By J.R. Miller
Absolutely and without question
If you love Me, you will obey what I command." John 14:15
God is our Father and we are His children. We are to obey Him absolutely and without question. Yet it is no blind obedience. We know that He loves us with a deep, tender, unchanging love. We know that He is wiser than we, infinitely wiser, and can never err. We know that when He denies a request--that the granting of it would be unkindness. We know that when He leads us in another path than the one we had marked out--that His is the right way. We know that when He chastens or corrects--that there is love in His chastisement or correction. We know that in all His government and discipline--that He is seeking only our highest good. Our whole duty therefore as God's children, is to yield ourselves to His will.
If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." John 14:23
Parents! You are fashioning the destinies of immortal souls!
What we want to do with our children, is not merely to control them and keep them in order--but to implant true principles deep in their hearts which shall rule their whole lives; to shape their character from within into Christlike beauty, and to make of them noble men and women, strong for battle of life. They are to be trained rather than governed. Growth of character, not merely good behavior--is the object of all home governing and teaching. Therefore the home influence is far more important than the home laws; and the parents' lives are of more significance than their teachings. Whatever may be done in the way of governing, teaching or training--theories are not half as important as the parents' lives. They may teach the most beautiful things--but if the child does not see these things modeled in the life of the parent--he will not consider them important enough to be adopted in his own life.
Four walls do not make a home
Four walls do not make a home--though it is a palace filled with all the elegances which wealth can buy! The home-life itself is more important than the house and its adornments. By the home-life, is meant the happy art of living together in tender love. We enter some homes, and they are full of sweetness--as fields of summer flowers are full of fragrance. All is order, beauty, gentleness and peace. We enter other homes, where we find jarring, selfishness, harshness and disorder. This difference is not accidental. They are influences at work in each home, which yield just the result we see in each. No home-life can ever be better than the life of those who make it.
Homes are the real schools in which men and women are trained--and fathers and mothers are the real teachers and builders of life!
Sadly, the goal which most parents have for their home--is to have as good and showy a house as they can afford, furnished in as rich a style as their means will warrant, and then to live in it as comfortably as they are able, without too much exertion or self-denial.
But the true idea of a Christian home, is that it is a place for spiritual growth. It is a place for the parents themselves to grow--to grow into beauty of character, to grow in spiritual refinement, in knowledge, in strength, in wisdom, in patience, gentleness, kindliness, and all the Christian graces and virtues. It is a place for children to grow--to grow into physical vigor and health, and to be trained in all that shall make them true and noble men and women.
A true home is set up and all its life ordered--for the definite purpose of training, building up and sending our human lives fashioned into Christlike symmetry, filled with lofty impulses and aspirations, governed by principles of rectitude and honor, and fitted to enter upon the duties and struggles of life with spiritual wisdom and strength.
His life is the text book
Leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps." 1 Peter 2:21
Jesus took His first disciples into His school and for three years taught and trained them. He made known to them the great truths of Christianity, which He had come to reveal. Then He taught them how to live.
Bible knowledge alone, does not alone make one a godly Christian. One might know all the great facts and doctrines of the Word of God, might be a profound Bible scholar and a wise theologian--and yet not be an advanced or even a growing Christian! We are to learn to live Christ as well as to know the truths about Christ. Jesus in His teachings makes a great deal of obedience. We are His friends--if we do whatever He commands us. We are to learn to be patient, meek, gentle, long suffering, compassionate. We are to learn to be humble, kindly affectioned, unselfish, truthful, sincere.
We enter Christ's school, to be trained in all the qualities which make up the true Christian life. Jesus is not only the teacher--His life is the text book which we are to study. Part of His mission to this world, was to show us in Himself--a pattern of a godly life. We are to look to His life to learn just how to live, the kind of character we are to seek to have, the meaning of the lessons which His words set for us. We are in the school of Christ--to be trained in all Christian life and duty.
The lessons the Bible sets for us--we are to learn to live out in common life. Every word of Christ sets a copy for us, as it were--and we are to learn to write it in fair and beautiful lines. For example, it is not enough to learn from the Beatitudes, that certain qualities are praised by the great Teacher; we are to get the Beatitudes into our own life as quickly and as perfectly as we can. Just so of all the teachings of Christ--they are not for knowing merely, as one learns the fine sayings of favorite literary writers; they are for living! They are to become lamps to our feet and lights to our path--and they are to be wrought into the web of our character.
In the school of Christ, we are not to expect perfection--but we have a right to expect an increasing knowledge of spiritual things, and also spiritual growth in all the qualities which belong to Christian character. We should become . . .
more faithful in all duty,
more like Christ!
The ideal Christian life--is a growing likeness to Christ. Christ is the pattern after which we are to strive to fashion our life. As we study Christ in the Gospels, there rises up before us, the vision of His matchless beauty. We go over the chapters, and we find one fragment of His loveliness here, and another there. And as we read the story through to the end--beauty after beauty appears, until at length we see a full vision of our blessed Redeemer. This is the pattern we are to follow in fashioning our lives. This is the vision we are to seek to carve into reality in our own character. All our acts we are to bring to the example of Christ, testing each one by that infallible standard.
The Gospels should be studied by the Christian, as a builder studies the architect's drawings--that every minutest detail may be exactly reproduced; so far as in a faulty and sinful human life, the character and conduct of the faultless and sinless Jesus can be reproduced. The perfect pattern is ever to be held before us for imitation, and as we look at it glowing in all its marvelous beauty--yet far above us and beyond our present reach--we are to comfort ourselves and stir our hearts to the noblest efforts and highest attainments by the thought, "That is what I shall one day be!" However slow may be our progress toward that perfect ideal; however sore the struggles with weakness and sin; however often we fail--we are never to lose sight of the distant goal, nor cease to strive and press toward the mark. Some day, if we are faithful to the end and faint not--we shall emerge out of all failure and struggle, and, seeing Jesus as He is--we shall be fully transformed into His blessed image!
Such is the aim of the Christian life. "We shall be like Him!"--that is the final destiny of every redeemed life. This should be inspiration enough, to arouse in the dullest Christian, every sluggish hope and every slumbering energy--and to impel to the highest effort and the most heroic struggle.
The everlasting arms
So frail is human strength, though behind it is tenderest, truest love. All that love can do, all that money can do, all that skill can do--avail nothing. Human arms may clasp us very firmly, yet their clasp cannot keep us from the power of disease--or from the cold hand of death.
But the love and strength of God are everlasting. Nothing can ever separate us from Him! An Old Testament promise reads: "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." Deuteronomy 33:27. If we are stayed upon the eternal God, nothing ever can disturb us--for nothing can disturb Him on whom we are reposing. If we are held in the clasp of His everlasting arms--we need not fear that we shall ever be separated from the enfolding.
The position of the everlasting arms in this picture is suggestive--"Underneath." They are always underneath us. No matter how low we sink--in weakness, in faintness, in pain, in sorrow--we never can sink below these everlasting arms! We never can drop out of their clasp!
A father tried to save his child in the waves--frantically clasping his arms around the beloved child. But his arms, though nerved by most passionate love, were too weak, and the child slipped away from them, and sank down in the dark waters.
But evermore, in the deepest floods, the everlasting arms will be underneath the feeblest, most imperiled child of God. Sorrow is very deep--but in the greatest grief, these everlasting arms of love are underneath the sufferer. Then when death comes, and every earthly support is gone from beneath us, when every human arm unclasps, and every face of love fades from before our eyes, and we sink away into what seems darkness and the shadow of death--we shall only sink into the everlasting arms underneath us!
The word "are," must not be overlooked--"Underneath are the everlasting arms." This is one of the wonderful present tenses of the Bible. To every trusting believer, to you who today are reading these words and trying to learn the lesson, God says, "Underneath you are now, this moment, every moment, the everlasting arms!"
Nothing which is done for Christ is lost!
Every truly consecrated life, with all its faculties, has been given over to Christ. Faith implies full surrender. "You are not your own." "You are Christ's." Christ owns us first by right of creation, then by right of purchase. We acknowledge His ownership and all that it includes, when we receive Him as our Savior and Lord. The first question, therefore, of the new believer is, "What will you have me to do, Lord?" We want to begin to work for our new Master. A heart of love for Christ, makes the sweeping of a room, the plowing of a field, the sawing of a board, the making of a garment, the selling of a piece of goods, the minding of a baby--as acceptable to God, as the ministry of angels!
One way of working for Christ, therefore, is to be diligent in the doing of life's common daily tasks. The true giving of ourselves to God, exalts all of life into divine honor and sacredness. Nothing is trivial or indifferent, which it is our duty to do. We are never to neglect any work, however secular it may seem--in order to do something else which appears to be more religious. There are some people who would be better Christians, if they paid more heed to their own daily business, attended fewer church meetings and did less religious gossiping.
We need a religion which puts itself into everything we do! The old shoemaker was right, when he said that when he stands before the great white throne, God will ask, "What kind of shoes did you make down on the earth?" We must do all our work for the judgment day--our common everyday tasks--as well as our religious duties. The carpenter must get his religion into the houses he builds; the plumber must get his religion into his plumbing; the tailor must get his religion into his seams; the merchant must get his religion into his sales. All our work--we must do for God's eye!
It is the little things which all of us can do in Christ's name, which in the end leave the largest aggregate of blessing in the world. We need not wait to do great and conspicuous things. A life that every day gives its blessing to another, and adds to the happiness of some fellow being, by only a word of kindness, a thoughtful act, a cheering look, or a hearty hand grasp--does more for the world than he who but once in a lifetime does some great thing which fills a land with his praise. Nothing which is done for Christ is lost! The smallest acts, the quietest words, the gentlest inspirations which touch human souls, leave their impress for eternity! "If you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of My followers, you will surely be rewarded." Matthew 10:42
A young girl was asked what it meant for her to be a Christian. She replied, "I suppose it is to do what Jesus would do--and behave as Jesus would behave--if He were a young girl and lived at our house." No better answer could have been given! The greatest duty of a Christian, is to do what Jesus would do--and to behave as He would behave--if He were precisely in our place, and our circumstances.
Building their nests in our hair!
The experience of temptation is universal. Every life must grow up amid unfriendly and opposing influences. Some of them are subtle and insidious, like a pestilence in the air. Some of them fierce and wild, like the blast of storm, or the rush of battle.
The question in life is not how to escape temptation--but how to pass through it so as not to be harmed by it. Christ's way of helping us, is not by keeping us out of the conflicts. This would leave us forever weak, untried, and undisciplined. The price of spiritual attainment and culture, is struggle. Jesus Himself was made perfect through suffering.
All the best things in life--the only things worth obtaining--lie beyond fields of battle, and we can get them only by overcoming. It would be no kindness to us--were God to withdraw us into some sheltered spot whenever there is danger; or if He were to fight our battles for us, thus freeing us from all necessity to struggle.
Yet there is a way of so living in this world--as not to suffer harm in even the fiercest temptations--to pass through them and not be damaged by them. There is even a way of so meeting temptations as to get benefit and blessing from them! "Blessed is the man who endures temptation--for when he has been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love Him."
Rightly meeting and victoriously resisting temptation, puts new fiber into the soul. The Indians say that when a warrior kills a foe--the spirit of the vanquished enemy enters the victor's heart and adds to his own strength. This is true in spiritual warfare. We grow stronger through our struggles and victories! Each lust conquered, each evil subdued--adds to the strength of our soul.
The question, then--is how to meet temptation so as to overcome it, and thus win the blessing there is in it. We must remember, first of all, that we are not able in ourselves successfully to fight our battles. If we think we are, and go forth in our own name and strength, we shall utterly fail. Life is too large, and its struggles and conflicts are too great--for the strongest human, unaided by divine power.
We must settle it once for all--that we can conquer only in the name and by the help of the strong Son of God. We may come off the field more than conquerors--but only through him who loved us. We can pass safely through all the fierce dangers of this world and be kept unspotted amid its sin and foulness--but only if we have with us, Him who is able to keep us from stumbling, and set us before the presence of His glory without blemish in exceeding joy. Self-confidence in our own ability to overcome temptation--is fatal folly!
Men and devils may tempt us--but men and devils cannot force us to yield! Others may seek to influence us--they may plead, entreat and persuade--but they cannot compel us.
We cannot avoid being tempted--but we ought to avoid yielding to temptation. Luther used to say, "We cannot keep the birds from flying over our heads--but we can prevent them from building their nests in our hair!" Just so, we cannot keep temptations away from our ears, nor prevent them whispering their seductive words close by us--but we can hinder them making their nests in our hearts!
No vague sentiment
We are too apt to imagine that holiness consists in mere good feeling toward God. It does not! It consists in obedience in heart and life to the divine requirements. To be holy is to be set apart for God and devoted to God's service, "The Lord has set apart him who is godly for himself." But if we are set apart for God in this sense, it necessarily follows that we must live for God. We belong wholly to him, and any use of our life in any other service is sacrilege, as if one would rob the very altar of its smoking sacrifice, to gratify one's common hunger.
Our hands are God's--and can fitly be used only in doing his work. Our feet are God's--and may be employed only in walking in his ways and running his errands. Our lips are God's--and should speak only words which honor him and bless others. Our hearts are God's--and must not be profaned by thoughts and affections which are not pure.
Biblical holiness is no vague sentiment--it is intensely practical. It is nothing less than the bringing of every thought and feeling and act--into obedience to Christ.
Our Father is taking care of us!
Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares about you!" 1 Peter 5:7
If this world were governed by chance--no amount either of philosophy or of common sense could keep us from worrying; but we know that our Father is taking care of us! No little child in the best and most caring home, was ever carried so carefully or so safely in the love and thought and care of earthly parents--as is the least of God's little ones in the heavenly Father's heart! "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them!" Matthew 6:31-32. The things we cannot help or change are in His hand, and belong to the "all things" which, we are assured, "work together for good, to those who love God."
In the midst of all the great rush of events and circumstances, in which we can see no order and no design--we well know that each believer in Christ, is as safe as any little child in the arms of the most loving mother!
Amid all life's trials and disappointments--our faith rests upon the character and the infinite goodness of God! We should have the faith of a little child--in a Father whose name is "Love" and whose power extends to every part of His universe! Here we find solid rock upon which to stand, and good reason for our lesson that we should never worry. Our Father is taking care of us!
In a world like ours, there are many things which incline us to worry. There are disappointments which leave the hands empty after days and years of hope and toil. There are resistless thwartings of fondly cherished plans and purposes. There are bereavements which seem to sweep away every earthly joy. There are perplexities through which no human wisdom can lead the feet. There are experiences in every life--whose natural effect is to disquiet the spirit and produce deep and painful anxiety.
If we are never to worry, what are we to do with these things which naturally tend to cause us worry? The answer is easy--we are to put all these disturbing and distracting things--into the hands of our Father!
"Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares about you!" 1 Peter 5:7. God is taking care of you--not overlooking the smallest thing, and you have but to cast all your cares and anxiety upon Him--and then be at peace. It is trying to carry our own cares, which produces worry! Our duty is to cast them all upon Christ! This is the secret of heart-peace in the time of distress, from whatever cause.
Does God really care for us?
I am poor and needy--yet the Lord thinks upon me!" Psalm 40:17
Did God really care for him? And does God care for us, and think upon us--when we are poor and needy? Does God really care for us, as individuals? Does He give personal thought to any of us--to you, to me--according to our condition? Does pain or trouble in us--cause pity in His heart? Does God care? Does He see the individual in the crowd? When you are passing through some great trouble, enduring pain or adversity--does God know it, and does He care?
A daughter had a bitter sorrow, a sore disappointment. The mother knew just what her daughter was passing through. Her love for her child, entered into and shared all the child's experiences. The mother cared. Is there ever anything like this in the heart of God--as He looks upon His children and knows that they are suffering?
When we turn to the Bible, we find on every page the revelation--that God does care--and has personal interest in His people.
Christ assured His disciples, that the very hairs of their heads are all numbered; meaning that God personally cares for all the minutest affairs of our lives--He cares for us as individuals. His love is as personal and individual, as the love of a mother for each one of her children.
Paul took the love of Christ to himself--as if he were the only one Christ loved! "He loved me--and gave Himself up for me!" God's love is personal. He cares for us--for me!
Whatever your need, your trial, your perplexity, your struggle may be--you may be sure that God knows and cares--and that when you come to Him with it, He will take time amid all His infinite affairs, to help you--as if He had nothing else in all the world to do!
God cares! His love for each one of His children is so deep, so personal, so tender--that He has compassion on our every pain, every distress, every struggle. "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him." Psalm 103:13. God is our Father, and His care is gentler than a human father's--as His love exceeds human love.
Much human care has no power to help--but when God cares--He helps omnipotently. When human friendship can give no relief--then God will come. When no one in all the world cares--then God cares! "Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares about you!" 1 Peter 5:7
A little picture of Christ!
No sooner do we begin to behold the lovely face of Christ, which looks out at us from the gospel chapters, than a great hope springs up in our hearts. We can become like Jesus! Indeed, if we are God's children, we shall become like Him. We are foreordained to be conformed to His image. It matters not, how faintly the divine beauty glimmers now in our soiled and imperfect lives--some day we shall be like Him! As we struggle here with imperfections and infirmities, with scarcely one trace of Christlikeness yet apparent in our life, we still may say, when we catch glimpses of the glorious loveliness of Christ, "Some day I shall be like that!" "For those He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son!" Romans 8:29. "We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is!" 1 John 3:2.
But how may we now grow into the Christlikeness of Christ? Not merely by our own strugglings and strivings. We cannot make ourselves Christlike by any efforts of our own. Nothing less than a divine power is sufficient to produce this transformation in us.
The Scripture describes the process. "Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the image of the glory." That is, we are to find the likeness of Christ, and are to look upon it and ponder it, gazing intently and lovingly upon it--and as we gaze we are transformed and grow like Christ!
It is not merely a brief glance now and then that is here implied, not the turning of the eye toward him for a few hurried moments in the early morning or in the late evening--but a constant, loving and reverent beholding of Him through days and years, until His image burns itself upon the soul. If we thus train our heart's eyes to look at Christ, we shall be transformed into His image.
"Beholding we are changed." The verb is passive. We do not produce the change. The marble can never carve itself into the lovely figure which floats in the artist's mind--the transformation must be wrought with patience, by the sculptor's own hands. Just so--we cannot change ourselves into the image of Christ's glory. The work is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. We simply look upon the image of the Christ, and His blessed light streams in upon us and prints its own radiant glory upon our hearts!
We have nothing to do, but to keep our eyes fixed upon Christ's beauty (as the flowers hold up their faces toward the sun,) and the transformation is divinely wrought in us. It is not wrought instantaneously. At first there are but dimmest glimmerings of the likeness of Christ. We cannot in a single day learn all the long, hard lessons of patience, meekness, unselfishness, humility, joy and peace. Little by little the change is wrought, and the beauty comes out as we continue to gaze upon Christ. Little by little the glory flows into our lives from the radiant face of the Master--and flows out again through our dull lives, transforming them!
If we continue ever beholding the glory, gazing upon it--we shall be mirrors, reflecting Him into whose face we gaze! Then those who look upon our lives will see in us--a dim image at least--a little picture of Christ!
His life is the textbook
Bible knowledge alone, does not make one a godly Christian. One might know all the great facts and doctrines of the Word of God, might be a profound Bible scholar and a wise theologian--and yet not be an advanced, or even a growing Christian! We are to learn to 'live Christ'--as well as to know the truths about Christ.
Jesus in His teachings, makes a great deal of obedience. "You are My friends--if you do what I command you." John 15:14. We are to learn to be patient, meek, gentle, compassionate. We are to learn to be humble, kind, unselfish, truthful, sincere. We enter Christ's school to be trained in all the qualities which make up the true Christian life. Jesus is not only the teacher--His life is the textbook which we are to study!
We are to look to His life--to learn just how to live, the kind of character we are to seek to have, and the meaning of the lessons which His words set for us. We are in the school of Christ to be trained in all Christian life and duty. The lessons which the Bible sets for us--we are to live out in common life.
For example, it is not enough to learn from the Beatitudes, that certain qualities are praised by the great Teacher; we are to get the Beatitudes into our own life as quickly and as perfectly as we can. Just so of all the teachings of Christ--they are not for merely knowing--as one learns the fine sayings of favorite literary writers; they are for living! They are to become lamps to our feet and lights to our path, and to be wrought into the web of our character.
We are not to expect perfection in the school of Christ--but we have a right to expect an increasing knowledge of spiritual things, and also spiritual growth in all the qualities which belong to Christian character. We should become more patient, more loving, more unselfish--more like Christ!
Life is too short; Love is too sacred
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
The ideal Christian life, is one of unbroken kindliness. It is dominated by love--the love whose portrait is drawn for us in the immortal thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. We have but to turn to the gospel pages, to find the story of a Life in which all this was realized. Jesus never lost his temper. He lived among people who tried Him at every point--some by their dullness, others by their bitter enmity and persecution, but He never failed in sweetness of disposition, in long-suffering patience, in self-denying love. Like the flowers which give out their perfume only when crushed, like the odoriferous wood which bathes with fragrance the ax which hews it--the life of Christ yielded only the tenderer, sweeter love to the rough impact of men's rudeness and wrong. That is the pattern on which we should strive to fashion our life and our character. Every outbreak of violent temper, every shade of ugliness in disposition, mars the radiant loveliness of the picture we are seeking to have fashioned in our lives.
The perfect beauty of Christ, should ever be envisioned in our hearts, as that which we would attain for ourselves. The honor of our Master's name, should impel us to strive ever toward Christlikeness in spirit and in disposition.
We represent Christ in this world; people cannot see Him, and they must look at us to see a little of what He is like. Whatever great work we may do for Christ, if we fail to live out His life of patience and kindness, we fail in an essential part of our duty as Christians. "The servant of the Lord must be gentle." Only as our own lives shine in the brightness of holy affectionateness, and our hearts and lips distill the sweetness of patience and gentleness, can we fulfill our mission in this world as Christ's true messengers to men.
Life is too short to spend even one day of it in bickering and strife. Love is too sacred to be forever lacerated and torn by the ugly briers of sharp temper. Surely we ought to learn to be patient with others, since God has to show every day such infinite patience toward us. Can we not, then, train our life to sweeter gentleness? Can we not learn to be touched even a little roughly, without resenting it? Can we not bear little injuries and apparent injustices, without flying into an unseemly rage? Can we not have in us something of the mind of Christ which will enable us, like Him--to endure all wrong and injury and give back no word or look of bitterness?
There is no temper so obdurately bad--that it cannot be trained into sweetness. The grace of God can take the most unlovely life--and transform it into the image of Christ!