Pergamos - cont.
If you will look at the sixteenth chapter of Luke, you will
find the Lord announcing very distinctly us principle. The unjust steward is
our picture here,- the picture of those who are (as we all are as to the old
creation) under sentence of dismissal from the place they were originally put
in, on account of unrighteous dealing in it. Grace has not recalled the
sentence, "Thou mayest be no longer steward." It has given us far more, but it
has not reinstalled us in the place we have thus lost. Death, in fact, is our
removal from our stewardship, although it be the entrance, for us as
Christians, into something which must be confessed "far better."
But grace has delayed the execution of the sentence, and meanwhile our Masters goods are in our hand. All that we have here are His things, and not ours. And now God looks for us to be faithful in what is, alas! to men as such (creature of God as indeed it is,) "the mammon of unrighteousness," - the miserable deity of unrighteous man. Moreover, grace counts this faithfulness to us. We are permitted to "make friends of this mammon of unrighteousness" by our godly use of it, whereas it is naturally, through our fault, our enemy and our accuser. It must not be imagined that the "unjust steward" is to be our character literally all through. The Lord shows us that this is not so when He speaks of "faithfulness" being looked for. No doubt the unjust steward in the parable acts unjustly with his masters goods, and it must not be imagined that God commends him, it is "his lord "that does so, - man as man admiring the shrewdness which he displayed. Yet only so could be imaged that conduct which in us is not injustice but faithfulness to our Master, - grace entitling us to use what we have received, for our own true and eternal interests, which in this case are one with His own due and glory. But then there are things also which we may speak of as "our own." What are these? Ah, they are what the Lord speaks of as, after all, "the true riches." "If ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is Anothers, [not another mans, but of course Gods,] who will give you that which is your own?
Thus our own things are distinct altogether; and I must not tell Christians what they are. I need only remind you that if you have in your thoughts as men down here, a quantity of things, your own possessions, to be liberal with or to hoard up, - in both cases you misapprehend the matter. You have as to things here your Masters goods, which if you hoard up here, you surely lose hereafter, and turn into accusers. On the other hand, you are graciously permitted to transfer them really to your own account, by laying them up amid your treasure, where your treasure is - "in heaven."
The rich man in the solemn illustration at the end of the chapter was one who had made his Lords "good things " his own after another fashion, and in eternity they were not friends, but enemies and accusers. "Son," says Abraham to him, "remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things." That was all, but what a solemn memory it was! How once again the purple and fine linen and sumptuous fare met the eyes they had once gratified and now appalled! Lazarus had been at his gate, but it was not Lazarus that accused. And oh, beware of having things your own down here! There was a man who had "his good things" here, and in eternity what were they to him?
I know this is not the gospel. No, but it is what, as the principle of Gods holy government, the gospel should prepare us to understand and to enter into. Have you observed that the most beautiful and affecting story of gospel grace, the story of the lost son received, is what precedes the story of the unjust steward? The Pharisees who in the fifteenth chapter stand for the picture of the elder son are here rebuked in the person of the rich man. Will not the prodigal received back to a Fathers arms be the very one who will understand that he owes his all to a Fathers love? Is not "Ye are bought with a price" the gospel? But then "ye are bought. ye are not your own."
Put it in another way. You remember that when God would bring His people out of Egypt, Pharaoh wanted to compromise, - of course by that compromise to keep the people as his slaves. Three separate offers he makes to Moses, each of which would have prevented salvation being, according to Gods thought of it, salvation at all. The first compromise was, "Worship in the land."
"And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land."
And still the world asks, "Why need you go outside it? You are entitled to your opinions, but why be so extreme? Why three days journey into the wilderness? Why separate from what you were brought up in, and from people as good as you?" Ah, they do not know what that three days journey implies, and that the death and resurrection of Christ place you where you are no more of the world than He is! Egypt, - luxurious, civilized, self-satisfied, idolatrous Egypt, - and the wilderness! what a contrast! Yet only in the wilderness can you sacrifice to God.
Then he tries another stratagem : - "And he said unto them, Go, serve the Lord your God; but who are they that shall go? "And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go; for we must hold a feast unto the Lord."
"And he said unto them, Let the Lord be so with you, as I will let you go and your little ones: 1ook to it, for evil is before you. Not so: go now ye that are men, and serve the Lord; for that ye did desire."
By their little ones he had them safe, of course, - a perfectly good security that they would not go far away. And so it is still. How many are brought back into the world by the children they not bring with them out of the world!
One last hope remains for Pharaoh "And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Go serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you"
"Leave your possessions," he says; and how many leave their possessions! Themselves are saved: but their business, their occupation, these are still not sacred things, they are secular; what have these things to do with the salvation of the soul? But God says, No: bring them all out of Egypt: yourselves, your families, your property, - all are kept to be Mine.
And in point of fact, His it must be if we would ourselves keep it, for we cannot keep it of ourselves. The man out of whom the devil went is our Lords Own illustration of the fact that an empty house will never lack a tenant. The sweeping and gardishing and all that, will not keep out the devil, but perhaps only make him more earnest after occupation. Nothing will save from it but the positive possession of it by another, who will not and need not give it up. So we must bring Christ into every thing, or by that in which He is not we shall find we have but made room for another, - Christs opposite. The parable has application in many ways and in many degrees to those who are Christs people, as well as to those who are not. Our really idle hours are not idle. Our useless occupations have a use, if not for Christ, then against Him. Our so-called recreations may be but the frittering away of energy, as well as time, and not only distraction, but the seed of worse distraction.
We are in a world where on every side we are exposed to influences of the most subtle character; where corruption and decay are natural; and where all thus is not permeated by divine life, it becomes the necessary and speedy subject of decay and death. To a beleaguered garrison, a holiday may be fatal. We cannot ever here ungird our loins or unbuckle our armor. It is not enough to withstand in the evil day; but having done all, still you must stand. So if you leave Christ at the door of the counting-house, you will have to contend alone with (or give place to) the devil within the counting-house.
Does this startle you? does it seem to require too much? It requires that you should be with Christ in constant companionship, at all times and on all occasions. Is that narrow, - a rigid, an uncomfortable view of matters? Does it distress you to think of giving Him such a place as that? There are those who believe that he is the picture of a converted man, who complains he never got a kid to make merry with his friends. Do you realize that? Do you sympathize with such a view? Have you friends that you would like to run away to for a while out of Christs scrutiny or company? Beloved, when you think of heaven, is it of a long monotony of being "ever with the Lord"? You startle at that suggestion; and no wonder. But if you will find eternal joy then, and now can think of it as that, to be ever with Him there, is it less happy to think of being always with Him here?
At any rate, you cannot alter the reality by all your thoughts about it. None of our thoughts can change the nature of things. You cannot find in all this world a clean corner in which you can be apart from Christ and yet apart from evil. And if you could, the very idea of being so would of itself pollute it with evil. No; Christ must be a constant Saviour as to every detail of our walk and ways. Communion with Him is the only alternative of communion with evil. The wisdom that has not Him in it, will be "earthly, sensual, devilish;" if it come not from above, come it will from below.
Thus you see how important it is to be right here. It is not a mere question of points of detail; it is a question of truth of heart to Him, which affects every detail, - the whole character and complexion of our lives indeed. So you must not wonder at a question of cattle being concerned with a deeper question of "salvation" itself; looking at salvation as not merely being from wrath and condemnation, but of salvation from the sin also which brings in these. God gives it us thus in the typical picture here, and it is not a blot or deformity in the picture, but rather an essential part. Be persuaded of it, beloved friends, that only thus can we find, in the full power of it, what salvation is.
We have been looking at this from the side of responsibility. Surely it is good to look at it also from the side of salvation. Until you are clean delivered in these three respects, you cannot be happily with God, nor even safe. Of course I am not talking about reaching heaven; you may be safe in that respect. But whatever you have that is not Christs, that is the worlds still, and it will drag you back into the world. You are keeping it back from Him; you have a divided interest; how can this but affect all your intercourse, all your happiness (or what you ought to have) with Him? Can you go to your business and shut the door upon Him and He not feel it, and you not feel it? Can you say to Him, "Lord, Sunday is Yours and Monday is mine," or "Lord, there is Your tenth, and these nine are mine," and feel perfectly satisfied that all is right with Him?
And practically, it gets to be much less. He gets a part of our superfluity, and that is all. We must dress like our neighbours, live up to our rank of life, put a little by for a "rainy day," and something for our children. "We must be just before we are generous," we think. And then, with some reserve for recreation, and some for miscellaneous trifles, all the rest shall be the Lords. It may be but a "mite," but did not He accept a mite? So the very narrowness of our dole to the Lord who has saved us links us with her who had His special commendation.
Better keep it all back than give it in that fashion. For the amount given just hinders from realizing where we are. We give it ungrudgingly, perhaps: we think it has the Lords approval therefore. We do not think how much it is that we can give ungrudgingly.
Ungrudgingly it must be. Love it must be. Though I give all my goods to feed the poor, except it be love that does it, it will be utterly contemned. But if our love is measured by what we give to Him, how serious is the question raised!
In this great world of sorrow and of evil, Christ has interests dear to His heart, - how dear, no one of us has perhaps a notion of. Souls lie in darkness to whom His Word would give light, and in bondage to whom it would bring deliverance. He says to us, "I count upon My people to do this." How can we answer to Him for this confidence He has placed in us? Shall we say, "Lord, I have had to keep up with my neighbours, to provide for the future, to do a great many things, which I thought of more importance"? or shall we say, "Lord, Thou art so great, so high, so powerful, Thou surely canst not want my help in a matter like this!" or, again, "Lord, Thou art so gracious, I am sure Thou wilt accept anything I may bring: I would not suppose Thee a hard Master, to want me to bring Thee much"? Alas, what shall we say? Shall we not rather own with broken hearts how little we have valued Him?
The "doctrine of Balaam" thrives upon the restlessness of Gods own people. Do not let us imagine, because we denounce the mercenary character of what is current all around, that we can have no share in upholding what we denounce. It is far otherwise. If we have given cause, are giving cause, to those who sneer at the advocates of "cheap religion," we are giving it the most effectual possible support. In words, you denounce; in deeds, you justify. You tell them that it is vain to trust to the power of Christs love in Christians, - that your own barn is practically dearer to you than all Gods house; and they can point to you triumphantly as proof of the necessity of all that they contend for.
Beloved, I have done. I have spoken out my heart, and I must pray you bear with me. Who that looks around with a heart for Christ upon all the abominations practiced in His name but must be led to ask, Did not all this evil spring out of the failure of His own people - of those who at heart loved Him? And further, how far are we perhaps now unsuspectingly helping on the very evils we deplore? Do we not pray for Him to search out our hearts? and shall we shrink from having them searched out? If the search detects nothing, we need not fear it: if it shows us unanticipated evil, it is well to realize that the truthful judgment of the evil is ever the truest blessing for our souls. It will cost us something, no doubt, to walk in what is ever a narrow way. A race, a warfare, call for energy and self-denial. But ah, beloved, it will cost us more, much more, to have Christ walk as a stranger to us because our paths and His do not agree. How few, when they speak of cost, put this into their balance-sheet! Yet, if I wash thee not, He says, thou hast no part with Me. Are there not many trying to keep up appearances, when that is the inward trouble of their souls?
But the door is open, beloved, to came back. He has never shut it. The one thing so greatly lacking now is whole- hearted integrity; so few without some secret corner in their hearts that they would not like to have searched out by Him. That corner must be searched out, for He must be a Saviour after His own fashion; and if we would not have it, we can have little apprehended the fullness and reality of His salvation. Not alone does He save from wrath: He saves from sin. It is in subjection to His yoke that we find rest. From our own will and ways and thoughts, in His blessed will, His thoughts, His love. God grant it to us for His names sake, even now.
Chapter Eight Pergamos: the Promise to the Overcomer
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