A Sevenfold Characteristic of God’s People.
Delivered at the Northfield General Conference of Christian Workers. August 1913.
IN the thirty-third chapter of Deuteronomy, we have an account given to us of Moses passing up onto Nebo’s lonely height, to be put to sleep and buried by the hand of Jehovah Himself, and in the following verses, namely, 3. 9. 16. 19. 23, 27 and 29, we have a sevenfold characteristic of God’s people whom Moses blessed. If I give them to you in an alliterative form, perhaps you will the more easily remember what they are.
I. The first characteristic is in the 29th verse, “Happy art thou O Israel; who is like unto thee. O people saved by the Lord.” They are a saved people. people. We are apt to use that word saved in a very exclusive manner. We generally associate it with converted people. But the word has a deep and very significant meaning. There are three aspects of salvation in the Word of God. There is a salvation that is past: “Who hath saved us." It may be that you can look back and remember the day and hour when first you realized that your sins were forgiven, and you were able to say that you were saved. While throughout eternity, you will be praising God for that aspect of salvation, it will never be repeated. Then in Heb. vii. 25, we have a salvation that is present: “Wherefore He is able . . . to save them to the uttermost." I prefer the marginal reading which is as follows: “Wherefore He is able . . . to save them evermore." I rejoice beloved friends, in the fact that Jesus is saving us all the time, not only from the guilt of sin, but from the power and from the love of sin as well. There is a chorus that we loved to sing at our meetings in Australia, which bears right upon this point:
"Jesus, my Saviour, is mighty to keep,
All day on Sunday and six days a week."
Then, in Rom. xiii. 11, we have a salvation that is prospective: "For now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." That will be true when Jesus comes and glory dawns. I sometimes think that even in eternal ages, we shall be going on to realize the depth of meaning in that word saved.
II. In the third verse, we have a second characteristic: "He loved the people; all His saints are in Thy hand." They were a secured people. I praise God that my eternal security does not depend upon any effort of my own. It is based upon the atoning work of the Lord Jesus, and the words that fell from the lips of the Lord Jesus are so explicit: "They shall never perish" (John x. 28).
III. The third characteristic is found in the third verse, too: "They sat down at Thy feet." They were a seated people. I need hardly remind you that the posture of sitting implies rest, and in the Word of God, we have three phases of rest presented to us. We have a rest given: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. xi. 28); we have a rest found: "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me . . . and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. xi. 29); and we have a rest remaining: "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (Heb. iv. 9). All God's people are in possession of the first rest; it would be impossible to be a Christian without having that rest. But there are thousands, I fear, who know little about the second rest. You have probably noticed three delightful points in Matt. xi. 29; there is something to take: "Take my yoke"; something to learn: "Learn of me"; something to find: "Ye shall find rest." I wonder whether you have found it! There are many Christians carrying burdens that God never intended them to bear, and it is impossible for us to enjoy rest, as long as we are anticipating trouble. I used to think, as many Christians do now, I presume, that it is rest after conflict. Of course, that is perfectly true, but I thank God that, in addition to that, there is also rest in the very midst of conflict. Some of you who have been to Europe will remember that, on returning, the last point of land you passed belonging to Great Britain was Fastnet Rock, on which there is a lighthouse; and when you were abreast of the rock, you began to feel the mighty heavings of the Atlantic. The lighthouse men on that rock experience the same storm that you do, the same waves dash against it with all their fury, but those men stand there calm amid tumult, while you are being tossed to and fro on the bosom of the mighty deep. I venture to think that we have the counterpart of that in the Church of God to-day. There are some Christians who know what it is to rest and can say truthfully:
"Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art,"
while there are others who are being tossed to and fro.
IV. In the sixteenth verse of this same chapter, we have a fourth characteristic: they were a separated people. I think there is no truth more clearly taught in the Word of God than the truth of separation. We get it even in the first chapter of Genesis: the conversion from darkness to light; separation----God dividing the waters, and the trees yielding their fruit. And what we have in the first creation, God expects in the new creation of His people as well. Perhaps, one reason why the Church of God has lost her power is because she has ceased to be separated in heart from the world through which she is passing. I fancy I can hear some friends in my audience saying: ''But surely it is impossible to be in this world, and yet not to be of it.” I confess, I do not see anything impossible about it. Let me illustrate what I mean. Many years ago, while walking on the bank of the river Clyde, I saw a boat, moored in the middle of the stream, and by the side of the boat was a ladder which rested on the bed of the river. I wondered what the ladder was doing in that position. But very soon the problem was solved. A man came up out of the boat, and the moment I saw him, I knew from his dress that he was a diver. When everything was ready, he went down the ladder step by step, and was soon lost beneath the surface of the water. I remarked: "That is just what every Christian ought to be like. He has water beneath him, water above him, and water all around him; but the water will never touch him, for he has a waterproof dress on." We are in the world. God has placed us here, and we shall have to stay here until He takes us out. But if we "put on the whole armour of God" (you will observe I am changing the figure), we shall be able to stand, able to withstand, able to quench, all the fiery darts of the wicked. The blessed Lord Jesus was in the world, but He was not of it, and that can be true of every one of His followers to a greater or lesser degree.
V. In the twenty-third verse, there is another characteristic recorded of these people: "O Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord: “possess thou the west and the south." They were a satisfied people. I sometimes think that there are two persons spoken of in Scripture who are yet to be satisfied. The one is the Lord Jesus, for the Word of God says: "He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied." And I love to think that everyone of us is capable of hastening on the moment when the Son of God will have full satisfaction. When the last sinner is saved, the last stone put into the spiritual building, and the last member placed in the body, He will have full satisfaction, but never until then. But there is another person to be satisfied, for David says: "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness" (Ps. xvii. 15), that is, when I am exactly like Him, like Him in the tenderness that He manifested for the perishing, like Him in the sympathy that He displayed. I beseech you never to forget that a sight of suffering, a sight of sorrow, and a sight of the starving multitude, drew out the sympathy that was in the great heart of the Lord Jesus. I sometimes say that the only way, perhaps, to become like a person is to live with him. We fall into their ways unconsciously, and the only way for any of us to be like the Lord Jesus, is to live in His presence. I wonder whether it is true that we are living with Him, and whether the lines of that hymn are our experience:
"I cannot live without Him,
Nor would I if I could."
VI. The next characteristic is found in the twenty-seventh verse: "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." They were a supported people. It is deeply interesting to observe in this chapter, the position that God's people occupy. In the third verse, we are in His hands, for safety. In the same verse, we are at His feet, for learning. In the twelfth verse, we are between the shoulders, for power. In the same verse, we are at His side, for fellowship. In the twenty-seventh verse, we are in His arms, for rest. I love to think, dear friends, as the days go by and the difficulties increase, that there is a hand that grips me, there are arms that encircle me: "Underneath are the everlasting arms."
VII. The last characteristic that I would draw your attention to is in the nineteenth verse: "They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness." They were a sacrificing people. I am sometimes asked: Does God expect sacrifices? And I always come out with a most emphatic, Yes. The days of sacrifice are not over. Let us not forget what Paul says: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. xii. 1). And let me add that anything short of that is positively unreasonable. What we need to do, therefore, is to yield ourselves absolutely to Him. I often say that I think the secret of a happy life is bound up in two things: to be in the place where God would have us, and to be doing the thing that our Master bids us. May we be prepared to say, as we stand on Round Top this evening and the shadows of night gather fast around us:
"Take my Iife and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee."
And if as we say it, we mean it, the whole current of our lives wilI be changed, and we shall leave Northfield to be increasingly used in the Master's service "until the day break and the shadows flee away."
“Record of Christian Work” 1914