September 1, 2016
Living an Exchanged Life #AWTOZER
A GREAT PREACHER WHOM I HEARD a few years ago said that the word “renew” in Isaiah 40:31 really meant “exchange”; so the text should read, “They that wait upon the Lord shall exchange their strength.” Oddly enough I do not now remember how he developed his sermon or just how he applied the text, but I have been thinking lately that the man had hit upon a very important idea; namely, that a large part of Christian experience consists of exchanging something worse for something better, a blessed and delightful bargain indeed. At the foundation of the Christian life lies vicarious atonement, which in essence is a transfer of guilt from the sinner to the Saviour. I well know how vigorously this idea is attacked by non-Christians, but I also know that the wise of this world in their pride often miss the treasures which the simple-hearted find on their knees; and I also remember the words of the apostle: “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). This is too plain to miss for anyone who is not willfully blind: Christ by His death on the cross made it possible for the sinner to exchange his sin for Christ’s righteousness. It’s that simple. No one is compelled to accept it, but at least that is what it means. And that is only the beginning. Almost everything thereafter is an exchange of the worse for the better. Next after the exchange of sin for righteousness is that of wrath for acceptance. Today the wrath of God abides upon a sinning and impenitent man; tomorrow God’s smile rests upon him. He is the same man, but not quite, for he is now a new man in Christ Jesus. By penitence and faith he has exchanged the place of condemnation for the Father’s house. He was rejected in himself but is now accepted in the Beloved, and this not by human means but by an act of divine grace. Then comes the exchange of death for life. Christ died for dead men that they might rise to be living men. Paul’s happy if somewhat involved testimony makes this clear: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) . This is mysterious but not incredible. It is one more example of how the ways of God and the ways of man diverge. Man is a born cobbler. When he wants a thing to be better he goes to work to improve it. He improves cattle by careful breeding; cars and planes by streamlining; health by diet, vitamins. and surgery; plants by grafting; people by education. But God will have none of this cobbling. He makes a man better by making him a new man. He imparts a higher order of life and sets to work to destroy the old. Then as suggested in the Isaiah text, the Christian exchanges weakness for strength. I suppose it is not improper to say that God makes His people strong, but we must understand this to mean that they become strong in exact proportion to their weakness, the weakness being their own and the strength God’s. “When I am weak, then am I strong,” is the way Paul said it, and in so saying set a pattern for every Christian. Actually the purest saint at the moment of his greatest strength is as weak as he was before his conversion. What has happened is that he has switched from his little human battery to the infinite power of God. He has guile literally exchanged weakness for strength, but the strength is not his; it flows into him from God as long as he abides in Christ. One of the heaviest problems in the Christian life is that of sanctification: how to become as pure as we know we ought to be and must be if we are to enjoy intimate communion with a holy God. The classic expression of this problem and its solution is found in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapters seven and eight. The cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” receives the triumphant answer, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” No one who has given attention to the facts will deny that it is altogether possible for a man to attain to a high degree of external morality if he sets his heart to it. Marcus Aurelius, the pagan emperor, for instance, lived a life of such exalted morality as to make most of us Christians ashamed, as did also the lowly slave Epictetus; but holiness was something of which they were totally ignorant. And it is holiness that the Christian heart yearns far above all else, and holiness the human heart can never capture by itself. A. B. Simpson knew by experience the unavailing struggle to be holy, and he knew also the Bible way to holiness. In a little hymn composed to be spoken at the conclusion of one of his sermons he states it this way: I take Him as my holiness, My spirit’s spotless, heavenly dress; I take “The Lord my righteousness, I take, He undertakes. We have but to abandon the effort to be holy and trust God to do the work within us. He will surely undertake. There are many other happy exchanges we Christians may make if we will, among them being our ignorance for His knowledge, our folly for His wisdom, our demerit for His merit, our sad mortality for His blessed immortality and faith for sight at last.
July 13, 2016
IF OUR FAITH IS TO HAVE A firm foundation we must be convinced beyond any possible doubt that God is altogether worthy of our trust. This conviction must be more than a tenet of our creed to which we give nominal assent. It must penetrate the profoundest depths of our spirits; it must get through all outward forms to the eternal substance of which our beings are composed, that sacred stuff which was once made in the image of God. As long as we question the wisdom of any of God’s ways, our faith is still tentative and uncertain. While we are able to understand, we are not quite believing. Faith enters when there is no supporting evidence to corroborate God’s word of promise and we must put our confidence blindly in the character of the One who made the promise. Faith that asked no proof was manifested by our Lord when He was enduring His ordeal of agony on the cross. Though rejected and forsaken, and in His great pain and weakness tempted to wonder how it could be thus with Him, His faith found its rest in the holiness of God: “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” Though the whole world shouted against God and every testimony of the senses was against His goodness and love, Christ knew God was holy and could do no wrong, so He would bear the agony until His Father released Him. Here was faith in its most perfect expression. The faith that made the sun stand still or brought down fire from heaven was elementary compared with this. Remember that faith is not a noble quality found only in superior men. It is not a virtue attainable by a limited few. It is not the ability to persuade ourselves that black is white or that something we desire will come to pass if we only wish hard enough. Faith is simply the bringing of our minds into accord with the truth. It is adjusting our expectations to the promises of God in complete assurance that the God of the whole earth cannot lie. A man looks at a mountain and affirms, “That is a mountain.” There is no particular virtue in the affirmation. It is simply accepting the fact that stands before him and bringing his belief into accord with the fact. The man does not create the mountain by believing, nor could he annihilate it by denying. And so with the truth of God. The believing man accepts a promise of God as a fact as solid as a mountain and vastly more enduring. His faith changes nothing except his own personal relation to the word of promise. God’s Word is true whether we believe it or not. Human unbelief cannot alter the character of God. Faith is subjective, but it is sound only when it corresponds with objective reality. The man’s faith in the mountain is valid only because the mountain is there; otherwise it would be mere imagination and would need to be sharply corrected to rescue the man from harmful delusion. So God is what He is in Himself. He does not become what we believe. “I AM That I AM.” We are on safe ground only when we know what kind of God He is and adjust our entire being to the holy concept. Since true faith rests upon what God is, it is of utmost importance that, to the limit of our comprehension, we know what He is. “They that know thy name will put their trust in thee.” The name of God is the verbal expression of His character, and confidence always rises or falls with known character. What the psalmist said was simply that they who know God to be the kind of God He is will put their confidence in Him. This is not a special virtue, I repeat, but the normal direction any mind takes when confronted with the fact. We are so made that we trust good character and distrust its opposite. That is why unbelief is so intensely wicked. “He that believeth not God hath made him a liar.” The character of God is the Christian’s final ground of assurance and the solution of many, if not most, of his practical religious problems. Some persons, for instance, believe that God answered prayer in Bible times but will not do so today, and others hold that the miracles of olden days can never be repeated. To believe so is to deny or at least to ignore almost everything God has revealed about Himself. We must remember that God always acts like Himself. He has never at any time anywhere in the vasty universe acted otherwise than in character with His infinite perfections. This knowledge should be a warning to the enemies of God, and it cannot but be an immense consolation to His friends. Though God dwells in the center of eternal mystery, there need be no uncertainty about how He will act in any situation covered by His promises. These promises are infallible predictions. God will always do what He has promised to do when His conditions are met. And His warnings are no less predictive: “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” (Psa. 1:5). In the light of all this how vain is the effort to have faith by straining to believe the promises in the Holy Scriptures. A promise is only as good as the one who made it, but it is as good, and from this knowledge springs our assurance. By cultivating the knowledge of God we at the same time cultivate our faith. Yet while so doing we look not at our faith but at Christ, its author and finisher. Thus the gaze of the soul is not in, but out and up to God. So the health of the soul is secured.
May 17, 2016
The Giver and the Taker
“GOD’S GIFTS,” SAID MEISTER ECKHART, “are meted out according to the taker, not according to the giver.” Did we enjoy God’s gifts according to the giver there would be no spiritual poverty among us, for surely there is no lack in God. Were I offered my choice to receive spiritual benefits that accord with my ability to ask or with God’s willingness to give, I would not hesitate a moment. By all means let me fall into the hands of God rather than into the hands of men, or even into my own hands. I cannot want a benefit as eagerly as God wants to give it to me. My asking is likely to be limited by many human factors, and my boldest request is sure to be small. God’s willingness to give is unlimited and His ability to perform what He wills is boundless. When the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon she received two kinds of treasures. The first was according to her asking: “King Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked.” It is not possible to tell how seriously she may have deprived herself by her limited asking. Modesty, pride, doubt, timidity—all these or any of them might have lurked in her heart and restrained her asking. We have but to look in our own hearts to discover how she acted. She too was human. But King Solomon would display his magnanimity, so he gave her all she asked “beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty.” So she departed, rich both from her own asking and from Solomon’s unsolicited giving. From what we know of King Solomon is it not reasonable to suppose that his voluntary bounty went far beyond her highest expectation? She had brought him gifts of gold and precious stones and spices. Surely he more than matched her generosity. Since God is infinite, whatever He is must be infinite also; that is, it must be without any actual or conceivable limits. The moment we allow ourselves to think of God as having limits, the one of whom we are thinking is not God but someone or something less than and different from Him. To think rightly of God we must conceive of Him as being altogether boundless in His goodness, mercy, love, grace, and in whatever else we may properly attribute to the Deity. It is not enough that we acknowledge God’s infinite resources; we must believe also that He is infinitely generous to bestow them. The first is not too great a strain on our faith. Even the deist will admit that the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, must be rich beyond the power of man to conceive. But to believe that God is a giver as well as a possessor takes an advanced faith and presupposes that there has been a divine revelation to that effect which gives validity to our expectations. Which indeed there has been. We call this revelation the Bible. Believing all this, why are we Christians so poverty stricken? I think it is because we have not learned that God’s gifts are meted out according to the taker, not according to the giver. Though almighty and all-wise, God yet cannot pour a great gift into a small receptacle. To receive in a measure more in keeping with God’s liberality five things are necessary. The first is faith. We must be convinced that God is kind, generous, goodhearted and ready to bestow His blessings upon His people with the bounty of a king. To have faith we must immerse ourselves in the Scriptures. And faith must be exercised if it is to be effective. Faith, like a muscle, grows by stretching. The second is capacity. That we differ from each other in spiritual capacity is too evident to need proof; but the reason is a great mystery and lies too deep for our understanding, certainly too deep for discussion here. It is enough to say that whatever his capacity each man can increase it if he will. The human soul is not a hard-baked vessel with a fixed size; it is a living thing capable of growth and expansion as it interacts with the gracious actions of the Holy Spirit. The third is receptivity, and one factor always present in receptivity is interest. It is virtually impossible to receive into our minds anything in which we have no interest. A man of ordinary mind may go on to do marvels in a given field if he has keen enough interest in it, and leave behind many men of finer minds who lack the necessary interest. Sometimes one interest may crowd out another. I wonder how many potential Rubensteins or Heifetzes may have gotten lost in obscurity simply because they could not as boys bring themselves to practice when a ball game was in progress on a corner lot nearby. So worldly interests often crowd out heavenly ones and spiritual receptivity is destroyed as a result. The fourth is responsibility. The gifts of God are given to us to use. When they are not used they atrophy. The story of the ten talents should be a warning to all of us. When writing about the gifts of the Spirit the apostle Paul explained that these manifestations of the Spirit were given to everyone for the profit of all. Selfish attitudes toward the blessings of God can destroy their usefulness. We have a serious responsibility in this matter. The fifth is gratitude. It is impossible to be too thankful to God, but it might be good to try it. Our wise Father does not usually give a second gift until we properly praise Him for the first.