Occasional Papers

Table of Contents

1. Manasseh and Ephraim
2. The Power of Weakness
3. “My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts”
4. This Side Jordan and Beyond

Manasseh and Ephraim

Genesis 12:51, 52
The names of Joseph’s sons, born to him in the land of his exile, are full of the deepest interest and significance; his own history, remarkable and checkered as it was, I do not here refer to further than to notice, how it sets forth in figure and in type the varied exercises and trials to which a servant of God is subjected, in order that he may be a suitable vessel for the Master’s use.
We do not find that either of these names was given without a special reason and intent; yet they were not, as is so commonly found, names which served to connect the child with some great members of the family, distinguished either by title or possession; on the contrary, this devoted servant of God will have the children born to him in a strange land, even in their names, witnesses of how entirely apart from “his father’s house” he was, and how in it he was only left to be fruitful to God amid affliction and trial on every hand. How truly did Joseph, personally and typically, answer to Jacob his father’s words of prophetic import: “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall: the archers have sorely grieved him and shot at him and hated him: but this bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob, (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel)” (Gen. 49:22-24; see also Moses’ blessing as recorded in Deut. 33:13-17).
Now the meaning of Manasseh is forgetting, and of Ephraim, fruitful, and these are two great features which the revelation of God’s mind and will for the present moment, when received in faith, produce in our hearts! No one can truly say that he forgets “his father’s house,” until his heart has found a treasure in a brighter scene; then where he is in body, becomes the land of exile to him, yet he has no desire to return to the past, he forgets it; what derives from him bears the confession of it in even the name; his toil and his father’s house alike are faded from his remembrance. It is truly a wonderful emancipation to a man, when what he has found and possessed in heaven throws into shade and obscurity and oblivion all that natural pride of birth and pedigree which are connected with our “father’s house.”
Yet it is never the case, save as the heart has been won and satisfied by Christ in glory; it is only Christ in heaven that can displace “all things,” leading us to count them loss for the excellency of His knowledge. How sorrowful it is to see many so little distinguished by this Manasseh character of testimony; although the doctrine as to it is accepted, at least outwardly, the conformity of the ways in practice is often so glaringly inconsistent, as to raise the question how far terms and language are understood, or how far it is the antinomianism of the heart manifesting itself.
It is sorrowful and solemn to reflect upon the feeble connection which seems to exist in many souls between truth and its maintenance; the highest character of testimony may be held doctrinally, along with the most evident self-seeking and worldliness. How is this? is often asked. I shall give the only answer that satisfies my own heart. Truth is sought after or held in the mind instead of Christ personally domiciling in the heart; I know I shall be met by some with—“But Christ is the truth.” I reply, Quite true; but it is possible to separate Christ from truth, for what is the human heart not capable of? And it is a serious question how far more importance has been attached to natural quickness of apprehension than is its due, even to the slighting of some, who, though slow in apprehension, were far more solid in soul, and more conscientious in their handling of the truth because deeply impressed with the sense of its claims upon those who profess to receive it.
How blessed it is when in heart we can really walk through the world as in a foreign land! Christ in glory having so possessed us, that we are but vessels here at His disposal and pleasure. I say, vessels, in contrast with either agents or actors; as I understand it, a vessel is simply to contain and display what is set therein; we are set in this world as vessels to contain and display Christ, thus forgetting all our toil, and all our father’s house.
When the eye is single, that is when Christ alone is filling its vision, all is lost sight of; not only our toil and father’s house, but even our progress in pressing on to Christ in glory; hence says the apostle “forgetting those things which are behind,” from the same word as is found in Genesis 46 (see Septuagint). What a wonderful and surpassing power which, by its own excellence and blessedness, turns out every claimant or rival, that Christ alone may rule and reign there! Reader, have you so found and known Him in this land of exile and strangership, that you can inscribe on all as your motto in part, Manasseh!
But another son was born to Joseph at this time also, to whom he gives the name of Ephraim, that is, fruitful.
Now this sets forth another and second testimony, which the blessed Lord has called His own to render for Him in the midst of this hostile scene. We are left in a world with which we ought to have nothing in common, to be fruitful for Christ, and that too where there is absolutely nothing to succor, but on the contrary where everything, even the best here, draws away from the only source of fruitfulness and blessing. Happy is the saint who has so learned to fear the baneful influences of this world’s atmosphere, as to keep nigh to the one spot from whence vigor and freshness flow, and thus to be on earth like a tree reversed, the roots in heaven, the branches here; not only satisfied, but in some little measure displaying it in fruitfulness for Christ. Alas, how few there are who seem to be awake to the immense favor of God, in leaving us for Christ in such a world and time as this!
There is another point of great interest in this history, which finds its antitype in the Lord’s ways with His saints at the present time. It required both the pit and the prison to develop and mature this testimony of Joseph. And is it not so with His saints now? Can there be either forgetfulness or fruitfulness, save as death practically works in us? Is it not as we bear about in our body the dying of Jesus, and as we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that His life is manifested? And what fruitfulness like this? It is blessed to learn and be assured of it; to His blessed death we owe our all; by it He has set us free from the moral pit and prison in which we were hopelessly undone; but while almost every saint would glory in this, how few there are who have as yet accepted the solemn reality, that it is only through death, we can, as free, follow Him; and it is only as death practically works in us, we are either forgetting or fruitful.
May the Lord awaken us all to a more serious estimate of such a calling, so as to set forth in a scene of moral death and darkness, the land of our exile and stranger-ship, the beautiful simplicity of those whose father’s house and toil are all to us things of the past, to be no more remembered or resumed connection with, and we, though in a foreign land, fruitful trees of the Lord’s culture, even “planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”

The Power of Weakness

Genesis 32
It is well for us that the blessed God never abandons His purpose to bless His people, and well for us too that He blesses after the thoughts of His own heart; this being so, what limit can we put to the blessing? It is both instructive and interesting to observe the way and method of God’s sovereign goodness to His people; it is thus, the wise “understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.”
In Jacob’s history, which I think furnishes a striking illustration of this principle, every dealing of God with him was in view of making good the sovereign goodness revealed to him at the outset. If we turn to Gen. 28, which may be termed the start, what do we find? Why, a poor outcast wanderer from his father’s house and home, overtaken by night, lying down to sleep on the stones for pillows. It were hardly possible to find circumstances more untoward or gloomy; yet here it is God can be; for while man’s falsely boasted independence repels Him, man’s need and misery become occasions to Him, blessed be His name, as the most suited platform upon which to display that sovereign goodness which delights to bless the weary and the outcast.
Jacob dreams, and God speaks! and wondrous utterances they are: “I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land wherein thou liest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” Oh, what grace, what sovereign goodness on God’s part! No wonder that this spot, the witness of it, should be called Bethel, that is, the house of God.
Now this manifestation of sovereign grace and goodness on God’s part, contained within it the full scope of blessing for His poor servant. Many and various were the ways of God with him in bringing it all about, and making it good in him, yet nothing was bestowed in the end which was not unfolded in promise at the first. How faithfully He keeps His word with us, as He kept it with Jacob! To the latter He said, “I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of,” and He never did leave him, His hand was never withdrawn, in accomplishing the purpose and plans of His heart: stroke after stroke, blow upon blow, witnessed how true God was to His purpose and His word.
The circumstances in which Jacob is found are remarkable, but ever, I believe, those in which sovereign grace asserts itself and acts; let us name the circumstances as recorded in this chapter.
1. The threat of his injured brother Esau (ch. 27:41) placed him in the condition of a banished man from his home and father’s house; as such he fled.
2. Overtaken by the darkness of night, without shelter or friend, the stones of the earth are his only pillow.
3. In the above circumstances he sleeps, and dreams, and the Lord draws near, and gives him to hear His voice.
Now this last fact, namely, his sleeping, is the time when the blessed God acts, for sleep is the type of nature’s inactivity and expressed helplessness. I say expressed, because though nature is always a weak helpless thing, yet sleep is in the fullest way its expression; when nature is thus silenced, as it were in type, and subdued, the power of the man being in abeyance, God speaks and acts.
Let me cite another instance of this type. If we turn to 1 Kings 3:5-15, we shall find it. “In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee. And Solomon said, Thou hast showed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father; and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?”
This scene, beautiful and striking as it is, presents the other side of the truth which is sought to be illustrated: we have seen how, when nature is inactive, the blessed God draws near and speaks; here we may equally see in type how that, in nature’s inactivity in God’s people, divine thoughts take the place of all that is merely human. Solomon asked for wisdom, “And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.” Surely we never please Him in what we ask or do, save as nature’s claims are disallowed, and to this end sleep sets forth its inactivity, and fasting the denial of its claims in its activities. When it is so, the blessed God stands at the top of the mystic ladder, heaven is then not far off, or wisdom is asked as the thing most pleasing to Him. To us, this is Christ, God’s wisdom and God’s power.
I turn now to Gen. 32. A long and trying period intervenes between ch. 28 and ch. 32. Suffice it to say, that Jacob departs from Laban, full and not empty; at Bethel he had but the stones of the earth for his pillows, but now he is rich; as he said himself he had “oxen and asses, flocks, and men-servants, and women servants”; he has now, as we may say, a stake in the world. During those twenty years he had been with Laban, amid trial and vexation, he had been gathering around himself all the materials for the discipline which awaited him; the approach of Esau brings on a crisis- moment in Jacob’s history. He lets out his natural character to its full extent in view of meeting his enraged brother; he plans, and prays, and plans again; he makes every provision, and then is “left alone.” How like man as man! But this solitude, while on the one hand it was Jacob’s folly and selfishness, was God’s moment of blessing; “There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” Who was the mysterious, unlooked-for, unexpected stranger? No doubt it was God Himself; and He is here to deal with and put down dependence in self; and hence, as the picture of this, what was touched and shrank was the known sign of man’s strength. Yet while this power of nature was being withered, Jacob himself was sustained; the same hand that dried up, as it were, the sources of natural strength, imparted new power from above; and so it is, he enters upon a new day, gets a new name, Israel, and is blessed as a crippled man; and not only this, but when the sun rose upon him, that is, when the influences of the day are around him, he is in the expression of weakness; “he halted upon his thigh.”
I think there can be but little doubt, that this scene in the patriarch’s history is that to which the apostle alludes in Gal. 6:15, 16. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walked according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” What is “this rule”? Is it not for us the new order of things into which through grace we are introduced? and was not Jacob after the night of Peniel, the picture of one who, having been delivered through the cross of Christ, has learned now the power practically of the death of Jesus in his mortal flesh?
Let us consider well the excellency of such weakness as this; for it is not the mere inability of one who is powerless, but it is the case of one who, having been in the full flow of natural energy, was met and contended with by Him who knew how to put out of joint the spring of creature strength; it is therefore divinely wrought weakness. How blessed to go halting and limping all one’s life after this fashion! to be so indebted to Him for lack of nature-power, that His strength becomes our ability, as Himself becomes our solace and stay. “I will not let thee go,” though the utterance of a vanquished man is the announcement of victory.
Now similar to this in many respects, is the case of the apostle in 2 Cor. 12. He could boast and glory in that which made little of him before men, because thereby the power of Christ rested upon (lit., pitched its tent over) him; thus it was he knew that, by being weak, he was strong; paradox it may seem, yet who that knows the deep blessedness of the secret would have it otherwise? On the contrary, may we not justly and truly say, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness”?
There is this difference in the two cases just touched upon, that whereas with Jacob it was the breaking down and withering up the seat of energy of one strong-willed and unsubdued, in the case of the apostle of the Gentiles it was the preventive grace of God, in order to cut off the resources of nature; in Jacob it was the subjugation of natural force and will at their height; in Paul it was the anticipative prevention of divine grace; both are excellent and perfect in their time and place, like every way of our God.
This weakness, which is really our strength, is the moral power of death, practically withering and setting aside the man in the saint, in order that the plant of renown in each one of us may spread forth its roots, and produce its fruit, even the life of Jesus, in our mortal bodies. Blessed it is, if in any measure we have learned to be in subjection to our Father’s heart and ways, even in that which is naturally death to us; but no language can convey the blessedness of being so in communion with Him as to be able to say, “I take pleasure” in them.
A vessel in the power of weakness is a sight for angels truly; yet this is what God delights in; but how little any of us seem to have the sense of being simply vessels! There is too much of that which tells of our being actors or agents, but a vessel is distinct from both, and is simply to retain and manifest the treasure placed in it. In Gideon’s army we read of (Judg. 7) three hundred tried and proved ones, who were retained because they had manifested a reality of devotedness to which the ten thousand that had remained were strangers; it is this vessel-character which marks them; they are at the disposal of another, they were those pre-eminently to whom their chief could say, “Look on me; as I do, so shall ye do.” It is this very three hundred that carried “empty pitchers,” and lamps within them; at a given signal and moment they brake the pitchers, and this was the hour of their victory. What moral beauty there is in all this; surely it speaks in its typical import of that greater victory which is announced as won in these words, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8).
It need not surprise us that such are the ways of our God with His own; nothing could set aside man in his badness or goodness, but death. Why should we shrink from it? We brought death into this world; solemn thought for us all. The Son of the Father goes through death, that the man who brought it in, might be for ever set aside; thank God it is so before God, and He recognizes only the risen and glorified Christ; but then, practically and experimentally, death alone can secure to each of us divinely wrought weakness, or the practical setting aside of the man in each of us, which can neither be reformed nor restrained, and thus alone is room made for the power of Christ to display itself in us, once agents or actors, now but vessels at the disposal of His pleasure and will. May each heart thankfully be enabled to say, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”

“My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts”

2 Corinthians 12:1-10
It is an interesting fact that there are three instances in scripture, two in the Old Testament and one in the New, of saints making requests to God earnestly, which God did not answer; three distinct instances of unanswered prayers; and these too, as I say, offered by His own beloved servants.
But, while He did not answer them in their way, He gave them, as He ever does, that which was better for them, and at the same time infinitely glorified Himself; and that is far beyond merely meeting our need. So that, whether it be desires of the heart that are expressed in His hearing, or unexpressed longings, His thought for us is to bless us according to the measure of His own glory and His affection for us—the children of His love; and if He bless us according to this measure, are we not blessed? If God gives, He gives as God. It is not only One who hears and answers, but One who meets me after the desires of His own heart; and the love in which He has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ is the spring from which it all flows.
Let us look at the three instances to which I refer. The first is Deut. 3:23-27. “I besought the Lord at that time, saying, O, Lord God, thou hast begun to show thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand; for what God is there in heaven or in earth that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might? I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me; and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter. Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with thine eyes; for thou shalt not go over this Jordan.”
I besought the Lord”: it is very remarkable; almost the very same words as those used by the apostle in the Epistle to the Corinthians. But his earnest prayer was not granted; the only answer was, “Speak no more unto me of this matter.” There was a double reason, no doubt, why His servant Moses should not cross the Jordan and enter the land of Canaan. Dispensationally the law could never bring the people of God, such as they were, into the rest of God; it remained for Joshua, the type of Christ in resurrection, to do this. And the moral reason, of course, every one is acquainted with; “he spake unadvisedly with his lips.” You may ask, How did God do a better thing for him than giving him his request, when He took him up to the top of Pisgah, instead of letting him go into the land, allowing him to see it all, which could only tantalize him? But do you not remember how in the New Testament, we read, that when the Lord Jesus Christ was seen on the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses was seen there with Him; there he stood in the land; he saw it in company with Christ in glory, and was not that far better than if in Israel’s days he had crossed the Jordan? He did not say one word about it now; he could only speak about Christ. He got a far better thing than his heart could have conceived or his lips uttered. And it is just the same principle with God and His people now.
The second instance is in 1 Kings 19. “And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” Here we find Elijah, the servant of God, having lost all courage through the difficulties that connected themselves with the people of God, not his own difficulties. It is not trial in the world; it is trial in the midst of God’s own people. And let me say affectionately, that nothing tests the saints of God like the troubles of the people of God; people who can meet their own difficulties, are often overcome by difficulties connected with the testimony of the Lord, and give way before them. It is these that bring out the true strength of the heart. We can meet our own personal difficulties in the strength and power of God, but these try the heart in an extraordinary way. Whilst all was smooth with Elijah—whilst he could call for drought at one time and plenty at another—all went well; but if a Jezebel come in and threaten to put the iron heel of oppression on him, why, then he goes to God and says, as many a man has done since, Take away my life; I cannot go on. What a contrast is Elijah in chapter 19, to what he is in 18! in the one, he is a man remarkably above his circumstances; he has neither chariot nor driver, but he has God, and everything under his feet in the power of God. In the other, he is like a disappointed child; he goes under a juniper tree and prays that he may die. And does he die? God takes him up by a whirlwind into heaven—a chariot of fire and horses of fire! Nothing had ever entered into his heart like that! And when Moses stands on the mount with the Lord Jesus, Elijah is there too. He, too, is in the land, and that in the scene of the glory of Christ, when He reaches the highest point that it is possible for a man to reach on earth. Thus both these petitions were set aside, and far more than that which was asked was given; they were answered according to God’s thoughts about them.
And now in this passage of Corinthians, that we have read, God does not take the thorn away. Let us look at the chapter for a moment; there is in it a point or two most important for our souls. The first thing we find is, what is true of every Christian; every Christian is “a man in Christ.” There is no such thing as a Christian not being a man in Christ; the moment I can say of one that he is a Christian, in the sense in which it is spoken of here, there is a man in Christ—a man who, as to his standing, has entirely parted company with man in the flesh. Flesh and spirit are contrasts; if I am in the flesh, I am not in Christ; if I am in Christ, I am not in the flesh. Of course if I be not watchful, and self- judged always, the flesh will get power over me; but there is a great difference between being what is called overtaken by the flesh, and being a man in the flesh. As a man in Christ I am in a new place altogether.
It is often treated in this way as if the cross of Christ does something to elevate the man. What a delusion! So far from the old nature being improved, the moment a person enters into the blessed relationship of a child of God the virulence of his old nature is ready to show itself. Who are those most worried by Satan? No doubt Christians are, and that because they are in a place where they are out of his grasp, and where all he can do is to worry. Those who are in his power he ministers unto, so that instead of anything like a diminution of the virulence of that which is opposed to God in a Christian, Satan seeks by it more than ever to worry him just because he is out of his power. We must see the difference between standing in the old thing, and standing before God in a new condition in Christ. He refers to the time when they were in the flesh: “When we were in the flesh”; but now he says, “Ye are in the Spirit.” So it is “I know a man in Christ”—not I knew. Observe he does not speak of himself as Paul; this is very blessed. If he has anything humiliating to say of himself, he speaks of Paul; he will say, “through a window in a basket I was let down by the wall”: there was nothing very elevating to a man in that; it was a humiliating position; so he says “I.” But the moment he comes to speak of that which is elevating, it is no more “I,” it is “a man in Christ”—that which is true of every Christian. “I know a man in Christ.”
After this, he speaks of that which is not true of every Christian. Every Christian is a man in Christ, but every Christian is not “caught up into paradise.” The first is the real status of every Christian, the last is the possible state of a Christian. None of us have been caught up as Paul was; it was a distinct thing peculiar to himself. And then he heard “words not possible for a man to utter.” “Possible” is the word, rather than “lawful.” He means to say, that as soon as he returned to the consciousness of being in the body, he found that he had no vehicle of communication so as to express the greatness of the things that he had witnessed. And so it is, the deeper a thing is in our souls even the greater the difficulty we find in speaking of it; we cannot convey to another the sense, the impression, of that which we have got for ourselves. How difficult it is when we have received anything from God Himself to convey to another anything like what it is to our own heart!
This is one thing. And then comes another which brings out the watchful care of God for His servant, and is most solemn to see. The blessed God, knowing that the flesh in Paul was just the same as before—his having been in the third heaven did not alter it in the least, it was there ready to rise on the first opportunity, anticipates the working of it. I do not know anything in scripture which gives a greater idea of the preventive watchfulness of God. We all know that He restores our souls when we fail, but do we enough think of all the little things that occur in our daily life that He has prepared and arranged to the end we may not fail? It is “lest I should be exalted above measure,” not bringing me back after failure, but preventing its occurrence. It was a grievous thing for Paul; a messenger of the devil. Who but the blessed God could use Satan against Satan? This very thorn, this messenger of Satan, took away from Satan the power to work upon Paul’s flesh. Is it not a blessed thing to think that God can do it? We are very prone to use the language of infidelity and say, This or that happened to me. Would it not be much more blessed to say, God sent me this or that? Is there not a sweetness about anything, however grievous, when I can say, My Father’s hand in watchful love brought me this thorn? “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh”; it was not a crushing trial that happened to me; it was a given mercy.
Now the first thought with the apostle was, Could not I get out of this difficulty? Saints think if they could only get out of their circumstances. But do you not know that, if you did, you would take with you the nature that makes the circumstances in which you are so trying to you? That which makes your present ones so trying would soon make just as much difficulty in the new ones. Here the apostle goes to God to change his circumstances; we often change them for ourselves. He said, Take it away, Lord, three times. What a contrast between the thrice repeated prayer of the blessed One to His Father, ending with, “Not my will, but thine be done.” It was the perfection of Christ to shrink from drinking that cup. Paul imperfect, feeble, prayed: Lord, change my circumstances. The answer came in this: Do you want me to put you in circumstances where you will not need my power? “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
To any pressed one here I would say, Would you take from God occasion for displaying His power in your weakness, and from yourself all opportunity for turning to and leaning upon that power? This is really the answer of God here. He says, I will not take away the thorn, but I will give you my power. It is not merely relief; it is that I am positively put in the place of power at His own side. “My grace is sufficient”; weakness is the platform on which it displays itself: the thorn becomes the blessed occasion for Christ to show how His strength comes in. What a wonderful thing to move through the world leaning on the power of Christ! Such a poor wretched creature, if I go on at all, people can but say, What wonderful power to take such a one through! When did Jacob get the blessing? When he was crippled. He prepared for Esau, he prepared for every one save the mysterious One he was to meet, and who touched him in the hollow of his thigh, in the very place of his natural strength. And then he would not let Him go. I cling to the One who has withered me up, crippled me, so that He might have His place in my heart. Then it shows that it has done its work. He says, I glory in being crippled, I glory in being made nothing of, I glory in being broken down, I glory in my weakness. Why? “That the power of Christ may rest upon me”—may tabernacle over me.
Thus we get in the apostle an instance of the two great parts of Christianity; a man in Christ, man taken out of his old standing altogether, and then Christ in him manifested before the world. I, in Christ before God up there where He is, and Christ in me down here before the world.
Is it so with us? Or are we struggling against God’s guidance? We often pray God to make us what He would have us, and then when He begins to answer we draw back. I do not think there is anything more unreal than we are in our prayers. We pray to be made like Christ, and then are afraid of the way He will take to do it. I know it is so often said, If I were to say such things, God would take everything away from me: He would strip me like a tree from branch to root. Is that the thought you have of God? I tell you that He would not take away a single thing from you that would be good for you. It is in His heart to give you everything that He sees best. I know that I must get my motives, my springs, my ability from God. But God says, If you want to get spring, power, ability, everything from Me, then I must set aside that which is contrary to it in your heart. The antidote to Christ in us is our own will, and God helps us practically to get rid of that. What a wonderful thing, that poor creatures such as we are, should be left here that the grace of Christ may be shown out in us as we pass through this world! The Lord grant that His own Son may be displayed in us according to the power of His blessed Spirit for His Name’s sake.

This Side Jordan and Beyond

It is solemn to reflect on the various ways in which the enemy of the truth of God and of His people is at work to set aside His purpose in their blessing. The variety of means resorted to, in order to discredit the prime thought of God for the time being, proves two things, namely, the malice and hatred of the god and prince of this world, and the infinite blessedness and unspeakable value of the thoughts of God in the testimony revived in these last times.
It is very striking to trace in the scriptures this decided character of opposition; it is seen, or may be recognized, in all times, taking, no doubt, diverse methods of expression, as well as employing various kinds of instruments, and from time to time, in the skillfulness of wile, changing the tactics of his warfare, and varying the method of his assault; yet to faith it is more than evident, that, whatever is for the moment the thought of God about His people, that is the point assailed by Satan with malignant energy. Now the history of Israel in the past will be found, as we examine it, to furnish us with a striking illustration of this deadly hostility of the wicked one.
I need not long delay in showing that Canaan, the country beyond Jordan, was the land of Jehovah’s choice and purpose for that nation. A reference to Ex. 3 and 15 will clearly show the earliest intimation of this purpose to Moses, while the people were still in the house of bondage, even in Egypt, as well as how fully afterwards they entered into this mind of Jehovah, singing as never before; not only celebrating their deliverance and praising their Deliverer, Jehovah their salvation, but connecting the full height of His purpose with the beginning of their blessing in these words: “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in; the sanctuary O Lord, which thy hands have established. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever” (Ex. 15:17, 18). Very blessed is it to see a delivered people, in the first joys of their new found liberty, reaching on in faith and hope beyond their immediate or present portion, blessed though it were, to the full height of Jehovah’s purposes respecting them.
Now even in this, as well as in an earlier stage of their history, the malice of Satan shows itself; for Pharaoh was Satan opposing redemption, the first step towards Canaan, as Amalek was Satan opposing the march of dependence through the wilderness on the way still to Canaan. I do not doubt for a moment the satisfaction of Satan in holding Israel, through Pharaoh’s instrumentality, in the thralldom and bondage of Egypt; nor do I question a like pleasure in opposing, by means of Amalek, their dependent march through the desert, to the mountain of Jehovah’s inheritance; yet, inasmuch as at the very outset the purpose of Jehovah had been made known in the touching language of Ex. 3:7, 8, to Moses, I can have no question, but that it was this definitely avowed intention of Jehovah that Satan set himself directly to thwart, whether in Egypt by Pharaoh, or past the Red Sea by Amalek; and, I may say, this seems to be strengthened and maintained by the fact so often pressed and referred to, namely, that the wilderness was no part of Jehovah’s purpose, though it came in in connection with His ways with that people. How solemn then to think that, even at this early period of their history, the opposition of the enemy clearly declares itself, and that in relation to the full purpose of Jehovah’s heart, even the land beyond Jordan!
In order to guard against any misconception on this head, I add a word further with respect to the opposition of the enemy. It is quite clear that as to conflict, in the Christian sense of the term, there was none until Israel entered Canaan: the trials of the wilderness, its murmurs and its Marahs, were not Canaan conflict; neither was the fight with Amalek like conflict in the land; the great thought seems to be the testing of the people, yet in grace, the circumstances and sorrows of the way intended of Jehovah to cast them upon Himself, used by Satan to oppose and hinder, by creating, through their means, murmuring and discontent, the very opposite to dependence and confidence; and that dependence, and not fighting, properly so called, won the battle in the wilderness, Ex. 17:11, 12, clearly proves; for what do we find there? Success depended on Moses’ hands being lifted up. Yet how clearly marked is the opposition of the enemy to the people of Jehovah, set free from Egypt, and on their road through the desert to Jehovah’s land!
But now, passing over most of their history in the desert, following that which we have touched upon, I would turn to another scene, in order to trace this opposition of Satan to the mind of God. In turning to the record of the searching of the land, permitted and allowed though it was, there are the clearest indications of the satanic energy which was at work by means of it, acting upon the weakness and unbelief of the ten spies, so as to discredit the goodliness of the land of promise in their eyes and that of all Israel (cp. Deut. 1 and Num. 13), and succeeding for the time in awakening the worst fears and passions of unbelief, until they finally burst into open murmuring and almost rebellion. How solemn such words as these: “Wherefore hath the Lord brought us into the land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt? . . . Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” But it is specially noted here, as a proof of our present theme, namely, the various ways in which at the outset of their history, as well as here in its after course, satanic hatred assailed the purpose of God.
Very blessed is it to see how in that day, as now, God will have His witnesses to the excellency of His purpose and thought, as well as His delight and ability to make them good; hence satanic energy here calls to the forefront the testimony of faith and faithfulness in Joshua and Caleb. And may we not learn a lesson in these days from the loyalty of these devoted men of God and servants of the Lord? Does not their simple yet mighty appeal rebuke the fears and faint-heartedness of many at this present time? “The land is an exceeding good land” was faith’s simple rejoinder then to all Satan’s hindrances, and is it different to-day? Surely the spirit of Num. 14 is working sadly at the present moment. Not only are there the faint-hearted and fearful, who are ever ready to parade the anti-types of the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites, as these formerly were; but there are not wanting those who never miss an opportunity of heaping terms of scorn and contempt upon the truth which sets forth the Christian’s present heavenly standing as in Christ in heaven, ridiculing it as transcendentalism, or mere shibboleth, and trading for the purpose of opposition, upon the failures and inconsistencies of those who, feeble though they be, yet have their heart’s desires set on the present mind and purpose of God about His saints.
It needs but little perception to discover in all this hatred of and opposition to the truth, the malice of Satan, the god and prince of this world; and, moreover, those who oppose in this manner are for the most part worldly and earthly minded themselves, and thus betray the real secret of their dislike. Alas! that they should show themselves to be the representatives of like characters in the past, and that the history of the searching of the land should be thus sadly repeated. The Lord grant His saints of to-day faith in His present purpose and mind respecting them, as well as faith in His heart and His hand to make that purpose good.
The next instance of satanic opposition is furnished by the history of the two tribes and a half; the record of their sorrowful choice and inducing second causes, is contained in Num. 32, as well as Josh. 22. I say second cause, because the instigation was in the first instance satanic, as was the case in the previous history of the nation. Now let me recur to the purpose of God again, in order to show the opposition of Satan, expressed in the history of these tribes. His purpose was Canaan, which is beyond Jordan; the place of their choice was not Egypt, it was beyond the Red Sea, this side Euphrates, but not Canaan; the inducing causes were their numerous cattle, and the land of Gilead and Jazer afforded wonderful opportunities for this. Thus blinded and losing sight of the call of God, their choice is expressed in these mournful words: “Bring us not over Jordan.” Alas! these beautiful meadows, well suited to feed their flocks, have found but too many Lots and tribes of Israel to settle in them to their loss. Such was their history; for in after days, when Israel’s sin and weakness left them the ready prey of their foes—the enemies of God, the lovely country this side Jordan was the first that passed into the enemies’ hands.
Has not all this a solemn voice for saints in the present time? Are there not those who have made a similar choice, having taken their place this side Jordan, that is, this side death and resurrection, applied to the soul by the Spirit of God? Is it asked, what can that mean? There can be no question, it is worldly Christianity on this side of death and resurrection. How many of the saints have cast in their lot here, settling down in the place of wandering, the heart clinging to what is this side death and resurrection; short of the purpose and mind of God about His saints at this time!
It is striking to observe the resemblance between these tribes and some now-a-days; they did not desire or intend to give up being Israelites: by no means; but they would be Israelites this side Jordan; and is it not so at the present time? Are there not saints who, from one supposed cause or another, stop short of the call of God? They are not lacking in either zeal or earnestness, but some, through fear and timidity, others from dislike and distaste, yet both equally, say: “Bring us not over Jordan.”
A counterpart to all this is found in 2 Tim. 4. Were not all that forsook the apostle, as well as Demas, practically the two and a half tribes of that day? They did not either in fact or intention give up Christ, any more than Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, the altar of Shiloh, or the position of the Israel of God; yet who can fail to see that “loving this present world” is taking possession this side death and resurrection? And what is forsaking the apostle, the heavenly man in the wilderness, but a practical denial of the truth that “our common wealth has its existence in the heavens”? Thus we see how the antagonism of satanic power was and is directed to defeat the purpose of God respecting His saints, whether past or present; and, of this, the history of the two tribes and a half, as well as those who like Demas, deserted the apostle Paul, are melancholy instances. The Lord make His saints of to-day divinely watchful as to this.
The next instance of satanic opposition is that furnished by the sorrowful history of Israel in the land, and of this Josh. 23, compared with the book of Judges, is the mournful record. They failed as grievously in Canaan as they did in apprehending Jehovah’s purposes respecting them ere they reached the goodly land itself. We have seen how, in various ways, satanic opposition displayed itself in keeping them short of Jehovah’s purpose and revealed mind; and now we have briefly to trace like enmity and opposition in making them inconsistent with that purpose whilst seemingly answering to it.
The history suggests many a solemn thought as to his saints of to-day, and the various depths of Satan in opposing the purpose of God. To those who judge after a human method or standing it is preferable to be short of the mind of God than to be inconsistent with it; that is to say, it is better to be the two and a half tribes this side Jordan than the tribes on the other side. But I plead that the man of faith would never so judge. On the contrary, he, sorrowful, convicted yet confiding, turns to the Lord in earnest longing to be preserved from the failure of both; timid it may be, yet full of trust, he is possessed by the purpose and mind of God to have him in heaven in spirit now, as in body presently, and to maintain him on the earth true in practice to what he is in standing and position, namely, a heavenly man, one who belongs to “the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and boast in Christ Jesus and do not trust in flesh.” As such, he seeks grace to walk becomingly; he seeks preservation from all that which practically is a blot upon testimony, either on the side of God or his own side; he cultivates an unworldly spirit, because he belongs to heaven, and as the true security against worldly ways in his business and his home; having a home in heaven he lives there, but from it addresses himself in true stranger-ship to all he is called to undertake on earth. This, I very earnestly plead, would mark the man of faith; he would avoid being short of the mind of God, as of being inconsistent with it, while waiting and looking from heaven for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
May the Lord, in His grace, preserve His truth to His saints in these last days, and defeat the devices of Satan, who seeks to set aside His purpose, and so rob them of their portion and blessing.
In Josh. 23:6-12, they are warned in the most earnest manner by Joshua himself; his advanced years and his “going the way of all the earth” lending peculiar solemnity to his charge. Observe these three points here:
1. Courage to obey and cleave to the Lord.
2. He warns them as to false worship.
3. He warns them as to false associations.
In other words, he tells them their snare would be in the religious and social directions. I need not detail the manner in which this solemn charge was lost upon guilty Israel, nor the various steps downward taken with all the gradual characteristics that mark decline, until Gilgal is exchanged for Bochim.