Friday, December 19, 2014

The Glories of the Mount by Hamilton Smith (Part 3)

The Sorrows of the Plain (Continued)
Luke 9:28-62

How is it that in this day, with its great privileges, we are still so often marked by unbelief, pride, ignorance, and lack of confidence in the Lord? Is it not that we have self before us as an object rather than Christ. This is strikingly brought before us in the next portion of the chapter (vv. 46-56). In these verses the Holy Spirit brings before us different forms in which selfishness may express itself.

The first form is personal selfishness (vv. 46-48). The disciples reasoned amongst themselves which of them should be the greatest. They were measuring greatness after the manner of men; but how different is the greatness of man to the greatness of God. The greatness of man is expressed by seeking to exalt self, at the expense of others, to the highest place, in company with the greatest persons. The greatness of God is expressed by a Man who comes into the lowest place and associates with the insignificant and despised. This is the path to true greatness and was trodden in perfection by Christ, and hence God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every Name (Phil. 2:5-9).

The second form of selfishness is party selfishness (vv. 49, 50). We read that John answered and said, "Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy Name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us." Here John is apparently not thinking of himself personally, but of the company, the "us." This is a more subtle form of selfishness than the last, because it has the appearance of ignoring self for the good of the company you are with. In reality it generally means the desire to exalt the company in order to make something of self. This is indeed party-selfishness. John and those with him forbad the man to cast out demons, not because it was a wrong thing to do, but because he did not follow with them. What the man was doing might indeed have been for the glory of Christ and the blessing of man, but it was not done in connection with "us," and therefore added nothing to "us," and so in the eyes of John must be condemned. But in so thinking and speaking, John had before him the disciples and their importance, rather than Christ and His honour. In His reply the Lord in tender grace uses John's word, but rebukes John's thought. "Forbid him not; for he that is not against us is for us." The Lord does not say the man is "with us" but "for us." The disciples indeed were both "with Christ" and "for Christ." The man was "for" Christ, and in this sense was "for" the disciples, for they, too, were "for" Christ. Blessed to be, like the disciples in any true sense with Christ in the place of reproach, but let such beware that they cast no slight upon those who are "for" Christ, even if by reason of their associations they cannot walk with them.

The last form of selfishness is the exaltation of self under the cloak of zeal for the Lord (vv. 51-56). We have had selfishness seen in zeal for self; then selfishness hiding itself under zeal for party; now we have selfishness cloaking itself under zeal for the Lord. Of all forms of selfishness this is the most subtle and difficult to detect, for who can complain of zeal for the Lord, or say that is wrong? and yet under zeal for the Lord there may lurk zeal for self. It was so in this case. The earthly path of the Lord was drawing to its close. He was about to be received up, and His face was set to go to Jerusalem. His path lay through the Samaritan villages, and they would not receive Him. Their fathers had rejected Elijah of old, the children now reject Elijah's Lord and Master. The disciples, resenting the insult put upon their Master, would fain invoke the judgment of heaven upon these Christ-rejectors, even as Elijah had called down the fire from heaven upon his enemies. Zeal for Christ would desire the judgment of His enemies, righteousness might seem to demand it, and a Scripture precedent would support such a course; nevertheless the Lord rebukes His disciples, saying, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." Underneath their zeal the Lord detects and exposes a spirit that is entirely alien to Himself. The Lord was exercising power in grace to meet man's need. The disciples would exercise power in judgment to gratify their own self-importance. He would show grace for the blessing of others. They would exercise judgment for the exaltation of themselves.

The rejection of their Lord and Master, with all His grace and power, by these corrupt Samaritans, raised the anger and resentment of the disciples, because they had some self-importance to maintain, and this self-importance had been slighted by the insult shown to their Master. The disciples would take advantage of the wickedness of these people to exercise a judgment they deserved, but they would do so in the spirit of retaliation. Self was the secret of their proposal, but hidden under the cloak of zeal for the Lord.

How different the spirit of the Lord, the One whose grace had been so slighted. Though Lord of all He was here with a tender heart and a lowly mind, having no self-importance to maintain. Hence the rejection that calls forth the disciples' indignation, only reveals His patient and silent submission, even as a little later, His rejection by Jerusalem calls forth His tears. James and John would consume the rejectors of their Master with fire, as later Peter would fight against them with a sword. But Christ, without resentment and without retaliation, will pass on to another village.

There is yet another great hindrance to our service and testimony for the Lord. Not only the flesh, in its different forms of selfishness, but nature with its claims may be a very real hindrance. This comes before us in the closing verses of the chapter (vv. 57-62).

First we learn that the energy of nature cannot take the path of true discipleship. One comes to the Lord saying, "I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest." This may have been the outcome of a generous impulse that drew the man to the Lord. At the same time it betrays the levity of nature that apprehended not who the Lord was, where He was going, or the path He was treading. He was indeed the rejected Man; He was "in the way" to be received up into a world of glory, yet, on the way, in this present world, He had no home and only a cross and a grave before Him. It would be wiser to go to the foxes for a hole, and the birds for a nest, than to come to the Son of Man for a home on earth. The energy of nature, however genuine, was not prepared for such a path. Nature can do much but it cannot forgo itself, its ease, its comforts, to follow a rejected Lord. And thus the path having been put before this volunteer we hear no more of him.

Further, we learn that the relationships of nature may be a real hindrance in the service of the Lord (vv. 59-60). In this case the man is called to follow the Lord by the Lord Himself. The first man, acting in the lightness of nature, sees no difficulties: this man being called by the Lord is at once conscious of difficulties. As Moses in an earlier day, acting in the energy of nature, thought to find it a simple matter to put things right among the people of God; but when called of God he can see nothing but difficulties. So with this man in the gospel day; his difficulty appeared to be great — an aged father drawing nigh to the grave, and dependent upon the son. Faced with this difficulty the man says, as it were, "I am ready to answer to the call, but suffer me first to wait until my father has died and I have carried out my last duties in connection with this natural claim." This, indeed, sounds reasonable, for the father had the first claim in nature. Christ, however, must have the first claim in the new life; and it was a question of life and death. As one has said, the Lord was putting in His claim for the life He had given, a life that demanded that Christ and His claims should be first. The man puts the claims of the dead first, as he says, "Let me first bury my father." The Lord is not denying or setting aside the claims of nature, but He is asserting His own paramount claims. The man did not see that if the Lord calls, His claims must be first, and that the One who calls can at the same time care for the father that is left behind.

Finally, we learn that natural affection may become a real hindrance in the service of the Lord (vv. 61-62). This man also volunteers to follow the Lord, but he first desires to go and bid them farewell at home. This, however natural, indicates to the Lord's all-searching gaze, that his heart lingered in the home. He would fain put his hand to the plough — engage in service — but his heart was "looking back" to the home, and we go the way that we look. How impossible for the labourer to plough his furrow while walking one way and looking another. The service of the Lord demands an undivided heart.

Thus we are warned that nature may become a real hindrance in the service of the Lord. It is not that the Lord sets aside the mercy of a dwelling place on earth, the claims and duties connected with natural relationships, or the affections that belong to these relationships, but He puts His claims first, and looks for a devotedness that surrenders all to Him. Thus only will the disciples be "fit for the Kingdom of God." This last word of the Lord brings us back to the Mount where the disciples had seen the Kingdom of God in its glory (v. 27). It is only in the light of the glory of Christ in the Kingdom of God, and in the power of the grace of Christ in the Plain, that we shall be able to refuse the flesh in its varied forms, the selfishness of our hearts, and the claims of nature.

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