MEN WHO LEARNED ITABRAHAM
In every biography of the Bible in which we are given much detail, we find that a fundamental law of life had to be learned, and usually slowly and painfully. The discovery of the independent self as a fruit of the Fall; the innate helplessness of the self in isolation; the experience, glory and fullness of life in the union. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, the Saviour Himself as a man (learning obedience, though with never a failure), Peter, Paul, all bear the same witness. In most cases the moment of realized union can be recognized, and the transformation which followed, as well as the valleys of the humiliation which preceded it. A few examples will drive the truth further home for us.
Abraham was given a three-fold revelation, as great as any given to man in history, that he was to have a land for an inheritance, a people as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and a blessing which would reach all the families of the earth. No wonder it said that the God of glory appeared unto Abraham! But watch the Lords necessary dealings with him through about twenty-five years. It touched spirit, soul and body, and in no case could the Lord get His supernatural purposes into action through Abrahams faith until independent self had been exposed and dealt with. First, it concerned the material things of life, the concerns of his body. Not long after he had arrived in the land of promise, he made a hasty flight through fear of famine, and went down to Egypt. There he so feared for his own skin that he lied to Pharaoh concerning Sarah, and gained much wealth through his deception. Independent self! This was no body a living sacrifice through which God could make history, a man who could not even trust Him for his daily bread! So he was taught a thorough lesson. First, he had deliberately to invite his greedy nephew to take advantage of him. The quarrel broke out between his herdmen and Lots. He knew what was in Lots heart, yet he gave him the choice of the country, and it didnt take Lot long to choose the best. Abraham was learning his lesson. From God he was to receive his earthly inheritance; let man do what he liked, he could not touch it; and it was then that God met him with the renewed promise of the whole land. Hands off fighting for human rights.
A while later, and news came of the disaster in a battle to the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, with Lot and his family among the captives. He who went down to Egypt to save his own life must now risk it for his thankless nephew, four hundred retainers against the armies of four kings! The risk was taken, the captives released, and Abraham was rich for life with the spoils which were his by right. But a word from heaven reached him, one of those reviving words at a critical moment. Melchisedek came to meet them as they returned in triumph, that mysterious Kingpriest, and singled him out for a peculiar blessing; was he not the one whom the God who possesses heaven and earth had set apart for His special purposes? And was not this victory a proof of His good hand on him? Abrahams eyes were quickly off those defiled earthly spoils; his inheritance was a city with lasting foundations, whose builder and maker was God; and when offered all the goods by the king of Sodom, with what energy and ringing joy of faith he testified to the vow he had made: I have lift up mine hand to the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from thee a thread to a shoelatchet lest thou should say, I have made Abraham rich.
The lesson of the body and of earthly possessions had been fully learned. His human hands were off his own physical security or earthly gains; he was Gods, and from God would receive the promised inheritance. Was Abraham wise? Or was he a fool to refuse what self could have legitimately claimed, but which would have diverted his faith from taking hold of an inheritance invisible to the human eye? Five thousand years have passed, and the course of history has revolved around the fulfillments of those promises to Abraham, and will yet revolve around the final fulfillments in the restoration of the promised land. That is what happens when man takes his hands off, and God has His hands on a human body.
But Abraham had to learn lessons of soul as well as body. The control of that subtle independent ego in both had to be recognized and refused. With the land of promise assured to him through the covenant of the burning lamp, his concern now centred round the child of promise. His natural mind was hard at work: What wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless ? How could he have an heir with his wife barren, and both of them growing old? He did not yet discern between soul and spirit, between his mind and Gods. If he had, he would equally have recognized the natural mind in Sarahs advice. His test now lay not in the bodily, but in the mental realm. The confusion over the birth of Ishmael, the division in the home, the silence of God over thirteen years taught him this second great lesson. He saw the difference between the schemings and strivings of self, and the voice of God.
Now at last he was prepared for the realized union. God appears to him and says, I am El Shaddai; walk before Me, and be thou perfect. And as God is revealed to him as the Almighty One, so his own name is changed to, The father of a great multitude. The mind that was formerly bounded by the limited range of its own thoughts can now receive and act on the supernatural thoughts of God. A child of promise is born by an act of faith, which gave him for ever the position of the father of all them that believe.
This was the realized union in the days when the full light that shone from Calvary and Pentecost had not yet given fullness of understanding. The communion of Spirit with spirit is seen in its full and marvelous fruition in Abrahams life when it was given to him to prefigure the very cross and resurrection. He can receive the word, beyond all natural reasoning, that he is to sacrifice that son of promise, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest. In doing that he would be sacrificing what God had given him, the very fruit of his faith, the reward of his life of obedience and renunciation. If there had been any independence left in Abraham, it would have appeared now, any secret pride of spiritual achievement, any claim to hold as his own even what he had received form the Spirit; if anyone lived in him but God alone, it would surely have been seen now. But no. He was found pure in spirit. God only was the portion of his lot. God must be obeyed. But He also must be believed. He who now said he was to sacrifice his son, had formerly said that in Isaac would his seed be called; therefore he argued that if he must sacrifice him, he must also be raised again from the dead. He did not waver. He traveled the three days to the appointed mount. He left the servants with the ass while he ascended with his son, but he was careful first to say to them, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again unto you, for to his eye of faith the resurrection was an accomplished fact. He laid his son on the altar and raised his knife to make the awful sacrifice, and only at that last second did God intervene.
Perfect faith, as James called it, proceeding from a spirit in which the Spirit perfectly dwelt. None but the Spirit, who was to lead a great Son to Calvary and raise Him from the dead, could have given that earthly father such an insight into the heavenly mind and purpose, such a grace of obedience and such faith; and the Spirit could have given that to no man except to one in whom He could fully think His own thoughts, believe His own believings, and act His own acts. And it was to that man, at last come through to a nothingness of self and an allness of the Spirit that God could now sware by Himself that, besides giving him a land, and making him a great nation, He would bless the world through him.
In that great pioneer of faith, called the father of the faithful, we see in clearest outline how deeply this ingrained self-life has to be exposed and uprooted; but equally how marvelously that One who takes the place of the independent ego can bring into being through a yielded spirit, soul and body, creative acts which change the course of history.
MEN WHO LEARNED ITJACOB AND JOSEPH
Jacob gives us another lesson. No one was more sincere than he, no one more wholehearted in pursuing his heavenly objective, to be the heir to the promises of God. But can any biography teach us more plainly how abysmally blind we are to ourselves? He just could not see scheming self as the mainspring of his activities, right though they might be in their ultimate objective. Setback after setback might have taught him: exile, double crossing, delays, hardships, family quarrels, nothing seemed to penetrate. But God knows how to corner us, and none get through without a cornering. The command came to return home, and that meant meeting Esau, who had vowed to murder him. What schemes were made to blunt the edge of his vengeance! If Esau saw the women and children, that might help him. Gifts might appease him. But do straws deflect a river in spate? Esau, he heard, was coming to meet him with four hundred men. It was to be a public lynching. No wonder Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. What else could he do? His last schemes were exhausted. The fateful meeting would be at dawn. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled with him a man till the breaking of day. Still that tense self, striving, scheming, taut like an iron band around him: not Jacob wrestling to overcome the mysterious stranger, but the man seeking to break Jacob. Would he ever see his helplessness? Would he ever recognize that lonely self cant do it, and is not meant to? Only one avenue of escape seemed still open to the tormented man; he had a strong body and a good pair of legs. Had he not been doing a herdsmans job for twenty years? As a last resort he could take to his heels. But when the angel of the Lord saw that he prevailed not against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh: and the hollow of Jacobs thigh was out of joint. His very last means of escape was gone. And Jacob saw. How, we dont know. But he saw. The striving, scheming Jacob became the cleaving Jacob: the one who so persistently held on to himself, now held on to God; he had seen the helplessness of self, and before the dawn broke, the secret of the tree of life was his; in God, in place of self, he had found his refuge and deliverer. Formerly a schemer, now as a prince who had power both with God and man, he had prevailed.
But where was the royal prince when that limping figure stepped out in the dawn to meet his bloodthirsty brother? One lame man against four hundred! Yet there was a reigning Prince there within that maimed body, for God had come to dwell in man. Esau ran to meet himto do what? To give him the embrace of death? What do we read? Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.
Joseph is the perfect example, outside the Saviour Himself, of the trained servant of the Spirit. He, too, like the One he prefigured, learned obedience through the things he suffered. He had to learn. All have to learn. There is no short cut. Learning obedience means learning that we were never created for independent action, to be selfacting selves, but for submission, to obey and to love and obey: and learning that this is made wonderfully actual by the Spirit of obedience living within us, the Spirit of Him who became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
All this is wonderfully seen in Joseph. Pure in youth, taking a lonely stand against sin in the family circle, he boldly declared the revelations God gave him, amidst hatred and envy from his brethren, for the word of faith always sounds like boastfulness to the natural ear. Only his father Jacob, who well knew that Voice himself, sensed its authenticity in those dreams and recognized the chosen vessel. How did Joseph think they would be fulfilled? Could anything have been further from his thoughts than captivity in a foreign country, slavery and the dungeon? Could a believers progress ever be more sharply downward than his? How did he retain his faith and not become an atheist? Sold as a slave by his own brothers despite his pitiful entreaties, bought and put to work in an Egyptian officers household, what had God and His supposed revelations to do with all this? But the Lord was with Joseph…and his master saw that the Lord was with him. That does not happen to the rebellious man. Every indication is that Joseph, distressed and mystified, bowed the neck to Gods will. He learned the first lesson of obedience. God was his circumstance, God his environment: it is not in self to order our outward way aright; our very enemies are carrying out Gods plan for us.
But, as with Abraham, the test on the body must go to the limit. If this young man was to be next to the king in the wealthiest nation on earth; if he was to live right in a world of luxury, profligacy and idolatry, and yet not be of it, a stranger and pilgrim unspotted by the world, the one pure light in a great darkness, he must most surely be lust-free and heart-free both from the pleasures of sin and the treasure in Egypt, from which even the great Moses had to flee. So there came to this lonely young man in the full bloom of his youth this subtle and continuous temptation, so flattering to his pride and so alluring to his flesh. Could any but a God-indwelt young man have resisted it? Listen to his answer to her. It would be a horrible breach of trust towards his master, a great wickedness, and finally, and the words were addressed to his heathen temptress, a sin against God. It was the answer of a firmly dedicated heart: the matter was settled for him; his body was not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. The battle for the body was finally won. We can hardly imagine the scene on the return of his trusting master, when he believed the wicked lie of his wife. His disappointment: his rage; Josephs distress and helplessness: the arrest, the blows struck, the dungeon, the feet hurt with fetters, the iron entering his soul. We do not think on this occasion that the bodily distress was of first importance; Joseph had become accustomed by now to those kinds of hardships. It was into his soul that the iron sank, says the Scripture, when they hurt his feet with fetters (Ps. 105:18 marg.). His mind was assaulted. As he had learned that his Lord, not self, was the owner of his body and director of his circumstances, so now he must discern between the mind of self and the mind of the Spirit: God must also be the God of his soul-life. Did he doubt the authenticity of those boyhood dreams? He had good cause to. How could he prove they were not just ambitious daydreams? But once again, there is no evidence that he wavered in faith. The test and proof of this came without warning one morning when he found the imprisoned butler and baker distressed because no one could interpret their peculiar dreams. Without hesitation Joseph said to them, Do not interpretations belong unto God? Tell me then, I pray you. Could he have done that if he harboured secret doubts about his youthful dreams? Did it not mean not only that God gives interpretations of dreams, but that God gives them to him? Not just that God can, but that God does through him. This was the proof of union. He knew the difference between his human thoughts and the thoughts of the Spirit within him. As he was tested on his body and material circumstances, so he was on his soul, and in both cases he came through unscathed; he seemed to demonstrate that, where most of us have to learn our nothingness by our failures and that only God in us is the victory, Joseph knew this from his youth and was able to walk in it. It seems as if he was one of those rare souls that went through his wilderness education with a Canaan experience!
Yet two more years passed in silence. Had God forgotten to be gracious? Was His mercy clean gone for ever? We ask that, but Joseph did not; for if there had been doubts in his heart he never could have answered that sudden summons to appear before Pharaoh himself, with only just time to shave and change his clothes. There he stands before the whole court, asked by Pharaoh to interpret the dream, confronted with the failure of the whole body of the magicians to do so, yet perfect master of the situation. What is in us comes out in a crisis. There is not time then for pretence and build-up. But Josephs secret is plain to all that read. He walked in pure light. He knew the inner bond between empty self and mighty God. The difference between the mind of the flesh and that of the Spirit were unmistakable to him. So when Pharaoh said to him I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it, like a flash Joseph answers, It is not in me: God shall (not God can) give Pharaoh an answer of peace. No impudent boastful claims here, or what would be much more likely in a person uninstructed in the ways of the Spirit, fearful, falsely humble disclaimers; but the clear calm statement of the man with the Holy Ghost, I cant, but God can, and will through me; till at the end Pharaoh is saying, Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?
One more necessary test came to Joseph, a test of his inner self, his spirit. Prosperous, powerful, busy, it looks as if even the reality of those first dreams faded, for he named his first-born Manasseh, "for God hath made me forget…all my fathers house." Then, one day he was face to face with his brethren, the ones who had hated and sold him! What was found in that pure spirit? Vengeance or sentimentality? Summary justice or superficial forgiveness? Vengeance was not there, not a trace of it; the dream came back to his memory, it says, and doubtless a great thrill at this marvelous proof of Gods faithfulness; but his vision in the spirit had progressed far beyond that. His delight was not in the sight of his brethren doing obeisance to him. No he saw with Gods eyes, that all the years of his suffering and exile were the working out of a plan of transcendent wisdom: Be not angry with yourselves; for God did send me before you to preserve life….Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good. It was not for his glorification, nor for his position of power, but that the plan of God through the ages, the promises to Abraham should be fulfilled, to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance; and his father Jacob pointed to the still more distant and glorious purpose of it all, when he later said to Joseph, from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel. Such a man had no place in his heart for bitter vengeance. In the wisdom of God he led his brethren to true repentance and acknowledgment of their sin, which he freely forgave and never withdrew, neither during their fathers lifetime, nor after. It was the heavenly Spirit dwelling in Josephs spirit, not now sanctifying his body as the instrument of His great purposes, nor enlightening the mind with revelations of things to come, but loving and saving enemies, and leading them to repentance through a self which was no longer itself, but the dwelling place of God. Where Abraham was called to sacrifice his son, Joseph was called to forgive his enemies by the same God that worketh all in all.
MEN WHO LEARNED ITMOSES
In Moses, more than any other, we see not only Gods dealings with the self-life, but overwhelmingly, the glory and power of the One who comes to live in the emptied self. We reverently watch the moment of union, Spirit with spirit, God with man; we see the earthly picture of union given to Moses in the burning bush; we hear the wonderful new name, pregnant with so much meaning, by which God revealed Himself to His servant; we watch through the following weeks extending into years the mighty outcome in deeds and words in the life of a God-possessed man.
Not lightly did Moses accept Gods way in material things. He too had the battle of the body. He knew Gods predestined plan for him from his mothers knee, but not till he was forty years old did he take that tremendous step of identification with his brethren, which meant that from his heart he refused to be called the son of Pharaohs daughter, and made his final choice between the reproach of Christ and the treasures in Egypt, between affliction with Gods people and the pleasures of sin. It was a great and intelligent choice; it was a total self-emptying on the material level that God might use his body for eternal, though still invisible ends, with only a cross on earth; it was the choice of the tabernacle life of forefather Abraham.
But was external bodily consecration enough? No, independent self lives much deeper than that. Many an earnest despairing soul makes shipwreck on the rocks of a consecration, which does not bring victory or power. For consecrated self is still helpless self. That is the deeper lesson to be learned. Only when that is learned can helpless self embrace another Self within, God’s Self: then in that union does it at last find self-fulfillment. So in Moses the dealing with the mind, the soul life, had to follow. That strong, gifted mind, learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, mighty in word and deed, that intelligence through which later on could be channeled to mankind many of the greatest revelations of historythe power of the precious blood, the moral law, the tabernacle and sacrifices which have been the marvel of the New Testament church in their types of the Redeemer, and the whole plan of salvation. Yet that very mind was a hindrance, not a help, in the early stages, when its owner had not yet learned that the spirit of his mind, its inner director, must be not his own spirit, but Gods. He too had to learn his helplessness. He learned it through a second forty years, when in his natural zeal he had killed the Egyptian and faced the vengeance of Pharaoh. He soon found there was nothing in himself with which to meet the threats of the king. Where was God now? Consecration to One who was afar off brought no help in a crisis. All that his own mind could suggest to him was, like Jacob, to use his legs and flee.
It was a plain illustration of the helplessness of a consecrated life which does not yet know the union. Where was God in this crisis? Moses had left all to follow Him, yet it seemed as if the heavens were as brass and Gods face turned away from him. It was really all an illusion, just as our sense of separation is likewise an illusion; but it is bound to appear real to us until we have learned where the trouble lies, until the ramifications of subtle self lie exposed to us by our bitter humiliations, and we find by grace the key to realized union.
To Moses then came that long period of confusion and frustration. He gives himself to God, God throws him on the dust-heap, for the lowest depths of degradation for a prince of the house of Egypt was to become a shepherd. Why should God have told him through his mother the marvels of his adoption, the purpose of his palace training, the prophesied time of Israels liberation, and here he was a fugitive in the wilderness? Moses the mighty, helpless indeed. If it is Moses versus Egypt, poor Moses! But later on when it is God in Moses versus Egypt, poor Egypt!
But like these other men of God, Moses had come some way. He was a disciple, he was consecrated, and the thin red line of his consecration held him to God, when all else was in ruins; and so we read, he was content to dwell in Midian. As Joseph in captivity, as Jacob when told to return to meet Esau, so Moses submitted, prayed, watched, waited. Indeed God cannot open to us these subtle deeper levels of our independent selves, that division between soul and spirit to which the writer to the Hebrews says only the Word of God can pierce (4:12), until we are already given over into His hands, come weal or woe. None else can stand those purifying fires which alone can prepare the spirit for its destined union. And so the day came when the angel of the Lord appeared unto Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.
Forty years before he supposed his brethren would have understood that God by His hand would deliver them. Now he says to God, Who am I that I should…bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? The lesson had been learned. Self cannot do it, not even commissioned and consecrated self. But the day of the greater lesson than mere self-emptiness had come. It was a bush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed. An earthly bush alight with a heavenly fire. A common bush aflame with God, the bush the fuel for the flame, yet constantly renewed. The union in a picture! And Moses had eyes to see that great sight and to hear the voice of the One who put its meaning into words. Moses was that bush. The only trouble was that he had thought himself uncommon! Now he was common enough just to be the fuel for the heavenly flame. God had come down to save His people, but it was to be God in MosesMoses the bush and God the fire. And to complete the revelation He gave Himself another nameI AMI AM is sending you. Strange name, colourless, indefinite, we would say. No, rather, all-inclusive, all in all. I AM everywhere, always, all things, within, without, before, behind, present, future. Union indeed. God in Moses, Moses in God. From that time onwards he lived and acted under the directions of Another. Moses was a living, feeling human being; many times we see him temporarily fearing, complaining, angry, pitying himself, even disobedient; like Paul, he had fightings without and fears within; but from these temporary descents into the flesh, he knew the way back to where he now lived his real life, that hidden life with Christ in God, where the I AM lived in him. Down he would go on his face, as the people murmured, threatened, and even rebelled. As outward voices were stilled, the inner Voice would speak to him: I will rain bread from heaven: Thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it: and with the word of faith in his mouth and the rod of faith in his hand, all Israel could see God coming through a man in mighty word and deed. Moses himself in one phrase told them the secret he had learned, when he told the rebels Korah, Dathan and Abiram, the judgment that was coming to them, and added, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of my own mind. There is no clearer instance than Moses in the Old Testament biographies of the way God teaches man the limitations, delusion and sin of the independent self, the helplessness of the human spirit; and then the glories of His way of grace by which He Himself, God the Spirit, makes His abode in us, in indissoluble union.
The final test on Moses spirit, the human spirit, the ego, which can still love itself more than God, was at the Mount. Abraham was tested at Mount Moriah, Moses at Mount Sinai. In one moment he had a chance of greatness. He could be the founder of a nation. Israel had corrupted itself at the very foot of the mountain where he was communing with God. Let me alone…that I may consume them, said the Lord, and I will make of thee a great nation. Not one reference do we find by Moses to that offer. He totally ignored it. That was the measure of his God-possession. Instead of that, consumed with the desire for the salvation of the people, after dealing most drastically with their sin, he sets himself to make atonement for them, farther than mortal man had ever gone before. None but the indwelling Intercessor could have led him that distance, when he offered, like the Saviour Himself, not only his body, but his immortal soul for their redemption. Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, he cried. Yet now if Thou wilt forgive their sin Silence. Perhaps a great inner conflict and then the final word, and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.
Our purpose in examining these great lives has been to get a clear sight, first of the absolute necessity of every man knowing himself and the relationship to God for which he was created, and then of his experience of the union. We are now going to see how God teaches us these same lessons, in this age of grace, and how He brings us into His banqueting house.
But first we will take one more glance at Gods dealings with Israel, because it forms a necessary link between what Adam failed to learn in the garden, and what we have to learn in our lives. When God had redeemed His people from Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, and had brought them to the place where He had told Moses He planned to speak with themat HorebHe made His first pronouncement to them. He reminded them how he had dealt with the Egyptians and brought them out on eagles wings unto Himself. They could plainly see His mighty grace, but it also was not difficult for them to see their own constant failures of faith. He then told them His purpose: they were to be His peculiar treasure and to become His kingdom of priests (a phrase with great depths of meaning). But He laid down one conditionthat they were to obey Him and keep His covenant; and that was the very thing they had already constantly failed to do! Surely they could recognize that! But no. Their answer was without hesitation, and in perfect self-assurance: All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. Hopeless! They hadnt advanced a single inch on Adam who could see no necessity for the tree of life. Thick walls of self-confidence, and that in face of their patent failures. How patient God is! He must teach them, and us. They must have His standards (the kind of life He was wanting to live in them) before them in black and white. They must learn and relearn that it is not in redeemed man to fulfill the law in his own strength. The law must be their schoolmaster to lead them to Christ. But meanwhile also they must have a way of approach to that Holy Presence, so that at least in an outward sense He could be their God. So with the law was given the tabernacle and sacrifices. The few, the inner circle, would always find the secret way of the Spirit.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 22 No 4
- The Life of Faith
- How It Really Works
- Faith Lessons
- Faith Defies Difficulty
- Words to Live By
- Testimony–C.T. Studd
- Wanted: Faith and Fools
- How Acquire Faith?
- Bible Study: Faith
- Not my Will but Yours
- Tape Review: "Faith Creates a Reality"
- Mighty Through God
- Editor’s Note
- Book Review: The Law of Faith, Chapter 26