MARCH The Fourteenth
JOHN xi. 17-31.
Let me consider this marvellous confession of Martha's faith. "I know that even now, whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee!" Mark the "even now"! Lazarus was dead, and it was midnight in the desolate home. But "even now"! Beautiful it is when a soul's most awful crises are the seasons of its most radiant faith! Beautiful it is when our lamp shines steadily in the tempest, and when our spiritual confidence remains unshaken like a gloriously rooted tree. Beautiful it is when in our midnight men can hear the strains of the "even now"!
And let me consider the wonder of the Divine response. "I am the resurrection and the life." A faith like Martha's will always win the Saviour's best. And here is an overwhelming best before which we can only bow in silent homage and awe. He is the Fountain in whom the stagnant brook shall find currency again. He is the Life in whom the fallen dead shall rise to their feet again.
And what is this? "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die!" We shall go to sleep, but we shall never taste the bitterness of death. In the very act of closing our material eyes we shall open our spiritual eyes, and find ourselves at home!
MARCH The Fifteenth
JESUS AT A GRAVE
JOHN xi. 32-45.
Here is Jesus weeping. "Jesus wept." Why did He weep? Perhaps He wept out of sheer sympathy with the tears of others. And perhaps, too, He wept because some of our tears were needless. If we were better men we should know more of the love and purpose of our Lord, and perhaps many of our tears would be dried. Still, here is the sweet and heartening evangel. He sympathizes with my grief! Never a bitter tear is shed without my Lord sharing the tang and the pang.
Here is Jesus praying! "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me." Then it is not so much a prayer as a thanksgiving. He gives thanks for what He is "about to receive." Is this my way? Perhaps I do it before I take a meal. Do I do it before I begin to live the day? In the morning do I thank my God for what I am about to receive? Can I confidently give thanks before I receive the gifts of God, before the dish-covers are removed? Can I trust Him?
And here is Jesus commanding, clothed in sovereign power: "Lazarus, come forth!" That is the same voice which "in the beginning created the heavens and the earth."
MARCH The Sixteenth
THE NEMESIS OF BIGOTRY
JOHN xi. 46-57.
A fearful nemesis waits upon the spirit of bigotry. Oliver Wendell Holmes has said that bigotry is like the pupil of the eye, the more light you pour into it the more it contracts. The scribes and Pharisees became smaller men the more the Lord revealed His glory. In the raising of Lazarus they saw nothing of the glory of the resurrection life, nothing of the joy of the reunited family, nothing of the gracious ministry of the Lord! "Darkness had blinded their eyes."
And it is also the nemesis of bigotry to be bitter, cruel, and violent. They sought to kill the Giver of life!
It is the ministry of light to ripen and sweeten the dispositions. "The fruit of the light is in all goodness." It is the ministry of the darkness to make men sour and unsympathetic, and revengeful, and to so pervert the heart as to make it a minister of poison and death.
And yet, how powerless is bigotry in the long run! It can no more stay the progress of the Kingdom than King Canute could check the flowing tide! Bigotry slew the Lord, and He rose again! And so it ever is. "Truth crushed to earth shall rise again; the eternal years of God are hers."
MARCH The Seventeenth
THE COMMONPLACE OF DEATH
LUKE vii. 11-18.
Death is never a commonplace. We never become so accustomed to funerals as not to see them. Everybody sees the mournful procession go along the street. A momentary awe steals over the flippant thought, and for one brief season the superficial opens into the infinite abyss.
And yet, while a thousand are arrested, only a few are compassionate. There can be awe without pity; there can be interest without service. When this humble funeral train trudged out of the city of Nain our Lord halted, and His heart melted! There was an "aching void," and He longed to fill it. There was a bleeding, broken heart, and He yearned to stand and heal it. He found His own joy in removing another's tears, His own satisfaction in another's peace.
"The Lord hath visited His people!" That is what the people said, and I do not wonder at the saying! And let me, too, be a humble visitor in the troubled ways of men! Let my heart be a well of sweet compassion to all the sons and daughters of grief! Like Barnabas, let me be "a son of consolation."
MARCH The Eighteenth
SERENITY IN THE TEMPEST
JOB xix. 23-27.
Perhaps I am akin to Job in having experienced the pressure of calamity. I have felt the shock of adverse circumstances, and the house of my life has trembled in the convulsion. Or death has been to my door and has returned again and again, and every time he has left me weeping! All God's billows have gone over me! Verily, I can take my place by the patriarch Job.
But can I share his witness, "I know that my Redeemer liveth"? Have I a calm assurance that my ruler is not caprice, and that my comings and goings are not determined by unfeeling chance? When death knocked at my door, did I know that the King had sent him? When some cherished scheme toppled into ruin, had I any thought that the Lord's hand was concerned in the shaking? Even when my circumstances are dubious, and I cannot trace a gracious purpose, do I know that my Vindicator liveth, and that some day He will justify all the happenings of the troubled road?
I will pay for this gracious confidence. I would have a firm step even among disappointments; yea, I would "sing songs in the night!"
MARCH The Nineteenth
DEATH AS MY SERVANT
REVELATION xx. 1-6.
Even now I would rise from the dead. Even now I would know "the power of His resurrection." Even now I would taste the rapture of the deathless life. And this is my glorious prerogative in grace. Yes, even now I can be "risen with Christ," and "death shall no more have dominion over me!"
And yet I must die! Yes, but the old enemy shall now be my friend. He will not be my master, but my servant. He shall just be the porter, to open the door into my Father's house, into the home of unspeakable blessedness and glory. Death shall not hurt me!
I have seen a little child fall asleep while out in the streets of the city, and the kind nurse has taken charge of the sleeper, and when the little one awaked she was at home, and she opened her eyes upon her mother's face.
So shall it be with all who are alive in Christ, and who have risen from a spiritual grave. They shall just fall into a brief sweet sleep, and gentle death shall usher them into the glory of the endless day.
MARCH The Twentieth
THE LORD IS AT HAND!
"Ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." —MATTHEW xxiv. 42-51.
Then let me always live as though my Lord were at the gate! Let me arrange my affairs on the assumption that the next to lift the latch will be the King. When I am out with my friend, walking and talking, let me assume that just round the corner I may meet the Lord.
And so let me practise meeting Him! Said a mother to me one day concerning her long-absent boy: "I lay a place for him at every meal! His seat is always ready!" May I not do this for my Lord? May I not make a place for Him in all my affairs—my choices, my pleasures, my times of business, my season of rest? He may come just now; let His place be ready!
If He delay, I must not become careless. If He give me further liberty, I must not take liberties with it. Here is the golden principle, ever to live, ever to think, ever to work as though the Lord had already arrived. For indeed, He has, and when the veil is rent I shall find Him at my side.
MARCH The Twenty-first
IN THE GOLDEN CITY
ISAIAH lii. 1-12.
And so these are the glories of the golden city. There is wakefulness. "Awake! awake!" In the golden city none will be asleep. Everybody will be bright-eyed, clear-minded, looking upon all beautiful things with fresh and ready receptiveness. "The eyes of them that see shall not be dim."
There is strength. "Put on thy strength!" There will be no broken wills in the golden city, and no broken hearts. No one will walk with a limp! Everybody will go with a brave stride as to the strains of a band. And no one will tire of living, and the inhabitant never says, "I am sick."
And there is beauty. "Put on thy beautiful garments." Bare strength might not be attractive. But strength clothed in beauty is a very gracious thing. The tender mosses on the granite make it winsome. Strength is companionable when it is united with grace. In the golden city there will be tender sentiment as well as rigid conviction.
And these glories will be our defence. A positive virtue is our best rampart against vice. A robust health is the best protection against the epidemic. "The prince of this world cometh, and he hath nothing in me."
MARCH The Twenty-second
COUNSEL AND MIGHT
PSALM cxix. 33-40.
The psalmist prays for an illumined understanding. "Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes." We are so prone to be children of the twilight, and to see things out of their true proportions. Therefore do we need to be daily taught. I must go into the school of the Lord, and in docility of spirit I must sit at His feet. "O, teach me, Lord, teach even me!"
And the psalmist prays for rectified inclinations. "Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies." We so often have the wrong bias, the fatal taste, and our desires are all against the will of the Lord. If only my leanings were toward the Lord how swift my progress would be! I strive to walk after holiness, while my inclinations are in the realm of sin. And so I need a clean mouth, with an appetite for the beautiful and the true. "Blessed are they that hunger after righteousness."
And the psalmist prays for a strenuous will. "Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments." He is praying for "go," for moral persistence, for power to crash through all obstacles which may impede his heavenly progress. And such is my need. Good Lord, endow me with a will like "an iron pillar," and help me to "stand in the evil day."
MARCH The Twenty-third
THE DARK BETRAYAL
JOHN xviii. 1-14.
Our Master was betrayed by a disciple, "one of the twelve." The blow came from one of "His own household." The world employed a "friend" to execute its dark design. And so our intimacy with Christ may be our peril; our very association may be made our temptation. The devil would rather gain one belonging to the inner circle than a thousand who stand confessed as the friends of the world. What am I doing in the kingdom? Can I be trusted? Or am I in the pay of the evil one?
And our Master was betrayed in the garden of prayer. In the most hallowed place the betrayer gave the most unholy kiss. He brought his defilement into the most awe-inspiring sanctuary the world has ever known. And so may it be with me. I can kindle the unclean fire in the church. I can stab my Lord when I am on my knees. While I am in apparent devotion I can be in league with the powers of darkness.
And this "dark betrayal" was for money! The Lord of Glory was bartered for thirty pieces of silver! And the difference between Judas and many men is that they often sell their Lord for less! From the power of Mammon, and from the blindness which falls upon his victims, good Lord, deliver me!
MARCH The Twenty-fourth
LUKE xxii. 39-46.
Surely this is the very Holy of Holies! It were well for us to fall on our knees and "be silent unto the Lord." I would quietly listen to the awful words, "Remove this cup from Me!" and I would listen again and again until never again do I hold a cheap religion. It is in this garden that we learn the real values of things, and come to know the price at which our redemption was bought. No one can remain in Gethsemane and retain a frivolous and flippant spirit.
"And there appeared unto Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him." I know that angel! He has been to me. He has brought me angel's food, even heavenly manna. Always and everywhere, when my soul has surrendered itself to the Divine will, the angel comes, and my soul is refreshed. The laying down of self is the taking up of God. When I lose my will I gain the Infinite. The moment of surrender is also the moment of conquest. When I consecrate my weakness I put on strength and majesty like a robe.
"And when He rose up from His prayer"—what then? Just this, He was quietly ready for anything, ready for the betraying kiss, ready for crucifixion. "Arise, let us be going."
MARCH The Twenty-fifth
THE FEAR OF MAN
JOHN xviii. 15-27.
And this is the disciple who had been surnamed "The Rock"! Our Lord looked into the morrow, and He saw Simon's character, compacted by grace and discipline into a texture tough and firm as granite. But there is not much granite here! Peter is yet loose and yielding; more like a bending reed than an unshakable rock. A servant girl whispers, and his timid heart flings a lie to his lips and he denies his Lord.
Peter denied the Master, not because he coveted money, but because he feared men. He was not seeking crowns, but escaping frowns. He was not clutching at a garland, but avoiding a sword. It was not avarice but cowardice which determined his ways. He shrank from crucifixion! He saw a possible cross, and with a great lie he passed by on the other side.
But the Lord has not done with Peter. He is still "in the making." Some day he will justify his new name. Some day we shall find it written: "When they saw the boldness of Peter, they marvelled"! Once a maid could make him tremble. Now he can stand in high places, "steadfast and unmovable"!
From the spirit of cowardice and from all temporising, and from the unholy fear of man, deliver me, good Lord!
MARCH The Twenty-sixth
THE KING OF KINGS
JOHN xviii. 28-38.
What a strange King our Lord appears, claiming mystic sovereignty, and yet betrayed by a false friend!
And yet, even in His apparent subjection His majestic kingliness stands revealed. When I watch the demeanours of Pilate and Jesus, I can see very clearly who it is who is on the throne; Pilate wears the outer trappings of royalty, but my Lord's is "the power and the glory." Pilate fusses about in a little "brief authority," but my Lord stands possessed of a serene dominion. Even at Pilate's judgment bar Jesus is the King.
But His kingdom is "not of this world." And therefore this King is unlike every other King. He seeks His possessions not by fighting, but by "lighting"; not by coercion, but by constraint. His servants do not go forth with swords, but with lamps; not to drive the peoples, but to lead them. His visible throne is a cross, and His conquests are made in the power of sacrifice.
And so His armaments are the Truth, and the Truth alone. "For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the Truth." When the Truth wins and wooes, the triumph is lasting. Garlands won by the sword perish before the evening. To be one of the King's subjects is to share His nature. "Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice."
MARCH The Twenty-seventh
THE SILENCE OF JESUS
"He answered him nothing!" —LUKE xxiii. 1-12.
And yet, "Ask, and it shall be given you!" Yes, but everything depends upon the asking. Even in the realm of music there is a rudeness of approach which leaves true music silent. Whether the genius of music is to answer us or not depends upon our "touch." Herod's "touch" was wrong, and there was no response. Herod was flippant, and the Eternal was dumb. And I, too, may question a silent Lord. In the spiritual realm an idle curiosity is never permitted to see the crown jewels. Frivolousness never goes away from the royal Presence rich with surprises of grace. "Thy touch has still its ancient power!" So it has, but the healing touch is the gracious response to the touch of faith. "She touched Him, and...!"
"And Herod ... mocked Him." That was the real spirit behind the eager curiosity. And I, too, may mock my Lord! I may bow before Him, and array Him in apparent royalty, while all the time my spirit is full of flippancy and jeers. I may lustily sing: "Crown Him Lord of all," while I will not recognize His rights on a single square foot of the soil of my inheritance. And this it is to be the kinsman of Herod. And this, too, will be the issue; the heavens will be as brass, and the Lord will answer us nothing.
MARCH The Twenty-eighth
THE CHOICE OF BARABBAS
LUKE xxiii. 13-24.
Barabbas rather than Christ! The destroyer of life rather than the Giver of life! This was the choice of the people; and it is a choice which has often stained and defiled my own life.
When I choose revenge rather than forgiveness, I am preferring Barabbas to Christ. For revenge is a murderer, while forgiveness is a healer and saviour of men. But how often I have sent the sweet healer to the cross, and welcomed the murderer within my gate!
When I choose carnal passion before holiness, I am preferring Barabbas to Christ. For is there any murderer so destructive as carnality? And holiness stands waiting, ready to make me beautiful with the wondrous garments of grace. But I spurn the angel, and open my door to the beast.
The devil is always soliciting my service, and the devil "is a murderer from the beginning." Have I never preferred him, and sent my Lord to be "crucified afresh," and "put Him to an open shame"?
Again let me pray—for all my unholy and unwholesome choices, for all my preference of the murderer, forgive me, good Lord!
MARCH The Twenty-ninth
MATTHEW xxvii. 19-25.
Pilate was warned. Pilate's wife had a dream, and in the dream she had glimpses of reality, and when she awoke her soul was troubled. "Have thou nothing to do with that just man!"
And I, too, have mysterious warnings when I am treading perilous ways. Sometimes the warning comes from a friend. Sometimes "the angel of the Lord stands in the way for an adversary." My conscience rings loudly like an alarm-bell in the dead of night. Yes, the warnings are clear and pertinent, but...!
Pilate ignored the warning, and handed the Lord to the revengeful will of the priests. Pilate defiled his heart, and then he washed his hands! What a petty attempt to escape the certain issues! And yet we have shared in the small evasion. We have crucified the Lord, and then we wear a crucifix. We violate the spirit, and then we do reverence to the letter. We hand the Lord over to be crucified, and then we practise the postures and gait of the saints. Yes, we have all sought an escape in outer ceremony from the nemesis of our shameful deeds.
My soul, attend thou to the mystic warnings, and "play the man"!
MARCH The Thirtieth
THE VICTORY OF MEEKNESS
1 PETER ii. 17-25.
Then I may be not only the betrayer, but the betrayed. In my inner circle there may be a friend who will play me false, and hand me over to the wolves. What then? Just this—I must imitate the grace of my Lord, and "consider Him."
There must be no violent retaliation. "When He was reviled, He reviled not again." The fire of revenge may singe or even scorch my enemy, but it will do far more damage to the furniture of my own soul. After every indulgence in vengeful passion some precious personal possession has been destroyed. The fact of the matter is, this fire cannot be kept burning without making fuel of the priceless furnishings of the soul. "Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself."
There must be a serene committal of the soul to the strong keeping of the Eternal God. "He committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously." This is the way of peace, as this is the way of victory. If ever the enemy is to be conquered this must be the mode of the conquest. When men persecute us, let us rest more implicitly in our God.
MARCH The Thirty-first
AT THE CROSS!
MATTHEW xxvii. 38-50.
Let me listen to the ribald jeers which were flung upon my Lord. And let me listen, not as a judge, but as one who has been in the company of the callous crowd. For I, too, have mocked Him! I have said: "Hail, King!" and I have bowed before Him, but it has been mock and empty homage! I have sung: "Crown Him Lord of all!" but there has been no real recognition of His sovereignty; mine has been a mock coronation. From the seat of the mocker, deliver me, good Lord!
And let me stand near the cross while that awful voice of desolation rends the heavens. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" In that agonizing cry I am led to the real heart of the atonement. My Saviour was standing where His believers will never stand. That was the real death, the death of an inconceivable abandonment. And "He died for me!" He so died in order that I may never taste death. "He that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die."
Every believer will go to sleep, and through a short sleep he will wake in the glory of the Eternal Presence. But he will never die: no, never die!
APRIL The First
THE SHADOW OF THE CROSS
LUKE xxiii. 33-47.
Look at our Lord in relation to His foes. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!" Their bitterness has not embittered Him. The "milk of human kindness" was still sweet. Nothing could sour our Lord, and convert His goodwill into malice, His serene beneficence into wild revenge. And how is it with me? Are my foes able to maim my spirit as well as my body? Do they win their end by making me a smaller man? Or am I magnanimous even on the cross?
And look at our Lord in relation to the penitent thief. "To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." There was no self-centredness in our Saviour's grief. He was the good Physician, even when His body was mangled on the cross. He healed a broken heart even in the very pangs of death. When "there was darkness over all the earth," He let the light of the morning into the heart of a desolate thief. And, good Lord, graciously help me to do likewise!
And all this amazing graciousness is explained in our Lord's relation to His Father. "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit!" Yes, everything is there! When I and My Father are one, my spirit will remain sweet as the violet and pure as the dew.
APRIL The Second
"The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." —ISAIAH liii.
Let me tell a dream which was given by night to one of my dearest friends. He beheld a stupendous range of glorious sun-lit mountains, with their lower slopes enfolded in white mist. "Lord," he cried, "I pray that I may dwell upon those heights!" "Thou must first descend into the vale," a voice replied.
Into the vale he went. And down there he found himself surrounded with all manner of fierce, ugly, loathsome things. As he looked upon them he saw that they were the incarnations of his own sins! There they were, sins long ago committed, showing their threatening teeth before him!
Then he heard some One approaching, and instinctively he knew it was the Lord! And he felt so ashamed that he drew a cloak over his face, and stood in silence. And the Presence came nearer and nearer, until He, too, stood silent. After a while my friend mastered sufficient courage to lift the corner of his cloak and look out upon the Presence: and lo! all the loathsome things were on Him!
"The Lord had laid on Him the iniquity of us all."
APRIL The Third
THE STONE ROLLED AWAY
MARK xvi. 1-8.
I am always wondering who will roll away the stone! There is a great obstacle in the way, and my frailty is incompetent to its removal. And lo! when I arrive at the place I find that the angel has been before me, and the obstacle is gone! And I would that I might learn wisdom to-day from the miracle of yesterday. Let me not be confounded about a new stone when I know that my fears about the old one had no foundation.
And then the young man at the sepulchre! He is a type of eternal youth, and he is sitting serenely in a routed grave. He represents the unwithering in the very home of corruption. And this, too, is my hope! It is mine in Christ to put on incorruption, and through a brief sleep to become clothed with immortal youth. "There everlasting spring abides, and never withering flowers!"
And I may have the assurance of the coming glory even now. Even now may I taste the heavenly feast, and wear some of the unfading flowers of the glorified. Yes, even now my leaf need not wither, and my hopes may remain unshaken through all my troubled years.
APRIL The Fourth
THE RESURRECTION MORNING
MATTHEW xxviii. 1-15.
Let me reverently mark the happenings of this most wonderful morn. "It began to dawn." Yes, that was the first significance of the resurrection. It was a new day for the world. Everything was to be seen in a new light. Everything was to wear a new face—God, and heaven, and life, and duty, and death! "All things are become new."
"And there was a great earthquake." Yes, and this was significant of the tremendous upheaval implied in the resurrection. The kingdom of the devil was upheaved from its foundations. All the boasted pomp of his showy empire was turned upside down. "I beheld Satan falling!"
"And the angel rolled away the stone." And that, too, is significant of the resurrection. The awful barrier was rolled away, and the grave became a thoroughfare! "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes."
And there was "fear and great joy." And mingled awe and gladness, a reverential delight.
APRIL The Fifth
THE EMPTY TOMB
LUKE xxiv. 1-12.
That empty tomb means the conquest of death. The Captive proved mightier than the captor. He emerged from the prison as the Lord of the prison, and death reeled at His going. In the risen Saviour death is dethroned; he takes his place at the footstool to do the bidding of his sovereign Lord and King. And that empty tomb means the conquest of sin. Sin had done its worst, and had failed. All the forces of hell had been rallied against the Lord, and above them all He rose triumphant and glorified. A little while ago I discovered a spring. I tried to choke it. I heaped sand and gravel upon it; I piled stones above it! And through them all it emerged, noiselessly and irresistibly, a radiant resurrection!
And so the empty tomb becomes the symbol of a thoroughfare between life in time and life in the unshadowed Presence of our God. Death is now like a short tunnel which is near my home; I can look through it and see the other side! In the risen Lord death becomes transparent. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
APRIL The Sixth
FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST
"Last of all He was seen of me also." —1 CORINTHIANS xv. 1-11.
And by that vision Saul of Tarsus was transformed. And so, by the ministry of a risen Lord we have received the gift of a transfigured Paul. The resurrection glory fell upon him, and he was glorified. In that superlative light he discovered his sin, his error, his need, but he also found the dynamic of the immortal hope.
"Seen of me also!" Can I, too, calmly and confidently claim the experience? Or am I altogether depending upon another man's sight, and are my own eyes unillumined? In these realms the witness of "hear-says" counts for nothing; he only speaks with arresting power who has "seen for himself." "Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?" That is the question which is asked, not only by the Master, but by all who hear us tell the story of the risen Lord. "Has He been seen of thee also?"
My Saviour, I humbly pray Thee to give me first-hand knowledge of Thee. Let me be a witness who can say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth!" Before all the doubts and hesitancies of man enable me to answer, "Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?"
APRIL The Seventh
IF CHRIST WERE DEAD!
1 CORINTHIANS xv. 12-26.
"If Christ be not risen!" That is the most appalling "if" which can be flung into the human mind. If it obtains lodging and entertainment, all the fairest hopes of the soul wither away like tender buds which have been nipped by sharp frost! See how they fade!
"Your faith is vain." It has no more strength and permanency than Jonah's gourd. Nay, it has really never been a living thing! It has been a pathetic delusion, beautiful, but empty as a bubble, and collapsing at Joseph's tomb.
"Ye are yet in your sins." The hope of forgiveness and reconciliation is stricken, and there is nothing left but "a certain fearful looking-for of judgment." Nemesis has only been hiding behind a screen of decorated falsehoods, and she will pursue us to the bitter end.
"We are of all men the most miserable." Joy would fall and die like a fatally wounded lark. The song would cease from our souls. The holy place would become a tomb.
"But now is Christ risen from the dead!" Yes, let me finish on that word. That gives me morning, and melody, and holy merriment that knows no end.
April The Eighth
MY INHERITANCE IN THE RISEN LORD
1 PETER i. 1-9.
In my risen Lord I am born into "a living hope," a hope not only vital, but vitalizing, sending its mystic, vivifying influences through every highway and by-way of my soul.
In my risen Lord mine is "an inheritance incorruptible." It is not exposed to the gnawing tooth of time. Moth and rust can not impair the treasure. It will not grow less as I grow old. Its glories are as invulnerable as my Lord.
In my risen Lord mine is "an inheritance ... undefiled." There is no alloy in the fine gold. The King will give me of His best. "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him." The holiest ideal proclaims my possibility, and foretells my ultimate attainment. Heaven's wine is not to be mixed with water. I am to awake "in His likeness."
And mine is "an inheritance ... that fadeth not away." It shall not be as the garlands offered by men—green to-day and to-morrow sere and yellow. "Its leaf also shall not wither." It shall always retain its freshness, and shall offer me a continually fresh delight. And these are all mine in Him!
"Thou, O Christ, art all I want."
APRIL The Ninth
THE EVER-LIVING LORD
REVELATION i. 9-18.
Let me take the simple words, and quietly gaze into the wonderful depths of their fathomless simplicity. An old villager used to tell me it would strengthen my eyes if I looked long into deep wells. And it will assuredly strengthen the eyes of my soul to gaze into wells like these.
"I am He that liveth." What a marvellous transformation it worked upon Dr. Dale, when one day, in his study, it flashed upon him, as never before, that Jesus Christ is alive! "Christ is alive!" he repeated again and again, until the clarion music filled all the rooms in his soul. "Christ is alive!"
"And was dead." Yes, the Lord has gone right through that dark place. There are footprints, and they are the footprints of the Conqueror, all along the road. "Christ leads me through no darker room than He went through before."
"And, behold, I am alive for ever more." "Jesus has conquered death and all its powers." Never more will it sit on a transient throne. Its power is broken, its "sting" has lost its poison, there isn't a boast left in its apparently omnivorous mouth! "Where's thy victory, O grave?" And here is the gospel for me—"Because I live ye shall live also."
APRIL The Tenth
"If we believe that Jesus died and rose again...." —1 THESSALONIANS iv. 13-18.
That is the eastern light which fills the valley of time with wonderful beams of glory. It is the great dawn in which we find the promise of our own day. Everything wears a new face in the light of our Lord's resurrection. I once watched the dawn on the East Coast of England. Before there was a grey streak in the sky everything was held in grimmest gloom. The toil of the two fishing-boats seemed very sombre. The sleeping houses on the shore looked the abodes of death. Then came grey light, and then the sun, and everything was transfigured! Every window in every cottage caught the reflected glory, and the fishing-boats glittered in morning radiance.
And everything is transfigured in the Risen Christ. Everything is lit up when "the Sun of Righteousness arises with healing in His wings." Life is lit up, and so is death, and so are sorrow and daily labour and human friendships! Everything catches the gleam and is changed. "We are no longer of the night, but of the day." "Walk as children of light." "Awake, thou that sleepest, arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee."
APRIL The Eleventh
THROUGH DEATH TO LIFE
ROMANS v. 1-11.
The Lord went through death to make a path to life. He descended into shame and suffering, and appalling desolation in order that He might "open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers." And the way is now open!
Therefore, "let us have peace with God." Let us reverently and willingly tread the heavenly road, and seek the King's presence, and gratefully accept "the everlasting covenant." Let us go, as once rebel soldiers, and let us surrender our arms, and at His bidding take them again, to fight in His service.
And let us "glory in tribulation." If we are in the King's road, at peace with the King, every stormy circumstance will be made to do us service. Yes, all our troubles will be compelled to minister to us, to robe us, and to adorn us, and to make us more like the sons and daughters of a royal house. "Out of the eater will come forth meat, and out of the strong will come forth sweetness."
And, therefore, let us "joy in God." Don't let us be "the King's own," and yet march in the sulks! Let us march to the music of grateful song and praise.
"Children of the heavenly King, As ye journey, sweetly sing."
APRIL The Twelfth
THE LAMB ON THE THRONE
"In the midst of the throne stood a Lamb as it had been slain!" —REVELATION v. 6-14.
How strange and unexpected is the figure! A lamb—the supreme type of gentleness! A throne, the supreme symbol of power! And the one is in the very midst of the other. The sacrificial has become the sovereign: the Cross is the principal part of the throne. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me."
Yes, this sovereign sacrificial Lord is to receive universal homage and worship. "Every creature which is in heaven and on the earth" is to pay tribute at His feet. And this, not by a terrible coercion, but by a gracious constraint. We are not to be driven, we are to be drawn; we are to move by love—compulsion: the Lamb in God is to win the wills of men.
And I, too, may take my harp and make melodious praise before my King. And I, too, may fill the "golden vials" with my grateful intercession, and heaven shall be the sweeter for the odour of my prayers. And I, too, may sound my loud "Amen," the note of gladsome resignation to the sovereign will of God. Yes, even now I may be one of "the multitude whom no man can number," who, in a new song, ascribe all worthiness to "the Lamb that was slain."
APRIL The Thirteenth
"Thou shalt overlay it with pure gold.... And there I will meet with thee." —EXODUS xxv. 10-22.
I must put my best into my preparations, and then the Lord will honour my work. My part is to be of "pure gold" if my God is to dwell within it. I must not satisfy myself with cheap flimsy and then assume that the Lord will be satisfied with it. He demands my very best as a condition of His enriching Presence.
My prayers must be of "pure gold" if He is to meet me there. There must be nothing vulgar about them, nothing shoddy, nothing hastily constructed, nothing thrown up anyhow. They must be chaste and sincere, and overlaid with pure gold.
My home must be of "pure gold" if He is to meet me there. No unclean passion must dwell there, no carnal appetite, no defiling conversation, no immoderateness in eating and drinking. How can the Lord sit down at such a table, or make One at such a fireside?
Let me present to Him pure gold. Let me offer Him nothing cheap. Let me ever make the ark of my best, and the Lord will meet me there.
APRIL The Fourteenth
RELIGION AS MERE MAGIC
"And when the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout." —1 SAMUEL iv. 1-11.
They were making more of the ark than of the Lord. Their religion was degenerating into superstition. I become superstitious whenever the means of worship are permitted to eclipse the Object of worship. I then possess a magic instrument, and I forget the holy Lord.
It can be so with prayer. I may use prayer as a magic minister to protect me from invasive ills. I do not pray because I desire fellowship with the Father, but because I should not feel safe without it. The ark is more than the Lord.
It can be so with a crucifix. A crucifix may become a mere talisman, and so supplant the Lord. I may wear the thing and have no fellowship with the Person. And so may it be with the Lord's Supper. I may come to regard it as a magic feast, which makes me immune from punishment, but not immune from sin. It may be a minister of safety, but not of holiness.
So let mine eyes be ever unto the Lord! Let me not be satisfied with the ark, but let me seek Him whose name is holy and whose nature is love.
APRIL The Fifteenth
DEGRADING HOLY THINGS
1 SAMUEL vi. 1-15.
I must remember that a holy thing can be the minister of a plague. Things that were purposed to be benedictions can be changed into blights. The very ark of God must be in its appointed place or it becomes the means of sickness and destruction. So it is with all the holy things of God: if I dethrone them they will uncrown me.
It is even so with music. Unless I give it its holy sovereignty it will become a minister of the passions, and the angel within me is mastered by a beast. Let me read again Tennyson's "Palace of Sin," and let me heedfully note how music becomes the instrument of ignoble sensationalism, and aids in man's degradation. "But exalt her, and she shall exalt thee."
It is even so with art. It is purposed to be the holy dwelling-place of God, but I can so abuse it as to make it the agent of degradation. Instead of hallowing the life it will debase and impoverish it.
I will therefore remember that, if I infringe the Divine order, I can turn the sacramental cup into a vehicle of moral poison and spiritual blight. "They must be holy who bear the vessels of the Lord."
APRIL The Sixteenth
PRIESTS OF THE LORD
"None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites." —1 CHRONICLES xv. 1-3, 11-15.
There are prepared people for prepared offices. The Lord will fit the man to the function, the anointed and consecrated priest for the consecrated and consecrating ministry.
But now, in the larger purpose of the Lord, and in "the exceeding riches of His grace," everybody may be a priest of the Lord. "He hath made us to be priests and kings unto God." And He will prepare us to carry our ark, and to "minister in holy things."
I can be His priest in the home. He will anoint me as one who is to engage in holy ministries, and I shall be serving at the altar even while engaged in the lowly duties of the house. The humble meal will be sacramental, and common work will be heavenly sacrifice.
I can be His priest in my class. The Lord will clothe me in "linen clean and white," and in my consecrated spirit my scholars shall discern the incense of sacrifice. And woe is me if I attempt to fill the godly office without my God.
And I can be His priest in my workshop. Yes, in the carpenter's shop I may wear the radiant robe of the sanctified. And I, too, as one of the priests of the Lord, can "bear the sin of many, and make intercession for the transgressor."
APRIL The Seventeenth
1 CHRONICLES xvi. 7-36.
"Great is the Lord!" So many people have such a little God! There is nothing about Him august and sublime. And so He is not greatly praised. The worship is thin, the thanksgivings are scanty, the supplications are indifferent.
All great saints have a great God. He fills their universe. Therefore do they move about in a fruitful awe, and everywhere there is only a thin veil between them and His appearing. Everywhere they discern His holy presence, as the face of a bride is dimly seen beneath her bridal veil. And so even the common scrub of the wilderness is aflame with sacred fire: the humble "primrose on the rock" becomes "the court of Deity": and the "strength of the hills is His also"!
Yes, a great God inspires great praise, and in great praise small cares and small meannesses are utterly consumed away. When praise is mean, anxieties multiply. Therefore let me contemplate the greatness of God in nature and in providence, in His power, and His holiness, and His love. Let me "stand in awe" before His glory: and in the fruitful reverence the soul will be moved in acceptable praise.
APRIL The Eighteenth
The Apostle Paul declares that benefits may be given in one of two ways—"of necessity" and "willingly." One is mechanical, the other is spontaneous. I once saw a little table-fountain playing in a drawing-room, but I heard the click of its machinery, and the charm was gone! It had to be wound up before it would play, and at frequent periods it "ran down." A little later I saw another fountain playing on a green lawn, and it was fed from the deep secret resources of the hills!
There is a generosity which is like the drawing-room fountain. If you listen you can hear the mechanical click, and a sound of friction, arising from murmuring and complaint. And there is a generosity which is like the fountain that is the child of the hills. It is clear, and sweet, and musical, and flows on through every season! One is "of necessity"; the other is "willingly." And "God loveth a cheerful giver."
And prayer can be of the same two contrary orders. One prayer is mechanical, it is hard, formal, metallic. The other is spontaneous, forceful, and irresistible. Listen to the Pharisee—"Lord, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are." It is the click of the machine! Listen to the publican—"God be merciful to me, a sinner!" It is the voice of the deeps.
APRIL The Ninteenth
UNION IN HARMONY
"Be ye all of one mind." —1 PETER iii. 8-17.
But this is not unison: it is harmony. When an orchestra produces some great musical masterpiece, the instruments are all of one mind, but each makes its own individual contribution. There is variety with concordance: each one serves every other, and the result is glorious harmony. "By love serve one another." It is love that converts membership into fraternity: it is love that binds sons and daughters into a family.
Look at a field of wild-flowers. What a harmony of colour! And yet what a variety of colours! Nothing out of place, but no sameness! All drawing resource from the same soil, and breathing the vitalizing substance from the same air!
"And ye, being rooted and grounded in love," will grow up, a holy family in the Lord. If love be the common ground the varieties in God's family may be infinite!
And so the unity which the apostle seeks is a unity of mood and disposition. It is not a unity which repeats the exact syllables of a common creed, but a unity which is built of common trust, and love, and hope. It is not sameness upon the outer lips, but fellowship in the secret place.
APRIL The Twentieth
THE JOY OF THE LOVER
ROMANS xii. 9-18.
Love finds her joy in seeing others crowned. Envy darkens when she sees the garland given to another. Jealousy has no festival except when she is "Queen of the May." But love thrills to another's exaltation. She feels the glow of another's triumph. When another basks in favour her own "time of singing of birds is come!"
And all this is because love has wonderful chords which vibrate to the secret things in the souls of others. Indeed, the gift of love is just the gift of delicate correspondence, the power of exquisite fellow-feeling, the ability to "rejoice with them that do rejoice, and to weep with them that weep." When, therefore, the soul of another is exultant, and the wedding-bells are ringing, love's kindred bells ring a merry peal. When the soul of another is depressed, and a funeral dirge is wailing, love's kindred chords wail in sad communion. So love can enter another's state as though it were her own.
Our Master spake condemningly of those who have lost this exquisite gift. They have lost their power of response. "We have piped with you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned with you, and ye have not lamented." They lived in selfish and loveless isolation. They have lost all power of tender communion.
APRIL The Twenty-first
LOVE AS THE GREAT MAGICIAN
1 JOHN ii. 1-11.
A new commandment! And yet it is an old one with a new meaning. It is the old water-pot, but its water has been changed into wine. It is the old letter with a new spirit. It is the old body with a new soul. Love makes all things new! It changes duty into delight, and statutes into songs.
What a magic difference love makes to a face. It at once becomes a face illumined. Love makes the plainest face winsome and attractive. It adds the light of heaven, and the earthly is transfigured. No cosmetics are needed when love is in possession. She will do her own beautifying work, and everybody will know her sign.
What a magic difference love makes in service! The hireling goes about his work with heavy and reluctant feet: the lover sings and dances at his toil. The hireling scamps his work: the lover is always adding another touch, and is never satisfied. Just one more touch! And just another! And so on until the good God shall say that loving "patience has had her perfect work."
Love lights up everything, for she is the light of life. Let her dwell in the soul, and every room in the life shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.
APRIL The Twenty-second
SPEECH AS A SYMPTOM OF HEALTH
"The tongue of the wise is health." —PROVERBS xii. 13-22.
Our doctors often test our physical condition by the state of our tongue. With another and deeper significance the tongue is also the register of our condition. Our words are a perfect index of our moral and spiritual health. If our words are unclean and untrue, our souls are assuredly sickly and diseased. A perverse tongue is never allied with a sanctified heart. And, therefore, everyone may apply a clinical test to his own life: "What is the character of my speech? What do my words indicate? What do they suggest as to the depths and background of the soul?" "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."
God delighteth in truthful lips. Right words are fruit from the tree of life. The Lord turns away from falsehood as we turn away from material corruption, only with an infinitely intenser loathing and disgust.
It is only the lips that have been purified with flame from the holy altar of God that can offer words that are pleasing unto Him.
"Take my lips and let them be Filled with messages from Thee."
APRIL The Twenty-third
COLOSSIANS iii. 12-17.
True forgiveness is a very strong and clean and masculine virtue. There is a counterfeit forgiveness which is unworthy of the name. It is full of "buts," and "ifs," and "maybes," and "peradventures." It moves with reluctance, it offers with averted face, it takes back with one hand what it gives with the other. It forgives, but it "cannot forget." It forgives, but it "can never trust again." It forgives, but "things can never be the same as they were." What kind of forgiveness is this? It is the mercy of the police-court. It is the remission of penalty, not the glorious "abandon" of grace! It is a cold "Don't do it again," not the weeping and compassionate goodwill of the Lord.
"Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." That is to be our motive, and that is to be our measure. We are to forgive because Christ forgave us. The glorious memory of His grace is to make us gracious. His tender, healing words to us are to redeem our speech from all harshness. In the contemplation of His cross we are to become "partakers of His sufferings," and by the shedding of our own blood help to close and heal the alienation of the world.
And we are to forgive as Christ forgave us. Resentment is to be changed into frank goodwill, and filled with the grace of the Lord.
APRIL The Twenty-fourth
LUKE xvii. 3-10.
We are always inclined to set a limit to our moral obligations. We wish, as we say, "to draw a line somewhere." We want to appoint a definite place where obligation ceases, and where the moral strain may be released. The Apostle Peter wished his Master to draw such a line in the matter of forgiveness. "Lord, how oft shall I forgive? Till seven times?" He wanted a tiny moral rule which he could apply to his brother's conduct.
Not so the Lord. Our Master tells His disciple that in those spiritual realms relations are not governed by arithmetic. We cannot, by counting, measure off our obligations. Our repeated acts of forgiveness never bring us nearer to the freedom of revenge. No amount of sweetness will ever permit us to be bitter. We cannot, by being good, obtain a license to be evil. The fact of the matter is, if our goodness is of genuine quality, every act will more strongly dispose us to further goodness. It is the counterfeit element in our goodness that inclines us to the opposite camp. It is when our forgiveness is tainted that we anticipate the "sweetness" of revenge.
APRIL The Twenty-fifth
THE HIDDEN FOES
MATTHEW v. 21-26.
Our Lord always leads us to the secret, innermost roots of things. He does not concern Himself with symptoms, but with causes. He does not begin with the molten lava flowing down the fair mountain slope and destroying the vineyards. He begins with the central fires in which the lava is born. He does not begin with uncleanness. He begins with the thoughts which produce it. He does not begin with murder, but with the anger which causes it. He pierces to the secret fires!
Now, all anger is not of sin. The Apostle Paul enjoins his readers to "be angry, and sin not." To be altogether incapable of anger would be to offer no antagonism to the wrongs and oppressions of the world. "Who is made to stumble, and I burn not?" cries the Apostle Paul. If wrong stalked abroad with heedless feet he burned with holy passion. There is anger which is like clean flame, clear and pure, as "the sea of glass mingled with fire." And there is anger which is like a smoky bonfire, and it pollutes while it destroys.
It is the unclean anger which is of sin. It seeks revenge, not righteousness. It seeks "to get its own back," not to get the wrong-doer back to God. It follows wrong with further wrong. It spreads the devil's fire.
APRIL The Twenty-sixth
GOLIATH VERSUS GOD!
1 SAMUEL xvii. 1-11.
Goliath seemed to have everything on his side except God. And the things in which he boasted were just the things in which men are prone to boast to-day.
He had physical strength. "His height was six cubits and a span." Athletics had done all they could for him, and he was a fine type of animal perfection.
He had splendid military equipment. "A helmet of brass," and "a coat of mail," and "a spear like a weaver's beam!" Surely, if fine material equipment determines combats, the shepherd-lad from the hills of Bethlehem will be annihilated.
And he enjoyed the enthusiastic confidence of the Philistines. He was his nation's pride and glory! He strode out amid their shouts, and the cheers were like iron in his blood.
But all this counted for nothing, because God was against him. Men and nations may attain to a fine animalism, their warlike equipment may satisfy the most exacting standard, and yet, with God against them, they shall be as structures woven out of mists, and they shall collapse at the touch of apparent weakness. The issue was not Goliath versus David, but Goliath versus God!
APRIL The Twenty-seventh
1 SAMUEL xvii. 12-27.
God's champion is at present feeding sheep! Who would have expected that Goliath's antagonist would emerge from the quiet pastures? "Genius hatches her offspring in strange places." Very humble homes are the birthplaces of mighty emancipations.
There was a little farm at St. Ives, and the farmer lived a quiet and unsensational life. But the affairs of the nation became more and more confused and threatening. Monarchical power despoiled the people's liberties, and tyranny became rampant. And out from the little farm strode Oliver Cromwell, the ordained of God, to emancipate his country.
There was an obscure rectory at Epworth. The doings in the little rectory were just the quiet practices of similar homes in countless parts of England. And England was becoming brutalized, because its religious life was demoralized. The Church was asleep, and the devil was wide awake! And forth from the humble rectory strode John Wesley, the appointed champion of the Lord to enthuse, to purify, and to sweeten the life of the people.
On what quiet farm is the coming deliverer now labouring? Who knows?
APRIL The Twenty-eighth
PREPARING FOR GREAT ENCOUNTERS
1 SAMUEL xvii. 28-37.
This young champion of the Lord had won many victories before he faced Goliath. Everything depends on how I approach my supreme conflicts. If I have been careless in smaller combats I shall fail in the larger. If I come, wearing the garlands of triumph won in the shade, the shout of victory is already in the air! Let me look at David's trophies before he removed Goliath's head.
He had conquered his temper. Read Eliab's irritating taunt in the twenty-eighth verse, and mark the fine self-possession of the young champion's reply! That conquest of temper helped him when he took aim at Goliath! There is nothing like passion for disturbing the accuracy of the eye and the steadiness of the hand.
He had conquered fear. "Let no man's heart fail because of him." There was no panic, there was no feverish and wasteful excitement. There was no shouting "to keep the spirits up!" He was perfectly calm.
And he had conquered unbelief. He had a rich history of the providential dealings of God with him, and his confidence was now unclouded and serene. He had known the Lord's power when he faced the bear and the lion. Now for Goliath!
APRIL The Twenty-ninth
THE MOOD OF TRIUMPH
"I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts." —1 SAMUEL xvii. 38-54.
The man who comes up to his foes with this assurance will fight and win. Reasonable confidence is one of the most important weapons in the warrior's armoury. Fear is always wasteful. The man who calmly expects to win has already begun to conquer. Our mood has so much to do with our might. And therefore does the Word of God counsel us to attend to our dispositions, lest, having carefully collected our material implements, we have no strength to use them.
And the man who comes up to his foes with holy assurance will fight with consummate skill. He will be quite "collected." All his powers will wait upon one another, and they will move together as one. He is as self-possessed upon the battlefield as upon parade, as undisturbed before Goliath as before a flock of sheep! And therefore do I say that, fighting with perfect composure, he fights with superlative skill. The right moment is seized, the right stone is chosen, the right aim is taken, and great Goliath is brought low.
APRIL The Thirtieth
THE TEST OF VICTORY
"David behaveth himself wisely." —1 SAMUEL xvii. 55—xviii. 5.
The hour of victory is a more severe moral test than the hour of defeat. Many a man can brave the perils of adversity who succumbs to the seductions of prosperity. He can stand the cold better than the heat! He is enriched by failure, but "spoilt by success." To test the real quality of a man, let us regard him just when he has slain Goliath! "David behaved himself wisely"!
He was not "eaten up with pride." He developed no "side." He went among his friends as though no Goliath had ever crossed his way. He was not for ever recounting the triumph, and fishing for the compliments of his audience. He "behaved wisely." So many of us tarnish our victories by the manner in which we display them. We put them into the shop-window, and they become "soiled goods."
And in this hour of triumph David made a noble friend. In his noonday he found Jonathan, and their hearts were knit to each other in deep and intimate love. It is beautiful when our victories are so nobly borne that they introduce us into higher fellowships, and the friends of heaven become our friends.
MAY The First
THE CONDITIONS OF SERENITY
If I would be like the Psalmist, I must clearly recognize my perils. He sees the "waters," the "proud waters." He beholds the "enemy," and his "wrath," and his "teeth." He sees "the fowler" with his snare! I must not shut my eyes, and "make my judgment blind." One of the gifts of grace is the spirit of discernment, the eyes which not only detect hidden treasure, but hidden foes. The devil is an expert in mimicry; he can make himself look like an angel of light. And so must I be able to discover his snares, even when they appear as the most seductive food.
And if I would be like the Psalmist, I must clearly recognize my great Ally. "If it has not been the Lord, who was on our side!" To see the Ally on the perilous field, and to see Him on my side, gives birth to holy confidence and song. "The Lord is on my side, whom shall I fear?" I must make sure of the Ally, and "victory is secure."
And if I would be like the Psalmist, I must not omit the doxology of praise. When the prayer is answered, I am apt to forget the praise. My thanksgivings are not so ready as my requests. And so the apparently conquered enemy steals in again at the door of an ungrateful heart.
May The Second
THE HAPPY WARRIOR
EPHESIANS vi. 10-18.
Here is a portrait of the happy warrior! Let me first look at the warrior, and then at the implements with which he fights.
"You cannot fight the French merely with red uniforms; there must be men inside them!" So said Thomas Carlyle. Well, look at this man. "Strengthened in the Lord, and in the power of His might." There is a secret communion with the Almighty, and he draws his resources from the Infinite. The water in my home comes from the Welsh hills; every drop was gathered on those grand and expansive uplands. And this man's soldierly strength is drawn from the hills of God; every ounce of his fighting blood comes from the veins of the Lord.
And mark the nature of his armoury. His weapons are dispositions. He fights with "truth," and "righteousness," and "peace," and "faith," and "prayer"! There are no implements like these. A sword will fail where a courtesy will prevail. We can kill our enemies by kindness. And as for the devil himself there is nothing like a grace-filled disposition for putting him to flight! A prayerful disposition can drive him off any field, at any hour of the day or night. "Put on the whole armour of God."
May The Third
"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." —EXODUS xx. 1-11.
If we kept that commandment all the other commandments would be obeyed. If we secure this queen-bee we are given the swarm. To put nothing "before" God! What is left in the circle of obedience? God first, always and everywhere. Nothing allowed to usurp His throne for an hour! I was once allowed to sit on an earthly throne for a few seconds, but even that is not to be allowed with the throne of God. Nothing is to share His sovereignty, even for a moment. His dominion is to be unconditional and unbroken. "Thou shalt have no other gods beside Me."
But we have many gods we set upon His throne. We put money there, and fame, and pleasure, and ease. Yes, we sometimes usurp God's throne, and we ourselves dare to sit there for days, and weeks, and years, at a time. Self is the idol, and we enthrone it, and we fall down and worship it. But no peace comes from such sovereignty, and no deep and vital joy. For the real King is not dead, and He is out and about, and our poor little monarchy is as the reign of the midge on a summer's night. Our real kingship is in the acknowledgment of the King of kings. When we worship Him, and Him only, He will ask us to sit on His throne.
MAY The Fourth
A HEALTHY PALATE
"How sweet are Thy words unto my taste." —PSALM cxix. 97-104.
Some people like one thing, and some another. Some people appreciate the bitter olive; others feel it to be nauseous. Some delight in the sweetest grapes; others feel the sweetness to be sickly. It is all a matter of palate. Some people love the Word of the Lord; to others the reading of it is a dreary task. To some the Bible is like a vineyard; to others it is like a dry and tasteless meal. One takes the word of the Master, and it is "as honey to the mouth"; to another the same word is as unwelcome as a bitter drug. It is all a matter of palate.
But what is a man to do who has got a perverted palate, and who calls sweet things bitter and bitter things sweet? He must get a new mouth! And where is he to get it? Not by any ministry of his own creation; his own endeavours will be impotent. A healthy moral palate depends upon the purity of the heart. Our spiritual discernments are all determined by the state of the soul. If the heart be pure, the mouth will be clean, and we shall love God's law. If the soul-appetite be healthy, God's words will be sweet unto our taste. And so does the good Lord give us new palates by giving us new hearts. "Create within us clean hearts, O God, and renew right spirits within us."
MAY The Fifth
"Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only." —JAMES i. 21-27.
When we hear the word, but do not do it, there has been a defect in our hearing. We may listen to the word for mere entertainment. Or we may attach a virtue to the mere act of listening to the word. We may assume that some magical efficacy belongs to the mere reading of the word. And all this is perverse and delusive. No listening is healthy which is not mentally referred to obedience. We are to listen with a view to obedience, with our eyes upon the very road where the obedient feet will travel. That is to say, we are to listen with purpose, as though we were Ambassadors receiving instructions from the King concerning some momentous mission. Yes, we must listen with an eye on the road.
"Doing" makes a new thing of "hearing." The statute obeyed becomes a song. The commandment is found to be a beatitude. The decree discloses riches of grace. The hidden things of God are not discovered until we are treading the path of obedience. "And it came to pass that as he went he received his sight." In the way of obedience the blind man found a new world. God has wonderful treasures for the dutiful. The faithful discover the "hidden manna."
MAY The Sixth
THE PERFECTING OF LOVE
"Herein is our love made perfect." —1 JOHN iv. 11-21.
How? By dwelling in God and God in us. Love is not a manufacture; it is a fruit. It is not born of certain works; it springs out of certain relations. It does not come from doing something; it comes from living with Somebody. "Abide in Me." That is how love is born, for "love is of God, and God is love."
How many people are striving who are not abiding. They live in a manufactory, they do not live in a home. They are trying to make something instead of to know Somebody. "This is life, to know Thee." When I am related to the Lord Jesus, when I dwell with Him, love is as surely born as beauty and fragrance are born when my garden and the spring-time dwell together. If we would only wisely cultivate the fellowship of Jesus, everything else would follow in its train—all that gracious succession of beautiful things which are called "the fruits of the Spirit."
And "herein is our love made perfect." It is always growing richer, because it is always drawing riches from the inexhaustible love of God. How could it be otherwise? Endless resource must mean endless growth. "Our life is hid with Christ in God," and hence our love will "grow in all wisdom and discernment."
MAY The Seventh
IN THE WAYS OF OBEDIENCE
PSALM xix. 7-14.
Let me listen to the exquisite chimes of this wonderful psalm as they ring out the blessedness of the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord. What shall he find in the ways of obedience?
He shall find restoration. "Restoring the soul." He shall find new stores of food along the way. In every emergency he shall find fresh provision; every new need shall discover new supplies. When one store is spent, another shall take its place. "Thou re-storest my soul." In the ways of righteousness the good Lord has appointed ample stores for the provision of all His faithful pilgrims.
He shall find joy. "Rejoicing the heart." In the way of obedience there shall be springs of delight as well as stores of provision. "With joy shall ye draw waters out of the wells of salvation." Fountains of delicious satisfaction rise in the realm of duty, the satisfaction of being right with God, and in union with the eternal will. There is no day without its spring, and "the joy of the Lord is our strength."
He shall find vision. "Enlightening the eyes." The eyes of the obedient are anointed with the eye-salve of grace, and wondrous panoramas break upon the sight. Visions of grace! Visions of love! Visions of glory!
MAY The Eighth
HOW NOT TO FORGET
DEUTERONOMY xi. 18-25.
If we wish to retain "the word of the Lord" everything depends upon where we keep it. If we just keep it in the mind, a leaky memory may waste the treasure. A Chinese convert declared that he found the best way to remember the word was to do it! The engraved word became character, written upon the fleshy tables of the heart. He incarnated the word, and it became a vital part of his own personality. He lived it and it lived in him. The word became flesh. This is the only really vital "way of remembrance," to convert the word into the primary stuff of the life.
There is a secondary way by which we may help our apprehension of God's word. "Ye shall teach them." Our hold upon a truth is increased while we impart it to others. The gospel becomes more vivid as we proclaim it to our fellow-men. We see it while we explain it. It grips us the more firmly as we use it to grip our children. This is a great law in life. In these matters it is literally true that memory best retains what she gives away. A truth that is never shared is never really possessed. The word that we teach becomes rooted in our own mind.
MAY The Ninth
LOVING THE LORD
LUKE x. 21-28.
The secret of life is to love the Lord our God, and our neighbours as ourselves. But how are we to love the Lord? We cannot manufacture love. We cannot love to order. We cannot by an act of will command its appearing. No, not in these ways is love created. Love is not a work, it is a fruit. It grows in suitable soils, and it is our part to prepare the soils. When the conditions are congenial, love appears, just as the crocus and the snowdrop appear in the congenial air of the spring.
What, then, can we do? We can seek the Lord's society. We can think about Him. We can read about Him. We can fill our imaginations with the grace of His life and service. We can be much with Him, talking to Him in prayer, singing to Him in praise, telling Him our yearnings and confessing to Him our defeats. And love will be quietly born. For this is how love is born between heart and heart. Two people are "much together," and love is born! And when we are much with the Lord, we are with One who already loves us with an everlasting love. We are with One who yearns for our love and who seeks in every way to win it. "We love Him because He first loved us." And when we truly love God, every other kind of holy love will follow. Given the fountain, the rivers are sure.
MAY The Tenth
GOD'S USE OF MEN
"I have surely seen the affliction of My people ... come now, therefore, I will send thee." —EXODUS iii. 1-14.
Does that seem a weak ending to a powerful beginning? The Lord God looks upon terrible affliction and He sends a weak man to deal with it. Could He not have sent fire from heaven? Could He not have rent the heavens and sent His ministers of calamity and disasters? Why choose a man when the arch-angel Gabriel stands ready at obedience?
This is the way of the Lord. He uses human means to divine ends. He works through man to the emancipation of men. He pours His strength into a worm, and it becomes "an instrument with teeth." He stiffens a frail reed and it becomes as an iron pillar.
And this mighty God will use thee and me. On every side there are Egypts where affliction abounds, there are homes where ignorance breeds, there are workshops where tyranny reigns, there are lands where oppression is rampant. "Come now, therefore, I will send thee." Thus saith the Lord, and He who gives the command will also give the equipment.
MAY The Eleventh
"And Moses answered and said, But——" —EXODUS iv. 1-9.
We know that "but." God has heard it from our lips a thousand times. It is the response of unbelief to the divine call. It is the reply of fear to the divine command. It is the suggestion that the resources are inadequate. It is a hint that God may not have looked all round. He has overlooked something which our own eyes have seen. The human "buts" in the Scriptural stories make an appalling record.
"Lord, I will follow Thee, but——" There is something else to be attended to before discipleship can begin. Obedience is not primary: it must wait for something else. And so our obedience is not a straight line: it is crooked and circuitous; it takes the way of by-path meadow instead of the highway of the Lord. We do not wait upon the Lord's pleasure; we make Him wait upon ours.
There need be no "buts" in our relationship to the King's will. Everything has been foreseen. Nothing will take the Lord by surprise. The entire field has been surveyed, and the preparations are complete. When the Lord says to thee or me, "I will send thee," every provision has been made for the appointed task. "I will not fail thee."
MAY The Twelfth
MOUTH AND MATTER
"Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth." —EXODUS iv. 10-17.
And what a promise that is for anyone who is commissioned to proclaim the King's decrees. Here can teachers and preachers find their strength. God will be with their mouths. He will control their speech, and order their words like troops. He does not promise to make us eloquent, but to endow our words with the "demonstration of power."
"And I will teach thee what thou shall say." The Lord will not only be with our mouths, but with our minds. He will guide our thoughts as well as our words. He will be as sentinel at the lips. He will be our guide in our processes of meditation and judgment, and He will bring us to enlightened ends. All of which is just this: He will give us mouth and matter.
This does not put a premium upon idleness. The Lord guides when men are honestly groping. He gives us fire when we have built the altar. He works His miracle when we have provided the five loaves. He sends His light through diligent thinking. The divine power is given through the consecrated strength.
MAY The Thirteenth
EXODUS ii. 11-25.
God prepares us for the greater crusades by more commonplace fidelities. Through the practice of common kindnesses God leads us to chivalrous tasks. Little courtesies feed nobler reverences. No man can despise smaller duties and do the larger duties well. Our strength is sapped by small disobediences. Our discourtesies to one another impair our worship of God. The neglect of the "pointing" of a house may lead to dampness and fatal disease.
And thus the only way to live is by filling every moment with fidelity. We are ready for anything when we have been faithful in everything. "Because thou hast been faithful in that which is least!" That is the order in moral and spiritual progress, and that is the road by which we climb to the seats of the mighty. When every stone in life is "well and truly laid" we are sure of a solid, holy temple in which the Lord will delight to dwell. The quality of our greatness depends upon what we do with "that which is least."
MAY The Fourteenth
CALAMITY AS REVEALER
"In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord." —ISAIAH vi. 1-8.
He lost a hero, and he found the Lord. He feared because a great pillar had fallen: and he found the Pillar of the universe. He thought everything would topple into disaster, and lo! he felt the strength of the everlasting arms. When Uzziah lived Isaiah had forgotten his Lord. He so depended on the earthly that he had overlooked the heavenly. Uzziah concealed his Lord as a thick veil can hide a face. And when Uzziah died, when the earthly king passed away, the eternal King was revealed; as when by the passing of an earth-born cloud the moon reigns radiant in the open sky.
And thus it is that apparent calamity is often the minister of revelation. The great storm clears the air, and luminous vistas come into view. The howling wind of adversity drives away the earth-born clouds and we see the face of God. Our sorrows prove the occasion of our visions. We see new panoramas through our tears. Bereavement gives us spiritual surprises, and death becomes the servant of life. And so it happens that days which began in gloom end in revelation, and we keep their recurring anniversary with deepening praise.
MAY The Fifteenth
GOD IS WIDE-AWAKE
"Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree." —JEREMIAH i. 7-19.
And through the almond tree the Lord gave the trembling young prophet the strength of assurance. The almond tree is the first to awake from its wintry sleep. When all other trees are held in frozen slumber the almond blossoms are looking out on the barren world. And God is like that, awake and vigilant. Nobody anticipates Him. Wherever Jeremiah was sent on his prophetic mission the Lord would be there before him. Before the prophet's enemies could get to work the Lord was on the field. In the wintriest circumstances of a prophet's life God is wide awake: "He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep."
And still the almond tree has its heartening significance for thee and me. Our God is wide-awake. He looks out upon our wintry circumstances, and nothing is hid from His sight. There is no unrecognized and uncounted factor which may steal in furtively and take Him by surprise. Everything is open. He is wide-awake on the far-off field where the isolated missionary is ploughing his lonely furrow. He is wide-awake on the field of common labour where some young disciple finds it hard to keep clean hands while he earns his daily bread.
MAY The Sixteenth
THE DETAILS OF PROVIDENCE
"The very hairs of your head are all numbered." —MATTHEW x. 24-31.
Providence goes into details. Sometimes, in our human intercourse, we cannot see the trees for the wood. We cannot see the individual sheep for the flock. We cannot see the personal soul for the masses. We are blinded by the bigness of things; we cannot see the individual blades of grass because of the field.
Now God's vision is not general, it is particular. There are no "masses" to the Infinite. "He calleth His own sheep by name." The single one is seen as though he alone possessed the earth. When God looks at the wood He sees every tree. When He looks at the race He sees every man.
And, therefore, I need not fear that "my way is overlooked by my God." He knows every turning. He knows just where the strain begins at the hill. He knows the perils of every descent. He knows every happening along the road. He knows every letter that came to me by this morning's post. He knows every visitor who knocks at the door of my life, whether the visitor come at the high noon or at the midnight. "There is nothing hid." "The very hairs of your head are all numbered."
MAY The Seventeenth
MY BODILY INFIRMITIES
JOHN ix. 1-12.
An infirmity becomes doubly burdensome when we give it a false interpretation. The weight of a thing is determined by our conception of it. If I look upon my ailment as the stroke of an offended God, I wear it like the chains of a slave. If I look upon it as the fire of the gracious Refiner, I can calmly await the beneficent issue. It is my Lord, engaged in chastening His jewels!
And so our Master first of all relieves the blind man of the false interpretation of his infirmity. "Neither did this man sin, nor his parents." That lifts the sorrow out of the winter into the spring. It sets it in the warm, sweet light of grace. It becomes transfigured. It wears a new face, placed there in "the light of His countenance."
And then our Lord relieves the blind man of the infirmity itself. The ministry of blindness was accomplished, and sight was given. No man is kept in the darkness a moment longer than infinite love deems good. Our Lord does not overlook the prison-house, and leave us there forgotten. "He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." So cheer thee, my soul! The Lord is on thy side! The Miracle-worker knows His time and "the dreariest path, the darkest way, shall issue out in heavenly day."
MAY The Eighteenth
JOHN ix. 13-25.
Here is a ceremonialism which is blind to the humane. Its scrupulous ritualisms have dried up its philanthropy. It thinks more of etiquette than equity. It esteems genuflexions more than generosity. It values the husk more than the kernel. It is Sabbatarian but not humanitarian. My God, deliver me from all pious conventionalities which make me indifferent to the ailments and cries of my fellow-men!
And here is a dense prejudice which is blind to the evident. "They did not believe that he had been blind." A prejudice can deflect the judgment, as subtle magnetic currents can deflect the needle. The film of an ecclesiastical prejudice can be so opaque as to make us "blind to facts." We do not "see things as they are." Our perverted eyes give us a crooked world.
And here is a bitter violence which is blind to the glory of the Lord. "We know that this man is a sinner!" And so it comes to that. Our judgments can become so warped that when we look upon Him, "who is the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely," "there is no beauty that we should desire Him"! And therefore let this be my daily prayer, "Lord, that I might receive my sight!"
MAY The Nineteenth
THE ROCK OF EXPERIENCE
JOHN ix. 26-41.
The Lord gains a witness, and a stalwart witness too! First, he stood upon his own inalienable experience. "One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." Second, he drew his own firm inferences from the beneficence of the work. And, in the third place, he reached his grand conclusion. "If this man were not of God, He could do nothing." A grand testimony, and given by one who "dared to stand alone!"
And the witness gained a Friend. "Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and when He had found him...." Our Lord is always seeking the outcasts. He never abandons the abandoned. When the faithful witness is driven into the wilderness he finds "a table spread" before him "in the presence of his enemies." The man who had recovered his sight was cast out, but on the threshold he met his Lord!
And further sight was given. By the first sight he could see his parents, by the second sight he saw the Son of God. The film was first removed from his eyes, and then from his soul, and he saw "the glory of the Lord." "And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him."
MAY The Twentieth
THE LONE CRY IN THE BIG CROWD
MARK x. 46-52.
Our Lord hears the cry of need even when it rises from the midst of the tumultuous crowd. A mother can hear the faint cry of her child in the chamber above, even when the room resounds with the talk and laughter of her guests. And our Lord heard the wail of poor Bartimaeus! That lone, sorrowful cry pierced the clamour, "and Jesus stood still." My soul, cry to Him! "Jesus of Nazareth passeth by."
And Bartimaeus knew what he wanted. He merged all his petitions in one. "Lord, that I might receive my sight!" And let me, too, come to my Saviour with some great, dominant, all-commanding request. I trifle with my Master. I ask Him for toys, for petty things, while all the time He is waiting to give me "unsearchable wealth," "sight, riches, healing of the mind." "The Lord is great"; and shall I add, "and greatly to be prayed!"
And how delicately gracious it is that our Lord should attribute the miracle to Bartimaeus himself. "Thy faith hath made thee whole!" As though the Lord had had no share in the ministry! He makes so much of our faith, and our endeavour, and our obedience. "If ye had faith as a grain of mustard-seed!" That's all He wants, and miracles are accomplished.
MAY The Twenty-first
ISAIAH xlii. 1-7.
What a winsome revelation of the delicate gentleness of the Lord! "The bruised reed"—is it the impaired musical reed, that cannot now emit a musical sound, and can only be thrown away? He will not snap it and cast it to the void. The discordant life can be made tuneful again: He will put "a new song in my mouth."
"And the smoking flax"—the life that has lost its fire, and therefore its light, its enthusiasm, and therefore its ideals; the life that is smouldering into the cold ashes of moral and spiritual death! He will not stamp it out with His foot. The smouldering fire can be rekindled, a spent enthusiasm can be revived. "He shall baptize you ... with fire!"
And so He comes to minister to the infirm. He comes to restore injured faculty; "to open blind eyes." He comes to give vision to restored sight: "to be a light of the Gentiles." And He comes to endow the restored life with a rich and gracious freedom: "to bring out the prisoners from the prison." Sight, and light, and freedom! And my Lord is at the gate, and these gifts are in His hand.
MAY The Twenty-second
THE LIGHT AS DARKNESS
MATTHEW xiii. 10-17.
The condition of the heart determines the quality of my discernment. If "the heart is waxed gross," the ears will be "dull of hearing," and the eyes will be "closed." My spiritual senses gain their acuteness or obtuseness from my affections. If my love is muddy my sight will be dim. If my love be "clear as crystal" the spiritual realm will be like a gloriously transparent air.
And the awful nemesis of sin-created blindness is this, that it interprets itself as sight. "The light that is in thee is darkness." We think we see, and all the time we are the children of the night. We think it is "the dawn of God's sweet morning," and behold! it is the perverse flare of the evil one. He has given us a will-o'-the-wisp, and we boastfully proclaim it to be "the morning star."
But there is hope for any man, however blind he be, who will humbly lay himself at Jesus' feet. Let this be my prayer, O Lord, "Cleanse Thou me from secret faults." Deliver me from self-deception, save me from confusing the fixed light of heaven with the wandering beacon-lights of hell. And again and again will I pray, "Lord, that I might receive my sight!"
MAY The Twenty-third
WIND AND FIRE
ACTS ii. 1-21.
The Holy Spirit will minister to me as a wind. He will create an atmosphere in my life which will quicken all sweet and beautiful growth. And this shall be my native air. Gracious seeds, which have never awaked, shall now unfold themselves, and "the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose." It was a saying of Huxley, that if our little island were to be invaded by tropical airs, tropical seeds which are now lying dormant in English gardens and fields would troop out of their graves in bewildering wealth and beauty! "Breathe on me, breath of God!"
And the Holy Spirit will minister to me as a fire. And fire is our supreme minister of cleansing. Fire can purify when water is impotent. The great fire burnt out the great plague. There are evil germs which cannot be dealt with except by the searching ministry of the flame. "He shall baptize you ... with fire." He will create a holy enthusiasm in my soul, an intense and sacred love, which will burn up all evil intruders, but in which all beautiful things shall walk unhurt.