Saturday, October 31, 2009

Union And Communion (Song Of Solomon) by Hudson Taylor

UNION AND COMMUNION
or
THOUGHTS ON THE SONG OF SOLOMON


FORWARD


This little book, whose design is to lead the devout Bible student into the Green Pastures of the Good Shepherd, thence to the Banqueting House of the King, and thence to the service of the Vineyard, is one of the abiding legacies of Mr. Hudson Taylor to the Church. In the power of an evident unction from the Holy One, he has been enabled herein to unfold in simplest language the deep truth of the believer's personal union with the Lord, which under symbol and imagery is the subject of The Song of Songs. And in so doing, he has ministered an unfailing guidance to one of the most commonly neglected and misunderstood of the Sacred Scriptures. For how many have said in bewilderment at the richness of language and profusion of figure which both conceal and reveal its meaning, "How can I understand except some man should guide me?" It is safe to say that these pages cannot fail to help and bless all such.

To those who knew him, Mr. Hudson Taylor's life was in the nature of emphasis upon the value of this small volume. For what he here expounds he also exemplified. If his words indicate the possibility and blessedness of union with Christ, his whole life declared it in actual experience. He lived as one who was "married to Another, even to Him Who is raised from the dead"; and as the outcome of that union he brought forth "fruit unto God." What he was has given a meaning and confirmation to what he has here said, which cannot be exaggerated. It is inevitable that there are those who will read and reject as mystical and unpractical, that which is so directly concerned with the intimacies of fellowship with the unseen Lord. I would, however, venture to remind such that the writer of these pages founded the China Inland Mission! He translated his vision of the Beloved into life-long strenuous service, and so kept it undimmed through all the years of a life which has had hardly a parallel in these our days.

This is really the commendation of the following short chapters. They proclaim an evangel which has been distilled from experience, and form at least a track through this fenced portion of God's Word, which will lead many an one who treads it into the joys of Emmanuel's land.

J. STUART HOLDEN PORTMAN SQUARE, LONDON W.
June 1, 1914.


INTRODUCTORY

The great purpose towards which all the dispensational dealings of God are tending, is revealed to us in the fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: "That God may be all in all." With this agrees the teaching of our Lord in John 17:3: "And this is (the object of) life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and JESUS CHRIST, whom Thou hast sent." This being so, shall we not act wisely by keeping this object ever in view in our daily life and study of God's holy Word?

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, and hence no part is, or can be, neglected without loss. Few portions of the Word will help the devout student more in the pursuit of this all-important "knowledge of God" than the too-much neglected "Song of Solomon." Like other portions of the Word of God, this book has its difficulties. But so have all the works of God. Is not the fact that they surpass our unaided powers of comprehension and research a "sign-manual" of divinity? Can feeble man expect to grasp divine power, or to understand and interpret the works or the providences of the All-wise? And if not, is it surprising that His Word also needs superhuman wisdom for its interpretation? Thanks be to God, the illumination of the HOLY GHOST is promised to all who seek for it: what more can we desire?

Read without the key, this book is specially unintelligible, but that key is easily found in the express teachings of the New Testament. The Incarnate Word is the true key to the written Word; but even before the incarnation, the devout student of the Old Testament would find much help to the understanding of the sacred mysteries of this book in the prophetic writings; for there Israel was taught that her MAKER was her HUSBAND. John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, recognized the Bridegroom in the person of CHRIST, and said,

"He that hath the bride is the Bridegroom: but the friend of the Bridegroom, which standeth and heareth Him, rejoiceth greatly because of the Bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled."

Paul, in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, goes still further, and teaches that the union of CHRIST with His Church, and her subjection to Him, underlies the very relationship of marriage, and affords the pattern for every godly union.

In Solomon, the bridegroom king, as well as author of this poem, we have a type of our LORD, the true Prince of peace, in His coming reign. Then will be found not merely His bride, the Church, but also a willing people, His subjects, over whom He shall reign gloriously. Then distant potentates will bring their wealth, and will behold the glory of the enthroned KING, proving Him with hard questions, as once came the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon; and blessed will they be to whom this privilege is accorded. A brief glance will suffice them for a lifetime; but what shall be the royal dignity and blessedness of the risen and exalted bride! For ever with her LORD, for ever like her LORD, for ever conscious that His desire is toward her, she will share alike His heart and His throne. Can a study of the book which helps us to understand these mysteries of grace and love be other than most profitable?

It is interesting to notice the contrast between this book and that preceding it. The Book of Ecclesiastes teaches emphatically that "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity": and thus the necessary introduction to the Song of Solomon, which shows how true blessing and satisfaction are to be possessed.

In like manner our SAVIOUR'S teaching in the fourth of John points out in a word the powerlessness of earthly things to give lasting satisfaction, in striking contrast with the flow of blessing that results from the presence of the HOLY GHOST (whose work it is, not to reveal Himself but CHRIST as the Bridegroom of the soul); "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up" --overflowing, on and on-- "unto everlasting life."

We shall find it helpful to consider the book in six sections:

I. The Unsatisfied Life and its Remedy. Chapter 1:2-2:7.

II. Communion Broken. Restoration. Chapter 2:8-3:5.

III. Unbroken Communion. Chapter 3:6-5:1.

IV. Communion Again Broken. Restoration. Chapter 5:2-6:10.

V. Fruits of Recognized Union. Chapter 6:11-8:4.

VI. Unrestrained Communion. Chapter 8:5-14.


In each of these sections we shall find the speakers to be- the bride, the Bridegroom, and the daughters of Jerusalem; it is not usually difficult to ascertain the speaker, though in some of the verses different conclusions have been arrived at. The bride speaks of the Bridegroom as "her Beloved"; the Bridegroom speaks of her as "His love," while the address of the daughters of Jerusalem is more varied. In the last four sections they style her "the fairest among women," but in the fifth she is spoken of as "the Shulamite," or the King's bride, and also as the "Prince's daughter."

The student of this book will find great help in suitable Bible-marking. A horizontal line marking off the address of each speaker, with a double line to divide the sections, would be useful, as also perpendicular lines in the margin to indicate the speaker. We have ourselves ruled a single line to connect the verses which contain the utterances of the bride; a double line to indicate those of the Bridegroom, and a waved line to indicate the addresses of the daughters of Jerusalem.

It will be observed that the bride is the chief speaker in Sections I., II., and is much occupied with herself;

but in Section III., where the communion is unbroken, she has little to say, and appears as the hearer; the daughters of Jerusalem give a long address, and the Bridegroom His longest. In that section for the first time He calls her His bride, and allures her to fellowship in service.

In Section IV., the bride again is the chief speaker, but after her restoration the Bridegroom speaks at length, and "upbraideth not."

In Section V., as we noticed, the bride is no longer called "the fairest among women," but claims herself to be, and is recognized as, the royal bride.

In Section VI., the Bridegroom claims her from her very birth, and not merely from her espousals, as GOD in Ezekiel 16 claimed Israel.

In the secret of His presence
How my soul delights to hide!
Oh, how precious are the lessons
Which I learn at JESUS' side!
Earthly cares can never vex me,
Neither trials lay me low;
For when Satan comes to vex me,
To the secret place I go!

- J. Hudson Taylor.


THE TITLE
"The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's."

Well may this book be called the Song of Songs! There is no song like it. Read aright, it brings a gladness to the heart which is as far beyond the joy of earthly things as heaven is higher than the earth. It has been well said that this is a song which grace alone can teach, and experience alone can learn.

Our SAVIOUR, speaking of the union of the branch with the vine, adds, "These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:11). And the beloved disciple, writing of Him who "was from the beginning," who "was with the FATHER, and was manifested unto us," in order that we might share the fellowship which He enjoyed, also says, "These things we write unto you, that your joy may be full."

Union with CHRIST, and abiding in CHRIST, what do they not secure? Peace, perfect peace; rest, constant rest; answers to all our prayers; victory over all our foes; pure, holy living; ever-increasing fruitfulness. All, all of these are the glad outcome of abiding in CHRIST. To deepen this union, to make more constant this abiding, is the practical use of this precious Book.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Holy Sovereign - Isaiah

The Companion of the Way - by H.C. Hewlett


CHAPTER SIX

THE HOLY SOVEREIGN (Isaiah 6) - Isaiah



I. THE SETTING -- THE PREPARATION OF THE PROPHET


The spiritual experiences of the men through whom God gave His Word provide a fascinating and fruitful study. The writers were chosen and prepared by divine skill to be fitting vehicles for the communication of the message of life. Not only did they pass on the Word in its inspired perfection, but each was wrought to noble sympathy with that which he declared and to adoring contemplation of the One who is the sublime theme of all Scripture. Thus the Word was given, not in mechanical fashion, but through minds radiant with the light of God, and through hearts burning with the love of God.

So it was with Isaiah. To read through the sixty-six chapters of his prophecy is to pass through the spacious halls of a great portrait gallery and to see on every side fresh glimpses of the majesty and grace of our Lord Jesus. To note but a few, He is the branch of the LORD, beautiful and glorious (4:2); the wellbeloved (5:1); Immanuel (7:14); Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (9:6), the King in His beauty (33:17); the Servant of the LORD, of marred visage, and yet very high (52:13-14); the Man of sorrows (53:3); and the Redeemer (59:20).

What man was chosen so to lift up Christ before our wondering gaze? His own name, meaning, "the salvation of Jehovah," is a signpost to the content of his prophecy, and prepares us so that "with joy shall [we] draw water out of the wells of salvation" (12:3). The name of the Lord that is so characteristic of his writing -- "the Holy One of Israel" -- bids us consider the infinite holiness of Him who wrought our salvation in His Person, in His sufferings, and in all His dealings with the children of men. In comparison with the length of Isaiah's service and the scope of his prophecies, little is revealed touching his life, its privilege or its pain, though often as we listen to the music of his words, sometimes rapid and exuberant, sometimes slow and sorrowful, we are made to feel the emotions that surged through his heart. Of all the path wherein he walked with God and knew the faithfulness of His presence little has been told, but one experience has been recorded which embraced within itself the central features of his message, and stamped its impress in his inmost being.

Isaiah's prophecies began in the long reign of Uzziah and continued through those of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. While still a young man, he was given a vision of the Lord Himself and received from His lips the commission to service. This experience brought to fullness his preparation for the prophetic ministry. Thenceforth he spoke as one who had seen the Lord, whose heart had been laid bare in the light of His presence, and whose sin had been purged by the sacrifice of the altar. Thus cleansed and commissioned, and with that sight of surpassing splendor ever treasured in his soul, he entered the long years that stretched before him to speak unfalteringly and yet meekly of the nation's sins and with holy joy of the Lord God who should come to Zion, its Maker and its Redeemer.


II. THE REVELATION -- LOFTY THRONE AND LIVE COAL


"In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple" (Isa. 6:1). The year of the vision was a landmark in Israel's history. Uzziah (meaning "the strength of Jehovah") was a monarch "marvellously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction" (2 Chron. 26:15-16), and at last he died a leper. The kingly glory of Judah entered upon a fitful decline, and remarkably there was founded about that time the city of Rome, in the zenith of whose power Zion should be "plowed as a field" (Mic. 3:12). The death of so great a king, and in such condition, would throw its shadow deeply across the life of the young prophet, particularly since he was in no doubt as to the low spiritual state of the nation. In that very year, however, he beheld the vision that compensated for all loss. He saw the One whose throne was from everlasting. He saw the Lord, Adonai, the sovereign, "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy" (Isa 57:15). As befitted His majesty, He was sitting on a throne high and lifted up (or lofty). The scene was set in the temple, and His train, the skirts of His robe of kingly splendor, filled all the palace.

In later years Isaiah was to tell how He whose name was Holy dwells "in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones" (Isa. 57:15). But first he must learn in deeper understanding the holiness of that name and must himself know the reviving of the contrite heart and experience the dwelling with him of the Holy One. So he proceeds to describe what he beheld.

"Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa. 6:2-3). In attendance upon the throne, and as a living canopy for it, stood the seraphim. Their name ("burners") witnessed to the awful splendour that surrounded them, the radiance of that uncreated light before which they lived and ministered. In that presence they hid their faces with their wings, thus proclaiming the reverence due to the Creator; they hid their feet likewise, for they were but creatures, whose existence had no purpose save to fulfill His pleasure; with two of their wings they flew in His service. These things were all in perfect order -- His honor, His pleasure, His service.

Such was their attitude, and like to it was their adoration. Seraph cried to seraph, owning the holiness of the LORD, Jehovah of hosts. The threefold "holy" of their homage was more than emphasis; it bore its own testimony to the Trinity of God. The title, "LORD of hosts," used in the Old Testament from 1 Samuel onwards, told of One at whose bidding there awaited the unnumbered armies of heaven. As the darkness deepened over the nation, the title was used more and more, and especially in the postexilic prophets. If His claims were despised on earth, they were honored in Heaven. He reigned amid the hosts of light, and was worshiped and obeyed without intermission. The tense (imperfect) of Isaiah 6:2-3 indicate that the homage and service of the seraphim went on continually. The praise of God never ceases in Heaven, as is shown also by the scene yet to be which John saw in the Patmos vision. "They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8).

Of primary importance is the quotation in John 12 of a later verse in this sixth chapter of Isaiah. The apostle writes: "These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him." Therefore, He whom the prophet saw in his vision was our Lord Jesus Christ, throned in His rightful glory ere He came to effect redemption. From that majesty He stooped to humiliation and suffering and to the sorrows of the Cross.

Who shall fathom that descending
From His rainbow-circled throne,
Down to earth's most base profaning,
Dying, desolate, alone --
From the Holy, holy, holy,
We adore Thee, O Most High,
Down to earth's blaspheming voices,
And the shout of "Crucify"?

The words of the seraphs looked beyond the sufferings of Christ to the glory that should follow and to the time when earth, which saw His advent in lowliness, should see Him come in power and great glory. So certain are the purposes of God that Heaven could speak of the future as though already realized. "The whole earth IS full of his glory" (v. 3). It is not only that the earth shall be filled with His glory, but that nought else could be its fullness. Where sin had wrought its havoc and death had wielded its pale scepter, only the glory of the Lord Jesus could fill the scene with joy and peace. For this glad day our poor earth waits, and though night's darkest hour is still to come, there shall follow the morning without clouds when sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

"And the posts of the door [or, the foundations of the thresholds] moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke" (Isa. 6:4). At its dedication the temple had been filled with the glory of the Lord so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud (1 Kings 8:11). When the temple was made the setting for the appearing of the Lord to Isaiah, the place could scarcely sustain such a manifestation, and the very foundations swayed at the seraph's cry. What, then, will this earth do when it is about to see His glory and when His judgments are being poured out? "The earth shall reel [same word as 'moved' in 6:4] to and fro like a drunkard" (Isa. 24:20). Because the judgments of God must precede the day of glory, "the house was filled with smoke." These words are taken up in Revelation 15:8, where it is written concerning a scene when judgment is nearing its climax, "The temple [i.e., in heaven] was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power."

Most significant is the threefold witness of Isaiah 6 to the spheres which are filled with the Lord's glory.

1. His train filled the temple.
2. The whole earth is full of his glory.
3. The house was filled with smoke.

In that temple there was room for one throne, and one only. The prophet later recorded the proud boast of one who was foremost in rebellion against God. "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: . . . I will be like the most High" (Isa. 14:13-14). But no creature, however great, could partake of that incommunicable majesty that pertained solely to the Godhead. Only the Lord could be enthroned in the temple; only His glory shall spread through the earth, for "the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day" (Isa. 2:11). He can have no rivals. All dominion must be His. The house was filled with smoke, even as "Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire" (Exo. 19:18). The holiness of God must have its way throughout His dwelling place; nought could be exempt from its searching claims.

"Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Isa. 6:5). As Isaiah gazed upon the scene before him, he was stirred by that profound sense of unworthiness of which the godly are ever conscious when they come face to face with God. Isaiah considered that building filled with the majesty and holiness of his Lord. Did it not claim that his life should ever be a little sanctuary in which the Lord should have undisputed sway, and in which the Holy, holy, holy should ascend without ceasing? But how should he take such words upon his lips, seeing that he had for himself beheld the thrice-holy One? Words of confession burst from him, words that were utterly true, words in which there was no reserve of self-righteousness. "Woe is me!" In the preceding chapter of his book he had pronounced six woes upon the sinful; now he utters the seventh woe on himself. "I am undone -- cut off -- destroyed." He had neither fitness in self for such a scene of holiness, nor title to abide in such a presence.

"I am a man of unclean lips." The word "unclean" was that which most constantly be on the lips of a leper. Isaiah had seen the horror of leprosy in the case of king Uzziah, and now he owns himself to be of like character. His very lips were polluted. How should they speak words of purity, and how should he continue in the service of the Holy One of Israel? How should he speak of the sins of others, seeing he could not speak of the holiness of God? Nor could he find ought else as he reflected upon the condition of his nation. All were alike in their guilt, "a people of unclean lips." The lips of Miriam had been filled with murmuring, but in God's sight they were unclean, and He made their condition morally to be seen as leprosy physically. The lips of Gehazi had been filled with covetousness and falsehood, and the acts of Uzziah with presumption and anger, and their uncleanness had been made manifest. The prophet realized his kinship with them, and in that dread awakening poured out his confession. Are his words less applicable to us today?

That which wrought most powerfully upon him was a sight greater than that of seraphim. "Mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." The emphasis of the statement is upon the title -- the King, Jehovah of hosts. To the godly of Israel no name was as His and no greatness as His. All their reverence and all their longings surrounded Him. As Jeremiah said, "But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king" (Jer. 10:10). Isaiah had seen Him with his very eyes. This was the sight which made him loathe his dross. Compared with this sight, all earthly grandeur was as nothing. In beholding Him, he had seen every precious thing -- holiness, wisdom, truth, and love -- these and all other traits of the divine character, in limitless display. Because he had seen Him, and had seen all loveliness radiant on His face, he could speak the words in later prophecy that have so stirred the longings of the redeemed and filled their hearts with gladness and awe: "Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty" (Isa. 33:17).

"Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged" (Isa. 6:6-7). True confession brings the divine cleansing, even as we are assured by the apostle that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). As the burden of the seraph's cry was the holiness of God, so it was fitting that one of them should be employed to convey to Isaiah that which would take away his iniquity. A holy God must have holy prophets. "Be ye holy; for I am holy" is His unalterable demand.

That which touched Isaiah's lips was a coal from off the altar, a live coal, i.e., with the altar fire burning brightly in it. It had come from the brazen altar, for that -- not the incense altar -- could meet the sinner's need. The value of the live coal lay not in the fire as viewed in itself, but in the fact that it had first fed upon the sacrifice. It was the worth of the latter, as given to God in death, that could alone take away sin. Applied to Isaiah's lips, it dealt with their iniquity, for it was anticipative of the one sacrifice of infinite and eternal worth, even that of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. In that sacrifice, the holiness of God would be fully vindicated and fully satisfied, so that no stain of sin would remain upon those whose cleansing it would effect.

The Christ of the throne is the Christ of the Cross. The Sovereign of the universe is the Sacrifice for sins. When Isaiah beheld His glory, more than seven hundred years were to pass before He should leave the throne for the lowliness of the manger, the loneliness of Judaea's hills, the sorrow of Gethsemane, and the unforsakenness of Golgotha, but even in the unfathomable woes of His sin-bearing, He was the same Person as when He reigned amid the seraphim. Therefore in the live coal it is His preciousness that is set before us and the exceeding anguish of His suffering in the fire of judgment for our sakes.


III. THE BLESSING -- THE KING'S COMMISSION


"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and tell this people . . ." (Isa. 6:8-9). Hitherto only the voices of the seraphim and of the prophet had been heard, but the Lord Himself then spoke. He sought one whom He might send; this was divine Sovereignty. He sought one who would do in willing obedience; this was human responsibility. These, the two indispensable factors in every true call to the service of the Lord, met in the commission of Isaiah. Sovereign choice of the servant was seen in the Lord's mercy that granted him the vision that wrought so wonderfully in him. Exercise of the servant's heart was seen in his humility with which he bowed to the revelation of the divine holiness and owned his uncleanness. Thus prepared by the Lord's mercy for the Lord's call, he accepted without question and without reservation the voice of the Lord to his heart. Then the word was spoken that sent him forth, the word of irrevokable privilege that gave him to be the bearer of the Lord's message to the nation.

The fruitfulness of Isaiah's ministry is beyond our estimation. What is wrought in his own day and what it has meant through the centuries will be revealed by and by. We, who are so greatly indebted to it, must take to heart the lessons of his life and seek the light of the Master's presence, that, seeing "the King, the LORD of hosts," we, too, may pass by way of confession and cleansing to such commission as He may deign to give. And if the commission has long been ours, we may lay hold afresh upon its unfolding of the will of God and seek in holiness of life to fulfill His desire. As prayed McCheyne, so let us pray, "Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be made."

~~

Chapter 07 - THE SANCTUARY OF THE EXILE - Ezekiel 1 - Ezekiel

Return to "The Companion of the Way" Table Of Contents

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Bread Of The Weary - Elijah

The Companion of the Way - by H.C. Hewlett


CHAPTER FIVE

THE BREAD OF THE WEARY (1 Kings 19) - Elijah



I. THE SETTING -- REACTION AFTER VICTORY


Though more than five hundred years elapsed between Joshua's wars and Elijah's ministry, the two periods were strangely linked by the tragic facts of the history of Jericho. When the city was destroyed, Joshua pronounced the solemn words: "Cursed be the man before the LORD, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it" (Josh. 6:26).

When, long after, Ahab came to the throne of the northern kingdom, "In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun" (1 Kings 16:34). Immediately the record states: "Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word" (1 Kings 17:1). The rebuilding of the city upon which the curse lay was an act of daring impiety characteristic of the days of Ahab, but the Word of God failed not of its fulfillment, and the builder carried out his plans at bitter cost.

Though such happenings took place in Israel, God did not leave Himself without a witness, and He raised up

A Man For the Times,

a man who, in striking contrast with his contemporaries, was characterized by a life in the presence of God. Elijah knew the living God, and could say of Him in truth -- "before whom I stand."

Three and a half years after his first appearance to Ahab, there came the day when Elijah stood a lonely figure on Mount Carmel, but he was vindicated as the Lord's prophet by the fire which fell from heaven upon his sacrifice. It was a notable triumph. Jehovah was honored as God in the people's homage, the false prophets were slain, and the drought of judgment was ended by the rain of blessing. Few scenes have been as thrilling as that enacted on the mountain, with one man against eight hundred and fifty. That one man was utterly victorious because the living God was with him.

So manifold were the blessings of God that day that we might well expect the narrative to continue with further triumphs wrought by a prophet greatly cheered in heart. But the notorious Jezebel, who was responsible for so much of Israel's idolatry and corruption, added to her crimes by sending to Elijah the dire threat: "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time" (1 Kings 19:2). The emphasis of the threat was on the words, "by to morrow about this time." The threat bore the stamp of urgency, and when it reached Elijah it found him overwrought by his exacting experiences in Carmel, weary in body, and depressed in spirit. Apparently he expected a greater response from the people than was manifest, and he was greatly downcast. Perturbed by Jezebel's message, he fled through the territory of Ahab and through Judah till he came to Beersheba, a hundred miles to the south.

"And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there" (1 Kings 19:3). The name of Beersheba (the well of the oath, Gen. 21:31; 26:33) reminded him of the covenants made by his fathers with their neighbors, and hence of the covenants of his faithful God. Though Elijah left his servant there, he found neither comfort nor rest for his own agitated thoughts.

"But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers" (1 Kings 19:4). Bitter in spirit (see 1 Kings 19:10, 14), he continued to flee south, having as his goal Horeb, the mount of God. Thither Moses had gone also in a day of idolatry and had spent long days and nights with God, interceding for his sinful people, but as the sequel shows, it was to make intercession against Israel (Rom. 11:3). He pressed on alone, but when only a day's journey from Beersheba, he felt he could travel no further, and so he sat under a juniper tree (or, the broom, a desert shrub common in that district, growing to a height of about ten feet). Under its shade the very man whom God purposed to translate without death prayed that he might die. Was this the man who had stood so nobly on Carmel? Could such brief time permit such change?

He was alone, and yet we feel our kinship with him. There have been times when we have come to "the well of the oath," and have even ministered to others the certainty of the divine promises but have failed to drink of their cheer ourselves. Though perhaps unseen by others, we have fled from opportunity and duty, and have sat where he sat, and like him have prayed in

Bitterness of Soul.

It was a veteran toiler of the mission field who once wrote, "There is a juniper tree just outside every mission station."

"He requested for himself that he might die." The identical words recur in Scripture touching another disconsolate man. Of Jonah we read that when the gourd under which he sat outside Ninevah withered, and the east wind was vehement, and the sun beat upon his head, "he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live" (Jonah 4:8). So Elijah of Carmel and Jonah of the depths of the sea, alike wondrously honored of God when they proclaimed His message, were alike in their weariness and gloom.

"I am not better than my fathers." Crushed and despondent with the seeming failure of his mission, he felt himself to be as his fathers. They had called to the people to return to God, and their voice had fallen on deaf ears. So had his. He would be better dead. Thus he reasoned, and yet without adequate cause. As God showed him at Horeb, there were seven thousand men in Israel who had not bowed unto Baal. To the hearts of these the ministry of Elijah would be as refreshing as the heavy rain had been to the parched ground. At that moment, when the people had owned God publicly, they needed the teaching and guidance of the prophet in order that the impression made upon them might be deepened and their energies turned to worthier channels. In his depression of soul, Elijah saw nothing of this; no ray of hope gladdened the future; he had no heart to continue; he sought to die. But God had told him no such thing. Death was not for him. The time would come when on another mount, neither Carmel nor Horeb, he would stand with Moses in the company of his Lord, and talk with Him "of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." (Luke 9:31). That death, the death of the Son of God, was the true theme of the adoring heart, even as it was the theme of Heaven and the counsels of eternity. God had

Nobler Purposes for the Lips

of Elijah than the employment they found under the juniper tree, but the weary man knew nought of this and sought not whether God's meaning for his present life was yet exhausted.

The story of Elijah gives vivid illustration of a truth taught in the next chapter of 1 Kings. In the warfare between Ahab and Benhadad, king of Syria, the servants of the latter king sought to excuse their defeat by saying, "Their gods are gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they." Accordingly they prepared anew, and their forces filled the valley. Then "there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Because the Syrians have said, The LORD is God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the LORD" (1 Kings 20:23, 28). The Syrians deemed the Lord to be a God of the hills, but not of the valleys, yet He showed His power in both. Thus it was with Elijah, that God answered by fire on the height of Carmel, and to the lonely figure asleep under the juniper tree He drew near with awakening touch, and with voice of compassion. There is special comfort for us in this latter scene, for in our own day nothing endears our Lord Jesus to us in His present dealings more than His compassion in our weakness.


II. THE REVELATION -- GOD'S GENTLENESS IN OUR FAILURE


"And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat" (1 Kings 19:5). His complaints hushed in a merciful sleep, Elijah lay far from the haunts of men, but he was not forgotten. He, too, must know the grace of the perpetual presence. To him there came One who bore the august title of "the Angel of the LORD," an expression used always in the Old Testament in the singular number and borne by one Being alone. Repeatedly had He appeared in His people's history. He it was who had called to Abraham from Heaven to stay the hand that held the knife and had spoken to Moses from the bush. In view of these things, and many more, we recognize in the angel none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, appearing in angelic guise long before His incarnation at Bethlehem. What He was in lovingkindness then, He is now. Surely our hearts should bow before Him with joyous adoration exceeding that of the faithful of the Old Testament, since we have seen in fulfillment what they could see only in prophecy or type -- Bethlehem, Calvary, and Olivet.

In that path of implicit trust in the Father's will which the Son of God traveled through this scene to the Cross, there was no failure,

No Fretting, No Despondency,

and no murmuring. Never did He deviate from the way appointed for Him; never did He flee from His ministry; never was He moved by fear of man. When the Pharisees said to Him, "Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee," He replied, "I must walk today, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." Even in that hour His heart was full of compassion, and He spoke of His yearning for His wayward people -- "How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (Luke 13:31, 33-34).

In all His ministry, whether in Old Testament days, in the days of His flesh, or in His ascension glory, He is the same in heart. "His compassions fail not. They are new every morning" (Lam. 3:22-23). Well might we add with the Scripture, "Great is thy faithfulness" (Lam. 3:23). "He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust" (Psa. 103:14). He knew the frailty of His weary servant under the tree and came to him with a gentleness which only such need could draw forth. On Carmel "the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench" (1 Kings 18:38), but under the juniper tree there was a nearness not known on Carmel. On the mount was the devouring fire; in the wilderness was

The Very Touch of the Angel's hand.

No word of rebuke was heard -- that would come on the proper occasion at Horeb, but here was "love that would not let him go."

"Thy gentleness," said David, "hath made me great" (2 Sam. 22:36). It was gentleness which woke the sleeping prophet and bade him rise and eat. the word "touched" in this passage is that used in the narrative of Jacob, when the wrestler "touched the hollow of his thigh," but here is no painful, enfeebling discipline. Rather is there the kindness that aroused Elijah to find his needs fully met. While the prophet had slept, the Angel of the Lord had provided for all his weakness.

"And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee" (1 Kings 19:6-7). Elijah beheld all that the journey demanded placed at his head, and ready for his use. There was no lavish banquet to intrigue the natural eye, yet that food sustained him as no other could have done. The lesson is not hard to find. In the "cake baken on the coals" is prefigured One who would know the fire and who would be the bread of God to all who would believe. Thus did the Lord Jesus say to the Jews, "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst" (John 6:35). He was the living Bread which came down from Heaven, but that men should eat of Him necessitated His death upon the Cross, when He should feel the fierceness of the fire of judgment for their sins. His sufferings are over, but He remains "the cake baken on the coals," the food of all who walk the heavenward way.

With the cake there was the cruse of water, fit emblem of the Holy Spirit given from the Father and the Son to be "another comforter." Even as in John 6 the LORD said, "He that believeth on me shall never thirst," so in John 7 He spoke the words of gracious invitation, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified." Admittedly, the figure of the flowing stream surpasses that of the cruse of water, yet the latter spoke of the same Holy Spirit. As the cruse was associated with the cake, so was the giving of the Spirit the result of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Not till His atoning work was completed, and He had taken His place at the right hand of the majesty on high, was the Spirit poured out upon His people on earth. In wondrous grace all who believe on Christ have been made to eat of the living bread, and "to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13).

We watch this ancient scene and reverently wonder what things filled the thoughts of the Angel as He gave to Elijah the figures of a greater giving, figures which spoke of the time seen from the depths of eternity when He should give Himself for the hunger of the souls of men. Fully known to Him was that which He should experience when He should leave Heaven for earth, the bitterest scorn that men could heap upon Him, and the most shameful indignities that sinful hearts could devise. Well He knew that He would then be "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God . . . and by wicked hands . . . crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). But the love that purposed the Cross was eternal love, even the love that dwelt in the heart of the One who stood so patiently beside the overwrought prophet.

Why did the angel give Elijah two meals? Seeing that the food was of such quality, would not one have sufficed? Here, again, we see the lovingkindness of the Lord, and trace its operation elsewhere in Scripture, for it is the same blessed Person who fills Old and New Testaments. The first meal looked backward and dealt with the ravages of the strenuous past; the second looked forward and strengthened Elijah for the future. The Angel thus showed His appreciation both of that which had been, in the weariness of the flight, and of that which was to be, in the arduous toil of the journey to Horeb.

This same deep understanding of every circumstance of the way is set forth vividly in two passages of the New Testament.

The Principle of the Two Meals

is seen in John 20 in the appearance of the Lord in the midst of His own after His resurrection. He greeted them with His "Peace be unto you," which looked backward, and comforted them after the bitterness of their experience during the three days of the Cross and entombment. Then He showed the ground and reason of their peace in the print of the nails in His hands, and the spear wound in His side. All the sorrow of the past, all their perplexity, all their sense of shame at their forsaking of Him was swallowed up in the revelation of those wounds. Death had been vanquished, and since death had failed, nought else could separate them from Him. He showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs (Acts 1:3), and none was more evident than the witness of His hands and side. This word of peace was the first meal. Then later, as He looked down the years of their service, yes, and of their sufferings, and gave them His commission, "so send I you," He repeated His "Peace be unto you" and thus strengthened them for all that lay ahead. This was the second meal.

The same thing is seen in the words of comfort in Hebrews 4:16, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Mercy and grace are here very closely allied in their meaning, as in their bounty, but the difference in the two may be illustrated thus. It is the close of the day, and the believer kneels before the Lord and tells Him of all that has transpired through its hours and of all the weakness and failure. When all is spread humbly before His gaze, He gives His mercy, and all is dealt with. This is the first meal. But the heart looks up again to Him and tells of the burden that must be taken up once more, the cares of the new day, and the same inadequacy in self to meet them. Then He gives His grace, His all-sufficient grace, to help in the time of need. This is the second meal.


III. THE BLESSING -- STRENGTH FOR THE JOURNEY


"And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God" (1 Kings 19:8). The voice had spoken: "The journey is too great for thee." Ahead lay the long days and nights, and the prophet must be sustained to endure them, as also the deep lessons of Horeb. The journey is ever too great for us, be it the whole way homeward, or just one day's march. Without this heavenly food we must falter and fall, yet the voice of our Lord bids us arise and eat. If we look, we too shall see "a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water." With the vision of faith we shall see One who endured the Cross and rose again, and we shall find the living water, even in Him who was sent down by the exalted Christ to indwell us forever. With such supply we may press on wherever the journey may lead, not in our own strength, for such we shall not have on earth, but in "the strength of that meat." So shall we prove the truth of that precious word, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).

How dear He should be to our hearts -- He who is "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." When we fail, He fails not, but abides with us still. He is the God of the hills of triumph; is He not also the God of the valleys of weakness?

~~

Chapter 06 - THE HOLY SOVEREIGN - Isaiah 6 - Isaiah

Return to "The Companion of the Way" Table Of Contents

Monday, October 12, 2009

The ABC's of Thanksgiving

Although things are not perfect
Because of trial or pain
Continue in thanksgiving
Do not begin to blame.
Even when times are hard -
Fierce winds are bound to blow -
God is forever able;
Hold on to what you know.
Imagine life without His love.
Joy would cease to be.
Keep thanking Him for all the things
Love imparts to thee.
Move out of "Camp Complaining."
No weapon that is known
On earth can yield the power
Praise can do alone.
Quit looking at the future;
Redeem the time at hand.
Start every day with worship.
To thank is a command!
Until we see Him coming
Victorious in the sky,
We'll run the race with gratitude,
eXalting God most high.
Yes, there will be good times and there will be bad, but . . .
Zion waits in glory, where no one is ever sad.

~Author Unknown~

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.