by Susan B. Strachan
"To what profit is it that we dwell in Jerusalem, if we do not see the King's face?"
The above luminous sentence we found in David M'Intyre's "Hidden
Life Of Prayer" and it sums up a thought, or rather a thinking, that
has been with us for some time. The sum of that thinking seems to be
this: that there is a passion for Christ which it has been given to
very few to possess, but which has set those who have it apart
forever from their fellow men.
Is not this the quality which separates between Christian and Christian, which marks out some - the rare ones - as beings apart from the rest of us? Is it not this quality in the writings of the mystic which, as in no other spiritual literature, pulls at our heartstrings and creates a pain of longing? Those marvelous "friends of God" had the personal passion for Christ. Samuel Rutherford had it too, and in his bleak prison he could write, "One smile of Christ's face is now to me as a kingdom."
The trouble with the rest of us is that we are content to dwell in Jerusalem without seeing the face of the King. We are hard at work for him, the freighted hours rush by leaving us scarcely time to give a thought to the Lover of our souls who is longing for our friendship. And when we do go into the audience chamber we are burdened with requests--business that must be put through, guidance we need here, help there, petitions on behalf of this one or that. All important, all urgent, all worthy but--just business after all.
Amidst the terrific onrush of the apostasy, amidst the swirl of pleasure which is engulfing the majority of those who call themselves Christians, God has His own. His seven thousand, "all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him." They are men and women whose faith and zeal burn brighter as the world's darkness deepens. They are ready to die at Jerusalem, or anywhere else for the matter of that, for their Lord. They are valiant for the truth and wield the sword lustily on His behalf. Nevertheless few have that passion for Christ which Paul expressed in the words "To me to live is Christ." There is so much splendid orthodoxy that leaves people cold, so much preaching of "the simple Gospel" that excites no enthusiasm. People can sit and listen to the story of Calvary with dry eyes and no quickened heart beat. In the telling of that story there is no ring of personal passion for the One from "whose head, and hands, and feet, sorrow and love flowed mingled down."
But now and again--at rare intervals--one meets with someone who, like Paul, has looked into the matchless face of Jesus and who henceforth sees nothing any more save the face of his Beloved. There is a radiance about such a one, a glory shining forth, a wonderful quality of voice and handclasp, a fragrance unmistakable. "The smell of their garments is as the smell of Lebanon with all chief spices." These keep company with their Beloved in the place where there are a "fountain of garden, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon."
What Makes The Difference?
It is not knowledge, for knowledge puffeth up. We have knowledge in abundance nowadays. God has given us great teachers of His word. Many of us have gotten to the place where we think we are competent to pass judgment upon others, and where we say, though not as the Psalmist said it, "I have more knowledge than all my teachers." But too often our knowledge is a "form of godliness," the power of which we are denying because we do not possess it. No, it is not knowledge that makes the difference. Nor is it orthodoxy, nor zeal, nor works.
What was it that made Moses the lawgiver, the interpreter of Sinai's thunder, as keenly appreciative of the grace of God as was even Paul himself? Moses was the incomparable "friend of God" because he possessed the passion for God in an unusual degree. Is there anything so sublime anywhere in sacred story as Moses' refusal to go on without God? As a concession to his pleading on behalf of the people who had so deeply sinned against God, an angel had been promised to guide them in the way. The Lord had said unto Moses, "Depart and go up hence...I will send an angel before thee...I will not go up in the midst of thee...lest I consume thee by the way." But Moses had long companied with God and it was unthinkable that now the wondrous Presence should be withdrawn. An angel might be all right for other people but not for the man who was accustomed to talk to God "face to face, as a man talketh to his friend."
And so in a marvelous argumentation Moses put the matter before the Lord, carrying his point step by step until he reached the place where he dared to say "no" to God. "If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence." In the grief of that sad day how glad God must have been to find one man who at all costs wanted the best, and how gladly he must have said, "Moses, I will do this thing also, that thou has spoken. My presence shall go with thee and I will give thee rest." The heart of God must have been refreshed by the devotion of His friend that day. And God never forgot it. The time came when that friend failed Him, nevertheless at the end they went both together up the slopes of "Nebo's lonely mountain," communing as they walked. And there God gave His beloved sleep, and with His own hands laid him away to rest until the great resurrection day. God did not consider angelic ministration good enough that day for the man who in his lifetime would have nothing less than God himself.
David also possessed in a marked degree the passion for God. His flesh and his heart cried out for the living God. His psalms reveal this passion ever throbbing in his soul. Only in the light of that passion can the comminatory Psalms be rightly understood. David hated with a perfect hatred them that hate God, and counted them his enemies. Sin, to him - his own or others - held its deepest stain and its sharpest sting because it was done "against thee, against thee only." When we possess the passion for God that David had, we too shall know "the exceeding sinfulness of sin."
In the New Testament, Paul is the outstanding example of the man who is dominated by the passion for Christ as apart from his devotion to the cause of Christ. That passion was surely born in those three days in which he was beholding "the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus,"--sightless days but filled with radiance. Paul might easily have hardened and become critical and bitter in the stress of controversial conflict. The passion for the person of Christ, as apart from loyalty to His cause, kept him from that, and so, speaking after the manner of men, we see him "fighting with the beasts at Ephesus," and anon homesick to "depart and be with Christ, which is far better." The great tender heart of love in Paul that made him the "nursing father" of the infant churches, had its fountain head in his all-absorbing personal passion for Christ, to know the love of whom--its breadth, and length, and depth, and height--is to be "filled with all the fullness of God."
"Christ! I am Christ's! and let that name suffice you:
Ay, and for me He greatly hath sufficed:
So, with no winning words I would entice you;
Paul has no honour and no friend but Christ."
There were others also. Two humble women were admitted into that innermost circle of the "lovers of Jesus." Mary of Bethany and the Magdalene knew something of that priceless intimate relationship with our Lord. It was Mary's devotion to the person of Christ that led her instinctively and unerringly to do the thing that pleased Him. In contrast to her love is the cold orthodoxy of the disciples who would have been satisfied if the ointment had been sold for two hundred pence and given to the poor. Almsgiving, according to the Pharisees, was the chief element in righteousness. There would be always time for that. "The poor ye have always with you," said Jesus, and His heart was comforted by the love of Mary, fragrant as her poured-out ointment. What a privilege was hers to comfort him in the days when "His soul began to be sorrowful, even unto death."
It was that same passion for Christ which held Mary Magdalene weeping by the empty tomb when the colder disciples had gone away again unto their own homes. And how wondrously she was rewarded! Not only vision of angels, but Christ Himself, to gladden her heart and dry her tears; and it is written forever that "He appeared first to Mary Magdalene."
Are We Missing The Best?
In our zeal for the better, are we missing the best? The word of our Lord to us is still, "He that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him." Up there "His servants shall serve Him and they shall see His face," but it is blessedly true that He will manifest himself to those who love and serve Him here.
There is reward for the obedient disciple, there are power and authority for the faithful disciple, there is glory of achievement for the zealous disciple, but there is the whisper of His love, there is the joy of His presence, and the shining of His face, for those who love Him for Himself alone. And "to what profit is it that we dwell in Jerusalem, if we do not see the face of the King?"
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