Reflections on Ministry in Connection With the Legation of Moses

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To those who, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, have, attained peace for their consciences; and, further, have been gathered in the power and energy of the Spirit into a position of fellowship one with another, no question can possess more commanding interest than that of ministry; at least, so far as their well-being as in association here is concerned.
My reason for considering this important subject in connection with the history of that honored instrument whose name stands at the head of this paper is, that I find in that history many principles calculated to give us a more enlarged view of the subject of ministry generally.
Before, however, proceeding to the detailed exposition of the Scriptures which shall come under our notice, I would offer a few remarks on ministry in a general way.
There is considerable comfort for the Christian in the remembrance that ministry is a settled institution in the Church of God, which the Great Head of the Church has pledged Himself to maintain "until we all come, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ " (Eph. 4:1313Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:13)).
Here we get the true source of ministry in the Church of God, the power by which it is to be maintained, and the end for which it is designed; and, of course, we are perfectly safe in asserting that, " until" that great end be accomplished, the resurrection-gifts of the Head of the Church will remain with us.
be observed that the Spirit is very concise in His enumeration of gifts in this important passage. For example, He omits the "gifts of tongues" and "gifts of healing" (χαριστματα ιαματων). He merely mentions "Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers," thus omitting several of the gifts which characterized, the Pentecostal times.
It will, of course, be admitted that we see not now Apostles in the Church; and this may awaken in the minds of some the inquiry, "How, then, can the gifts be said to continue with us?" I reply, the Divine purpose in giving Apostles was answered in what was effected through the instrumentality of those vessels 'during their stay upon earth, and also by their writings, as handed down to us (see 2 Peter 1:12-1512Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. 13Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; 14Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me. 15Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. (2 Peter 1:12‑15)). It is not necessary, in order to maintain the idea of the continuance of gift, that the Apostles should remain with us "until " etc. When it is said "He gave some Apostles, etc., for the perfecting of the saints, until," etc., it matters not whether those Apostles were designed to act by their personal presence or by their writings. Then, again, as regards prophets, evangelists, etc., taking the former to mean, not merely persons who could predict future events, but those who could unfold the mind of God as contained in Scriptures not previously opened out, I see no difficulty in recognizing such at present in the Church. Thus, we have " some Apostles "-in their writings-" some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers," actually and personally present with us; and, moreover, we may count upon having such "until we all come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
The gifts of healing and tongues were more designed as a testimony to Israel, as it is written, " With men of other tongues will I speak unto this people." They cannot, therefore, be looked at as bearing exactly on "the edifying of the body of Christ." And ' indeed, in the 68th Psalm, to which the Apostle refers in Eph. 4, there seems to be a manifest distinction set forth as regards gifts: " Thou hast ascended on high, thou hest led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men-yea, for the rebellious also" (απειθουντες). From this passage, there would seem to be a distinction between the gifts, some being designed "for men," and some " for the rebellious also;" at least, they were designed to act upon the rebellious, meaning thereby Israel Now, the Apostle does not allude to the gifts as bearing upon "the rebellious;" he merely looks at those which were designed for the edifying of the body of Christ, and, as such, to continue " until we all come," etc.
And now, one word upon the question as to how the gifts remain with us. The answer is-they are treasured up in Christ. He, as another has well observed, is the great reservoir of spiritual gift for His body the Church; from Him she must draw them; and it is in proportion as the Church walks in communion with and in faithfulness to Him, that she will abound in gift, which, by the way, proves that we are not by any means to judge of the question of the continuance of gift by the fact of its not being developed, for the question may still be asked, Why is it not developed?" Because the Church is not faithful. But shall the unfaithfulness of the Church hinder the Lord Jesus from being the grand depository of gift? Surely not. He holds the gifts, let the Church be ever so unfaithful. If the Church will not make use of them, that does not affect the principle in the least. Why does she not? Where is the hindrance? The church was not constituted the depository of gift, but Christ, her Head, was, for to Him it was said, "Thou hast received gifts" (ελαβες δοματα). He, therefore, is the receiver and the holder of gifts, and it may he safely asserted that whatever the Head holds is available for the body.
Hence, we see the absolute necessity of avoiding every barrier to the outflow of ministerial gift or grace, for the Lord Jesus will shed it forth according to his own sovereign will.
I would the rather press this point, seeing it has been asserted by some that we have not those gifts; and if we have them not, it is only folly to calculate upon them; yea, to do so, is but to leave an opening for the very worst confusion, even the exhibition of the lawless spirit of the flesh under the most solemn circumstances. If this be a correct view of the matter, I see not how we can stop short of the imposing doctrine of Apostolical succession, in which, if it be but folly to count upon the Spirit's presence in the Church, it would be well at once to take refuge. However, I doubt not that the statement above referred to will be found to have originated in a habit of judging of things as they are, rather than of things as they should be: in other words, that the doctrine of the Spirit's presence in the Church for ministerial gifts and every other necessity, has been tested rather by the actings of those who maintain it, than by the simple standard of the Word; and, if this be the case, we need not wonder that the blessed doctrine has been pronounced a mere delusion; for, by a similar mode of reasoning, the great doctrine of justification by faith might be pronounced a delusion also.
We need not stop to point out the manifest unsoundness of such a mode of trying the genuineness of any principle. No reasonable man would hold a principle upon the grounds of other men's conduct, neither would he reject it upon the grounds of their misconduct; his reason for' holding or rejecting it would be its being established or rejected by the Word. If this be not our habit of deciding questions involving principle, there will be no safeguard, no criterion, no unerring standard to which to appeal; and, truly, it would be most unsatisfactory to depend, in such things, upon the ever-varying conduct of persons holding principles ever so sound. As well might the children of Israel of old have depended for guidance upon the footmarks in the sand, which might be filled up or altered by every breath of wind. No: the only guide for them was the cloud or pillar above, which moved on in all that unerring steadiness which resulted from entire independence upon things beneath; and the only guide for us is the Word of our God, in which alone we can find pure truth.
Now, it is well worthy of remark, that in the memorable passage above quoted, it is not stated that " He gave some apostles, etc., etc., until the Church fail," and that then they should cease. Had this been stated, it would have established beyond a doubt the statement, that we have no right to expect the fulfillment of the Divine purpose in ministry now; at least, as we have it put forward in the passage immediately before us. But, seeing that no such thing is stated, but the very reverse, namely, that it is "until we all come.... to a perfect man," we are constrained to infer that " until " we do come, we shall possess those gifts that are needful for " perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ;" and further, that we cannot refuse to acknowledge the permanency of those gifts without, at the same time, denying the plain and simple testimony of the Word of God.
Now, if those gifts remain with us we must look for their manifestation according to divine appointment; which appointment we find, by reference to another passage of Scripture, to be as follows; "Now, there are diversities of gifts but the same spirit. And there are differences of administrations but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another divers kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He (1 Cor. 12:4-114Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. (1 Corinthians 12:4‑11).)
Here then is God's own order in ministry, as gathered from these two important passages. The Lord Jesus, having been raised from the dead, sent down the Holy Ghost to make ample provision for, ministry in the Church of God, nor can we set up any order or arrangement of our own without interfering with God's order, and thus, in place of "feeding the Church of God," we must seriously injure her, and, so far as we are concerned, hinder her progress toward " the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
And do we not see in this divine order of ministry the expression of God's gracious character? Is it not in keeping with all the divine actings to allow His varied grace to flow through the varied channels which the passage just quoted presents to us? Yes; it is in keeping with all the divine actings; it is like God thus to order the ministry of His Church. To send his manifold grace through various channels, is just as expressive of the grace of God, as to confine it to one or any limited number is of the selfishness of man. And, indeed, the striking figure by which this important subject is illustrated in the New Testament would most fully exhibit the same gracious principle, as also the sad results of the opposite system. Read, for example, 1 Cor. 12:12-3112For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14For the body is not one member, but many. 15If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 18But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20But now are they many members, yet but one body. 21And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. 22Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: 23And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. 24For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: 25That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 26And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 28And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 29Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 30Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:12‑31). " The body is not one member, but many" (verse 14). Here the ' one" and the " many" are put in contrast. God would have the growth and progress of the body effected by the vigorous and healthy action of every member in its proper place, and according to its proper measure, or, as we have it in the epistle to the Ephesians, " according to the effectual working in the measure of every part" (chap. 4:16). Now, there are
two things which would entirely hinder this happy result from being realized, viz. an inordinate use of any one member to the exclusion of another, for example, use one hand or one foot to the exclusion of the other and see the result, and the same may be said of any other member of the body. The effect, as we -very well know, would be most pernicious, and we therefore, while in possession of our reasoning powers, never attempt such an experiment. Again, the imposition of any unnatural bandage or article of dress by which the members of the body would be hindered in their healthy action would lead to the same painful and unhappy result, a strained or deformed appearance of the body which all are naturally anxious to avoid as much as possible.
But, while men would be quick in observing the evils of such experiments with reference to the natural body, they have not hesitated to attempt them in the church of God-the body- of Christ; and, as might be expected, the necessary results have followed. The ministerial grace-designed to flow down from the Head through all the members has been hindered-the members of the body have ceased to realize in power their mutual relationship and dependence-division has taken place-different members have been led to gather round and depend upon one member, whereas all should gather round and depend upon the Head, who alone should occupy the pre-eminent place in the hearts of all the members. These and numerous other evil results have followed. So that, as far as man was able to do anything in the matter, he has hindered the body from attaining its due and proper progress. I say, as far as man was able; for we know to our comfort that the body of Christ-His church, which He has purchased with His own blood-shall surely come " to a perfect man" notwithstanding all man's efforts to hinder it.
The above reflections, however, should lead us to recognize the evil of all human interference in the divine ordinance of ministry in the church of God. Anything that would oppose a barrier to the Spirit's " dividing to every man severally as he will," and further, to the outflow of that which He has so distributed, must be carnal, must be evil-must be avoided, if we would be obedient to Christ our Lord the Head of the Church.
We shall now proceed to view this great question in connection with some leading points in the history of Moses, the minister of God. I felt it needful to say thus much by way of introduction, in order that we may the more clearly understand the ground upon which we tread.
The first Scripture to which I would refer is Exod. where we have an account of the birth and wonderful preservation of this honored instrument. " And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived and bare a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein, and she hid it in the flags by the river's brink" (v. 1-3).
We need not marvel to find Satan always on the alert in endeavoring to frustrate the gracious purposes of God. It has ever been his object so to do; and as one of these objects is very apparent in the birth of Moses, so we find the enemy at work to put this " vessel," which " the Master" was about to use largely, out of the way. However, I do not stop to dwell upon this particular point, a point so largely developed in Scripture, but would direct the attention of the reader to the extraordinary circumstances in which we here find one who afterward occupied a position of more than ordinary elevation. We find Moses, in the above passage, in type, laid in circumstances of death, and this, moreover, as the grand preliminary to his after-course of ministry.
God's principle, since the day that Adam forfeited his title to life, has been DEATH AND RESURRECTION. Nor could it be otherwise; for man's natural energies had been brought under the power of death, and " God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." He could not use anything over which death had any claim and, consequently, if the ever Blessed One had no life to impart
beyond the life imparted in creation, there was an end of all human instrumentality.
Now, we shall find this principle carried out in every instance in which the Lord has taken up any special vessel for his use. Every such vessel has been made to enter experimentally into the meaning of death and resurrection. Thus, to take a remarkable example from the New Testament, in the case of Paul, the Apostle, whose experience on this point we get in these words, " We had the sentence of death in ourselves that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead" (2 Cor. 1:99But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: (2 Corinthians 1:9)). If it be asked, when did Paul the Apostle commence his course?-the ninth of Acts furnishes the answer. There it is, that, down in the very dust of the earth, we get at once the shattered fragments of Saul the persecutor, and the elements of the future laborious and honored Apostle. " And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus, and suddenly there shined round about him a light from Heaven, and he fell to the earth" (Acts 9:3,43And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:3‑4)). Here we find "the light from Heaven" which alone can reveal the true character of things of earth (22:6-9)-the appearance of the surpassing moral glory of the risen and glorified Son of Man, at once withering up all the natural powers of Saul—those powers by which he had hitherto acted in mad hostility to Christ and His saints; and bestowing upon the future Apostle those wondrous spiritual powers by which he so largely contributed to the building up of that Church which he had before labored to pull down. I feel that it is by no means easy to conceive the depth and power of those words, " he fell to the earth." There is a depth and power in them amounting to the very highest degree of intensity. How wonderful! How real! To see this great man-this previous zealot-this man who was " profiting in the Jews' religion" above many of his own equals-the Pharisee, the Hebrew, the learned religionist;-in a word, all the attractions of "the flesh and of the mind" personified, in one moment leveled to the ground, a striking commentary upon the prophetic announcement that " all flesh is grass, and the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field."
In Moses we observe the same thing. If we want to find the elements of the great deliverer of Israel, we must repair to " the flags by the river's brink," and there hearken to the cries of the helpless babe, lying in circumstances of death through the power of the enemy. However, Moses was " drawn out " of this place of death, for God is the Quickener of the dead; and what is remarkable is, that the instrument made use of to draw him out is one of Pharaoh's own household. The Lord can cause Satan to be divided against himself, in order that his kingdom may not stand. So was it exactly with the Church's great deliverer, " which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power (αν δυναμιν) according to the Spirit of Holiness BY THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD " (Rom. 1:3,43Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Romans 1:3‑4)).
Upon all this we are incited to found the following important principle, namely, that, short of resurrection there can be no ministry in the Church of God. Any ministry which, in the principles on which it is based, and in the elements of its constitution stops short of this great point, leaves us dependent upon " the flesh" which is but as grass " in God's view. Indeed, when we remember that it is written, " the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God; and again, " the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God • for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned " (1 Cor. 2:11,1411For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:11)
14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
), It should set the matter at rest as regards man's competency to minister in the Church of God; for what does the term " natural man" imply? Simply man in his natural state-man as born of Adam-man without divine life in his soul; nor is it to be lost sight of here that the incompetency upon man's part " to know or receive the things of the Spirit of God is not attributed, in the above passage, to any grossly evil propensities-no-the Apostle does not require to enter any further into the question than merely to determine the fact of his being a natural man; and on this fact he founds the inference that he cannot know or receive the things of the Spirit of God. From this it follows, that if a natural man attempts to minister in the Church of God he cannot, by any possibility, be giving out the things of the Spirit of God, for he himself, by reason of his actual condition, is unable to receive them or know them; so that let him be ever so eloquent-ever so learned-ever so moral and amiable in private life, in a word, let his talents and acquirements be what they may, yet is the solemn fact demonstrated that he cannot be ministering the things of the Spirit of God; for how could he minister what he himself has neither received nor known. A man may speak a great deal of truth-Balaam or Judas might have done that-but he cannot speak " the things of the Spirit of God."
But, although Moses, in his circumstances " at the river's brink," was made to illustrate, as has been observed, the principle of death, and afterward, in being " drawn out," that of resurrection, yet had he much to learn ere he could enter upon the work designed for him. He had to learn that " it is not by might nor by power but by my Spirit "-a lesson always most difficult indeed to learn, but one which fully rewards all the trouble encountered in learning it. " And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren and looked on their burdens; and he spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand " (Ex. 2:11,1211And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2:11‑12)).
There can be no more certain evidence of haste and untimeliness in a man's service than his being occupied about human thoughts as to the rightness of his acting in any particular thing. Whenever a man acts without the assurance that the Lord would have him to do that special act, he is sure to be embarrassed-he will exhibit no calmness-no self-possession-he will be open to the assaults of the enemy in the matter of his service every time he enters upon it; and thus there will be no result save the confusion and uncertainty of his own mind. Moses seems to have suffered not a little of all this embarrassment and uncertainty, and that too both before and after his service. " He looked this way and that way."
No words could more aptly convey the idea of uncertainty. Why did he "look this way and that way?" Because he was not sure of what he was doing-he lacked the comfortable assurance and confidence of soul which can only spring from faith in the great and important fact that " the Lord hath sent me." When this is realized we shall not " look this way and that way," but, in obedience to the Spirit's precept, we shall " let our eyes look right on, and let our eyelids look straight before us " (Prov. 4:2525Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. (Proverbs 4:25)).
Then again, after he had done the deed, how was he terrified at the result of his acting. " Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known." Had he felt persuaded in his own mind that God had been with him in what he had done, there would have been none of this fear at all. He would have felt the sweet assurance that he had not acted of himself in the matter. Thus was it at all times with the great model of a minister, the Lord Jesus Christ. He never had occasion to look this way and that way" in anything He did. He spake and acted at all times "as one having authority:" and why? Because He was ever ready to say " My doctrine is not mine but His that sent me "-" The works that the Father hath given me to do they bear witness of me "-" I am not come in mine own name "-" I am come in my Father's name." In all this, we have at once the secret of His calmness and power through all the scenes of His ministry as Son of Man. He acted not in the mere energy of nature-He put not forth the resources of man in anything; and, although He too was " grown," being "thirty years of age," yet went he not forth to his work until, anointed from above, He could go and return " in the power of the Spirit" (comp. Luke 3:23;4. 13, 14).
But there is another lesson to be learned from this circumstance in the life of Moses. We learn that nature, even in its full-grown energy and vigor, will not suit for the Lord's work, be that work what it may. "Moses was grown," i.e. he had attained his maturity in natural strength and energy, and, therefore, if nature could at all be made available for the divine purpose in ministry, Moses might have counted upon success in his mission; but no; God cannot make use of nature, be it ever so strong-ever so highly cultivated. " A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven." It is not within the compass of earth to prepare an instrument for heavenly work. Moses forms a striking exemplification of this. He was not only " grown," but he was "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds" (Acts 7:2222And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. (Acts 7:22)).
All this is of course admitted, nor can any one be more disposed than I am to give full weight to an argument drawn from analogy; nevertheless, I cannot admit that the above argument possesses any force in directing whether Moses was right or wrong in slaying the Egyptian. I think it seems plain that he was premature in the matter, and that he began to act ere he had received his commission to do so. God had not sent him at all as yet-he went himself, and although the Spirit in Stephen tells us that "he supposed" his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them, yet he tells us nothing as to the time at which God would deliver them, nor whether Moses had not gone before that, time, which is the very thing I contend for.
Furthermore, a little attention to the special object which the Spirit had in view, when delivering the address in which He alludes to this subject, will show us that it would have been quite out of place to have entered upon the question of the rightness of the conduct of Moses. The purpose of the Holy Ghost was to bring the whole history of the Jewish nation to bear upon the conscience of the council at Jerusalem, and he therefore charges them with having rejected Moses, although he was the one by whose hand God delivered them ultimately. But can we have any difficulty in reconciling their responsibility with the fact of Moses being premature in his acting 4 Not the least. Do we not see the same thing every day How many are at this moment lying under the heavy responsibility of rejecting God's message heard from the lips of men perhaps not sent at all, or, at all events, not in right circumstances. Thus, while the instrument • may have "to look this way and that way," those who were the objects of his ministrations may be held responsible.
What a combination of advantages! Grown-learned powerful in word and deed-and yet, notwithstanding all these, "he looked this way and that way," and "feared" when he thought that people knew what he had done.
Now, in all this confusion, uncertainty, and disappointment under which Moses suffered, we observe the Lord graciously conducting him on to a most important stage in his education. It was observed above, that although Moses, when at "the river's brink," shadowed forth those circumstances of death through which every one must pass ere he begins to live or act for God, yet he needed to be led into an experimental' knowledge of it in his own person-he needed to be 'taught, by painful experience, that " all flesh is grass," and that it " profiteth nothing; " and this was the very thing which he was now about to learn. God was about to teach Moses a deep and wondrous lesson about flesh and its worthlessness; and, in order to do this, He must have him alone in the desert. " Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Midian" (Acts 7:2929Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons. (Acts 7:29)). The Lord would thus lead Moses apart from every one and everything that would act as an obstacle to him in learning the divine lesson about flesh. He would have him away from the excitement of intercourse with his brethren-He would, for a time, turn his eyes from their burdens and the cruelty of Pharaoh and his task-masters, in order to show him "a great sight," which would make him tremble and bring him to the ground in self-abasement. And surely we can say, there is no more valuable moment in our entire history than that in which we find ourselves alone with God. Then it is that we can view everything in its true and proper light-our works-our words-our thoughts-ourselves-all that we are-all that we have and all that we do stand before us weighed in the unerring balance of the sanctuary. No one that has moved much in intercourse with others can possibly fail to see how much 'he is in danger of forming a false estimate of himself and his services. The excitement of constant engagements—constant preaching-constant visiting-constant talking -all this tends, in an eminent degree, to raise a kind of unhealthy mist around our soul's vision, which is sure to hinder a calm and sober view of our real condition as before God. There is considerable power in the following words of a recent writer: "'Lord, I will preach, run, visit, wrestle,' said I. No; thou shalt lie in thy bed and suffer,' said the Lord." How often may it be said of us, "he supposed" that sinners would have been converted by his ministry-" he supposed " that Christians would have been greatly edified and comforted by his means, when, at the same time, we had learned comparatively nothing of the very first lesson which the Lord would teach us, namely, our own utter nothingness and weakness. And where is this to be learned? Surely not in the bustle of constant engagements-not in the public assembly, although we get at times a humbling view of ourselves even there-not in running from house to house, or from city to city. No; if we would learn what we really are, and not only learn it, but walk in the abiding remembrance of it, we must be much "at the backside of the desert." There it is that, " alone with God," we learn to " put off our shoes" in self-renunciation, and cry out without effort or affectation "Woe is me! " Go and ask Moses, at the foot of Horeb ,why his brethren had rejected him. What is his answer? Losing sight for the moment of their responsibility-" How could they hearken unto me who am of uncircumcised lips? " 0 for more of the holy solitude of the desert, where the presence of God is realized by the soul Would that we could dwell more " in the secret place of the Most High " I Then would we know ourselves-know our place-and know our service. Then there would be no running without being sent-no unholy intrusion of flesh into the sacred Service of God-no speaking when we ought to be silent-no acting when we ought to be still. Every member would know his proper place in the body, and working effectually therein, the body would be edified.
Nor is it only as regards ministry that one needs to taste somewhat of the holy solitude of " the backside of the desert," it is also essential as regards our view of things around us-the estimate which we form of the world and its engagements. When one gets alone with God, it is wonderful how the world and the lust thereof sink in his estimation. He sees all the busy pursuits of men in their own proper nothingness-the strife of the politician-the feverish anxiety of the aspirant after literary fame-the toil and ceaseless perplexity of the man in trade-all the cares of life and all its pleasures are esteemed by us as the small dust of the balance when we find ourselves alone with God. There is no room for worldliness in the presence of God-a worldly spirit cannot exist " at the backside of the desert; " and if we knew more of what it was to be there, we should be far less worldly and carnal than we are.
But the desert is pre-eminently the school in which a man is educated for the ministry. The Lord Jesus, when on earth, was wont to bring His disciples whom He was educating for the ministry into " the desert-place apart." There He calmed their excited spirits-subdued their inordinate elation of mind—removed from beneath them the false props on which they were prone to rest their rejoicings-showed them a little of their own hearts; in a word, led them into many things essential for them to know, but which they never could have learned in the halls of an academy where the flesh is nourished rather than subdued. The flesh is a great hindrance to a man's usefulness in the church; consequently, if the flesh be ministered to by any particular course of education, it must be rendered a more efficient hindrance.
What we want, on the contrary, is to have the flesh crushed and kept under. " We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead."
The only thing that can ever break down the flesh, is to have it always under the power of the light of God's presence. There it was that " Moses trembled and durst not behold "-there it was that " he hid his face," and "put off his shoes," in the deep sense of his own nothingness.
Now, it was just to this point that the Lord was conducting Moses, although He might in His wisdom overrule the precipitancy of His servant for the purpose of shadowing forth some important truth; but with this we have nothing to do at present; it is with Moses personally we are occupied; and it seems plain to me that until he was taught to hide his face, and put off his shoes, he was not in a fit moral condition to be used by God in ministry. Nothing seems to prove this more fully than the fact, that when Moses was really brought to view himself in the presence of God, he was most unwilling to go upon that very mission on which he had been so hasty to go unsent. He saw his own littleness-He felt how unable he was to do anything of himself-the burning bush had taught him a wondrous lesson about himself; hence, when the Lord said unto him "Come now, therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt," his reply was, " Who am I that I should go Unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" How was it that Moses could ask such a question after having of his own accord assayed to deliver the children of Israel? Because he-had now arrived at a knowledge of himself which he possessed not previously; and not only so, but the total failure of his previous attempt must have weighed with him when thinking of again presenting himself before his brethren. This will ever be the case. Where we do anything in haste or where we go out of our proper sphere of service, it is sure to have the unhappy effect of weakening us and rendering us unfit for that which properly belongs to us. We can never do anything, no matter how trivial, save as we are realizing the sentence of death written upon everything in ourselves, and also the quickening power of Christ. " It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I say unto you, they are spirit and they are life" (John 6:6363It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)). It is important that we should not only not go out of our place or sphere of service, but also that we should work effectually therein. "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith" (Rom. 12:33For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)). Whenever we move out of our place, if we would only examine our hearts, We should find that we have been thinking of ourselves " more highly than we ought to think;" and, on the other hand, whenever we work not effectually in our place, it is because we are not thinking " soberly according has God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith."
Moses, then, is most unwilling to go, although the Lord had said, "I will send thee;" and again, "certainly I will be with thee." Surely such assurances ought to have sufficed to confirm his soul. But no; Moses had felt something like what Jacob felt when the hollow of his thigh had been touched-when he felt himself a poor, weak, withered thing in the presence of God, who had been wrestling with him for the purpose of breaking down his nature. Moses had at first run into an extreme, and here we perceive a violent reaction-here he runs into the very opposite extreme; and one is disposed to ask, Carr he be the same man who sought to deliver Israel forty years before, who now says, " Send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send" (Ex. 4.13). O how difficult it is to combine deep humility with 'full confidence in God-how difficult to blend a " Woe is me!" with " Here am I, send me!" We all need to pray for this more and more. There can be no service -no real service for Christ either in the church or in the world except where the character of the servant partakes of these two elements. Nothing so hinders our usefulness as pride and self-sufficiency. God cannot use a proud man, because such would not give all the glory to Him. " The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me " (Judg. 7:22And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. (Judges 7:2)). Had the Lord owned Moses' first mission, it would have been an allowance of man's full-grown energy, or of the learning and wisdom of the Egyptians, and thus man would not have been ever so willing to confess " it is the finger of God."
But how does God act, in order to show Moses the vanity of all human attainment unaccompanied by divine energy? He inquires, " What is that in thine hand?" And what was it? "A rod." He does not direct his thoughts at all to his own natural powers, nor yet to his learning and wisdom, but rather to the very humblest thing he had about him, " a rod," the very instrument with which he had tended Jethro's sheep in the wilderness. The Lord would show Moses that he must act in public by the very same power that he had acted in secret; or rather, that he had been brought into the secret place for the purpose of qualifying him for public work. So was it, long afterward, with David. He brought no other power to bear upon the giant in public than that by which he had slain the lion and the bear in secret. This is very important. Moses might have thought it a very simple thing to serve the Lord in the desert, and that it was only in Egypt he would need anything like eloquence; but the Lord sheaved him very plainly that He regarded not any such thing; and further, that whether it were in the sheepfold or in the congregation, in public or in secret, it was divine power alone that could enable him to do any work for God or His people. The Lord's work must ever be regarded as being beyond man's reach; and it matters not what the character of the work may be, it is all alike beyond the power of man to accomplish. It requires the same character of power to slay a bear in the desert as to slay a giant in the view of contending armies-to drop the glad tidings in the ears of a pauper by the roadside, as to proclaim it before a crowded assembly in London-to pay a visit at the other end of the street as to go to Africa as a missionary. I say, the same quality of power-for the power must be divine, if the thing be done to the Lord-the measure may differ.
All this is taught us in the fact, that when the Lord called Moses into the ministry, He did not take up his learning, which had doubtless lain dormant during his forty years' sojourn in the wilderness, but He took up " the rod " with which he was actually engaged tending the sheep. " Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where are the disputers of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:20,2120Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Corinthians 1:20‑21)).
And may we not ask ourselves, Why is there so little work done for the Lord? Why are there so few conversions? Why is there so little fellowship and true cooperation in the spirit? Is it not because we are not sufficiently simple in our way of working? Do we not lack more unaffected energy? Do we not often imagine that the Lord's work lies there, when in reality it lies here? Are we not often vaguely looking for something like eloquence, when the Lord would make use of " the rod"? i. e., of whatever might be within our reach. I have no doubt of the real importance of such questions as the above. We cannot look around us, and see the poor condition of things as regards testimony and work for the Lord, without confessing that " we are straitened in ourselves."
But Moses is at length prevailed upon to go upon the mission in the strength of the Lord alone; he is at length satisfied to " take the rod of God in his hand," and, although he was not eloquent, yet, seeing the Lord was to be with him, he would go forth in dependance upon Him:-" Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit." When a man really knows this, in the power of it he can move above his own strength, as well as above his own weakness.
And now let us see the triumph that marks every step of his course. From the moment that Moses became satisfied to work with " the rod of God," all was peace-all was victory. Success attends every step-every action has weight and power in it, and every word tells. There is no more "looking this way and that way," no more uncertainty or painful trepidation. No; everything he does exhibits the evidence of his divine training in the desert. He had been alone, with God, and that was enough; he had put off his shoes before the burning bush; he had stood in that place where alone flesh is made to sink into its own proper nothingness, even the presence of Jehovah; he could therefore act as a mere " earthen vessel," confessing, in all things, " that the excellency of the power was of God, and not of him." Hence we find, in tracing him through a few following chapters, that he receives token after token of the fact that the Lord was with him; and, as a consequence, that he was "a mighty man of valor." Aaron went forth to meet him at the Mount of God, and kissed him (Ex. 4:2727And the Lord said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him. (Exodus 4:27)). This was a happy and an encouraging token. Again, " Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel; and Aaron spake all the words which the Lord had 'spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed then they bowed their heads and worshipped" (verses 29, 30). How different is this from his former reception! " Who made thee a prince and a. judge over us? Intendest thou to kill me as thou killedst the Egyptian yesterday?" Pharaoh, too, and his land, are made to groan under the successive strokes of the rod of God; and even the magicians are constrained to acknowledge "the finger of God." in a word, all combine to bear testimony to the divine power in one who had been trained in the desert, under the immediate eye of Jehovah.
It is truly marvelous to see how a man is carried through his services when he is able to say, " The Lord hath sent me." This it is that gives power, real moral power, without the faintest tinge of assumption or affectation. The reason of this is, that nothing is undertaken which there is not power to meet. Nothing, ever causes confusion or strained exertion but the assuming of things beyond our measure. God will always supply the needed strength for any work to which He sends us; but, if we will run unsent, we can only expect to be left to the sad and humiliating results of our own reckless folly. Now, as the true power of ministry, both as regards its origin and its continued exercise, consists in the full acknowledgment of God, and the disallowance of all human competency in the matter; so failure in ministry consists in reversing this order, i.e. in shutting out God by refusing to acknowledge Him, and in setting up man by not disallowing his pretensions. Thus was it with Moses. So long as he was enabled to move on in company with God, using the rod as the divinely appointed badge of his legation, he went on triumphantly. The Lord owned the work of Moses because Moses acknowledged the hand of the Lord. But the twentieth chapter of Numbers unfolds to us something which cannot fail to exert a solemnizing influence upon the minds of all who occupy a position of ministry in the church of God. "The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod and gather thou the assembly together, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock; so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. And Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels, must we fetch you water out of the rock? And d Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice" (ver. 7-11). The true object of ministry is to lead, the souls of those ministered to directly to God Himself', and not to the ministry. When the latter occurs, God is disowned and all is failure. True, souls may receive refreshment, but God judges the vessel. The congregation enjoyed the refreshing stream gushing forth from the smitten rock, but Moses went not over Jordan.
It is exceedingly solemn to find Moses, the meekest man in all the earth, failing in this particular point; it shows us very plainly the great danger of all those who minister in any way amongst us. Whenever the ministry is used to procure a measure of influence for the man, God must come in in judgment, and lay the vessel aside. It is not at all a question of personal acceptance. Paul could say, " Nothing can separate us;" and, at the same time, "lest I become a cast-away" (αδοκιμος.). In one sense it was better for Moses to be quietly laid aside, and not to see the lamentable evils that were to befall the people; or even had there been no such evils, it was better to be taken up in company with the Lord to Pisgah's top, and from thence see the land, than to go over to possess it; yet, it was because of his having failed duly to acknowledge God in his ministry to the congregation that he was prevented from going over into the land; and if the blessed God brought a superior blessing to him out of his failure, all that can be said, is, " Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
I believe there is nothing that calls for so much watchfulness and prayer on the part of those engaged in public ministry as the liability, through the infirmity of the flesh, to become the object of the thoughts of those ministered to. It is an exceedingly solemn thing -dangerous in the extreme; so much so that nothing but the firm and deeply rooted conviction that the Lord has sent a man, should ever induce him to take a place of ministry in the church. It is not being able to speak on the word with fluency-it is not the possession of knowledge, though both are indispensable. O no; it is the holy consciousness that the Lord hath sent us out-that we are speaking for the Lord, or, as the apostle Peter has it, " as the oracles of God."
Gideon too failed in this matter. " The Lord had looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might," etc., and so long as he did go in that might he went happily -so long as he was satisfied to work with the instrumentality of "the lamp and pitcher," and to say " the sword of the Lord and of Gideon," his work was owned as was Moses' while he worked in company with the rod of God. But Gideon seemed, for a moment, to forget that " the treasure was in earthen vessels"-he was tempted to think of himself. " I would desire a request of you," said he, " that ye would give me every man the ear-rings of his prey." He would not be a lord over God's heritage-he refused to rule over the people-but he would look for a pledge of love from those to whom he had ministered, and having got it, he made a god of it, and thus ruined his house, and gave rise to the sad and humbling train of circumstances which, as we know, led Jotham to deliver the parable of " the bramble king."
Our constant effort should be to lead those to whom we minister into the immediate presence of God; and then it will not be, " must we bring you instruction out of this book," nor, shall we be led, at any time, to ask for a pledge 'of love from the people of God:-no; we shall remember that " a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven;" and, further, that we have nothing that " we have not received."
O that the Lord would ever keep these things in the remembrance of the thoughts of our hearts, that so the stone out of the brook might not lift itself up, nor the sling magnify itself against the hand that has used it! I doubt not that David felt he had as little to do with the slaying of the giant as the stone which he had taken out of the brook, or the sling which he held in his hand; and Moses should have felt-that he had as little to do with the refreshing stream that gushed from the rock as had the rod with which he had smitten it. Just so should it be with the man that ministers in the word; he should feel-abidingly feel-that he has as little to do with the conversion of sinners or the edification of the Lord's people, as the book which he holds in his band or the pen with which he writes. If this were more fully realized amongst us, there would be far more fruit for our labor than there is. We have little idea of how many impure motives creep in to spoil our work and hinder results. God can only own that work which is done with a single eye to Him, and in the energy of His Spirit. " We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God which raiseth the dead."
The correctness of some of its statements (bearing, however, merely upon the application to individual cases) of general principles, I question in this paper.-ED.