Bible Treasury Papers

Table of Contents

1. The Fan and the Sieve
2. Hormah
3. The Truth Which is After Godliness

The Fan and the Sieve

What a separating process is needed in order to prepare “the bread which strengtheneth man’s heart”! Great indeed is the toil of preparing the ground before the husbandman can “cast in the principal wheat, and the appointed barley, and the rye, in their place.” But when the harvest has rewarded his toil, then, first, there is the threshing, to separate the grain from the ear -a laborious process, whether by cattle dragging over it, “the threshing instrument having teeth”; or by the flail, so dexterously wielded by the husbandman; or by the more scientific machine of modern days. After the grain is thus sifted from the ear, it needs another process to separate the wheat from the chaff, and this is effected by winnowing. In winnowing, there are two instruments specially used, the fan and the sieve.
By the first, the chaff is separated from the grain; by the second, the stunted grain and any other refuse are separated from “the fat kidneys of the wheat.” Thus we get a good sample of grain, even as in the happier day in reserve for Israel. “Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the earth; and it shall be fat and plenteous: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures; the oxen likewise and the young asses that ear the ground shall eat clean provender, which hath been winnowed with the shovel and the fan.” If we follow on farther, we shall find more labor needed: “bread corn is bruised” -it must be ground; a weary toil it was, especially for females. “Take the millstones and grind meal.” Neither can we stop here: if we would separate the bran from the flour, a fine sieve is needed, and the process of bolting at length brings out “the fine flour” with which God so abundantly fed Israel, and Israel gave to her idols (Ezek. 16:19), and which is marked also as a special part of the merchandise of Babylon (Rev. 18:13).
There is a beautiful passage in the twenty-eighth chapter of the prophet Isaiah, which shows that God Himself, as the husbandman, has constantly been carrying on a process analogous to the above, in “his husbandry” or “tillage” (1 Cor. 3:9). Awful indeed is the judgment of God, pronounced by the prophet against Ephraim for their exceeding pride and presumption. Yet, in the midst of this denunciation, so as to interrupt and break its course, mercy rejoices against judgment, and the Lord’s own sure foundation is announced as the only one which would stand, when “the hail would sweep away every refuge of lies.” God would “do his work, his strange work, and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” “Now, therefore, be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong.” For while Israel or men may mock at the thought of the judgment of God; yea, they may fortify themselves, as they suppose against them; they may sneer also at the idea of the grace of God, and despise the foundation; “mockers, “ “scorners,” “scoffers,” marking alike the last days of Israel and Christendom -yet God has not all this while been acting without counsel and design; He may deal with man, Israel, or the great professing Christian body, in a variety of ways during His long-suffering, yet the appointed evil will come. It was fixed and settled, as to Israel, in the prophetic announcement: “I have heard from the Lord GOD of hogs a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.” “Give ye ear, and hear my speech. Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground? When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rye in their place? For his God cloth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him. For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin: but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cum-min with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because be will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.” Surely we may say: “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? He that teacheth man knowledge” -even all the preparatory means in agriculture, unto a definite end -does He not know how to manage man? how to make man understand that He is God alone, and man himself but the creature of His hands?
But the analogy will be found very striking if we regard the many processes of separation, whether by judgment or by mercy; or rather by the combination of mercy and judgment. “I will sing of mercy and judgment: onto thee, O Lord, will I sing (Psa. 101).” Ever since sin came into the world, separation has been God’s principle of blessing. When God has separated to blessing, there have been two principles set in operation -separation from the corrupt mass obnoxious to the judgment of God, and separation unto God Himself. The character of this separation determines the character of the holiness of those separated. Thus it pleased God to separate a people (the people of Israel) from other people, to be His own peculiar people; and there was a sanctity connected with this, marking them both as separated from other people, and as separated unto God as a worshiping people. “Ye shall not walk in the manners of the nations, which I cast out before you; for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them. But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people. Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowl and clean; and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beasts or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people that ye should be mine (Lev. 20:23-26).” The principle of separation did not stop here: it was followed by a separation of a class and also of a tribe. “And take unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.” “Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine (Num. 8).” The “God of Israel had separated the Levites from the congregation of Israel, to bring them near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them.” But the priests were separated unto greater nearness: the very censers of the Levites, who presumed to burn incense before the Lord, were made “broad plates for a covering of the altar, to be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger which is not of the seed of Aaron shall come near to offer incense before the Lord.” Even in the priestly family there was further separation; the high priest was brought into greater nearness to God than his brethren, the father and the sons (Heb. 9:6, 7).
In all this process, we are instructed in a deep principle, which is the root of holiness of every kind: it is God who separates, or sanctifieth unto Himself, whatever may be the order of separation. That order once was “only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed until the time of reformation.” But it was ineffectual in keeping Israel “as holiness unto the Lord, the first-fruits of his increase.” Israel speedily adopted the gods of the nations, which yet were no gods, and by mingling this false worship with the worship of Jehovah, effectually destroyed their separateness as a people unto Jehovah; and not only so, but at the same time they presumed on their separateness in a. spirit of self-complacency, and thus brought out that worse form of evil, which ended in saying, Stand by, I am holier than thou; and in rejecting God Himself in order to maintain their own character.
During the ministry of the Lord Jesus on earth, the question of the day was about purification. It was mooted between the disciples of John and a Jew. The Jews wanted their ceremonial purification, so as to esteem one of another nation “common or unclean.” It was a higher crime in their esteem to come into contact with a Gentile than to meditate murder. “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early, and they themselves went not into the judgment-hall lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the pass-over.” They please not God, and are contrary to all men. Such was the result of separating themselves, instead of being separated unto God. The ministry of John the Baptist was a direct inroad on the ceremonial purification. Born as John was of the family of Aaron, he found his place of ministry not in the temple but in the wilderness. He “came in the way of righteousness”: descent from Abraham, or observance of ordinances, did not meet the requirements of his ministry. Repentance was an inward moral purification -an order immensely beyond the Jewish ceremonial order, but still immensely below that new order of purification to which the ministry of John was but the introductory. Those who really justified God in John’s baptism were prepared to justify Him farther in the reception of Him to whom John bare witness -even Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, and the baptizer with the Holy Spirit.
It is the new order of purification from above to which John turns the thoughts of his disciples, when so many turned from John their master to Jesus. They appeared jealous for their Master’s honor; John, on the contrary, quietly recedes from the scene, to make way for the display of the saving power of Him whose faithful witness and forerunner he was. John saw now that the time was come. for superseding his order of purification, high as it was, compared with that of the Jews, by the introduction of this new and heavenly order by Jesus (John 3:27-36). God -who had secretly separated to Himself under every dispensation by His quickening power giving faith -now manifestly separated to Himself, by presenting Jesus as the object of faith. It is no longer separation by ordinance, or even by merely moral change; it is separation and purification by the blood of Christ, the Son of God, and the Lamb of God. We are “justified by His blood,” “sanctified “by His blood, and by it, from being afar off, brought nigh to God (Eph. 2:13). The blood of Christ is the power by which God Himself calls into peace with Himself.
In this view we see the same principle in action of God separating unto Himself: only it is now by a reality -even the blood of the cross -of which all the previous ordinances had been but shadows; and those so separated are placed not in national or official nearness to God, but in real personal nearness to Him. It is not only nearness of position, but inseparably connected with it is the positive power of recognized nearness by the quickening and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus cannot be known as the Son of God and the Lamb of God apart from His being the baptizer with the Holy Spirit. And then a new ground of nearness of God is ascertained to the soul -it is nearness in Him, as well as by His blood. “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” It is therefore a heavenly nearness, heavenly pacification, a heavenly sanctity, -which is our portion. God calls us to be saints, or we are saints by calling. “We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth; whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is evident that the maintenance of such nearness to God, which is the groundwork of “righteousness and true holiness” -connected necessarily, as sure nearness is, with a new order of being which can stand and delight in such nearness to God must be attended with many difficulties. Such a calling and standing is equally threatened by a return to ordinances, the natural order of separation; or by using Christ Himself only as the conservator of the moral order, by which indeed man may be separated from his fellow, without being separated unto God. Now it is in immediate connection with His baptizing with the Holy Spirit that Christ is spoken of as the Winnower. “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire; whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” When threshing is used, it appears as the simple emblem of judgment; but winnowing conveys rather the double idea both of separation unto mercy and unto judgment, and this especially in connection with the fan. “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirl-wind shall scatter them.” So also in the passage which presents to us the Lord having the fan in His hand -the chaff is burnt up with unquenchable fire; and the wheat is gathered into the garner. While this passage has its direct application to a future separation of the chaff on the earth -When all Gentile glory shall become as “the chaff of the summer threshing floor,” and the Lord’s own floor (evidently on earth in connection with Israel) shall be thoroughly purged, and the wheat gathered into the garner -yet it has its present application. “What is the chaff and the wheat, saith the Lord?” may be a question at all times suitably asked, not only in the falsehood which mimics truth, but where there may be the form of godliness apart from the power.
How many there are who very consciously know the Lord, not only as holding the fan in His hand, but that He has used it in their case for severing them from many a long-cherished feeling, from many hereditary and traditionary ways, which have been blown away as chaff before the wind -when Christ Himself as a substantial reality has been manifest to the soul! Old habits and prejudices have dropped off one by one before the power of truth. Many have been astonished to find how many things they have cherished and clung to, which have no warrant whatever from scripture, and yet have been more tenaciously held than any scriptural truth. The fan of separation has been needed -and we have under-stood in some measure the remarkable expression of the apostle Peter: “For as much as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” But after knowing the power of the separation of the fan from much of the chaff, and being brought to realize the liberty which we have in Christ, worship in the Spirit, and service in the Spirit also -we are subjected to the far more searching process of the sieve -a process which goes on within -entering into the inmost thoughts, and proving that God requires “truth in the inward parts.”
It is thus the Psalmist expresses it: “0 Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou winnowest my path and my lying down and art acquainted with all my ways.” And when the Lord applies Himself in most searching dealing with Israel at a yet future day -with Israel as His people -this is the language used: “For lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.” It is humbling indeed to come under the scourge of the Lord; yet “He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth,” and that because He loves them.
Yet to be subjected to the sifting process, although still a proof of the Lord’s love, is more powerful to us than the very scourge itself. It is in love and mercy notwithstanding; it is to separate us into our own proper and peculiar blessings in Christ; it is to remove every obstacle in the way of our abiding in the immediate presence of God; it is to get rid of the refuse that the clean grain may be brought forth. The Lord is no less jealous of our blessings than He is of His own honor. He will sift us by circumstances, that the joy arising from circumstances may give way for joy in the Holy Spirit. How many have regarded all the most elaborate skill of man, when used in the worship of God, as chaff, by becoming true worshipers, in spirit and in truth! But, after so great a spiritual advancement, circumstances may have their influence, and the sieve may be needed, and “singing and making melody in the heart to the Lord” may be learned by congregations being dispersed, and by the saints themselves being driven into loneliness.
It is the sieve which so fearfully lays bare the unchanged evil of the flesh in the saints, and its readiness ever to take its part. It would be an interesting inquiry whether the Lord resorts to the process of sifting on the failure of self-judgment, or whether it is necessary even when there is honest self-judgment, to search into that which self-judgment would fail to seek. “The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” This passage shows what discoveries may be made to the soul by the searching application of the word by the Spirit, so as to lead the soul into the practical sense of the need and value of the present priestly ministry of Christ (Heb. 4:12-16). The sifting process is also connected with the priestly ministry of Christ, as we find in that memorable passage: “And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
But that which appears to be so humbling, in the sifting process, is the agency of Satan. It would seem, both from the case of Job of old, and of Peter at the close of the Lord’s ministry on earth, that Satan was allowed by God to take all advantage of circumstances to get at the weak point of individual character, as well as to manifest the counsels of the heart, and to bring out those reasonings and high things which exalt themselves against the knowledge of God; so that every thought might be brought in captivity to the obedience of Christ. But there is something beyond this, the deep purpose of God in blessing, by Satan even being made the instrument of finding the grace of God at the bottom.
It is therefore probable that the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, not only uses the sieve when there has been failure of self-judgment, but even where it has been honest, knowing how much we are the creatures of circumstances. He may sift. His saints, that they may, by the exercise of faith, get above that power of circumstances, and be occupied with realities. “Is thy servant a dog that he should do these things?” may have been the language of pure and honest intention, though betraying entire ignorance of the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of the heart. “The Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria,” is the simple reply of the prophet, yet how full of meaning. The sifting of Job ended in a rich blessing. “The Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?” “Doth Job fear God for naught?” is Satan’s reply; and then permission is given to Satan: “Behold all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thy hand. “ Satan was thus allowed fall power over circumstances; but still he was only the sieve in the hand of the Lord.
In the dispute which arises in his lamentable condition between Job and his friends, more truthful and magnificent sentiments, as to the attributes and perfections of God, are not to be found in any other part of Scripture, than we find in the lips of Job’s three friends. But they do not meet the case of Job, and are rather to be regarded as fragments which show the need of God in some special manner manifesting Himself, as He has done by incarnation and in the cross, than any vivid presentation of God to the soul. The soul of man cannot be satisfied by arguments on the perfections of God, neither can the dealings of God with man be satisfactory to the soul, where man, instead of God, is affirmed to be the end of those dealings. It was in this respect that Job had spoken more rightly of God than his three friends. They had asserted that Job’s conduct was the solution of the strange dealing of God with Job; he, on the contrary, had referred the solution to God Himself -that God alone could explain the reason of His own conduct. Yet Job had “darkened counsel by words without knowledge.” Job had, in his own case, “contended with the Almighty”; he had “reproved God,” and this he must answer. But the mouth of Job is stopped in the immediate presence of God. He is not able to argue his case there. “Behold I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer: yea twice, but I will proceed no further.” Now the end of all this terrible sifting was to bring Job into the reality of the presence of God, so has to have to do with God, instead of speaking even true things concerning Him, and thus from the immediate presence of God Himself, to learn even what “the perfect and upright man” was, as a creature brought there; in other words, to learn the truth of himself, by learning the truth of God. “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore, I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Surely, if the more close sifting in winnowing only bring out the perfect wheat, this close sifting of Job brought him to have to do with realities; and in his thus deepened know-ledge, both of God and himself, instead of any longer arguing with his friends, he is put in the honorable place of praying for them, “for him (says the Lord) I will accept.” There may be even a complacency arising from the favor of God, from a conscience approving that we do fear Him, from the approbation of others, which may in effect displace God from His rightful supremacy. We must then be sifted, that God may be God, and man be man. “No flesh shall glory in His presence; he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” In the case of Peter also Satan was allowed to take all advantage of circumstances against the disciples of the Lord; and if he prevailed to make one traitor, he almost succeeded in doing the same with another. But Satan could not prevail, with all the power of circumstances at his disposal, against the prayer of Jesus for Peter. Surely, Jesus had power to have hindered the sifting altogether; but Peter needed, and we all too need, the sieve. A deep practical truth was to be learned by Peter, and by Peter that he might instruct others, that no wit or wisdom of man, no honesty of purpose, no determinateness of resolution, can stand before the overwhelming power of circumstances! and that faith alone rises superior to them. “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” Well might it fail when with the fondest expectations so rudely shocked by the arrest of Jesus, all appeared in the bands of “the power of darkness. “ It seemed as though God had given up everything. All forsook him and fled. “
But when the power of darkness had so far prevailed as to lead Peter to curse and swear, and deny Jesus with an oath; when by the cock crowing this was brought to his sorrowful recollection; then, for faith not to stagger or fail is marvelous indeed. It was indeed a deep soul-trying sifting which Peter needed; but how pure and clear does the wheat come forth! What a gainer was Peter! His faith failed not. It was all that was left him. Where is Peter? Lo, we have left all and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” What is to become of his boast? “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.” Peter is left without any ground of boasting. He can make no new resolve. He is stripped of everything, and brought back to know himself as “Simon, Simon.” But there was the same Lord, before Whose feet he had fallen at the outset, confessing himself a sinful man. His faith did not fail. He looked to Him still, and he knew the power of restoring grace. How well was he able to strengthen his brethren after this fall and recovery! It was the severe sifting he had gone through which gives such emphasis to his words, “Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” He could very feelingly say, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour; whom resist, steadfast in the faith.” Satan had indeed, by the power of circumstances, brought out from Peter that which Peter little suspected to be in himself, and doubtless thought thus to ruin Peter and to dishonor the Lord. But Satan was but the sieve in the hand of the Lord: that which was defective was sifted away; and Peter comes forth from the painful process converted from self-confidence to confidence in the Lord, strong by knowing his own weakness, and by proving faith in Jesus to be a blessed reality indeed.
There is one result connected with the sifting of Peter most blessedly brought out. The Lord knew what was at the bottom of the heart of Peter, for his grace had put it there. In a temperament naturally sanguine, under a mass of fleshly confidence and forward zeal, there was genuine love to the Lord Jesus Christ. After his terrible sifting, how readily can Peter answer to the challenge of his Lord, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” Simon no longer voluntarily undertakes to be put to the test. He has no such thought now in his heart as, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee; yet will I never be offended;” but he appeals to that very omniscience which had searched and sifted him. He knew that Jesus “searched the reins and hearts. “ On all former occasions Peter had acted on his own presumed knowledge of himself; now he appeals to the Lord’s own perfect knowledge of himself. In this sifting, even though Satan was the instrument, “no grain fell to the ground”; but the precious grain, buried under such rubbish, was brought forth clean and unmixed.
And is not this dealing with us according to the divine order in Psa. 139? “O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me: thou winnowest my path.” And what is the reply of the soul to all the sifting through which it has consciously passed? “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts. “ If such be the result, well may we, having the like spirit of faith, say, “How precious also are thy thoughts unto ice, O God! how great is the sum of them!” Brethren, beloved of God, are we conscious of the painfulness, the shame, the perplexity, arising from actual sifting. Let this precious thought comfort our hearts, that the Lord is thus sifting away much that we have cherished more than Himself, but only to bring out that which He knows to be at the bottom of our hearts; for He by His Spirit has put it there, faith in Him, and love to Him. Let each one then bare His heart to Him that makes Himself known in the churches, as “searching the reins and the heart,” and say, “Search me, O Lord.”
Granted that we have broken down under the very weight of the blessings conferred by the goodness of God on us. Granted that we have exhibited much weakness and folly. Spots have been discovered to mar the good report of a long career of usefulness in the church. Double-mindedness between Christ and the world, between faith and human resources, between the truth of God and human wisdom, has been made sorrowfully manifest. Humbling indeed is the process; yet we can justify the Lord in using it.
“He is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his words.” Much of the evil which has been concealed even from ourselves is now being made manifest; that which was rankling underneath is now on the surface. Enough indeed has been already done to make us feel that “to us belongeth shame and confusion of face”; but if faith fail not in answer to the intercession of Jesus, then will Jesus Himself be learned in a way He was never known before. The soul will be led consciously to have to do with Him: nearness to Him and intimacy with Him will take the place of things valuable in themselves, but hurtful in proportion to their value when used by the folly of our hearts to hinder Jesus from having the supreme place in our hearts. Much may indeed have passed through the sieve; the comfort derived from enlarged Christian intercourse, the honest desire for testimony against evil, the use of an enlarged platform of truth: but the “one grain” has not fallen to the ground -faith in Christ and love to Christ -this comes forth more simple and more unmixed than ever. The sieve has been needed to strengthen some of us, even as Peter was strengthened. To one choice servant Satan was used as a buffeter, lest he should be exalted by the abundance of the revelations vouchsafed to him. But in the case of Peter, Satan was used as a sieve, to show the impossibility of the flesh using aright the wondrous revelation made to him of the glory of Jesus, the Son of the living God -the unassailable foundation of the church. We need to be strengthened by experimentally learning the security of this Rock under us, when every confidence in which the flesh could possibly take part has utterly failed. The Lord alone can bear the glory. He abideth faithful. He cannot deny Himself. Let Him be alone exalted. “No flesh shall glory in His presence.” “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
The Present Testimony 16:150-152, 164-166, 179-180.


The root of sin lies very deep indeed. It is nothing less than the will of man. Hence the great defect in any mere moral judgment as to sin. Such a judgment proceeds on grounds, either of immutable principles of right and wrong, independently of the acknowledgment of God, or on the ground of conventional righteousness, as variable as the several states and conditions of men. Thus, the apostle concludes the detail of practical ungodliness with this sweeping principle: “There is no fear of God before their eyes (Rom. 3:18);” and another principle equally broad is found in the words: “They measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It necessarily introduces an element which no system of morals could provide for; namely, suitability of conduct under special circumstances, the right thing to be done at the right time. If we will only allow that there is a supreme will to which every will ought to bow, obedience and disobedience cannot be defined by statutory laws. One alone stands forth in the singular place of obedience – the obedient One – He “Whose ear was opened morning by morning to hear as the learned;” He of Whom it is written, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God;” He Who Himself said, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.” We alas! have to say, “We have turned every one to his own way”; our will has not been subject to the will of God. Ever since we have been quickened by His grace, and God has drawn us with cords of love as a man, so that we have come to Jesus, and received Him as made to us of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, we have practically had to “prove what is that good, and perfect, and acceptable will of God,” and, in many instances, painfully to learn submission to it. We are “sanctified onto obedience” of Jesus Christ, as well as unto the sprinkling of His blood (1 Peter 1:2). As servants of Christ, we are “servants of obedience unto righteousness.” It is by the knowledge of this principle that we get so deep an insight into what sin really is in the sight of God. It is our willfulness. That is the interpretation which the exercised soul is enabled to put on many of the dealings of God with His children. Men and Christiana see the outside of one another, and judge accordingly; God judges the heart, and searches the reins. Is it right or allowable? is the question with man. Is it obedience? is the question with God.
There is nothing which so draws the line between spirituality and sentiment, and indeed prevents spirituality from degenerating into mystic refinement, as the realizing that the Holy Spirit, Who, in quickening our souls, has created in us new feelings and desires, is the Spirit of truth, and, while presenting truth objectively to the soul, sanctifies by the means of it. “God hath chosen us unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” The whole course of a Christian should be truthful. The very basis of Christianity is truth – the truth of what we are in ourselves, and of what God is as revealed to us in Christ. Our starting point is the recognition of oar real position before God – sinners, helpless, ruined, and righteously exposed to the wrath of God. When, by the quickening power of the Spirit of God, we are brought to take this truthful place, the controversy is over between us and God: He justifies us freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Starting from this on our walk as Christians, if we sin, the truthful place is confession, and then again God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. A large measure of the needed discipline of God is to bring us to this truthful place: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
We may learn a solemn and profitable lesson front redeemed Israel; redeemed indeed only outwardly, but still answering the gracious end to us of admonition by that which happened to them.
The distinguishing grace of God had been shown to Israel in the blood of the paschal lamb in Egypt. They had seen the glorious triumph of the Lord on their behalf, in leading them through the Red sea as on dry land, and the titter destruction of their enemies in endeavoring to follow them. They had known the grace of God in sweetening the waters of Marah and in providing shade and refreshment in the wilderness. They had murmured also; but their murmurings had been answered in grace, bread being given to them from heaven, and quails sent in abundance. They tempted the Lord; but He answered them by causing water to gush out of the flinty rock. They had fought against Amalek, and prevailed through the hands of Moses upheld in intercession. The grace of God had abounded over all their sin, up to the moment of their receiving the law by the disposition of angels. Moses is called up to the Lord in the mount, to receive from the Lord ordinances for them of divine service. They forgot Moses, and set up gods for themselves to go before them. This sin is answered in the terrible judgment inflicted on their brethren by the children of Levi, and the plague of the Lord. They had seen the tabernacle reared and filled with the glory of the Lord. The cloud, the witness of the presence of Jehovah in the midst of them, now took its place as their guide through the wilderness. Their holy priesthood had been consecrated before them, and when the fire fell on the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord appeared, they had shouted and fallen on their faces. They had also witnessed the same “consuming fire” vindicating the holiness of the Lord in the destruction of Nadab and Abihu. The stoning of the sabbath-breaker and of the blasphemer, at the commandment of the Lord, proved that He was judge Himself; and prophecy of judgment in case of disobedience, and mercy after humiliation and repentance, close the eventful year of Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt. “In the fourteenth day of the first month, Israel kept the passover at the commandment of the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai.” What a retrospect for Israel to look back through a year to the blood sprinkled on the doer-posts and lintels of their houses in Egypt — the angel of the Lord dealing destructive judgment all around, and they feasting peacefully within! May our souls know abidingly the blessed reality of this deeply interesting figure! “On the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, the cloud was taken up from off the tabernacle of the testimony, and the children of Israel took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai: and the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran.” But they leave there the record of their sin and of the judgment of God in the names Taberah and Kibroth-hattaavah, “the burning” of the fire of the Lord, and “the graves of lust.” It is from Paran that the spies are sent to search the land, and bring also of the fruit of it. Israel had known the bondage of Egypt and deliverance from it by the outstretched arm of Jehovah, and that arm was not shortened, so that it could not bring them to the land promised to their fathers.
But how graciously does Jehovah condescend to their weakness in commissioning Moses to “send men that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel.” They searched it without any molestation for forty days, and “brought back word unto them and lento all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.” But the report of the strength of the people and of walled cities was more readily received than the report of the goodness of the land, although they had such a sample of its goodness before their eyes. Vain are the remonstrances of Caleb and Joshua. The ten who accompanied them in searching the land brought up a slander on the land; the congregation first murmur and despise the pleasant land, and take counsel to “make themselves a captain and to return into Egypt.” Caleb and Joshua again remonstrate; Moses intercedes; but the Lord sets Himself against their rebellion, and makes their unbelief to be the punishment of their sin. “Tomorrow, turn you and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.” Thus thwarted in the wilderness in one way, they evince it in another. The same people who yesterday, (with the presence of the Lord with them, and the fruit of the land before them) refused, at the commandment of the Lord, to go up and possess the land, become bold in disobedience, now that the Lord commands them to turn again the way of the Red sea. Their willfulness would fain surmount any difficulties. The sons of Anak had lost their terror and walled cities their strength in their eyes, and they themselves had grown from grass-hoppers to giants the moment the will of the Lord thwarted their will. Such ever is man’s boasted freedom of will — miserable freedom indeed, to have a will always opposed to “the good, perfect, and acceptable will of God.” It is freedom of a sort; but what a freedom! “When ye were servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” “And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up to the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up to the land which the Lord hath promised: for we have sinned.” Only yesterday they had said, “Let us make a captain and return into Egypt,” and the Lord had answered, “To-morrow turn you, get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.” But now in very willfulness they confess sin and plead the promise of the Lord; strange but faithful picture of the deceitfulness, as well as the desperate wickedness of the heart! And Moses said, “Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? but it shall not prosper.” Their pleading the Lord’s promise, and confession of sin was in this instance only the prelude to presumptuous sin. The Lord is not with them, and their willful boldness ends in discomfiture. They presumed to go up unto the bill top, “and the Amalekites came down and smote them and discomfited them, even unto Honnah.”
Do we know anything like this in the secret experience of our own souls? When Christians, through the grace of God, have attained to a measure of blessing, and then cease from following on to know the Lord; when the heart secretly turns back to the world, out of which we have been rescued by Christ giving Himself for our sins; when the difficulties of the way present themselves more prominently than the rest and glory which God Himself has set before us, then we may be assured that the evil heart of unbelief is at work, and there has been departure from the living God. Declension has manifestly set in. Christ is dishonored, and the pleasant land despised. The necessary consequence is discipline from the Father, discipline even to the scourge, because of His love. The stroke is felt, and intended to be felt. It may bring disgrace on us in our own eyes, and in the eyes of others also. It is hard for us to be turned back.
We are just like wayward children. How well we can understand the reply of Israel, “Lo, we be here,” to the announcement, “Turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea!” They could not bear to lose, as it were, so much ground, and to traverse the wilderness afresh. They would go up from where they were, but it cannot prosper; neither was it the Lord’s way, nor was He with them; their attempt failed, and ended in discomfiture and deeper disgrace. The Lord will have us back to the cross that we may start afresh with Him. We must learn that, after all our progress, we are nothing better than sinners saved by grace. It is on this point that the controversy so frequently turns between the Lord and ourselves. We refuse to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. We allow that we have sinned, but desire to go on as though we had not. This is not obedience but presumption.
We do not undo wrong, by doing what appears to us to be right, but by justifying God in confession, and taking the place which He assigns to us. The same God who, by His grace, has made us everything, and given us everything in Christ, the moment we cease to value that, by looking to our own attainments, will in very faithfulness make us feel our nothingness. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” He is ever able to come in when we are humble, and work for His own name’s sake. But He has no name to meet us while, in the pride of our hearts, we insist on maintaining a position. He can, in such case, only resist us. Are we indeed “cast down?” He can reveal Himself as “God who comforteth those who are cast down.” Are we in tribulation? He is able to come in as “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.” Let us get down as low as may be before God, He has ever in reserve some part of His own name to reveal and meet as.
But, if “we walk contrary unto God,” so that “He walks contrary to us” — till this be acknowledged, and “the punishment of our iniquity be accepted,” How pointedly does Moses, in narrating to “the generation to come” the ways of their fathers who had perished in the wilderness, present this principle! “Then ye answered and said unto me, We have sinned against the Lord; we will go up and fight according to all that the Lord our God commanded us. And when ye had girded on every man his weapons of war, ye were ready to go up into the hill. And the Lord said unto me, Say unto them, Go not up, neither fight, for I am not among you; lest ye be smitten before your enemies. So I spake unto you, and ye would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord, and went presumptuously up into the hill. And the Amorites which dwelt in that mountain came out against you and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you in Seir, even unto Hormah. And ye returned and wept before the Lord; but the Lord would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you (Deut. 1).”
“Ye were presumptuous, and went up.” Solemn admonition indeed! Well we may say: “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults: keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins.” Israel presumed on the promise of the Lord, and on their own confession of sins; and at the same time “rebelled against the commandment of the Lord.” Presumptuous sin appears specially the danger of God’s own accredited people. It is doing that which makes for our own credit, rather than that which is for the honor of Christ. In this there may be no moral element which the natural conscience can discern. There may even be the apparent confession of sin; and boldness of action in pleading the promise of God, humility and dignity outwardly presented, and yet God not acknowledged at all.
It is the exercised soul which cries: “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sin.” Caleb and Joshua, faithful in the midst of unfaithfulness, not only reported well of the land, but felt their strength to be doing “the will of God.” “If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring as into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey: only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defense is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not; but all the congregation bade stone them with stones.” The Lord was not with those who presumptuously went up the hill; bat those who, like Caleb and Joshua, had known the presence of the Lord as their only strength and security, in going up when He commanded to go up, would equally find it to be their strength and security to turn back the way of the Red sea, when the Lord so commanded. The Lord was still with them.
And what did Caleb and Joshua learn by their turning back with the others, but fresh lessons of the abounding of the grace of God over the sin of Israel? Disappointed, of entering Canaan from Kadeshbarnea, it all turned to gain in entering by “a way they had not passed heretofore.” For when “the soles of the feet of the priests that bare the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rested in the waters of Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off from the waters that came down from above: and they stood on a heap: and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground.” The Lord did not turn back His faithful servants, Caleb and Joshua, with their unfaithful brethren, to no profit. They witnessed indeed the fall in the wilderness of all their generation after less than forty years; but they had learned the blessings of Aaron’s rod which budded; they had witnessed the saving power of the wondrous ordinance of the brazen serpent; they had proved too that no enchantment could prevail against Israel. And thus richly freighted with the knowledge of the blessings of a present God even in the wilderness, an entrance was abundantly ministered unto them into Canaan, through the prevailing power of a present God manifested by the means of priestly service.
“Turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the Red sea.” Does it seem hard to us to do so? If there has been failure and declension, only let us come back in simplicity of faith to our starting point, the cross of Christ, and then we too shall learn, as Caleb and Joshua, afresh and more deeply how the Lord hath triumphed gloriously. Humbled, if needs be, in the eyes of others, bowing submissively under their taunts, receiving all as a part of the discipline we need, and, oh! how light compared with our folly. God shows Himself as an upbraiding God. “He giveth grace to the humble.” All the progress we have made in the knowledge of divine things, in which we have complacently rested, is not to be compared with the deeper lesson of the grace of God, yet to be learned in the cross and from the cross. It may seem to us to be only the shame of retracing our steps; but it is in reality to go on with God, learning fresh manifestations of His grace in Christ Jesus; it is to find a reality in the very truths which we had only superficially handled before; for real Christian progress is characterized by our estimate of great essential truths — truths connected with, and flowing from, the person of Christ. “That I may know Him.”
Is it a weariness to learn more experimentally the value of the ever-blossoming, fruit bearing priestly ministry of our Jesus — a ministry so immediately flowing from His person? Starting indeed from the cross, and keeping near the cross, it is blessed to learn its value, as Israel knew the brazen serpent, the last resource of the grace of God in the wilderness; for as surely as Jesus Himself is the Alpha and Omega, so also is the cross to us the first and the last great doctrine of God. It is well too to learn when all can find fault, and the finger of scorn is held up at the failure of God’s people, and they cry insultingly: “There, there, so would we have it,” that the charge shall not lie against us, for it is God that justifieth. “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.” These and other lessons are to be learned in thus turning again by the way of the Red Sea — by humbling, instead of justifying, ourselves — by really confessing sin, instead of resolutely maintaining a position — by knowing “rather the comfort of the Lord’s presence, in being, as it were, turned back in apparent disgrace, than presenting a strong front, and going on without God. All effort to maintain a position to which even the grace of God has led, but the maintenance of which (instead of the maintenance of Christ’s honor) has become the object, must end in discomfiture. It is presumptuous sin. And if Christians will refuse to turn back at the bidding of God, and to humble themselves under His mighty hand, in order to drink more deeply into the riches of His grace, God will resist them; and what will the end be?
There is one lesson to be learned under every failure and disappointment; namely, death and resurrection. The Lord Jesus Himself might say as to Israel, “I have labored in vain, and spent my strength for naught, and in vain;” but let His own death and resurrection come in, “He shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.” His servant Paul had to say, at the close of his ministry: “This thou knowest, that all they which be in Asia are turned away from me;” but, however he might feel disappointment even keenly, yet his labor in the Lord was not in vain, and still the sure foundation of the Lord standeth. And in our days, those who have labored for the Lord, and been disappointed in the result, have they learned nothing? Has not disappointment taught them death and resurrection? Has it not tended to bring back the soul in solemn review, and to see the need of death to be written on much of their service, which had not Christ simply for its object? Cannot they justify God for their disappointment? But their labor is not in vain in the Lord. Disappointment at Kadesh-barnea led to a triumphant entrance through Jordan.
Oh! that we all knew better how to get into the place of blessing: it must be a very low place indeed. Many a goodly pretension will there have to be given up; no position of credit in the eyes of others must be sought to be maintained. We must justify God in all His righteous judgment. Then controversy is over, and we shall prove Israel’s God to be our God, “Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth forever.” And although death and disappointment have been written on our fondest expectations, it is only to teach us not “to trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver, in whom we trust that he will yet deliver.” The very sense of deep need will only open more clearly the fullness of Jesus, and we shall have learned, by our inexhaustible experience, to keep more close to the Spring-head of living waters, by finding the cisterns we had hewn out for ourselves broken and incapable of holding any water.
The Bible Treasury 16:145-148, 161-162.

The Truth Which is After Godliness

We are insensibly led by the spirit of the age in which we live; and that which characterizes our own age is a craving desire after the improvement of existing things. Much of the desire for the improvement even of religions communities is nothing more than this very principle, which is acting in the world, carried into them. The result doubtless will be the manifestation of that lawlessness which is expressly foretold as marking these last days: for self-will (and self-will is lawlessness), in the church is not less sinful than it is in the world. But while the spirit of the age is undoubtedly working unto this end in religious communities, it is no less true that the Spirit of God is working very markedly in the saints: and it may be profitable to notice the order according to which He works, lest we should be confounding a reckless spirit of innovation with the awakened desire of the re-assertion of the unchangeable holy principles of God’s order. It is written, “God made man upright, but he has sought out many inventions.” And still are man’s powers being put forth on the same materials, moral or physical, to try to produce comfort and happiness from them. At this time his object appears to him more near of attainment than at any period heretofore; for never were his energies so unhindered, or the field so open before him for the trial. Now the spirit of this age is characterized especially by this -the expectation of something that never yet has been: but where the Spirit of God is at work, it is in the humbling sense of the loss of that which has been, and in the earnest striving after its recovery. Wherever God works He at once shows absolute perfectness: in man, on the contrary, perfectness, which after all is but relative, is always of slow growth. Thus in the church as originally constituted of God there was the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness. Any alteration of this would in fact be deterioration. The faith was only once delivered unto the saints: and the truth is ever the same, because Jesus, Who is the center of all truth and the great object of faith, is the Same yesterday, to-day, and forever. Now it is the recognition of an unchangeable standard which will alone prevent our being carried away by “divers and strange doctrines.” The faith may be departed from, and the truth which is according to godliness be unacknowledged; but neither the one nor the other can progress either with the mind or with the condition of mankind. Amidst all revolutions the doctrines and laws of Christ must remain stationary. They are superior to improvement: to suppose them otherwise would be to impugn the perfectness of the work of God. It is surprising how slow our minds are in recognizing so simple a truth; and how much of real learning as a disciple of Christ is unlearning what one has been taught even as a Christian. “The truth” sternly refuses any admixture with error: it is most exclusive in its character. “He that gathereth not with” Jesus according to it, “is scattering abroad.” He is not laboring for gathering wheat into God’s garner, but only for chaff which will be burnt up with unquenchable fire. Jesus being the truth, we are enabled to discover what man really is in the sight of God. And what is the great lesson thus taught, but that where God sent forth One in Whom He was pleased -one man acting in consistency with Himself -He was found a singular character, the righteous One, to the exclusion of all others, the Holy One of God. In Him we see the truth which is after godliness: and God’s estimate of man now is his consistency or inconsistency with Jesus. And into what an awful position does infidelity plunge a man! Man may deceive himself as to his not having sufficient evidence, but it is not so before God; he places himself before God as choosing himself in preference to Jesus; and forces, as it were, God to judge between the two. But the truth specially taught by the manifestation of Jesus to the world was the total failure of man -the utter profitlessness of the flesh. It was put under the greatest advantages: -the Son of God for its teacher, and the power of Him felt and acknowledged so much that even devils were subject unto the disciples in His name; -yet, after all this instruction, when the hoar of trial came, it failed completely. “They all forsook Him and fled”; and the one to whom special revelation had been made concerning the dignity of Jesus, was the one to deny with an oath that He knew Him at all. Surely the flesh, that is, human nature -man, simply as man, had never been placed under advantages so great; and, until this last trial, the truth was never brought out into demonstration, “that the flesh profiteth nothing.” Now this is the fundamental point, the very starting point of Christianity: the faith of God’s elect is grounded on it: real godliness has no existence at all until this truth be acknowledged, that man, as the creature of God’s hand, endued with intelligence, man, as a moral being put under the discipline of God’s own most holy law, has entirely failed of sustaining his standing. Now what have all the attempts of human wisdom effected, but the demonstration of the truth, by making the failure more signal. It is most important to recognize that there can be no godliness but as connected with the truth; and that it is the truth which leads unto godliness. There may be much zeal, but if it be not of the truth, the result will be either most unwarranted expectations, or such a spirit as would call down fire from heaven on those who receive us not. There may be much of religious sentiment, but it becomes superstition where the truth is not acknowledged. There may be busy activity in service, but it may really tend to strengthen the power of Satan’s delusions; because the truth is our especial power against him who is a liar from the beginning. The first principle therefore in Christian ethics is, that Jesus is the truth, and real sanctification is through the knowledge of Him. “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word truth.” Before we move a step in Christian morals, that is, in real godliness, how much is necessarily assumed, I mean recognized by faith, which hence becomes the medium of producing this godliness. “Sanctified by faith that is in Me.” There is the total failure and ruin of man: -there is God’s most righteous judgment on the old man in the cross: there is union with Jesus as risen so as to become a branch in the true vine: there is the Holy Spirit constantly supplying from the fullness which is in Jesus wisdom and strength unto the new man: and hence the grace of God which bringeth salvation is alone able to teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age.
Here is another important feature of the truth, that the age or world, in which Christians are placed, never changes its character before God. The great blessing is to be kept from the evil of it: and while man is using his power in order to mitigate or keep down the evil of it, the believer knows of a present deliverance from it, through Christ’s having given Himself for his sins; and thus, though in it, he walks, through the power of grace which the world knows not, as being not of it. Now it is here especially that Satan works by his power of blinding; hiding the evil standing of this present world before God, and causing the improvement of it, instead of deliverance from it, to be proposed as the object of endeavor. There can be no godliness when the goodness of the world is the assumption, because there is no truth in it: and if God be looking at the world in one light, and we in another, how can our relation to it and our conduct in it be according to His mind’? Now if the truth be that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever; and that He has not altered His relation and standing since His ascension: if God be still exercising forbearance and long-suffering towards the world, the sentence of whose judgment was passed at the rejection of His Son: if the world be recognized as only evil unto the end of the present age if man’s condition before God as a lost and ruined sinner, remains the same: if this be the truth, then godliness and improvement of the world are not the same thing. It is true that the grace of God will teach us to live soberly and righteously, as well as godly, in this present world. But the ever-inventive genius of man to remedy his own evil, would still believe that the evil condition of himself and of the world are susceptible of a remedy short of the mighty one of our Savior God in His grace that brings salvation. And it is one of the present characteristics of the present age which must alarm the soul which is sensible of the value of truth, that many Christians are using the gospel as a mere platform for erecting a moral machinery of their own, and thus at once (unintentionally perhaps) overlooking its present blessing and its object. Its present blessing is peace through the blood of the cross: its object, to be thereby secured, is holiness unto the Lord. “He gave Himself for us that He might deliver us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” Now the necessary effect of going back to schemes for improvement is to take the soul away from acknowledging the truth which is according to godliness, end to substitute moral restraint in the place of the grace of God. If there be one thing that the saints have need to guard against in the present day, it is this; for truly the blessed gospel is in much more danger of being neutralized by such means than by the most open attacks of infidelity: and real liberty, real obedience, and real service are all alike hazarded. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” and there only; unless it be the fearful liberty of self-will. But real liberty is the liberty of truth: “if the truth shall make you free, then shall ye be free indeed:” and this alone is the portion of the disciples of Christ (John 8:31, 32). This alone is real deliverance from the dominion of sin; and the turning back from this to moral restraint is going back to bondage.
The attempt which is now being made to substitute moral restraint for the liberty of truth, is very clearly manifested in a series of tracts published by the Temperance Society, designated the teetotal series, with the text, “Let your light shine before men.” The tract No. 7, is an appeal to Christian principles in behalf of total abstinence, &c., addressed to mechanics who are members of Christian churches. Now, while the Temperance Society professedly stood on merely philanthropic ground, it might, as it made no pretensions to be considered Christian, have been suffered to pass unnoticed, soon to yield its testimony to the failure of the combined force of self-interest and moral restraint against the evil which is in man. But since it has come to tread on the hallowed ground of Christianity, and to propose itself as subsidiary to, if not a substitution for, the grace of God, such attempt, whether in ignorance or intentional, to subvert the truth needs a plain exposure. And in this one tract there is hardly a precious truth left untouched. The invitation is to Christian friends. “We are anxious to obtain your support: and when we assure you that our sole object is Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, and good will to men,’ we are sure you will attend while we urge a few reasons why you, as Christians, should come forward in this glorious work. Statesmen have legislated for the suppression of this awful vice; ministers of Christ have exposed the sin and its awful consequences; and benevolent men have exerted their influence in public and private life, to stem the torrent; but all has been in vain.” Now the first question is, was the object of God in the incarnation, and the cross, and the resurrection, to reform drunkards? Was this the glorious work which God proposed to Himself in this marvelous display of His own wisdom and power? Assuredly not: -it was to bring, through this mighty means, man, who had fallen, into a degree of blessedness even higher than that from which he fell -even into fellowship with Himself and His Son, by virtue of the blood which cleanseth from all sin, and through the in: dwelling of the Spirit. It is quite true that the drunkard, or the whoremonger, or the covetous man, who knows the power of this redemption, and is brought to know this glorious work, is thereby delivered from his iniquity, and, through grace supplied, is kept from relaxing into it. This assuredly includes reformation; but reformation is not salvation. And if every drunkard in the world was to put himself under total abstinence, it does not follow that God would be glorified, or that there would be peace to the soul, or that God would rest in complacency upon him: -but if Christ be received these results do follow. And surely it is well nigh approaching to the giving of God’s glory to another, to lower the whole work of Christ to the reclaiming of a drunkard or of any other sinner The angels who sang that song saw a much mightier result -a result which leaves moral attainment far, far behind.
Again, it is said, “Ministers of Christ have exposed the sin and its awful consequences.” And this surely they should do, showing that the drunkard cannot inherit the kingdom of God; but they do not stop here, but they go on to the root of all sin, even the heart; and while they show the necessity of a perfect cleansing from all sin, as well as the absolute necessity of renewed will and affections, they leave not man to his own power to effect this, but hold up God’s most effective remedy -the blood of the Lamb and the promise of the Spirit. What fearful presumption then is it to assert that the ministers of Christ have failed! and that now man has found something more powerful to produce reformation than the ministry of reconciliation! Surely, if this statement be made soberly, it amounts to the assertion, that moral restraint will effect that which the grace of God and the foolishness of preaching cannot effect. The Lord Jesus has said, “He that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad.” He is now, by the ministry of reconciliation, gathering fruit unto eternal life; and whatever may now be the apparent success of other means, all will appear in that day to have been but scattering.
There is another paragraph in this tract which seems to destroy the foundation on which the whole of redemption rests; and it needs to be set in its true light that Christians may be aware of the principles which many of them are ignorantly advancing. “We shall cordially agree with you that a remote cause of drunkenness lies in the natural depravity of the heart. Here doubtless is the source of all human misery. But this is not all. The natural depravity of the heart alone could never make a drunkard. The moral cause requires some physical one as a medium through which to operate: and this medium is intoxicating drink. Without this the depravity of man would never make him a drunkard; and you will at once see that by abolishing the use of those liquors we should cut off the spring of a stream which has flowed for ages.” How simply does one word of our Lord expose all this sophistry. “There is nothing from without a man that, entering into him, can defile him: but the things which come out of man, those are they that defile him.” “If any man have ears to hear let him hear (Mark 7:15, 16).” And again, “a good tree bringeth forth good fruit; and a corrupt tree, evil fruit.” The Lord says the source of the evil is within, the philanthropist, that it is without. The Lord begins with the heart -”make the tree good, and its fruit will be good”: {the} philanthropist would remove the had fruit and be content to leave the tree just as it is. It is one of the most refined delusions of Satan to make sin appear an accidental or circumstantial thing, rather than the corruption of the whole moral constitution of man -the very law of death. And when once this is affirmed; the atonement, regeneration, and resurrection are necessarily surrendered. Sin may be dormant, but it is still sin; and if a man were in the desert all his life long, and never saw anything but water, drunkenness would exist in embryo in the sin which is in the heart. The cause of one sin and of ten thousand sins is one and the same -sin that dwells within. It will be apparent to all who know the truth of God, that every attempt to make sin to consist only in the outward act has led to the nullifying of the atonement and to the substitution of morality for Christian holiness.
As might be expected, these statements are followed by anecdotes of the falling away of Christians, in order to make out a case against the sufficiency of divine grace to keep a man, without the adjunct of self-imposed restraint. But what saith the scripture? “How shall we who have died to sin live any longer therein” -invariably bringing in the judicial act already executed in the cross as involving and conveying the utmost moral power. Again, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law, but under grace.” Surely to be under law is to be under that very restraint under which this Society would put a man: yet man would still be left before God under the dominion of sin. It is confessedly true that there has been a great failure in Christians in this respect, in their not having more plainly exhibited a mightier power in action than moral restraint, even the power of grace. “Be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus.”
We have surely to be deeply abased for having given so tortured a picture of Christian grace. The end proposed has often been merely the maintenance of the standard of worldly decency even in Christian communities, and the principle too often acted on in them has been the summary righteousness of the world, rather than the reclaiming power of grace. Christians have not sufficiently recognized that while godliness is the guarantee for morals, it is something much higher, -something leading the soul into association with God in all things, judging God’s judgment on them, and walking in them according to that judgment. The apostle says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in truth.” This is the great point, a walk which necessarily presents the daily recognition of all the fundamental doctrines of the gospel: a walk which necessarily leads into separation from the world: in -other words, a “walking with God,” walking in the light as He is in the light, and thus exposing or convicting the unfruitful works of darkness. The attempt to make Christianity subserve worldly morality is a special product of the craft of Satan at this present day, in order to obliterate the distinction between the church and the world. It is doing that in practice which he so early attempted in doctrine, to cause men to turn again unto the weak and beggarly elements of the world. He does not now deny the value of the cross; but he completely nullifies its power where he succeeds in making it to be thought that a certain something has been effected for all, which still throws us back upon moral restraint for security. Until the cross is known as the actual power of present deliverance from the world and sin and Satan, and as the introduction of the Life in the Spirit, there is not the acknowledging of the truth which is according to godliness. But where these truths are practically acknowledged, the unwilling confession is forced even from the world, that our principles are not the same as theirs. Let indeed the light of Christians so shine before men as to prove the utter failure of their righteousness and the scantiness of their morality. Let it be with well doing that they put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. And let them show that liberty and obedience are to them, strange as it may appear, one and the same thing. They are “led of the Spirit” and “are not under the Law.”
The Bible Treasury 16:91-95.
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