and goes on his way, but the root of the evil remained still in his heart, ready to show itself at any time if circumstances should arise to draw it out.

Now, it is marvelous to behold Abraham coming up out of Egypt—building an altar and pitching a tent—exhibiting the noble generosity of faith—vanquishing Chedorlaomer and repulsing the temptation of the King of Sodom—urging his request for a son and heir, receiving the most gracious answer—on his face before God in the sense of His almighty grace and power—entertaining the heavenly strangers and interceding for his brother Lot. In a word, I say, it is marvelous to behold Abraham passing through such brilliant scenes, comprising a series of years, and, all the while, this moral point, in which he had erred at the very threshold of his course, remains unsettled in his heart. True, it did not develop itself during the period to which I have just referred, but why did it not? Because Abraham was not in circumstances to call it out, but there it was notwithstanding. The evil was not fully brought out—not confessed, not got rid of,—and the proof of this is, that the moment he again finds himself in circumstances which could act upon his weak point, it is at once made manifest that the weak point is there. The temptation through which he passed in the matter of the King of Sodom, was not by any means calculated to touch this peculiar point; nor was anything that occurred to him from the time he came up out of Egypt until he went down into Gerar, calculated to touch it, for had it been touched, it would no doubt have exhibited itself.

We never can know what is in our hearts until circumstances arise to draw it out. Peter did not imagine that he could deny his Lord, but when he got into circumstances which were calculated to act upon his peculiar weakness, he showed that the weakness was there.

It required the protracted period of forty years in the wilderness to teach the children of Israel "what was in their hearts" (Deut. viii. 2); and it is one of the grand results of the course of discipline through which each child of God passes, to lead him into a more profound knowledge of his own weakness and nothingness. "We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" (2 Cor. i. 9). The more we are growing in the sense of our infirmities, the more shall we see our need of clinging more closely to Christ—drawing more largely upon His grace, and entering more fully into the cleansing virtue and value of His atoning blood. The Christian, at the opening of his course, never knows his own heart; indeed, he could not bear the full knowledge of it; he would be overwhelmed thereby. "The Lord leads us not by the way of the Philistines lest we should see war," and so be plunged in despair. But He graciously leads us by a circuitous route, in order that our apprehension of His grace may keep pace with our growing self-knowledge.

In chapter xx., then, we find Abraham again, after the lapse of many years, falling into the old error, a suppression of truth, for which he has to suffer a rebuke from a mere man of the world. The man of the world, in this scene, seemed, for the moment, to possess a more refined moral sense than the man of God. "Said he not unto me," says he, "'She is my sister'! and she, even she herself said, 'He is my brother': in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this." But mark how God enters the scene for the purpose of vindicating His servant. He says to Abimelech, "Behold, thou art but a dead man." Yes, with all "the integrity of his heart and innocency of his hands"—with all his fine moral sense of right and wrong, he was "but a dead man," when it came to be a question, for one moment, between him and even an erring child of God. God, in His grace, was looking at His dear servant from quite a different point of view from that adopted by Abimelech. All that the latter could see in Abraham was a man guilty of a manifest piece of deception, but God saw more than that, and therefore He says to Abimelech, "Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live." What dignity is here put upon Abraham! God himself vindicates him before the world! Not a syllable of reproof!—not a breath of disapprobation!—no, "he is a prophet and he shall pray for thee and thou shalt live." How truly consolatory it is for the poor, weak, and harassed believer to remember that His Father is ever viewing him through the medium of the Lord Jesus Christ. He sees nothing whatever upon His child but the excellency and perfectness of Jesus. Thus, while a man of the world may have to rebuke a child of God, as in the case before us, God declares that He values that character which the believer has received from Him more than all the amiability, integrity, and innocency that nature can boast of.

This reminds us of the way in which the Lord vindicates the Baptist before the multitude, although He had sent a message to himself which must have exercised him deeply;—"I say unto you, among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Luke vii. 28). Thus, whatever unfavorable aspect the child of God may wear in the world's view, God will ever show Himself the vindicator of such. "He suffered no man to do them wrong; yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm" (1 Chron. xvi. 21, 22).

However, as was observed with regard to John the Baptist, the message sent from the Lord to His servant must have exercised his spirit deeply in secret, so is it in Abraham's case. Abraham must have felt deeply humbled in his soul at the thought of what had occurred, and the consciousness of the fact that God would not enter into judgment with him about it would have augmented that feeling. When Abraham fell into the same error in Egypt we do not find that Pharaoh's reproof produced any manifest effect. He was not humbled by it to such a degree as to make a full confession of the whole thing. He takes his departure out of Egypt, but the root of evil remains in his heart, ready to shoot forth its pernicious branches again. Not so in chapter xx.; here we get at once at the root of the matter—Abraham opens up his whole heart, he confesses that from the very first moment of his course he had retained this thing in his heart which had twice betrayed him into an act, which, to say the least of it, would not bear the light. And as there is the full confession of the evil on his part, so is there the complete renunciation of it—he gets rid of it fully, root and branch. The leaven is put forth out of every corner of his heart, he hearkens to Abimelech's reproof and profits by it; it was God's instrument by which He brought out the matter, and delivered the soul of his servant from the power of evil.

But, in addition to the point upon which we have been dwelling, there was yet another question to be settled ere Abraham could reach the most elevated point of his course as a man of faith. The bondwoman and her son were yet in the house. He must put forth these from his house as he had put forth the evil from his heart. The house and the heart must be cleared out. In chapter xxi. we find matters brought to a crisis with regard to the bondwoman and her son, concerning whom we have heard comparatively nothing until now. The element of bondage had heretofore lain dormant in Abraham's house because not roused into action, by anything of an opposite nature and tendency. But, in the birth of Isaac—the son of the free woman—the child of promise—we see a new element introduced. The spirit of liberty and the spirit of bondage are thus brought into contact, and the struggle must issue in the expulsion of either one or the other. They cannot move on in harmony, for "how can two walk together except they be agreed."

Now we are invited by the Apostle, in his epistle to the Galatians, to behold in these two children, "the two covenants," the one gendering to bondage, the other to liberty; and further, to behold in them samples of the fleshly and spiritual seed of Abraham, the former, "born after the flesh," the latter, "born after the Spirit." Nor can anything be more marked than the line of demarcation between, not only the two covenants, but the two seeds. They are totally distinct the one from the other, and can never, by any operation, be brought to coalesce. Abraham was made to feel, and that painfully, this fact. "Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac" (Chap. xxi. 10). Here the natural result shows itself. The two elements could not mingle. As well might the north and the south winds be expected to blow in all their strength without exciting a convulsion in the elements.

But it was most painful work to Abraham to be obliged thus to thrust forth his son. "The thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son;" but it mattered not, he must be put out, for the son of a bondwoman could never inherit the promises made only to the spiritual seed. If Ishmael were to have been retained, it would have been an open allowance of the claims of the flesh. Abraham would have found something "as pertaining to the flesh" and would thus have had "whereof to glory." But no—all God's promises are to be made good to those who, like Isaac, are the children of promise, born after the Spirit, "not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John i. 13). Ishmael was manifestly born "of the will of the flesh, and of the will of man," and "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." The flesh must therefore be set aside and kept under, no matter how "grievous" it may be to our hearts. The Christian will often find it grievous enough to keep down the old principle which ever lusts against the new, but the Lord gives spiritual power for the struggle so that "we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us."

But I must again remind the reader that it is not my present purpose to pursue the doctrinal matter involved in this instructive history[6]; were I to do so it would carry me far beyond the limits I have prescribed for myself in this little paper, the design of which is, as before observed, simply to direct attention to a few leading principles put forward in the narrative. I will therefore pass on to the next chapter which is the last of the section laid out for consideration.

CHAPTER XXII.

The circumstances through which Abraham passed in chapters twenty and twenty-one were most important indeed. An evil which had long been harbored in his heart had been put away; the bondwoman and her son, who had so long retained quiet possession of his house, were cast out, and he now stands forth as "a vessel sanctified and meet for the master's use, prepared unto every good work."

"And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt (or try) Abraham." Here Abraham is at once introduced into a place of real dignity and honor. When God tries an individual it is a certain evidence of His confidence in him. We never read that "God did tempt Lot"—no, the goods of Sodom furnished a sufficiently strong temptation for Lot. The enemy laid a snare for him in the well-watered plains of Sodom which he seemed but too prone to fall into. Not so with Abraham. He lived more in the presence of God, and was, therefore, less susceptible of the influence of that which had ensnared his erring brother.

Now, the test to which God submits Abraham—the furnace in which He tries him, marks at once a pure and genuine metal. Had Abraham's faith not been of the purest and most genuine character, he would assuredly have winced under the fiery ordeal through which we behold him passing in this beautiful chapter. When God promised Abraham a son, he believed the promise "and it was counted unto him for righteousness." "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." But then, having received this son, having realized the truth of the promise, was there not a danger that he would rest in the gift instead of in the Giver? Was there not a danger that he would lean upon Isaac, in thinking upon the future seed and future inheritance, rather than upon God Himself who had promised him the seed? Surely there was, and God knew that, and therefore tries His servant in a way, more than anything, calculated to put him to the test as to the object on which his soul was resting. The grand inquiry put to Abraham's heart, in this wondrous transaction, was, "are you still walking before the Almighty God, the quickener of the dead?" God desired to know whether he could apprehend in Him the One who was as able to raise up children from the ashes of his sacrificed son as from the dead womb of Sarah. In other words, God desired to prove that Abraham's faith reached forth, as some one has observed, TO RESURRECTION, for if it stopped short of this, he never would have responded to the startling command, "Take now, thy son, thine only son Isaac whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of" (Chap. xxii. 2.) But Abraham "staggered not." He at once responds to the call. God had asked for Isaac, and Isaac must be given, and that too without a breath of murmur. He could give up anything or everything so long as his eye rested upon "the Almighty God." And mark the point of view in which Abraham puts this journey of his to Mount Moriah, "I and the lad will go yonder and worship." Yes, it was an act of worship, for he was about to lay upon the altar of the Quickener of the dead the one in whom all God's promises centred. It was an act of worship—most elevated worship, for he was about to prove, in the sight of heaven and hell, that no other object filled his soul but the Almighty God. Hence, what calmness! what self-possession! what pure devotion! what elevation of mind! what self-renunciation! He never falters throughout the scene. He saddles the ass, prepares the wood, and sets off to Mount Moriah, without giving expression to one anxious thought, although, as far as human eye could see, he was about to lose the object of his heart's most tender affection, yea, the one upon whom the future interests of his house, to all appearance, depended.

Abraham, however, showed most fully that his heart had found a nearer and dearer object than Isaac, dear as he was; he showed also that his faith was resting upon another object altogether, with reference to the future interests of his seed, and that he was as simply resting upon the promise of Almighty God after the birth of Isaac as before it.

Behold, then, this man of faith as he ascends the mount, taking with him his "well-beloved!" What a scene of breathless interest![7] How must the angelic hosts have watched this illustrious father from stage to stage of his wondrous journey, until at last they beheld his hand stretched forth for the knife to slay his son—that son for which he had so long and ardently wished, and for which he had so steadily trusted God. Then again, what an opportunity for Satan to ply his fiery darts! What abundant room for such suggestions as the following, viz., "What will become of the promises of God with regard to the seed and the inheritance, if you thus sacrifice your only son? Beware that you are not led astray by some false revelation; or, if it be true that God has said so and so, doth not God know that, in the day you sacrifice your son, all your hopes will be blasted? Further, think of Sarah; what will she do if she lose Isaac, after having induced you to expel from your house Ishmael?" All these suggestions, and many beside, the enemy might bring to bear upon the heart of Abraham. Nor would Abraham himself have been beyond the region of those thoughts and reasonings which, at such a time, would not fail to arise within him. What then was his answer to all such dark suggestions? RESURRECTION! "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (Heb. xi. 17-19).

Resurrection is God's mighty remedy for all the mischief and ruin introduced by Satan; when once we arrive at this point, we have done with the power of Satan, the last exercise of which is seen in death. Satan cannot touch the life that has been received in resurrection, for the last exercise of his power is seen in the grave of Christ; beyond that he can do nothing. Hence the security of the Church's place; her "life is hidden with Christ in God." Blessed hiding place! May we rejoice in it more and more each day.

I will now draw this paper to a close. We have followed Abraham in his course, from Ur of the Chaldees up to the Mount Moriah—we have seen him resign, at the call of God, family and kindred, lands and possessions, worldly ease and prosperity; and lastly, we have seen him, in the power of faith, at the same call of God, ascend the solitary mount, for the purpose of laying "his only begotten" upon God's altar, and thus to declare that he could give up everything and every one but God Himself—and that, being acquainted with the meaning of "the Almighty" and "Resurrection," he cared not though he were called to look to the stones for the raising up of seed unto him.

On the other hand, we have followed Lot from Ur of the Chaldees also; but alas! his path was a far different one from that of his brother. He does not seem to have realized the power of the call of God in his own soul; he moved rather under Abraham's influence than under that of Jehovah; hence we find that, while Abraham was, at every step of his journey, letting go the world, Lot was doing the very reverse; he was grasping at the world in every shape and form, and he obtained that at which he was grasping, but what then? What of the end? Ah, that is the point. What of Lot's end? Instead of being a noble spectacle unto angels, and a pattern to all future generations of the faithful,—of what faith can enable a man "to do and to suffer" for God,—he was just the reverse; he was led away by the enemy of his soul, who ensnared him by means of the things of the world; he spent his days amid the uncleanness of Sodom, and the scene closes with the sad circumstances in the cave. All he did for God or his people was to beget the Ammonite and the Moabite, the enemies of both.

How wondrous then is that grace, which, speaking of the history of such an one, could say, "And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked; for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds" (2 Peter ii. 7, 8).

C. H. M.


 

"THOU AND THY HOUSE."

There are two houses which occupy a very prominent place on the page of inspiration, and these are, the house of God and the house of God's servant. God attaches immense importance to His house; and justly so, because it is His. His truth, His honor, His character, His glory, are all involved in the character of His house; and hence it is His desire that the impress of what He is should plainly appear on that which belongs to Him. If God has a house, it assuredly should be a godly house, a holy house, a spiritual house, an elevated house, a pure and heavenly house. It should be all this, not merely in abstract position and principle, but practically and characteristically. Its abstract position is founded upon what God has made it, and where He has set it; but its practical character is founded upon the actual walk of those who form its constituent parts down here upon this earth.

Now, while many minds may be prepared to enter into the truth and importance of all the principles connected with God's house, there may be but few, comparatively, who are disposed to give a due measure of attention to those connected with the house of God's servant; although if one were asked the question, What house stands next in order to the house of God? he should undoubtedly reply, The house of His servant. However, as there is nothing like bringing the holy authority of God's Word to bear upon the conscience, I shall quote a few passages of Scripture, which will tend to show, in a clear and forcible point of view, what are God's thoughts about the house of one holding connection with Him.

When the iniquity of the antediluvian world had risen to a head, and the end of all flesh had come before a righteous God, who was about to roll the heavy tide of judgment over the corrupted scene, these sweet words fell upon Noah's ear: "Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation." (Gen. vii. 1.) Now, it will be said that Noah was a type of Christ—the righteous head of a saved family—saved in virtue of their association with him. All this is fully granted; but Noah's typical character does not in any wise interfere with the principle which I seek to deduce from this and kindred passages, which principle I shall here, at the outset, distinctly lay down—it is this: the house of every servant of God is, in virtue of its connection with Him, brought into a position of privilege and consequent responsibility.[8] That this is a principle involving vast practical consequences we shall, with God's blessing and grace, see ere we close this paper; but we must first seek to establish its truth from the Word of God. Were we merely left to argue from analogy, our thesis might be easily proved; for it could never be supposed, by any mind at all acquainted with the character and ways of God, that He would attach such unspeakable importance to His own house, and attach none at all, or almost none, to that of His servant. This were impossible; it would be utterly unlike God, and God must always act like Himself. But we are not left to analogy on this most important and deeply practical question; and the passage just quoted forms one of the first of a series of direct and positive proofs. In it we find those immensely significant words, "Thou and thy house" inseparably linked together. God did not reveal a salvation for Noah which was of no avail to Noah's house. He never contemplated such a thing. The same ark that lay open to him lay open to them also. Why? Was it because they had faith? No; but because he had, and they were connected with him. God gave him a blank check for himself and his family, and it devolved upon him to fill it up by bringing them in along with him. I repeat it, this does not in the least interfere with Noah's typical character. I look at him typically, but I look at him personally also. Nor can I, under any circumstances, separate a man from his house. The house of God is brought into blessing and responsibility because of its connection with Him; and the house of the servant of God is brought into blessing and responsibility because of its connection with him. This is our thesis.

The next passage to which I shall refer occurs in the life of Abraham. "And the Lord said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?... For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.'" (Gen. xviii. 17-19.) Here it is not a question of salvation, but of communion with the mind and purposes of God; and let the Christian parent note and solemnly ponder the fact that when God was seeking out a man to whom He could disclose His secret counsels, He selected one possessing the simple characteristic of "commanding his children and his household." This, to a tender conscience, cannot fail to prove a most pungent principle. If there is one point above another in which Christians have failed, it is in this very point of commanding their children and household. They surely have not set God before them in this particular; for if I look at the entire record of God's dealings with His house, I find them invariably characterized by the exercise of power on the principle of righteousness. He has firmly established and unflinchingly carried out His holy authority. It matters not what the outward aspect or character of His house may be, the essential principle of His dealing with it is immutable. "Thy testimonies are very sure; holiness becometh thy house, O Lord, forever." Now, the servant must ever take his Master as his model; and if God rules His house with power exercised in righteousness, so must I; for if I am in any one particular of my conduct different from Him, I must in that particular be wrong. This is plain.

But not only does God so rule His house; He likewise loves, approves of, and treats with His marked and honored confidence those who do the same. In the above passage, we find Him saying, "I cannot hide my purposes from Abraham." Why? Is it because of his personal grace or faith? No; but simply because "he will command his children and his household." A man who knows how to command his house is worthy of God's confidence. This is a stupendous truth, the edge of which should pierce the conscience of many a Christian parent. Many of us, alas! with our eye resting on Genesis xviii. 19, may well prostrate ourselves before the One who uttered and penned that word, and cry out, Failure! failure! shameful, humiliating failure! And why is this? Why have we failed to meet the solemn responsibility devolving upon us in reference to the due command of our households? I believe there is but one reply, viz., because we have failed to realize, by faith, the privilege conferred upon those households in virtue of their association with us. It is remarkable that our two earliest proofs should present to our view, with such accuracy, the two grand divisions of our question, namely, privilege and responsibility. In Noah's case, the word was, "Thou and thy house" in the place of salvation; in Abraham's case, it was "Thou and thy house" in the place of moral government. The connection is at once marked and beautiful, and the man who fails in faith to appropriate the privilege will fail in moral power to answer the responsibility. God looks upon a man's house as part of himself, and he cannot, in the smallest degree, whether in principle or practice, disregard the connection without suffering serious damage, and also marring the testimony.

Now, the question for the Christian parent's conscience really is, Am I counting upon God for my house, and ruling my house for God? A solemn question, surely; yet it is to be feared very few feel its magnitude and power. And here, perhaps, my reader may feel disposed to demand fuller Scripture-proof than has yet been adduced, as to our warrant for counting upon God for our houses. I shall therefore proceed with the Scripture-quotations. I give one from the history of Jacob. "And God said to Jacob, 'Arise, go up to Bethel.'" This would seem to have been addressed to Jacob personally; but he never thought for a moment of disconnecting himself from his family, either as to privilege or responsibility; wherefore it is immediately added, "Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, 'Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments; and let us arise, and go up to Bethel.'" (Gen. xxxv. 1-3.) Here we see that a call to Jacob put Jacob's house under responsibility. He was called to go up to God's house, and the question immediately suggested itself to his conscience, whether his own house were in a fit condition to respond to such a call.

We now turn to the opening chapters of the book of Exodus, where we find that one of Pharaoh's four objections to the full deliverance and separation of Israel had specific reference to "the little ones." "And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh; and he said unto them, 'Go, serve the Lord your God; but who are they that shall go?' And Moses said, 'We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto the Lord.'" (Ex. x. 8, 9.) The reason why they should take the little ones and all with them was because they were going to hold a feast unto the Lord. Nature might say, Oh, what can these little creatures know about a feast unto the Lord? Are you not afraid of making them formalists? The reply of Moses is simple and decisive—"We will go with our young ... for we must hold a feast unto the Lord." They had no idea of seeking one thing for themselves and another for their children. They dreamed not of Canaan for themselves and Egypt for their children. How could they taste the manna of the wilderness, or the old corn of the land, while their children were feeding upon the leeks, the onions, and the garlic of Egypt? Impossible. Moses and Aaron understood not such acting. They felt that God's call to them was a call to their little ones; and, moreover, were it not fully carried out, they would no sooner have gone forth from Egypt by one road than their children would draw them back by another. That such would have been the case Satan was but too well aware, and hence appears the reason of the objection, "Not so: go now ye that are men." This is the very thing which so many professing Christians are doing (or attempting, rather, to do) at this present time. They profess to go forth themselves to serve the Lord, but their little ones are in Egypt. They profess to have taken "three days' journey into the wilderness;" in other words, they profess to have left the world, they profess to be dead to it, and risen with Christ, as the possessors of a heavenly life, and the heirs and expectants of a heavenly glory; but they leave their little ones behind, in the hands of Pharaoh, or rather of Satan.[9] They have given up the world for themselves, but they cannot do so for their children. Hence, on Lord's day, the professed position of strangers and pilgrims is taken; hymns are sung, prayers uttered, and principles taught which bespeak a people far advanced in the heavenly life, and just on the borders of Canaan, in actual experience (in spirit, of course, they are already there); but, alas! on Monday morning, every habit, every pursuit, every object, contradicts all this. The little ones are trained for the world. The scope, aim, object, and entire character of their education is worldly, in the truest and strictest sense of the word. Moses and Aaron would not have understood such actings, and neither indeed should any morally honest heart, or upright mind, understand them. I should have no other principle, portion, or prospect for my children but what I have for myself; nor should I train them with a view to any other. If Christ and heavenly glory are sufficient for me, they are sufficient for them likewise; but then the proof that they are really sufficient for me should be unequivocal. The tone of the parent's character should be such as to afford not a shadow of a doubt as to the real, deep-seated purpose and object of his soul.

But what shall my child say to me if I tell him that I am earnestly seeking Christ and heaven for him, while at the same time I am educating him for the world? Which will he believe? Which will exert the more powerful practical influence on his heart and life—my words, or my acts? Let conscience reply; and oh, let it be an honest reply, a reply emanating from its deepest depths, a reply which will unanswerably demonstrate that the question is understood in all its pungency and power. I verily believe the time is come for plain dealing with one another's conscience. It must be apparent to every prayerful and attentive observer of the Christianity of the present day, that it wears a most sickly aspect; that the tone is miserably low; and, in a word, that there must be something radically wrong. As to testimony for the Son of God, it is rarely—alas! how rarely!—thought of. Personal salvation seems to form the very highest object with ninty-nine out of every hundred professing Christians, as if we were left here to be saved; and not, as saved ones, to glorify Christ.

Now, I would affectionately, yet faithfully, suggest the question, whether much of the failure in practical testimony for Christ is not justly traceable to the neglect of the principle involved in the expression, "Thou and thy house." I cannot but think it has much to do with it. One thing is certain, that a quantity of worldliness, confusion, and moral evil has crept in amongst us through our little ones having been left in Egypt. We see many who, it may be, ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago, took a prominent place in testimony and service, and seemed to have their hearts much in the work, are now gone back, lamentably, not having power to keep their own heads above water, much less to help any one else. All this utters a warning voice for Christian parents having rising families; and the utterance is, "Beware of leaving your little ones in Egypt." Many a heart-broken father, at the present moment, is left to weep and groan over his fatal mistake in reference to his household. He left them in Egypt, in an evil hour, and under a gross delusion, and now when he ventures, it may be in real faithfulness and earnest affection, to drop a word into the ear of those who have grown up around him, they meet it with a deaf ear and an indifferent heart, while they cling with vigor and decision to that Egypt in which he faithlessly and inconsistently left them. This is a stern fact, the statement of which may send a pang to many a heart; but truth must be told, in order that, though it wounds some, it may prove a salutary warning to others. But I must proceed with the proofs.[10]

In the book of Numbers, "the little ones" are again introduced to our notice. We have just seen that the real purpose of a soul in communion with God was to go up with the little ones out of Egypt. They must be brought forth from thence at all cost; but neither faith nor faithfulness will rest here. We must not only count upon God to bring them up out of Egypt, but also to bring them on into Canaan. Here Israel signally failed. After the return of the spies, the congregation, on hearing their discouraging report, gave utterance to these fatal accents, "Wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?" (Numb. xiv.) This was terrible. It was, in reality, so far as in them lay, verifying Pharaoh's wily prediction in reference to these very little ones, "Look to it now, for evil is before you." Unbelief always justifies Satan and makes God a liar, while faith always justifies God and proves Satan a liar; and as it is invariably true that according to your faith so shall it be unto you, so we find, on the other hand, that unbelief reaps as it sows. Thus it was with unhappy, because unbelieving, Israel. "As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in Mine ears, so will I do to you. Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against Me, doubtless ye shall not come into the land concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in the wilderness." (Ver. 28-32.) "They limited the Holy One of Israel" as to their little ones. This was a grievous sin, and it has been recorded for our admonition. How constantly does the heart of the Christian parent reason, in reference to the mode of dealing with children, instead of simply taking God's ground about them. It may be said, We cannot make Christians of our children. This is not the question. We are not called to "make" any thing of them. This is God's work, and His only; but if He says, "Bring your little ones with you," shall we refuse? I would not make a formalist of my child, and I could not make him a real Christian; but if God, in infinite grace, says to me, "I look upon your house as part of yourself, and, in blessing you, I bless it," shall I, in gross unbelief of heart, refuse this blessing, lest I should minister to formalism, or because I cannot impart reality? God forbid. Yea, rather, let me rejoice, with deep unfeigned joy, that God has blessed me with a blessing so divinely rich and full that it extends not only to me, but also to all who belong to me; and, seeing that grace has given me the blessing, let faith take it up and appropriate it.[11]

But let us remember that the way to prove our entrance into the blessing is by fulfilling the responsibility. To say that I am counting upon God to bring my children to Canaan, and yet all the while educating them for Egypt, is a deadly delusion. My conduct proves my profession to be a lie, and I am not to wonder if, in the righteous dealings of God, I am allowed to be filled with the fruit of my own doings. Conduct will ever prove the reality of our convictions; and in this, as in every thing else, that word of the Lord is most solemnly true, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine." We often want to know the doctrine before we do the will, and the consequence is, we are left in the most profound ignorance. Now, to do the will of God in reference to our children, is to treat them as He does, by regarding them as part of ourselves, and training them accordingly. It is not merely by hoping they may ultimately prove to be the children of God, but by regarding them as those who are already brought into a place of privilege, and dealing with them upon this ground in reference to every thing. According to the thoughts and actings of many parents, it would seem as though they regarded their children in the light of heathens, who had no present interest in Christ, or relationship to God at all. This is, assuredly, falling grievously short of the divine mark. Nor is this a question, as it is too often made, of infant or adult baptism. No; it is simply and entirely a question of faith in the power and extent of that peculiarly gracious word. "Thou and thy house"—a word the force and beauty of which we shall see more and more fully as we proceed.

Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, the children of Israel are again and again instructed to set the commandments, the statutes, the judgments, and precepts of the law before their little ones; and these same little ones are contemplated as inquiring into the nature and object of various ordinances and institutions. The reader can easily run through the various passages.

I now pass on to that truly memorable resolution of Joshua, "Choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Josh. xxiv. 15.) Observe, "Me and my house." He felt it was not sufficient that he himself should be personally pure from all contact with the defilements and abominations of idolatry; he had also to look well to the moral character and practical condition of his house. Though Joshua were not to worship idols, yet if his children did so, would he be guiltless? Certainly not. Moreover, the testimony of the truth would have been as effectually marred by the idolatry of Joshua's house as by the idolatry of Joshua himself; and judgment would have been executed accordingly. It is well to see this distinctly. The opening of the first book of Samuel affords most solemn demonstration of the truth of this—"And the Lord said to Samuel, 'Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; BECAUSE HIS SONS MADE THEMSELVES VILE AND HE RESTRAINED THEM NOT.'" (1 Sam. iii. 11-13.)

Here we see that no matter what the personal character of the servant of God may be, yet if he fail in the due regulation of his house, God will not hold him guiltless. Eli should have restrained his sons. It was his privilege, as it is ours, to be able to count upon the specific power of God in the subjugation of every element in his house which was calculated to mar the testimony; but he did not do this, and hence his terrible end was that he broke his neck about the house of God, because he had not broken his heart about his own house. Had he waited upon God about his willful sons—had he acted faithfully—had he discharged the holy responsibilities devolving upon him, the house of God would never have been desecrated, and the ark of God would not have been taken. In a word, had he treated his house as part of himself, and made it what it ought to be, he would not have called down upon himself the heavy judgment of Him whose principle it is never to separate the words, "Thou and thy house."

But how many parents have since trodden in Eli's footsteps! Through an utterly false idea in reference to the entire basis and character of parental relationship, they have allowed their children, from infancy to boyhood, and from boyhood to manhood, in the unrestrained indulgence of the will. Not having faith to take divine ground, they have failed in moral power to take even the human ground of making their children respect and obey them, and the issue has presented to view the most fearful picture of lawless extravagance and wild confusion. The highest object for the servant of God to set before him in the management of his house is the testimony therein afforded to the honor of Him to whose house he himself belongs. This is really the proper ground of action. I must not seek to have my children in order because it would be an annoyance and inconvenience to me to have them otherwise, but because the honor of God is concerned in the godly order of the households of all those who form constituent parts of His house.

Here, however, it may be objected that up to this point we have been breathing only the atmosphere of Old-Testament scripture, and that the principles and proofs have been only thence deduced; now, on the contrary, God's principle of action is grace according to election, and this leads to the calling out of a man, irrespective of all domestic ties and relationships, so that you may find a godly, devoted, heavenly-minded saint at the head of a most ungodly, irregular, worldly family. I maintain, in opposition to this, that the principles of God's moral government are eternal, and therefore, whether developed in one age or another, they must be the same. He cannot at one time teach that a man and his house are one, and commend him for ruling it properly, and at another time teach that they are not one, but permit him to rule his house as he pleases. This is impossible. God's approval or disapproval of things flows out of what He is in Himself; and in this matter in particular, inasmuch as God rules His own house according to what He is Himself, He commands His servants to rule their houses upon the same principle. Has the dispensation of grace, or of Christianity, come in to upset this lovely moral order? God forbid! Nay, it has rather, if possible, added new traits of beauty thereto. Was the house of a Jew looked at as part of himself, and shall the house of a Christian be different? Truly not. It would be a sad abuse, and an anomalous application of that heavenly word, "grace," to apply it to the misrule and demoralization that prevail in the houses of numberless Christians of the present day. Is it grace to allow the will to ride rampant? Is it grace to have all the passions, tempers, whims, and appetites of a corrupt nature indulged? Alas! call it not grace, lest our souls should lose the real meaning of the word, and begin to imagine it to be what we have called it. Call it by its proper names—a monstrous abuse—a denial of God, not only as the Ruler of His own house, but as the moral Administrator of the universe—a flagrant contradiction of all the precepts of inspiration on this deeply important subject.

But let us turn to the New Testament and see if we cannot find in its sacred pages ample proof of our thesis. Does the Holy Ghost, in this grand section of His book, exclude a man's house from the privileges and responsibilities attached thereto in the Old Testament? We shall see very plainly that He does no such thing. Let us have the proofs. In Christ's commission to His apostles, we find these words: "And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into a house, salute it. And if the house [not merely the master] be worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you again." (Matt. x. 11-13.) Again, "And Jesus said unto Zacchæus, 'This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.'" (Luke xix. 9, 10.) So in the case of Cornelius—"Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved." (Acts xi. 13, 14.) So also to the jailer at Philippi—"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house." (Acts xvi. 31.) Then we have the practical result—"And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." (Ver. 34.) In the same chapter, Lydia says, "If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide." (Ver. 15.) "The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus." Why? was it because of its actings toward him? No; but "because he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain." (2 Tim. i. 16.) "A bishop must be one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity. For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?"

Now, under the term "house," three things are included, viz., the house itself, the children, and the servants. All these, whether taken together or separately, should bear the distinct stamp of God. The house of a man of God should be ruled for God, in His name and for His glory. The head of a Christian household is the representative of God. Whether as a father or as a master, he is to his household an expression of the power of God; and he is bound to walk in the intelligent recognition and practical development of this fact. It is on this principle he is to provide for and govern the whole. Hence, "if any provide not for his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." By neglecting the sphere over which God has set him, he proves his ignorance of and unlikeness to the One whom he is called to represent. This is plain enough. If I want to know how I am to provide for and rule my house, I have only carefully to study the way in which God provides for and rules His house. This is the true way to learn. Nor is it here a question as to the actual conversion of the constituent parts of the household. Not at all. What I desire to press upon all Christian heads of houses is, that the whole affair, from one end to the other, should distinctly wear the stamp of God's presence and God's authority,—that there should be a clear acknowledgment of God on the part of every member. That every thing should be so conducted as to elicit the confession, "God is here;" and all this, not that the head of the house may be praised for his moral influence and judicious management, but simply that God may be glorified. This is not too much to aim at; yea, we should never rest satisfied with any thing less. A Christian's house should be but a miniature representation of the house of God, not so much in the actual condition of individual members as in the moral order and godly arrangement of the whole.

Some may shake their heads and say, This is all very fine, but where will you get it? I only ask, Does the Word of God teach a Christian man so to rule his house? If so, woe be to me if I refuse or fail to do so. That there has been the most grievous failure in the management of our houses every honest conscience must admit, but nothing can be more shameful than for a man calmly and deliberately to sit down satisfied with a disordered condition of his house because he cannot attain to the standard which God has set before him. All I have to do is to follow the line which Scripture has laid down, and the blessing must assuredly follow, for God cannot deny Himself. But if I, in unbelief of heart, say I cannot reach the blessing, of course I never shall. Every field of blessing or privilege which God opens before us demands an energy of faith to enter. Like Canaan of old to the children of Israel; there it lay, but they had to go thither, for the word was, "Every place that thy foot shall tread upon." Thus it is ever. Faith takes possession of what God gives. We should aim at every thing which tends to glorify Him who has made us all we are or ever shall be.

But what can be more dishonoring to God than to see the house of His servant the very reverse of what He would have it? And yet were we to judge from what constantly meets our view, it would seem as if many Christians thought that their houses had nothing whatever to do with their testimony. Most humbling it is to meet with some who, so far as they are personally concerned, seem nice Christians, but who entirely fail in the management of their houses. They speak of separation from the world, but their houses present the most distressingly worldly appearance; they speak of the world being crucified to them and of their being crucified to the world, and yet the world is stamped on the very face of their whole establishment. Every thing seems designed to minister to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Magnificent pier-glasses to reflect the flesh; sumptuous carpets, sofas, and loungers for the ease of the flesh; glittering chandeliers for the pride and vanity of the flesh. But it may be said, It is taking low ground to descend to such particulars. I reply, The daughters of Zion might just as well have passed the same comment upon the following solemn appeal: "In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains and the bracelets and the mufflers, the bonnets and the ornaments of the legs and the headbands and the tablets and the earrings, the rings and nose-jewels, the changeable suits of apparel and the mantles and the wimples and the crisping-pins, the glasses and the fine linen and the hoods and the vails." (Isa. iii. 18-23.)

This was descending to very minute particulars. The same might be said of the following passage from Amos: "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion ... that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; that chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David." (Chap. vi. 1-5.) The Spirit of God can descend to particulars when the particulars are there to be descended to. But it may be further objected, We must furnish our houses according to our rank in life. Wherever this objection is urged, it reveals very fully the real ground of the objector's soul. That ground is the world, unquestionably. "Our rank in life"!—what does this really mean, as applied to those who profess to be dead? To talk of our rank in life is to deny the very foundations of Christianity. If we have rank in life, then it follows that we must be alive as men in the flesh—men according to nature, and then the law has its full force against us, "for the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth." Hence this rank in life becomes a serious matter.

But, let me ask, how did we get rank in life? or, in what life is it? If it be in this life, then we are liars whenever we talk of being "crucified with Christ"—"dead with Christ"—"buried with Christ"—"risen with Christ"—"outside the camp with Christ"—"not in the flesh"—"not of the world which fadeth away." All these are so many splendid lies to those possessing, or pretending to, a rank in this life. This is the real truth of the matter; and we must allow the truth to reach and act upon our consciences, that it may influence our lives. What, then, is the only life in which we have a rank? The resurrection-life of Christ. Redeeming love has given us a rank in this life, and truly we know that worldly furniture, costly array, ridiculous parade and retinue, have nothing to do with rank in this life. Ah, no; the circumstances which comport with rank in heavenly life are, holiness of character, purity of life, spiritual power, profound humility, separation from every thing which directly savors of the flesh and the world. To furnish our persons and our houses with these things would be furnishing them "according to our rank in life." But in point of fact, this objection does really bring out the true principle at the heart's core. It has already been remarked that the house reveals the moral condition of the man, and this objection confirms that statement. People who talk, or even think, of rank in life have, "in their hearts, turned back again into Egypt." And what does God say will be the end of such? "I will carry you away beyond Babylon." Yes, it is greatly to be feared that the great millstone of Revelation xviii. presents but too true a picture of the end of much of the sickly, spurious, hollow Christianity of the present day.

It may, however, be further urged that Christianity affords no warrant for filthy and irregular houses. This is most true. I know few things more distressing and dishonoring than to see the house of a Christian characterized by filth and confusion. Such things could never exist in connection with a really spiritual or even a well-adjusted mind. You may set it down that there must be something radically wrong wherever such things exist. Here, in an especial manner, the house of God presents itself before us as a blessed model. Over the door of that house may be seen inscribed this wholesome motto: "Let all things be done decently and in order;" and all who love God and His house will desire to carry out this precept at home.

The next point suggested by the expression, "Thou and thy house," is the management of our children. This is a sore and deeply humbling point to many of us, inasmuch as it discloses a fearful amount of failure. The condition of the children tends, more than any thing, to bring out the condition of the parent. The real measure of my surrender of the world, and my subjugation of nature, will constantly be shown in my thoughts about and treatment of my children. I profess to have given up the world, so far as I am personally concerned; but then I have children. Have I given up the world for them as well? Some may say, How can I? They are in nature, and must have the world. Here again the true moral condition of the heart is revealed. The world is really not given up, and my children are made an excuse for grasping again what I professed to have given up, but my heart retained all the while. Are my children part of myself, or are they not? Part of myself, assuredly. Well, then, if I profess to have relinquished the world for myself and yet am seeking it for them, what is it but the wretched anomaly of a man half in Egypt and half in Canaan? We know where such an one is wholly and in reality. He is wholly and really in Egypt. Yes, my brethren, here is where we have to judge ourselves. Our children tell a tale. The music-master and the dancing-master are surely not the agents which the Spirit of God would select to help our children along, nor do they, by any means, comport with that high-toned Nazariteship to which we are called. These things prove that Christ is not the chosen and amply sufficient portion of our souls. What is sufficient for me is sufficient for those who are part of me. And shall I be so base as to train my children for the devil and the world? Shall I minister to and pamper that in them which I profess to mortify in myself? It is a grievous mistake, and we shall find it so. If my children are in Egypt, I am there myself. If my children savor of Babylon, I savor of it myself. If my children belong to a corrupt worldly religious system, I belong to it myself, in principle. "Thou and thy house" are one; God has made them one; and "what He has joined together, let no man put asunder."

This is a solemn and searching truth, in the light of which we may clearly see the evil of urging our children along a path upon which we profess to have forever turned our backs, as believing firmly that it terminates in hell fire. We profess to count the world's literature, its honors, its riches, its distinctions, its pleasures, all "dung and dross," yet these very things, which we have declared to be only hindrances to us in our Christian course, and which, as such, we have professed to cast aside, we are diligently setting before our children as things perfectly essential to their progress. In so doing, we entirely forget that things which act as clogs to us cannot possibly act as helps to our children.[12] It were infinitely better to throw off the mask, and declare plainly that we have not given up the world at all; and nothing ever made this thoroughly manifest but our children. The Lord, I believe, in righteous judgment, is taking up the families of brethren, to show in them the actual condition of the testimony amongst us. In many cases it is well known that the children of Christians are the wildest and most ungodly in the neighborhood. Should this be so? Would God accept a testimony at the hand of those who have it so? Would it be thus if we were walking faithfully before God as to our houses? These inquiries must be answered in the negative. If only I get the principle of "Thou and thy house" firmly fixed in my conscience, and intelligently wrought into my mind, I shall see it to be my place to count upon God, and cry to Him, just as much for the testimony of my house as for my own testimony. In reality, I cannot separate them. I may attempt it, but it is vain. How often has one felt a pang at hearing such words as these: "Such an one is a very dear, godly, devoted brother; but, oh! he has the boldest and wildest children in the neighborhood, and his house is a sad mess of misrule and confusion." I ask, what is the testimony of such an one worth in the judgment of God? Little indeed. Saved he may be; but is salvation all we want? Is there no testimony to be given? and if there is, what is it? and where is it to be seen? Is it confined to the benches of a meeting-room, or is it to be seen in the midst of a man's house? The heart can answer.

But it may be urged, Our children will crave a little worldly enjoyment, and we must indulge them. We cannot put old heads upon young shoulders. I reply, Our own hearts often crave a little of the world likewise. Shall we indulge their craving? No; but judge it. Exactly so. Do the same in reference to your children's craving. If I find my children going out after the world, I should immediately judge and chasten myself before God, crying to Him to enable me to put it down, so that the testimony may not suffer. But I cannot but believe that if the parent's heart is, from its centre to its circumference, purged of the world, its principles, and its lusts, it will exert a mighty influence upon his whole house. This is what makes this entire question one of such vast magnitude and practical weight. Is my house a just criterion by which to judge of my real condition? I believe the whole teaching of Scripture is in favor of an affirmative. This makes the matter peculiarly solemn. How am I walking before my family? Is my whole course and character so unequivocal that all can see that my one supreme object is Christ, and that I would just as soon, if I could, unlock the portals of hell, and let my children in, as educate them for the world, or seek the world for them?

This I feel to be a startling inquiry; yet it is one which we are bound to follow up to the uttermost. What has called into existence, in many cases, that awful profanity, that disposition to scoff at sacred things, that utter distaste for the Scriptures, and for meetings where the Scriptures are brought forward, that skeptical and infidel spirit so sadly apparent in the children of Christian professors? Will any one undertake to say that the parents have nothing to do with this, in the judgment of God? May not much of this be justly traced to the sad incongruity between the professed principles and the actual practices of the parents? I believe it may. Children are shrewd observers. They very soon begin to discover what their parents are really at. They will gather this, too, much more speedily and accurately from their doings than from their prayings or their sayings; and although the parents may teach that the world and its ways are bad, and though they may pray that their children may know the Lord, yet inasmuch as they are educating them for the world, and seeking most industriously to push them on in it, grasping at and getting in by every opening, and congratulating themselves when they have succeeded in settling them there, it necessarily follows that the children begin to say in their hearts, "The world is a good place after all, for my parents thank God on getting me a berth in it, and look upon it as a most marked opening of Providence. All that peculiar talk of theirs, therefore, about being dead to the world, and being risen with Christ—the world's being under judgment, and their being strangers and pilgrims therein—all this must be rank nonsense, or else Christians, so called, must be rank deceivers." Will any one say that such reasoning as this has not passed through the mind of many a professor's child? I cannot doubt it. The grace of God, no doubt, is sovereign, and often triumphs over all our errors and failures; but oh! let us think of the testimony, and let us see that our houses are really ordered for God and not for Satan.[13]

But it will be said, How are our children to get on? must they not earn their bread? Unquestionably. God formed us for work. The very fact of my having a pair of hands proves that I am not to be idle. But I need not push my son back into that world which I have left, in order to give him employment. The Most High God, the Possessor of heaven and earth, had one Son, His only begotten, the Heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; He did not take up any of the learned professions, but was known as "the carpenter." Has this no voice for us? Christ has gone up on high and taken His seat at God's right hand. As thus risen, He is our Head, Representative, and Model; but He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. Are we following His steps in seeking to push our children on in that very world which crucified Him? Surely not: we are adopting the very opposite course, and the end will be accordingly. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." As we sow, in reference to our children, so shall we also reap. If we sow to the flesh and the world, we cannot expect to reap otherwise. But I would not, by any means, be understood to teach that a Christian parent ought to place his child below the level on which the Lord has placed himself. I do not believe he would be warranted in so doing. If my calling be a godly one, it may suit my child as well as it suits myself. All cannot be carpenters, it is true; yet one feels that, in an age of progress like the present, where "onward and upward in the world" seems to be the great motto, there is a deep moral for the heart in the fact that the Son of God—the Creator and Sustainer of the universe—was only known amongst men as "the carpenter." It assuredly teaches that Christians should not be found seeking "great things" for their children.

However, it is not merely in reference to the object set forth in our children's education that we have failed, and so marred the testimony; but also in the matter of keeping them in general subjection to parental authority. On this point there has been great deficiency amongst Christian parents. The spirit of the present age is that of insubordination. "Disobedient to parents" forms a trait in the apostasy of the last days; and we have specially helped on its development by an entirely false application of the principle of grace, as also by not seeing that there is involved in the parental relationship a principle of power exercised in righteousness, without which our houses must prove to be scenes of lawlessness and wild confusion. It is no grace to pamper an unsanctified will. We mourn over our own lack of a broken will, and yet we are strengthening the will in our children. It is always, to my mind, a manifest proof of the weakness of parental authority, as well as of ignorance of the way in which the servant of God should rule his house, to hear a parent say to a child, "Will you do so and so?" This question, simple as it seems, tends directly to create or minister to the very thing which you ought to put down, by every means in your power, and that is, the exercise of the child's will. Instead, therefore, of asking the child, "Will you do?" just tell him what he is to do, and let there not be in his mind the idea of calling in question your authority. The parent's will should be supreme with a child, because the parent stands in the place of God. All power belongs to God, and He has invested His servant with power, both as a father and a master. If, therefore, the child or the servant resist this power, it is resistance of God.[14]

"Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed." Observe, it is "God and His doctrine." Why? Because it is a question of power. The name of Christ and His doctrine would put the master and servant on a level, as members of one body. In Christ Jesus there is no distinction; but when I go abroad in the world, I encounter God's moral government, which makes one a master and another a servant; and any infringement upon that government will meet with certain judgment.

Now, it is of immense importance to have a clear understanding of the doctrine of God's moral government. It would settle many a difficulty, and solve many a question. This government is carried on with a righteous decision, which is peculiarly solemnizing. If we look through Scripture in reference to this subject, we shall find that in every instance in which there has been error or failure, it has inevitably produced its own results. Adam took of the forbidden fruit, and he was instantly thrust forth from the garden, into a world groaning beneath the curse and weight of his sin. Nor was he ever replaced in paradise. True, grace came in, and gave him a promise of a Deliverer; moreover, it clothed his naked shoulders. Nevertheless, his sin produced its own result. He made a false step, and he never recovered it. Again, Moses, at the waters of Meribah, uttered a hasty word, and immediately a righteous God forbad his entrance into Canaan. In his case likewise grace came in, and gave him something better; for it was much better, from the top of Pisgah, to inspect the plains of Palestine in company with Jehovah than to inhabit them in company with Israel. So also in David's case. He committed a sin, and the solemn denunciation was immediately issued, "The sword shall never depart from thy house." In his case too grace abounded, and he enjoyed a more profound sense of grace as he ascended the side of Mount Olivet with bare feet and covered head than he ever had enjoyed amid the splendors of a throne; nevertheless, his sin produced its own result. He made a false step, and he never recovered it.

Nor is the exemplification of this principle confined merely to Old-Testament times. By no means. Look at the case of Barnabas. He gave utterance to the seemingly amiable desire to have the company of his nephew Mark, and, from that moment, he loses his honorable place in the records of the Holy Ghost. He is never heard of afterward, and his place was supplied with a more wholly devoted heart.[15] Hence God's moral government is a most momentous truth. It is such, that as surely as one does wrong, he will reap the fruit of it, no matter who he is—believer or unbeliever, saint or sinner. Grace may forgive the sin, and will, where it is confessed and judged; but inasmuch as the principles of God's moral government have been interfered with, the offender must be made to feel his mistake. He has missed a step of the wheel, and he shall assuredly feel the consequences. This is a most solemn but specially wholesome truth, the action of which has been sadly clogged by false notions about grace. God never allows His grace to interfere with His moral government. He could not do so, because it would produce confusion, and "God is not the author of confusion."

It is here there has been so much failure in the management of our houses. We have forgotten the principle of righteous rule which God has set before us, and in the exercise of which He has given us an example. My reader must not confound the principle of God's government with the aspect of His character.[16] These two things are distinct. The former is righteousness, the latter is grace; but what I here desire to bring out is, the fact that there is a principle of righteousness involved in the relationship of father and master, and if this principle receive not its due place in the management of the family, there must be confusion. If I see a strange child doing wrong, I have no divine authority to exercise righteous discipline toward him; but the moment I see my own child doing so, I put him under discipline. Why? because I am his father. But it may be said, The parental relationship is one of love. True; it is founded in love: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." But although the relationship is founded in love, it is exercised in righteousness, for "the time is come when judgment must begin at the house of God." So also, in Hebrews xii, we are taught that the very fact of our being genuine sons brings us under the righteous discipline of the Father's hand. In John xvii, too, the Church is committed to the care of the Holy Father, to be kept by Him through His own name.

Now, in every case in which this great truth has been lost sight of by Christian parents, their houses have been thrown into confusion. They have not governed their children, and as a consequence, their children have, in process of time, governed them, for there will be government somewhere; and if those into whose hands God has put the reins do not hold them properly, they will speedily fall into bad hands; and can there be a more melancholy sight than to see parents governed by their children? I believe, in God's sight, it presents a fearful moral blot, which must bring down His judgment. A parent who lets the reins of government drop from his hands, or who does not hold them steadily, has grievously failed in his high and holy position as the representative of God, and the depositary of His power; nor do I believe that any one so failing can ever thoroughly regain his place, or be a proper witness for God in his day and generation. A subject of grace he may be; but then, a subject of grace and a witness for God are two widely different things. This will account for the sorrowful condition of many brethren. They have utterly failed to govern their houses, and hence they have lost their true position and moral influence—their energies are paralyzed, their mouths closed, their testimony hushed; and if such do lift the voice in some feeble way, the finger of scorn is instantly pointed at their families, and this cannot but send a blush to the cheek and a pang to the conscience.

Nor do people always take a correct view of this matter, and trace the failure up to its legitimate source. Many are too ready to look upon it as a natural and necessary thing that their children are to grow up willful and worldly. They say, It is all very well while your children are young, but wait till they grow older, and you will see that you must let them go into the world. Now, I want to know, is it the mind of God that the children of His servants must necessarily grow up willful and worldly? I never could believe any such thing. Well, then, if it be not His mind that they should so grow up,—if He has graciously opened the same path to my house as He has opened to myself,—if He has permitted me to select the same portion for my children as I have, through His grace, selected for myself,—if, after all this, my children grow up willful and worldly, what am I to infer? Why, that I have grievously sinned and failed in my parental relationship and responsibilities—that I have wronged my children and dishonored the Lord. Shall I go and make a general principle of this, and set it down that all the children of Christians must grow up as mine have? Shall I go and discourage young parents from taking God's ground in reference to their dear children, by setting before them my abominable failure, instead of encouraging them by setting before them God's infallible faithfulness to all who seek Him in the way of His appointment? To act thus would be to follow in the steps of the old prophet of Bethel, who, because he was in the midst of evil himself, sought to drag his brother in also, and had him slain by a lion for disobeying the word of the Lord.

But the sum of the matter is this: The willfulness of my children reveals the willfulness of my own heart, and a righteous God is using them to chasten me, because I have not chastened myself. This is a peculiarly solemn view of the case, and one that calls for deep searching of heart. To save myself trouble, I have let things take their course in my family, and now my children have grown up around me to be thorns in my side, because I trained them not for God. This is the history of thousands. We should ever bear in mind that our children, as well as ourselves, should be "set for the defense and confirmation of the gospel." I feel persuaded that, could we only be led to regard our houses as a testimony for God, it would produce an immense reformation in our mode of ruling them. We should then seek a high tone of moral order, not that we might be spared any trouble or vexation, but rather that the testimony might not suffer through any confusion in our families. But let us not forget, that in order to subdue nature in our children, we must subdue it in ourselves. We can never subdue nature by nature. It is only as we have crushed it in ourselves that we are in a position to crush it in our children. Moreover, there must be the clearest understanding and the fullest harmony between the father and mother. Their voice, their will, their authority, their influence, should be essentially one—one in the strictest sense of that word. Being themselves "no more twain, but one flesh," they should ever appear before their children in the beauty and power of that oneness. In order to this, they must wait much upon God together—they must be much in His presence, opening up all their hearts, and telling out all their need. Christians do frequently injure one another in this respect. It sometimes happens that one partner really desires to give up the world and subdue nature to an extent for which the other is not prepared, and this produces sad results. It sometimes leads to reserve, to shuffling, to management and generalship, to positive antagonism in the views and principles of husband and wife, so that they cannot really be said to be joined in the Lord. The effect of all this upon the children as they grow up is pernicious beyond all conception; and the influence which it exerts in deranging the entire house is quite incalculable. What the father commands, the mother remits; what the father builds up, the mother pulls down. Sometimes the father is represented as stern, severe, arbitrary, and exacting. The maternal influence acts outside and independent of the paternal; sometimes, even, it sets it aside altogether; so that the father's position becomes wretched in the extreme, and the whole family presents a most demoralized and ungodly appearance.[17] This is terrible. Children never could be properly trained under such circumstances; and as to testimony for Christ, the bare thought of it is monstrous. Wherever such a state of things prevails, there should be the deepest sorrow of heart before the Lord on account of it. His mercy is exhaustless, and His tender compassions fail not; and surely we may hope that, where there is true contrition and confession, God will graciously come in with healing and restoration. One thing is certain, that we should not go on content to have things so; therefore, let the one who feels the sorrow of heart cry mightily to God, day and night—cry to Him on the ground of His own truth and name, which are blasphemed by such things; and, be assured, He will hear and answer.

But let all be viewed in the light of testimony for God's Son. It is to further this we are left here. We are surely not left here merely to bring up families. We are left here to bring them up for God, with God, by God, and before God. To do all this, we must be much in His presence. A Christian parent should take great care not to punish his children merely to gratify his whims and tempers. He is to represent God in the midst of his family. This, when properly understood, will regulate every thing. He is God's steward, likewise, and in order rightly and intelligently to discharge the functions of his stewardship, he must have frequent—yea, unbroken—intercourse with his Master. He must be constantly betaking himself to His feet, to know what he is to do, and how he is to do it. This will make every thing easy and happy. It is often the desire of one's heart to get an abstract rule for this, that, and the other thing, in the details of family arrangement. One may ask what sort of punishments, what sort of rewards, what sort of amusements, should a Christian parent adopt. Actual punishment will, I believe, rarely be called for, if the divine principle of government be carried out from the earliest date; and as to rewards, it would be better to put them in the light of expressions of love and approval. A child must be obedient—unqualifiedly and unhesitatingly obedient—not to get a reward, which is apt to feed emulation, a fruit of the flesh; but because God would have him so; and then, of course, it is quite allowable for the parent to express his approval in the shape of some little present. As to amusement, let it always, if possible, assume the character of some useful occupation. This is most salutary. It is a bad thing to cherish the thought in the mind of a child that painted toys and gilded baubles minister pleasure. With very young children, I have constantly found that they derived more real, and certainly much more simple pleasure from a piece of stick or paper made out by themselves, than from the most expensive toy. Finally, let us, in all things, whether punishment, reward, or amusement, keep the eye on Christ, and earnestly seek the subjugation of the flesh in every shape and form. So shall our houses be a testimony for God, and all who enter them be constrained to say, "God is here."

As to the management of servants in a Christian household, the principle is equally simple. The master, as the head of the house, is the expression of the power of God, and as such, he must insist upon subjection and obedience. It is not a question of the Christianity of the servants, but simply of the order which should ever be maintained in a Christian household. Here, too, we must be on our guard against the mere indulgence of our own arbitrary temper. We have to remember that we have a Master in heaven, who has taught us to "give unto our servants that which is just and equal." If only we set the Lord before us from day to day, and seek to exhibit Him in all our dealings with our servants, we shall be kept from error on every side.

I must now close. I have not written, the Lord knows, to wound anyone. I feel the truth, importance, and deep solemnity of the points here put forward, and also my own lack of ability to bring them out with sufficient distinctness and power. However, I look to God to make them influential; and where He works, the very weakest agency will answer His end. To Him I now commend these pages, which have, I trust, been begun, continued, and ended in His holy presence. The thought has comforted me not a little, that at the very moment in which it was laid on my conscience to prepare this paper, a number of beloved brethren were actually assembled for humiliation, confession, and prayer, in immediate connection with the testimony of God's Son in these last days. I doubt not that a very leading point of confession has been failure in the government of the house; and if these pages should be used of God's Spirit to produce, even in one conscience, a deeper sense of this failure, and in one heart, a more earnest desire to meet the failure in God's own way, I shall rejoice, and feel I have not written in vain.

May God Almighty, in His great grace, produce, by His Holy Spirit, in the hearts of all His beloved saints, a more ardent purpose of soul to raise, in this closing hour, a fuller, brighter, more vigorous and decided testimony for Christ, that so, ere the shout of the archangel and the trump of God are heard in the air, there may be a people prepared to meet and welcome the heavenly Bridegroom.

C. H. M.


 

DISCIPLESHIP IN AN EVIL DAY

The first three chapters of the Book of Daniel furnish a most seasonable and important lesson at a time like the present, in which the disciple is in such danger of yielding to surrounding influences, and of lowering his standard of testimony and his tone of discipleship, in order to meet the existing condition of things.

At the opening of chapter i. we have a most discouraging picture of the state of things, in reference to the ostensible witness of God on the earth. "In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah, into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar, to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the house of his god." (Chap. i. 1, 2.) Here then we have an aspect of things quite sufficient, if looked at from nature's point of view, to discourage the heart, to damp the spirit, and paralyse the energies. Jerusalem in ruins, the temple trodden down, the Lord's vessels in the house of a false god, and Judah carried away captive. Surely the heart would feel disposed to say, There is no use in seeking to hold up the standard of practical discipleship and personal devotedness any longer. The spirit must droop, the heart must faint, and the hands must hang down, when such is the condition of the people of God. It could be nought but the greatest presumption for any of Judah's sons to think of taking up true Nazarite's position at such a time.

Such would be nature's reasoning; but such was not the language of faith. Blessed be God! there is always a wide sphere in which the spirit of genuine devotedness can develop itself—there is always a path along which the true disciple can run, even though he should have to run in solitude. It matters not what the outward condition of things may be, it is faith's privilege to hang as much on God, to feed as much on Christ, and to breathe as much of the air of heaven, as though all were in perfect order and harmony.

This is an unspeakable mercy to the faithful heart. All who desire to walk devotedly can always find a path to walk in; whereas, on the contrary, the man who draws a plea, from outward circumstances, for relaxing his energy, would not be energetic, though most favorably situated.

If ever there was a time in which one might be excused for taking a low ground, it was the time of the Babylonish captivity. The entire framework of Judaism was broken up; the kingly power had passed out of the hand of David's successor, and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar; the glory had departed from Israel; and, in one word, all seemed faded and gone, and nought remained for the exiled children of Judah, save to hang their harps upon the willows, and sit down by the rivers of Babylon, there to weep over departed glory, faded light, and fallen greatness.

Such would be the language of blind unbelief; but, blessed be God! it is when everything appears sunk to the lowest possible point, that then faith rises in holy triumph; and faith, we know, is the only true basis of effective discipleship. It asks for no props from the men and things around it; it finds "all its springs" in God; and hence it is that faith never shines so brightly as when all around is dark. It is when nature's horizon is overcast with the blackest clouds, that faith basks in the sunshine of the divine favor and faithfulness.

Thus it was that Daniel and his companions were enabled to overcome the peculiar difficulties of their time. They judged that there was nothing to hinder their enjoying as elevated a Nazariteship in Babylon as ever had been known in Jerusalem; and they judged rightly. Their judgment was the judgment of a pure and well-founded faith. It was the selfsame judgment on which the Baraks, the Gideons, the Jephthahs, and the Samsons of old had acted. It was the judgment to which Jonathan gave utterance, when he said, "There is no restraint with the Lord to save by many or by few." (1 Sam. xiv.) It was the judgment of David, in the valley of Elah, when he called the poor trembling host of Israel "the army of the living God." (1 Sam. xvii.) It was the judgment of Elijah, on Mount Carmel, when he built an altar with "twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob." (1 Kings xviii.) It was the judgment of Daniel himself when, at a further stage of his history, he opened his window and prayed toward Jerusalem. (Dan. vi.) It was the judgment of Paul when, in view of the overwhelming tide of apostasy and corruption which was about to set in, he exhorts his son Timothy to "hold fast the form of sound words." (2 Tim. i. 13.) It was the judgment of Peter when, in prospect of the dissolution of the entire framework of creation, he encourages believers to "be diligent, that they be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless." (2 Peter iii. 14.) It was the judgment of John when, amid the actual breaking up of everything ecclesiastical, he exhorts his well-beloved Gaius to "follow not that which is evil, but that which is good." (3 John 11.) And it was the judgment of Jude when, in the presence of the most appalling wickedness, he encourages a beloved remnant to "build themselves up in their most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, to keep themselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." (Jude 20, 21.) In one word, it was the judgment of the Holy Ghost, and, therefore, it was the judgment of faith.

Now, all this attaches immense value and interest to Daniel's determination, as expressed in the first chapter of this book. "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself." (Ver. 8.) He might, very naturally, have said to himself, "There is no use in one poor feeble captive seeking to maintain a place of separation. Everything is broken up. It is impossible to carry out the true spirit of a Nazarite amid such hopeless ruin and degradation. I may as well accommodate myself to the condition of things around me."

But no; Daniel was on higher ground than this. He knew it was his privilege to live as close to God in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, as within the gates of Jerusalem. He knew that, let the outward condition of the people of God be what it might, there was a path of purity and devotedness opened to the individual saint, which he could pursue independently of everything.

And may we not say, that the Nazariteship of Babylon possesses charms and attractions fully as powerful as the Nazariteship of Canaan? Unquestionably. It is unspeakably precious and beautiful, to find one of the captives in Babylon breathing after, and attaining unto, so elevated a standard of separation. It teaches a powerful lesson for every age. It holds up to the view of believers, under every dispensation, a most encouraging and soul-stirring example. It proves that, amid the darkest shades, a devoted heart can enjoy a path of cloudless sunshine.

But how is this? Because "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever." (Heb. xiii.) Dispensations change and pass away. Ecclesiastical institutions crumble and moulder into ashes. Human systems totter and fall; but the name of Jehovah endureth forever, and His memorial unto all generations. It is upon this holy elevation that faith plants its foot. It rises above all vicissitude, and enjoys sweet converse with the unchangeable and eternal Source of all real good.

Thus it was that, in the days of the judges, individual faith was manifested and achieved more glorious triumphs than ever were known in the days of Joshua. Thus it was that Elijah's altar on Mount Carmel was surrounded by a halo fully as bright as that which crowned the altar of Solomon.

This is truly encouraging. The poor heart is so apt to sink, and be discouraged, by looking at the failure and unfaithfulness of man, instead of at the infallible faithfulness of God. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." (2 Tim. ii. 19.) What can ever touch this enduring truth? Nothing! And, therefore, nothing can touch the faith which lays hold of it, or the superstructure of practical devotedness which is erected on the foundation of that faith.

And then look at the glorious results of Daniel's devotedness and separation. In the three opening chapters we observe three distinct things, resulting from the position assumed by Daniel and his companions, in reference to "the king's meat." 1, They were let into the secret of "the king's dream." 2, They withstood the seductions of "the king's image." And, 3, They were brought unscathed through "the king's furnace."

I. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." This is beautifully exemplified in the case before us. "The magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans," who were breathing the atmosphere of the royal presence, were all in the dark as to the royal dream. "The Chaldeans answered before the king, and said, There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king's matter." Very likely; but there was a God in heaven who knew all about it; and who, moreover, could unfold it to those who had faith enough, and devotedness enough, and self-denial enough, to separate themselves from Babylonish pollutions, though involved in the Babylonish captivity. The mazes, the labyrinths, and the enigmas of human things are all plain to God; and He can and does make them plain to those who walk with Him, in the sanctity of His holy presence. God's Nazarites can see farther into human affairs than the most profound philosophers of this world. And how is this? How can they so readily unravel the world's mysteries? Because they are above the world's mists. They are apart from the world's defilements. They are in the place of separation, the place of dependence, the place of communion. "Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven, concerning this secret." (Chap. ii. 17, 18.) Here we have their place of strength and intelligence. They had only to look up to heaven, in order to be endowed with a clear understanding as to all the destinies of earth.

How real and simple is all this? "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all;" and, hence, if we want light, we can find it only in His presence; and we can only know the power of His presence as we are practically taking the place of separation from all the moral pollutions of earth.

And, observe, a further result of Daniel's holy separation. "Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odors unto him." Here we have earth's proudest and most powerful monarch at the feet of the captive exile. Magnificent fruit of faithfulness! Precious evidence of the truth that God will always honor the faith that can, in any measure, rise to the height of His thoughts! He will not, He cannot, dishonor the draft which confidence presents at His exhaustless treasury. Daniel, on this memorable occasion, realized, in his own person, as fully as ever it was realized, God's ancient promise: "And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord; and they shall be afraid of thee.... And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath." (Deut. xxviii. 10, 13.)

Assuredly Daniel was, in the above scene, "the head," and Nebuchadnezzar "the tail," as looked at from the divine point of view. Witness, also, the bearing of this holy Nazarite, in the presence of the impious Belshazzar. (Dan. v. 17-29.) Have we not, here, as magnificent a testimony to the destined pre-eminence of the seed of Abraham, as when Joshua's victorious captains placed their feet on the necks of the kings of Canaan (Joshua x. 24); or, when "all the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart?" (1 Kings x. 24.) Unquestionably; and, in a certain sense, it is a more magnificent testimony. It is natural to expect such a scene in the history of Joshua, or of Solomon; but to find the haughty king of Babylon prostrate at the feet of one of his captives, is something far beyond the utmost stretch of nature's expectation.

There it is, however, as a most striking and soul-stirring proof of the power of faith to triumph over all manner of difficulties, and to produce the most extraordinary results. Faith is the same mighty principle, whether it act on the plains of Palestine, on the top of Carmel, by the rivers of Babylon, or amid the ruins of the professing Church. No fetters can bind it, no difficulties deter it, no pressure damp it, no changes affect it. It ever rises to its proper object, and that object is God Himself, and His eternal revelation. Dispensations may change, ages may run their course, the wheels of time may roll on, and crush beneath their ponderous weight the fondest hopes of the poor human heart; but there stands faith, that immortal, divine, eternal reality, drinking at the fountain of pure truth, and finding all its springs in Him, who is "the way, the truth, and the life."

By this "precious faith" it was that Daniel acted, when he "purposed that he would not defile himself with the king's meat." True, he could no longer ascend to that holy and beautiful house, where his fathers had worshipped. The rude foot of a foreign foe had trodden down the holy city. The fire no longer burned on the altar of the God of Israel. The golden candlestick no longer enlightened, with its seven lamps, the holy place. But there was faith in Daniel's heart, and that faith carried him beyond every surrounding influence, and enabled him to appropriate, and act in the power of, "all the promises of God," which are "Yea, and Amen in Christ Jesus." Faith is not affected by ruined temples, fallen cities, faded lights, or departed glories. Why not? Because God is not affected by them. God is always to be found; and faith is always sure to find Him.

II. But the same faith which enabled those holy men of old to refuse the king's meat, enabled them, also, to despise the king's image. They had separated themselves from defilement, in order that they might enjoy a more intense communion with the true God; and they could not, therefore, bow down to an image of gold, even though it were ever so high. They knew that God was not an image. They knew He was a reality. They could only present worship to Him, for He alone was the true object thereof.

Nor did it make any matter to them that all the world was against them. They had only to live and act for God. It might seem as if they were setting up to be wiser than their neighbors. It might savor of presumption to stand against the tide of public opinion. Some might feel disposed to ask if truth lay only with them? Were all "the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces," sunk in darkness and error? Could it be possible that so many men of rank, of intelligence, and of learning were in the wrong, and only a few strangers of the captivity in the right?

With such questions our Nazarites had nothing to do. Their path lay right onward. Should they bow down and worship an image, in order to avoid the appearance of condemning other people? Assuredly not. And yet how often are those who desire to keep a conscience void of offence in the sight of God, condemned for setting themselves up and judging others! Doubtless Luther was condemned by many for setting himself up in opposition to the doctors, the cardinals, and the pope. Should he, in order to avoid such condemnation, have lived and died in error? Who would say so?

"Ah! but," some will reply, "Luther had to deal with palpable error." So thought Luther; but thousands of learned and eminent men thought otherwise. So also in the case of "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego," they had to do with positive idolatry; but the whole world differed from them. What then? "We must obey God rather than man." Let others do as they will; "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." If people were to remain in error and continue to do what they, at least, feel to be wrong, in order to avoid the appearance of judging others, where should we be?

Ah! no; my beloved reader, do you seek to pursue the steady, onward, upward path of pure and elevated discipleship. And, whether or not you thereby condemn others, is no concern of yours. "Cease to do evil." This is the first thing for the true disciple to do. When he has yielded obedience to this golden precept, he may expect to "learn to do well." "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." When God speaks, I am not to turn round to see how my obedience to His voice will affect my neighbors, or to consider what they will think about me. When the voice of the risen and glorified Jesus fell upon the ear of the prostrate Saul of Tarsus, he did not begin to enquire what the chief priests and Pharisees would think of him were he to obey. Surely not. "Immediately," he says, "I conferred not with flesh and blood." (Gal. i. 16.) "Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision." (Acts xxvi. 19.) This is the true spirit and principle of discipleship. "Give glory to God, before He cause darkness, and your feet stumble upon the dark mountains." Nothing can be more dangerous than to hesitate, when divine light shines upon the path. If you do not act upon the light, when you get it, you will, assuredly, be involved in thick darkness. Hence, therefore, as another has said, "Never go before your faith, nor lag behind your conscience."

III. But, we have said, if our Nazarites refused to bow before the king's image, they had to encounter the king's rage, and the king's furnace. For all this they were, by the grace of God, prepared: their Nazariteship was a real thing; they were ready to suffer the loss of all things, and even life itself, in defence of the true worship of the God of Israel. "They worshipped and served their own God," not merely beneath the peaceful vine and fig-tree in the land of Canaan, but in the very face of "a burning fiery furnace." They acknowledged Jehovah, not merely in the midst of a congregation of true worshippers, but in the presence of an opposing world. Theirs was a true discipleship in an evil day. They loved the Lord; and, therefore, for His sake, they abstained from the king's luxuries, they withstood the king's rage, and they endured the king's furnace. "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." This was the language of men who knew whose they were, and where they were—of men who had calmly and deliberately counted the cost—of men to whom the Lord was everything, the world nothing. All that the world could offer, together with life itself, was at stake; but what of that? "They endured as seeing Him who is invisible." Eternal glory lay before them; and they were quite prepared to reach that glory by a fiery pathway. God can take His servants to heaven by a chariot of fire, or by a furnace of fire, as seems good to Him. Whatever be the mode of going, it is well to get there.

But could not the Lord have preserved His beloved servants from being cast into the furnace? No doubt. This would have been but a very small matter to Him. He did not, however, do so: it was His will that the faith of His servants should be put to the test—should be tried in the furnace—should be passed through the most searching crucible, in order that it "might be found to praise and honor and glory." Is it because the refiner sets no value on the wedge of gold, that he puts it into the furnace? No; but because he does. And, as some one has beautifully remarked, "His object is not merely to remove the dross, but to brighten the metal."

It is very evident that had the Lord, by an act of power, kept His servants out of the furnace, there would have been less glory to Him and as a consequence, less blessing to them. It was far better to have His presence and sympathy in the furnace, than His power to keep them out of it. What glory to Him in this! And what unspeakable privilege to them! The Lord went down and walked with His Nazarites in the furnace into which their faithfulness had brought them. They had walked with God in the king's palace; and God walked with them in the king's furnace. This was the most elevated moment in the entire career of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. How little had the king imagined the lofty position in which he was placing the objects of his rage and fury! Every eye was turned from the great image of gold, to gaze, in astonishment, upon the three captives. What could it mean? "Three men bound!" "Four men loose!" Could it be real? Was the furnace real? Alas, "the most mighty men in the king's army" had proved it to be real. And, had Nebuchadnezzar's image been cast into it, it would have proved its reality also. There was no material for the sceptic or the infidel to work upon. It was a real furnace, and a real flame, and the "three men" were "bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments." All was reality.

But there was a deeper reality: God was there. This changed everything: it "changed the king's word," changed the furnace into a place of high and holy fellowship—changed Nebuchadnezzar's bondmen into God's freemen.

God was there!—there, in his power, to write contempt upon all man's opposition—there, in His deep and tender sympathy with His tried and faithful servants—there, in His matchless grace, to set the captives free, and to lead the hearts of His Nazarites into that deep fellowship with Himself for which they so ardently thirsted.

And, my beloved reader, is it not worth passing through a fiery furnace to enjoy a little more of the presence of Christ, and the sympathy of His loving heart? Are not fetters, with Christ, better than jewels without Him? Is not a furnace where He is better than a palace where He is not? Nature says, "No!" Faith says, "Yes!"

It is well to bear in mind that this is not the day of Christ's power; but it is the day of His sympathy. When passing through the deep waters of affliction, the heart may, at times, feel disposed to ask, "Why does not the Lord display His power, and deliver me?" The answer is, This is not the day of His power. He could avert that sickness—He could remove that difficulty—He could take off that pressure—He could prevent that catastrophe—He could preserve that beloved and fondly-cherished object from the cold grasp of death. But, instead of putting forth His power to deliver, He allows things to run their course, and pours His own sweet sympathy into the oppressed and riven heart, in such a way as to elicit the acknowledgment that we would not, for worlds, have missed the trial, because of the abundance of the consolation.

Such, my reader, is the manner of our Jesus just now. By and by He will display His power; He will come forth as the Rider on the white horse; He will unsheath His sword; He will make bare His arm; He will avenge His people, and right their wrongs forever. But now His sword is sheathed, His arm covered. This is the time for making known the deep love of His heart, not the power of His arm, nor the sharpness of His sword. Are you satisfied to have it so? Is Christ's sympathy enough for your heart, even amid the keenest sorrow and the most intense affliction? The restless heart, the impatient spirit, the unmortified will, would lead one to long for escape from the trial, the difficulty, or the pressure; but this would never do. It would involve incalculable loss. We must pass from form to form in the school; but the Master accompanies us, and the light of His countenance, and the tender sympathy of His heart, sustain us under the most severe exercises.

And, then, see what glory redounds to the name of the Lord, when His people are enabled, by His grace, to pass, triumphantly, through a trial! Read Daniel iii. 26-28, and say where you could find richer or rarer fruits of a faithful discipleship. The king and all his nobles, who, just before, had been wholly engrossed with the bewitching music and the false worship, are now occupied with the amazing fact that the fire, which had slain the mighty men, had taken no effect whatever upon the worshippers of the true God, save to consume their fetters and let them walk free, in company with the Son of God. "Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire. And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was a hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them."

Here, then, was a noble testimony—such a testimony as would never have been rendered, had the Lord, by a mere act of power, preserved His servants from being cast into the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar was furnished with a striking proof that his furnace was no more to be dreaded than his image was to be worshipped by "the servants of the most high God." In a word, the enemy was confounded; God was glorified; and His dear servants brought forth unscathed from "the burning fiery furnace." Precious fruits, these, of a faithful Nazariteship!

And, observe, further, the honor put upon our Nazarites. "Then Nebuchadnezzar spake and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego." Their names are intimately associated with the God of Israel. This was a high honor. They had identified themselves with the true God when it was a matter of life and death to do so; and, therefore, the true God identified Himself with them, and led them forth into a large and wealthy place. He set their feet upon a rock, and lifted their heads up above all their enemies round about them. How true it is that "them that honor me I will honor!" And it is equally true that "they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." (1 Sam. ii. 30.)

My beloved reader, have you found settled, divine peace for your guilty conscience, in the perfected atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you simply taken God at His word? Have you set to your seal that God is true? If so, you are a child of God; your sins are all forgiven, and you are accepted as righteous in Christ; heaven, with all its untold glories, is before you; you are as sure of being in the glory as Christ Himself, inasmuch as you are united to Him.

Thus, everything is settled for you for time and eternity, according to the very utmost desire of your heart. Your need is met, your guilt removed, your peace established, your title sure. You have nought to do for yourself. All is divinely finished.

What remains? Just this: LIVE FOR CHRIST! You are left here for "a little while," to occupy for Him, and wait for His appearing. Oh! seek to be faithful to your blessed Master. Be not discouraged by the fragmentary state of everything around you. Let the case of Daniel and his honored companions encourage your heart to seek after an elevated course here below. It is your privilege to enjoy as much of companionship with the blessed Lord Jesus, as if you were cast amid the palmy days of apostolic testimony.

May the Holy Ghost enable the writer and the reader of these lines to drink into the spirit—walk in the footsteps—manifest the graces—and wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ!

C. H. M.


 

SIN IN THE FLESH

AND

SIN ON THE CONSCIENCE

It is of the utmost importance that we accurately distinguish between sin in the flesh, and sin on the conscience. If we confound these two, our souls must necessarily be unhinged, and our worship marred. An attentive consideration of 1 John i. 8-10. will throw much light upon this subject, the understanding of which is so essential.

There is no one who will be so conscious of indwelling sin, as the man who walks in the light. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." In the verse immediately preceding, we read, "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." Here the distinction between sin in us, and sin on us, is fully brought out and established. To say that there is sin on the believer, in the presence of God, is to call in question the purging efficacy of the blood of Jesus, and to deny the truth of the divine record. If the blood of Jesus can perfectly purge, then the believer's conscience is perfectly purged. The word of God thus puts the matter; and we must ever remember that it is from God Himself we are to learn what the true condition of the believer is, in His sight. We are more disposed to be occupied in telling God what we are in ourselves, than to allow Him to tell us what we are in Christ. In other words, we are more taken up with our own self-consciousness, than with God's revelation of Himself. God speaks to us on the ground of what He is in Himself, and of what He has accomplished in Christ. Such is the nature and character of His revelation, of which faith takes hold, and thus fills the soul with perfect peace. God's revelation is one thing; my consciousness is quite another.

But the same word which tells us we have no sin on us, tells us, with equal force and clearness, that we have sin in us. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Every one who has "truth" in him, will know that he has "sin" in him, likewise; for truth reveals everything as it is. What, then, are we to do? It is our privilege so to walk in the power of the new nature (that is, the Holy Ghost), that the "sin" which dwells in us may not manifest itself in the form of "sins." The Christian's position is one of victory and liberty. He is not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but also from sin as a ruling principle in his life. "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin ... let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.... For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Rom. vi. 6-14.) Sin is there in all its native vileness, but the believer is dead to it. How? He died in Christ. By nature he was dead in sin. By grace he is dead to it. What claim can anything or any one have upon a dead man? None whatever. Christ "died unto sin once," and the believer died in Him. "Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him; knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God." What is the result of this, in reference to believers? "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Such is the believer's unalterable position before God, so that it is his holy privilege to enjoy freedom from sin as a ruler over him, though it be a dweller in him.

But then, "if any man sin," what is to be done? The inspired apostle furnishes a full and most blessed answer: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John i. 9.) Confession is the mode in which the conscience is to be kept free. The apostle does not say, "If we pray for pardon, He is gracious and merciful to forgive us." No doubt, it is ever happy for a child to breathe the sense of need into his father's ear—to tell him of feebleness, to confess folly, infirmity, and failure. All this is most true; and, moreover, it is equally true that our Father is most gracious and merciful to meet His children in all their weakness and ignorance; but, while all this is true, the Holy Ghost declares, by the apostle, that "if we confess," God is "faithful and just to forgive." Confession therefore is the divine mode. A Christian, having erred in thought, word, or deed, might pray for pardon for days and months together, and not have any assurance, from 1 John i. 9, that he was forgiven; whereas, the moment he truly confesses his sin before God, it is a simple matter of faith to know that he is perfectly forgiven, and perfectly cleansed.

There is an immense moral difference between praying for forgiveness, and confessing our sins, whether we look at it in reference to the character of God, the sacrifice of Christ, or the condition of the soul. It is quite possible that a person's prayer may involve the confession of his sin, whatever it may happen to be, and thus come to the same thing. But then, it is always well to keep close to Scripture, in what we think, and say, and do. It must be evident that when the Holy Ghost speaks of confession, He does not mean praying. And it is equally evident that He knows there are moral elements in, and practical results flowing out of, confession, which do not belong to prayer. In point of fact, one has often found that a habit of importuning God for the forgiveness of sins, displayed ignorance as to the way in which God has revealed Himself in the Person and work of Christ; as to the relation in which the sacrifice of Christ has set the believer; and as to the divine mode of getting the conscience relieved from the burden, and purified from the evil of sin.

God has been perfectly satisfied, as to all the believer's sins, in the cross of Christ. On that cross a full atonement was presented for every jot and tittle of sin, in the believer's nature and on his conscience. Hence, therefore, God does not need any further propitiation. He does not need aught to draw His heart toward the believer. We do not require to supplicate Him to be "faithful and just," when His faithfulness and justice have been so gloriously displayed, vindicated, and answered, in the death of Christ. Our sins can never come into God's presence, inasmuch as Christ, who bore them all, and put them away, is there instead. But if we sin, conscience will feel it, must feel it; yea, the Holy Ghost will make us feel it. He cannot allow so much as a single light thought to pass unjudged. What then? Has our sin made its way into the presence of God? Has it found its place in the unsullied light of the inner sanctuary? God forbid! The "Advocate" is there—"Jesus Christ the righteous"—to maintain, in unbroken integrity, the relationship in which we stand. But though sin cannot affect God's thoughts in reference to us, it can, and does affect our thoughts in reference to Him. Though it cannot make its way into God's presence, it can make its way into ours, in a most distressing and humiliating manner. Though it cannot hide the Advocate from God's view, it can hide Him from ours. It gathers, like a thick dark cloud, on our spiritual horizon, so that our souls cannot bask in the blessed beams of our Father's countenance. It cannot affect our relationship with God, but it can very seriously affect our enjoyment thereof. What, therefore, are we to do? The Word answers, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." By confession, we get our conscience cleared; the sweet sense of our relationship restored; the dark cloud dispersed; the chilling, withering influence removed; our thoughts of God set straight. Such is the divine method; and we may truly say that the heart that knows what it is to have ever been in the place of confession, will feel the divine power of the apostle's words, "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not." (1 John ii. 1.)

Then, again, there is a style of praying for forgiveness which involves a losing sight of the perfect ground of forgiveness, which has been laid in the sacrifice of the cross. If God forgives sins, He must be "faithful and just" in so doing. But it is quite clear that our prayers, be they ever so sincere and earnest, could not form the basis of God's faithfulness and justice in forgiving us our sins. Nought save the work of the cross could do this. There the faithfulness and justice of God have had their fullest establishment, and that, too, in immediate reference to our actual sins, as well as to the root thereof, in our nature. God has already judged our sins, in the Person of our Substitute, "on the tree;" and, in the act of confession, we judge ourselves. This is essential to divine forgiveness and restoration. The very smallest unconfessed, unjudged sin, on the conscience, will entirely mar our communion with God. Sin in us need not do this; but if we suffer sin to remain on us, we cannot have fellowship with God. He has put away our sins in such a manner as that He can have us in His presence; and so long as we abide in His presence, sin does not trouble us. But if we get out of His presence, and commit sin, our communion must of necessity be suspended until, by confession, we have got rid of the sin. All this, I need hardly add, is founded exclusively upon the perfect sacrifice and righteous advocacy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, as to the difference between prayer and confession, as respects the condition of the heart before God, and its moral sense of the hatefulness of sin, it cannot possibly be overestimated. It is a much easier thing to ask in a general way for the forgiveness of our sins, than to confess those sins. Confession involves self-judgment; asking for forgiveness may not, and in itself does not. This alone would be sufficient to point out the difference. Self-judgment is one of the most valuable and healthful exercises of the Christian life; and therefore anything which produces it must be highly esteemed by every earnest Christian.

The difference between asking for pardon, and confessing the sin, is continually exemplified in dealing with children. If a child has done anything wrong, he finds much less difficulty in asking his father to forgive him, than in openly and unreservedly confessing the wrong. In asking for forgiveness, the child may have in his mind a number of things which tend to lessen the sense of the evil; he may be secretly thinking that he was not so much to blame after all, though, to be sure, it is only proper to ask his father to forgive him; whereas, in confessing the wrong, there is just one thing, and that is self-judgment. Further, in asking for forgiveness, the child may be influenced mainly by a desire to escape the consequences of his wrong; whereas a judicious parent will seek to produce a just sense of its moral evil, which can only exist where there is the full confession of the fault in connection with self-judgment.

Thus it is in reference to God's dealing with His children, when they do wrong. He must have the whole thing brought out and thoroughly judged. He will make us not only dread the consequences of sin,—which are unutterable,—but hate the thing itself, because of its hatefulness in His sight. Were it possible for us, when we commit sin, to be forgiven merely for the asking, our sense of sin, and our shrinking from it, would not be nearly so intense; and, as a consequence, our estimate of the fellowship with which we are blessed would not be nearly so high. The moral effect of all this upon the general tone of our spiritual constitution, and also upon our whole character and practical career, must be obvious to every experienced Christian.


 

GOD'S WAY, AND HOW TO FIND IT

(Read Job xxviii.; Luke xi. 34-36.)

"There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: the lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it." What an unspeakable mercy for one who really desires to walk with God, to know that there is a way for him to walk in! God has prepared a pathway for His redeemed in which they may walk with all possible certainty, calmness and fixedness. It is the privilege of every child of God, and every servant of Christ, to be as sure that he is in God's way as that his soul is saved. This may seem a strong statement; but the question is, Is it true? If it be true, it cannot be too strong. No doubt it may, in the judgment of some, savor a little of self-confidence and dogmatism to assert, in such a day as that in which we live, and in the midst of such a scene as that through which we are passing, that we are sure of being in God's path. But what saith the Scripture? It declares "there is a way," and it also tells us how to find and how to walk in that way. Yes; the self-same voice that tells us of God's salvation for our souls, tells us also of God's pathway for our feet;—the very same authority that assures us that "he that believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life," assures us also that there is a way so plain that "the wayfaring men though fools shall not err therein."

This, we repeat, is a signal mercy—a mercy at all times, but especially in a day of confusion and perplexity like the present. It is deeply affecting to notice the state of uncertainty in which many of God's dear people are found at the present moment. We do not refer now to the question of salvation, of this we have spoken largely elsewhere; but that which we have now before us is the path of the Christian—what he ought to do, where he should be found, how he ought to carry himself in the midst of the professing Church. Is it not too true that multitudes of the Lord's people are at sea as to these things? Are there not many who, were they to tell out the real feelings of their hearts, would have to own themselves in a thoroughly unsettled state—to confess that they know not what to do, or where to go, or what to believe? Now, the question is, Would God leave His children, would Christ leave His servants, in such darkness and confusion?

"No; my dear Lord, in following Thee,
And not in dark uncertainty,
This foot obedient moves."

May not a child know the will of his father? May not a servant know the will of his master? And if this be so in our earthly relationships, how much more fully may we count upon it in reference to our Father and Master in heaven. When Israel of old emerged from the Red Sea, and stood upon the margin of that great and terrible wilderness which lay between them and the land of promise, how were they to know their way? The trackless sand of the desert lay all around them. It was in vain to look for any footprint there. It was a dreary waste in which the vulture's eye could not discern a pathway. Moses felt this when he said to Hobab, "Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes." (Numb. x. 31.) How well our poor unbelieving hearts can understand this touching appeal! How one craves a human guide in the midst of a scene of perplexity! How fondly the heart clings to one whom we deem competent to give us guidance in moments of darkness and difficulty!

And yet, we may ask, what did Moses want with Hobab's eyes? Had not Jehovah graciously undertaken to be their guide? Yes, truly; for we are told that "on the day that the tabernacle was reared up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony; and at even, there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning. So it was alway: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents. At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle, they rested in their tents. And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord, and journeyed not. And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the Lord they abode in their tents, and according to the commandment the Lord, and journeyed not. And so it was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed; whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed; or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents and journeyed not, but when it was taken up they journeyed. At the commandment of the Lord they rested in their tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed: they kept the charge of the Lord at the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses" (Num. ix. 15-23).

Here was divine guidance—a guidance, we may surely say, quite sufficient to render them independent of their own eyes, of Hobab's eyes, and the eyes of any other mortal. It is interesting to note that in the opening of the book of Numbers, it was arranged that the ark of the covenant was to find its place in the very bosom of the congregation; but in chapter x. we are told that when "they departed from the mount of the Lord three days' journey, the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them, in the three days' journey, to search out a resting-place for them." Instead of Jehovah finding a resting-place in the bosom of His redeemed people, He becomes their traveling Guide, and goes before them to seek out a resting-place for them. What touching grace is here! and what faithfulness! If Moses will ask Hobab to be their guide, and that, too, in the very face of God's provision—even the cloud and the silver trumpet, then will Jehovah leave His place in the centre of the tribes, and go before them to search them out a resting-place. And did not He know the wilderness well? Would not He be better for them than ten thousand Hobabs? Might they not fully trust Him? Assuredly. He would not lead them astray. If His grace had redeemed them from Egypt's bondage, and conducted them through the Red Sea, surely they might confide in the same grace to guide them across that great and terrible wilderness, and bring them safely into the land flowing with milk and honey.

But it must be borne in mind that, in order to profit by divine guidance, there must be the abandonment of our own will, and of all confidence in our own reasonings, as well as all confidence in the thoughts and reasonings of others. If I have Jehovah as my Guide, I do not want my own eyes or the eyes of a Hobab either. God is sufficient: I can trust Him. He knows all the way across the desert; and hence, if I keep my eye upon Him, I shall be guided aright.

But this leads us on to the second division of our subject, namely, How am I to find God's way? An all-important question, surely. Whither am I to turn to find God's pathway? If the vulture's eye, so keen, so powerful, so far-seeing, hath not seen it,—if the young lion, so vigorous in movement, so majestic in mien, hath not trodden it,—if man knoweth not the price of it, and if it is not to be found in the land of the living,—if the depth saith, It is not in me, and the sea saith, It is not with me,—if it cannot be gotten for gold or precious stones,—if the wealth of the universe cannot equal it, and no wit of man discover it,—then whither am I to turn? where shall I find it? Shall I turn to those great standards of orthodoxy which rule the religious thought and feeling of millions throughout the length and breadth of the professing Church? Is this wondrous pathway of wisdom to be found with them? Do they form any exception to the great, broad, sweeping rule of Job xxviii? Assuredly not. What, then, am I to do? I know there is a way. God, who cannot lie, declares this, and I believe it; but where am I to find it? "Whence, then, cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding? seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air. Destruction and Death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears." Does it not seem like a hopeless case for any poor ignorant mortal to search for this wondrous pathway? No, blessed be God, it is by no means a hopeless case, for "He understandeth the way thereof, and He knoweth the place thereof. For He looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven; to make the weight for the winds; and He weigheth the waters by measure. When He made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then did He see it and declare it; He prepared it, yea, and searched it out. And unto man He said, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.'"

Here, then, is the divine secret of wisdom: "The fear of the Lord." This sets the conscience directly in the presence of God, which is its only true place. The object of Satan is to keep the conscience out of this place—to bring it under the power and authority of man—to lead it into subjection to the commandments and doctrines of men—to thrust in something between the conscience and the authority of Christ the Lord, it matters not what it is; it may be a creed or a confession containing a quantity of truth,—it may be the opinion of a man or a set of men—the judgment of some favorite teacher,—anything, in short, to come in and usurp, in the heart, the place which belongs to God's Word alone. This is a terrible snare, and a stumbling-block—a most serious hindrance to our progress in the ways of the Lord. God's Word must rule me—God's pure and simple Word, not man's interpretation thereof. No doubt, God may use a man to unfold that Word to my soul; but then it is not man's unfolding of God's Word that rules me, but God's Word by man unfolded. This is of all importance. We must be exclusively taught and exclusively governed by the Word of the living God. Nothing else will keep us straight, or give solidity and consistency to our character and course as Christians. There is a strong tendency within and around us to be ruled by the thoughts and opinions of men—by those great standards of doctrine which men have set up. Those standards and opinions may have a large amount of truth in them—they may be all true so far as they go; that is not the point in question now. What we want to impress upon the Christian reader is, that he is not to be governed by the thoughts of his fellow-man, but simply and solely by the Word of God. It is of no value to hold a truth from man; I must hold it directly from God Himself. God may use a man to communicate His truth; but unless I hold it as from God, it has no divine power over my heart and conscience; it does not bring me into living contact with God, but actually hinders that contact by bringing in something between my soul and His holy authority.

We should greatly like to enlarge upon and enforce this great principle; but we must forbear, just now, in order to unfold to the reader one or two solemn and practical points set forth in the eleventh chapter of Luke,—points which, if entered into, will enable us to understand a little better how to find God's way. We shall quote the passage at length.—"The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed, therefore, that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light."

Here, then, we are furnished with the true secret of discerning God's way. It may seem very difficult, in the midst of the troubled sea of christendom, to steer one's course aright. So many conflicting voices fall on the ear. So many opposing views solicit our attention, men of God differ so in judgment, shades of opinion are so multiplied, that it seems impossible to reach a sound conclusion. We go to one man who, so far as we can judge, seems to have a single eye, and he tells us one thing; we go to another man who also seems to have a single eye, and he tells the very reverse. What, then, are we to think? Well, one thing is certain, that our own eye is not single when we are running, in uncertainty and perplexity, from one man to another. The single eye is fixed on Christ alone, and thus the body is filled with light. The Israelite of old had not to run hither and thither to consult with his fellow as to the right way. Each had the same divine guide, namely, the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. In a word, Jehovah Himself was the infallible Guide of each member of the congregation. They were not left to the guidance of the most intelligent, sagacious, or experienced man in the assembly; neither were they left to follow their own way,—each was to follow the Lord. The silver trumpet announced to all alike the mind of God; and no one whose ear was open and attentive was left at any loss. The eye and the ear of each were to be directed to God alone, and not to a fellow-mortal. This was the secret of guidance in the trackless desert of old, and this is the secret of guidance in the vast moral wilderness through which God's redeemed are passing now. One man may say, Listen to me; and another may say, Listen to me; and a third may say, Let each one take his own way. The obedient heart says, in opposition to all, I must follow my Lord.

This makes all so simple. It will not, by any means, tender to foster a spirit of haughty independence; quite the reverse. The more I am taught to lean on God alone for guidance, the more I shall distrust and look off from myself; and this, assuredly, is not independence. True, it will deliver me from servile following of any man, by giving me to feel my responsibility to Christ alone; but this is precisely what is so much needed at the present moment. The more closely we examine the elements that are abroad in the professing Church, the more we shall be convinced of our personal need of this entire subjection to divine authority, which is only another name for "the fear of the Lord," or, "a single eye." There is one brief sentence, in the opening of the Acts of the Apostles, which furnishes a perfect antidote to the self-will and the servile fear of man so rife around us, and that is, "We must obey God." What an utterance! "We must obey." This is the cure for self-will. "We must obey God." This is the cure for servile subjection to the commandments and doctrines of men. There must be obedience; but obedience to what? To God's authority, and to that alone. Thus the soul is preserved from the influence of infidelity on the one hand, and superstition on the other. Infidelity says, Do as you like. Superstition says, Do as man tells you. Faith says, "We must obey God."

Here is the holy balance of the soul in the midst of the conflicting and confounding influences around us in this our day. As a servant, I am to obey my Lord; as a child, I am to hearken to my Father's commandments. Nor am I the less to do this although my fellow-servants and my brethren may not understand me. I must remember that the immediate business of my soul is with God Himself.—

"He before whom the elders bow,
With Him is all my business now."

It is my privilege to be as sure that I have my Master's mind as to my path as that I have His Word for the security of my soul. If not, where am I? Is it not my privilege to have a single eye? Yes, surely. And what then? "A body full of light." Now, if my body is full of light, can my mind be full of perplexity? Impossible. The two things are wholly incompatible; and hence, when one is plunged "in dark uncertainty," it is very plain his eye is not single. He may seem very sincere, he may be very anxious to be guided aright; but he may rest assured there is the lack of a single eye—that indispensable prerequisite to divine guidance. The Word is plain,—"If thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light." God will ever guide the obedient, humble soul; but, on the other hand, if we do not walk according to the light communicated, we shall get into darkness. Light not acted upon becomes darkness, and oh, "how great is that darkness!" Nothing is more dangerous than tampering with the light which God gives. It must, sooner or later, lead to the most disastrous consequences. "Take heed, therefore, that the light which is in thee be not darkness." "Hear, ye, and give ear: be not proud; for the Lord hath spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God, before He cause darkness, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and while ye look for light, He turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness." (Jer. xiii. 15, 16.)

This is deeply solemn. What a contrast between a man having a single eye, and a man not acting on the light which God has given him! The one has his body full of light; the other has his body full of darkness: the one has no part dark; the other is plunged in gross darkness: the one is a light-bearer for others; the other is a stumbling-block in the way. We know nothing more solemn than the judicial acting of God, in actually turning our light into darkness, because we have refused to act on the light which He has been pleased to impart.

Christian reader, art thou acting up to thy light? Has God sent a ray of light into thy soul? Has He shown thee something wrong in thy ways or associations? Art thou persisting in any line of action which conscience tells thee is not in full accordance with thy Master's will? Search and see. "Give glory to the Lord thy God." Act on the light. Do not hesitate. Think not of consequences. Obey, we beseech thee, the word of thy Lord. This very moment, as thine eye scans these lines, let the purpose of thy soul be to depart from iniquity wherever thou findest it. Say not, Whither shall I go? What shall I do next? There is evil everywhere. It is only escaping from one evil to plunge into another. Say not these things; do not argue or reason; do not look at results; think not of what the world or the world-church will say of thee; rise above all these things, and tread the path of light—that path which shineth more and more unto the perfect day of glory. Remember, God never gives light for two steps at a time. If He has given thee light for one step, then, in the fear and love of His Name, take that one step, and thou wilt assuredly get more light—yes, "more and more." But if there be the refusal to act, the light which is in thee will become gross darkness, thy feet will stumble on the dark mountains of error which lie on either side of the straight and narrow path of obedience; and thou wilt become a stumbling-block in the path of others. Some of the most grievous stumbling-blocks that lie, at this moment, in the pathway of anxious inquirers are found in the persons of those who once seemed to possess the truth, but have turned from it. The light which was in them has become darkness, and oh, how great and how appalling is that darkness! How sad it is to see those who ought to be light-bearers, acting as a positive hindrance to young and earnest Christians! But let not young Christians be hindered by them. The way is plain. "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding." Let each one hear and obey for himself the voice of the Lord. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." The Lord be praised for this precious word! It puts each one in the place of direct responsibility to Christ Himself; it tells us plainly what is God's way, and, just as plainly, how to find it.

C. H. M.


 

THE UNEQUAL YOKE

No one who sincerely desires to attain, in his own person, or promote in others, a purer and more elevated discipleship, can possibly contemplate the Christianity of the present day without an indescribable feeling of sadness and heaviness. Its tone is so excessively low, its aspect so sickly, and its spirit so enfeebled, that one is, at times, tempted to despair of any thing like a true and faithful witness for an absent Lord. All this is the more truly deplorable when we remember the commanding motives by which it is our special privilege ever to be actuated. Whether we look at the Master whom we are called to follow, the path which we are called to tread, the end which we are called to keep in view, or the hopes by which we are to be animated, we cannot but own that, were all these entered into and realized by a more simple faith, we should assuredly exhibit a more ardent discipleship. "The love of Christ," says the apostle, "constraineth us." This is the most powerful motive of all. The more the heart is filled with Christ's love, and the eye filled with His blessed person, the more closely shall we seek to follow in His heavenly track. His footmarks can only be discovered by "a single eye;" and unless the will is broken, the flesh mortified, and the body kept under, we shall utterly fail in our discipleship, and make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience.

Let not my reader misunderstand me. It is not here, by any means, a question of personal salvation. It is quite another thing. Nothing can be more basely selfish than, having received salvation as the fruit of Christ's agony and bloody sweat, His cross and passion, to keep at as great a distance from His sacred person as we can without forfeiting our personal safety. This is, even in the judgment of nature, deemed a character of selfishness worthy of unmingled contempt; but when exhibited by one who professes to owe his present and his everlasting all to a rejected, crucified, risen, and absent, Master, no language can express its moral baseness. "Provided I escape hell-fire, it makes little matter as to discipleship." Reader, do you not, in your inmost soul, abhor this sentiment? If so, then earnestly seek to flee from it, to the very opposite point of the compass; and let your truthful language be, Provided that blessed Master is glorified, it makes little matter, comparatively, about my personal safety. Would to God that this were the sincere utterance of many hearts in this day, when, alas, it may be too truly said that, "All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's" (Phil. ii. 21). Would that the Holy Ghost would raise up, by His own resistless power, and send forth, by His own heavenly energy, a band of separated and consecrated followers of the Lamb, each one bound, by the cords of love, to the horns of the altar—a company, like Gideon's three hundred of old, able to confide in God and deny the flesh. How the heart longs for this! How the spirit, bowed down at times beneath the chilling and withering influence of a cold and uninfluential profession, earnestly breathes after a more vigorous and whole-hearted testimony for that One who emptied Himself and laid aside His glory, in order that we, through His precious bloodshedding, might be raised to companionship with Him in eternal blessedness!

Now, amongst the numerous hindrances to this thorough consecration of heart to Christ which I earnestly desire for myself and my reader, "the unequal yoke" will be found to occupy a very prominent place indeed. "Be ye not unequally yoked together [ετεροζυγουντες] with unbelievers: for what partnership [μετοχη] hath righteousness with unrighteousness [or rather lawlessness—ανομια]? and what communion [κοινωνια] hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath a believer with an unbeliever [απιστου]? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, 'I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.' 'Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.'" (2 Cor. vi. 14-18.)

Under the Mosaic economy, we learn the same moral principle.—"Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled. Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together. Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woolen and linen together." (Deut. xxii. 9-11; Lev. xix. 19.)

These scriptures will suffice to set forth the moral evil of an unequal yoke. It may, with full confidence, be asserted that no one can be an unshackled follower of Christ who is, in any way, "unequally yoked." He may be a saved person, he may be a true child of God—a sincere believer, but he cannot be a thorough disciple; and not only so, but there is a positive hindrance to the full manifestation of that which he may really be, notwithstanding his unequal yoke. "Come out, ... and I will receive you, ... and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." That is to say, Get your neck out of the unequal yoke, and I will receive you, and there shall be the full, public, practical manifestation of your relationship with the Lord Almighty. The idea here is evidently different from that set forth in James—"Of His own will begat He us, by the word of truth." And also in Peter—"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever." And again in 1 John—"Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." So also in John's gospel—"But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." In all these passages, the relationship of sons is founded upon the divine counsel and the divine operation, and is not set before us as the consequence of any acting of ours; whereas in 2 Corinthians vi. it is put as the result of our getting out of the unequal yoke. In other words, it is entirely a practical question. Thus in Matthew v. we read, "But I say unto you, 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; in order that [οπως] ye may be the sons of your Father which is in heaven; because He causeth His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust." Here too it is the practical establishment and public declaration of the relationship, and its moral influence. It becomes the sons of such a Father to act in such a way. In short, we have the abstract position or relationship of sons founded on God's sovereign will and operation; and we have the moral character consequent upon and flowing out of this relationship which affords just ground for God's public acknowledgment thereof. God cannot fully and publicly own those who are unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for, were He to do so, it would be an acknowledgment of the unequal yoke. He cannot acknowledge "darkness," "unrighteousness," "Belial," "idols," and "an infidel." How could He? Hence, if I yoke myself with any of these, I am morally and publicly identified with them, and not with God at all. I have put myself into a position which God cannot own, and, as a consequence, He cannot own me; but if I withdraw myself from that position—if I "come out and be separate"—if I take my neck out of the unequal yoke—then, but not until then, can I be publicly and fully received and owned as a "son or daughter of the Lord Almighty."

This is a solemn and searching principle for all who feel that they have unhappily gotten themselves into such a yoke. They are not walking as disciples, nor are they publicly or morally on the ground of sons. God cannot own them. Their secret relationship is not the point; but they have put themselves thoroughly off God's ground. They have foolishly thrust their neck into a yoke which, inasmuch as it is not Christ's yoke, must be Belial's yoke; and until they cast off that yoke, God cannot own them as His sons and daughters. God's grace, no doubt, is infinite, and can meet us in all our failure and weakness; but if our souls aspire after a higher order of discipleship, we must at once cast off the unequal yoke, cost what it may; that is, if it can be cast off; but if it cannot, we must only bow our heads beneath the shame and sorrow thereof, looking to God for full deliverance.

Now, there are four distinct phases in which "the unequal yoke" may be contemplated, viz, the domestic, the commercial, the religious, and the philanthropic. Some may be disposed to confine 2 Corinthians vi. 14 to the first of these; but the apostle does not so confine it. The words are, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." He does not specify the character or object of the yoke, and therefore we are warranted in giving the passage its widest application, by bringing its edge to bear directly upon every phase of the unequal yoke; and we shall see the importance of so doing ere we close these remarks, if the Lord permit.

I. And first, then, let us consider the domestic or marriage yoke. What pen can portray the mental anguish, the moral misery, together with the ruinous consequences as to spiritual life and testimony, flowing from a Christian's marriage with an unconverted person? I suppose nothing can be more deplorable than the condition of one who discovers, when it is too late, that he has linked himself for life with one who cannot have a single thought or feeling in common with him. One desires to serve Christ; the other can only serve the devil: one breathes after the things of God; the other sighs for the things of this present world: the one earnestly seeks to mortify the flesh, with all its affections and desires; the other only seeks to minister to and gratify these very things. Like a sheep and a goat linked together, the sheep longs to feed on the green pasture in the field, while, on the other hand, the goat craves the brambles which grow in the ditch. The sad consequence is that both are starved. One will not feed on the pasture, and the other cannot feed upon the brambles, and thus neither gets what his nature craves, unless the goat, by superior strength, succeeds in forcing his unequally yoked companion to remain among the brambles, there to languish and die.

The moral of this is plain enough; and, moreover, it is, alas! of but too common occurrence. The goat generally succeeds in gaining his end. The worldly partner carries his or her point, in almost every instance. It will be found, almost without exception, that in cases of the unequal marriage-yoke, the poor Christian is the sufferer, as is evidenced by the bitter fruits of a bad conscience, a depressed heart, a gloomy spirit, and a desponding mind. A heavy price, surely, to pay for the gratification of some natural affection, or the attainment, it may be, of some paltry worldly advantage. In fact, a marriage of this kind is the death-knell of practical Christianity, and of progress in the divine life. It is morally impossible that any one can be an unfettered disciple of Christ with his neck in the marriage-yoke with an unbeliever. As well might a racer in the Olympic or Isthmæan games have expected to gain the crown of victory by attaching a heavy weight or dead body to his person. It is enough, surely, to have one dead body to sustain, without attaching another. There never was a true Christian yet who did not find that he had abundant work to do in endeavoring to grapple with the evils of one heart, without going to burden himself with the evils of two; and, without doubt, the man who foolishly and disobediently marries an unconverted woman; or the woman who marries an unconverted man, is burdened with the combined evils of two hearts; and who is sufficient for these things? One can most fully count upon the grace of Christ for the subjugation of his own evil nature: but he certainly cannot count, in the same way, upon that grace in reference to the evil nature of his unequal yoke-fellow. If he have yoked himself ignorantly, the Lord will meet him personally, on the ground of full confession, with entire restoration of soul, but in the matter of his discipleship, he will never recover it.

Now, in considering the terribly evil consequences of the unequal marriage-yoke, it is mainly as bearing upon our discipleship that we are looking at them. I say "mainly" because our entire character and experience are deeply affected thereby. I very much question if any one can give a more effectual blow to his prosperity in the divine life than by assuming an unequal yoke. Indeed, the very fact of so doing proves that spiritual decline has already set in, with most alarming symptoms; but as to his discipleship and testimony, the lamp thereof may be regarded as all but gone out; or if it does give an occasional faint glimmer, it only serves to make manifest the awful gloom of his unhappy position, and the appalling consequences of being "unequally yoked together with an unbeliever."

Thus much as to the question of the unequal yoke in its influence upon the life, the character, the testimony, and the discipleship of the child of God.

I would now say a word as to its moral effect as exhibited in the domestic circle. Here too the consequences are truly melancholy. Nor could they possibly be otherwise. Two persons have come together in the closest and most intimate relationship, with tastes, habits, feelings, desires, tendencies, and objects diametrically opposite. They have nothing in common; so that in every movement they can but grate one against the other. The unbeliever cannot, in reality, go with the believer; and if there should, through excessive amiability or downright hypocrisy, be a show of acquiesence, what is it worth in the sight of the Lord, who judges the true state of the heart in reference to Himself? But little indeed; yea, it is worse than worthless. Then, again, if the believer should unhappily go in any measure with his unequal yoke-fellow, it can only be at the expense of his discipleship, and the consequence is, a condemning conscience in the sight of the Lord; and this, again, leads to heaviness of spirit, and, it may be, sourness of temper in the domestic circle, so that the grace of the gospel is by no means commended, and the unbeliever is not attracted or won. Thus it is in every way most sorrowful. It is dishonoring to God, destructive of spiritual prosperity, utterly subversive of discipleship and testimony, and entirely hostile to domestic peace and blessing. It produces estrangement, coldness, distance, and misunderstanding: or, if it does not produce these, it will doubtless lead, on the part of the Christian, to a forfeiture of his discipleship and his good conscience, both of which he may be tempted to offer as a sacrifice upon the altar of domestic peace. Thus, whatever way we look at it, an unequal yoke must lead to the most deplorable consequences.

Then, as to its effect upon children, it is equally sad. These are almost sure to flow in the current with the unconverted parent. "Their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people." There can be no union of heart in the training of the children,—no joint and mutual confidence in reference to them. One desires to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; the other desires to bring them up in the principles of the world, the flesh, and the devil: and as all the sympathies of the children, as they grow up, are likely to be ranged on the side of the latter, it is easy to see how it will end. In short, it is an unseemly, unscriptural, and vain effort to plow with an "unequal yoke," or to "sow the ground with mingled seed;" and all must end in sorrow and confusion.[18]

I shall, ere turning from this branch of our subject, offer a remark as to the reasons which generally actuate Christians in the matter of entering into the unequal marriage-yoke. We all know, alas! how easily the poor heart persuades itself of the rightness of any step which it desires to take, and how the devil furnishes plausible arguments to convince us of its rightness—arguments which the moral condition of the soul causes us to regard as clear, forcible, and satisfactory. The very fact of our thinking of such a thing, proves our unfitness to weigh, with a well-balanced mind and spiritually adjusted conscience, the solemn consequences of such a step. If the eye were single (that is, if we were governed but by one object, namely, the glory and honor of the Lord Jesus Christ), we should never entertain the idea of putting our necks in an unequal yoke; and consequently we should have no difficulty or perplexity about the matter. A racer, whose eye was resting on the crown, would not be troubled with any perplexity as to whether he ought to stop and tie a hundred-weight round his neck. Such a thought would never cross his mind: and not only so, but a thorough racer would have a distinct and almost intuitive perception of every thing which would be likely to prove a hindrance to him in running the race; and, of course, with such an one, to perceive would be to reject with decision.[19]

Now, were it thus with Christians in the matter of unscriptural marriage, it would save them a world of sorrow and perplexity; but it is not thus. The heart gets out of communion, and is morally incompetent to "try the things that differ;" and when in this condition, the devil gains an easy conquest, and speedy success in his wicked effort to induce the believer to yoke himself with "Belial"—with "unrighteousness"—with "darkness"—with "an infidel." When the soul is in full communion with God, it is entirely subject to His Word; it sees things as He sees them, calls them what He calls them, and not what the devil or his own carnal heart would call them. In this way, the believer escapes the insnaring influence of a deception which is very frequently brought to bear upon him in this matter, namely, a false profession of religion on the part of the person whom he desires to marry. This is a very common case. It is easy to show symptoms of leaning toward the things of God; and the heart is treacherous and base enough to make a profession of religion in order to gain its end; and not only so, but the devil, who is "transformed into an angel of light," will lead to this false profession, in order thereby the more effectually to entrap the feet of a child of God. Thus it comes to pass that Christians, in this matter, suffer themselves to be satisfied, or at least profess themselves satisfied, with evidence of conversion which under any other circumstances they would regard as utterly lame and flimsy.

But, alas! experience soon opens the eyes to the reality. It is speedily discovered that the profession was all a vain show, that the heart is entirely in and of the world. Terrible discovery. Who can detail the bitter consequences of such a discovery—the anguish of heart—the bitter reproaches and cuttings of conscience—the shame and confusion—the loss of power and blessing—the forfeiture of spiritual peace and joy—the sacrifice of a life of usefulness? Who can describe all these things? The man awakes from his delusive dream, and opens his eyes upon the tremendous reality that he is yoked for life with "Belial"! Yes, this is what the Spirit calls it. It is not an inference, or a deduction arrived at by a process of reasoning; but a plain and positive statement of holy Scripture, that thus the matter stands in reference to one who, from whatever motive, or under the influence of whatever reasons, or deceived by whatever false pretences, has entered into an unequal marriage-yoke.

Oh, my beloved Christian reader, if you are in danger of entering into such a yoke, let me earnestly, solemnly, and affectionately entreat of you to pause first, and weigh the matter in the balances of the sanctuary, ere you move forward a single hair's breadth on such a fatal path! You may rest assured that you will no sooner have taken the step than your heart will be assailed by hopeless regrets, and your life embittered by unnumbered sorrows. Let nothing induce you to yoke yourself with an unbeliever. Are your affections engaged? Then, remember, they cannot be the affections of your new man; they are, be assured of it, those of the old or carnal nature, which you are called upon to mortify and set aside. Wherefore you should cry to God for spiritual power to rise above the influence of such affections; yea, to sacrifice them to Him. Again, are your interests concerned? Then remember that they are only your interests; and if they are promoted, Christ's interests are sacrificed by your yoking yourself with "Belial." Furthermore, they are only your temporal, and not your eternal interests. In point of fact, the interests of the believer and those of Christ ought to be identical; and it is plain that His interests, His honor, His truth, His glory, must inevitably be sacrificed if a member of His body is linked with "Belial." This is the true way to look at the question. What are a few hundreds, or a few thousands, to an heir of heaven? "God is able to give thee much more than this." Are you going to sacrifice the truth of God, as well as your own spiritual peace, prosperity, and happiness, for a paltry trifle of gold, which must perish in the using of it? Ah, no! God forbid! Flee from it, as a bird from the snare which it sees and knows. Stretch out the hand of genuine, well-braced, whole-hearted discipleship, and take the knife and slay your affections and your interests on the altar of God, and then, even though there should not be an audible voice from heaven to approve your act, you will have the invaluable testimony of an approving conscience and an ungrieved Spirit—an ample reward, surely, for the most costly sacrifice which you can make. May the Spirit of God give power to resist Satan's temptations.

It is hardly needful to remark here that in cases where conversion takes place after marriage, the complexion of the matter is very materially altered. There will then be no smitings of conscience, for example, and the whole thing is modified in a variety of particulars. Still, there will be difficulty, trial, and sorrow, unquestionably. The only thing is, that one can far more happily bring the trial and sorrow into the Lord's presence, when he has not deliberately and willfully plunged himself thereinto; and, blessed be God, we know how ready He is to forgive, restore, and cleanse from all unrighteousness the soul that makes full confession of its error and failure. This may comfort the heart of one who has been brought to the Lord after marriage. Moreover, to such an one the Spirit of God has given specific direction and blessed encouragement in the following passage: "If any brother have an unbelieving wife, and she think proper to dwell with him, let him not put her away: and if any woman have an unbelieving husband, and he think proper to dwell with her, let her not put him away (for the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband, else were your children unclean, but now are they holy).... For what knowest thou, O wife, if thou shalt save thy husband? or what knowest thou, O husband, if thou shalt save thy wife?" (1 Cor. vii. 12-16.)

II. We shall now consider "the unequal yoke" in its commercial phase, as seen in cases of partnership in business. This, though not so serious an aspect of the yoke as that which we have just been considering, will nevertheless be found a very positive barrier to the believer's testimony. When a Christian yokes himself, for business purposes, with an unbeliever—whether that unbeliever be a relative or not—or when he becomes a member of a worldly firm, he virtually surrenders his individual responsibility. Henceforth the acts of the firm become his acts, and it is perfectly out of the question to think of getting a worldly firm to act on heavenly principles. They would laugh at such a notion, inasmuch as it would be an effectual barrier to the success of their commercial schemes. They will feel perfectly free to adopt a number of expedients in carrying on their business which would be quite opposed to the spirit and principles of the kingdom in which he is, and of the Church of which he forms a part. Thus he will find himself constantly in a most trying position. He may use his influence to Christianize the mode of conducting affairs, but they will compel him to do business as others do, and he has no remedy save to mourn in secret over his anomalous and difficult position, or else to go out at great pecuniary loss to himself and family. Where the eye is single, there will be no hesitation as to which of these alternatives to adopt; but, alas! the very fact of getting into such a position proves the lack of a single eye; and the fact of being in it argues the lack of spiritual capacity to appreciate the value and power of the divine principles which would infallibly bring a man out of it. A man whose eye was single could not possibly yoke himself with an unbeliever for the purpose of making money. Such an one could only set, as an object before his mind, the direct glory of Christ; and this object could never be gained by a positive transgression of divine principle.

This makes it very simple. If it does not glorify Christ for a Christian to become a partner in a worldly firm, it must, without doubt, further the designs of the devil. There is no middle ground; but that it does not glorify Christ is manifest, for His Word says, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." Such is the principle, which cannot be infringed without damage to the testimony, and forfeiture of spiritual blessing. True, the conscience of a Christian who transgresses in this matter may seek relief in various ways—may have recourse to various subterfuges—may set forth various arguments to persuade itself that all is right. It will be said that "we can be very devoted and very spiritual, so far as we are personally concerned, even though we are yoked, for business purposes, with an unbeliever." This will be found fallacious when brought to the test of the actual practice. A servant of Christ will find himself hampered in a hundred ways by his worldly partnership. If in matters of service to Christ he is not met with open hostility, he will have to encounter the enemy's secret and constant effort to damp his ardor, and throw cold water on all his schemes. He will be laughed at and despised—he will be continually reminded of the effect which his enthusiasm and fanaticism will produce in reference to the business prospects of the firm. If he uses his time, his talents, or his pecuniary resources in what he believes to be the Lord's service, he will be pronounced a fool or a madman, and reminded that the true—the proper way for a commercial man to serve the Lord is to "attend to business, and nothing but business;" and that it is the exclusive business of clergymen and ministers to attend to religious matters, inasmuch as they are set apart and paid for so doing.

Now, although the Christian's renewed mind may be thoroughly convinced of the fallacy of all this reasoning—although he may see that this worldly wisdom is but a flimsy, threadbare cloak, thrown over the heart's covetous practices—yet who can tell how far the heart may be influenced by such things? We get weary of constant resistance. The current becomes too strong for us, and we gradually yield ourselves to its action, and are carried along on its surface. Conscience may have some death-struggles; but the spiritual energies are paralyzed, and the sensibilities of the new nature are blunted, so that there is no response to the cries of conscience, and no effectual effort to withstand the enemy; the worldliness of the Christian's heart leagues itself with the opposing influences from without—the outworks are stormed, and the citadel of the soul's affections vigorously assaulted; and finally, the man settles down in thorough worldliness, exemplifying in his own person the prophet's touching lament, "Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire: their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets; their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick." (Lam. iv. 7, 8.) The man who was once known as a servant of Christ—a fellow-helper unto the kingdom of God—making use of his resources only to further the interests of the gospel of Christ, is now, alas! settled down upon his lees, only known as a plodding, keen, bargain-making man of business, of whom the apostle might well say, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present age [τον νυν αιωνα]."

But perhaps nothing so operates on the hearts of Christians, in inducing them to yoke themselves commercially with unbelievers, as the habit of seeking to maintain the two characters of a Christian and a man of business. This is a grievous snare. In point of fact, there can be no such thing. A man must be either the one or the other. If I am a Christian, my Christianity must show itself as a living reality in that in which I am; and if it cannot show itself there, I ought not to be there: for if I continue in a sphere or position in which the life of Christ cannot be manifested, I shall speedily possess naught of Christianity but the name without the reality—the outward form without the inward power—the shell without the kernel. I should be the servant of Christ, not merely on Sunday, but from Monday morning to Saturday night. I should not only be a servant of Christ in the public assembly, but also in my place of business, whatever it may happen to be. But I cannot be a proper servant of Christ with my neck in the yoke with an unbeliever; for how could the servants of two hostile masters work in the same yoke? It is utterly impossible; as well might one attempt to link the sun's meridian beams with the profound darkness of midnight. It cannot be done; and I do therefore most solemnly appeal to my reader's conscience, in the presence of Almighty God, who shall judge the secrets of men's hearts by Jesus Christ, as to this important matter. I would say to him, if he is thinking of getting into partnership with an unbeliever, Flee from it! yes, flee from it, though it promises you the gain of thousands. You will plunge yourself into a mass of sorrow and trouble. You are going to "plow" with one whose feelings, instincts, and tendencies are diametrically opposed to your own. "An ox and an ass" are not so unlike, in every respect, as a believer and an unbeliever. How will you ever get on? He wants to make money—to profit himself—to get on in the world; you want (at least you ought to want) to grow in grace and holiness—to advance the interests of Christ and His gospel on the earth, and to push onward to the everlasting kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. His object is money; yours, I trust, is Christ: he lives for this world; you, for the world to come; he is engrossed with the things of time; you, with those of eternity. How, then, can you ever take common ground with him? Your principles, your motives, your objects, your hopes, are all opposed. How is it possible you can get on? How can you have aught in common? Surely, all this needs only to be looked at with a single eye in order to be seen in its true light. It is impossible that any one whose eye is filled and whose heart is occupied with Christ, could ever yoke himself with a worldly partner, for any object whatsoever. Wherefore, my beloved Christian reader, let me once more entreat you, ere you take such a tremendous step—a step fraught with such awful consequences—so pregnant with danger to your best interests, as well as to the testimony of Christ, with which you are honored—to take the whole matter, with an honest heart, into the sanctuary of God, and weigh it in His sacred balance. Ask Him what He thinks of it, and hearken, with a subject will and a well-adjusted conscience, to His reply. It is plain and powerful—yea, as plain and as powerful as though it fell from the open heavens—"Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers."

But if, unhappily, my reader is already in the yoke, I would say to him, disentangle yourself as speedily as you can. I am much mistaken if you have not already found the yoke a burdensome one. To you it were superfluous to detail the sad consequences of being in such a position; you doubtless know them all. It is needless to print them on paper, or paint them on canvas, to one who has entered into all their reality. My beloved brother in Christ, lose not a moment in seeking to throw off the yoke. This must be done before the Lord, on His principles, and by His grace. It is easier to get into a wrong position than to get out of it. A partnership of ten or twenty years' standing cannot be dissolved in a moment. It must be done calmly, humbly, and prayerfully, as in the sight of the Lord, and with entire reference to His glory. I may dishonor the Lord as much in my way of getting out of a wrong position as by getting into it at the first. Hence, if I find myself in partnership with an unbeliever, and my conscience tells me I am wrong, let me honestly and frankly state to my partner that I can no longer go on with him; and having done that, my place is to use every exertion to wind up the affairs of the firm in an upright, a straightforward, and businesslike manner, so as to give no possible occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully, and that my good may not be evil spoken of. We must avoid rashness, headiness, and high-mindedness, when apparently acting for the Lord, and in defense of His holy principles. If a man gets entangled in a net, or involved in a labyrinth, it is not by bold and violent plunging he will extricate himself. No; he must humble himself, confess his sins before the Lord, and then retrace his steps, in patient dependence upon that grace which can not only pardon him for being in a wrong position, but lead him forth into a right one.

Moreover, as in the case of the marriage-yoke, the matter is very much modified by the fact of the partnership having been entered into previous to conversion. Not that this would, in the slightest degree, justify a continuance in it. By no means; but it does away with much of the sorrow of heart and defilement of conscience connected with such a position, and will also very materially affect the mode of escape therefrom. Besides, the Lord is glorified by, and He assuredly accepts, the moral bent of the heart and conscience in the right direction. If I judge myself for being wrong, and that the moral bent of my heart and conscience is to get right, God will accept of that, and surely set me right. But if He sets me right, He will not suffer me to do violence to one truth while seeking to act in obedience to another. The same Word that says "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" says also "Render therefore to all their dues"—"owe no man any thing"—"provide things honest in the sight of all"—"walk honestly toward them that are without." If I have wronged God by getting into partnership with an unbeliever, I must not wrong any man in my way of getting out of it. Profound subjection to the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Ghost, will set all to rights, will lead us into straight paths, and enable us to avoid all dangerous extremes.

III. In glancing for a moment at the religious phase of the unequal yoke, I would assure my reader that it is by no means my desire to hurt the feelings of any one by canvassing the claims of the various denominations around me. Such is not my purpose. The subject of this paper is one of quite sufficient importance to prevent its being encumbered by the introduction of other matters. Moreover, it is too definite to warrant any such introduction. "The unequal yoke" is our theme, and to it we must confine our attention.

In looking through Scripture we find almost numberless passages setting forth the intense spirit of separation which ought ever to characterize the people of God. Whether we direct our attention to the Old Testament, in which we have God's relationship and dealings with His earthly people, Israel, or to the New Testament, in which we have His relationship and dealings with His heavenly people, the Church, we find the same truth prominently set forth, namely, the entire separation of those who belong to God. Israel's position is thus stated in Balaam's parable, "Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned amongst the nations." Their place was outside the range of all the nations of the earth, and they were responsible to maintain that separation. Throughout the entire Pentateuch they were instructed, warned, and admonished as to this; and throughout the psalms and the prophets we have a record of their failure in the maintenance of this separation, which failure, as we know, has brought down upon them the heavy judgments of the hand of God. It would swell this little paper into a volume were I to attempt a quotation of all the passages in which this point is put forward. I take it for granted that my reader is sufficiently acquainted with his Bible, to render such quotations unnecessary. Should he not be so, however, a reference, in his concordance, to the words, "separate," "separated," and "separation" will suffice to lay before him at a glance the body of Scripture-evidence on the subject. The passage just quoted from the book of Numbers is the expression of God's thoughts about His people Israel: "The people shall dwell ALONE."

The same is true, only upon a much higher ground, in reference to God's heavenly people, the Church—the body of Christ—composed of all true believers. They too are a separated people.

We shall now proceed to examine the ground of this separation. There is a great difference between being separate on the ground of what we are and of what God is. The former makes a man a Pharisee; the latter makes him a saint. If I say to a poor fellow-sinner, "Stand by thyself, I am holier than thou," I am a detestable Pharisee and a hypocrite; but if God, in His infinite condescension and perfect grace, says to me, I have brought you into relationship with Myself in the person of My Son Jesus Christ, therefore be separate and holy from all evil; come out from among them and be separate; I am bound to obey, and my obedience is the practical manifestation of my character as a saint—a character which I have, not because of any thing in myself, but simply because God has brought me near unto Himself through the precious blood of Christ.

It is well to be clear as to this. Pharisaism and divine sanctification are two very different things; and yet they are often confounded. Those who contend for the maintenance of that place of separation which belongs to the people of God, are constantly accused of setting themselves up above their fellow-men, and of laying claim to a higher degree of personal sanctity than is ordinarily possessed. This accusation arises from not attending to the distinction just referred to. When God calls upon men to be separate, it is on the ground of what He has done for them upon the cross, and where He has set them, in eternal association with Himself, in the person of Christ. But if I separate myself on the ground of what I am in myself, it is the most senseless and vapid assumption, which will sooner or later be made manifest. God commands His people to be holy on the ground of what He is: "Be ye holy, for I am holy." This is evidently a very different thing from "Stand by thyself: I am holier than thou." If God brings people into association with Himself, He has a right to prescribe what their moral character ought to be, and they are responsible to answer thereto. Thus we see that the most profound humility lies at the bottom of a saint's separation. There is nothing so calculated to put one in the dust as the understanding of the real nature of divine holiness. It is an utterly false humility which springs from looking at ourselves—yea, it is, in reality, based upon pride, which has never yet seen to the bottom of its own perfect worthlessness. Some imagine that they can reach the truest and deepest humility by looking at self, whereas it can only be reached by looking at Christ.—

"The more Thy glories strike mine eye,
The humbler I shall be."

This is a just sentiment, founded upon divine principle. The soul that loses itself in the blaze of Christ's moral glory is truly humble, and none other. No doubt we have a right to be humble when we think of what poor creatures we are, but it only needs a moment's just reflection to see the fallacy of seeking to produce any practical result by looking at self. It is only when we find ourselves in the presence of infinite excellency that we are really humble.

Hence, therefore, a child of God should refuse to be yoked with an unbeliever, whether for a domestic, a commercial, or a religious object, simply because God tells him to be separate, and not because of his own personal holiness. The carrying out of this principle in matters of religion will necessarily involve much trial and sorrow; it will be termed intolerance, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, exclusiveness, and such like; but we cannot help all this. Provided we keep ourselves separate upon a right principle and in a right spirit, we may safely leave all results with God. No doubt the remnant in the days of Ezra must have appeared excessively intolerant in refusing the co-operation of the surrounding people in building the house of God, but they acted upon divine principle in the refusal. "Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel, then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, 'Let us build with you; for we seek your God as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him, since the days of Esar-haddon, king of Assur, which brought us up hither.'" This might seem a very attractive proposal—a proposal evidencing a very decided leaning toward the God of Israel; yet the remnant refused, because the people, notwithstanding their fair profession, were, at heart, uncircumcised and hostile. "But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel said unto them, 'Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel." (Ezra iv. 1-3.) They would not yoke themselves with the uncircumcised—they would not "plow with an ox and ass"—they would not "sow their field with mingled seed"—they kept themselves separate, even though by so doing they exposed themselves to the charge of being a bigoted, narrow-minded, illiberal, uncharitable set of people.

So also in Nehemiah we read, "And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers." (Chap. ix. 2.) This was not sectarianism, but positive obedience. Their separation was essential to their existence as a people. They could not have enjoyed the divine presence on any other ground. Thus it must ever be with God's people on the earth. They must be separate, or else they are not only useless, but mischievous. God cannot own or accompany them if they yoke themselves with unbelievers, upon any ground or for any object whatsoever. The grand difficulty is to combine a spirit of intense separation with a spirit of grace, gentleness, and forbearance; or, as another has said, "to maintain a narrow circle with a wide heart." This is really a difficulty. As the strict and uncompromising maintenance of truth tends to narrow the circle around us, we shall need the expansive power of grace to keep the heart wide, and the affections warm. If we contend for truth otherwise than in grace, we shall only yield a one-sided and most unattractive testimony. And on the other hand, if we try to exhibit grace at the expense of truth, it will prove, in the end, to be only the manifestation of a popular liberality at God's expense—a most worthless thing.

Then, as to the object for which real Christians usually yoke themselves with those who, even on their own confession, and in the judgment of charity itself, are not Christians at all, it will be found in the end that no really divine and heavenly object can be gained by an infringement of God's truth. Per fas aut nefas[20] can never be a divine motto. The means are not sanctified by the end; but both means and end must be according to the principles of God's holy Word, else all must eventuate in confusion and dishonor. It might have appeared to Jehoshaphat a very worthy object to recover Ramoth Gilead out of the hand of the enemy; and moreover, he might have appeared a very liberal, gracious, popular, large-hearted man, when, in reply to Ahab's proposal, he said, "I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war." It is easy to be liberal and large-hearted at the expense of divine principle; but how did it end? Ahab was killed, and Jehoshaphat narrowly escaped with his life, having made total shipwreck of his testimony.

Thus we see that Jehoshaphat did not even gain the object for which he unequally yoked himself with an unbeliever: and even had he gained it, it would have been no justification of his course.[21] Nothing can ever warrant a believer's yoking himself with an unbeliever; and therefore however fair, attractive, and plausible the Ramoth expedition might seem in the eye of man, it was, in the judgment of God, "helping the ungodly, and loving them that hate the Lord." (2 Chron. xix. 2.) The truth of God strips men and things of the false colors with which the spirit of expediency would deck them, and presents them in their proper light; and it is an unspeakable mercy to have the clear judgment of God about all that is going on around us: it imparts calmness to the spirit, and stability to the course and character, and saves one from that unhappy fluctuation of thought, feeling, and principle which so entirely unfits him for the place of a steady and consistent witness for Christ. We shall surely err if we attempt to form our judgment by the thoughts and opinions of men; for they will always judge according to the outward appearances, and not according to the intrinsic character and principle of things. Provided men can gain what they conceive to be a right object, they care not about the mode of gaining it. But the true servant of Christ knows that he must do his Master's work upon his Master's principles and in his Master's spirit. It will not satisfy such an one to reach the most praiseworthy end unless he can reach it by a divinely appointed road. The means and the end must both be divine. I admit it, for example, to be a most desirable end to circulate the Scriptures—God's own pure, eternal Word; but if I could not circulate them save by yoking myself with an unbeliever, I should refrain, inasmuch as I am not to do evil that good may come.

But, blessed be God, His servant can circulate His precious book without violating the precepts contained in that book. He can, upon his own individual responsibility, or in fellowship with those who are really on the Lord's side, scatter the precious seed every where, without leaguing himself with those whose whole course and conduct prove them to be of the world. The same may be said in reference to every object of a religious nature. It can and should be gained on God's principles, and only thus. It may be argued, in reply, that we are told not to judge—that we cannot read the heart—and that we are bound to hope that all who would engage in such good works as the translation of the Bible, the distribution of tracts, and the aiding of missionary labors, must be Christians; and that therefore it cannot be wrong to link ourselves with them. To all this I reply that there is hardly a passage in the New Testament so misunderstood and misapplied as Matthew vii. 1—"Judge not, that ye be not judged." In the very same chapter we read, "Beware of the false prophets: ... by their fruits ye shall know them." Now, how are we to "beware" if we do not exercise judgment? Again, in 1 Corinthians v. we read, "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." Here we are distinctly taught that those "within" come within the immediate range of the Church's judgment; and yet according to the common interpretation of Matthew vii. 1 we ought not to judge anybody; that interpretation, therefore, must needs be unsound. If people take, even in profession, the ground of being "within," we are commanded to judge them. "Do not ye judge them that are within?" As to those "without" we have naught to do with them, save to present the pure and perfect, the rich, illimitable, and unfathomable grace which shines, with unclouded effulgence, in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

All this is plain enough. The people of God are told to exercise judgment as to all who profess to be "within;" they are told to "beware of false prophets;" they are commanded to "try the spirits:" and how can they do all this if they are not to judge at all? What, then, does our Lord mean, when He says, "Judge not"? I believe He means just what St. Paul, by the Holy Ghost, says, when he commands us to "judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart: and then shall every man have praise of God." (1 Cor. iv. 5.) We have nothing to do with judging motives, but we have to judge conduct and principles; that is to say, the conduct and principles of all who profess to be "within." And, in point of fact, the very persons who say, "We must not judge," do themselves constantly exercise judgment. There is no true Christian in whom the moral instincts of the divine nature do not virtually pronounce judgment as to character, conduct, and doctrine; and these are the very points which are placed within the believer's range of judgment.

All, therefore, that I would press upon the Christian reader is, that he would exercise judgment as to those with whom he yokes himself in matters of religion. If he is at this moment working in yoke or in harness with an unbeliever, he is positively violating the command of the Holy Ghost. He may be ignorantly doing so up to this: and if so, the Lord's grace is ready to pardon and restore: but if he persist in disobedience after having been warned, he cannot possibly expect God's blessing and presence with him, no matter how valuable or important the object which he may seek to attain. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

IV. We have only now to consider the philanthropic phase of the unequal yoke. Many will say, I quite admit that we ought not to mingle ourselves with positive unbelievers in the worship or service of God, but then we can freely unite with such for the furtherance of objects of philanthropy—such, for instance, as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, reclaiming the vicious, in providing asylums for the blind and lunatic, hospitals and infirmaries for the sick and infirm, places of refuge for the homeless and houseless, the fatherless and the widow; and in short, for the furtherance of every thing that tends to promote the amelioration of our fellow-creatures, physically, morally, and intellectually.

This, at first sight, seems fair enough; for I may be asked if I would not help a man by the roadside to get his cart out of the ditch. I reply, Certainly; but if I were asked to become a member of a mixed society for the purpose of getting carts out of ditches, I should refuse—not because of my superior sanctity, but because God's Word says, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." This would be my answer, no matter what were the object proposed by a mixed society. The servant of Christ is commanded "to be ready to every good work"—"to do good unto all"—"to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction;" but then it is as the servant of Christ, and not as the member of a society or a committee in which there may be infidels and atheists, and all sorts of wicked and godless men. Moreover, we must remember that all God's philanthropy is connected with the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the channel through which God will bless—that the mighty lever by which He will elevate man, physically, morally, and intellectually. "After that the kindness and philanthropy [φιλανθρωπια] of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour." (Titus iii. 4-6.) This is God's philanthropy; this is His mode of ameliorating man's condition. With all who understand its worth the Christian can readily yoke himself, but with none other.

The men of the world know naught of this, care not for it. They may seek reformation, but it is reformation without Christ; they may promote amelioration, but it is amelioration without the cross. They wish to advance, but Jesus is neither the starting-post nor the goal of their course. How, then, can the Christian yoke himself with them? They want to work without Christ, the very One to whom he owes every thing. Can he be satisfied to work with them? can he have an object in common with them? If men come to me and say, "We want your co-operation in feeding the hungry, in clothing the naked, in founding hospitals and lunatic asylums, in feeding and educating orphans, in improving the physical condition of our fellow-mortals; but you must remember that a leading rule of the society, the board, or the committee formed for such objects is, that the name of Christ is not to be introduced, as it would only lead to controversy. Our objects being not at all religious, but undividedly philanthropic, the subject of religion must be studiously excluded from all our public meetings. We are met as men, for a benevolent purpose, and therefore infidels, atheists, Socinians, Arians, Romanists, and all sorts, can happily yoke themselves to move onward the glorious machine of philanthropy." What should be my answer to such an application? The fact is, words would fail one who really loved the Lord Jesus, in attempting to reply to an appeal so monstrous. What! benefit mortals by the exclusion of Christ? God forbid! If I cannot gain the objects of pure philanthropy without setting aside that blessed One who lived and died, and lives eternally for me, then away with your philanthropy, for it assuredly is not God's, but Satan's. If it were God's, the word is, "He shed it on us abundantly through Jesus Christ," the very One whom your rule leaves entirely out. Hence your rule must be the direct dictation of Satan, the enemy of Christ. Satan would always like to leave out the Son of God; and when he can get men to do the same, he will allow them to be benevolent, charitable, and philanthropic.

But, in good truth, such benevolence and philanthropy ought to be termed malevolence and misanthropy, for how can you more effectually exhibit ill-will and hatred toward men than by leaving out THE ONLY ONE who can really bless them, for time or for eternity? But what must be the moral condition of a heart, in reference to Christ, who could take his seat at a board, or on a platform, on the condition that that name must not be introduced? It must be cold indeed; yea, it proves that the plans and operations of unconverted men are of sufficient importance, in his judgment, to lead him to throw his Master overboard, for the purpose of carrying them out. Let us not mistake matters. This is the true aspect in which to view the world's philanthropy. The men of this world can "sell ointment for three hundred pence, and give to the poor;" while they pronounce it waste to pour that ointment on the head of Christ! Will the Christian consent to this? Will he yoke himself with such? Will he seek to improve the world without Christ? Will he join with men to deck and garnish a scene which is stained with his Master's blood? Peter could say, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." Peter would heal a cripple by the power of the name of Jesus, but what would he have said if asked to join a committee or society to alleviate cripples, on the condition of leaving that name out altogether? It requires no great stretch of imagination to conceive his answer. His whole soul would recoil from such a thought. He only healed the cripple for the purpose of exalting the name of Jesus, and setting forth its worth, its excellency, and its glory, in the view of men: but the very reverse is the object of the world's philanthropy; inasmuch as it sets aside His blessed name entirely, and banishes Him from its boards, its committees, and its platforms.

May we not therefore well say, Shame on the Christian who is found in a place from which his Master is shut out? Oh, let him go forth, and, in the energy of love to Jesus, and by the power of that name, do all the good he can; but let him not yoke himself with unbelievers, to counteract the effects of sin by excluding the cross of Christ. God's grand object is to exalt His Son—"that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father." This should be the Christian's object likewise; to this end he should "do good unto all;" but if he join a society or a committee in order to do good, it is not "in the name of Jesus" he acts, but in the name of the society or committee, without the name of Jesus. This ought to be enough for every true and loyal heart. God has no other way of blessing men but through Christ, and no other object in blessing them but to exalt Christ. As with Pharaoh of old, when the hungry Egyptians flocked to his presence, his word was, "Go to Joseph;" so God's word to all is, "Come to Jesus." Yes, for soul and body, time and eternity, we must go to Jesus; but the men of the world know Him not, and want Him not; what, therefore, has the Christian to do with such? How can he act in yoke with them? He can only do so on the ground of practically denying his Saviour's name. Many do not see this; but that does not alter the case for those who do. We ought to act honestly, as in the light; and even though the feelings and affections of the new nature were not sufficiently strong in us to lead us to shrink from ranking ourselves with the enemies of Christ, the conscience ought, at least, to bow to the commanding authority of that word, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers."

May the Holy Ghost clothe His own Word with heavenly power, and make its edge sharp to pierce the conscience, that so the saints of God may be delivered from every thing that hinders their "running the race that is set before them." Time is short. The Lord Himself will soon be here. Then many an unequal yoke will be broken in a moment; many a sheep and goat shall then be eternally severed. May we be enabled to purge ourselves from every unclean association and every unhallowed influence, so that when Jesus returns, we may not be ashamed, but meet Him with a joyful heart and an approving conscience.

C. H. M.


 

GIDEON AND HIS COMPANIONS

Judges vi.-viii.

PART I.

In studying the history of the nation of Israel, we notice two distinct eras, namely, the era of unity, and the era of individuality—the period in which the twelve tribes acted as one man, and the period in the which one man was called to act for the twelve tribes. We may take the Book of Joshua as illustrating the former; and the Book of Judges as a sample of the latter. The most cursory reader cannot fail to discern the difference between these two books. The one is characterized by external power and glory; the other, by weakness and failure. Power is stamped on the former, ruin on the latter. In that, Jehovah gives the land to Israel; in this, Israel fails to take the land from Jehovah.

Now, all this is expressed in the two words which may be regarded as the motto of the two books, namely, "Gilgal" and "Bochim." In the book of Joshua we find the congregation always starting from Gilgal to prosecute the war, and returning thither to celebrate their victory. Gilgal was their centre, because there they were circumcised; and there the reproach of Egypt was rolled away. See Josh. v. 9, 10.

But no sooner have we opened the book of Judges than the eye rests upon the sad record, "The angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars, but ye have not obeyed my voice; why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. And it came to pass, when the angel of the Lord spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim, that is, weepers; and they sacrificed there unto the Lord" (Judges ii. 1-5).

Here, then, we have, very remarkably, the contrast between the two books of Joshua and Judges—the book of unity and the book of individuality—the book of external power and glory, and the book of internal weakness, failure, and ruin. Alas! alas! the glory speedily departed. Israel's national greatness soon faded away. "The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old.... And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which He had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim.... And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth. And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and He sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies. Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn unto them; and they were greatly distressed."

This, truly, is a gloomy and humiliating record. Joshua's sword was sheathed. Those bright days in the which he had led Israel's compact host to splendid victories over the kings of Canaan, were passed and gone. The moral influence of Joshua and of the elders that survived him had passed away, and the whole nation had rushed, with terrible avidity, into the gross moral evils and abominable idolatries of those nations whom they ought to have driven out from before them. In a word, the ruin was complete, so far as Israel was concerned. Like Adam, in the garden; and Noah, in the restored earth; so Israel, in the land of Canaan, utterly failed. Adam ate the forbidden fruit; Noah got drunk; and Israel bowed before the altars of Baal.

Thus much as to man. But, thank God, there is another side of the picture. There is what we may call a bright and beauteous "Nevertheless;" for God will be God, no matter what man may prove himself to be. This is an unspeakable relief and consolation to the heart. God abideth faithful. Here is faith's stronghold, come what may. God is always to be counted upon, spite of all man's failure and shortcoming. His goodness and faithfulness form the resource and the refuge of the soul amid the darkest scenes of human history.

This soul-sustaining truth shines out with remarkable lustre in the very passage from which we have just given such a depressing quotation. "Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them." But mark the following words, so illustrative of the individuality of the book of Judges: "And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them" (Judges ii. 16, 18).

In these last quoted words, we have the great root principle of the book of Judges—the divine secret of the ministry of the Baraks, the Gideons, the Jephthahs, and the Samsons, the record of whose ministry occupies so large a portion of this most interesting section of inspiration. Israel had failed—sadly, shamefully, inexcusably failed. They had forfeited all claims to the protection of Jehovah's shield. They were justly given over into the ruthless hands of the kings of Canaan. As to all this there could be no possible question. "Nevertheless" Jehovah's heart could feel for His poor, oppressed, and groaning Israel. True, they had proved themselves naughty and unworthy, yet His ear was ever ready to catch their very earliest groan; yea, we are even told, in chapter x., that "His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel."

What touching words! What tenderness! What deep compassion! How such a statement lets us into the profound depths of the heart of God! The misery of His people moved the loving heart of Jehovah. The very faintest and earliest symptoms of brokenness and contrition, on the part of Israel, met with a ready and gracious response, on the part of Israel's God. It mattered not how far they had wandered, how deeply they had sunk, or how grievously they had sinned; God was ever ready to welcome the feeblest breathings of a broken heart. The springs of divine mercy and compassion are absolutely inexhaustible. The ocean of His love is boundless and unfathomable; and hence, the very moment His people take the place of confession, He enters the place of forgiveness. He delights to pardon, according to the largeness of His heart, and according to the glory of His own Name. He finds His peculiar joy in blotting out transgressions, in healing, restoring, and blessing, in a manner worthy of Himself. This glorious truth shines in the history of Israel; it shines in the history of the Church; and it shines in the history of every individual believer.


But we turn to our immediate subject, namely, "Gideon and his companions," as presented in that portion of the book of Judges given at the head of this paper. May the eternal Spirit unfold and apply its precious contents to our souls!

Chapter vi. opens with a very sad and depressing record—a record only too characteristic of Israel's entire history: "And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel; and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strongholds." What a humiliating picture! What a contrast to the conquering host that had crossed the Jordan and walked across the ruins of Jericho! How sad, how humbling, to think of Israel crouching and hiding in the dens and caves of the mountains, through the terror of the uncircumcised Midianites!

It is well for us to consider this picture, and receive its salutary lesson. Israel's power and glory consisted simply in having the presence of God with them. Without that, they were as water spilt upon the ground, or the autumn leaf before the blast. But the divine presence could not be enjoyed in connection with allowed evil; and therefore, when Israel forgot their Lord, and wandered away from Him into the forbidden paths of idolatry, He had to recall them to their senses by stretching out His governmental rod, and causing them to feel the crushing power of one or another of the nations around.

Now all this has a voice and a lesson for us. So long as God's people walk with Him in holy obedience, they have nothing to fear. They are perfectly safe from the snares and assaults of all their spiritual foes. Nought can, by any means, harm them while they abide in the shelter of God's own presence. But, clearly, that presence demands and secures holiness. Unjudged evil cannot dwell there. To live in sin and talk of security—to attempt to connect the presence of God with sanctioned evil—is wickedness of the deepest dye. No, it must not be! "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints; and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about Him." "Thy testimonies are very sure; holiness becometh Thy house, O Lord, forever." If God's people forget these wholesome truths, He knows how to recall them to their remembrance by the rod of discipline; and, blessed forever be His name, He loves them too well to spare that rod, however reluctant He may be to use it. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews xii. 6-12).

These are encouraging words for the people of God, at all times. The discipline may be—no doubt is—painful; but when we know a Father's hand is in it, and when we realize what His object is, we can pass through the trial with exercised hearts, and thus reap the peaceable fruits of righteousness. On the other hand, if we meet the discipline with an impatient spirit, a rebellious will, an unsubdued mind, we only render it necessary for the pressure to be continued and augmented, for our loving Father will never let us alone. He will have us in holy subjection to Himself, cost what it may. He graciously takes our part against ourselves, subdues the proud risings of our will, and crushes all that in us which hinders our growth in holiness, grace, and divine knowledge.

Oh! what infinite grace shines in the fact that our God occupies Himself with our very failure and follies, our waywardness and wilfulness, our sins and shortcomings, in order to deliver us from them! He knows all about us. He understands and takes into account all our surroundings and all our inward tendencies, and He deals with us in infinite wisdom and perfect patience, keeping ever before Him that one gracious object, to make us partakers of His holiness, and—wondrous thought!—to bring out in us the expression of His own nature and character. Surely, then, in the presence of such abounding grace and mercy, we may well "lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees."

PART II.

There is one truth which shines out with uncommon lustre in the book of Judges, and that is, that God is ever to be counted upon, even amid the darkest scenes of human history; and, moreover, faith can always count upon God; God never fails a trusting heart—no, never. He never has failed, never will, never can fail the individual soul that confides in Him, that takes hold of His precious word, in the artless simplicity of a faith that trusts Him in the face of man's deepest failure and shortcoming.

This is most consolatory and encouraging, at all times, and under all circumstances. True it is—alas! how true! man fails in everthing. Trace him where you will; mark him in whatever sphere of action or responsibility he occupies, and it is the same sad tale, over and over again, of unfaithfulness, failure, and ruin. Let man be set up in business, as often as he may, with the largest capital and the fairest prospects, and he is sure to become a bankrupt. It has ever been so, from the days of Eden down to the present moment. We may assert, without fear of contradiction, that there has not been one solitary exception to the dismal rule, in the history of Adam's fallen race. We must never forget this. True faith never forgets it. It would be the blindest folly to attempt to ignore the fact that ruin is stamped, in characters deep and broad, upon the entire of man's story, from first to last.

But, in the face of all this, God abideth faithful. He cannot deny Himself. Here is the resource and the resting-place of faith. It recognizes and owns the ruin; but it counts on God. Faith is not blind to human failure; but it fixes its gaze on divine faithfulness. It confesses the ruin of man; but it counts on the resources of God.

Now, all this comes strikingly out in the interesting and instructive story of Gideon. He, truly, was made to realize, in his own person and experience, the fact of Israel's fallen condition. The contrast between Joshua and Gideon is as striking as can be, so far as regards the question of their condition and circumstances. Joshua could place his foot on the necks of the kings of Canaan. Gideon had to thrash his wheat in a corner to hide it from the Midianites. The day of Joshua was marked by splendid victories; the day of Gideon was a day of small things. But the day of small things for man is the day of great things for God. So Gideon found it. True, it was not permitted him to witness the sun and moon arrested in their course, or the cities of the uncircumcised levelled with the ground. His was a day of barley cakes and broken pitchers, not of astounding miracles and brilliant achievements. But God was with him; and this was enough. "There came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite; and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor" (Judges vi. 11, 12).

What words were these to fall upon the ear of Gideon, cowering in the winepress, through fear of the enemy! They were words from heaven to lift his soul above the trials, and sorrows, and humiliations of earth—words of divine power and virtue to infuse vigor into his depressed and sorrowing heart. "Thou mighty man of valor!" How hard was it for Gideon to take such wondrous accents in! How difficult to apply them to himself! Where was the might or where was the valor? Most surely not in himself or in his surroundings. Where then? In the living God; precisely where Joshua found his might and his valor. Indeed there is a striking similarity in the terms in which both these eminent servants of God were addressed. The similarity of the terms is quite as marked as is the contrast in their circumstances. Here are the terms to Joshua: "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage: be not thou afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." And the terms to Gideon are: "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor."

Precious words! Soul-stirring, heart-strengthening accents! And yet Gideon was slow to make them his own—slow to grasp them, in the lovely appropriating power of faith, which so delights the heart of God, and glorifies His name. How often is it thus with us! How constantly we fail to rise to the height of God's gracious thoughts and purposes towards us! We are prone to reason about ourselves and our surroundings, instead of believing God, and resting, in sweet tranquillity, in His perfect love and faithfulness.

Thus it was with that dear man of God on whose history we are dwelling. The divine statement was clear, full, absolute, and unconditional: "The Lord is with thee." There was no ground, in these words, for any question or doubt, whatsoever; and yet mark Gideon's reply: "And Gideon said unto Him, O my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be all His miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites" (verse 13).

Here, as is evident, Gideon reasons from his surroundings. Hence the "if"—that little monosyllable of unbelief. It is a familiar remark amongst us, "If you want to be miserable, look within; if you want to be distracted, look around; if you want to be peaceful and happy, look up—'look off unto Jesus.'" This is most true. So surely as we become occupied with self, or with men and things, the circumstances which surround us, we must be unhinged and unhappy. Our only strength, our only comfort, our only light, is to keep the eye of faith fixed on Jesus, and the heart firmly centred in Him. Most certainly Gideon's surroundings were of the gloomiest character. His "sensible horizon" was overhung with dark and heavy clouds. But there was one bright and blessed ray which shone in upon his depressed spirit—a ray emanating from the very heart of God, and conveyed in that one brief but comprehensive sentence, "The Lord is with thee." There was no "if" in this—no doubt, no reserve, no condition. It was distinct and unqualified, and needed only one thing to make it a spring of joy, strength, and victory in Gideon's soul, and that was to mix it with faith. But then "if" is not faith. True faith never answers God with ifs, for the simplest of all reasons, that it looks only at God, and there are no ifs with Him. Faith reasons from God downwards; not from man upwards. Faith has only one difficulty, and that difficulty is embodied in the question, "How shall He not?" It never says, "How shall He?" This is the language of sheer unbelief.

But, it may be asked by some, was there not some foundation for Gideon's "if" and "why?" Certainly not in God or in His word, whatever there had been in Israel and their actings. No doubt, if Gideon had only cast his eye back over the pages of his national history, he might have discovered ample reason for the sad and humiliating condition in which he found himself. Those blotted pages would have furnished an abundant answer to his question, "Why then is all this befallen us?" But had Israel's actings dimmed the lustre of Jehovah's mighty "miracles?" Not in the vision of faith, most surely. God had done great and glorious things for His people; and the record of those doings lay ever under the eye of faith, in all its soul-sustaining virtue. No doubt Israel had failed—shamefully failed; and the record of that failure lay also under the eye of faith, and furnished a solemn answer to Gideon's inquiry, "Why is all this befallen us?" Faith recognizes God's government as well as His grace, and moreover it bows, in solemn awe, before each stroke of His governmental rod.

It is well to keep all this in mind. We are apt to forget it. God has, at times, to stretch forth his hand and lift the rod of authority. He cannot own what is contrary to His Name and His nature. Now, Gideon needed to remember this. Israel had sinned, and this was the reason why they were under the rod, of which the power of the Midianites was the expression in Gideon's day.

Gideon, we repeat, was called to enter practically into the meaning of all this; and not only so, but to taste the reality of identification with his people in all their pressure and affliction. This latter, as we know, was the portion and experience of every true servant of God in Israel. All had to pass through those deep exercises of soul consequent upon their association with the people of God. It mattered not whether it were a judge, a prophet, a priest, or a king; all had to participate in the sorrows and trials of the nation of Israel; nor could any true heart—any genuine lover of God or His people—desire exemption from such deep and holy exercises. This was pre-eminently true of the only perfect Servant that ever stood upon this earth. He, though personally exempt from all the consequences of Israel's sin and failure—though pure and spotless, divinely holy in nature and in life—did nevertheless, in perfect grace, voluntarily identify Himself with the people in all their sorrow and humiliation. "In all their affliction He was afflicted." Thus it was with our blessed Lord Jesus Christ; and all who, in any degree, partook of His Spirit, had, according to their measure, to taste of the same cup, though none could ever come up to Him in this or in aught else.

But when we come to compare closely the angel's words to Gideon, with his reply, we notice a point of deep interest, and one which illustrates the individual character of the book of Judges. The angel says, "The Lord is with thee." Gideon replies, "If the Lord be with us." This is very interesting and instructive; moreover it is in full keeping with a passage already referred to, in chap, iii.: "And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge." It does not say, "with the people," but adds, with touching grace, "and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them" (ver. 18).

There is peculiar sweetness and beauty in this. If Jehovah had to hide His face from His people, and give them over, for the time, into the hand of the uncircumcised, yet His loving heart was ever turned towards them, and ever ready to mark and recognize the faintest traces of a repentant spirit. "Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger forever, because He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which Thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old" (Micah. vii. 18-20).

PART III.

Nothing can be more encouraging to the heart than the mode in which the Lord deals with the soul of Gideon—the way in which He prepares him for the course of action to which He was calling him. Gideon, like ourselves, was full of "ifs" and "whys,"—those little words so big with unbelief. The poor human heart is ever slow to take in the magnificence of divine grace; our feeble vision is dazzled by the brilliancy of divine revelation. It is only artless faith which can cause the soul to feel perfectly at home in the presence of the richest unfoldings of the goodness and loving-kindness of God. Faith never says "if" or "why?" It believes what God says, because He says it. It rests, in sweet tranquility, upon every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Unbelief looks at circumstances and reasons from them: faith looks at God, and reasons from Him. Hence the vast difference in their conclusions. Gideon, judging from his surroundings, concluded that Jehovah had forsaken His people. A simple faith would have led him to the very opposite conclusion; it would have enabled him to see and know and remember that Jehovah would ever be true to His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, however He might, in His governmental dealings, have to hide His face from their rebellious and sinful offspring. Faith always counts on God; and God, blessed be His name, ever honors faith. He first produces it in us, and then owns it.

But not only does God graciously honor faith; He rebukes our fears. He rises above our unbelief, and hushes all our silly reasonings. Thus, in His dealings with His chosen servant Gideon, it would seem as though He heard not the "if" or the "why?" He goes on to unfold His own thoughts, to display His own resources, and to fill the soul of His servant with a confidence and a courage which were to lift him above all the depressing influences with which he was surrounded.

"And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel out of the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?" Here we have the true secret of strength: "The Lord looked upon him." There was divine power in this look, if Gideon could only have taken it in. But, alas! he was still full of questions. "And he said unto Him, O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house."

Thus, unbelief turns the eye in upon self, or out upon our surroundings. It leads us to compare our visible resources with the work to which God is calling us. Jehovah had said, "Go in this thy might." What was the "might?" In what did it consist? Was it great wealth, lofty position, or great physical power? Nothing of the kind. "Jehovah looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel." This was absolute and unqualified. It left no room for Gideon's "wherewith?" It made it very plain that the might with which he was to deliver Israel was not in himself or in his father's house, but in the God of Israel. It mattered little whether his family was rich or poor; whether he was little or great. It was God who was about to use him? What was wealth or greatness to Him? He could use a barley cake or a broken pitcher. Indeed we may observe this special feature in the varied instruments taken up in the book of Judges, namely, that "no flesh shall glory in God's presence." How does human glory fade away before the humiliating fact that Israel's hosts were called forth to battle under the leadership of a woman! What a stain on human pride in the fact of deliverance coming through the agency of a "left-handed man"!

But, on the other hand, we find that just in proportion as man's glory fades away, the divine glory shines out. The humbler the instrument, the more we see the power of God. What difference does it make to the Almighty God whether His instrument be left-handed or right-handed—a man or a woman—a dwarf or a giant? The instrument is nothing: God is all in all. True, He deigns to use instruments; but all the power is His, and His shall be the eternal and universal praise. Gideon had to learn this; and so had Moses; and so have we all. It is an invaluable lesson. We are all so prone to think of our competency for any work or service which may lie before us, when we ought to remember that of all His works that are done upon the earth, God is the doer of them. Our sufficiency is of Him. We can do nothing; and if we could do aught, it would be badly done. The human finger can only leave a soil behind. The works of men perish like their thoughts. The work of God abideth forever. Let us remember these things, that we may walk humbly and lean ever and only on the mighty arm of the living God. Thus the soul is kept in a well-balanced condition, free from self-confidence and fleshly excitement, on the one hand; and from gloom and depression, on the other. If we can do nothing, self-confidence is the height of presumption. If God can do every thing, despondency is the height of folly.

But in the case of Gideon, as in that of all God's servants, we observe two things worthy of our deepest attention. In the first place, we have the divine commission, as embodied in those weighty words, "Have not I sent thee?" And in the second place, we have the assurance of the divine presence, as set forth in these encouraging words, "Surely I will be with thee."

These are the two grand points for all who will serve God in their day and generation. They must know that the path they tread has been marked out distinctly by the hand of God; and, furthermore, they must have the sense of His presence with them along the path. These things are absolutely essential. Without them we shall waver and vacillate. We shall be running from one line of work to another. We shall take up certain work, go on with it for a while, and then abandon it for something else. We shall work by fits and starts; our course will be faltering, our light flickering: "Unstable as water, we shall not excel." We shall never succeed at anything. There will be no certainty, no stability, no progress.

These are weighty matters for all of us. It is of immense importance for every servant of Christ, every child of God, to know that he is at his divinely appointed post, and at his divinely given work. This will give fixedness of purpose, moral elevation, and holy independence. It will preserve us from being tossed about by human thoughts and opinions—being influenced by the judgment of one or another. It is our happy privilege to be so sure that we are doing the very work which the Master has given us to do, that the thoughts of our fellows respecting us shall have no more weight with us than the pattering of rain on the window.

Not—be it carefully observed—that we should, for a moment countenance, much less cultivate, a spirit of haughty independence. Far away be the thought! We as Christians, can never, in one sense, be independent one of another. How can we, seeing we are members one of another? We are united to one another and to our risen Head in glory, by the one Spirit who is with us and in us. The most intense individuality—and our individuality should be as intense as our unity is indissoluble—can never touch the precious truth of the one body and one Spirit.

All this is divinely true, and most fully and thankfully owned. But, at the same time, we must insist upon the truth of our individuality, and of our personal responsibility. This must be maintained with all possible energy and decision. Each servant has to do with his Lord, in that particular sphere of work to which he has been called. And, moreover, each should know his work, and give himself to it diligently and constantly. He should possess the holy certainty and authority imparted to the soul by that divine and powerful sentence, "Have not I sent thee?"

It will perhaps be said, "We are not all Gideons or Joshuas. We are not all called to occupy such a prominent place or tread such a brilliant path as those illustrious servants." True; but we are called to serve; and it is essential to every servant to know his commission, to understand his work, and to be fully assured in his own soul that he is doing the very work which the Lord has given him to do, and treading the very path which the hand of God has marked out for him. If there be any uncertainly as to this, we do not see how there can be any progress.

But there is more than this. It is not enough to know that we are treading the divinely appointed path. We want to realize the divine presence. We want to have the precious words made good in our experience, "Surely I will be with thee." This completes the servant's equipment. The divine commission and the divine presence are all we want; but we must have these in order to get on. With these priceless realities it matters not who we are. The Lord can use a feeble woman, a left-handed man, a cake of barley meal, or a broken pitcher. The instrument is nothing. God is the workman. Unbelief may cry out, "O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." Faith can cry out in reply, "What of all this if God be for us? Does He want the rich or the noble? What are riches or greatness to Him? Nothing." "Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Cor. i. 26-29).

These are wholesome words for all of us. It is an unspeakable mercy for every dear servant of Christ to be kept in the abiding sense of his own utter nothingness—to be taught to realize, in some measure, the depth, fulness, and power of that one brief but most comprehensive statement, "Apart from Me ye can do nothing." There is not a single branch in all the vine, however imposing or wide-spreading it may seem to be, which, if separated from the parent stem by the thickness of a gold leaf, can produce the very smallest atom of fruit. There must be the abiding realization of our vital union with Christ,—the practical, living, abiding in Him, by faith, day by day, in order to bring forth any fruit that God can accept. It is as we abide in Christ that the living sap circulates freely through us, and gives forth the healthy bud, the green leaf, and the seasonable fruit.

Here lies the grand secret of power. It is abiding in the living Vine. "Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is; for he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river; and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" (Jer. xvii. 7, 8).

All this is intensely personal. We must each, for himself and herself, cling by faith to Christ. It is of the very first importance for Christians to bear in mind that Christianity is a thoroughly individual thing. We are individual in our repentance, in our faith, in our salvation, in our communion, in our service, and in our reward. Look at the addresses to the seven churches in Rev. ii., iii. Hearken to those pointed words, "He that hath an ear,"—"To him that overcometh." What do they mean? Do they not set forth, in the most distinct and forcible manner, that blessed individuality of which we speak? Unquestionably. But do they touch unity? Not in the smallest degree. They leave its sacred domain wholly untouched. "There is one body and one Spirit." This must ever hold good, spite of all the ruin and failure of the professing Church. Nevertheless, the writings of John are pre-eminently individual.[22] From the opening lines of his Gospel to the closing sentence of his Apocalypse, we trace this feature. He shows us the Philips, the Simons, the Andrews, and the Nathanaels coming, in their individuality, to Jesus. He tells us of a Jewish ruler here, and a Samaritan sinner there, who were drawn by the Father to Jesus. He tells us of the good Shepherd who calleth His sheep by name. He tells us of the branches clinging to the living Vine. Thus it is in John's Gospel; and when we turn to his Epistles, we find the same principle running through them all. He writes to an elect lady, and to his beloved Gaius; and if he once speaks of "the Church," it is but to weep over its departed glory, and to raise amid its ruins that warning note for individual ears, "Look to yourselves." And as to the Revelation, it ends as it begins, with a solemn appeal "to him that heareth."

PART IV.

The more closely we study the narrative of the Lord's dealings with Gideon, the more we must be struck with the marvelous way in which He prepares him for his after course. Like all God's servants, in all ages, Gideon had to undergo a course of secret training and discipline, ere he was fit to appear in public. The space of time occupied in this training may vary, as may also the character of the discipline; but of this we may rest assured that all who will be used of God in public must be taught of God in private. It is a fatal mistake for any one to rush into prominence without proper equipment, and that equipment can only be attained in the secret of the divine presence. It is in profound and hallowed retirement with God that vessels are filled, and instruments fitted for His work.

Let us never forget this. Moses had to spend forty years at "the back side of the desert" ere he was fit to enter upon his public career. David had to feed his father's flock, ere he was called to rule the nation of Israel. He slew a lion and a bear in secret, ere he was called to slay Goliath in public. The great apostle of the Gentiles spent three years in Arabia, notwithstanding his very remarkable conversion and call. The apostles spent three years and a half in companionship with their Master, and then had to tarry until they were endued with power from on high. Thus it has been with all those who have ever been called to occupy a prominent place in the Lord's work; and even the blessed Master Himself—though surely needing no training or discipline, inasmuch as He was ever perfect,—to set us an example, spent thirty years in retirement ere He came forth in public.

All this is full of most wholesome instruction for our souls. Let us seek to take it in and profit by it. No one can ever get on in public work without this private teaching in the school of Christ. It is this which gives depth, solidity, and mellowness to the character. It imparts a tone of reality and a fixedness of purpose most desirable in all who engage in any department of the Lord's work. It will invariably be found that where anyone goes to work without this divine preparation, there is shallowness and instability. There may perhaps for a time be more flash and show in those superficial characters than in those who have been educated in the school of Christ; but it never lasts. It may create a momentary sensation, but it soon passes away like the morning cloud or the early dew. Nothing will stand but that which is the direct result of private communion with God—secret training in His presence—the excellent discipline of the school of God.

Let us see how all this is exemplified in Gideon's case. It is very evident that this honored servant was called to pass through deep exercises of soul before ever he took a single step in public action, yea, before he ever unfurled the standard of testimony in his father's house. He had to begin with himself, with his own personal condition, with his own heart. Those who will be used for others must begin with themselves. So Gideon found it. Let us pursue his history.

"And the Lord said unto Gideon, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man. And he said unto Him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then show me a sign that thou talkest with me. Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And He said, I will tarry till thou come again. And Gideon went in and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour; the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto Him under the oak, and presented it. And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight. And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face. And the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die" (Judges vi. 16-23).

Here we reach a profoundly interesting stage of Gideon's preparatory course. He is called to enter practically and experimentally into the great and universal law for the servants of God, namely, "When I am weak, then I am strong." This is a most precious law, and one which forms an indispensable element in the education of all Christ's servants. Let no one imagine that he can ever be used in the Lord's work, or ever make progress in the divine life, without some measure of real entrance into this invaluable principle. We hold it to be absolutely essential in forming the character of the true servant of Christ. Where it is not known, where it has not been felt, where it has not been to some extent realized, there is sure to be unsubduedness, unbrokenness, self-occupation, in some form or another. There will be more or less of self-confidence, and various points and angles turning up here and there, and acting as a sad hindrance to all that is good, useful, and holy.

On the other hand, when one has learnt that great family motto quoted above—when one has learnt, in the divine presence to say, "When I am weak, then I am strong,"—when nature has been weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, there you will always find a measure of brokenness, softness, and tenderness of spirit; and not only so, but also largeness of heart, and readiness for every good work, and that lovely elasticity of mind which enables one to rise above all those petty, selfish considerations, which so sadly hinder the work of God. In short, the heart must first be broken, then made whole; and, being made whole, be undividedly given to Christ and to His blessed service. It is impossible to run the eye along the brilliant array of Christ's workmen, and not see the truth of this. Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, in Old Testament times; and Peter, Paul, and John, in those of the New, all stand before us as vivid illustrations of the value of broken material. All those beloved and honored servants had to be broken in order to be made whole—to be emptied in order to be filled—to learn that, of themselves, they could do nothing, in order to be ready, in Christ's strength, for anything and everything.

Such is the law of the household—the law of the vineyard—the law of the kingdom. So Gideon found it in his day. His "alas!" was followed by Jehovah's "Peace; fear not," and then he was ready to begin. He had been brought face to face with the angel of God, and there he learnt not only that his family was poor in Manasseh, and he the least in his father's house, but that in himself he was perfectly powerless, and that all his springs must be found in the living God. Priceless lesson this, for the son of Joash, and for us all!—a lesson not to be learnt in the schools and colleges of this world, but only in the deep and holy retirement of the sanctuary of God.

And now let us see what was Gideon's first act after his fears were hushed, and his soul filled with divine peace. His very first act was to build an altar. "Then Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord, and called it Jehovah-shalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites." He takes the happy place of a worshiper, and his worship is characterized by the revelation of the divine character. He calls his altar by that precious title, "The Lord send peace." He had gone through many and deep exercises of soul—exercises which none can know save those who are called out into a prominent place amongst God's people. He felt the ruin and the weakness of all around him. He felt the fallen and humiliating condition of his beloved people. He felt his own littleness, yea, his own emptiness, and nothingness. How could he come forward? How could he smite the Midianites? How could he save Israel? Who was sufficient for these things? It is all very well for those persons who live an easy, irresponsible kind of life; who know not the toils, the cares, and anxieties connected with the public service of Christ and the testimony for His name in an evil day. These know nothing of Gideon's painful exercises of soul; nothing of the pressure upon his spirit as he looked forth from beneath the shade of his father's oak-tree, and contemplated the dangers and responsibilities of the battle-field. They can enter but feebly into the meaning of those words of one high up in the school of Christ, "We had the sentence of death in ourselves that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead."

These are weighty words for all Christ's servants; but we must be His servants in reality, in order to enter into their deep significance. If we are content to live a life of indolence and ease, a life of self-seeking and self-pleasing, it is impossible for us to understand such words, or indeed to enter into any of those intense exercises of soul through which Christ's true-hearted servants and faithful witnesses, in all ages, have been called to pass. We invariably find that all those who have been most used of God in public have gone through deep waters in secret. It is as the sentence of death is written practically upon self, that the power of resurrection-life in Christ shines out. Thus Paul could say to the Corinthians, "Death worketh in us; but life in you." Marvelous words! Words which let us into the profound depths of the apostle's ministry. What a ministry must that have been which was carried on upon such a principle as this! What power! what energy! Death working in the poor earthen vessel, but streams of life, heavenly grace, and spiritual power flowing into those to whom he ministered.

This, reader, we may depend upon it, is the true secret of all effective ministry. It is an easy matter to talk about ministry; to set up to be ministers of Christ; but oh, how has the professing Church departed from the divine reality of ministry! Alas! the heart sinks at the bare thought of it. Where are the Pauls, the Gideons, and the Joshuas? Where are the deep heart-searchings and profound soul exercises which have characterized Christ's servants in other days? We are flippant and wordy, shallow and empty, self-sufficient and self-indulgent. Need we wonder at the small results? How can we expect to see life working in others when we know so little about death working in us?

May the eternal Spirit stir us all up, and work in us a more powerful sense of what it is to be the true-hearted, single-eyed, devoted servants of Jesus Christ!

PART V.

We are now to contemplate Gideon called forth into action. He has received his commission from Jehovah. His questions have been answered, his fears hushed, his heart tranquilized, and he is enabled to build an altar. All this had reference to his own personal condition, to the state of his own soul, to the attitude of his own heart as in the sight of God.

Thus it must ever be. We must all begin in this way, if we are ever to be used of God to act on others. We must have to do with God in the secret of our own souls, else we shall prove to be but sorry workmen in the sequel. All who go forth in public work without this secret training, are sure to prove flimsy and shallow. Self must be measured in the divine presence. We must learn that nature is of no account in the Lord's work. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. iv. 6).

It was not until Gideon had gone through somewhat of this holy discipline in secret that he was led out into service. And let us carefully note where he had to commence. "It came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock, of seven years old"—for Jehovah knew how many bullocks Joash had, and the age of each—"and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it. And build an altar unto the Lord thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down."

Here we see that Gideon had to begin at home. He was called to unfurl the standard of testimony in the very bosom of his family—in the very centre of his father's house. This is intensely interesting, and deeply practical. It teaches a lesson to which we should all bend our ears and apply our hearts. Testimony must begin at home. It will never do to rush forth into public work while our private and domestic ways are anything but what they ought to be. It is useless to set about throwing down the altar of Baal in public, while the selfsame altar remains standing at home.

This is of the very first importance. We are all of us imperatively called upon to show piety at home. Nothing is more sorrowful than to meet with persons who, abroad amongst their fellow men or their fellow Christians, are marked by a high tone of spirituality—a style of speaking which would lead one to suppose them far beyond the ordinary level of Christians, and yet when you come to close quarters with them—when you become acquainted with their private life and ways, their actual history from day to day, you find them very far indeed from bearing testimony for Christ to those with whom they come in contact. This is most deplorable. It dishonors the Lord Jesus, grieves the Spirit, stumbles and repulses young believers, gives occasion to the enemy to speak reproachfully, and to our brethren to speak doubtfully of us.

Surely these things ought not to be. There ought to be a testimony yielded at home. Those who see most of us should see most of Christ in us. Those who know us best ought best to know that we are Christ's. But alas! how often is it otherwise! How often the home circle is just the place where the lovely traits of Christian character are least exhibited! The wife or the husband, the parent or the child, the brother or the sister, the master or the servant, the fellow-servant or some other companion in daily life, is just the one in whose sight we least display the beauteous fruits of divine life. It is in private life that all our weak points come out—our oddities and peculiarities, our silly tendencies and sinful tempers: instead of which it ought to be in that very sphere that the grace of Jesus is most faithfully manifested.

Christian reader, let us not turn away from the word of reproof, of admonition, or exhortation. It may not be pleasant; but, we may rest assured, it is salutary. It may not be agreeable to the flesh; but it is wholesome to the soul. We are called, like Gideon, to begin at home, if we would prove helpful to our brethren, or act effectively against the common foe.

No doubt there are difficulties involved in this home testimony. It is often very hard, for example, for a child to bear witness against the worldliness of a parent, or of the whole family; but where there is humility of mind and simple dependence upon God, He maintains and carries us through marvelously. One thing is certain, there is nothing like decision. "The first blow is half the battle," yea, the whole battle is often gained by a single blow, when that blow is dealt in full communion with the mind of Christ.

On the other hand, where there is weakness and vacillation—playing fast and loose with the truth of God, trifling with divine principles and one's own conscience, a looking at consequences and a weighing of probable results—there the enemy is sure to have the upper hand, and the testimony altogether fails. God acts with those who act for Him. This is the grand secret of their success; but where the eye is not single, there is no real progress, no divine result.

Here is where so many of us signally fail. We are not whole hearted, not decided, not thoroughly out-and-out for Christ. Hence there is no result for God, no action on others. We have no idea of what may be accomplished by a single devoted heart, one earnest and energetic soul. Such an one may be used to raise up a standard round which thousands will flock who might never have had the courage or energy to unfurl the standard themselves.

Look at Gideon. See how he wrought for God, and how God wrought with him. "Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord had said unto him; and so it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night. And when the men of the city rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built. And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing. Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son that he may die; because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it."

This is what we may call striking at the very root of the matter. The worship of Baal is completely overturned. This was no trifle. We have little idea of what it cost the son of Joash to do this thing; but by the grace of God he did it. True, it may have been with fear and trembling, still he did it. He dealt one vigorous blow at the entire system of Baal, and it crumbled into dust beneath his feet. No half measures would have availed. It would have been of no possible use to pick a stone here and there out of the idol's altar; the whole fabric had to be overturned from its very foundation, and the idol itself degraded in the very presence of its deluded worshipers. A bold decisive stroke was needed, and that stroke was given by the hand of Gideon the son of Joash, God's "mighty man of valor."

There is nothing, we repeat, like plain decision—bold, uncompromising faithfulness for Christ, cost what it may. Had Gideon been less decided, had his line of action been less thorough, his father Joash would not have been so perfectly won over. It needed just such a method of dealing with Baal to convince a rational person that the worship of such a god was a sham and a falsehood. "And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar. Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar."

This was very simple reasoning, "If he be a god, let him plead for himself." Gideon's decided course had brought matters to a point. Baal was either a reality or a most complete delusion. If the former, let him plead for himself. If the latter, who would think of pleading for him? Nothing could be simpler. Gideon's action was a complete success. The worship of Baal was overturned; and the worship of Jehovah Elohim set up instead.

Thus we see that the divine work in the soul of Gideon is making very rapid but very real progress. He is conducted from strength to strength. How little idea had he, when first the divine voice fell on his ear, that, in so short a time, he would take so bold a step. If any one had said to him then, "In a few hours you will overturn the worship of Baal in the very midst of your father's house," he would not have believed it. But the Lord led him along, step by step, gently yet firmly; and as the heavenly light broke in upon his soul, his confidence and courage grew.

Thus it is the Lord ever deals with His servants. He does not expect them to run before they have learnt to walk; but where the heart is true, and the purpose honest and firm, He graciously supplies the needed strength, moment by moment. He causes mountains of difficulty to remove, rolls away many a dark and heavy cloud, fortifies the heart, and girds up the loins of the mind, so that the very feeblest are armed with giant strength, and the coward heart filled with wonder, love, and praise at the triumph of divine grace.

Having broken down Baal's altar, Gideon is now led to encounter Midian's hosts. "Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel. But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, and Abi-ezer was gathered after him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, who also was gathered after him; and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them."

In short there was a thorough awakening. The tide of spiritual energy rose majestically, and bore hundreds and thousands upon its bosom. The work which had begun in Gideon's heart was extending itself far and wide, throughout the length and breadth of the land. The Spirit of the Lord was displaying His mighty energy, and multitudes were stirred up to gather round the standard which the hand of faith had unfurled.

But just at this point, it would seem that Gideon's faith needed fresh confirmation. It may be his spirit was overawed when he saw the mighty host of the uncircumcised mustering before him; and then, for a moment, his courage failed, and his heart craved a fresh sign from the Lord. "And Gideon said unto God, If Thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as Thou hast said"—alas! the poor heart can place its unbelieving "if" right in front of the word of God who cannot lie—"behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and if it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said."

How marvelous! And yet we need not marvel if we know aught of our own hearts. Anything for the poor human heart but the naked word of the living God. A sign, a token, something that the eye can see. The word of God is not enough for unbelieving nature.

But oh! the matchless grace of God! His unupbraiding love! His tender considerateness! He graciously meets the weakness of His poor servant, for "It was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water." What condescending grace! Instead of severely rebuking Gideon's unbelieving "if," He graciously confirms his wavering faith by superabounding evidence.

And yet all this sufficed not. Gideon seeks still further confirmation. "And he said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once. Let me prove, I pray Thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew upon all the ground." Such is the abounding grace and patience of the God with whom we have to do. Forever adored be His holy Name! Who would not trust Him, and love Him, and serve Him?

PART VI.

We shall now ask the reader to open his Bible at the seventh chapter of the book of Judges. Here Gideon's companions are brought before us; and their history, as well as that of their leader, is full of interest and profit for us. They had to be trained and tested as well as he. Let us ponder the narrative.

"Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley. And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me."

The clear and soul-stirring blast of Gideon's trumpet had drawn around him a very large and imposing company; but this company had to be tested. It is one thing to be moved by the zeal and energy of some earnest servant of Christ, and it is quite another thing to possess those moral qualities which alone can fit a man to be an earnest servant himself. There is a vast difference between following in the wake of some devoted man of God, and walking with God ourselves—being propped up and led on by the faith and energy of another, and leaning upon God in the power of individual faith for ourselves.

This is a serious consideration for all of us. There is always great danger of our being mere imitators of other people's faith; of copying their example without their spiritual power; of adopting their peculiar line of things without their personal communion. All this must be carefully guarded against. We specially warn the young Christian reader against it. Let us be simple, and humble, and real. We may be very small, our sphere very narrow, our path very retired; but it does not matter in the least, provided we are precisely what grace has made us, and occupying the sphere in which our blessed Master has set us, and treading the path which He has opened before us. It is by no means absolutely necessary that we should be great, or prominent, or showy, or noisy in the world; but it is absolutely necessary that we should be real and humble, obedient and dependent. Thus our God can use us, without fear of our vaunting ourselves; and then, too, we are safe, peaceful, and happy. There is nothing more delightful to the true Christian, the genuine servant of Christ, than to find himself in that quiet, humble, shady path where self is lost sight of, and the precious light of God's countenance enjoyed—where the thoughts of men are of small account, and the sweet approval of Christ is everything to the soul.

Flesh cannot be trusted. It will turn the very service of Christ into an occasion of self-exaltation. It will use the very name of Him who made Himself nothing in order to make itself something. It will build up its own reputation by seeming to further the cause of Him who made Himself of none. Such is flesh! Such are we in ourselves! Silly, self-exalting creatures, ever ready to vaunt ourselves, while professing to be nothing in ourselves, and to deserve nothing but the flames of an everlasting hell.

Need we marvel at the testing and proving of Gideon's companions? All must be tested and proved. The service of Christ is a very solemn and a very holy thing; and all who take part therein must be self-judged, self-distrusting, and self-emptied; and not only so, but they must lean, with unshaken confidence, upon the living God. These are the grand qualities that go to make up the character of the true servant of Christ, and they are strikingly illustrated on the page of inspiration which now lies open before us.

Let us proceed with the narrative.

"The people that are with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands.... Now, therefore, go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand."

Here the first grand test is applied to Gideon's host—a test designed to bring out the measure of the heart's simple confidence in Jehovah. A coward heart will not do for the day of battle; a doubting spirit will not stand in conflict. The same principle is set forth in Deuteronomy xx. 8: "And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and faint-hearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart."

Faint-heartedness is terribly contagious. It spreads rapidly. It withers the arm that should bear the shield, and paralyses the hand that should wield the sword. The only cure for this malady is simple confidence in God, a firm grasp of His faithfulness, a child-like trust in His word, true personal acquaintance with Himself. We must know God for ourselves, in such a way that His word is everything to us, and that we can walk alone with Him, and stand alone with Him in the darkest hour.

Reader, is it thus with thee? Hast thou this blessed confidence in God—this solid hold of His word? Hast thou, deep down in thy heart, such an experimental knowledge of God and His Christ as shall sustain thee even though thou hadst not the support or sympathy of another believer under the sun? Art thou prepared to walk alone in the world?

These are weighty questions, and we feel the need of pressing them upon the Church of God at the present moment. There is a wide diffusion of the precious truth of God, and numbers are getting hold of it. Like the blast of Gideon's trumpet, so the clear testimony which has widely gone forth of late years has attracted many; and while we quite feel that there is real ground for thankfulness in this, we also feel that there is ground for very serious reflection indeed. Truth is a most precious thing, if it be truthfully found and truthfully held: but let us remember that in exact proportion to the preciousness of the truth of God so is the moral danger of trafficking therein without a self-judged heart and an exercised conscience. What we really need is faith—unfeigned, earnest, simple faith, which connects the soul, in living power, with God, and enables us to overcome all the difficulties and discouragements of the way. Of this faith there can be no imitation. We must either possess it in reality or not at all. A sham faith will speedily come to the ground. The man who attempts to walk by faith, if he have it not, must speedily totter and fall. We cannot face the hosts of Midian unless we have full confidence in the living God. "Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return." Thus it must ever be. None can go to battle save those who are braced up by a faith that grasps the unseen realities of eternity, and endures as seeing Him who is invisible. May this faith be ours, in larger measure, beloved reader.

It is full of instruction for the heart to notice the effect of the first test upon the host of Gideon. It thinned his ranks amazingly. "There returned of the people twenty and two thousand, and there remained ten thousand." This was a serious reduction. But it is far better to have ten thousand that can trust God than ten thousand times ten thousand who cannot. Of what use are numbers, if they be not energized by a living faith? None whatever. It is comparatively easy to flock around a standard raised by a vigorous hand; but it is a totally different thing to stand, in personal energy, in the actual battle. Nought but genuine faith can do this; and hence when the searching question is put, "Who can trust God?" the showy ranks of profession are speedily thinned.

But there was yet another test for Gideon's companions. "And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place" (vii. 4-7).

Here then we have another great moral quality which must characterize those who will act for God and His people, in an evil day. They must not only have confidence in God, but they must also be prepared to surrender self. This is a universal law in the service of Christ. If we want to swim in God's current, we must sink self; and we can only sink self in proportion as we trust Christ. It is not, need we say, a question of salvation; it is a question of service. It is not a question of being a child of God, but of being a proper servant of Christ. The thirty-one thousand seven hundred that were dismissed from Gideon's army, were just as much Israelites as the three hundred that remained; but they were not fitted for the moment of conflict: they were not the right men for the crisis. And why? Was it that they were not circumcised? Nay. What then? They could not trust God and surrender self. They were full of fear when they ought to have been full of faith. They made refreshment and comfort their object instead of conflict.

Here, reader, lay the true secret of their moral unfitness. God cannot trust those who do not trust Him and sink self. This is pre-eminently solemn and practical. We live in a day of easy profession and self-indulgence. Knowledge can, now-a-days, be picked up at very small cost. Scraps of truth can be gathered, second hand, in all directions. Truth which cost some of God's dear servants years of deep soul-ploughing and heart-searching exercise, is now in free circulation and can be intellectually seized and flippantly professed, by many who know not what soul-ploughing or heart-exercise means.

But let us never forget—yea, let us constantly remember—that the life of faith is a reality; service is a reality; testimony for Christ, a reality. And further let us bear in mind that if we want to stand for Christ in an evil day—if we would be men for the crisis, genuine servants, true witnesses—then verily we must learn the true meaning of those two qualities, namely, confidence in God, and self-surrender.

PART VII.

There is something peculiarly striking in the fact that out of the many thousands of Israel, in the days of Gideon, there were only three hundred men who were really fit for conflict with the Midianites; only this small band fit for the occasion. This truly is a suggestive and admonitory fact. There were hundreds of thousands of true Israelites—truly circumcised sons of Abraham—members of the congregation of the Lord, who were by no means up to the mark, when it was a question of war to the knife with Midian—a question of genuine confidence in God and self-surrender. We are safe in saying that the men who were morally fitted for the grand crisis in the day of battle were not one in a thousand. How solemn! Not one in a thousand who could trust God and deny self.

Christian reader, is not this something worthy of deep and serious thought? Does it not, very naturally, suggest the inquiry as to whether it is otherwise at this moment? Is it not painfully evident that we live in a day in the which little is known of the blessed secret of confidence in God, and still less of the exercise of self-surrender? In point of fact, these things can never be rightly separated. If we attempt to divorce self-surrender from confidence in God, it will land us in the deep and dark delusions of monasticism, asceticism, or ritualism. It will issue in nature trying to subdue nature. This, we need hardly say, is the direct opposite of Christianity. This latter starts with the glorious fact that the old self has been condemned and set aside by the cross of Christ, and therefore it can be practically surrendered, every day, by the power of the Holy Ghost. This is the meaning of those fine words in Colossians iii., "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." He does not say, "Ye ought to be dead." No; but "ye are dead." What then? "Mortify your members which are on the earth." So also in the profound and precious teaching in Romans vi., "How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ were baptized unto His death?" What then? "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Here then lies the secret of all true self-surrender. If this be not understood and practically entered into, it will simply be self in one form trying to subdue self in another. This is a fatal delusion. It is a snare of the devil into which earnest souls are in imminent danger of falling, who sigh after holiness of life, but do not know the power of accomplished redemption, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost—are not built upon the solid foundation of Christianity.

We specially warn the reader against this insidious error. It distinctly savors of monasticism or asceticism. It clothes itself in the garb of pietism and sanctimoniousness, and is peculiarly attractive to a certain class of ardent spirits who long for victory over the lusts, passions, and tendencies of nature; but, not knowing how to attain it, are turning their back upon Christ and His cross, and betaking themselves to the resources of a spurious religion.

It is against this most mischievous and delusive system that the apostle warns us, in Colossians ii., "Let no man," he says, "beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances"—such as, "touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using—after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh" (Colossians ii. 18-23).

We deem it needful to say thus much lest any of our readers should at all mistake us on the subject of self-surrender. We desire it to be distinctly understood that the only possible ground of self-surrender is the knowledge of accomplished redemption, and our union with Christ through the power of the Holy Ghost. This is the essential basis of all Christian conduct. In short, a known salvation is the basis; the Holy Ghost indwelling, the power; and the word of God, the directory of all true self-surrender.

But what did Gideon and his companions know of these things? Nothing, as Christians now know them. But they had confidence in God, and further, they did not make their own refreshment or comfort their object, but simply took it up by the way as a means to an end. Herein they teach a fine lesson even to those whose privilege it is to walk in the full light of New Testament Christianity. If they, in the dim twilight in which they lived, could trust God, and surrender self for the moment, even in measure, then what shall we say for ourselves who, with all our light and privileges, are so ready to doubt God and seek our own things?

Is it not painfully evident that, in this our day of light and privilege, there is but little moral preparedness for the path of service and conflict which we are called to tread? Alas! alas! we cannot deny it. There is a deplorable lack of genuine trust in the living God, and of the true spirit of self-surrender. Here, we may rest assured, is the deep secret of the whole matter. God is not practically known and habitually trusted; self is exalted and indulged. Hence our unfitness for the warfare, our failure in the day of battle. It is one thing to be saved, and quite another thing to be a soldier; and we cannot shake off the painful conviction that, in this day of widely extended profession, the proportion of workmen and warriors would not be found a whit greater than it was in the days of Gideon and his companions. The fact is, we want men of faith, men whose hearts are fixed and their eyes single; men so absorbed with Christ and His cause that they have no time for aught beside. We greatly fear that, if the double test which was applied to Israel in the days of Gideon, were to be applied now to those who stand on the very highest platform of profession, the practical result would not differ very materially.


We shall only touch on two more leading points, and then leave our readers to meditate closely upon the whole subject for themselves.

The close of Judges vii. shews us Gideon and his companions completely victorious. "The cake of barley bread," and "the broken pitchers," proved a match for all the power of the Midianites, although they "lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude, and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea-side for multitude." God was with those represented by the cake of barley bread and broken pitchers, as He will ever be with those who are prepared to take the low place; prepared to be nothing, but to make Him their all in all; prepared to trust Him and to sink self. This, let it never be forgotten, is the great root principle in all service and in all conflict. Without it, we can never succeed; with it, we can never fail. It matters not what the difficulties, or what the numbers and power of our enemies, all must give way before the presence of the living God; and that presence will ever accompany those who trust Him and sink self.

Nor is this all. Not only is firm trust in God and self-surrender the secret of victory over external enemies; it is also the secret of overcoming, disarming, and melting down proud and jealous brethren, though these latter are often far more difficult to deal with than open enemies. Thus no sooner had Gideon reached the point of victory over the uncircumcised, than he was called to encounter the petty and contemptible jealousy of his brethren, "And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not when thou wentest to fight the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply" (chapter viii. 1).

All this was most uncalled for and unworthy. Had they not heard the sound of the trumpet calling Israel to the battle field? Had they not heard that the standard was unfurled? Why had they not rushed to the battle at the first? It was an easy matter to come in at the close and reap the spoil, and then find fault with the one who had been God's real instrument on the occasion.

However, we shall not dwell upon the unlovely conduct of the men of Ephraim; but turn, for a moment, to the exquisite way in which Gideon was enabled to meet them. "And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you?... God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb, and Zeeb; and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him when he had said that."

Here, Christian reader, is the true way to vanquish jealous and envious brethren. The cake of barley bread and the broken pitcher can vanquish jealous Ephraimites as well as hostile Midianites. A self-hiding spirit is the grand secret of victory over envy and jealousy, in all their odious forms. It is difficult, if not impossible, to quarrel with a man who is down in the dust, in true self-abasement. "What have I done now in comparison of you?" This is the language of one who had learnt something of the real meaning of self-surrender; and we may safely assert that such language must ever disarm the envy and jealousy of the self-occupied and self-sufficient. May we know more of the truth of this!

We must now look at the closing scene of Gideon's remarkable history—a scene full of admonition for every servant of Christ. From it we learn that it is easier to gain a victory than to make a good use of it; easier to reach a position than to occupy it aright. We shall quote the passage. "Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian. And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you."

So far, this was very fine. It was in full keeping with the self-surrender of Gideon's previous course. Every true servant of Christ will ever seek to connect souls with his Master, and not with himself. Gideon would not indeed displace Jehovah as the ruler of Israel. But, alas! his great victory fills his mind, and he will make a perpetual glory of it by an ephod (a priestly garment) of gold; and this, simply because his self-surrender was not complete. There has been but One whose self-surrender was, and that One must, in all things, have the pre-eminence. "And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey.... And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house" (chapter viii. 22-27).

Such is man, even the best of men, when left to himself. Here we see the very man who had led his brethren on to victory over Midian, now leading them into dark and abominable idolatry. The earrings of the Ishmaelites did what their swords could not do; and the love-tokens of the men of Israel proved far more dangerous than the sharp chidings of the men of Ephraim. The latter drew out a lovely spirit of self-emptiness: the former proved a snare to Gideon and to the whole house of Israel.

Reader, let us remember all this. If Gideon had refused the earrings as well as the throne, it would have been well for him and for his brethren; but the devil laid a snare for him into which he fell and carried all his brethren with him. May we all take warning from Gideon's fall, and draw encouragement from Gideon's victories. May we remember that it is one thing to gain a victory, and another to make good use of it; it is easier to reach a position than to occupy it aright. May God grant to the reader and writer of these lines, more simple confidence in Himself, and more of the true spirit of self-surrender! May such be the result of our meditations upon Gideon and his companions.

C. H. M.


"My Beloved"

(Cant. 5:9.)

Oh what is thy Beloved?—they oft inquire of me;
And what in my Beloved so passing fair I see.
Is it the heavenly splendor in which He shines above—
His riches and dominions, that won my heart's best love?
Oh no! 'tis not His glories;—He's worthy of them all.
'Tis not the throne and sceptre, before which angels fall!
I view with heart exulting each crown His head adorns;
But, oh, He looks most lovely, wearing His crown of thorns.
I'm glad to see His raiment, than snow more spotless white,
Refulgent with its brightness, more dazzling than the light;
But more surpassing lovely His form appears to me,
When stripp'd, and scourged, and bleeding, He hung upon the tree.
With warmest adoration I see Him on the throne,
And join the loud hosannas that His high virtues own;
But, oh, most blessed Jesus, I must confess to Thee,
More than the throne of glory I love that sacred tree.
I joy to see the diadems upon Thy royal brow,
The state, and power, and majesty in which Thou sittest now;
But 'tis Thyself, Lord Jesus, makes heaven seem heaven to me—
Thyself, as first I knew Thee, uplifted on the tree.
Though higher than the highest, most mighty King Thou art,
Thy grace, and not Thy greatness, first touched my rebel heart.
Thy sword, it might have slain me; Thine arrows drunk my blood;
But 'twas Thy cross subdued me, and won my heart to God.
Thy sceptre rules creation; Thy wounded hand rules me:
All bow before Thy footstool; I but the nail-prints see.
Aloud they sound Thy titles, Thou Lord of lords most high;
One thrilling thought absorbs me—this Lord for me did die.
Oh, this is my Beloved! there's none so fair as He:
The chief among ten thousand, He's all in all to me.
My heart, it breaks with longing to dwell with Him above,
Who wooed me first, and won me by His sweet dying love.

J. G. Deck


 

ETERNAL PUNISHMENT

We have received a communication on the deeply solemn subject of eternal punishment, from a person whose initials are "C. D. S.," and who would seem to be the exponent of the feelings of a very numerous class. Our correspondent does not, by any means, write as an objector, or a caviler, but as an honest inquirer; and we are not sorry to be called upon to bear a clear and decided testimony on a point of such grave moment. He asks us to let him know "what the Holy Ghost has taught us on the subject," and we cheerfully comply.

We believe the Word of God most clearly and fully teaches the eternity of punishment. The word which is rendered "everlasting," or "eternal," occurs about seventy times in the New Testament. We shall give some examples. "To be cast into everlasting fire." (Matt. xviii. 8.) "That I may have eternal life." (Matt. xix. 16.) "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." (Matt. xxv. 46.) And in the same verse, "The righteous unto life eternal." "Is in danger of eternal damnation." (Mark iii. 29.) "They may receive you into everlasting habitations." (Luke xvi. 9.) "In the world to come, life everlasting." (Luke xviii. 30.) "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." (Jno. iii. 15, 16, 36; v. 24.) "The commandment of the everlasting God." (Rom. xvi. 26.) "An exceeding and eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor. iv. 17.) "The things which are not seen are eternal." (v. 18.) "A house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." (Chap. v. 1.) "They shall be punished with everlasting destruction." (2 Thess. i. 9.) "Hath given us everlasting consolation." (Chap. ii. 16.) "In Christ Jesus with eternal glory." (2 Tim. ii. 10.) "The author of eternal salvation." (Heb. v. 9.) "Having obtained eternal redemption." (Chap. ix. 12.) "Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God." (v. 14.) "The promise of eternal inheritance." (v. 15.) "Called us unto His eternal glory." (1 Pet. v. 10.) "Into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour." (2 Pet. i. 11.) "This is the true God and eternal life." (1 Jno. v. 20.) "Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." (Jude 7.)

Now, we are aware that the opposers of the doctrine of eternal punishment endeavor to prove that the word "everlasting" does not mean everlasting in the Greek; and this is one reason why we have quoted such a number of passages in which the Greek word αιωνιος (aionios) occurs, and in which the Holy Ghost applies it in such a variety of ways. The word which is applied to the punishment of the wicked is also applied to the life which believers possess, to the salvation and redemption in which they rejoice, to the glory to which they look forward, to those mansions in which they hope to dwell, and to the inheritance which they expect to enjoy. Moreover, it is applied to God, and to the Spirit. If, therefore, it be maintained that the word "everlasting" does not mean everlasting when applied to the punishment of the wicked, what security have we that it means everlasting when applied to the life, blessedness, and glory of the redeemed? What warrant has any one, be he ever so learned, to single out seven instances from the seventy in which the Greek word αιωνιος is used, and say that in those seven it does not mean everlasting, but that in all the rest it does? They have none whatever. Men may reason as they will about divine benevolence and goodness—about its being inconsistent with the mercy of God to permit such a thing as eternal punishment—as to the strange want of proportion between a few years of sin and an endless eternity of punishment; a single line of holy Scripture is amply sufficient, in our judgment, to sweep away ten thousand such reasonings, even though supported by the learned dogma that "everlasting" does not mean everlasting in the Greek. "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." (Mark ix. 46.) Solemn statement! Let men beware of trifling with it, or reasoning about it. Let them believe it, and flee from the wrath to come—flee now to Jesus, who died on Calvary's cursed tree to deliver us from everlasting burnings.

But not only is the eternity of punishment clearly laid down in Scripture—as clearly as the eternity of God Himself, or of any thing pertaining to Him; we believe it also flows as a necessary truth from other truths which are generally received without a single question. Take, for instance, the immortality of the soul. Did the fall of man touch this question? We believe not. Man was made the possessor of an immortal spirit, by the breath of the Almighty; and we have no authority whatsoever to say that his fall made any difference as to this. Immortal he was, as to his soul, immortal he is, and immortal he must be. Yes, he must live forever somewhere. Tremendous thought! Many do not like it. They would fain be able to say, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." They would like to pass away as the beasts that perish; and this very desire, we doubt not, has been, in many cases, the parent of the notion that punishment is non-eternal. "The wish is father to the thought." But, ah! man must face that dreadful reality, Eternity. Saved or unsaved, there is no escaping that. He must either deny the immortality of the soul, or admit the eternity of punishment.

Again, take the doctrine of the atonement. If any thing less than eternal punishment be due to sin, what need was there of an infinite sacrifice to give deliverance from that punishment? Could nothing less than the peerless, priceless, divine sacrifice of the Son of God deliver any one from hell fire, and that fire not be eternal? Did Jesus shed His precious blood to deliver us from the consequences of our guilt, and those consequences be only temporary? We can never admit any such proposition. Grant us the truth of an infinite sacrifice, and we argue from thence the truth of eternal punishment.

We attach no weight whatever to the argument drawn from the lack of proportion between a few years of sin and an eternity of woe. We do not believe that this is the true way to measure the matter. The cross is the only measure by which to reach a true result; and we believe the deniers of eternal punishment offer dishonor to the cross by lowering it into a means of deliverance from a doom which is not eternal in its duration.

And now, one word as to the idea of its being incompatible with the character of God to allow such a thing as eternal punishment. Many seem to attach great weight to this. They appear to think that eternal misery could never comport with divine mercy and goodness. But those who urge this plea seem to forget that there is another side of the question, which must be looked at if we would reach a sound conclusion on the point. What about divine justice, holiness, and truth? Are these things not to be taken into account? Can we base an argument on some of the divine attributes and leave others out? Surely not. We must look at them all. The cross of Christ has harmonized them all, in the view of all created intelligences. In that cross, God has set forth His perfect love to the sinner; but He also has set forth His perfect hatred of sin. Now, if a man deliberately rejects that only way of escape—that perfect remedy—that divine provision, what is to be done? God cannot let sin into His presence. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity. Will the deniers of eternal punishment tell us what is to be done? How is this question to be settled? They say, by annihilation,—that is, by man's perishing like a beast. Ah, this will never do! "The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." (Gen. ii. 7.) Was this ever revoked? Is there a shadow of foundation in the entire book of God for the theory of annihilation? If there is, let it be produced. We look upon it as a most miserable subterfuge—a pitiable attempt to get rid of the awful thought of eternity. But it will not do. Let man but cast his eye on the page of inspiration, and there he sees that tremendous word, "Eternity"! "Eternity"! "Eternity"! Let him but lend his ear to the voice that issues from the depth of his moral being, and he will hear the same soul-subduing word, "Eternity"! "Eternity"! "Eternity"! He cannot get rid of it; he cannot shake it off. He is shut up to the stern fact that he must live forever.

Well, then, what about his sin? That cannot get into God's presence. God and sin can never be together. This is a fixed principle. God is good, no doubt, and the proof of His goodness is the gift of His Son. But then He is holy; and between holiness and sin there must be an eternal separation; so that we are forced to the same solemn conclusion, namely, that all who die in their sins—all who die in the rejection of God's infinite provision for the forgiveness of sins, will have to endure the consequences of those sins in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone throughout the countless ages of eternity.[23]

We will not argue the matter further in this paper; but we would most earnestly beseech the unconverted reader to pause and seriously consider this most momentous question. Let him not be deceived by vain words; let him not hearken to a false criticism, which would fain persuade him that "eternal" does not mean eternal in the Greek; for, oh, most assuredly, it does mean eternal, whether in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or English. "Eternal" can never mean temporal, or "temporal" eternal, in any language under heaven. And furthermore, let him not hearken to a false sentimentality, which would fain persuade him that God is too kind to consign any of His creatures to hell fire. God was so kind as to "give His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life." But God is too holy to let sin into heaven; and hence, instead of feeding himself with the vain hope (if hope it can be called,) of annihilation, let him build upon the sure Word of God, which tells him of full, free, and everlasting salvation through the blood of the Lamb. Our God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner. His long-suffering is salvation, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. There is no reason why the reader should perish. God waits to be gracious. Mercy's door stands wide open, and the sword of judgment is in the scabbard. But the moment is rapidly approaching when all shall be changed, and then all who die in their sins will prove, by bitter experience, that, notwithstanding all the arguments founded upon a false criticism and a false sentimentality, the punishment of sin is and must be eternal.

C. H. M.


"And I say unto you My friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell;—yea, I say unto you, Fear Him." (Luke xii. 4, 5.)


PAPERS

ON

THE LORD'S COMING

By C. H. M.

Author of Notes on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers, and Deuteronomy.


CONTENTS

 PAGE
Introductory5
The Fact Itself13
The Double Bearing of the Fact23
"The Coming" and "The Day"32
The Two Resurrections49
The Judgment56
The Jewish Remnant64
Christendom73
The Ten Virgins81
The Talents90
Concluding Remarks98

 

 

PAPERS ON THE LORD'S COMING

INTRODUCTORY

The attentive reader of the New Testament will find in its pages three solemn and weighty facts presented to his view; namely, first, That the Son of God has come into this world and gone away; secondly, That the Holy Ghost has come down to this earth, and is here still; and, thirdly, That the Lord Jesus is coming again.

These are the three great subjects unfolded in the New Testament Scriptures; and we shall find that each of them has a double bearing: it has a bearing upon the world and a bearing upon the church; upon the world, as a whole, and upon each unconverted man, woman and child in particular; upon the church, as a whole, and upon each individual member thereof, in particular. It is impossible for any one to avoid the bearing of these three grand facts upon his own personal condition and future destiny.

And, be it noted, we are not speaking of doctrines—though, no doubt, there are doctrines—but of facts—facts presented in the simplest possible manner by the various inspired writers employed to set them forth. There is no attempt at garnishing or setting off. The facts speak for themselves; they are recorded and left to produce their own powerful effect upon the soul.

I. And, first of all, let us look at the fact that the Son of God has been in this world of ours. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." "The Son of God has come." He came in perfect love, as the very expression of the heart and mind, the nature and character of God. He was the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of His person, and yet a lowly, humble, gracious, social man; one who was to be seen, from day to day, about the streets; going from house to house; kind and affable to all; easily approached by the very poorest; taking up little children in His arms, in the most tender, gentle, winning way; drying the widow's tears; soothing the stricken and sorrowing heart; feeding the hungry, healing the sick; cleansing the poor leper; meeting every form of human need and misery; at the bidding of all who stood in need of succor and sympathy. "He went about doing good." He was the unwearied servant of man's necessities. He never thought of Himself, or sought His own interest in any one thing. He lived for others. It was His meat and His drink to do the will of God, and gladden the sad and weary hearts of the sons and daughters of men. His loving heart was ever flowing out in streams of blessing to all who felt the pressure of this sin-stricken, sorrowful world.

Here, then, we have a marvellous fact before our eyes. This world has been visited—this world has been trodden by that blessed One of whom we have spoken—the Son of God—the Creator and Sustainer of the universe—the lowly, self-emptied and loving, gracious Son of Man—Jesus of Nazareth—God over all blessed for ever, and yet a spotless, holy, absolutely perfect man. He came in love to men—came into this world as the expression of perfect love to those who had sinned against God, and deserved nothing but eternal perdition because of their sins. He came not to crush, but to heal—not to judge, but to save and to bless.

What has become of this blessed One? How has the world treated Him? It has cast Him out! It would not have Him! It preferred a robber and a murderer to this holy, gracious, perfect Man. The world got its choice. Jesus and a robber were placed before the world, and the question was put, "Which will you have?" What was the answer? "Not this man, but Barabbas." "The chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas" (Matt. xxvii. 20, 21). The religious leaders and guides of the people—the men who ought to have led them in the right way—persuaded the poor ignorant multitude to reject the Son of God, and accept a robber and a murderer instead!

Reader, remember, you are in a world that has been guilty of this terrible act. And not only so, but, unless you have truly repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, you are part and parcel of that world, and you lie under the full guilt of that act. This is most solemn. The whole world stands charged with the deliberate rejection and murder of the Son of God. We have the testimony of no less than four inspired witnesses to this fact. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all bear record that the whole world—the Jew and the Gentile—kings and governors, priests and people—all classes, sects and parties, agreed to crucify the Son of God—all agreed to murder the only perfect man that ever appeared on this earth—the perfect expression of God—God over all blessed for ever. We must either pronounce the four evangelists to be false witnesses, or admit that the world as a whole, and each constituent part thereof, is stained with the awful crime of crucifying the Lord of glory.

This is the true standard by which to measure the world, and by which to measure the condition of every unconverted man, woman and child in the world. If I want to know what the world is I have only to reflect that the world is that which stands charged before God with the deliberate murder of His Son. Tremendous fact! A fact which stamps the world, in the most solemn manner, and places it before us in characters of appalling blackness. God has a controversy with this world. He has a question to settle with it—an awful question—the mere mention of which should make men's ears to tingle and their hearts to quake. A righteous God has to avenge the death of His Son. It is not merely that the world accepted a vile robber and murdered an innocent man; this, in itself, would have been a dreadful act. But no; that innocent man was none other than the Son of God, the beloved of the Father's heart.

What a thought! The world will have to account to God for the death of His Son—for having nailed Him to a cross between two thieves! What a reckoning it will be! How red will be the day of vengeance! How awfully crushing the moment in the which God will draw the sword of judgment to avenge the death of His Son! How utterly vain the notion that the world is improving! Improving!—though stained with the blood of Jesus. Improving!—though under the judgment of God for that act. Improving!—though having to account to a righteous God for its treatment of the beloved of His soul, sent in love to bless and save. What blind fatuity! What wild folly! Ah, no! reader, improvement there can be none till the besom of destruction and the sword of judgment have done their terrible work in avenging the murder—the deliberately planned and determinedly executed murder of the blessed Son of God. We cannot conceive any delusion more fatally false than to imagine that the world can ever be improved while it lies beneath the awful curse of the death of Jesus. That world which preferred Barabbas to Christ can know no improvement. There is naught before it save the overwhelming judgment of God.

Thus much as to the weighty fact of the absence of Jesus, in its bearing upon the present condition and future destiny of the world. But this fact has another bearing. It bears upon the church of God as a whole, and upon the individual believer. If the world has cast Christ out, the heavens have received Him. If man has rejected Him, God has exalted Him. If man has crucified Him, God has crowned Him. We must carefully distinguish these two things. The death of Christ, viewed as the act of the world—the act of man—involves naught but unmitigated wrath and judgment. On the other hand, the death of Christ, viewed as the act of God, involves naught but full and everlasting blessedness to all who repent and believe. A passage or two from the divine word will prove this.

Let us turn for a moment to Psalm lxix., which so vividly presents our blessed and adorable Lord suffering from the hand of man, and appealing to God for vengeance. "Hear me, O Lord; for thy loving kindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies. And hide not thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily: draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it: deliver me, because of mine enemies. Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonor: mine adversaries are all before thee. Reproach hath broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them," etc. (verses 16-28).

All this is deeply and impressively solemn. Every word of this appeal will have its answer. Not a syllable of it shall fall to the ground. God will assuredly avenge the death of His Son. He will reckon with the world—with men for the treatment which His only begotten Son has received at their hands. We deem it right to press this home upon the heart and conscience of the reader. How awful the thought of Christ making intercession against people! How appalling to hear Him calling upon God for vengeance upon His enemies! How terrible will be the divine response to the cry of the injured Son!

But let us look at the other side of the picture. Turn to Psalm xxii., which presents the blessed One suffering under the hand of God. Here the result is wholly different. Instead of judgment and vengeance, it is universal and everlasting blessedness and glory. "I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.... My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation; I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied; they shall praise the Lord that seek him; your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord's; and he is the governor among the nations.... A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this" (verses 22-31).

These two quotations present, with great distinctness, the two aspects of the death of Christ. He died, as a martyr, for righteousness, under the hand of man. For this, man will have to account to God. But He died, as a victim, for sin, under the hand of God. This is the foundation of all blessing to those that believe in His name. His martyr-sufferings bring down wrath and judgment upon a godless world: His atoning sufferings open up the everlasting well-springs of life and salvation to the church, to Israel, and to the whole creation. The death of Jesus consummates the world's guilt; but secures the church's acceptance. The world is stained, and the church purged, by the blood of the cross.

Such is the double bearing of the first of our three great New Testament facts. Jesus has come and gone—come, because God loved the world—gone, because the world hated God. If God were to ask the question—and He will ask it—"What have you done with my Son?" What is the answer? "We hated Him, cast Him out, and crucified Him. We preferred a robber to Him."

But, blessed for ever be the God of all grace, the Christian, the true believer, can look up to heaven and say, "My absent Lord is there, and there for me. He is gone from this wretched world, and His absence makes the entire scene around me a moral wilderness—a desolate waste."

He is not here. This stamps the world with a character unmistakable in the judgment of every loyal heart. The world would not have Jesus. This is enough. We need not marvel at any tale of horror now. Police reports, grand jury calendars, the statistics of our cities and towns need not surprise us. The world that could reject the divine personification of all human goodness, and accept a robber and a murderer instead, has proved its moral turpitude to a degree not to be exceeded. Do we wonder when we discover the hollowness and heartlessness of the world? Are we surprised when we find out that it is not to be trusted? If so, it is plain we have not interpreted aright the absence of our beloved Lord. What does the cross of Christ prove? That God is love? No doubt. That Christ gave His precious life to save us from the flames of an everlasting hell? Blessedly true, all praise to His peerless name! But what does the cross prove as regards the world? That its guilt is consummated, and its judgment sealed. The world, in nailing to the cross the One who was perfectly good, proved, in the most unanswerable manner, that it was perfectly bad. "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause" (John xv. 22-26).

II. But we must now glance for a moment at our second weighty fact. God the Holy Ghost has come down to this earth. It is now over eighteen long centuries since the blessed Spirit descended from heaven; and He has been here ever since. This is a stupendous fact. There is a divine Person on this earth; and His presence—like the absence of Jesus—has a double bearing: it has a bearing upon the world, and a bearing upon the church—upon the world as a whole, and upon every man, woman and child therein; upon the church as a whole, and upon every individual member thereof in particular. As regards the world, this august witness descended from heaven to convict it of the terrible crime of rejecting and crucifying the Son of God. As regards the church, He came as the blessed Comforter, to take the place of the absent Jesus, and comfort by His presence and ministry the hearts of His people. Thus, to the world, the Holy Ghost is a powerful Convicter; to the church he is a precious Comforter.

A passage or two of holy Scripture will establish these points in the heart and mind of the pious reader who bows in lowly reverence to the authority of the divine word. Let us turn to chapter xvi. of John's Gospel. "But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will convict (ελεγξει) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. Of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged" (verses 5-11).

Again in John xiv. we read, "If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you" (verses 15-19).

These quotations prove the double bearing of the presence of the Holy Ghost. We cannot attempt to dwell upon this subject in this brief introduction; but we trust the reader may be led to study it for himself, in the light of holy Scripture; and we are persuaded that the more he thus studies it, the more deeply he will feel its interest and immense practical importance. Alas! that it should be so little understood; that Christians should so little see what is involved in the personal presence of the eternal Spirit, God the Holy Ghost, on this earth—its solemn consequences as regards the world, and its precious results as regards the assembly as a whole, and each individual member in particular.

Oh! that God's people everywhere may be led into a deeper understanding of these things; that they may consider what is due to that divine Person who dwells in them and with them; that they may have a jealous care not to "grieve" Him in their private walk, or "quench" Him in their public assemblies!

We shall, if God permit, enter, in our next paper, upon the third fact, which is the immediate subject of the series of papers which we propose to write, namely: The coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. May God the Spirit open this most glorious subject in living power and freshness to our souls, so that we may, in truth and reality, be waiting for God's Son from heaven.

 

THE FACT ITSELF

In approaching this most glorious subject, we feel that we cannot do better than to lay before the reader the distinct testimony of holy Scripture to the broad fact itself, that our Lord Jesus Christ will come again—that He will leave the place which He now occupies on His Father's throne, and come in the clouds of heaven, to receive His people to Himself; to execute judgment upon the wicked; and set up His own everlasting and universal kingdom.

This fact is as clearly and fully set forth in the New Testament as either of the other two facts to which we have already referred. It is as true that the Son of God is coming from heaven, as that He is gone to heaven, or that the Holy Ghost is still on this earth. If we admit one fact, we must admit all: and if we deny one, we must deny all; inasmuch as all rest upon precisely the same authority. They stand or fall together. Is it true that the Son of God was refused, cast out, crucified? Is it true that He has gone away into heaven? Is it true that He is now seated at the right hand of God, crowned with glory and honor? Is it true that God the Holy Ghost came down to this earth, fifty days after the resurrection of our Lord; and that He is still here?

Are these things true? As true as Scripture can make them. Then just as true is it that our blessed Lord will come again, and set up His kingdom upon this earth—that He will literally, and actually, and personally come from heaven, take to Himself His great power and reign from pole to pole, and from the river to the ends of the earth.

It may perhaps seem strange to some of our readers that we should deem it needful to undertake the proof of such a plain truth as this; but be it remembered that we are writing on this subject as though it were perfectly new to the reader; as if he had never heard of such a thing as the Lord's second coming; or as if, having heard of it, he still calls it in question. This must be our apology for handling this precious theme in so elementary a manner.

Now for our proofs.

When our adorable Lord was about to take leave of His disciples, He sought, in His infinite grace, to comfort their sorrowing hearts by words of sweetest tenderness. "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John xiv. 1-3).

Here we may have something most definite. Indeed it is as definite as it is cheering and consolatory. "I will come again." He does not say, I will send for you. Still less does He say, "You will come to me when you die." He says nothing of the kind. To send an angel, or a legion of angels, would not be the same thing as coming Himself. No doubt it would be very gracious of Him, and very glorious for us, if a multitude of the heavenly host were sent, with horses of fire and chariots of fire, to convey us triumphantly to heaven. But it would not be the fulfilment of His own sweet promise. And most surely He will do what He promised to do. He will not say one thing and do another. He cannot lie or alter His word. And not only this, but it would not satisfy the love of His heart to send an angel or a host of angels to fetch us. He will come Himself.

What touching grace shines in all this! If I am expecting a very dear and valued friend by train, I shall not be satisfied with sending a servant or an empty cab to meet him; I shall go myself. This is precisely what our loving Lord means to do. He is gone to heaven; and His entrance there prepares and defines His people's place. Amid the many mansions of the Father's house, there would be no place for us if our Jesus had not gone before; and then, lest there should be in the heart any feeling of strangeness at the thought of our entrance into that place, He says, with such sweetness, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also." Nothing short of this can fulfil the gracious promise of our Lord, or satisfy the love of His heart.

And be it carefully noted that this promise has no reference whatever to the death of the individual believer. Who can imagine that, when our Lord said, "I will come again," He really meant that we should go to Him through death? How can we presume to take such liberties with the plain and precious words of our Lord? Surely if He meant to speak of our going to Him, through death, He could and would have said so. But He has not said so, because He did not mean so; nor is it possible that He could say one thing and mean another. His coming for us, and our going to Him, are totally different things; and being different ideas, they would have been clothed in different language.

Thus, for example, in the case of the penitent thief on the cross, our Lord does not speak of coming to fetch him; but He says, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." We really must remember that Scripture is as divinely definite as it is divinely inspired, and hence it never could and it never does confound two things so totally different as the Lord's coming and the Christian's falling asleep.

It may be well, at this point, to remark that there are but four passages in the entire New Testament in which allusion is made to the subject of the Christian passing through the article of death. The first is that passage in Luke xxiii. already referred to: "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." The second occurs in Acts vii., "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." The third is that most familiar and lovely utterance in 2 Corinthians v., "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." The fourth occurs in that charming first of Philippians, "Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better."

These most precious passages make up the sum of Scripture testimony on the interesting question of the disembodied state. There is a passage in Revelation xiv. often misapplied to this subject: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them." But this has no application to Christians now, though no doubt all such who die in the Lord are blessed, and their works do follow them. The reference, however, is to a time yet future, when the church shall have left this scene altogether, and other witnesses make their appearance. In a word, Revelation xiv. 13 bears upon apocalyptic times, and must be so viewed if we would avoid confusion.

We must now resume our subject, and proceed with our proofs, and in so doing we shall ask the reader to turn to the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The blessed Lord had just gone up from this earth, in the presence of His holy apostles. "And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by him in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (verses 10, 11).

This is intensely interesting, and furnishes a most striking proof of our present thesis. Indeed it is impossible to avoid its force. Alas! that any should seek or desire to avoid it! From the manner in which the angelic witnesses speak to the men of Galilee it would seem like tautology; but, as we well know, there is—there can be—no such thing in the volume of God. It is, therefore, lovely fulness, divine completeness, that we see in this testimony. From it we learn that the self-same Jesus who left this earth, and ascended into heaven, in the presence of a number of witnesses, shall so come in like manner as they had seen Him go into heaven. How did He go? He went up personally, literally, actually, the very same person who had just been conversing familiarly with them—whom they had seen with their eyes, heard with their ears, handled with their hands—who had eaten in their presence, and "showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs." Well then, "He shall so come in like manner."

"He who with hands uplifted,
Went from this earth below,
Shall come again all gifted,
His blessing to bestow."

And here we may ask—though it be rather anticipating what may come before us in a future paper—Who saw the blessed Lord as He went up? Did the world? Nay; not one unconverted, unbelieving person ever laid his eyes upon our precious Lord from the moment that He was laid in the tomb. The last sight the world got of Jesus was as He hung on the cross, a spectacle to angels, men, and devils. The next sight they will get of Him will be when, like the lightning flash, He shall come forth to execute judgment, and tread, in terrible vengeance, the winepress of the wrath of Almighty God. Tremendous thought!

None, therefore, but His own saw the ascending Saviour, as none but they had seen Him from the moment of His resurrection. He showed Himself, blessed be His holy name! to those who were dear to His heart. He assured and comforted, strengthened and encouraged their souls by these "many infallible proofs" of which the inspired narrator speaks to us. He led them to the very confines of the unseen world, just so far as men could go while still in the body; and there He allowed them to see Him ascending into heaven; and while they gazed upon this glorious sight He sent the precious testimony home to their very hearts. "This same Jesus"—no other, no stranger, but the same loving, sympathizing, gracious, unchanging friend—"whom ye have seen go into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."

Is it possible for testimony to be more distinct or satisfactory? Could proof be more clear or conclusive? How can any counter argument stand for a moment, or any objection be raised? Either those two men in white apparel were false witnesses, or our Jesus shall come again in the exact manner in which He went away. There is no middle ground between those two conclusions. We read in Scripture that, "in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established;" and therefore in the mouth of two heavenly messengers—two heralds from the region of light and truth, we have the word established that our Lord Jesus Christ shall come again in actual bodily form, to be seen by His own first of all, apart from all others, in the holy intimacy and profound retirement which characterized His departure from this world. All this, blessed be God, is wrapped up in the two little words "as" and "so."

We cannot attempt, in a brief paper like the present, to adduce all the proofs which are to be found in the pages of the New Testament. We have given one from the Gospels and one from the Acts, and we shall now ask the reader to turn with us to the Epistles. Let us take, for example, the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. We select this epistle because it is acknowledged to have been the earliest of Paul's writings; and further, because it was written to a company of very young converts. This latter point is valuable, inasmuch as we sometimes hear it stated that the truth of the Lord's coming is not suitable to bring before the minds of young believers. That the Apostle Paul did not think it unsuitable is evident from the fact that of all the epistles which he wrote not one contains so much about the Lord's coming as that which he penned for the newly converted Thessalonians. The fact is, when a soul is converted and brought into the full light and liberty of the gospel of Christ, it becomes divinely natural for such a one to look for the Lord's coming. That most precious truth is an integral part of the gospel. The first coming and the second coming are most blessedly bound up together by the divine link of the personal presence of the Holy Ghost in the church.

On the other hand, where the soul is not established in grace; where peace and liberty are not enjoyed; where a defective gospel has been received, there it will be found that the hope of the Lord's coming will not be cherished, for the simple reason that the soul is, of necessity, occupied with the question of its own state and prospects. If I am not certain of my salvation—if I do not know that I have eternal life—that I am a child of God—I cannot be looking out for the Lord's return. It is only when we know what Jesus has done for us at His first coming that we can with bright and holy intelligence look out for His second coming.

But let us turn to our epistle. Take the following sentences from the first chapter: "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.... So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything. For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" (verses 5-10).

Here we have a fine illustration of the effect of a full clear gospel, received in simple earnest faith. They turned from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son. They were actually converted to the blessed hope of the Lord's coming. It was an integral part of the gospel which Paul preached; and an integral part of their faith. Was it a reality to turn from idols? Doubtless. Was it a reality to serve the living God? Unquestionably. Well then it was just as real, just as positive, just as simple, their waiting for God's Son from heaven. If we question the reality of one, we must question the reality of all, inasmuch as all are bound up together and form a beauteous cluster of practical Christian truth. If you had asked a Thessalonian Christian what he was waiting for, what would have been his reply? Would he have said, "I am waiting for the world to improve by means of the gospel which I myself have received? or, I am waiting for the moment of my death when I shall go to be with Jesus?" No. His reply would have been simply this, "I am waiting for the Son of God from heaven." This, and nothing else, is the proper hope of the Christian, the proper hope of the church. To wait for the improvement of the world is not Christian hope at all. You might as well wait for the improvement of the flesh, for there is just as much hope of the one as the other. And as to the article of death—though no doubt it may intervene—it is never once presented as the true and proper hope of the Christian. It may, with the fullest confidence, be asserted that there is not so much as a single passage in the entire New Testament in which death is spoken of as the hope of the believer; whereas, on the other hand, the hope of the Lord's coming is bound up, in the most intimate manner, with all the concerns and associations and relationships of life, as we may see in the epistle before us. Thus, if the apostle would refer to the interesting question of his own personal connection with the beloved saints at Thessalonica, he says, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy."

Again, if he thinks of their progress in holiness and love, he adds, "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you; to the end he may stablish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints" (chap. iii. 12, 13).

Finally, if the apostle would seek to comfort the hearts of his brethren in reference to those who had fallen asleep, how does he do it? Does he tell them that they should soon follow them? Nay; this would have been in full keeping with Old Testament times, as David says of his departed child, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (2 Sam. xii. 23). But it is not thus that the Holy Ghost instructs us in 1 Thessalonians—quite the reverse. "I would not," he says, "have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that [not they which shall be, but] we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [come before or take precedence of] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words" (chap. iv. 13-18).

It is impossible for any proof to be more simple, direct, and conclusive than this. The Thessalonian Christians, as we have already remarked, were converted to the hope of the Lord's return. They were taught to look out for it daily. It was as much a part of their Christianity to believe that He would come, as to believe that He had come and gone. Hence it came to pass that when some of their number were called to pass through death, they were taken aback; they had not anticipated this; and they feared lest the departed should miss the joy of that blissful and longed-for moment of the Lord's return. The apostle therefore writes to correct their mistake; and, in so doing, he pours a fresh flood of light upon the whole subject, and assures them that the dead in Christ—which includes all who had or shall have fallen asleep; in short, those of Old Testament times as well as those of the New—should rise first, that is, before the living are changed, and all shall ascend together to meet their descending Lord.

We shall have occasion to refer to this remarkable passage again, when handling other branches of this glorious subject. We merely quote it here as one of the almost innumerable proofs of the fact that our Lord will come again, personally, really, and actually; and that His personal coming is the true and proper hope of the church of God collectively, and of the believer individually.

We shall close this paper by reminding the Christian reader that he can never sit down to the table of his Lord without being reminded of this glorious hope, so long as those words shine on the page of inspiration, "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till"—when? Till ye die? Nay; but—"till he come" (1 Cor. xi. 26). How precious is this! The table of the Lord stands between those two marvellous epochs, the cross and the advent—the death and the glory. The believer can look up from the table and see the beams of the glory gilding the horizon. It is our privilege, as we gather, on each Lord's day, round the Lord's table, to show forth the Lord's death, to be able to say, "This may be the last occasion of celebrating this precious feast; ere another Lord's day dawn upon us, He Himself may come." Again we say, How precious is this!

 

THE DOUBLE BEARING OF THE FACT

Having, as we trust, fully established, in our last paper, the fact of the Lord's coming, we have now to place before the reader the double bearing of that fact—its bearing upon the Lord's people, and its bearing upon the world. The former is presented, in the New Testament, as the coming of Christ to receive His people to Himself; the latter is spoken of as "The day of the Lord"—a term of frequent use also in Old Testament Scriptures.

These things are never confounded in Scripture, as we shall see when we come to look at the various passages. Christians do confound them, and hence it is that we often find "that blessed hope" overcast with heavy clouds, and associated in the mind with circumstances of terror, wrath, and judgment, which have nothing whatever to do with the coming of Christ for His people, but are intimately bound up with "The day of the Lord."

Let the Christian reader, then, have it settled in his heart, on the clear authority of holy Scripture, that the grand and specific hope for him ever to cherish is the coming of Christ for His people. This hope may be realized this very night. There is nothing whatever to wait for—no events to transpire amongst the nations—nothing to occur in the history of Israel—nothing in God's government of the world—nothing, in short, in any shape or form whatsoever, to intervene between the heart of the true believer and his heavenly hope. Christ may come for His people to-night. There is actually nothing to hinder. No one can tell when He will come; but we can joyfully say that, at any moment, He may come. And, blessed be His name, when He does come for us, it will not be with the accompanying circumstances of terror, wrath, and judgment. It will not be with blackness and darkness and tempest. These things will accompany "the day of the Lord," as the Apostle Peter plainly tells the Jews in his first great sermon, on the day of Pentecost, in which he quotes the following words from the solemn prophecy of Joel, "And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood and fire and vapor of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before"—what? the coming of the Lord for His people? Nay; but before "that great and notable day of the Lord come."

When our Lord shall come to receive His people to Himself no eye shall see Him, no ear shall hear His voice, save His own redeemed and beloved people. Let us remember the words of the angelic witnesses in the first of Acts. Who saw the blessed One ascending into the heavens? None but His own. Well, "He shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." As was the going, so shall be the coming, if we are to bow to Scripture. To confound the day of the Lord with His coming for His church is to overlook the plainest teachings of Scripture, and to rob the believer of his own true and proper hope.

And here perhaps we cannot do better than to call the attention of the reader to a very important and interesting passage in the second Epistle of Peter: "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also the word of prophecy more sure [or confirmed], whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts" (chap. i. 16-19).

This passage demands the reader's most attentive consideration. It sets forth, in the clearest possible manner, the distinction between "the word of prophecy" and the proper hope of the Christian, namely, "the morning star." We must remember that the great subject of prophecy is God's government of the world in connection with the seed of Abraham. "When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance" (Deut. xxxii. 8, 9).

Here then is the scope and theme of prophecy—Israel and the nations. A child can understand this. If we range through the prophets, from the opening of Isaiah to the close of Malachi, we shall not find so much as a single line about the church of God—its position, its portion, or its prospects. No doubt the word of prophecy is deeply interesting, and most profitable for the Christian to study; but it will be all this just in proportion as he understands its proper scope and object, and sees how it stands in contrast with his own special hope. We may fearlessly assert that it is as utterly impossible for any one to study the Old Testament prophecies aright who does not clearly see the true place of the church.

We cannot attempt to enter upon the subject of the church in this brief paper. It has been repeatedly referred to and unfolded elsewhere, and we can now merely ask the reader to weigh and examine the statement which we here deliberately make, namely, that there is not so much as a single syllable about the church of God, the body of Christ, from cover to cover of the Old Testament. Types, shadows, illustrations, there are which, now that we have the full-orbed light of the New Testament, we can see, understand, and appreciate. But it was not possible for any Old Testament believer to see the great mystery of Christ and the church, inasmuch as it was not revealed. The inspired apostle expressly tells us that it was "hid," not in the Old Testament Scriptures, but "in God," as we read in Ephesians iii., "And to make all men see what is the fellowship [or rather the administration] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ" (verse 9). So also in Colossians we read, "Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints" (chap. i. 26).

These two passages establish the truth of our statement beyond all question, for those who are willing to be governed absolutely by the authority of holy Scripture; they teach us that the great mystery—Christ and the church—is not to be found in the Old Testament. Where have we in the Old Testament a word about Jews and Gentiles forming one body, and being united by the Holy Ghost to a living head in heaven? How could such a thing possibly be, so long as "the middle wall of partition" stood as an insuperable barrier between the circumcised and the uncircumcised? If one were asked to name a special feature of the old economy he would at once reply, "The rigid separation of Jew and Gentile." On the other hand, if he were asked to name a special feature of the church, or Christianity, he would as readily reply, "The intimate union of Jew and Gentile in one body." In short, the two conditions stand in vivid contrast, and it was wholly impossible that both could hold good at the same time. So long as the middle wall of partition stood, the truth of the church could not be revealed; but the death of Christ having thrown down that wall, the Holy Ghost descended from heaven to form the one body, and link it, by His presence and indwelling, to the risen and glorified Head in the heavens. Such is the great mystery of Christ and the church, for which there could be no less a basis than accomplished redemption.

Now we entreat the reader to examine this matter for himself. Let him search the Scriptures to see if these things be indeed true. This is the only way to get at the truth. We must lay aside all our own thoughts and reasonings, our prejudices and predilections, and come, like a little child, to the holy Scriptures. In this way we shall learn the mind of God on this most precious and interesting subject. We shall find that the church of God, the body of Christ, did not exist, as a fact, until after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and the consequent descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. And further, we shall find that the full and glorious doctrine of the church was not brought out until the days of the Apostle Paul (compare Rom. xvi. 25, 26; Eph. i.-iii.; Col. i. 25-29). Finally, we shall see that the actual and unmistakable boundary lines of the church's earthly history are Pentecost (Acts ii.) and the rapture or taking up of the saints (1 Thess. iv. 13-17).

Thus we reach a position from which we can get a view of the church's proper hope; and that hope is, most assuredly, "the bright and morning star." Of this hope the Old Testament prophets utter not a syllable. They speak largely and clearly of "The day of the Lord"—a day of judgment upon the world and its ways (see Isaiah ii. 12-22 and parallel Scriptures). But "the day of the Lord," with all its attendant circumstances of wrath, judgment, and terror, must never be confounded with His coming for His people. When our blessed Lord comes for His people there will be nothing to terrify. He will come in all the sweetness and tenderness of His love to receive His loved and redeemed people to Himself. He will come to finish up the precious story of His grace. "To them that look for Him shall He appear (οφθησεται) the second time, without [that is, apart from all question of] sin, unto salvation" (Heb. ix).[24] He will come as a bridegroom to receive the bride; and when He thus comes none but His own shall hear His voice or see His face. If He were to come this very night for His people—and He may, for aught we know—if the voice of the archangel and the trump of God were to be heard to-night, then all the dead in Christ—all who have been laid to sleep by Jesus—all the saints of God, both those of old Testament and New Testament times, who lie sleeping in our cemeteries and graveyards, or in the ocean's depths—all these would rise from their temporary sleep. All the living saints would be changed in a moment, and all would be caught up to meet their descending Lord, and return with Him to the Father's house (John xiv. 3; 1 Thess. iv. 16, 17; 1 Cor. xv. 51, 52).

This is what is meant by the rapture or catching up of the saints, and has nothing to do directly with Israel or the nations. It is the distinct and only proper hope of the church; and there is not so much as a single hint of it in the entire Old Testament. If any one asserts that there is, let him produce it. If there be such a thing, nothing is easier than to furnish it. We solemnly and deliberately declare there is no such thing. For all that respects the church—its standing, its calling, its portion, its prospects—we must turn to the pages of the New Testament, and, of those pages, mainly the Epistles of Paul. To confound "the word of prophecy" with the hope of the church is to damage the truth of God, and mislead the souls of His people. That the enemy has succeeded in doing all this, throughout the length and breadth of the professing church, is, alas! too true. And hence it is that so very few Christians have really Scriptural thoughts about the coming of their Lord. They are looking into prophecy for the church's hope—they confound "the Sun of righteousness" with "the Morning Star"—they mix up the coming of Christ for His people, and His coming with them—they make His "coming" or "state of presence" to be identical with His "appearing" or "manifestation."

All this is a most serious mistake, against which we desire to warn our readers. When Christ comes with His people, "every eye shall see him." When He is manifested, His people will be manifested also. "When Christ our life shall appear [or be manifested], then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Col. iii. 4). When Christ comes to execute judgment, His saints come with Him. "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all" (Jude 14, 15). So also in Revelation xix., the rider on the white horse is followed by the armies in heaven upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. These armies are not angels, but saints; for we do not read of angels being clothed in white linen, which is expressly declared, in this very chapter, to be "the righteousness of saints" (verse 8).

Now, it is most evident that, if the saints accompany their Lord when He comes in judgment, they must be with Him previously. The fact of their going to Him is not presented in the book of Revelation, unless it be involved—as we doubt not it is—in the catching up of the man child, in chapter xii. The man child is, most surely, Christ; and inasmuch as Christ and His people are indissolubly joined in one, they are most completely identified with Him, blessed for ever be His holy and precious name!

But, clearly, it does not at all lie within the scope of the book of Revelation to give us the coming of Christ for His people, or their being caught up to meet Him in the air, or their return to the Father's house. For these blessed events or facts, we must look elsewhere, as, for example, in John xiv. 3; 1 Corinthians xv. 23, 51, 52; 1 Thessalonians iv. 14-17. Let the reader ponder these three passages. Let him drink into his very soul their clear and precious teaching. There is nothing difficult about them, no obscurity, no mist or vagueness whatever. A babe in Christ can understand them. They set forth, in the clearest and simplest possible manner, the true Christian hope, which—we repeat it emphatically, and urge it upon the reader as the direct and positive teaching of holy Scripture—is the coming of Christ to receive His people, all His people, to Himself, to take them back with Him to His Father's house, there to remain with Him, while God deals governmentally with Israel and the nations, and prepares the way, by His judicial actings, for bringing in the First-begotten into the world.

Now, if it be asked, "Why have we not the coming of Christ for His people in the book of Revelation?" Because that book is pre-eminently a book of judgment—a governmental, judicial book, at least from chapter i.-xx. Hence even the church is presented as under judgment. We do not see the church in chapters ii. and iii. as the body or the bride of Christ; but as a responsible witness on the earth, whose condition is being carefully examined and rigidly judged by Him who walks amongst the candlesticks.

It would not, therefore, comport with the character or object of this book to introduce, directly, the rapture of the saints. It shows us the church on the earth, in the place of responsibility. This it gives us, in chapters ii. and iii., under the head of "the things that are." But from that to chapter xix. there is not a single syllable about the church on earth. The plain fact is, the church will not be on earth during that solemn period. She will be with her Head and Lord, in the divine retirement of the Father's house. The redeemed are seen in heaven, under the title of the twenty-four crowned elders, in chapters iv., v. There, blessed be God, they will be, while the seals are being opened, the trumpets sounded, and the vials poured out. To think of the church as being on the earth, from Revelation vi.-xviii.—to place her amid the apocalyptic judgments—to pass her through "the great tribulation"—to subject her to "the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth"—would be to falsify her position, to rob her of her chartered privileges, and to contradict the clear and positive promise of her Lord.[25]

No, no, beloved Christian reader; let no man deceive you, by any means. The church is seen on earth in Revelation ii., iii. She is seen in heaven, together with the Old Testament saints, in chapters iv., v. We are not told, in the Revelation, how she gets there; but we see her there, in high communion and holy worship; and then, in chapter xix., the rider on the white horse comes forth, with His saints, to execute judgment upon the beast and the false prophet—to put down every enemy and every evil, and to reign over the whole earth for the blissful period of a thousand years.

Such is the plain teaching of the New Testament, to which we earnestly invite the attention of our readers. And let no one suppose that our object is to find an easy path for Christians in thus teaching, as we do most emphatically, that the church will not be in "the great tribulation"—will not come into "the hour of temptation." Nothing of the kind. The fact is, the true and normal condition of the church, and therefore of the individual Christian, in this world, is tribulation. So says our Lord: "In the world ye shall have tribulation." And again, "We glory in tribulation."

It cannot, therefore, be a question of avoiding that which is our appointed portion in this world, if only we are true to Christ. But the fact is, that the entire truth of the church's position and prospect is involved in this question, and this is our reason for urging it so upon the prayerful attention of our readers.

The great object of the enemy is to drag down the church of God to an earthly level—to set Christians entirely astray as to their divinely appointed hope—to lead them to confound things which God has made to differ, to occupy them with earthly things—to cause them to so mix up the coming of Christ for His people with His appearing in judgment upon the world, that they may not be able to cultivate those bridal affections and heavenly aspirations which become them as members of the body of Christ. He would fain have them looking out for various earthly events to come between them and their own proper hope, in order that they may not be—as God would have them—ever on the very tip-toe of expectation, looking out, with ardent desire, for the appearing of "the bright and morning Star."

Well doth the enemy know what he is about; and surely we ought not to be ignorant of his devices, but rather give ourselves to the study of the word of God, and thus learn, as we most surely shall, "the double bearing" of the glorious fact of the Lord's coming.

 

"THE COMING" AND "THE DAY."

We must now ask the reader to turn with us for a little to the two epistles to the Thessalonians. As we have already remarked, these Christians were converted to the blessed hope of the Lord's return. They were taught to look for Him day by day. It was not merely the doctrine of the advent received and held in the mind, but a divine Person constantly expected by hearts that had learnt to love Him and long for His coming.

But, as we can easily imagine, the Thessalonian Christians were ignorant of many things connected with this blessed hope. The apostle had been "taken from them for a short time, in presence, not in heart." He had not been allowed to remain long enough amongst them to instruct them in the details of the subject of their hope. They knew that Jesus was to return—that self-same blessed One who had graciously delivered them from the wrath to come. But as to any distinction between His coming for His people and coming with them—between His "state of presence" and His "appearing"—His "coming" and His "day," they were, at first, wholly ignorant.

Hence, as might be expected, they fell into various errors and mistakes. It is wonderful how speedily the human mind wanders away into the wildest and grossest confusion and error. We need to be guarded on all sides by the pure, solid, all-adjusting truth of God. We must have our souls evenly balanced by divine revelation, else we are sure to plunge into all manner of false and foolish notions. Thus some of the Thessalonians conceived the idea of giving up their honest callings. They ceased to labor with their hands, and went about idle.

This was a great mistake. Even though we were perfectly certain that our Lord would come this very night, it would be no reason why we should not, most diligently and faithfully, attend to our daily round of duty, and do all that devolved upon us in that particular sphere in which His good hand has placed us. So far from this, the very fact of expecting the blessed Master would strengthen our desire to have everything done as it ought to be up to the very moment of His return, so that not so much as a single righteous claim should be left neglected. In point of fact, the hope of the Lord's speedy return, when held in power in the soul, is most sanctifying, purifying, and adjusting in its influence upon Christian life, conduct, and character. We know, alas! that even this most glorious truth may be held in the region of the understanding, and flippantly professed with the lips, while the heart and the life, the course, conduct, and character, remain wholly unaffected by it. But we are expressly taught by the inspired Apostle John, that "every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 John iii. 3). And, most surely, this "purifying" embraces all that which goes to make up our whole practical life, from day to day.

But there was another grave mistake into which those dear Thessalonians fell, and out of which the blessed apostle, like a true and faithful pastor, sought to recover them. They imagined that their departed Christian friends would not have part in the joy of the Lord's return. They feared that they would fail to participate in that blissful and longed-for moment.

Now while it is quite true that this very mistake proves how vividly these Christians realized their blessed hope, still it was a mistake, and needed to be corrected. But let us carefully note the correction: "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus [or are laid to sleep by Jesus] will God bring with him."

Mark this. He does not seek to comfort these sorrowing friends by the assurance that they should, ere long, follow the departed. Quite the reverse. He assures them that Jesus would bring the departed back with Him. This is plain and distinct, and founded upon the great fact that "Jesus died for us and rose again."

But the apostle does not stop here, but goes on to pour a flood of fresh light upon the understanding of His dear children in the faith. "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent [or precede] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first [that is, before the living are changed]. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in [the] clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."

Here, then, we have presented to us what is commonly spoken of amongst us as the rapture of the saints—a most glorious, soul-stirring, and enrapturing theme surely—the brightest hope of the church of God, and of the individual believer. The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a summons designed only for the ears and the hearts of His own. Not one uncircumcised ear shall hear—not one unrenewed heart be moved by, that heavenly voice, that divine trumpet call. The dead in Christ, including, as we believe, the Old Testament saints, as well as those of the New, who shall have departed in the faith of Christ—all those shall hear the blessed sound, and come forth from their sleeping places. All the living saints shall hear it, and be changed in a moment. And oh! what a change! The poor crumbling tabernacle of clay exchanged for a glorified body, like unto the body of Jesus.

Look at yonder bent and withered frame—that body racked with pain, and worn out with years of acute suffering. It is the body of a saint. How humiliating to see it like that! Yes; but wait a little. Let but the trumpet sound, and in one moment that poor crushed and withered frame shall be changed, and made like to the glorified body of the descending Lord.

And there, in yonder lunatic asylum, is a poor lunatic. He has been there for years. He is a saint of God. How mysterious! True; we cannot fathom the mystery; it lies beyond our present narrow range. But so it is; that poor lunatic is a saint of God, an heir of glory. He too shall hear the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, and leave his lunacy behind him for ever, while he mounts into the heavens, in his glorified body, to meet his descending Lord.

Oh! reader, what a brilliant moment! How many sick chambers and beds of languishing shall be vacant then! What marvellous changes shall then take place! How the heart bounds at the thought, and longs to sing, in full chorus, that lovely hymn,

"Christ, the Lord, will come again,
None shall wait for Him in vain;
I shall then His glory see:
Christ will come and call for me.
"Then, when the archangel's voice
Calls the sleeping saints to rise,
Rising millions shall proclaim
Blessings on the Saviour's name.
"'This is our redeeming God!'
Ransomed hosts will shout aloud:
Praise, eternal praise, be given.
To the Lord of earth and heaven!"

Amen and amen!

How glorious the thought of those "rising millions!" How truly delightful to be amongst them! How precious the hope of seeing that blessed One who loveth us and who gave Himself for us! Such is the hope of the Christian, a hope concerning which there is not a single line from cover to cover of the Old Testament. "The word of prophecy" is of all importance. We do well to take heed to it. It is an unspeakable mercy for those who find themselves in a dark place to have a bright lamp to cast its light athwart the gloom. But let the Christian bear in mind that what he wants is to have "the day star arising in his heart;" in other words, to have his whole heart governed by the hope of seeing Jesus as the bright and morning Star. When the heart is thus filled and ruled by the proper Christian hope, then the eye can intelligently scan the prophetic chart: it can take in the whole field of prophecy as our God has graciously opened it before us, and find interest and profit in every page and in every line. But, on the other hand, we may rest assured that the man who looks into prophecy in order to find the church or its hope there has his face turned the wrong way. He will find "the Jew" there, and "Gentile" there, but not "the church of God." We earnestly trust that not one of our readers will fail to lay hold of this fact—a fact, we may safely say, of the very deepest moment.

But it will perhaps be asked, "Of what use, then, is prophecy? If indeed it be true that we cannot find aught about the church on the prophetic page, of what possible use can it be to Christians? Why should we be told to take heed to it if it does not immediately concern us?" We reply, Is nothing of any value to us save what immediately concerns ourselves? Shall we take no interest in anything unless we ourselves form the immediate subject thereof? Is it nothing to us to have the counsels and purposes and plans of God laid open before us? Do we lightly esteem the high favor of having the thoughts of God communicated to us in His holy word of prophecy? Surely it was not thus that Abraham treated the divine communications made to him in Genesis xviii.: "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" And what was that thing? Did it immediately concern Abraham? Not at all. It concerned Sodom and the neighboring cities, and Abraham had no stake in them. But did that prevent his interest in the divine communication. Did it hinder his appreciation of the mark of special favor in his being made the honored and trusted depository of the thoughts of God? Surely not. We may safely assert that the faithful patriarch highly esteemed the privilege conferred upon him.

And so should we. We should study prophecy with all the interest arising from the fact that therein we have unfolded to us, with divine precision, what God is about to do on this earth with Israel and with the nations. Prophecy is God's history of the future; and just in proportion as we love Him shall we delight to study His history; not indeed, as some have said, that we may know its truth by its fulfilment, but that we may possess all that absolute, that divine certainty as to the future which God's word is capable of imparting. Nothing can be more absurd, in the judgment of faith, than to suppose that we must wait until the accomplishment of a prophecy to know that it is true. What an insult offered—unwittingly, no doubt—to the peerless revelation of our God.

But we must now turn, for a moment, to the solemn subject of "The Day of the Lord." This is a term of frequent occurrence in Old Testament Scriptures. We cannot attempt to quote all the passages; but we shall refer to one or two, and then the reader can follow up the subject for himself.

In Isaiah ii. we read, "For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.... And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols he shall utterly abolish. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth."

So also in Joel ii. "Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand. A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains; a great people and a strong; there has not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations; ... the earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble; the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining; ... for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?"

From these and similar passages, we learn that "the day of the Lord" stands associated with the deeply solemn thought of judgment upon the world—upon apostate Israel—upon man and his ways—upon all that which the human heart prizes and longs after. In short, the day of the Lord stands in striking contrast with man's day. Man has the upper hand now, the Lord will have the upper hand then.

Now, while it is perfectly true that all the Lord's people can rejoice in the prospect of that day, which, though it will open in judgment upon the world, shall, nevertheless, be marked by the universal reign of righteousness; yet we must remember that the peculiar hope of the Christian is not the day with its awful accompaniments of judgment, wrath, and terror; but the coming or presence of Jesus, with its precious accompaniments of peace and joy, love and glory. The church shall have met her Lord, and returned with Him to the Father's house, before that terrible day bursts upon the world. It will be her blissful portion to taste the ineffable communion of that heavenly home, for an indefinite period previous to the opening of the day of the Lord. Her eyes shall be gladdened by the sight of "the bright and morning Star," long before even "the Sun of righteousness" shall arise, in healing virtue, upon the pious portion of the nation of Israel—the God-fearing remnant of the seed of Abraham.

We are intensely anxious that the Christian reader should thoroughly enter into this grand and important distinction. We feel persuaded that it will have an immense effect upon all his thoughts and views and hopes of the future. It will enable him to see, without a single intervening cloud, his true prospect as a Christian. It will deliver him from all mist, vagueness, and confusion; and further, it will divest his mind of all that feeling of dread with which so many even of the Lord's dear people contemplate the future. It will teach him to look for the Saviour—the blessed Bridegroom—the everlasting Lover of his soul, and not for judgments and terror, eclipses and earthquakes, convulsions and revolutions, it will keep his spirit tranquil and happy, in the sure and certain hope of being with Jesus, ere that great and terrible day of the Lord come.

See how the faithful apostle labored to lead his dear Thessalonian converts into the clear understanding of the difference of "the coming" and "the day."

"But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they [not ye] shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day; we are not of the night, nor of darkness"—The Lord be praised!—"Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that are drunken, are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep [that is, are dead or alive] we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together and edify one another, even as also ye do" (1 Thessalonians v. 1-11).

Here we have the distinction set forth with unmistakable clearness. The Lord Himself shall come for us as the Bridegroom. The day of the Lord shall come upon the world as a thief. Is it possible for contrast to be more striking? How can any one confound these two things? They are as distinct as any two things can be. A bridegroom and a thief are surely two different things; and just as different are the coming of the Lord for His waiting people and the coming of His day upon a slumbering or intoxicated world.

Some perhaps may find a difficulty in the fact that the church in Sardis is addressed in such solemn words as these, "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee" (Rev. iii. 3). The difficulty will vanish when we reflect that, in the case of Sardis, the professing body is looked upon as having a mere name to live while dead. It has sunk to the level of the world, and can only see things from the world's standpoint. The church has failed utterly; it has fallen from its high and holy position; it is under judgment; it cannot therefore be cheered by the church's proper hope; but is threatened by the world's terrible doom. We do not see the church here as the body or bride of Christ, but as the responsible witness for God on the earth—the golden candlestick which ought to have held forth the divine light of testimony in this dark world, in the absence of her Lord. But alas! the professing church has sunk lower and become darker than even the world itself. Hence the solemn threatening. The exception confirms the rule.

We shall proceed with this subject as presented in 2 Thessalonians.

It is a fact full of the richest comfort and consolation to the heart of a true believer, that our God, in His marvellous grace, ever makes the eater to yield meat, and the strong, sweetness. He brings light out of darkness, life out of death, and causes the bright beams of His glory to shine amid the most disastrous ruin caused by the enemy's hand. The truth of this is illustrated on every page of the inspired volume, and it should fill our hearts with peace and our mouths with praise.

Hence it is that the varied doctrinal errors and practical evils, into which the early Christians were permitted to fall, have been overruled of God, and used for the instruction, guidance, and solid profit of the church to the close of her earthly history.

Thus, for example, the error of the Thessalonian Christians in reference to their departed brethren was made the occasion of pouring such a flood of divine light upon the Lord's coming, and upon the rapture of the saints, that it is impossible for any simple mind that bows to Scripture ever to fall into a similar mistake. They looked for the Lord to come, and in that they were right. They expected Him to set up His kingdom on the earth, and in that they were right, as to the broad fact.

But they made a great mistake in leaving out the heavenly side of this glorious hope. Their intelligence was defective—their faith lacking. They did not see the two parts—the double bearing of the advent of Christ—His descent into the air to receive His people to Himself, and His appearing in glory to set up His kingdom in manifested power. Hence they feared that their departed brethren would necessarily be absent from the sphere of blessing—the circle of glory. This mistake is divinely corrected, as we have seen, in the first epistle, chapter iv. The heavenly side of the hope—the Christian's proper portion—is placed before the heart as the true corrective for the error in reference to the sleeping saints. Christ will gather all (and not merely part of) His people to Himself; and if there is to be any advantage—a shade of difference in the matter—it will be on the side of those very people about whom they were mourning. "The dead in Christ shall rise first."

But from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians we learn that those dear young converts had been led into another grave error—an error, not as to the dead, but as to the living—a mistake, not respecting "the coming," but respecting "the day of the Lord." In the one case they feared that the dead would not participate in thy blissful triumph of "the coming;" and in the other case they feared that the living were actually, at the very moment, involved in the terrors of the day.

Such is the mistake with which the inspired apostle deals in his second letter to the Thessalonian believers; and nothing can exceed the tenderness and delicacy, and yet withal the wisdom and faithfulness of his dealing.

The Christians at Thessalonica were passing through intense persecution and tribulation; and it is very evident that the enemy, by means of false teachers, sought to upset their minds, by leading them to think that "the great and terrible day of the Lord" had actually arrived, and that the troubles through which they were passing were the accompaniments of that day. If this were so the entire teaching of the apostle was proved false; for if there was one truth that shone forth more brightly and prominently in his teaching than another, it was the association and identification of believers with Christ—an association so intimate, an identification so close, that it was impossible for Christ to appear in glory without His people. "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." But He must appear in order to introduce "the day."

Furthermore, when the day of the Lord does actually arrive it will not be to trouble His people, but, on the contrary, to trouble their persecutors. Of this the apostle reminds them, in the most simple, forcible manner, in his very opening lines: "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth, so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God [Gentiles], and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ [Jews]" (chapter i. 3-8).

Thus, not only was the Christian position involved in this matter, but the very glory of God—His actual righteousness. If, indeed, the day of the Lord brought tribulation to Christians, then was there no truth in the doctrine—the grand prominent doctrine of Paul's teaching—that Christ and His people are one; and moreover it would impugn the righteousness of God. In short, then, if Christians were in tribulation, it was morally impossible that the day of the Lord could have set in, for when that day comes, it will be rest for believers, as their public recompense, in the kingdom—not merely in the Father's house; which is not the point here. The tables will be completely turned. The church will be in rest, the church's troublers in tribulation. During man's day, the church is called to tribulation; but in the day of the Lord all will be reversed.

Let the reader note this carefully. It is not the question of Christians suffering tribulation. They are actually called to it in this world, so long as wickedness has the upper hand. Christ suffered, and so must they. But the point we want to fasten upon the mind and heart of the Christian is, that when Christ comes to set up His kingdom, it is utterly impossible that His people can be in trouble. Thus the entire teaching of the enemy, by which he sought to upset the Thessalonian believers, was proved to be utterly fallacious. The apostle sweeps away the very foundation of the whole fabric by the simple statement of the precious truth of God. This is the divine way of delivering people from false notions and vain fears. Give them the truth, and error must flee before it. Let in the sunshine of God's eternal word, and all the mists and clouds of false doctrine must be rolled away.

But let us, for a moment, examine the further teaching of our apostle, in this remarkable writing. In so doing, we shall see how thoroughly he establishes the distinction between "the coming" and "the day"—a distinction which the reader will do well to ponder.

"Now we beseech you, brethren, by [or on the ground of] the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter, as from us, as that the day of the Lord is present."[26]

Now, apart altogether from the question of various readings, a moment's reflection will suffice to show the simple minded Christian that the apostle could not possibly mean to teach the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord was not, even then, at hand. Scripture can never contradict itself. No one sentence of divine revelation can possibly collide with another. But if the reading given in our excellent Authorized Version were correct, it would stand in direct opposition to Romans xiii. 12, where we are plainly and expressly told that "the day is at hand." What "day?" The day of the Lord, most surely, which is always the term used in connection with our individual responsibility in walk and service.

This, we may remark in passing, is a point of much interest and practical value. If the reader will take the trouble to examine the various passages in which "the day" is spoken of, he will find that they have reference, more or less, to the question of work, service or responsibility. For instance, "That ye may be blameless [not at the coming, but] in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. i. 8). Again, "Every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it" (1 Cor. iii. 13). "Without offence till the day of Christ" (Phil. i. 10). "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day" (2 Timothy iv. 8).

From all these passages, and many more which might be adduced, we learn that "the day of the Lord" will be the grand time for reckoning with the workers; for the divine appraisal of service; for the settling of all questions of personal responsibility; for the distribution of rewards—the "ten cities" and the "five cities."

Thus, wherever we turn, in whatever way we look at the subject, we are more and more confirmed in the truth of the clear distinction between our Lord's "coming," or "state of presence," and His "appearing," or "day." The former is ever held up before the heart as the bright and blessed hope of the believer, which may be realized at any moment. The latter is pressed rather upon the conscience, in deep solemnity, as bearing upon the entire practical career of those who are set in this world to work and witness for an absent Lord. Scripture never confounds these things, however much we may do it; nor is there a single sentence from cover to cover of the holy volume which teaches that believers are not always to be looking out for the coming of the Lord, and eager to bear in mind that "the day is at hand." It is only "that evil servant"—referred to in our Lord's discourse in Matthew xxiv.—that "says in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming;" and there we see the terrible results which must ever flow from the harboring of such a thought in the heart.

We shall now return for a moment to 2 Thessalonians ii.—a passage of Scripture which has given rise to much discussion amongst prophetic expositors, and presented considerable difficulty to the students of prophecy.

It is very evident that the false teachers had been seeking to disturb the minds of the Thessalonians by leading them to think that they were, even then, surrounded by the terrors of the day of the Lord. Not so, says the apostle; that cannot be. Before ever that day opens we must all be gathered to meet the Lord in the air. He beseeches them, on the ground (υπερ) of the Lord's coming and our gathering together unto Him, not to be troubled about the day. He had already opened to them the heavenly side of the Lord's coming. He had taught them that they, as Christians, belonged to the day; that their home and their portion and their hope were all in that very region from which the day was to shine out. It was wholly impossible, therefore, that the day of the Lord could involve any terror or trouble to those who were actually, through grace, the sons of the day.

But, further, even in looking at the subject from the earthly side of it, the false teachers were all wrong. "Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come] except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not that when I was with you I told you these things. And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming [or the appearing of his presence]. Even him whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (verses 3-10).

Here, then, we are taught that ere the day of the Lord arrives, the lawless one, the man of sin, the son of perdition, must be revealed. The mystery of iniquity must rise to a head. Man shall set himself up in open opposition to God, nay, shall even assume to himself the name and the worship of God. All this has to be developed on the earth before that great and terrible day of the Lord shall burst in judgment upon the scene. For the present there is a barrier, a hindrance to the manifestation of this awful personage. We are not told here what this barrier or hindrance is. God may vary it at different times.[27] But we learn, most distinctly, from the book of Revelation that ere the mystery of iniquity culminates in the person of the man of sin, the church shall have been removed from this scene altogether. It is impossible to read, with an enlightened eye, Revelation iv., v. and not see that the church shall be in the very innermost circle of heavenly glory ere a single seal is opened, a single trumpet sounded, a single vial poured out. We do not believe that any one can understand the book of the Apocalypse who does not see this.

We may have occasion to go more freely into this profoundly interesting point by-and-by. We can only now entreat the reader to study the subject for himself. Let him ponder Revelation iv., v., and ask God to interpret their precious contents to his soul. In this way we feel persuaded that he will learn that the twenty-four crowned elders set forth the heavenly saints, who shall be gathered round the Lamb, in glory, before a single line of the prophetic portion of the book is fulfilled.

And here we must close this paper; but ere doing so we should like to put a very plain question to the reader—a question which can only be answered rightly in the immediate presence of God. It is this, What is it thou art looking for? What is thy hope? Art thou looking forward to certain events which are to transpire on this earth, such as the revival of the Roman empire, the development of the ten kingdoms; the gathering back of the Jews to their own land of Palestine; the rebuilding of Jerusalem; the appearance of Antichrist; the great tribulation; and finally, the appalling judgments which shall, most surely, usher in the day of the Lord?

Say, beloved friend, are these the things which fill the vision of thy soul? Is it for these thou art looking and waiting? If so, be assured of it thou art not governed by the church's proper hope. It is quite true that all these things which we have named shall come to pass in their appointed time; but not one of them should be allowed to come between thee and thy proper hope. They all stand on the prophetic page: they are all recorded in God's history of the future; but they were never intended to cast a shadow athwart the Christian's bright and blessed hope. That hope stands forth in glorious relief from the background of prophecy. What is it? Yes, we again say, what is it? It is the appearing of the bright and morning Star—the coming of the Lord Jesus, the blessed Bridegroom of the church.

This, and naught else, is the true and proper hope of the church of God. "I will give him the morning star" (Rev. ii. 23). "Behold the bridegroom cometh" (Matt. xxv.). When, we may ask, does the morning star appear in the natural world? Just before the dawning of the day. Who sees it? The one who has been watching during the dark and dreary hours of the night. How plain, how practical, how telling the application? The church is supposed to be watching—to be lovingly wakeful—to be looking out—to be putting forth that inquiry of the intensely longing heart, "Why tarry the wheels of his chariot?" Alas! the church has failed in this. But that is no reason why the individual believer should not be in the full present power of the blessed hope. "Let him that heareth say, Come." This is deeply personal. Oh! that the writer and the reader of these lines may realize habitually the purifying, sanctifying, elevating power of this heavenly hope! May we understand and exhibit the practical power of those words of the apostle John, "Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure."

 

THE TWO RESURRECTIONS

It may be that some of our readers will feel startled by the title of this paper. Accustomed, from their earliest days, to look at this great question through the medium of Christendom's standards of doctrine and confessions of faith, the idea of two resurrections has never once entered their minds. Nevertheless Scripture does speak, in the most distinct and unequivocal terms, of a "resurrection of life," and a "resurrection of judgment"—two resurrections, distinct in character, and distinct in time.

And not only so, but it informs us that there will be at least a thousand years between the two. If men teach otherwise—if they build up systems of divinity, and set forth creeds and confessions of faith contrary to the direct and positive teaching of holy Scripture, they must settle that with their Lord, as must all who commit themselves to their guidance. But remember, reader, it is your bounden duty and ours to hearken only to the authority of the word of God, and to bow down, in unqualified submission, to its holy teaching.

Let us, then, reverently inquire, what saith the Scripture on the subject indicated at the head of this article? May God the Spirit guide and instruct!

We shall first quote that remarkable passage in chapter v. of John's Gospel: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment."[28]

Here, then, we have, indicated in the most unmistakable terms, the two resurrections. True, they are not distinguished as to time, in this passage; but they are as to character. We have a life resurrection; and a judgment resurrection, and nothing can be more distinct than these. There is no possible ground here on which to build the theory of a promiscuous resurrection. The resurrection of believers will be eclectic; it will be on the same principle, and partake of the same character as the resurrection of our blessed and adorable Lord; it will be a resurrection from among the dead. It will be an act of divine power, founded upon accomplished redemption, whereby God will interpose on behalf of His sleeping saints, and raise them up from among the dead, leaving the rest of the dead in their graves for a thousand years (Revelation xx. 5).

There is an interesting passage in Mark ix. which throws great light on this subject. The opening verses contain the record of the transfiguration; and then we read, "As they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from [εκ, from among] the dead should mean."

The disciples felt that there was something special, something entirely beyond the ordinary orthodox idea of the resurrection of the dead, and verily so there was, though they understood it not then. It lay beyond their range of vision at that moment.

But let us turn to Philippians iii., and hearken to the breathings of one who thoroughly entered into and appreciated this grand Christian doctrine, and fondly cherished this glorious and heavenly hope. "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death: if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection from among the dead" [εξαναστασιν] (verses 10, 11).

A moment's just reflection will suffice to convince the reader that the apostle is not speaking here of the great broad truth of "the resurrection of the dead," inasmuch as every one must rise again. But there was something specific before the heart of this dear servant of Christ, namely, "a resurrection from among the dead"—an eclectic resurrection—a resurrection formed on the model of Christ's resurrection. It was for this he longed continually. This was the bright and blessed hope that shone upon his soul and cheered him amid the sorrows and trials, the toils and the difficulties, the buffetings and the conflicts of his extraordinary career.

But, it may be asked, "Does the apostle always use this distinguishing little word (εκ) when speaking of resurrection?" Not always. Turn, for example, to Acts xxiv. 15: "And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." Here, there is no word to indicate the Christian or heavenly side of the subject, for the simplest possible reason that the apostle was speaking to those who were utterly incapable of entering into the Christian's proper hope—far more incapable than even the disciples in Mark ix. How could he possibly unbosom himself in the presence of such men as Tertullus, Ananias, and Felix? How could he speak to them of his own specific and fondly cherished hope? No; he could only take his stand on the great broad truth of resurrection, common to all orthodox Jews. Had he spoken of a "resurrection from among the dead," he could not have added the words, "which they themselves also allow," for they did not "allow" anything of the kind.

But oh! what a contrast between this precious servant of Christ, defending himself from his accusers, in Acts xxiv., and unbosoming himself to his beloved brethren, in Philippians iii.! To the latter he can speak of the true Christian hope in the full-orbed light which the glory of Christ pours upon it. He can give utterance to the inmost thoughts, feelings, and aspirations of that great, large, loving heart, with its earnest throbbings after the life-resurrection in the which he shall be satisfied as he wakes up in the likeness of his blessed Lord.

But we must return, for a moment, to our first quotation, from John v. It may perhaps present a difficulty to some of our readers in laying hold of the truth of the Christian's hope of resurrection, that our Lord makes use of the word "hour" in speaking of the two classes. "How," it is argued, "can there be a thousand years between the two resurrections, when our Lord expressly tells us that all shall occur within the limits of an hour?"

To this question we have a double reply. In the first place, we find our Lord making use of the self-same word, "hour," at verse 25, where He is speaking of the great and glorious work of quickening dead souls. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live."

Now, here we have a work which has been going on for nearly nineteen long centuries. During all that time, here spoken of as an "hour," the voice of Jesus, the Son of God, has been heard calling precious souls from death to life. If, therefore, in the very same discourse, our Lord used the word "hour" when speaking of a period which has already extended to well-nigh two thousand years, what difficulty can there be in applying the word to a period of one thousand years?

Surely, none whatever, as we judge. But even if any little difficulty yet remained it must be thoroughly met by the direct testimony of the Holy Ghost in Revelation xx., where we read, "But the rest of the dead lived not again till the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God, and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (verses 5, 6).

This settles the question absolutely and forever, for all those who are willing to be taught exclusively by holy Scripture, as every true Christian ought to be. There will be two resurrections, the first and the second: and there will be a thousand years between the two. To the former belong all the Old Testament saints—referred to in Hebrews xii. under the title of the spirits of just men made perfect—then the church of the firstborn ones—and finally all those who shall be put to death during "the great tribulation," and throughout the entire period between the rapture of the saints and the appearing of Christ in judgment upon the beast and his armies, in Revelation xix.

To the latter, on the other hand, belong all those who shall have died in their sins, from the days of Cain, in Genesis iv., down to the last apostate from millennial glory, in Revelation xx.

How solemn is all this! How real! How soul-subduing! If our Lord were to come to-night what a scene would be enacted in all our cemeteries and graveyards! What tongue, what pen can portray—what heart can conceive—the grand realities of such a moment? There are thousands of tombs in which lie mingled the ashes of the dead in Christ and the ashes of the dead out of Christ. In many a family vault may be found the ashes of both. Well, then, when the voice of the archangel is heard all the sleeping saints shall rise from their graves, leaving behind them those who have died in their sins, to remain in the darkness and silence of the tomb for a thousand years.

Yes, reader, such is the direct and simple testimony of the word of God. True, it does not enter into any curious details. It does not furnish any food for a morbid imagination or idle curiosity. But it sets forth the solemn and weighty fact of a first and second resurrection—a resurrection of life and everlasting glory, and a resurrection of judgment and everlasting misery. There is, positively, no such thing in Scripture as a promiscuous resurrection—a common rising of all at the same time. We must abandon this idea altogether, like many others which we have received to hold, in which we have been trained from our earliest days, which have grown with our growth and strengthened with our strength, until they have become actually ingrained as a part of our very mental, moral, and religious constitution, so that to part with them is like the sundering of limb from limb, or rending the flesh from our bones.

Nevertheless it must be done if we really desire to grow in the knowledge of divine revelation. There is no greater hindrance to our getting into the thoughts of God than having our minds filled with our own thoughts, or the thoughts of men. Thus, for example, in reference to the subject of this paper, almost all of us have, at one time, held the opinion that all will rise together, both believers and unbelievers, and all stand together to be judged. Whereas, when we come to Scripture, like a little child, nothing can be simpler, nothing clearer, nothing more explicit than its teaching as to this question. Revelation xx. 5 teaches us that there will be an interval of a thousand years between the resurrection of the saints and the resurrection of the wicked.

It is of no use to speak of a resurrection of spirits. Indeed it is a manifest piece of absurdity; for inasmuch as spirits cannot die they cannot be raised from the dead. Equally absurd is it to speak of a resurrection of principles. There is no such thing in Scripture. The language is as plain as plainness itself. "The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." Why should any one seek to set aside the plain force of such a passage? Why not bow to it? Why not get rid, at once, of all our old and fondly cherished notions, and receive with meekness the engrafted word?

Reader, does it not seem plain to thee that if Scripture speaks of a first resurrection, then it must follow that all will not rise together? Why should it be said, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection," if all are to rise at the same time?

In fact it seems to us impossible for any unprejudiced mind to study the New Testament and yet hold to the theory of a promiscuous resurrection. It is due to the glory of Christ, the Head, that His members should have a specific resurrection—a resurrection like His own—a resurrection from among the dead. And verily, so they shall. "Behold I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O, death, where is thy sting? O, grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians xv.).

 

THE JUDGMENT

There is something peculiarly painful in the thought of having so frequently to come in collision with the generally received opinions of the professing church. It looks presumptuous to contradict, on so many subjects, all the great standards and creeds of Christendom. But what is one to do? Were it indeed a mere question of human opinion it might seem a piece of bold and unwarrantable temerity for any one individual to set himself in direct opposition to the established faith of the whole professing church—a faith which has held sway for centuries over the minds of millions.

But we would ever impress upon our readers the fact that it is not at all a question of human opinion or of a difference of judgment amongst even the very best of men. It is entirely a question as to the teaching and authority of holy Scripture. There have been, and there are, and there will be, schools of doctrine, varieties of opinion, and shades of thought; but it is the obvious duty of every child of God and every servant of Christ to bow down in holy reverence, and hearken to the voice of God in Scripture. If it be merely a matter of human authority, it must simply go for what it is worth; but, on the other hand, if it be a matter of divine authority, then all discussion is closed, and our place—the place of all—is to bow and believe.

Thus, in our last paper we were led to see that there is no such thing in Scripture as a general resurrection—a common rising of all at the same time. We trust our readers have, like the Bereans of old, searched the Scriptures as to this, and that they are now prepared to accompany us in our examination of the word of God as to the subject of the judgment.

The great question at the outset is this, Does Scripture teach the doctrine of a general judgment? Christendom holds it; but does Scripture teach it? Let us see.

In the first place, as to the Christian individually, and the church of God, collectively, the New Testament sets forth the precious truth that there is no judgment at all. So far as the believer is concerned judgment is past and gone. The heavy cloud of judgment has burst upon the head of our divine Sin-bearer. He has exhausted, on our behalf, the cup of wrath and judgment, and planted us on the new ground of resurrection, to which judgment can never, by any possibility, apply. It is just as impossible that a member of the body of Christ can come into judgment as that the divine Head Himself can do so. This seems a very strong statement to make; but is it true? If so, its strength is part of its moral value and glory.

For what, let us ask, was Jesus judged on the cross? For His people. He was made sin for us. He represented us there. He stood in our stead. He bore all that was due to us. Our entire condition, with all its belongings, was dealt with in the death of Christ; and so dealt with that it is utterly impossible that any question can ever be raised. Has God any question to settle with Christ, the Head? Clearly not. Well, then, neither has He any question to settle with the members. Every question is divinely and definitively settled, and, in proof of the settlement, the Head is crowned with glory and honor, and seated at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens.

Hence, to suppose that Christians are to come to judgment, at any time, or on any ground, or for any object whatsoever, is to deny the very foundation truth of Christianity, and to contradict the plain words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has expressly declared, in reference to all who believe in Him, that they "shall not come into judgment" (John v. 24).

In point of fact, the idea of Christians being arraigned at the bar of judgment to try the question of their title and fitness for heaven is as absurd as it is unscriptural. For example, how can we think of Paul or the penitent thief standing to be judged as to their title to heaven after having been there already for nearly two thousand years? But thus it must be if there be any truth in the theory of a general judgment. If the great question of our title to heaven has to be settled at the day of judgment, then clearly it was not settled on the cross; and if it was not settled on the cross, then most surely we shall be damned; for if we are to be judged at all it must be according to our works, and the only possible issue of such a judgment is the lake of fire.

If, however, it be maintained that Christians shall only stand in the judgment in order to make it manifest that they are clear through the death of Christ, then would the day of judgment be turned into a mere formality, the bare thought of which is most revolting to every pious and well regulated mind.

But, in truth, there is no need of reasoning on the point. One sentence of holy Scripture is better far than ten thousand of man's most cogent arguments. Our Lord Christ hath declared, in the clearest and most emphatic terms, that believers "shall not come into judgment." This is enough. The believer was judged over eighteen hundred years ago in the Person of his Head; and to bring him into judgment again would be to ignore completely the cross of Christ in its atoning efficacy; and most assuredly God will not, cannot allow this. The very feeblest believer may say, in thankfulness and triumph, "So far as I am concerned, all that had to be judged is judged already. Every question that had to be settled is settled. Judgment is past and gone forever. I know my work must be tried, my service appraised; but as to myself, my person, my standing, my title, all is divinely settled. The Man who answered for me on the tree is now crowned on the throne; and the crown which He wears is the proof that there remains no judgment for me. I am waiting for a life resurrection."

This, and nothing short of this, is the proper language of the Christian. It is simply due to the work of the cross that the believer should thus feel and thus express himself. For such a one to be looking forward to the day of judgment for a settlement of the question of his eternal destiny is to dishonor his Lord and deny the efficacy of His atoning sacrifice. It may sound like humility and savor of piety to hover in doubt. But we may rest assured that all who harbor doubts, all who live in a state of uncertainty, all who are looking forward to the day of judgment for a final settlement of their affairs, all such are more occupied with themselves than with Christ. They have not yet understood the application of the cross to their sins and to their nature. They are doubting the word of God and the work of Christ, and this is not Christianity. There is—there can be—no judgment for those who, sheltered by the cross, have planted a firm foot on the new and everlasting ground of resurrection. For such all judgment is over forever, and nothing remains but a prospect of cloudless glory and everlasting blessedness in the presence of God and of the Lamb.

However, it is not at all improbable that all this while the mind of the reader has been recurring to Matthew xxv. 31-46 as a Scripture which directly establishes the theory of a general judgment; and we feel it to be our sacred duty to turn with him for a moment to that very solemn and important passage; at the same time reminding him of the fact that no one Scripture can possibly clash with another, and hence if we read, in John v. 24, that believers shall not come into judgment, we cannot read in Matthew xxv. that they shall. This is a fixed and invulnerable principle—a general rule to which there is, and can be, no exception. Nevertheless, let us turn to Matthew xxv.

"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats."

Now, it is most necessary to pay strict attention to the precise terms made use of in this Scripture. We must avoid all looseness of thought, all that haste, carelessness, and inaccuracy which have caused such serious damage to the teaching of this weighty Scripture, and thrown so many of the Lord's people into the utmost confusion respecting it.

And, first of all, let us see who are the parties arraigned. "Before him shall be gathered all nations." This is very definite. It is the living nations. It is not a question of individuals, but of nations—all the Gentiles. Israel is not here, for we read in Numbers xxiii. 9, that "the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations." If Israel were to be included in this scene of judgment, then would Matthew xxv. stand in palpable contradiction to Numbers xxiii., which is wholly out of the question. Israel is never reckoned amongst the Gentiles, on any ground or for any object whatever. Looked at from a divine point of view, Israel stands alone. They may, because of their sins, and under the governmental dealings of God, be scattered among the nations; but God's word declares that they shall not be reckoned among them; and this should suffice for us.

If then it be true that Israel is not included in the judgment of Matthew xxv. then, without proceeding one step further, the idea of its being a general judgment must be abandoned. It cannot be general, if all are not included; but Israel is never included under the term "Gentiles." Scripture speaks of three distinct classes, namely, "The Jew, and the Gentile, and the church of God," and these three are never confounded. But, further, we have to remark that the church of God is not included in the judgment of Matthew xxv. Nor is this statement based merely upon the fact which has been already gone into of the church's necessary exemption from judgment; but also upon the grand truth that the church is taken from among the nations, as Peter declared in the council at Jerusalem. "God did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name." If then the church be taken out of the nations, it cannot be reckoned among them; and thus we have additional evidence against the theory of a general judgment in Matthew xxv. The Jew is not there; the church is not there; and therefore the idea of a general judgment must be abandoned as something wholly untenable.

Who then are included in this judgment? The passage itself supplies the answer to any simple mind. It says, "Before him shall be gathered all nations." This is distinct and definite. It is not a judgment of individuals, but of nations, as such. And further, we may add that not one of those here indicated shall have passed through the article of death. In this it stands in vivid contrast with the scene in Revelation xx. 11-15, in the which there will not be one who has not died. In short, in Matthew xxv., we have the judgment of "the quick;" and in Revelation xx. the judgment of "the dead." Both these are referred to in 2 Timothy iv., "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom." Our Lord Christ shall judge the living nations at His appearing; and He shall "judge the dead, small and great," at the close of His millennial reign.

But let us glance, for a moment, at the mode in which the parties are arranged in the judgment, in Matthew xxv.: "He shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left." Now, the almost universal belief of the professing church is that "the sheep" represent all the people of God, from the beginning to the end of time; and that "the goats," on the other hand, set forth all the wicked, from first to last. But, if this be so, what are we to make of the third party referred to here, under the title of "these my brethren?" The King addresses both the sheep and the goats in respect to this third class. Indeed the very ground of judgment is the treatment of the King's brethren. It would involve a manifest absurdity to say that the sheep were themselves the parties referred to. If that were so the language would be wholly different, and in place of saying, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren" we should hear the King saying, "Inasmuch as ye have done it to one another," or, "amongst yourselves."

We would beg the reader's special attention to this point. We consider that were there no other argument and no other Scripture on the subject, this one point would prove fatal to the theory of a general judgment. It is impossible not to see three parties in the scene, namely, "the sheep," and "the goats," and "these my brethren;" and if there are three parties it cannot possibly be a general judgment, inasmuch as "these my brethren" are not included either in the sheep or the goats.

No, dear reader, it is not a general judgment at all, but a very partial and specific one. It is a judgment of living nations, previous to the opening of the millennial kingdom. Scripture teaches us that after the church has left the earth a testimony will go forth to the nations; the gospel of the kingdom shall be borne, by Jewish messengers, far and wide, over the earth, into those regions which are wrapped in heathen darkness. These nations which shall receive the messengers and treat them kindly will be found on the King's right hand. Those, on the contrary, who shall reject them and treat them unkindly will be found on His left. "These my brethren" are Jews—the brethren of the Messiah.

The treatment of the Jews is the ground on which the nations will be judged by-and-by; and this is another argument against a general judgment. We know full well that all those who have lived and died in the rejection of the gospel of Christ will have something more to answer for than unkindness to the King's brethren. And, on the other hand, those who shall surround the Lamb in heavenly glory will do so on a very different title from aught that their works can furnish.

In short, there is not a single feature in the scene, not a single fact in the history, not a single point in the narrative which does not make against the notion of a general judgment. And not only so, but the more we study Scripture, the more we know of the ways of God; the more we know of His nature, His character, His purposes, His counsels, His thoughts; the more we know of Christ, His person, His work, His glory; the more we know of the church, its standing before God in Christ, its completeness, its perfect acceptance in Christ; the more closely we study Scripture; the more profoundly we meditate therein—the more thoroughly convinced we must be that there can be no such thing as a general judgment.

Who that knows aught of God could suppose that He would justify His people to-day and arraign them in judgment to-morrow—that He would blot out their transgressions to-day and judge them according to their works to-morrow? Who that knows aught of our adorable Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ could suppose that He would ever arraign His church, His body, His bride, before the judgment seat in company with all those who have died in their sins? Could it be possible that He would enter into judgment with His people for sins and iniquities of which He has said, "I will remember no more!"

But enough. We fondly trust that the reader is now most fully persuaded in his own mind that there is, and can be, no such thing as a promiscuous resurrection—no such thing as a general judgment.

We cannot now enter upon the judgment in Rev. xx. 11-15 further than to say that it is a post-millennial scene, and that it includes all the wicked dead, from the days of Cain down to the last apostate from millennial glory. There will not be one there who has not passed through the article of death—not one there whose name has been set down in life's fair book—not one there who shall not be judged according to his own very deeds—not one there who shall not pass from the dread realities of the great white throne into the everlasting horrors and ineffable torments of the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. How awful! How terrible! How perfectly dreadful!

O! reader, what sayest thou to these things? Art thou a true believer in Jesus? Art thou washed in His precious blood? Art thou sheltered in Him from coming judgment? If not, let me entreat thee now, with all tenderness and earnestness, to flee, this very hour, from the wrath to come! Flee to Jesus, who now waits to receive thee to His loving bosom, and to present you to God in the full value of His atoning work, and in the full credit of His peerless name.

 

THE JEWISH REMNANT

We must ask the reader to open his Bible and read Matt. xxiv. 1-44. It forms a part of one of the most profound and comprehensive discourses that ever fell on human ears—a discourse which takes in, in its marvellous sweep, the destiny of the Jewish remnant; the history of Christendom; and the judgment of the nations. At the last-named subject we have already glanced. It remains for us now to consider the subject of the remnant of Israel, and the history of professing Christianity, whether genuine or spurious.

And, first, let us look at the Jewish remnant.

In order to understand Matt. xxiv. 1-44, it will be needful for us to place ourselves at the standpoint of those whom our Lord was addressing at the moment. If we attempt to import into this discourse the light which shines in the Epistle to the Ephesians, we shall only involve our minds in confusion, and miss the solemn teaching of the passage which now lies open before us. We shall find nothing about the church of God, the body of Christ, here. The teaching of our Lord is divinely perfect, and hence we cannot, for a moment, imagine anything premature therein. But it would be premature to have introduced a subject which, as yet, was hid in God. The great truth of the church could not be unfolded until Christ, being cut off as the Messiah, had taken His place at the right hand of God, and sent down the Holy Ghost, to form by His presence the one body, composed of Jew and Gentile.

Of this we hear nothing in Matt. xxiv. We are entirely on Jewish ground, surrounded by Jewish circumstances and influences. The scenery and the allusions are all purely Jewish. To attempt to apply the passage to the church would be to miss completely our Lord's object, and to falsify the real position of the church of God. The more closely we examine the Scripture, the more clearly we shall see that the persons addressed occupy a Jewish standpoint, and are on Jewish ground, whether we think of those very persons whom our Lord was then addressing, or those who shall occupy the self-same ground at the close, when the church shall have left the scene altogether.

Let us examine the passage.

At the close of Matt, xxiii., our Lord sums up His appeal to the leaders of the Jewish nation with the following words of awful solemnity: "Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers! how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city. That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zecharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (verses 32-39).

Thus closes Messiah's testimony to the apostate nation of Israel. Every effort that love, even divine love, could put forth had been tried, and tried in vain. Prophets had been sent, and stoned; messenger after messenger had gone and pleaded, and reasoned, and warned, and entreated; but to no purpose. Their mighty words had fallen upon deaf ears and hardened hearts. The only return made to all these messengers was shameful handling, stoning, and death.

At length, the Son Himself was sent, and sent with this touching utterance: "It may be they will reverence my Son, when they see him." Did they? Alas! no. When they saw Him, there was no beauty that they should desire Him. The daughter of Zion had no heart for her King. The vineyard was under the control of wicked husbandmen who wanted to keep it for themselves. "The husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir, come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours."

Thus much as to the moral condition of Israel, in view of which our Lord spoke those unusually awful words quoted above; and, then, "He went out and departed from the temple." How reluctant he was to do this we know; for, blessed be His name, whenever He leaves a place of mercy, or enters a place of judgment, He moves with a slow and measured pace. Witness the departure of the glory, in the opening chapters of Ezekiel. "Then the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubims. And the cherubims lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight; when they went out, the wheels also were beside them, and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord's house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above" (chap. x. 18, 19). "Then did the cherubims lift up their wings, and the wheels beside them; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city" (chap. xi. 22, 23).

Thus, with slow and measured pace, did the glory of the God of Israel take its departure from the house at Jerusalem. Jehovah lingered near the spot, reluctant to depart.[29] He had come, with loving alacrity, with His whole heart and with His whole soul, to dwell in the midst of His people, to find a home in the very bosom of His assembly; but He was forced away by their sins and iniquities. He would fain have remained; but it was impossible; and yet He proved, by the very mode of His departure, how unwilling He was to go.

Nor was it otherwise with Jehovah Messiah, in Matt. xxiii. Witness His touching words, "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" Here lay the deep secret. "I would." This was the heart of God. "Ye would not." This was the heart of Israel. He, too, like the glory in the days of Ezekiel, was forced away; but not, blessed be His name, without dropping a word which forms the precious basis of hope as to the brighter days to come, when the glory shall return, and the daughter of Zion shall welcome her King with joyful accents. "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of Jehovah."

But, until that bright day dawn, darkness, desolation, and ruin, make up the sum of Israel's history. The very thing which the leaders sought, by the rejection of Christ, to avert, came upon them, in stern and awful reality. "The Romans shall come, and take away both our place and nation" How literally, how solemnly this was fulfilled! Alas! their place and their nation were gone already, and the significant movement of Jesus, in Matt. xxiv. 1, was but the passing sentence, and writing desolation upon the whole Jewish system. "Jesus went out and departed from the temple." The case was hopeless. All must be given up. A long period of darkness and dreariness must pass over the infatuated nation—a period which shall culminate in that "great tribulation" which must precede the hour of final deliverance.

But, as in the days of Ezekiel, there were those who sighed and cried over the sins and sorrows of the nation, so in the days of Matt. xxiv. there was a remnant of godly souls who attached themselves to the rejected Messiah, and who cherished the fond hope of redemption and restoration for Israel. Very dim indeed were their perceptions, and their thoughts full of confusion. Nevertheless their hearts, as touched by divine grace, beat true to the Messiah, and they were full of hope as to Israel's future.

Now, it is of the utmost importance that the reader should recognize and understand the position of this remnant, and that it is with it our Lord is occupied in His marvellous discourse on the mount of Olives. To suppose for a moment that the persons here addressed were on Christian ground would involve the abandonment of all true thoughts of what Christianity is, and the ignoring of a company whose existence is recognized throughout the Psalms, the Prophets, and various parts of the New Testament. There was, and there always is, "a remnant according to the election of grace." To quote the passages which present the history, the sorrows, the experiences, and the exercises of that remnant would demand a volume, and hence we shall not attempt it; but we are extremely desirous that the reader should seize the thought that this godly remnant is represented by the handful of disciples which gathered round our Lord on the mount of Olives. We feel persuaded that if this be not seen, the true scope, bearing, and application of this remarkable discourse must be lost.

"And Jesus went out and departed from the temple; and his disciples came to him for to show him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you there shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world" (or age, αιωνος)?

The disciples were, naturally, occupied with earthly and Jewish objects and expectations—the temple and its surroundings. This must be borne in mind if we would understand their question and our Lord's reply. As yet they had no thought beyond the earthly side of things. They looked for the setting up of the kingdom, the glory of the Messiah, the accomplishment of the promises made to the fathers. They had not yet fully taken in the solemn and momentous fact that the Messiah was to be "cut off and have nothing" (Dan. ix. 26). True, the blessed Master had, from time to time, sought to prepare their minds for that solemn event. He had faithfully warned them in reference to the dark shadows that were to gather round His path. He had told them that the Son of Man should be delivered to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified.

But they understood Him not. Such sayings seemed dark, hard, and incomprehensible; and their hearts still fondly clung to the hope of national restoration and blessing. They longed to see the star of Jacob in the ascendant. Their minds were full of expectancy as to the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. As yet they knew nothing—how could they?—of that which was to spring out of the rejection and death of the Messiah. The Lord had no doubt spoken of building an assembly; but as to the position and privileges of that assembly, its calling, its standing, its hopes, they knew absolutely nothing. The thought of a body composed of Jew and Gentile, united by the Holy Ghost to a living and glorified Head in the heavens, had never entered—how could it have entered?—their minds. The middle wall of partition was still standing; and one of their number—the very foremost amongst them—had, long after, to be taught, with much difficulty, to take in the idea of even admitting the Gentiles into the kingdom.

All this, we repeat, must be taken into account, if we would read aright our Lord's reply to the inquiry as to His coming and the end of the age. There is not a single syllable about the church, as such, from beginning to end of that reply. Up to verse 14, He passes on to the end, giving a rapid survey of the events which should transpire amongst the nations. "Take heed," He says, "that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: and then shall the end come."

Here then we have a most comprehensive sketch of the entire period from the moment in which our Lord was speaking, down to the time of the end. But the reader will need to bear in mind that there is an unnoticed interval—a parenthesis, a break—in this period, during which the great mystery of the church is unfolded.

This interval or break is entirely passed over in this discourse, inasmuch as the time had not arrived for its development. It was as yet "hid in God," and could not be unfolded until the Messiah was finally rejected and cut off from the earth and received up into glory. The entire of this discourse would have its full and perfect accomplishment, although such a thing as the church had never been heard of. For, let it never be forgotten, the church forms no part of the ways of God with Israel and the earth. And as to the allusion, in verse 14, to the preaching of the gospel, we are not to suppose that it is at all the same thing as "The glorious gospel of the grace of God," as preached by Paul. It is styled, "This gospel of the kingdom;" and, moreover, it is to be preached, not for the purpose of gathering the church, but "as a witness to all nations." We must not confound things which God, in His infinite wisdom, has made to differ. The church must not be confounded with the kingdom: nor yet the gospel of the grace of God with the gospel of the kingdom. The two things are perfectly distinct; and, if we confound them, we shall understand neither the one nor the other. And, further, we would desire to press upon the reader the absolute necessity of seeing the break, parenthesis, or unnoticed interval in which the great mystery of the church is inserted. If this be not clearly seen, Matt. xxiv. cannot be understood.

But we must proceed with our Lord's discourse.

At verse 15, He seems to call His hearers back a little, as it were, to something very specific—something with which a Jewish believer would be familiar from the fact of Daniel's allusion to it. "When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whoso readeth let him understand): then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains. Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.... But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be."

All this is most definite. The quotation from Daniel xii. fixes the application beyond all question. It proves that the reference is not to the siege of Jerusalem, under Titus; for we read in Daniel xii. that, "At that time thy people shall be delivered;" and, most clearly, they were not delivered in the days of Titus. No; the reference is to the time of the end. The scene is laid at Jerusalem. The persons addressed and contemplated are Jewish believers—the pious remnant of Israel, in the great tribulation, after the church has left the scene. How can any imagine that the persons here instructed are viewed as on church ground? What force would there be to such in the allusion to the winter or the Sabbath day?

Then, again, "If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not.... If they shall say unto you, Behold he is in the desert, go not forth: Behold he is in the secret chambers, believe it not." What possible application could such words have to persons who are instructed to wait for God's Son from heaven, and who know that ere He returns to this earth they shall have met Him in the clouds and returned with Him to the Father's house? Could any Christian, instructed in his proper hope, be deceived by persons saying that Christ is here or there, in the desert or in the secret chambers? Impossible. Such a one is looking out for the Bridegroom to come from heaven; and he knows that it is wholly out of the question that Christ can appear on this earth without bringing all His people with Him.

Thus, the simple truth settles everything; and all we want is to be simple in taking it in. The simplest Christian knows full well that his Lord will not appear to him like a flash of lightning, but as the bright and morning Star, and hence he understands that Matt. xxiv. cannot apply to the church, though most surely the church can study it with interest and profit, as it can all the other prophetic Scriptures; and, we may add, the interest will be all the more intense, and the profit all the deeper, in proportion as we see the true application of such Scriptures.

Limited space forbids our entering as fully as we could wish into the remaining portion of this marvellous discourse; but the more closely each sentence is examined, the more fully each circumstance is weighed, the more clearly we must see that the persons addressed are not on proper Christian ground. The entire scene is earthly and Jewish, not heavenly and Christian. There is ample instruction supplied for those who shall find themselves, by-and-by, in the position here contemplated; and nothing can be clearer than that the entire paragraph, from verse 15-42, refers to the period which shall elapse between the rapture of the saints and the appearing of the Son of Man.

Some may perhaps feel a difficulty in understanding verse 34: "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled." But we must remember that the word "generation" is constantly used in Scripture in a moral sense. It is not to be confined to a certain number of persons actually living at the time, but takes in the race. In the passage before us it simply applies to the Jewish race; but the wording is such as to leave the question of time entirely open, so that the heart might ever be kept in readiness for the Lord's coming. There is nothing in Scripture to interfere with the constant expectation of that grand event. On the contrary, every parable, every figure, every allusion is so worded as to warrant each one to look for the Lord's return in his own lifetime, and yet to leave margin for the elongation of the time according to the long-suffering grace of a Saviour God.

 

CHRISTENDOM

What varied thoughts and feelings are awakened in the soul by the very sound of the word "Christendom!" It is a terrible word. It brings before us, at once, that vast mass of baptized profession which calls itself the church of God, but is not; which calls itself Christianity, but is not. Christendom is dark and a dreadful anomaly. It is neither one thing nor the other. It is not "the Jew or the Gentile, or the church of God." It is a corrupt mysterious mixture, a spiritual malformation, the masterpiece of Satan, the corrupter of the truth of God, and the destroyer of the souls of men, a trap, a snare, a stumbling-block, the darkest moral blot in the universe of God. It is the corruption of the very best thing, and therefore the very worst of corruptions. It is that thing which Satan has made of professing Christianity. It is worse, by far, than Judaism; worse by far than all the darkest forms of Paganism, because it has higher light and richer privileges, makes the very highest profession, and occupies the very loftiest platform. Finally, it is that awful apostasy for which is reserved the very heaviest judgments or God—the most bitter dregs in the cup of His righteous wrath.

True it is, blessed be God, there are a few names even in Chistendom who, through grace, have not denied their garments. There are some brilliant embers amid the smouldering ashes—precious stones amid the terrible débris. But as to the mass of Christian profession to which the term Christendom applies, nothing can be more appalling, whether we think of its present condition or its future destiny. We doubt if Christians generally have anything like an adequate sense of the true character and inevitable doom of that which surrounds them. If they had it would solemnize their minds, and cause them to feel the urgent need of standing apart, in holy separation, from Christendom's ways, and distinct testimony against its spirit and principles.

But let us turn again to our Lord's profound discourse on the mount of Olives, in which, as we have already observed, He deals with the subject of the Christian profession. This He does in three distinct parables, namely, the household servant; the ten virgins; and the talents. In each and all we have the two things noticed above, the genuine and the spurious; the true and the false; the bright and the dark; that which is of Christ, and that which is of Satan; that which belongs to heaven and that which emanates from hell.

We shall glance at the three parables which embody, in their brief compass, a vast mine of most solemn and practical instruction.

Turn to Matt. xxiv. 45-47. "Who, then, is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord, when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you that he shall make him ruler over all his goods."

Here, then, we have at once the source and object of all ministry in the house of God. "Whom his lord hath made ruler." This is the source. "To give them meat in due season." This is the object.

These things are of the very highest possible moment, and they are worthy of the reader's most profound thought. All ministry in the house of God, whether in old or New Testament times, is of divine appointment. There is no such thing recognized in Scripture as human authority in appointing to the ministry. Neither is there such a thing as a self-constituted ministry. None but God can make or appoint a minister of any sort or description. Thus, in Old Testament times, Jehovah appointed Aaron and his sons to the priesthood; and if a stranger presumed to meddle with the functions of the holy office, he was to be put to death. Even the king himself dared not touch the priestly censer, for we are told of Uzziah, king of Judah, that, "When he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction; for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the Lord, that were valiant men. And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense; go out of the sanctuary: for thou hast trespassed: neither shall it be for thine honor from the Lord God.... And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death" (2 Chron. xxvi.).

Such was the solemn result—the awful consequence of man's daring intrusion upon that which was wholly of divine appointment. Has this no voice for Christendom? Assuredly it has. It sounds a warning note in our ears. It tells the professing church, in accents not to be mistaken, to beware of human intrusion upon a domain which belongs only to God. "Every high priest taken from among men is ordained for [not by] men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.... And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called [not of men but] of God, as was Aaron."

Nor was this principle of divine appointment confined to the high and holy office of the tabernacle. No man dare put his hand to the most insignificant part of that sacred structure unless by Jehovah's direct authority. "The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah." Nor could Bezaleel choose his companions in labor, or appoint whom he would to the work, any more than he could choose or appoint himself. No; this, too, was divine. "And I," says Jehovah, "behold I have given with him Aholiab." Thus Aholiab, as well as Bezaleel, held his commission immediately from Jehovah Himself, the only true source of all ministerial authority.

Nor was it otherwise in the case of the prophetic office and ministry. God alone could make, and fit, and send a prophet. Alas! there were those of whom Jehovah had to say, "I have not sent them, yet they ran." They were unhallowed intruders upon the domain of prophecy, just as there were upon the office of the priesthood; but all such brought down upon themselves the judgment of God.

And, may we not ask, Is this great principle changed now? Has ministry been shifted from its ancient base? Has the living stream been diverted from its divine source? Is it true that this more precious and glorious institution has been shorn of its lofty dignities? Can it be possible that, under the times of the New Testament, ministry has been cast down from its divine excellency? Has it become a mere human appointment? Can man appoint his fellow, or appoint himself to any one branch of ministry in the house of God?

What answer is to be returned to these questions? No doubtful one, thank God; but a distinct and emphatic No! Ministry was, is, and ever shall be, divine; divine in its source; divine in its nature; divine in its every feature and principle. "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all" (1 Cor. xii. 4-6). "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him." "And God hath set some in the church; first, apostles; secondarily prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that, miracles; then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues" (verses 18, 28). "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.... And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. iv. 7-13).

Here lies the grand source of all ministry in the church of God, from first to last—from the foundation laid in grace, to the topstone, in glory. It is divine and heavenly, not human or earthly. It is not of man or by man, but of Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised Him from the dead, and in the power of the Holy Ghost (see Gal. i.). There is no such thing recognized in Scripture as human authority in any one branch of ministry in the church. If it be a question of gift, it is emphatically stated to be "the gift of Christ." If it be a question of assigned position, we are, with equal clearness and emphasis, told that "God hath set the members." If it be a question of local charge, whether elder or deacon, it was entirely of divine appointment, by apostolic hands or apostolic delegates.

All this is so clear, so distinct, so palpable, on the very surface of Scripture, that it is only necessary to say, "How readest thou?" And the more we penetrate beneath the surface—the more we are conducted by the Eternal Spirit into the profound and precious depths of inspiration—the more thoroughly convinced we shall be that ministry, in its every department and every branch, is divine in its source, nature, and principles. The truth of this shines out in full-orbed brightness, in the Epistles; but we have the germ of it in the words of our Lord in Matt. xxv. 45, "Whom his lord hath made ruler over his household." The household belongs to the Lord, and He alone can appoint the servants, and this He does according to His own sovereign will.

Equally plain is the object of ministry, as stated in this parable, and elaborated in the Epistles. "To give them meat in due season." "For the edifying of the body of Christ"—"that the church may receive edifying." It is this that lies near the loving heart of Jesus. He would have His household perfected—His church edified—His body nourished and cherished. For this end, He bestows gifts, and maintains them in the church, and will maintain them until they shall be no longer needed.

But alas! alas! there is a dark side of the picture. For this we must be prepared since we have the picture of Christendom before us. If there is a "faithful, wise, and blessed servant," there is also "an evil servant" who "says in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming." Mark this. It is in the heart of the wicked servant that the thought originates as to the delay of the coming.

And what is the result? "He shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken." How awfully this has been exemplified in the history of Christendom, we need not say. Instead of true ministry flowing from the risen and glorified Head in the heavens, and promoting the edification of the body, the blessing of souls, and the prosperity of the household, we have a false clerical authority, arbitrary rule, a lording it over God's heritage, a grasping after this world's wealth and power, fleshly ease, self-indulgence, and personal aggrandizement, priestly domination in its nameless and numberless forms and practical consequences.

The reader will do well to apply his heart to the understanding of these things. He will need to seize, with clearness and power, the distinction between clericalism and ministry. The one is a thoroughly human assumption; the other, a purely divine institution. The former has its source in man's evil heart; the latter has its source in a risen and exulted Saviour, who, being raised from the dead, received gifts for men, and sheds them forth upon His church, according to His own will. That is a positive scourge and curse; this, a divine blessing to men. In fine, this in its root-principle, flows from heaven and leads back thither; that in its root-principle flows from hell and leads thither again.

All this is most solemn, and it should exert a mighty influence upon our souls. There is a day coming when the Lord Christ will deal, in summary justice, with that which man has dared to set up in His house. We speak not of individuals—though surely it is a most serious and terrible thing for any one to put his hand unto, or have aught to do with, that on which such awful judgment is about to be executed—but we speak of a positive system—a great principle which runs, in a deep and dark current, through the length and breadth of the professing church—we speak of clericalism and priestcraft, in all its forms and in all its ramifications.

Against this dreadful thing we solemnly warn our readers. No human language can possibly depict the evil of it, nor can human language adequately set forth the deep blessedness of all true ministry in the church of God. The Lord Jesus not only bestows ministerial gifts, but, in His marvellous grace, He will abundantly reward the faithful and diligent exercise of those gifts. But as to that which man has set up, we read its destiny in those burning words, "The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

May the gracious Lord deliver His servants and His people from all participation in this great wickedness which is perpetrated in the very bosom of that which calls itself the church of God. And, on the other hand, may He lead them to understand, to appreciate, and to exercise that true, that precious, that divine ministry which emanates from Himself, and is designed, in His infinite love, for the true blessing and growth of that church which is so dear to His heart. We are in danger, very great danger, while seeking (as we most surely should) to keep clear of the evil of clericalism—of rushing into the opposite extreme of despising ministry.

This must be carefully guarded against. We have ever to bear in mind that ministry in the church is of God. Its source is divine. Its nature is heavenly and spiritual. Its object is the calling out, the building up of the church of God. Our Lord Christ imparts the varied gifts, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. He holds the great reservoir of spiritual gifts. He has never given it up, and He never will. Spite of all that Satan has wrought in the professing church; spite of all the actings of "that evil servant;" spite of all man's daring assumption of authority which in no wise belongs to him; spite of all these things, our risen and glorified Lord "hath the seven stars." He possesses all ministerial gift, power, and authority. It is He alone who can make any one a minister. Unless He impart a gift there can be no true ministry. There may be hollow assumption—guilty usurpation—empty affectation—worthless talking; but not one atom of true, loving, divine ministry can there be unless where our sovereign Lord is pleased to bestow the gift. And even where He does bestow the gift that gift must be "stirred up," and diligently cultivated, else "the profiting" will not "appear unto all." The gift must be exercised in the power of the Holy Ghost, else it will not promote the divinely appointed end.

But we are rather anticipating what is yet to come before us in the parable of the talents, so we shall close here by simply reminding the reader that the weighty subject on which we have been dwelling has direct reference to the coming of our Lord, inasmuch as all true ministry is carried on in view of that great and glorious event. And not only so, but the counterfeit, the corrupt, the evil thing will be judicially dealt with when the Lord Christ shall appear in His glory.

 

THE TEN VIRGINS

We now approach that solemn section of our Lord's discourse in which He presents the kingdom of heaven under the similitude of "Ten Virgins." The instruction contained in this most weighty and interesting parable is of wider application than that of the servant to which we have already referred, inasmuch as it takes in the whole range of Christian profession, and is not confined to ministry either within the house or outside. It bears directly and pointedly upon Christian profession, whether true or false.

"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom." Some have considered that this parable refers to the Jewish remnant; but it does not seem that this idea is borne out, either by the context in which this parable occurs or by the terms in which it is couched.

As to the entire context, the more closely we examine it the more clearly we shall see that the Jewish portion of the discourse ends with chapter xxiv. 44. This is so distinct as not to admit of a question. Equally distinct is the Christian portion, extending, as we have seen, from chapter xxiv. 45 to chapter xxv. 30; while from xxv. 31 to the end, we have the Gentiles. Thus the order and fulness of this marvellous discourse must strike any thoughtful reader. It presents the Jew, the Christian, and the Gentile, each on his own distinct ground, and according to his own distinctive principles. There is no merging of one thing in another, no confounding of things that differ. In a word, the order, the fulness, and the comprehensiveness of this profound discourse are divine, and fill the soul "with wonder, love, and praise." We rise from the study of it, as a whole, with those words of the apostle upon our lips, "O, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out."

And then, when we examine the precise terms made use of by our Lord in the parable of the ten virgins we must see that it applies not to Jews but to Christian professors—it applies to us—it utters a voice, and teaches a solemn lesson to the writer and the reader of these lines.

Let us apply our hearts thereto.

"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom."

Primitive Christianity was especially characterized by the fact here indicated, namely, a going forth to meet a returning and an expected bridegroom. The early Christians were led to detach themselves from present things, and go forth, in the spirit of their minds, and in the affections of their hearts, to meet the Saviour whom they loved, and for whom they waited. It was not, of course, a question of going forth from one place to another; it was not local, but moral, and spiritual. It was the outgoing of the heart after a beloved Saviour whose return was eagerly looked for day by day.

It is impossible to read the epistles to the various churches and not see that the hope of the Lord's sure and speedy return governed the hearts of the Lord's dear people in early days. "They waited for the Son from heaven." They knew He was to come and take them away, to be with Himself forever; and the knowledge and power of this hope had the effect of detaching their hearts from present things. Their bright, heavenly hope caused them to sit loose to the things of earth. "They looked for the Saviour." They believed that He might come at any moment, and hence the concerns of this life were just to be taken up and attended to for the moment—properly, thoroughly attended to, no doubt—but only, as it were, on the very tip-toe of expectation.

All this is conveyed to our hearts, briefly but clearly, by the expression, "They went forth to meet the bridegroom." This could not be intelligently applied to the Jewish remnant, inasmuch as they will not go forth to meet their Messiah, but, on the contrary, they will remain in their position and amid their circumstances until He come and plant His foot on the mount of Olives. They will not look for the Lord to come and take them away from this earth to be with Him in heaven; but He will come to bring deliverance to them in their own land, and make them happy there under His own peaceful and blessed reign during the millennial age.

But the call to Christians was to "go forth." They are supposed to be always on the move; not settling down on the earth, but going out in earnest and holy aspirations after that heavenly glory to which they are called, and after the heavenly Bridegroom to whom they are espoused, and for whose speedy advent they are taught to wait.

Such is the true, the divine, the normal idea of the Christian's attitude and state. And this lovely idea was marvellously realized and practically carried out by the primitive Christians. But alas! alas! we are reminded of the fact that we have to do with the spurious as well as the true in Christendom. There are "tares" as well as "wheat" in the kingdom of heaven; and thus we read of these ten virgins, that "five of them were wise, and five were foolish." There are the true and the false, the genuine and the counterfeit, the real and the hollow, in professing Christianity.

Yes, and this is to continue unto the time of the end, until the Bridegroom come. The tares are not converted into wheat, nor are the foolish virgins converted into wise ones. No, never. The tares will be burnt and the foolish virgins shut out. So far from a gradual improvement by the means now in operation—the preaching of the gospel and the various beneficent agencies which are brought to bear upon the world—we find, from all the parables, and from the teaching of the entire New Testament, that the kingdom of heaven presents a most deplorable admixture of evil; a corrupting process; a grievous tampering with the work of God, on the part of the enemy; a positive progress of evil in principle, in profession, and in practice.

And all this goes on to the end. There are foolish virgins found when the Bridegroom appears. Whence come they if all are to be converted before the Lord comes? If all are to be brought to the knowledge of the Lord by the means now in operation, then how comes it to pass that when the Bridegroom comes, there are quite as many foolish as wise?

But it will perhaps be said that this is but a parable, a figure. Granted; but a figure of what? Not surely of a whole world converted. To assert this would be to offer a grievous insult to the holy volume, and to treat our Lord's solemn teaching in a manner in which we would not dare to treat the teaching of a fellow mortal.

No, reader, the parable of the ten virgins teaches, beyond all question, that when the Bridegroom comes, there will be foolish virgins on the scene, and, clearly, if there are foolish virgins, all cannot have been previously converted. A child can understand this. We cannot see how it is possible, in the face of even this one parable, to maintain the theory of a world converted before the coming of the Bridegroom.

But let us look a little closely at these foolish virgins. Their history is full of admonition for all Christian professors. It is very brief, but awfully comprehensive. "They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them." There is the outward profession, but no inward reality—no spiritual life—no unction—no vital link with the source of eternal life—no union with Christ. There is nothing but the lamp of profession, and the dry wick of a nominal, notional, head belief.

This is peculiarly solemn. It bears down with tremendous weight upon that vast mass of baptized profession which surrounds us, at the present moment, in which there is so much of outward semblance, but so little of inward reality. All profess to be Christians. The lamp of profession may be seen in every hand; but ah! how few have the oil in their vessels, the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, the Holy Ghost dwelling in their hearts. Without this, all is utterly worthless and vain. There may be the vary highest profession; there may be a most orthodox creed; one may be baptized; he may receive the Lord's supper; be a regularly enrolled and duly recognized member of a Christian community; be a Sunday-school teacher; an ordained minister of religion; one may be all this, and not have one spark of divine life, not one ray of heavenly light, not one link with the Christ of God.

Now there is something peculiarly awful in the thought of having just enough religion to deceive the heart, deaden the conscience, and ruin the soul—just enough religion to give a name to live while dead—enough to leave one without Christ, without God, and without hope in the world—enough to prop the soul up with a false confidence, and fill it with a false peace, until the Bridegroom come, and then the eyes are opened when it is too late.

Thus it is with the foolish virgins. They seem to be very like the wise ones. An ordinary observer might not be able to see any difference, for the time being. They all set out together. All have lamps. And, moreover, all turn aside to slumber and sleep, the wise as well as the foolish. All rouse up at the midnight cry, and trim their lamps. Thus far there is no apparent difference. The foolish virgins light their lamps—the lamp of profession lighted up with the dry wick of a lifeless, notional, nominal faith; alas! alas! a worthless—worse than worthless—thing, a fatal soul-destroying delusion.

But here the grand distinction—the broad line of demarcation—comes out with awful, yea, with appalling clearness. "The foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are going out" (see margin). This proves that their lamps had been lighted; for had they not been lighted, they could not go out. But it was only a false, flickering, transient light. It was not fed from a divine source. It was the light of mere lip profession, fed by a head belief, lasting just long enough to deceive themselves and others, and going out at the very moment when they most needed it, leaving them in the dreadful darkness of eternal night.

"Our lamps are going out." Terrible discovery! "The Bridegroom is at hand, and our lamps are going out. Our hollow profession is being made manifest by the light of His coming. We thought we were all right. We professed the same faith, had the same shaped lamp, the same kind of wick; but alas! we now find to our unspeakable horror, that we have been deceiving ourselves, that we lack the one thing needful, the spirit of life in Christ, the unction from the Holy One, the living link with the Bridegroom. Whatever shall we do? O ye wise virgins, take pity upon us, and share with us your oil. Do, do, for mercy's sake, give us a little, even one drop of that all-essential thing, that we may not perish forever."

Ah! it is all utterly vain. No one can give of his oil to another. Each has just enough for himself. Moreover, it can only be had from God Himself. A man can give light, but he cannot give oil. This latter is the gift of God alone. "The wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the Bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage; and the door was shut." It is of no use looking to Christian friends to help us or prop us up. No use in flying hither and thither for some one to lean upon—some holy man, or some eminent teacher—no use building upon our church, or our creed, or our sacraments. We want oil. We cannot do without it. Where are we to get it? Not from man, not from the church, not from the saints, not from the fathers. We must get it from God; and He, blessed be His name, gives freely. "The gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

But, mark, it is an individual thing. Each must have it for himself. No man can believe, or get life for another. Each must have to do with God for himself. The link which connects the soul with Christ is intensely individual. There is no such thing as second-hand faith. A man may teach us religion, or theology, or the letter of Scripture; but he cannot give us oil; he cannot give us faith; he cannot give us life. "It is the gift of God." Precious little word, "gift." It is like God. It is free as God's air; free as His sunlight; free as His refreshing dew-drops. But, we repeat, and with solemn emphasis, each one must get it for himself, and have it in himself. "None can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: that he should still live forever and not see corruption. For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth forever" (Psalm xlix. 7-9).

Reader, what sayest thou to these solemn realities? Art thou a wise or a foolish virgin? Hast thou gotten life in a risen and glorified Saviour. Art thou a mere professor of religion, content with the mere ordinary dead routine of church-going, having just sufficient religion to make thee respectable on earth, but not enough to link thee with heaven?

We earnestly beseech thee to think seriously of these things. Think of them now. Think how unspeakably dreadful it will be to find thy lamp of profession going out and leaving thee in obscure darkness—darkness that may be felt—the outer darkness of an everlasting night. How terrible to find the door shut behind that brilliant train which shall go in to the marriage; but shut in thy face! How agonizing the cry, "Lord, Lord, open unto us!" How withering, how crushing the response, "I know you not."

O, beloved friend, do give these weighty matters a place in thy heart now, while yet the door is open, and while yet the day of grace is lengthened out in God's marvellous long suffering. The moment is rapidly approaching in the which the door of mercy shall be closed against thee forever, when all hope shall be gone, and thy precious soul be plunged in black and eternal despair. May God's spirit rouse thee from thy fatal slumber, and give thee no rest until thou findest it in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and at His blessed feet in adoration and worship.

We must now draw this paper to a close; but, ere doing so, we shall just for a moment glance at the wise virgins. The great distinguishing feature which, according to the teaching of this parable, marks them off from the foolish virgins is that when starting at the first they "took oil in their vessels with their lamps." In other words, what distinguishes true believers from mere professors is that the former have in their hearts the grace of God's Holy Spirit; they have gotten the spirit of life in Christ Jesus; and the Holy Ghost dwelling in them as the seal, the earnest, the unction, and the witness. This grand and glorious fact characterizes now all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ—a stupendous, wondrous fact, most surely—an immense and ineffable privilege, which should ever bow our souls in holy adoration before our God and our Lord Jesus Christ, whose accomplished redemption has procured for us this great blessing.

But how sad to think that, notwithstanding this high and holy privilege, we should have to read, as in the words of our parable, "They all slumbered and slept!" All alike, wise as well as foolish, fell asleep. The Bridegroom tarried, and all, without exception, lost the freshness, fervor, and power of the hope of His coming, and fell fast asleep.

Such is the statement of our parable, and such is the solemn fact of the history. The whole professing body fell asleep. "That blessed hope" which shone so brightly on the horizon of the early Christians, very speedily waned and faded away; and as we scan the page of church history for eighteen centuries, from the Apostolic Fathers to the opening of the current century, we look in vain for any intelligent reference to the church's specific hope—the personal return of the blessed Bridegroom. In fact, that hope was virtually lost to the church; nay, more, it became almost a heresy to teach it. And even now, in these last days, there are hundreds of thousands of professed ministers of Christ who dare not preach or teach the coming of the Lord as it is taught in Scripture.

True it is, blessed be God, we notice a mighty change within the last half century. There has been a great awakening. God is, by His Holy Spirit, recalling His people to long-forgotten truths, and amongst the rest, to the glorious truth of the coming of the Bridegroom. Many are now seeing that the reason why the Bridegroom tarried was simply because God was long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Precious reason!

But they are also seeing that, spite of this long-suffering, our Lord is at hand. Christ is coming. The midnight cry has gone forth, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him." May millions of voices re-echo the soul-stirring cry until it passes in its mighty moral power, from pole to pole, and from the river to the ends of the earth, rousing the whole church to wait, as one man, for the glorious appearing of the blessed Bridegroom of our hearts.

Brethren beloved in the Lord, awake! awake! Let every soul be roused. Let us shake off the sloth and the slumber of worldly ease and self-indulgence—let us rise above the withering influence of religious formality and dull routine—let us fling aside the dogmas of false theology, and go forth, in the spirit of our minds and in the affections of our hearts, to meet our returning Bridegroom. May His own solemn words come with fresh power to our souls, "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour." May the language of our hearts and our lives be, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."

The dark stream of evil is flowing apace:
Awake, and be doing, ye children of grace,
Let's seek with compassion the souls that are lost,
Well knowing the price their redemption has cost.
While singing with rapture the Saviour's great love,
And waiting for Him to translate us above—
"It may be to-morrow, or even to-night"—
Let our loins be well girded, and lamps burning bright.

 

THE TALENTS

It only remains for us now to consider that portion of our Lord's discourse in which He again takes up the deeply solemn subject of ministerial responsibility during the time of His absence. That this stands closely connected with the hope of His coming is evident from the fact that having summed up the parable of the ten virgins with these most weighty words, "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour," He goes on to say, "For as a man travelling into a far country, who called his servants, and delivered unto them his goods."

There is a material difference between the parable of the talents and that of the servant in chapter xxiv. 45-51. In the latter, we have ministry inside the house. In the former, on the other hand, we have ministry abroad in the world. But in each we find the grand foundation of all ministry, namely, the gift and authority of Christ. "He called His own servants, and delivered unto them His goods." The servants are His, and the goods are His. No one but the Lord Christ can put a man into the ministry, as none but He can impart spiritual gift. It is utterly impossible for any one to be a minister of Christ unless He calls him and fits him for the work. This is so plain as not to admit of a single question. A man may be a minister of religion; he may preach the doctrines of the gospel, and teach theology; but a minister of Christ he cannot possibly be unless Christ calls him to, and gifts him for, the work. If it be a question of ministry inside the house, it is "whom his lord hath made ruler over his house." And if it be a question of ministry abroad in the world, we are told that "He called his own servants and delivered unto them his goods."

This great root-principle of ministry is powerfully embodied in these words of one of the greatest ministers that ever lived, when he says, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry" (1 Tim. i. 12).

Thus it must be in every case, whatever be the measure, the character, or the sphere of ministry. The Lord Christ alone can put any one into the ministry, and enable him to fulfil it. If it be not this, it will be either a man putting himself into the ministry, or his fellow man doing it, both of which are alike opposed to the mind of God, and to all the principles of the true ministry as taught in the word. If we are to be guided by Scripture, we must see that all ministry in or out of the house must be by divine appointment and divine ability. If it be not thus, it is worse than worthless. A man may set himself up as a minister, or he may be set up by his fellows; but it is all utterly vain. It is not from heaven—it is not of God—it is not by Jesus Christ; and, in the sequel, it will be made manifest and judged as a most horrible and daring usurpation.

It is of the very last importance that the Christian reader should thoroughly seize this grand principle of ministry. It is as simple as it is solemn. And, moreover, that it rests on a basis truly divine cannot be questioned by any one who bows down—as every Christian ought—with unqualified and absolute submission, to the authority of the divine word. Let the reader take his Bible, and read carefully every line therein which bears upon the subject of ministry. If he turns to the parable of the house-steward, he will read, "Whom his lord hath made ruler." He does not make himself ruler; neither is he appointed by his fellows. The appointment is divine.

So, also, in the parable of the talents, the master calls his own servants, and delivers unto them his goods. The call and the equipment are divine.

We have another aspect of the same truth in Luke xix. "A certain nobleman went into a far country, to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come." The difference between Luke and Matthew appears to be this: in the former, human responsibility; in the latter, divine sovereignty is prominent. But in both the great root-principle is distinctly maintained and unanswerably established, namely, that all ministry is by divine appointment.

The same truth meets us in the Acts of the Apostles. When one was to be appointed to fill the place of Judas, the appeal is made to Jehovah, "Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all, show whether of these two thou hast chosen; that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship."

And even where it is a question of local charge, as of deacons, in chapter vi., or of elders, in chapter xiv., it is by direct apostolic appointment. In other words, it is divine. A man could not even appoint himself to a deaconship, much less to an eldership. In the case of the former, inasmuch as the deacons were to take charge of the people's property, these latter were, in the grace and lovely moral order of the Spirit, permitted to select men in whom they could confide; but the appointment was divine, whether of deacons or elders. Thus, whether it be a question of gift or of local charge, all rests on a purely divine basis. This is the all-important point.

Again, if we turn to the Epistles, the same great truth shines in full and undimmed lustre before us. Thus, at the opening of Romans xii., we read, "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given us," etc. In 1 Cor. xii. we read, "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him" (verse 18). And again, "God hath set some in the church, first, apostles," etc. (verse 28). So also in Ephesians iv., "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ."

All these Scriptures, and many more that might be quoted, go to establish the truth which we are intensely anxious to impress upon our readers, namely, that ministry in all its departments, is divine—is of God—is from heaven—is by Jesus Christ. There is positively no such thing in the New Testament as human authority to minister in the church of God. Turn where we may, throughout its sacred pages, and we find only the same blessed doctrine as is contained in that one brief sentence in our parable, "He called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods." The whole New Testament doctrine of ministry is embodied here; and we earnestly entreat the Christian reader to let this doctrine take full possession of his soul, and exert its full sway over his conduct, course and character.[30]

But it may perhaps be asked, "Is there no adaptation of the vessel to the ministerial gift deposited therein?" Unquestionably there is; and this very adaptation is distinctly presented in the words of our parable, "Unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability."

This is a point of deepest interest, and it must never be lost sight of. The Lord knows what use He means to make of a man. He knows the character of gift which He purposes to deposit in the vessel, and He shapes the vessel and moulds the man accordingly. We cannot doubt that Paul was a vessel specially formed of God for the place he was afterwards to fill, and the work he had to do. And so in every case. If God designs a man to be a public speaker, He gives him lungs, He gives him a voice, He gives him a physical constitution adapted to the work which He designs him to do. The gift is from God; but there is always the most distinct reference to the ability of the man.

If this be lost sight of, our apprehension of the true character of ministry will be very defective indeed. We must never forget the two things, namely, the divine gift, and the human vessel in which the gift is deposited. There is the sovereignty of God, and the responsibility of man. How perfect and how beautiful are all the ways of God! But alas! alas! man mars everything, and the touch of the human finger only dims the lustre of divine workmanship. Still, let us never forget that ministry is divine in its source, its nature, its power, and its object. If the reader rises from this paper convinced in heart and soul of this grand truth, we have so far gained our object in penning it.

But it is not improbable the question may be asked, "What has all this subject of ministry to do with the Lord's coming?" Much every way. Does not our blessed Lord introduce the subject again and again, in His discourse on the mount of Olives? And is not this entire discourse a reply to the question of the disciples, "What shall be the sign of thy coming and the end of the age?" Is not His coming the great prominent point of the discourse as a whole, and of each section of it in particular? Unquestionably.

And what, we may ask, is the next prominent theme? Is it not ministry? Look at the parable of the servant made ruler over the household. How is he to serve? In view of his Lord's return. The ministry links itself on, as it were, to the departing and the return of the Master. It stands between, and is to be characterized by, these two grand events. And what is it that leads to failure in the ministry? Losing sight of the Lord's return. The evil servant says in his heart, "My Lord delayeth His coming," and, as a consequence, "he begins to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken."

So also in the parable of the talents. The solemn and soul-stirring word is "Occupy till I come." In short, we learn that ministry, whether in the house of God or abroad in the world, is to be carried on in full view of the Lord's return. "After a long time the lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them." All the servants are to keep continually before their minds the solemn fact that there is a reckoning time coming. This will regulate their thoughts and feelings in reference to every branch of their ministry. Hearken to the following weighty words in which one servant seeks to animate another, "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim. iv. 1-8).

Does not this touching and weighty passage show how intimately the subject of ministry stands connected with the Lord's coming? The blessed apostle—the most devoted, gifted, and effective workman that ever wrought in the vineyard of Christ—the most skillful steward that ever handled the mysteries of God—the wise master builder—the great minister of the church and preacher of the gospel—the incomparable servant—this rare and precious vessel carried on his work, fulfilled his ministry, and discharged his holy responsibilities in full view of "that day." He looked forward, and is still looking, to that solemn and glorious occasion when the Righteous Judge shall place on his brow "the crown of righteousness." And he adds, with such affecting sweetness, "not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."

This is peculiarly touching. There will be a crown of righteousness in "that day," not merely for the gifted, laborious, and devoted Paul, but for every one that loves the appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. No doubt Paul shall have gems in his crown of peculiar lustre; but, lest any one should think that the crown of righteousness was only for Paul, he adds these lovely words, "unto all them also that love his appearing." The Lord be praised for such words! May they have the effect of stirring up our hearts, not only to love the appearing of our Lord, but also to serve with more intense and whole-hearted devotedness in view of that glorious day! That the two things are very closely connected we may see in the sequel of the parable of the talents. We can do little more than quote the words of our Lord.

When the servants had received the talents, we read, "Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents; behold I have gained besides them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents; behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."

It is interesting and instructive to note the difference between the parable of the talents as given in Matthew, and the parable of the ten servants, in Luke xix. In the former, it is a question of divine sovereignty; in the latter, of human responsibility. In that, each receives a like sum; in this, one receives five, another two, according to the master's will. Then, when the day of reckoning comes, we find in Luke a definite reward according to the work; whereas in Matthew, the word is, "I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord." They are not told what they are to have, or how many things they are to rule over. The master is sovereign both in His gifts and rewards; and the crowning point of all is, "Enter thou into the joy of thy lord."

This, to a heart that loves the Lord, is beyond everything. True, there will be the ten cities and the five cities. There will be ample, distinct, and definite reward for responsibility discharged, service rendered, and work done. All will be rewarded. But above and beyond all, shines this precious word, "Enter thou into the joy of thy lord." No reward can possibly come up to this. The sense of the love that breathes in these words will lead each one to cast his "crown of righteousness" at the feet of his Lord. The very crown which the righteous Judge shall give, we shall willingly cast at the feet of a loving Saviour and Lord. One smile from Him will touch the heart far more deeply and powerfully than the brightest crown that could be placed on the brow.

But one word ere we close. Who would not work? Who hid his lord's money? Who proved to be "a wicked and slothful servant?" The man who did not know his master's heart—his master's character—his master's love. "Then he which had received the one talent, came and said, Lord, I know thee, [?] that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed; and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His Lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed. Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming, I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

How awfully solemn! How striking the contrast between the two servants! One knows, and loves, and trusts, and serves his Lord. The other belies, fears, distrusts, and does nothing. The one enters into the joy of his lord, the other is cast out into outer darkness, into the place of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. How solemn! How soul-subduing is all this! And when does it all come out? When the Master returns!

Note.—We may add, in connection with the foregoing remarks, on ministry, that every Christian has his and her own specific place and work to do. All are solemnly responsible to the Lord to know their place and fill it, to know their work and do it. This is a plain practical truth, and most fully confirmed by the principle upon which we have been insisting, namely, that all ministry and all work must be received from the Master's hand, carried on under His eye, and in full view of His coming. These things must never be forgotten.

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

We must now draw this series of papers to a close; and it is with a strong feeling of reluctance that we do so. The theme is intensely interesting, deeply practical, and abundantly fruitful. Moreover, it is very suggestive, and opens up an extensive field of vision for the spiritual mind to range through with an interest that never flags, because the subject is inexhaustible.

However, we must, for the present at least, close our meditations on this most marvellous line of truth; but ere doing so, we are anxious to call the reader's attention, as briefly as possible, to one or two things which have been barely hinted at in the progress of these papers. We should not think of recalling them were it not that we deem them not only interesting, but of real practical value in helping to a clearer understanding of many branches of the great subject which has been engaging our attention.

And first, then, the reader who has travelled in company with us through the various branches of our subject will remember a cursory reference to what we ventured to call "an unnoticed interval—break—or parenthesis" in the dealings of God with Israel and with the earth. This is a point of the deepest interest; and we hope to be able to show the reader that it is not some curious question, a dark mysterious subject, or a favorite notion of some special school of prophetic interpretation. Quite the contrary. We consider it to be a point which throws a flood of light on very many branches of our general subject. Such we have found it for ourselves, and as such we desire to present it to our readers. Indeed we strongly question if any one can rightly understand prophecy or his own true position and bearings, who does not see the unnoticed interval or break above referred to.

But let us turn directly to the word, and open at chapter ix. of the book of Daniel.

The opening verses of this remarkable section show us the beloved servant of God in profound exercise of soul in reference to the sad condition of his much loved people Israel—a condition into which, through the Spirit of Christ, he most thoroughly enters. Though not having himself personally participated in these actings which had brought ruin upon the nation, yet he identifies himself, most completely, with the people, and makes their sins his own in confession and self-judgment before his God.

We cannot attempt to quote from Daniel's remarkable prayer and confession on this occasion; but the subject which immediately concerns us now is introduced in verse 20.

"And while I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yea, while I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me and talked with me, and said. O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandments came forth, and I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. Seventy weeks are determined [or portioned out] upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy."

Now we cannot, in our limited space, enter upon any elaborate argument to prove that the "seventy weeks," in the above quotation, mean really four hundred and ninety years. We assume this to be the fact. We believe that Gabriel was commissioned to instruct the beloved prophet, and to inform him of the fact that, from the going forth of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, a period of four hundred and ninety years was to elapse, and that then Israel would be brought into blessing.

This is as simple and definite as anything can be. We may assert, with all possible confidence, that it is not so certain that the sun shall rise, at the appointed moment, to-morrow morning, as that at the close of the period above named by the angelic messenger, Daniel's people shall be brought into blessing. It is as sure as the throne of God. Nothing can hinder. Not all the powers of earth and hell combined shall be allowed to stand in the way of the full and perfect accomplishment of the word of God by the mouth of Gabriel. When the last sand of the four hundred and ninetieth year shall have run out of the glass, Israel shall enter upon the possession of all their destined pre-eminence and glory. It is impossible to read Daniel ix. 24, and not see this.

But, it may be, the reader feels disposed to ask—and ask, too, with astonishment, "Have not the four hundred and ninety years expired long ago?" We reply, Certainly not. Had they done so, Israel would be now in their own land, under the blessed reign of their own loved Messiah. Scripture cannot be broken; nor can we play fast and loose with its statements, as though they might mean anything or everything, or nothing at all. The word is precise. "Seventy weeks are portioned out upon thy people." Neither more nor less than seventy weeks. If this be taken to mean literal weeks, the passage has no sense or meaning whatever. It would be an insult to our readers to occupy time in combating such an absurdity as this.

But if, as we are most thoroughly persuaded, Gabriel meant seventy weeks of years, then have we a period most distinct and definite before us—a period extending from the moment in which Cyrus issued his decree to restore Jerusalem, to the moment of Israel's restoration.

Still, however, the reader may feel led to ask, "How can these things be? It is very much more than four hundred and ninety years, four times told, since the king of Persia issued his decree, and yet there is no sign of Israel's restoration. There must surely be some other mode of interpreting the seventy weeks."

We can only repeat our statement, that the four hundred and ninety years are not out yet. There has been a break—a parenthesis—a long unnoticed interval. Let the reader look closely at Daniel ix. 25, 26; "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem, unto the Messiah the Prince, shall be seven weeks [49 years] and threescore and two weeks [434 years]; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times;" or, as the margin reads it, "in strait of times," that is, the street and the wall of Jerusalem were built in the shorter of the two periods named, or in forty-nine years. "And after threescore and two weeks [434 years from the rebuilding of Jerusalem], shall Messiah be cut off, and have nothing" (see margin).

Here then we reach the marked, memorable, and solemn epoch. The Messiah, instead of being received, is cut off. In place of ascending the throne of David, He goes to the cross. Instead of entering upon the possession of all the promises, He has nothing. His only portion—so far as Israel and the earth were concerned—was the cross, the vinegar, the spear, the borrowed grave.

Messiah was rejected, cut off, and had nothing. What then? God signified His sense of this act, by suspending for a time His dispensational dealings with Israel. The course of time is interrupted. There is a great gap. Four hundred and eighty-three years are fulfilled; seven yet remain—a cancelled week, and all the time since the death of the Messiah has been an unnoticed interval—a break or parenthesis, during which Christ has been hidden in the heavens, and the Holy Ghost has been working on earth in forming the body of Christ, the church, the heavenly bride. When the last member shall have been incorporated into this body, the Lord Himself shall come and receive His people to Himself, to conduct them back to the Father's house, there to be with Him in the ineffable communion of that blessed home, while God will, by His governmental dealings, prepare Israel and the earth for the introduction of the First-begotten into the world.

Now as to this interval and all that was to occur therein, Gabriel maintains a profound reserve. Whether he understood aught of it is not the question. It is clear he was not commissioned to speak of it, inasmuch as the time was not come for so doing. He passes, with marvellous and mysterious abruptness, over ages and generations—steps from headland to headland of the prophetic chart, and dismisses in a short sentence or two, a lengthened period of nearly two thousand years. The siege of Jerusalem by the Romans is thus briefly noticed, "The people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary." Then, a period which has already lasted for eighteen centuries is thus disposed of, "And the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined."

Then, with intense rapidity, we are conducted on to the time of the end, when the last of the seventy weeks, the last seven of the four hundred and ninety years, shall be accomplished. "And he [the Prince] shall confirm the covenant with many [of the Jews] for one week [seven years]; and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolator" (margin).

Here then we reach the end of the four hundred and ninety years which were determined or portioned out upon Daniel's people. To attempt to interpret this period without seeing the break and the long unnoticed interval, must of necessity plunge the mind in utter confusion. It cannot possibly be done. Numberless theories have been started; endless calculations and speculations have been attempted; but in vain. The four hundred and ninety years are not accomplished yet; nor will they have their accomplishment until the church has left this scene altogether, and gone to be with her Lord in her bright heavenly home. Revelation iv., v. show us the place which the heavenly saints shall occupy during the last of Daniel's seventy weeks; while from chapter vi.-xviii. we have the various actings of God in government, preparing Israel and the earth for the bringing in of the first-begotten in the world.[31]

We are very anxious to make these matters clear to the reader. It has greatly helped us in the understanding of prophecy, and cleared away many difficulties. We feel thoroughly persuaded that no one can understand the book of Daniel, or indeed the general scope of prophecy, who does not see that the last of the seventy weeks remains to be fulfilled. Not one jot or tittle of God's word can ever pass away, and seeing He has declared that "seventy weeks were portioned out upon Daniel's people," and that at the close of that period they should be brought into blessing, it is plain that this period is not yet expired. But unless we see the break, and the dropping of time, consequent upon the rejection of the Messiah, we cannot possibly make out the fulfilment of Daniel's seventy weeks, or four hundred and ninety years.

Another important fact for the reader to seize is this, the church forms no part of the ways of God with Israel and the earth. The church does not belong to time, but to eternity. She is not earthly, but heavenly. She is called into existence during an unnoticed interval—a break or parenthesis consequent upon the cutting off of the Messiah. To speak after the manner of men, if Israel had received the Messiah, then the seventy weeks or four hundred and ninety years would have been fulfilled; but Israel rejected her King, and God has retired to His place until they acknowledge their iniquity. He has suspended His public dealings with Israel and the earth, though most surely controlling all things by His providence, and keeping His eye upon the seed of Abraham, ever beloved for the fathers' sake.

Meanwhile He is calling out from Jews and Gentiles that body called the church, to be the companion of His Son in heavenly glory—to be thoroughly identified with Him in His present rejection from this earth, and to wait in holy patience for His glorious advent.

All this marks off the Christian's position in the most definite manner possible. His portion and his prospects, too, are thus defined with equal clearness. It is vain to look into the prophetic page in order to find the church's position, her calling, or her hope. They are not there. It is entirely out of place for the Christian to be occupied with dates and historic events, as though he were in anywise involved therein. No doubt, all these things have their proper place and their value, and their interest, as connected with God's dealings with Israel and with the earth. But the Christian must never lose sight of the fact that he belongs to heaven, that he is inseparably linked with an earth-rejected, heaven-accepted Christ—that his life is hid with Christ in God—that it is his holy privilege to be looking out, daily and hourly, for the coming of his Lord. There is nothing to hinder the realization of that blissful hope at any moment. There is but one thing that causes the delay, and that is, "the long-suffering of our Lord, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance"—precious words these for a lost and guilty world! The salvation is ready to be revealed; and God is ready to judge. There is nothing now to wait for but the gathering in of the last elect one, and then—oh! most blessed thought—our own dear and loving Saviour will come and receive us to Himself to be with Him where He is, and to go no more out forever.

Then when the church has gone to be with her Lord in the heavenly home, God will resume His public actings with Israel. They will be brought into great tribulation, during the week already referred to. But at the close of that period of unexampled pressure and trial, their long-rejected Messiah will appear for their relief and deliverance. He will come forth as the rider on the white horse, accompanied by the heavenly saints. He will execute summary judgment upon His enemies, and take to Himself His great power and reign. The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. Satan shall be bound for a thousand years; and the whole universe shall repose beneath the blissful and benignant rule of the Prince of peace.

Finally, at the close of the thousand years, Satan shall be loosed, and permitted to make one more desperate effort—an effort issuing in his eternal defeat and consignment to the lake of fire, there to be tormented with the beast and the false prophet throughout the everlasting ages.

Then follows the resurrection and judgment of the wicked dead, and their consignment to the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone—tremendous and appalling thought! No heart can conceive—no tongue can tell—the horrors of that lake of fire.

But hardly is there a moment to dwell upon the dark and awful picture, ere the unutterable glories of the new heavens and the new earth burst upon the vision of the soul; the holy city is seen descending from heaven, and these seraphic sounds fall upon the ear, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne, said, Behold I make all things new."

O beloved Christian reader, what scenes are before us! What grand realities! What brilliant moral glories! May we live in the light and power of these things! May we cherish that blessed hope of seeing the One who loved us and gave Himself for us—who would not enjoy His glory alone, but endured the wrath of God in order that He might link us with Himself, and share with us all His love and glory for ever. Oh! to live for Christ and wait for His appearing!

High in the Father's house above
My mansion is prepared;
There is the home, the rest I love,
And there my bright reward.
With Him I love, in spotless white,
In glory I shall shine;
His blissful presence my delight,
His love and glory mine.
All taint of sin shall be removed,
All evil done away;
And I shall dwell with God's Beloved,
Through God's eternal day.

A FEW THOUGHTS

ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOLDING

PRE-MILLENNIAL DOCTRINE

AND

WAITING FOR THE SON

Rev. i. 5-7

In a day like the present, when knowledge on every question is so widely diffused, it is most needful to press upon the conscience of the Christian reader the vast distinction between merely holding the doctrine of the Lord's second coming and actually waiting for His appearing (1 Thess. i. 10). Many, alas! hold and, it may be, eloquently preach, the doctrine of a second advent who really do not know the Person whose advent they profess to believe and preach. This evil must be faithfully pointed out and dealt with. The present is an age of knowledge—of religious knowledge; but oh! my reader, knowledge is not life, knowledge is not power—knowledge will not deliver from sin, or Satan, from the world, from death, from hell. Knowledge, I mean, short of the knowledge of God in Christ. One may know a great deal of Scripture, a great deal of prophecy, a great deal of doctrine, and, all the while, be dead in trespasses and sins.

There is, however, one kind of knowledge which necessarily involves eternal life, and that is the knowledge of God, as He is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. "This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (John xvii. 3). Now, it is impossible to be living in the daily and hourly expectation of "the coming of the Son of Man," if the Son of Man be not experimentally known. I may take up the prophetic record, and by mere study, and the exercise of my intellectual faculties, discover the doctrine of the Lord's second coming, and yet be totally ignorant of Christ, and living a life of entire alienation of heart from Him. How often has this been the case! How many have astonished us with their vast fund of prophetic knowledge—a fund acquired, it may be, by years of laborious research, and yet, in the end, proved themselves to have been displaying unhallowed light—light not acquired by prayerful waiting upon God! Surely the thought of this should deeply affect our hearts and solemnize our minds, and lead us to inquire whether or not we know the blessed Person who, again and again, announces Himself as about to "come quickly;" else, if we know Him not, we may find ourselves of the number of those addressed by the prophet in the following startling words:—"Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness and not light? even very dark and no brightness in it?" (Amos v. 18-20).

The second chapter of Matthew furnishes us with a very striking illustration of the difference between mere prophetic knowledge and the knowledge of Christ—between the exercise of the intellect on the letter of Scripture, and the drawings of the Father to the Person of Christ. The wise men, manifestly led by the finger of God, were in true and earnest search of Christ, and they found Him. As to Scriptural knowledge, they could not, for a moment, have competed with the chief priests and scribes; yet what did the Scriptural knowledge of the latter do for them? Why, it rendered them efficient instruments for Herod, who called them together for the purpose of making use of their Biblical knowledge in his deadly opposition to God's Anointed. They were able to give him chapter and verse, as we say. But, my reader, while they were assisting Herod by their knowledge, the wise men were, by the drawings of the Father, making their way to Jesus. Blessed contrast! How much happier to be a worshipper at the feet of Jesus, though with slender knowledge, than to be a learned scribe, with a heart cold, dead, and distant from that blessed One! How much better to have the heart full of lively affection for Christ than to have the intellect stored with the most accurate knowledge of the letter of Scripture! What is the melancholy characteristic of the present time? A wide diffusion of Scriptural knowledge with little love for Christ, and little devotedness to His work; abundant readiness to quote Scripture, like the scribes and chief priests, but little purpose of heart, like the wise men, to open the treasures and present to Christ the willing offerings of a heart filled by the sense of what He is. What we want is personal devotedness, and not the mere empty display of knowledge. It is not that we would undervalue Scriptural knowledge; God forbid, if that knowledge be found in connection with genuine discipleship. But if it be not, I ask, of what value is it? None whatever. The most extensive range of knowledge, if Christ be not its centre, will avail just nothing; yea, it will, in all probability, render us more efficient instruments in Satan's hand for the furthering of his purposes of hostility to Christ. An ignorant man can do but little mischief; but a learned man, without Christ, can do a great deal.

The verses which stand at the head of this paper present to us the divine basis on which to found all Scriptural knowledge, more especially prophetic knowledge. Before any one can utter his hearty amen to the announcement, "Behold he cometh with clouds," he must, without any question, be able to join in the blessed burst of praise, "To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood." The believer knows the One who is coming, because He has loved him, and washed him from his sins. The believer expects the everlasting Lover of his soul. The meek and lowly One who served, suffered, and was emptied down here, will speedily come in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory, and all who know Him will welcome Him with glad hosannahs—they will be able to say, "This is the Lord, we have waited for him, we will rejoice and be glad in his salvation." But, alas! there are, it is to be feared, very many who hold and argue about the Lord's coming who are not waiting for Him at all, who are living for themselves in the world, and "mind earthly things." How terrible to be found talking about the Lord's coming, and yet, when He does come, to be left behind! Oh! my beloved reader, think of this; and if you are really conscious that you know not the Lord, then let me entreat of you to behold Him shedding His precious blood to wash you from your sins, and learn to confide in Him, to lean upon Him, to rejoice in Him, and IN HIM ALONE.

But if you can look up to heaven, and say, "Thank God, I do know Him, and I am waiting for Him," then let me remind you of what the apostle John says, as to the practical result of this blessed hope. "Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure." Yes, this must ever be the result of waiting for the Son from heaven; but not at all so of the mere prophetic doctrine. Many of the most impure, profane and ungodly characters, that have made their appearance in the world, have held, in theory, the second advent of Christ; but they were not waiting for the Son, and therefore they did not, and could not purify themselves. It is impossible that any one can be waiting for Christ's appearing, and not make efforts after increased holiness, separation, and devotedness of heart: "Behold, I come quickly; blessed is he that watcheth." Those who know the Lord Jesus Christ, and love His appearing, will daily seek to shake off everything contrary to their Master's mind; they will seek to become more and more conformed to Him in all things. Men may hold the doctrine of the Lord's coming, and yet grasp the world and the things thereof with great eagerness; but the true-hearted servant will ever keep his eye steadily fixed on his Master's return, remembering His blessed words, "I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also" (John xiv. 3).

What a day will that be when the Saviour appears!
How welcome to those who have shared in His cross!
A crown incorruptible then will be theirs—
A rich compensation for suffering and loss.

C. H. M.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] We rejoice in every opportunity for the setting forth of Christ's eternal Sonship. We hold it to be an integral and essentially necessary part of the Christian faith.

[2] The reader will note with interest a fact alluded to elsewhere, that in Genesis xi. divers tongues were given as a judgment upon man's pride. In Acts ii. divers tongues were given in grace to meet man's need. And in Revelation vii. the various tongues are all found united in one song of praise to God and to the Lamb. Such are some of the wonderful works of God. May we praise Him with all our ransomed powers! May our hearts adore Him!

[3] I would refer the reader to the following scriptures in confirmation of what has been above advanced on the subject of "the lamp."—Ex. xxvii. 20; 2 Sam. xxii. 29; Ps. cxix. 105; Prov. vi. 23; xiii. 9; Isa. lxii. 1.

[4] I would observe here that the doctrine of the Epistle to the Galatians stands intimately connected with chap. xvi., xvii., and I might add, the important doctrine of Israel's future restoration. We also get the doctrine of justification by faith fully illustrated in chap. xv.

[5] Although I consider Lot the principal object in Abraham's mind, while interceding before the Lord, I do not forget that there is mention made of "fifty," etc.

[6] For a fuller examination and spiritual instruction contained in Abraham's and others' history, see Genesis in the Light of the New Testament; from the same publishers.

[7] It strikes me that we get, in Abraham's journey to Mount Moriah, a remarkable type of the mysterious scene afterwards exhibited at Calvary, when God was really providing himself a lamb. We can have no difficulty in losing sight of Herod and Pilate, the chief priests and scribes, the Pharisees and the multitude, and thus we have none remaining but the Father and the Son, who, in company, ascend the Mount and carry out the gracious work of redemption in the unbroken solitude of that place.

[8] The reader will not, I trust, imagine that the necessity for the work of the Holy Ghost in the regeneration of the children of Christian parents is denied or interfered with. God forbid! "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." This is as true of a Christian's child as of every one else. Grace is not hereditary. The sum of what I would press upon Christian parents is, that Scripture inseparably links a man with his house, and that the Christian parent is warranted in counting upon God for his children, and responsible to train his children for God. Let any one who denies this interpret Ephesians vi. 4.

[9] It will be said that there cannot be any analogy between the actual removal of people from one country to another and the training of our children. I reply, the analogy only applies in principle. It is perfectly evident that we cannot take our children to heaven in the sense in which the Israelites took theirs to Canaan. God alone can fit our children for heaven, by implanting in them the life of His own Son; and He alone can bring them to heaven, in His own time. But then, although we can neither fit our children for, nor bring them to, heaven, we can, nevertheless, by faith, train them for it; and it is not merely our duty (a poor, cold, and unworthy expression), but our high and holy privilege so to do. Hence, therefore, if the principle on which, and the object with which, we train our children are manifestly worldly, we do, virtually, and so far as in us lies, leave them in the world. And on the other hand, if our principle and object are unequivocally heavenly, then do we, so far as in us lies, train them for heaven. This, my beloved reader, is all that is meant in this tract by leaving our children in Egypt or taking them to Canaan. We are responsible to train our children, though we cannot convert them; and God will assuredly bless the faithful training of those whom He has graciously given us.

[10] There is, I should say, a very serious error involved in a Christian parent's committing the training of his children to unconverted persons, or even to those whose hearts are not one with him as to separation from the world. It is natural that a child should look up to, and follow the example of, one who has the training and management of him. Now, what can a teacher make of a child, save what he is himself? Whither can he lead him, but to where he is himself? What principles can he instill, save those which govern his own mind, and form the basis of his own character? Well, if I see a man governed by worldly principles—if I see plainly, from his whole course and character, that he is an unconverted person, shall I commit to him the training and instruction of my children, or the formation of their characters? It would be the height of folly and inconsistency so to do. As well might a man who desired to make an oval-shaped bullet cast the melted lead into a circular mould.

The same principle applies to the reading of books. A book is decidedly a silent teacher and former of the mind and character; and if I am called to look well to the character and principles of the living teacher, I am equally so to look to those of the silent teacher. I am quite convinced that in reference both to books and teachers, we need to have our consciences stirred and instructed.

[11] Very many content themselves with the assurance that at some time or other their children will be converted. But this is not taking God's ground with them now. If we have the assurance that they are within the range of God's purpose, why do we not act upon that assurance? If we are waiting to see certain evidences of conversion in them before we act as Scripture directs, it is plain that we are looking at something besides God's promise. This is not faith. The Christian parent is privileged to look upon his child now as one to be trained for the Lord. He is bound to take this ground, in faith, and train him thus, looking to God, in the fullest assurance, for the result. If I wait to see fruits, this is not faith. Besides, the question arises, What are my children now? They may be going about like idle, willful vagrants, bringing sad dishonor on the name and truth of Christ, and yet all the while I satisfy myself by saying, I know they will be converted yet. This will never do. My children should be now a testimony for God; and they can only be this by my taking God's ground with them, and going on with Him about them.

[12] The Christian parent may ask, What am I to teach my child? The answer is simple. Teach him only such things as will prove useful to him as a servant of Christ. Do not teach him aught which you know would prove a positive source of defilement or weakness to him should he remain here. We are seldom at a loss to know what kind of food to give our children. We are tolerably well aware of what would prove nourishing and what would prove the reverse. Now, were the instincts of the new nature as true and as energetic in us as those of the old, we should, I am persuaded, be at as little loss to decide in reference to what we should teach our children. In this, as in every thing else, it may be said, "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." If we have a deep sense of Christ's glory, and a sincere desire to promote it, we shall not be left in perplexity; but if our body is not "full of light," we may be assured our "eye" is not "single."

[13] I would, however, desire to remind the children of Christian parents that they are solemnly responsible to hearken to God's holy word, quite irrespective of the conduct of their parents. God's truth is not affected by the actings of men; and wherever one has heard the testimony of God's love, in the death and resurrection of Christ, he is responsible for the use he makes thereof, even though he should not have seen its sacred influence and power exemplified in the life of his parents. I would press these facts upon the serious attention of all children of Christian parents.

[14] "And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." (Eph. vi. 4.) There is great danger of provoking our children to wrath by inordinate strictness and arbitrary treatment. We may constantly find ourselves seeking to mould and fashion our children according to our own tastes and peculiarities, rather than to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." This is a very great mistake, and will surely issue in failure and confusion. We shall gain nothing, in the way of testimony for Christ, by moulding and fashioning nature into the most exquisite shapes. Moreover, it does not require faith to train and cultivate nature; but it does require it to bring up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Some, however, may say that the apostle, in the above passage, is speaking of converted children. To this I reply, that there is nothing about conversion in the passage. It is not said, Bring up your converted children, etc. Were it thus, it would settle the whole question. But it is simply said, "your children," which surely must mean all our children. Now, if I am to bring up all my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, when am I to commence? Am I to wait till they grow up to be almost men and women? or am I to begin where all right minded people begin their work, namely, at the beginning? Am I to allow them to run on in nature's folly and wildness, during the most important part of their career, without ever seeking to bring their consciences into the presence of God, as to their solemn responsibilities? Am I to suffer them to spend in utter thoughtlessness that period of life in which the elements of their future character are imparted? This would be the most refined cruelty. What should we say to a gardener who would allow the branches of his fruit-trees to assume all sorts of crooked and fantastic shapes ere he thought of commencing a proper system of training? We should doubtless pronounce him a fool and a madman. And yet such an one is wise in comparison with a parent who suspends the nurture and admonition of the Lord until his children have made manifest progress in the nurture and admonition of the enemy.

But, it may be said, we must wait for evidences of conversion. To this I reply, that faith never waits for evidences, but acts on God's word, and the evidences are sure to follow. It is always a manifest proof of infidelity to wait for signs when God gives a command. If Israel had waited for a sign when God said, "Go forward," it would have been plain disobedience; and if the man with the withered hand had waited for some evidence of strength when Christ commanded him to stretch forth his hand, he might have carried his withered hand to the grave with him. So is it with parents. If they wait for signs and evidences before they obey God's word in Ephesians vi. 4, they are certainly not walking by faith, but by sight. Besides, if we are to begin at the beginning to train our children, we must evidently begin before they are capable of giving what we might regard as evidences of conversion.

In this, as in every thing else, our place is to obey, and leave results with God. The moral condition of the soul may be tested by the command; but where there is the disposition to obey, the power to do so will surely accompany the command, and the fruits of obedience will follow "in due season, if we faint not."

[15] It was nature in Barnabas that led him to wish for the company of one who "departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work." It was amiable nature, yet it was nature, and it triumphed, for he took Mark and sailed to Cyprus, his native country, where, in the freshness of his Christian course, he had sold his property, in order to be a more unshackled follower of Him who had not where to lay His head. (See Acts iv. 36, 37.) This is no uncommon case. Many set out with a surrender of earth and nature with their respective claims. The blossom on the tree of Christian profession looks fair, and emits a fragrant perfume; but alas! it is not followed by the rich and mellow fruit of autumn. The influences of earth and nature gather around the soul, and nip its beauteous blossoms, and all ends in barrenness and disappointment. This is very sad, and is always attended with the very worst moral effect upon the testimony. It is not at all a question of ceasing to be a saved person. Barnabas was a saved person. The influences of Mark and Cyprus could not blot out his name from the Lamb's book of life, but they did most thoroughly blot out his name from the records of testimony and service here below. And was not this something to be lamented? Is there naught to be deplored or dreaded save the loss of personal salvation? Most despicable is the selfishness that can think so. For what purpose does the blessed God take so much pains and trouble in maintaining His people here? Is it that they may be saved and made meet for glory? No such thing. Saved they are already, by the accomplished redemption of Christ, and therefore meet for glory. There is no middle step between justification and glory, for "whom He justified, them He also glorified." Why, therefore, does God leave us here? That we may be a testimony for Christ. Were it not for this, we might just as well be taken to heaven the moment of our conversion. May we have grace to understand this point, in all its fullness and practical power.

[16] The epistles of Peter develop the doctrine of God's moral government. He it is who asks the question, "Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" Now, some may find a difficulty in reconciling this inquiry with Paul's statement, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." It were needless to say that the two ideas are in perfect and beautiful harmony. The Lord Jesus Himself, who was the only perfect and unwavering follower of that which is good, who, from first to last, "went about doing good," found, in the end, the cross, the spear, the borrowed grave. The apostle Paul, who, beyond all other men, kept close to the Great Original which was set before him, was called to drink an unusually large cup of privation and persecution. And to this moment, the more like Christ, and the more devoted to Him any one is, the more privation and persecution he will suffer. Were any one, in true devotedness to Christ and love to souls, to take his stand publicly in some Roman Catholic district, and there preach Christ, his life would be in imminent danger. Do all these facts interfere with Peter's inquiry? By no means. The direct tendency of God's moral government is to protect from injury all who are "followers of that which is good," and to bring down punishment upon all who are the reverse; but it never interferes with the higher path of ardent discipleship, or deprives any one of the privilege and dignity of being as like Christ as he will; "for unto you it is given, on behalf of Christ [το υπερ χριστου], not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him [υπερ αυτου]; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear in me." (Phil. i. 29, 30.) Here we are taught that it is an actual gift conferred upon us to be allowed to suffer for Christ, and this in the midst of a scene in which, on the ground of God's moral government, it can be said, "Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" To recognize and be a subject of God's government is one thing, and to be a follower of a rejected and crucified Christ is quite another. Even in Peter's epistle, which, as we have remarked, has as its special theme the doctrine of God's government, we read, "But if, doing well and suffering for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable to God. For unto this were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps." And again, "If any suffer as a Christian [from being morally like Christ], let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this matter."]

[17] Nothing can be more melancholy than to hear a mother say to a child, "We must not let your father know any thing about this." Where such a course of reserve and double dealing is adopted, there must be something radically and awfully wrong, and it is a moral impossibility that any thing like godly order can prevail, or right discipline be carried out. Either the father must, by inordinate severity or unwarrantable strictness, be "provoking his children to wrath," or the mother must be pampering the child's will at the expense of the father's character and authority. In either case, there is an effectual barrier to the testimony, and the children suffer grievous injury. Hence, Christian parents should see well to it that they always appear before their children, and also before their servants, in the power of that unity which flows from their being perfectly joined together in the Lord. If, unhappily, any shade of difference should arise in reference to the details of domestic government, let it be made a matter of private conference, prayer, and self-judgment in the presence of God; but never let the subjects of government see such a manifest proof of moral weakness, for it will surely cause them to despise the government.

[18] There are many cases in which one finds persons united, who though they cannot exactly be said to be "unequally yoked," are, to say the least, very badly matched. Their tempers, tastes, habits, and views are totally different; and so different, that instead of maintaining a desirable balance (which opposite tempers, if properly arranged, might do), they keep up a perpetual jar, to the sad derangement of the domestic circle, and the dishonor of the Lord's name. All this might be very much obviated if Christians would only wait upon God, and make His glory more their object than personal interest or affection.

[19] It is important for the Christian to bear in mind the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." Whenever I am in perplexity as to my path, I have reason to suspect that my eye is not single; for, assuredly, perplexity is not compatible with a "body full of light." We frequently go to pray for guidance in matters with which, if the eye were single and the will subject, we would have nothing whatever to do, and hence we should have no need to pray about them. To pray about aught concerning which the Word of God is plain, marks the activity of a rebellions will. As a recent writer has well remarked, "We sometimes seek God's will, desiring to know how to act in circumstances in which it is not His will that we should be found at all; if conscience were in real healthful activity, its first effect would be to make us quit them. It is our own will which sets us there, and we should like, nevertheless, to enjoy the consolation of God's direction in a path which ourselves have chosen. Such is a very common case. Be assured that if we are near enough to God, we shall have no trouble to know His will.... However, 'if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light;' whence it is certain that if the whole body is not full of light, the eye is not single. You will say, That is poor consolation. I answer, It is a rich consolation for those whose sole desire is to have the eye single and to walk with God."

[20] By any means.

[21] The unequal yoke proved a terrible snare to the amiable heart of Jehoshaphat. He yoked himself with Ahab for a religious object; and notwithstanding the disastrous termination of this scheme, we find him yoking himself with Ahaziah for a commercial object, which likewise ended in loss and confusion; and lastly, he yoked himself with Jehoram for a military object. (Comp. 2 Chron. xviii; xx. 32-37; 2 Kings iii.)

[22] Eternal life and its manifestations—first in our Lord, and then in the children of God—being the general line of truth in John's Gospel and epistles, is individual and personal. In Paul's epistles the unity of the saints as baptized by one Spirit into one body, with what flows from it, is brought out. [Ed.]

[23] Has the reader ever pondered Jno. iii. 36? There is marvelous power in it. It completely demolishes two special heresies of the day, namely, universalism and annihilationism. It tells the universalist that "he that believeth not the Son shall not see life," and it tells the annihilationist that "the wrath of God abideth on" the unbeliever. If he "shall not see life," he cannot be restored; and if "the wrath of God abideth on him," he cannot be annihilated.

[24] The clause "Them that look for him" refers to all believers. It does not mean, as some suppose, those only who hold the truth of the Lord's second coming. This would make our place with Christ at His coming dependent upon knowledge, instead of upon our union with Him by the presence and power of the Holy Ghost. The Spirit of God, in the above passage, most graciously takes for granted that all God's people are looking, in some way or another, for the precious Saviour; and verily so they are. They may not see eye to eye as to all the details. They may not all enjoy equal clearness of view or depth and fulness of apprehension; but, most surely, they would all be glad at any moment to see the One who loved them and gave Himself for them.

[25] We shall have occasion, in a future paper, to show that, after the church has been removed to heaven, the Spirit of God will act both among the Jews, and also among the Gentiles. See Revelation vii.

[26] We have no pretensions whatever to scholarship; we are merely gleaners in the deeply interesting field of criticism in which others have reaped a golden harvest. We do not mean to occupy our readers with arguments in defence of readings given in the text; but we feel that there is no use in giving them what we consider to be erroneous. We believe there is no doubt whatever that the true reading of 2 Thessalonians ii. is as we have given it above, "as that the day of the Lord is present." The word ενεστηκεν can only be thus rendered. It occurs in Romans viii. 38, where it is translated "things present." So also in 1 Corinthians iii. 22, "things present;" chapter vii. 25, "present distress;" Galatians i. 4, "present evil world;" Hebrews ix. 9, "time then present."

[27] Some have considered that the hinderer or hindrance was the Roman empire; others that it is the Holy Ghost in the church. To this latter we have inclined for many years, though it may be there is a measure of truth in the former. This, at least, we know from other parts of Scripture, that ere the lawless one appears on the scene, the church will have been safely and blessedly housed in her own eternal home above—her prepared place. How precious the thought of this!

[28] The English reader should be informed that, in the entire passage, John v. 22-26, the words "judgment," "condemnation," "damnation," are all expressed by the same word in the original, and that word is simply "judgment," κρισις, the process, not the result. It is much to be deplored that our Authorized Version should not have so rendered the word throughout. It would have made the teaching of the passage so very much clearer. It is with extreme reluctance that we ever venture to touch our unrivalled English Bible, but it is, at times, absolutely necessary for the truth's sake, and for the sake of our readers. As to the rendering of verse 24, it really comes to the same thing whether we say "condemnation" or "judgment," inasmuch as if there be judgment at all, its issue must be condemnation. But why not be accurate?

[29] Contrast with this reluctant departure His ready entrance into the tabernacle in Exodus xl.; and into the temple, 2 Chron. vii. 1. No sooner was the habitation ready for Him, than down He came to occupy it, and fill it with His glory He was as quick to enter as He was slow to depart. And not only so, but ere the book of Ezekiel closes, we see the glory coming back again; and "Jehovah Shammah" stands engraved in everlasting characters upon the gates of the beloved city. Nothing changeth God's affection. Whom He loves, and as He loves, He loves to the end. "The same yesterday, to-day, and forever."

[30] We do not, by any means, restrict the application of the "talents" to direct, specific, spiritual gifts. We believe the parable takes in the wide range of Christian service: just as the parable of the ten virgins takes in the wide range of Christian profession.

[31] It is, we are aware, a question among the expositors, whether the events detailed in Revelation vi.-xviii. will occupy a whole week or only a half. We do not here attempt to offer an opinion. Some consider that the public ministry of John the Baptist and that of our Lord occupied a week, or seven years, and that in consequence of Israel's rejection of both, the week is cancelled, and remains yet to be fulfilled. It is an interesting question; but it in no wise affects the great principles which have been before us, or the interpretation of the book of Revelation. We may add that the expressions "forty and two months"—"twelve hundred and sixty days"—"time, times, and the dividing of time" indicate the period of half a week, or three years and a half.

Transcriber's note:

Variations in spelling, punctuation and hyphenation have been retained except in obvious cases of typographical error.






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