"He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver." Mal 3:3
"That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." 1Pe 1:7
Nothing is harder to bear than the apparent aimlessness of suffering.
They say that what breaks a convict's heart in gaol is to set him to say carry stones from one side of the prison to the other, and then back again! But we must never look upon the trials of life as punishments, because all penalty was borne by our Lord Himself. They are intended to destroy the weeds and rubbish of our natures, as the bonfires do in the gardens. Christ regards us in the light of our eternal interests, of which He alone can judge. If you and I knew what sphere we were to fulfil in the other world, we should understand the significance of His dealings with us, as now we cannot do. The Refiner has a purpose in view, of which those who stand beside Him are ignorant, and, therefore, they are unable to judge the process which He is employing.
Dare to believe that Christ is working to a plan in your life. He loves you, so be patient! He would not take so much trouble unless He knew that it was worthwhile. "We do not prune brambles, or cast common stones into the crucible or plough sea-sands!" You must be capable of some special service, which can only be done by a carefully-prepared instrument, and so Christ sits beside you as the Refiner, year after year, that you may miss nothing.
Whilst the Fire is hot keep conversing with the Refiner. Ponder these words: "He shall sit as a Refiner and Purifier of silver." The thought is specially suitable for those who cannot make long prayers, but they can talk to Christ as He sits beside them. Nicholas Hermann tells us that, as he could not concentrate his mind on prolonged prayer, he gave up set times of prayer and sought constant conversations with Christ. Speak to Him, then, in the midst of your daily toil. He hears the unspoken prayer, and catches your whispers. Talk to Christ about your trials, sorrows, and anxieties! Make Him your Confidant in your joy and happiness! Nothing makes Him so real as to talk to Him aloud about everything!
"Come now, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh And God said, I AM THAT I AM: Thus shall thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." Exo 3:10-14
Nothing is more needed to-day than God's Partnership as a realised fact in Christian experience. Many of us may assent to what is written in these lines, and then put it aside, as a dream which is too ethereal to be of practical service. But when the Apostle said that "our fellowship, i.e. our partnership, is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" it is surely meant that we should enter upon our inheritance. "I AM... “Says our great Partner; "fill in your need, and I will meet your demand, according to the riches of My glory in Christ Jesus." Let us tear out the order-forms from God's service-register, fill them up, and present them for delivery. Not one of them would be dishonoured. And if it happened that we had wrongly diagnosed our need, He would erase the demand based on our imperfect knowledge, and substitute what we would ask if we knew. There is nothing more certain than that the more we ask of God, the more pleased He is to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.
Our Lord made use of this incident when He was challenged by the Sadducees to adduce proof of the future life from the Books of Moses. He answered by quoting this paragraph of the burning bush, calling special attention to the fact that Moses referred to God as the "God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob." He said that the use of the present tense---I AM--proved that God is not the God of the dead but of the living, and that all live unto Him.
What a comfort there is in this thought, that our beloved who have passed from us are in-breathing the same atmosphere as we are. We all eat the same spiritual meat and all drink the same spiritual drink. We see in a mirror darkly, but they face to face; but this identity of fellowship, of partnership with the "I AM," the ever-present God who fills heaven and earth, is a proof and a pledge that they have not altered essentially. They are drinking of the same stream higher up and nearer its source: "One family we dwell in him."
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." Rom 12:1
The first thing for all of us to do is to present ourselves to God as alive from the dead, and our bodies as living sacrifices. The path of blessedness can be entered by no other gate. It is only as we refuse to be conformed to this world, and yield ourselves to be transformed by the free entrance of the Holy Spirit into our minds, that we can learn all that God will do for us. We are nothing; He is all. And He is prepared to be and do all things in us, if only we will He open to Him as the land lies open to the summer sun.
Those who really live the yielded life, do not need to ascertain God's Will by signs. They recognize it by the whisper of His voice and the touch of His hand. It is as we refuse to be moulded by the world, and give ourselves up to the transfiguring Spirit of God, that we prove what is His good, acceptable, and perfect will. But more than that, we begin to live for others, and draw by faith from the fullness of God, that we may minister to them aright.
First, we understand what the Will of God is; then we present our bodies that it may fulfil itself through us; then we discover that it means goodwill to men, and we become the happy channels of heavenly ministry to those around us in one of the spheres enumerated in Rom 12:6-8 of this chapter. It is impossible to cherish jealousy, because the Head may use this member or that; it is equally impossible to be proud, because we have nothing that we have not received. Let us always remember that each has a special ministry to fulfil, and that we shall find in our daily lot the opportunity of fulfilling it. How many resemble the landowner of the Eastern story, who sold his property in order to go in search of diamonds, and lo! The man who purchased his property found it full of diamonds. Indeed it was the famous Golconda region. In the dally drudgery of life you will find your heavenly opportunity. How many who are pining for a great mission, will never be permitted to enter it, because they despise the low and narrow door of humble service to those in their immediate neighbourhood.
But we can never realize these divine ideals of service merely by an external obedience. We must be constrained by a holy love to our Lord and to one another. What a despair these ideals would be apart from the Holy Spirit. That holy love comes from Him.
"Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well-doing, as unto a Faithful Creator." 1Pe 4:19
THE MORE one ponders these words, the more wonderful they appear! That God is faithful is as clear as noonday. He is faithful in the return of the seasons and the orbit-order of the stars; faithful in holding back the flood, that it should not overflow the world and destroy the homes of men; faithful to every living creature that He has made, providing for its exact sustenance. Even the odd sparrow, which Christ must have seen thrown in by the dealer, when His Mother bought four others, does not fall to the ground without His notice. God is the Faithful Creator in the heavens above and in the earth beneath. We are not surprised, therefore, to find His faithfulness the theme of Holy Writ; but why does Peter lay emphasis on His faithfulness as Creator, when ministering to the special circumstances of suffering believers? Is not this the reason? We are apt to concentrate our thoughts on the Birth, the Cross, the Grave, the Intercession of our Lord, and to forget that behind all these, deep in the nature of God--the Almighty Creator--there are ever-welling fountains of faithfulness, love, and tenderness. We are summoned to go back beyond the story of Redemption to the infinite silence of Eternity, when each of us was a distinct thought in the mind of God. In His book, all our members were written, when as yet there was none of them.
Whether we have realised that eternal purpose is open to serious questioning, but everyone of us has a right to look into the face of God, and say" "Thine hands have made me, and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn Thy commandments." We may not question God's dealings with us. They are immutably wise and right. But we may claim that in some way He should make good our deficiencies, so that though sorrowful, we should be always rejoicing; though poor we should make many rich; though having nothing, we should scatter our wealth, as though possessing all things. There is no reason why our life should be a failure, no reason why we should not minister richly to others, no reason why, by His grace, we should not be more than conquerors! We may humbly make this claim on the Almighty Creator, and He will not allow His faithfulness to fail!
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up." Isa 6:1
WE LIVE in troubled times, but always in human history, when outward events seem most distracting and distressing. God's servants are drawn in to the secret place of the Most High, and are shown the reassuring vision of God's overruling Providence, and the ordered regularity of His eternal reign. When the land was passing through dark distress, and revolution was imminent, Isaiah beheld the stability of God's Throne.
"It was high and lifted up," far above all other authority, power, or dominion in heaven, on earth, or under the earth! It was crowned with Love---"above it stood the Seraphim." Seraph is derived from fire, and the Seraphim stand for radiant love. If the Throne stands for stability, for judgment, and for power, then above all these attributes, and over-arching Him who sits there, is Love. This is the loftiest conception possible to mortals--Love supreme. The Lamb that was slain is in the midst of the Throne.
The one man who was chosen out of all Israel to see was Isaiah. In all humility he ascended the Temple-steps, hustled by the crowds that went there as a mere religious form. Any of them appeared to need a revealing vision more than he did, but it was the man who had seen, who now saw the Lord; it was the one saint in all Israel who appeared to be most in touch with God, who was brought into still closer touch. The rest saw only the Temple, the high altar, and the ritual, but he saw the "skirts of glory" filling every cranny of the holy place.
Let us not be satisfied with the outward and sensuous, with ritual however splendid, with sermons however magnificent! Those who are humble and persistent in their quest for God will hear notes which other ears cannot catch, will detect a Presence that evades ordinary sight, will enter the realm of the spirit which is closed to the outward observer.
The world may be full of tumult; the floods have lifted up their voice, but the Lord on High is mighty, and He shall overcome, for through Death, Resurrection, and Ascension He is Lord of lords and King of kings!
"The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." Phi 4:5-6
THE WORD anxiety comes from the same root as anger, and suggests the idea of choking. Worry chokes the life of faith. It does not help us to overcome our difficulties, but unfits us for dealing with them. No weapon that is formed against us shall prosper; every tongue that shall rise against us shall be condemned; our bread shall be given, and our water sure. God will perfect that which concerneth us, and His goodness and mercy shall never cease. Roll thyself and thy burden on the Lord, and leave them there. Too many take them back again!
In the darkening autumn evenings, we light our lamps earlier, or turn on the switch, and lo! there is a burst of light which had been waiting to be called upon. So let us keep a smile upon our faces. As we put off our heavy and rain-soaked clothes in the vestibule, so let us leave our anxieties with God, until we have to resume our destined path.
The Lord is at hand! Let us often repeat these words, amid the commonplaces of life, as well as when anticipating His near Advent! Say it when Euodia and Syntyche are giving you trouble! Say it when you are irritated and think that there is no reason why you should accept rebuffs and slights so meekly! Say it when you are worried and anxious! Say it, till you come again into that Presence, which is as the light of the morning when the sun riseth. Practise the Presence of God! Hold fellowship with Him! Even in business, or in the midst of daily toil, often lift your heart for a moment into the atmosphere of His presence! There is a great difference between faith and its intellectual expression. We must rise above the intellectual into spiritual fellowship with God. It is not for us to excite a transient feeling of love towards God. This will soon evanesce. Our business is the absolute surrender of the heart to Him. Not the rapture of the mystic, but the consciousness of the spirit, which is aware of an unimpeded union with the life of the Infinite. To be ever, tranquilly, joyously, and strenuously, at one with the blessed Will of God--that is the Heavenly Paradise, and each of us, by His grace, may walk with Him in happy fellowship, as Enoch did of old, and then we can make known our requests!
The angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire, out of the midst of a bush .... And God called unto him, and said, Moses, Moses, and he said, Here am I." Exo 3:2-4
Moses was an old man of eighty years! For forty years--the spring-tide of his life--he had basked in Court favour. The son of the palace, though born in a slave-hut. According to Stephen, renowned in deed and word, eloquent in speech, learned in the highest culture of his age, accustomed to lead victorious armies in the field, or to assist in raising pyramids or treasure-cities in peace--all that the ancient world could offer was at his feet (Acts 7:22; Heb 11:24-27). But this had been followed by forty other years---of exile, poverty, and heart-break. Instead of the riches of Egypt, he was engaged in tending the sheep of another and the years slowly passed away in obscurity. He was a disappointed and perplexed man. His own record was that when a man's life reaches four-score years, it is labour and sorrow, and he welcomes the cutting off of the web (Psalm 90:10).
One afternoon suddenly a common thorn-bush seemed wrapt in flame. The blaze was pure and clear, and as he watched, "Behold! the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." Small wonder that he arose from the shelter which screened him from the sun, and drew near to "see this great sight." Then was heard that inner Voice, familiar to all pure and humble hearts, which bade him realise that the fire was no ordinary flame, but the pledge and sign of God's Presence.
We must not suppose that there was more of God in that common bush than in the surrounding landscape. It was simply the focusing of His Presence which had always been there, as it is always everywhere. God is as near to each reader of these pages as He was to Moses at that moment! Take this to heart, you most forlorn, most down-hearted, most helpless soul! Be of good cheer! God comes to you, though humbled and scorched, and at the end of yourself! He wraps you around, interpenetrates you, and concentrates Himself on your need, saying: "I AM"--leaving you to fill in His blank cheque, and to claim what you most need. "For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but His kindness shall not depart from you."
Jacob said: All these things are against me." Gen 42:36
"What shall we then say to these things: If God be for us, who can be against us? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. Rom 8:31-37
Thy complaint is very bitter, thou Prince of Israel! What ails thee so sorely? Is there none to comfort?
I do well to be sorrowful! The days of my years have been few and evil! Driven from my father's home; a stranger in a strange land for thirty years; in constant dread of my brother; compelled by the misdeeds of my sons to flee the country; bereaved of my beloved Rachel; lamed through my resistance to God's Angel--I had already suffered to the uttermost; but now we are straitened by famine and want; Joseph is not, Simeon is detained in prison as a hostage, and they are demanding Benjamin, the son of my old age and my right hand."
Let us beware of passing hasty judgments on God's dealings with us. He cannot work out His fair design without some cross-stitches on this side of the canvas. The black clouds are only His water-cisterns, and on the other side they are bathed in sunshine. Do not look at your sorrows from the lowlands of your pilgrimage---but from the uplands of God's purpose. No chastening for the present is joyous but grievous, nevertheless, afterward.., dwell on that Afterward! If Jacob had not been led along this special path, he would never have come out on the shining tableland, where God Himself is Sun.
"In all these things we are more than conquerors! " These are brave words, thou strenuous soul, how darest thou reverse the findings of the patriarch? Hast thou sounded the depths? Hast thou been in the pit?
"Ay! I have most certainly been there! I have experienced tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword; thrice beaten with rods, once stoned. In journeyings and perils, in hunger and thirst, in cold and pain. But nothing has succeeded in separating me from the love of Christ; and I am persuaded that neither life nor death, things present nor things to come.., shall ever separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Yes! thou great Apostle and Lover of Christ, thou art right! In all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him who has loved us--our Saviour, Jesus Christ!
"Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations. Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience." Jam 1:2-3
We are bidden to count our trials as pure Joy, since our patient endurance leads ultimately to the finished product of a holy character. All the trials and afflictions that beset us are seen and shared by our Heavenly Father. God did not save Israel from the ordeal of affliction, but passed through it with them (Exo 3:7-9; Isa 63:9). Evidently there was a wise purpose to be served by those bitter Egyptian experiences. So with ourselves. There is a reason for our trials which we do not understand now, but we shall do some day, when we stand in the light with God. Afflictions are not always chastisement, though in some cases that may be so; but more often we are in grief through manifold trials, that the proof of our faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, may be found unto praise and honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Let us therefore rejoice, and magnify His lovingkindness. What a theme is here for praise! Sweet psalms and hymns have floated down the ages, bearing comfort for myriads, because those who wrote them passed through searching discipline. And it may be that we who have passed through great tribulation will be able to contribute notes in the Heavenly music that the unfallen sons of light could never sing. The Psalter of Eternity could not be complete without the reminiscences, set to music, of the grace that ministered to us in our earthly trials, and brought us up out of the furnace of pain.
Then we shall tell how God's glorious arm went also at our right hand, as at the right hand of Moses; of how the stony paths became soft as mossy grass; of how He led us out of the scorching heat into green pastures and waters of rest; and how He provided for us to make for Himself a glorious Name. Yes, we will make mention of the Lord, according to all that He shall have bestowed upon us, according to His mercies, and according to the multitude of His lovingkindness. We will tell the story of how the Angel of His Presence saved us; how, in His love and pity, He redeemed us; and how He bare and carried us all the days of old. We shall have a great story to tell! "My heart and my flesh fail, but Thou art the strength of my heart and my portion for ever! None of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.'"
"O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me." Isa 38:14
This prayer is so indefinite that it will suit any emergency, and yet brimful of faith that God will undertake all responsibility. Are you oppressed with the sense of failure, with temptation, with the consciousness of sin? Or oppressed with poverty, or debt, or the fear of unemployment, or with inability to find work? Or cast down with bitter persecution within or without your home? Or sorely beset and hindered by ill-health, the hopelessness of recovery? All these eases of oppression are included in this petition, and may be handed over to your faithful Creator, with the certainty that He is as willing as He is able to undertake for you. He is never weary of hearing your cry; the Everlasting Arms are never tired; and our God neither slumbers nor sleeps.
What may we expect from a prayer so simple, yet so comprehensive? We shall know God. "What shall I say, He hath both spoken unto me, and Himself hath done it" (Isa 38:15). Hezekiah had been a religious man, had maintained the Temple Services, had enjoyed the close friendship of Isaiah, yet it was in none of these things that he had met God face to face. But when he turned his face to the wall, and poured out his soul-anguish, He touched God, knew Him after a fresh fashion, heard Him speak, saw Him work. Only through sickness, loneliness, and the pressure of overwhelming sorrow, do some men rightly learn to live, and discover that unseen and most real world, where the life of the spirit unfolds to God as a flower in spring.
At the pit we learn God's Love (Isa 38:17). How can we measure God's love? They say that a man's fist is the measure of his heart. Come and stand beneath the stars! There is God's hand! Now judge His heart! It is illimitable! By that love He has put our sins behind His back into the ocean depths! With that love He has drawn us out of the pit of our sins! By that love He bears with our cold response and languid petitions! Through that love He will bring us to glory! His is a love that will never let us go!
Take the hand of Jesus to steady you; look down into the hole of the pit from which you have been redeemed, and then look up to the Throne of God to which He passed at His Ascension, and recall His own words: "where I am, there shall ye be also." Trust Him to undertake for your little life!