THE GROWTH OF THE SOUL
“My soul followeth hard after Thee: Thy right hand upholdeth me.”– Psa_63:8.
THERE ARE three notes in this Psalm which betoken the stages of the soul’s growth: “My soul thirsteth for Thee”; “my soul shall be satisfied”; “my soul followeth hard after Thee.” We may be passing through a wilderness of spiritual drought, the dark night of the soul, the seasons of dryness and depression which are apt to befall. In some cases, as when Elijah asked to die, or when John sent his despairing question to Christ from his prison, it is the result of physical or mental overstrain. But at such times, let us never hesitate still to speak of God as “‘my God.” Nothing can sever you from His everlasting Love. You may not have the glad consciousness of it, but you must never surrender your belief in it. Go on blessing Him, as long as you live, and lift up your hands in prayer.
But we can never be satisfied with what we have attained. God is ever moving forward! Let us follow hard after Him.
Living or dying, Lord, I would be Thine. Draw me day by day nearer to Thyself, until I be wholly filled with Thy love, and fitted to behold Thee face to face. AMEN.
VICTORY OVER DEATH
“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.”– Isa_25:8.
“O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?”– 1Co_15:55.
“God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”– Rev_7:17.
IN THIS marvellous chapter, Isaiah sings a Song of Hope, as he sees the return of the Hebrew people from captivity, and the overthrow of their foes. The Apostle Paul takes up this thought in 1 Cor. 15. He shows that death is the penalty of sin, and it is by the demands of the law that sin is stirred to activity. But Christ has satisfied and met the claims of the law, and gives power by which we are enabled to obey it; therefore the strength of sin is broken, and the sting of death is gone.
The Christian need not dread to die. For him there is no uncertainty about the future. There is no fear of what may come after death, for the condemnation of the law has been met and borne. We may apostrophise death in these exultant words. The viper has been deprived of its fangs! the prison-house cannot hold its inmates! Bunyan describes Satan as exhorting Captain Sepulchre to be sure to hold Christ, but the injunction was useless. No bars or bolts, no seal or sentry would suffice.
Notice that we are to “Put on” incorruption and immortality (1Co_15:53-54). It is as though the new body will be put on over the old, and as this takes place, all the elements of the old body will be swallowed up and absorbed. when the Holy Spirit completes his work in our souls, there will be no trace of the old rags left in the shining robes in which we shall be arrayed as we go forth to meet the welcome of our Lord. Death to those who believe in Christ is now only a Home-going; the falling asleep to open the eyes in the City of God; the loosening of the anchor, to float down stream in the full tide. “There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”
O God, whensoever Thy ways in nature or in the soul are hard to be understood, then may our quiet confidence, our patient trust, our loving faith in Thee be great, and as children knowing that they are loved, cared for, guarded, kept, may we with a quiet mind at all times put our trust in the unseen God. So may we face life without fear, and death without fainting. AMEN.
PROPOSALS AND DISPOSALS
“Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” — Luk_12:15.
MEN ARE often more eager to get God’s help in temporalities than in spiritualities. The man in the crowd, who appealed to Christ, was more anxious that He should interpose on his behalf in a family dispute than to give him the life of the ages. But our Lord refused to be Judge and Arbitrator. His ministry went deeper to the springs of action, and He knew that in each brother there was the root of covetousness, which led the one to wrong the other. He struck at the sin which lay at the root of all such disputes about property.
Our Lord insisted that life does not consist in the abundance of things of which we may happen to be possessed. We say: “So and so is worth a million pounds!” Heaven estimates a man’s worth by the courage, faith, purity, self-control, and love to God and man, which have grown up in the soul by the careful discipline of the years! Acceptance and rank in the Kingdom of God depends on character, not on possessions.
How often man proposes and God disposes! We say, “We shall yet live for many years, and enjoy the fruit of our labours”; but God says: “‘To-night!’” Listen to the Apostle James, speaking to those who said, “To-day or to-morrow we will go to this city or that, and spend a year there, and carry on a successful business! All the while you do not even know what will happen to-morrow. For your life is but a mist, which appears on the hill-side, but vanishes at the touch of dawn. Surely, we ought to say: If it is the Lord’s will, we shall live, and do this or that” (Jam_4:13-17).
Many talk of seeing life who see only its most sordid and ugly side. If a man really wishes to see life, and know happy days, the secret is given in 1Pe_3:10-19. This is the message of the Gospel, “That God has given us the Life of the ages, and that this life is in Christ Jesus. He who has the Son has the Life” (Joh_3:36; 1Jo_5:12).
Lord, I know not what is before me, but Thou knowest. Choose Thou my portion for me. Lead me by Thine own hand; and keep me close to Thee, day by day, and night by night. AMEN.
THE SACRIFICE OF PRAISE
“Serve the Lord with gladness: Come before His presence with singing.”– Psa_100:2.
“Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, the fruit of lips which make confession to His Name.”– Heb_13:15 (R.V.).
THE HUNDREDTH Psalm is rightly entitled “A Psalm of Thanksgiving” (R.V.). The Psalmist calls for a “joyful noise,” i.e. an audible expression of worship. Do not be content with a thankful heart, but express it! It is good to let God have “the fruit of our lips.” As a bird will awaken the whole choir of a woodland glade, so the soul really aglow with loving adoration will spread its own contagion of song. How often Christian people hinder the progress of Christianity by their dullness, gloominess, and depression. His service is perfect freedom, and if we delight ourselves in the Lord, we should serve Him with gladness!
It is very important to maintain the habit of regular church-going because of its opportunity for worship. Let us “enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise!” By meditation and prayer let us ask that we may be accounted worthy to stand in His Presence, and offer praise and adoration to the Most High God, mingled with the fragrance of our Saviour’s Name (Rev_8:3-4).
“‘The Lord is good!” There are many mysteries, and much pain and sorrow in the world. We must dare to believe and affirm the goodness of God beneath all the distressing elements of modem life. With His goodness are combined His mercy and His truth. Let men do their worst, “His truth endureth to all generations.” It is an impregnable Rock, on which the waves of sin can make no sensible impression. What comfort there is in knowing that equally His mercy is everlasting. We need so much patience, forbearance, and longsuffering, that if God’s mercy were anything less we should despair, but it is extended to every generation till Time shall be no more!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits. AMEN.
WALKING WITH JESUS
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.”– Col_2:6.
THE DAILY walk of the Christian soul is so absolutely important because it is our witness to the world. Our character, as exemplified in our behaviour, is the world’s only Bible and sermon (2Co_3:2-3). Let us learn to walk so as to please God, and to bless mankind. To walk is at first a matter of considering every little step, but afterwards it becomes the habit of the soul (Col_1:10).
We received Jesus into our hearts by faith. He entered through the open door and became our Lord and Master. In the same manner we must live always and everywhere, receiving from Him, by faith, grace upon grace, and allowing what He works in to work out in all manner of godliness, tenderness, and Christlikeness. This practice of looking to Jesus for grace in every circumstance of life tends to become more and more habitual–and this is what the Apostle means when he says, “Rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith.”
But such a walk is only possible when we have learned to “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal_5:24). The flesh is the assertion of our self-life, whether in lesser or grosser forms, but whenever self intrudes it exercises a baleful influence on our behaviour and conversation. Just as the iron of the steamer will deflect the needle of the compass, so the intrusion of our self-life will act as a drag upon our character and walk.
How can we crucify the flesh? Only by allowing the Holy Spirit to have supreme control. He makes the Cross every day dearer and more effective. He will conquer evil habits in us and for us, while we stand by as more than conquerors through His grace. If we will be led by Him, there will not only be deliverance from the self-life, but He will produce in us the fruit of holy living which will please God and refresh men.
Let Thy Holy Spirit be continually with us, and may we feel the powerful effects of Thy Divine Grace constantly directing and supporting our steps. AMEN.
GOD OUR DEFENCE AND DELIVERER
“As birds flying, so will the Lord of Hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also He will deliver it, and passing over He will preserve it.”– Isa_31:5.
WE HAVE in this chapter three beautiful synonyms for God. He is Wise (Isa_31:1-3). The politicians of that time were boasting of their wisdom-in having secured the Egyptian alliance, but their cleverness and strategy were not destined to be of any help to them. Why did they not consult the Holy One of Israel, and seek the help of the Almighty? Was His wisdom only in heavenly and religious matters? Had He not the power to infuse men like Isaiah with a wisdom for earthly and human politics? Surely the boast of wisdom was mockery in the leaders of the people, at that dread hour of Jerusalem’s history, when they turned away from the Light and Glory of the Shekinah to seek human counsellors and worldly stratagems. Not only in religious matters, but in the daily ordering of our human life, “if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting!” (Jam_1:5.)
He is as a Lion (Isa_31:4). The lion is more than a match for the groups of shepherds who endeavour to stand against him with their crooks. He is not afraid of their shouting and views them with contempt. Does not this mean that the mighty presence and power of God would shelter the soul that trusts Him? All the nations might assail the city in vain whilst the Lion of the Tribe of Judah stood as sentry! If you are fearful of heart, and dread the attack of man, flee to God for refuge and defence (Psa_46:1).
He is as a mother-bird and her nest (Isa_31:5). How wonderful these words are! How near God comes to each one of us! We are reminded of our Saviour who longed to gather Jerusalem under His wings! Amid all the fret and worry and anxiety of your life, dare to believe in a Love that will not let you go!
O God our Father, how can we thank Thee for Thy Holy Word, and the many methods by which Thou wouldst gain our confidence and love! Give us grace to return unto our rest beneath the shadow of Thy wings! AMEN.
GOD’S RESPONSE TO OUR CRY
“He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when He shall hear it, He will answer thee.”– Isa_30:19.
THIS IS one of the most exquisite chapters in Isaiah’s prophecy. Notice its profound teaching. God permitted the Assyrian to come because of the deep lessons it would teach the king and people that certain abuses must be checked. The siege would surely come, and they would know something of the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, but the Almighty would be near, speaking to His people not only by their sorrows, but by His servants, and by the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. Thus we have an example of the persuasive providence of God. His grace surrounds and keeps His people, but if we wilfully sin, we break the cordon of His protection. When we repent and turn back again to cry to Him, the gentle hand of the Lord will bind up our wounds and soothe our spirits; songs break forth in the night, and our heart is filled with gladness.
The latter part of this chapter (Isa_30:27-33) describes the coming of Sennacherib’s troops. They are terrible, and yet there was a sense in which they were called into existence with God: “Behold the Name of the Lord cometh from afar.” The advance is compared to a terrific thunderstorm, and then to the rush of a mountain torrent. In Isa_30:28 the final check is given, as when a wild animal is lassoed and brought to its knees. Presently the enemy would vanish silently, and once more the stricken land would he ploughed up for sowing the seed, streams would flow as before, and joyful harvests reaped.
How tender and gracious are these words to those in pain and distress. Be of good cheer, God has not forgotten to be gracious to you! Take to heart these sweet promises, and ask that the counterpart of these blessings may be granted in your experience.
Our Father, we realize that Thou dost need to discipline us when we cease from walking in Thy faith and fear! Make us more sensitive and responsive to the voice of the Holy Spirit, saying: this is the way, walk ye in it; that with gladness of heart we may once more return to Thee. AMEN
THE EQUILIBRIUM OF LIFE
“And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they did take their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people.”– Act_2:46-47 (R.V.).
IN EVERY life there should be the worship of the Temple and the service of the Home. Do we realize that God is directing and locating our life-plan? The Home is His arrangement for us equally with the Temple, and the daily meal may be an ordinance as the Lord’s Supper. Do you take your food “with gladness and singleness of heart,” or do you grumble over your meals? Do you perform common tasks gladly and gratefully? This is only possible when we come to understand that the greatness of life consists, not so much in doing so-called great things, but in doing small things greatly! “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
We have been compared to the weavers of the Gobelin tapestry, who may have to work a number of apparently drab and sombre, uninteresting and common things into the pattern on the wrong side of the woof. It is only when the texture is completed that they can see and admire the design that is worthy of the palace of the king! So it is with your life and mine: “We work, we suffer, and see neither the end nor the fruit. But God sees it, and when He releases us from our task, He will disclose to our wondering gaze what He, the great Artist, has woven out of those toils that now seem so sterile.”
There was great joy in the lives of these early Christians. They parted with their worldly possessions, but they were filled with gladness, and probably this gave them favour with the people. There was true helpfulness among them. Each went shares with the rest. The give and take of life is so important. We are all glad enough to take what we can get, but how about to give! We like to be waited on, but how about the serving? Yet true gladness and happiness depends, not on being ministered to, but in ministry. When we have learnt the secret of praising God in and for everything; when we refuse to shut ourselves up in our own griefs, but compel our dull spirits to enter into the joys of those around, then we shall have no difficulty in living joyfully and gladly.
O Lord, renew our spirits and draw our hearts unto Thyself that our work may not be to us a burden, but a delight; and give us such a mighty love to Thee as may sweeten all our obedience. AMEN.
GOD’S DELAYS ARE NOT DENIALS
“Therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you; for the Lord is a God of judgment; blessed are all they that wait for Him.”– Isa_30:18.
THERE ARE many illustrations of this Divine method in the Word of God. The Angel at the Jabbok-ford waited till Jacob could wrestle no more, being completely exhausted by his struggles; and then, as his helpless antagonist clung to Him for support, He whispered in his ear His mystic name and blessed him there.
Our Lord waited till the Syrophenician woman fell helpless at His feet, with the cry: “Lord, help me!” that He might grant to her the boon she craved for her child. From His throne in Heaven He pursued the same method, waiting to be gracious till the apostles and others in the upper room had reached such a condition of helplessness that He could give them their Pentecost; waiting till the little group of disciples had exhausted every other expedient, that He might release to them Peter from his prison; waiting till Paul had renounced all creative energy, that He might make him strong in His almighty power, while He whispered: “My grace is sufficient for thee; My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Too often we have misinterpreted God’s dealings with us. When He has tarried beyond the Jordan, in spite of our entreaties that He should hasten to save Lazarus, we have concluded that He was strangely neglectful. But, in fact, He was waiting, at no small cost to His heart, till we had come to the end of ourselves, and the way was clear for Him to work a more astounding miracle than we had dared to hope.
God’s delays are not denials; they are not neglectful nor unkind. He is waiting with watchful eye and intent for the precise moment to strike, when He can give a blessing which will be without alloy, and will flood all after life with blessings so royal, so plenteous, so divine, that eternity will be too short to utter all our praise.
We ask from the treasures of Thy grace for a more childlike trust, a more faithful spirit, a more loyal will. May our obedience open to us all spiritual knowledge. AMEN.
“He removed from thence, and digged another well… and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” — Gen_26:22.
ISAAC SEEMS to be rather a disappointing character, and we sometimes wonder that he should be classed with Abraham, the father of all who believe; and Jacob, who prevailed with the Angel and became a Prince! He was passive, quiet, given to thoughtful meditation (Gen_24:63). God’s purpose includes all sorts and types of men, and Isaac dug wells of which men have drunk for thousands of years.
He was constantly pursued by enmity, jealousy, and strife, as the names of his wells attest. But each time he consistently retired from the conflict, and yielded his well to dig another. Finally, his enemies had to confess that he was mightier than they (Gen_26:16). Best of all, God appeared to him “the same night,” and promised that He would be with Him and bless him.
Let us learn to sublimate our resistance to evil, and lift it from the physical to the moral and spiritual level. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty” (Pro_16:32). Go on digging wells–the wells of Family Prayer, of love for the Bible, of holy exercises and habits! You will find spring water (Gen_26:19). That is God’s side of your life. You are called to dig wells, but God’s Holy Spirit will rise up in your soul, and in the souls of others, like the geyser-springs in Arctic regions (Joh_4:14). Let us present to Him ourselves—our souls and bodies, to be the wells and channels, along and through which His eternal God-Head and Power, arising from the fathomless depths of His own nature, may reach this thirsty and parched world!
God is Love: Love is Self-Giving: but God depends on the co-operation of us, the well-diggers, to make outlets for the outflow of His Love and Goodness.
Most Merciful Father, give us grace that we may never be drawn to do anything that may dishonour Thy Name; but may persevere in all good purposes, and in Thy holy service, unto our lives’ end. AMEN.