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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Treasures from J. R. Miller

Treasures from J.R. Miller

1840 — 1912

(choice excerpts)

"If any 19th century American Christian writer warrants reprinting, it is J. R. Miller! His writing style is delightfully smooth, his insights are spiritual diamonds on every page, and his pastoral applications are delivered with the skill of a well-seasoned physician of souls." (Pastor Bill Shishko)
"His books are restful and soothing, full of quiet but fresh inspiration and cheery optimism. They have comforted and encouraged countless thousands of readers."
One friend paid this tribute to J. R. Miller: "We all loved him. His gentleness made him great. His winsomeness had no weakness in it. Somehow everybody felt drawn to him. He seemed so closely in touch with the best in heart and life. He was as gentle as a child, yet firm as a rock. He was lovable and helpful; always true, always tender."
~ ~ ~ ~
Nothing is more helpful and practical in Christian living — than the habit of getting a verse or phrase of Scripture into the mind and heart in the morning. Its influence stays through the day, weaving itself into all the day's thoughts and words and experiences.
Every verse in the Bible is meant to help us to live — and a good devotional book opens up the precious teachings which are folded up in its words.
A devotional book, which takes a Scripture text, and so opens it for us in the morning — that all day long it helps us to live, becoming a true lamp to our feet, and a staff to lean upon when the way is rough — is the very best devotional help we can possibly have. What we need in a devotional book which will bless our lives — is the application of the great teachings of Scripture — to common, daily, practical life.
~ ~ ~ ~
A lamp for my feet!

"Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path." Psalm 119:105

God's Word is represented as a lamp for the feet.
It is a "lamp" — not a blazing sun, nor even a lighthouse — but a plain, common lamp or lantern which one can carry about in the hand.
It is a lamp "for the feet," not throwing its beams afar, not illumining a hemisphere — but shining only on the one little bit of road on which the pilgrim's feet are walking.

The law of divine guidance is, "Step by step". One who carries a lantern on a country-road at night, sees only one step before him. If he takes that step, he carries his lantern forward, and thus makes another step plain. At length he reaches his destination in safety, without once stepping into darkness. The whole way has been made light for him, though only a single step of it at a time. This illustrates the usual method of God's guidance.

If this is the way God guides, it ought never to be hard for us to find our duty. It never lies far away, inaccessible to us — but is always near. It never lies out of our sight, in the darkness, for God never puts our duty where we cannot see it. The thing that we think may be our duty — but which is still lying in obscurity and uncertainty, is not our duty yet, whatever it may be a little farther on. The duty for the very moment is always clear — and that is as far as we need concern ourselves; for when we do the little that is clear, we will carry the light on, and it will shine on the next moment's step.

Jesus said, "He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness." Prompt, unquestioning, undoubting following of Christ — takes all the perplexity out of Christian life and gives unbroken peace. There never is a moment without its duty; and if we are living near to Christ and following Him closely, we shall never be left in ignorance of what He wants us to do.

Our daily prayer should be, "Direct my footsteps according to Your Word; let no sin rule over me." Psalm 119:133
~ ~ ~ ~
The divine Gardener

We may think that our lot is especially hard — and may wish that it were otherwise. We may wish that we had a life of ease and luxury, amid softer scenes — with no briers or thorns, no worries or provocations. We think that then we would be always gentle, patient, serene, trustful, happy. How delightful it would be — never to have a care, an irritation, a trouble, a single vexing thing!

But the fact remains — that the place in which we find ourselves — is the very place in which the Master desires us to live our life! There is no haphazard in God's world. God leads every one of His children by the right way. He knows where and under whatinfluences, each particular life will ripen best.

One tree grows best in the sheltered valley, another by the water's edge, another on the bleak mountain-top swept by storms. Every tree or plant is found in the precise locality to enhance its growth. And does God give more thought to trees and plants — than to His own children? No!

He places us amid the circumstances and experiences in which our life will grow and ripen the best. The peculiar trials to which we are each subjected — is the exact discipline we each need to bring out the beauties and graces of true spiritual character in us. We are in the right school. We may think that we would ripen more quickly — in a more easy and luxurious life. But God knows what is best for us — He makes no mistakes!

There is a little fable which says that a primrose growing by itself in a shady corner of the garden, became discontented as it saw the other flowers in their mirthful beds in the sunshine, and begged to be moved to a more conspicuous place. Its prayer was granted. The gardener transplanted it to a more showy and sunny spot. It was greatly pleased — but a change came over it immediately. Its blossoms lost much of their beauty, and became pale and sickly. The hot sun caused them to faint and wither. So it prayed again to be taken back to its old place in the shade. The wise gardener knows best, where to plant each flower.

Just so, God, 
The divine Gardener, knows where His people will best grow into what He would have them to be. Some require the fierce storms; some will only thrive in the shadow of worldly adversity; and some come to ripeness more sweetly under the soft and gentle influences of prosperity — whose beauty, rough experiences would mar. The divine Gardener knows what is best for each one!

There is no position in this world in the allotment of Providence, in which it is not possible to be a true Christian, exemplifying all the virtues of godliness. The grace of Christ has in it, potency enough to enable us to live godly — wherever we are called to dwell. When God chooses a home for us — He fits us for its peculiar trials.

God adapts His grace to the peculiarities of each one's necessity. For rough, flinty paths — He provides shoes of iron. He never sends anyone to climb sharp, rugged mountain-sides, wearing silken slippers. He always gives sufficient grace. As the burdens grow heavier — the strength increases. As the difficulties thicken — He draws closer. As the trials become sorer — the trusting heart grows calmer.

Jesus always sees His disciples, when they are toiling in the waves — and at the right moment He comes to deliver them. Thus it becomes possible to live a true and victorious life — in any circumstances.

Christ can as easily enable Joseph to remain pure and true in heathen Egypt — as Benjamin in the shelter of his father's love. The sharper the temptations — the more of divine grace is granted. There is, therefore, no environment of trial, or difficulty orhardship — in which we cannot live beautiful lives of Christian fidelity and holy conduct.

Instead, then, of yielding to discouragement when trials multiply and it becomes hard to live right, or of being satisfied with a very faulty life — it should be our settled purpose to live, through the grace of God — a patient, gentle and unspotted life — in the place, and amid the circumstances, He allots to us. The true victory is not found in escaping or evading trials — but in rightly meeting and enduring them.

The questions should not be, "How can I get out of these worries? How can I get into a place where there shall be no irritations, nothing to try my temper or put my patience to the test? How can I avoid the distractions that continually harass me?" There is nothing noble in such living.

The questions should rather be, "How can I pass through these trying experiences — and not fail as a Christian? How can I endure these struggles — and not suffer defeat? How can I live amid these provocations, these testings of my temper — and yet live sweetly, not speaking unadvisedly, bearing injuries meekly, returning gentle answers to insulting words?" This is the true problem of Christian living.
~ ~ ~ ~
Fleeting earthly comforts and worldly trinkets!

"Unto Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think!" Ephesians 3:20

God often does better for us — than we ask.
We go to Him — with our little requests.
We are in need — and ask for temporal relief.
We are suffering — and ask that our pain may cease.
We are poor — and ask Him for more money.

We are just like the beggar, holding out our hands for paltry alms to eke out the day's need. Then God looks down upon us and says, "My child, are these littletrifles all you want Me to give to you — daily bread, clothing, fuel for your fire, medicine for your sickness, comfort for your grief? The small things to supply your common needs — are these the only gifts and blessings you want and ask from the hand of your heavenly Father, who has infinite treasures to give to you?"

Yet thousands never get beyond just such requests in their praying! Bowing daily before a God of infinite power and love, in whose hands are unsearchable riches— they never ask for anything but fleeting earthly comforts and worldly trinkets! They ask only for things for their bodies, or to beautify their homes — making no requests for the heavenly and spiritual gifts that God has for their souls! We should learn to ask for the best things in all God's treasure house!

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things!" Colossians 3:1-2
~ ~ ~ ~
The problem of living in this world, is to pass through life's vicissitudes without being harmed by them — growing into more and more radiant and beautiful Christly life, whatever our circumstances and experiences may be.

It is in this phase of our living, that we need Christ most of all. We cannot escape meeting temptation; but we are so to meet it as not to be hurt by it, coming from it rather with new strength and new radiancy of soul.

We cannot find a path in which no sorrow shall come into our life — but we are to pass through sorrow without having our life marred by it.

None but Christ can keep us thus unhurt — amid the manifold perils through which we must move continually. It is only by committing our life into the hands of Christ, that there ever can be absolute safety in this world so full of evil, or that our life ever can reach its holiest possibilities.
~ ~ ~ ~
In the same ruthless way!
One day when the tide was out, a man went out to gather sea plants on the rocks, and in stepping from ledge to ledge — his foot slipped down and became jammed in a crevice. He attempted to pull it out — but could not. He cried aloud, he shrieked, he prayed — but all in vain — no one heard him! So the tide came rolling in, and rose up higher and higher until it rolled over him and drowned his last gurgling cry in its remorseless waters.

In the same ruthless way — sin clutches men! Even one sin, one secret sin, one evil habit — may hold the soul that indulges it — until the floods of judgment come and roll over it, engulfing it in eternal damnation!
 ~ ~ ~ ~
What is it for you to be a Christian?

We ought to seek to gather in this world — treasure that we can carry with us through death's gates, and into the eternal world. We should strive to build into our lives — qualities that shall endure. Men slave and work to get a little money, or to obtain honor, or power, or to win an earthly crown — but 
when they pass into the great vast forever, they take nothing of all this with them!

Yet there are things — virtues, fruits of character, graces — which men do carry with them out of this world. What a man IS — he carries with him into the eternal world. Money and rank and pleasures and earthly gains — he leaves behind him; but his character, he takes with him into eternity!

This suggests at once, the importance of character and character-building.

Character is not what a man professes to be — but what he really IS, as God sees him.

A man may not be as good as his reputation. A good reputation may hide an evil heart and life. Reputation is not character. Reputation is what a man's neighbors and friends think of him; character is what the man IS.

Christ's character is the model, the ideal, for every Christian life. We are to be altogether like Him; therefore all of life's aiming and striving should be towards Christ's blessed beauty. His image we find in the Gospels. We can look at it every day. We can study it in its details, as we follow our Lord in His life among men, in all the variations of experience through which He passed.

A little Christian girl was asked the question, "What is it for you to be a Christian?

She answered, "It is to do as Jesus would do, and behave as He would behave — if He were a little girl and lived at our house."

No better answer could have been given. And there is scarcely any experience of life — for which we cannot find something in Christ's life to instruct us. We can find the traits and qualities of His life, as they shine out in His contact . . .
 with temptation,
 with enmity,
 with wrong,
 with pain,
 with sorrow.

The next thing, when we have the vision of Christ before us, is to get it implanted into our own life. We cannot merely dream ourselves into godly manhood or womanhood; we must forge for ourselves, with sweat and anguish, the beautiful visions of Christ-likeness which we find on the Gospel pages! It will cost us self-discipline, oftentimes anguish, as we must deny ourselves, and cut off the things we love. SELF must be crucified.

It is not easy to become a godly man, a Christlike man.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Word That Was Not Said

The Word that was NOT Said

by J. R. Miller, 1902


Many of the sins of most good people—are sins of 'not doing'. We need always to put into our prayer of penitence the confession, "We have left undone—those things which we ought to have done." This is true of our sins of speech. In one of the Psalms is a resolve that we all need to make, "I will take heed to my ways—that I sin not with my tongue." Some of us have a great deal of trouble with our tongues. We say many harsh words, perhaps bitter words which cut and sting! We may plead, as our defense of what we say—that the things we say of others are true. But we have no right to blurt out words that give pain to another, merely because they may happen to be true!
"The ill-timed truth we should have kept—
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung!"
There is a great deal of sweet forgiveness in every true heart which has been filled with the love of Christ. The Master's emphatic lesson, that we should forgive, not seven times—but seventy-seven times, has been learned by many patient and gentle believers, for it must be confessed that in too many homes—there is almost measureless need for forgiveness. But is it not most unjust in anyone—to make such demands on love, to make life so hard—for one who has entrusted the heart to his keeping? Should he blame anyone but himself—if some day he finds that he has wearied and worn out the love which has been so patient, so long-suffering, with him?
Forgive you—O, of course, dear,
A dozen times a week!
We women were created—
Forgiveness but to speak.

"You'd die before you'd hurt me!"
This I know tis true.
But it is not, O dearest,
The things you mean to do—

It's what you do, unthinking,
That makes the quick tear start;
The tear may be forgotten,
But the hurt stays in my heart!

And though I may forgive you
A dozen times a day,
Yet each forgiveness wears, dear—
A little love away!

And one day you'll be grieving,
And chiding me, no doubt,
Because so much forgiving—
Has worn my great love out!
But it is possible never to treat our friends unkindly in word or act—and yet to sin grievously against them. We sin against others continually, in restraining kindly speech, in withholding words which we ought to have spoken—cheerful, encouraging, helpful words.
We often think, after the opportunity has passed, of some strong, true word we might have spoken at a certain moment—but which we did not speak. Perhaps "we had not thought" to say it. With many of us the mind works slowly—and we do not think of the fine answer we could have given—or the wise word we might have uttered—until it is too late! Our best thoughts—are ofttimes after-thoughts, too late to be uttered, and avail us nothing. Or the good word may have been kept in the heart unspoken, through timidity or shyness. Bashfulness is sometimes a hinderer of usefulness. We want to speak—but we cannot conquer our natural shyness—and so the kindly or cheering words we were eager to utter—lie unexpressed in our hearts, and our friend does not know that we wished to hearten or encourage or comfort him—in his time of trouble or suffering.
Or it may be lack of moral courage—which restrains speech, when we had the chance to say noble words for Christ. There is a great deal more evil wrought through moral cowardice—than most of us would care to admit. We are afraid of a sneer. We are not brave enough to stand alone.
We wrong our friends, too, most of us, at times, by not speaking courageously in their defense—when their character or conduct is unjustly assailed. Many of us have bitter thoughts of our own behavior, when we remember how we failed one we love in an hour when he needed us to stand up for him in his absence. The word we did not say—burns before our eyes in appalling characters, and shames us.
There is another large class of words unspoken which count seriously against us in life's records. These are words of kindly interest and affection, which it is in our heart to say—but which find no utterance in speech. Especially in home interactions, do such silences work hurt. Perhaps we are careful never to say a word that would cause pain—if we reach this self-restraint, we think that we have attained a high ideal of Christian living. But this is only negative. Not doing people harm—is not the same as doing them good. We sorely wrong our loved ones—by keeping back, by holding in our hearts, unspoken thoughts of love—which we ought to have uttered in their ears!
There is altogether too much reserve in many friendships. We are too watchful of words of commendation. It is a great thing to a child to get a word of praise for something that has been well done, some task given, some lesson set, some duty required, or even for a blundering effort that was the best the child could make. It is like a refreshing cordial to a weary one, toiling and struggling faithfully, though perhaps without the reward of apparent success—to have a word of appreciation and of good cheer spoken heartily and sincerely. It brightens all of one's day of task-work, and puts new courage into one's heart—if in the morning, thoughtful love speaks its gracious word of tenderness. Through all the hours—the light shines, and the song sings!
Yet too many of us seem not to think of this. We love the dear ones of our home—but somehow the love is congealed in our heart and we fail to get it thawed out, and so those whom we ought to help with their burdens, cares, trials and sorrows—go unhelped by us through long dreary days and months!
"Loving words will cost but little
Journeying up the hill of life;
But they make the weak and weary
Stronger, braver for the strife.
Do you count them only trifles—What to earth are sun and rain Never was a kind word wasted;
Never one was said in vain!"
It will do each of us good—to think seriously of our own particular habit in this regard. Do we sin against our loved ones—bykeeping back the words of appreciation or commendation, and the expressions of affection, which continually press up to the very door of our lips for utterance, and yet are withheld? Are there hearts close to us, that are starving for their daily bread of love which we have to give, which it is our duty to give—but which we do not dispense?
Someone says, "Children do not dream of the fire under the snow, in the reticent nature of their parents." But is it not a grievous sin against children—for parents to allow the snow to cover up the fires in this way? Would it not be infinitely better—if the love found a language, if the parental pride, the enthusiasm, when beautiful things come out in the children's lives, the gladness when they do well—if these feelings and emotions were expressed? Nothing else so woos out the best in us—as love does.
But it is not in homes only—that we sin against others by not speaking the word we ought to speak. In all our fellowship with people—there is too much of the same thoughtless and unloving reticence. We cannot lift men's heavy burdens off their shoulders—but we could make them braver and stronger to bear these burdens—if we would but speak the ringing word of cheerthat we might speak! Do we always do it?
A popular writer, referring to years of hard and disheartening toil in her own early life, tells of the help she got from a friend whenever she met him. He would say, "How goes it, Louisa? Keep your heart up. God bless you!" She says she always went back to her lonely room and her struggles, after meeting this friend, comforted and heartened by his cheering words. It would not cost any of us much—to form the habit of saying a bright, hopeful word to everyone we meet; and we cannot know what helpfulness there would be for others, in this habit.
There is never any lack of appreciative words—when one is dead. Everybody then comes with some reminiscence of his kindness, some grateful expression concerning him. But that is not the right time for love's gentle thoughts to thaw out. It is too late!
"Ah! woe for the word that is never said
—Until the ear is deaf to hear,
And woe for the lack to the fainting head
—Of the ringing shout of cheer!
Ah! woe for the laggard feet that tread
—In the mournful wake of the bier!

A pitiful thing the gift today—
That is dross and nothing worth,
Though if it had come but yesterday
It had brimmed with sweet the earth;
A fading rose in a death-cold hand,
That perished in need and dearth!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Personal Ambition Hinders Christian Life and Ministry

Personal Ambition Hinders Christian Life and Ministry

by E. M. Bounds
 

"For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake!" 2 Corinthians 4:5
"Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of Him. "What is it you want?" he asked. She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you! Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:20-21, 25-28
 
Personal ambition is one of the greatest hindrances to the Christian life and especially to preaching — because it is born of SELFand nurtured by pride. It manifests itself in various ways: the desire to be a great preacher, to have the first place, to be a leader, or to secure places of honor or profit — veils itself under many disguises. It is christened with the surname "laudable", and comes into the church, then works its selfish, worldly schemes. A person may be a Christian by name and a church member, but if he is driven by personal ambition, he is an infidel at heart and worldly! The days of the prevalence of ambition in the church — have been days of supreme church worldliness and extreme apostasy.
There is much in a name, and the true and wise Christian will not allow this corrupter of the faith to enter, though clothed in a garb of innocent names. Christian faith has kindled and consecrated the flame of holy zeal, stimulating and giving ardor to effort. True zeal is a heavenly fire, the purity of which disdains all earthly adulterations. Zeal crucifies SELF — it fixes its eyes on both God and his glory. As Christ died for sin once, so the Christian by crucifixion dies to self and says, "Perish every fond ambition." In every moment of his life, in every vision of his eye, in every impulse of his heart, and in every effort of his hand — the Christian is to be true to the fact of this self-renouncing commitment.
Personal ambition is the one thing that affected the power, peace, and piety of the apostles of the Lord. We see its effects noted in their envies and strife. A few instances are recorded, but how much unrecorded jealousy and alienation was produced, we can only conjecture. We have the record of its existence and Christ's rebuke in the early part of their career, and its violence breaks out under the shadow of the cross. The bitter thoughts of his death, are mixed with the strife of his disciples for place and his solemn charge against the religious phase of worldly ambition. The washing of the disciples' feet was the last act of personal training that Christ used as the remedy for ambition in his disciples.
Personal ambition destroys the foundation of Christian character, by making faith impossible. Faith roots itself in the soil where selfish and worldly growths have been destroyed. "How can you believe," says Christ, "who receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that comes from God only?" (John 5:44). In this statement is shown the impossibility of blending faith with the desire to receive honor from men.
The entrance of this alluring element of human honor, draws the heart from the honor that comes from God and sweeps away the foundations of faith. When the eye seeks things other than God, when the heart desires things other than God — this ispersonal ambition. No man can serve these two masters; no man can combine the ends of SELF — and of God. He may think he can; he may seem to do so; but no one can perform this spiritual impossibility.
Personal ambition enthrones pride, and that is the throne on which Satan sits! Humility is destroyed by personal ambition. The history of the church attests to the fact that humility has no place in the man who is ambitious. Humility is not a virtue of those who have sought to be put in the calendar of earthly saints. No ambition is so proud as a religious ambition, and none lessscrupulous! No church can be more thoroughly apostate, than the church whose leaders have come into their places though the way of ambition. No ambition is so destructive, as that which comes in under the guise of religion! Personal ambition is worldly, though it may be disguised under the name of Christianity. It easily deludes its possessor, under the plea of a wider field of influence and usefulness.
If personal ambition can be religious and can preach, then it must do so without love, for love and ambition can no more unite than can light and darkness; they are as essentially at war, as Christ and Belial. "Love seeks not her own," while ambition is ever seeking its own, and not infrequently it seeks with all its heart, that which is another's. Love in honor prefers one another, but ambition never does.
If Jesus Christ is to be our model preacher, if our attachment to him rises to anything above a selfish sentiment — then the mind that was in him must be in us. He was without taint of ambition. We have this attitude of Christ to ambition set before us: "Have this mind among yourselves, which was Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:5-8
The whole history and character of Christ are in direct antagonism to personal ambition.
If Paul is to serve as an example for preachers, it is at the point of freedom from all forms of personal ambition, that his example is the most emphatic. He puts the whole inventory of ecclesiastical and earthly goods in one catalog — and renounces them all in this strong language: "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ!" Philippians 3:7-8. And as though this were not enough, he takes us to the cross, where every earthly thing perished in pain, shame, and utter bankruptcy, and declares; "I am crucified with Christ!"
Many things often are often allowed to come into our faith and our ministry to defame them, but nothing is more deadly to us than personal ambition. It has in its bad embrace — the seeds of all evil. It has insincerity and hypocrisy. It is a tyrant! Of all the evils that grieve God's Spirit and quench his flame — ambition may be reckoned among the chief, if not the very chief. The fact that ecclesiastical pride and church worldliness will allow ambition to be christened at church altars and have the stamp of innocence and of virtue — ought to be alarming!
Is the desire for ecclesiastical advancement, ambition? If not, what is it? We may say it is a laudable ambition! Can a qualifying word change the evil nature of this dark and fallen angel? Does an angelic garb make Satan into a holy angel? We may say we want a more honorable place — to do more honorable and larger service for Christ. Is not this Satan clothing himself as an angel of light? The honor of service for God, depends only on the spirit in which it is done, and that spirit is one in which selfpride andambition are crucified! SELF in us, looks to the future to personal greatness and honorChrist in us, looks to the present tofidelity and zeal for the work at hand, and has no eye for self and future.
Can the preacher preach without faith? If he preaches with personal ambition, he is preaching without faith, for in Christ's service faith and ambition cannot co-exist.
Can the preacher preach without love? If he preaches with personal ambition, he is preaching without love, for ambition and love have neither union nor concord.
Can a preacher preach without humility? If he preaches with personal ambition, he is preaching without humility, for ambition is the very essence of pride!
Can a preacher preach without consecration? If he preaches with personal ambition he must, for ambition is a thing to be crucified and not consecrated. Ambition must be daily crucified — because it never can be consecrated.
Personal ambition changes the whole nature of ministry, and floods it with worldliness. Instead of the ministry being an institution where the highest Christian graces are to be produced and the loftiest virtues exhibited — personal ambition transforms it into a ministry where SELF is the mainspring, and every grace is blighted!
With personal ambition in the preacher — the church is no longer an institution to save men; but it is changed into an institution to confer honor on the preacher. And all its holy places are then polluted by the grasping, selfish hand of ambition, or they are trodden by its unhallowed feet!

Loyalty to Christ

Loyalty to Christ

J. R. Miller, 1908

Loyalty to Christ begins in the heart. We must love him supremely. "He who loves father or mother more than me—is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me—is not worthy of me." Nothing makes worthy discipleship, if love is lacking. In these days, Christian activity is emphasized and required. Never was the church of Christ as active as it is now. This is beautiful. But with all our activity, we fear lest we are not loving Christ as we should.
In one of the epistles to the seven churches, Jesus commends the church of Ephesus for many things—its works, its toil, its patience and that it could not bear evil men. "But," he adds, "I have this against you— that you have left your first love." With all its activity and self-sacrificing service—it did not love Jesus as it used to do.
G. Campbell Morgan tells of a friend of his who had a little daughter that he dearly loved. They were great friends, the father and daughter, and were always together. But there seemed to come an estrangement on the child's part. The father could not get her company as formerly. She seemed to shun him. If he wanted her to walk with him—she had something else to do. The father was grieved and could not understand what the trouble was. His birthday came and in the morning his daughter came to his room, her face radiant with love, and handed him a present. Opening the parcel, he found a pair of exquisitely worked slippers.
The father said, "My child, it was very good of you to buy me such lovely slippers." "O father," she said, "I did not buy them—Imade them for you." Looking at her he said, "I think I understand now, what long been a mystery to me. Is this what you been doing the last three months?" "Yes," she said, "but how did you know how long I had been at work on them?" He said, "Because for three months I have missed your company and your love. I have wanted you with me—but you have been too busy. These are beautiful slippers—but next time buy your present—and let me have you all the days. I would rather have my child herself—than anything she could make for me."
We are in danger of being so busy in the Lord's work—that we cannot be enough with the Lord in love's fellowship. He may say to us, "I like your works, your toils, your service—but I miss the love you gave me at first." There is real danger that we get so busy in striving to be active Christians, so absorbed in our tasks and duties, our efforts to bring others into the church—that Christ himself shall be less loved and shall miss our communing with him!
Loyalty means first of all—heart devotion. Has Christ really the highest place in your heart? It is not your work he wants most—it is you! It is beautiful to do things for him—it is still more beautiful to make a home for him in your heart!
A young man, at great cost, has brought from many countries the most beautiful materials he could find and has built as a memorial to his dead wife—an exquisite little chapel. Only a few men could do anything so rare, so lovely. But the poorest of us can enthrone our loved ones in our hearts; and the poorest of us can please Christ even more—by making a little sanctuary in our hearts for him.
Then there must be loyalty of life. If there is true, supreme love in the heart—there should be a holy life and character. Here again we need to guard against devotion to the work and service of Christ—while in the life the world sees there are so manyflaws and blemishes, that the impression is not to the honor of Christ. He is very patient with our infirmities and our stumblings. If he were not, who of us ever could hope to please him?
We are inexperienced, mere learners, at first. We misspell our words. We blunder in our grammar. We sing out of tune. Some of us are just beginning our Christian life, and are discouraged already because we have failed to be what we meant to be, and to live as beautifully as we were sure we would live. Christ is patient with us—when he knows that we are true in our heart, that we really want to be faithful.
Charles Kingsley says: Oh, at least be able to say in that day, "Lord, I am no hero. I have been careless, cowardly, sometimes all but mutinous. Punishment I have deserved—I deny it not. But a traitor I have never been; a deserter I have never been. I have tried to fight on your side in the battle against evil. I have tried to do the duty which lay nearest me, and to leave whatever you committed to my charge—a little better than I found it. I have not been perfect—but I have at least tried to be perfect."
Christ never forgets how frail we are. But he does not want us ever to give up. Though we stumble when we are learning to walk, he wants us to get up and try again. Though we are defeated in our battle tomorrow, he wants us to rise at once and keep on fighting.
A true soldier may be wounded, may be beaten in many battles—but he never is a deserter, never is a traitor. He is always loyal. It is only when we desert Christ, turn away from him, become false to him—that we really fail. You never can fail—if you are true, if you are faithful.
But we should always keep the standard of loyalty up to the highest point. The command is: "Be perfect—even as your Father in heaven is perfect." That standard must never be lowered. Christ's own thought of loyalty—is simple faithfulness. "Be faithful."Faithful seems a gracious word. It requires nothing impossible. It demands nothing unreasonable. It asks only for a just return. It does not exact ten talents—when only two have been given. It is a word of love. Christ is a gentle taskmaster. Yet the word sets a high requirement—one, too, which cannot be lowered. It must have the BEST that we can do. When much has been given—a little will not be a satisfactory return.
There must be loyalty also in character. Paul suggests a cluster of the fruits of the Spirit which do not take an active form, "Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control." Most of these are quiet virtues. They are qualities of character. One might possess many of them—and not be able to say he was an active Christian. Peace is not active. Joy, long-suffering, goodness are not active. Yet these graces are essential to a complete Christian life. We must think of the passive and quiet virtues—as well as the active ones—when we are trying to discover the full meaning of loyalty to Christ.
Here is a man, for example, who bears the name of Christian. But he is not loving—he is hard to live with, irritable, angry, resentful. He has no joy—but is a morose, gloomy, a sad man. He has no peace—but is fretful, anxious, restless, full of fear and worry. He has no meekness—but is impatient, irascible, unmerciful. Lacking the qualities of love, joy, peace, meekness, can you call such a man a loyal follower of Christ? He may be a lively Christian, so far as activities are concerned: a prominent church-member, a zealous church officer, foremost in the organizations of the church. Yet he is not a man you would call a beautiful Christian. Loyalty must be Christlike in character, in disposition, in spirit, in the shining of the face, in the lovingness of the heart.
But loyalty to Christ, must also be active. A true patriot is a quiet and peaceable citizen in times of peace. But when the country is imperiled, he is ready for service. He takes the soldier's place. The Christian belongs to the army of Christ and must follow his King to battle. He who fails to do his part in the conquest of the world, cannot call himself fully loyal to Christ. He may not be anenemy of Christ—but he is a shirker, or he is lacking in courage.
Loyalty to Christ means activity in the service of Christ. Find your work—what you can do to make the world holier, happier, truer—and do it with all your might!
A good woman deplored her lack of usefulness. Yet many knew that her daily life was a constant blessing. She sweetened a home, blessed a houseful of children and young people, and manifested the love of Christ among her neighbors. Was not that being an active Christian? There is an activity of BEING—as well as of DOING.
Loyalty to Christ also demands of us—the uttermost of sincerity and truth in all our living. God desires truth in the inward parts. Yet are there not men who claim to be Christians—and are living a lie? There are lives that are honey-combed by all manner of unfaithfulnesses, dishonesties, injustices and injuries to others—and by many secret sins.
What does the lesson of loyalty to Christ have to teach us about these things? Are covered sins—safely hidden? Are they out of sight forever? Oh, no! Be sure that your sin will find you out. The word is not, "Be sure that your sin will be found out." It may not be found out in this world—but it will "find you out." It will plague you, spoil your happiness, make your life wretched.
What shall we do about these wrong things we have done? A life of loyalty to Christ—means a life that is white, clean, through and through. None can build a beautiful, shining character—upon covered sins. Joy is part of a complete Christian life, and no one can be joyous—with sins concealed in his heart.
Paul has a word about bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. We should test every feeling, every imagination, every disposition, all conduct, by this test—loyalty to Christ. Someone does you a wrong, and you feel like getting angry. Be loyal to Christ. Keep your whole life, every day, every hour—under the sway of his Word.
Loyalty to Christ! There really is nothing else in religion. It is all in these three words.
I will be faithful to Christ!
I will be true to Christ.
I will please Christ.
I will be obedient to Christ.
I will do his will.
I will submit to his discipline.

I will bear the cross he lays upon me!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Afflictions of the Godly

The Afflictions of the Godly

Arthur Pink
March, 1948
 

For the past few years, we have endeavored to help some of God's unestablished children by devoting one article annually (under this title) to the particular end of resolving their uncertainty. In order that they may recognize their spiritual portrait, we seek to describe one or other of those features of the regenerate which the Holy Spirit has drawn in the Scriptures. So far from despising those who are deeply exercised as to their actual state, refusing to "give themselves the benefit of the doubt," we admire their caution.
God has exhorted His people to "make their calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10), and one of the ways we may set about doing so is to prayerfully and humbly compare our hearts and lives — with those marks of grace, or fruits of the Spirit, which are delineated in the Bible. God's Word is likened unto a "mirror" in which we may behold ourselves (James 1:23-24) and perceive what we are by nature — and what we have been made by grace. May each of us be granted eyes to see ourselves as that divine Mirror represents us.
"Before I was afflicted I went astray — but now have I kept your word."
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn your statutes."
"I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and that you in faithfulness have afflicted me." (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75).
We link these three verses together because they treat of the same subject, namely the attitude of the heart of one who had been afflicted by God. Each of them breathes the language of a gracious soul, and not that of a natural man. Each of them acknowledges the beneficial effects of sanctified trials. Each of them evidences a humble heart, for so far from murmuring at God's dispensations — unpleasant though they be to flesh and blood — there is a grateful acknowledgment of their benevolent design. Each of them is a confession made not while smarting under the rod — but after it has done its appointed work.
If our readers can truthfully make such language their own, then they have good reason to conclude they are bound in the same "bundle of life" (1Sa 25:29) as David.
 
"Before I was afflicted I went astray — but now have I kept your word." This is the expression of an honest heart, for it freely owns that before affliction he had "gone astray." Since the "flesh" still remains in the Christian's heart, he is very prone to stray from God; yes, unless he is diligent in watching and praying against temptation and daily mortifying his lusts — he is certain to do so. That evil tendency is much stimulated by temporal success, for then we are far more apt to indulge the flesh — than deny it. "But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: you are waxen fat, you are grown thick, you are covered with fatness; then he forsook God" (Deu 32:15). "I spoke unto you in your prosperity; but you said, I will not hear" (Jeremiah 22:21). By such backsliding, we bring down upon ourselves the rod of God — to curb further excesses of carnality, and to drive us back into the paths of righteousness. God often sends a worm to smite the gourd of our creature comforts (Jonah 4:7); and prosperity is followed by adversity; but if that affliction is blessed to us — then do we keep the Word as we did not previously (Luke 2:19).
 
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn your statutes." This is the breathing of a grateful heart. Very different is the sentiment of the natural man. Scripture declares, "Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects" (Job 5:17) — but the world imagines that happy is he who is exempt from trials and troubles. Which do you agree with, my reader? Yet it is one thing to give a general assent to the inspired declaration, "Blessed is the man whom you chasten, O LORD, and teach out of your law" (Psalm 94:12) — but it is quite another to learn by experience, the benefits of affliction. To be meekly reconciled to our tribulations is a great mercy — but to have personal proof that, though the medicine be unpalatable, its effects are beneficial, is yet better.
Such is the result in those who are "exercised" under the chastening hand of their Father (Hebrews 12:11). "The Philistines could not understand Samson's riddle — how 'Out of the eater came something to eat — and out of the strong came something sweet' (Judges 14:14). As little can the world comprehend the fruitfulness of the Christian's trials: how his gracious Lord sweetens the 'bitter' waters of Marah (Exo 15:23)" — Charles Bridges (1794-1869).
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted" (Psalm 119:71). God has many ways of afflicting. In the context, David mentions those who had opposed and maligned him. At the time — he may have felt it keenly — but later — he realized it was a mercy. It is good for us — when we have solid reason to make this acknowledgment.
What is our chief "good"? Is it not the enjoyment of God? Then how thankful should we be for anything which draws us nearer unto Him! "LORD, in trouble have they visited you, they poured out a prayer when your chastening was upon them" (Isaiah 26:16). God is then sought unto more earnestly and persistently. When settled on our lees, our devotions are very apt to become formal and mechanical — but when our nest is disturbed, we "pour out a prayer" or a "secret speech" (margin) — that is the groanings of the heart. Sanctified afflictions:wean us from the creature,
make the conscience more tender,
call into exercise our graces, and
quicken us in the path of duty.
If we can discover such beneficial effects, must we not exclaim, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted!"
"I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and that you in faithfulness have afflicted me." This is the language of discernment. "Judgments" here refer not (as often in the Psalms) to the equitable laws of God — but to His governmental dealings — in punishing the wicked — or in correcting His people. Nor was David speaking of the knowledge of carnal reason — but of that which faith and a spiritual experience supplies. He condemned himself, acknowledging that his waywardness had called for the rod.
When the empty professor is sorely afflicted, he says, "What have I done to deserve this?" Others less rebellious — but equally self-righteous, ask, "Why should I be singled out as a mark for adversity?" Very different are the sentiments of the godly: they vindicate the Lord. So far from deeming themselves to be dealt with unjustly, or even harshly, they exonerate the hand that smites them.
The wicked do not recognize the One who is dealing with them, looking no farther than secondary causes or human instruments. But the eyes of faith behold Him who is invisible: not only as a provider and comforter — but also as a chastiser and afflicter; and that, not only in love — but in righteousness: "Your judgments are right."
"You in faithfulness have afflicted me." Numerous sermons have been preached upon the faithfulness of God and many pieces written upon this divine perfection, yet few have preserved the balance thereon. It requires to be shown that God is not only true to His Word in making good His promises — but also in fulfilling His threatenings; faithful not only in providing for His people — but also in dealing with their follies. We frequently hear of God's covenant-faithfulness — but we are not so often reminded thatchastisement is one of the articles in His covenant. "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments...Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes...My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips" (Psalm 89:30-34).
"Our Father is no Eli — He will not allow His children to sin without rebuke" — Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892).
Therefore, it is their duty to own His integrity while enduring His faithful discipline. This is what David here did: he acknowledged that God was fulfilling His covenant engagement, and he made that avowal not sullenly — but thankfully; yes, he made it adoringly, for he knew that God also had his welfare in view.
Now, my reader, measure yourself by what has been pointed out above. Do you say, "I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him" (Mic 7:9)? Have you learned by experience that affliction is made a school to God's people, in which they learn many valuable lessons — both about themselves and God, and about their duties and privileges? Have you discovered by first-hand acquaintance, that chastisement is a beneficial medicine to subdue pride, purge of carnality, and heal backslidings? Has the rod recovered you from your wanderings? Can you say from the heart, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn [experimentally] your statutes" (Psalm 119:71)? Do you freely own that God's providential dealings with you — His "judgments" — are right: that is, just and equitable? Yes, do you feel that God has dealt far more leniently than your "iniquities deserve" (Ezra 9:13)? Do you aver that God is faithful, not only in Himself — but in smiting you? Then you have Scriptural ground for concluding that a miracle of grace has been wrought in your soul.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Beatitude for Sorrow

THE BEATITUDE FOR SORROW

by J. R. Miller, 1896


A great preacher has said, "It is worth our thought how small that audience must be that would assemble, life through, to listen to a gospel that said nothing to sufferers, nothing to sorrow." An old theological professor said to his students, "Never go through a service without some word, in sermon or prayer, for the troubled; for in every congregation there will be at least one heart hungering for comfort."
The gospel is for all experiences. The religion of Christ is for our times of gladness—as well as for our days of trouble. It is not merely a lamp to shine in our dark nights. We never need Christ more than when the world is shining upon us. Yet Christianity is peculiarly a religion for sorrow. This is one reason the Bible is so precious to men and women everywhere. It is full of sympathy. On every page it has words of comfort. In every chapter we feel the heart-beat of divine love. The preacher who has no comfort in his sermons, will soon find his congregation melting away. Longfellow once said that a sermon was no sermon to him—if he could not hear the heart-beat in it. Poor, aching hearts, will not long come to a ministry in which they do not find warm sympathy, in which they do not feel continually the heart-beat of Christ.
Many people must think at first reading, that Christ's beatitude for mourners is a strange one: "Blessed are those who mourn." Blessed means something very good, very beautiful. To be blessed is to be happy, prosperous, favored. But if we are asked to name the people who are happiest and most favored of all we know—we would not likely name those who are passing through affliction. How can the strange paradox of Christ's beatitude be explained?
"Blessed are those who mourn—for they shall be comforted." There must be something very precious, very rich, in God's comfort, that makes it worth while even to have sorrow and loss to get it.
What is comfort? Some of us think we are comforting people when we sit down beside them in their trouble, and sympathize with them, as we call it, going down into the depths with them—but doing nothing to relieve them, or lift them up. When will godly people learn that their errand to their friends in sorrow is to help them, to put courage and cheer into their hearts? To comfort, in the Bible sense, is to strengthen. We comfort others truly, when we make them stronger to endure, when we enable them to pass through their sorrow victoriously. That is the way Christ comforts. He does not merely sit down beside troubled ones, and enter into their experiences. He does sympathize with them—but it is that he may make them strong to endure.
Christ comforts in bereavement, by showing us what that which we call death, really is to the Christian. If we could see what it is that happens to our beloved one when he leaves us—we could not weep!
There is a beautiful tale of a boy whose young sister was dying. He had heard that if he could secure but a single leaf from the tree of life that grew in the garden of God, the illness could be healed. He set out to find the garden, and implored the angel sentinel to let him have one leaf. The angel asked the boy if he could promise that his sister would never be sick any more if his request were granted, and that she would never be unhappy, nor do wrong, nor be cold or hungry, nor be treated harshly. The boy said he could not promise any of those things. Then the angel opened the gate a little way, bidding the child to look into thegarden for a moment, to have one glimpse of its beauty. "Then, if you still wish it," said the angel, "I will myself ask the King for a leaf from the tree of life to heal your sister."
The boy looked in; and, after seeing all the wondrous beauty and blessedness within the gates, he said softly to the angel, "I will not ask for the leaf now. There is no place in all this world so beautiful as that. There is no friend so kind as the Angel of Death. I wish he would take me too!"
If we could look in at the gate through which our beloved godly ones pass when they leave us, we would be comforted. "Absent from the body," they are "at home with the Lord." Dying is merely passing into a blessed glorious life. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away!" Revelation 21:4
Another comfort in bereavement comes in the assurance of God's unchanging love. When his children were dead, Job gave expression to his faith in the words: "The Lord gave—and the Lord has taken away." It was the same Lord who gave—and who took away—and the same love. It does not seem so to us. But if we could see all things as God sees them, we would find the same goodness in the one as in the other. Some day we shall see it. Jesus said, "You do not realize now what I am doing, butlater you will understand." Faith accepts this promise, and believes that whatever God does, must be right. In this confidence it abides, and, believing, finds comfort and peace.
Comfort in bereavement comes also through our memories of our beloved ones. The first shock of sorrow ofttimes leaves the heart stunned, like a young bird thrown out of its nest by a wild storm sweeping through the branches. For a time all is confusion. Even faith seems for a while to be staggered. One sees nothing but the desolation of grief. Every beautiful thing appears to be shattered. No voices of comfort are heard in the soul's anguish. Even God seems far off. In the amazement and bewilderment, it appears that life never can have any joy again, that its old tasks never can be taken up. All the memories, are memories of loss and sorrow. The beautiful years of life, with their love and their gentle ministries, are hidden for the time, in the one great sense of bereavement.
But, as the days pass, this bitterness also passes. A gentle hand takes up the little bird, and helps it back to its nest again. The anguish is soothed by the assurance of divine love that creeps into the heart. Comfort comes, as the morning comes after the night.
In these after days, when the poignancy of the grief is past, when the light has begun to come again, and when the grace of God has reappeared full of love—the heart begins to find comfort in precious memories of those who are gone. Death sweeps away the faults, the flaws, the imperfections, which were so apparent in our friends when they were close beside us—and brings out in them all the beautiful things, only half understood, half perceived, when they were with us. Forgotten kindnesses of years past, are remembered when friends are gone. A thousand fragments of beauty in character and conduct—hidden, unnoticed before—memory now gathers up. The result is a transfigured life, in which all that was good, true, lovely, and worthy has a place.
A middle-aged man said recently that his mother had been far more to him the ten years she had been in heaven—than the ten years before her departure. A woman of advanced years said that her first child, who had been with Christ for fifty years, had been a softening, refining, spiritualizing, upward-drawing influence in her life all those years. There is no doubt that in thousands of cases, our godly friends are more to us in heaven—than ever they were while they were with us. The influence of departed Christian children on parents and homes, is very marked. A godly child in heaven, means more to many fathers and mothers—than a baby in their arms. It is a magnet to draw their hearts heavenward.
When they began to build a great wire suspension bridge over a wide river, a kite was sent across with the first fine wire. This was fastened, and then on it other wires were drawn across, until the great bridge hung in the air, and thousands were passing over it. From many a home a godly loved one, borne to heaven, carries the first heavenward thought of a worldly household. But from that moment, and on that slender thread, their thoughts, affections, and longings go continually heavenward, until there is a broad golden bridge hung between their home and God's house, and prayer and love are constantly passing over.
There is no doubt that sorrow is one of the secrets of the truest, deepest home happiness. Perhaps few marriages reach their sweetest, fullest blending—until the wedded pair stand hand in hand beside the grave of a loved member of their home circle.
The beatitude of Christ shows that the blessing of sorrow, lies in the comfort. A large portion of the Bible is comfort—which can become ours only through sorrow. We can say, "Blessed is night—for it reveals to us the stars." In the same way we can say, "Blessed is sorrow—for it reveals God's comfort."
The floods washed away his home and mill—all the poor man had in the world. But as he stood on the scene of his loss, after the water had subsided, broken-hearted and discouraged, he saw something shining in the bank which the waters had washed bare. "It looks like gold!" he said. It was gold! The flood which had beggared him—made him rich.
So it is ofttimes in life. Sorrow strips off beloved possessions—but reveals the treasures of the love of God. We are sure, at least, that every sorrow that comes, brings to us a gift from God, a blessing which may be ours—if we will accept it. Sorrow should always be treated hospitably and reverently, as a messenger from heaven. It comes not as an enemy—but as a friend. We may reject it, just as we may reject any other messenger from God, and miss the blessing. But if we welcome it in Christ's name, it will leave in both heart and home—a gift of love.
Clouds gather in the sky with ominous threatening. But they pass, and leave their rich treasure of rain. Then the flowers are more fragrant, the grass is greener, and all living things are lovelier.
Sorrow comes. There is agony in the heart. There is crape on the door. There is a new grave in God's acre. But all hearts are softer. Love is tenderer. Prayers are more fervent. There is more of heaven in the household life. The cloud has left its treasures of rain!
"Blessed are those who mourn—for they shall be comforted."

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Silent Christ

The SILENT Christ

by J. R. Miller

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Jesus did not answer her a word! So His disciples came to Him and urged Him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before Him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread—and toss it to their dogs!" Matthew 15:22-26
Usually, Jesus was quick to answer cries for His help. No mother's heart ever waked so easily to her child's calls—as the heart of Christ waked to the calls of human distress! But once at least, He was silent to a very bitter cry. It was over in the edge of a heathen country. The story begins by saying that He went into a house and wanted nobody to know that He was there. He desired a little time of quiet. Even Jesus needed sometimes to rest. But He could not be hidden.
An Indian legend tells of a sorcerer who sought to hide the sun, moon, and stars in three great chests—but failed in his effort. One cannot hide light—it reveals itself by its beams. One cannot hide fragrant flowers—their perfume reveals their place of concealment.
There is a kind of wood in China, which, though buried in the earth—yet fills all the air about it with its perfumes. Nor can holy lives be hidden! No matter how modest and shy they are, wherever they go, people know of their presence. There is somethingin them which always reveals them.
Never was there another such rich, loving, helpful life in this world—as that of Jesus. He was everybody's friend. His heart was full of compassion. His hand was ever stretched out to serve. No wonder He could not be hidden—even in a strange place. Burdened hearts would be drawn to Him—by the very power of His love and sympathy.
A heathen woman heard of Him that day, and came to Him with a pitiful plea. It is worth while to notice, that it was this woman's trouble which sent her to Christ. If all had been sunshine in her house, she would not have gone to seek Him. This is one of the blessings of affliction—it often leads us into experiences of blessing we never would have had—but for our suffering. We never shall know until we have gone to heaven—how much we owe to pain and sorrow. Then we shall see that the long days when we were sick—were days of wondrous divine revealing; that what we called our misfortunes and calamities—were really pieces of shaded path, leading to nobler blessings.
It is interesting to think of the good that has come to the world through the centuries, from the mere telling of the story of this woman's trouble. Other mothers with suffering children have been encouraged to bring their burdens to Christ, as they have read of this mother and her persistent and finally availing plea. Other pleaders at the throne of grace, discouraged for a time—as they have seen this prayer prevail at length, have taken fresh hope. No one can tell what a history of blessing this one fragment of the gospel has left among men. Yet this story never would have been written—but for the pitiful suffering of a little girl.
We do not know what blessing may go out into the world from the anguish in our home, which is so hard for us to endure. Every human pain or sorrow—is intended to make this world a little gentler, sweeter, warmer-hearted. We should never forget that the gospel, which, these nineteen centuries, has been changing the earth from coldness, harshness, cruelty, and barbarism—into love, gentleness, humane feeling, and brotherly kindness, is the story of a sorrow—the sorrow of Calvary. We ought to be willing to endure pain—to make the world more heaven-like.
We are not told anything about this woman, save that she was a woman with a great burden of sorrow. She was a broken-hearted mother, with a demoniac child. But that is enough for us to know. Her sorrow makes her kin to us all. It was not her own trouble, either. She was not sick. Yet hear her cry: "Lord, help me!" She represented a great class of burdened and crushedpeople, who are bowed down under the maladies or the sins of others. Especially was she the type of many human mothers, whose hearts are broken by the sufferings or by the evil ways of their children. You never enter a sick-room where a child lies in pain, and the mother keeps watch—but the mother is suffering more than the child. There are many parents prematurely stooped and aged—by reason of the burdens they are bearing for or on account of their children.
This mother's persistence in pressing her plea, was very remarkable. When she came first, Jesus "did not answer her a word." He stood silent before her piteous appealing. But she would not be discouraged, and as He walked on and talked with His disciples, she continued following, and beseeching Him to have mercy on her. When the silence was broken at length, it was in words which seemed strangely harsh and insulting, coming from the lips of the Christ. Yet even the offensive words did not chill the ardor of her earnestness. Indeed, she caught at the very offensiveness, seeing hope in them. She was content to be a dog—and to take a dog's portion. Even the crumbs from that table, would abundantly satisfy her.
The woman's prayer and its final answer tell us that we may bring to Christ in our love and faith—those who cannot come to Him themselves. Many of Christ's healings were in answer to the prayers of friends. It is not enough for us to pray for ourselves. That love is not doing its full duty—which does not carry its dear ones to God in supplication.
Then this mother teaches us how to pray not timidly, faintly, and feebly—but with all the earnestness of passionate love, strengthened by overcoming faith. When we are at Christ's feet with our burden, we are before One who can help us whatever our need. We should determine to stay there—until we get our plea. This mother's supplication was as different from many of ourtame, mildly-uttered requests which we call prayers—as the storm's wild sweep is different from evening's soft zephyr. Jesus'silence did not discourage her. Jesus' refusal did not check her pleadings. Jesus' reproach had no power to drive her away. Such faith overcomes every obstacle—and wins its way to sublimest victory!
Christ's treatment of this distressed mother, is one of the strangest things in the Bible. It seems at first scarcely consistent with our conception of Christ's character. On nearly all other occasions He answered at once—but now, when the woman came to Him with her broken-hearted supplication, He did not answer her a word. When she continued crying, His only reply was a refusal, on the ground that His mission was not to any but His own people. Then, when she still persisted and cast herself at His feet, looking up appealingly to Him and pleading still for mercy, what was His reply? Not a kindly "no," such as He might have spoken, to make the pain of refusal as little as possible—but words which some haughty Pharisee might have used, calling the sorrowing woman a Gentile dog.
How can this be explained? If we were to hear that some good, generous, kindly Christian man, whom we know, had treated a poor distressed woman in this way, either we would not believe it, or we would say that the man must have been mentally disturbed, that he was not himself that day, because of some secret trouble of his own. Men do such things—they do treat the poor and distressed coldly, rudely, even in these late Christian days—but not men like Jesus. When we think of the character of Jesus—so gracious, so unselfish, so compassionate, and that He was always so ready to help even outcasts—this narrative perplexes us beyond measure.
We may as well admit, too, that there are difficulties, not unlike those we meet here, in many of God's providences in our own days. We believe in God's fatherhood, in His love and grace, in His tender thought and care of His children. Yet the world is full of sorrows. Distressed mothers yet cry to heaven for relief in their troubles, and He who sits on the throne is silent to them. Prayers seem to go long unanswered, and suppliants appear to get no pity from Him whom we believe to be full of compassion. These are painful perplexities with many godly people.
If we can find an explanation for Christ's treatment of this heathen mother—it will help us to understand many of the other difficulties in God's ways with His people. It is very clear that what seemed unkindness, was not unkindness. While Jesus was silent to her pleading and apparently indifferent, He was not really indifferent. He did hear her, and His heart was greatly interested in Her sorrow. When He seemed to spurn her, there was not in His heart toward her—the slightest feeling of real contempt or spurning. He did not despise her. His thought toward her did not change at last, when He yielded to her importunity and healed her child. His compassion was moved at her first approach to Him. He intended all the while—to grant her request. His treatment of her was only seemingly unkind. Suppose she had given up and turned away, when Jesus seemed to be so indifferent to her, what would she have lost? Her faith faltered not, and at last she got the blessing.
It is evident, too, that there was wise love in Christ's apparently harsh and severe treatment of this woman. It was the very treatment her faith needed. Of this we may be sure, as we read the story through to its close. We are safe in saying that gentle kindness from the first, would not have brought out such a noble faith in the end—as did the apparent harshness. We are apt to forget that the aim of God with us—is not to flood us all the time with tenderness, not to keep our path strewn always with flowers, not to give us everything we want, not to save us from all manner of suffering. God's aim with us—is to make something of us, to build up in us strong and noble character, to mature in us, qualities of grace and beauty, to make us like Christ. To do this—He must ofttimes deny us what we ask for, and must seem indifferent to our cries.
There are 'sentimental ideas of God' prevalent, which are dishonoring to Him. There are those who imagine that God's love, means tenderness that cannot cause pain. They think that He cannot look a moment on suffering, without relieving it; that He must instantly hear and answer every cry for the removal of trouble.
Not such a God is the God of the Bible. When suffering is the best thing for us—He is not too sympathetic to let us suffer—until the work of suffering is accomplished in us. He is not too kind to be silent to our prayers—when it is better that He should be silent for a time to allow faith to grow strong, self-confidence to be swept away, and the evil in us to be burned out in the furnace of pain!
Here, in this very story, we have an example of human compassion that seems more tender than Christ's compassion. The disciples begged the Master to listen to the woman's cries. They could not bear the anguish of her sorrow. It was too much for their nerves. But Jesus remained unmoved. No one will say that these rough fishermen were really more gentle-hearted than Jesus; but they were less wise in their love, than He was. They were not strong enough to wait until the right time for helping. They would have helped at once, and thus would have marred the work the Master was doing in the woman's soul.
This is a danger with all of us. Our tenderness lacks strength. We cannot see people suffer, and so we hasten to give relief—before the ministry of suffering is accomplished. We think of our mission to men, as being only to make life easier for them. We are continually lifting away burdens, which it were better to have left resting longer on our friend's shoulder. We are eager to make life easy for our children—when it were better if it had been left hard. We answer prayers too soon ofttimes, not asking if it were better for the suppliant to wait longer before receiving. In our dealing with human souls, we break down when we hear the first cries of penitence, hurrying to give assurance of pardon—when it were better if we left the penitent spirit longer with God for the deepening of conviction and of the sense of sin, and for the most complete humbling of the soul.
We must learn, that God does not deal with us in this 'sentimental' way. He is not too tender to see us suffer—if more suffering is needed to work in us the discipline that will make us like Christ. Here we have the key of many of the mysteries of Providence. Life is not easy for us—and God does not intend it to be easy! Prayers are not all answered the moment they are offered. Cries for the relief of pain do not always bring instant relief.
Suppose for a moment that God did give us everything we ask for—and did remove immediately every little pain, trouble, difficulty, and hardness that we seek to have removed; what would be the result on us? How selfish it would make us! We should become weak, unable to endure suffering, to bear trial, to carry burdens, or to struggle. We would be only children always, and would never rise into manly strength. God's over-kindness to us would pamper in us all the worst elements of our nature, and would make us only poor driveling creatures!
On the other hand, however, God's wise and firm treatment of us, teaches us the great lessons which make us strong with the strength of Christ Himself. He teaches us to yield our own will to Him. He develops in us patience, faith, love, hope, and peace. He trains us to endure hardness—that we may grow heroic, courageous and strong.
It is evident that at no time in the progress of this experience, did Jesus mean to refuse this woman's plea. His cold silence—was not denial. His apparent refusal—was not rejection. He delayed for wise reasons. His treatment of the woman from beginning to end—was for the training of her faith. He did not answer her a word—that her pleading might grow stronger. At the last He commended the woman, as He commended few other people in all His ministry!
It is well for us to make careful note of this—that in all God's delays when we pray—His aim is some good in us. Perhaps we arewillful, asking only for our own way—and must learn to say, "May Your will be done." Perhaps we are weak, unable to bear pain or to endure adversity or loss—and we must be trained and disciplined into strength. Perhaps our desires are only for earthly good, not for heavenly blessings—and we must be taught the transitory character of all worldly things, and led to desire things which are eternal. Perhaps we are impatient—and must be taught to wait for God. We are like children in our eager restlessness—and need to learn self-restraint. At least we may always know that silence is not refusal, that God hears and cares, and that when our faith has learned its lessons He will answer in blessing.

When God does not seem to answer—He is drawing us nearer to Himself. Ofttimes our unanswered prayers mean more of blessing to us—than those that are answered. The lessons set for us in them are harder—but they are greater, richer lessons. It is better for us to learn the lesson of submission and trust—than it is to get some new sweet joy which adds to our present comfort. Whether, therefore, He speaks or is silent—He has a blessing for us!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Submission to God

Submission to God

Arthur Pink

November, 1945
 

"The Lord gave—and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Job 1:21
When some painful loss or severe calamity befalls them, there are many who bemoan the fact that they do not have the resignation which was the patriarch's—even under more extreme circumstances—but it is to be feared that few make any serious attempt to ascertain why they are so lacking, or that the right explanation would be arrived at if they did. Probably the majority of the professing Christians would say: "It is because the Lord has not been pleased to give me the necessary grace." Pious as that may sound, in many cases, it would be the language of insincerity—if not of something worse. If that were said by way of excuse or self-extenuation for a spirit of murmuring, it is a wicked slander upon the Divine character! Let it be clearly recognized that the real reason—and the only reason, so far as we are concerned—why God not grant us more grace, is because we have failed to use that which He has already bestowed upon us! Luke 8:18.
Acquiescence in the Divine providence, when God takes from us that which is near and dear, is not some high spiritual attainment which is reached on special occasions. Just as one who is not accustomed to the regular use of certain muscles is incapable of any strenuous exercise of them when put to a real test, so it is with the employment of our graces. The average man who constantly drives around in his car, or the one who sits most for the day in his office and rides on the bus or train to and from his work—would be weary if he walked five miles on a stretch, quite exhausted if it were ten, and utterly unable to hold out for twenty. But a shepherd or farmer who spent most of his life on his feet crossing the moors or walking in his fields, would find it no undue strain to cover a single journey of twenty miles. One who has allowed his mind to wander here and there while engaged in ordinary reading, cannot suddenly concentrate on a good book when he wishes to do so. The same principle obtains in the spiritual realm: There is no such thing as putting forth an extraordinary effort of any grace—if it is not in regular exercise.
Returning to our next text: What was the character of the man who gave expression to those God-honoring words? It is very important to weigh carefully the question, for character and conduct are as inseparably connected, as are cause and effect. The answer is supplied in the context. Those words issued from the heart of one who was "perfect [sincere] and upright, and one who feared God, and shunned evil" (Job 1:1), which is but an amplified way of saying that he was a pious man.
Now, the first characteristic and evidence of genuine piety is an obedient walk; and obedience is doing the will of God from the heart. Or in other words, obedience is a submission to His authority, a conducting of myself according to the rules He has prescribed for me. If—then, I have formed the habit of conforming to God's preceptive will (which necessarily presupposes denying the lusts of the flesh), there will be little difficulty in submitting myself to His providential will. If I am faithful in doing the former, I shall be unmurmuring in acquiescing with the latter. But if I flout the one, I shall rebel against the other.
"The Lord gave—and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." That was the language of one who was accustomed to own the authority of God, as his threefold "the Lord" intimates.
It was the language of one who had surrendered to His righteous claims, and the throne of whose heart was really occupied by Him. It was not the sudden outburst of one who had hitherto followed his own desires and devices—but rather of a genuine saint who had truly been subject to the Divine will. It was the language of one who recognised and owned that God had a perfect right to order his lot and life—just as it seemed good in His sight. It was the language of one who held everything in subjection to the will of Him with whom he had to do. It was not an exceptional spasm of piety—but rather that which made manifest the general tenor of his spirituality. The trials of life neither make, nor mar us, my reader; but instead, they demonstrate what is in us, what we really are: They make manifest the hidden things of our heart.
There is a will of God which we are required to perform—and there is also a will of God in which we should thankfully acquiesce. The former is His preceptive will, which is made known in His commandments; the latter in His providential will, which regulates all our affairs. And the more we perform the former—the easier shall we find it to accept and conform our hearts unto the latter.
Christian submission is, therefore, a twofold thing; or rather, it has respect to two aspects of our duty and has to do with two different relationships which God sustains to us—as our King and our Provider.
The first aspect of submission is to take the Divine yoke upon us, to be in subjection to the Divine authority, to have all our ways regulated by the Divine statutes.
The second aspect of submission is to receive as from God's hand, whatever comes to me in a providential way, with the recognition of His absolute right to take the same away—when He deems that will be most for His glory and my good.
When we pray, as we are bidden to do, "May Your will be done in earth—as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10), the emphasis is to be placed on the word "done."
It is, first, a request that the Divine will may be wrought in us, for we can only work out our "own salvation with fear and trembling," as God is pleased to work in us "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13); for it is thus that God writes His law on our hearts. Only as His will is wrought in us—are our wayward wills brought into accord with God's.
Second, it is a request that the Divine will may be performed by us. The first is in order to the second. God's will is done by us—when we consciously and voluntarily abstain from and avoid those things He has prohibited, and when we practice those things which He has enjoined upon us.
Third, it is a request that the Divine will may be acceptable unto us, that we may be pleased with whatever pleases Him: That so far from repining, we may thankfully receive whatever God is pleased to send or give us—His chastisements not excepted.
The perfect exemplification of what we have sought to bring out above, is found in our blessed Redeemer.
First, there was nothing whatever within Him which was contrary to God, which was capable of resisting His will. He was essentially holy—both in His Divine Person and in His human nature; and as the God-man, He declared, "Your law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8).
Second, when He entered this world, it was with the assertion, "Lo, I come to do Your will, O God" (Hebrews 10:7); and so completely did He make that good, He could say, "I always do those things that please Him" (John 8:29).
Third, He never uttered the slightest murur against the Divine providence; but instead, declared, "You have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance" (Psalm 16:5-6). And when the supreme test came, He meekly bowed, saying, "The cup which my Father has given me—shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11). When in Gethsemane, He prayed, "May Your will be done" (Matthew 26:42), He included all three things:
    May Your will be wrought in Me.
    May Your will be performed by Me.
    May Your will be well-pleasing unto Me.
If—then, we are to be able to say as Job did when so severely tested, we must emulate his previous conduct and regularly tread the path of obedience. Furthermore, we must "learn to sit loose to all worldly comforts and stand ready prepared to part with everything when God shall require it at our hands. Some of you may perhaps have friends who are as dear to you as your own souls; and others may have children in whose lives your own lives are bound up: All have their Isaacs, their particular delights. Labor for Christ's sake, labor you sons and daughters of Abraham to resign them hourly in affection to God, that when He shall require you really to sacrifice them—you may not confer with flesh and blood any more than the blessed patriarch did." George Whitefield (1714-1770)