Brethren Archive

The Wedge with a Crack in It

by John Dickie

OF all mechanical appliances, the wedge seems the simplest and most paltry; and yet, in the hands of skill and strength, that simple-looking piece of rusty iron is an implement of extraordinary power. It can rend asunder the gnarled oak; it can splinter into fragments the rock that for centuries has stood the strokes of the thunderbolt; it can lift, as softly as a nurse lifts her sleeping infant, the mightiest of ships, to launch it on the ocean; nay, such is its enormous power, that it were rash to say what it is, that skill cannot accomplish with it. But there is one point of essential importance in the formation of this simple but powerful instrument—-it must be thoroughly compacted together, so that, under all circumstances of trial, its own cohesion shall be perfectly secure. If this be not the case, if there be anywhere a crack in it, the wedge is worthless; for when put to a severe test, instead of rending, it shall itself be rent asunder. Possibly the reader may have seen this done. Perhaps he has stood beside the workmen in the forest or the quarry, and has watched their work with interest, as they inserted, one after another, the well-compacted wedges into the narrow fissure, and drove them home by a series of hearty blows. Perhaps he may have noticed, on a particular wedge, the sharp sound of the stroke become dull and hollow; and the workmen, striking it now on this side, now on that, release it from the grasp of the stone or wood, no longer a single-edged bar of iron, but split nearly into two, having its prongs bent wide apart, and fit for nothing but to be cast aside as useless. My reader, that fractured wedge has a solemn lesson to you and me; let us humbly seek to learn it.

For are not we too, like wedges, poor and worthless-looking tools, to be used of God in rough and trying work, in a world where such work is needed? What instruments could be more insignificant, to appearance, than the Galilean fishermen whom Jesus sent forth to conquer the world in his name? And yet, despite the greatness of the work, and the weakness of the instruments, God accomplished with them all he purposed. And now, since they have passed away, that portion of the warfare and the service which was designed for us, has come in course; and we, in our day, are called on to be to God all that devoted saints have ever been to him in theirs. Happy is that servant who yields himself up to service, in perfect singleness of heart—-a heart made single, because God has united it to fear his holy name. But alas, for him who, like the wedge with the crack in it, goes to work, apparently for God, yet under the influence not of one great engrossing master-motive, but of two. The fiery trial is sure to manifest this secret of double-mindedness, and to show that, whatever else he may be, he is not one of the blessed men in whose spirit there it no guile. It is, above all else, this singleness of purpose which God demands in all his servants. He will work with the foolish things of this world, for it is his wisdom and not ours which is to direct the service; he will use the weak things of the world, for it is his strength and not ours that is to be displayed; but the instrument which he uses must be devoted and sincere, like a wedge thoroughly welded, which has no crack in its substance.

And no one that knows the plague of his own heart will be over-ready to confide in his sincerity. Conscious of inexpressible weakness he will cry to the Strong for strength. He will—-

"Beware of Peter's word.
Nor confidently say,
I never will deny thee, Lord.*
but, 'Grant I never may.'"

It is only the trial that can manifest what we really are. The wedge in the workman's box seems as sound as any; even the microscope cannot detect a crack in it. And yet, beneath the welded surface, there may be an unsuspected fissure, which violent work will infallibly make manifest. And so, too, it may be, with ourselves. Among our fellows, and at ease, we may seem to be almost model saints; and yet extremity of trial may bring out what we are not at all prepared to suspect as being within. Untried faith is always unreliable; and creatures like us must, from first to last, build our confidence, not on our own faithfulness, but on God's grace; not on the assurance that we shall prove true to Jesus, but on the certainty that he shall prove true to us.

What a sad state of soul is this indecision arising from doubleness of mind; and yet how common is it. Discord is always distressing, but never so much so as when it is within one's own heart, and rends that heart in twain. To have the affections dragging their subject in one direction, and the conscience driving him in the opposite; to have the understanding pointing out the way to the better, while yet the will chooses the way to the worse, is as distressing a state as a man on earth can well be afflicted in. So distressing is it, that the sufferer is almost sure to seek escape through some dangerous self-deception, and thus to purchase a little ease with the risk of imperilling his safety. Oh, how much better were it to be a whole-hearted and decided Christian! In one sense it is easier far to be all for Christ, than to be partly for him and partly for the world. The single eye keeps the body full of light, and makes our path most plain; for in this case we have only one interest to consider, one will to serve, one Master to consult, one yoke to carry. This perfect rest of heart, arising from its being in harmony with God and with itself, makes life a little heaven below. But, on the other hand, how intricate the path becomes—-hard to find, and hard to walk in—-when a man aims at attaining two things which are eternally irreconcilable, namely, God's service and his own fleshly pleasing. "No man can serve two masters." The Holy Spirit does not comfort the sorrows of such a man, for God abhors luke-warmness. He has no comfort in his own soul, for its internal discords secure that, whoever may have the joy of victory, he shall get nothing but the sorrows of the battle. He has not even the loving sympathies of friends to comfort him. Listen to the groaning of one who, in his day, was but a cracked wedge: "How I am to be pitied!" says Erasmus; "the Lutherans attack me as a convicted papist, and the Catholics run me down as a friend of Luther."

And our service as well as our comfort depends on this single-hearted decision. Every true servant of God is conscious of this. His greatest felt hindrance lies in the hold that the creature still retains upon his heart. Says John M'Donald of Calcutta, "I feel daily that if I would prosper in my work, I must throw myself more unreservedly on the Lord, and that I and the world must part." And Wilberforce, telling to others what God had taught himself through trying experience, says, "You cannot advance a single step till you are in some good measure possessed of this comparative indifference to tbe favour of men." With this singleness of heart, no one can estimate how much God may bless the service of a man who has little else besides faith, and love, and this entire surrender. Neither present weakness, nor past guiltiness even, may be counted an insuperable kindness to God's abundant use of us, if we only yield ourselves up in this way to him. But, while he condescends to employ instruments of every grade of feebleness and seeming incapacity, he never uses, at least as instruments of honour, the selfish, the slothful, the unbelieving, the undecided.

But we must be careful not to mistake the nature of this holy decision. It is something which goes far beyond mere wishing. Like good intentions, idle wishes may be said to pave the way to hell. Every one has abundance of them, till conscience be seared and the heart grows callous. It is not the wish but the will that is the helm which steers a man's course through life. Is that for God, my reader? or do you give the world the fruitful will, while you defile God's altar with the loathed offering of the fruitless wish ? The will is the man; and the wish, if it proceed no further, is but a sign that the man is in discord with himself, that, even in serving the world, he is merely a cracked wedge. Then say not that thou wishest—-so far well; but dost thou also go on to will thy wishes ? Weakness luxuriates in wishing, but strength goes on to ripen the blossom into fruit. If we look at history, we shall find that men who merely wished, have accomplished little in the world for God. He works with instruments whose forehead he makes like adamant, harder than flint (Ezek. iii. 9). Ah, my brother, if we are to be as wedges to he used in doing God's work, we must be men who, when they see the right, not only wish it, but will it; men who lay a determined hand on the desired good, and say calmly to a frowning world, "In God's name, this is my duty, and by his authority, I claim to do it;" and who then, proceed to do it. Here lies the weightiest half of the successful servant's work, to keep his own heart at this pitch of devoted zeal, and with this attained, all the rest is easy.

Now, my reader, do we purpose this—to be only, always, wholly for God? Do we will it? Do we surrender ourselves to him to work this spirit in us, and to maintain it in us? It is not asked whether we wish it—-mere wishing is naught. Neither is it asked whether we have already attained all that we long for. But what is asked is, Do we, like Caleb, will, WILL to follow the Lord fully? Do we surrender ourselves to Jesus the King, as absolutely as to Jesus the Priest ? Alas! there are many who, with Balaam, wish to die the death of the righteous, who yet, with Balaam, will to live the life of the rebel. Procrastination is rioting in the world; but what about its havoc in the church? Says an old writer, "We do not so much as purpose to do the will of God, till we purpose to do it fully."

But, not to leave this weighty point too hastily, we may add that mere resolution will not make a man like a sound wedge any more than mere wishing will do it. We need indeed to will, but we need something more. We need as well to have our darkened understandings enlightened by the spiritual apprehension of God's truth; we need to have our hearts' affections resting with sweet satisfaction on the person of Christ; we need to have the conscience and the will brought into a harmonious unity; in short, we need to have our self-discordant spirit brought into harmony—-united and kept united—-by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. This is that wholeness that constitutes health. This is the nearest approach which can be made on earth to that loving of God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength, which is both our first duty and our greatest privilege. Anything short of this may help to hide the crack, but it will never endure the fierce and fiery trial. "I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever;" but all that is not of him shall prove like the morning cloud. A startling providence and a qualm of conscience may stir up a man to resolution; but, if there be no more, the resolution is sure to die along with the qualm that gave it birth. Nature and nature only is abiding; and it is nothing short of a new nature, harmonious and self-concordant, that is communicated in the second birth.

While it is true that all the Lord's servants are tested, some are set in positions of extraordinary responsibility and trial. Such have peculiar need of single-hearted decision, for, while they are set to face unusual dangers, there are unusual interests dependent on their faithfulness. They stand, as it were, at the very point of the wedge to a whole generation perhaps; and what fearful mischief shall be done, if the single man in the front, have in him an unnoticed flaw. Says one who is well acquainted with the lessons of history, "When a great revolution is to be accomplished, it is not so much by the crowd, however numerous, or the phalanx, however disciplined, that the movement of a whole nation is to be effected, as by the one man who alone advances with the might and confidence of a host." And why should we not, every one of us, cherish the feeling that we are each, to a greater extent than we suppose, entrusted with the welfare of our fellows? It is a truth; and it is a truth which, if realized, will greatly strengthen us, for—-"

"It is very good for strength
To know, that some one needs you to be strong."

And this feeling should be especially cherished by heads of families; of each of whom, with some latitude, it may be said, that he stands to his little world at home almost as the Adam of his race, for by his standing, the whole shall be likely to receive blessing, while by his fall the whole shall be injured.

There are many hindrances to this much needed decision of character, even when it is not due to manifest cowardice. Many a man fancies that his time is not yet come, and dawdles away actual life in useless plans about future living. This is a fatal mistake. Let the Christian live and work, not in to-morrow, but to-day. We are trained to work (any apprentice boy will tell us) by actual working; and he that withholds his hand from doing what he can to-day, under the pretence of preparing to do something grand to-morrow, shall die, if he repent not, without ever doing anything at all. Let us do our humble best this hour, and then the next; and we shall, by this very doing, learn to do the grand work grandly, if it ever come; and if it come not, we shall find at last that we have done what God had meant that we should do. As Baxter says—-"That man shall prove a useless drone that refuses God's service all his life, under pretence of preparing for it." And there is also a certain sentimental generosity of sympathy, which greatly fosters a spirit of indecision. Many of us are in much danger from this quarter in the present day. To the hazy vision of such a man, all but the very broadest lines that mark off truth from error become invisible; and he coquets with every class of thinkers, admiring here, and forbearing there, but in mortal conflict nowhere. All this feeds the luxurious dissipation of mind from which it flows; and though the subject of it seems unable to feel hatred for anything, save only for the narrow-mindedness of the sectary, it would be a great advantage for him to get a little of the same sectary's narrowness of mind, if, along with it, he could procure also a little of the sectary's sharp decision.

"Whatever he believes----and it is much,
But no wise certain, now here, and now there—-
He still has sympathies beyond his creed,
Diverting him from action."

Justice Blackstone, when dying, said earnestly to John Howard, "Be firm in your own opinion." These words affected Howard greatly; and he says of them, "They seem to me the most important direction for our conduct."

Feeble bodily health is another common occasion of indecision. Satan knows well where the weak man's weakness lies, and he applies his pressure at the weakest point. Let all who have feeble health note well the words of Dr. Payson, who knew perfectly, by experience, the danger he was speaking of. "A feeble, nervous man," he says, "must not deliberate, but act; for his deliberation will not be worth a straw, but his activity may be, and probably will be, useful to himself and others." And noticeable, too, is the characteristic decision of Mr. Feeblemind, in the "Pilgrim's Progress:" "Other brunts I also look for; but this I am resolved on—-to wit, to run when I can, to go when I cannot run, and to creep when I cannot go. As to the main, I thank him that loves me, I am fixed; my way is before me; my mind is beyond the river that has no bridge, though I am, as you see, but of a feeble mind."

Christ demands hearty decision from all his servants. He that lays his hand on Christ's plough must press it deep into the soil with all his weight, and must keep his eyes simply for his work, else a careless look may spoil his furrow (Luke ix. 62). The master's word to the servant is, "Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee" (Prov. iv. 25). In hastening for life, out of Sodom, and still more so if one be trusted with leading others out of the doomed city, we must "remember Lot's wife," and cast no "longing, lingering look behind;" for love lurks in the eye, and the half-burnt coals of worldly lusts, still lying in our hearts, are as inflammable as tinder. Therefore, let our motto be, "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen." As being raised with Christ, let us set our affection* (*Not affections, as the word is frequently quoted, but effection that is, the one absorbing love of a heart that has been perfectly united.) "on things above" (Col. iii. 1, 2). If we keep steadily looking to heavenly things, their hold on us will become stronger; while, if we turn frequently away to behold the earthly, heaven and its Lord shall become dimmer to our vision. It was by her looking that Eve was lost. Instead of fleeing from the tempter, she listened, and looked, and fell. Abraham did not look; but when God commanded him to leave his native land, he left it, not knowing whither he went; and when God commanded him to slay his son, he hastened to obey. Moses, too, was sound, though, on first attempting to begin his life-work, there appeared a little crack, which might have gone to any length; but he was sent aside to keep sheep in Midian for forty years, till the dangerous flaw of impetuous self-will was mended. And Gideon, too, is a noble specimen of a man that was true; but his men were not, and so, out of two-and-thirty thousand volunteers, only three hundred were, like sound and solid wedges, fit for trying work. All the rest were chipped and cracked, and wholly worthless for the work of God. Oh, how solemn is this! Do we, my brother, seek to serve God, not by constraint, but willingly? This is well; but we must ask ourselves another question. Are we like the two-and-twenty thousand who yielded to the first pressure of difficulty? or, if we be somewhat firmer, are we like the ten thousand who knelt down to lap? or are we like the forlorn hope, the little band of three hundred devoted men, whom alone the Lord selected for conflict and for victory? Alas, for the servant who, like King Saul, is a two-souled waverer, not drawn onwards in a plain path by the strong constraint of one solitary life-aim, but torn asunder by the conflicting force of two!

Hearty decision alone can prove a man to be really for God. No other man can have, or ought to have, the strengthening joy of this assurance, save the single-hearted and devoted. Others may covet this joy; but, even if they could have it, it would not do them good. Like the strong wine which strongly regales the wearied worker, it will only intoxicate the weak head of the sluggard who seeks merely to tipple with it. And perhaps, in our day, there is too much tampering with this strong wine; there is too eager a readiness to administer gospel-comfort to undecided souls, who wish for nothing of the gospel but its comfort, and who wish it to be such a comfort as will permit them to live in their present lukewarm state. Ah, there is no lack of comfort in God's house; but let us be careful to take it, or to give it only in the lawful way. Christ, who never turned from confessed weakness and sinfulness—-Christ, who never broke a reed, even though it were sorely bruised, nor quenched the flax if there was in it fire enough to make it smoke—-had yet small comfort to offer to the double-hearted and the undeciding. He, who had kind words for the worst of men, had terrible words for such as they: "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that be hath, cannot be my disciple." The late Adolphe Monod says: "No human undertaking requires so much resolution as the fight of faith; and it is the secret sense of the mighty effort you have to make over yourself which keeps you in a state of indecision."

In our day, the grand test of faithfulness is not martyrdom, so much as practical separation to God in the cultivation of an unworldly spirit. At present, it is not life that we are called to lay down, but the selfish enjoyment of a perishing world. And, with brief intervals, this has been the trial of believers all along. Even in early days, as Tertullian tells us, more were deterred from professing Christianity by the fear of having to surrender pleasure, than by the fear of having to surrender life. But, indeed, we need not distinguish between the two temptations, for, at bottom, they are the same. It is self that makes life sweet; and it is self, too, that makes the world sweet; and it is the love of this same self which, when cherished in competition with the love of Christ, divides the heart, and makes it like a cracked wedge. Ah, then, if we would be singlehearted, we must surrender this idol self, and have, "not I, but Christ."

Why is it that any of us is undecided; nay, why is it that any disciple falls short of the highest measure of hearty decision which is possible to man? Yes, why? We have every conceivable motive, we have every needful help. Every word in the Bible, every circumstance in the world, everything in ourselves, and everything in God—-all are fitted to stir us up to the highest pitch of single-hearted resolution. An inconstant Christian is a greater marvel, in a world like this, than even a careless sinner. How can he be negligent, who has such motives for holy zeal? How can he be inconstant, in whom Christ, by his indwelling Spirit, is living over again, as it were, his devoted life on earth? With eternity and its tremendous issues a few paces in front of us—-with God's glory, in some degree, committed to us—-with precious souls entrusted to our agonizing care—-with the high example of Jesus set before us for our daily imitation—-how can we be undecided? Ah, my brethren, it is because we walk so much by sight, and so little by faith; therefore do we allow ourselves thus to trifle with God, to forget our life-work, and to act in the battlefield, in front of God's determined foes, as if we wanted to be counted neutrals in the warfare. Let us have done with this for ever. "Oh, my friend," says the beloved Brainerd Taylor, "I am tired of living by halves."

For, after all, the most important fact in connection with our present life is, not the amount of our active service, but the formation in us of a fitting character as servants. We shall have long eternity to work in, and to do our work under every favourable circumstance, when we shall see His face, and His servants shall serve Him. In the meantime, God is preparing his instruments for this great eternal service, and testing those who offer themselves to try whether they be fit for using. Therefore, while we are careful not to hinder God's present work on others by means of us, let us be still more concerned about his present work upon ourselves. The sum that may be made by our diligent trading with our entrusted talents is a weighty consideration; but still to us there is a weightier matter----that we ourselves turn out to be good and faithful servants, with the single eye and the united heart. Paul never forgot this for himself: "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that, by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." And he pressed the same single-hearted devotedness on others: "Thou, therefore, endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier."

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