What e'er pursuits my time employ, One thought shall fill my soul with joy; That silent, secret thought shall be That all my hopes are fixed on Thee.
'Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring whose waters fail not.' (Isaiah lviii. 11.)
'Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' (2 Peter iii. 18.)
The truths of the Bible exist in counterpart, having at least two aspects, each of which must be considered in relation to the other, if their full meaning is to be understood. That is a very necessary statement in regard to the aspect of truth which we emphasize under the general heading of 'Spiritual Growth', or 'Growth in the Divine Life'. On the one hand, we know that spiritual experience is marked by certain crises which are in some cases like earthquakes or tidal waves; whilst, on the other hand, the law of progression must be in constant operation.
We speak of conversion as a crisis, because a man in a moment 'passes from death unto life'; or, in the Saviour's words, is 'born again'. Whatever happens before or after, there must be that definite change before any man can enter the Kingdom of God. Then, happily, many have experienced another crisis which we speak of as 'getting a clean heart'. This happens when an enlightened soul fully and absolutely consecrates itself to God, and, by faith, claims and realizes that 'the Blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin'. A man may be a long time, in coming to that point; but, sooner or later, he must reach and pass it if he is to secure that 'holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord'.
But whilst no amount of improvement in moral character can dispense with the crises referred to, we cannot rightly magnify the definite transactions at conversion or cleansing, or any other remarkable point of religious life, to the detraction of spiritual growth. Each aspect of the truth, as I have already said, is the counterpart of the other, and must be viewed in its natural perspective.
People sometimes express themselves in exaggerated language as regards both aspects of truth. A lady friend, referring to a young person of beautiful disposition, said to me, 'Ah, you see, in her case there is no need of conversion. She was born sanctified like her mother.' Quite a false notion. But it is equally foolish for persons to exclaim, 'I am converted, and a child of God; now I am all right'; or, 'Now I have got a clean heart; it is all done'. As a matter of fact, there is no more important principle to be cultivated than the law of progression or advance in the Divine life. That principle is certainly in perfect harmony with Scripture teaching, and is expressed in Peter's exhortation, 'Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ'.
Paul's words about 'growing up unto Him in all things which is the head even Christ', express the same thought; whilst John shows the ascending grades of spiritual experience in directing his words to 'little children', 'young men', and 'fathers'. These grades are not measured by years, but by progress in spiritual life and vigour and personal knowledge of God.
The Bible contains many figures illustrating this idea of growth or progress, whether applied to character or service. For example, it refers to the garden as a place where things grow, and thus illustrates the garden of the soul; to the development of a building in course of erection, 'all fitly framed together' and growing; to the growth of a fortune by wise investment, in the use of talents, two becoming four, five becoming ten, and so forth. The growth of the human body is also referred to, with its limbs, muscles, and parts developing with the head; and the growth of the student, as exemplified in the text, 'Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity'.
Then the ideas associated with a garden or the field are also used as illustrations. The Bible parables from nature are very significant and powerful. They embrace the vine and its branches, the sower and the seed, the lily among thorns, the trees planted by the rivers of water; and thus the facts of the spiritual realm are made clear to us.
I often speak of the garden of the soul. If I widen the figure, and apply it to our personal character and general make-up, we shall see the similitude of a garden which is a place where all sorts of things grow; things related to the body, and to the mind, and to life generally.
The gardener studies his ground, and the possible products and available seed. He seeks to get rid of the weeds and briers and poisonous plants, in order that the desired products may grow to perfection. So the ground of our hearts and characters must be purged from the weeds and hindering things which grow with the affections and disposition generally. Evil things flourish apace in the garden of human nature; but if they are removed, sanctified seed may be sown, and holy plants may be cultivated.
The Bible also speaks of God's saints as being in 'the garden of the Lord', as trees which His right hand planted, or growing from seed which He has sown, blossoming as the rose, fragrant as the honeysuckle and almond, and bringing forth the fruits of righteousness to the glory of His name. But whether you look at your souls as a garden, from which evil plants are to be removed, and in which the plants of God's grace are to flourish instead, or regard yourselves as trees in God's garden, the ideas are always connected with growth, enlargement, and productiveness.
Isaiah gives an illustration which is in striking contrast. Speaking of God's idea concerning His saints, he says, 'Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and a spring whose waters fail not'; but he supplies another picture of those 'who forsake the Lord' after having known Him, God saying to them, 'Ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water'. Let us look well at ourselves, and find out to which class we belong.
The religion of Jesus Christ is pre-eminently good because it marks things of evil growth as things to be rooted out, and it produces qualities in the soul and character which are Christ-like, such as love, forgiveness of injuries, patience, devotion, and self-sacrifice for the good of others. These are all things which grow, and must grow, if we are to be as God wants us to be. Cleansing from evil things we must definitely seek and secure; but growth in grace and peace and Divine knowledge, and skill in service, must be sought and cultivated by us continually.
It may help our understanding of this truth if we study carefully the process in the growth of a good tree. If there is satisfactory development, three things in the tree will be discovered; namely, growth in the root, growth in the branches, and growth in the form of flowers and fruit.
1. I said growth in the root. This means that the tree must strike deep, deeper, and deeper still, so as to get an increasingly firm grip on the earth below, from which it draws much of its support. Without this the tree will fall of its own top-weight, or be uprooted by the storms which will rage about it. So, in the individual soul and character there must, below the surface, be a deepening and spreading and gripping of the spiritual forces and principles and realizations, those hidden connexions with the Divine Unseen without which one cannot stand before the storms and scorching tests of life.
One of the sacred writers speaks of a section of God's people in trouble, and in danger of being wiped out, but reveals God's purpose for them in these words, 'They shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward'. It is not difficult to grasp the principle illustrated; we must cultivate a religion with roots, otherwise our experience will be superficial and shallow, and, like the seed in the parable, with no depth of earth, and having little root, will ultimately become dried up.
This really means growth in secret, growth out of sight, and reminds us of the beautiful words of Jesus: 'When thou prayest, enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall Himself reward thee openly'. There are many kinds of prayer, but here is one that helps growth in the very roots of our religion. It fits in with the Psalmist's word, 'He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty'.
2. I also spoke of growth in the branches. It is easy to understand what the growth of trunk and branches means in a tree; it grows higher, develops strength, and reaches out farther. It means the same when applied to growth in grace and character; getting power to grow stronger in resisting evil and standing for the right; stronger to say 'Yes' and 'No'; stronger to discharge our duty, and to endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ. Equally it means reaching out, stretching farther, and extending our efforts to reach and help and bless.
The banyan tree of the East affords us an apt illustration in this connexion. Its stem shoots up, its branches dip, touch the earth, and take root, repeating the process of extension until a great area is covered, and crowds may shelter beneath it. In like manner the extent of one's influence may at first be small, and the circle affected by our power be limited; but if it is wisely used and cultivated, it will stretch and grow, reaching farther and farther, and touching new people with new power and blessing.
You know the old preacher's reproach to the people who sang, 'Oh, for a thousand tongues!' and yet would not use the one they each possessed to witness for their Lord. I knew a man who wanted to go to China as a missionary, who would not testify for Christ in the neighbourhood where he lived. That meant declension, not growth. Growth comes by using the grace, stretching out and reaching forth; the power increases by reason of use.
3. Finally, there is growth in the form of flowers and fruit. God no more intended His creatures to be barren and unfruitful in religion, than He intended plants to fail in bloom and fruit. How perfectly clear Jesus makes this in His Parable of the Vine and the Branches! Of the branch which abideth in the Vine He says that when purged it shall experience a certain progression. Observe the order, 'bear fruit—more fruit—much fruit', and 'fruit which shall remain'. Let us ask ourselves to which of these stages we have attained, and go on earnestly to a fuller fruitfulness.
If I had space to speak of the various kinds of Nature's growth, I should point out how some fruit is for human food, such as apples, oranges, grain, and vegetables. Some blossoms are for beauty and fragrance, and in other cases flowers and fruit appear to be chiefly for seed purposes; but with almost every plant and tree the best feature is its reproductive power; that is, fruit is produced whose seed is in itself, and so multiplies its own kind.
Is not that what God wants with us? Beauty and grace and gratification, certainly, for we must adorn the doctrine; but your sanctified fruit must have the seed in itself, which drops and takes root, and reproduces itself in the world around you. Remember my last word, 'Herein is your Father glorified that ye bear much fruit'; fruit now and fruit always; so that, like the trees planted by rivers of water, you shall 'bring forth fruit even in old age'.
Oh, help us, Lord, throughout our time To test ourselves, by help divine, To see what fruit we bear; What promise are we making Thee, As ripened souls we wish to be, When harvest home draws near.
The Inward Laws
'I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them. Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.' (Hebrews x. 16, 17.)
The beginnings of religion lie in the desire to have our sins forgiven, and to be enabled to avoid doing the wrong things again. It was so with David when, in the fifty-first Psalm, he not only cried, 'Have mercy upon me, O God, and blot out my transgressions', but 'Wash me, cleanse me from my sin'.
Sin is a double evil. On the one hand, it creates a record of wrongdoing which has to be faced; on the other, it creates a disease in the moral system and spiritual make-up of a man. This disease creates desires for the evil thing, and so warps and weakens a man's force of resistance that when the temptation is presented, the inward craving asserts itself, and makes the man want to go into the temptation.
To deal with this complex character of sin is a greater problem than human ingenuity and skill are equal to. God, however, has solved the problem Himself, and His plan of Salvation is addressed to both aspects of evil. It includes, first, the forgiveness of sins; and then the introduction of a new governing force and the power to live according to the will of God. Both these things are set out in the verses quoted, although the order of statement is reversed.
Let me use two stories to illustrate the separate points. The one relates to a little boy who, having done wrong in his home, had been dealt with by his mother. Referring to it afterwards, the boy said, 'Yes, I knew mother had forgiven me for the wrong; but I saw in her face, although she did not frown, that she remembered all day what I did in the morning'. There are many, no doubt, who forgive in that fashion; but it is not God's way. He says, 'Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more'. He forgets as well as forgives.
An illustration of the other point came out in the personal testimony of an eminently religious man who, before his conversion, was addicted to horse-racing. He said that after his conversion he did not go to the race-meeting, but very much wanted to do so. Later, when the light came to him, he got his heart and mind sanctified; and 'Then', said he, 'I not only did not go, but I had no desires to be there; the Lord had taken the want to out of my heart'.
It is the knowledge of these two aspects of evil, and of the necessity for having the double problem dealt with, which causes us to lay such emphasis upon the 'clean heart' teaching. First, the forgiveness of the sins; then cleansing from the evil desire, and getting the power to live the holy life. This is the essence of our Holiness doctrine.
There are, as I have frequently pointed out, other things besides inner experiences connected with true religion; for instance, we read in this chapter of its outward tokens, such as witnessing for Christ, holding fast the profession or confession of our faith without wavering. That is very important. There is also the association with others who are of the same mind; 'not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together'. Combination and outward union seem to be within the Divine plan for extending religion. Stirring one another up to duty is also emphasized, 'exhorting one another', 'provoking one another to love and good works'; that is, helping each other in the things which make for the godly life. All these must be in us and abound, if we are to justify our religion.
But, after all, the vital thing about religion is its inward springs and connexions; the outer life inspired and regulated by the laws of God put into our hearts and written in our minds, reproducing themselves in the activities and relations of daily life.
We would not undervalue the tables of stone, on which God with His own finger wrote the Commandments, and delivered them to Moses. We would ever prize the Blessed Bible, with its sacred records of the wonderful revelations of the Divine mind and purposes concerning men; for, in producing these, 'holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost'. How much more highly, however, do we value the Spirit of God writing upon the fleshly tables of the heart, bringing the heart and mind, not only into the knowledge of God's will, but into harmony with it, and planting and feeding the living principles which produce the fruit of good living!
It is worth while to inquire what are the laws which God undertakes to put into the hearts and minds of His willing children. In this connexion we think of the law of submission and obedience. Religion begins there. When seeking Salvation, either at the penitent-form or elsewhere, we went down, submitted ourselves to God, so far as we knew it, and declared that we would do what He wanted us to do.
We saw, felt, and accepted it as the settled thing for us that His will should be the governing law; that must go on operating all along life's way. Continuing to follow Him is as important as beginning to do so—'If any man will deny himself, let him take up his cross, and follow Me' That means continued submission to His government and conditions of service.
In the days of Christ's ministry a large number of people gathered around Him, but when they saw what was involved, 'they went back from following Him'. We must see that the surrenders of the sanctified life are not matters of a moment. There is a supreme moment when consecration lays its all upon the altar, but every day brings its own tests even to the most advanced among us. As in Abraham's experience, the birds of temptation and beasts of prey seek to destroy or defile the offering, and we have to hold on in our obedience, binding the sacrifice with fresh cords to the altar.
Now, we must not miss the point of the Apostle's teaching, which is, that when the law of God is stamped in the heart and mind, the spirit of the law prevailing within us makes us desire to obey and serve, and so we are empowered to sustain the claims of the consecrated life.
Then, there is the law of faith. It is spoken of in these verses. 'We are to draw near in the full assurance of faith'; that is, with the confidence that our approaches will not be in vain, because Christ has opened the way by His own Blood; and we believe that the provisions are at our disposal.
Now, faith is a law for the mind as well as for the heart. It is with the heart that a man 'believeth unto righteousness'; but there must be an intelligent perception of the facts and of the rightness of the truth; there must be an apprehension of the reasonableness of God's requirements before a man will happily submit, obey, and follow.
May I touch upon our own family sorrow in the death of a beloved son and Officer in India? Before my heart could rest in the will of God as exhibited in that bereavement, I had to reach the point of believing that a Father's hand prepared that cup, and that His will is the best, and His power and grace will make all things work together for good. The heart cried out in its agonizing pain and sense of loss; but, trusting in the Divine Love, rest and peace came to my bereaved soul.
And so, all along the consecrated way and line of service, it is when the law of faith is written in the mind, and becomes a settled perception or conviction, that the sanctified heart is able to find rest. 'By grace are ye saved through faith', is true at the beginning; but equally true is the word, 'Kept by the power of God through faith'; and the principle is that the law in the mind and heart constantly operates as we tread the appointed path of life and service.
I cannot leave the subject without touching specially upon one among other important laws which deserve our consideration; the law of love. Paul was quite right when, comparing the various qualities of Christian character he declared, 'The greatest of these is love'. 'Love is the bond of perfectness.'
Even submission and sacrifice are acts of joy when it is a case of love's surrender. The blessedness of service is great when love is the inspiration of that service, and great is the enduring power of true God-given love. The human will at best is weak; human supports are like reeds which bend or break when most needed; intellectual capacity or natural talents are valuable; but, after all, they only stand for so much in one's life; but 'love never faileth'. I cannot sufficiently commend to you this law of love in the heart; but, believe me, it sweetens life's sorrow, lightens life's burdens, and strengthens our powers of service and endurance.
How far does our experience harmonize with what has been said about the nature and conditions of true religion? which is only another way of presenting the blessing of Holiness. The new and living way of which the Apostle speaks as opened through the Blood of Jesus, is the only way to the cleansing fountain and the sanctifying grace. Let his words, therefore, encourage you to 'enter with boldness', to 'draw near with a true heart', a heart knowing its need, but believing the promises of God, and He will meet you and make these inward laws of Holiness and service your abiding experience.
Worry versus Peace
'Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.' (Philippians iv. 6, 7.)
Before the full bearing and value of these verses can be realized, I think they require to be read several times over. Even if the sentences are read through slowly, just as they stand, a deep sense of blessing and rest steals into the soul; but the more deeply they are considered, the richer will the words be found. It would be almost correct for me to call this a New Testament commentary on Isaiah's beautiful verse, 'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee', for the ideas and their relation are very similar.
If we look at the various phases of this message, we shall see that they are very important. They imply, first, a perfect surrender or committal of oneself to God, based on a perfect trust; second, open access to God; freedom of intercourse; telling Him all about things which try and burden and distress us. We have also perfect peace; that is, quietness of spirit, rest of soul, deliverance from inward conflict, consequent upon God's keeping power through Jesus Christ. Read carefully this Apostolic message, and observe not only the different sections, but how they are connected, and how, in their completeness, they express a most desirable spiritual experience.
Included or connected with Full Salvation are certain blessings to which we generally refer, such as perfect love and purity, also that peace to which the Apostle here alludes, as well as a deep, settled faith in the saving purposes and power of God. But we do not always see that we may equally include deliverance from that undue anxiety which we call worry; and yet these verses certainly prescribe a cure for worry as well as other evils, and it may be helpful for us to look at that aspect of truth.
Many are tempted to regard this as an ideal condition, something to long for, and perhaps to aim at; whereas if the teaching of Paul here—in fact, of the Bible generally—is not a delusion, this is intended to be a realized experience; and I remind any who say that Salvation from worry is too high for us, that they have said just the same when we have talked about a clean heart, and Salvation from sin and sinning.
A thoughtful author has recently written a book bearing the title of 'Worry, the Disease of the Age'. He takes trouble to show that, owing to commercial competition, the increased desire for luxurious living, keeping up appearances, and other developments of modern days, heads of families and persons in responsible positions do a great deal of worrying. This writer then goes on to say: 'It is, however, more than a certainty that true religion is a cure for worry, a preventative of worry, and is utterly incomparable in its performance of these functions'. 'The religion which Jesus Christ taught in Galilee', says the same writer, 'is a casting of one's care upon the Lord, an acceptance of the ills and lashes of life with a settled faith that God is too good and wise to err or to be unkind, and that He will make all things work together for good to them that love Him'.
I know that a state of worry may arise from physical causes. Inflamed nerves, mental depressions, or hysterical fears, are, in many instances, quite beyond the control of the sufferer. With others there is an intense desire to do something or get something done; but I also know that, as with bad tempers, a good deal is put down to physical and nervous disorders which ought to be put down to lack of spiritual life and power.
Now, when I speak of Salvation from worry, I do not mean deliverance from nervous agitation or shrinking from physical suffering, although I do not know how to fix a point where God's gracious power is exhausted, even as regards these things; but 'worry' is that carking care, that undue anxiety about one's personal affairs which destroys peace of mind, burdens the heart, and often leads to distrust of God's love and power. From such things God's grace is sufficient to deliver.
Let me be plain, however, on one point. I think carelessness, recklessness, and indifference to possible happenings, is wrong. You hear persons say, 'Oh, never mind; what does it matter? Don't fash or bother yourself.' But such expressions often spring from pure selfishness, and sometimes exhibit a sinful disregard for the happiness of other people. Nothing makes it right to ease yourself at the expense of others, or to shirk burdens by shifting them to other shoulders. Some are clever at that, but such action may be positively sinful. On the other hand, God can deliver us from that anxious care and foreboding and unrest with which so many good people are afflicted.
Oh, my friends, can you not learn to come to God as the Apostle directs, making known your requests in 'prayer and supplication with thanksgiving'? for then 'the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ'.
We need far more trust in the providence of our Heavenly Father. What needless pain we suffer! what agonies of mind we endure! what clouds hang above and around us! because we do not trust Him in respect of the circumstances of life.
There are those even who are trusting God to forgive their sins and save their souls, who yet will not trust Him to carry them through a difficulty in ordinary life and association, or help them with their bread and butter. The fact is, they doubt God's personal interposition in the affairs of men; consequently, their affairs get muddled, and their hearts and minds are disturbed, often to distraction. No truth is more plainly taught than that God does interpose. 'In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.' 'The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.' 'Who is he that shall harm you if ye be followers of that which is good?' 'No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.'
I know that distrust and doubt can erect all sorts of difficulties, and perhaps none is more common and specious than what is called by the sceptical men 'the logic of proportion'. This argument says, 'In a universe so vast, what is man? As a speck of dust is to a planet, and as a star is to the vast universe, so is man to the world in which he lives'. Well, it certainly is not strange that the mind should stagger at the thought of the Creator of the universe putting His hand to the management of the details of a human life. And yet God's truth in the Bible completely wipes out this so-called 'logic of proportion'.
Let us look at a familiar illustration used by our Master of God's minute care for those who fully trust and follow Him. One able man has called what I am referring to 'the doctrine of the odd sparrow'. Matthew records how, on one occasion, Jesus said, 'Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father'. But, turning to Luke, we find a slight variation in what Jesus said, 'Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God'. Now, do you see the point of Luke's putting of it? It is as if the dealer had said to the buyer, 'Look here, you want a farthing's worth of sparrows. Well, you can have two; but, if you will buy two farthingsworth, I will throw the odd one in for nothing'. Two for a farthing; five for a halfpenny.
But see; of that odd sparrow thrown in as hardly worth counting, Jesus said, 'Not one of them is forgotten before God. Not one shall fall to the ground without your Father. Are ye not of more value than many sparrows?' Now, in the light of that illustration, turn once more to the Apostolic message, 'Be careful for nothing', and I think you will find good reason for believing the promise, 'The peace of God shall keep your hearts through Jesus Christ'.
Before leaving this matter of worry, I suggest that we look well to find the cause of the trouble; for, alas! it is not unfrequently the case that care or undue anxiety arises from positive sin in the heart. Some of you worry in respect of your position in life as compared with other people's; but are you sure that some of this fratch and distress does not arise from feelings of envy, or jealousy, or discontent? Others may worry because of comparative poverty, but is it not often pride or ambition concerning yourselves or your children, and a desire to be level with your neighbours, which causes the trouble? You worry, perhaps, because people cross your purposes and upset your plans and irritate you needlessly; but is not the secret really that you resent interference, and want to have your own way? Now, before blaming your circumstances, I suggest you have a thorough self-examination, for it may be that the inward trouble is due to unbelief, selfishness, ambition, pride, or some other form of heart sin, and that evil must be dealt with before perfect peace can prevail.
May I come very close to you, and ask, Is it not true of some that, far from being kept by the peace of God which passeth all understanding, you are in a condition, an attitude of mind, which distinctly hinders the enjoyment of such a blessing? Some, I fear, have not got even as far as saying, 'Being justified by faith, I have peace with God'. There is some sin, some indulgence, which God is against; and as rebellion and peace are opposed to each other, you cannot have guidance and peace and spiritual blessings until you cast yourselves at the mercy-seat, and take Christ as your Saviour.
Again, it may be some point of controversy. Something in regard to your circumstances, or your consecration, or even your inward condition; you refuse or hesitate to obey God's call, and follow the light. God has not left you to yourselves, but the Spirit is grieved by your unwillingness; and the result is, that you have conflict in your hearts, clouds in your sky, and failure in your lives.
Take it from me, that you cannot have this deliverance which the Apostle describes, this keeping power and peace, unless the will of God is supreme in your heart. Controversy must be given up, the full surrender made, and then you must trust yourselves and your lives in God's hands. If this is done, and the Apostolic direction followed, then you will be able to sing—
Careless through outward cares I go, From all distraction free; My hands are but engaged below, My heart is still with Thee.
An Appeal and a Response
'I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Then said I, Here am I; send me! And He said, Go.' (Isaiah vi. 8, 9.)
The incident with which these words are connected was a real mosaic in sacred history. You have the record of a vision which was not a dream but a revelation—a panorama of actualities. The background of this vision might well absorb our attention. The temple and the glory which filled it; the throne and Him who sat thereon; the seraphim, with their wings and ascriptions of Holiness. The atmosphere was, indeed, electric with the presence of God and the angelic host.
Isaiah, the solitary human figure in the scene, was overawed with the glorious majesty of the Divine character; shame at the revelation of his own impurity overwhelmed him. He rightly felt that he was a blot upon this temple scene, but the Divine touch of the living fire transformed him, and prepared him for that which was to follow.
Analyse this conversation, and you see three things standing in a most natural order:—
First. An Appeal sounds out: 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?'
Second. A Response is made to that Appeal: 'Here am I; send me'.
Third. A Commission was given: 'And He said, "Go"'.
Now this conversation was not only important and imperative as regards Isaiah and his circumstances, but in its application to ourselves and our surroundings. I think we shall get some blessing and inspiration for duty if we consider the three facts as they stand.
1. The nature of the appeal was a very simple one. The Lord wanted a suitable representative to stand for Him among a sinful, backslidden people.
Isaiah was already supposed to fill that position—at any rate, on special occasions; but he was so much like the people themselves that in the ordinary way his religion had little weight with them. No doubt he felt the honour and privilege of being a prophet when a special message had to be sent, but he hardly realized the high purpose of his mission, and maybe his cry, 'Here am I; send me', was a pleading for another chance to better represent His Lord.
The same appeal, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' is sounded in our ears to-day. There are certain aspects which I would like you to note. It was an appeal based upon a great need. Then, as now, the people were without God; indifferent to His claims, few of them with any experimental knowledge of His Salvation, and, consequently, having no hope in the world. And in these respects God wanted a man who would arouse the people, assert His claims, and lead them back to His service.
Believe me, the world's need to-day is a deep and terrible one. I need hardly enlarge upon it. You know it, because samples of it are at your door and around you. But do not forget that the deepest need of the people lies in their lack of knowledge of God and that Salvation which, after all, is the panacea for human woe.
We live in days when the practical aspects of religion are most emphasized. The social conditions and physical needs of the poor people are regarded as affording a sphere for Christ-like effort quite as much as is the preaching of the Gospel. Bread, not creed; relief as well as pity; material improvements in place of missions and Gospel addresses and such-like are demanded on every hand. God forbid, however, that the doing of these things should be regarded as quite sufficient.
There are humanitarian considerations, and we must not ignore them. Squalor, poverty, debauchery, harlotry, oppression, war, and ignorance are existing evils which must have attention. We must not be so taken up with the souls as to neglect the temporal, social, and physical needs of our fellows. But the deepest wail of want and woe which comes from the world is not to be met by bread, or sovereigns, or sanitation, or education, or more equal conditions of life. It is the absence of God and eternal hope which gives the deepest and most sorrowful tone to the world's bitter cry.
This was also an appeal for human help. I do not know why God has so tied Himself up as He has, but it is a fact. Although angels are available, and the direct operations of His Spirit would be almighty, His plan is to get His will made known by one man telling another. Men to save men; men to help men; that seems to be God's method, and He appeals now, as before, 'Who will go for Us?'
2. The second point I named was the response to the Divine appeal: 'Here am I; send me'. Cannot that be repeated in various directions among us? Thank God for the responses already made, and but for which dark and hopeless, indeed, would be human hearts and places which have been illuminated by the light of God's Salvation. But, Oh, for more ready and larger responses to the appeal which is ever sounding in our ears!
Isaiah's response was a voluntary one. Some people are like the horse whom his owner said had only two faults; one, that he 'took such a lot of catching', and the other that 'he would not work when he was caught'. Others have to be disciplined and broken by trouble before they fall in line with God's will. But why should not every one who names our Lord's name cry out with a ready spirit, 'Here am I, Lord; send me'?
This was also a response without conditions; or, as we put it, an unreserved surrender, an unconditional consecration. It is a matter to rejoice over when men and women express willingness to do any service, but it is infinitely better when, coming up to the Divine altar, they say, 'Here am I, Lord; have your own way; do as you will with me; anything for Jesus—anywhere for Thee'. Have you got there yet? If not, let that be the advance which you make now, without further bargaining and reserves.
But this response came from a heart qualified to make it good. Ah! that is the secret of all successful service. Isaiah, cleansed, sanctified, and touched with Divine Fire, was a different person from the one who lay grovelling in the dust, and crying, 'Woe is me!' Up to that moment he was too much like those around him; but now, touched, baptized, and qualified, he was fit to be God's witness and agent.
That just touches the point where some of you are lacking. You need this cleansing, this 'unction of the Holy One', or you need it afresh in the face of the world's crying need. You hold back, you stumble and often fail; but why? The answer is, you need just what Isaiah got to qualify him for his mission. You must get this so as to be able to respond to God's appeal as he did.
3. Then I also spoke of the Divine commission which followed the response. Observe the process, 'Who will go?' 'Here am I.' 'And He said, Go'. That is still the line upon which our Lord acts in sending out His representatives.
We sometimes dwell upon the 'Come's' of the Bible, quoting the Divine invitations for the encouragement of hesitating souls. May we not with equal force quote the 'Go's' of the Book as indicating the will of God concerning our duty?
You remember the Lord's 'Go' to Moses, when, appearing to him in the burning bush, God set out His plan for Israel's deliverance: 'I will send thee to bring My people out'. In the same manner the Lord gave Joshua his marching orders to 'Go over Jordan, and possess the land'. Paul had a similar experience when the Lord bade him rise and receive his commission to go to the Gentiles.
Christ's Parable of the Great Feast strikes the same note when the liberal host sent out his servants, saying, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled'. But the grand chord was sounded out by our Risen Lord when He said to His disciples, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature'. That is the commission given to us.
During successive years I have, on behalf of The General, had the privilege of commissioning from our International Training Homes batches of 400 or 500 young men and women who have been trained to be Officers of The Salvation Army. That is a grand annual contribution towards the world's Salvation. But the word comes not only to the leaders of God's hosts, but to every Soldier and follower of Jesus Christ who is consecrated to His service.
The Lord's 'Go' means different things to different people. To some, the Divine finger points one way; perhaps to a distant field, where millions lie in the darkness of heathendom, or to Army Officership somewhere. To others it points to spheres of testimony and work near at hand. The kinds of places and labour are varied, but the purpose is the same, and all who go out in obedience in God's name will find His almighty power behind them and blessings in their train.
I cannot direct you in detail, but in general terms I can say, Go where you know God wants you. Where the streams of sin are sweeping the people down to damnation and dark despair—go there. Where the poor people are being ruined by that cup which not only curses now, but at the last 'biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder'—go there. Where struggling souls are crying for sympathy and help—go there. Where the youth of our land are being polluted by depraved men and women among whom they earn their daily bread—go there. Where God seems unknown, or His claims unheeded for lack of living witnesses—go there. Go where you may lift up your voice for your Master; go where a helping hand or kindly words can minister comfort to depressed and hopeless hearts.
Hark! for the Master calls, Child, I have need of thee; Man in thy pride of strength, Youth in thy beauteous glee, Aged and young, and rich and poor, Trifles and toys no more pursue; The world is wide, and time is short; There's work for all to do.
These thoughts have revived in my memory Scott's poem in which he records an ancient custom found amongst the traditions of Scottish history. A chieftain desired to summon his clansmen to war in great urgency. The shrill blast of the bugle called together his immediate followers, but those at a distance must be summoned by other means. Before sending out a swift and trusty messenger, the priest was called and certain rites which had been observed from time immemorial performed.
A cross was constructed from the branches of the yew tree, and then held aloft by the priest, whilst he pronounced awful curses on the men who, at the sight of the signal, failed to obey the summons of their chief. The cross was then held in the fire until it blazed, was again uplifted and fresh curses added; then it was plunged in the blood of a newly-slain sacrifice, and, smoking and reeking with gore, the charred and bloody cross was given into the hands of a swift messenger, who leaping away as an arrow sped from a bow, flies along the mountain-path, and, holding the crimson sign before the eyes of the clansmen, names the place of assembly, and passes the signal on throughout the borders.
I have no yew-tree cross, no bleeding sacrifice visible to outward eyes, but before the eyes of your souls, I lift up the cross of Calvary, charred by the fires of sin, and reeking with the Blood of the Divine Victim, and in God's name I charge you to go forth to rescue the needy souls of men.
See the brazen hosts of Hell Art and power employing, More than human tongue can tell Blood-bought souls destroying; Hark! from ruin's ghastly road Victims groan beneath their load, Forward, O ye sons of God, And dare or die for Jesus.
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