God’s School Of Suffering: Can We Hasten Graduation Day?
Guard Your Strong Points
Experience is the best teacher, and charges the biggest fee. It insists on being paid, day by day, as you go along. No book accounts allowed, nor credits. You don’t pay in cheap stuff like gold and engraved paper and checks. No, you pay in blood and sweat. You pay in your own life given slowly out, sometimes painfully out, under tense pressure. But you get something. You get much. You get most. You get the one real thing, gold, real gold, the gold of character; you yourself, your changed self, that’s what you get. You’re never the same again. Experience means what you go through, and what goes through you. Our knowledge is really limited to just that. We know only what we go through. What is woven into the fabric of actual life, that we really know, and only that. The rest we only know about. And there’s a whole solar system of difference between the two. Bodily pain bends the most stubborn will. And that is saying a great deal. For there is nothing harder to bend than a stubborn will. The will is never broken. It can’t be. It can only be bent, and that means bent from within. No man’s will, however obstinate, can be bended, however slightly, except from within. That is to say, by his own choosing to bend it. Every man is an absolute sovereign in his will, from his mother’s breast until the breast of old mother-earth enfolds him at the last. This is the way God made him. But bodily pain, cutting, eating in, and then getting sharper-toothed, and persisting, tirelessly persisting, day in and day out, by night and day, awake and asleep, and when you can’t sleep, that is the sorest pressure that can be brought to bear on a man’s will. It is the whip with the ugliest lash and sting. This explains much bodily pain, not all, but much. For there is nothing more mulishly stubborn, in earth or heaven or the depths below, than a stubborn human will. Perhaps you know that. And there is nothing so relentlessly persistent as bodily pain can be. It is a fierce conflict, many a time. Often it is stubborn self-will and Love in fierce competition. The self-will refuses to bend even when it knows it should, that it’s right to, and best to. For stubbornness can become a habit gripping a man beyond his own heart’s wish. And Love, with a breaking heart over the pain being suffered by that stubborn will, yet keeps the fire burning more fiercely, to save the man’s life. One can be strong enough to be stubborn, but not strong enough to bend. The will is really strongest when it uses its strength in bending to a higher, better, wiser, will. But Love wins out. The exceptions are rare. The heart, after all, wins in competition with the will. It kindles gentle fierce fires under the will, and keeps them burning, tender and hot, till the will yields, mellows, bends, capitulates. The one thing greater than a stubborn will is a true, tender, hot heart. Love wins. This is the great lesson in God’s School of Suffering. A man’s strong point is apt to become his weak point, when he’s out of full touch with God. A man may come to have the possible weakness of his strongest qualities. Away from the steadying touch of God’s presence the pendulum swings clear to the opposite limit. Abraham was called a friend of God because he believed Him. His faith in God staggered not at the humanly impossible. Yet he quite failed God, twice, in going to Egypt and so imperilling God’s world plan; and in the Hagar incident. Moses was the meekest man, and no one ever lost his temper so badly and completely. David was one of the saintliest of men, and no man has given more opportunity to men to revile because of that ugliest moral blot in his life. Solomon was the wisest man, at the beginning. He became the stupidest moral fool, and so continued to the end. Elijah’s boldness and daring made a record, yet he ran away with cowardly swiftness from a woman’s threat. Job was esteemed the most patient of men, but was there ever a greater exhibition of hot, intolerant impatience than in his replies to his critics? He was the humblest of saints, and quite unconsciously showed how proud a man could be. One should keep a keen eye on his strong points. And the eyesight is keenest here when the knees are bent. There is simply no telling what may happen to any of us when we lose full touch with Christ. The Spirit of God is man’s native air. Away from that he certainly gets into bad shape, and does the queerest unlikeliest things. Man is free, utterly free, in his will. That’s God’s tenderest touch. In that he is most like God. He becomes a slave, a rank slave, shackled and chained, to his will. It’s a bit of the ugly trail of sin, the getting out of touch with God. It’s Christ’s first will that we should be strong and well in body. But what a time of it He has getting His first will done. Some of the saintliest of people, so lovable and gentle personally, have such stubborn wills. Let us hope it can be said truly that it is quite unconsciously that they won’t yield their will to God’s, in some cherished particular. We all seem to be a bit set in our own way. Some saintly folk are so sure they know better than God, in certain things. One tries hard to believe it is always an unintentional stubbornness. Maybe putting it so baldly will help the truth break in through that same saintly stubbornness. And so there has to be a term of school. Many a dear saint supplies the scholar and the entrance conditions for the school of suffering. And the discipline seems stiff and stern. And the fees are very high. And they are payable daily, and collected too. And the lessons seem hard and the time long. But then Love is always the schoolmaster, real Love, tender and true, honest and courageous, uncompromisingly insistent on the highest ideals. One hand tenderly and patiently is underneath strengthening and sustaining, while the other guides and steadies, limits and lessens, the discipline when possible. And the Schoolmaster ‘s eye watches the calendar hoping for an early graduation. And His heart watches with deepest concern the scholar, who alone fixes the graduation date. We learn best by stories and pictures. The story is the picture for the ear. The picture is the story for the eye. We learn most through the eye, with the ear a close second. There are three stories in this solitary old Book of God, pictured stories with the warm, vivid colouring of real human life, that come in here. There’s Job at one end, Paul at the other, and Jacob in between. Any one of them is quite enough to tell the story of Love’s schooling, all three together pile things up to the irresistible point.
Job the Scholar
There’s an unusual fascination about the Job story. It is told so fully, and made so vivid, and is so human. It is the first of all these books to be written down. It is put at the gateway into this old Book of God. There is purpose in all this. For it deals with the sorest question of human life through the ages, the problem of suffering. Here, simply told, put into men’s hands at once, is God’s own answer to the problem. And it proves an answer that answers. It is full and adequate. It is striking that there are two parts to the story. The first has caught the eye of the Church; the second part has been strangely slighted, indeed ignored. Yet the story is not complete, and the answer not understood, unless and until both parts are taken together. It is one story. There are six chapters in the story, all told. In part one there are five chapters. In part two there is just one chapter. But what a chapter this sixth, this last chapter, is. It fairly vibrates with bubbling-over joy. Music and exuberant singing fill the air. Laughter and congratulation, praise to God, and happy fellowship among men echo everywhere. The sun is shining. The birds burst their throats with song. The very air is a-thrill with human gladness. And the music is now in the major key. The minor chording that swept and wept all through part one now becomes a blessed undertone to make the joyousness of the major stand out in bolder relief. How strange that the last bit of the Job story has been so ignored. The graduation day exercises have been strangely pigeonholed out of sight. Did some one behind the scenes have a hand in that? Look a bit, briefly, at the six chapters of the Job story. Chapter one is the scholar in school. The picture is drawn as men saw him. It tells his common reputation in the whole countryside. He was perfect and upright in all his dealings with his fellows. There was more, he reverenced God, and earnestly sought to please Him. He was thought fully and intelligently deliberate in this. When there had been a time of feasting and convivial enjoyment in the family he was careful to have a special time of prayer afterward, that if anything had been done or said displeasing or not-pleasing to God it might be forgiven, and so no unsuspected root of wrong-doing be allowed. It was his conscientious habit to be pleasing to God in the whole habit of his life. And he was careful to guard the life of his growing family. All this was commonly known. He was the leading citizen in the community. And this was his reputation. He was upright with others, a thoughtful father in his family, and saintly in his own personal life. His very name suggests his character. Names grew up in those days, up out of a man’s character. Here the name given has a distinctly spirit significance. That would be natural with such a man, for his saintliness, his spiritual habit of character, was the outstanding trait. He was called Job, that is, the man hated, hounded, persecuted to the utmost possible limit. His character made him hated. He was heartily disliked by those of the opposite ilk. Especially he was hated by the unseen spirit prince of evil, whose personality in that early day was never questioned. This is the picture men saw, a man so conscientious, so upright, so thoughtfully methodically righteous and saintly as to arouse opposition in some quarters. There’s another bit in the picture of the man that comes out later in the whole story. It was the side that God saw, the inside of his character. He was so humble that, probably quite unconsciously, he was proud of it. There was a subtle unsuspected inner satisfaction with his spiritual attainments. What a strange bit of irony, pride in being humble! But a snake may crawl noiselessly through the greenest grass, and among the most fragrant flowers. He was so conscientious in planning the whole habit of his life as pleasing to God that he slipped a bit in the real thing. Without being aware of it that very conscientiousness, and methodical care, and saintliness of habit, got in to his inner subconsciousness even more than God Himself. He would have been the first to pull himself up had he recognized the tendency. He was quick as a flash on his face when God actually spoke to him, and things got straightened out. But that’s the man, the scholar in the school, the two men in one, the man his neighbours saw, and the man God saw. That’s chapter one (Job 1:1-5). Men saw a humble godly man. God saw a bit of dross in the rare fine gold of this man’s character.
Job – First Session of School
Chapter two is the first session of school. In the upper spirit realm there’s a reviewing of things down on the earth. Satan is spoken of for the first time in the Scriptures, and spoken of by that name, the Satan, the accuser, the hater, the hounder of men. God takes the initiative regarding Job. This is significant. There’s a purpose at work. God speaks of the well-known character of Job. Satan maliciously slanders Job as an utterly selfish man who finds it to his advantage to be righteous. Satan is given permission to interfere in Job’s affairs, but within strict limitation (Job 1:6-12). Then the scene of the story shifts to the earth again. Job’s opportunity has come. The door up-stairs is to open at his feet. War, marauding bands, lightning, a terrific wind-storm, these come one after the other with a rush. And everything is swept away, children and possessions one after another in quick succession. And there is a terribly dramatic piling up of the calamities as the story is told, by one breathless messenger after another, to Job. And in this sore hour of bereavement, with torn and bleeding heart, Job never flinched in his simple trust in God, and his unfailing personal devotion to Him. Things have gone aw fully bad. But there’s no reproach in Job’s heart. It is significant that the immediate origin of his trouble is quite unrecognized. He supposes that it is God Himself in action doing all this (Job 1:21). It gives emphasis to his humble, uncomplaining submission to God, though he can’t understand why such things should happen to him. Again the scene shifts to the upper realm, and again God speaks of the righteousness of Job, though so sorely tried. And again Satan slanders and imputes selfish motives. And now the restriction on Job ‘s person is withdrawn, within a strict limit (Job 2:1-6). Then comes the touch on Job’s person. One of the worst plagues known in that sub-tropical climate, ulcerous sores, known as the black leprosy of Egypt, this breaks out in Job’s body. God’s gracious protecting restraint is partially withdrawn, for a brief time (Job 2:7-13). And poor saintly Job, sitting on an ash heap, scraping his itching sores with the sharp edge of a broken piece of crockery, quite takes hold of one’s heart. Then his wife loses heart, and incoherently, bitterly cries out against God. And that doesn’t make things any better certainly. It’s a bitter draft to swallow when a man doesn’t feel his wife by his side, close up, steadying and believing in him. His wife’s unfailing touch and presence and atmosphere strengthens a man quite beyond words. Its absence is felt keenly now, even though the answering voice is still quiet and steady. Then the three neighbours come. They are supposed to be comforters, deeply grieved over their old neighbour’s sore plight. For seven silent days and seven yet more silent nights they sit looking. Peering aslant and direct, at Job and at each other, with never a word spoken, but many a thought thought, they sit. That was the decisive stroke. Job broke under that. His keen ear heard their unspoken thoughts. His sensitive spirit felt the cutting edge of those peering eyes. Loss of property, loss of children, loss of health, loss of his wife’s sympathetic fellowship, he stood up under these. But, loss of his sacred privacy, and then the criticism all the keener and more cutting because unspoken, and all this continued unbroken seven full days and seven sleepless nights, that was a terrific climax. Job broke under that. Little wonder! The time test is the hardest test. The patience of patient Job ran out. He was a cunning strategist that planned that campaign, devilishly, cruelly, heartlessly cunning. This is chapter two, the first session in school.
Job – Inside
Then comes chapter three, the unsuspected man inside is revealed (Job 3:1 to 31:40). “After this,” this sevenfold cunningly piled-up climax of attack, Job “cursed his day.” That is, tacitly, quite unintentionally in all probability, he cursed God who gave the creative touch that day of birth. And for bitterness of spirit, biting sarcasm, persistent absorption in his own integrity and in the unfairness of all that’s happening to him, for rebellion against God and God’s dealings, it would be difficult to match Job in the flood of talk that is now loosened out. How pain itself, with no touch of grace allowed in, sharpens the tongue, makes picturesque rhetoric, and puts acid in the spittle! It’s immensely suggestive. The three critics, called comforters, go at him in turn. And the burden of their talk is this: all these calamities mean that God is acting in judgment on Job for his wickedness. They insist that all his godliness is a mere sham to cover up the utter selfishness and actual wickedness underneath. Their talk hangs well together. There’s thorough consistency. It is full of pious phraseology, inaccuracies, half-truths, and positive untruths. It’s a queer tangle and mixture. It has a strangely familiar modern sound. It is not difficult to understand who sent them, or which side they represent in this pathetic conflict going on, on the battlefield of Job’s life. It’s the last stroke of that carefully planned attack. One should be careful with quotations from the Book of Job, to note whose words are being quoted. But Job out-talks them. As the debate goes on their talks get shorter, his longer. He talks nine times, all three of them eight times. He says half as much more as they. His bitterness increases. At last they quit. They are talked out. The case is hopeless to them because this man Job is so set in believing in his own righteousness. They give Job up as a hopeless incorrigible. This is the first session of the school. The examinations show Job up in rather bad shape. Job lays himself bare. He is indeed a rare saint in the utter integrity of his heart and life. But he doesn’t understand. He is in the dark. And he blunders badly. That’s why the story is put down here, so his spirit kinsfolk need not make the same blunders. Job questioned God’s love, which is always above question or suspicion. Because he doesn’t understand he questions God ‘s love, which means he doubts it. And in the sore experience, certain unsuspected things that were inside came out. They must have been in or they couldn’t have come out. As you see them coming out you know that, all unsuspected, they were hidden away in side. It’s a strange sight indeed this. Saintly Job, rarest of saints in the purpose of his heart, and the uprightness of his conduct, unconsciously letting the seamy side stick out, Sitting on the ash heap, talking, with the sharp-edged bit of broken crockery in rhythmic motion on his itching scabs, declaring his own righteousness, and reviling God and God’s dealings. Cutting sarcastic flings intermingle with insistence on his faith in God. The examinations go hard with Job. They show up something inside never suspected. He doesn’t see it yet. Job’s weakness is laid bare. His humility is the last thing in view now. Indeed it’s clear out of view, lost sight of. And where is the proverbial patience of patient Job? All this rebelliousness of spirit against God, this biting, burning sarcasm, this utter absence of the love spirit, this utter depressed absorption in himself, this exaggerated ego, this had all been in, quite unsuspected. Else it couldn’t have gotten out. One begins to understand now about that school of suffering. The graduate, with honours, of many schools is having a final post-graduate course. God wants him up higher, highest, with full honours, but forgetting all about the honours in thinking about his wondrous God. Now comes chapter four, God’s teacher comes (Job 32:1 to 37:24). The second session of school opens. God takes a hand in things indirectly. He sends a messenger, Elihu. Elihu is a teacher. And what poor saintly righteous Job needed above all things just now was a teacher. His heart was all right, but his understanding of things was muddled. The teacher quietly, patiently, gently, plainly, teaches. Then Job’s eyes begin to open. New soft light begins to break in. First of all this teacher explains just why all this has happened to Job. He repudiates utterly what the three critics had been declaring so positively. God had not been acting in judgment on Job. The whole thing is on a wholly higher level, a love level, a wooing level. Elihu points out that Job had been insisting on his own integrity. He was rebelling bitterly because of what had happened to him, and against God’s dealings with him, and so against God Himself (Job 33:8-12). Job had been proud of his sanctity, the utter uprightness of his conduct, and the sincerity of his heart. He had become absorbed with himself, his saintliness. He was proud of being so humble, quite unconsciously (Job 33:17). For pride is simply being taken up with yourself in any degree or any way, and not getting God in, in His own place. Humility is simply letting God into one’s thought and imagination and purpose as big as He really is. All we have is from God, a direct gift to be held in trust. Talents, gifts, powers, possessions, everything is given by Him. It is a trust in the full legal meaning of that word, and then the higher love meaning. All these gifts are at their best only as God’s touch is upon them in full, which means, is upon you in full. No one is true to himself, and to his powers, and to his neighbours, except as all is yielded up to God’s touch, full constant touch. And when that’s so the mind, the imagination, the will are all absorbed with the thought of God Himself, His love so beyond words, and all that grows out of His love. Pride is the assertion of one’s self. Humility is being so taken up with some One else that one thinks of himself only in relation to that One. Then in a simple, practical, wholesome way all one’s powers, one’s relation to his fellows and to the day’s task, fall into right place. That’s the touch upon you of this One you’re so taken up with. That absorption in God, in Christ, is a very practical thing. You have seen a babe watching intently the mother’s face, utterly absorbed, conscious of nothing else. And the sight has caught your heart. And so the mother with her babe, a lover with his lover, a husband with a wife. This thing of being absorbed in someone else is common enough to know about, blessedly so. Job was being wooed from absorption in himself up to the higher level, forgetting himself in seeing God. If ever a man really sees God he loses himself at once. And yet he really gets hold of his true self in losing himself in God. Elihu gently but firmly puts his finger on the sore spot. Job had been taken up with himself. His whole trouble at root was pride, thinking about himself (Job 33:13-18). That’s the teacher’s first point, tactfully, clearly made. Then the teacher goes on. Something happens. Sickness comes. Elihu touches only one thing in Job’s troubles. But that is enough, and makes things simpler to Job’s understanding. Elihu doesn’t go into the matter of the process by which the disease came to Job, just now, as is told in the beginning of Job’s story. There’s a vivid description of a desperately sick man (Job 33:19-22). That’s the teacher’s second bit. Then comes a teacher to make things clear to this sick man (Job 33:23). Elihu modestly speaks of himself only indirectly. A paraphrase helps make the thought clearer, a translation into simple English of the underneath thought. Elihu says, “If there be with the sick man a messenger, a teacher, one in the close, confidential touch of personal love, to explain things to him patiently and gently and clearly…” Then comes prayer, and the healing (Job 33:24-28). Now the healed man frankly says, “I have sinned.” There’s a vast difference between being told you are a sinner and actually confessing yourself that you are a sinner. Now, healed, the man goes about singing. He is so absorbed with such a wondrous God as he has found all anew that he goes about telling his neighbours and friends about Him. This is the heart of Elihu’s teaching. There are six links in its chain, pride, disease, a teacher, prayer, healing, telling others about this wondrous God. And the rest of Elihu’s talk, by far the greater part, is taken up chiefly in talking about God. Unconsciously he becomes a fine illustration of what he is talking about. I can imagine that already a bit of restful sigh escapes Job’s lips. His thought is sharply changed. What fine psychology! He turns away from himself (what a relief!) to — God (Job chapters 34-37). That’s the close of the second session of school.
Job Sees God
Then the third session opens. This is the fifth chapter of the story, Job gets a sight of God (Job chapters 38-41). God speaks. Job hears, and gets down on his face at once. God picks up the thread where Elihu had dropped it, and goes on weaving the same fabric. And what God does is this, simply this, but all of this: He looks into Job’s face. Job never forgot the sight. God talks in a very simple, homely way about Himself. Job gets a picture of God, the Creator, His intelligence that could think things out, His wis dom that could so skilfully adapt means to end, His power that could actually do what He did; and then above all, running through all and between the lines is this: His love; He did it, actually did what He did. Job got a picture of God. He never got over it. He’s down on his face in the dust. It’s a remarkable face-about. “Mine eye seeth Thee: I abhor myself” (Job 42:1-9). And then God graciously gives Job a rare opportunity. It is not a test to see if Job can stand it. It is Job’s opportunity to reveal the wholly new spirit now in control. It is his opportunity to be like God. He is to pray for these poor befogged critics. They certainly need it. And he gladly does it. He is so taken up now with God that everything is affected. The absorbing thought of such a God comes swamping in. It takes possession. It graciously grips him. The bitter sarcasm toward these critics goes clean out. Love, that is to say, God, fills his heart. He is grateful for the outlet of this new passion. He gladly prays for these men that they, too, may see this wondrous God. The real God-touch means a humaner human touch. Job is really humble now, but he doesn’t know it. He’s so absorbed with God that he quickly forgives and loves his bitter critics. Because that’s being like God. That’s the God touch. When a man thinks he is humble he may know at once that he isn’t. He’s thinking about himself. When one thinks in his heart that he really is saintly, he may know for a truth that he isn’t. He hasn’t the real thing for he’s taken up with himself. The real thing of humility is being absorbed with God. Then you become unconsciously like Him. It becomes a passion, an intensely practical passion, to get others in touch, too. That’s the God-touch Humility is such a sensitive plant, when you think you have it, it withers up at once, and dies. This is the third session of school. Job sees God, and gets down on his face, and then reaches out to help others. Then comes chapter six, Graduation Day (Job 42:10-17). School’s out. Satan is heard of no more. He has slunk away. Resisted, he fled. The healing touch comes without being asked for. And it’s a full healing. It includes body and family and circumstances and length of life. And the striking thing that catches you at once is this: Job fixed the date for graduation day. The whole decision rested with him. His will had new strength now. It could bend, bend to the higher will. And it did. That was the turning point. That fixed the date. All God’s power and love wait on man’s consent. We control the door through which God enters our lives. How long did this school of suffering last? There were three sessions, then graduation day. But how much time did the whole take? I don’t know in actual days and weeks. It doesn’t tell. But the story as told gives the impression that the whole thing could have occurred within a few weeks, from new moon to full. How long did this school last? I do know. I know exactly. Just as long as it took Job to get down on his face; then graduation day. Job could have made it last much longer. Any one can. Some are strong enough to talk humbly about themselves, and submissively. But they’re not strong enough to bend, bend clear down. You’ve got to get clear down to see God’s face, and hear His voice. The best view of God is gotten on your face in the dust. Then the eyes of the spirit open. And even the ash heap, and that broken piece of crockery, become fragrant memories. For they became the gateway into that blessed change of spirit. And through that the healing and all the rest came. School fees were never so high. Ask Job. And payment of fees was never more cheerfully assented to, afterward, when school was out. One is quick to note that there is a twofold purpose in this old Job school-story. There was a purpose for Job himself. And there was a purpose through Job. Job has been a silent eloquent preacher to men ever since his story was lived in the plains and hills of Uz. There was a distinct purpose of service in Job’s experience. The whole Church, and some day the whole race, will be grateful to Job for being a good scholar in God’s school.
Paul’s Thorn – The Man
The second of these outstanding picture stories is that of Paul, Paul’s thorn. Whenever one talks rather positively about prayer, or about bodily healing, some one always remembers and asks about Paul’s thorn. Well, there certainly is distinct help for us all here. First a look at the man, then a look at his thorn. The best light on this troublesome thorn is the man. He, his character, and the great bit of work for God he was chosen to do, these throw the best light on that stinging, sticking thorn. Paul is a great man from any point of view, and a great saint. His Hebrew blood, his aristocratic family and breeding, his inherited and acquired culture, His university training, his breadth of out look, his inflexible conscientiousness, his passion of devotion to his Master, what a man he was among men! What a saint among saints! What a giant he was in his will. The unflinching unfaltering insistence on his task, in spite of opposition and difficulties, all those arduous journeys in the thick of hardships of every imaginable sort up to the limit of endurance, these all tell what a giant he was in his will. But, speak softly, his strong will sometimes held the lines too tight. A man’s weak point is pretty apt to be the swing-away of the pendulum on his strong point. Paul had the possible weakness of his strongest qualities. He was a bit set in his way. Say it very softly, for we are talking about dear old saintly Saint Paul. Say it yet more softly, for where one speaks of one weak spot in him he quickly calls to mind a half-dozen in himself. Yet say it distinctly, to help. God had a hard time getting Paul to go His way. God found it difficult sometimes to get Paul to fit into His plans. Paul had a plan or two of his own. Perhaps just one or two of us may have heard of such a thing before. From the time of that never-to-be-forgotten experience on the Damascus road, with the light, and the voice, and the overwhelming sense of power, Paul knew that his errand was to the outer non-Jewish world. The nations of the earth, the Gentiles, this was to be his field of service. The very magnitude of it must have appealed to the imagination of this giant and saint. But, from the first, he had an intense desire to go to the Jerusalem Jews. He felt he could get them. It was a perfectly natural thing, for Paul had been so closely associated with them. And his very sense of strategy in action suggested and emphasized it. He felt in his bones, “I know them. I trained with that group. I know how to take them. Let me at them. If once we can get them it will mean so much. “It’s the strategic thing. They crucified Jesus. They stoned the Holy Spirit, in effect, in stoning Stephen. But, but, let me at them.” This was deep down in his spirit. Indeed the thing went rather far. Early in his Christian life Christ had given Paul a special vision about this very matter when Paul was praying in the sacred precincts of the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 22:17-21). And the Lord gave him specific directions to get out of Jerusalem, out to the outer non-Jewish world. The Jerusalem leaders were incorrigibly set in their stubborn rejection, he was told. Then a strange thing happened, passing strange. Paul actually begins to argue with the Lord why he was specially qualified for a Jewish mission! This was surely taking things to great length, the soldier under orders arguing with the chief of-staff why he should not do as he was bid, but something else he preferred! Did dear saintly Paul’s intensity blur his thinking? Yet it seems to me, yes, I can recall something of that sort in modern times, and among saintly folk, too. And the temple interview closes with a clear positive command — ” Depart; for I will send thee far hence (from Jerusalem) to the outer non-Jewish peoples.” And Paul went. With all his splendid powers and devotion he went. But he never lost that early inner passionate longing. He insisted upon it, years after, against distinct intimations of the Holy Spirit in line with that temple interview (Acts 21:4, with references). His insistence changed the whole latter part of his outstanding career. That’s a little look-in at this rare saintly giant of God. It explains the thorn that came, and was not taken away.
Paul’s Thorn – Healing While Not Healed
Now, about the thorn (II Corinthians 12:7-10). There came some serious ailment in his body. No one knows what it was. The long learned discussions are so much waste breath, when time is so precious and real things so pressing, too. It doesn’t matter a grot what it was. It was there, and it stayed. It interfered. It hurt keenly. Paul didn’t think so much of it, at first. There was Christ to go to. He would go and ask for healing. And the healing touch would come, he felt quite sure. All Paul’s experience would lead him to expect the healing touch. He had that remarkable two years’ campaign in Ephesus, where healings to a quite unusual degree were the outstanding feature (Acts 19:10-12). Earlier there had been the man crippled from birth, never able to walk, now leaping and walking through Christ ‘s touch, at the word of Paul (Acts 14:8-10). There is the yet more remarkable bit, toward the latter part, of the young man at Troas on the Aegean, actually brought back from the dead. And Paul had taught healing. It was part of his group of teachings to the churches wherever he went. He himself had known the healing touch. He had the best of reason for expecting healing now. Indeed he seems not to have doubted that the healing touch would come. But it didn’t. Again he prays specifically for healing. Still there is no change. The thorn stayed. Its needle-point gets sharper, and sticks persistently in. Ugh! how it hurt! A third time Paul goes to his knees, how earnestly and intensely some of us can understand. Now, please notice keenly, there’s an answer to his prayers. There are three items in the answer. First of all, the man is answered though the petition is denied. Paul is not ignored. His prayer is heard. Christ never ignores any one, nor fails to hear any honest prayer. The second thing to note is just what Christ said in His answer. I can see dear saintly old Paul one night all alone with his thorn. The day’s work is done, the stitching of tent-canvas, and talking to the crowds, and to the two’s and three’s. He is tired. He has gone to bed. He would sleep but for that thorn. He turns and twists, and longs for the sleep that doesn’t come. And he wonders why the healing touch hasn’t come. He is just a bit perplexed, maybe a bit depressed. Then, quietly, very quietly, a voice comes, an inner voice, quiet as Hermon’s dew, clear as the tone of a bell. And the voice said, “Paul, I know about that thorn, and how it hurts. It hurts me, too. It hurts me because it hurts you. “But, Paul,” the voice goes quietly steadily on, “it’s a bit better to let the thorn stay, because, only so can I have the use of you, the full free use of you, in My plans for the world I gave My life’s blood for.” And a hush comes over the dear man’s spirit. There comes with the voice a look within. Instinctively Paul begins to understand better. A soft clear light breaks. He knows, at once, yet better, how true is the word being so gently spoken. He knows that the diagnosis is accurate. And he lies quiet, with a great deep hush in his inner spirit. That’s the second bit of the answer. Then the voice comes again. When the pause has deepened the impression, more comes. The voice goes on in yet quieter gentler lingering tones, “Paul, I’ll be so near you, you will have such a sense of My presence, that you’ll forget the thorn even while you feel it cutting in.” Years after I can see the blessed old service scarred saint in his own hired house in Rome. It’s rather late at night. The crowds have been thronging the house, crowds from all over the world, in this great world centre, Rome. An Egyptian had sat over there, and a dark-skinned Ethiopian yonder. A cultured-faced man from the Euphrates, and a fair-skinned Caucasian had been standing in the corner side by side. Keen-eyed Greeks, vigorous Latins, alert courtly Spaniards, the cultured and the scholarly, the unlettered and the simple folks, gently jostled each other. They had crowded in, listening so intently, and questioning so eagerly. And the unseen Presence had been so real. And Paul’s heart was all aglow as with a pressure of the hand they had slipped out into the night. Now, they have all gone. Once again the burning Christ message has gone out to the whole world. Paul is sitting quietly, slowing down inside before seeking bed and sleep. One arm is around young Timothy, not quite so young now. The other hand is laid caressingly upon dear faithful Doctor Luke’s arm. They’re talking in subdued tones. And as you listen in you hear Paul say, “Do you know, dear old friends, I wouldn’t have missed the thorn for the presence…” And the sentence breaks off. A bit of hoarseness, the hoarseness of deep emotion, thickens his voice. And the look of deep reverence and love mingled deepens in his companions’ faces. Then he goes quietly on, “…the presence, the wondrous glory-presence of Jesus, beyond words, that has been with me through it all.” And the clearer light breaks on his listeners. The inner understanding deepens. A great silence falls on them. They know they’re at the deep springs. They are being allowed to see a bit into the Lord’s passion for His world, and the place this grayed veteran is having in it. The emergency of sin has gripped both, the unseen One and this man so great in his suffering and in his service. Yet, yet, there’s a bit to add. I am clear, and I grow yet clearer, that our Lord Jesus still prefers to take the thorn away. And He will if He may have His way, His first way. Graduation day comes later to Paul. It came one day just outside that city, with an escort of imperial Roman soldiers. Yet, very softly, and still very distinctly, let the words be spoken, it might have come sooner. But in the mix-up of a strong human will, not unlike other wills we know, and a world in the sore emergency of sin’s havoc, and the great passion of the Heart that broke once, things were as they were. There’s something yet farther to note here of much significance. Without any question Paul was repeatedly conscious, indeed continuously conscious of Christ’s healing touch on his body through all this rare difficult experience. As one reads the whole story through the fact is plainly borne in that Christ’s healing touch, in protection, in strengthening, and in actual healing, was with Paul through all those thorn years. It is difficult, if not impossible, to fit in chronologically the beginning of this distressing ailment. But one remembers that Paul had been left for dead just outside I.ystra in Asia Minor. And the intense hatred of those Antioch Jews would make them do a thorough job of stoning. Their efficiency is beyond question. Yet Paul gets up, rests over night, and pushes on the next day. He carried out the itinerary as planned, apparently. That would be an outstanding instance of healing under most extreme circumstances. And no one can read Paul’s own long remarkable list of the experiences he went through without a deep impression of Christ’s direct touch on his body throughout. I.isten, and think into, not merely the bodily suffering involved, but the tremendous natural breakdown of bodily strength. Five times he had been whipped on his bare back with forty stripes-save-one, And three times with the yet more severe Roman rods save none, once stoned, three times shipwrecked, a night and a day drifting exposed out in the open sea, The acute hardship of the crude, typical traveling of that time and of the Orient, perils of swollen rivers, of robbers not hesitating to use violence, of hunger and thirst, cold and in sufficient clothing. Think slowly into that list. Clearly enough the experience with the thorn was the more striking to Paul because in the midst of Christ’s constant healing touch upon Paul’s body. Paul experienced the threefold healing, the continual protecting restraint upon disease, the strengthening of bodily functions, and the direct positive healing. Else he could never have gone through what he did. The thorn was the more marked as an exception in the midst of such experiences. The thing that stands out biggest in the whole story here is this: it was for service’ sake that this thorn experience was allowed. It was for the sake of a race of men, swamped by the terrific emergency of sin, and in the scarcity of men at hand available, that the thing occurred. It was distinctly exceptional. Had it been merely Paul personally that was concerned the whole trend of Christ’s dealing makes clear that this ailment would have gone like the others. But service controlled. The world’s emergency gripped.
There’s one more of these pictures in this rare old gallery of honest portraits, the picture of Jacob at Jabbok (Genesis 32:24-32). In that strange night struggle between the sturdy Hebrew herdsman and an unrecognized Assailant, Jacob fully holds his own. Then toward dawn the strange Assailant does a strange thing. Jacob is startled to feel a slight touch on the inner side of his thigh, and at once the thigh bone goes out of joint. Instantly Jacob knows that this is no mere man. No man could have done that. And two things at least crowd in faster than he can think. His power as a wrestler is clean gone, at once. His native shrewdness makes him think of that. But, far deeper, comes the recognition of who this unrecognized Stranger of the dark is. He’s been fighting against God! And then, all these years he had been fighting against God! and against God’s plans for his life! Unconsciously fighting? Half consciously fighting? At least this much can be said for Jacob, not recognizing how much it meant that he had been insistently stubbornly fighting against God, and God’s plan. (But then, is that so unusual? and among good people?) It’s the one instance in Scripture of God’s own direct touch on a man’s body, injuring, laming him. And mark keenly that it was not a disease. It was a slowing down of the man’s gait. He had been so sure of himself. Now he must go through life halting, limping. Well, there’s a purpose under this exceptional act of God’s. There’s always a purpose where He is concerned. And it is always a purpose of love. This man Jacob was hindering, actually holding back, and threatening to block completely, God ‘s world plan. It wasn’t merely Jacob ‘s own life that was concerned. God ‘s plan for the race hinges on this man. A man may hinder or break God’s plan for his own life, if he will. All God’s plans wait on our consent. The sovereign God waits on the sovereignty of man’s choice. But no man can break God’s broad plan for the world. He may slow it up. He does that so much. God ‘s sovereignty simply means that, ultimately, through the intricate network of human wills, His great plan will work out, and always in some way through man’s choice, freely given. Even now, Jacob could have balked still further. It wasn’t merely the touch of power on his thigh that won. It was that, plus something more, far deeper and tenderer, the touch of love upon his heart. Jacob could have fought against the power. But the love, the patient waiting, and putting up with his wayward conduct, all these long years, the gracious wooing, in so many ways — ! He could see it all now. It was this that bent his will at last, from within, to this strong, waiting, loving will of his great God. Note keenly, that this is a crisis. Most reverently it can be said it was God’s crisis. God’s plan was in danger. A world’s salvation hung in the balance, hung on this one man’s consent to be used, in God’s way, in God’s plan. It is a threefold crisis. It was a crisis of available material. Jacob was the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham, through whom the world plan must be worked out. He was the twin son, it is true. But the other, Esau, was plainly disqualified by temperament. Impulsive, hot-headed, wholly unreliable, bartering his most sacred possession for something to eat, as unstable as water; he was wholly unfitted for leadership in carrying forward God’s plan. God was narrowed down to Jacob. Jacob was a cool, steady, calculating man of method and habit. He was a thinker and a hard worker. He was a man to do things. But he had the mean moral strain in him. He was intensely selfish. He was forever grasping, cunningly taking advantage of the other fellow. He was unscrupulous. He never hesitated at the most underhanded move to gain his point. Jacob was morally contemptible. But his failings were moral. Esau’s were mental. The moral could be changed by grace, if once Jacob’s consent could be gotten. It was not really that Jacob was the better man, he was the less-poor of the two. It was a crisis of available material. God needs the best. Jacob must be used, but first he must be changed. So the exceptional thing was done. It was a crisis of time. Long years Abraham and Sarah had been wooed, graciously wooed, patiently put up with Isaac was the child of the changed Abraham and Sarah. He took on their later traits. And now, for many long years, a full quarter of a century at least, God had been calling Jacob up to the higher level. But Jacob’s firmness and strength teetered over into stubbornness. He gets more set. And he grows more stubborn, more uglily obstinate, more set than ever. Time pressed. It grew less. The stubbornness grew more, and then yet more. In a crisis of time God did the exceptional thing. It was a world crisis. God’s plan concerned a world. A Babel, a Flood, a Sodom-and-Gomorrah, tremendous moral catastrophes, these told plainly the moral outcome threatening. Through Jacob and Jacob’s line was to come the little messenger-nation, the Saviour-nation, the Saviour Himself. All unknown, unsuspected by any but God, it was the world crisis. For the sake of the race, to save His great plan for saving a world, God did the exceptional thing. And, so, by the fords of the Jabbok, under that gentle touch of supernatural power, at the break of a new day, Jacob surrendered his proud stubborn will. The touch on Jacob’s thigh was meant for his heart, like the later touch on the disciples’ feet. Jacob felt it there. His heart broke. He had actually been fighting God! He never really meant that. That heart-breaking touch on the thigh reached into the will, the citadel. The will bent. With all its disciplined strength it bent, and bent clean over. He quit wrestling. He had to. The disabled thigh settled the wrestling. He took to clinging. And he became the prince, the Israel, prince with God, pleading for forgiveness and blessing, and prevailing. And God yielded to that penitent clinging plea. God had saved two, the man and the world-plan. So only could it be. The world plan was saved through the man. No one ever knows how much hangs on his saying “yes” to God. Jacob learned to walk with God, by limping. God tried to get him to walk without the limp. He preferred that. He still does. Jacob got along faster now because he’s been slowed down. He never walked so fast in his life in the true path as now when he goes slowly limping, limping along in his body. One can well understand that God did what He did reluctantly. It was an emergency transaction. And all the world is in an emergency just now. And God is still needing men. These are the three pictures in this old gallery, Job’s ulcerous boils and the ash heap schoolhouse, Paul’s needle-pointed thorn, and Jacob’s halting limp. These are three scholars in God’s school of suffering. Job graduated early. He learned quickly. It was an intense session but a short one, intensive school work. Paul’s graduation came later, as did Jacob’s. Have they had a reunion up there, these three, in the Teacher’s own presence, and praised Him out of full hearts? I think likely. But I am quite sure it pleases the Teacher most when we work for early graduation. One notes keenly that in each case the man concerned was a leader. That makes a great difference. The Devil lays special siege to the leaders. Leaders need more schooling because they touch the lives of so many. Yet no one lives to himself. None of us can tell what plan of service of Christ’s may centre in our glad consent to His personal plan for the life. In each case it was a crisis, the meeting place of dismal failure and glorious victory. And the man was always the decisive factor. One recognizes crises best backwards. We are so much wiser, afterwards. If only we might be quick and true to obey, for Christ’s sake, before we know it may be a crisis for some one or some plan. For service’ sake, in a crisis, the leader may find things happening. Because so much is hinging, of which he is unaware. If, ah! yes, if, one might only obey gladly and fully and quickly, what Christ asks, because He asks, regardless of all else.
Keep Your Hand Out
And so there may be a waiting time. Bodily healing may be needed, desperately needed perhaps. And we may be in real touch of heart with Christ. And we may pray for the healing touch. And yet, it may not come. There may be a waiting time. If so, it means simply this: we’re needing some schooling. There’s some plan involved. And the thing is to be good scholars. Cultivate the keen inner ear and the quiet inner spirit, so we can hear the Teacher’s voice. For He is speaking. If we are still enough we’ll hear. But no one expects to stay in school all his days. We should look forward to a glad graduation day. We should plan early graduation. Our hands should be stretched out, stretched expectantly out, till they grasp what has been promised. I can never forget my mother’s very brief paraphrase of that long verse in the Third of Malachi (3:10) The verse begins, you remember, “bring ye the whole tithe in,” and it ends up with “I will pour” the blessing out till you’ll be embarrassed for space. My mother’s brief paraphrase was this: Give all He asks; take all He promises…. I heard a homely story of a New York City newsboy from the slums. He was in a batch of slumboys sent into the country for two weeks by the Fresh Air Fund. He found himself, at the end of the journey, in a large, comfortable farmhouse. A motherly woman received him cordially. When bedtime came she took him to a bedroom. And she talked to him, as she turned down the bed covers. This had been her own son’s room when he was a boy, she explained. She hoped he would enjoy a good sleep, and be down early in the morning, and so she bade him “good night.” Morning came, and breakfast time, but the boy didn’t appear. She called up the stairs but there was no response. She went up-stairs, found the room door open, and looked in. But there was no boy to be seen. Where was the boy? Perplexed and wondering, her eye caught sight of a ragged shoe on the floor at the edge of the bed. Stooping down she saw the boy sound asleep on the floor under the bed. She called to him: “Time to get up, my boy, breakfast ready.” He came crawling out, rubbing his eyes, “Yes ‘m, yes ‘m.” And as she turned to leave she said quietly pointing to the bed, “Why didn’t you sleep in the bed?” The boy turned a surprised look, following the line of her pointing finger, toward the bed. “Bed!” he said simply. “Is that a bed?” He had never slept in a bed. A door-stoop, a box, a barrel, or the like, had been the only bed the boy had ever known. Ah! yes, there are hundreds of them in the heathen slum fringe of all our great cities. Are you sleeping under the bed, taking less than Christ has provided?
The Devil – the Ape of God
God is love. The Devil is hate. Love is good, the best good there can be. Hate is bad, at the worst badness. The two are sworn enemies. The conflict is utterly irreconcilable. There can be no patched up truce. It’s an advantage to get that fact clear. Neither side will yield. The Devil won’t give in. He is incorrigible. God can’t give in. His purity, His character, forbid. The warfare goes on ceaselessly, but — not interminably. There’ll be an end to it some day, a blessed end, for man. The earth is the battlefield. Man is the one being fought for. Man’s choice, freely given, is the one thing aimed at in the fighting. God wants man’s love, that is, himself at his true native best. He wants his love freely, voluntarily given. That’s really repetition. Love isn’t love unless it’s freely given. The Devil wants man’s worship, his submission, abject, absolute submission, no matter how given or gotten. And he’s dead-set on getting it. The Devil is always on the heels of God to hurt man. Anything will be used that does that. Everything is used that promises that. Nothing is too base or foul, or too refined or cultured, for His reaching hand. The rarest scholarship and finest culture, the foulest sensuality and most heartless selfishness, each is used to the utmost. Anything to befool and befoul, to get twists and quirks, to lead away from that touch with God which is native to man as God made him. Nothing is too sacred for the Devil’s touch. Christian phraseology, scholastic philosophy, scientific research, are laid under tribute. The sweetest relationships and purest contacts of life are foully besmirched. And nothing is too foul if it’ll help out his incorrigible purpose. And no combination of the sacred and the foul is left untried and unused. But, but, God is ever on the heels of the Devil to help. That’s why Christ came, and came as He came, and died as He did. Nothing God has is too precious to be freely given and sacrificed if only man may be saved from the foul touch of the Devil. The Devil is an imitator. He’s a skilled artful imitator. He never originates. But he has great ability as an imitator. One of the early Christian leaders called the Devil “the ape of God.” Imitation is the outstanding trait of both the ape and the Devil. But that was said long ago, long before the leaders’ visions had become so obscured. The Devil doesn’t hesitate to deceive. He is dishonest, as well as the father of all sorts of lies. He even slanders God. He doesn’t play fair. God is so honest. He is always so fair, even, even, be it said plainly, to His arch-enemy. And He knows well the outcome. The Devil is bold, devilishly bold, in his imitations and deceptions. He even imitates God! He steals phraseology from God’s Book. He copies God’s actions, that is, as nearly as he can. The expert instantly detects the imitation, the counterfeit, when put side by side with the genuine. But then the experts in this line are rather few and scarce. The one school started for teaching and training eyes and ears and judgment in this sort of thing has been skilfully turned aside from its great task. The thing most lacking in Christian circles is teaching, simple, clear, poised teaching. Characteristically, the Christian groups are untaught and untrained. They are like shepherdless sheep, torn, distressed, befooled, heading this way and that, and running into each other, rather violently some times. It’s a marked feature of the spirit conflict, just now. The great steadying factor is that the outcome is as assured as that Christ emptied that new-hewn tomb of rock, when its purpose had been served. Miracles appeal to the imagination as nothing else does. Any evidence or suggestion of supernatural power in action attracts the biggest crowds in the shortest time. This has always been true, and is. It has always been popularly supposed that the supernatural is God at work. A miracle is commonly taken as evidence of divine power. This is a universal common notion or delusion, and has always been so. Of course, intelligent, thoughtful, Christian men know that this is not so. Archbishop Trench, the eminent Irish scholar and saint, speaks of this in his notable work on miracles. A miracle is not necessarily evidence of God’s work. It is evidence merely that some supernatural power is in action. Then the questions are: whose? what? There are two sources of supernatural power, God and the Devil. Of course, God’s power is absolute and limitless. The Devil is distinctly limited. His power is actually much less than sometimes supposed. Still there is a supernatural power there, however limited. And he is very skilful in using and displaying it to the best advantage. And we are pretty much a very unsophisticated lot. Yes, we are worse than unsophisticated. We are pretty apt to think we know, and to be rather set in thinking that way. We prefer to think so. What a spectacle! Ignorant, and think we know! A mixture of a little knowledge, much ignorance, and more contentment with ourselves just as we are. That’s the hardest kind of folk to help. That unseen fighter is surely a cunning strategist. The Book of God gives clear light on every sort of serious question. It will answer, and answer fully, any thoughtful question brought to it. It gives light here. It tells about satanic miracles. A miracle, you will remember, is the result of some power in action greater than men are familiar with. It does not mean something contrary to nature, but something more than the natural thing we are commonly used to.
The Devil’s Miracles in Egypt
The Book tells distinctly about the Devil’s miracles. There are two groups of passages, one past, one regarding the future; Egypt in the past, and the earth-wide Crisis that is yet future. In the case of Egypt, it is a time of partial visitation of judgment on the world-empire of its day. Moses performed ten miracles, by God’s direction, that entered vitally into the very life of the nation. The Egyptian magicians, or occult experts, performed three miracles in imitation of Moses, attempted a fourth, but failed in it, Then, frankly, with awe-stricken faces, they admitted that there was a power at work through Moses superior to them, distinctly greater than the power they stood for. The line of conflict here is quite sharply drawn. Moses acted by God’s direction. The Egyptian king opposed him contemptuously, then stubbornly, then incorrigibly. The magicians were the king’s servants. They were the experts of that time in the occult, in dealing with unseen spirits and spirit forces. They were experts in the black art. They were loyal to Pharaoh in his resisting and scoffing at God. They fought Moses and God, with all the power at their command. The line of conflict could not be more clearly marked. The Devil was opposing God. God and the Devil were the real spirit opponents behind the human scenes. The striking thing just now is that there were three miracles done by the magicians through the Devil’s power. There was a fourth attempted but it failed, completely. There is further the tacit inference of a limit in the Devil’s power even in the three miracles actually performed. The magicians caused their rods to become serpents. There was distinctly an evil super natural power at work. Perhaps serpent activity was more easily within the Devil’s range of action. Yet Moses’ serpent swallows up the others! Moses understood that word spoken long after about treading upon serpents. The turning of water into blood, and the plague of countless frogs, by the magicians, following Moses’ initiative, again reveal the Devil’s supernatural power at work. It is clearly a supernatural transaction in each case. But there is a limitation. Moses’ miracles suggest an overflowing supply of power. The other is less. The thing was done, yet, as though there was no flush of power at command, rather a scantiness. The fourth attempt was a confessed failure. The experts confessed themselves helpless in the face of this display of God’s power. They’re clean outdone, outclassed. And a little later the magicians themselves are helpless sufferers when the plague of boils came. The purpose of these satanic miracles is four fold: to fight God, to discredit His messenger Moses, to deceive the Egyptians and indeed all the world (for such events would travel like wildfire), and to keep God’s nation in slavery. It is clearly the Devil at work, behind Pharaoh, as an all too-willing tool. The limits to the Devil’s supernatural power are threefold. The miracles done are an imitation. There is no initiative. Each is distinctly less, much less in extent than the thing imitated. And there is a sharp line beyond which the Devil’s power cannot go. But the thing to mark just now is this: the Devil can work miracles. He has supernatural power, with sharp definite limitation.
The Devil’s Healings in the Coming Crisis
Then we swing to the other end of the Book. There is a time of Crisis repeatedly spoken of, world-wide, preceding a New Order of Things on the earth. It will be a time of marked satanic activity. And in connection with that there will be miracles of healing done by the Devil. His purpose of course is to deceive, to drive through his own plans, and to tighten his hold on men’s lives. Let us look at the Scripture teaching regarding this. The common phrase in the New Testament for miracles is the phrase “signs and wonders.” Sometimes the language used is “signs,” sometimes “signs and wonders,” sometimes “signs and wonders and powers,” sometimes “signs and powers.” A few times the word “miracles” is used. Now, by far the greater number of the miracles so specified are miracles of bodily healing. Of the thirty-three miracles done by Christ twenty-four are miracles of bodily healing. And four others have to do with bodily need. In the Book of Acts the use of this phrase for miracles of healing is yet more marked. Practically the phrase “signs and wonders,” with its variations, is the equivalent in the New Testament for miracles of bodily healing. Other usage is so exceptional as to emphasize this as the common rule. Now, the striking thing to mark is that this is the phrase used for a distinctive phase of satanic activity during that coming Crisis. There are three outstanding passages, in the Gospels, by Paul, and in the Revelation. In that significant Olivet Talk with four disciples, within a week of the tragic end, Christ is speaking of the Crisis preceding His own Coming and the New Order of Things. He speaks of various characteristics of that tribulation-crisis. He says “There shall arise false Christs (evil men pretending to be Christ), and false prophets (or religious teachers), and shall show great signs and wonders.” And then the specific purpose of this is directly stated. It is directed against Christ’s followers. It is “to lead astray, if (that be) possible, even the elect,” i.e., Christ’s own people (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). Taking the phrase “signs and wonders” at its common meaning in the New Testament, this would mean, to the four disciples listening, that there will be marked miracles of healing, by satanic power, during that climax of evil, for the express purpose of deceiving and leading astray Christ’s own people. In his second letter to the disciples at Thessalonica Paul is answering some questions that have arisen about just when Christ’s return was to be expected. And he explains that there would be a great evil leader in action, about whom the coming Crisis will centre. This leader would be at the very height of his blasphemous career at the time of Christ’s coming. He would be destroyed by the glorious appearance of Christ (the blazing forth or shining forth of His arrival). Then Paul speaks of the marked traits of this strange, foul, evil leader, the Antichrist, this personification of the Devil. His activity will be “according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and wonders of falsehood,” or “lying wonders.” That is, these miracles are done, in imitation of Christ’s miracles, to deceive the people and lead them astray (II Thessalonians 2:9,10), Here is this same phrase again. Paul’s use of it would mean only one thing to these Thessalonian disciples, and that is, miracles of healing, by satanic power, to deceive. There is a parallel passage to this in one of Moses’ talks in the Plains of Moab (Deuteronomy 13:1-3). He is speaking of what is to be done in case a false prophet certified his message by “a sign or a wonder,” and the miraculous thing actually taking place, so as to lead the people away from the true worship. Plainly the thing was quite familiar to these people. John’s Patmos Revelation message has the same thing. It is spoken of repeatedly as one of the marked characteristics of the campaign of deception in that brief terrific future Crisis. There’s a description of the activity of a leader of evil who will be the immediate associate of that foul Antichrist (Revelation 13:13-14). He is a religious leader, a sort of court-preacher to the Antichrist himself who reigns as a king of kings for a brief time. Among other things in the description this stands out, “and he doeth great signs that he should even make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men. And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by reason of the signs — .” The startling thing of fire coming down is specified in speaking of the great signs. This is particularized because it is something unusual, in addition to the usual meaning of the phrase “great signs.” A little later John is told of happenings toward the end of that troublous crisis period. There will be sent out by the Devil himself and by his two chief leaders, the Antichrist and his court-preacher, “spirits of demons working signs,” sent into all the earth (Revelation 16:13-14). And in speaking of the utter defeat and rout of the Antichrist and his evil associates, this court preacher who is spoken of here as the false religious teacher, is identified as the one “that wrought the signs… wherewith he deceived them — .” Clearly these signs are an outstanding feature (Revelation 19:19,20). This emphasis of a five-fold repetition is striking. The whole New Testament use of the phrase makes clear that miracles of healing by satanic power will be one of the commonest, if not the most common, feature of that crisis time that is coming, some time. And the whole purpose in this is to deceive the people, and particularly the Church constitueney. It is to make them think that it is God at work. And, uninstructed as they so largely are, and so not keen to discern, they will be easy prey to these tactics.
The Devil’s Healing To-day
But one need not go back to Egypt, nor forward to the coming crisis time. We can find references closer at hand in the Book of Life, being written daily. Our own time is witnessing this sort of thing in marked measure, and in creasing extent. The Church of Christ has not been true to the full Gospel of Christ. I say that very thoughtfully and sadly. I do not say it to criticise the Church, but only to help understand things at the present time a bit better. I love the Church. I reverence its past, and its present inestimable service in the world. If my words seem critical, I am simply criticising myself, so far as any man is a part of the Church. With fine exceptions, the Church of Christ has not told out fully in any generation, since the first few Christian centuries, the full rounded Gospel of Christ. And so it is not a surprising thing that there have grown up false teachings, and false systems of teaching, about bodily healing. The very need, sore need, of the crowds everywhere in this regard has made a rare opportunity to teach about bodily healing in a wrong way. The people are hungry, eager for help. And the Devil has never been known to be slow in using every door open to him, or that he could pry open. Just now there is a system of teaching about healing, and a system of healing, that holds the centre of the stage. It has grown up within living memory, and within the past ten years seems to have grown more vigorous than ever. It has spread like a cursed wildfire in our own land, up and down Europe, into the African edges, and the Orient, and indeed wherever the Anglo-American trail leaves traces. It uses Christ’s name quite freely. It quotes or rather half-quotes, misquotes, the Bible. Its teaching is a mixture of Christian phraseology, devout language, psychological half-truths, and positive untruths. It makes pretense of being a Christian Church. I need not repeat its name, it is so well known. And the thing to mark just now is that people are healed through its ministrations, within sharply marked limitations and restrictions. There’s no question that people do experience, through its teaching, healing of a certain sort, up to a certain extent. That fact is quite clear. It will be remembered what has been said in a previous Talk on the seven ways in which healing comes to one’s body. The Creator has graciously put a healing power within the human body. There is natural healing without conscious co-operation on our part. There is this same natural healing assisted by an intelligent understanding and co-operation. An enlightened instructed understanding of this remarkable healing power in the body, and our intelligent co-operation, make an enormous difference. It helps greatly. Our mental attitude is often the decisive thing in illness, turning the tide in favour of healing and health. This is spoken of somewhat fully in the previous Talk referred to. This is the second way in which healing comes. It should be noted. It will be spoken of again later. Then there is healing through this same natural power assisted by human wisdom and skill, both personal and professional. Still further, there is healing sometimes through this natural power in our bodies overcoming what may have been done by blundering unwise human touch. These are the four natural ways. There are two supernatural ways. There is healing by Christ’s direct touch, a supernatural touch, in addition to the creative natural power spoken of. And, of course, this little series of “Quiet Talks” is devoted to that one thing. Then there is a healing by the Devil’s touch, a supernatural touch. And there may be a blending of two or more of these. Seven ways in which healing may come to one’s body, four natural, two supernatural, and one a blend or combination of two or more of these. Now, it should be keenly noted, that in this false system we are talking about, this so-called Christian system, the healings that do occur come through two of these ways. There is much emphasis put on the second of these, the human understanding of, and co operating with, that natural healing power. I do not mean to say that it is taught in a clear, intelligent fashion. Clear teaching is conspicuously absent here. It is quite doubtful if the thing is intelligently understood so as to give clear teaching. There is a strange garbled mixture of truths and half-truths and positive not-truths. But through all there is a continual emphasis on one’s mental attitude. And so far as this insistence actually affects one ‘s attitude that inner power of healing swings into action. And this, be it noted, is good so far as it is good. If the teaching were clear, and more, if it were put in right connection with other teaching that belongs with it, the results would be yet better. But, of course, nothing of that good sort could be gotten here. There is no evil system of teaching all bad. It would fall of its own dead weight. The Devil always steals a veneering of some truth for his lies. He is the first expert in the fine art of camouflage. The truth about the influence of the mind on the body, so little appreciated to the full by any one, was true for Adam and Eve in Eden, for Cain outside Eden, with the wickedest man that ever lived as with the saintliest, in savage wilds as in cultured centres. God’s creative touch is never off any man’s body. This is one of the seven ways of healing emphasized partly by this false system of healing. There is a second way used in this false teaching. It brings in a strange fact, that makes one stare out. The Devil heals through this so-called Christian teaching. The evidence is clear, and the fact indisputable. “Why,” you instantly cry out, “the Devil heal! Absurd! Ridiculous! The Devil is bad. Healing is only good. Will a bad Devil do a good thing?” And the answer to that is quite clear and positive. A bad Devil will do a good thing for a bad purpose, to get hold on a man’s life, and to tighten his hold. A mongrel cur back of your dwelling disturbs your night’s sleep, night after night. You are too gentle-hearted perhaps to use a revolver. So you get a bit of good meat and some bad poison. You combine them dexterously. You throw the mixture in the back alley. The dog has no sense of discernment between good meat and bad poison. He eats the good meat greedily. He gets the bad poison. The city’s garbage cart has an extra job. And now your night’s slumbers are undisturbed. The strategy was a success. Some dear good people, even some saintly Christian folk, might claim close kinship with that dog in one particular. They have no discernment, no spirit discernment. They are easily caught with the Christian phraseology in the false teaching, but don’t detect the absence of the real thing, the actual presence of the Devil’s own teachings. Christ’s Blood the Touchstone Spirit discernment is one of the rarest, if not the rarest thing to-day. This is true even in cultured Christian circles. It is strangely true how strangely lacking discernment is. The outstanding characteristic of preaching to-day is the bewitching, bewildering mixture and blend of half-truths, positive non-truths, and utter absence of the really few essential truths. The whole is covered with a more or less highly polished veneering of either religious talk or Christian verbiage. And the pleasing personality, vigorous mentality, fine diction, scholarly quotations and allusions, all this be fogs as to the real message being given. This is true of all communions, and in all parts of Christendom, and into the mission lands, with fine exceptions. But how shall we common folk know what teaching to accept about bodily healing? We are all busy earning bread and drink, boots and income tax. We can’t all be experts. How shall we know? And the answer is simple. A single ray of clear shining of the sun will pierce clear through the pretty French-gray fogs that gather. There is a touchstone by which to test any teaching whether in type or on tongue. It’s an acid test, unfailing. And this is the test: the distinctive singular personality of Christ, and the distinctive solitary meaning of His death on Calvary and His living again afterward. There is no blood-red tinge to the false teachings spoken of. It is never safe to accept supernatural healing except where the deity of Christ is distinctly emphasized, and the sacrificial blood He shed for us, as none other did nor could nor can, is made blessedly prominent. The Devil hates the blood of the solitary God-Man. He fears it. He crouches terrified, and flees where it is emphasized and pled in prayer. It, it, the blood, spells out his stinging defeat. And right well he knows it. Under all this vague verbiage, this befogging talk about the inspiration of the Book, and the virgin birth, and the tremendous event of the third-morning-after, lies the distinct Devil touch and trail, and hate and dread. The healing that, without question, comes in connection with this false so-called Christian teaching has this twofold source. It comes through the working of that natural healing and the right mental attitude of whieh we have commonly been taught so little. God is always true to His truth, and to Himself, and to us men, even though the Devil himself seek to pervert things. And further there is no question that the Devil heals, so far as he can, through this false so-called Christian teaching. But two things should be keenly noted about the Devil’s healing. There is a distinct line beyond which he cannot go. Over that line he is powerless. Christ healed perfectly and permanently and instantly, and He still does when we allow it. The Devil’s healings are never perfect nor permanent. One remembers the Egyptian story. There the Devil’s supernatural power was limited, sharply limited, and indeed within narrow limits. In comparison with God it was scanty, as though with an effort, and with a small result. And it was in imitation always, mere imitation. The second thing to mark yet more sharply is this. The Devil’s healing makes slaves. It is a striking thing, of which the instances are countless, that the healing that comes through the Devil’s imitation of Christ leads to a servile degrading bondage. There is a bondage of spirit, of mental vigour, and a moral bondage that has a vise-like grip. One stumbles constantly over these mental, moral wrecks. That slavery can be broken only through the power of the blood of Christ, and then usually only through the severest mental and spirit struggle. But it can be broken. Christ, Christ ‘s blood, will set any one blessedly free. Any one, any time, who will, may come to Christ, trusting as simply as a little child and as fully as the maturest man. With all his perplexities and burdens he may come. And Christ never fails. His blood cleanseth from sin. It breaks the Devil’s shackles. And it heals our bodies. Observations for fully a quarter of a century, in many lands, with all sorts of persons, with countless interviews, confirms by personal knowledge what is being said. The Book of Life has furnished illustrations for all these statements….
The School of Discernment
The great need to-day among Christian people is spirit discernment. Please note: not the critical spirit that hunts heresies and picks flaws. That only hurts the hunter and helps no one. Nagging criticism is like a sharp-edged knife that has no hilt. It cuts the hand that uses it, and cuts deep. Discernment means the trained ear that listens attentively, and discerns the main thing being taught, under whatever rhetorical veneering. It means the opened eye quick to see between the lines what is really there, maybe in hiding. It means the humble spirit, willing to see its own faults and defects, only eager to be right. It means the loving spirit quick to give any help to any man. The sore need to-day is for teaching, not argument and discussion, but teaching. Never was the need sorer. Argument only hardens. Each side is more set. And the crowd cheers or jeers, according to their preconceived preferences. Teaching, the clear, positive, patient teaching of God’s truth, put into the sort of language men think in, with homely illustrations out of real life, this is sorely needed. One should set himself to cultivate an accurate discernment or appraisal of all that meets his eye and ear. He should do it for self-protection, and for true culture, and to help others. There’s a School of Discernment. One may well take time for a special course. The requirements for entrance are few and simple. They are five in number, an act, a habit, a book, a bit of time, and a spirit. The act? surrender to Christ as the Master. The habit? doing habitually what would please Him in everything. And when in doubt, don’t. The Book? this rare, singularly, solitary Book of God. The time? the daily bit of quiet time off alone with the Book, with the mind alert, and the spirit open. The spirit? the spirit of prayer for understanding, discernment, seeing things as they are. And with this goes the thoughtful, brooding spirit. And with all of these goes the willing spirit, willingness to accept facts and conclusions that you don’t like, that run crosswise to your preconceptions and preferences and habits. If we will only start in this school, and attend faithfully it will be of the rarest value in the coming days, the coming difficult days. The outcome will be mental and spirit discernment, a keen, a growing discernment. And with it will go the brotherly spirit that will help any one in personal need no matter how he differs with you, or criticises you. He that is willing to do Christ’s will for him, regardless of how it may change some personal things, will have in increasing degree that keen, clear knowledge of truth, of the Book’s teaching, of Christ Himself who embodies all truth in Himself (John 7:17). The clear vision, the discriminating ear, the balanced understanding of things that differ, the obedient spirit, the heart of love in all one’s personal contacts, these are some results of attendance at the Discernment School. But whether in school or out, the outstanding thing just now is this. There’s healing for our bodies through the solitary God-Man who died as none other did nor could nor can, and lived again, and still lives. And through this Man’s blood there’s deliverance from any bondage that has come, full, sweet, glad, free deliverance. And Christ waits at your side now.