By J.R. Miller
He must increase--but I must decrease
Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men--to be seen by them." Matthew 6:1
One of the most difficult lessons to learn, is self-effacement. It seems to us, that we have a right to put our name on every piece of work we do, and to get full honor for it. We like people to know of the good and virtuous things we do--the kindnesses we show, our gifts, our sacrifices, and our services.
SELF always dies hard.
John the Baptist, in his life and ministry, illustrated the grace of self-effacement as few other men have done. When he first began to preach, great throngs flocked about him. But when Jesus came--the crowds melted away from John and went after the new preacher. John rejoiced in seeing Jesus thus honored, though at the cost of his own fame. "He must increase--but I must decrease" was his answer, when his disciples grew envious of the Galilean Rabbi. He understood that the highest use to which his life could be put--was to add to the honor of his Master. He was glad to be unnoticed, to have his own name extinguished, that the glory of Christ might shine the more brightly.
Renunciation of self should characterize all who follow Christ. They should seek only to get recognition for Him, willing for themselves to be unrecognized and unhonored. Yet not always are the Master's friends content to be nothing--that the praise may be given to Christ. Too often do they insist upon having their own name written in bold letters on their work. It would be the mark of a higher degree in spiritual attainment, if we were willing to be anonymous in every service for Christ.
Not only should we do all our work for the divine approval--but we should not be seeking to get our own name on what we do. If it is done solely for the honor of Christ, why should we be solicitous to have everybody know our part in it? Should it not be honor enough--to have Christ accept our work and use it?
Only what we do for the honor of Christ--is really gold and silver and precious stones in the spiritual building; all the rest is but wood, hay, and stubble, which cannot abide.
Are we willing to do deeds of service and love, and then keep absolutely quiet about what we have done? Is there not among us, too much of the spirit which our Lord so severely condemned--sounding a trumpet before us--when we are going out to do some deed of charity, some act of kindness?
Everything they do--is done for men to see." Matthew 23:5
He prunes every branch that produces fruit--so that it will produce more fruit." John 15:2
The gardener prunes the branches--but not without wise purpose. The Master's words, referring to this process in spiritual husbandry, are rich in their comfort for those on whom the knife is doing its painful work.
For one thing, we are told that "My Father is the gardener" (verse 1). We know that our Father loves us and would never do anything unloving or hurtful to His children. We know that He is infinitely wise, that He looks far on in our life, planning the largest and the best good for us, not for today only--but for all the future; and that what He does, is certainly the best which could be devised. In every time of sharp pruning, when the knife cuts deep and the pain is sore--it is an unspeakable comfort to read, "My Father is the gardener!"
Another inspiring thought in all such afflictions--is that it is the fruitful branch which the Father prunes. Sometimes godly people say when they are led through great trials, "Surely God does not love me--or He would not afflict me so sorely!" But it takes away all distressing thoughts about our trouble, to read the Master's words, "He prunes every branch that produces fruit." It is not punishment to which we are subjected--but pruning; and it is because we are fruitful that we are pruned.
Still another comfort here is revealed--in the object of the pruning, "He prunes every branch that produces fruit--so that it will produce more fruit." The one object of all God's pruning, is fruitfulness. The figure of pruning helps us to understand this. When one who knows nothing of such processes sees a man cutting away branch after branch of a tree or vine, it would seem to him that the work is destructive. But those who understand the object of the pruning--know that what the gardener is doing, will add to the vine's value and to its ultimate fruitfulness.
Pruning seems to be destroying the vine. The gardener appears to be cutting it all away. But he looks on into the future and knows that the final outcome will be the enrichment of its life, and greater abundance of fruit.
The path of each day
Show me the way I should go." Psalm 143:8
We have a right to make this prayer. Our prayer will be answered, too. There will be a hand extended to guide us, to open the path for us, and to help us over the hard pinches of the road. God desires to lead us. His guidance includes not only our daily steps--but also the shaping of our circumstances and affairs. We cannot be thankful enough, that our lives are in God's hands, for we never could care for them ourselves.
To us the path of each day is always new--we have not passed this way before, and we cannot tell what any hour may bring to us. But Jesus knows all the way--for He went over every inch of it. There is no human experience which Christ does not understand. No suffering can be ours--which He did not feel. No wrong can hurt us--but He was hurt far more sorely. Is the burden heavy? His burden was infinitely heavier, for He took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses, and bowed beneath the load of our sins! There is no phase of struggle, of suffering, of pain, of temptation--with which He is unfamiliar. And knowing thus the way, from having experienced it for Himself, He is able to guide us in it.
Do we really need God's guidance? Are we not wise enough to decide what course it is best for us to take? Can we not find our own path in this world? There is a story of a tourist in the Alps who refused a guide. He said he could find the way himself. So he went out alone in the morning--but he never came back. Life in this world is far more perilous than mountain climbing.
There are times when every star seems to have gone out, and when clouds and darkness appear to have gathered about us, hiding every way-mark, so that we cannot see any way out of the gloom and perplexity. We need then to have God's direction--or we shall perish. But while there are times when we need God's guidance in an unusual way--there is no day in all our brightest year, when we do not need it, when we dare to go forward one step without it. The day we do not seek and obtain God's leading, will be a day of disaster for us. The day we go forth without prayer for divine blessing, when we do not lay our hand in Christ's as we go out into the great world--is a day of peril for us. Indeed, we often need the divine guidance the most--when we think we do not need it at all.
God's way does not always lie in the sunshine; sometimes it runs into deep glooms. We are not always out of His way--when we find ourselves facing obstacles and difficulties. When we cannot see where we are going--we may be in the everlasting way, because God is guiding us. He leads us away many a time, away from the path which we would have taken.
The way on which God guides us--is a way of holiness. When we pray for guidance, we must surrender our will to God. If we ask Him to guide us--we must yield our own preference, and accept His. We are in this world--to grow into the likeness of Christ. If then, we have been growing a little more patient, gentle, thoughtful, humble--if the peace of our hearts has become a little deeper, quieter, sweeter--our "rough" path is God's way for us.
God's way is a way of holiness--a pure, clean way. It is the road to heaven.
It will help us greatly in our Christian life
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all that they had done and taught." Mark 6:30
It will help us greatly in our Christian life, if we will train ourselves to the habit of reporting to Christ continually, all that we do and say. We may come every evening to His feet--and tell Him all about the work and the life of our day.
Each day is a miniature life. Each morning we are sent out by our Master, commissioned by Him to do certain tasks, to touch certain lives, to leave certain blessings in the world, to endure certain temptations, to suffer or rejoice--as the case my be. At the close of the day--we come back to make report, in our evening prayer, of all that we have done, not only the good and beautiful things--the obedience, the kindnesses, the victories over temptation, the things which have been helpful to others; but also the foolish things--the disobediences, the defeats, the neglects of duty.
If we remember as we go through the day--that everything we do or say, and everything we fail to do or say--must be reported to our Master--it would make us more careful as the moments pass--of what we do and what we fail to do. We would not do the things which would shame us to look into Christ's face, and tell Him what we did. We would learn to do only what would give us pleasure to report to Him.
This would do much to make us always charitable and kind to others, for we shall not care to tell the Master that we said unkindly words of our neighbors. If we constrain ourselves to report in our evenings prayers--all our criticisms of others, all our uncharitable words, and all our blaming and fault finding--we shall soon be cured of the habit of censoriousness, and we shall learn to do and say only things which we shall be glad to tell our Lord.
There is no better way to keep our days holy and beautiful--than to tell Jesus every night--all that we have said and done through the day!
Yet, we need never dread to tell Christ of our failures for the day. There always will be failures. Our moods will not always be gentle. Sometimes we will speak rashly and harshly. We will not always be patient and thoughtful. Unchristian tempers will break out in spite of our determination always to keep sweet. We will fail many a time to be loving. But the Master will be infinitely gracious and gentle in dealing with our faults and failures. He is more kindly than any mother. No words in the Bible are sweeter to a faithful Christian, than those in one of the Psalms, "He knows our frame--He remembers that we are dust."
If we are living faithfully and are striving to do our best, and to do better each day--we need never dread to tell our Master all that we have done--even the worst! He wants us to be very frank and very honest with Him. Of course He knows all that we have done--but He wants us to tell Him all, keeping nothing back. We may come with the whole story, even if it is a confession of weakness, foolishness, or sin. He is never severe with us, as some human friends are--for He wants us never to be afraid to come to Him.
The Lord Himself watches over you!
God Himself is the refuge of His people.
My help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth! He will not let you stumble and fall; the One who watches over you will not sleep. Indeed, He who watches over Israel never tires and never sleeps. The Lord Himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not hurt you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all evil and preserves your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go--both now and forever." Psalm 121:1-8
The promise of heaven is very alluring to Christian hope. But how can we get there? Seen and unseen perils beset the way--and we have no strength to defend ourselves, or to keep our lives from hurt. To meet these dangers, however, we have the promise of a Guide who is able to guard us on from falling, even from stumbling--and to bring us at last unharmed, without blemish, to the door of our Father's house. "For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death!" Psalm 48:14.
The Bible gives many assurances of protection to the children of God, as they pass through this world. They dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and abide under the shadow of the Almighty. They take refuge under the wings of God. We never can get out from under the shadow of the Almighty. Wherever we may have to go--we shall always have the love of God over us.
There are also promises of protection. We have the assurance that God will not let you stumble and fall. So the divine thought extends even to our feet and to our steps, one by one. There is not an inch in all our pathway through this world, which is unwatched, on which the eye of God does not rest. The most watchful human love must sometimes close its eyes in sleep. The most loving mother must sometimes steal from the bedside of her little sick child, for a minute's rest. But the divine care never slumbers nor fails, even for a moment. Indeed, "the One who watches over you will not sleep."
In this world of danger, we need never vex ourselves with fear or anxiety--for God is watching, and He never sleeps! There is not a moment by day or by night when we are unguarded. There can be no sudden surprise or danger, by which God can be taken unaware.
Christ surrounds His people with an invisible protection, which nothing can tear away. In all our perils, struggles, and sorrows--He has us in His heart. "Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:20
A Christian woman, walking alone at night, was approached by a stranger. He said, "I see you are alone." "No, sir, I am not alone; I have a friend with me." "I do not see anyone," he said, looking round. The woman quietly answered, "Jesus Christ is with me," and the man turned and fled into the darkness.
So while heaven seems far off, and while the way is full of enemies and dangers--yet no believer, not even the weakest, need perish on the way, nor fail to get home. Christ the mighty One, has build a road through the world, a safe and secure road, on which all His friends may journey under His guidance and guardianship, without hurt until they enter the Father's house. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish--ever! No one can snatch them out of My hand!" John 10:28
The purpose of God for our life on earth
We should get it settled in our minds, that the purpose of God for our life on earth, is to have us grow into Christ's image. We are not in this world merely to accomplish a certain amount of work--but to be fashioned into strength and beauty of character. If we would always remember this, we would not be perplexed so often by the mysteries of our lives.
If joy is ours--it is to make us better and a greater blessing to others.
If sorrow is ours--it is to purify us and bring out some line of Christ's image in us more clearly.
If our hopes are disappointed--it is because God has some better things for us, than that which we so earnestly desired.
If we are called to endure pain--it is because the best in us can be called out only by pain.
If bereavement comes and we are left without the strong human arm we have leaned upon heretofore--it is because there are elements of strength in our life, which never could be developed unless the human supports were taken away.
If our burdens are heavy--it is because we grow best under burdens.
If we are wronged by others--it is to teach us better, the great lessons of patience and sweet temper.
If our circumstances are uncongenial and our condition hard--it is that we may be disciplined into self-control, and may learn to be content in whatever state we are in.
The Master is always teaching us new lessons, making us into the beauty of the pattern He has set for us, and preparing us for greater usefulness and better service.
A life of ease, leisure, and luxury
Woe to you who are rich!" Luke 6:24
Many of life's worst dangers are unsuspected. Where we suppose there is good and blessing--there may be hidden peril. Most of us think of a life of ease, leisure, and luxury--as the most highly favored lot, one to be envied. We are not apt to think of it as one of danger. Yet there is no doubt that a life of rugged toil, hardship, and self-denial, which we look upon as almost a misfortune, is far safer than one of ease.
When we open our Bible we find that a state of wealth, is indeed set down as one full of spiritual peril. It was Jesus who said, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And Paul said, "Those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all evil."
It is not the popular impression, that wealth is a condition in which danger lurks. Yet thousands of souls have been lost in the valley of gold! Many a man's envied fortune, is in God's sight, but the splendid mausoleum of his soul.
When He discovers repulsive things in us
Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end!" John 13:1
Jesus takes us as we are, and does not get weary of us--whatever faults and sins He discovers in us. There is infinite comfort in this for us. We are conscious of our faults, blemishes and infirmities; and the unworthiness and the unloveliness which is in our souls. Many of us have pages in our biography, which we would not dare to spread out before the eyes of anyone!
There are in our inner heart--feelings, desires, longings, cravings, jealousies, motives--which we would not feel secure in laying bare to our dearest, truest, and most patient and gentle friend. Yet Christ knows them all. Nothing is hidden from His eyes. To Him there is perfect revealing of the innermost springs of our being. Yet we need not be afraid that His friendship for us will change, or grow less, or withdraw itself--when He discovers repulsive things in us. Yet He loves us--loves unto the uttermost! Christ loves us not according to our worthiness--but according to the richness of His own gracious heart!
May you have the power to understand, as all God's people should--how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it!" Ephesians 3:18-19
The God of the broken-hearted
The Lord is near the broken-hearted." Psalm 34:18
The God of the Bible, is the God of the broken-hearted. The world cares little for the broken hearts. Indeed, people oftentimes break hearts by their cruelty, their falseness, their injustice, their coldness--and then move on as heedlessly as if they had trodden only on a worm! But God cares. Broken-heartedness attracts Him. The plaint of grief on earth--draws Him down from heaven.
Physicians in their rounds, do not stop at the homes of the well--but of the sick. So it is with God in His movements through this world. It is not to the whole and the well--but to the wounded and stricken, that He comes with sweetest tenderness! Jesus said of His mission: "He has sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted." Isaiah 61:1
We look upon trouble as misfortune. We say that the life is being destroyed, which is passing through adversity. But the truth which we find in the Bible, does not so represent suffering. God is a repairer and restorer of the hurt and ruined life. He takes the bruised reed--and by His gentle skill makes it whole again, until it grows into fairest beauty. The love, pity, and grace of God, minister sweet blessing of comfort and healing--to restore the broken and wounded hearts of His people.
Much of the most beautiful life in this world, comes out of sorrow. As "fair flowers bloom upon rough stalks," so many of the fairest flowers of human life, grow upon the rough stalks of suffering. We see that those who in heaven wear the whitest robes, and sing the loudest songs of victory--are those who have come out of great tribulation. Heaven's highest places are filling, not from earth's homes of glad festivity and tearless joy--but from its chambers of pain; its valleys of struggle where the battle is hard; and its scenes of sorrow, where pale cheeks are wet with tears, and where hearts are broken. The God of the Bible--is the God of the bowed down--whom He lifts up into His strength.
God is the God of those who fail. Not that He loves those who stumble and fall, better than those who walk erect without stumbling; but He helps them more. The weak believers get more of His grace--than those who are strong believers. There is a special divine promise, which says, "My divine power is made perfect in weakness." When we are conscious of our own insufficiency, then we are ready to receive of the divine sufficiency. Thus our very weakness is an element of strength. Our weakness is an empty cup--which God fills with His own strength.
You may think that your weakness unfits you for noble, strong, beautiful living--or for sweet, gentle, helpful serving. You wish you could get clear of it. It seems to burden you--an ugly spiritual deformity. But really it is something which--if you give it to Christ--He can transform into a blessing, a source of His power. The friend by your side, whom you envy because he seems so much stronger than you are--does not get so much of Christ's strength as you do. You are weaker than him--but your weakness draws to you divine power, and makes you strong.
He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3
A book for the unsuccessful
The Bible is indeed a book for the unsuccessful. Its sweetest messages are to those who have fallen. It is the book of love and sympathy. It is like a mother's bosom to lay one's head upon--in the time of distress or pain. Its pages teem with cheer for those who are discouraged. It sets its lamps of hope to shine in darkened chambers. It reaches out its hands of help to the fainting, and to those who have fallen. It is full of comfort for those who are in sorrow. It has its many special promises for the needy, the poor, and the bereft. It is a book for those who have failed, for the disappointed, the defeated, and the discouraged.
It is this quality in the Bible, which makes it so dear to the heart of humanity. If it were a book only for the strong, the successful, the victorious, the unfallen, those who have no sorrow, who never fail, the whole, the happy--it would not find such a welcome wherever it goes in the world. So long as there are tears and sorrows, and broken hearts, and crushed hopes, and human failures, and lives burdened and bowed down, and spirits sad and despairing--so long will the Bible be full of inspiration, light, help, and strength--for earth's weary ones.
The God of the Bible is the God of those who have not succeeded. Wherever there is a weak, stumbling Christian, unable to walk alone--to him the divine heart goes out in tender thought and sympathy; and the divine hand is extended to support him, and keep him from falling. Whenever a Christian has fallen, and lies in defeat or failure--over him bends the heavenly Father in kindly pity, to raise him up and to help him to begin again. The God of the Bible is the God of the weak, the unsheltered. Their very helplessness of His children, is their strongest plea to the divine heart.
The true ministry of pain
There is a Christian art of enduring pain, which we should seek to learn. The real goal is not just to endure the suffering which falls into our life; to bear it bravely, without wincing; to pass through it patiently, even rejoicingly. Pain has a higher mission to us, than to teach us heroism. We should endure it in such a way as to get something of spiritual blessing out of it.
Pain brings to us some message from God, which we should not fail to hear. It lifts for us the veil which hides God's face, and we should get some new glimpses of His beauty, every time we are called to suffer. Pain is furnace-fire, and we should always come out of this furnace, with the gold of our graces gleaming a little more brightly. Every experience of suffering ought in some way--to lift us nearer God, to make us more gentle and loving, and to leave the image of Christ shining a little clearer in our lives.
The path to comfort in our time of sorrow
"Being in an agony--He prayed," is the record of our Savior's Gethsemane experience. The lesson stands for all time. Like a bright lamp, the little sentence shines amid the olive trees of the garden. It shows us the path to comfort in our time of sorrow. Never before or since--was there such grief as the Redeemer's, that night. But in His prayer, He found comfort. As we watch Him the hour through, we see the agony changing as He prayed, until at last its bitterness was all gone--and sweet, blessed peace took its place. The gate of prayer is always the gate to comfort. There is no other way to consolation.
We may learn also from our Lord's Gethsemane, how to pray in our Gethsemanes. God will never blame us for asking to have the cup removed, nor for the intensity of our supplication; but we must always pray with submission. It is when we say, in our deepest sorrow and intensity, "Not my will--but may Your will be done," that comfort comes, that peace comes.
An ideal Christian home
An ideal Christian home ought to be a place where love rules. It ought to be beautiful, bright, joyous, full of tenderness and affection, a place in which all are growing happier and holier each day. There should never be any discord, any wrangling, any angry words or bitter feelings. The home-life should be a harmonious song without one marring note, day after day. The home, no matter how humble it is, how plain, how small--should be the dearest spot on the earth to each member of the family. It should be made so happy a place, and so full of life, that no matter where one may wander in after years, in any of the ends of the earth--his home should still hold its invisible cords of influence about him, and should ever draw resistless upon his heart. It ought to be the one spot in all the earth, to which he would turn first, when in trouble or in danger. It should be his refuge, in every trial and grief.
Books and magazines
In considering the influences in the home-life which leave deep and permanent impressions on character, thought must be given to the books and magazines which are read. On the printed pages which fly everywhere like the leaves of autumn, drifting to our doors and swept into our innermost chambers--are borne to us the golden thoughts of the best and wisest men and women of all ages. The blessings which the printing press scatters, are infinite and rich beyond all estimates. But the same press which today gives us pure and holy thoughts, words of truth and life; tomorrow gives us veiled suggestions of evil, words of honeyed sweetness--but in which deadly poison is concealed!
It is fabled that a soldier found a casket which was reported to be full of valuable treasures. It was opened, and out of it came a poisonous atmosphere which caused a terrible plague in the army. Just so--many a book which is bound in bright colors, has stored within those covers, the most deadly moral influences! To open it in a pure home, among young and tender lives, is to let loose evils which never can be gathered back and locked up again!
The printing press puts into the hands of parents a means of good, which they may use to the greatest advantage in the culture of their home-life, and in the shaping of the lives of their household. But they must keep a most diligent watch over the pages which they introduce. They should know the character of every book and magazine which comes within their doors, and should resolutely exclude everything which would defile. Then, while they exclude everything whose influence would be for evil, if they are wise they will bring into their home as much as possible of pure, elevating, and refining literature. Every beautiful thought which enters a child's mind, adds to the strength and loveliness of the character in after days. The educating influence of the best books and magazines is incalculable, and no parent can afford to lose it in the training of his family.