Exodus 16: 14-15
John 17: 3
I was encouraged by both the hymn and the prayer to read these scriptures. They have been in my mind already but the hymn began,
O Lord, Thy glory we behold,
and the question that has been in my mind for some time is, ’What do we behold?’ The hymn is clear that it is, ‘not with mortal eyes’. It must therefore be a question of the Holy Spirit’s work, but I challenged myself: what do we expect when we come to the meeting? We may say that this is the meeting for ministry, and we expect to hear a word from one and another but the question is: how substantial are these things to us? Do we come because we are obliged to do so? What do we grasp, what do we go away from the meeting with that we did not have when we came? I take this to myself.
I read about Jacob because he evidently had an experience that affected him. It caused deep exercise in his mind. It says, “he was afraid and said how dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God”. You say, that is not a good way to begin but I think it was quite a good way to begin. He had come to do with a divine Person. I do not think he was fully aware of it: perhaps he would have some understanding of what had gone on. He said, “How dreadful is this place”. Now, you ask, ‘You would not say that about coming to the meeting, would you?’. And, of course, we would not say that, but I would say this, that the things we have to do with are of God, and I cannot come and go as I like. The Lord spoke of a mustard tree that grew and grew, and He says, “the birds of heaven come and roost in its branches”, Matt 13: 32. ‘I will come if I like and I will stay away if I like’; that is not what we should have in our minds and hearts. It is not dreadful in the sense of inspiring fear but God’s things must not be trifled with: they belong to God after all. In one sense we set this meeting on, the brethren arranged it, which is right, but there is another sense in which God called it, and when He called it He had something in mind. God never does anything pointless or casual. When He does something He has an end in view and reaches it, so that we would go away from this meeting, I trust, with something. I do not want to lay burdens on the hearts of the brethren, especially our younger brethren, but we should have something that we have gleaned and seek grace to lay hold of it and retain it. So Jacob did that. He “rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had made his pillow, and set it up for a pillar”. That is a change, is it not? I do not suppose it was a very good pillow, but that is all he had, and he made something out of it that had God in view. Maybe that was the first time in his life that he had really thought of God, arranged something that was to be pleasing to God. It says he “set it up for a pillar, and poured oil on the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el”. He gave it a definite name. That was a definite and substantial point in his experience which I think he kind of forgot about for a while, but God reminded him, and so it may be with our experiences. God gives us a touch: it is in our hearts and we are impressed, then the cares of life press in and things overlay it a bit, but God has not forgotten and He brings us back to the touches that He gives us.
Now in Exodus we read about the manna. We know the manna was to be collected for the household. However, all I had in mind in this was the expression “What is it?”. Now, I genuinely feel that we should have that experience in our household exercises and that we should be impressionable when we come together. Is there something in our gatherings that would cause us to say something like this - ‘what is happening?’. You see, we cannot be literal; the hymn made that clear and our brother in his prayer emphasised what was said,
’Tis not for human eye to see ...
We are not expecting a miracle, and it is not the case that unless we have a lot of singing and activity we are not really achieving very much. That is not the point at all: we come to gain something and God provides it. God put the manna in front of them and - I speak with the utmost reverence - He waited to see what reaction He would get. They called it something; they called it manna, “What is it?”. Now we come on to the realm of things where exercise is called for. They picked it up; it must have been readily accessible and I think somebody somewhere has said in ministry that if you looked around every bush, every tree, every bit of ground would all be covered with manna. Now that is how careful God is that He should provide us with what we need every day, and this is one of the things that bears on us, that what God is doing, He is doing for us every day. I have been impressed also recently with how much detail God is prepared to go into with each one of us. Little things, you might almost say trivial things, would come into our lives but we are led to a word of prayer and the answer comes. Am I surprised? Well, I ought not to be: it is not that I can command God and seek miracles at His hand but I can ask for His help in a dependent way, and look for an answer, and answer He will. So this matter then required continual exercise: it takes us a step further. It required obedience: they were given instructions about this which they either ignored to begin with, or did not properly pay attention to. They kept the manna overnight, and it stank. I am going back now to “How dreadful is this place!”. We cannot treat God’s matters as optional. If He tells us to do something He expects us to do it and the glory of the matter is it will help us if we do.
In John 17 we come to a much more elevated line of things and this is part of the glory of Christianity. You see, we have come to recognise God, we know the Lord Jesus as Saviour, and have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We can take in what the Lord would say to us and appropriate it. The hymn gave us a very good outline of it:
’Tis not for human eye to see,
Nor human ear to hear ...
But God, in love, has freely giv’n
His Spirit, who reveals ...
So we find out through exercise what kind of God we have to deal with. He “giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not”, Jas 1: 5 (KJV). We are reminded constantly that God has not withheld anything by way of blessing. Is there something that He could have given us and has not? You know there is nothing, but what He has poured it out. He gave the Lord Jesus first of all, His own Son, and God was affronted by the way He was treated and insulted, and what did He do? He poured out His Spirit. Is there any God like that? Is there any one we can have to do with who is like God? There is none, and so I say to myself, ‘Give thanks, but be careful; let me not trifle with these things’. God has been very, very merciful. I can understand something of Jacob’s thoughts, looking back over his whole history. What about all the clever things he did? He says nothing of that: “the God that shepherded me all my life long”, Gen 48: 15. The hymn says too:
In the desert God will teach thee
What the God that thou hast found—
Patient, gracious, powerful, holy ...
That is the God we deal with, that is the God who supplies us, that is the God who sets things in front of us for our blessing and good, but I say again: He is not to be trifled with. I do not want to instil fear or dread in anybody’s mind but He is God and let us pay attention to what He says and what He lays on us.
John 17 is a wonderful chapter where we have the Lord speaking to His Father. He is not speaking to the disciples directly: He is speaking about them. He is speaking to His Father. You know, this is how we are led on and taught. Another thing about Christianity is that we are taught what God has in mind for us. It says in Isaiah about the ploughman, “His God doth instruct him”, chap 28: 26. Well, God does instruct us; I hope He is instructing us now. I do trust that God is saying something, and I would add to that, I do trust that we are expecting to hear something from God here, now, at this time. We cannot command God, but we can come in faith and with the Spirit active in our hearts. Do you think God would say nothing? Of course He will say something that is valuable and worth hearing, but I just touch on this. The Lord is speaking to His Father. Again it comes to us as instruction, “this is the eternal life, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent”. We come to the place and the point where we begin to be initiated into divine secrets. God is still instructing us, and what is He telling us? He is telling us, I say with reverence, how He conducts His own affairs. Is that not marvellous grace? “And this is the eternal life, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent”. We begin to learn divine secrets. Now all these things are real. You say, ‘I cannot see it, I have no proof’; no, but what you do have is the Spirit. Do we all have the Holy Spirit? It certainly is God’s will for us that every one of us should have the Holy Spirit. We all have His Spirit and another thing, we all have faith. If we come with faith and the Spirit, God is able to make these great and glorious things real to us, as real as if we could see them physically with our eyes. In fact, they are more real because they are eternal. Well, I trust the Lord will use this word.
23rd July 2013