“And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
“IF a man abide not in Me,” said our Lord, “he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered.” (John 15:6) The same thought is here. Thrust down your rootlets to the oozy river bed, and there is no doubt about your continuing earnest, patient, God-filled life. The sun of temptation may strike you with sword-like beams, but you will have a source of supply which they cannot exhaust. The secret of an unwithering beauty is in the Word of God, delighted in and meditated upon day and night. And what is the Word of God, but the life of God translated into human speech?
Wean yourself from all beside, and learn to feed on God.
Withdraw your rootlets from men and things, and let them travel to the river of God, which is full of water. Close other doors, and open those that lead out on to the terrace, whence you may behold the far-spread landscape of what He is, and says, and is willing to be to us all.
Note that word meditate. (Psalm 1:2) The root must lie in contact with the stream, and the soul most steep itself in the Word of God.
We must give the truth time to enter and pervade our souls. We must have retreats, shut away from the rush of life, up and down the glades of which we may tread. These retreats are oftener found within the soul; than without. Just as the temple of old, there was Solomon’s porch, where Jesus walked, so in the temple within there are closes and cloisters, where we may commune with our heart, and be still.
“I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.”
THE Holy Ghost tells us that this was addressed by the Father to the Son in His Resurrection (see Acts 8:33). It was from the grave that our Lord stepped up to His mediatorial throne, whence all the hatred of His foes has had no power to dislodge Him, and never shall have. Death is a birth unto the true life. Jesus was the Firstborn from the dead; we too are to be born out of the darkness of the grave into the Life Immortal.
“There is a beyond, and he who has once caught a glimpse of it is like a man who has gazed at the sun. Wherever he looks, he sees everywhere the image of the sun. Speak to him of finite things, and he will tell you that the finite is impossible and meaningless without the infinite. Speak to him of death, and he will call it birth; speak to him of time, and he will call it the mere shadow of eternity.”
But is it not wonderful that He has begotten us also unto a living hope by the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead to an incorruptible inheritance? We are the sons of the resurrection. In Jesus we are already on resurrection-ground. Our sun shall no more go down, nor our moon withdraw herself. For us, at least, God hath destroyed “the vail that is spread over all nations.” (Isaiah 25:7) Do not wonder, then, at the hate of men. They will rage, and imagine vain things; they will take counsel together. It cannot be otherwise.
Thou mayest expect, then, to be bruised by thy brethren, and hated by the world. But at such times Christ will come to thee, and give thee fresh accessions of His resurrection life, carrying thee into the hidden house of His abiding, and confirming the weak knees and the heart that faints.
“But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
OH, my soul, hast thou made God thy glory? Others boast in their wealth, beauty, position, achievements: dost thou find in God what they find in these? Thou needest safety from the shocks of time and change: is He thy shield? Thou must have something outside of thee, to complete thy blessedness: is He thine ideal? Thy head is drooping like a flower-cup—it sadly needs the dexterous hand of the Gardener:
“Nothing resting in its own completeness Can have worth or beauty: but alone— Because it leads and lends to further sweetness, Fuller, higher, deeper than its own— Life is only bright when it proceedeth Towards a truer, deeper life above; Human love is sweetest when it leadeth To a more divine and perfect love.”
God around us as a shield, God above and within us as an ideal, God lifting up the tired and sorrowful face — this was David’s threefold conception of his relation with God. All around men were filled with wrath at him. He heard their harsh voices, and what they said. Nevertheless he comforted, and stayed his heart with the words, But Thou, O Lord. Ah, what an instant change they make!
“We kneel, and all round us seems to lower; We rise and all, the distant and the near, Stands forth in sunny outline, brave and clear; We kneel, how weak — we rise, how full of power!”
Ah, these Buts! What a difference they make in our lives. There is always the hedge of God’s care, always an illimitable reserve of power and help within our reach, of which we may avail ourselves; and we are so sure of it, that we lay ourselves down in peace to sleep, though the foe in thousands encamps around.
“But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.”
THE Lord sets apart for His own enjoyment. — “A garden inclosed is my sister.” (Song of Solomon 4:12) Out of the wild prairie Christ encloses favored bits of land, that they may become fair gardens in which to walk. God must have spirits with which He can commune; and therefore He shuts selected ones away in sick chambers, in loneliness, and in prisons, that there may be nothing to divert them from the holy intercourse with Himself, which is His refreshment and delight.
The Lord sets apart for fellowship in intercessory prayer. —He leads three of the apostles into the shadows of Gethsemane, that they may add their intercessions with His. In each church there is a favoured band to whom He tells his secret anxiety for other souls, and whom He leads out in prayer on the behalf of them and of the world.
The Lord sets apart for service. —Those that separate themselves from evil become vessels unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use. Do not be surprised if you are withdrawn from the molding crowd, from the ambitions and interests of earlier years; it is the Lord’s way of engaging you for special service.
We can never forget how the Holy Ghost bade the early Church separate Barnabas and Saul to their appointed ministry. They were separated unto the Holy Ghost. A similar separation may become ours. Let us live in the world as those who are set apart for God, like the Temple vessels that might not be put, as Belshazzar attempted to put them, to idolatrous and lascivious purposes. Oh to know what God means when He puts His reserve on the soul, and says, This is my rest for ever, here will I dwell!
“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.”
IT is very important to consider the order of our petitions. No man would approach an earthly sovereign without taking time to consider how best to present his requests. He would consider the pleas on which to rely, the arguments to present, and the method in which he would be most likely to carry his case. Upon entering the presence of the great King, our Father, would it not well repay us to stay on the threshold for a moment to ask what petitions we are about to proffer, the order in which we should arrange them, and the reasons we should adduce?
It is manifestly a mistake to pray at haphazard. There is too much random praying with us all. We do not return again and again to the same petition, pressing it home with all humility and reverence and arguing the case. Did not Abraham do this for the three of the plain?
Study the order of the Lord’s prayer — the adoration and prostration of soul before God prior to supplication for definite gifts; the acquiescence in the Divine will before the prayer for daily bread; the entreaty for forgiveness before them can be a thought of deliverance from evil. Or consider the order of the High Priest’s intercession for His own in John 17 before He pours out His soul in prayer for the world. Lay the wood “in order.” Enter the temple of prayer through successive courts — Confession, Absolution Ascriptions of Praise, the Te Deum, the broken sentences, the outburst of intercession, as suggested by the Church of England liturgy. At the same time, do not forget to be perfectly natural.
Whilst the soul ascends the temple by regular steps, let there be the glad conviction of the tender love of the waiting Father.
“My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?”
YOU have been long in coming, love says. So miserly are of the minutes, so leaden-paced is the beat of the pendulum, when our heart stands on the tip-toe of expectation. Moments lengthen to hours when we suffer and await deliverance, just as hours contract to moments when the heart is young and joyfull.
How long, Lord, ere the trial cease? — When we are entering into the furnace, we like to make bargains with God that it shall not last beyond a certain hour; but He never tells us, lest patience might miss her perfect work. He says simply, It is enough to suffer one moment at a time.
How long, Lord, ere deliverance arrive? — Long ago we sent for reinforcements; and since then the battle has been waxing more fierce. We have looked eagerly to the horizon to see the relieving column, clear-cut on the sky line; but in vain. We think we can hold out no more. We have strained at the oar to the last degree of strength and if some deliverance does not come to us, the fourth watch of night will see us drifting helplessly to destruction. “Where is thy God?“ the enemy cries; and we are tempted to think ourselves forsaken and forgotten.
How long, Lord, ere the Advent break? — He said that He would come quickly — but the weary centuries pass; and, strain our ears as we may, we cannot detect His princely footfall along the corridor of time.
Cease, fond heart, thy complaining. Delay is not denial. He counts a thousand years as a day. He is coming on the wings of every wind; already He is nigh, even at the doors. Never a moment too early — but not a moment too late.
“The LORD shall judge the people: judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.”
SPECIFIC charges were being made against David, of which he knew himself to be absolutely innocent. He would not have dared to challenge God thus, if the whole of his life was passing under review. In that case there would have been no hesitation in confessing that, taken generally, he was a sinful man. Similarly, God’s children are often accused of wrongs of which they are absolutely innocent. In such case they have a right to declare their innocence before their fellows; then if this avail not to procure their acquittal, they must turn to God, and ask Him to interpose.
But what a question this suggests! Are you able, child of God, to declare that, as far as you have the light, you are living righteously, soberly, godly, in this present world? Is your life right-wise — that is, four-square with the demands of God’s law, able to bear the test of His line and plummet? Can you assert your integrity? Integrity is derived from the Latin integer, a whole, a number unbroken by fractions. Are you whole-hearted? Or, to use the grand old word, is your heart perfect before God? If it be, it matters very little what men shall say of your character. If a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but glorify God on this behalf.
What is said is aimed rather at the Master than the servant. God becomes responsible for your vindication. He will arise and show Himself strong, putting to silence the enemy and avenger. Trust your reputation with God, and, in the meanwhile, go on doing His will. There is no harm in calmly and temperately attesting your innocence; but if this avails not to stay the storm, bend before it. Do not appeal to law. God will vindicate you.
“Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:”
YES, broken, beaten, fallen, O child of man, thou wast to have dominion. Not only over cattle, birds and fish, but over thine own wonderful nature. Within thee there is a realm as full of multitudinous life as Paradise was when God brought the animals to Adam that he might name them; and over all this thou wast meant to rule. Yea, thou wert made to have dominion also over the wicked spirits that are thy sworn foes. A royal, regnant, victorious life was that which the Creator inbreathed. There is no reason, on God’s side, or in the original constitution, why thou shouldest not exercise thy dominion. Remember, thou wast made to have dominion.
We see not yet all things put under us. There is open revolt and anarchy within. The will resembles the ancient kings whose sway was limited by proud and strong barons. The animal creation largely defies us, and is in this the symbol of our loss of authority everywhere. But look away to Jesus. This old psalm is fulfilled in Him. His glorious nature rose, by its inherent glory, to the right hand of power. All authority is His in heaven and on earth. And in proportion as we identify ourselves with Him, and receive His life, we regain our lost dominion. He makes us kings and priests unto God. We share a life which neither death nor the devil can master.
What shall we say of the excellency of His name, who is not only our Creator, but our Redeemer, and who at such great cost to Himself has replaced on our brows the crown that sin tore from them? He made us to have dominion by the word of creation. He made us kings unto God by His blood. His name shall, therefore, be honoured through all the earth.
“And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.”
WE do not trust, because we do not know. If we were once know God, it would seem as absurd to doubt Him as to fear that we should fly off at a tangent from the surface of the earth. Men complain of their little faith: the remedy is in their own hands; let them set themselves to know God. We may know about God, and yet not know Him. We may hear what others say about Him, but have no direct and personal acquaintance. “That I may know Him,” (Philippians 3:10) said the Apostle.
The materials for the knowledge of God are all around thee; make use of them. Think of the promises by which God has bound Himself to succour those that come to Him; of the record of His gracious interpositions for His saints; of the necessity that He should maintain His character and reputation in the face of the universe.
Above all, argue, as Jesus bade, from your own heart. Would you give stones to hungry babes, and scorpions into childish hands?
Would you desert a forlorn and hunted soul that trusted? Would you insist on a certain measure of agony before stepping in to deliver?
Would you take delight in inflicting needless anguish? And will God? Trust may be read as the superlative of true. To trust is to count God true, though circumstances belie; to count Him truer than the melancholy forebodings of our hearts; to count Him our truest and tenderest Friend. “Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4)
But for all this, you must make time. You cannot know a friend in harried interviews, much less God. So you must steep yourself in deep, long thoughts of His nearness and love.
“Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?”
MEN in sorrow do not always speak wisely; and they ask many questions which God does not answer. Here is one. God does not stand afar off and hide Himself in times of trouble. As the psalmist sings, in a happier mood, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) But He permits trouble to pursue us as though He were indifferent to its overwhelming pressure; that we may be brought to an end of ourselves, and led to discover the treasures of darkness, the immeasurable gains of tribulation. No cross, no crown. No pain, no gain.
We may be sure that He who permits the suffering is with us in it. The form of the Fourth may be hard to distinguish, but it is there in the fire. It may be that we shall only see Him when the trial is passing; but we must dare to believe that He never leaves the crucible. Our eyes are holden; and we cannot behold Him whom our soul loveth. It is dark — the bandages blind us so that we cannot see the form of our High priest. But He is there, deeply touched. Let us not rely on feeling, but on faith in His unswerving fidelity; and though we see Him not, let us talk to Him in whispers as though we could detect Him.
“I take the pain, Lord Jesus, from thine own hand, The strength to bear it bravely, Thou wilt command.”
Directly we begin to speak to Jesus, as being literally present, though His presence is veiled, there comes an answering voice which shows that He is in the shadow, keeping watch upon His own. Do not be afraid of the darkness. Behind the cloud, the sun is shining. Little child, your Father is as near when you journey through the dark tunnel as when under the open heaven! Go nearer, and you will feel Him!
“The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.”
DO not be surprised if you are passing through trials. The righteous Lord is exercising you towards righteousness, that your face may ever behold His in unswerving communion. As the trainer of a young athlete will place him, now in one position, and again in another, to call certain muscles into play, to strengthen them by use, and to make the whole organization supple and subservient to the impulses of the soul, so God tries us — to call into operation, and test by use, each faculty of our being.
“Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer;
Trials bring us to his feet,
Lay us low, and keep us there.”
There is a great difference between the temptings of Satan and the tryings of the Lord. The former are intended to make us fall; the great adversary takes pleasure in showing how weak and sinful we are, and in casting us down to destruction. The latter, that we may be led out towards faith, patience, courage, meekness, and other worldliness. “Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience, hope.” (Romans 5:3,4) Whatever spiritual power is latent within us, we may be unaware of its value or helpfulness till it is called into exercise by trial, But when once it has been summoned into manifestation, it becomes the invaluable possession of all after time.
There is this consolation in trial, that at least we are not reprobates. The Lord trieth the righteous. The lapidary does not waste his time in cutting common pebbles. If we endure chastisement, we are clearly not bastards, but sons. Our Father loves us too much to let us miss the rich fruit, that is, reward us when all the pruning is over.