CO-OPERATION IN CHRISTIAN SERVICE
“They beckoned unto their partners in the other boat, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the boats.”– Luk_5:7 (R.V.).
WE ALL want to fill our nets and boats with the fish that we have caught for Christ. How shall we do it? There are certain conditions for successful Christian service which must be observed. Our nets must be clean. They were “washing their nets.” It was a good thing that this necessary work had been performed; otherwise they would have been unable to sail at a moment’s notice, and to let down their nets at the Master’s command (Luk_5:4). “If a man shall cleanse himself.., he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use.” Let us see to it that we are always ready to respond at Christ’s call.
We must be prepared to obey Christ in little things. Our Lord first asked Peter to put out his boat a little from the land. He knew what He was going to do afterwards in making great demands on Peter’s obedience and faith; but first, He made this slight request. With alacrity the Master’s wishes were complied with, and the floating pulpit, rising and falling with the ripple of the water, was at the Lord’s service as He sat down and taught the people. Remember that whenever you lend your empty boat to Jesus, He will pay for it by giving it back to you filled with fish.
Christ’s will must be obeyed even against our own judgment. Peter had spent the whole of his life apprenticed to the lake, and knew everything of the art of fishing. When our Lord bade him: “launch out into the deep, and let down your nets,” it was against all his knowledge and practical experience to let down his nets in the daytime, especially as he had toiled all night in vain! Happily for him, he said: “At Thy word I will let down the nets!”
We must be willing to share with others. He might have kept the haul for himself, but he longed that the others should share in the Master’s bounty, “and they came and filled both the boats.”
O God, Thou hast committed our work to us, and we would commit our cares to Thee. May we feel that we are not our own, and that Thou wilt heed our wants while we are intent upon Thy will. AMEN.
THE DAYS OF NOAH
“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”– Heb_11:7.
WE DO well to give heed to the description given of the “days of Noah, for our Lord said, that as it was in those days, so shall it be in the days that close the present age (Mat_24:37-39). The world of that time had made great progress in the arts and civilization of life. But, as it has happened repeatedly all through human history, great luxury produced infamous immorality, cruelty, and widespread indifference to the claims of God. Things took place in those olden times which have their counterpart in the great cities of our time. In its feverish atmosphere sin of every kind abounded, and in mercy to the race, there was no alternative than to bring that wicked generation to an end. “They ate, they drank; they married, and were given in marriage, and knew not, till the flood came and carried them all away.”
Amidst all this, Noah lived an unblemished and righteous life. He walked in daily converse with God (Gen_6:8-9). His Almighty Friend was able to reveal to him His intentions. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.”
Keep near to God, that you may hear the accents of His still small voice. Our happiest experience is when we walk with Him in unbroken fellowship, and He takes us into covenant with Himself. Through any one individual, whose heart is perfect toward Him, God will save others. We too shall cross the Flood of Death and enter the new life of Resurrection, but we must be quick to detect His voice, and our hands deft to fulfil the revelations of our Divine Teacher and Friend.
Lead me, O Lord, in a straight way unto Thyself, and keep me in Thy grace unto the end. AMEN.
“A merry heart is a good medicine (causeth good healing); but a broken spirit drieth up the bones.”– Pro_17:22.
“Rejoice alway; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks.”– 1Th_5:16-17 (R.V.).
A HAPPY AND cheerful heart is a matter of cultivation. We cannot afford to abandon ourselves entirely to our moods. There are times when we feel depressed and sad, for no special reason, except that a mood is on us! It is at such times that we need to anoint our heads, and wash our faces, that we may not be consumed by our fretfulness, or impose our depression upon others, for nothing is worse than to be a wet blanket! (Mat_6:16-18.)
On the other hand, there is nothing more objectionable than to be always in the presence of a comic person who thinks that every occasion must serve for frolic. After a time one gets as tired of funny stories and perpetual punning as of gloom, but while avoiding this extreme, we must not fall into the other of wearing a lugubrious expression and giving way to a moodiness of spirit, which cannot be accounted for.
We may alter our dispositions and moods by a resolute action of the will. We can refuse to look miserable, to speak mournfully, to be pessimistic, to pass on depression. In a spirit of unselfishness we can put on a cheerful courage, array ourselves in the garments of joy, anoint ourselves with the spirit of praise and thankfulness, and go forth into the world to shed sunbeams rather than shadows on the path of life. Do not nurse your sorrow of heart, lest your spirit and the spirits of others be broken.
We can promote a cheerful heart by dwelling on the bright things of our lot; by counting up the mercies which are left, rather than dwelling on what we have lost. When the heart is full of the light and love of God, can it be other than cheerful? How can this be obtained except by a living union with Jesus Christ. In Him there is an infinitude of supply of peace and joy, sunshine and light. Let us open our hearts to him, and put on these things as we array ourselves each morning in our garments (Isa_61:3-10).
Through all the changing scenes of life,
In trouble and in joy,
The praises of my God shall still
My heart and tongue employ. AMEN.
“And the city lieth foursquare, the length, and the breadth, and the height of it are equal.”– Rev_21:16.
THE CUBE was evidently a favourite unit of Hebrew measurement. The Holy of Holies was a cube, and so was the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, which St. John saw in a vision, “coming down from God out of heaven.” We are reminded of the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge (Eph_3:18). Ought not this to be the measurement of every well-ordered life?
There must be Length i.e. the issuing forth of the soul as it leaves the things that are behind and reaches forth to those that are before. We must never be satisfied with that whereunto we have already attained, or think that we are perfect.
But with length there must be Breadth. Our life must reach out on the right and left to help others. The Cross stands for unselfishness, and those who claim to have been crucified with Christ must live, not to themselves, but to Him who died for them and through Him for all that He cares and loves. The world is full of lonely, weary, and desolate lives, to whom Christ would send us if we were ready for His use.
There must also be Depth. We must dwell deep! The Apostle says rooted–i.e, we must strike our roots into the subsoil; grounded–we must have our foundations in the very depths of a life hidden with Christ. From His life we must arise as fountains spring from the depths of the hills. Tree roots need to spread as far underground as the branches above.
There must be Height. Our ideals should always be rising. We must fix our affections on things above, not on things on the earth. Let us by thought and prayer thither ascend and dwell where Christ sits on the right hand of God (Col_3:1-4).
O Eternal God, sanctify my body and soul, my thoughts and my intentions, my words and actions; let my body be a servant of my spirit, and both body and spirit servants of Jesus; that doing all things for Thy glory here, I may be partaker of Thy glory hereafter, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
“His sisters sent unto Him saying, Lord, behold he whom Thou lovest is sick.”– Joh_11:3.
THE LAPSE of years made it possible for the Apostle to draw aside the veil which curtained the happy friendship and fellowship of Christ in the home at Bethany. It was the one green oasis in the rugged wilderness through which He passed to the Cross!
There were diversities in that home, Martha, practical, energetic, and thoughtful for all that could affect the comfort of those she loved and served; Mary, gifted with spiritual insight and tender sympathy; Lazarus, probably a man of few words, quiet and unobtrusive, but Jesus loved each one (Joh_11:5).
The sisters never doubted that Christ would speed at all hazards to save Lazarus after the breathless messenger had brought the tidings of his sickness. Anything less than infinite Love would have rushed instantly to the relief of those troubled hearts; Divine Love alone could hold back the impetuosity of the Saviour’s tender heart until the Angel of Pain had finished her work. He wanted to teach His disciples never-to-be-forgotten lessons, and also He was eager for the spiritual growth of the faith of the sisters.
This chapter might be more truly known as “The Raising of Martha,” for our Lord enabled her, matter-of-fact and practical as she was, to realize that He was the Resurrection and the Life. He insisted that her faith was an essential condition in the raising of her brother to life. The emphasis is on the word “thou” (Joh_11:40). Our Lord always needs the co-operating faith of some true heart to be with Him when He works a miracle, and He chose the least likely of the two sisters to supply the pivot on which He could rest the lever of His Divine help. As she withdrew her objection to the removal of the stone, her faith suddenly became capable of claiming the greatest of Christ’s miracles.
He calls to us also to help our brethren. In many cases those who have received life from Christ are still bound about with grave-clothes, old habits and evil associations cling to them and impede their progress, and He bids us “Loose him and let him go.” He asks for our co-operation in the emancipation of those who have been held fast in the power of the Evil One.
O God, we rejoice that we can turn to Thee in the midst of great anxiety, and commit all our troubles to Thy sure help. As Thou art with us in the sunlight, be Thou with us in the cloud. Sustain us by Thy near presence and let the comforts which are in Jesus Christ fill our hearts with peace. AMEN.
PRAISE AND PRAYER
“Praise waiteth for Thee, O God, in Zion; and unto Thee shall the vow be performed. O Thou that hearest prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.”– Psa_65:1-2.
WHAT RAPTURES there is here! It reminds one of a lark at dawn filling regions of air with music which threatens to rend its tiny throat. The Psalmist is in fellowship with God. He is enjoying his prayer and praise so much that it seemed to him as though all flesh must wake up to enjoy it also. His iniquities and transgressions are purged away. He feels that God is causing him to approach into His secret place, and all nature takes on a new radiance and beauty.
The personal pronouns for God–Thou, Thee, Thy, occur at least twenty times in thirteen verses! We remember that Wordsworth speaks of a Presence that rolls through all things: “A sense sublime of something deeply interfused, whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, and the round ocean, and the living air, and the blue sky–a motion and a spirit.” The poet was a lover of the meadows, and the woods, and mountains!
To many of us, also, Nature seems but the slight covering or garment, which only partially, conceals the glory and beauty of God’s Presence. The bush still burns with fire. The mountain-heights are filled with the horses and chariots of angelic guardians. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.” There is no voice or language that the ordinary sense of man can detect, but when our hearts are clean, and our ears open, we realize that we are in touch with Him whom some day we shall see face to face, but who even now reveals Himself to the pure in heart (Mat_5:8).
O God our Heavenly Father, renew in us the sense of Thy gracious Presence, and let it be a constant impulse within us to peace, trustfulness, and courage on our pilgrimage. AMEN.
“Come unto Me; Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”– Mat_11:28-30.
A YOKE–for two! All through His earthly life Jesus was saying: take My yoke. What was His yoke? It was surely His desire to do the Father’s will. This was the watchword of His life (Joh_5:30; Joh_6:38). So persuasive was His appeal, that the sons of Zebedee left their father and boat; Andrew and Simon their fishing-nets; and Matthew his toll-booth to become His disciples. Women forsook their sins, and men their ambitions, in order to become His humble friends and followers. Saul, the proud young Pharisee, heard His appeal, and abandoning everything that might lead to high honour and worldly success, counted it his highest glory to be associated with Christ in redeeming a lost world. But this association or fellowship requires agreement, identity of purpose. “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amo_3:3). Hence there can be no fellowship between light and darkness; between the Christian soul and the unbeliever (2Co_6:14-18; 1Jo_1:6-7). The Yoke means subsoil ploughing. The salvation of a lost world, or of one human soul is no child’s-play. Christ saw before Him the hard surface of mankind, the spirit of man caked over by long years of neglect and resistance. Before salvation can be effected the subsoil has to be turned up, and the thoughts of many hearts revealed (Jer_17:9-10). The Yoke means fellowship. The Divine and the human united in feeding the five thousand; in turning the water into wine; in the raising of Lazarus! There has never been an island redeemed from cannibalism to service for Christ, or a paralytic cleansed and healed apart from the co-operation of the Divine and Human. Yoke-bearing anticipates the Harvest. So we plough the furrow in Hope, knowing that one day the Harvest will be ripe, and One like unto the Son of Man will thrust in His sharp sickle and reap. What joy to share in that Harvest-Home!
The fetters Thou imposest, O Lord, are wings of freedom. Put round about my heart the cord of Thy captivating love. Bind me to Thyself as Thou bindest the planets to the sun, that it may become the law of my nature to be led by Thee. AMEN.
“The Master saith, Where is my guest-chamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?”– Mar_14:14 (R.V.).
THERE HAD evidently been a previous understanding between our Lord and the good man of the house, who was probably a devoted friend and follower. Jesus knew that His death was being plotted by the chief priests, and that Judas desired to betray Him that very night. He wanted to take part in the Passover Supper, and therefore did not tell the two disciples, whom He sent to prepare the supper where it was to be held, lest any should overhear, and His arrest should take place. The locality of that last gathering with His disciples was revealed to the two by the sign of the man bearing the pitcher of water when they reached Jerusalem, and only to the remainder of the party when they actually arrived.
Our Lord knew what treachery meant in the home-circle. You may be experiencing this. Your familiar friend, in whom you trust, may be absolutely unreliable—a sieve through which your secret confidences filter, or an adder waiting to sting! But Christ experienced this also, and suffered as we all do, from the feeling of restraint in the presence of one who is unsympathetic and critical (Joh_13:31).
Jesus knew what devoted friendship means. What He could not confide to the band of apostles He was able to make known to the good man of this house. They had evidently conferred together and arranged that this room should be at the Master’s disposal, furnished and prepared for His reception.
Our Lord asks us for the use of our guest-chamber. He still stands at the door and knocks, saying: “If any will open the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with Me.” There is a room in each heart, which He covets for Himself. The Revised Version inserts the word “My”. We are His by right of creation and redemption; let us be His by choice. Having given the guest-chamber of our heart to Him, may we not go on to give our spare room to His disciples, and our loving hospitality to those who go forth for the sake of His Name (3Jo_1:5-8).
Is there a thing beneath the sun
That strives with Thee my heart to share?
He, tear it thence, and reign alone,
The Lord of every motion there. AMEN.
WEIGHED IN THE BALANCES
“O Jerusalem…how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”– Mat_23:37.
OUR LORD’S ministry began with an octave of Blessedness, but it ended with a sevenfold woe, which He pronounced on the religious leaders of His time. He did not threaten, but pronounced the inevitable outworking of their evil ways.
Men often quote the punishment that follows sin as indicating some harsh or vindictive sentiment on the part of the Divine Being. They do not understand that, whereas human sentences are often arbitrary, God’s judgments are natural, i.e. they are the inevitable result of wrong-doing. The penalty is part of the constitution of the universe. The final judgment of the great White Throne will only announce the penalty which man’s sin has produced.
God is merciful as well as just, but if a man will tamper with explosives, He does not save his face or limbs. Our Lord was not animated by personal invective when He pronounced the terrible judgments of this chapter. There were tears of sorrow in His voice as He said, this temple is no longer My Father’s House, but “your house which is left unto you desolate.”
We read of the “Wrath of the Lamb,” but it is the counterpart of Love; not vindictive wrath, but the bitterness of disappointed Love! Notice the gleam of light at the end of this chapter. Jesus seemed to hear the welcome which would be accorded to Him in that day when He shall finally appear to vindicate and save His brethren according to the flesh (Mat_23:39).
O Lord, make us, we implore Thee, so to love Thee that Thou mayest be to us a Fire of Love, purifying and not destroying. AMEN.
OUR GLORIOUS STANDING!
“There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”– Rom_8:1.
THE CHARACTERISTICS of this glorious standing. It is present: “Now.”
If we are in Christ, we need not wait in doubts and fears for the verdict of the great white Throne. Its decisions cannot make our standing more clear, or our acceptance more sure, but we shall learn there the meaning of God’s dealings with mankind, and triumph in the successful vindication of His ways. We can never be more free from the condemnation of God’s righteous law than we are at this present.
It is certain: “There is no condemnation.” You must catch this accent of conviction, and be able to speak with no faltering voice of your assured acceptance with God, if you would enter upon the rich inheritance of this chapter, to which these opening words stand as the door of passage. The shadow of a peradventure cannot live in the light of that certainty of which the Apostle speaks.
It is invariable. There are Some who live on a sliding scale between condemnation and acceptance. If health is buoyant and the heart is full of song, they are sure of their acceptance with God; but if the sun is darkened and the clouds return; when the heart is dull and sad, they imagine that they are under the ban of God’s displeasure. They forget that our standing in Christ Jesus is one thing; our appreciation and enjoyment of it quite another. Your own heart may condemn you; memory, the recorder of the soul, may summon from the past evidence against you; the great Accuser of souls may lay against you grievous and well-founded charges; your tides of feeling may ebb far down the beach; your faith may become weak and lose its power and grip; your sense of unworthiness may become increasingly oppressive–none of these things can touch your acceptance with God if you are complying with His one all-inclusive condition–”no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” This mystic union with the Son of God is only possible to faith working by love (1Jo_3:23-24).
We commit ourselves to Thy care and keeping this day; let Thy grace be mighty in us, and sufficient for us, and let it work in us both to will and to do of Thine own good pleasure, and grant us strength for all the duties of the day. AMEN.