By Beverly Carradine
Some of the most valiant servants of God at first showed great timidity and self-distrust in entering upon their life work. With lives of marvellous victories and achievements, yet they required at the outstart a great amount of coaxing and encouragement ere the hand was laid upon the sword and the lip placed upon the trumpet.
The shrinking of Moses, the fearfulness of Jonah and the dread of Esther will at once be recalled by the reader. Among these trembling ones appear Gideon, whose name is now a watchword for boldness and courage. Like his apprehensive predecessors he made the mistake of looking first at the enemy, next at himself, and not first, last and all the time at God.
The Lord had to give him three signs in order to arouse in him the spirit of faith and fearlessness. The first was that of the wet fleece; second, the dry fleece; and third, he was permitted to go down in the night and hear what the Midianites were talking about in their tents. To his amazement he heard enough to know that they were in deadly fear of him and already defeated in their spirits.
Most of us in minor degrees have begged in the outstart of some Christian work for heavenly indications of God's will and approval. The request for the wet and dry fleece manifestation is well known to us all; and the still more remarkable sign of the talking in the tents at night has more than once fairly electrified us who were allowed to listen. We have often wished that we had preserved some of the sayings of the world and some of the utterances of a high ecclesiasticism, which in every instance showed consciousness of weakness and error, and a heart bowed down with an apprehension of coming ill and ghastly defeat. Truly if the devoted servants of God knew what sinners and halfhearted Christians were thinking and saying, they would rise up in mass and take the land.
But the divine preparation of the worker is not as remarkable as the means used to secure the victory. All are familiar with the fact that the implements of war with which Gideon went forth to accomplish the defeat of the Midianites were to all appearances utterly inadequate to accomplish the design in view. What could pitchers, trumpets and lanterns do in the face of a vast and thoroughly equipped armed host that swarmed in the valleys and on the hillsides and had come in the confident expectation of annihilating Israel?
And yet God triumphed over them, as He will finally obtain victory over every foe. He did it then, and will continue to do it in the future, with inferior numbers, and with agencies and instrumentalities that are universally recognized to be insufficient in themselves to achieve the triumph. By this method the Lord will hold steadily to His plan of crushing human pride on the one side, keeping His own people looking humbly to Him, and yet showing to the whole universe at last through the very weakness of the instrument and the greatness of the victory obtained, that the triumph was not of man, but of God.
When Gideon, in reply to God's question, said he had only thirty thousand men, the Lord's reply was that these were too many. So he sifted them down by different processes to three hundred. Now when victory came men could see it was not by human might, but by divine intervention and help. The selection of the instruments already mentioned capped the climax, so to speak, in the showing to all ages to come that the battle and the victory were of the Lord. Three hundred men with unmilitary weapons conquered a vast host armed to the teeth. The only explanation to be given was that God was with the men, and touching the homely things they held in their hands, transformed them into engines of omnipotence, and made both man and weapon irresistible.
He who is accustomed to genuine revival work is never surprised at the history of Gideon and his band. It is not an event that happened once only, away back in the early ages of the world, but a something that continually takes place where God's people fall into line and put themselves in His directing hands. If we will consent to be in the minority, to be little, discounted, despised, set aside and even ignored; if we will offer upon His altar the gifts we possess; if we will let Him use them and us as He desires, then there is bound to be victory, great, amazing, overwhelming as it was on that wonderful day.
Of course it is God who wins the battle. It is not by might or power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord. Yet there are human and spiritual conditions without which God will not send forth His irresistible influence. It is the tracing out and discovering of these character relations or performances which brings light to us today in the burning desire to know what we should do to behold great and lasting victory.
One fact stated in the Bible narrative is that "every man stood in his place."
Here is the harmony and agreement seen on the day of Pentecost, when all were with one mind and one accord. Here was concert of action, and, above all, individual faithfulness. The line formed must have been a thin one, but this was offset by the fact that each man stood in his place.
We wish the words could be burned into the heart of every child of God. Each one has a post of duty. There is a place in the home, church, social life and state that we should occupy. There is a spot in pulpit or pew, in prayer or class meeting, in Sunday-school or mission, in sick room or slum, in hospital or prison, where we should be. There is a place of duty where God wants us to be, and when conscience or the Spirit takes up the roll call, He wants us to say, "Here." Not to be there means, not simply personal forfeiture of divine favor and future reward, but loss to the cause of God, and calamity to the souls we might have benefited.
There never was a great work done for souls on earth but a certain number of men stood in their places. Temptations came thick and fast to wile them away. People said their position was needless and ridiculous. The night of waiting was long. The camp fires of the enemy were many. The heart of the watchers at times grew faint, but nevertheless they stood.
Such faithfulness is one of the human factors that God can use. It is never without its power. May we take the lesson home.
A second fact was that they "blew their trumpets."
One can readily imagine the panic which seized upon the hearts of the Midianites when from their different quarters they heard as many hundreds of trumpets blare forth in the night. The shock was terrible, confusion reigned, and the flight at once began.
This blowing of the trumpets is happily applied to Christian testimony. Concerning the strange influence and power we cannot doubt who have seen its effect on multitudes and have read the words of Christ, "They overcame by the word of their testimony." We have noticed a whole congregation of spiritually dead people fairly electrified by the warm, glowing testimony of a single individual, in a word, by the blowing of a solitary human trumpet.
What if the number of trumpets is increased? Think of the effect on a large audience of a hundred fire baptized servants of God leaping to their feet and crying out that they were fully saved.
The writer was once the pastor of a great dead city church. He brought in suddenly a holy man of God to hold a meeting, and in a few days the fire fell, the power came down, and twenty-five were sanctified and one hundred converted. A number of the members of the church did not attend at all during the week, and so were perfectly unprepared for what they saw and felt on the following Sabbath. The evangelist, after the opening prayer, instead of taking a text and preaching, called for testimonies. Instantly twenty people were on their feet declaring what God had done for their souls. They were as quickly followed by others in different parts of the house, in the gallery, under the gallery, at the door and in the choir. It was a scattering fire, but most startling in its influence. To this day we recall the bobbing heads, jerking bodies, astonished looks, and even panic-struck faces of those unconverted, backslidden, lukewarm and cold, formal members of the church. Such was their state of mind that we doubt not that if some stentorian voice had cried out, "The sword of the Lord and Gideon," many would have fled precipitately, as did the Midianites.
May the trumpets be blown. We have seen their use turn the tide of battle in the favor of Heaven many times, and expect to behold the like result as often before we die.
A third fact was that Gideon's band "broke their pitchers."
This is not without significance. These bodies of ours must be given up, and, if need be, sacrificed for the cause of truth and Heaven. The pitchers or vessels must be broken. It was prophesied of Christ, "the zeal of thy house hath eaten me up." He spared not Himself. He so toiled for the salvation of men that at the age of thirty-three, men guessed him to be fifty. It is significant that they did not say, "Thou art not yet forty."
There is such a thing as spending and being spent in the service of the Lord; a losing one's life for His sake and the gospel. The pitcher is broken not for display, not in penance, not for plaudits, not even for reward, but through burning love for Christ and souls.
It is the body thus given up for Christ and His cause that arrests the attention and convinces the minds of men. It is one of the highest arguments. It is a sealing of one's statements or testimony with one's own blood.
Somehow the body as it is thus given, as the life is subordinated to the great work of salvation, the light which has been in a measure hidden shines through and out upon the world.
It is wonderful how the light of heaven shines from a body, life and reputation all broken in the faithful service of God. It matters not whether martyr stake, bullet, printer's type or ecclesiastical gavel breaks the pitcher, how the glory of God streams through the crevices! Anyhow devotion to Christian duty is a factor God uses in winning His battles. Men may protest against it as folly, but they are impressed notwithstanding. History teaches us that the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church; and in Revelation, while we read that the followers of Christ overcame by the word of their testimony, yet it is also added "that they loved not their lives unto death." The pitchers were broken.
A fourth fact stated in the narrative is that the men of Gideon "waved their lanterns."
In other words, we must let our lights shine. Is a candle lighted to be put under a bushel? Is it not to be seen? And when God puts our souls in a flame, when the fire of heaven is burning in our hearts, when the life is inwardly glorious from a divine work wrought by the Holy Ghost, are we to sit silent, veiled and hidden, while men by millions are stumbling, in the dark and falling headlong into a still greater and an eternal blackness? Is not the command to Zion, "Arise and shine"?
There is a light about a redeemed man's life which is as real as the radiance of a star. The latter does not more certainly appeal to the eye than the former does to some unknown law of spiritual vision. We feel this peculiar attracting or directing influence as certainly as ever the traveller has been affected by the star-like beam of beacon signals on ocean or rivers.
The lantern is to go with the trumpet; that is, the life must follow up and confirm the testimony.
There is no question that startling and terrifying as the three hundred trumpets were to the Midianites when suddenly blown in the night, yet the terror and panic were marvellously increased by the subsequent flash of their hundred lanterns, coming so quickly upon the clang of the bugles.
Before such a combination there seemed nothing left for the Midianites but to run; and that they did generally and most heartily.
May we never forget the combination. It will unlock and open the greatest ecclesiastical vault that has ever towered in pillared, sculptured, and yet cold and dead magnificence before us. The mystic words and signs are, each man in his place; a trumpet; a broken pitcher and a waving lantern. This means individual faithfulness, ringing testimony, the body a sacrifice, and the life all luminous with truth and the indwelling Spirit of God. May we see to it that we obtain and keep the combination.