July 11: That We Would Bear Fruit

“I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; You have chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn you me, and I shall be turned; for you are the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yes, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.” Jeremiah 31:18, 19

The divine life in the soul of man is indestructible—it cannot perish; the seed that grace has implanted in the heart is incorruptible—it cannot be corrupted. So far from trials, and conflicts, and storms, and tempests impairing the principle of holiness in the soul, they do but deepen and strengthen it, and tend greatly to its growth. We look at Job; who of mere man was ever more keenly tried?—and yet, so far from destroying or even weakening the divine life within him, the severe discipline of the covenant, through which he passed, did but deepen and expand the root, bringing forth in richer clusters the blessed fruits of holiness. Do you think, dear reader, the divine life in his soul had undergone any change for the worse, when, as the result of God’s covenant dealings with him, he exclaimed—”I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye sees You: why I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes?” No, the pruning of the fruitful branch impairs not, but rather strengthens and renders more fruitful the principle of holiness in the soul.

It is the will of God that His people should be a fruitful people. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification,”—the sanctification of a believer including all fruitfulness. He will bring out His own work in the heart of His child; and never does He take His child in hand with a view of dealing with him according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, but that dealing results in a greater degree of spiritual fruitfulness. Now, when the Lord afflicts, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies the affliction of the believer, is not this again among the costly fruit of that discipline, that self has become more hateful? This God declared should be the result of His dealings with His, ancient people Israel, for their idolatry—”They shall loathe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.” And again—”Then shall you remember your ways, and all your doings wherein you have been defiled; and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight, for all your evils that you have committed.”

To loathe self on account of its sinfulness, to mortify it in all its forms, and to bring it entirely into subjection to the spirit of holiness, is, indeed, no small triumph of Divine grace in the soul, and no mean effect of the sanctified use of the Lord’s dispensations. That must ever be considered a costly mean that accomplished this blessed end. Beloved reader, is your covenant God and Father dealing with you now? Pray that this may be one blessed result, the abasement of self within you, the discovering of it to you in all its deformity, and its entire subjection to the cross of Jesus.

July 3: It Is Jesus

“For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” 2 Corinthians 4:11, 13

What is the life of faith which the believer lives, but a manifestation of the life of the Lord Jesus? The highest, the holiest, the happiest life lived below, is the life of faith. But nature contributes nothing to this life. It comes from a higher source. It is supernatural—it is opposed to nature. It springs from the life “hid with Christ in God.” “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.”

Here is a glorious manifestation of the life of Jesus. If we desire any evidence that Jesus is risen, that He is alive again, and that He is the life of the soul, here it is! See the faith of a child of God sifted as wheat, yet not one grain falling to the ground—tried as gold, yet not one particle lost—though in the flame, yet never consumed. And why? Because Christ lives in the soul. Dear believer! your faith may be sharply tempted—severely tried—but never, never shall it quite fail; for Jesus lives in you, and lives in you forever.

Oh blessed trial of faith, that manifests in, and endears to, you the life of Jesus! It is the precious trial of “precious faith,”—a faith which the more deeply it is tried, the more deeply it manifests the risen life of its Divine “Author and Finisher.”

And what, too, are all the supports of the believer in seasons of trial, suffering, and bereavement, but so many manifestations of the life of the Lord Jesus? What is our path to glory, but the path of tribulation, of suffering, and of death? Our Lord and Master, in the expression of His wisdom and love, forewarns us of this—”In the world you shall have tribulation.” And His apostles but echo the same sentiment, when they affirm that it is “through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom.”

But the life of our risen Lord is daily manifested in us. This it is that keeps the soul buoyant amid the billows, strong in faith, joyful in hope, soaring in love. Thus is Jesus the life of every grace, the life of every promise, the life of every ordinance, the life of every blessing; yes, of all that is really costly and precious to a child of God, Jesus is the substance, the glory, the sweetness, the fragrance, yes, the very life itself. Oh! dark and lonely, desolate and painful indeed were our present pilgrimage, but for Jesus. If in the world we have tribulation, in whom have we peace?—in Jesus! If in the creature we meet with fickleness and change, in whom find we the “Friend that loves at all times”?—in Jesus!

When adversity comes as a wintry blast, and lays low our comforts, when the cloud is upon our tabernacle, when health, and wealth, and influence, and friends are gone—in whom do we find the covert from the wind, the faithful, tender “Brother born for adversity?”—in Jesus! When temptation assails, when care darkens, when trial oppresses, when bereavement wounds, when heart and flesh are failing, who throws around us the protecting shield, who applies the precious promise, who speaks the soothing word, who sustains the sinking spirit, who heals the sorrow, and dries the tear?—Jesus! Where sin struggles in the heart, and guilt burdens the conscience, and unbelief beclouds the mind, whose grace subdues our iniquities, whose blood gives us peace, and whose light dispels our darkness?—Jesus!

And when the spark of life wanes, and the eye grows dim, and the mind wanders, and the soul, severing its last fetter, mounts and soars away, who, in that awful moment, draws near in form unseen, and whispers in words unheard by all but the departing one, now in close communion with the solemn realities of the invisible world—”Fear not; I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die”?—still, it is Jesus! “

June 30: Shut In To God

“Save me, O God, by your name, and judge me by your strength. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul: they have not set God before them. Selah. Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with those who uphold my soul.” Psalm 54:1-4

WHERE was David now? “In the wilderness of Ziph, in a wood.” With not a follower or companion, this favorite of the nation was a homeless wanderer, hunted like a partridge upon the mountain by the bloodthirsty king. But oh, the deep teaching of which he would now be the subject! The nothingness of earthly glory—the emptiness of human applause—the poverty of the creature—the treachery of his own heart—in a word, the vapid nature and utter insufficiency of all earthly good, would be among the many holy and costly lessons he would now learn.

Nor this alone. Driven from man, he would now be more exclusively and entirely shut in with God. In his happy experience, that wilderness would be as a peopled world, and that wood as a blooming paradise. From the profound depths of its solitude and stillness, there would ascend the voice of prayer and the melody of praise. The wilderness of Ziph would be another Patmos, all radiant with the glorious and precious presence of Him, who laid his right hand upon the exiled Evangelist, and said, “Fear not, I am He that lives.”

See we no fore-shadowing of Jesus here? Oh yes; much, we think. Nor is this strange, since David was preeminently a personal type of Christ. There were periods in our Lord’s brief and humiliating history on earth, when, indeed, He seemed for awhile to ride upon the topmost wave of popular favor. After some stupendous prodigy of His power, or some splendid outgushing of His benevolence, sending its electric thrill through the gazing and admiring populace, He would often become the envy and the dread of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Jealous of His widening fame and growing power, they would seek to tarnish the one by detraction, and to arrest the other by His death. Escaping from their fury, He would betake Himself to the fastnesses of the rock, and to the solitude of the desert—but, alas! with no human sympathy to strengthen His hands in God. Oh, how strangely has Jesus trodden the path, along which He is leading His saints to glory!

Is there nothing analogous to this in the experience of the faithful? Who can witness for the Lord Jesus—conceive some new idea of doing good—occupy some prominent post of responsibility and power—or prove successful in some enterprise of Christian benevolence—and while thus winning the admiration and applause of the many, not find himself an object of the unholy envy and vituperation of a few? “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you!” Thus may an active, zealous, successful Christian be crucified between human idolatry on the one hand, and creature jealousy on the other. Well, be it so, if self be slain, and God is glorified.

The great secret, however, to learn here is, entire deadness to both. Going forward in the work of the Lord, as judgment dictates, as conscience approves, and as Providence guides—dead to human applause, and indifferent to human censure; ever taking the low place, aiming at the Lord’s glory, and seeking the honor that comes from God only—this is happiness. Oh, to live and labor, to give and to suffer, in the meek simplicity of Christ, and with eternity full in view! The Lord grant us grace so to live, and so to die!

A Man Of Sorrows

Christ is ever with you — in suffering. He Himself was a sufferer. Oh, suffering never looked so lovely, martyrdom never wore a crown so resplendent — as when the Son of God bowed His head and drank the cup of woe for us! Himself a sufferer — is there a being in the universe who could take His place at your side in all the scenes of mental, spiritual, and bodily suffering through which your Heavenly Father leads you, comparable to Christ? What are your sufferings — contrasted with His? And what was there in the unparalleled greatness and intensity of His sufferings — to disqualify Him from entering with the warmest love and deepest sympathy into yours?

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June 29: The Rough And Thorny Way

“Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Hebrews 11:25.

THE believer should never fail to remember that the present is, by the appointment of God, the afflicted state to him. It is God’s ordained, revealed will, that His covenant children here should be in an afflicted condition. When called by grace, they should never take into their account any other state. They become the disciples of the religion of the cross—they become the followers of a crucified Lord—they put on a yoke, and assume a burden: they must, then, expect the cross inward and the cross outward. To escape it is impossible. To pass to glory without it, is to go by another way than God’s ordering, and in the end to fail of arriving there. The gate is strait, and the way is narrow, which leads unto life; and a man must become nothing, if he would enter and be saved. He must deny himself—he must become a fool that he may be wise—he must receive the sentence of death in himself, that he should not trust in himself. The wise man must cease to glory in his wisdom, the mighty man must cease to glory in his might, the rich man must cease to glory in his riches, and their only ground of glory in themselves must be their insufficiency, infirmity, poverty, and weakness; and their only ground of glory out of themselves must be, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The believer in Jesus, then, must not forget that if the path he treads is rough and thorny, if the sky is wintry, if the storm is severe, and the cross He bears is heavy, that yet this is the road to heaven. He is but in the wilderness, why should He expect more than belongs to the wilderness state? He is on a journey, why should he look for more than a traveler’s fare? He is far from home, why should He murmur and repine that he has not all the rest, the comfort, and the luxuries of his Father’s house? If your covenant God and Father has allotted to you poverty, be satisfied that it should be your state, yes, rejoice in it. If bitter adversity, if deep affliction, if the daily and the heavy cross, be your portion, yet, breathe not one murmur, but rather rejoice that you are led into the path that Jesus Himself walked in, to “go forth by the footsteps of the flock,” and that you are counted worthy thus to be one in circumstance with Christ and his people.

June 2: Trials Of Faith

“For you, O God, have proved us: you have tried us, as silver is tried.” Psalm 66:10

FAITH has its trials, as well as its temptations. Affliction is a trial of faith; sorrow in any of its multitudinous forms is a trial of faith; the delay of mercy is a trial of faith; the promise unfulfilled is a trial of faith; the prayer unanswered is a trial of faith; painful providences, mysterious dispensations, straitened circumstances, difficulties, and embarrassments, all are so many trials of faith, commissioned and designed by God to place the gold in the crucible, and the wheat in the sieve, that both may be purified and tried.

Ah, is it no trial of the believer’s faith, when the foundation upon which it rests is assailed? Is it no trial of faith to have distorted representations of God presented to its eye, dishonoring thoughts of God suggested to the mind, unbelieving apprehensions of Jesus, His love, His grace, and His works, foisted upon the heart? To entertain for one moment the idea that God is unfaithful to His word, or that in His dealings He is arbitrary and unkind? That Jesus is not what He represents Himself to be, an all-sufficient Savior of the lost, the healer of the broken in heart, the tender, gentle Savior, not breaking the bruised reed, but supporting it, not quenching the smoking flax, but fanning it? Oh yes, these to a holy mind are painful trials of faith, from which the tender conscience shrinks, and the sensitive heart recoils.

It is only true grace that is really tried. No man puts mere dross into his furnace, or mere chaff into his sieve. All his toils and pains-taking would go for nothing, for it would come forth in its nature unaltered and unchanged—the dross would still be dross, and the chaff would still be chaff. Now the Lord tries, and Satan tempts, nothing but genuine grace. It is the wheat, and not the tares, that is made to pass through the fiery trial. Thus do afflictions and trying dispensations prove tests of a man’s religion. When there is nothing but tinsel in a profession of Christianity, the fire will consume it; when there is nothing but chaff, the wind will scatter it. The furnace of temptation and the flail of affliction often prove a man’s work of what sort it is, long before the discovery is made in a world where no errors can be corrected, and when it will be too late to rectify mistakes. Thus it is that so many professors, who have not the root of the matter in themselves, but endure for awhile, are offended and fall away when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word.

And why is the “wheat” thus sifted? Why is so Divine and precious a grace subjected to a process so humiliating and severe? Certainly not because of any intrinsic impurity in the grace itself. All the graces of the Spirit, as they proceed from God, and are implanted in the heart, are pure and holy; as essentially free from sin as the nature from where they flow. But in consequence of the impurity of the heart, and the defilement of the nature in which they are deposited—the body of sin and death by which they are incased—they become mixed with particles of earthliness and carnality, the fine gold with dross, and the pure wheat with chaff. To purify and separate the graces of the Holy Spirit from these things, so foreign to their nature, the Lord permits these temptations, and sends these trials of faith.

Not only may the faith of a child of God be severely assailed, but there are times when that faith may greatly waver. Is this surprising? No, the greatest wonder is, that with all these severe shocks, through which it passes, it does not entirely fail. Nothing but the Divinity that dwells within that grace keeps it. Were it not Divine and incorruptible, fail entirely it must. Look at Abraham—on one occasion in the strength of faith offering up his son, and on another occasion in the weakness of faith denying his wife! Look at David—in the strength of faith slaying Goliath, and in the weakness of faith fleeing from Saul! Look at Job—in the strength of faith justifying God in the severest of His dealings, and in the weakness of faith cursing the day that He was born! Look at Peter—in the strength of faith drawing his sword and smiting a servant of the high priest’s, and in the weakness of faith forced by a little maid to deny the Lord whom he had but just defended! Oh! the wonder of wonders is, that there remains a single grain in the sieve, or a particle of metal in the furnace, or a solitary spark in the ocean—that all is not utterly scattered, consumed, and annihilated! Nothing but the power of God and its own incorruptible and imperishable nature, preserve it.

Soul Distress

Dear child of God, your afflictions, your trials, your crosses, your losses, your sorrows, all, all are in your heavenly Father’s, hand, and they can not come until sent by him. Bow that stricken heart, yield that tempest-tossed soul to his sovereign disposal, to his calm, righteous sway, in the submissive spirit and language of your suffering Savior: “Your will, O my father! not mine, be done. My times of sadness and of grief are in your hand.”

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June 1: Through Afflictions

“Howbeit you are just in all that is brought upon us; for you have done right, but we have done wickedly.” Neh. 9:33

IT would be incorrect to suppose that the chastisements of our heavenly Father were in themselves pleasant and desirable. They are no more so than the physician’s recipe, or the surgeon’s lancet. But as in the one case, so in the other, we look beyond the medicine to its sanative qualities, we forget the bitterness of the draught in its remedial results. Thus with the medicine of the soul—the afflictions sent and sanctified by God. Forgetting the bitter and the pain of God’s dealings, the only question of moment is, what is the cause and what the design of my Father in this? The answer is—our deeper sanctification.

This is effected, first, by making us more thoroughly acquainted with the holiness of God Himself. Sanctified chastisement has an especial tendency to this. To suppose a case. Our sense of God’s holiness, previously to this dispensation, was essentially defective, unsound, superficial, and uninfluential. The judgment admitted the truth; we could speak of it to others, and in prayer acknowledge it to God; but still there was a vagueness and an indistinctness in our conceptions of it, which left the heart cold, and rendered the walk uneven. To be led now into the actual, heart-felt experience of the truth, that in all our transactions we had to deal with the holy, heart-searching Lord God, we find quite another and an advanced stage in our journey, another and a deeper lesson learned in our school. This was the truth, and in this way Nehemiah was taught. “Howbeit you are just (holy) in all that is brought upon us; for you have done right, but we have done wickedly.”

Oh blessed acknowledgment! Do not think that we speak unfeelingly when we say, it were worth all the discipline you have ever passed through, to a have become more deeply schooled in the lesson of God’s holiness. One most fruitful cause of all our declensions from the Lord will be found wrapped up in the crude and superficial views which we entertain of the character of God, as a God of infinite purity. And this truth He will have His people to study and to learn, not by sermons, nor from books, not from hearsay, nor from theory, but in the school of loving chastisement—personally and experimentally. Thus beholding more closely, and through a clearer medium, this Divine perfection, the believer is changed more perfectly into the same moral image. “He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.”

The rod of the covenant has a wonderful power of discovery. Thus, by revealing to us the concealed evil of our natures, we become more holy. “The blueness (that is, the severity) of a wound cleanses away evil.” This painful discovery often recalls to memory past failings and sins. David went many years in oblivion of his departure from God, until Nathan was sent, who, while he told him of his sin, with the same breath announced the message of Divine forgiveness. Then it was the royal penitent kneeled down and poured forth from the depths of his anguished spirit the fifty-first Psalm—a portion of God’s word which you cannot too frequently study. “I do remember my sin this day,” is the exclamation of the chastened sufferer.

Thus led to search into the cause of the Divine correction, and discovering it—perhaps after a long season of forgetfulness—the “blueness of the wound,” the severity of the rod, “cleanses away the evil;” in other words, more deeply sanctifies the soul. “Show me why you contend with me.”

Dark Dispensations

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope you in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 42:11

In all His dispensations—the severest and the darkest—have faith in God. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest achievements of faith. To believe in God when He smiles, to trust in Him when conscious of His nearness, to have faith in Him when the path is flowery and pleasant, were an easy task. But to have faith in Him when “He holds back the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud upon it; to love Him when He frowns; to follow Him when He withdraws; to cleave to Him when He would seem to shake us off; to trust in Him when His arm is raised to slay—this were faith indeed. And yet all this the faith of God’s elect can achieve. If not, of what value is it? Of what possible use to the mariner would be the compass which would only work in the day, and not in the night? which only served to steer the vessel in light winds, and not in rough gales? Faith is the believing soul’s compass, guiding it as truly and as certainly to the heavenly port through the wildest tempest as through the serenest calm. To change the figure, faith is that celestial telescope which can pierce the thickest haze or the darkest cloud, descrying suns and stars glowing and sparkling in the far distance. It can discern God’s smile under a frown; it can read His name to be “love” beneath the dark dispensation; it can behold the Sun of Righteousness beaming through the interstices of gloomy clouds; and now and then it can catch a glimpse of the harbor itself, with the towering turrets and golden spires of the “new Jerusalem” glittering in the distance. Oh, it is a wonderful grace, the precious faith of God’s elect!

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May 29: Why Are You Downcast?

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope you in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 42:11

In all His dispensations—the severest and the darkest—have faith in God. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest achievements of faith. To believe in God when He smiles, to trust in Him when conscious of His nearness, to have faith in Him when the path is flowery and pleasant, were an easy task. But to have faith in Him when “He holds back the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud upon it; to love Him when He frowns; to follow Him when He withdraws; to cleave to Him when He would seem to shake us off; to trust in Him when His arm is raised to slay—this were faith indeed. And yet all this the faith of God’s elect can achieve.

If not, of what value is it? Of what possible use to the mariner would be the compass which would only work in the day, and not in the night? which only served to steer the vessel in light winds, and not in rough gales? Faith is the believing soul’s compass, guiding it as truly and as certainly to the heavenly port through the wildest tempest as through the serenest calm. To change the figure, faith is that celestial telescope which can pierce the thickest haze or the darkest cloud, descrying suns and stars glowing and sparkling in the far distance. It can discern God’s smile under a frown; it can read His name to be “love” beneath the dark dispensation; it can behold the Sun of Righteousness beaming through the interstices of gloomy clouds; and now and then it can catch a glimpse of the harbor itself, with the towering turrets and golden spires of the “new Jerusalem” glittering in the distance. Oh, it is a wonderful grace, the precious faith of God’s elect!

Is God dealing with you now in a way of deep trial, of dark providence, mysterious to your mind, and painful to your heart? Is He even chastening you for your backslidings, correcting you for your sins? Still “have faith in God.” Sensible appearances, second causes, cannot in the least degree affect the ground of your faith which is God Himself—His immutable nature, His unchangeable love, His eternal purpose, His everlasting covenant, His own Divine and glorious perfections. Believe that you are in His heart, and that your interests are in His hands. Have faith in His wisdom to guide, in His love to direct, in His power to sustain, in His faithfulness to fulfill every promise that now relates to your best welfare and happiness. Only believe in God—that all things in His disposal of you, in His transactions with you, are working together for our present and eternal good. All that He expects and requires of you now is to have faith in Him. The cloud may be dark, the sea tempestuous, but God is in the cloud, and “the Lord sits upon the flood.” Even now it is the privilege of your faith to exclaim, “My soul, hope you in God. He is my God; I will trust, and not be
afraid.”

Oh, what inspiring words are these—”hope you in God!” I hesitate not to say, my reader, you may hope in God. Though your case may seem desperate, to your eye cheerless and hopeless, not merely too intricate for man, but too unworthy for God—yet you may hope in God. Take your case to Him, hoping against hope, and believing in unbelief. Will He close His heart against you? Never! Will He repel you when you fly to Him? Never! It is not in the heart of God, no, nor is it in His power, to do so.

Take hold of His strength—I speak it humbly, reverentially—and you have overcome God. You disarm Him of the instrument and of the power to punish you; you have laid your hand of faith upon the strength of His love, and have made peace with Him. You cannot cherish a hope too sanguine, nor exercise a faith too implicit in God, hopeless, cheerless, and extreme as your case may be. Impossible! God never appears so like Himself, as in the season of the believer’s darkness and suffering. At the very moment in which he sees the least of God, God appears the most what He is. The tenderest unfoldings of His heart are in sorrow, the brightest exhibitions of His character are in darkness, and the most glorious displays of His wisdom, power, and grace are seen gleaming through the mist.