Steps to Christ (chapter 12)
REJOICING IN THE LORD.
The children of God are called to be representatives of Christ, showing forth the goodness and mercy of the Lord. As Jesus has revealed to us the true character of the Father, so we are to reveal Christ to a world that does not know his tender, pitying love. "As thou hast sent me into the world," said Jesus, "even so have I also sent them into the world." "I in them, and thou in me, . . . that the world may know that thou hast sent me."* The apostle Paul says to the disciples of Jesus, "Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, known and read of all men."* In every one of his children, Jesus sends a letter to the world. If you are Christ's follower, he sends in you a letter to the family, the village, the street, where you live. Jesus, dwelling in you, desires to speak to the hearts of those who are not acquainted with him. Perhaps they do not read the Bible, or do not hear the voice that speaks to them in its pages; they do not see the love of God through his works. But if you are a true representative of Jesus, it may be that through you they will be led to understand something of his goodness, and be won to love and serve him.
Christians are set as light-bearers on the way to heaven. They are to reflect to the world the light shining upon them from Christ. Their life and character should be such that through them others will get a right conception of Christ and of his service.
If we do represent Christ, we shall make his service appear attractive, as it really is. Christians who gather up gloom and sadness to their souls, and murmur and complain, are giving to others a false representation of God and the Christian life. They give the impression that God is not pleased to have his children happy, and in this they bear false witness against our Heavenly Father.
Satan is exultant when he can lead the children of God into unbelief and despondency. He delights to see us mistrusting God, doubting his willingness and power to save us. He loves to have us feel that the Lord will do us harm by his providences. It is the work of Satan to represent the Lord as lacking in compassion and pity. He misstates the truth in regard to him. He fills the imagination with false ideas concerning God; and instead of dwelling upon the truth in regard to our Heavenly Father, we too often fix our minds upon the misrepresentations of Satan, and dishonor God by distrusting him and murmuring against him. Satan ever seeks to make the religious life one of gloom. He desires it to appear toilsome and difficult; and when the Christian presents in his own life this view of religion, he is, through his unbelief, seconding the falsehood of Satan.
Many, walking along the path of life, dwell upon their mistakes and failures and disappointments, and their hearts are filled with grief and discouragement. While I was in Europe, a sister who had been doing this, and who was in deep distress, wrote to me, asking for some word of encouragement. The night after I had read her letter, I dreamed that I was in a garden, and One who seemed to be the owner of the garden was conducting me through its paths. I was gathering the flowers and enjoying their fragrance, when this sister, who had been walking by my side, called my attention to some unsightly briers that were impeding her way. There she was, mourning and grieving. She was not walking in the pathway, following the guide, but was walking among the briers and thorns. "O," she mourned, "is it not a pity that this beautiful garden is spoiled with thorns?" Then the guide said, "Let the thorns alone, for they will only wound you. Gather the roses, the lilies, and the pinks."
Have there not been some bright spots in your experience? Have you not had some precious seasons when your heart throbbed with joy in response to the Spirit of God? When you look back into the chapters of your life experience, do you not find some pleasant pages? Are not God's promises, like the fragrant flowers, growing beside your path on every hand? Will you not let their beauty and sweetness fill your heart with joy?
The briers and thorns will only wound and grieve you; and if you gather only these things, and present them to others, are you not, besides slighting the goodness of God yourself, preventing those around you from walking in the path of life?
It is not wise to gather together all the unpleasant recollections of a past life,--its iniquities and disappointments,--to talk over them and mourn over them until we are overwhelmed with discouragement. A discouraged soul is filled with darkness, shutting out the light of God from his own soul, and casting a shadow upon the pathway of others.
Thank God for the bright pictures which he has presented to us. Let us group together the blessed assurances of his love, that we may look upon them continually. The Son of God leaving his Father's throne, clothing his divinity with humanity, that he might rescue man from the power of Satan; his triumph in our behalf, opening heaven to men, revealing to human vision the presence chamber where the Deity unveils his glory; the fallen race uplifted from the pit of ruin into which sin had plunged it, and brought again into connection with the infinite God, and having endured the divine test through faith in our Redeemer, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and exalted to his throne,--these are the pictures which God would have us contemplate.
When we seem to doubt God's love, and distrust his promises, we dishonor him and grieve his Holy Spirit. How would a mother feel if her children were constantly complaining of her, just as though she did not mean them well, when her whole life's effort had been to forward their interests and to give them comfort? Suppose they should doubt her love; it would break her heart. How would any parent feel to be thus treated by his children? And how can our Heavenly Father regard us when we distrust his love, which has led him to give his only begotten Son that we might have life? The apostle writes, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"* And yet how many, by their actions, if not in word, are saying, "The Lord does not mean this for me. Perhaps he loves others, but he does not love me."
All this is harming your own soul; for every word of doubt you utter is inviting Satan's temptations; it is strengthening in you the tendency to doubt, and it is grieving from you the ministering angels. When Satan tempts you, breathe not a word of doubt or darkness. If you choose to open the door to his suggestions, your mind will be filled with distrust and rebellious questioning. If you talk out your feelings, every doubt you express not only reacts upon yourself, but it is a seed that will germinate and bear fruit in the life of others, and it may be impossible to counteract the influence of your words. You yourself may be able to recover from the season of temptation and from the snare of Satan; but others, who have been swayed by your influence, may not be able to escape from the unbelief you have suggested. How important that we speak only those things that will give spiritual strength and life.
Angels are listening to hear what kind of report you are bearing to the world about your heavenly Master. Let your conversation be of him who liveth to make intercession for you before the Father. When you take the hand of a friend, let praise to God be on your lips and in your heart. This will attract his thoughts to Jesus.
All have trials; griefs hard to bear, temptations hard to resist. Do not tell your troubles to your fellow-mortals, but carry everything to God in prayer. Make it a rule never to utter one word of doubt or discouragement. You can do much to brighten the life of others and strengthen their efforts, by words of hope and holy cheer.
There is many a brave soul sorely pressed by temptation, almost ready to faint in the conflict with self and with the powers of evil. Do not discourage such a one in his hard struggle. Cheer him with brave, hopeful words that shall urge him on his way. Thus the light of Christ may shine from you. "None of us liveth to himself."* By our unconscious influence others may be encouraged and strengthened, or they may be discouraged, and repelled from Christ and the truth.
There are many who have an erroneous idea of the life and character of Christ. They think that he was devoid of warmth and sunniness, that he was stern, severe, and joyless. In many cases the whole religious experience is colored by these gloomy views.
It is often said that Jesus wept, but that he was never known to smile. Our Saviour was indeed a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, for he opened his heart to all the woes of men. But though his life was self-denying and shadowed with pain and care, his spirit was not crushed. His countenance did not wear an expression of grief and repining, but ever one of peaceful serenity. His heart was a well-spring of life; and wherever he went, he carried rest and peace, joy and gladness.
Our Saviour was deeply serious and intensely in earnest, but never gloomy or morose. The life of those who imitate him will be full of earnest purpose; they will have a deep sense of personal responsibility. Levity will be repressed; there will be no boisterous merriment, no rude jesting; but the religion of Jesus gives peace like a river. It does not quench the light of joy, it does not restrain cheerfulness, nor cloud the sunny, smiling face. Christ came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; and when his love reigns in the heart, we shall follow his example.
If we keep uppermost in our minds the unkind and unjust acts of others, we shall find it impossible to love them as Christ has loved us; but if our thoughts dwell upon the wondrous love and pity of Christ for us, the same spirit will flow out to others. We should love and respect one another, notwithstanding the faults and imperfections that we cannot help seeing. Humility and self-distrust should be cultivated, and a patient tenderness with the faults of others. This will kill out all narrowing selfishness, and make us large-hearted and generous.
The Psalmist says, "Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed."* "Trust in the Lord." Each day has its burdens, its cares and perplexities; and when we meet, how ready we are to talk of our difficulties and trials. So many borrowed troubles intrude, so many fears are indulged, such a weight of anxiety is expressed, that one might suppose we had no pitying, loving Saviour, ready to hear all our requests, and to be to us a present help in every time of need.
Some are always fearing, and borrowing trouble. Every day they are surrounded with the tokens of God's love; every day they are enjoying the bounties of his providence; but they overlook these present blessings. Their minds are continually dwelling upon something disagreeable, which they fear may come; or some difficulty may really exist, which, though small, blinds their eyes to the many things that demand gratitude. The difficulties they encounter, instead of driving them to God, the only source of their help, separate them from him, because they awaken unrest and repining.
Do we well to be thus unbelieving? Why should we be ungrateful and distrustful? Jesus is our friend; all heaven is interested in our welfare. We should not allow the perplexities and worries of every-day life to fret the mind and cloud the brow. If we do, we shall always have something to vex and annoy. We should not indulge a solicitude that only frets and wears us, but does not help us to bear trials.
You may be perplexed in business; your prospects may grow darker and darker, and you may be threatened with loss; but do not become discouraged; cast your care upon God, and remain calm and cheerful. Pray for wisdom to manage your affairs with discretion, and thus prevent loss and disaster. Do all you can on your part to bring about favorable results. Jesus has promised his aid, but not apart from our effort. When, relying upon our Helper, you have done all you can, accept the result cheerfully.
It is not the will of God that his people should be weighed down with care. But our Lord does not deceive us. He does not say to us, "Do not fear; there are no dangers in your path." He knows there are trials and dangers, and he deals with us plainly. He does not propose to take his people out of a world of sin and evil, but he points them to a never-failing refuge. His prayer for his disciples was, "I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil." "In the world," he says, "ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."*
In his sermon on the mount, Christ taught his disciples precious lessons in regard to the necessity of trusting in God. These lessons were designed to encourage the children of God through all ages, and they have come down to our time full of instruction and comfort. The Saviour pointed his followers to the birds of the air as they warbled their carols of praise unencumbered with thoughts of care, for "they sow not, neither do they reap." And yet the great Father provides for their needs. The Saviour asks, "Are ye not much better than they?"* The great Provider for man and beast opens his hand and supplies all his creatures. The birds of the air are not beneath his notice. He does not drop the food into their bills, but he makes provision for their needs. They must gather the grains he has scattered for them. They must prepare the material for their little nests. They must feed their young. They go forth singing to their labor, for "your Heavenly Father feedeth them." And "are ye not much better than they?" Are not you, as intelligent, spiritual worshipers, of more value than the birds of the air? Will not the Author of our being, the Preserver of our life, the One who formed us in his own divine image, provide for our necessities if we but trust in him?
Christ pointed his disciples to the flowers of the field, growing in rich profusion, and glowing in the simple beauty which the Heavenly Father had given them, as an expression of his love to man. He said, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow." The beauty and simplicity of these natural flowers, far outrival the splendor of Solomon. The most gorgeous attire produced by the skill of art cannot bear comparison with the natural grace and radiant beauty of the flowers of God's creation. Jesus asks, "If God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"* If God, the divine artist, gives to the simple flowers that perish in a day, their delicate and varied colors, how much greater care will he have for those who are created in his own image? This lesson of Christ's is a rebuke to the anxious thought, the perplexity and doubt, of the faithless heart.
The Lord would have all his sons and daughters happy, peaceful, and obedient. Jesus says, "My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." "These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."*
Happiness that is sought from selfish motives, outside of the path of duty, is ill-balanced, fitful, and transitory; it passes away, and the soul is filled with loneliness and sorrow; but there is joy and satisfaction in the service of God; the Christian is not left to walk in uncertain paths; he is not left to vain regrets and disappointments. If we do not have the pleasures of this life, we may still be joyful in looking to the life beyond.
But even here Christians may have the joy of communion with Christ; they may have the light of his love, the perpetual comfort of his presence. Every step in life may bring us closer to Jesus, may give us a deeper experience of his love, and may bring us one step nearer to the blessed home of peace. Then let us not cast away our confidence, but have firm assurance, firmer than ever before. "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,"* and he will help us to the end. Let us look to the monumental pillars reminders of what the Lord has done to comfort us and to save us from the hand of the destroyer. Let us keep fresh in our memory all the tender mercies that God has shown us,--the tears he has wiped away, the pains he has soothed, the anxieties removed, the fears dispelled, the wants supplied, the blessings bestowed, thus strengthening ourselves for all that is before us through the remainder of our pilgrimage.
We cannot but look forward to new perplexities in the coming conflict, but we may look on what is past as well as on what is to come, and say, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." "As thy days, so shall thy strength be."* The trial will not exceed the strength that shall be given us to bear it. Then let us take up our work just where we find it, believing that whatever may come, strength proportionate to the trial will be given.
And by and by the gates of heaven will be thrown open to admit God's children, and from the lips of the King of Glory the benediction will fall on their ears like richest music, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."*
Then the redeemed will be welcomed to the home that Jesus is preparing for them. There their companions will not be the vile of earth, liars, idolaters, the impure and unbelieving; but they will associate with those who have overcome Satan, and through divine grace have formed perfect characters. Every sinful tendency, every imperfection, that afflicts them here, has been removed by the blood of Christ, and the excellence and brightness of his glory, far exceeding the brightness of the sun, is imparted to them. And the moral beauty, the perfection of his character, shines through them, in worth far exceeding this outward splendor. They are without fault before the great white throne, sharing the dignity and the privileges of the angels.
In view of the glorious inheritance that may be his, "what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"* He may be poor, yet he possesses in himself a wealth and dignity that the world could never bestow. The soul redeemed and cleansed from sin, with all its noble powers dedicated to the service of God, is of surpassing worth; and there is joy in heaven in the presence of God and the holy angels over one soul redeemed, a joy that is expressed in songs of holy triumph.
* John 17:18,23. * II Cor. 3:3,2. * Rom. 8:32. * Rom. 14:7. * Ps. 37:3. * John 17:15; 16:33. * Matt. 6:26. * Matt. 6:28,30. * John 14:27; 15:11. * I Sam. 7:12. * Deut. 33:25. * Matt. 25:34. * Matt. 16:26.
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