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by A. B. Simpson.
The subject of this little book is the greatest in the world. "I have lost everything," said a sorrowing woman to us once, "everything but G.o.d." That one phrase seemed to loom like a whole heaven and eclipse all that she had lost, for if she had G.o.d she had lost nothing and had gained everything.
The greatest need of our age and of every age, the greatest need of every human heart, is to know the resources and sufficiency of G.o.d.
The apostle paints it like a rainbow across a black and stormy sky. After describing the lost and helpless condition of sinful men, dead in trespa.s.ses and sin, children of wrath, subjects of the prince of the powers of the air, he suddenly pauses and utters the two words, "But G.o.d," --"who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins,"
The same apostle again gives us the key to the true life of holiness in his short but striking ant.i.thesis, "Not I, but Christ lives in me."
The words stand out as the key to G.o.d's providence as we read the story of Peter's imprisonment and his approaching doom, while Herod waited on the morrow to bring him forth to execution. Then follows that simple, significant sentence, "But prayer was made without ceasing unto G.o.d for him." And that little "but" was mightier than Herod's wrath or the Pharisee's hate or the bars and bolts of the prison.
Awfully and solemnly the same words loom up again in the parable of the fool who had staked all on this world's wealth and fortune, consulting everybody else about his pleasures and his plans until suddenly, like the cold gates of death and judgment, we come against the terrible sentence, "But G.o.d said unto him, you fool."
The pages that follow are an attempt to unfold the all-sufficiency and infinite variety of the resources of G.o.d.
THE G.o.d OF ELIJAH.
"Where is the Lord G.o.d of Elijah?" (2 Kings 2:14.) Always have I been glad that Elisha did not say, "Where is Elijah?" He had lost his friend and spiritual father, and if ever a sense of bereavement could have been justified, it would have been in the case of Elisha. But his only thought was of the Master and not of the servant. Back of all Elijah's marvelous life and work, he saw only the infinite resources of that G.o.d that could be as much to him as He had been to his master. The deep cry of his soul was not for mere human sympathy, but for the manifestation of G.o.d's supernatural power and presence. The deep need of Elisha's life was the same deep need that every earnest soul feels today --the revelation of G.o.d, the realization of the supernatural.
Elisha was thinking of all that G.o.d had been to Elijah and was longing that He might be the same to him. Oh, that our hearts might have the same longing to know the G.o.d of Elijah, the G.o.d of Elisha!
THE G.o.d OF ELIJAH.
How much Jehovah had been to the servant whom He had just translated into His glorious presence! Suddenly called from the solitude of Gilead, this strange, lonely man, whose life and character had been molded amid the majesty of nature alone with his G.o.d, was immediately projected into the very midst of an age of unparalleled wickedness and a scene of G.o.dless culture and luxury. The beautiful capital of the kingdom of Israel was under the dominion of the wicked and worthless Ahab, whose conduct and scepter were wholly under the control of that infamous woman whose name has ever since stood as the symbol of every kind of evil --Jezebel, the Sidonian idolatress.
Single-handed, the prophet of Gilead was called upon to fight the combined forces of a wicked court, a mercenary and idolatrous priesthood, and a whole people turned from the way of G.o.dliness and sunk either in sin or heartless apathy. The situation would have been a desperate one but for the resources of G.o.d. With a faith that never faltered but once, the mighty prophet met the emergency and claimed the fulness of his divine equipment. At his word the heavens were sealed and the harvest withered, and at the same word the treasures of rain were opened and the earth gave forth her fruit. The ravens of the wilderness ministered unto him, and the widow's little store of meal and oil was multiplied until the months of famine had gone.
At last all Israel was gathered at his command for a mighty convocation on Mount Carmel, and there he stood alone to vindicate the name of Jehovah against the wicked Jezebel, the angry Ahab, the eight hundred prophets of Baal and the myriads of Israel. The altar was prepared; the trenches were dug and filled with water; the vain attempts of the heathen prophets were repeated again and again and only met with ignominious failure. Then the final, momentous test was uttered and the power of Omnipotence summoned to send the heavenly fire. Quick as the lightning flash it fell, devouring the sacrifices, licking up the floods that filled the trenches, and blazing before the wondering gaze of the a.s.sembled myriads until their intense emotion could hold back no longer, and thundering from that mighty court the shout went up, echoing from Carmel's rocky vales, "The Lord, he is the G.o.d; the Lord, he is the G.o.d."
Swiftly the victory was followed to its awful finish. The prophets of Baal were slain before the reaction had time to come. Then, bending in agonized prayer before his G.o.d, the prophet claimed, as the climax of the whole wondrous scene, the opening heavens and the descending rain. Girding his loins like some great leader, in mighty triumph he ran before the chariot of Ahab to the entrance of the palace gates, while the torrents fell and the nation rejoiced that at length the judgment was pa.s.sed and the heart of the people turned back again.
But even greater than this was the revelation of Jehovah's power in the life of Elijah. To him it was permitted, before any other messenger of Jehovah, to burst open the very gates of death itself and summon back the departed spirits from the unseen world. When his work was done, a yet higher triumph awaited him; for he himself was raised even beyond the touch of death and was carried to the heavenly world with horses and chariots of fire.
The Lord G.o.d of Elijah is the G.o.d of life and death, the G.o.d of earth and heaven, the G.o.d of nations and princes and kings, the G.o.d of nature and grace, the G.o.d of judgment and retribution, the G.o.d who is a consuming fire, mightier than all the forces of nature, of man, of earth, of h.e.l.l. This mighty G.o.d, whose working Elisha had witnessed in the life of his master and whose presence he claimed as he went forth, proved His infinite resources in a life yet more wonderful than even Elijah's had been.
THE G.o.d OF ELISHA.
Elisha's was a larger life than even Elijah's. While the prophet of fire was a more startling figure and, perhaps, reached at times a higher flight than his successor, yet Elisha's sphere took a broader sweep and reached a plane nearer to humanity at large and more helpful to the ordinary man and woman.
We would suggest to our readers to take a single week and every day read a chapter for seven successive days, commencing with the second chapter of Second Kings, reading to the seventh, and then concluding on the seventh day with the thirteenth chapter, which gives the last scenes in his closing life. Such a review will bring G.o.d nearer to our conceptions, awaken in us the intense desire for such a life and walk with Him. and often prompt the cry and prayer, Where is the Lord G.o.d of Elisha? Let us glance at some of these representative scenes.
Looking back to the last days of Elijah and the transition of his ministry to his successor, we are struck, as the very first ill.u.s.tration of G.o.d's resources, with the wonderful way in which Jehovah shows His ability to choose His agents and supply the worker that He most needs at every emergency and crisis in the history of His kingdom. Elijah had just failed and fled from Jezebel in the supreme moment of his triumph. Too elated, perhaps, the reaction had come before he was prepared to withstand it, and so that humiliating chapter is written in the story of his life, "He arose, and went for his life."
But how tenderly G.o.d dealt with him! He let him run until he was thoroughly tired out, let him rest under the juniper tree, and awoke him again and again and again, ministering to his hunger and weariness, until the tired prophet was rested and refreshed. And then G.o.d sent him to h.o.r.eb that He might give him His last commissions. One of these commissions was a release from the work of which, for a moment, he allowed himself to grow tired, and with it the appointment of those that were to succeed him. "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus," was the Lord's message, "and when you come, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; and Jehu the son of Nimshi shall you anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat shall you anoint to be prophet in your room." How swiftly he was excused. How soon his successor was elected! How easy it is for G.o.d to go through the court of a sinful kingdom or to the farm and field where some humble Elisha is following the oxen and the plough, and call for the instrument He needs just at the moment He requires him. Oh, how humbling it is to our self-importance and pride! G.o.d does not need any voice, and it is just an honor and a privilege that He lets us serve Him. Let us be very careful how we get tired too soon or ask to be relieved. G.o.d may take us at our word, and He has plenty of others to fill our place.
Second, we have another ill.u.s.tration in 1 Kings 22: 34 of how easy it is for G.o.d to pick out an instrument, even an unconscious instrument, for His work and plan. Long before He had decreed and announced the punishment of Ahab for his crimes, and His longsuffering had waited and spared the wicked king again and again. At last the judgment came, but the means were most solemn in their simplicity. Ahab was just returning from the battlefield where he had escaped the a.s.saults of the foe and was securely riding in his chariot away from harm and danger, but "a certain man drew a bow at a venture," and the arrow sped from the string, the sender neither knowing nor caring whither. At that very moment by a slight movement the joints of Ahab's coat of mail were opened at the very spot which that arrow struck. It entered and pierced him to the heart, and he cried, "Carry me out of the host; for I am wounded." As the sun sank in the west, his life ebbed away and the judgment long threatened was at last fulfilled. How easy it is for G.o.d to strike His foes. How little we need to worry and trouble ourselves about our enemies! "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, . . . for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord."
A blatant infidel, it is said, was once returning with a party of friends from the market place of a village in England, where he had just defied G.o.d, if there was a G.o.d, to strike him dead. And as no harm had come to him his G.o.dless companions were profanely exulting and glorying in their shame. They were riding along a country road when suddenly their leader fell from his horse in convulsions and as they gathered around him they found he was gasping for breath and in a few moments was dead. No apparent cause could be a.s.signed. Therefore a post-mortem examination was held, and it was found that a little insect, a sand fly, almost the smallest creature that G.o.d has created, had been sent by Him as the executioner of the judgment he brought upon himself. This little creature had penetrated his windpipe and choked him to death. G.o.d would not condescend to strike him for his impudent infidelity with His own direct hand, but sent that most insignificant creature in the world to show at once His omnipotence and His contempt. This is the G.o.d of Elisha. This is our G.o.d. Let us trust Him. Let us fear Him. Let us commit the keeping of our souls unto Him as unto a faithful Creator.
Third, the G.o.d of Elisha is the G.o.d that can remove the most formidable difficulties from our pathway. The moment Elisha had received the promised power of the Spirit of G.o.d, he was met, not by bands of welcoming angels, but by the swelling tide of the angry Jordan that refused to allow him to pa.s.s over to the field of his future ministry, where the critical young students of Bethel were watching to see what kind of a prophet he was. But with a single cry, "Where is the Lord G.o.d of Elijah?" he smote the waters and called upon the same almighty resources, and the floods divided and the angry torrent became an escort to open the way to the other side; and as he marched across in triumph, the critical students, awed and humbled, bowed at his feet and humbly said, "The spirit of Elijah does rest on Elisha."
Beloved, the very first thing that you and I will meet when we take some new hold of G.o.d for power and blessing will probably be a swollen Jordan, an overwhelming obstacle. What are you going to do about it? There is nothing you can do but remember what G.o.d can do and turn at once from your strength and weakness, from your doubts and difficulties, and take Him for your all-sufficiency, and your cry will be, "Who are you, O great mountain?
Before the G.o.d of Elisha (or Zerubbabel) you shall become a plain." (Zech. 4: 7.) Fourth, the G.o.d of Elisha is able to control the forces of nature. In 2 Kings 2: 20 and 4: 42, there are two fine examples of the power of G.o.d through His servant Elisha in the natural world. The first was the healing of barren soil by the sprinkling of some salt onto the spring of waters. And the second was the multiplying of the bread by which the wants of a hundred men were satisfied from twenty little buns, even as in later ages on the Galilean sh.o.r.e the five thousand were fed by the Master's miracle.
And we still have a G.o.d who can help us on the farm, in the kitchen, who can fertilize our field, protect our crops, send our harvest, give us our daily bread, multiply the little which the housewife has until it becomes an ample store for her little family circle. So G.o.d is walking today with many an humble saint in the lowly place of toil and trial.
Fifth, the G.o.d of Elisha is a G.o.d of emergencies. The third chapter of Second Kings tells us the story of the water famine in the valley of Eden and the wonderful deliverance which came through Elisha. "This says the Lord," was the prophet's answer to the unbelief of Jehoram and the fears of Jehoshaphat, "You shall not see wind, neither shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that you may drink, both you, and your cattle, and your beasts. And this is but a light thing in the sight of the Lord: He will deliver the Moabites also into your hand." The G.o.d of Elisha can send water when there is neither wind nor rain nor any outward sign. He can give us help when all human help fails. He can give us help when, like Jehoshaphat, we are even in a place where we should not be; and it is but a light thing for Him to do the greatest thing for those who trust Him. His resources are so super-abounding that we never can exhaust them, and what He does for us is but a loving provocation for us to ask Him to do yet more.
Sixth, the G.o.d of Elisha is the G.o.d of grace as well as of temporal blessing. The fourth chapter of Second Kings gives the incident of the widow's oil and the wonderful deliverance it wrought for her as she poured it into the empty vessels, and it multiplied and grew until it became a fortune, enough to pay her debt and keep her all her days. The oil, we know, was the symbol of the Holy Ghost, and the deep lesson is, that if we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in our houses, He will become the source of every needed supply and the guarantee of every possible blessing.
All we need is to use what we have and to take the trials and needs that come to us as empty vessels into which He will pour His fullness and transform every difficulty into an occasion of blessing and praise.
Seventh, the G.o.d of Elisha is the G.o.d of health and healing. There is no finer example of G.o.d's provision for our physical diseases than the story of Naaman and his healing in the waters of Jordan. It was not Elisha that healed him, for he refused even to touch him. It was simply the power of G.o.d coming to the suffering one the moment he trusted and obeyed, and his washing in the Jordan was but the consummated act of faith that met G.o.d exactly on His Word and persevered in the att.i.tude of faith until the blessing fully came. The same G.o.d still waits to heal all that come to Him in the same patient, persistent and overcoming faith.
Eighth, the G.o.d of Elisha is the G.o.d of the supernatural. The incident of the sixth chapter of Second Kings is a fine ill.u.s.tration of the principle of the supernatural. Going down with his college boys to build the log college on the banks of the Jordan, one of the students lost his axe-head in the water, and the prophet met the emergency by commanding the iron to swim, thus showing that the power of G.o.d is superior even to the laws of nature. This is just what the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ proves and makes practicable for us also. We still have the G.o.d who can rise above even His own laws when the interests of His children require it, and who is "Head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that fills all in all."
Where is the Lord G.o.d of Elijah and Elisha? He is wherever His people's need requires the manifestations of His presence and His power. In the darkest times and the most sinful age He is still what He was in the age of Jezebel and Ahab. He is the G.o.d not of a few exclusive people and transcendent circ.u.mstances; but He is the G.o.d who, as in the case of Elisha, will meet us in the palace, on Mount Carmel, or in the battle, at the plough, or with the widow in her little cottage, anywhere and everywhere that need can claim and faith can trust Him.
Elisha was a man of the people and his life teaches us that our Christ is the Christ of the common people still, and His promise and His grace are for every situation and every suffering child. He is where faith can trust Him, prayer can wait for Him, and patience can hold fast until He comes. This G.o.d is our G.o.d, the G.o.d and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Lord, help us to understand You better and to trust You more.
THE G.o.d OF PAUL.
"But my G.o.d shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4: 19.) This is Paul's legacy to his disciples and friends. He bequeaths to us his G.o.d and all that his own life and experience have revealed of His infinite allsufficiency. This wonderful phrase begins with "G.o.d" and ends with "Christ Jesus," and between these two extremes lie, first, "all your need," and second, "His riches in glory." It is not only a bank-note, but it is a whole bank with all the resources of the proprietor behind it.
The greatest need of Christian life is to know G.o.d and His resources. Now the Bible is just a revelation of the all-sufficiency of G.o.d through the human channels and instruments that He has used to reveal Himself. The typical lives and characters of the Holy Scriptures are not so much remarkable for themselves as for the divine Presence that stands back of each of them. The difference between human heroes and sacred characters lies just in this: the man is just a man, but behind the man of G.o.d, G.o.d Himself is ever standing greater than the man and overshadowing him by His infinite and glorious Presence.
When one of the greatest of our national heroes returned, his grateful country crowned him with the honors of a successful war. Behind him there stood, of course, the valuable realm that he had conquered for us and the glorious flag which he represented. But that was all. And he himself was for the time the supreme personality that absorbed the public eye and heart. But behind Enoch is Enoch's G.o.d. Behind Elijah is Elijah's G.o.d. Behind Moses is a Presence far mightier than Moses. Behind Paul is the marvelous Presence that his life reveals and that his last will and testament bequeaths to every Christian heart. Standing on the threshold of his new life, and just awaking from the startling farewell of his glorified master, Elisha faced the frowning Jordan and the mighty tasks of his divine ministry. But we are so glad that he did not ask for Elijah. He asked for Elijah's G.o.d.
And so Paul, separated from his beloved Philippian friends, does not try to comfort them with the mere promise of his earthly presence, for he knew that even that could be but temporary, but he gives them his G.o.d. Compressing into a single sentence all the meaning of his own experience and of G.o.d's infinite riches he says, "My G.o.d shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
Each of these representative lives reveals G.o.d in some new light, and so Paul's G.o.d stands before us in a light as distinctive and quite as glorious as Elisha's or Elijah's. What are the lessons the life of Paul teaches us about the all-sufficiency of G.o.d? We have often looked at Paul, now let us look at Paul's wonderful G.o.d.
First, we see that the G.o.d of Paul is a G.o.d that can save the greatest sinner and reach the hardest case of unbelief. Paul presents himself to us as the pattern sinner. With deepest humility, and yet utmost self-unconsciousness, he tells us not how deserving he was, but how unworthy. He counts himself the pattern sinner set forth on purpose to show that G.o.d can save anybody since He saved him. "For this cause," he says, "I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." After Paul, anybody.
The peculiarity of Paul's case, that made it especially difficult, was that Paul was not so much a bad sinner as a good one. He was a moral man, a righteous man, a blameless man, a conscientious man, a religious man, a most earnest worker for the religious cause in which he believed. There was no loose joint in his harness where the arrow of conviction could enter. He had lived "in all good conscience before G.o.d," unto the day of his conversion. Such a man is very difficult to reach. Our appeals roll off like water. G.o.d's severest warnings found no lodging place in his armor-plated soul.
Yet one flash of Christ's revealing light, one glimpse of His suffering face and pitying love, broke this hard and willful soul to pieces and sent him forth to live under the constraining power of grateful love. Beloved, are you praying for some hard case, some G.o.dless, hardened soul? Remember the G.o.d that saved Paul and pray and not faint.
Second, the G.o.d of Paul is able to raise us to the highest saintliness, for Paul is not only a pattern sinner, but he is also a pattern saint. He dares to say, "Those things, which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do." But the primary feature of his saintliness is that it is all Christlikeness. He never stands in front but always hides behind the form and loveliness of Jesus Christ. He never tells us of his perfections, but only of the grace of his Savior. The very watchword of his life is: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me." This is the highest as well as the lowliest form of holy character. If we could impress people with the fact that we are preeminently holy, we would discourage them, for they would put their own lives in contrast and say they could never reach us; but if we tell them of a life conscious of its weakness that was able to take from Another the strength it did not have, the righteousness it could not work out, the loveliness that was foreign to its nature, and that the same gracious One will be the same to them that He has been to us, then people are encouraged and lifted up.
The story of Paul's spiritual experience is a constant revelation of Jesus and His nearness to, and sufficiency for the weakest heart, the humblest saint, the most strangely const.i.tuted and severely tried and hindered life. Three things were especially marked in Paul's saintliness. The first was what we might call righteousness, the quality of integrity, that essential foundation of all deeper and higher experience, a life right with G.o.d and man.
But that was not all. There was a second higher quality of Christian sweetness and loveliness. In one of his most striking pa.s.sages he contrasts the righteous man with the good man. The righteous man is like the granite rock, hard but yet true. But the good man is like the moss covered mountain side, radiant with flowers and fresh with springing cascades, beautiful as well as true. "For a good man," he says, one would "even dare to die," but for the righteous man "scarcely" would one die. Now Paul exhorts us to combine these two elements. "Whatsoever things are just" he speaks of in one clause, "Whatsoever things are lovely," in another, and he bids us combine them. In his own life they were beautifully blended. His holiness was not harsh, inaccessible, unattractive, but full of lowliness, gentleness, affectionateness, sympathy, consideration for others, simple as a child, loving as a woman, tender as a mother, affectionate as a father, the fountain of tears always ready to flow at a touch, a heart all throbbing with humanness as well as holiness. This is the life that wins and draws many, and it will come from a higher source, from the heart of Jesus. It was he that wrote about love and lived it, too, but he might well have put the word "Christ" wherever he put "love" in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians.
But there was a third element in the character of Paul for which Christ was equally sufficient, and that is the practical element, the element of sense, soundness of judgment, symmetry and balance of character. "G.o.d has . . . given us" he says, "the spirit . . . of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." It was this wonderful completeness that gave strength to every part of Paul's extraordinary life. Now the G.o.d that made him what he was is waiting to be the same to each of us if we will meet the tests and take Him at His word.
And then, third, the G.o.d of Paul is able to strengthen in times of suffering. Paul was not only a pattern sinner and a pattern saint, but a pattern sufferer. In one of the most remarkable pa.s.sages of his letters he speaks of himself as a "spectacle" and a "gazing stock," and one set forth in the eyes of the universe to exhibit what G.o.d can be in a human life. He was exposed to the severest trials that can come to a human soul or body. Listen to the catalogue in 2 Corinthians 11: "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, that which comes upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?
If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern my infirmities."
Again we have a description almost as startling in 1Corinthians 4: 9-13. "For I think that G.o.d has set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are honorable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the off-scouring of all things unto this day."
Here he tells us that, as in the Roman games the brutal master of ceremonies reserved for the last a b.l.o.o.d.y tragedy, and, after men's lives had been played with through the day, at last the thirst for blood was glutted and some n.o.ble gladiator was given over to be murdered in the arena; so, he says, "G.o.d has set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death." Then he speaks of every form of privation, suffering and distress, all that can come from physical drudgery, the deprivation of friends and life, the cruel desertion of loved friends, the fury of the elements, the perils of the sea, the hate of Satan, and the inner burdens that came to him for the sake of others through his sympathetic nature. Paul bore, as it were, the whole burden of the suffering body of Christ, and it seemed as though it were appointed for him to endure that which remained of the afflictions of Christ for His body, the Church.
And yet how did he go through the fiery ordeal? Not only did he endure it, but he was more than conqueror; not only did he stand it with patience, but he gloried in it with triumphant joy. Listen to him as he cries: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body." Listen to him again, "As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things."
Listen to him once more as he tells the elders of Ephesus not only of what he has suffered but that the Holy Ghost has delivered him. "The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me." And yet what does he add: "None of these things move me." They did not even disturb him nor take away his strength from the needs of others and the claims of his work. "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of G.o.d."
What was the secret of this wonderful patience, this victorious suffering? He tells us in another place how G.o.d answered him when he asked that the great burden of suffering be removed. The answer was, "My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." These things became to him but vessels to hold more of his Lord's grace, and so he not only endured them, but welcomed them and turned everything into victory and praise through the all-sufficient grace of Jesus Christ.
And then, in the fourth place, the G.o.d of Paul is a G.o.d that can strengthen and sustain the suffering body. Paul's experience reveals two phases. The first is the direct healing of actual sickness by the immediate manifestation of the power of G.o.d in the body. We read of one of these healings in 2 Corinthians 1: 8-10. Here we are told of a case where he was "pressed out of measure, above strength," so that he despaired even of life. But G.o.d delivered him in direct answer to prayer.
We are told of another similar incident in the Acts of the Apostles, where he had been apparently stoned to death at Lystra, and as the disciples stood around him he arose upon his feet and went quietly on with his work as though nothing had occurred.
But we have a second phase of divine life in Paul, revealed in 2 Corinthians 4. This was not so much an immediate act of healing as a constant habit of drawing the life of Jesus Christ directly from Him and finding it a constant experience in his mortal flesh, enabling him to rise above the power of his own natural weakness and go through life with a weak frame and yet a supernatural strength. The same G.o.d can still be the same to us in our mortal flesh as well as in our spiritual life.
Finally, the G.o.d of Paul is sufficient for all the service that He claims from us. Paul's life was preeminently one of service. "I labored more abundantly than they all," he could say, and yet he added, "yet not I, but the grace of G.o.d which was with me." He took the strength of Jesus and the Holy Spirit for every task and he counted himself equal to anything in this divine enduement. Indeed, every situation that came to him was but an opportunity for service. If he was in prison, he immediately went to work for the salvation of all the prisoners. If he was joined to two soldiers in the barracks, before morning they were converted, and writing to the Philippians from Rome he told them the joyful news that all that are in the barracks have accepted Jesus Christ. Look at him on his voyage to Rome. We see a missionary who started off for the greatest field in the world, having received a free pa.s.s as a prisoner of the law, who took command of the ship through that awful tempest, first saving the lives and then the souls of all on board. Look at him again at Rome brought before the emperor, and even dragged into the Coliseum to fight with the lions. How did he look at it? It was simply an opportunity for service. There he had, at last, a chance to preach to old b.l.o.o.d.y Nero the message of judgment and salvation, and forgetting all about his own danger and even unconscious for the time of the roar of the Namibian lion in yonder cage waiting perhaps to devour him, his thought was to be true to his trust and let G.o.d take care of him. Writing about this incident he says: "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me . . . Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known." And he adds: "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." His business was to preach to Nero; G.o.d's business was to look out for the lion.
In the face of a thousand disadvantages with neither churches nor missionary boards to back him, in a single lifetime this marvelous man carried the Gospel to all the leading cities of the world, and planted churches from which all the Christianity on earth today has come down. What was the secret of it all? "My G.o.d," and, "His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Beloved, will you have Paul's G.o.d, and will you use His infinite resources for such a life of saintliness, victorious suffering, and holy service as he?
THE G.o.d OF JACOB.
"Fear not, thou worm Jacob." (Isaiah 41:14.) "I the Lord am your Savior and your Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob."(Isaiah 49:26.) What a combination! Thou worm Jacob, the Mighty One of Jacob! A worm united to Omnipotence! What so weak and worthless as a worm! What so mighty as the Mighty One of Jacob! This tells the story --not Jacob, but Jacob's G.o.d; not man, but the all-sufficient G.o.d displacing man and subst.i.tuting His own infinite fulness.
We have seen a little of the resources of G.o.d in the story of Elijah and Elisha and in the life of Paul. But someone might say that all this might well occur in lives so lofty and sublime, but can I, a weak and worthless man, reach such heights of victory and glory?
Therefore we turn now to the life of a weak and worthless man that we may show that G.o.d uses such men to make them the peculiar ill.u.s.trations of His own grace and sufficiency. The one lesson of Jacob's life is sovereign grace. We have already seen that this was one lesson of Paul's life and that his deepest thought and highest testimony was "Not I, but Christ lives in me."
If ever there was a man that deserved to be called a worm, it was the supplanting son of Isaac. And yet this was the man whom G.o.d selected from among all the patriarchs to be head of Israel's tribes and the real founder of the covenant people to whom was committed the oracles of G.o.d. Therefore Jacob is more especially fitted to set forth the grace of G.o.d than any other of the Bible characters. Let us look at the lessons which his life ill.u.s.trates with respect to the resources of our G.o.d.
We see in Jacob's life the G.o.d who can choose and use unworthy and unattractive lives and characters. Had we been choosing on natural principles between the two sons of Isaac we may have preferred the big-hearted, impulsive Esau. His father did prefer him and tried his best to hold for him the tribal blessing and divine birthright. There was little naturally in Jacob that was attractive. He represented that cla.s.s of the human race, happily by no means all, who have become the embodiment of the hard, keen, grasping man, the man who seems to have become crystallized into a financial machine and bargain counter. Jacob was intensely selfish and deceitful, disposed to take advantage of another's misfortune. There is no type of human nature that, by the common consent of mankind, is more detestable than the hard, cold, heartless miser. He is lower even than the groveling sensualist in the scale of humanity. And yet G.o.d chose this man in order to prove that there is no cla.s.s of humanity so hard, so hopeless, as not to be within reach of sovereign grace, indeed, that G.o.d loves a hard case and that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
If there is a soul reading these lines who is discouraged about himself, remember Jacob, and then remember Jacob's G.o.d, the One that could choose a worm and make him a prince with G.o.d and with men; the One who is still saying, "G.o.d has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and G.o.d has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty."
And then the G.o.d of Jacob is a G.o.d that can discern elements of good and possibilities of the highest things in the most unlikely lives. Back of Jacob's meanness there was something that had in it inherently the elements of power and blessing, and back of Esau's apparent n.o.bility there was something earthborn and incapable of the highest things. Not without reason has G.o.d said of these two men, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." What was it in Jacob that G.o.d loved and that became a point of contact with His grace?
It was that element which we might call the spiritual. It was the peculiar insight into the higher things which discerns and chooses the best. It is a kind of intuition, a spiritual instinct, the germ in fact, of the higher nature. It enabled Jacob to discover, to appreciate, and to desire intensely all that was meant in the divine birthright, while on the other hand the lack of it led Esau to despise this. All he cared for was the gratification of his natural and grosser appet.i.tes. He was a splendid animal; that was all. When he was hungry, he wanted food, and he cared not how he got it. He had not the power to comprehend or prize the higher blessing which was his by natural right. In the hour of his extremity we find him exclaiming, "Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?" That was the very time when it should have meant most to him, for it secured to him the favor of his covenant G.o.d, a part among the covenant people, and the high honor of standing in the front of that line that was to lead up to the promised seed, the coming Messiah. While it had the highest natural dignities and privileges connected with it, it was preeminently spiritual in its meaning and value. And yet Esau, realizing none of these things, recklessly and blindly threw it away for a mess of pottage. The sacred writer crystallizes into a single sentence the meaning of the act, "Thus Esau despised his birthright."
Now what G.o.d loved in Jacob was the quality that appreciated, desired and chose the higher things. G.o.d loved him for it and G.o.d came to meet him and gave him what he desired. "They have their reward," is the awful sentence of Christ on humanity. Men and women generally get what they want. If they are after earthly things they will probably find them. If they "seek . . . first the kingdom of G.o.d, and his righteousness" "they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness . . . shall be filled."
It is often true that the worst and the best are closely akin in human nature. The most discouraged and sinful man is often so because the devil has seen his folly and has perverted the bud into a thorn. G.o.d sees everything through the crust of evil, and He comes to meet and satisfy the yet undimmed jewel of some deep and earnest longing for better things. It is comforting to know that we have a G.o.d who is not looking for the evil in us but for the good that is trying to find some point of contact with better things, looking in every human soul for some place where the chain of mercy can fasten and lift us to the skies. Dear friend, if you are far away from G.o.d and conscious of utter unworthiness, there is one question we would ask you, Would you have G.o.d's love for your heart? Would you choose His will if it were offered to you? Would you part with everything to have the best and highest things? Then you have that which G.o.d loved in Jacob and that which will feel after G.o.d until it finds Him.
In the third instance, we see in Jacob's G.o.d one who can reveal Himself to a soul that is utterly ignorant of Him. When Jacob went out from his father's house and his mother's arms he had indeed set his heart on the highest things so far as he knew them and won by a very unworthy transaction the covenant, but as yet he knew nothing of G.o.d in his own experience. We see this in his confession in Bethel's cave, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not."
We see also the lack of all filial love and confidence. "How dreadful is this place!" It was a raw, unenlightened, natural heart shrinking from the presence of G.o.d, knowing nothing of trust and love. But to that poor, dark, lonely heart G.o.d came and made Himself known by that vision of divine light and revelation, which became, not only to him, but to all coming generations, a ladder reaching to heaven from the lowest, loneliest spot. Well do I remember the day that I rode along the bridle path that leads to the ruins of ancient Bethel, stopping from time to time at the numerous caves along the road and wondering in which of them Jacob lay down with a stone for his pillow on the first night of his absence from his home. My guide pointed across the valley, and he said, "This is the cave where Jacob slept, because yonder you can see on the rock hillside the great ledges of stone rising one above the other like mighty steps, and in the dim moonlight, you know, it seemed to Jacob like a ladder that reached to heaven." You see my guide was an accomplished higher critic. He thought he could explain the Bible without any supernatural element. I told him I knew better. The ladder Jacob saw was not even that bold ledge of ascending rocks, but it was that invisible stair which your faith and mine has often seen since, reaching from our helplessness to His high heaven and bringing down the angels of G.o.d with messages of help and blessing. That was the time when Jacob first met with G.o.d.
There comes such an hour in every redeemed life. You had known about Him, you had chosen Him, you had set your heart upon Him, but He had never yet become a real fact in your experience. But one night of loneliness, one hour of deep trouble, some crisis when you were forced to pray, you found G.o.d and He became revealed to you henceforth the greatest fact in your life, the One with whom you have to do, your covenant G.o.d and Friend, saying to you as He did to Jacob, "Behold, I am with you, and will keep you in all places wheresoever you go . . . for I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken to you of." It is yours to choose Him. It is His to make Himself known, and it is His eternal promise: "Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord."
In the fourth place, the G.o.d of Jacob is one that follows His children even through years of imperfection and wandering while they are often far from Him. For Jacob went forth from that Bethel vision a new man and a man of G.o.d but still full of the old selfish, supplanting spirit. And so we see him following his own devices, fighting his own battles, intriguing with Laban and trying to match his cunning with equal cunning. We see him bargaining for a wife and losing in the first transaction. We see him later getting the better of his uncle, and finally, through deep strategy leaving the land of his temporary adoption possessed of boundless riches; and yet he was the same old Jacob in many ways. He had not forsaken G.o.d. He had prayed often. He had asked G.o.d to prosper him in his business contrivances and schemes. But still it was Jacob, the worm Jacob, the selfish, supplanting man. But G.o.d did not leave him all these years. He followed him, loved him, blessed him, prospered him, and in due time called him back to better things.
And so, dear child of G.o.d, He has followed you even amid your wanderings. He has not wanted you where you were; but He has not left you alone. As He went with Israel through the wilderness, so He has gone with you on the weary round. In all your affliction He has been afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence has saved you and has led you all your days. Thus G.o.d still loves His imperfect children. He does not forsake them in their mistakes and follies, but He is still a G.o.d of infinite longsuffering, boundless patience and tender, fatherly pity. This should not encourage us to live short of our highest privileges, but it should lead us by grateful love to follow Him more closely and choose His highest will.
Then, we see in Jacob's G.o.d one who at last knew how to bring the pressure that led Jacob to the crisis of his life. The time had come for a new and deeper experience, so G.o.d led him back toward his ancient home. It is the old Jacob coming back. He is enlarged with flocks and herds and a great household, but we see Jacob all through his wise forethought, his infinite contriving to protect his family and his flocks, and when he finds his incensed brother Esau coming to meet him with an armed band, he exhausts all the resources of his skill and invention to forestall him or defend himself from him. He divides his family and his flocks into little bands so that if one is stricken the other will escape. At last he realizes how vain it all is, and he is thrown absolutely and helplessly upon the mercy and power of G.o.d.
The way narrows to a lone path where only two can walk, G.o.d and Jacob. There just across the brook Jabbok and under the solemn stars of the Orient, Jacob came face to face with the crisis of his life. He must either go down or go higher. It is either G.o.d or ruin. And so the religious instinct turns heavenward. Jacob prays as he has never prayed before.
But there is another conflict. G.o.d is wrestling with Jacob more than Jacob is wrestling with G.o.d. We are told significantly that "there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." It was the Son of Man. It was the Angel of the Covenant. It was G.o.d in human form pressing down and pressing out the old Jacob life, and before the morning broke G.o.d had prevailed and Jacob fell with his thigh dislocated. But as he fell, he fell into the arms of G.o.d and there he clung and wrestled too until the blessing came, and the new life was born and he arose from the earthly to the heavenly, the human to the divine, the natural to the supernatural, and as he went forth that morning he was a weak and broken man, but G.o.d was there instead and the heavenly voice proclaimed, "Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince have you power with G.o.d and with men, and have prevailed."
Beloved, this must ever be a typical scene in every transformed life. There comes a crisis hour to each of us if G.o.d has called us to the highest and best. When all our resources fail, when we face either ruin or something higher than we ever dreamed, when we must have infinite help from G.o.d and yet before we can have it we must let something go; we must surrender completely, we must cease from our own wisdom, strength and righteousness and become crucified with Christ and alive in Him. G.o.d knows how to lead us up to this crisis and He knows how to lead us through. Beloved, is He leading you thus?