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XXIX. THE IDEAL LIFE

 

 

"Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled."-HEBREWS xii. 14, 15.

 

 

How beautiful and solemn are these words, like the swelling cadence of heaven's own music. Evidently they do not emanate from this sorrow-stricken and warring world; they are one of the laws of the kingdom of heaven, intended to mold and fashion our life on earth. It is quite likely that those who elect to obey them may not achieve name and fame amongst men; but they will win something infinitely better-the beatitude of blessedness, the smile of the Saviour, and the vision of God.

There are souls among us of whom the world is not worthy; yet for whom the world, when it catches sight of them, prepares its bitterest venom; who have withdrawn their interest from the ambitions and schemes, the excitements and passions of their fellows, and who live a retired life, hidden with Christ in God, content to be unknowing and unknown; eager only to please God, to know him, or rather to be known of him, and to preserve the perfect balance of their nature with him, as its center and pivot and final cause. Such souls, perhaps, will best understand the infinite meaning and beauty of these deep and blessed words.

THERE IS OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD GOD. " Follow after holiness." In the Revised Version this is rendered sanctification." And this in turn is only a Latin equivalent for "setting apart ", as Sinai among mountains; the Sabbath among the days of the week; the Levites among the Jews; and the Jews among the nations of the earth.

But after all there is a deeper thought. Why were people, places, and things set apart? Was it not because God was there? He came down in might and glory on Sinai; therefore they needed to set bounds around its lower declivities. He chose to rest on the seventh day from all his work; therefore it was hallowed and sanctified. He selected the Jews to be his peculiar people, and the Levites to be his priests; therefore they were isolated from all beside. He appeared to Moses in the bush, glowing with the light of the Shekinah; therefore the spot was holy ground, and the shepherd needed to bare his feet. In other words, it is the presence of God which makes holy. There is only one Being in all the universe who is really holy. Holiness is the attribute of his nature, and of his nature only. We can never be holy apart from God; but when God enters the spirit of man, he brings holiness with him. Nay, the presence of God in man is holiness.

A room or public building may be full of delicious sunlight. But that sunlight is not the property of the room. It does not belong to it. You cannot congratulate it upon its possession. For when the shadows of evening gather, and curtain the face of the sun, the chamber is as dark as possible. It is light only so long as the sun dwells in it. So the human spirit has no holiness apart from God. Holiness is not a perquisite or property or attribute to which any of us can lay claim. It is the indwelling of God's light and glory within us. He is the holy man in whom God dwells. He is the holier in whom God dwells more fully. He is the holiest who, however poor his intellect and mean his earthly lot, is most possessed and filled by the presence of God through the Holy Ghost. We need not wonder at the Apostle addressing believers as saints, when he was able to say of them: "Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you" (1 Cor. iii. 16; vi. 19).

 

Why, then, does the sacred writer bid us "follow after holiness," as though it were an acquisition? Because, though holiness is the infilling of man's spirit by the Spirit of God, yet there are certain very important conditions to be observed by us if we would secure and enjoy that blessed gift.

 

Give self no quarter. It is always asserting itself in one or other of its Protean shapes. Do not expect to be rid of it. Even if you say you have conquered it, then it lurks beneath the smile of your self-complacency. It may show itself in religious pride, in desire to excel in virtue, in the satisfaction with which we hear ourselves remarked for our humility. It will need incessant watchfulness, because where self is there God cannot come. He will not share his glory with another. When we are settling down to slumber, we may expect the cry, "Thine enemy is upon thee; "for it will invade our closets and our places of deepest retirement.

It is impossible to read the Epistles of the Apostle Peter without being impressed with the solemn and awful character of the Christian life, the constant need of watchfulness, the urgency for diligence, self-restraint, and self-denial. Oh for this holy sensitiveness! always exercising the self~watch; never sparing ourselves; merciful to others because so merciless to self; continually exercising ourselves to preserve a conscience void of offense toward God and men.

 

Yield to God. He is ever seeking the point of least resistance in our natures. Help him to find it; and when found, be sure to let him have his blessed way. "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." Work out what God works in. Translate the thoughts of God into the vernacular of daily obedience. Be as plastic to his touch as clay in the hands of the potter, so that you may realize every ideal which is in his heart. Be not as the horse and mule, but let your mouth be tender to every motion of the divine purpose concerning you. And if you find it difficult to maintain this attitude, be sure to tell your difficulty to the Holy Spirit, and trust him to keep your heart steadfast and unmovable, fixed and obedient.

 

Take time to it. "Follow after." This habit is not to be acquired in a bound or at a leap. It can be formed in its perfection only after years of self-discipline and watchful self-culture. To abide ever in Christ, to yield to God, to keep all the windows of the nature open toward his gracious infilling, to turn naturally to him, and first, amid peril and temptations, in all times of sorrow and trial, this is not natural, but it may become as second nature by habitual diligence.

But it must necessarily be the work of time ere the sense of effort ceases and the soul naturally and spontaneously turns to God "in every hour of waking thought." And if we are to acquire this blessed and perpetual attitude of soul, we must take time to acquire it, as to acquire aught else which is really precious. It must be no by~play; nor the work of off or leisure hours; nor a pastime: but the serious object of life, the purpose which shall thread all the varied beads of life's chain, and give a beautiful unity to all.

 

To such a character there shall be the vision of God. "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God." Had you been beside Moses during his forty days in the heart of the cloud, when he saw God face to face, you would not have seen him if you had not been holy. Had you stood beside the martyr Stephen when he beheld the glory of God, and the Son of man standing beside him, your eyes would have discerned nothing if you had not been holy. Yea, if it were possible for you without holiness to pass within the pearly gate, you would not see the sheen, as it were, of sapphire; you would carry with you your own circumference of darkness, and the radiant vision would vanish as you approached. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."

The heart has eyes as well as the head; and for want of holiness these become seriously impaired, so that the wise in their own conceits see not, whilst those who are simple, humble, and pure in heart behold the hidden and prepared things of God. The one condition for seeing God in his Word, in nature, in daily life, and in closet-fellowship, is holiness of heart wrought there by his own indwelling. Follow after holiness as men pursue pleasure; as the athlete runs for the prize; as the votary of fashion follows in the wake of the crowd.

 

THERE IS OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD MEN. " Follow after peace." The effect of righteousness is always peace. If you are holy, you will be at peace. Peace is broken by sin; but the holy soul takes sin instantly to the Blood. Peace is broken by temptation; but the holy soul has learned to put Christ between itself and the first breath of the tempter. Peace is broken by care, dissatisfaction, and unrest; but the Lord stands around the holy soul, as do the mountains around Jerusalem, which shield off the cruel winds, and collect the rain which streams down their broad sides to make the dwellers in the valleys rejoice and sing. Others may be fretful and feverish, the subjects of wild alarms; but there is perfect peace to the soul which has God, and is satisfied.

When a man is full of the peace of God, he will naturally become a son of peace. He will follow after peace with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Tim. ii. 22). He will endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. iv. 3). He will sow harvests of peace as he makes peace (James iii. 18). All his epistles, like those of the great Apostle, will breathe benedictions of peace; and his entrance to a home will seem like a living embodiment of the ancient form of benediction: Peace be to this house. He will have a wonderful power of calling out responses from like-minded men; but where that is not the case, his peace, white-robed and dove-winged, shall come back to him again.

But there must be a definite following after peace. The temperaments of some are so trying. They are so apt to look at things in a wrong light, to put misconstructions on harmless actions, and to stand out on trifles. Hence the need of endeavor and patience and watchfulness, that we may exercise a wholesome influence as peacemakers.

 

Avoid becoming a party to a quarrel. It takes two to make a quarrel; never be one. A soft answer will often turn away wrath, and where it does not, yield before the wrong-doer, give place to wrath, let it expend itself unhindered by your resistance; it will soon have vented itself, to be succeeded by shame, penitence, and regret.

 

If opposed to the malice of men, do not avenge yourselves. Our cause is more God's than it is our own. It is for him to vindicate us; and he will. He may permit a temporary cloud to rest on us for some wise purpose; but ultimately he will bring out our righteousness as the light, and our judgment as the noonday. The non-resistance of evil is the dear teaching of Christ (Matt. v.39; Rom. xii. 19; 1 Pet. ii. 21). Stand up for the true, the holy, the good, at all costs; but think very little of standing up for your own rights. What are your rights? Are you anything better than a poor sinner who has forfeited all? You deserve to be treated much worse than you were ever treated at the worst. Leave God to vindicate you.

 

Do not give cause of offense. If you are aware of certain susceptibilities on the part of others, where they may be easily wounded and irritated, avoid touching them, if you can do so without being a traitor to God's holy truth. And if thy brother has any true bill against you, rest not day nor night, tarry not even at the footstool of divine mercy; but go to him forthwith, and seek his forgiveness, and make ample restitution, that he may have no cause of reproach against thy professions, or against thy Lord (Matt.v.23).

Oh for more of his peace! -in the face never crossed by impatience; in the voice never rising above gentle tones; in the manner never excited or morose; in the gesture still and restful, which acts as oil poured over the raging billows of the sea when they foam around the bulwarks of the ship and are suddenly quelled.

 

THERE IS OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD OUR FELLOW CHRISTIANS. "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God." It is a beautiful provision that love to common Lord attracts us into the fellowship of his disciples; and as no individual life truly develops in Solitariness, so no Christian is right or healthy who isolates himself from the communion of saints. But we go not there only for selfish gratification, but that we may look after one another, not leaving it to the officers of the host, but each doing our own share.

There are three dangers. The laggards. This is the meaning of "fail." The idea is borrowed from a party of travelers, some of whom lag behind, as in the retreat from Moscow, to fall a prey to Cossacks, wolves, or the awful sleep. Let us who are in the front ranks, strong and healthy, go back to look after the weaklings who loiter to their peril.

 

The root of bitterness. There may be some evil root lurking in some heart, hidden now, but which Will bear a terrible harvest of misery to many. So was it in Israel once, when Achan conceived thoughts of covetousness, and brought evil on himself, and mourning on the host whose defeat he had brought about. If we can discover the presence of such roots of bitterness, let us, with much searching of our own souls, humility, and prayer, root them out ere they can spring up to cause trouble.

 

The profane and early-minded. Of these Esau is the type, "who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright." Alas are there not many such? For one momentary gratification of the flesh, they forfeit not their salvation perhaps (we are not told that even Esau forfeited that); but their power to lead, to teach, to receive and hand on blessing to the Church.

Are any such reading these words? Let them beware! Such choices are sometimes irrevocable. So was it with Esau. He wept and cried like some trapped animal; but he could not alter the destiny he had made for himself. The words "place for repentance" do not refer to his personal salvation, but to the altering of the decision which he had made as a young man, and which his father ratified. He could not undo. What he had written, he had written. And so there may come a time when you would give everything you possess to have again the old power of blessing and helping your fellows; but you will find that for one moment's sensual gratification, the blessed prerogative has slipped from your grasp-never-never-never to return. Wherefore, let us eagerly and diligently look both to ourselves and our fellow-believers in the Church of God.

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