I AM sure that many of us have felt deeply the lack in our hearts of personal devotedness to Christ . We own with our lips, and I trust in our hearts, that the blessed Saviour in glory is worthy that every bit of our being, from the heart's core to the finger-tips, should be for Him. I dare say many of us have longed, and prayed, and tried to be more devoted to Christ; but our desires and efforts have not yielded a very satisfactory result. We have had to learn that we could not work up devotedness, or maintain it by resolution or effort.
Devotedness to Christ is an effect resulting from the operation of certain causes, and if these causes are operative in a divine way in our hearts they will necessarily produce their proper effect. I wish to bring some of these causes before you, and I think a very important one is indicated in the opening verse of this chapter, where the Bride exclaims, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” She was so consciously assured of what she was in the eyes of the Bridegroom that she could take these precious words on her lips before Him. We cannot use such words as these if our hearts are not in the liberty of grace; if we do not know the wonderful place of favour that grace has conferred upon us we cannot say, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.”
It may be that there are some who have not got the assurance of pardon and everlasting security. You may be like an earnest and pious man of whose life I read lately, of whom his biographer says that near the end of his ministry, on one occasion, he said in public prayer, ‘Oh, my God, I thank Thee I am within a hair-breadth of the full assurance of salvation.' The highest object of that dear man's heart was to be quite sure that he was saved. If this is your desire I rejoice to tell you that God has removed every difficulty out of the way. You may have your sins pardoned, your soul saved, and divine assurance lodged in your heart for ever. God has given His Saviour-Son to go to the cross—the triumphant shout, “IT IS FINISHED,” has rung from His dying lips—God has raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand to be the glorious Witness to the value of His finished work, and Scripture is full of soul-assuring words for those who believe in Him. Here is one little verse for you. May God use it to give you assurance now! “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Acts 10:43.
I want to confirm you as to assurance, but I earnestly long that everyone here should taste of the joys of ACCEPTANCE, and be able to say, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” A great step on the way to devotedness is to know
WHAT YOU ARE IN CHRIST.
In connection with this let us read Ephesians 1:3-7. These verses bring before us the purpose and good pleasure of God's will to have a people before Him “holy and without blame,” and not only that, but in all the acceptance of One who is “the Beloved” of His heart—a people who, through grace, can truly say, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” As soon as you take in this thought you will see that as a man in the flesh you are completely shut out, because no matter how earnest and zealous you were, you never could bring yourself up to this. On the contrary, you find in yourself much that is unholy and hateful.
It may help us at this point if we read a few verses about two men and their experiences. Job 29:11-18; 40:3,4; 42:5,6; Philippians 3:4-6; Romans 7:18. We have here two specimen characters. No men could have a better moral and religious record than Job in the Old Testament and Saul of Tarsus in the New, but both these men were brought into the presence of God, and each one found that his best bit was corrupt. I should like you to notice the fact that it is not simply God's estimate of what these men were that is brought before us. It is their own estimate of themselves in God's presence. I believe many here accept as a truth that God's estimate of us is a very low one, but, beloved brethren, have we got in our souls what Job and Saul of Tarsus had in their souls? Job had this estimate of himself, “I am vile. . . I abhor myself.” Saul of Tarsus says, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell.” I believe there are many who accept this in a certain way who have not experimentally learned it in their souls, and with the clearest knowledge of the doctrine they are not in the joy of divine acceptance because they have not done with themselves. They are looking to find some good in themselves, and in many cases without being conscious that they are doing so. Effort, disappointment, self-reproaches, and self-occupation, make up the weary round of their lives, with now and then, perhaps, a gleam of spiritual joy. No man's heart will ever be gladdened by the joy of divine acceptance—by the sunshine of favour that enables him to say, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys”—until he has learned that there is not a single bit about him, as a man in the flesh, that does not deserve the judgment of God.
If you have learned that you are vile—if you abhor yourself—you will easily understand that if you are to be before God “holy and without blame” and in divine acceptance, it must be on the ground that you are in the acceptance of ANOTHER MAN . Now I ask, Is there another man? That is the very question that the gospel answers. Yes, thank God, there is another Man. ONE who was once here and filled up the whole compass of man's responsibility with absolute perfection; ONE who has been to the cross to take up the whole question of sin and its consequences, and to maintain in connection therewith everything that was due to the glory of God; ONE who has died unto sin and done with it for ever, but has been raised by the glory of the Father, and lives unto God as the ACCEPTED MAN at His own right hand. He is there now “holy and without blame” before God, and in unclouded acceptance as “the Beloved.” That is the Man God has had before His mind from eternity. Mark the word I have read in Ephesians 1, “Chosen. . . in him before the foundation of the world.” Consider the amazing fact that no created being, however exalted, would suffice to express God's thought as to man. A divine Person must become a man in order to furnish the man that was according to the thoughts of God's heart. As you think of HIM in His life, death, and session in glory, are you not delighted to think of standing in the acceptance of THAT MAN ? If we have learned with God that from the core to the circumference of our being there is not a sound spot in us, but that we are utterly under condemnation and death, it is blessed to find that the counsels of eternal love have purposed such an acceptance for us. So that now, through God's rich grace, knowing Christ as our Saviour, we enter by the Holy Spirit into the joy of this new position. God has set us before Him in the acceptance and beauty of the One in whom He has found all His delight, and has given us His Spirit that we might be consciously in that acceptance.
You may ask, then, has God simply ignored our sinful state as children of Adam in giving us this wondrous acceptance? No, friend, that sinful state which has cost you so much exercise—which you have not been able to ignore—has been fully taken into account by God, and dealt with to His perfect satisfaction. It has been brought before Him at the cross, and has received its full and righteous condemnation there. “Our old man has been crucified with him.” “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh,” Rom. 6:6; 8:3.
It is thus in the liberty of grace and knowing what it is to be “accepted in the Beloved” that we can say, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” Are you consciously in that position? God would have our souls in the joy of this wonderful position; He would have us by His Spirit free and happy in the joy of love that gives us such an acceptance. And this would carry us a great step on the way to devotedness to Christ.
But there is something else indicated in the second verse of our chapter, where we find the Bridegroom's reply, “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” We have suggested in this verse, not so much what we are IN Christ, but
WHAT WE ARE TO CHRIST,
and I think the apprehension of this would touch our hearts even more than what has been already before us. There are a few words in John 13 that I should like to link with this. “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” I want my heart to nestle down more into the sweetness of those words—“His OWN”—“his own which were in the world.” Not His own when He gets them home to the Father's house, made like Himself in glory, but His own which are in the world. By and by the lily will be taken to her destined place upon His breast in glory, but today she is among the thorns. We are in the world that had nothing but suffering, rejection, and death for our blessed Lord—it was a place of thorns for Him. He has gone away to the Father, but, if I may say so, He has left His heart behind Him. The blessed One who has entered into the rest and joy of the Father's presence has His treasure—the objects of His love—in this world, and we can neither express nor conceive the delight of His love. He can say of us now, in the joy of what we are to Him, “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.”
But, let us ask, how have we come to be “his own”? Ah! my brethren, to answer this we must go back and see ourselves in the hand of the Father's purpose before time began. “Thine they were,” says the blessed Son, “and thou gavest them me.” We were in the Father's purpose as a company worthy to be given to the Son as the expression of the Father's love to Him. Does not the thought of it bow our hearts in profound worship?
But another marvellous display of divine love was necessary before we could be “his own.” “The good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” The purposes of sovereign love could only be carried out on the ground of redemption and the full maintenance of the divine glory in respect to sin, and to accomplish this the good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep. I am sure we have often lingered with delight over the tenth chapter of John, and many a weary sinner's heart has been cheered by the grace of such words as, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” But assurance for us of eternal security is not the principal or most precious thought in this and the succeeding verse. It is rather the delight of the Shepherd in securing “His own” for Himself. For this He died, and for this He still acts in power and love, that He may never lose that which cost Him so much to win. The Father, too, acts in divine power, and love to the same end. Precious unity, in the Father and the Son, of purpose and delight as to us! How differently we should carry ourselves in the world if our hearts knew more of this! Let me call your attention for a moment to this matchless scene in John 13. Jesus was leaving the world and going to the Father, and it was with this in view that He rose from supper, took a towel and girded Himself, and began to wash the disciples' feet. Peter, for our benefit, objected, and then the key to the Lord's action was furnished by the words, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no PART WITH ME.” He who was going to the Father—into the untold blessedness and joy of the Father's world—would have “his own” to have part with Him. The very best thing that the deep love of His heart could think of for us is that we should have part with Him in that wonderful circle with the Father. To this end He serves in active love with a view to remove every spot and stain that would unfit us for part with Him. His love declares that He must have every spot removed that would hinder you from enjoying along with Him His portion with the Father. How far you and I have been in a condition to get the good of that service is another matter. If you ask me to explain what part with Him is, I cannot tell you. When I think of it, I feel like a little child looking out upon an immeasurable ocean of blessedness and joy. I long that your heart and mine should be more awake to the reality of it all, and that we may allow our hearts to sink down into the depths of love that would give us nothing less than this, because of what we are to Him—love that can say of us, “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.”
There is a very practical and experimental side to this which is brought before us in Philippians 2:12-17. When our blessed Lord was here He was truly as a one “among thorns,” and now that He is gone the same mind and character are to be found in “His own.” Salvation, in this experimental sense, is nothing less than the complete displacement of our own will. The willing and the doing of God's pleasure being wrought in us, and we ourselves working it out with fear and trembling, we are found in this world in a totally new character. Doing all things without murmurings and disputings, and being blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom we shine as lights in the world, we should be found practically and experimentally “as the lily among thorns.” The Lord grant that this may be so increasingly for His Name's sake! The knowledge of what we are in Christ and to Him prepares our hearts for what I may call the third step on the way to devotedness. It has been said that the end of all God's ways with us is to make
CHRIST EVERYTHING TO US,
and the next verse of our chapter is the language of a heart that has reached this. “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” His deep perfections are the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. The Bride in chapter 5 seeks to enumerate His excellencies, but she has to stop short and say, “Yea, he is altogether lovely.” What an Object for your heart and mine! One of whom every thought might well yield, “unchanging, fresh delight!” If we have learned what we are in Him and to Him, it is surely that our hearts may be free to enter with absorbing delight and satisfaction into what He is in Himself. We are thus delivered from ourselves not only by learning our own worthlessness, but by the positive power of a new Object. Notice the striking contrast between the empty and thirsty man in Psalm 42, occupied with his soul and its needs, and the full and overflowing man of Psalm 45, whose heart is absorbed by the King in His beauty! It is just like the transition from “If any man thirst,” to the overflowing satisfaction of “Let him come unto ME, and drink, He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,” John 7:37,38.
Beloved, is that living Person now in heavenly glory really the Object of your heart? For some time after I knew the Saviour I used to think of Him as One who had lived and died on earth long years ago, and I well remember the day when I knelt down with a dear brother who prayed that we might know Christ as a living Person in heavenly glory, and it dawned upon me that there was a present Object for my heart in heaven. Your heart will never be satisfied until that glorified Christ becomes its Object bright and fair.
Then, having such a Person as the object of your heart, you will sit down under His shadow with great delight and find His fruit sweet to your taste. Mark the words, “UNDER HIS SHADOW.” I see many Christians today suffering from spiritual sunstroke. The sun was made “to rule the day,” and is a figure of the influences of the day. Christians who are constantly exposed to the influences that are around us in this world know that these things have a tendency to dry us up and paralyse us spiritually. I am sure some of you know what a blessed restorative of spiritual vigour it is after a long active day of business life to get away from contact with men and things, and to sit down “under his shadow.” Isaiah 32 speaks of Him as “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” I dare say some of you know what it is to be travellers in a “weary land.” Personal sorrows and difficulties, family or business cares, and perhaps worldly temptations or persecutions crowd in upon you; and your spiritual freshness is not quite what it used to be. You need to sit down under His shadow, and the way is open for you to go to that sweet retreat and find there how He refreshes your soul.
Then there is not only shelter but abiding satisfaction to be found in thus sitting under His shadow. “His fruit was sweet to my taste.” All the present grace of His heart, and all the activity and outcome of that grace, and all the deep perfections of His adorable Person, become the food and satisfaction of our souls. It is there, too, that we learn His mind and pleasure, and acquire a sense of what is suited to Him. We must know what it is to sit down before we stand up and run forth to serve. It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of this training for service. Mary of Bethany is an example of this, familiar to everyone. She “sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word,” and thus was she prepared for the most precious service that ever was rendered to Him.
Beloved, are you in the secret personal history of your own souls tasting the joy of sitting down under His shadow? Are you finding continual satisfaction in Himself? If so, you will not want religious novels or worldly entertainments—you will not be found going in for things on the ground that there is no harm in them—you will not be in any way dependent for happiness on the sin-stained streams of earth. Five minutes under His shadow affords more real delight than a lifetime of the pleasures of the earth or of the world. How differently we shall estimate our lives when we look back over them from the judgment seat of Christ! How we shall judge as supreme folly the way in which we have allowed our hearts to be carried off by little things that were not worth a thought—the way in which we have allowed the devil to deceive us and occupy us with earthly things (cares as well as pleasures) when we might have had a portion like this. May the Lord draw our hearts more after Himself!
There is one more lovely touch which must not be passed over, expressed in the words, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” The banqueting house was the place of royal pleasure—the place where the king had his own delights—and it was in that place that his love was known by the bride. Is there anything that answers to it now? I believe there is. If Christ has made Himself everything to you, you will want to find the place where He has set His name, and where His own assemble to remember Him, and where they can have the joy of His presence, according to John 14:18. There is such a thing upon this earth today as being gathered together to His name, and, when so gathered, having His company. His first activity in resurrection was to gather together His own. To this end He satisfied the sorrowing heart of Mary Magdelene, He relieved the soiled conscience of Peter, and He recovered the straying feet of the two who had gone to Emmaus. He wanted a company where His love could have its own free course, and make its inexpressible riches known; where the Father's name could be declared to His brethren in the new position and relationship into which He had brought them on the ground of His death; and where He could make their hearts glad with His own joy. Can you say that the Lord has brought you to such a place—even to His own banqueting house and beneath the banner of His love?
The knowledge of what the assembly is to Christ is necessary in order to get a proper conception of His love. As an individual I may say “the Son of God, who loved me,” but I do not really apprehend the love of CHRIST unless I think of the whole church. “Christ also loved THE CHURCH, and gave himself for it.” It is a wonderful thing to say, but there is an adequate Object for the love of Christ, and that object is the church. The more you enter into this, the more you will love your brethren, the more you will understand the Lord's pleasure in having His own around Himself, and the more also you will long to be found so gathered as to be able to say, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.”
You may think that I am a long time in coming to the subject of
DEVOTEDNESS TO CHRIST,
but my object was to occupy you with the causes that produce it rather than with the result itself. If these causes are divinely operative the effect is certain. If these things really get into your soul they will lead to a result which is indicated in chapter 4:16. “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.”
In chapter 2 we are learning what He is for us—we are feeding upon His fruit—but in the verse I have just read we are entirely FOR HIM. The Bride invites Him to come into His garden and to eat His pleasant fruits. She is exclusively, and entirely, FOR HIM, and that is devotedness. There is neither effort nor bondage about it; it is the happy and spontaneous effect that flows from the operation of the motive causes which we have been considering. We read it in New Testament language in such words as these, “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but UNTO HIM which died for them, and rose again,” 2 Cor. 5-14,15. Now, beloved are we living unto Him? Do our lives in some small degree bear the impress of true devotedness? You may say as it has often been said, that this is all very well for people who have nothing to do but to go about preaching, but that the trials and difficulties of practical, everyday life render it impossible for most Christians. This is a great mistake. To begin with, the only thing which a Christian has to do in this world—whether he breaks stones on the road-side or preaches to thousands—is to live unto Christ. Then the trials and difficulties, which so many complain of, are intended for the very purpose of helping and not hindering devotedness to Christ.
Read the first half of the verse which we are now considering. “Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.” If we are going on with God, both the north wind of adversity and the south wind of prosperity will bring out fruit for Christ. I have seen believers who never got on well until the north wind blew on them. It was in the hour of family affliction, or business trial, or personal suffering, that their souls brightened up in a wonderful way. You have never had any trials or difficulties to compare with Paul's. He lost his means, his reputation, his liberty, and the fellowship of his brethren; he knew what it was to be an old, forsaken, hungry prisoner; and yet what does he say about it all? “I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death,” Phil. 1:19,20. The cold, keen blast of the north wind was sweeping over him, but it was only serving to bring out the precious fruit in the garden of the Beloved.
It is when the south wind blows that we are most severely tested as to whether we are really FOR CHRIST. When our circumstances and surroundings are easy and comfortable there is a strong tendency to settle down and go to sleep. No one needs so much grace as the man who is surrounded by means to make himself happy in this world. It is a wonderful sight to see a Christian surrounded with everything that would naturally tempt him to settle down here, with his heart kept true to Christ. I do not know any fruit more precious to the Lord than that. When a man has every opportunity of living unto himself, and yet, through grace, is devoted to Christ, there is a rich outflow of the spices that are so fragrant to the heart of the Beloved.
When Mary of Bethany broke her alabaster box and poured its rich treasure on the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair, it was a picture of true devotedness. Her all and herself were FOR HIM. There is a beautiful fitness in the fact that we never hear of her again. She had expended herself on HIM. Martha could no doubt say, “My beloved is mine”; but Mary had tasted the deeper joy of confessing, “I am my beloved's.” It is one thing to say, Christ for me, and another to say, Me for Christ. The latter is true devotedness. Who can tell what Mary's act was to the Father and the Son? So precious was it to the Lord that He has ordained that wherever His devotedness is spoken of, mention must be made of hers. That ointment is never to cease yielding its fragrance, wheresoever the gospel is preached.
Of similar character was the noble act of David's men, who heard their master long for water of the well of Bethlehem, and who broke through the enemies' host in jeopardy of their lives to satisfy his desire. The issue of their service was not very great in the eyes of men. Perhaps few knew anything about it, and probably it was criticized as a foolhardy adventure. But that cruse of water poured out upon the ground was expressive of lives poured out in devotion to the Lord's Anointed—it showed that those mighty men were devoted to David, and it secured for them a wonderful place in the day of his power and kingdom.
Our place in the coming kingdom-glory will be determined by the measure of our fidelity and devotedness to Christ in His present rejection. May the motive causes, which we have been considering, be so powerfully operative in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that they may result in our being here more distinctly and devotedly FOR CHRIST, and thus may our “Beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.”
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