|Back to the Faith|
|VOLUME - 1|
|By the Late|
|Harry w. Beach, U.S.A.|
|Formerly published by|
|Fred L. Page of Page Publications,|
|Montrose, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.|
|Now printed and published after the death of Bro. Page by|
|Bro. R. Paulaseer Lawrie, Evangelist, 1965|
|Presented once again by|
|GANDHI NAGAR, TIRUNELVELI|
Wherever the use of the letters R.V. is found in this series of Booklets, they should be understood to refer to The American Standard Version Bible of 1901.
Dearly Beloved In Christ Jesus,
This Volume regarding the Life of the Faith is one of the precious books which blessed my life and brought me to absolute dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ alone. This happened at a time when, during my world tour, I was wavering between whether or not I should join a foreign group to get financial assistance to evangelize India, my own country, but after reading “The Life that Pleases God” and certain other valuable publications and meeting several saints of God my life was greatly enriched and blessed. I returned to my homeland trusting God only, and He moved mightily in bringing multitudes to the feet of Lord Jesus Christ.
I am unspeakably grateful to God for His mercies in blessing me through the volumes published by Bro. Fred L. Page, and as I knew the books would enrich the life of every Christian. I was praying to God to help me make them available for all those who seek a deeper experience with Him. Then unexpectedly Bro. Page wrote to me requesting me to print the volumes in this country, enclosing the letter of authorization which is reproduced herewith, on the distinct understanding that no financial assistance would be given. Now trusting God to finance this important work we are sending these volumes free to all who wish to study them. Just as these messages have blessed our souls we pray that they will also do the same for you. May our Lord Jesus Christ give you a new understanding of His mind and heart as you read these books. In them, the Holy Spirit gives a new revelation of the life which is really valuable in the sight of God, and to those who love Him more than all else, these messages will be a personal answer to the longings of their hearts.
It is with deep regret, I have to mention that our dear Bro. Page, whom I met personally in the U.S.A. passed away in 1963, but I praise God for the great work, which he developed whilst here in this world, and which has been and will be, such an inspiration to thousands of individuals, because of his devoted service.
|Bro. R. Paulaseer Lawrie,
Via Mukkudal, Tirunelveli Dt.,
|In the writing which is presented in this series of volumes, progress is made though four great divisions, as follows:|
|Part - I A Question - What is The Life that Pleases God?|
|Part - II The Question Answered - The Overwhelming Revelation of the Life.|
|Part - ÏII Living the Life That Pleases God.|
|Part - ÏV Incentives to the Life That Pleases God.|
|In this volume, Part I is completed. Part II is then commenced, as a proposed study of the whole Bible is carried as far as the end of the Old Testament.|
|PART - I|
|A Question - What is The Life that Pleases God?|
|I. Foreword - Ideals - Judgment|
|II. The Insufficiency of Common Ideals|
|PART - II|
|THE QUESTION ANSWERED: THE OVERWHELMING REVELATION OF THE LIFE THAT PLEASES GOD|
|III. The Life Defined:|
|IV. A Life That Pleased God|
|V. The Old Testament Record
Adam - Cain and Abel - Enoch - Noah
|VI. The Old Testament Record:|
|Abraham - Isaac - Jacob - Joseph|
|VII. The Old Testament Record:|
|Moses - Israel|
FRED L. PAGE
MONTROSE, PA., U.S.A.
“THE WORLD IS MY PARISH”
|February 1, 1963|
|To Whom it may concern|
This is to authorize Evangelist R.P. Lawrie, 19 Khan Sahib St., Choolaimedu, Nungambakkam, Madras - 24, India to print and distribute as the Lord may lead Him, any or all of the literature of Page Publications, Montrose, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., which consists of the series of Seven Volumes of “The Life That Pleases God”, “Is the New Birth a Guarantee of Final Salvation”, “Faith or Works”, and any books still not published. Also any or all of tracts of Page Publications.
by Fred L. Page.
|PART - I|
|A QUESTION: WHAT IS THE LIFE THAT PLEASES GOD?|
|FOREWORD - IDEALS - JUDGMENT|
This series of volumes is for Christians. It is of course my hope that many will read the books, but in the writing my thought is not of the many but of the individual. It is you, my dear reader, that I am addressing. Put out of mind the thought that you are reading books. The volumes are in reality bundles of personal letters, put together in this way for your convenience and because it is impossible for them to travel directly by post from my hand to yours.
I write regarding Christian living. For the present give no thought to the sub-title: “Back to ‘The Faith’ ”. In due time the meaning and force of it will become apparent to you. Just now let it be as if the main title stood alone, for we are to begin by considering the question: What is it that constitutes THE LIFE THAT PLEASES GOD? Surely this is a vital question.
You wonder who I am and why I am writing. Just a few paragraphs regarding this, and then the way will be clear for the message that is on my heart. Twenty years ago I was a mechanical engineer, manufacturing machinery in a small town in the Eastern part of the United States. When 11 years of age I had been truly “born again”, and at the time just mentioned, a score of years after this experience, was an officer in the church of one of the larger denominations. At that time there came to the church a new pastor, a man of God, whose message was a call to the yielding of the life. God began to speak to my heart in a new way. I realized that there was possible a fellowship with Him far beyond anything that had been my experience. My heart was hungry. Reaching out an honest hand I said, Father, I want to know Thee better; I am ready to follow wherever Thou dost lead, no matter what the cost may be from an earthly standpoint.
I began to be conscious that God’s hand had closed upon mine, and soon knew that there was to be a journey. After 2 years, the first steps of the way were clear. I sold my business, my mother sold the home where we had lived and with the whole family, consisting then of mother, wife and three children, I removed to a distant city. There I entered upon a course in one of the well-known Bible Schools. At that time there was no vision as to God’s ultimate purpose for me; I was merely following the way as far as it had been revealed. In due time my course was completed, and then for a year I remained with the school, undertaking a special work that had been planned. The next 3 years were given to an experimental engineering work that had been left unfinished at the time my business was sold. This proved an utter failure, but several months before the end came there was an unmistakable call from God, which I at once understood as a call to the ministry.
How my heart rejoiced! I had longed to enter the ministry of my own denomination, and it seemed that this desire was to be realized. When the engineering work was finished, I became a candidate for the ministry and entered upon the supplementary preparation that was found to be necessary. Then came up an important point in the practice of my church, that had troubled me for years. After months of study this became an impassable wall, and I withdrew as a candidate. It was with the deepest regret that my resignation was sent in. By that time a number of circumstances seemed to indicate that God’s place for me was in another of the great denominations, and eagerly I turned toward it. But there again, there was difficulty with a point of practice, and once more I was compelled to abandon a bright hope. The only possibility that then seemed to remain was that of a ministry in some non-denominational or interdenominational church where the points of practice that had troubled me would not stand in the way. I preached in one such church on trial, but was not called. Then arose a difficulty in connection with the matter of ordination, and this third door was closed.
I knew not which way to turn. God had called me - of that I was certain - yet every door had closed in my face. There were two months of the blackest darkness, when the heavens were brass and Satan tormented me and well nigh drove me to distraction. But one Sunday morning God spoke through a chosen servant, and the light broke through. It was as if He had said to me, I did call you, my child, but not to the regular ministry, as you have supposed: now that you have learned that this is not my way for you, sit down at my feet and let me give you the message that I want you to bear. I at once swept aside my books, and with only my English Bibles, my Greek Testament, and my Concordance, waited before God that He might speak to me.
And speak He did. Early in this little story there was mention of the hungry heart with which I started out. My first thought was that the hunger would be completely satisfied in the Bible School. But in this there was disappointment. Blessed indeed were the years spent in the school - I could not have gotten along without them - yet when the course was finished my vision and experience were by no means what I had hoped for. Then came the supplementary study for the ministry, and again hope was bright. But the books of theology were disappointing, for though they taught me much, they lift me with my longing heart. At last, however, when God had brought me to the place at His feet, He Himself began to speak, as I have said. Of course it was a speaking by the Holy Spirit through the written Word. Things that I had not seen before began to shine out from the familiar pages, Oh!, how my heart rejoiced! I was finding that which I had sought for years, and had almost given up hope of attaining. Little by little the truth came through. Month after month and year after year the experience continued, until there was a shout in my heart, for it was satisfied. Satisfied by reason of the vision and experience that had already come, and in assurance that the days ahead would yield fresh treasures for the enriching of heart and life.
When the years of blessing had only commenced, my heart reached out to others. I began to write, and sought opportunity to speak to individuals and groups of friends. But one way and another, in clear leadings, God told me to keep still, and He kept all my writings within the room where they originated. He knew that I was not ready to write or speak. At first it was difficult for me to understand God in this and I was inclined to be rebellious, but at length there was willingness that He should have His way. Then came a reaction. I told God that I would not go out until He thrust me out, and that I would send no writing until there was the clearest assurance that this was His will. At last God did thrust me out. Quite unexpectedly He brought me back to the little town where I had lived, and gave me opportunity to tell the home folks what was in my heart. And now I have full assurance that the time had come when I may write to those whom I cannot address face to face.
How shall I begin? Perhaps by suggesting a question closely related to the greater question that is to engage our attention. If many years of Christian experience are already yours, you approach this subject of Christian living with a certain complacency. I must say something to jar a little and start you toward a proper alertness. From the very first you must realize, in some measure at least, that these letters come to you with an important, and it may be, a revolutionizing message.
You and I have lived as Christians, with some degree of faithfulness to more or less definite ideals. Consciousness of failure there has always been, but this we have associated almost wholly with the thought of shortcoming. If our hearts have been saddened, it has been because of the great distance between ideals and attainment. But has it occurred to us that where we have seen one cause of failure, there may have been two? What if the ideals themselves have been wrong? If this be true, then everything falls. For the moment let us put aside the matter of attainment, that we may think about the ideals. Here is the question that I would have you consider with me at this very beginning of our study together: Have we been careless regarding our ideals of Christian living?
If I say to you that God’s Word is the only source from which true Christian ideals can come, you will at once assent. And then if I suggest that your own ideals are of course those of the Word, you will reply in the same way and as promptly. We seem to be getting on famously together. But wait a moment! Do you know that your ideals are those which God gives you in the Scripture? Never mind about the Word of assurance that is on your tongue; another voice is demanding our attention.
This voice announces an indictment, in two counts, that must be faced at the judgment seat of Christ. It thus declares the first count: Having had in your very hands a divine Revelation to give you God’s own standard for Christian living, and having been possessed of the indwelling Spirit of God to teach you the Book, you have neglected both Teacher and Book and sought elsewhere for ideals.
These words leave us startled, and perhaps with a desire to demand the credentials of this unknown speaker. At any rate, there is the immediate impulse to wave the indictment aside with the plea of “not guilty”. But let us be cautious; it may be that the voice from somewhere has been sent to set us thinking.
As a matter of fact, is it true that the lives we have lived as Christians have been the result of our own careful searching of the Word? Come with me in a bit of reminiscence. There was a time when you and I became Christians, and first sought ideals for a new life. We knew that these were to be found in God’s Word, but being without real Bible knowledge of our own, we followed a natural line of least resistance and let folks be our teachers. Light came to us from three sources: the general Christian life of the community taught us many things; then we were led more particularly by the practice of the church of our choice; and there was especially eagerness as we learned from that smaller group of people within the church whose manner of living appealed to us most strongly. No matter now where these early ideals originated; we have said that they came to us almost wholly from the accident of environment.
It may be that in getting our very first ideals in this way, we did the best we could. But is it not true that the ideals of later years have been almost exactly those with which we started? And is this because there has been careful verification from the Word? Or has the comfort of being and doing like other folks brought on a state of anesthesia as far as these things are concerned? Does honesty compel us to trace even these later ideals to the old original source - environment?
Here the voice interrupts to read the second count of the indictment: Having had a divine Guide and Teacher, you have been superficial and careless in so far as you HAVE come directly to this source for your ideals.
Again we are left in amazement, but soon collect our thoughts and speak to each other in words like these: Have not our pastors faithfully opened the divine Book to us? Have we not studied it for ourselves as best we could? Have we not diligently sought the precepts of the Word, that our actions might be in accord with them?
The voice has heard, and it speaks again. Yes, is the reply, but you yourselves suggest the difficulty. As far as the subject of Christian living is concerned, both preaching and study have been a search after precepts - such a search as might have been suitable for God’s ancient people, Israel, living under altogether different conditions. You seem not to have learned that in the age of the indwelling Spirit, God’s ideals are revealed primarily in principles rather than precepts. You of this age have been equipped for going down into the mine, and the truth for you has been planted in the depths. God has been waiting to lead you along the great hidden veins of truth, that He might bring you to your very own place. But you have wasted the precious days, as you have walked about on the surface, gathering only the occasional nuggets of truth that your eyes have chanced to fall upon.
The voice is silent, but it has said enough. Never mind where it came from, if it helps us to get into our hearts this question: Have we been careless regarding our ideals of Christian living? Thus far there has been no thought of a real answer to the question. No proof of anything has been submitted. Perhaps your present ideals are right. Even environment might be a true teacher. My whole purpose has been to start you on a serious consideration of these ideals, for you cannot afford to do otherwise than come to the point where you know that you are true to the Word. In an earthly court ignorance excuses no one - not even one who has been without a real opportunity to know the law of the court. How then shall we escape - we who have God’s guide book in our very hands, and the divine Teacher in our hearts - if we stand before the Heavenly tribunal and error is found?
One thing more to set you thinking, and I am done for the present. In what has been said about Christian ideals, the thought of judgment has been moving along in and undercurrent. I must bring this to the surface, that you may get your attention more particularly upon it.
As you and I have looked forward to the meeting in the air when our Lord comes again, it has been our habit to think only of the sweet release for ourselves, and very shortly for the whole groaning world; of the joy in the Master’s presence, and the thousand blessings that we cannot even imagine. But this is not the whole truth as God has written it for us. There is a verse that speak of “the judgement seat of Christ” - (2 Cor.5:10), and another that tells of an occasion when “the fire shall try every man’s work” (1 Cor.3:13). if you will read these verses in your Bible, along with the context and parallel passages, you will see that they have reference to Christians; and it will be apparent that they are to find their fulfillment at the time of the Lord’s coming. You and I are travelling rapidly onward, but not toward an occasion characterized solely by joyous greetings and felicitous congratulations and the distribution of honor. We are on the way to judgement, and the fire.
Do you think that I would rob you of your brightest hope and plunge you into a cloud of gloomy foreboding. It is possible to wait with rejoicing for the trumpet sound, even though God’s full programme is clearly seen. Nor must you feel that I suggest frowning judgment as an only reason for interest in the life that pleases God. I would that we might be so possessed by the new life within us, that there would always be the desire to please God just because of love for Him. If the emphasis of the moment falls upon judgment, it indicates nothing more than a desire to restore neglected truth to its rightful place, or to supplement the appeal of love with God’s own warning voice.
I sound this note because my own heart has been deeply stirred by it. God has startled me by throwing new light upon familiar portions of His Word, and I am now sufficiently impressed by this fact of judgment to make a statement that may startle you. With this I close. As you read the seemingly exaggerated statement, remember that every Word has been carefully weighed. I ask you to meditate upon it until the force of it grips you. Here it is: If acceptance of salvation in Christ is VITAL to unsaved men, INFINITELY MORE is preparation for the judgment seat of Christ VITAL to Christians.
A note to our readers:
There are various views regarding the much discussed subjects of “Judgment” and “Rapture”. We ourselves have an open mind, and the doctrines given in these books (other than the Truth of dependence on God) are left to the prayerful study of each individual - LAWRIE PUBLICATIONS.
|THE INSUFFICIENCY OF COMMON IDEALS|
B efore turning to the Word for its positive message regarding preparation for the judgment seat of Christ, we must think of some of the things that are supposed to constitute preparedness. I have questioned the ideals that are commonly accepted among Christians, and you are impatient for proof of my right to do it. Perhaps I will temporarily satisfy your demand and increase your eagerness for the real proof that is to come, if I suggest in a more particular way the insufficiency of some of these ideals.
The plan will be to think first of a notion that is deeply rooted in the hearts of many; and then to consider the whole body of Christians in four representative classes, the divisions being suggested by some of the reasons that might be given for a feeling of readiness to stand before the Lord.
The Standard of Uprightness and Service
Among Christians there is quite general confusion regarding important truths. It is known that the life lived after acceptance of Christ has some kind of a bearing upon the future. But there is little certainty regarding either the standard by which the earthly life is to be measured, or the manner in which the Eternal life is to be affected by it. At this point people seem to be easily satisfied. There is a general willingness to wait for knowledge concerning the bearing of the present upon the future. And in so far as attention is given to the matter of the Christian’s judgment, the belief is common that lives will then be measured by a mere standard of general uprightness and unselfish service for others, with no thought of the manner in which these qualities are produced.
Three Reasons. There are perhaps, three principal reasons for belief in this standard of uprightness and service.
First, is a perfectly natural following of human reasoning. In this world men are justified before their fellows by what they themselves do, and the mind, left to itself, inevitably concludes that justification before God must rest upon this same simple basis.
Second, is the example of Jesus. He lived a life of uprightness and unselfish service, and told men to follow Him. A life, then, to please God, must be characterized by these qualities that were so prominent in the life of Jesus.
Third, is the fact that Scripture seems to set forth this simple standard with the utmost clearness. In the Old Testament and the New are passages which tell us that it is the man of upright life who stands in favor with God (see, for example, Ezek.18:5-9; Rom.2:6-11; Acts 10:34,35). And seemingly aligned with these is the familiar New Testament passage that pictures judgment, and makes the matter of unselfish service the deciding factor (see Matt.25:31-46).
The First Reason Examined. We are now to see whether this standard is as firmly established as it appears to be. The first support must be thrown out at once, for human reasoning, no matter how useful it may be in this world, has no value whatever when the relation between God and men is in question. Revelation alone can tell us God’s thoughts, and right here Revelation has a Word for us.
Speaking of God, it says: “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight” (Rom.3:20, R.V.). There might seem to be here an exclusive reference to the law of Moses, and a message, therefore, for Jews only. But reading in the Greek, we find, not “the works of the law”, but merely “works of law”. The reference is not exclusively to a particular law. The verse, as the Spirit gave it, has a message that touches first the law of Moses, then reaches right on past it to law-living in general. “Works of law” are the works of a man who labors to fashion his life in accordance with law held before him. Here is the very uprightness and service that is in the minds of those who hold this favorite standard, and the Scripture says that it will not justify in the sight of God. Human reasoning is contradicted.
A Word about the Second Reason. Concerning the example of Jesus and the call to follow Him, let me say that if following Jesus means mere imitation of the qualities that appear in His life, then here is a strong support for this favorite standard of men. But if the command of our Lord means something quite beyond this - as indeed it does - then this second prop falls. For the present I must ask you to take my Word for the statement that has been emphasized. In due time you will have the Word of someone else for it.
The Weakness of the Third Reason. This remaining support has an appearance of firmness. But through familiarity with dispensational truth and thoroughness in the study of the Scripture we shall recognize it as a broken reed.
No Christian, taught in the Word, will find hope for the day of judgment in such Old Testament passages as the one mentioned (Ezek.18:5-9). These were given to men of a former day, who lived before the coming of the Redeemer and the accomplishment of the work that has opened new possibilities to men and put a new responsibility upon them.
In due time we shall see that the “patient continuance in well doing” of the second passage (Rom.2:6-11) is something altogether different from the man-made uprightness and service that is now in mind.
The other New Testament passage that was noted in this group (Acts 10:34,35) will be correctly understood when we read the whole story of Cornelius as it is found in this chapter, together with the version of it that is given in the following chapter. Note especially verses 13 and 14 of Chapter 11. This man was not justified before God by his own righteousness. He was “accepted” merely in the sense that God saw the attitude of his heart, and heard his prayer, and made a way for him to find the One in whose life and righteousness he might be justified.
There remains the New Testament picture of judgment that was mentioned (Matt.25:31-46). By searching the Scripture we shall find that it is not God’s purpose to judge the world upon a single occasion, when all men will be called before Him. There are successive steps in the plan of judgment, in which different groups are concerned, and each time God’s one standard is cast to suit the circumstances. The judgment scene described by Matthew is one in which you and I do not figure at all. The passage brings no Word concerning the manner in which men of the present day are to be judged.
A standard Not to be Trusted. Beautiful indeed is a life of uprightness and unselfish service for others. May men and women with this vision multiply, for the dry and thirsty earth is sadly in need of such channels of blessing. Shame on the Christian who lives any other kind of life! But let none think to stand before the judgment seat of Christ, with confidence of hearing the approving Word, merely because the characteristics now in mind have been predominant in the life.
Four Classes of Christians
With the thought of outstanding characteristics in mind we now separate Christians into four companies as follows: Christians, active Christians, soul-winning Christians, watching Christians. As we consider these classes, one after the other, the fact of the insufficiency of common ideals will continue to grow upon you.
Christians: As we now use this term, it stands, not for the whole body, but for a part. In the case of large number of Christians, it seems impossible to find a Word that can be used truly to add any pleasing information regarding them. They are apparently content to go before their Lord with the most elementary preparation.
These Christians go to church with some degree of regularity, and attend the prayer meeting occasionally. In the social meetings of the church, they feel very much at home. It is their habit to pray and read the Bible frequently in a perfunctory way, but public prayer or testimony usually seems quite out of the question. Their lives are clean, and they are respected in the community. In their early experience there may have been a zeal for the Lord, but somehow this has been lost and they have made their way to lower levels.
In this class will be found men and women of all ages but in reality those included are nothing more than babies or children. Try to feed them on the strong meat of the Word, and they will not be able to assimilate it. They will perhaps tell us that they are not particularly interested in the subject of the Lord’s coming: those who do study it cannot agree, and why should they bother their heads about it? They are Christians, and if the Lord does come, as some folks say He will, it will be all right anyway.
Those who are willing to stake so much on the bare fact that they are Christians, are sadly in need of a new vision. Oh that their eyes might be opened to discern the difference between the crisis that made them Christians, and the process that is their opportunity for preparation to meet God! The danger of this multitude of careless ones is really so appealing, that I can do no more than suggest it at this point. It will be better for the truth concerning them to grow upon as we proceed together. Let us hasten to the consideration of our second class.
Active Christians. This is a day of activity. There is a feverish spirit in the world, and it has gotten into the church. Multitudes of Christians feel that they must always be doing something. They banquet each other, and discuss, and plan, and rush here and there to hold committee meetings, until they hardly have time to eat and sleep. Thus they try to please God.
For a year my work kept me in close contact with the young people of several denominations in a great city. I visited them in their churches, attended their rallies, and came into personal touch with many of them. If ever I saw activity, it was during that year. Those Christians were rushing about with all the tremendous energy of their fresh young lives, in an attempt to serve the Lord. But how my heart was burdened for them! I watched their constant search for new plans as a panacea for the almost inevitable ennui, and wished they might find real satisfaction in true service for their Lord.
Of course I do not mean to suggest that activity is displeasing to God. But I do not feel that early lessons of this Christian age have been forgotten by many of the present day who live in confidence because of their diligence. Their activities will not bear scrutiny. The first Christians went forth to their work with a clear idea of what they were to do, for their Lord had just said to them, “Ye shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8, R.V.). To them this meant direct testimony concerning Jesus as the Redeemer of men, and the Saviour sufficient for every need. Do modern activities bear this same witness for Jesus? Answer the question honestly. A work may be good in itself and a real blessing to multitudes, but unless there sounds forth from it the very message that always came from the activities of the Apostles, it is not the work that Jesus told His followers to do.
Let us now probe a little further into present day activities. The early disciples had lived in close contact with Jesus throughout the days of His ministry, yet in commissioning them to witness for Him, He said: Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Again He said: “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8). The first lesson that Jesus taught regarding Christian activity was, that God’s work can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit Himself, working in and through the human instrument. I would have these strenuous Christians of our day consider their activities and tell us how many of them will stand up under this test. In their work such that those who do not even profess to be Christians can stand shoulder to shoulder with them and perhaps accomplish more than they themselves are able to do? If this be true, let them recognize that they are working without the Holy Spirit, and are engaged in something which does not count with God at all. Never mind what their fellows think of their work: the important thing for them to know is what God thinks about it.
Mere activity, then is not to be trusted as in indication of preparedness for the meeting with God. Multitudes are classed as active Christians, who do not know the Lord at all. In the year that I spent with the young people, my heart was saddened continually by association with the many upon whom there seemed to be not the least mark of a new life. There is activity that is spontaneous and that pleases God: it is found wherever the Holy Spirit has real possession of a life. But this is altogether different from the fleshy activity now in mind, which, to so many, is the basis of a false hope for the future.
Soul-winning Christians. I certainly have no thought of making even the least disparaging remark about soul-winning. This is a most important work of the church, and to a greater or less extent the business and privilege of every individual Christian. But just now it is the meeting at the judgment seat of Christ that looms large before us, and if I speak of soul-winning, my purpose is to have you think of it in its relation to that meeting.
Those now before us seem to have a strong case. The indwelling Spirit of God has been allowed possession of them to such an extent that they are often voices for the Spirit’s appeal. With a bundle of sheaves, they hope to go confidently into the presence of their Lord. Their vision of the judgment scene is a perfectly natural one, and it seems to come from the Scripture. But with the whole New Testament throwing its light upon this scene, we must recognize that these Christians are mistaking a related circumstance for the basic thing.
My reason for this statement will be increasingly apparent as we proceed, but even now we must turn to the Scripture for a moment. Paul, in writing to the Philippians, his own children in the faith, used these words: “Brethren, dearly Beloved and longed for, my joy and crown” (Phil.4:1). Here is a connection between souls won, and crown. Some time before, Paul had said to the Thessalonians, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at His coming?” (1 Thessalonians.2:19, R.V.). This seems stronger yet, as the coming of Christ, souls won, and crown, are brought together in the same passage. Surely, the reward of that day is to be for the soul-winner.
But note the last passage again. It says, “crown of glorying”. The truth is that Paul is not thinking of something to be received. He has in mind the hope of standing in the blessed presence of His Lord with the Thessalonians and the Philippians whom he has led to Him, and his heart goes out in anticipation. Oh! That will be Glory! That will be his very crown of glorying! His thought is not of a crown to be received from the hand of the Lord, but of something that, so far as the judgment occasion is concerned, is only a related circumstance.
In another passage (2 Tim.4:6-8) Paul looks forward to the “crown of righteousness” laid up for him from the day of his death, that is to be given to him by the Lord at His appearing. Here Paul’s thought is of the crown that he expects to receive. In this crown will be indicated the measure of his preparedness to meet the Lord, and the basic thing which has determined it is not souls won, at all, but something entirely different, as the passage states, and as we shall see.
Remember, not one Word in disparagement of the work of soul-winning. Many a Christian, along with Paul, may anticipate a very crown of glorying in the presence of the Lord and in company with souls won. There is recognition of a certain preparedness in the members of the group now before us. But this fact notwithstanding, they cannot claim exemption when the warning call to preparation is sounded. With the others, who with far less reason have thought themselves prepared, they must remain to listen.
Watching Christians. Assurance and enthusiasm are outstanding characteristics of those who belong to this last group that we consider. Christians of this class rejoice in a feeling of readiness for the meeting with the Lord, and there is a Hallelujah in their hearts, and often upon their lips, at any mention of the coming. They know that this is the next great event on God’s program for the church, and are deeply interested as they study prophecy and watch the signs of the times. With eager eyes they scan the newspapers, that no foregleam of the morning star may escape them. They hasten to devour the contents of new books on the second coming that are favorable reviewed in their numerous magazines. Pre-millennial conferences are their special delight. Even as their physical and mental capacities seem to be wholly absorbed in daily duties, they have eyes that are toward the heavens.
But one might watch at the front window while the dinner was burning up in the kitchen. Or so intent might the watcher be as to forget the dinner entirely. In either case there would be a disgraced hostess and a disappointed guest. The simple meeting of two friends may bring joy to their hearts, but the visitor cannot help being pleased as the odor of a savory meal is detected. This illustration is a bit clumsy, and of this present world, but perhaps it will help us to remember that watching does not necessarily mean preparation.
The coming of the Lord is one of the highly important truths of the Word. I would be glad if the conferences concerning it were multiplied, and wish that every Christian home might be supplied with true pre-millennial literature. We should indeed study the coming, and meditate upon it, and talk about it, and pray regarding it. But Oh! The cunning of Satan! When he cannot keep us away from this truth, he gets us to make it an end in itself. This, the Word does not do. It says, “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself”. (1 John 3:3), and makes second coming truth only a means to an end.
If I should say that God’s people of this present day are nowhere commanded to watch for their Lord, perhaps I would stir you too strongly. You may be yourself a watching Christian, and passages might occur to you which we cannot now consider. So for the present, and to be more than fair, we will assume that whenever the New Testament says “watch” it means watch for the coming, and that all the passages about watching are for you and me. Starting with these assumptions, let me call attention to the fact that any command to watch is generally accompanied by a command to do something else. Jesus closed His teaching in the 24th Chapter of Matthew with a twofold exhortation: “Watch”, and “Be ..... ready” (see verses 42-51). Immediately following are the parables of the ten virgins and the talents, that paint large and upon the same canvas these two commands that must not be separated. Paul exhorts Christians to “watch and be sober ... putting on the breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thessalonians.5:6-8). In another place we read of a call that will one day ring out: “Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments” (Rev.16:15). Those who watch with eager expectancy for the Lord and feel therefore assured of a glad welcome from Him, need, at least, to beware lest they find themselves on one side of a conjunction with something on the other side that they know little or nothing about.
Do you find it hard to believe that Christians can live according to standards such as these, and yet lose the opportunity that this life affords? Let me say to you without the least hesitation, that one might be all of these things - upright, a server of others, a Christian, an active Christian, a soul-winning Christian, a watching Christian - and meet with appalling disappointment at the judgment seat of Christ.
Never mind if you are far from being convinced of the truth of this statement. There has been no thought of thorough discussion and finality in what has been said about these common ideals. My one purpose thus far has been to rouse you from your complacency, and I shall be fully satisfied if the result of this lingering upon the threshold has been the stirring of an interest in the question, What is the life that pleases God?
|THE QUESTION ANSWERED:
THE OVERWHELMING REVELATION OF
THE LIFE THAT PLEASES GOD
|THE LIFE DEFINED|
If I have sought to raise a question regarding the nature of the life that pleases God, it has been with no thought of keeping you in suspense. At this very beginning of our real study together, it is my purpose to lead you directly to an answer. I shall hope, in due time, to convince you that it is a true one.
The Scope of our Study. As we reach out to know God’s thought in the matter that is now before us, a first impression may be that we shall have to set rather narrow limits for our study. The fact of dispensations has already been suggested. By this we mean that the whole history of the race may be divided into periods, in each of which God deals with men according to some particular plan. As no two of these plans are alike, there would seem to be necessity for care in “rightly dividing the Word of truth” if we would learn God’s standard for the day in which we live.
But the Bible is full of paradoxes, and one of them is that the God who deals with men of different ages in widely varying ways is a God who never changes. This seeming contradiction finds explanation in the fact that all these plans of God are merely different embodiments of the same standard. So the scope of our study may be broad, after all. We may go back of the dispensational curtain, and seek to discover this one unchanging standard for the life that pleases God.
How we are to Begin. For the present we shall need nothing more than a general knowledge of the Scripture. You and I are already familiar with the biographical sketches of the Bible, which touch all the dispensations and tell us of men who pleased God. It will be our plan to consider these sketches together, with a purpose of noting certain outstanding facts which are prominent in all of them. Thus we shall make our way beyond the dispensational curtain, and be able to discover the great secret of God’s delight in men.
A First Step toward a Definition. By comparing the lives of these men of the Bible with lives common in our own experience, we shall come to recognize two essential points of difference. In the first place, the world is familiar with lives in which act or achievement is the result of human effort; but in the Bible we find men working with a power not their own. A second difference appears in the matter of control: men usually do their own planning, but here were lives directed by the mind of another. To speak more plainly, these men of the Scripture were distinguished from ordinary creatures of their kind by the fact that God was in them as the controlling will and the working force. If we turn this truth around and look at it from the manward side, what do we see? That these men willed and wrought in dependence upon God. Here is a basic truth of lives that pleased God. With it we are ready for a first statement of the definition that is to be the answer to our question. It is this: The life that pleases God is the life that is lived in dependence upon Him.
A New Word in the Definition. With an additional fact, we shall make substantial progress. These men of the Bible like others of their kind, possessed wills of their own and could do for themselves. Some of them were men of marked ability, who would naturally have come to a place of honour among their fellows. If God became the will and arm of men such as these, there must have been a voluntary abandonment of self and choice of God, for God never compels His creatures to obey Him. This fact is so evident that it seems almost unnecessary to note it. But the answer to our question will not be complete without it. With the new truth added, the definition now becomes: The life that pleases God is the life that is lived in voluntary dependence upon Him.
The Definition in Its Final Form. There is a third truth that comes to us from this comparison of lives. As men plan and accomplish in their own strength, they attain their own ends and call attention to themselves. Through their work a degree of honor and distinction is conferred upon them. Speaking in Bible language, we would say that they are ‘glorified’ by what they do. But when men abandon self and become mere instruments in the hands of God, it is God’s work that is accomplished, and God is glorified. These men of the Bible glorified God through the lives that they lived. This is a truth of great importance, and one that should be constantly before us in a world that has become the scene of a conflict, where there is always a question as to whether God or someone else shall be glorified. Let me then suggest the following as a final form for our definition: The Life that pleases God is the life that glorifies God through voluntary dependence upon Him.
An important Truth Recognized. Though our definition is now complete, let us continue a moment more along the line that we have been following. In a real study of life, it is not alone the external aspect that is important; there is an inner spring that invites investigation. If these men of the Bible were willing to forego privileges to which most men cling tenaciously, it is clear that some marked change had taken place within them. The truth regarding this might be expressed in different ways, but I think we cannot do better than to say that within the hearts of these men SELF had been dethroned and God had been lifted up, or exalted. Here is a great secret of the life that pleases God. The incorporation of this truth would render our definition cumbersome, so we omit it. But let not the omission cause us to forget it.
The Essential Truth, and Light from it. We shall learn many things as the Scripture unfolds to us this life that pleases God. But when all has been said, it will be recognized that the essential truth is expressed in the single sentence that has become our definition.
Perhaps you are ready, even now, for a better understanding of what I said in closing the last chapter. Let us go back for a moment. Do you see that one might be upright, a server of others, a Christian, an active Christian, a watching Christian, and yet live with self exalted in the heart, and without real dependence upon God at all? To a certain extent the soul-winning Christian does exalt God and must depend upon Him, but do you see, again, that there might be utter failure in every realm except one? If this definition of ours is a true one, my statement was not so unreasonable, after all.
Something to be Carefully Noted. There is an exceedingly important point that I wish to emphasize. This was brought out as we began to build our definition. Do not forget that dependence upon God means two things: dependence upon His will; and dependence upon His arm. Christians talk a great deal about God’s will in their lives, and have atleast a theoretical knowledge of what this means; but we do not hear so much about letting God be the real worker also. Lay hold now of this fact that dependence has a double significance. The study that is to follow will fasten it in your mind and heart.
Four Qualities of the Definition. In closing, let me suggest four things that are true of the definition that has been formulated. In the first place, it is broad; reaching far beyond the realm of our present study. Angels as well as men, receive this same answer as they inquire of God concerning the life that pleases Him. Notwithstanding this great breadth, it is satisfying, by reason of its definiteness and clearness. Furthermore, it is complete; for God requires nothing more and nothing less in any life that is to give Him pleasure. Last of all, it is Scriptural. Thus far there has been only the most general reference to the Word, but from now on we shall continue to find direct evidence that our definition is true.
|THE OLD TESTAMENT RECORD|
|ADAM - CAIN AND ABEL - ENOCH - NOAH|
In commenting upon the definition of the life that pleases God, as it was formulated in a preceding chapter, I said that it was Scriptural. My statement has been confirmed by our study of the life of David, but this is only a beginning. The matter now engaging our attention is of vital importance, and if this definition is to find full acceptance we must be assured that it comes to us, not merely from some particular portion of the Scripture, but from the whole of it. We must undertake a systematic study of the Word, with the one purpose of learning its message regarding the life that pleases God. This plan, we shall carry through in a series of chapters, beginning with the one upon which we are now entering. The study will occupy us for some time.
The first step, which we shall take in 3 chapters, is to be a survey of the Old Testament. This will lay before us God’s ideal for human life as it is revealed by four millenniums of His dealings with the race. Our plan will be to sweep across the first 25 centuries in a study of the eight or ten individuals whom Scripture has placed as stepping-stones. The rest of the way we will follow the story of Israel’s national life, as it unveils to us the mind of God. As in our study of the life of David, we shall be left to gather from the narrative the lessons that it teaches. To a large extent the Bible presents its truth through examples rather than by direct statement of precepts of principles, and this is especially true of the Book of Genesis, from which more than half of our information is to come in this first step.
Once more I must remind you that the force and value of what I am saying will be lost, unless the Scripture text is carefully read, and then read again as each reference is reached. To get a real grasp of Chapters 5,6, and 7, you should be freshly familiar with the whole Book of Genesis and atleast the first 23 Chapters of Exodus. Beyond this point, it will be sufficient if you read the passages to which your attention is particularly called. This study of the Scripture itself is especially important in connection with your reading of these chapters on the Old Testament. Circumstances compel me to crowd a great deal into a few words, and unless you know the Scripture you will not get my vision clearly.
The Importance of This First Testimony. In human experience there have been two great beginnings: the first, when God started the race in Adam; the second, when He began a line of new creatures in “the last Adam”, Christ Jesus. If God has an ideal for human life, we may expect to find it revealed with especial clearness at these starting points. It behoves us, then, in studying the life-story of Adam, to listen carefully for its testimony.
A True Vision Possible. How eagerly we scan the few lines that throw scattering rays of light into the dimness beyond the Cherubim and the flaming sword (Gen.1 to 3). We long for a clearer vision of this “first man Adam”. Just now our interest centers in the heart truth of his life story and perhaps it seems impossible for us to know it with certainty. If you and I were to read what is written and then make our own analyses, we might not agree at all. Furthermore, our conclusions would be of no real value, for both of us might be wrong. But we need not give up hope; God has not left us in uncertainty. By a little searching of the Scripture we shall discover His own viewpoint, and come to know just what it was that His heart longed for in this first representative man.
A First Fact - One Easily Misunderstood. We shall begin by noting an important fact, and becoming clear about it. God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion” (Gen.1:26). As we have read these words, perhaps it has been our thought that God gave the world into the hands of man that he might gain dominion over it. Such an understanding may have come, in some measure, from the direct command of God. “Replenish the earth, and subdue it”. (Gen.1:28). the emphasized Word seems to indicate a purpose of God that man should bring the world into subjection. With this vision, we might see in present day advances an accelerated progress toward the gaining of the dominion that was promised.
Misunderstanding Removed. Regarding this interpretation of the Scripture, there are three things to be said:
First, in concluding that God promised dominion and that man has been gaining it ever since, we reason in forgetfulness of the fact that between man’s first life and his present life there stands a great catastrophe (see Gen.3). The truth is that all of man’s progress is an attempt to regain a dominion that has been lost.
Second, the sense in which man was to “subdue” the earth, or bring it into subjection, is clearly seen when we read carefully. The whole command was “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Gen.1:28). The reference is not to a gradual gaining of a dominion that had been promised, but to a gradual spreading of a dominion that had been given. God’s blessing was too great for Adam alone, but as men increased upon the earth they would be able to “tread it down”: this is the root meaning of the Word translated “subdue”. Thus would be fully realized, the blessing that God had fully given at the very start.
Third, we must be consistent in our reading of this creation chapter, which is characterized throughout by a certain notable sequence. It begins, “And God said: Let there be light: and there was light”. As it continues, we read repeatedly, “And God said ... and it was so”. If it concludes by telling us that God said of men, “Let them have dominion”, we know that they had dominion.
This first important truth is, that in his original life, man had dominion in the earth.
A Second Fact. We read, “the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen.2:16,17). There was now a condition, and a choice to be made. The second truth is, that God submitted man to a test.
A Question. Now arises a question: If God gave man dominion in the earth, and then submitted him to a test, what was His real purpose? Here is the question, reaching to the very heart of this life-story, that may seem too hard for us. But the answer is within reach: we shall find it in a clear Word of Scripture.
The Question Answered. As there have been two beginnings, there have been two Adams. We have already noted that Christ Jesus is spoken of as “the last Adam” (see 1 Cor.15:45). The first Adam failed, and grieved God: the last Adam succeeded, and pleased God. The first Adam had dominion in the earth: to the second Adam, dominion has been promised, and in due time, He will have fully gained this dominion.
Do we desire to know just what it was that the heart of God longed for in this “first man Adam”? See the light as it shines forth from the prophetic Word of Scripture, telling what “the last Adam” will do when His dominion is complete: “And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor.15:28). When the second Adam, who pleases God, has dominion, He will at once lay it down at the Father’s feet. What then, was God’s purpose when He gave the first Adam dominion, and subjected him to a test? Nothing less than that it might be known whether he would claim his dominion for himself, or bring it back to lay it down at the feet of Him who gave it.
Think for a moment of the story of the test to which Adam was subjected (see Gen.2 & 3). A simple test, it was, but sufficient for every purpose. The forbidden tree was a part of Adam’s dominion: he could do with it as he chose. By eating of it, after what God had said, he claimed his dominion for himself. Had he not eaten of it, there would have been indicated a willingness to “be subject unto Him that put all things under him”, and a purpose to lay his dominion at God’s feet, that in it He might be Supreme.
Praise God for the clear Word of Scripture at this important point - a Word that opens to us His very heart!
A Point in Adam’s Testimony Examined. The outstanding Word from this life-story is that God is pleased as men are “subject” unto Him. This is just another way of saying that dependence is the thing in which He delights. And the degree of the dependence is clearly indicated. God wants to be “all in all”; which means, all in everything. Here is the very dependence that we have been talking about, as we have said that God must be both will and arm.
A Word That Is Essential. There is another important truth in Adam’s testimony. I ask you to note it carefully.
God was pleased with Adam’s original life: he was part and parcel of a creation which was pronounced “very good”. But something remained before God’s seal could be permanently affixed. The question must be answered as to what kind of a life man would live when given his freedom. How clear it is that if God is to be pleased, His creatures must be dependent upon Him by their own choice. You see now the importance of the world ‘voluntary’ that I have insisted upon keeping in the foreground.
A man, today, might be shut away from the world in such a way that he could not do otherwise than depend upon God; or he might be in the company of those with a vision of dependence, and ashamed not to be one with them. But all the time he might be chafing, and longing to get back to his accustomed ways. Such a dependence would not please God.
Adam’s Testimony in Its Fullness. The two words that the life-story of Adam presses upon us are ‘voluntary’ and ‘dependence’. With these alone we could write a statement of his testimony regarding the life that pleases God. But here, as always, voluntary dependence has a certain effect as far as God is concerned. The light that has come from the Word, as it has turned our thought for a moment to “the last Adam”, clearly reveals God’s purpose to be glorified. To make the statement complete, we must write in words already familiar: The life that pleases God is the life that glorifies God through voluntary dependence upon Him.
Final Words from This First Life-story. We must not leave this interesting life-story until we have noted two things that round out its testimony concerning dependence.
The murderer, seeking to kill, locates the heart of his victim and drives for it. Surely Satan, the father of murderers was not less intelligent than his children. See how he worked. “Ye shall be as God” was the climax of his cunning speech as he sought to destroy man (Gen.3:5, R.V.). To be as God, would mean Independence of Him. Do you see that dependence was the very thing at which Satan struck? If it was, then it must have been the vital spot in God’s plan for man.
But if Satan hates dependence and strikes at it, God insists upon it. Fallen Adam planned and wrought for himself, with materials at his hand, as he attempted to hide his nakedness from God (see Gen.3:7): but the girdle of leaves had to give way to a coat of God’s own making, from materials that cost a life (se Gen.3:21). In this typical sequence was revealed man’s utter inability to please God by his own efforts, and Word went forth that if the divine smile was to be seen again, there must be a journey by way of the bleeding body of a vicarious sacrifice to the place of dependence.
CAIN AND ABEL
No Substitute for the Life of Dependence. The first brothers born into the world (Gen.4:1-24) became typical of the two great divisions of the whole race. Abel recognized the truth that his parents had learned at such great cost, and in seeking to please God followed the divine plan. Cain, blind to the truth, stubbornly insisted upon self-sufficiency as a ground of acceptance.
To really understand the life attitude of Cain, we must follow the Scripture as it points to the full bloom in Lamech, “the seventh from Adam” in his line. The sons of Lamech wrought great changes in their world (verses 20-22), and the father was especially pleased with the new possibilities that opened through the use of copper and iron. We can almost see him as he brandishes the “cutting instrument” (verse 22, R.V.) held proudly in his hand, while he sings to his wives the first “armorer’s song”: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man for wounding me, and a young man for bruising me: if Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and seven-fold” (verses 23,24, R.V.). Hear him boast of ability to fight his own battles, and of man’s newly gained power to insure by native wit and brawn a vengeance many fold greater than the vengeance of God Himself. This is the very fullness of self-confidence and Independence of God - the spirit of old father Cain, come to maturity. To such an attitude, God “had not respect”.
Perhaps we have wondered why God paused in the Scripture to give us words of Lamech that appear to be of little or no consequence. If so, our wonder is now at an end. The very fact that God did this, is a powerful testimony concerning the importance of dependence. By pausing to flash a strong light upon this thing that contrasts sharply with it, He throws it into bold relief.
If Adam’s record brings the Word that man pleases God by voluntary dependence upon Him, this story of Cain and Abel follows to point out the impossibility of acceptance by any other way.
The Complement of the Preceding Life-story. Enoch (Gen.5:21-24) was “ the seventh from Adam” in the line of Seth, who indeed raised up children to the brother that had been slain. In this godly man, parallel with Lamech of the other line, is seen the life attitude of Abel fully developed.
Of Enoch, it was said that he “walked with God”. How clearly and beautifully the thought of dependence is expressed by these words. He who walks with another leaves his own path to go the way of the other: the friend lays out the journey, and he merely follows as he is led. Because Enoch abandoned his own way and gave to God the hand of a loving and trusting child, he “hath had witness borne to him, that before his translation he had been well-pleasing unto God” (Heb.11:5, R.V.). God delighted in Enoch to such an extent that He talked with him of His plans for the future as they walked together (see Jude 14,15) and one day took him from earth to Heaven by a beautiful road, which has been travelled, so far as we know, by only two men in all the race.
Here in this fifth chapter of Genesis is a second notable pause. As the life-stories of men are put before us in a routine way, that of Enoch is an outstanding exception. We shall be inexcusable indeed, if we fail to note God’s evident purpose to teach vital truth by contrasting the lives of Lamech and Enoch, each of whom was “the seventh from Adam” in his own line. Elsewhere the Scripture definitely turns our eyes to this point in the genealogies (see Jude 14).
This glimpse of the life of Enoch completes the story of Cain and Abel, and throws the emphasis back on the positive side. Enoch pleased God because he lived in voluntary dependence upon Him.
God’s Will and Arm, Again. Scripture next pauses to tell us of Noah (Gen.6 to 9) who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord”. He too “walked with God” (Gen.6:9), and the story of his later life unfolds the meaning of such a statement. God made all the plans, and he merely did as he was told. By the arm of God, he was able to accomplish the impossible. A great boat was successfully completed and made strong and tight, thousands of years before the day of such undertakings. And then, on a trackless ocean and for more than a year, that strange and heterogeneous family was housed and fed. Truly “the Lord shut him in”, and “remembered Noah and every living thing ... that was with him in the Ark” (Gen.7:16; 8:1).
God was both mind and strength for this wonderful man, who believed and obeyed, though he became thereby the laughing-stock of the whole world. As we read this life-story and meditate upon it, we cannot but hear its clear testimony regarding the life of dependence. And voluntary dependence too, for it was Noah’s choice of this way, perhaps centuries before, that made him the one man whom God could use when the crisis came.
|THE OLD TESTAMENT RECORD|
ABRAHAM - ISAAC - JACOB - JOSEPH
Impracticable, it may seem to study the lives of four men such as these in a single brief chapter. Impossible it will be, to gain a really satisfying and lasting vision of these lives, unless you remember what I have said about the careful reading of the Scripture.
The life-story of Abraham (Gen.12 to 25) is a wonderful record of God’s dealing with a man. There was only one thing that God desired to teach, but three great lessons were necessary before He was satisfied with His pupil.
The First Lesson. Our acquaintance with Abram begins as we read the message that flashed to his ear in Chaldea: Abram, leave home and friends and work and plans: I have a plan for thee in a land that I will show thee, where I will work mightily through thee (se Gen.12:1-3). This first lesson in dependence was a hard one, but God had not overestimated His man. There was the perfect heart that had stopped God’s roving eyes at the city of Ur (see 2 Chron.16:9), “so Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him”. (Gen.12:4).
The Second Lesson. This was harder yet. God promised a son to Abram and Sarai, and then led them by a long road to the place of dependence upon Him. After 10 years of waiting, their faltering trust gave way, and they attempted to assist God by a plan of their own (see Gen.16). Again the years dragged by until 14 more had been numbered, and self-sufficient Abram and Sarai had become helpless Abraham and Sarah (see Gen.17:5,15,17). They now “laughed” when the promise was mentioned (see Gen.17:17; 18:12), but not because of unbelief (see Rom.4:18-21; Heb.11:11). At last God gave the son by His Almighty power, and a 25 year term in the school of dependence was completed.
The Third Lesson. This was altogether different from the others, and the hardest of all. Abraham was given the strange command to take this son in whom were wrapped up all his hopes, and “offer him for a burnt offering” (see Gen.22). There was no Word or remonstrance or thought of delay; every step was unfalteringly taken, and not until Abraham had raised the knife to slay Isaac did God stay his hand. The man who had received this son through supernatural working had come to understand God thoroughly, and now believed that God would “raise him up, even from the dead” (Heb.11:19), in order to keep His promise.
What Abraham Learned. Three lessons had been completed in God’s school, and at last the Master was able to say concerning His pupil, “Now I know” (Gen.22:12). In every lesson the object had been the same. What Abraham learned was merely this truth that has been growing upon us - that God desires in man absolute dependence upon Him, both for the plan of the life and the working of the plan. In this life-story God’s one Word to men rings out even more clearly than in the biographies that have preceded it.
Estimating Isaac at His True Value. To a large extent the Bible interweaves its record concerning Isaac with the life-stories of his father and his son. Only a single chapter is given directly to him. These things, however, do not warrant the conclusion that Isaac was important only as a link in a chain, or that God was not pleased with him. God made Himself known to Israel as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”; and, said He, “this is my name forever” (Ex.3:15). When God thus identifies Himself with a man, that one is not to be lightly esteemed.
One Secret of Isaac’s Greatness. We shall know Isaac better when we recognize that he had a tender and responsive nature. This fact is brought out in the account of events following his mother’s death. After 3 years he still mourned continually for the one that had been lost, and was not comforted until there was a new “mother in Israel” (see Gen.24:63,67). The same story that reveals this nature tells us that it was given over to God. In this hour of need others turned to new companionships of their own choosing, but Isaac sought fellowship with God (see Gen.24:63). He seems to have had no thought of earthly balm for his wounded heart until God Himself sent it. With such a nature, yielded to God, great things were possible.
Isaac’s Meekness. A distinguishing characteristic of this life was meekness. Even in earlier days the trait was apparent. Without special adeptness at reading between the lines, one may readily understand the full meaning of Isaac’s first recorded words: “Where is the Lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen.22:7). For three days the lad had been thinking about his father’s strange action, and now as they climbed to the top of Moriah with the most important element of a sacrifice still lacking, he suspected the truth. Shortly afterward he knew it; and though every natural instinct of that normal boy must have been in rebellion, there was not the least hint of remonstrance or hesitation. He was willing that God should have His way.
The single glimpse that we have of the life of Isaac by itself (see Gen.26) is evidently given for the purpose of sketching his character. Here again we find meekness. When the servants of Abimelech took from Isaac the precious wells, he merely moved and kept on digging until the interference was stopped. In thus submitting to God’s will, Isaac exhibited the very concentrated essence of meekness. The world has little patience with such men, and says they will soon lose everything they have. God’s thought is indicated by the words of Jesus: “the meek .... shall inherit the earth” (Matt.5:5). Isaac’s prosperity in the land of Abimelech was an earnest of the great inheritance that would one day be his.
God’s Arm in Isaac. In the record of the sojourn with Abimelech we read not only of Isaac’s submission to God’s will, but also of his reliance upon God’s arm. If he “waxed great, and grew more and more until he became very great” (Gen.26:13, R.V.), it was not by his own efforts. God alone could give the hundred fold yield in a year of famine, and “possessions of flocks and possessions of herds” in a strange land. The voluntary element in this dependence is more especially apparent in the incident of the wells. Not once was Isaac’s arm raised in defense of his rights. When the matter was settled he was able to say, “The Lord hath made room for us” (Gen.26:22).
Let us never forget the incident of the wells. Your rights and mine will be trodden upon repeatedly, and we shall have many opportunities to please God by being Isaac’s.
Failure That Emphasizes the Truth. Here was a life submitted to God from boyhood. It was not perfect, but the divine Biographer had little to write against it. There wa a road to Isaac’s heart by way of his stomach (see Gen.25:28), and it was the cause of his one recorded attempt to substitute his own will for that of God (see Gen.27). Because he loved Esau, he thought to give him the blessing of the Firstborn, although he well knew that God had said, “The elder shall serve the younger (Gen.25:23). But as with David, this descent into the valley only emphasizes the height of the plateau upon which the life was lived. Isaac’s reliance upon the will and arm of God was altogether exceptional, and his testimony regarding the life that pleases God is quite unique.
A Man Greatly Misunderstood. The life-story of Jacob (Gen.25 to 49) is, to a considerable extent, a record of his evil doings. For this reason a superficial reader is liable to leave it with the impression that there is not much to be said in his favor. If you or I have reached such a conclusion, it needs to be corrected. We must begin our study of Jacob by giving him all the credit that belongs to him.
A Scripture Statement, and Its Real Significance. In our King James Version we find these words: “Jacob was a plain man” (Gen.25:27). Surely there is nothing in such a statement to especially claim our attention: no wonder that we have given it only a passing thought. But turn to the Revised Version. We now read, “Jacob was a quiet man” and still there is nothing very startling. Read again, with the marginal rendering, and the passage becomes, “Jacob was a harmless man”. You begin to wonder why I have brought you here to learn about Jacob. He is set before us as a man who was plain, quiet and harmless. Such adjectives might be properly used in describing an average lunatic, but they are not very satisfying when applied to Jacob. What is the trouble? Look at the margin of the Revised Version again: it says, “Heb., perfect”. Here is the truth.
By a little investigation we shall find that the word applied to Jacob is exactly the same word that is used when it is said of Job that he was “a perfect .... man”. There can be no question as to what God said. Do you see, then, what the trouble is? The translators of both Versions were familiar with the story of Jacob’s life, and though they saw the true significance of what God said, they were either unwilling or thought it unwise to put His description of Jacob into the text. So each comparison in its turn, chased madly after a Word that could be substituted, and the revisers were frank enough to confirm the truth.
In this passage, you and I need to get back to God’s statement that Jacob was a perfect man. There need be no difficulty in understanding it. The estimate here is that of One who “looketh on the heart”. Remember that David was a man of perfect heart, though there were many mistakes in his life.
The Truth about Jacob. We are now ready for a recognition of Jacob’s true position, that will prepare us for an understanding of God’s dealing with him. There is before us the clear testimony that Jacob’s heart was turned Godward. We are not studying a case of willful rebellion against God; Jacob loved God, and desired to please Him. His life followed the line of the divine will. If the birthright and the blessing were objects of eager desire (see Gen.25:29-34; Gen.27), had it not been known from the early days that these things were in God’s thought for him? (See Gen.25:22,23). In his testimony regarding events of his life, God’s arm was recognized as the real working force (see Gen.31:5,7,9). There was the true theoretical vision of dependence in its twofold aspect. But here was the trouble: Jacob could not get away from the idea that he must scheme and strive with all his might in order to ASSIST God. This was the difficulty which made it necessary for God to deal with Jacob.
Twenty Years in God’s School. At this point we begin a study of Jacob’s experience as God took him in hand. A supposed sojourn of “a few days” with his uncle Laban, developed into a twenty year course of training (see Gen.27:43 to 31:18, and note also 31:41). Jacob has allowed to reap as he had sown; yet God patiently and tenderly watched over him and dealt graciously with him. There was much to rebuke self-importance and access the fact of divine sufficiency; but even in the twenty years of this period, when God gave direct assurance of His power put forth on Jacob’s behalf, human wit and cleverness were as conspicuous as ever.
Jacob Fails under God’s Test. At the end of this course while on the way home, there was special test and opportunity. The one thing that Jacob feared was the meeting with Esau (see Gen.27:41), and Word finally came that his Brother was on the road with four hundred men ready before, Jacob had seen God working alone, as Laban was turned back from a purpose to do him harm (see Gen.31:24,42). then “the angels of God met him”, and he knew that he was surrounded by God’s host (see Gen.32:1,2). Yet the test proved that he was the same old Jacob, for he planned and worked desperately, as if his assistance was of the utmost importance.
God Adopts Severe Measures. Throughout the years God had forbearingly labored with his dull pupil, but now He arose with rod in hand. Just before the meeting with Esau came the experience at the ford Jabbok (see Gen.32:24-32), which we must study closely. There in the darkness, “there wrestled a man with him”. As to the identity of the stranger who had sprung upon him, Jacob was wholly uninformed. In all probability, he believed himself engaged in a life and death struggle with one of Esau’s men.
Who won, in the Wrestling? A casual reading of the story gives the idea that in this wrestling Jacob held his own and even prevailed. Does it not say that “when he (the man) saw that he prevailed not against him (Jacob), he touched the hollow of his thigh”? (Gen.32:25). Apparently so. But we must read more carefully. As the story continues, it is revealed that this “man” was not man at all, but God. Can it be, then, that God sought to prevail in the physical conflict, but could not? Or does He wait to see how things develop, and then make His plans accordingly? Impossible! Remembering that in this circumstance a lesson was being taught, and that Jacob was the learner, let us read again: “And when he (Jacob) saw that he prevailed not against him (the man), he (the man) touched the hollow of his thigh”. It was “the man” and not Jacob, who won in this contest.
How God Taught Jacob His Lesson. We know already the lesson that Jacob needed to learn. God appeared in the form of a man and wrestled with him in a conflict that held him at the limit of his strength, until he was exhausted and his mind was filled with the thought of his own weakness. When the point was reached where he saw the failure and uselessness of human strength, God showed him divine power by an instantaneous touch, and in such a way that the memory of the double lesson was with him to the last day of his life.
Jacob’s Victory, and Its Full Significance. Jacob at once recognized his assailant, and ceasing to struggle, merely clung to him for a blessing. Then came the new name, given, as God said to Jacob, because “thou hast striven with God and with men and hast prevailed” (Gen.32:28, R.V.). Carelessly read, this might make it appear, again, that Jacob was the winner in the wrestling. But the word “men” cannot by any possibility refer to the “man” who attacked Jacob in the darkness. Furthermore, does God give new names to commemorate deeds that have been performed by human might? A little study will reveal the true meaning of God’s words. Jacob’s heart was “greatly afraid and distressed” on account of Esau and the four hundred “men” who were on the way to meet him. So God, said to him, In recognizing your broken strength and merely clinging to me or the blessing, you have striven “with God” and prevailed, what is more, you have striven “with men” and prevailed; already you have met Esau and his band, and have conquered them.
To a casual reader, the story gives the impression that Jacob won his brother by his own strategy (see Gen.32:13-21). But it was here at Jabbok that the victory was really gained. Without the flocks and herds that had been sent on ahead, the meeting of Esau and Jacob would have been just as peaceable; for God had now been given a free hand.
Jacob’s Life-story in a Nutshell. In this incident at Jabbok was wrapped up the whole story of Jacob’s life. The past was there: Jacob’s wrestlings with men had really been wrestlings with God, and he had not known it. That moment then present was the occasion of a transformation; a passing from one manner of life into another. There was also a revelation of the future: “he that supplants” (Gen.25:26, R.V., marginal note) was henceforth to be “he who striveth with God” (Gen.32:28, R.V., marginal note).
The Later Years. After a little more stumbling, the new name, Israel was confirmed to Jacob as he set up the altar at Bethel (see Gen.35:6-10), and for nearly fifty years he lived in true submission to God, who planned and wrought wonderfully for him.
The Lesson. In teaching Jacob, God has also given us a lesson - one of the clearest that we have yet had. May it not be necessary for you or me to be broken, as Jacob was, in order that we may be brought to the life of real dependence.
An Old Friend. Probably Joseph is as widely known as many of the Old Testament characters. The story of his life reads like a fairy tale (Gen.37 to 50). In childhood we listened to it with open-mouthed wonder, and begged to hear it again. Through the study of later years our familiarity with it has increased, and now we are back for a moment with a desire to know its deeper truth. There will be nothing to impede our search, for this life is an open book.
Jacob as a Schoolmaster. At the time when Jacob was taught the great lesson of real dependence, he had eleven sons between the ages of twelve and six years. The twelfth son was born shortly afterward. We can imagine that these boys never tired of the weird story of the wrestling at Jabbok, and that Jacob was always ready to repeat it. As it was told, and told again, how the man of new vision must have sought to impress upon these plastic lives the truth that he had learned at such great cost.
His Best Scholar Learns to Exalt God. Joseph seems to have been the most apt pupil in this school. The beginning of his life record reveals him as a boy 17 years old with a keen sense of right and wrong, and recognition of responsibility for the doing of the right (see Gen.37:2). Under the circumstances of the case, this is only another way of saying that he had already set himself to follow the Lord’s will. As the story of his life progresses, this determination becomes increasingly apparent, and we are impressed with the fact of God’s complete possession of his heart.
Never were these characteristics more clearly revealed than by an incident of the slave days in the house of Potiphar. A terrible temptation was hurled at Joseph, but he yielded not nor flinched. Was it mere pride in an unsullied character, or nothing more than a high sense of honor, that kept him inviolate? Listen to his words: “How then, can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen.39:9). The crucible disclosed a heart in which God was truly exalted.
Living by the Arm of God. From the beginning to the end of Joseph’s strange career, it was God’s arm that wrought. Equally apparent is the fact that this divine enabling was always recognized and gladly acknowledged. When the magicians of Egypt had failed, Pharoah sent for Joseph and said to him, “I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it” (Gen.41:15). How the man who had languished in a prison for years, must have been tempted to take for himself just a little of the Glory that the human heart craves. But hear the words of this true man of God: “It is not in me; God shall give Pharoah an answer of Peace”. In all things Joseph saw the divine arm. His sons were recognized as actual gifts from the hand of God (see Gen.41:50-52). The message to Jacob from the throne of Egypt was not, Thy son Joseph has become great; but, “God hath made me Lord of all Egypt”. (Gen.45:9). The son of self-important Jacob had indeed been well taught by truly dependent Israel.
An Exceptional Witness. In Joseph the meekness of his grandfather, Isaac, is seen again, and this time there seems to be not a single blot to mar the record. Perhaps the spirit of the man is never more clearly seen than in utterance that came from his lips when he had travelled the road of life for 56 years: “Am I in the place of God?” (Gen.50:19). Here is the secret of Joseph’s life: he knew God’s place, and his own place, and never confused these two things. With God exalted to the throne of his life, Joseph followed along where he was led and did as he was told, always recognizing himself as merely a human instrument for the hand of God to use. This old story that we have heard so long and known so well, sends out with exceptional clearness the call to exaltation of God and the life of entire dependence upon Him.
|THE OLD TESTAMENT RECORD|
MOSES - ISRAEL
The Last of these men of old time, in the line that we are now following, became under God, the builder of a nation. We begin this final stage of our Old Testament journey with a study of the man, and shall conclude with a study of the nation.
A “Friend” of God. (Ex.2 to Deuteronomy 34) lived in unique fellowship with God. The record is that “the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex.33:11). Through 40 years this intimacy continued, but twice that time had passed before it was possible. Both the training and experience, in such a remarkable life, must have something to tell us of the way in which God may be pleased.
The First Forty Years. Throughout his boyhood, youth and early manhood, Moses lived at the court of Pharoah, where he became “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). By the end of this period he was aware of God’s purpose to make him the deliverer of his people (Acts 7:25), and thought himself fully equipped for the work. He was wise and strong and fearless: what more could God ask? The spirit of the man is seen in his first attempts to assist his Hebrew brethren (see Ex.2:11-14), and in his defence of the shepherdesses of Midian (see Ex.2:16,17). There was much to admire in Moses the Egyptian, but evidently God was far from pleased with him. Scripture tells us that he was mighty in words and in deeds (Acts 7:22). This analysis of early days reveals the two components of his self-sufficiency - ability to plan, and ability to work. In the light of knowledge already gained concerning God’s ideal, is it not clear indeed that this chosen instrument was as yet only rough hewn?
The Second Forty Years. A flight to Midian, brought about by Moses’ rashness (see Ex.2:15), became under God’s hand, the matriculation at a new school. Little is revealed concerning this second forty year period of training, but at the end of the course the university graduate was keeping sheep (see Ex.3:1). Many of God’s outstanding men have come from the sheepfold. Perhaps there is something about the life with these helpless creatures, so utterly dependent upon their Shepherd, that drives home to the heart of a man the truth regarding his place and God’s place. Both David and Joseph were graduates of this school, which brought about a marvellous transformation in Moses. The training in Egypt produced a man “mighty .... in deeds”, who “supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them” (Acts 7:25). After the years in Midian, he said, “Who am I, .... that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex.3:11). Once “mighty in words”, he was now “slow of speech and of a slow tongue (Ex.4:10). The old physical and mental self-confidence had been driven out, and Moses even lacked courage to be the mere instrument and mouthpiece of another. In his fear, he finally asked God to put the dreaded burden upon other shoulders, and for this “the anger of the Lord was kindled” against him (Ex.4:13,14).
The Last Forty Years. When the trembling heart had been steadied by the promise of a human associate, the wave of shrinking passed and Moses trusted himself to God for the life to which he had been called. Then followed that remarkable forty years of fellowship with God, during which Moses led the children of Israel from Egypt to the promised land.
The story of this period is familiar. In it Moses appears as nothing more than an instrument controlled by the mind and the arm of God. So well is his character understood that the phrase “meek as Moses” has become a byword. Scripture pauses to point expressly to the fact that he was “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num.12:3). Once he failed to keep his true place, and God’s estimate of this offense is revealed by the severity of the punishment for it. The real sin at Meribah-Kadesh (see Num.20:1-13; Deuteronomy 32:48-52) was exaltation of self, in which the two elements, will and arm, stand out clearly. The command was “Speak ye unto the rock”, but Moses followed his own will and “smote the rock”. What is more, he said, “Must we fetch you water out of this rock?” And he smote it twice. Moses was sadly out of his place. But how plainly this sin, with the result of it, reveals the secret of his acceptance with God.
A Threefold Testimony. Each period of Moses’ life has a distinct voice of its own. His testimony is clear indeed. The first forty years bears witness that God is not seeking men with ability to plan and strength to accomplish for themselves.
The second forty years reveal the astonishing truth that extreme humility and self-surrender are not sufficient by themselves to please God. The divine anger can wax hot, even in the presence of qualities such as these.
The last forty years brings the testimony that when a surrendered life steps confidently out upon God, there is joy in Heaven, wonderful fellowship between God and man, and progress that knows no impossibilities.
The New Truth. Let us not fail to grasp the great truth that Moses teaches us concerning the matter of dependence. Strictly speaking, this is not new truth at all, for it has been taught by lives already considered. But where others have left us to find it if we would, Moses presses it upon us, and perhaps gives us our first real vision of it.
The truth is this: that dependence upon God does not mean surrender, and then mere passivity. The one who puts aside his own will and strength, must go on from this to lay hold of God by faith.
When Moses met God, after the sojourn in Midian, he had stepped down from the throne of his life, and his own arm was no longer lifted. But he left the throne vacant and remained inactive, until God became angry with him. God never seats Himself on a vacant throne, nor does He insist upon putting forth His strength in and through a man. It was not until Moses seated God upon the throne, and gave himself over as an instrument willing and ready and waiting to be used, that God began to take pleasure in him.
A Change of Plan. God’s earliest revelation of His ideal for life is largely wrapped up in the few fragmentary biographies that have been studied. As the life of Moses is reached, a new plan unfolds, for the story of this life merges into the history of Israel. It becomes God’s purpose to continue His revelation through a chosen nation, and the rest of the Old Testament is the story of His dealings with this people. If, therefore, we now turn from a study of individuals to the study of a nation, our transition will be not only convenient, but natural and scriptural.
An Advantage of the New Plan. It may be that the lesson which has been coming from the Book of Genesis has lost some of its force, by reason of a feeling that these men whom we studied were exceptional, in that they were uniquely circumstanced and called to special service. Perhaps, then it will be well if we have an opportunity to recognize that this ideal which we have found is not for the few, but for the many. We are now to learn from God’s dealings with a nation, and whatever may have been His desire for this multitude must have been His thought for every individual.
What We Learn from the Name ‘Israel’. The very name ‘Israel’ has something to tell us. This was the new name given to Jacob when he had learned the great lesson of his life, and from him it was transmitted to the nation of which he was the father. The name means “he who striveth with God” (see Gen.32:28, R.V., margin), and as we recall the wrestling at the ford Jabbok, the full import of it is apparent. On that night Jacob strove successfully with God, as he abandoned all efforts of his own and did no more than cling to God for the blessing. In that same experience he strove with his dreaded earthly enemies, and prevailed before he had actually met them in the flesh. If the name that was given to Jacob because of these circumstances is also applied to the nation descended from him, it indicates at once God’s ideal for the nation. We know in advance the lesson that God will endeavour to teach his people.
How God Began to Teach Israel. In Egypt, the twelve families of the sons of Jacob were securely welded by a common burden, and then, through Moses, God organized this mass into a nation and revealed to it His ideal. The teaching began in Egypt, as the plagues were sent upon Pharoah and his people. Primarily, the purpose of these wonders was the deliverance of God’s chosen ones from slavery, that they might depart to a promised land of their own. But the plagues also spoke with a loud voice to the children of Israel regarding the divine power, and God’s absolute control of all things as He undertakes for His people. They were God’s first lessons for Israel.
Further Teaching along the Way. Through the early days of the journey from Egypt to Canaan, God continued this particular line of teaching, as He spoke repeatedly of His sufficiency in the presence of human need. At the Red Sea (see Ex.14), at Marah (see Ex.15:23-26), in the wilderness of Sin (see Ex.16), at Meribah (see Ex.17:1-7), and at Rephidim (see Ex.17:8-16), there came messages from Him which could not be misunderstood.
God’s Call to Israel. After the days of preparation, Sinai was reached, and then God’s direct call to His people sounded forth (see Ex.19:1-6). When they declared their readiness to obey His voice and keep His covenant, the divine will was revealed in the law that was given, and God’s arm was bared before them to be their strength, as “an Angel” was presented, of whom God said, “My name is in Him” (Ex.23:20,21). The condition imposed was submission to God’s will, and dependence upon His arm. For every transgression of the law they were to be held strictly accountable, and there would be no forgiveness when the arm of flesh should rise in rebellion against the Angel. Israel had been trained for, and called to, the life that glorifies God through voluntary dependence upon Him.
Israel’s Failure under Test. When the travelers finally camped at the border of their land, there came the real test (see Numb.13 & 14). In the presence of “giants” that must be overcome, their eyes were turned away from God and the Angel to themselves and their own weakness, and this notwithstanding God’s express assurance of the Angel’ sufficiency for this very crisis (see Ex.23:23). “We be not able”, said they, “to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we”.
The Judgement That Followed. The sin of turning back to self cost these people of Israel 40 years of weary wilderness wandering, and by it they lost their promised land. God had said of the Angel, “Be not rebellious against Him, for He will not pardon your transgression” (Ex.23:21, R.V., with marginal note), and they found that there was indeed nothing but judgment for those who fail to accept God’s power, given to be their deliverance.
Early Years in the Promised Land. When the years of wandering had passed and all the offenders were punished, the two faithful ones went into the land with the new generation that had arisen (see Num.14:30,31). The story of the conquest under Joshua, and that of the days of the Judges is quite familiar. When the people, by their submission, rendered it possible for God to work, they were wonderfully prospered and delivered. But disobedience to God’s will, or any turning to an arm other than His, always threw them down.
An Ominous Blunder. Bewildered by the pomp of this world, the Israelites blundered appalingly as they rejected their Heavenly ruler and demanded a visible King (see 1 Sam.8). God was grieved, but though this was a blow toward the very heart of His plan for Israel, His patience did not fail. The new system laid burdens upon the people which might have been avoided, but whenever a godly King led them in the way of dependence there was still the old blessing and prosperity.
A Long Story, Briefly Told. The course of the Kingdom was upward, especially under the man after God’s own heart, and under Solomon the son, in his days of humble submission. But then came a fall, and finally a crash when the Kingdom was split in two.
From the very first, the Northern people, led by their Kings, were flagrantly disobedient, as they turned away from God’s will and arm to delight themselves in heathen ways and boldly seek guidance and strength from idols. God was long-suffering, and repeatedly sent His prophets with the word of appeal and warning, but when nearly a score of Kings had, without exception, flaunted their idolatry in His face, judgment fell.
The people of the Southern Kingdom had better leaders, and much of the time their lives approximated God’s ideal, but at last they too went into captivity. From Babylon a remnant returned, and though God’s salt had well nigh “lost its savor”, there remained a people in the land until the Redeemer came, and Israel had fulfilled her greatest mission to the world.
Israel’s Final Rebellion. The mention of the Redeemer has carried us over into the New Testament. Here we must remain for a moment, that the testimony of Israel’s last blunder may be added, as we now learn from this ancient people.
First, let me set before you, in orderly arrangement, an important sequence of events that we have noted in Israel’s early history. In the wilderness, as (1) the border of the land was approached, there was (2) a call from God to the making of a covenant, followed by (3) a favorable response on the part of Israel. Then came (4) a wonderful manifestation of God as He drew near to His people (see Ex.19:16-25), and (5) an unfolding of the covenant. He (5a) made known His will, which the people of Israel were to accept and follow, and (5b) manifested His arm, which they were to receive as their own. Shortly afterward, when time had been given for consideration of the covenant, there came (6) a decision day, which resulted in (7) a rebellion, and (8) a judgment. Sad indeed has been this story of lost opportunity that we have read in the paragraphs preceding. But it was only the rehearsal of something far more terrible and disastrous that was to follow.
Note now a remarkable recurrence of this same sequence of events in the New Testament story. After centuries had rolled by, there was a sudden cry from the wilderness, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” This meant that Israel was again (1) nearing the border of the promised land - the land of final promise, to which every Jewish eye had been turned. The messenger who brought the word, also sounded (2) a call from God to “repent” and obey Him, and to this (3) the people of Israel responded favourably as they went forth in multitudes to be baptized of John. Then came (4) the final and matchless manifestation of God in Jesus Christ, and (5) an altogether new unfolding of God’s covenant. The Heavenly messenger (5a) made remarkably clear, both the divine will and the manner in which it was to be accepted and followed and (5b) through Him was manifested the divine arm as it was to be received by God’s people. When years had passed and the covenant had been well considered, there was once more (6) a decision day, and the result was again (7) a rebellion, and (8) a judgment. This time the rejection of the divine Messenger culminated in His crucifixion. The earlier rebellion cost the people of Israel their land, and brought upon them forty years of wilderness wandering. Through this last rebellion they lost their land in a far deeper sense, and by reason of it they have languished in a wilderness experience as the forty year periods have followed one after another, until a fiftieth - the longed for “jubilee” period (note Lev.25) - is almost at hand.
Let your mind dwell for a time upon these two rebellions. Recognize first God’s clear calls to the life of dependence, that preceded them; and then read His thoughts regarding the importance of this life, as you note the terrible judgments that He visited upon His people when they refused to live it.
Israel’ Coming Blessedness, and the Secret of It. In the latter pages of the Book that tells the life-story of this people, we climb to a vantage - ground, from which to view the future through the long-range glasses of the prophets. On the distant horizon there is a haze that obscures much of the detail, but the general features of the landscape may be readily distinguished.
By the use of one of these glasses we shall soon discover a motto, which shines out with the clearness of an electric signboard: “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). As we keep the glass upon this, bearing in mind other things that we see in studying the distance, the fullness of its meaning breaks upon us. In the original language, the last word is not limited to the narrower moral sense in which we commonly use the word “righteousness”. It includes this sense, of course, but it also reaches out to take in every detail of a rightness that we have noted - a rightness that is apparent from the immediate context of this phrase, and that may be seen even more clearly through the glass of another prophet (see Isaiah 11). We are looking into a day when the people of Israel, with God’s smile upon them, will be the cynosure of all eyes; and the name by which they will delight to call their Beloved ruler, reveals the secret of their prosperity. Out there in the future we see this people lifted up and flourishing wondrously, because of having at last received “the Lord” as their “rightness” - their very “all in all”.
It is no new truth that we have come upon, but only the story that is now familiar. Once more, with the years of wandering past, the faithful ones of Israel will arise to join a new generation in entering the land. And there they will dwell in blessedness, a people in whom God delights, because they will have learned to live the life that glorifies God through voluntary dependence upon Him.
We have now covered the whole of the Old Testament by a plan that has enabled us to be thorough without dwelling too long upon it. Profitable indeed, would be a study of the many other lives that are portrayed, and a more detailed following of the story of Israel’s national life. But these can be subjects for individual consideration. I am sure you have seen enough to convince you that the Old Testament has just one word concerning the life that pleases God. With this point gained, the purpose of our study thus far has been attained.
It may be that you find this story of the old days interesting, but fail to be impressed with the directness of its bearing upon your life and mine. Notwithstanding what was said in an earlier chapter about God’s unchanging ideal for life, perhaps the fact of dispensations still looms large, so that it stands between yourself and the fullness of blessing that might come from this portion of the Word. I am sorry indeed if you have difficulty of this nature. But even if you do, we may pass on without concern about it. Put aside all thought of a direct personal relation to the distant past, if you feel that you must. But lay hold of this fact: that throughout the first four thousand years of human history, the call was always to the life that glorifies God through voluntary dependence upon Him.. That was the life that pleased the God of the Old Testament.
|A WORD AFTERWARD|
If this volume has proved a blessing to you, we hope you will loan it, and thus give it opportunity to carry blessing to others. If loaned and not returned in due time, then request of us another copy. As you have noted from the Table of Contents, it is the plan to progress along this same line in the books that are to follow. If you desire to continue the study, you should have in your possession a copy of this volume, and the others as they reach you.
We shall be glad if you would write us of acquaintances who might be interested in following this line of study. It will give us real joy to send them books.
THE SECOND VOLUME OF THE SERIES WILL BE SENT ONLY TO THOSE WHO ASK FOR IT. If you have read the first volume and do not wish to continue the study, your silence will be sufficient to tell us. But if you are interested, the simplest request will bring the second volume to you. This second volume will clarify your vision of the Lord Jesus, give you a new rejoicing in Him, and lead you on toward a new experience of Him. We hope you will want it.
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