Saints in Wrong Places
by Thomas Baird
I. SAINTS IN WRONG PLACES.
Adam Outside Eden.
"And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there put He the man whom He had formed" (Gen. ii. 8).
"Oh, golden day, oh, day of God,
When sinless souls the garden trod!
In bliss supreme, 'neath sunny skies,
In Eden fair, in Paradise."
Here we have a saint in his right place; yea, the very first of all the saints! Judged from the rapid continuity of the divine narrative, this exalted state of blissful innocence was of brief duration. The temptation of Eve, and her apparently easy surrender before the subtlety of Satan, suddenly and completely destroyed their guileless happiness. God was disbelieved and disobeyed, and that awful thing called sin showed its revolting face on earth." So He drove out the man" (Gen. iii. 24).
"The fatal fall, the sin, the shame,
The doom, the death, the sword aflame;
The crime, the curse, the tear-filled eyes,
And earth no more is Paradise."
The town of Man-soul has capitulated before Diabolus! To adopt the allegorical language of Bunyan, Captain Resistance was shot dead by a fury, and my lord Innocence was poisoned by the foul breath of Ill-pause.
Now here we have a saint in his wrong place; yea, we have much more than that, for we have a saint who became a sinner, and the federal head of all sinners. But this saint, Adam, did not reach the wrong place all at one leap; neither do saints to-day. We usually arrive at the wrong place by short, easy stages. Three steps must be taken before we arrive at this destination.
The first step is a wrong state; the next, a wrong deed; and the third, a wrong place. The state usually precedes the deed, and the deed the place. This, at least, is the order of the fall. It might be well to state here that Adam was not primarily blame-worthy for sin. "Adam was not deceived." It is true that God interrogated him first, then Eve, then Satan. But in passing sentence, it is Satan first, Eve second, and Adam third; and that is the true order of responsibility and guilt. Actually and principally, Satan was responsible for the fall, and God charged him with it (Gen. iii. 14; 2 Cor. xi. 3). Instrumentally and subjectively, Eve was responsible, and God charged her with it (Gen, iii. 13; 1 Tim. ii. 14). Morally and representatively, Adam was accountable, and God charged him with it (Gen. iii. 17; Rom. v. 12). Who can estimate the awful consequences of this one wrong deed, or who can sum up the sorrow that has followed it? "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Ezek. xviii. 3). Let saints to-day beware of their example and influence, for these live long after the doers thereof are dead. Let the exhortation of 2 Peter i. 10 be taken to heart, "GIVE DILIGENCE . . . if ye do these things, ye shall never fall."
II. SAINTS IN WRONG PLACES.
Abraham in Egypt.
No other personage in all the vast realm of revealed truth supplies such a conspicuous illustration of a saint in his wrong place as Abraham the Hebrew in Egypt. The subsequent consequences of this wrong course, as described in Scripture and demonstrated by present-day secular history, are well calculated to act as a strong deterrent against our going down into the world, which spiritually is known as Sodom and Egypt. "Abraham went down into Egypt" (Gen. xii. 10). Originally called from Chaldea to Canaan, he displayed remarkable enthusiasm in his obedience, but under the pressure of famine, he is deflected from the path of faith, and gradually gravitates toward Egypt. Here, both in position and condition, he became a saint in his wrong place. As to position, he was out of the land; as to condition, he was out of the fear of God. Having thus temporarily abandoned the path of obedience, he is compelled to act in self-defense. To ensure self-preservation, he has recourse to a scheme of equivocation, that detestable half-way house between absolute truthfulness and positive lying! Beware of equivocation! A celebrated British statesman once said, "Equivocation is half-way to lying, and lying is the whole way to hell," and one of our poets has written this:
"A lie that is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies,
A lie that is all a lie may be met and fought outright;
But a lie which is half the truth is a harder matter to fight."
"She is my sister," he said, which was true in a sense, but it was only half of the truth; she was also his wife. Sin once committed is easily repeated, and although Abraham was severely rebuked by Pharaoh for his deceptiveness, yet within four years he took shelter again under the same shameful subterfuge in Gerar (Gen. xx. 2). Many years afterwards, Isaac fell into the same snare in the same place (Gen. xxvi. 7). One of the most solemn things about sin is its hereditary tendencies; it is transmitted from sire to son. "The fathers ate sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." But see, the man of God recovers himself! "Abraham went up out of Egypt" (Gen. xiii. 1). He is now a saint in his right place. The altar is re-erected, and the tent is re-pitched as at the beginning. The position of a worshipper is again assumed, and the appearance of pilgrimage once more established. So far so good; but Abraham brought up some of the slime of Egypt with him! Hagar, the Egyptian, was now constituted a regular member of his family. In an evil moment, prompted by the restlessness of impatient flesh, Hagar is given to Abraham, and she became the mother of Ishmael, and he is to-day the reputed progenitor of the great Mohammedan world. "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!" Next to Christianity, the Mohammedan religion is the greatest and most aggressive force in the world, and Christianity has no such enemy anywhere. And all this is the fruit of one brief visit to Egypt. How solemn it should all be to us! It reveals the fearful fecundity of iniquity. It shows us how surprisingly prolific sin is. One of the most awfully solemn things about sin is its dreadful reproductiveness. It will live and spread long after the author is dead.
III. SAINTS IN WRONG PLACES.
Lot in Sodom.
Some super-sensitive souls may feel disposed to dispute Lot's birthright to the appellation of "saint," but we hope to demonstrate incontrovertibly from both Testaments that he was a justified person, and, therefore, reasonably entitled to this dignified name. Converted persons oft-times do some very unconverted looking things! Lot was not of the swine, but one of the Lord's sheep. Although he was wilfully and almost inextricably mixed up in Sodom's mire, he was never really happy there. He was a saint in his wrong place, and he knew it (see 2 Peter ii. 7, 8), and especially note the word "vexed."
Lot was associated with Abraham from the very outset of his pilgrimage; although I fear the affiliation was more nominal than real. Still he had faith; that I judge to be beyond controversy. Abraham had strong faith; Lot had weak faith. Abraham had much faith; Lot had little, but the difference in their faith lay, not in its quality, but in its quantity.
Having so little in common, their unanimity in every day matters is somewhat bewildering to us, for we read of no serious disturbance between them until they return from Egypt; and even then the disagreement is confined to their herdsmen. A compromise was easily effected however, and Abraham with amazing magnanimity offered Lot his choice of the country. Rash Lot, guided by mere sordid sense, speedily selected the well-watered plains of Jordan. Poor purblind man! Little did he dream that those very fertile plains would soon be burnt up. All sin stands on a precipice, and Lot's declension from this point is rapid and deep. We soon find him fraternizing with the detestable Sodomites, and even calling them brethren! Inexplicable fatuity! His daughters too, encouraged by his world-bordering ways, formed evil alliances, and entered into marriage relationship with Sodom's sinful sons. So much for Lot's domestic affairs. Meantime, Sodom's sin ripens rapidly. God is about to give to the world a solemn exhibition of His goodness and severity. Toward Lot—goodness; toward Sodom—severity. The fiat of destruction has already been promulgated. Angels had been dispatched to destroy the city, but Lot must first be delivered. "I cannot do anything till, thou be come thither" (Gen. xix. 22).
Astounding statement! Does not this one sentence alone demonstrate beyond controversy that Lot was no mere worldling? That I judge to be undisputable. Some may be inclined to argue that Lot was delivered through the righteousness and intercession of Abraham, but we now proceed to produce from the New Testament indubitable evidence that Lot had a character and a righteousness peculiarly personal. The Spirit of God calls him "just Lot!" He is spoken of as a "righteous man." We are told he had a "righteous soul." It is distinctly stated that his soul was daily "vexed" with his ungodly environment. And not only so, but there is a strong inference for his being included in the word "godly" (2 Peter ii. 7-9). Poor Lot! He was an incorrigible world monger. In the depth of his degradation, he became the progenitor of Moab and Ammon, the most irreconcilable of all Israel's enemies. He stands before us as an illustration of a saint with a saved soul, but a lost life.
Oh, brethren dear! with the awful example of Lot before our eyes, let us "keep ourselves unspotted from the world." Brethren, remember Lot! Sisters, remember Lot's wife!
IV. SAINTS IN WRONG PLACES.
The Israelites in the Wilderness.
Hitherto we have been occupied with individual saints, who have done wrong and gone wrong, but in this present paper we propose to widen the range of vision, and indicate that assemblies may go wrong and do wrong as well as individuals; that the multiple may be led astray and overcome as easily and completely as the unit.
The Israelites in the wilderness present to our perspective a whole congregation of saints in their wrong place, and the thought becomes all the more startling when we remember that that congregation numbered, at the lowest possible computation, in the aggregate two million persons! God had a well-defined purpose in leading this extraordinary host through the wilderness, for we well know from the inspired narrative that it was no part of His original intention to detain them there forty years. He intended the wilderness to be but a king's highway between Egypt and Canaan, but on account of their stubbornness and rebellion, He changed the wilderness into a dwelling-place, and ultimately converted it into one vast cemetery, in which He interred all the adults who left Egypt, except Caleb and Joshua.
From all that can be gathered from Holy Scripture it appears that the whole nation arrived safely in the wilderness of Paran toward the end of the second month in the second year after their marvellous emancipation from Egypt. It was from this point that the twelve spies were dispatched to search out the land, and here the people under Moses awaited their return and report. From Numbers xiv. we learn the solemn sequence. All the spies agreed together as to the abnormal fertility of Canaan, but ten of them also saw enormous giants and gigantic city walls. Caleb and Joshua were not blind to all that the others saw, but they saw God besides, and urged the people to take possession. Their faith and faithfulness nearly cost them their lives. God preserved them, however, and slew the ten spies on the spot through plague for bringing back an evil, slanderous report of the land. The whole host is now ordered back into the wilderness for forty years, that they might know God's "breach of promise." Amazing expression! From this stage until they entered Canaan, forty years later, they were a nation of saints in their wrong place.
Now, all this ought to be most soul-searching and heart-humbling for present-day believers, for we are expressly informed that those thus overthrown in the wilderness are our examples, and that the record is for our admonition (1 Cor. x). I don't know a more humiliating meditation for the Church of God today than this—that 603,550 persons perished in the wilderness for the common sin of unbelief! (Numbers ii. 32.)
Since the formation of the Church, God has had oft-times to pursue the same solemn retributive measures with assemblies. A painstaking examination of Revelation ii. and iii. will abundantly disclose this awful fact. The seven churches of Asia, where are they? The candlestick has long since been removed from Ephesus! Laodicea has been spewed out of Christ's mouth generations ago! And have we not personally known cities, towns, and villages wherein were to be found healthy, vigorous assemblies, and where are they to-day? Some emasculated and decimated, while others have suffered total annihilation! "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews iii. 12).
V. SAINTS IN WRONG PLACES.
Miriam Outside the Camp.
In preceding papers, we have been considering the weaknesses and wanderings of male saints, and it may be that some of our dear sisters have been secretly enjoying these revelations, and inwardly congratulating themselves on their immunity from exposure. But, alas! alas! they too, shall find that the feminine saint has within herself a superabundance of those "like passions," which she so easily discovers and so severely condemns in her masculine friend. Moreover, had our esteemed sisters been reading between the lines of former treatises, they would have observed how very intimately Eve was associated with Adam in the transgression; and that Sarah played a most conspicuous part in Abraham's backsliding; while Lot's wife may have been more responsible for his downfall than appears on the surface of the scripture narrative. However, in matters of weakness and transgression, it is scarcely seemly for one sex to stone the other, for both sexes possess in no small degree that proverbial "touch of nature" which makes them much akin. So far by way of introduction. Now for our meditation on Miriam.
Three great episodes stand conspicuously forth in her history, and on these events we now propose to concentrate our attention. Our first introduction to Miriam is on the bank of the famous River Nile, whither, as a slender maiden, she had been dispatched to oversee the destiny of her infant brother, Moses. Her whole comportment on this important occasion proclaims her to have been a tactician of extraordinary ability, resulting in the restoration of her brother to his mother, henceforth to be nourished and educated at the expense of Pharaoh's daughter. A very dainty dish of very delicate diplomacy! (Exo. ii.).
Greater publicity characterizes her second appearance, for as "Miriam the Prophetess" she leads forth the women of Israel in that great triumphant song on the banks of the Red Sea (Exo. xv. 20).
Thus far all has been extremely creditable and praiseworthy. Had her history terminated here, all generations would have called her blessed. But the third episode casts the dark pall of death athwart that otherwise noble and commendable life. In Numbers xii., a black shadow is introduced into a glorious landscape. A fly of death enters the fragrant ointment, causing it to emit a stinking savour. "Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married." Miriam's name stands first on the charge-sheet. What had his marriage with an Ethiopian woman to do with God speaking through him? Ostensibly, the accusation was levelled at his marriage, but in reality, it was aimed at his unique position before God. And, besides, forty years have elapsed between the marriage and the accusation! Why rake up the past? Ah! deep down at the bottom was burning the all- consuming fire of unquenchable jealousy! But God miraculously interposed on behalf of the meek man, and Miriam is instantaneously smitten with leprosy, and subjected to temporary excommunication from the camp. What a humiliating situation! The Leader's sister excluded from the fellowship, and the whole nation retarded for seven days in its progress towards Canaan. This sad circumstance furnishes a solemn lesson to all saints. Miriam outside the camp! A saint in her wrong place, surely. Her sin was the common sin of a jealous unbridled tongue. A prayerful perusal of the third chapter of James by all believers would accomplish an incalculable amount of good to-day. There we have God's estimate of the human tongue, and most humiliating it is. Evil speaking is far too prevalent among us, and many a Christian assembly is being retarded in its progress, and weakened in its testimony, through the indiscreet working of some meddlesome tongue.
VI. SAINTS IN WRONG PLACES.
Samson in the Prison-House.
The Bible abounds in biography, and such biography as only God would dare to write. Biographical sketches of human life written and edited by men are often very one-sided, and consequently most misleading. The virtuous side of the life under review is revealed and revered, whilst the vicious side of that same life is either concealed or condoned. Not so when God is the writer. When He presents the history of any life in biography, He tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Nowhere is this faithful portrayal of human character and action more conspicuous than in God's biography of Samson. Miraculous manifestations of power seem to have overshadowed Samson from cradle to tomb. Born under very extraordinary circumstances, and early in life caused to experience marvellous exhibitions of the Holy Spirit's influence, no other man of his time possessed such prospects and possibilities for godliness and usefulness, and yet few men have ever fallen so heavily as Samson fell, or sounded such depth in disaster and disgrace. He stands before us as a conspicuous example of abnormal physical strength, mingled together with the most amazing moral weakness. As we follow him along his ever-changing pathway—heavily overcast at times with the dark shadows of spiritual decline and defeat, whilst at other times, lit up most luminously with great acts of supernatural might and triumph—who can refrain from feelings of almost unutterable sorrow, or see him finally incarcerated in a Philistine prison without a pang of inexpressible regret?
"And he did grind in the prison-house" (Judges xvi. 21). A saint in his wrong place, surely; he who was once the terror of the Philistines is now shorn of his strength, bereft of his sight, and deprived of his liberty. But, in my judgment, he has not yet reached the deepest dip of his appalling degradation. There is more abject humiliation to come. The Philistines convened a great religious convocation to celebrate Samson's downfall, and to offer a special sacrifice to their fishy idol god, Dagon. And now comes the most solemn sight in all this sad scene. "Call for Samson, that he may make us sport" (Judges xvi. 25). What a humiliating spectacle we have here! This mighty man, who once upon a time had smitten these Philistines hip and thigh in the thousands, is now led out in his blind helplessness by a puny lad to furnish amusement for a gaping, heathen rabble. Oh! the shame of it! Oh! the pain of it! We rub our eyes and ask, Is it the same man? The very same man! Is this the man who rent the lion as if it were a kid? The very man! Is this the same man who slaughtered one thousand Philistines with the jaw-bone of an ass? The same man! Can this be the man who carried away the gates of Gaza on his back? No other man! How then this change? and whence the cause? He began in the Spirit; but he gave way to the flesh, and succumbed to the lust thereof. And have we not had men, even in our day who were mighty in word and deed; in whom was the Spirit of God, and who were a terror to their whole district? Where are they now? In an evil hour, when not walking in the Spirit, they fulfilled the lust of the flesh, and now they are the jest of the same neighbourhood where they were formerly feared and respected. The lesson of Lot in Sodom was beware of the love of the world. The lesson of Samson in the prison-house is beware of the lust of the flesh.
VII. SAINTS IN WRONG PLACES.
David on the Roof.
The wrong place lies in very close proximity to the right place, and a pathway, difficult sometimes to discern, but equally easy of access to all, connects the two places. Ingenious Bunyan in his incomparable allegory graphically describes how a very delicately constructed stile separates between the narrow way and the enchanted ground. This witness is true; and nowhere in all the vast expanse of biblical biography, have we a more conspicuous illustration of how easy it is for even an eminent and experienced saint to find the wrong place than in King David, Israel's sweet psalmist, on the roof of the royal palace. How he came to be there at this particular juncture is a subject fraught with the most intense interest to every child of God. It was the season of the year when kings went forth to battle, and at no other point in the whole calendar was David's presence more urgently required on the battlefield. The national peace and security was annually jeopardized. Vanquished foes were eager to reverse former humiliation in battle. Old enemies were anxious to pay off old scores. Unsettled disputes were clamouring for adjustment. "But David tarried still at Jerusalem" (2 Sam. xi. 1). The reason of his tarrying is not revealed, but the result of it has been written for our learning. Rising up from his couch in a disposition of indolent restlessness, and wandering aimlessly out in the twilight on to the flat housetop, he saw what he ought not to have seen through being where he ought not to have been. When we are where we ought not to be, we see things we ought not to see. The initial act of evil now being over, David has not very long to wait for the awful aftermath. Sin is seldom single, for the seed of the second sin is always concealed in the heart of the first sin. Its seed is in itself. More wrong-doing must be resorted to in order to cover wrong already done, and still further wrong to conceal former wrong. In the history of David, there now appears an appalling procession of sin and counter sin; of more sin to counteract past sin. Under the plausible plea of ascertaining at first hand the progress of the war, he commanded Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, to be sent in from the battle. After a brief conversation with him, he ordered him down to his own house, trusting that the presence of the husband at home would completely cover his crime. But the plot did not succeed! Uriah was not the sensuous man David took him to be, so he must needs resort to other tactics to accomplish his purpose. Uriah is summoned a second time, and on this occasion permitted to dine with the King personally. David sees that Uriah is supplied with copious draughts of wine, expecting that when thus inflamed with liquor he will surely seek his own house, and thus gloss over David's guilt. Notwithstanding, he is again foiled in his crafty attempt to shuffle sin. Uriah was an extraordinary man, and evidently held the honour of his country far before his own ease and gratification. But although David is foiled, he is by no means defeated. So he sends Uriah back to Joab with a letter arranging for his death, and actually dictating how it might be accomplished without exciting undue suspicion. Inexplicable behaviour! Using guile to cloak guilt, and subtlety to smother sin. Such is the infernal character and constitution of sin. Its very nature demands concealment. Man's only covering for sin is more sin. After Uriah's death, David breathes more freely, and acts more boldly. Bathsheba is now permanently installed in the royal palace; but God is too holy and righteous, and loves David too deeply to allow such conduct to pass unchallenged, unexposed, unpunished. Hence the visit of Nathan to the king's apartments, with his inimitable parable of the poor man and the ewe lamb. Under the prophet's penetrating preaching David's conscience is sounded, searched, and subdued, and he pours out his soul to God in sobs of penitential grief (Psalm li.). Oh! my soul, what lesson would thy God communicate to thee through this strange episode? Surely, to keep thy right place, and beware of the lust of the eye. The solemnity of this picture is intensified when we learn that David's sin was not the indiscretion of a thoughtless youth, but the transgression of matured manhood. Age affords no protection against sin; multitude of years bring no immunity from temptation.
Not long before George Müller died, he prayed this strange pathetic prayer, "O Lord! prevent thy servant from ever becoming a wicked old man." May God graciously preserve us from sin in old age.
VIII. SAINTS IN WRONG PLACES.
Jehoshaphat with Ahab.
The unequal yoking together of believers with unbelievers under any circumstance whatever, whether religious, social, commercial, or matrimonial, is ever displeasing and dishonouring to God, and always degrading and disastrous to those who allow themselves to become ensnared. And although God oft-times mercifully interposes on behalf of His erring people, and sometimes even brings blessing out of their blunderings, nevertheless the sin of overstepping His commandments should in no way be minimized, for disciplinary measures must inevitably follow every divergence from the straight line of revealed truth.
Many unconverted people welcome with undisguised satisfaction the companionship and partnership of the people of God, because certain benefits accrue to them through such association. In fact, the presence of a few believers at certain worldly functions gives the colour of religiousness to the whole movement. The protective presence of God is always with His people, and sometimes the unregenerate receive all the benefit of that overshadowing power because of their close association with His people. Ahab's son, Jehoram, unquestionably enjoyed this protection through Jehoshaphat for a season (2 Kings iii. 4).
Jehoshaphat joined affinity with Ahab (2 Chron. xviii. 1), and during the entire period of this unhallowed combination he was a saint in his wrong place. The solicitation for this confederacy evidently originated with him. He was the first to move. He went down to Ahab. But someone may be disposed to ask wherein lay the evil and danger of this affinity? Because on the part of both kings there was the tactical ignoring of the rending of the tribes asunder, which act was a distinct retributive measure from God for the sins of Solomon (1 Kings xi. 1). Ahab had not been long in Jehoshaphat's company before he proposed an assault of arms upon Ramoth-Gilead. Jehoshaphat having already committed himself to Ahab by his presence in Samaria, now more deeply involves himself by his promise, "I am as thou art, and my people are as thy people" (1 Kings xxii. 4). But his conscience is ill at ease. A kind of intuitive distrust disturbs his peace of mind, and he expresses a desire to consult a prophet of the Lord. It was a somewhat belated request. The proverb warns us against "making inquiry after making vows" (Prov. xx. 25). Better to make our inquiries first, and our vows afterwards. However, the league had been made, and Jehoshaphat must abide by the arrangement. The battle rages, and but for the protecting power of God's presence, Jehoshaphat would have been a dead man. The conflict had a most disastrous conclusion for both Israel and Judah. Ahab was slain, and Jehoshaphat was permitted to return to Jerusalem in peace. And now comes the Lord's messenger with the Lord's message. "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?" (2 Chron. xix. 2). The unequal yoke in all its ramifications is a helping of the ungodly, and a loving of those who hate God. We would have judged that one such solemn lesson would have been enough for Jehoshaphat. But not so, for within a year we find him forming another such alliance with Ahab's son (2 Kings iii.). But that second lesson cured him from unequal yoking. Later Jehoram desired to arrange a naval alliance, but Jehoshaphat had had enough (1 Kings xxii. 49). He learned slowly and painfully, but he learned at last. I wonder if saints of to-day have learned what a monstrously evil thing it is in the sight of God when they form unhallowed associations with the sinners of this world? God has given us His mind once and for ever on this momentous matter. That mind is contained in 2 Cor. vi. 14-16. Righteousness versus unrighteousness; light versus darkness; Christ versus Belial; believer versus infidel; temple of God versus idols. There can be no companionship. Let there be no compromise.