Lessons From the Life of Gideon.
I.—CALL TO SERVICE.
LIKE most other parts of Israel's history, the book of Judges is a sad record of national failure, brightened by Jehovah's unchanging faithfulness and goodness. It begins well, for at its opening, we find the people, in their sense of weakness, upon the death of Joshua, casting themselves upon their God; but it ends as all mere human goodness and wisdom ever do, apart from HIM, "everyone doing that which was right in his own eyes." Over and over again, they were delivered up to their enemies for chastisement, and over and over again, when "they cried unto the Lord," He saved by the hand of chosen deliverers. Of these was Gideon. It is always important, if we would have the needed spiritual benefit from the Word of God "rightly divided," to study the ways of the Lord not only with His saints but with His servants, and to note the difference. For want of noticing this distinction, much confusion has arisen in the minds of some true Christians, and some passages of the Word have brought them into fear and bondage as to their salvation, when, if they had seen that they were revelations of God's dealings with His servants, as such, after their salvation was a thing decided and no longer dealt with, these very portions of the Word would have been brimful of beauty and joy to them; such, for example, as Matt. xx. and 1 Cor. ix. 24-27. In this last time of rapidly developing apostasy, while the God of all grace is meeting it with a fuller empowerment of His Church,—while everywhere He is rousing His saints to increased spirituality of life, and calling multitudes of them to fuller and special spheres of service,—the study of His dealings with Gideon may well be made very helpful to us, if guided by the Spirit of all Truth. "We cannot fail to see on all sides, the breaking up of mere Christianity as to doctrine and practice, while everywhere among true believers, there is a growing faith IN GOD and CHRIST. "The shout of the King is in the midst of us. "He is marshalling His forces, and about to manifest, as in days of yore, His power to fight the battle and win the victory.
Blessed are we if we are ready to take, each, our place at His bidding, and follow in the wake of His certain triumph. It is hardly necessary to say that the servants are chosen from the saved ones. Gideon was one of God's people, redeemed by "precious blood," before he was called to serve the Lord, or be in any way truly helpful to those around him. We have said, it is hardly necessary, and yet, it is to be feared that most grievous mistakes are often made in this very direction. It is not only that multitudes of poor unsaved ones are ever making vain efforts to reach salvation by their good works, but that many of those already saved, yet very ignorant of God's ways, are often found encouraging the unsaved to take part in Christian work, as teachers in the Sunday school, visitors of the sick, tract distributors, and even workers in the inquiry room. Those who know the mind of the Lord, as revealed in His Word, cannot protest too strongly against confusion like this. The best efforts of those who are not themselves saved are after all but "dead works." God's servants must be His Own living ones. There is another solemn thought in this direction—that all great combined effort, so common in our day, which is merely philanthropic, and not the promptings of the Holy Ghost in the hearts and lives of God's servants, is utterly valueless. GOD and His servants alone can meet the case of a ruined world! Any help which is but for a moment, and does not meet the need of ETERNITY, is no real help. There is a temptation in these days to some true Christians to ignore this, and the writer of this, for one, feels that he cannot too carefully keep the lines of GOD and MAN distinct. Anything short of God's saving power is not only a very poor thing, but in the light of a fast-coming judgment, is worse than useless, taking the place, as it does, of the only true remedy.
Let us remember also, that in this dispensation of grace, the power of God is sent forth in the faithful and simple declaration of the Gospel. "It is THE power of God unto salvation," where it is believed (Rom. i. 16); not a power; not one among many. It is almost fashionable among some professing Christians to depreciate it, and to prefer other modes of saving and rescuing and elevating fallen humanity. God has one method only—the preaching of the Gospel; and His true chosen servants will depend upon no other. To such it is enough in its simplicity. They will beware lest, by undue garnishing and mixing of the spicery of human eloquence, or thrilling anecdote even, they in any measure weaken the power of God. Gideon was not, however, only saved. Both before and after the angel of Jehovah called him to be His instrument in delivering Israel, he was educated for the purpose by Jehovah. As saints, we are not necessarily servants. Many a young believer runs to the work of God unsent, and has to learn sadly, wholesome lessons through failure and defeat; and sometimes, alas! we who in His great grace have sometimes been fitted and used by the Lord, forget wherein true preparedness for service lies, and, going out in our own strength, find ourselves "weak as other men."
HIS NAME has in it the foreshadow of what is required in a true servant of God. Gideon means (lit.) "destroying or cutting off iniquity." How true it is that in all Old Testament history, not only the lives and experiences of God's ancient people, but their very names, were designed by our God to instruct and minister grace to us who are chosen to be "to the praise of the glory of His grace"! How sadly ignorant, too, are they who cannot see in all this wondrous scripture, in every jot and tittle of it, the very mind of God. Doubtless the surface meaning of the name refers to the work designed for him to do; but perhaps the Gideon-nature was first manifested in his own position towards the widespread and prevailing iniquity of the people.
We learn that in their straits, they cried unto the Lord (verse 7), and He answered, not by at once delivering them, but by sending a prophet to declare to them their sins. Many of them were eager for deliverance from trouble, who were not willing to give up their idols. This we learn from verse 30 of this chapter, but before Jehovah could deliver, they, and all such, must be taught His just ways with sin. Doubtless, however, some had given an attentive ear to the rebuke of God at the mouth of the prophet, and, acknowledging the justice of the accusation, and confessing their own and their nation's sins, had turned in heart to Jehovah from the idolatrous ways of "the many." Cutting off iniquity had begun in their own souls. Gideon is the representative of such.
My brothers, we too, if we would be the true servants of the Lord in these days of increasing apostasy,—if at the bidding and by the power of the Lord, we are to be made truly helpful to saved or unsaved,—need first to look within and around. There is abundant evil plainly discernible in the light of God's Word; and it is only where we have honestly bowed our wills to the judgment of God, and practically taken a cut-off position from all known iniquity, that we can be so used. To Jesus, the sinner's Saviour, every sinner is welcome; but to Jesus Christ the Lord of all true servants, the Lord of all blessed and gladsome service owned now and soon to be rewarded, those saved ones only are welcome who are willing to leave all iniquity and follow Him. "He that loveth father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. . ." (Matt. x. 37-39; see also John xii. 25). The servant must be where the Lord is. This intensely important law of service is seen everywhere throughout the Word. The unready volunteer of Luke ix. 62, was not fit for kingdom service because he cast a lingering heart-glance back to a home where Jesus was not; and the awful solemnity and urgency of real work for God is seen in the sternly uncompromising command of the Lord given to one chosen by Himself, "Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Would to God that we clearly saw every God-given duty in the light of such words!
It was in accord with this law also that Jehovah chose the tribe of Levi for the exalted and honoured place of consecrated service. "We find, by reference to Exodus xxxii. 26-28, that they received special blessing from the Lord by taking His side in that sad day of shame, "when Aaron had made the people naked to their shame," against "sons, brothers, companions, and neighbours." The special blessing, and the cause of it, we find also in Deuteronomy xxxiii. 8-11. They observed the Word of God, and said to their own father and mother, "I have not seen him; neither acknowledged they their brethren, nor knew their children''—in the very spirit of the Great Servant, who afterwards said, "Who is My mother? and who are My brethren? "Verily I say unto you, Whosoever doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother."
My brothers, the Lord of all our service is coming soon to "reckon with His servants." but, while He tarries, He is rallying us once again around Him to, it may be, a little while of larger and more blessed service than ever. The signs of the times are such that it becomes us all to look again, with the Word of God in our hands and hearts, to all our ways. If we are to have His presence and blessing in work and coming conflict and victory, there had need to be now an honest judgment passed on all our ways and associations that are not according to the mind of the Lord—and this not as individuals only, but as "the Church of God"—and a cutting ourselves off in every known particular, whatever it may cost us. Then, and then only, shall we be sent forth as Gideons indeed. The Lord help us to begin to do so now in a spirit of true humility and reality!
WHEN the angel of Jehovah came to call Gideon to service, he came to Ophrah, and found Him there. Now, the meaning of the word Ophrah is "the dust." There is peculiar fitness in this, and deep lessons for us. We have already seen that the true Gideon is cut off from iniquity; and that all such must be, themselves, thus delivered before they can be made instruments of God in the deliverance of others. But, though separated from evil, he takes his stand, whatever else he may do, in the dust before God. There are many in our day who seem outwardly separated from evil, who have fancied that their work henceforth is to proclaim and glory in the separated position. Alas! how subtle are the ways of Satan, and how often in such ways has he led aside true children of God to build again a new likeness of the thing destroyed—a something of the flesh to cherish and glory in and fight for, till all lowliness and love have been lost in self-righteous isolation and bitter wranglings.
My brother, do we stand alone in the truly separated path? Then we are bowed down in soul. It is not so long ago that we ourselves were mixed up with all the sin around us, that we can afford to stand with uplifted head and boast of our separated position. The truly separated one is the deeply humble one, and just so long as true separation continues, will true humility continue, and no longer. Whenever I begin to glory in my separated path, true separation to God has ceased to be. It is beautiful to stand and look at this man Gideon for a little, and seek to learn precious lessons from him. Cut off from iniquity, and yet regarding the people's sin as still his own, never for a moment, in heart, separated from them (verse 13), or to be separated. If the angel says "with thee," he will still say "with us." A sinning brother should never be shut out from our hearts. If we are truly spiritual, to us alone is committed the responsibility to care for and the power to restore the erring, and from no position is this possible but from the lowly meekness of Ophrah (Gal. vi. 1). A truly spiritual Christian is as really humbled and saddened by the sins of his brethren as if they were his own. Though thus saddened by the prophet's message, and in "Ophrah," Gideon was not idle. He was---
DOING WHAT HE COULD.
This man did not lie down in despair, nor fold his hands in listless indifference. A life of true separation must be more or less one of activity. If Gideon cannot sing a psalm of self-righteous egotism in praise of his separated self, neither will he sit in the midst of the wreck and ruin as a helpless do-nothing, sadly bemoaning past sin and present misfortune. He will fill the present moment with work, however little; work in the right direction too. That little heap of barley may be very contemptible if one looks at the ruin all around. The whole land is laid bare. A nation is suffering and starving. The Midianites have carried the precious fruits of the earth, and have left "no sustenance for Israel." What good is there to spend time and strength threshing out the little that Gideon has? My brother, it was very little; but it was in the right direction. If it was not enough to feed the nation, it might still maintain the life of one of God's little children. If this man could not deliver Israel from the thraldom of Midian,—if he could not even arouse Israel as a nation to true repentance and revival,—he would do what he could. Would to God that in these days of growing coldness in the Church, and increasing infidelity and corruption everywhere, there were, here and there, a few such men—each in his place doing the little that he could—doing just that; no less and no more. Oftentimes, while we are busy only planning something great and conferring together on the best way to do it, the many precious little things are left undone, and precious opportunities never to be recalled glide past us. Do you say, "What can I do? Nothing worth speaking of!" Then don't speak of it, but do it. By all means do it, however insignificant. In the very dust, because of the vast and growing evil, let us thresh out a few precious grains of the Word of God and hide it in the wine-press of our hearts, so that, while we ourselves are nourished, if we can find one soul willing to be fed—one hungry heart, one starving repentant prodigal—he may live to call us blessed. The angel of Jehovah is sitting by and looking on; and men like Gideon, ready to do the very little in their power, are in his eyes "mighty men of valour," and by him, they shall sooner or later be led on to greater things. He who is able to say of us, "Thou hast been faithful over a few things," will make us rulers over many things. Let us remember that Philadelphia, with the "little strength" had the great open door set before it, because the little strength had been used for Christ.
UNDER THE OAK.
"The angel of Jehovah came and sat under an oak in Ophrah." The first time that we read in Scripture of an oak is in Gen. xxxv. 4, when Jacob buried the idols of his family and the ornaments which they had worn in their life of sin. In other words, it was the burial-place of their sin. There their sin was hid; and immediately we read of their journeying in such power that the terror of God was upon the cities through which they passed, till they rested at Luz, where the house of God and the altar of true worship were reared, and the name of the city became Bethel. In the language of God's type-book, the oak thus became the type of the place where sin is put away in death and burial, and where, to the pardoned sinner, a new departure is given in newness of life and resurrection power. Under the oak, also, "the dead" came often to be buried; and in times of great national apostasy, the fearful extent to which evil had come was manifested in this, that the idolatrous worship of the people was carried on under the oaks—in the very place which spake to them of sin put away; of death, burial, and resurrection. Sin of all others, most soul-destroying and God-condemned; yet, alas! Common, not to Israel only, but to Christendom, and not unseldom witnessed in the Church of God, and, my brother, in our hearts—idol worship at the very Cross of Calvary; an idol cherished in the heart of a child of God who has seen, in the clear light of the Spirit's teaching, his sin put away on the Cross and in the grave of the Son of God. The Lord teach us the evil of fake and feigned worship in the blessed light of the atonement, and keep us continually from every form of idolatry.
THE ANGEL SEATED.
"Was this our blessed Lord himself? Many think so. It seems indeed to be proved in what we afterwards read in chapter xiii. of the same "angel of Jehovah," when he appeared to Manoah and his wife. There we find Him called "the Man." It is not merely that the wife of Manoah so calls him, but that He Himself acknowledges the title. "Art thou the Man . . . ?" And he said, "I AM." But, still more, when Manoah asks, "What is Thy name?" the answer is, "Why askest thou after My name, seeing it is Pele?" (not secret—Wonderful). So in Isa. ix. 6: "To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; His name shall be called Pele."
This Wonderful One, then, Who in the fulness of time was Himself to be the Sacrifice for sin, to hide His people's sins forever in His death and burial, and, taking His seat on the ground of sin put away, was in resurrection power and glory to call His redeemed saints around Him in loving service,—this Wonderful One is here anticipating all this in figure in His call to Gideon. "He came and sat under an oak in Ophrah." And here, my brother, He still sits. If we have been called to true service, here it is that we have met Him and received the anointing. On the grave of sin, His throne of grace has been erected; and there our risen Lord delights to seek and find sorrowing hearts brought, in some measure at least, into fellowship with Himself about the evil and hatefulness of sin, and, having found them, to raise them from Ophrah to the place of resurrection power, sending them forth as deliverers of others. Thus it was to Simon Peter, when in an agonizing sense of sin he cried out, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord; "this Blessed One answered, "Fear not, Simon; from henceforth, I WILL MAKE THEE a fisher of men."
III.—JEHOVAH’S PRESENCE, THE SECRET OF VICTORY.
THE Salutation—"The Lord is with Thee, thou mighty man of valour. The Lord is with thee." Gideon did not by any means feel that it was so. Present circumstances seemed to disprove the statement, for "Why then is all this befallen us?" All Gideon’s reasonings cried "No!" but the Word of the Lord was spoken, not to reason but to faith, and so, at last, faith triumphed. The path of the true servant must be the path of faith; and true faith will ask only God’s statements. Surroundings may be ever so trying, prospects ever so dark, but if the believing soul can say "I will hear what God the Lord will speak;" every utterance of the Lord shall come with the force of a revelation, and the things that would dwindle into insignificance before the things which mere reason would say are not.
I am not sure that what I have here called God’s statements, have the attention they deserve. I speak not of the promises, but of many precious utterances in which the Lord states (as here) for our present acceptance certain facts which may not seem to be facts, and which cannot be felt to be so; but which, when they are believed simply on the Word of the Lord, bring with them such a flood of light and power as sometimes to alter the whole character of one’s life. There are hundreds of such statements in the Word; and they are familiar to us as any of the sights or sounds around us; but they are not facts to us because we have not accepted them as such. We read them, and talk about them, and preach about them, but fail to believe them.
Three times over has a statement of this nature come into my life since I was first brought to Christ; and three times through simple faith in them has there been fresh power and blessing. The first was, "Ye have died and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. iii. 3); the second, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" (John iii. 36); and the last, "Lo, I am with you always."
So in Gideon’s case, it is not a promise, but a fact stated, "The Lord is with Thee—." In spite of present failure, in spite of the oppression of the enemy, in spite of the little corn heap and the empty wine-press, this had to be believed because God said it. Yes, it is the "Word of the Lord," which, dipping down into the sphere of faith, brings out and manifests the true child of faith. Others may reason about what Jehovah says and try to explain it, or strive earnestly even to understand it; but the "little one" believes it. Truly, "except ye be converted and become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." As in Gideon’s case the unlikely statement may not be taken in just at once. Like Mary, there may be hearts pondering and "casting about" of the saying in the mind (Luke i. 29); but sooner or later, the blessed truth is grasped; and in the strength of an ever-present Lord, the believing one strides forth to conquer.
"THE LOOK OF POWER."
Gideon was not only separated from surrounding evil, and in the dust before God; but he was without resources and without strength. "Wherewith shall I save Israel?" His family was poor in Manasseh, and he was the least in his father’s house. One of the laws of service we have already seen; this is another. God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty (1 Cor. i. 27). We have seen that a half-hearted Christian is not a vessel "meet for the Master’s use," and now we see that a self-satisfied and self-sufficient Christian cannot be amongst the chosen servants. For no flesh must glory in His presence, and the Holy oil cannot be poured on the flesh of men. To this man will I look, even to him that is lowly and of a contrite heart and who trembleth at my Word. A man who thinketh he is something is of no real use in the service of the Lord. One of the foremost qualifications is this deep sense of self-depreciation. "I am the least---Wherewith shall I—." Such an one the Lord calls---
A MIGHTY MAN OF VALOUR.
Thus Paul the Apostle was mighty in word and deed, not because he was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, but because he had learned that he was "not sufficient of himself, even to think anything as of himself" (2 Cor. iii. 5); not because of his "grand natural capacity," as some would affirm, but because by the simple hearing of faith he had taken in the Word of God and thus received the power of God. "He that ministereth the Spirit and worketh mighty works among you, how doeth he it‘? By the hearing of faith" (Gal. iii. 5). In Gideon’s case, the weak one was empowered, not by a word, but by a look. The Lord looked upon him, and said, "Go in this thy might." Blessed Jesus! Oh, that we may know Him! Know Him, not only as our Deliverer from wrath and our Saviour from indwelling sin, but as our life for everything and our strength at every moment. "Lo! I am with you always." He whose very glance carries with it Almighty power! Well may we rejoice to live in the presence of such an One. We can do nothing, absolutely nothing, of ourselves, but He is with us, Who, if He chooses, can inspire us with a word or strengthen us even with a look, so that we shall be able exultingly to cry to His praise, "I can do all things." (Phil. iv. 13).
I think it is thus that the stars of Revelation i. shine in the deepening darkness of Church apostasy. They were in His hand, and "the light of His face" was upon them. "His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." Yes, and to lie in that hand and look up into that face is to shine blessedly and fulfil His will mightly. This is true service and true rule in this present darkness. Only to lie trustfully in His hand, and catch the light of His countenance. Blessed rest and blessed labour—the rest of faith and the works of faith, and the labours of love. In many passages of Scripture, we find reference to the Lord’s look. When He looks upon His enemies, it is to confound and destroy, as in Exodus xiv.; when on the other hand, He looks upon His own; it is a "time of love" (Ezekiel xvi. 8). The immediate effect of the look may be, at first, to cast down, that He may lift up; or it may be, as here, to inspire with courage and fill with power for service. "The Lord looked upon Peter and he went out and wept bitterly, but it was in his true and deep repentance "a time of love." The bride, in Canticles, sings of her own "blackness because the sun had looked upon her." The look in her case had given her a deep and abiding sense of her own vileness and His preciousness. Henceforth, she could not gaze upon herself but upon Him; and she would have others also forget her, in her deep desire that they should see "the King in His beauty."
Would that in these days, there were more of this true Shulamite spirit amongst us! Do we not err, as God’s saints and servants, oftentimes, in speaking more of what the Lord has done for us and what we have become and are, than of HIM—of what He is; His beauty and His perfections? I think that if it were not so, we should hear less of the Church and more of Jesus—less of our own perfection and more of His---less of the cleansed heart and more of the CLEANSING ONE. If He has indeed come to us in our wretchedness and weakness, and looked all His love into our hearts so as to make us cry with wonder, "He loved me (even me) and gave Himself for me," that look is sure to abide with us. If it has been a reality to us, we shall not soon forget the self-blackness which it brought to light. That He who has looked upon us, can love us as He does---that will be a life-long wonder; and the more we think of it, the more shall we desire to be occupied with Him who has so loved us. There are two kinds of morbid spiritual introspection which are unfit for service. They both turn the eye away from Christ. The one is where the Christian is perpetually occupied with the evil within, thinking and speaking about it, instead of dwelling in and feasting on the love of God as seen in the face of Jesus Christ; the other, where He is complacently occupied with his own new nature, watching its fancied growth and singing about its beauty. The true Bride on the other hand, warns off all eyes from herself; "Look not on me---I am black."
This is what we want more than ever in the present day. Let His look of love remind us ever of our unworthiness, but let us be occupied with the love and with the Blessed One Who has loved us. This, then, is the true servant’s "might." Gideon is thus fitted, and the Lord having named him one of His "mighty men," he is sent forth to conflict and victory. "GO IN THIS THY MIGHT; thou shalt save Israel; have not I sent thee?" The Lord never sends forth to service till the one sent is able for the work. "Thanks be unto God," says Paul, "who hath made us able ministers." His true servants are all "mighty men," but their might is peculiar. They are all weak ones enabled by Himself. Jacob became one of God’s conquerors when his thigh was put out of joint. Samson was mighty when (according to the voice of nature, 1 Cor. xi. 14), he took, at God’s bidding, the place of shame. David’s mightiest men were those who stood alone, depending on the Lord for victory (2 Samuel xxiii. 12); or, who at the most were in little bands of three, with Jehovah in the midst. If we are sent out as His chosen weak ones, with that look of love brightening our poor hearts, the crooked shall be made straight to us and the rough places plain; one of us shall chase a thousand, and all the host of Midian shall fall, as if it were, "but one man" that we dealt with. For hath He not said to us also, "Surely I will be with thee."
IV.—THE GIFT-OFFERING; HOW OFFERED.
"IF now I have found grace in Thy sight, depart not hence, I pray Thee, till I come unto Thee, and bring forth my present"—(gift-offering). Let us look at God’s order here. Many reverse it. They would rather say: "Let me bring my present, that I may find grace and be accepted."
Gideon’s language here shows that he was a child of light. He knew "the way of GRACE." Thus it was with Abel also, he knew grace in righteousness through the precious blood; and, therefore, brought a true gift-offering. Cain, on the other hand, impiously brought his gift offering as a reason why God should receive him; and it was rejected. In dealing with him, God ignores the offering, and speaks of his person---"If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if not, behold! a sin-offering is crouching at the door" (Gen. iv. 7). Poor Cain! like many others in our day, he would not believe God as to his sinfulness; would not believe Him as to need of a sin-offering; would not believe that he himself was all wrong; and, presuming to draw near with his gift-offerings—the fruits of a cursed earth, and the labours of a sinful man—was utterly rejected. How blessedly different with Gideon---"If I have found grace in Thy sight, let me bring my present."
God’s order as to this is also beautifully brought out in NOAH'S case. In Gen. vi. 8, we have the statement that in the midst of abounding wickedness, "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." Then (verse 9), he is pronounced righteous, and begins to "walk with God." In this blessed walk, God reveals to Noah his purposes; instructs and empowers him for service; and, finally, because he was righteous (in God’s way of righteousness), He shuts him up in a place of perfect safety while judgment is poured out upon an ungodly world. The beginning of all this was finding grace. Alas! for the thousands of mere nominal Christians who have never known this truth. The only Christianity they know is the hope that their prayers, their aims, their efforts, may, somehow or other, lead God to think well of them. Let it be clearly understood that God will have none of our gifts till He is satisfied as to our persons. First, our soul’s salvation, then our gift-offerings; first, accepted in the Beloved One," then our "sacrifices of sweet odour acceptable unto God by Jesus Christ." Worship and service can reach Jehovah, even by Jesus Christ, from those only who have found grace in a way of perfect righteousness (Rom. iii. 24).
There is a command of our Lord’s in Matt. v. 23, which, in connection with our subject, may be found helpful---"If thou bring thy gift to the altar." The reason is evident—that since our gifts can be accepted by God only because of our standing before Him in grace, we must see to it that there is nothing but grace between us and our brethren. As we ourselves are offerers by grace, we must not treat our brother on another and quite a different principle. This would be to receive grace in vain, or turn it to an evil purpose. Let us never forget then, that while our gracious God does not ever change or falter in His great eternal purpose of grace towards us who are in Christ, we shall be made to know "His change of purpose" (Num. xiv. 34), as far as the temporary things down here are concerned, we fail to act in grace towards others. In our life now it is "grace for grace" "freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt. x. 8). Beloved, if we stand in grace before God, and are, by His grace, humbly seeking to live out grace towards others, we may at all times have the happy assurance that our "present," whatever it be, shall be accepted. Yes; whether it be very poor, very worthless, it may seem in itself, despicable in the sight of the world—it shall be acceptable and of a sweet odour to Jehovah.
Oh! if we could but for a moment look down from heaven’s standpoint, to see the stream of gift-offerings ascending from poor sinners who have found grace in His SIGHT. Here, two mites (which make a farthing), followed, it may be, by ten thousand pounds; both equally well pleasing to God. Here, again, a cheering smile lighting upon some downcast soul; and there a strong, patient, long continued struggle to rescue a perishing one. Here a sermon of burning eloquence, full of grace and truth in the power of the Holy Ghost, bending the hearts of hundreds, and saving their souls from death; there a few stammering words spoken in fear and much feebleness to one soul. Here a hymn of praise that shall stir the hearts of all the saints; there a simple verse, sung by a little child by the sick-bed of a weary friend. Here princely hospitality to many; there a cup of cold water to a single disciple. A tract kindly given; a tear of loving sympathy; one hour’s watching; a prayer in the closet; a patient sigh heard only in heaven. The time would fail us. Moment by moment the stream ascends. I cannot help thinking of the deep interest and continued joy that must be in the heart of our blessed Lord as He receives, in His loving kindness, all these "presents" as tokens of our poor gratitude to Him; of the blessed fellowship between Father and Son as the sweet incense ascends to God; and of the wonder of the angels! It must not, however, be supposed that no importance is attached by God to the kind of offering presented. The child of God, under grace, is guided by the Holy Spirit in this, as in all else; and every detail is according to the mind of God. Gideon’s gift-offering was, according to---
GOD'S PATTERN OF THE MEAT-OFFERING.
In Lev. ii. 11, we read: "No meat-offering (gift-offering) which ye shall bring unto the Lord shall be made with leaven." Thus it was that "Gideon made ready a kid of the goats, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour." It is to be feared that, in this respect, there is oftentimes grievous mistakes made, even by true Christians. Are there not many who know that they are "saved by grace," and who desire, in true gratitude of heart, to worship and serve God, who, nevertheless, do not think it necessary to be particular as to the manner of worship and service? Thus, will-worship (Col. ii. 23), that is, worship according to one’s own will, or the will of men, not according to the will of God, has become common. All true worship must be "according to Christ," not "according to the traditions of men or the principles of the world;" and the true servant is he who, in every detail, follows the Word of God. We cannot present our bodies a living sacrifice (Rom. xii. 1) unless we do so according to Scripture. Our blessed God and Father not only tells us what to do, but how to do it. Hence, in this very exhortation, we have joined to it the command: "and be not conformed to this world." These are not two commands, but one; the kid of the goats and the unleavened cakes of flour---one offering. My brother, many a gift-offering may be rejected because it is not according to Christ. We may be eternally saved; yet, because of inattention to this, our worship may have no testimony borne to it of sweet fellowship with God. Our services may not have the seal of God’s approval; and our gift-offerings may not be acceptable.
To many a true Christian, the Lord may be saying, earnestly, but in vain: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon; " and we may all be well assured that it is true to-day as ever, that "if we regard iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not hear us" (Ps. lxvi. 18). Past sin unconfessed; present sin secretly indulged; the world’s ways followed; its society courted; its maxims acted on—these things may not certainly bring about the perdition of a child of God, but they do always render his life unpleasing to God, destroy his worship, and interrupt his usefulness. We have seen in these things, two points of divine order. There is yet a third. Gideon was not permitted to offer his gift wherever he liked. In this, too, he had to be guided, and---
THE GIFT MUST BE LAID UPON THE ROCK.
So, in Deut. xii. 13, "take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest." "There shall be a place which Jehovah, your God, shall chose; thither shall ye bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices," &c. (verse 11). It became Israel’s sin that they laid their offerings upon other than the God chosen "rock"---their high places were their snare, and for this cause, Israel’s worship became no better in the sight of God than the idolatry of the heathen nations. The chosen rock was Christ. Upon that rock in Ophrah, the true altar is reared, and "is seen to this day" (verse 24). Thither still, the poor sinner, taking his place in the dust, and raised by the loving power of God into resurrection life, brings his gift offerings, and sees in that place of full acceptance, the sweet inscription Jehovah-Shalom.
It is needful to remember that our gift-offerings are nothing, be they little or big, but as they are presented to God "by Jesus Christ" (Heb. xiii. 15). Intrinsically, they are worth absolutely nothing to God, except as they are sanctified by contact with Christ: "We ourselves are accepted (only) in the Beloved," and our gift-offerings are "acceptable as spiritual sacrifices (only) by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter ii. 5). It is still "the altar that sanctifieth the gift" (Matt. xxiii. 19). The little turtle-dove is nothing in itself, but the moment it touches the altar, it is holiness to the Lord. My brothers, this is true sanctification. The life truly united to Christ, is a holy life; and the feeblest effort, that by simple faith, is humbly laid into the hands of Jesus; it is holy as it passes into the presence of God "by Him." You speak a kindly word, or show a forgiving disposition, or supply the need of some poor saint—all this is nothing in itself; the world can do it quite as easily; still less, is it anything because of you, however high your position or great your name—the gift-offerings are precious only because of Jesus. Let us seek as we do these things to remember this; and as they pass into the presence of Jehovah, they shall be recognized by Him as truly holy feelings and holy deeds, and marked down as "fruit that shall abound to our account." "Ye did it unto me." All otherwise done Is IDOLATRY in the sight of God.
This law of worship and service the mere nominal Christian can never see, and many true believers often forget; so that, though themselves saved, they fail to associate the varied details of their life with the person and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Alas! even in worship itself, there are oftentimes still the "high places of Baal" and the "many altars." We trust still in our places and our gatherings together, and our men and our well defined and clearly expressed truths, while often and often the BLESSED ONE is left out of account; and all is idolatry in the sight of God. We may get into the habit even of speaking and singing of true worship being "within the veil," while He, by whom all within the veil is transacted, is made to stand aside. "’Tis heaven where Jesus is;" ’tis worship where Jesus is; ’tis true service where Jesus is. He alone is God’s Rock; He alone God’s Altar. It is because this is so often practically forgotten that there is so little of the---
ANSWER BY FIRE!
"The God that answereth by fire, He is God" (1 Kings xviii. 24 margin). Yes; but He will answer only when the offering has been brought to the true altar. "Knowing this, Elijah repaired the altar of Jehovah that had been broken down." Everything was done "according to the Word of the Lord," so the blessing came. Thus, in Gideon’s case, when all had been done according to commandment, "the angel put forth the rod that was in His hand and touched the offering; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed it."
There is no lack of fire in Him who is God’s Rock—God’s Altar. "The fire that burns in the altar shall never go out" (Lev. vi. 12). But there is no fire in you or in me, and no fire in our offerings or services, except as we and they are in contact with the Altar; then it is that, with His rod, He touches, and there is manifest blessing. "We touch Him by faith, and He touches us by the power of His Spirit; and there leaps from the Rock the hidden fire which carries up our thoughts and feelings, our words and actions, in a spirit-flame of love to the heart of the Father.
V.—"TO THE WORK."
GIDEON, standing on God’s Rock and bringing his gift offering to the true Altar, has had testimony borne to him that his person is accepted, and his gift acceptable. He is now sent "that same night" to the work. He is a vessel meet for the Master’s use; and when there are fit instruments ready to His hand, the Lord does not waste time. Doubtless, one reason why more of real GOD-WORK is not seen by us is that there are so few of His saints "sanctified—meet—prepared" (2 Tim. ii. 22). We know, of course, that He could work without us, but He does not; neither will He work by unfit instruments. This is a solemn truth to those of us who are in the outward position, and bear the name of servants! The question will press sometimes upon us, "Why is there so little of the power of God?" Why are so many of God’s true people in bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil? Why are not the unsaved reached in far larger numbers, and the power of the old simple Gospel felt to be the very power of God in all our churches and chapels? Is not the answer, because there are so very few true servants of God—God-prepared and God-sent? The promise is, "One man of you shall chase a thousand" (Joshua xxiii. 10).
Everywhere the enemy is lifting up his head, and everywhere is his defiant voice heard against the Christ of God. Christian men are ever forming new combinations and associations, adopting increasing varieties of new plans—fleshly and worldly—while the host of Satan, infidelity, rationalism, formalism, open unblushing vice and hideous crime, keep on increasing and rushing in upon us like a mighty tide. One man of you shall chase a thousand." My brother, let us, for God’s sake, trust less to combination, and go out in simple faith on this promise. We have our armies, and our associations—blue ribbon, purity, &c. What God wants is a MAN; one whom He can empower with the look which He gave to Gideon. "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembleth at My Word" (Isa. lxvi. 2; see also 2 Tim. ii. 21)—"If a man . . . he shall be a vessel unto honour." We wait for one another and hang together too much. God is looking for a man who will let himself be emptied, separated from all worldliness unto Himself. One whom men, be they saved or unsaved, shall not be able to buy and sell, who will not cringe to the great or be partial to the poor—minding not human approval or disapproval; a man who shall be out-and-out FOR GOD.
In all his intercourse with the Angel of the Lord, Gideon has never lost sight of his own weakness. Such an experience as we have seen him passing through, had not his heart been well emptied of self-sufficiency to begin with, might well have pampered the flesh and rendered him quite unfit for true service. Many a foolishly conceited would-be servant has been discovered and cast aside, just because "vainly puffed up in the mind of his flesh," because of the Lord’s revelations of Himself, he has failed to keep the lowly place before Jehovah. To Gideon, the true servant, all this past blessedness was but a new cause for deepest humility. The Lord’s goodness only deepened within him, a sense of his own utter unworthiness, so that he needed anew to be strengthened of the Lord.
"Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an Angel of the Lord face to face." Thus it has ever been when God has revealed Himself to the simple and true hearted child of faith. The blessing humbles him to the very dust and brings forth all the weakness, that the God of love may still further bless. Thus it was to Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and John; thus it must be in our case, if we are truly having fellowship with Him and being fitted to serve Him. Are we privileged in some measure to see His holiness? Then, like Isaiah, we are deeply sensible of our own sinfulness. Are we permitted to gaze on the face of Jesus Christ, and see there the glory of the Father? Then surely, like Ezekiel and John, we are on our faces in His presence, as we feel deeply our own emptiness and insignificance. Or, Gideon-like, have we been led up to the true Altar, and there seen our poor little gift-offering sanctified and accepted, while with happy hearts we bowed our heads and worshipped in spirit and in truth? Then, again, most surely has there been the deepest reverence, and trembling has mingled with our joy in the near presence of God. Alas! how often, instead of the quiet, reverent occupation of the heart with God Himself, do we hear on all sides the vain, boastful cry of Jeremiah vii. 4: "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we." Anything but Himself! The temple, the altar, the people, the church, the work, the servant, and the doctrine. Is it any wonder that, instead of a deep and growing sense of His greatness and our nothingness, the very reverse should seem nearer the truth; His nothingness and our greatness, while instead of deep, solemn, trembling joy, there should be only "fussy" excitement, much loud noise and self-assertion, with no true fear of God whatever and little sign of real work? It is worthy of note that, at the very moment that Gideon is sent forth to the work by God, he is so weak that he needs to be specially strengthened by a new Word of power. This is very precious to all weak ones who long to be used of God. Every fresh bit of work for God is like A RESURRECTION FROM SELF-WEAKNESS AND DEATH, and is the result of empowerment, by a fresh message from the Word. Just as we live by the day, so are we dependent on Him, who is our very life, for fresh strength in every mission on which He sends us. To every true servant, called and empowered by himself, God gives a like message.---
"PEACE BE UNTO THEE; FEAR NOT; THOU SHALT NOT DIE."
Yes! whatever the difficulty and danger to be encountered in the work, our Lord would have His servants at perfect rest of soul, and in the enjoyment of calm, unruffled peace. It is quite impossible that we can be useful servants if there is any unrest of heart about our Lord’s attitude towards ourselves. Many an effort to serve is marred because of an uneasy conscience. The true servant, sent and approved by Him, must therefore go forward to every duty right from the Lord’s immediate presence, and with a deep sense of "peace with God" resting on his heart---with the Lords FEAR NOT also ringing in his ears. How much this is needed, we all know. There is something about true Christian work which of itself brings out the weakness and unfitness of all mere fleshly energy to cope with it. The "great of flesh" cannot ever accomplish any real work for God. Hence our blessed Lord has, as we have so often said, specially to fit instruments for that work; and specially to fit them over and over again for every fresh part of it. Thus it is never a sign of unfitness that we timidly shrink back from the work at the out-set. It is good to remember that we need the Master’s "FEAR NOT" to inspire with divine courage, for mere courage of nature is worse than useless here. Mere manliness, so often gloried in, is but poor courage wherewith to meet Satanic foes. The world's resources may do well enough for the world’s battles, but he who would truly serve God must have omnipotence in everything. When, therefore, a timid, shrinking saint of God, man or woman, is sent forth to any duty, he needs and must receive the Word that produces the courage. If God says "Fear not," it is no vain saying. This is something far more than a simple exhortation not to be afraid, such as one man may kindly give to another. God’s Word creates, and when He says "Fear not" to any of us, the fearless courage is at once created, and we step out in a courage as far above that of nature as everything else is that comes immediately from God.
I fear that this truth is very much lost sight of. When our Lord said to the leper, "Be clean," He did not advise him merely to become so, no more, when He said "Fear not " to Gideon, Abram, Daniel, Simon, or John, did he advise them to "pluck up heart," as we say. No; His Word cleansed and His Word produced the courage needed at the time. My brother, let us go forward to the next duty, remembering that we need this, and, however naturally timid we may be, let us by simple faith appropriate the "Fear not" of Jehovah, expecting the courage which it is meant to give. Ah! how many a God-given Word would be uttered by lips that remain sealed, and how many a God-strengthened arm would do valiant things, that hitherto has hung helplessly palsied, if this Word were not heard merely, but believed?
One other Word is needed to fit for immediate work—"THOU SHALT NOT DIE." May we not well say, the man of God is "thoroughly furnished"? (2 Tim. iii. 16). There may be, in all "good works" to which he is called, mighty conflict with the principalities and powers of darkness, and Satan, by fraud and force, may do all that can be done to accomplish his destruction, but Jehovah has said, "Thou shalt not die;" and he goes forward to the battle bearing a truly charmed life. With what a light heart a true servant of God steps forward! One death he had feared—death at the hand of Jehovah Himself. But this fear is passed forever. By the promise of Him who cannot lie, he is assured of eternal life. Satan may do his worst, and in sight of immediate glory, the sorest bodily death that martyr ever suffered is but as the bruised heel of God’s undying Son.---
THE FIELD OF WORK.
Perhaps to Gideon as to many others, the first part of the work to which God sent him, may have startled and disappointed him. The Lord had said, "Thou shall save ISRAEL," and now the Word of command is to destroy the altar of Baal in his father’s house and to establish true worship there. Difficult and trying work in a narrow sphere with the possibility of home trouble and no eclat. But God’s servant has nothing to do with the choice of the sphere or manner of work; still less has he to do with the result. His highest privilege is to hang upon the Word of the Lord and obey it to the letter. Some don’t like this; they talk much of applying the "Spirit of the Word" to present circumstances and times. They would have, in Gideon’s place, considered what Jehovah intended to bring about by such a command, and gone to accomplish the supposed result by ways of their own choosing. My brother, if we are really God’s true workers, not only the fitness to do the work has come from Him, but the sphere of service and the way in which we are to serve must likewise be of His choosing. We must know what this means—"Surely I can do nothing, but at the Word of the Lord." The Lord has not only called His true servants but he has appointed to every man of them his work, and with the Holy Ghost in us and God’s blessed Scripture of truth in our hand, there need be no difficulty in finding what it is. Alas! there be many so-called Christian schemes and works for which we can find no sanction, far less, any command, in the Word of God. Nevertheless, let us be sure of this, that however well-meant the work and however much good it may seem likely to accomplish, if the mode in which the professing servant does it and if all particulars connected with it are not according to THE WORD, it is not of God.
VI.—NATURE OF THE WORK.
"See, I have set thee . . . to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant."---Jer. i. 10.
GIDEON had already built an altar to the Lord, and called it Jehovah-Shalom. This was well, so far as his own individual attitude towards God was concerned; but the true servant has no mere individual relation to the Lord; and there could be no peace towards Israel, and no deliverance, so long as the altar of Baal stood there, side by side with that of Jehovah. Gideon must now be taught that, as a servant in the midst of surrounding evil, there is much more demanded of him than the maintenance of individual purity. "Keep thyself pure," is indeed a command to Timothy, but not the only command in these epistles. In our day, the position of a true God-fitted and God-sent servant would be no smooth and easy one, more than that of Gideon or Jeremiah, if this were practically remembered. Alas! how often does the Cross of Christ become of none effect, because, as individuals or little happy groups of like-minded Christians, we retire within our own circle, build our own altars, and gaze out upon surrounding wrong, as if we had nothing to do with it. It is "happy fellowship," and easy, do-nothing work. We vainly dream that we are doing God service, while side by side with us stands the altar of Baal, against which we dare not, in this age of toleration of vice even speak a word or lift a little finger.
In the time of Gideon, no deliverance could be wrought till things were put right with God. Thus it is that we have seen that the instrument fitted to be a servant of the Lord, and by His authority and power, a deliverer of others, must, in the first place, be himself put right with God, and kept right.
The reason of Israel’s oppression by the Philistines was, as we find in Judges ii., is Israel’s unrighteousness with God. The nation had departed from the living God, and turned aside to Baal and Ashtaroth. Ere they could be delivered from their sufferings, the altar of Baal and the grove of Ashtaroth must be destroyed. The man to do this must be enlightened as to the true altar; for we can never discern the false until we CLEARLY SEE THE TRUE.
It was because of this, that the Angel of Jehovah had so patiently opened up to Gideon all about the true altar and sacrifice in "the ordered place," and had led him to hear it first in his own individual heart and life and there worship God (v. 24). There, we have seen, he personally entered the circle of perfect peace with God, and knew Jehovah-Shalom. Now, as the servant of God, what was true to him must become through him true to his father’s house, and then to all the families of Israel. Looking at the evil all around in the light of God’s revelation to him, he is called upon and sent in the power of God to destroy it.
My brothers, Israel’s worst times were nothing to the days through which we are passing now. Within the last few days a wail of agony has risen to God from millions of souls, a cry of terrible bondage and fear and utter helplessness, as the veil has been torn from this CHRISTIAN LONDON of ours, with its ten thousand churches, its beautiful religious ritual, its sweet and sacred music, its interesting conferences, its happy fellowship. O God! does not the whole seem, at least, an awful mockery in the lurid light of to-day’s revelations thrown upon this cesspool of crime and suffering? Hear we not the prolonged echo of the infidel’s coarse laugh—"Where is now their God?" This is our comfort. Our God---the God of truth and righteousness, the I AM—is, and WILL ASSERT HIMSELF; but His people have to be recalled to Him, and to the worship of Him, from all the farce and Babel of worship and work without reality and life, because without God---the terrible "form of godliness without the power of godliness" of 2 Tim. iii. 5.
We have put aside Jehovah and His Christ, the source of all life. We have built our own altars, gathered round our own great men, elevated our own bits of truth and experience, decked them up in distinctive dresses, and gloried in the distinctive names which we have given them. We have a huge and gorgeous system of religion—bearing, alas! the very name of God and His Christ—for Sundays and special days, and special services and special work, which has absolutely nothing to do with our ordinary lives. It is but the altar of Baal and the grove of Ashtaroth, with its hidden orgies of lust and crime side by side with it.
My brothers in Christ, be sure of this, that if the names of thousands of those great criminals whose deeds and ways are now being exposed in our daily papers were to be spoken out, we should find them to be men, not of the unblushing Bradlaugh type (who have nothing to conceal), but men who are everywhere received as, in a certain way, religious—frequenters of our churches and chapels—not only moving in society and on intimate terms with our daughters and sisters, but sitting at the same communion tables, and loudly responding, with bowed head and apparent reverence, "God be merciful to us, miserable sinners, and incline our hearts to keep His law;" aye, in many cases, leading the prayers of the people, preaching a wordy gospel, or, sadder still, superintending and teaching in our Sunday schools.
How dare we say so? Because our God has said that the characteristic, religiously of these very days in which we live is, that "men shall be lovers of their own selves . . . having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (read whole passage, 2 Tim. iii. 1-8). Why not? They are not capable, to be sure, of comprehending, even afar off, the true Christ-life, and of worshipping at His blessed feet Who is the only Altar of Jehovah. They do not know the meaning of bringing their gift-offering to this blessed living Altar of God; but they can understand religion as we have, alas!, set it before them. They can understand our many altars and forms; and they are glad to be encouraged to come round them by the thousand. And we have encouraged them. We like their influence and their name, and, above all, their gold.
Beloved, let me not be misunderstood. I do not mean that God has left Himself without witnesses against all this. On all sides, He is raising up true men and women, whose faith is in God alone, with whom it is not doctrine, and rite, and denomination, and man, but Jesus only. They have touched Him, and have got to know practically that He is the source of life and power to them in their daily life. In all ages, there have been such; and in these darkest of all times, thank God, there are many such; with them, there may not be much of the form, but there is the power of God. But let it be distinctly understood, that men generally in these last days, hate this power, and will have none of it. This is their very character, as described by God. All else that we have made so much of, and encouraged them in their godlessness to have fellowship with us, they gladly take. They can understand it, and they can understand and appreciate our divisions, and our jealousies, and our many unrealities. I write for true children of God. This is OUR PART, BELOVED, in the awful cry that even now is ascending to heaven.
We are to blame for much. We are hiding the one Altar, or we are degrading Him by associating His name, His worship, His service, with the altars of Baal. With God there is but one Altar; to us there must be one only. The REMEDY, so far as the Church is concerned, is the destruction of Baal’s altar and grove and the lifting up in its true and ordered place of the true Altar.
Let all the children of God acknowledge and practically manifest that our meeting and rallying ground is not a place, or an ism, or a formulated truth, or a man, or set of men, but the Man Christ Jesus---our righteousness, our life, our all. Thank God, there is no lack of power to those who resolutely turn aside from trust in everything else and are taught to trust in Him. When our little all is laid as a gift offering on this altar, Jehovah’s fire comes down as of old and burns the offering. He answers still by fire, and our cry would still be that of Elijah: "The God that answereth by fire, let Him be God." Let all God’s people, who know these things, consent to worship and work together round Jesus Himself and Jesus only, pouring contempt upon all our religious things which have hidden Him, or asserted a place side by side with Him. Thus only shall Baal’s altars be destroyed from our midst, and Jehovah’s true Altar be seen. Thus it may be also that once again, before the dread close of this age, shall our God work a great deliverance.
As already said, we have had much earnest work, many great combinations, while the rising tide of iniquity defies them all. Let us get together, not as churches, but as THE CHURCH---the company of truly saved and believing ones; let us confess our part in the great apostasy, and together take hold of God. We shall have but to stand still in simple prayerful expectancy, and we "shall see the salvation of our God." It is not without encouragement to us, poor feeble ones, to be told that because Gideon feared to do this thing in the day, he did it in the night. The Lord did not say anything as to the "when," so that there was room even for trembling and fearing faith. In the directions given to Gideon, the manner of the work is made to speak in the language of a beautiful parable. The second bullock of seven years, while it was a type of Christ Himself, and the Work of Christ, must have been a type likewise to Gideon of himself and God’s dealings with him. The very work he is now sent to do is the "story" he has just been taught, seen over again in his life. The second bullock was thus Gideon himself, in the BLESSED REST OF THE SEVENTH YEAR, destroying, in that sweet sense of acceptance of God, the works of the Devil, and, in His service, so yielding himself to God that, on the divinely-appointed Altar, he becomes a burnt offering to God. Thus it is with all the true servants. We can work out only what we have seen God working in us. It is in this very sense that our blessed Lord Himself speaks when He says, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do" (John v. 19). If so, how much more of us? The Father, by His enlightening and quickening power, shows us first His work in us—the old false is cast down, the new Christ-life manifested, and we enter upon the rest of God. Then only can we do, amongst those around us, the works of faith and labour of love which God has done and is doing in us.
TRUE SERVICE BEGINS AT HOME.
If there is wrong to be put right in our own families and more immediate surroundings, it is always a sad evidence of unreality and folly that our eyes are directed to work at "the ends of the earth." God’s order for Gideon was, first himself, next his father’s house, then the nation; and in all things we must fall in with God’s order. May it not be that we often fail individually, and as the Church, in work for God, just because we have not begun at home? In that precious story of revival, in the days of Hezekiah, the priests began the cleansing in the "inner part of the house of the Lord" (2 Chron. xxix. 16).
How sweetly and quietly the Baal altars might be destroyed, and the True Altar have His place amongst God’s people, if only we were all willing! The whole thing might be done in a night, while the "men of the city" sleep. Oh! my brothers, let us do it. Each true child of God, for himself and herself, first whole-heartedly yielded to the Lord, and then the whole family of God’s redeemed people gathered for confession, and supplication, and thanksgiving, and worship, and service round our blessed risen Lord—Jesus only. Think ye God will fail to glorify His Son? Nay, verily—us, and our names, and our altars, He cannot glorify; but His CHRISTED ONE shall ever bear the glory; and in union with Him only can we be anointed.---
"Bring out thy son that he may die." Yes, this must be expected. "Our citizenship is in heaven," and we must not expect the "men of cities" here to have the mind of God. With the men of this world, "whose portion is in this life, and whose names are written in the earth," men of God must expect over this matter to have war to the knife, for they love their Baal altars. In all the deadliest conflicts between Satan and the true people of God, the bitterest and most malignant opposition has always come from that religious formalism and bigotry that knows nothing of true Christ-life. So it will be to-day. If all the true children of God would dare, in simple faith in their Father, to do this thing—to give up as things to be destroyed, all this Baal worship, and to be all for Jesus only---all hell would rouse itself. We may denounce their crimes and bind ourselves together to oppose them in a hundred ways, but, so long as the stronghold of false religion is left untouched, Satan does not fear and little heeds our power. If, however, we but touch his altars and exalt the Christ of God, he knows well that the power of Jehovah is to meet him, and the man or men who dare to bring God upon the scene shall know his utmost hatred.
So be it. Jehovah has said, "Fear not, THOU SHALT NOT DIE; "and surely, surely, on the strength of the Word that cannot be broken, we may well go boldly forward. Our very foes shall be snatched from the grasp of Satan and become our friends; and, if we are but true to our God, the force of divine reasoning will become apparent even to them that a god who cannot defend his own altar is no God; and amid the ruin of all that is false in the Church we shall hear once again ringing through Christendom: "Will ye plead for Baal, will ye save him?" "Jehovah, He is God! Jehovah, He is God!"
"Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites . . . were gathered together."
THE Devil speedily detects the faintest risings of real power. Masses of ordinary Christians may go on week by week, and year after year, with their sleepy talk and drowsy ways; Satan troubles himself very little with such. They are asleep---that's enough. But the moment God wakes up one man even, and enables him to do a bit of real work in downright earnestness of soul, that moment Satan is on the alert, and marshals all his forces. Gideon had not done much as yet. He had wrought no great deliverance to outward sight. He had done a little in his father’s family—put down evil there, and begun the worship of the true God. That was all; but it was enough to alarm the enemy, and bring together all his united forces. Why? BECAUSE THERE WAS LIFE, life in the heart of one man under the leadings of God. The very beginnings of such must be destroyed if possible, or Satan’s kingdom will suffer. Yes, my brother, be sure of this; if your work is not occupying Satan’s attention, it is because you are doing nothing worthy of his notice. He discerns the very least manifestation of true life, and every servant whom God uses is well known to him. Many a young and untried servant of the Lord is at first confused and disheartened by hindrances and oppositions of various kinds, when he ought rather to rejoice because of them. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. iii. 12), and no true worker had ever yet an unhindered path. My young brother, let it not surprise you if, in the first zeal of your heart for God, knowing your own weakness and leaning on His strength, you step out to do some little thing, you meet on all sides of you with discouragement and opposition. Expect it rather, and be glad at heart. Be not cast down even if you find that it comes from those whom you had expected to countenance and help you. Satan’s forces are gathered sometimes from unexpected quarters. "Only be thou strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might." DO NOT COURT OPPOSITION. Gideon had no need to do that. He did not defiantly proclaim war against the enemy. He simply acted quietly and firmly in obedience to the Word of God. The true child and servant of the Lord has only to be occupied with His will, and the enemy will come out against him. Mistakes are often made in this direction. The truest and most useful servants of God I have ever known, have been those who steadily ignored opposition of all sorts, spake of it only to Jesus, and went on calmly doing as God bade them; in the midst of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, coldness and calumny, ridicule or malice and hatred, praying for their enemies, but not turning aside one hair’s breadth to the right or left—not even so much as to "answer again," or to speak one word in self-defense—but going forward with God and for God, trusting God with His own glory and with all the lesser things of self. On the other hand, I have known many a path of service, bright enough at first, darkened and blighted early, because the young servant had not faith to "commit his judgment to the Lord," but turned aside to vain disputings, soon to end in bitter controversy and wrangling, while God had to choose another for the work.
Depend upon it, God’s work is in God’s Own hand. How beautifully this is seen in what immediately follows! The whole host of the enemy came forth to do battle; but if Satan is on the alert, so is Jehovah. "The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon." The enemy poured in like a flood. What was the servant to do? NOTHING! It was not to be Gideon at all---it was to be the Spirit of the Lord. The literal expression (R.V;) is "clothed itself with Gideon;" that is to say, the servant was to be from that moment ONLY THE CLOTHES OF THE HOLY GHOST! How blessed it would be always to remember this! Very little intrinsic worth, no inherent energy, and no responsibility. A suit of clothes! What can such do of itself? Someone has well said that there is great difference between an agent and an instrument. Alas! we so often attempt to act as agents for God, and thus hinder His hand and mar His work. Before we are really used, we have all to learn this lesson in one form or another. Moses was but the rod in God’s hand; Gideon the suit of clothes; and Paul the earthen vessel; yea, even our blessed Lord Himself as the Servant had to say, "The Words that I speak, I speak not out of Myself: the FATHER that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works."
WHAT THE SPIRIT OF JEHOVAH DID.
"He blew the trumpet." We are apt to think that, when the Holy Ghost clothes Himself with anyone, it must be to do some great thing. Well, so it is. Everything which the Holy Spirit does is great, but it may not seem so to us or others. There may not be anything grand to outward sense in the blowing of a trumpet. The music does not always sound sweet, and there may be nothing very pleasing or thrilling or captivating in it; but the Person who blew that trumpet was the Third Person of the Godhead; and the Person makes the work great whatever it be. When our good Queen has smoothed with her own hand the ruffled pillow under the head of some poor bed ridden cottager in the Highlands of Scotland, it was but a little thing, yet how great! My brother, my sister; our lives may not dazzle nor startle, and yet, from day to day, they may be made up of little acts which are the doings of the Holy Spirit of the living God, and the results by-and-by, shall startle the universe. Meanwhile, let us not forget that words spoken, even if in a whisper, under the promptings of the Spirit of God,—little deeds of kindness and faithfulness, the outcome of His power,—are all great, truly great, aye, are the only great things to be found in the blaze of this world’s glory and the rush of this world’s power.
Was it to show to us how wholly the work of deliverance was the Lord’s own, and not His servant’s, that Gideon’s faith failed him at this point? Perhaps; for all these things were not only written, but done for us on whom the ends of the ages have come. I do pity those who can see in these wondrous events mere old-world stories, and do not see the living Christ and hear His voice speaking to himself. I must put myself into Gideon’s place and listen to Jehovah as verily dealing with and speaking to me; and it is so cheering to find your great and loving Father so patiently meeting failure of faith on the part of His servant. We, all of us need this so much; and it is intensely blessed to find, at a juncture like this, our God, so wondrous in His resources, not of power only, but of patience, pausing in the direct line of work, so to speak, to listen to the complainings of little faith and to strengthen His faltering servant.
How unlike man He is! and His ways, how unlike ours! Just think of it. The hosts of the enemy are gathered; the Spirit of the Lord hath clothed Himself with Gideon and blown the trumpet; multitudes of God's people have recognized the Spirit’s call, and rallied round the servant of the Lord; Jehovah is about to strike the blow that will scatter His enemies, when, Lo! the very instrument which He has deigned to take up, the very clothes He has put on, cry out in unbelief, and ask a sign to satisfy him that God will keep His Word and carry out His own work. Which of us would, at such juncture, have had a moment’s patience with such a servant? But this is our God; and who among us have not over and over again tried and proved His wondrous and tender patience?
As long as poor Gideon needs it, He will pause in the work and stoop down to strengthen His faltering child. No matter how foolish the request and how unreasonable, He is ready. For the moment that one feeble "little faith"; occupies all His attention, just as if there were not another object of care. Oh! my brother, what a God is ours! Are we not ready to shout for very joy of heart before Him, "This God is our God forever and ever"?
In all his unbelief, this poor faltering servant is very precious to Jehovah. It is not enough to give him all that he asked, but when, later on He detected in the heart of Gideon a lingering doubt which he dared no more to speak out, God, unsolicited, gave him another sign---miracle after miracle rather than have His child carrying with him to the work, a heavy or trembling heart. Surely we who are His little ones need not ever fear to let this "heart-searching" God look us through and through. If He sees evil, it will be graciously removed, if He sees fear and doubt, it will be lovingly to strengthen us.—aye, even should He have to work three miracles for the purpose.
VIII.---"MANY CALLED. . . FEW CHOSEN."
AT The blast of the trumpet, thirty-two thousand men hastened to the front. The movement was popular. But when the mighty host came to be tested by God’s conditions of fitness, only three hundred were chosen. Thus it often is. Those of us who are familiar with what are called "great revival movements" have not seldom seen something like this. At the outset, numbers, enthusiasm, energy, and much vaunting. As the work goes on, many become weary and drop from the ranks. Numbers find that they cannot afford the time or the trouble, and towards the close of the movement, the real workers become manifest---those who do not fail when carnal attractions cease, when the glitter and the clamour of "the next new thing" have passed away, and the difficulty or, it may be, danger increases.
It is well to bear in mind that every such movement affords, on a small scale, a picture of our life’s work for God. We are nearing the time of the great assembly of workers at Christ’s judgment seat, when the many who are "first shall be last, and the last first." Brother, it is well to ask ourselves the question now, whether we are in the habit of being first or last, in the sense of which we have been speaking. Many who are called to service seem to obey the call with zeal and readiness, who speedily grow cold and weary. Many follow Christ to the mountain, near the Sea of Galilee (Matt. xv. 29), to see new wonders and have the merely natural nourished, who draw back and walk no more with Him when He speaks of the need of soul nourishment, and feeds them with "hard sayings" which they cannot receive (John vi. 66); and fewer still follow the blessed Lord to the Cross and the sepulchre.
My brother, my sister, you may be in some obscure place, doing faithfully some very little thing for Jesus, in the midst of cold neglect, not even cheered by opposition; be glad that ye are counted worthy, and persevere. It is not the amount of work or the greatness of it, but the hearty persevering faithfulness in it, that shall be rewarded. "He that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end . . ."
Christ’s mightiest ones by-and-by, are not unlikely to be those who have not been much heard of here; but, whether known or unknown, they shall be found to have been servants who have been fully proved and who have stood the test to His honour and glory. When, very soon, our Lord shall again appear to rule this earth and bring all things into subjection to His Father; they who shall appear with Him in glory shall be the "called, and chosen, and faithful " (Rev. xvii. 14).
David’s mightiest, were men who could stand alone in the strength of the Lord against numbers; not such as depended upon numbers. They stood when all Israel fled, and, looking to Jehovah, they gained, through faith, mighty victories. Alas! how often in our service, we work well because of encouragement and applause, when, if coldness, discouragement, and opposition come forth to try us, that it may be seen whether God is enough for us, we miserably fail.
"HAVE YE COUNTED THE COST?"
Twenty and two thousand were rejected because they were afraid. Obeying the call at first readily enough, they trembled when brought face to face with the enemy. Clearly they had not counted the cost. Rushing forward to the conflict in their own strength, and knowing neither the nature of the work nor the needed resources, they were "not fit" for the work of the kingdom. They whom the Lord chooses for His service may be the weakest nobodies as to everything of nature; but they must know the strength of Omnipotence, and trust it. Knowing their Leader, they need not fear any foe. They know that all the powers which men and devils can muster, fall infinitely short of Jehovah’s weakness (1 Cor. i. 25).
In these days of ours, we often hear Christians talk much of their own weakness and of perpetual conflict; but we miss much of the gladsome shout of the king’s strength and the paean of victory. The true soldiers must know much of conflict, but they never need know anything of defeat. If we tremble and shrink back from God’s work in the presence of the enemy, it is because we have gone forward in ignorant self-confidence, and need to be put to shame. If trembling at the outset, we go forward, knowing our own insufficiency and leaning upon God, He will always bring us through, "more than conquerors," "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Those who never have anything to tell us but of their own weakness and perpetual defeat, are in error, both doctrinally and practically. They had better get out of the ranks of service. To groan only over my poverty and weakness is poor encouragement and help to my brethren. What we all need more and more, is to get to know that we are so weak that nothing is to be expected of us, and THEN to hang together upon God, certain of the victory as a matter of grace and gift through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Of all that mighty host (mighty to the eye of sense) that pressed forward to begin with, only ten thousand now remained, but these were by far too many for Jehovah. In service, He needs the few, not the many. This should never be forgotten by those who would know the ways of God. The flock to whom the Father gives the kingdom is ever a little flock. All around us may be seen, crowds upon crowds of workers, while the real work which God Himself is doing, may be in the hands of a very few feeble and widely-scattered instruments. The work is accomplished, the battle is won, not by numbers of churches or numbers in a church; not by carefully-organized and well-trained armies, not by gold and silver (miscalled so often the "sinews of war"), not by greatness of intellect or greatness of anything human, BUT BY GOD. So that it may be clearly understood and believed that to Him alone power belongeth, three hundred will do when ten thousand won’t. There must be, therefore, another test.
By a very simple trial, God picks out for this work, those who are so filled with the Spirit that there is ROOM FOR NOTHING BESIDE. God’s three hundred chosen vessels do not put the barest necessaries of the present life between them and the work. The work of God, is first and far beyond everything else. This is the motto of the Lord’s soldiers. They may be thirsty, but the work waits. They cannot take time to kneel comfortably and drink with becoming decorum; they will lap as a dog laps, if need be, to the disgust, it may be, of many refined worldlings, but God’s work must be done, and they cannot but do it. Many Christians seem to think that they do well if, after spending most of their time and strength in procuring the necessaries and, it may be, the luxuries of this life for themselves and their families, they put their hand occasionally to the work of God. In their leisure time, they will do somewhat for the Lord. Such have yet to learn that "he that warreth entangleth not himself with the affairs of this life" (2 Tim. ii. 4).
"We are here for a little while to live, "not to ourselves, but to Him Who loved us." Alas! for the multitude of would-be workers who live first for worldly position, and then for Christ; first for self-ease, and next for the work of God; and who dare to think that while they mix with the world’s ways and follow the world’s follies they are ever permitted to put their hand for one moment to the true work of God.
It is told of a well-known minister of Christ that once, when consulted by a young man who purposed giving himself to the work, he gave this spiritually wise advice, "Don't, if you can help it." Yes, blessed be God, that‘s it; the true servant of God cannot help it. "The love of Christ constrains him." He is a bond-slave for very love. He does not know the meaning of "mere duty," and for him to enter upon such work as an earthly calling for title or position or emolument, would be something akin to blasphemy.
My brother, do you belong to the ten thousand or the three hundred? The majority did not tremble; they had plenty of confidence and some zeal---only not enough. They put one thing between them and the work—only one thing, a little thing, and very necessary, but it was put first—and they were judged unfit by God. Our blessed Lord Himself has taught us that, so far as the path of service is concerned, these things must be. Of those who seemed on one occasion to hear the call to serve, one only received the command, "Go thou and preach the kingdom of God;" and in his case, the call was so uncompromising, and the work declared to be so urgent and important, that he was not permitted to let even the burial of his father come between.
It remains only now that we see how THE THREE HUNDRED FOUGHT AND CONQUERED. They took in their hands victuals, trumpets, empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers. They did just as they were commanded; and then they stood still and saw the salvation of God (Judges vii. 21). In all this we have simply a parable of our life-work for God and conflict against His enemies.
First, victuals---things provided for them—a full and continued supply of the precious Word of God. The three hundred, fitted and chosen for the fight, must have the "Word in their hand." This is part of their power; let its study be at any time neglected and true service ceases. We sometimes hear of men who have so much in hand that they have not time to study the "Word of God." Depend upon it, the work is only apparent, never real. We can be spiritual in work only as we have the Word abiding in us.
Next, "their trumpets." I think this is the outward expression of the Holy Ghost in our words and actions, especially in witness-bearing against evil. Four words in the Old Testament Scripture are translated by our word "trumpet." This is specially the war trumpet, giving the note of warning and defiance. In Isa. lviii. 1, the prophet is commanded to lift up his voice like the trumpet and show the people their transgressions: "Cry aloud, spare not . . ." The jubilee trumpet gave the note of glad tidings; this trumpet was the unsparing testimony against sin, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Beloved, in these days of increasing apostasy and abounding sin, the true servant will not be slack to reprove, rebuke, and withstand evil, while he ceases not to preach the Gospel to the sinner. This may lead to the breaking of the pitcher, for wicked men will stand the preaching of the Gospel when they will not stand their sin exposed and rebuked; but, if so, it will but let out like a stream of light upon them and their ways by the power of God.
The empty pitchers are our poor, weak, empty selves—empty of everything but light from the lamp of God full of light, having no place dark. Blessed emptiness! Blessed fulness! "God, who commanded light out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side . . ." (2 Cor. iv. 6-12). Troubled, perplexed, persecuted, cast down, always bearing about in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus; yet, ever as the earthen pitcher is broken, the light of God within streaming forth in patient, persistent power, the life of Jesus."
And "having done all," they stood, and saw the enemy vanquished, and all the true people of God filled with joy. For, while the three hundred were alone fitted and privileged to do the work, all Israel reaped the benefit and gathered the spoil. There was no self-seeking and no proud conceit of self on Gideon’s part. In the victory which Jehovah gave them, he humbled himself, and invited all the people to share the spoil. In his meek answer to the men of Ephraim when they "chided with him sharply, there is the beauty of holiness: "What have I done in comparison of you?"
The Lord give us many such servants and many such victories!