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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

Hosea 14:5-8

"I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and His beauty shall be as the olive tree, and His smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under His shadow shall return ; they shall revive as the corn and grow as the vine ; the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim shall say, What have I to do with idols? I have heard Him and observed Him ; I am like a green fir-tree. From Me is thy fruit found."   Hosea 14, 5-8

THIS is another one of the beautiful emblems of Christian life with which the Old Testament is full. We are God's husbandry, and His gardens shall be full of plants, and flowers, and fruits.

This chapter is one of His earliest appeals to backsliding Israel, and it gives us a little glimpse of that yearning love which sought to hold them back from darkness and apostasy. Though it was lost to them, it has been a source of comfort to many a backslider since. It is a lovely picture, and it is brought out by unworthiness. Israel stumbled, and sinned, and fell down to miserable death, and it gave us this view of God's loving heart. If Christ is struck, there always comes something lovely from Him. It is the Old Testament story of the Prodigal Son in Hosea, and it is a chaste picture as sweet as Heaven itself.

I.

The prophet tells us what God promises to be to the reviving soul. The figure of dew is an exquisite description of His cheering and comforting grace. It does not speak of storm and tempest, and the breaking up of nature, but of drops of refreshing that can be taken every day, and every night, and are more in the aggregate than all the rain. The dew does not fall at all. It is always here, and we can gather it at anytime for the body and for the soul. The plants do not need heavy clouds to give them rain. They have only to be cool and quiet, and from the surrounding air drops of spray will fall to feed the vegetation. The dew was there all the time, but they did not drink it in. If you are hot, and tired, and weary, and sick, what you need is to get cool, and calm, and quiet, and take in the refreshing of God's love. You can make dew any minute.

If you bring a pitcher of ice-water into a hot room it will be covered with drops of dew at once, for the air is full of moisture. Do you ever get fretted, or heated, or tired, or passionate, and do you wonder why God does not refresh you? Get quiet and cool, and lo! from the surrounding air, which is full of God, you will gather drops of refreshing which will rest, and quiet, and calm you. Did you never see a sick child lying on its mother's breast, which was full of nourishment, and yet the poor little thing was too sick and too tired to drink? It needs to get quiet, and nestle close up to that loving heart, and then it can drink and be satisfied. God is always full of quiet and restful love, and we must get quiet to take it in, and our hearts will be full of praise. Look up and feel that you touch Him, and then rest in Him. He is not far from every one of us.

The air of this Tabernacle is laden with Him today. The air of this beautiful spring is teeming with the out-going of His affectionate love and far-reaching, yearning tenderness. Everything speaks of God. From out of the spaces around He will gather, if we let Him, close to us, so that we may evermore live and move and breathe in Him. God is in everything. Everything is in God. This is what we need. This is the thought of greatest blessing to us today. The baptism of the Holy Ghost thus comes to us every day, and ceases to be wonderful. We can take more of Him in, moment by moment, than by striking spasmodic paroxysms. Innumerable common-places make up the sum of life. I suppose we walk around the world many times during our lives, if all our little steps were counted, but we are doing it so constantly that we do not realize it. If the air we put into our lungs in the course of twenty-four hours were put into a receiver we would be startled to see how much we have breathed in.

If we could see the long procession of oxen and sheep and other animals it takes to support one life we should be frightened and horrified to think we could eat so much ; yet we do it, by taking a little at a time. What God wants is a set of Christians who know how never to cease communion with Him, and who grow strong by the constant inflowing of His Holy Spirit, which is the result of always abiding in Him. What will be the consequence of such living? Life for the soul, the body, the heart, the intellect, the whole being. The dew will spread refreshing over all, and will sweeten us for home life, for social life, for business life, and in every place where God shall lead us. The effect of all this is clearly and beautifully given in this chapter by a succession of images, which may be divided into two classes blessings for ourselves and blessings for others.

1. The blessings to ourselves arc summed up under the figures of the lily, the cedar, the olive, and Lebanon.

The lily is one of the characteristic emblems of the Bible. It is probably the crimson lily, for in the Canticles it is compared to the lips of the Beloved, and in the New Testament to the robes of Solomon, which probably were not white. There were perhaps fifty species altogether, and they were of every shade. It was the most rapid free growing plant in Palestine. The lily is the emblem of purity, the rose of natural, passionate love. It is the emblem of Venus, and so of unhallowed love, while the lily typifies the pure fragrance of the heart, and so of that hallowed, unalloyed love which is full of God. Christ uses it to typify the growth of the Christian, and throughout the Canticles it represents the exquisite purity of the Beloved. We are to grow, then, as the lily. That is, we are to be pure and we are to grow rapidly. The lily grows from a bulb. It is a rapid development and unfolding from the root. So are we to grow from the deep roots which the Lord has implanted in us. The lily has ever a sweet growth.

It is always giving out fragrance simply and without effort. It is not working hard to grow. It rests and grows because it cannot help it under the genial influence of the sun and rain and moisture. It doesn't make itself grow. It rests and grows. It looks up to the sun and then sends its roots down and grows. So should we grow. It is an agony to be always watching and trying to develop ourselves. It is a weariness to have the responsibility of our own advancement. It would wear us out. It would he a great toil to have to spin and weave our spiritual garments, and when they were finished they would not be beautiful, like the lily's. No we must grow spontaneously, like the lily, if we are to have real growth. We must be lifted above the necessity and fear of our own spiritual culture. Our life must be divinely impelled. This is life more abundantly.

It is just dropping down into God and so growing. The secret of it all is to abide in Him. "He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit." This will save the Christian from a hot-headed desire to do much for the Lord. Without Me ye can do nothing. So the Lord said to Ephraim, "From Me is thy fruit found." We need to learn this to keep self-righteousness down and to dwell in His life, which shall sustain us and keep us growing all the time. Do you believe He loves you well enough to do this for you? We do not grow more because we do not rest enough. What would you think of a gardener who started in March to prune a tree, then rested awhile, and then pruned again, and so on until June? Would he have much of a tree left by that time, do you think? It would die by bleeding to death long before the summer. It could not stand it.

It needs to rest, so that it can root itself and become established in the soil. Then it can develop in the arms of nature. When I was a boy I was very fond of gardening, but I always killed my plants by pulling them up to see if they had rooted. If I found they were sprouting all right I would put them back, and then I would wonder that they did not grow, but I had killed them by not letting them alone. It is the same with spiritual as with natural things. We feel that we must have a hand in the work. We think it would not be reverent if we did not have a sense of responsibility about our growth and were not a little anxious and even careworn about it. But God is saying to us, "Be careful for nothing." He wants us to cast all our cares on Him, and in that sweet, restful quiet we can grow as the lily.

We are to grow, also, as the cedar. Away down out of sight we are to cast forth our roots as Lebanon. The best growth is where man sees nothing of it. All over the land today there arc men and women we know nothing about who are quietly getting ready for great usefulness. Some day they will burst upon the world like a Moody or a John Baptist. All my life I have seen people put aside for a while, and then suddenly spring out into great power in the Lord's work. The cedars that grew so strong in Northern Lebanon did not understand what they were growing so for. But one day Hiram's axemen came and they were sent down to Jerusalem and fashioned into the glorious temple.

You do not know, my brother, why you are growing down so long into the quiet, deep places, which are often places of trial. It is a precious sort of life. It is growing in the rich loam of the wilderness, which all the gardeners are so glad to get for garden soil. Be thankful for these years. Grow like Lebanon in them. The winds may howl, the rocks may be all through the land, but fasten your roots around them and grow into permanency and strength. Grow downward in your closet and in the discipline of life. Don't be afraid of the discipline of the Holy Ghost. He knows how to teach. Some day He will use you in making the temple of God.

We must grow also like the olive, an upward growth which spreads the branches far out into the air. But, remember, there can be no beauty above unless there is strength below. There must be strong roots down deep in the soil, if the leaf is to be rich and unctuous and bathed in oil. The olive is the symbol of the Holy Ghost. So there is to be not only beauty of growth but the presence of God in the midst of it; so that many shall say they love to be among this people, for they are so filled with the Holy Spirit. Let that be your beauty, dear friends. Let your culture be the shining of His face upon you and through you. Let your refinement be the production of His beauty in face and character. So shall your growth be like the olive, rich and beautiful in the Holy Ghost.

His smell shall be like Lebanon. The Bible says much of fragrance and the sense of smell. Isaiah tells us that Jesus was to be of quick scent in the fear of the Lord. I am sure we all admire the magnificent, rich scent of the garden more than its fruit. There is something in incense and the sweetness of odors that is expressive of the heart of things. Perfume expresses the homage of the consecrated heart far more than the richness of flowers or the sweet taste of fruits. It is expressive of the holiness of Christian life. In the offering of the Lamb upon the altar, the fat was always given to God, which was like offering Him the fragrance of the flesh.

It is typical of that exquisite delicacy of feeling which cannot be chiseled out into a marble statue, cannot be made into a picture, cannot be put into words even, but which you are conscious of in every fibre of your being. You know it at once in others, because you know it in Him. What is it in the closet that makes the hour there so delightful? It is the inexpressible sense of God's presence, is it not? It is the hallowed consciousness of the atmosphere of heaven. There is the sweet breath of fragrance in the air like incense, and which pours over you like a cloud of glory. Have you not known, as you bowed before Him, what it is to be covered with this cloud of incense and find its fragrance something sweeter almost than heaven? Far better than by any answer to your prayers you know you have been with God.

As you have gone there, heart-weary and feeling tired and sick, how it has fallen upon you and rested you. It is sweeter than love. As you bow there in silence you have said, "Thou art the chiefest among ten thousand. All Thy garments smell of myrrh." I believe we shall be conscious of this sweet fragrance in the air of heaven. How many Christians live in an atmosphere of stern virtue, of cold righteousness and, driving work. They may have a sphere of wide usefulness, they may be full of service and devotion to the Master, but they lack the sweetness of the garden. There is much in them that will have to be crushed out if they get it. We have to live in the midst of tropical heat sometimes to get the fragrance of Lebanon.

2. God tells us also in this passage of the blessing His children may be to others, and He speaks of them under various types.

First, we are to be a pleasant shade. Are you a shade, dear friends that will comfort and cheer your Christian friends? Each of us ought to be a blessing to a score at least. Have you such a refreshing nature that people will delight to come and dwell with you? You know what a rest it is to be with some people who have been such a blessing to you. How sweet their sympathy is, and how readily they seem to understand you, while others are so different. God will enable you, if you are large-hearted and not selfish, to be just such a refreshment wherever you are, so that people will come to you and not get heated by the reflection of your sore heart, but will find you always rested and free from care, and so be quieted and helped themselves. A little rock in the wilderness can give no shade.

It is so heated itself that it scorches one to touch it. But a great rock can, take in the heat on one side and yet have a cool one left for you too. Our Saviour is like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, and He means us to be. One way we can do it is by prayer. There is a good deal in this ministry of intercession. May the dear Lord lay it upon you to have a real loving sympathy in whatever concerns your brother. If he is in any trouble or any sin, God means to help him. You cannot be a blessing unless you have this grace. There are many ways in which we can do this. We can be a shade for the poor, for the aged, for the helpless, for the frail ones, for the failing ones who will soon be with Him, and whom it may be an eternal blessing to us to help. Don't refuse His voice when He calls you to this, beloved, but learn to be a shade.

We are to give them also staple and abundant fruit. They shall revive the corn the Hebrew says. There is much practical usefulness in this life. We are to raise corn for the people who are famished. Our fields are to be cultivated and our granaries kept filled for the perishing multitudes of earth, and that too with what will really supply their wants. It is not oranges we want to raise, but corn; not century plants nor greenhouse plants, but it is all corn, the staple of life. Oh! the glory of doing duty like this grandly-doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. Thank God for the toiling, delving, unceasing plod of every-day life, and for being able to go to it with a zest and a spring and the enthusiasm of the whole heart.

It is glorious to be doing service for Him not only on some occasion, but on every occasion. To go up attic stairs when no one knows anything about it, and to go there day after day with the sweet consciousness that you are giving corn to some starving one, that you are feeding some poor child of His. It is precious to be able not only to be a shade to the weary by the way, but also to feed the hungry with substantial corn. The Lord does want servants who can be thus depended on, who go on always winning souls, reclaiming backsliders and keeping ever fruitful.

The vine is a type of the richer, deeper things of Christian life. It represents not life only, but exuberant, higher life and so the higher help which we should be able to give from a deep rich experience. It is not enough, dear friends, for us to leave a life of sin and then become only an average Christian. We must take the cordial of the kingdom. We must be ready to enter into the inner chambers of the Father's house when He bids us go. Some say that is not my calling. I cannot rise higher than I am. Don't say that, dear friends. Take not only the corn, but the wine, also. Know that it is for you, and enjoy it and give it to others.

We cannot do the common things of life well unless we have the higher things, too. The people who try it wear out and run dry. We want the varieties of His table. If we live on dry bread and water we cannot have a high physical life. We must have meat, and fruit, and vegetables. We must be able to mount on wings as eagles, as well as to walk and run. We must have the quickening impulses that come from drinking the wine of the kingdom. Then we can go out and revive the corn.

We meet with fragrance here again. It means that not only our character, but our work, is to be fragrant. It is one thing to have a sweet spiritual life; it is another to have our work sweet. God wants it to smell like Lebanon. When people come into our church, or our prayer-meeting, or our mission-work, they should at once feel, "How sweet this is! What happy, enthusiastic, cordial, large-hearted people these are! This is a holy, heavenly place." So our work should smell of Lebanon as well as our heart. The Lord wants to give it this fragrance. He wants it to go far off, like the sweet smell of spices that is wafted far out to sea from the shores of "Araby the blest."

God speaks to us, too, of winter fruit here. What about the cold, bleak winter time, when the days are so short and the nights so long? Is there any fruit then? The picture reaches even this: "I am like the green fir-tree." This is the tree of winter, which lasts when all else is dead. The spring lily is gone, the summer vine has perished, the autumn corn is dead, but the winter fir is alive and green still. All through that cold season, while the blasts are blowing and the snow is flying, it keeps sweet and beautiful as ever. Beloved, do we see the lesson? Are there not times in our lives when circumstances seem to be against us, and when others, too, are not bearing fruit? Then it is time to stand firm and true. Then is the time when God values the people who do not flinch. When we find them we know what they are worth. God bless the fir-trees! They kindle a loving fire upon our hearth and fill our rooms with the very light of heaven! May God make you faithful, dear friends, under all adverse circumstances, to the glory of His dear name.

II.

What is the fountain of all this life we have been speaking of? It is God Himself. "From Me is thy fruit found." Ephraim could boastfully say, "I will have nothing more to do with idols." All God could say is, "I have heard him and observed him." It is not enough to say I will not go back again to the world. We must learn the deeper lesson, "From Me is thy fruit found. If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered." Oh, beloved, God is a great rock to His people. Back of all our moods and depressions it is sweet to know there is one heart that never changes. If our roots are planted in Him, if our heart is drinking in His life, we, too, are kept from falling.

As I look back over my life I see many changes, many dark and anxious hours, many weary hours of pain when it almost seemed that faith would go; but just as I have been ready to sink in discouragement, how He has come to save and buoy me up! I think of it sometimes in quiet hours till it brings the tears to my eyes. How wonderful He has been to you and to me! It melts my very heart into weeping. I cannot understand it. He never changes, but goes on with one eternal purpose of love and blessing! I have not a bit of faith in you, dear friends. I wish you had none in yourselves.

I know there is with many of you an over-confidence in safe hours and an over-anxiousness in dark hours, both of which are self-confidence. Oh, look ever to Him, lean everything ever upon Him, and say, "Until that hour when I shall stand in glory before Thee, my faithful God, I take Thee to be my life and strength and righteousness." Then can you begin to grow as the lily, and your life shall become as sweet as Lebanon. Then only can you be free to become a blessing to others.

Chapter 5  

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