Dug up Treasures
The prayer itself is remarkable, for it is short, but seasonable, sententious, and suggestive. David mourned the fewness of faithful men, and therefore lifted up his heart in supplication-when the creature failed, he flew to the Creator. He evidently felt his own weakness, or he would not have cried for help; but at the same time he intended honestly to exert himself for the cause of truth, for the word "help" is inapplicable where we ourselves do nothing. There is much of directness, clearness of perception, and distinctness of utterance in this petition of two words; much more, indeed, than in the long rambling outpourings of certain professors. The Psalmist runs straight-forward to his God, with a well-considered prayer; he knows what he is seeking, and where to seek it. Lord, teach us to pray in the same blessed manner.
The occasions for the use of this prayer are frequent. In providential afflictions how suitable it is for tried believers who find all helpers failing them. Students, in doctrinal difficulties, may often obtain aid by lifting up this cry of "Help, Lord," to the Holy Spirit, the great Teacher. Spiritual warriors in inward conflicts may send to the throne for reinforcements, and this will be a model for their request. Workers in heavenly labour may thus obtain grace in time of need. Seeking sinners, in doubts and alarms, may offer up the same weighty supplication; in fact, in all these cases, times, and places, this will serve the turn of needy souls. "Help, Lord," will suit us living and dying, suffering or labouring, rejoicing or sorrowing. In him our help is found, let us not be slack to cry to him.
The answer to the prayer is certain, if it be sincerely offered through Jesus. The Lord’s character assures us that he will not leave his people; his relationship as Father and Husband guarantee us his aid; his gift of Jesus is a pledge of every good thing; and his sure promise stands, "Fear not, I WILL HELP THEE."
"Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it."
Famous was the well of Beer in the wilderness, because it was the subject of a promise: "That is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water." The people needed water, and it was promised by their gracious God. We need fresh supplies of heavenly grace, and in the covenant the Lord has pledged himself to give all we require. The well next became the cause of a song. Before the water gushed forth, cheerful faith prompted the people to sing; and as they saw the crystal fount bubbling up, the music grew yet more joyous. In like manner, we who believe the promise of God should rejoice in the prospect of divine revivals in our souls, and as we experience them our holy joy should overflow. Are we thirsting? Let us not murmur, but sing. Spiritual thirst is bitter to bear, but we need not bear it-the promise indicates a well; let us be of good heart, and look for it. Moreover, the well was the centre of prayer. "Spring up, O well." What God has engaged to give, we must enquire after, or we manifest that we have neither desire nor faith. This evening let us ask that the Scripture we have read, and our devotional exercises, may not be an empty formality, but a channel of grace to our souls. O that God the Holy Spirit would work in us with all his mighty power, filling us with all the fulness of God. Lastly, the well was the object of effort. "The nobles of the people digged it with their staves." The Lord would have us active in obtaining grace. Our staves are ill adapted for digging in the sand, but we must use them to the utmost of our ability. Prayer must not be neglected; the assembling of ourselves together must not be forsaken; ordinances must not be slighted. The Lord will give us his peace most plenteously, but not in a way of idleness. Let us, then, bestir ourselves to seek him in whom are all our fresh springs.Luk_10:41-42 Seizing upon the Essential
Seizing upon the EssentialGal_5:1 St. Paul says, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free." And these words of St. Paul's seem extremely applicable to the subject before us; for Christ has, if we have accepted the liberty He has given us, set us free from "many things." But have we fulfilled, are we fulfilling, the conditions of that liberty? Are we not rather the slaves of many a worldly conventionality which causes us far more worry and far greater anxiety than we would care to confess? Does not Christ tell us that it was "for judgment that He came into the world"? And the function of judgment is to give right decisions, and, among these, correct estimates of intrinsic value. Thus Christ will help us to decide upon the true value of many possessions and many objects of anxious effort upon which our own judgments are often seriously at fault.
Christ and Worry
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful—
These words, you will remember, are taken from the brief description of the well-known scene in the home of Martha and Mary at Bethany. And few episodes, even in the Gospel narrative, are more familiar to us than this. What wonderful artists the sacred writers are! They know how to paint with just the few absolutely essential and perfectly correct strokes. There is not one too many, and not one is out of place. Here we have a home, a scene in that home, two characters, and a wealth of teaching from the Lord Jesus, all sketched in and made to live before our eyes and in our memories within the space of just five verses. What a rebuke to our prolixity!
We might have taken a whole chapter to describe what is here told in twenty lines, and we should probably have left the reader with a far less vivid and a far less correct impression. The very form of the narrative teaches us the chief lesson it contains—the importance of seizing upon the essential, and how comparatively few of the things we are apt to consider necessary really are so. It is upon choosing the really essential things in life, and in laying stress upon these, that true welfare depends.
A Divided Mind
How clearly, how vividly we see Martha, the good-hearted, bustling, over-anxious mistress and very-much-manager of the household! She is so very busy about so very many things; and all the time she is firmly convinced in her own mind that all she does and all she would provide is absolutely necessary. Not one of all this multitude of things must be wanting. Custom, and her own reputation in her own eyes and among her neighbors, demand them ail. The amount of mental and physical energy which she consumed in providing and preparing and arranging the "many things" which she deemed necessary, she probably never computed, nor did she stay for a moment to consider whether she had forgotten one or two things which in intrinsic worth might be of far greater value than the sum total of all the other things about which she was busying herself. Her mind was too divided to think clearly: part of it was running on this thing and part on that, and yet another part on something else; and her bodily movements were a reflection of her mental ones. As we say, she was all the time in a bustle, running here and there, anxious, distracted, worried; and because she was so, she was much inclined to blame others, even the Lord Jesus, who were really guiltless of the cause of her unhappiness.
Contrast her with her sister Mary, to whom the opportunity—a short one, and one which would quickly pass—of sitting at the feet of the Lord Jesus and listening to Him outweighed in importance everything else at the moment. Besides making the most of this opportunity, just then nothing else mattered. And very probably Mary had a far keener insight into the mind of the Great Teacher, who was there for so short a time, than had the anxious and worried, if kind-hearted, Martha.
What Is Real Hospitality?
When guests enter our house it is right that we should seek to provide them with all that they can need; we would go further, and would offer them what we believe will give them the greatest pleasure. We say to ourselves that we hope they will enjoy their sojourn with us. But do we ever ask in what the true enjoyment of our most worthy guests consists? Do we not too often see their pleasures only through our own eyes, and decide, according to the accepted standards of the conventional which rule us, what they ought to enjoy, rather than take the trouble to enter into their feelings? Is there not often at least a measure of pride, a desire to give ourselves satisfaction, in the nature of the hospitality which we offer? How often when we have been the guests of others would not some of us have gladly given up three-fourths of what was set before us to eat and to drink in exchange for half-an-hour's quiet conversation with some thoughtful person in the neighborhood we were visiting! For then we could have enjoyed that refreshment of soul, that stimulus of a mind greater and richer than our own, which the busy often need far more than mere bodily satisfaction.
May not Jesus have felt something of this that day in the home at Bethany? He lived a busy life, and His interests were centered on a great purpose—to influence others, to teach them the precious truths He had come to reveal. He would know Mary's anxiety to learn, that she might impart what she had learned to other women. To help her in this high purpose would be to Jesus far greater enjoyment than to partake of all the material things Martha was so anxiously providing. And, besides, by her bustling to and fro, Martha was actually preventing those few minutes of quiet so precious to Jesus and to Mary His disciple.
Are We Doing the Usual or the Right Thing?
Martha, like a great many well-meaning people today, was evidently the slave of convention, and to do what was the fashion was, in her eyes as in the opinion of so many, to do the "right" thing. Is it not true that the majority of people who wish to be hospitable, and to show kindness and honor and respect, simply ask themselves what, under the circumstances, is the usual thing to do? For in their opinion the usual is only another term for the right thing. They would do what fashion demands. But fashion is a hard taskmaster. He runs up many accounts, but does he pay many bills? And what does being in the fashion too often mean? Does it not mean obtaining and displaying and using what those who are richer than ourselves possess? It too often means a display (at the cost of much labor and anxiety) of our possession of the material things of life. And then the greater part of both our time and our energy must be directed towards these things—towards obtaining and displaying and taking care of them. We must remember that all material things are to be sought and are useful just in so far as, and no further than, they minister to the higher life. A comfortable, well-ordered, healthy house will so minister; but the moment the house and its contents become an end, rather than a means to an end, the true order of importance has been reversed. A sufficiency of plain and wholesome food ministers to the higher life, for in health we can think more clearly, work harder, and be more useful to others; but the moment the care for eating and drinking goes beyond this, the true order of things has been lost. Once more, a reasonable amount of recreation ministers to the usefulness of life, for it also promotes and tends to maintain health, and so the powers of usefulness; but when energy is consumed in providing the means for expensive amusements (often because these are fashionable), and when much time is consumed in taking part in them, in this case also a sense of proportion has been lost. The "judgment values" of life, upon whose correctness so much depends, are in all these cases false. It is still only too frequently true that in being so anxious about the means of living we often deprive ourselves of the opportunity for life itself.
Our Lord says, "Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but a few things are needful." And in
In one place Christ speaks with great plainness upon the subject. In the Parable of the Sower He tells us that some of the seed—and by the seed is meant that which contains the principle of the higher life, that which is essential to the development of that life—some of the seed fell among the thorns. These thorns represent "the anxieties, riches, and pleasures of this life," which grow and choke the seed and render it unfruitful. The very order of these evils is suggestive; first anxieties, then riches, then pleasures. How anxious some people seem to be not merely to have enough, but to be rich, and that in order to be able to enjoy what are by convention regarded as the pleasures of this world, but which all the time are a cause of weariness of soul to many who participate in them, and in the meanwhile there is no bringing what should be the true fruit of life to perfection.
Think of the contrast between freedom in and through Christ, and of slavery to the conventions, the fashions of the world. As redeemed by Christ, as free in Him, we ought to enjoy the fullest opportunity for the development of the highest life; but actually this is too often prevented by the slavery which I have been describing. How then can we enjoy the freedom which Christ has potentially won for us? Christ is the Light of the World; He is also the Wisdom of God and the Power of God.
Only One Thing Is Needful
The secret of the highest and purest success in life lies in the ability first to choose and then to make effort after those things which are of really greatest worth. Of course, together with this choice, there must be a ceasing to strive after things of no intrinsic or permanent value. This is what Jesus meant when He said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." Now ability to choose rightly, and also to obtain, implies the possession of all the three qualities of Christ which I have just mentioned, namely, Light, Wisdom, and Power.
These we may obtain from Him; and before we can use them we must obtain them. By means of light we see things as they are; we discern their real nature, we can estimate their relative greatness or smallness. Only in the light, only, that is, in possession of the completest knowledge available, must we choose and select. This selection also implies skill, which is the true meaning of wisdom. The truly wise man is the man who can both choose and use skillfully. Christ's wisdom is seen in His choices, in His decisions. The proof of His wisdom is seen in the results of these. Christ chooses, and He teaches us to choose those things which are of permanent value and which satisfy the highest parts of our nature. Our want of wisdom is seen in our frequent rejection of these things for objects which give only a very temporary satisfaction, and that only to the lower part of our nature.
But in addition to light or knowledge, in addition also to choice or decision, we need power. We need power to do what we know we ought to do and have chosen to do. Remember St. Paul's words, "The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."
Light, wisdom, power are three conditions of freedom—of the freedom which, as a possibility, Christ has won for us. To obtain them we must possess Him. He is the One needful; they are the few things needful. Possession and use of these will prevent that worry which wears out life, that distraction which, in its endless seeking after things of comparatively little value, destroys even its own object. In its constant search after what it considers necessary as means of living it forgets life itself.Act_27:23-25.Act_27:24 the R.V. rendering is "granted." It signifies that Paul had asked and God had granted his prayer, and given him his request. What a promise this is! It is said of Miss Havergal that she went to stay with a family not one of whom was definitely for Christ. On the first night of her stay she wrote her well-known hymn, "Take my life, and let it be, consecrated, Lord, to Thee." And during her short sojourn under that roof she won for her Lord the entire household. So we may claim that all who sail with us in the ship of our life shall become God's children.Psa_46:1-11.
COURAGE IN LIFE'S STORMS
"There stood by me this night an angel of the God whose I am, whom also I serve, saying, 'Fear not, Paul; thou must stand before Caesar: and lo, God hath granted thee all them that sail with thee.' Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even so as it hath been spoken unto me."--
SAID A boy to his mother, "What is fear like? I have never seen him."
Paul might have said as much, because his life was hid with Christ in God. He had learned to detect the voice of Christ. Some cannot do so, for it needs the practised ear and the obedient will. But all through his Christian career the Apostle seems to have derived comfort and strength from special revelations. Through the murky darkness of the storm, Christ's ministering angel sped to his hammock, and standing beside him, bade him be of good cheer. And there is no storm that beats on our life which does not bring God's angels also to our help, though we may not see their forms or hear their voice. The one condition of Angel-help is that we belong to their Master. We must be able to say: "Whose I am, and Whom I serve."
The Prayer of Faith. In
The Courage of Faith is consistent with Commonsense. Even though Paul had God's assurance, he felt that he must do what he could, as though all depended on his sagacity. Faith ought not to make us act presumptuously or foolishly. Holy calm and stillness rule in the heart of him whose mind is stayed on God.
We are likely to encounter many storms in our life before we anchor in the Fair Haven of Eternity, but in the heart of every cyclone there is a point of rest; and in the fiercest storm that sweeps our world, we may hide in the secret place of the Most High, and sing
June 17 Lord Jesus, You are all of the good things to come that were foreshadowed in the law. Help me to avoid being caught up in the shadows of the law. May Your Spirit draw me to the unlimited spiritual substance that is found in You alone, Amen.
June 17Heb_10:1 and Col_2:16-17)Exo_12:21, Exo_12:23). This shadow of temporal deliverance becomes substance in Christ, who delivers us from eternal judgment. "Christ, our Passover" (, was sacrificed for us1Co_5:7). Lev_19:2). This call to righteousness can only become a substantial reality through the Lord Jesus Christ: "that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Phi_3:8-9).
Lord Jesus, You are all of the good things to come that were foreshadowed in the law. Help me to avoid being caught up in the shadows of the law. May Your Spirit draw me to the unlimited spiritual substance that is found in You alone, Amen.
Substance, not Shadows, under Grace
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect . . . Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
Another better aspect of grace is seen in the difference between a shadow and the substance that casts a shadow. Shadows supply various benefits, but they have critical limitations. Shadows can provide a visible outline of a actual reality, but they cannot supply what is inherent to the reality. Also, shadows can give indication of an approaching person, but they cannot provide a relationship with that person. The old covenant of law is likened unto a shadow: "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come." The new covenant of grace (God's sufficient resources freely available in Christ) is the substance. "The substance is of Christ."
One of the shadow-like characteristics of the law was contained in its sacrifices. "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect." Christ would perfectly fulfill all that those ancient sacrifices pictured, and He would make all of their desired benefits fully available to all who would believe in Him. The Passover lamb is a clear example of this truth. "Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb . . . For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you" (
Another shadow-like characteristic of the law can be seen in its righteous commands. Whatever the law demands is related to holiness, to righteousness. "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy" ((
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