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Great Christian Works:     Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life   By A. B. Simpson

A. B. Simpson

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Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life
By A. B. Simpson

Planted By The Rivers Of Water

"Thus saith the Lord : cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed be the man who trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is."   Jeremiah 17:5-8

WE spoke last Sabbath of the springs of Christian life. Let us look a little this morning at the rivers of their supply. It is glorious to have a spring in the midst of your garden, but it is more beautiful to have a river flowing by the side of your house. You can have a deeper fountain if it is supplied by a river.

This picture Jeremiah gives us is of a man planted by the rivers of waters, who spreads his roots out in all directions and is growing in all seasons. It illustrates the spontaneousness of spiritual life and its abundant resources, which can keep the soul rich and beautiful down to the glorious end. There were really two pictures Jeremiah saw, and we see their examples all around us. There have been two races all through history. There have been people whose sources of life and strength have been earthly, human, visible, and temporal, and there have been people whose life has been supplied from the unseen world, even from the divine heart of God Himself.

I.

Jeremiah's first picture shows us the power of human comfort and how weak we find it to be. How many people there are in the world who live an intense self-life. They lean on their own righteousness, and try to draw consolation from their own merits and virtue, and what advantage do they get? There is no blessed spiritual experience accompanying such a life. In view of this, it is the great purpose of God to drive men to despair, and so He lets fall into their lives many adverse circumstances. The Lord Jesus Christ can never do anything for a soul till it is thoroughly stripped and stunned and completely prostrated. Then He can lift it up. When Jesus questioned the young ruler about the commandments, he could reply, "All these have I kept from my youth;" but there was the point where he failed.

So he is trying to show us that the very thing we pride ourselves on is a desperate failure. There is something always which the unregenerate heart is not able to give up. If we trust in anything that has not Christ in it, and find in it any measure of comfort, God says, "cursed is that thing in which you trust," and it will become a bitter portion. Anything that keeps you back from Christ is cursed of God. You may be a beautiful and cultivated woman, and amiable child, a daughter of refinement, an accomplished and talented man. Yet God says, "cursed!" You are leaning on a broken reed, and some day it will pierce your hand.

A Christian has the same lesson to learn in the life of sanctification. We are still poor, imperfect creatures, and our heart and flesh need discipline. It is a temptation of the devil to think there is anything good in us, and yet you have confidence that there is some good in you. Down deep in your heart you believe there is. This is shown by a spirit of criticism which seems quietly to say: "I would not have done that." Ah! friends, the reason you are not fully saved is because you are not desperately lost. So long as we think there is any good in us, Jesus cannot entirely fills us. There is room still for a little self.

This is true of other things besides spiritual graces. How many people trust to their own natural endowments and live according to their own sound common sense and prudence, and the natural qualities that were born in them. They think it only sensible to follow human maxims, and guide their lives by the average thought of the time, and the general standard of public opinion. They consider it a little fanatical not to look at things from a reasonable point of view. This is all trusting in human flesh. It is unsafe to rely upon the strongest judgment or be influenced by the best opinions of man. Each of us must have our direction supremely from the Word of God. The man that trusts in the favorable opinion of his fellow-man, and looks for success in his work to his approval, will be greatly encouraged by the help man gives him and greatly discouraged by its failure.

We must look higher, beloved, for the true springs of life; none of these will satisfy continually. Our confidence in man must be withdrawn if we are to be always joyful. True faith springs according to the difficulties and depressions that surround us. It turns away from everything that is human. We shall find it a bitter mistake to rest for happiness or comfort in the number of earthly friends around us, no matter how true and loving they may be. The circumstances in which we are placed, the pleasant things in our lives which arise from social intercourse or proceed in any way from man, will not support us if we lean much weight over on them. They do not rest the heart. They do not root us in true happiness. The human nature is not and can never be the divine nature.

What a contrast to this is the rest that comes to the heart that is trusting in Jesus. God has shown us fully that this is our true place. There will come testings even while we are so resting in Him; but we shall be able to thank God for them, and say in the midst of the trial, "All my springs are in Thee." Without anything, we have everything in God. With everything we have nothing but God. Both extremes are true. In both situations alike it is possible to have nothing but God. We may have everything the world can give and yet lean only upon Him; not trusting them though having them, and not unhappy if they are withdrawn. It is the effect of confidence in anything but man to separate from God, and the effect of trusting in God is to weaken our trust in everything around us. The things that strengthen our faith are not the pleasant things of the world.

They are hard things usually that separate us unto God, and shut us up to Him alone. All the Scripture characters were unable to stand prosperity. They could trust in the day of discipline, but when they became strong and prosperous their heart was lifted up and they fell. Saul began well, but he ended wretchedly. Solomon is the saddest type of all. He began in humble dependence upon God, but when his kingdom grew and was powerful, his heart departed from God and he sank in the grossest idolatry. King Asa was greatly blessed of God with a prosperous reign, but in a little while he too leaned upon his own wisdom, and in the day of his strength he was slain by a disease in his feet. So Uzziah's heart was lifted up, and he departed from God who had so greatly helped him. The story is the same all through time. Having too much of earth to lean on makes us let go our hold of God.

There are two words translated by the word man in our text, and they are very expressive in the Greek. One means strong man, and the other frail man, so that the verse really means, "Cursed is the strong man that trusts in weak, frail man." Man thinks himself to be very strong. God sees him to be very weak; and leaning on this weakness, he gets a terrible fall and is likely to be dashed to pieces in despair. Dear friends, beware of any confidence in your own strength. It is best to know you are weak and broken, and trust God to put strength and faith in you.

What are the consequences of this strong self-trust? The prophet tells us several of them.

The man who trusts in himself will soon become like a poor deserted thing away out in the desert. The picture is either a naked, leafless shrub, or a lonely traveler, or some poor thing wandering away from the fold with no help near, lost in the wilderness. God is far away. He shall not see when good cometh. There will be thousands of things in life that will be attractive, but he will not see them. He is a sad, earthborn thing, murmuring about his lot, and he will not see any of his many blessings. Ahab's life was wretched because of one little thing that was lacking in it, and he could not see the good that was all around him. Hiram, king of Tyre, was so displeased with the cities Solomon gave him, that he called them "Cabul" displeasing.

They were the land of discontent to him. Earthly things are so big they are apt to crowd out everything else. People sometimes find one thing failing, and how often they lose also all sense of God's blessings. They have had the privileges of God's grace for many years, they have had abundant opportunity of service, but now their lives have become miserable and wretched. They have nothing to praise God for. One little fly has spoiled their whole pot of ointment. You could put some Christians in a desert and they would find a whole world of beauty around them, and a delightful field of study in every leaf and bird and flower. Everything would be singing and shining for them. They find good everywhere.

The laughter of a child, the stirring of a leaf or flower, the swallow in the sky, the breath of balm in the air constantly being a whisper to their ear of God. Others are not so. They miss opportunities because they are not looking for real good anywhere. They are resting in earthly things. If God comes near they do not understand Him. If opportunities of service come to them, they do not perceive it. They have one earthly aim, and following that they miss everything else. Life goes by and out of it comes nothing. They do not see when good comes.

He shall live in a parched land, that is a land swept by fire with the good all burnt out of it. There is no use in trying to raise a crop there, for the roots will be all burnt. The land is calcined. So earthly things soon come to be, and the heart that trusts in them soon gets burnt over, the substance all gone. There is no freshness. Everything is withered. Then, too, it is a salt land. You know the difference between salt and fresh things. Everything seems to be in a kind of brine. The spring and the freshness are out of life. This is the fate of those who live on the fruits of this accursed world. The people they trust in are taken far away and they are left in solitude. They have trusted in man and soon there is not a man in sight. Everything pleasant is gone, and they are in a salt land, not inhabited. It is the horrible caricature of a disappointed life.

Everything the heart valued is gone. They have leaned on some one, and now every one avoids them, and gets out of the way. They depended on having everything right, and nothing is right. They do not know the lesson Tauler, the preacher, learned before he could say, "All my days are good and none are ill." He never had a bad day. Dear friends, do you realize how practical this is in life? If you pursue some earthly thing, how it cheats you. If you build in God, He adds the earthly things to you, but not while you are leaning on them. If circumstances around you disappoint you and make you morose, it comes from a lack of confidence and trust in God. That is the cause of the trouble. Delight yourself in God, and He will give you the desire of your heart. Delight yourself in earth, and God will take from you the thing you are trusting in. God gave Joseph the best of the land of Egypt. If you are God's consecrated child you can have the best of the land. Do you believe God is giving the best thing to you? He gives the best. Or do you think He might have done better by you than He has?

Have you not the best portion there is to be had? and are you so sure of it that you would be afraid to change with anybody for fear of losing by it? Are you really trusting Jesus with all your heart, that He is doing the best thing for you? or are you groaning in spirit because you have not the best? Notwithstanding the trying things that are in my life, the pressure upon all sides that has grown sharper every day since I knew my Lord better, I believe He is doing the very best possible thing for me. I believe I am dwelling in the land of Goshen. If I trusted in myself I could not believe this, but my trust is in Him, that He will do the best thing for me, and that He is doing this now. Dear friends, where is your trust today?

II.

Let us look now for a little on the other side of the picture. "Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is."

There are two sides to this. Don't miss the two words trust and hope. They have reference to both the present and the future. Many say everything is not all right now, but some day it will be. The man that trusteth in the Lord says all is right now. Trust means a present attitude. The true child of God is leaning on Him now with all trust, and is looking for Him tomorrow with all expectation and confidence. It is easy to stand off and say, "Some day it will come all right." It will never come right until it comes right now. The future is made out of the present, and the future will be all blasted by miserable discontent and grumbling today. You should be afraid of it.

There is no safe way but take to the present as well as the future, and trust for both. "Blessed is the man whose hope the Lord is." Does this mean a hope for the better fixing up of things by-and-by? Oh, no! You may hope for that perhaps, but it is not what this verse says. Are you looking to have circumstances harmonize a little more with your feelings? Perhaps they may, but that is not this verse, "Whose hope is the Lord." If the furnace should be heated seven times hotter than usual, say with Daniel's friends, "Our God is able to deliver, but if not, we will not yield." If the fig tree never blossoms, trust Him anyhow.

All along the future you can see the glories of God's promises, but you should be able to say, I am happy in Him now, He makes my soul glad now. Tomorrow it shall be the same. Thank God though He strip you of everything, though you never see blossom or fruit on your earthly desires, you have something sweeter than them all. You have the Lord. Dear friends, hold your hearts to these two words, trust and hope. Anchor them both in God Himself, not in the best working of any human plan.

What is the source of this man's life who is thus trusting and hoping in the Lord? He is like a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river. You see there is one river, but there are many waters. God is the only fountain of life, but there are many streams that flow from Him. There is His living Word, association with His beloved children, the work of His church, and all the helps of Christian life. These are the waters, but the river is God Himself. There is but this one great stream, but there are manifold deltas of outpouring.

We are given many precious pictures of this man.

1. He shall not see when heat cometh. He is elevated above all trouble. He comes out of the fire with no bruises or burns to be healed, and with no smell of fire upon his garments. When Jesus came out of the grave He did not bring the grave clothes with Him. You would not know He had worn them. Many people come out of the grave after having been crucified with Christ, but they smell of the mould and damp all the time. They never quite get rid of trouble. They hope they are sanctified, but they have had an awful time of it. They are misunderstood by their friends, and they are continually hungry for compassion and pity, and petting.

But blessed be God, there are others who can say continually I never was so happy, so victorious, so near God as now. If you ask them if they are not often misunderstood they will tell you no, they do not know what it means to be misunderstood. They are a perpetual channel of blessing, and their life is one of sweet victory always. It is beautiful to be so far above the waves that we do not see them rise. When all is over, a week or so afterward, we can look back and say, "Well, I was in a narrow place. The shores were so close on either hand I could touch them, but I got through. I am glad I looked up and not around to see how close they were, or I should have lost heart and gone down."

Dear friends, if you see me in any trouble don't tell me of it. I shall have strength to get through if I don't look at it. When it is over I can look back and see God's presence through it all, and the angels of help and love He sent me. Even in death itself it will be our privilege to see only the joy of Jesus. We may be saved constantly from the crushing power of pain, and see only the Lord. Afterward we can look with gratitude to Him upon the valley that is behind.

2. He is always fresh and sweet. His leaf is always green. There may come a long spell of drought, but he is not anxious nor afraid. There may be a long strain of sorrow, and the trouble may be very sharp. The Israelites were in the wilderness many long years, but they rebelled, and for forty years God was grieved with them. The trouble may come closer, and grow harder every hour till it comes a very evil day in which we stand, but thanks be unto God, He not only keeps us from being crushed by the sorrow, but also from having any care about it.

3. There is no fruit lost in the time of drought. We not only have no cares of our own to manage through the trying hours, but there is time for fruit-bearing. We are not only enabled to bear the troubles, but we do not lose our fruitfulness for a moment. We are sustained by Him till we fall in the armor or rise to glory in the chariots of His grace. Our Saviour's life well illustrates this. Everything at the last was crushing His heart and growing heavier every moment. Earth, if she understood would have thrown her arms around Him. When do we get the sweetest word of love from His lips? In every case it is after a bitter fight with trouble. The dearest message in the New Testament, "Let not your heart be troubled," was spoken when His own heart was breaking, yet He did not cease from bearing fruit.

"Moving unruffled through earth's war.
The eternal calm to gain."

God wants fruit from us at all times. I am afraid some people here this morning have got a little discouraged, and are not doing so. Perhaps you have let a little spirit of criticism come in. You may not like this way of testifying or that way of serving the Master. Some one you worked for, perhaps, has gone back from the Christian life. You think it is not worth while to work much in your cold church or formal prayer meeting. The home influences around you do not promote Christian activity. Is that the picture of this text? He shall not cease from yielding fruit. The sweetest strawberries are gathered from the rock.

The fruits of the wilderness are always sweeter than those of the garden. The more trials we are in, the more sympathy we should have for the people around us. Our own conflicts and victories are intended to give balm to others' hearts. I have been in awful battles sometimes, and wondered why the conflict was so hard. But He has caused me to trust Him for strength, and afterward I have been called to some poor child of His in similar trial, and have seen that all this discipline He had given me for their help. Trust Him in the trying hour, dear friends, hope for nothing that comes not to you from His faithfulness, and you will surely find Him to be a true friend and a safe refuge in the time of trouble.

Does God tell you in this verse that you are to raise fruit? No. You are only to stretch out your roots to the river. Get near to the water, and take it in. Look to God and He will do the rest. Abide in Christ, and He will do very much for you. Get full of Christ and as you are tapped Christ must flow out from you to others. There was a vine transplanted once to Hampton Court, England, and for several years it disappointed the gardener very much by not bearing fruit after all his care. It was a healthy plant, and yet it had no grapes. One year it suddenly surprised them all by blooming and bearing, so that the over-laden vine was a wonder to all the Court.

The curious gardener traced its roots to find the cause of it, and found they had just burst through the soil and reached the Thames River. In and out of the rocks they had gone up and down among the stones until they got to the river. Since then it had not ceased from bearing fruit. It is the same way in God's garden. What a rest it is to have nothing to do but to drink in God. We have not got to be busy about bearing fruit. The lilies have no care. They are not fearful that every little cloud which comes will separate them from Him. We have only to be filled with God, and He will make the fruits of righteousness and glory abound to the praise of His own.

Chapter 4  

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