When I hear people dwelling on how much they have given up for God, I begin to wonder whether those self-denying ones have realized the joy and satisfaction which God wants to give to the fully consecrated heart. If they have, it is strange for them to talk of rushlight sacrifices whilst they are bathed in the sunlight of the Divine Presence.
Sometimes distressing consequences do follow surrender and faith, but are there not also glorious consequences in the form of joy in the seasons of sorrow, light and guidance in the hours of perplexity, Divine approval and communion when others misunderstand and shun us? Surely the knowledge of this leads me to cry, 'O my Lord, let me have the blessing with all its consequences!'
Oh, my friends, whilst counting the cost, look at both sides of God's gift, the crown as well as the cross; the delight as well as the denial; the heavenly sunshine as well as the earthly shadows; and the great, glorious, everlasting reward in eternity. When you have looked at all these things, make your choice; and, having chosen aright, 'hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown'.
Bound to the Altar
'Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.' (Psalm cxviii. 27.)
Periodically in our Halls we have had what we call Altar Services. At such times, and more especially during the Self-Denial and Harvest Festival efforts, Soldiers, friends, and others who are interested in God's work are invited to come forward with gifts of money to lay upon the special table which, for that occasion, serves the purpose of an altar. Those who have been present at these Meetings will not need to be told that the 'gift' is irrevocable. The giver cannot honestly get it back—it has been deliberately parted with.
That is a very definite thing done, and it illustrates the central idea of the verse which I have read to you.
Some time ago I went with The General to Stockholm, where the Swedish Officers were gathered together for their annual Congress. At the close of the Councils I asked an Officer how he liked the Meetings, and what the result would be. He replied, 'Commissioner, it's just like this. It is as if The General during these days builded an altar, and to-night we all climbed upon that altar offering ourselves a sacrifice unto God, and the fire came down and sanctified the offering.'
The true worship and service of God—it need not be told—involves sacrifice. If any one here feels that religion is all a question of how much he can get out of God by saying so many prayers or offering so many donations, he has a totally wrong conception of what it is. I know that there are many who regard their vows to God very lightly. They seem to think they can get through their religion without much self-denial. Religion of that sort, however, is worth nothing either to those who possess it or to the Lord whom they profess to serve. Without self-sacrifice, without self-denial, religion comes to nothing, or, at any rate, amounts to very little.
I do not desire that you should imitate the senseless practices prevailing in some countries, where the people are allowed to build their hopes of Salvation upon penance and self-torture. And yet we are sometimes put to shame by the things we hear and see.
A short time ago I received a letter from a young Officer in India. After describing some pleasing scenes, he said, 'One sees some awful things out here. I saw a man the other day literally walking upon nails. It made me shiver. He imagined that by this he could save his soul. With what passion I wished that man could only understand that other nails were pierced in other feet for him! But you see how in earnest the people here are about their religion, and in all these things they are seeking for Salvation.'
There are not many who are prepared to do what that poor Indian devotee did. They are a long way off that. But unless they are prepared to include sacrifice in their religion, they are not on the lines either of their Lord's example or their Lord's words. The cross, the following, the denial of self, the Calvary path, cannot be excluded from the life of Christ's follower.
Whilst true service must always be a spiritual thing, do not imagine it is something merely 'in the mind'. I have heard it talked about in the same way as a doctor talked to a poor lad who had his thumb crushed in a machine.
'Don't shout, my poor boy', he said. 'Don't you know I feel it as truly as you do?'
'Perhaps so,' replied the boy; 'but you feels it in your mind, and I feels it in my thumb!'
Sacrifice is often talked about by some people who feel it perhaps as much as the doctor felt the crushed thumb, being largely a matter of sympathy, without the actual hurting.
This matter of sacrifice indicates a certain principle, a certain state of mind, which expresses itself in two ways. It is either a giving up of things which are against God's will, or the contribution of something which is valuable, to be surrendered or used in His service. Shall I not say that sacrifice represents the heart saying, on the one hand, 'I will come out, and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing'? and, on the other hand, 'What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?' Not only singing, 'Where He leads I will follow', 'Lord, I make a full surrender', but actually spending and being spent for Him.
I need not dwell at any great length upon the word 'altar'. I referred to the table in our Altar Services as the place of gifts. It is also the place of dedication, and the place of sacrifice. Thank God, it has been so to many, as well as the mercy-seat, where God has sealed the acceptance of the offering presented to Him.
How often have we been reminded of that altar of sacrifice in the shape of the accursed cross, where the Saviour made atonement for our sins! And it is in reality at that altar we bow when we sincerely sing—
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all!
Not only 'demands' the sacrifice, but 'shall have my soul, my life, my all'.
But what does the binding of the sacrifice to the altar mean? The phrase is very significant.
The horns were the corner posts, and sometimes the worshipper presenting a living creature would tether it with a cord to the altar's horn, so that the gift could be used either for sacrifice or service. In both cases the figure of speech seems to imply the possibility of the consecration being reversed by the withdrawal of the offering, or broken by its loss, the sacrifice slipping off or away from the altar, or being loosened by the person who had presented the offering.
The Psalmist therefore urges those to whom he is speaking to maintain their consecration, and to see to it that their sacrifice is not taken off the altar after being put on. These corner posts were not there for ornament, but for use, and the cords were intended to hold the sacrifice to the altar, so that it could not be snatched away.
Here is my Bible. If I turned away, and anybody were so minded, it would be easy to make off with it while my back was turned. But if I had some cord, and, by crossing it transversely from corner to corner, tied the Book to the table, that would make it secure. It was thus that the sacrifices were bound to the Jewish altar.
What I want to emphasize by this is, that those who come with gifts and dedications should bind themselves in terms of unalterable covenant. They should stand to their consecration when loss or pain or temptation come, as come they will in one form or another. It is just here where so many fail—they do not really maintain their sacrifice. That is to say, having made a consecration they do not stand to it. The offering has been made, but it has been taken back again; the vow has been registered, but not paid; the promise has been made, but not fulfilled; the consecration has been broken or reversed.
Take that wonderful scene in the life of Abraham. At the command of God he erected an altar, cut the sacrifice in pieces, and laid it there. Then Abraham waited for the coming of the fire. Before the fire came, or anything happened, the vultures, those unclean birds, were circling around his head, and around the altar, trying to defile the sacrifice or snatch it away or devour it. The story says that when the birds came down Abraham drove them away, and he stood to his covenant until the fire came. The vultures of temptation will circle around you. They will try to frighten you, and to remove the sacrifice wholly or partially, or to defile it in some way. Your business then is to drive them away, to bind and rebind the sacrifice to God's altar.
In the days of Queen Mary, a girl-martyr refused, when pressure was brought upon her, to deny her Lord and renounce her faith. She was condemned and taken to the seashore. There she was bound to a stake near the low tide line, and, as the incoming waters gathered round her feet, one of her persecutors rode out and offered to spare her life if she would renounce her faith and turn her back upon her Lord.
The waters rose to her waist, and he rode out again, and, when half unconscious, she was dragged out, and urged to recant. Refusing to do this, the girl was again bound to the stake.
When the waters reached her shoulders the offer was repeated. To one and all she replied something like this: 'No, I will not draw back! I will not deny my Lord!' And as the rising tide came in she bowed her head, and poured her soul out unto death rather than deny her Master. She bound her sacrifice to the altar, and died in the faith.
Some of those who hear my words are disappointed and sad at heart, for they have gone back on Jesus Christ; not perhaps to save their lives, but for a mere trifle. Why these neglected vows? Why these defiled sacrifices? Why these broken consecrations? If they were ever really put on the altar they were not, I am afraid, bound there. Impulse, sentiment, desire, intention may have induced the offering, but it was not bound with 'cords of submission, cords of determination'. Companionships, some secret indulgence, some selfish pleasure, some act of reversal, carried off the sacrifice.
Alas! how many have never seriously and sincerely approached the Divine altar to make the full surrender of themselves to God. The love of sin, the selfish gratifications which are so precious to them, have kept them back, though often convicted about their duty.
But the act of dedication is very simple, and can be made or renewed now. While we bow before God around the altar of consecration, bring yourselves and the sacrifice again and put it on that altar in an unchangeable covenant, and with a simple faith that will bring from God that holy fire which makes it possible to maintain it there for ever.
A willing sacrifice at last Myself to Thee I give; The weary, painful strife is past— I die that I may live.
I yield Thee all my hallowed powers, Thine only will I be, Contented if I may but know Thou giv'st Thyself to me.
'Why Should I?'
'Thou saidst, What advantage will it be? What profit shall I have, if I be cleansed from my sin? I will answer thee, and thy companions with thee.' (Job xxxv. 3, 4.)
In reading these words I have no wish to enter into the controversy between Job and his friends as to the relationship of physical suffering to sin, but to emphasize a certain mental attitude which they indicate, and which often expresses itself in relation to other things.
The human mind is so constituted that men will not commit themselves to a course suggested by another unless it is proved to be worth their while. When we want to move people to do that which does not at the moment fit in with their desires, we have to urge motives upon their consideration. Very few actions are performed without there being some personal motive. It seems born in us to ask, 'Is it worth while? Why should I do, or go and accept what I do not want?' and so we hang back until some motive carries our judgment or feelings.
We find the same attitude in men's minds towards Salvation and those spiritual blessings and conditions of life in which the Lord wants men to live. The immediate gratification of the flesh, or love of selfish indulgence, lies in the opposite direction to the Altar of Consecration; so that when the call to surrender and Holiness comes, naturally, and at once, the cry springs up, 'Why should I? Where is the advantage? What profit shall I have?' It seems, therefore, absolutely necessary to find some personal motives by which to urge people to be saved, or seek a clean heart, and pursue those lines of sacred duty to which redeemed men should be consecrated.
Speaking from personal experience, I would say that whilst soul-saving is hard work, it appears equally difficult to persuade professors of religion to definitely seek deliverance from inward sin, and to attain those spiritual realizations which we speak of as 'Full Salvation' or 'The Blessing of Holiness'. As evidence of this difficulty, I may point to the state of soul and spiritual experience in which even some of you are now found: receiving light and instruction about Holiness, but continuing unsanctified; singing of the Cleansing Blood, but yet remaining uncleansed by it; praying, 'Baptize me with the Holy Ghost', and yet resisting His gracious leadings to the higher life of Holiness.
In one of my Meetings my subject was 'Out-and-Out Consecration'. I was attracted by a man who seemed intensely interested. I spoke with him afterwards, when he said, 'I was much pleased with your address—I entirely approve of the sentiments you expressed'. And yet I could not induce the man to give himself to God. Thus we have to seek for motives by which to move the hearts of people in this vital matter.
1. Let me again set before you those motives which should lead you to seek the blessing. I place first among them the fact which Paul stated thus, 'This is the will of God, even your sanctification'. I put this first because the highest motive stimulating the soul of the child of God should be the knowledge of his Father's will. One would think that to know God's will should be enough to provoke the determination to do it. To hear the Father's voice should stir the heart in responsive desire and effort.
We had a little daughter who, before she went to Heaven, was the joy of our hearts and the light of our home. The child had a passion for cleanliness, and as the evening hour came on, she gave the maid no peace until she was washed and dressed in clean clothes. Then, running to her mother, she would ask, 'Mamma, am I clean, clean enough for father?' Soon after my return from business, the child would climb on my knee, put a little hand on each side of my face, to compel me to look at her, and then ask, 'Am I clean, papa, am I clean?' Nothing would delight that child more than for me to say, 'Yes, my darling, you are clean, even clean enough for father'.
Let us ask ourselves, 'What does the will of God count for with us? We know what He wants, and the claims of gratitude and sincere regard for His glory should influence our attitude, and lead us to say, 'Lo! I come to do Thy will, O my God!'
He wills that I should holy be: That Holiness I long to feel; That full, Divine conformity To all my Saviour's righteous will.
2. A second motive to Holiness may be found in the urgent need of the people around us. We all know something of God's plan for saving the world. It is, broadly speaking, on the line of using one man to save another. Co-operation on this line is rightly expected from all professing Christians.
Personally, I hold that professors of religion who are not moved by a concern for the souls of others, and a willingness to use all possible efforts to seek their Salvation, can hardly claim to be properly saved themselves. The need of saved men and women to act on these lines of consecrated effort is, indeed, very great, and the knowledge of this fact should urge us to the fullest consecration. But we need to see more clearly that unless we exhibit in our own characters and lives the true fruits of Holiness, we shall either fail in our own consecration, or our influence will be greatly reduced.
What do you think will be the effect of a man's words about the Christian's 'separateness', and about Christ being the satisfying portion of the human heart, if people see him seeking satisfaction with the multitude that go to do evil? How will the world be influenced by Christian talkers who sacrifice honour, truth, and perhaps honesty, in their daily associations? How often people's tongues are tied, when they ought to speak and act? They are half paralysed through a sense of their personal inconsistency.
Holiness is not only the inspiration to holy effort; it is a necessary qualification. The power of a holy life is the best evidence of what God can do. Platform and Meeting-Holiness, or glass-case sanctity, are feeble when compared with the exhibition of the blessing in daily association. Therefore, 'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven'. These words indicate my meaning when I urge you to seek and maintain the blessing of Holiness in the interests of those around you. Holy lives are the most convincing sermons and testimonies. We often say 'Holiness is power'; and I am sure that you need all the power which can be obtained to influence the world around for God and Salvation.
3. Then, as a last motive to stimulate you in the pursuit of Holiness, I will name self-interest. That may seem rather a low-down motive, seeing that Holiness, which is perfect love, is the extreme opposite of that selfishness which is the essence or root of all sin. It seems like a paradox or contradiction to say that self-denial can harmonize with enjoyment; and yet it is true. A man does advance his highest interests and truest well-being when he submits to the sanctifying conditions of the Holy Ghost; for what the world counts loss, he finds to be gain.
I would point out that we find God Himself appealing to men just at that point of self-interest. What a chapter is that fifty-fifth of Isaiah, beginning, 'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters', and so on, the second verse finishing, 'Eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness'. As much as to say, 'You will find it worth while to come into right relations with Me'.
There is no doubt that people are moved when they properly understand the fact which Paul set forth in the words: 'Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come'; 'Godliness with contentment is great gain'. And I want you to see that to have the blessing of Full Salvation will be worth your while, because it will meet the deep needs of your individual life.
If I am asked to define what you must be in order that your religious life may be happy and successful, I would state the case thus.
First, you need to be in right and happy relationship with God. There must be no enmity there; no clouds in that sky; no closed doors between you and your Heavenly Father. Salvation does nothing for you if it does not bring that.
Second, you need to be delivered from those inward evils which have darkened your mind, polluted your soul, and will be like roots of bitterness springing up to trouble you if they are not removed.
Third, you want power to live up to your own ideals; that is, up to the standards of life upon which your consecrated heart will be set. You do not want to be in the position of the man who exclaims, 'The good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do'. You want power to live 'unspotted from the world', to walk in Divine fellowship, to triumph over temptation, and to have victory and success in your service. These are the things you must have to meet your deepest need, and they are all secured to you in the blessing of Holiness which we urge you to seek.
Believe me, nothing spoils a man's happiness so much as sin in the heart, and nothing helps in human happiness so much as a holy, sanctified condition. You see the supreme advantage when you remember the open fellowship possible to the fully sanctified; the perfect peace in which God keeps the man whose mind is stayed on Him; the perfect love which casteth out fear, and the joy unspeakable and full of glory realized by one filled with the Holy Ghost.
On the other hand, how much unhappiness and disappointment is caused by the remains of sin in the heart! Look, for instance, at ill-tempers and their effect. You may have found a certain amount of gratification in letting your temper display itself; you have 'spoken your mind', and so forth, and, perhaps, caused pain to somebody in so doing; but you know how unhappy and humiliated you have been upon reflection.
Take also the case of the envious man. We all know that it is wrong to be envious; but who is the chief sufferer? Why, the envious man himself. So with grumbling and discontent: it is very unpleasant for those around; but how unhappy are the grumblers themselves! Similarly with pride; it may be very self-satisfying, until one sees somebody better, or something which cuts one out; then comes disappointment. And so I might go on with other illustrations, but I have said enough to show what I mean.
Now look at these motives which I have named; they all appeal to you in regard to Holiness. It is the will of God concerning you. It is desirable and necessary to give your religion power with those around you. It is also to your own happiness and interest to get your nature sanctified and your own heart and mind and life brought into harmony with God. To those whose experience includes the enjoyment of the blessing, I say let these motives influence you in maintaining the conditions. And to those who have not got the blessing, let these motives constrain you to seek the blessing without delay.
Lord, my will I here present Thee Gladly, now no longer mine; Let no evil thing prevent me Blending it with Thine. Lord, my life I lay before Thee, Hear this hour the sacred vow! All Thine own I now restore Thee, Thine for ever now.
Judged by Fruit
'A good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.' (Luke vi. 43, 44.)
Jesus Christ, in the few sentences quoted, indicates the true secret or principle of holy living. They show that holy living works from the heart of things—beginning within—to the outside.
Many judge their religion the other way about. They take up religious duties, attend religious Meetings, sing hymns, say prayers, put on what may be called the outward things of religion. Perhaps they adopt a dress, make a profession, or assume a religious manner, and hope to grow good in the process. But really it does not work out that way. I do not say that the things are not good. Far from that; but what I want to make plain is this: in none of these things does the secret of true religion lie, and you will be a failure if you rely upon the outward form.
You have the secret, the principle of religion, in the words of Jesus: 'A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh'. You see, that which is in will come out, and you cannot bring out that which is not in.
In these words Jesus tries to enforce a great truth in human life, by showing how the principle works out in the action of a tree. Nature cannot teach us everything about God, nor everything about religion; but Nature does supply us with a great many beautiful illustrations. Jesus makes use of one when He says, 'Of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. Every tree is known by his own fruit.' You see, not only is the fruit according to the tree, but the quality of the tree is to be judged according to its fruits.
That is the way by which ordinary people identify a tree. There are some who are highly skilled in forestry, who can tell you all about a tree by looking at the bark or the leaves or the blossoms, or even by its general appearance. But we cannot all do that. I have sometimes stood in a company, and listened to an argument as to what kind a particular tree really was. But no arguments are required when the fruit hangs on the branches. Everybody can tell the apple tree then, and knows what a pear or a plum tree is when they see the fruit hanging upon it. You can see the bearing of this upon personal religion and character. By our fruit, then, we shall be known and judged.
In the fifth chapter of Galatians you will find a commentary upon this natural law. Shall we read it? 'Now the works of the flesh'—the fruit of the flesh, if you like to put it that way—'are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance', or self-control. The two sets of verses taken together not only show in detail a cluster of virtues which are like luscious fruit in a beautiful garden, but also a cluster of evils, which are like poisoned berries upon the roadside bushes.
The contrast between the two clusters indicates how great is the difference when one is changed from being a proud, fleshly, corrupt man into a clean, holy, spiritual person; but the contrast also marks the grace of God as the transforming power. No matter what change was wrought in you at conversion, you cannot properly call yourselves fully sanctified until the transformation is complete; that is, until you are delivered from the works or fruit of the flesh, and produce the fruit of the Spirit, and by your fruits you shall be known. Profession of Holiness without appropriate fruit is no good. That would be just like the tree to which the Saviour turned on one occasion when He found nothing but leaves.
Let me put the matter very simply, but very definitely. Here is a man, we will suppose, who says, 'I am saved'. That is good. I like to hear men who are able to stand up and say, 'I am saved'. But if in that man's dealings with those around him he tells lies—black ones or white ones—well, then it is obvious that the man still needs Salvation.
Here is another who stands up and says, 'I have a clean heart'. That is a testimony in which I glory. But if you see that man's bodily appetites master him, or see him fall into uncleanness of speech or of act, you know very well what even those who want to be charitable will say, 'Either that man fails to understand the meaning of the words he uses, or his profession of Holiness is a false one'.
Another person says, 'I love God with all my heart'—or as many do say, 'There is nothing between my soul and God'. But if you see the same person running after those things which he knows God is against, however charitable you may feel, you cannot help judging by what he does rather than by what he says.
One may stand up and speak about being sanctified; but if his actions indicate in some form or another that he is jealous, or ill-tempered, or selfish, everybody will say, 'No matter what that person may say about himself, testimony or no testimony, profession or no profession, he still needs the blessing of Full Salvation!'
Let me, by an illustration or two, help you to see what I mean—the fruits of the sanctified heart.
A university professor was afflicted with an ungovernable temper. One day he went to the house of a relative with a view to adjusting some property matters in dispute. Now, the man to whom he went not only made unjust claims, but put forth these claims in a way to provoke his Christian relative to anger. He did it on purpose; he was determined to show that this man's religion made him no different from the people round about him. As a consequence, high words arose, and the professor left the house in a rage, slamming the door behind him.
When he got into the street calm reflection came, and in the place of anger and bitterness a sense of humiliation and shame and defeat. He went straight home, up to his room, fastened the door, got down on his knees, and spent the night pleading that God would not only forgive him for his display of temper, but would deliver him from those angry passions which made him such a discredit to his profession of religion. As morning dawned, peace came to his soul, the power of the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and a sense of deliverance pervaded his whole being.
He went to the house of his relative, and found him at breakfast. With deep humility, and in the presence of the family, he confessed his sin, said not a word about provocation, and only pleaded that they would forgive him for his display of anger. Thirty years subsequent to this that professor, who became famous as a man of God, stated that no temptation or provocation received had ever stirred the emotion of evil temper within him since that memorable night. He had been delivered. Instead of the fruit of the flesh, there grew the fruit of the Spirit.
Take the case of a certain mother with several unconverted children. She was a fretting, chafing woman, and by her impatience, fault-finding, and nagging she fretted and vexed the whole family. When she got the blessing she became so even in her disposition that she was kept in such 'perfect peace' that, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the domestic circle became like a little heaven below.
Resentful and revengeful persons are so changed that the spirit of forgiveness and forbearance which they exhibit in their lives is the admiration of all who know them. Self-seeking Christians are made into self-sacrificing, cross-bearing saints and soldiers, where formerly they would only be content if they were having their own way.
Now, what does this mean? This: that such open professors of religion as we are must justify our profession by bringing forth fruit unto Holiness. If the condition of your mind and heart, if the state of your disposition (I will put it that way) is not such as brings forth this fruit, you must earnestly and sincerely ask the Lord to cleanse and sanctify and anoint you with the Holy Ghost, so that instead of bringing forth the fruit of the flesh, everybody shall see displayed and exhibited by you the fruit of the Spirit.
Do not say the standard is too high, for it is simply a case of your experience being too low. We want the whole thing not 'levelled down', but 'levelled up'. Let God take full possession of you; let the Divine power be exerted upon your particular difficulty; and seek to be wholly anointed with that Holy Spirit who can not only cleanse, but keep you, making you fruitful in every good word and work.
'Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.' (Jeremiah 1. 5.)
We find in our Meetings persons who are perplexed by the doctrinal statements about Holiness or entire Sanctification and equivalent terms. Some take our words to mean more than we intend; others think the statements imply less than we mean; some put the standard too high, whilst others put it altogether too low.
At the close of a recent Meeting a gentleman said to me, 'I greatly enjoyed your address, but I am sure you will never get people to follow that line, because you advocate an abnormal life. It cannot be lived.' Equally I find men who in an indefinite way imagine that high states of emotion dispense with standards of morality such as truth, honour, and rectitude in business. And it is with great difficulty that we make the Bible standard plainly understood.
I think, however, that very few are perplexed as to what we mean by the consecration side of Holiness. There is, in all who are moderately well instructed in Bible truth, a living sense of God's claims, a recognition of what I may call the law of consistency, and a feeling that, as a matter of duty, we really ought to yield to those claims, and devote ourselves to doing His will. That is what Jeremiah meant when he called upon the people to join themselves unto the Lord in 'a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten'.
We all recognize how right it is for buildings to be dedicated to God's service; we call them the houses of God. We also see the rightness of contributing gifts to help God's cause; and yet men and women are so slow to fully and definitely join themselves unto the Lord, that is, to put the sacred mark upon their entire lives, and recognize their duty in spending their lives for God alone. They are slow to regard their bodily, mental, and other powers and faculties as belonging to God, and slower still in yielding their hearts in supreme love to Him who loved them, and gave Himself for them.
I am often puzzled as to why religious people who, in their business life, are regularly making covenants and contracts, either for labour or material, should so fail to follow on similar lines in their relations to God. My duty called me lately to examine a contract, and I found the basis expressed in terms like these: 'This is an agreement between So-and-so in the first part and So-and-so in the second part'. And then on each side there were pledges and responsibilities and commitments; finally, the contract was 'signed, sealed, and delivered' by the two contracting parties. Now, that illustrates precisely what is meant by a covenant with the Lord. He, on the one part, and we on the other part, uniting for a common purpose, and each undertaking definite responsibilities to secure the purpose desired.
Mind, this covenanting with God is not a case of bargaining. I know that it pays to be on right relationships with God, and to do His will; but do not forget—He settles and dictates the terms, our part is to comply and surrender.
Moses puts this in a simple but beautiful way to his people when he said, 'Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, and to walk in His ways, and to keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His judgments, and to hearken unto His voice: and the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be His peculiar people, as He hath promised thee, and that thou shouldst keep all His commandments'. The appeal of the Apostle is also familiar to us all, 'I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service'.
Jesus always kept this before His disciples. He certainly talked of daily cross-bearing, and following and confessing Him before the world; but He was careful to say to them, 'There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting'.
Our songs and prayers are full of the same ideas, and we are again face to face with the appeal expressed by Jeremiah: 'Come, let us join ourselves unto the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten'. Now, there are certain features of this covenant-making that I should like to look at.
1. To begin with, it is to be an inward act, a thing of the heart. I believe in outward tokens of religious life and feeling, such as standing up, raising the hand, coming to the table, and similar modes of testimony; but if any of these outward acts are mere forms, they are next to useless. The heart must be in it if the covenant is to be properly made and maintained.
One frequently hears it said, 'Ah, yes, I do it in my heart. I can get the blessing in my seat or at home quietly. I do not believe in this public line of declaration, and this parade of one's sacred experiences'. Well, I believe, in both the inward and the outward. If, however, we cannot have both, by all means let us have the covenant made in sincerity of heart, for without that the whole thing is in vain.
We may learn much from an old Hebrew custom referred to in the twenty-first chapter of Exodus, which shows that the Jewish people understood the nature of true devotion. Under the Mosaic law a bondservant could only be held by his master for six years; in the seventh he was 'to go out free for nothing'. But if the servant came to his master, and said, 'I don't want to go; I love you; I will not go out free; I will serve you for ever', the master would reply, 'If you really mean that, let us have it settled, and settled in public'. The master would then bring the servant to the judges to register the agreement, and would also take him to the doorpost, and with an awl bore a hole through the man's ear, fastening him to the post. This was the sign of a perpetual covenant, and everybody who saw it knew that the man's self-surrender to his master was real, binding, and permanent.
We have no such ceremony in our public Meetings, but we can have the definite declaration, 'I love Thee, O Lord, and I will serve Thee; and here and now I bind myself in an everlasting covenant to serve Thee for ever'.
2. Then, again, a true covenant is a deed which commits you to active and definite service. Some covenant-makings are largely sentimental; a kind of religious IOU or promise to pay, and I fear some are treated as the Irishman treated his responsibility when, having signed a promissory note for a debt, he exclaimed, 'Thank God, that is done with!'
The vows and covenant-making which God wants are those which will be followed by something practical. The states of emotion and high spiritual contemplation are right in so far as they assist men to realize the presence of God and Divine things; but to answer their purpose they must carry men out to activity and self-denying service for God and those around them. The highest type of religion is a combination of the experimental and the practical, the inward and the outward, the personal and the relative. Our consecration must include what God can get out of us as well as what we obtain from Him.
I found a parable the other day in a legend of the Greek Church which is worth repeating. That Church has two favourite saints—St. Cassianus, the type of monastic asceticism, and St. Nicholas, the type of genial, active, unselfish, laborious Christianity. St. Cassianus enters Heaven, and Christ says to him, 'What hast thou seen on earth, Cassianus?' 'I saw', he answered, 'a peasant floundering with his wagon in a marsh'. 'Didst thou help him?' 'No.' 'Why not?' 'I was coming before Thee,' said St. Cassianus, 'and I was afraid of soiling my white robes'.
Just then St. Nicholas enters Heaven, all covered with mud and mire. 'Why so stained and soiled, St. Nicholas?' said the Lord. 'I saw a peasant floundering in a marsh,' said St. Nicholas, 'and I put my shoulder to the wheel, and helped him out'. 'Blessed art thou', answered the Lord. 'Thou didst well; thou didst better than Cassianus.' And He blessed St. Nicholas with fourfold approval. The moral is so obvious that I need not labour the application of my parable.
3. Let me also impress upon you that covenant-making must be a believing act. That is to say, when you come up to the altar of consecration, and say, 'Here I give my all to Thee', you must believe that if you are good for your word the Lord is also good for His. So that what you give, God accepts; what you claim, God gives. That may appear a very simple way of putting the faith that saves and sanctifies, but in all its simplicity it is true, for 'He is faithful who hath promised'.
4. Then comes the all-important necessity of standing to your consecration at all costs. 'Let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.' God wants men and women who stand to their covenant; who, having made their pledges and promises, are not turned aside by difficulties or temptations, but say and mean, as we sing sometimes—
High Heaven, that heard the solemn vow, That vow renewed shall daily hear, Till in life's latest hour I bow, And bless in death a bond so dear.
In the Book of Judges there is the story of a man named Jephthah. He made a vow, and when the test came he found it involved the sacrifice of one who was all the world to him—his daughter, and she was his only child. Jephthah rent his clothes, and almost broke his heart; and, no doubt, everybody expected him to set aside his vow; but, no, he stood to it, declaring, 'I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back'. There are some, thank God, who equally stand to their covenants with Him; but, alas! that so many open their mouths, and sing and say words of consecration, but when the temptation comes they do not stand to their vows.
Of all the people who hinder the cause of Jesus Christ, I think the most lamentable cases are those who go back upon their Lord. Having spoken, they do not fulfil their word; having vowed, they do not perform their vows. They lack that decision which can be expressed in the words, 'I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of His people', and I want to urge all such to join with those of us who, bowing before the Divine altar, renew our covenant, resolving by His grace to bind ourselves in perpetual devotion and service.
Take my poor heart, and let it be For ever closed to all but Thee; Seal Thou my breast, and I shall wear The pledge of love for ever there.
The Baptism of the Spirit
'And suddenly there came a sound from Heaven as of a rushing mighty wind.... And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.' (Acts ii. 2, 4.)
The Holy Ghost is the active force in all spiritual life. It is, therefore, important that we should realize the close connexion between the experience of Holiness and that 'Promise of the Father' for which the early disciples were to wait. All followers of Jesus should realize, as truly as the disciples did on that historic day, that their day of Pentecost has fully come, and each of us should be able to say, 'Not only was the Holy Ghost outpoured upon the waiting host in that Jewish centre, but Pentecost has come to my heart. The Spirit of the living God has come to me.'
Now, whatever manifestations of the Holy Ghost there might have been in Old Testament times—and without question there were some wonderful displays—the age in which we live is the dispensation of the Holy Ghost for us. Our Lord said that He should come to convince the world of sin, and to produce many other mighty effects.
To my mind, that Pentecostal event was like the launching of God's great campaign for the evangelization of the world. The world without the Holy Ghost would be as dark, spiritually, as the material world was in the beginning before the Spirit moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, 'Let there be light'.
Going over Peter's sermon on that occasion, we find him quoting Joel's very wonderful prophecy, claiming its fulfilment that day. And amongst all the glorious truths that have been proclaimed in our own time, there is none grander than that God will dwell with men—yea, the Spirit of God will dwell in men.
You cannot read your Bibles, nor look through the books of human experience, without seeing that God's great purpose in the outpouring of the Spirit was the setting up of His Kingdom upon the earth. And we see that as the Son of God humbled Himself to earth's poverty, ignominy, and death, to redeem men, so the Holy Ghost is sent to be the great operating force in leading the world back to God. The hope of the world is in the presence of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ.
It is so in relation to the individual soul. The Holy Ghost stands at the door of the Kingdom of God, either to bar the entrance or to fit the soul to enter. You remember the Saviour's words to Nicodemus, 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God'. There is, and can be, no entrance without conversion.
'No man', says Paul, 'can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.' And when some would have put outward religion or the profession of it in the place of this conversion, the deciding point was stated in unmistakable terms: 'If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His.' The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Health, the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of Power, and there would be no hope for the human soul or the individual life apart from His gracious presence and influence.
This matter cannot be explained in terms of ordinary language, but it is none the less real and definite in human experience. To Nicodemus, Jesus said, 'The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit'. The Spirit, like the wind, is mysterious in movement, uncontrolled by human restriction, and yet its influences are all-pervading. The courses of the wind are to be discerned by the effects; equally so will the Spirit's operations; mysterious, unfettered, unexplainable these operations may be, but the effects are discernible in ourselves and others.
Analysing the purpose of God in the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, we see its application to ourselves in several ways.
There is the rectification of our own hearts, the revealing of Divine things within us, the transforming of our characters. All these are indications of the Holy Ghost's work in ourselves; and then comes the power to help and bless and save others, God making us channels of blessing, and instruments by which His Kingdom can be extended.
In this connexion there are two sayings of Jesus, which, although the figure is changed, come up together in my mind. The first is in the story of the woman at the well in Samaria. The Saviour said to her what is very applicable to you, 'Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life'. Later, on the last day of the feast, Jesus said, 'He that believeth on Me, out of him shall flow rivers of living water'. Do you see what those two sayings of Jesus set before us? The one shows how the Baptism of the Spirit provides the inward spring, the inward supply, bubbling up within, fresh, clean, sweet, and vitalizing like a 'fountain ever springing'; the other indicates the outflow, from us to others, of this spiritual force and blessing.
Now, you want both the inward spring and the outward flow. Some of you are very desirous about the second provision: 'Out of you shall flow rivers of living water'. It is good that you have such desires; but before you can become a channel through which the vital force can flow for the Salvation of others, you must yourselves be the subject of the Spirit's operations within you. Not only as the great Revealer must the Holy Ghost make Divine things real to you, but as a purifying flame He must change your nature, purging away the natural corruption and sinfulness of your heart.
An Eastern legend says that an angel once rested by a fair fountain. In a favoured hour he infused it with a mysterious power, so that if only some drops of its water were scattered in a barren plain, a fountain of sweet water would spring up. Any traveller who henceforth came to the spring might, after refreshing himself, take some portion from it, and carry with him the secret of unfailing springs, and suffer no fear of thirst either for himself or those with him.
We are such travellers, and for us the water which Christ gives is better than that fabled fountain, for he who carries the precious water may drop it in places where no spiritual water is, and so bring life and blessing to the multitudes of needy souls. Oh, note the words, 'The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up', and 'out of him shall flow rivers of living water'. This He spake of the Spirit which they that believe on Him should afterwards receive.
That is a very blessed promise, 'Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you'; and yet, so far as we understand the prevailing experience of Christian people, the promises of power are very feebly realized, and very slowly acted upon. When we see the manifest lack of the Holy Ghost in the experience, and ask, 'Why is this?' we know that the cause may lie in certain easily defined facts.
One reason may be the actual existence of sin in the heart—some hidden or secret wrong. There are numbers in whose hearts there is something wrong. Is it so with you? Is there some inward love of or desire for evil? Or the world spirit—is that there? Or anything of a similar character? Now, before the Holy Ghost can flow into you, to say nothing of Him flowing through and out of you, these wrong things must be purged away by the cleansing stream; or, to change the figure, the purifying flame must
Burn up the dross of base desire, And make the mountains flow.
Or the hindrance may lie in a want of surrender and faith, without which the Spirit cannot possess and use us. I am not speaking of some act of surrender or faith only, but also of that condition which must be maintained. It is just that neglect or withdrawal which disturbs the touch with God, and so the connexion is broken. You are all familiar with the electric switch and the light. You know how slight is the thing which connects or disconnects the current. A child's finger can touch a button which will turn on enough electricity to blast a rock or move the machinery of a great factory.
And so I tell you that little things which are held on to against God's will switch off the Power. That unwillingness in some hearts to follow the Lord, and do as He commands, will switch it off; that spirit which chooses to do this, but won't do that; which says, 'I will go here, but I won't go there', that sort of thing breaks the connexion.
This comes home very close to some of you, for, alas! it is just there that your power fails. You must ask yourselves what are the hindrances, if any, in your hearts and lives? Some of you are weak, wavering, wobbling, and uncertain. If you look closely you will find the secret of that in your want of surrender and faith. Do not make a mistake; the inward experience is closely related to the outward service. God's plan is first to do the cleansing, and then the filling; first the inward spring, and then the outward flowing river.
One other important thing. If you have not got the Holy Spirit abiding within you, no substitute will meet the need. Many try to make other things produce the same effects—religious talking, singing, energetic service, or the memories of spiritual experiences. These are all very good, but of themselves they will no more meet the necessities of your hearts and lives than a picture of a fire will warm the man who spreads out his hands before it. You must have the real thing—the power of the Holy Ghost.
Now, the Lord is around and among us, saying, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost'; and whether you are an enslaved sinner, or a backslider in heart; or whether it is the assurance of Salvation, cleansing from sin, or power for service, which you lack, the Holy Ghost will meet your particular need. Let God work His will in you, and in Jesus Christ's name I say, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost'.
'Tis fire we want, for fire we plead, Send the fire! The fire will meet our every need, Send the fire! For strength to ever do the right, For grace to conquer in the fight, For power to walk the world in white, Send the fire!
To make our weak hearts strong and brave, Send the fire! To live a dying world to save, Send the fire! Oh, see us on Thy altar lay Our lives, our all, this very day— To crown the offering now we pray, Send the fire!
'He that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.' (Haggai i. 6.)
In our Holiness Meetings we often speak of Full Salvation as a blessing to be obtained, and also a blessing to be retained; but I want now to turn the truth the other way round, and speak about 'losing the blessing'. These words of Haggai about the man who lost his earnings through a faulty bag will serve me as a text, and are very significant.
As a figure of speech, the words are well understood. From the boy who, by holding a horse, or running errands, earns threepence, and puts it into a pocket with a hole at the bottom, to the man or woman who puts the savings of years into a rotten speculation, all know the literal meaning of Haggai's text, 'He that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes'.
The central idea is that something gained by hard effort has been lost, and that the loss was due to the man's own fault. The man had earned his wages, and then let what he had won by toil slip through holes in the bag into which he put it. The possibility of this in relation to spiritual blessings is a danger we are warned against in God's Word, and the necessity for guarding against such losses is one of the important lessons to be learned.
This text reminds me of an incident and parable in the Book of Kings. During the progress of a battle one of the leaders, having captured a prisoner, called to a subordinate and placed the captive in his care, to be kept at the risk of his life. Later, the man had to give an account, and when admitting the loss of the prisoner he said, 'As thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone'. Alas! there are many whose spiritual acquisitions have slipped away like that.
The spiritual application of this thought is brought home to us by a verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews, 'Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip'. If you look in the margin of your Bible, you will see the words, 'run out as leaking vessels', and in the Revised Version the words read, 'drift away from them'. You see the idea is, that unless you are careful you will lose your blessing after having enjoyed it.
Looking round my audiences I can with fitness use these figures, and apply the idea to many who, after tears and agonies of heart, secured the Salvation of their souls, and the heavenly treasure which only the pardoned sinner knows; but, alas! through the faulty bag, or pocket with holes, their earnings slipped away, and they are now spiritual bankrupts, their latter state being worse than the first. Thank God, if those who have thus lost their Salvation and peace will truly repent and do their first works, they may again obtain heavenly treasure, and with it grace and wisdom to prevent the repetition of past follies. Let others learn and take heed lest they also drift away, as the Apostle puts it.
My chief purpose, however, relates to those who, though they once had the blessing of a clean heart, have lost it. Their present lack is not due to their having exhausted their earnings in lawful pursuits, or because they invested their treasure in sanctified enterprises, but because they have let the blessing slip; or, turning back to Haggai's words, they have been as him 'that earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes'. The experience is a thing of the past. At times they are tempted to say that they were deluded, and never had the blessing, or that they were as a man who only dreamed that he had his wages; but that is not so. The wages were earned, but lost.
So you must not regard your experience as the sensations of a dream. You had the blessing right enough, and some of you had secured it at no small sacrifice; but, alas! you let it slip out of your possession, and you woke up to find it gone.
It is remarkable how many sanctified people have to testify that before they settled into the regular experience of Full Salvation they lost the blessing which they had received; in fact, some eminent saints have recorded repeated experiences of loss before they learned how to carry themselves and guard against the dangers.
Perhaps here I ought to say definitely, that the Bible does not tell us of any stage in our heavenward journey at which we can be saved from the possibility of losing the blessing. This blessed treasure of perfect purity, peace which passeth all understanding, and joy unspeakable, is only ours so long as we maintain that entire consecration and faith which are the conditions on which the blessing is received. There is no spot where the advice is not necessary—'Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life'. Paul put it clearly, 'Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall', and showed how seriously he regarded the matter when he declared that he had to keep his body under and in hand, lest after preaching to others he should himself become a castaway.
I have called to mind two remarkable touches of Bunyan, in his 'Pilgrim's Progress'. The first picture shows us Christian, weary with climbing the Hill Difficulty, turning aside into a pleasant arbour where he sat down to rest. For the comfort of his own heart he pulled out his roll of assurance. He also began to examine with great satisfaction the coat which had been given to him, and 'after pleasing himself for a while' he fell into a slumber, and in his sleep let the roll fall from his hand.
Mercifully, Christian was awakened, and hasted along the road. Later, he got into great temptation, and, desiring to reassure his own heart, he put his hand into his bosom to find the roll, 'which was his pass to the Celestial City'; but, to his horror, it was not there! After great distress Christian remembered his sleeping in the arbour, and painfully retraced his steps 'bewailing his sinful sleep in the midst of difficulty'. He reached the place of his loss, and at last espied the roll which had slipped out of his hand. He secured it once more, and after giving thanks for his recovery, the Pilgrim betook himself again to his journey.
Bunyan's other picture of Vain-hope is even more pathetic. The vision shows the gate of the Celestial City, and the entrance of Christian and other pilgrims. But when this man, Vain-hope, came up, he had no roll or certificate, having lost it, if he ever had it; the poor wretch passed away to 'a door on the side of the hill', which caused the dreamer to write, 'Then I saw that there is a way to Hell even from the very gates of Heaven'.
How true, therefore, it is, that at every stage of the heavenward journey, one has to guard against the loss of that spiritual treasure which has been secured at such a cost.
I hope you see clearly that the Divine treasure is all right, and the possibility of its continued enjoyment is not in question. If lost, the fault is with the bag or carrier of the bag. But by pointing out some of the holes in the bag through which certain people have lost their blessing, we may help them and others.
As one hole through which spiritual loss is sustained, let me first speak of ignorance. I do not say that in an unkind way. By ignorance I mean lack of knowledge. You cannot imagine a man putting his wages into a faulty pocket if he knew there was a hole there.
There are traps and pitfalls for the newly sanctified. Some know of them; others do not know, and are unprepared for dangers and the devices of the Devil, who, if he cannot hinder a man getting the blessing will scheme to rob him of it. For instance, temptations to doubt are pressed on a soul just entering the path of Holiness: 'Can it be?' 'Have I been deceiving myself?' 'I thought I should have such and such sensations; where are the feelings of ecstasy which I expected?' The uninstructed soul often confuses feelings with assurance, particularly if in the moment of deliverance some special wave of feeling swept over the soul. When this wave subsides the sensations are different, and the soul is tempted to doubt the reality of the transaction.
Personally, I am always thankful that both in the matter of conversion and getting a clean heart, the Lord left me to claim the blessing by naked faith. I had little or no special feelings; I just had to go on believing. I stepped out, as upon thin air, and found my feet on the rock.
For lack of knowledge many souls imagine that Holiness will mean ecstasy, or that the sanctified soul will not feel temptation; and Satan feeds the anxious thought until sometimes the hand of faith is unclasped, and the blessing lost for the time being.
Later on the faithful soul learns to hold on, to resist the enemy's insidious attacks, and understands the meaning of the lines—
Quick as the apple of the eye The first approach of sin to feel.
Again, unwatchfulness is a hole, a danger against which I warn you. Recently saved people, and those who have recently found Full Salvation, are tempted to say, 'Glory to God, now I am all right!' forgetting that, although on the right road, the journey is before them, and that the rule of the road is, 'As ye received the Lord Jesus, so walk in Him'. Do not forget the relation between those two little words 'as' and 'so'.
Now the word unwatchfulness, or I might change it for carelessness, is a very general term. I will touch upon two or three things in which it shows itself. Going where Jesus could not go with you; to do that is like playing with pitch, or with fire. Keeping company with the wrong people: some of you lose there; treating Meetings and prayer lightly; resenting little unkindnesses and persecution; carelessness of speech; gossiping, frivolity, forgetting that whilst the Holy Ghost is a Spirit of Joy, He is grieved by lightness and frivolous jesting. These are some of the little holes through which the blessing drops out. You must watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.
Then, holding back from testimony is a snare into which some of you have fallen. Listen to me! Some of you have tried to testify, and your very backwardness and fear have been holes in your bag through which the blessing has been lost.
May I once more refer to myself. When, during a long course of years, I have been bold and outspoken about my possession of the blessing of Full Salvation and my relations to God, sureness and confidence have filled my heart; but when I have been tempted to modify and hedge and hesitate in the terms of my testimony, I have had reason to say, 'Is it so? Where am I?' Apply what I am saying to your own experience, and judge ye what I say.
Failure to walk in the light has been the cause of many professors of Holiness losing their blessing. The path of Holiness brings many surprises and tests. Demands not previously thought of come upon one; duties not expected are presented; sacrifices are required: Do this, do that. Let that go. Follow here, go there. I doubt whether any single day passes which does not bring its test of our consecration. If you follow the light, you will be safe; but if you refuse it, you will go under. Disobedience and a spirit of unwillingness knock holes in the bag. It has been so with some of you, and loss has been the result.
I want to add a word about personal prayer in this connexion, for I believe many owe their loss to a neglect of that essential. The lack of prayer shows over-confidence in oneself, and accounts for many falls. 'Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication.' This is indeed a necessary condition of keeping the blessing.
My closing question Is a very straight one. Have you got the blessing of a clean heart now? If you have had it and lost it, seek it once more. Make haste to the altar; renew your consecration again, claiming the blessing, and the Lord will restore you.
'Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.' (1 Timothy vi. 12.)
My object, in announcing 'Fighting Holiness' as my subject, is to make it quite clear that a Full Salvation does not mean a hot-house emotionalism or glass-case sanctity, but a vigorous, daring, aggressive religion, on the lines of the Saviour's words, 'The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force'.
If this text, 'Fight the good fight of faith', means anything at all, it means you must struggle for the thing you believe in. If you do not fight for it, the inference is either that you have little love for and confidence in your cause, or that you are indolent and unfaithful to that cause.
You say you believe in the rightness of God's claims upon the hearts and lives of men; you believe in the humiliation and passion of Christ to redeem men; you believe in the necessity for and possibility of rescuing human souls from the curse of evil and the eternal penalty of sin; but, believe me, your faith is vain if you do not stand for, and labour and fight to enforce, God's claims to proclaim Christ's redeeming grace, and to deliver men from going down to the pit.
The aspects of personal Holiness set out in terms such as 'perfect peace' and the 'rest of faith' are frequently before us, and I do not desire to reduce their value, for it is a blessed truth that 'we which have believed do enter into rest'. If by the 'rest of faith' is meant that calm confidence in the power and grace of God by which the believing and obedient soul is kept in perfect peace, then, all right; that, however, is very different from the only-believe-and-do-nothing policy of some people who adopt the phrase. Let there be no mistake about the fact that every consecrated man must take his place in God's fighting line.
The story of Mary of Bethany, 'who sat at the Lord's feet, and heard His word', also appeals to me; but the emphasis is not quite as some people put it. What Christ commended in Mary was not that she sat at His feet whilst Martha did all the hard work, but that she had 'chosen the good part—the one thing needful', which her anxious sister seems to have overlooked.
There is rest for the struggling soul who finds in Jesus a real deliverer. There is rest for the soul tossed about on waves of doubt and fear, who, anchoring in the haven of the Saviour's love, finds peace in believing. For the faithful but tired servant of Christ who 'works whilst it is called day', for the warrior also who has faced the enemy and braved the danger, there is rest; but the rest comes after the working and fighting is over.
I like the words 'fight' and 'fighting', because they involve taking a side, and devoting oneself to secure victory for the side one belongs to. I heard some one remark the other day, 'God wants fighting saints as well as kissing saints'; truly the phrase is not without its lesson for us. This is the very opposite to the attitude known as 'sitting on the fence', or that wretched fear which seems to possess some professed followers of Jesus Christ, who, outside a church or religious Meeting, are afraid to declare themselves for Him.' I am for Jesus Christ, and I want everybody to know it'; that is the line of the true Soldier.
Oh, how the spirit of compromise curses and hinders the work of God! I think the man who invented the phrase 'out-and-out consecration' was a benefactor to the cause, seeing it is such a contradiction of the half-and-half spirit which characterizes so much religious profession and service.
When reading the history of the American Civil War, I found instances of strange fraternizing on the part of the soldiers of contending armies. Sometimes the soldiers of the North would be on one side of a river when the Southern troops were on the other side. With the evening came suspension of hostilities, and under cover of darkness men of one army would cross over to the enemy's camp to smoke and talk with men who during the day had sought their destruction. That may have seemed very fine, from a certain point of view, but is regrettable in religious warfare. When the Soldiers of Jesus cross over to the Devil's forces for their pleasure and refreshment, it indicates little devotion to their King or enthusiasm for His cause.
Why should we be friends with the enemies of our Lord? If we have sincerely chosen His side, let all compromise cease, and each of us declare and stand for Him at all costs.
Then this idea of Fighting Holiness implies that the sanctified Soldier of Christ is an aggressor in the struggle for his Lord's supremacy. He cannot be content with following the line of the least resistance; he is rather in the spirit of the words already quoted, 'The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force'.
The business of attack in Spiritual Soldier-ship is quite as important as the protection of your own soul or defence of your position. It may involve doing violence to your own feelings, and oft-times to the feelings of others, but you cannot be faithful to your profession unless willing to attack the Devil's strongholds, and fight evil in its own entrenchments.
I was much interested a few days ago in the story of a man connected with a Corps where there has been a marvellous religious awakening. The man got truly saved, and became a Salvation Soldier. A month later he was convinced of his need of a clean heart, his chief conviction being that he ought to become 'a fisher of men'. He went to the mercy-seat, made his consecration, claimed the blessing and power, and began fishing for souls. That was a little over a year ago; recently the results of that man's personal fishing were ascertained, and it was seen that since his consecration he had personally induced over 300 persons to go to the mercy-seat for Salvation. That is an illustration of the aggressive spirit included in Fighting Holiness.
We each find our own particular difficulties with which we should grapple, and the enemies whom we ought to attack; but, speaking generally, I point to the evil influences which are around us, cursing the people, the victims, alas! being multiplied by those who fatten on the woes and vices and even ruin of their fellows. These influences must be resisted, the fiends of Hell in human form must be grappled with, and 'the prey be taken from the mighty'. People must be aroused from their indifference and selfishness; the cold-blooded carelessness and worldliness of formal religionists must be assailed as well as help rendered to those who are ready to perish. Our fighting programme must include all this, if we are to be consistent professors of holy consecration to God and His Kingdom.
Then, further, I recognize that personal spiritual conflicts are included in Fighting Holiness. That is to say, our battles and victories relate not only to resistance of the Devil and the rescue of his captives, but in the varying phases of personal experiences we have to fight this good fight of faith.
Spiritual conflicts often have much mystery connected with them. If the fact had not been recorded, that Christ was tempted in all points like as we are, and learned obedience in the things which He suffered, we should wonder whether some of our struggles of faith were not the result of personal sin. We know, however, that there may be much temptation without either contracting the guilt or stain of sin.
It is true that spiritual conflicts are all the more dangerous for those who have not yet found deliverance from their own unsanctified passions and tendencies. A heart in which such things as pride and evil desire, lust, worldly ambition, and ill-tempers remain, is like a citadel in which traitors lurk to respond to the call of outward enemies. But when the heart is sanctified, and we are equipped with the armour of which Paul wrote to the Ephesians, the attacks of the enemy can be continually resisted.
I cannot cover the area of spiritual conflict. As varied as our characters are our temptations, and with all the changes in circumstances and physical or mental condition come enticements to evil. We have never taught that Holiness of heart means freedom from temptation. In one form or another temptation will come to the holiest of us, and the fight of faith has to be sustained even up to the very gates of Heaven.
The fully consecrated soul has not only to resist the temptations to positive sin, but must manifest its victory in the patient endurance of physical ills and the trials of life; and that apostolic note of triumph is also a word of guidance, 'This is the victory which overcometh ... even your faith'.
Human nature, even with the best of us, is a marvellous combination. We have nerves which sometimes vibrate like the wires of a highly-strung harp. Mental clouds at times seem to shut the sun out of the conditions of life, and dark shadows stretch across or along the pathway. Some of us have dispositions which, whilst capable of exquisite pleasure, also expose us to the most acute pain and disappointment. Then comes the temptation to charge against our spiritual condition weaknesses which are purely physical. To resist such temptations is indeed the fight of faith.
Physical depression comes upon some people until, for the time being, life is a burden and death would be a relief. Measured by their bodily and mental sensations, their experience is sometimes like a stretch of arid desert, and in such hours the enemy assails the mind with difficulties and suggestions to doubt, which can only be conquered by steady confidence in the love and wisdom and prevailing grace of the living God. That is the good fight of faith.
I hope that what I have said will not discourage any soul. Remember, if we are fully given up to God, and seeking to realize His will for us, we are not fighting a losing battle; 'He that is with us is greater than they that be against us'. The provision of Divine Grace is such that, in spite of enemies and dangers, our life can be one of victory; we can be more than conquerors through Him that loved us. The victor's palm and the overcomer's crown will more than compensate for the self-denial and loss of things which the world counts gain.
Many of you know the story of a certain Indian conqueror who, in his onward march, came to a temple containing a specially sacred idol. This he was proceeding to destroy, when the priests and others pleaded with him, and offered a large sum of money if he would only spare that idol; but, refusing the bribe, the conqueror demolished the image, and found within it the treasures of the temple, which for safety had been hidden there. There are many things which we may lose by fighting our battles faithfully, but the heavenly treasure will more than make up for it all.
'Be thou faithful unto death' is a strong exhortation; but that which makes it a positive inspiration to loving and enduring service and fighting is the added sentence, 'I will give thee a crown of life'.
'In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts.' (Zechariah xiv. 20, 21.)
What I have to say may not strike some of you as setting forth any very high or exalted truth, but I am satisfied as to its being a very important matter. I want to talk to you about the sanctification of the commonplace things in life.
However desirable it may seem, you cannot always be sitting at the Master's feet in that contemplative, ecstatic mood sometimes attributed to Mary. Like Martha, we have to do a good deal of serving. Whether we are encumbered by 'much serving' is a separate question; but if we are to fulfil the Divine tasks we have to do a great deal of serving as well as praying and trusting. I may quote, with slight alteration, two lines of a poem:—
Who sleeps and dreams that life is beauty, Will wake to find that life is duty.
How true that is in practical life many of us know full well.
The most attractive manifestation of God's power is seen in the fact that He stoops to touch men at the points of their daily need. It is that aspect of the grace of God—the meeting your need in the daily battle of life—which makes it so supremely precious. In the same way, when we, who profess to be followers and imitators of our Heavenly Father, and to regulate our conduct by the principles of holy living, bring these principles to bear upon the ordinary relationships of life, we are most accepted in our witness for Jesus Christ, and exert the best, the most effective influence upon others.
These are the thoughts that have been in my mind, and which have led me to the subject upon which I wish to speak: the sanctification of the commonplace things. My thoughts arise from reading this passage in the Book of Zechariah: 'In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts'.
Now, when we look at these things, these pots and pans and horses and bridles and things of that sort, having to do with our daily toil, our cooking and eating, our work at home and in the streets, and compare them with the glories of the Temple, the golden candlesticks, the golden vessels, the High Priest's wonderful garments, his breastplate, and, not least, with the Ark of the Covenant, we feel they are very commonplace things. And yet, you see, according to this statement the same stamp of holiness is to be put upon them all. Even the most commonplace of them comes within the scope of this Divine sanctity, and there is to be in relation to each of them this sacredness, this sanctification: 'Holiness unto the Lord', is the stamp for all alike.
As an illustration of how Jesus did great things by the use of the commonplace, look at that narrative of the marriage in Cana of Galilee. We should probably never have heard of this marriage but for our Lord's miracle; and yet, apart from His Divine power, the process of turning the water into wine and transforming the character of the entire feast, that event was, indeed, a very common one.
Look, first of all, at these clay pots—common enough—jars and jugs, standing in a corner, or perhaps standing out on the veranda, near where the Saviour was sitting. These pots are easily broken, and no great value is attached to them. If Christ had intended to do this great thing you would have imagined that He would have called for the best vessels in the house; but He did nothing of the kind. He took the very meanest vessel of the whole household, and He consecrated and sanctified it to His Divine use.
Look at the water—that is common enough. Wine is costly, but water is cheap; it is thrown about, slopped about, and the pails containing it are often upset because easily filled again. Ordinarily speaking, water is one of the commonest of the commonplace necessaries of life. And yet that water was sanctified for a display of the Divine power.
Then there are the servants—never a scarcity in the East, where often there are three to do one man's work. Christ did not call the master of the house to stand near and observe Him, or say, 'Ye highly-placed guests, come and see'. He left the head people, as we should say, and took the common servants. 'Fill up the jars; draw it out; carry it to the governor; pass it round', was His simple command. And the water was turned into wine. Some one has poetically said, 'The modest water saw its Lord, and blushed'; but it was more than that, for His was the best wine of the feast.
Christ, you see, sanctified commonplace things and persons to display His benevolence and power. Make some practical use of them in regard to your own lives.
It is hardly needful for me to point out that life is very largely made up of commonplaces—commonplace engagements, commonplace relationships, and commonplace duties. There are some who are a little better off than others, but even such people have common things to do before they get through the routine of life. With some of us it is altogether so—commonplace in the home, commonplace in the situation, commonplace in the workshop, commonplace in the office, commonplace in what we do for our living, and commonplace in the persons with whom we are associated. Nothing great or dignified about it. It is indeed a case of 'the trivial round, the common task'.
But, whether you are a business man or a road-sweeper, you can live the sanctified life.
Some of you may be heads of houses or domestic servants, horse-drivers or laundry-workers, factory hands or the owners of factories; but whatever you are, as followers of Jesus Christ, God wants you to put this label upon each and every section of your life—'Holiness unto the Lord'. He wants you also to conduct yourselves in every way consistent with that thought. The pots and the pans, and the bridles of the horses, and whatever we may have to do, must be labelled with that.
'Commissioner, can a man have a clean heart and drive a cab?' a man recently asked me. 'Of course, he can,' I replied, 'and if you come with me I will show you how to do it'.
Why, the way in which we use these things is to be a part of our consecrated service to God. It does not sound very lofty, but that is just where the highest exhibition of Holiness can be given to the world. It is not what you do—that may seem very important or may be very trivial; but it is the manner of doing it and the motive behind it which is the main thing.
You have all heard the story of the servant-girl who had got the blessing, and who, when asked how she knew she had it, said that she knew it because she 'now swept under the mats'. What a very simple thing, and yet the blessing of Holiness just shows itself in that. Sweeping round the mat and in the middle of the room only is not 'Holiness'. The girl was quite right; she knew that the sanctifying Grace of God had made a change in her, because she wanted to clean where dirt would not have been seen even if left there.
How beautiful the lines of George Herbert, where, after speaking of doing things 'for Christ's sake', he says:—
A servant with this clause Makes drudgery divine; Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws Makes that and the action fine.
The fact that you do your work in the spirit of your religion sanctifies your lives. It transforms them from secular to sacred. Your work and your worship spring from the same motive, and those who see this treat you and your work with respect. The Scripture puts it beautifully in speaking of the Apostles, 'The people took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus'.
Observe carefully how Zechariah combines the great and the commonplace. He says not only that the pots in the Lord's house shall be as sacred as the bowls before the altar, but that every pot and pan in the city shall be sanctified. The great point to be learned is that the Holiness of the home is to be as the Holiness of the Temple. The dedication which makes the bowls before the altar holy is also to sanctify the pots of the household, and the bells and trappings of the horses; the label which was written upon the priest's forehead, 'Holiness unto the Lord', is to be stamped upon the common things, in the street, in the shop, in the house—in fact, upon everything.
Get rid for ever of the idea that the affairs of human life are divided into things secular and things sacred; that business is separate from religion, and religion separate from business; that the consecration of certain hours to Meetings, to Bible-reading, or to religious work, is a different sort of thing from the devotion of other hours to labour, or eating, or physical necessities. Now, such a division may exist with some, but it cannot be allowed to exist in the lives of those who profess to have consecrated themselves to God.
In that case there is only one label for everything. For the meanest act, the commonest duty, the personal and private habits, there is only one motive, 'Holiness unto the Lord'. God's will, God's honour, God's service—these are on the labels. And—
The trivial round, the common task, Will furnish all we ought to ask, Room to deny ourselves—a road To bring us daily nearer God.
Some have not got there yet. They have not made a dedication such as Zechariah spoke of, one which governs the whole life, the big and the little, the work and the worship, their associations and pleasures and methods of business. There are things in their daily work and personal habits, little indulgences or selfishnesses, to which that label, 'Holiness unto the Lord', cannot be attached.
Oh, I beseech you, make no distinctions. Let there be no reserves. Body, soul, spirit, as we sometimes sing, lay upon the altar. Consecrate yourselves to your Lord in simplicity and sincerity, with a simple faith that God will baptize you, and give you His Holy Spirit to maintain this consecration.