SOMETHING closely parallel to what we have been considering in Eph. 4, as to the true ground of practical unity, is to be found in those Psalms entitled “A Song of Degrees”. As is well known, fifteen consecutive Psalms bear this inscription, the series extending from Ps. 120 to Ps. 134, inclusive. The word, “Degrees”, is rendered “Ascents” in the R.V. It is from the same root as the verb “go up” (“whether the tribes go up”) in Ps. 122:4. These Psalms are thought to have been designed to be sung by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem to the Feasts of the Lord. Probably they were also used by Jewish exiles as they went up to their own land from Babylonian captivity. Certainly there is in them a longing for God’s holy rest, as their many references to Zion will show—a longing which increases in fervour until at last that rest is attained. No doubt they have as well a prophetic aspect and look forward to a day when Israel will "come up from the wilderness (of the nations) leaning upon her beloved”, to enter into the felicities of the Millennial reign. These Psalms also appeal to us in yet another way, for we ourselves are ascending Zionward, as we sing,
“Were marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God”,
and we know that through grace we shall safely
". . . . reach the heavenly fields
And walk the golden streets” ;
but have we the same ardent longing for those “fairer worlds on high” which fired the breasts of pilgrims long ago?
Our present interest, however, lies in what these “Songs” have to say concerning unity amongst saints. It will be observed that in Ps. 120, with which the series begins, there is utter disunity, hatred and strife. The “lying lips” (v.2), the “deceitful tongue” (vs. 2, 3, R.V.), the presence of "him that hateth peace” (v. 6), and the lust of some “for war” (v. 7), all bear testimony to this. In these circumstances the writer can only cry to God for deliverance (vs. 1, 2), bewail his unhappy lot (v. 5), and affirm his own love for peace (v. 7). Now, against this dark background, how bright the picture of the last two of these “Songs”—Pss. 133 and 134—appears! Here we have contention; there, “unity”. Here God’s servant “sojourns in Mesech”; there God’s “servants” . . . stand in the house of the Lord”. Here a saint “dwells with him that hateth peace”; there “brethren dwell together in unity”. Here the pilgrim “cries unto the Lord”, there the priests “bless the Lord”. Here condign punishment is threatened upon the enemy, there “the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” upon His saints.
What then is the basis of the fraternal affection and fellowship described by the poet under such rich and beautiful figures in Psalms 133 and 134? Is this oneness which David describes as “good and pleasant”, unity in general? The answer is not far to seek. Lying upon the surface of these and a few of the immediately preceding Psalms certain principles of Divine unity are plainly discernible, as we shall now see. In Ps. 129 God uses the rod of His displeasure to chasten His people, Israel. Psalm 130, which is the sixth of the great “Penitential Psalms”, gives us their attitude when thus oppressed. They cry “out of the depths” (v. 1), “wait upon the Lord” (v. 6), and conscious of their sinfulness (v. 3), trust in His redemption (vs. 7, 8). The gracious fruit of this is expressed in Ps. 131. As a child whose restive, stubborn will has been subdued, they now commit themselves to the Lord in a meek and quiet spirit of resignation.
“Upon God’s will I lay me down,
As child upon its mother’s breast’’.
What follows is as beautiful as it is fitting. The human will having been surrendered, the way is open for the accomplishment of God’s desire. This we have in Ps. 132, in which the sacred Ark—lovely type of Christ and mentioned here only in the Book of Psalms— is accorded its rightful place in Zion (v. 13), in the centre of Israel’s worship. “Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou and the ark of thy strength” (v. 8), the people pray; to which He at once responds, "This is my rest forever; here will I dwell; for I have desired it” (v. 14). Upon the restoration of the Ark, Zion becomes the focal point of Israel’s worship. To this blest trysting place the true hearted of the nation are instinctively drawn. Where God “dwells” in Ps. 132:14 they “dwell” in Ps. 133. Happy abode! There the Spirit, typified by the precious anointing oil upon the High Priest, sheds His gracious influence. The longings and aspirations of the earlier Psalms (see especially Ps. 122) are now gloriously realised. Whatever their former family feuds may have been, brethren vex each other no more, but delight themselves in unbroken unity. (Ps. 133:1), while adoring praises ascend to the Lord (Ps. 134), and blessing in rich abundance flows out to men (Ps. 133:3; 134:3). To summarise these six Psalms, we may say that saints:
Bear the Chastisement of God in Ps. 129;
Wait for the Mercy of God in Ps. 130;
Rest in the Will of God in Ps. 131;
Make room for the Ark of God in Ps. 132;
Enjoy the Unity of God in Ps. 133;
And celebrate the Praises of God in Ps. 134.
Features of This Unity
From this brief and cursory outline it is surely patent that the unity of Ps. 133 is characterised by certain well defined features. It is a unity which is inseparable from:
God’s people being of a meek, submissive and teachable spirit, as in Ps. 131.
Saints giving Christ His rightful place as Lord by gathering where His honour dwells, as illustrated in Ps. 132. It was “there” that God promised to make “the horn of David to bud” (Ps. 132:17), and “there” that “the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Ps. 133:3)—“there” where His will and Word are paramount.
The power of the Divine Unction of the Holy Spirit, so beautifully pictured in Ps. 133.
Thus, in the words of the late Wm. Rodgers, this unity is “not a unity of vague generalities, but a unity on the lines specified in the two following verses—a unity produced by the Spirit (v.2), and a unity at the right centre (v.3)”. Man can organise unions and produce uniformity, but this unity is of heavenly birth and can be expressed and maintained only in measure as we adhere to these Divine principles. Such unity is described as being both “good and pleasant”. It is “good” in its Godward aspect, for as verse 2 shows, a sweet fragrance ascends from it to Him; and it is “pleasant” in its manward aspect, in that its beneficence to us is compared to the refreshing dews from Hermon (v.3).
A Comparison With Eph. 4
A little thought will reveal how close a parallel there is between the principles of unity, as outlined in these Old Testament Psalms, and those in Eph. 4, the great New Testament passage upon the same subject, and which we have already considered. Saints characterised by the humble, self-effacing spirit of Ps. 131, for example, will not find it difficult to manifest the lowliness, meekness, long suffering, and forbearance of Eph. 4:2. Again, when Christ is accorded His rightful place as Lord, as set forth in type in Ps. 132, there will be loyal adherence to the teaching concerning the seven fundamental unities of Eph. 4:4-6, in the very centre of which His Lordship (“one Lord”) is enshrined. Furthermore, Aaron’s anointing with the holy oil, the well known symbol of the Holy Spirit, as prefiguring the blessedness of “brethren dwelling together in unity", in Ps. 133, is, of course, closely linked with our "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit”, in Eph. 4:3. Finally, the sweet odour of the anointing oil ascending to God from the skirts of the high priest’s garments—so suggestive of movement or walk—surely reminds us of Eph. 5:2, where our “walk in love”, of which Christ is the perfect example, is said to go up to God as “a sweet smelling savour”.
These principles, being so clearly indicated in Scripture, we marvel that any, except those who are obdurate against the truth, can mistake them. Let us repeat that the unity which God describes as “good and pleasant” is “not a unity of vague generalities—not a unity of heterogeneous creeds—not a unity of all and sundry. It is a unity after a certain pattern, a unity with distinctive hallmarks. In a word, it is a unity in the truth. How easy it is to shout, “All one in Christ Jesus”, and to rally under that banner! Many, alas, do not seem to have learned anything more. So far as our standing in grace is concerned, it is, of course, a glorious truth. Concerning our practice, however, Scripture asks, “How can two walk together except they be agreed?”
TWO of the epistles written by the Apostle Paul have a special relation to the Gospel, viz. Romans and Galatians. In the former we have a very complete statement of the truth of the Gospel, and all those who assay to preach should make a close study of its contents. For, while in every part of the Scriptures we have the message of the glad tidings, it is only in Romans that we have propounded the doctrine of the Gospel. In Galatians Paul writes with great warmth and vigour in defence of the Gospel. Some time previously he had travelled through the regions of Galatia, preaching the simple yet profound message of Salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Many were saved, and various assemblies were planted in those parts. Great joy and peace filled the hearts of the saints as the result of their liberty in Christ. But, alas, this blessedness did not continue very long once the leaven of evil doctrine began to permeate those assemblies. Judaizing teachers followed in the wake of the Apostle, and subverted the souls of the believers by false teaching. They taught the saints that unless they were circumcised and kept the law of Moses they could not be saved. Paul in his letter refers to this teaching as “a different gospel which is not another” (ch. 1:6, 7, R.V.). The Galatian heresy allowed that the death of Christ was necessary, but averred it was not enough for Salvation. Creature efforts must be added to the merit of Christ, else it would not be effective. Such subversive teaching militated not only against the well-being of the saints, but against the glory of Christ, and rendered null and void the glorious Gospel. Romish theology and many present day religions perpetuate this damnable heresy, and it is very needful, in our preaching clearly to emphasize the absolute sufficiency of the death of Christ to meet the claims of God, and the need of the sinner.
It is not to be inferred that there was anything wrong with Paul’s manner of preaching, since his remarks in ch. 3:1 suggest that when he was amongst them, he very fully preached the death of Christ. It would appear too, that he did so with such power in the Spirit that the crucifixion was so presented to their hearts and minds, as though it were enacted in their very midst. Hence his enquiry, “Who hath bewitched you that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” Had they understood the import of the Cross, and the meaning of those triumphant words, "It is finished”, they would not have been swept off their feet by the fair speeches of these false teachers. How blessed to know that the once-for-all sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the tree is completely sufficient for Salvation, God having signified His satisfaction and approval by raising Him from among the dead.
“Done is the work that saves, once and forever done;
Finished the righteousness that clothes the unrighteous one”.
It will be noted that very frequent reference is made throughout the epistle to the great event of the Saviour’s death. In the preface in ch. 1, we have these remarkable words, containing in germ the teaching developed in the epistle: “our Lord Jesus Christ who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father”.
Here we are presented with:—
The glorious Person—Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The great Propitiation—Who gave Himself for our sins.
The grand Purpose—that He might deliver us.
As we pursue our way through the epistle we perceive that the death of our Lord Jesus Christ results in a deliverance for the people of God which is fourfold. We shall point out the different aspects of this great truth in the following order:—
To deliver us from the penalty of our sins, Ch. 1:4, compare ch. 3:13.
To deliver us from the old Self-life, Ch. 1:4, compare ch. 2:20.
To deliver us from the World, Ch. 1:4, compare ch. 6:14.
To deliver us for Himself, Ch. 1:4, compare ch. 4:5.
In chapter 3 Paul shows that as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse of God, as pronounced in Deut. 27:26: “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them”. It is clear that THE LAW can neither justify nor even help to justify, any man, since it can only condemn and curse. But THE GOSPEL proclaims the great fact that God, in pursuance of His gracious purposes, "sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem” (ch. 4:4). The first promise of a coming Saviour (Gen. 3:15) predicted a Deliverer who would be the seed of the woman. Hence the Word became flesh, the Son of God became the Son of Man, taking sinless humanity into union with His essential Godhood, in order to be the Redeemer. And so in ch. 3:13 we read, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us, for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree”. Paul having quoted from Deut. 27, to prove the imposition of the curse through sin, now quotes from Deut. 21, to prove the removal of the curse for the believer, through the substitutionary death of Christ.
“Death and the curse were in our cup, Christ, t’was full for Thee!
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop, 'Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up; Now blessings’ draught for me”.
We now wish to consider another aspect of deliverence effected for the believer through the death of Christ, viz., Deliverence from SELF, as set forth in ch. 2:20 (“I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me . . .”). Paul realized that not only did Christ die FOR his sins, but that he, in the reckoning of God, died WITH Christ. As a man in the flesh, he came to an end at the cross. This is the great truth signified and confessed in Baptism. We have died with Christ, we have been buried with Him, and we have been raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6). This is God’s estimate of the death of Christ in relation to our old self-life. He now calls upon us to reckon with Him in this important matter, and demonstrate in our lives that we belong to the new creation—that “old things are passed away, and behold all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). An apprehension of this truth will give us victory over the power of indwelling sin, and prove an effective antidote to every form of selfishness which would assert itself in us and mar our testimony.
Again, we note that “ our Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us from this present evil world.” This deliverance from the world is stated to be “according to the will of God our Father”. The truth is further developed in ch. 6: 14: “But God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world”. Paul with spiritual insight saw that the Cross cut him off from the world, and the world from him. He could glory in what the world regarded as a scandal, viz: a Man hanged on a tree. But who was that crucified MAN? Paul’s eyes had been opened to identify Him, and he tells us here—‘our Lord Jesus Christ’. He was the Lord of life and glory, He was Jesus, Jehovah the Saviour, He was Christ, whom God hath raised from the dead and made both Lord and Christ—the Anointed One in whom, and through whom, all Messianic prophecy shall be consummated. What the Red Sea was to Israel, the Cross of Christ is to the believer. It separated them as a redeemed people from Egypt and all that it held, both religious and attractive. They were cut off from the onions, the leeks and the garlic, as well as from the task-master’s lash, by that formidable barrier. So the Cross has effected our deliverance from the world. We are now in it, but not of it; and if we understand the import of the Cross of Christ, there will be no response on our part to its manifold allurements, its pleasures, its politics, or even its religion.
There is yet one other aspect of deliverance that we must not fail to notice. It has often been pointed out that Salvation is not only negative but also positive. We are not only saved from a great doom, but we are saved to and for a glorious destiny. God brought Israel out of Egypt with a view to their entrance into the Promised Land, and He has saved us from Hell that He might bring us to Heaven. But something greater and grander than even this is envisaged in ch. 4, where we learn that the purpose of God in sending His Son was to redeem, “that we might receive the adoption of sons”. This sonship, brings with it heirship, for, ‘if a son,’ argues the apostle, ‘then an heir of God through Christ’. Small wonder that Paul prayed for the saints that the eyes of their understanding would be enlightened, that they might know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. Messrs. Hogg and Vine in their comments on the statement in ch. 1:4; “that He might deliver us”, make the following remarks: “The verb is in the middle voice, suggesting that He who thus delivers us has an interest in the result of His own act. Thus in Eph. 1:4 the thought is that God "chose us for Himself" in Christ, i.e. that we might be His sons (v. 5). So here, the words may be paraphrased “Who gave Himself for our sins, in order that He might deliver us out of this present evil age that so we might belong to Him”. What a glorious future lies before every child of God! Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, and one with Him in an indissoluble union, we shall be sharers of His glory for ever.
“ Yet ’tis not that we know the joy,
Of cancelled sin alone,
But happier far Thy saints are called
To share Thy glorious throne”.
May the Holy Spirit enable us to grasp the meaning of the Cross, so that with grateful hearts and lowly minds we may “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free”, and walk in a manner that becomes our high calling.
THERE is a deep consciousness today of the lack of spiritual power, both in individuals and assemblies, and sad to say this lack is in some cases being substituted by the energy of the flesh. We are convinced that this state of things arises partly from the want of teaching on the subject of the Nazarite, as found in Numbers 6.
In a brief message like this we can only touch on the three main points of the subject, in the hope that the Spirit will develop them in the hearts of our readers. Before taking up these points, it may be helpful to notice that this truth is found in Numbers, the Book which relates to the pilgrim journey of the people of God. A Nazarite had the marks of a pilgrim and stranger in this world. Then this teaching follows Chap. 5, in which we have the truth of the cleansing of the camp, and the subject of the unfaithful wife. These two important subjects form a fitting preface to Nazarite-ship, for Nazarites are to be found in an assembly where holiness is maintained; also the Nazarite, in the New Testament language of 1 Cor. 11:2, "is espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ”. It was not a command to all Israel, but to responsive hearts set upon following the God of Israel in a path of holiness. Let us remember that we are called to nothing less — ‘‘But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy” (1 Pet. 1:15). We shall now consider what the vow of the Nazarite involved. First, the Nazarite must abstain from wine—that which stimulates the natural heart. He was not to incite the old nature. Rom. 6:11 takes us a step further and tells us “to reckon ourselves to be dead”. If we are to see ourselves where God puts us—“crucified with Christ”—we are on the right path not to stimulate the old nature. In the words of Gal. 2. 20, we can say with Paul—“I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I five; yet not I but Christ liveth in me”. These two truths are inseparable. The Christian must not stimulate the flesh, but he must reckon himself dead to it.
Let us go to the upper room and see how the Lord brings out this truth. He was about to leave His disciples, but they were not going to be comfortless, as He promised to come to them (John 14: 18). Thus we see that they would continue to enjoy the nearness and reality of His abiding presence. “I am the Vine, ye are the branches” (John 15: 5)—a blessed union whereby the life of Christ is in us. How we ought to cry to God to make us ever conscious of His presence! This and this only is the positive side of the Nazarite life, the branch in living vital union with Christ the true Vine, the fruit that gives the best wine, and fulfilling the 11th verse: “That my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full”. Thus Christ, not the world, becomes the satisfying portion of the Nazarite.
This leads us to our second point: the Nazarite was to let his hair grow. This, in Scripture, is a sign of subjection. Thus, for example, when the Church's subjection to Christ is in view, the woman is to have long hair as a sign of her subjection to the man, and her glory before the Lord. Christ having become All in All to the believer, as we have seen in our first point, the heart is prepared to be subject unto the One who has won his affection. The Lord says in John 14:23, “If a man love me he will keep my Words and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him”. “His Words” include All the Word of God. We cannot stress this too much in these days of modernism, and not only modernism of the grossest kind which many a believer would shun, but modernism in every form: the belittling of the plain Word of God, the failure to let it mould every action of our lives, the way of saying that certain Scriptures are not binding on us today, because the times have changed, or they are against our fashions. Even in the work of God the energy of the flesh would take us beyond the Word of God, and would belittle the power of the Holy Spirit.
We cannot press this point of subjection to the Lord through obedience to His Word too much, for it is this that brings us into the mind of God; it was the carrying out of the Will of His Father that dominated the life of Christ. The Holy Spirit is within us to produce Christ in us, and this is done only by the Word of God fashioning our lives to His Mind and Will as we are subject to it.
The third point of Nazarite separation is that he was not to touch a dead body. Our first point was relative to the evil that is within us; our last point is relative to the evil that is without. How much Scripture has to say about this, and how drastic are God’s ways as to our separation from this evil world! The Nazarite who touched a dead body, defiled his separation, or consecration. Let this truth search our heart. We have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son; what a separation! There is a double tragedy amongst the people of God today; one is the lack of the realization of the holiness of God, and the other is the lack of separation from all that is not of God—the world and sin. The moment these two truths begin to decline in our lives, or in our assembly, our power begins to go.
What an example we have of this in the life of Samson. By God’s grace, born a Nazarite, brought up by godly parents, his Nazariteship was his power. Daniel 11:32 was certainly fulfilled in him: “The people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits”, for neither lions nor Philistines had any power against him, but, oh, the sad story of his fall after he surrendered the secret of his power—his long hair, type of his subjection to his God! he then became a blind slave to the Philistines.
May the tragedy of Samson’s life be a warning to us today, for the “uncircumcised Philistines”, are a type of the spiritually uncircumcised professors ever since. Israel had failed to destroy the Canaanitish nations as God had commanded them, and thus they became a snare to them, in drawing them away from the path of separation from idolatry and sin, that God’s holiness demanded. Their sad history was the result. How all this has been repeated in the Church during the last hundred years, since God graciously visited His people with the revival of Separation and Holiness; and the principle of Nazariteship ruled assemblies and individuals! But, alas, we have failed to maintain the three principles of Nazariteship, and thus weakness and lack of power have resulted. We may try to substitute it by being up-to-date, and by brightening our ideas; alas, such is of the flesh and will not take the place of Holiness and Separation.
In conclusion, let us note that Nazarite truth is inseparable from the truth of Sanctification. We are by grace sanctified in Christ; that is positional sanctification—set apart to be holy. Then there is the practical sanctification, the work of the Spirit, which is manifested in our separation and subjection to the will and purpose of God—a condition which is necessary before the Spirit can take us up and manifest His mighty power in and through us to the praise and glory of His grace.
THE Book of Jonah possesses many remarkable features. There is perhaps no book in the Word of God which is more ridiculed by infidels and modernists. They sneer at the very idea of its being accepted as truth; and no doubt the devil would have this so, because there is no portion in the Old Testament to which our Lord bears clearer and more definite testimony than He does to the Book of Jonah.
Another feature is that Jonah stands midway between such prophets as Elijah and Elisha concerning whom we have a record of their actions, and those others such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, whom we know by their writings. For while the book of Jonah has its place in the midst of the writings of these latter, it deals with the prophet's own story rather than with his prophecies.
Representative of Israel
Again, there are few, if any, Scriptures which bring out so plainly the fact that the Word of God may have more than one application, and may teach more than one lesson. It no doubt contained first of all, a solemn lesson for the Israelites of Jonah’s own time, reminding them that God’s purpose had been that they should be a testimony for Him amongst the nations and that in this they had failed, just as Jonah had failed, and had thus brought reproach upon His Name.
In this respect, however, the book goes further, and Jonah himself as representative of his nation shows to what their failure was going to develop and to lead, thus becoming a prophecy of Israel’s future. There is a verse in the writings of his fellow-prophet, Hosea, which says, “Israel is swallowed up, now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure” (Hos. 8:8), and there are other passages that speak similarly of the nations swallowing up Israel, just as the fish swallowed up Jonah. This is what has actually taken place. Israel has been swallowed up among the nations, because of their failure in testimony, but one day, like him, they will be vomited out again, and shall begin their testimony afresh, and with more success.
A Type of Christ
Not only was Jonah typical of Israel, but as every Bible reader knows, he was an outstanding type of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was this not only by his three days and three nights experience in the fish’s belly, which our Lord specially mentions, but also by the fact that he sacrificed himself to what, so far as he knew, was certain death, so that he might save those on the ship with him. Moreover, when Christ states that Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, it implies that somehow they had got to know of his sea experience, and his preaching to them was as that of one risen from the dead. This, of course, is what our Gospel is. It is the Gospel of a risen Christ.
Picture of a Sinner
Yet again, though we might not call Jonah a type of a present-day sinner, how often have we used him as at least illustrating one, and enjoyed doing so. His departure from the presence of God, his going down, down, down, until he got further down than he ever intended to go, his being followed by the Lord’s dealings, the various means of escape tried, such as throwing weight overboard, rowing hard and praying, all of these unsuccessful, the lesson which had to be learned that God required a life, and lastly, the great lesson learned by Jonah personally, that “Salvation is of the Lord”—all these have been used to picture God’s dealings with the sinner, and well they do it.
An Example of an Erring Saint
When we have seen all these different applications of Jonah’s experience, and of his little book, however, we have yet to ask, is there not still another and very simple way of considering Jonah? Is he not an example of an erring and backsliding saint, and thus a direct warning to ourselves? This is what I want more especially to bring before you.
The trouble with Jonah began when God gave him some work to do that he did not like. God has work for all His people to do, some of which may not be very pleasing to us. Jonah is not the only one that has turned his back upon what God would have him or her engage in. Perhaps God has been suggesting to you the work of teaching a class in the Sunday School, but you know this would tie you up on the Sunday afternoons from being free to run about as you do. So you turn from it and go down to your Joppa. Or perhaps it is some work that needs to be done in connection with the Hall, or the meetings in it, but that also would tie you, and besides, it is perhaps something that you feel it beneath your dignity to do, and so like Jonah you run away from it.
Jonah had on another occasion got a bit of work to do, which I am sure he enjoyed better. According to 2 Kings 14:25 he prophesied of a certain amount of deliverance for Israel in the days of Joash. Some of us resemble him in that we would like to pick and choose our jobs, do those we were pleased with, and leave the others undone, or maybe do those that would bring us into the limelight and reject such as would not. But let us remember that it is just at such a point that we may get out of the presence of God. Jonah did, and he had to learn a costly lesson, including the fact that he had to get on the rails again at the very point at which he had got off them. So it always is with ourselves.
It is interesting to consider why Jonah disliked this work which God gave him to do. At first sight one would think it was simply because he was afraid of so big an undertaking as to face a large cityful of foreigners alone. That would perhaps have kept back most of us. Or one might suggest that it was a message of judgment he was asked to deliver and he did not care for that. But neither of these was the real reason for Jonah’s refusal; and it does not appear until we get it in Jonah’s own words in ch. 4. There he says, “I knew that thou wert a gracious God and merciful.” He was actually afraid that his mission would be a successful one, producing repentance among the Ninevites, with the result that the judgment would not come. This would affect his reputation after his having prophesied that it would come at the end of forty days. He would be labelled a false prophet. Indeed, I think there was more in his mind even than this. The city of Nineveh and the great empire of Assyria, of which it was the capital, were the enemies of Jonah’s people, Israel. God had permitted them to win victories over Israel and the prospect was that they would conquer them altogether, as in the end they did. Jonah therefore had no wish to see them escape the judgment, and would prefer that it should come upon them without warning. For after all, Jonah’s message by the very fact that it was delivered at all, as well as by its offer of forty days grace, suggested mercy. God could, if He wished have destroyed Nineveh without sending it. I think therefore that in Jonah we have the rare example of a preacher who did not desire his mission to be successful, and this, as we have seen, for a reason which was a selfish one. I fear that sometimes our desire in the opposite direction—that our missions should be successful—is also from a selfish motive, that we might have the glory of manifest results from our work. This may be why some preachers go to all lengths to manufacture converts, and why others of us who would not care to stoop to that are not allowed by the Lord to see more fruit than we do.
The selfishness in Jonah’s case is clearly revealed by God’s dealings with him in chap. 4, after the real reason of his unwillingness to go and preach had been brought to light. The incident of the gourd was evidently designed for this purpose, as is shown by God’s final words to him at the end of the chapter. He could feel sorrow for the destruction of the gourd, because it had served for his own comfort, but he could not enter into God’s thoughts about Nineveh with its multitudes of people, because he looked forward to its being for the discomfort of himself and his people.
What a contrast is presented between Jonah seated on the east side of Nineveh, eager to see it destroyed, and Christ in Luke 19 upon the Mount Oliviet, on the east side of Jerusalem, weeping because of its coming destruction! Yet Jerusalem had treated Christ very differently from the way in which Jonah’s message had been received in Nineveh.
Do we ourselves enter into God’s thoughts about the world of sinners hastening to their doom? Or are the things which stir us those things which pertain to our own comfort? How much selfishness is there amongst us? Do we not see it in Gospel meetings at times, when Christians refuse to come forward and so make room for strangers who may come in? And in how many other ways it manifests itself in our lives!
To go back a bit, however, Jonah was given a second opportunity after his first failure. This is not always the case with God’s people. In fact, lost opportunities rarely come our way again. Let us not miss our present opportunities, therefore, for we shall not pass this way a second time.
HAVING mentioned in the former part of this paper, some of the chief causes for saints getting “out of the way”, we shall now attempt to make a few suggestions relative to their restoration. As we do so, we are very conscious that the complete recovery of an erring Christian is a truly difficult matter, for as many have proved, it is much easier to get away from God than to return. Some, indeed, have passed through deeper exercise over their restoration than they did over their conversion. No doubt, the Lord was seeking to teach them, through their painful experience, to dread wandering from Him again.
There is a close analogy between restoration and salvation. This is borne out by the fact that quite a few passages of Scripture, which primarily have to do with the recovery of saints, such as Ps. 51, can be used in preaching the gospel to sinners. God’s principles of working in both cases are so much alike, that at times it is all but impossible to distinguish between the story of the returned saint and that of the delivered sinner. Bearing this similarity in mind, we cannot but conclude that CONVICTION of sin is the first step towards a way-ward Christian’s restoration.
No one can be set right until one is convinced of being wrong. No cry for mercy arose from David’s heart until he was visited by Nathan and charged with his guilt. A large percentage of those who are “out of the way” are totally ignorant of their true state before God and as a result are quite complacent. How can such be helped? The problem is admittedly difficult. Does not the answer lie in the application of the Scriptures to the conscience in the power of the Spirit? The Word ministered in fellowship with God, whether publicly or privately, will reveal the error of their ways and show them the serious consequences of their folly. Was not Timothy told to "reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine”? In like manner the elders are expected to be “able by sound doctrine both to exhort, and convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9).
The second step towards recovery of one who is "out of the way” is honest CONFESSION of sin. Many are convinced they are wrong but have yet to own this in God’s presence. Did not David “keep silence” until his “bones waxed old” (Ps. 32)? The reason for not a few, who are conscious of their departure, keeping pent up in their breasts what they know should be acknowledged to God, is that they are aware that true confession of sin includes forsaking it, and this is more than they are prepared to do. Confession is more than telling God of our sins. It is the pouring out of a broken heart before Him, and at the same time sharing His thoughts about the evil committed. In other words, it is taking sides with God against our sin and abhorring it in fellowship with Himself. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
How can a believer be made willing to whole-heartedly confess his sins? There is an important passage in 2 Tim. 2, which might help to answer this question. Paul exhorts his son to correct “those that oppose themselves; that God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (v. 25). Here we are taught that it is God Who grants repentance. All are willing to admit that “salvation is of the Lord”, but we must equally agree that restoration is also of Him. David could say, “He restoreth my soul”. He may see fit to use the meek instruction of His servants, or He may use circumstances and experiences, or, for that matter, a combination of both of these to bring His erring child to a right frame of mind, but it is none the less His doings and therefore beyond human ability to accomplish. It is most important that those seeking to recover the erring one should bear this fact in mind, and exercise care that what they say and do are in closest fellowship with the Lord, lest they be the means of frustrating, rather than advancing, the end in view. Much time has been wasted and harm done trying to extract confessions from unrepentant hearts.
The final step in the restoration of “them that are out of the way” is a fresh REVELATION of Christ and His love to their souls. It is one thing to be convinced of going astray and frankly confessing the evil of it to the Lord, and quite another to have the joys of salvation filling the heart. There is a great difference between the cry for mercy of Ps. 51 and the outburst of praise of Ps. 103: “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul and all that is within me, bless His holy name”. How precious to the penitent backslider is the realization that, in spite of his waywardness and wanderings, the Lord still loves him and is again as willing to have fellowship with him, as He was to pardon the past. It is usually a little while before the clouds of grief and shame are exchanged for the sunshine of God’s love and peace, but a fresh look at the cross will prove it to be no less effectual to heal the wounds of the returning saint, than it was to save the lost sinner. Is it not significant that Paul in his corrective letters to the erring saints at Corinth and Galatia, brings much before their minds the Lord’s death? Evidently he was convinced that their restoration would be effected more readily if their thoughts were directed to the scenes of Calvary.