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Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life
By A. B. Simpson
"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end." I Peter 1:13
AMONG the various articles of apparel much used in the Bible as a symbol of spiritual equipment and character there are few more important and striking than the spiritual girdle. Literally the girdle was a large broad scarf usually of costly materials which the owner wrapped around his person to keep his loose flowing garments in place. It generally contained many receptacles in which were carried small swords, knives and wallets, and various other small articles as numerous as those to be found in a boy's pockets. It was a very useful appendage to the costume.
It was sometimes made of plain linen, and sometimes of the costliest materials that could be obtained. The curious girdle of the High Priest was made with very great expense and unspeakable care and skill. The Lord Jesus was girded as a symbol of His priestly character. It has several special meanings and it is indispensable for some uses. The Indian uses his belt to regulate his strength. Then too on long marches which were sometimes taken without food, as day after day passed, the ancients would lighten their belts and imagine that their hunger was satisfied.
Their loins being thus girded up they would press forward with fresh vigor. The girdle has several meanings for us this morning. The Holy Ghost is saying to us "Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and hope to the end." He would equip us for the journey that is waiting us; or better, He would establish us and quicken us in the will of God.
We read of the girdle as a symbol of official position, "Samuel ministered before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod." One of the most wonderful promises concerning the coming Saviour is to be found in Isa. Xxii; 21-24.
"And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder: so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house.
And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue."
This has reference to Christ under the special type of Eliakim. He received a girdle as an expression of his being set apart for some definite work. If God has girded you beloved, He has given you something to do, He has given you some official standing and responsibility. It is a very solemn place you are called to fill. It is a place of service, discipleship and of witnessing for Jesus. God has made us stewards in trust for the world. There are multitudes of names for this figure of our high calling. Do you recognize the place to which you are called? Are you true to your trust? Have you got your girdle on? Are you fulfilling God's expectation of you in your work? Do you understand just what He wants of you? God help you to be faithful.
"Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thy strength rely,
Assured if I my trust betray,
I shall forever die."
This girdle of office is for every Christian. He gave "to every man his work." It is a glorious place to be in, a great privilege to be the stewards of the Most High God, the bearers of His messages to men; however humble that place may be.
The girdle is also a token of service, and especially lowly and even menial service. Jesus rose from that last supper among His disciples, and took a towel and girded Himself, and then washed their feet. In another place He said of Himself "I am among you as He that serveth." The kings and princes of this world are called great. His teaching was "Let him that would be chief among you be the servant of all." The word minister means a high servant, in the New Testament, and servant a low servant, an underservant or slave, whose duty it was to wash the feet of the guests. Jesus uses the lower word.
I am among you as a bondservant, with an apron on ready to serve you at the table, ready to wash your feet or serve you in any lowly way. That is Christ's idea of service, and if you want any experience of serving Him you must get it in this lowly way. "Which of you having a servant ploughing, or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shall eat and drink?"
This is the true interpretation of being His servant. Very tenderly Christ explains it to us and adds. "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do."
That is the meaning of putting on the towel. It is a literal going to work. Many Christians would like very much to honor the Lord Jesus Christ by some great service, and perhaps think they have done so when they have put a few dollars in the collection plate on the Sabbath. Christ says "that is not even paying your board." When we think of what it cost Him to procure salvation for us we must see that we are but unprofitable servants. How great is His work for the creatures of His care. Every morning He feeds the little fowls with open hand, beside all the greater He is constantly doing.
He is doing as much now as He did in those earthly years of lowliness and suffering. There is nothing for us but shame when we think of the best work we have done for Him. By His grace let us be more faithful in our work both in the large and in the small things. There is a great deal that can be done in little ways. Have you got the girdle on for these things also? Lay aside the grand and selfish robes. The great cause of our lack of energy in the little services for God is because we have the wrong garment on. We are dressed for the drawing-room, or the bedchamber, when we ought to be in the scullery or the kitchen or the dining-room with our apron on, finding plenty of service with Christ among the bond-servants.
The girdle also is a preparation for a journey. When the angel brought Peter out of the prison, the first direction he gave to him was, "Gird thyself." After Elijah's contest with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel was over and the fire from heaven had devoured his sacrifice, the heavens gathered blackness, and rain was about to fall. Then Elijah girded up his loins and ran before Ahab's chariot to the entrance of Jezreel. The flowing robe of the Orient was not a good one to run a race in. It was necessary to tighten it. Some Christians try to run the heavenly race, as boys run a sack-race, and are so hampered and fettered that of course they stumble.
Others attempt it in their night-robes instead of being girded with strength. They are much more ready to fall asleep than to win the prize at the end of the race. Indulgence in apathy and repose, and self-indulgence will not help us on this race. "Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and hope to the end." That is God's call to you. If it is too loose you will soon become languid. Don't be afraid of buckling it in tightly, and let it be of genuine elastic. There must be some spring your spirit. You cannot even walk fairly because you are not girded.
Christian life is too apt to be loose, and flabby, and spongy, and soft, and lax, and languid. That is the reason you are so ready to stumble and fall over the slightest temptation. Gird up the loins of your mind. Prepare for the march. It is a long way to heaven. There is much yet to be accomplished before we reach the land that is very far-off.
The girdle is connected with war as well as walking and running. The soldier has not only his armor on, but he has a girdle for his sword. The Lord is represented as girding His sword upon His thigh, and going forth to meet His enemies. So when we are thus girded we are ready for victory. We shall never be able to say that we have no temptations, but we can say that we have Christ as our full victory over them. In the time when strong temptations pour upon us, we can meet them with Him, and thus have grace and power and victory forever. When the forces of the enemy come down in great numbers, go forth to meet them with the shield of faith in the left arm, the sword of the Spirit in the right hand, the helmet of perfect assurance in the head, and the breast-plate of Christ's righteousness on the bosom. But we are not to stand on the defensive alone.
We are to carry the battle into the enemy's country. We must be ready without loss of time when the victory is gained, to take the aggressive, and fight the next battle on the soil of the adversary. If it amounts to anything the devil will be sure to try to stop it. When Paul and Silas were preaching in Philippi, he managed to get them thrust into the common prison, but they were given the victory then in the conversion of the jailer. Every time a blessing comes there will certainly be something to oppose it from his hand, but if the conflict is carried on in Christ's name, and trusting in Him there will be ceaseless victory through His love. Gird on then the sword of the Spirit. Get it ready for the attacks of the adversary. You have been prepared for the conflict by the things you have suffered. When the battle is finished don't think it is all over. Be ready to do better fighting for the Master next time than ever before. Go forth with the old refrain:
"We'll work till Jesus comes,
And then we'll rest at home.
Battling for the Lord."
The girdle is not only a symbol of the extension of our work, but of its compactness and conciseness. It means singleness of aim rather than a scattering of forces. The girdle firmly bound the whole dress together and made it secure. It speaks of a well-knit frame. It means that we should rise out of scattering aimless work, and say with Paul, "This one thing I do." There should be a united heart among God's children, a singleness of aim and a union of all their powers. It is a good thing to be united closely with some work for Christ, yet not in the sense of bigotry. Remember your brother's work is as good as yours, and yet be true to yours. Throw your whole soul into it. It is not merely your work. It is serving God.
Be careful not to do it through ambition, or desire to win an illustrious name, or through caprice, or for the excitement of the work. Are you girded for your work in this sense, or is your life scattered in its aim. God has a will for you, and He will show you that will, if you sincerely wait on Him for it. There is something in particular for you to do, some definite work which no other person can do. There is too much vagueness and idle drifting along in Christian work, and therefore there is not so much accomplished as might be. Concentrate your powers of service in one particular field, and do your best to serve Him there until His coming.
The girdle is a type also of readiness for action. Before the children of Israel started out of Egypt they had their loins girded ready for the march at a moment's notice. So the Lord tells us: "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning: And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord when He will return from the wedding; that when He cometh and knocketh, they may open unto Him immediately." The girded loins indicate readiness for work, for trial, for temptation, or for the Lord's coming to receive our account.
Always ready, should be our watchword. If we are always full of the Spirit, we shall not so readily transgress. The quick word will not easily vex us. The sudden temptation will not so easily overcome us. We should always be in a recollected state, always ready for every battle, every enemy, every task. If we are asked to preach the gospel, we shall not need three days to prepare for it, but can be ready in three minutes. We shall be always watching, always ready. The Lord will keep us so if we are willing. Don't let yourself down for a moment, dear friends; don't get lax, and languid, and soft.
When the task is over, don't give a sigh of relief, and let go. If you do, the devil is watching, and before that hour is passed, will bring some little temptation that will weaken your Christian life, perhaps, without your being aware of it. Like a vessel with a small hole in it, your blessing will slowly leak away until it is lost. The service of the Lord needs to be followed by vigilance as well as preceded by it. In relaxing there, we give the enemy a chance to strike us, and we deserve to get the blow. The devil knows the instant you are not watching. Be on guard then every minute, with your loins girded ready for action.
The girdle speaks to us also of endurance. It is easy, perhaps, to follow a certain line of work or trial for three or four days, but we must be ready for prolonged pulls. There are heavy strains of sorrow and testing, and trial to be met and borne. The battle is not always easy. There are often days and days of waiting that try the soul. He that endureth to the end shall be saved. The charity, which God commends, endureth all things. It does not endure for a while and then get impatient and fretful, but it endureth all the way through to the very end. It suffereth long. That is the test of the quality of Christian character.
He that comes in ahead at the end of the race wins. "We cannot gain in the heavenly race by a spasmodic, ephemeral burst of energy, but, by going on with patient plodding feet, day after day, steadily and unweariedly. There are hard lessons for us to learn, but they are needed. It is easy to go to Africa, or to the islands of the sea for one brief year, sent there by some sudden transport of emotion, but to wait for twenty-five years at the gate of China, for an opportunity to preach to Chinamen, is a very different matter. Judson was asked after laboring for years in Burmah, with little apparent result:
"What are the prospects of the work in Burmah?" His answer was, "As bright as the promises of God." Livingstone walked over nearly the whole of Africa, enduring privations and toils we would tremble to think of, and seeing very little to encourage him in his labors, yet when in England for a short time, he longed to get back to it, and one of his last utterances before leaving for the last time to go to Africa was "Who would not be a missionary."
Another aged servant of the Lord, who had spent nearly his whole life in India, and who came back to this country to stir up his brethren to more aggressive work there, was told that an incurable disease had fastened itself upon him and he probably could not live very long. "Then let me go back to India," he said, "and finish my work there." His body was ready to drop into the grave, but he sold out his possessions, took the savings of a life-time, and prepared to finish his course in the land where His Lord had called him to labor, and where he wished his bones to lie.
There is a great difference, beloved, between reaching out our arms to God and praying for His blessing upon ourselves, or our work, or our dear ones, and looking beyond these selfish interests to the great heathen world, and pouring out our soul to Him persistently for months and years, for His blessing upon the labors of His children there. That is being girded for endurance in His work. That is setting one's face like a flint, and being settled in the work He gives, not for a day or week but until He comes. May God gird us every one tenderly, yet strongly for endurance in His glorious service, impressing on us the importance of redeeming the time moment by moment and pressing forward with a zeal that shall never flag until He calls us home or comes Himself to reign on earth, in righteousness and beauty.
Let us look a little at what this girdle is, that we have speaking of. The Bible calls it by different names.
1. It is the girdle of truth: "Let your loins be girt about with truth." That, of course, is God's truth, which is manifested to us in His promises. If your Christian life becomes lax and languid, dear friends, how are you to gird it up and feel that you have received strength? By recalling some of the promises God has made to you: "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." "Fear thou not, for I am with thee." Some such marvelous words as these, ought to be sufficient to fasten our souls with a firmer clasp to God, and bring His life and divine energy into us.
2. It is called a girdle of righteousness: "Righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins." Isa. 11, 5. Christ is our righteousness, not only imputed, but imparted to us. We are partakers of His very nature.
3. The same passage calls it also a girdle of faithfulness. We can lean upon it without fear, and commit ourselves wholly to it.
4. It is a girdle of strength. "It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect." "Thou hast girded me with strength to battle." We are girded with God's own enduring might; clothed upon with the very strength of God.
5. It is a girdle of gladness. "Thou hast put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness." We must have this girdle on, or we would break down many times. The godly are delivered from gloom and despair. They have no right to hang out the black flag of discouragement. We should count it great disloyalty to look depressed, or to speak sadly. No matter if the spirit is groaning within, never let the lips give expression to it. An Indian never lets his tormentors know how much they are torturing him. Neither should we let the devil see that God's children are anything but joyous. Get His joy within the heart. Say, with Habakkuk, "I will rejoice in the Lord."
Do as Jesus did, who, for the joy that was set before Him, despised the shame and counted the sacrifice as nothing. He never allowed any one to pity Him, nor should you. Be like Paul, who was able to fill the air with his songs of praise while lying in a Roman prison. Take the joy of the Lord for your strength. Put on the garment of praise and partake of the oil of joy. Be a happy Christian wherever you are. Even in the valley of the shadow of death the devils need have no power to frighten you, if you are trusting in your dear Lord.
6. This is a girdle of love. "Above all, put on charity which is the bond of perfectness." Paul has been undressing a Christian splendidly in this 3rd of Colossians---even down to his bones. He says, put off, till everything is gone---even the old nature: then he begins to clothe him anew. The first thing he puts on is the bowels of mercy. The very body is new. The last thing he puts on him is charity, the girdle of love, to tie the clothing together.
Nothing keeps us up and gives us a firm footing like love. We need that burning, unquenchable love which never can be exhausted, and which God alone can bring to us. It is a poor thing to attempt to do any work for Him without that spirit of love within us. That only can keep us steadfast unto the end. I pray for it for you, beloved, and for myself, to keep us on fire with zeal for Him. We need the love that brought Christ down to die for us; we need His own love in our hearts to be our perfect girdle.
7. Then there is another bond that should bind all Christians together as one. It does not unite you to your special Christian friends, but it includes all the disciples of the Lord Jesus. That is the bond of peace. When travelers are crossing the Alps they are tied to each other and to the guide, so that, if one chances to fall over the cliff, the others plant their heels in the ice and their alpenstocks in some crevice of ice and snow, and hold on, and he is saved. The little rope that bound him to his brothers was the means of preserving his life. Oh! that we all might be so closely bound together in the blessed work of God!
8. The last name of this girdle is the girdle of hope. It is mentioned in the text we read at the opening. It is the last golden circle, which stretches far beyond the others and embraces the very stars. How much it holds out to us! Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. This glorious girdle of hope keeps us up by showing us a little of the great recompense that awaits us hereafter. We may be under heavy pressures here; we may have to bear loss, and sacrifice, and sorrow; but oh! hope, hope, hope! Everything will be given back to us by and by. Lift up your heads.
Keep always full of joy, hoping for that which is to come. When Christian was asked how he managed to drive away sadness and be always glad, he answered: "Sometimes I look at the robe my Lord has given me, and that will do it: sometimes I look back at the cross where He died for me, and that will do it; sometimes I look ahead to the Delectable Mountains, and that will do it; sometimes I look ahead to the spires of the Celestial City, and that will do it."
His vision was lifted gradually up higher and higher. Hope cannot fail. There is no cry of faith, no tear, or prayer that you have given for God or His work, but the results will be met. If you do not see them here, you will yonder. Go on, then, steadfastly with your work, hoping in God unto the end. May God gird us all with these girdles He has prepared for us, to the glory of His own great Name!