A VOICE FROM THE PAST
A selection of various articles published in Living Water
THE BEST PLACE FOR LEARNING
The circumstances in which we learn most are those which most expose our weakness.
As a rule, we are placed in circumstances which demand that which we are most defective in. We are set in such and such circumstances, not because we can fill them, or behave in them, better than any one else, but on the contrary, because we need to be invigorated by grace in the defects which they are fitted to expose. They disclose to us where we need grace, so that constantly we are failing where we are expected to excel. We are put there to cast us on the Lord, and to teach us that we can do nothing. If we could excel there, we should glory in our own success, but when we find that we are placed in the very circumstances that, perhaps, more than any others expose our weakness, we then see that we have no hope of being able to stand or succeed, unless we obtain grace to do so. I am not placed in the circumstances where I could excel most, but I am placed in those in which I can best know my need of grace, and best learn dependence. If I could get on without grace, I should grow elated with myself, but when I find that unless the Lord is at my right hand I shall fail, then I am humbled as to myself, but I am also deepened in dependence, which the demand of my circumstances has, in a way, forced on me; and having learned the blessing of dependence, instead of regretting the circumstances which made it necessary to seek help, I am the more cheered and encouraged to go on in them.
For learning or service every one is placed where there is demand on them. The child at school is not in the easy circumstances of home or the playground. The horse in harness is not in the easy circumstances of being in the stable or at grass. Nor are the teacher and the coachman in the circumstances where they can relax and enjoy themselves, but where they are tested, and where, unless they have quality, they are rejected or dismissed.
The circumstances we are placed in are the ones in which we can best learn and be most useful. It is not because we have nothing to learn or nothing to do for others. If we had nothing to learn, there would be no difficulty in the lessons required of us every day. The fact that there is difficulty in them proves that we are not proficient, and that it is necessary that we should be subjected to circumstances which disclose to us what we require to learn, or to draw from us what we can render. Your weakness is exposed that you may acquire strength, to render unto others - to comfort others, as you have been comforted of God; so that, whether learner or servant, you are always set in circumstances where there is pressure, and not ease. If the learner were to keep at the same lesson always he might feel his difficulty over, but so would his learning be over. If the horse remains at grass always, he is still a horse, but he is of no use to any one.
Are you learning? Are you useful? Whenever you are either, you will find that you are in exacting circumstances, and therefore not those where you are most at home and most at your ease; but the more you turn them to profit, the more you are learning of grace, and the more useful you are in sharing what you have acquired. You look too much for ‘home’, and for being at grass; school and harness are not before you as your daily exercise; if they were, you would find that exactions were the very things that put you in a position to learn more, and to serve better.
The Lord lead you to see that He places you where you are to learn and to serve, and that, unless you receive grace to meet your circumstances, they must expose your weakness.
J. B. Stoney (1814 – 1897)
From a letter published in 1873.
ON THE ECLIPSE OF THE MOON
Having seen the eclipse of the moon John Newton made the following
note for July 30 1776:
Tonight I attended an eclipse of the moon. How great are Thy works; with what punctuality do the heavenly bodies fulfil their courses, and observe their seasons to a moment. All things obey Thee, except fallen angels and fallen man. My thoughts would have taken a serious turn, but I was not alone. I thought, my Lord, of Thine eclipse – the horrible darkness which overwhelmed Thy mind when Thou saidst, ‘Why hast Thou forsaken Me’. Ah, sin was the cause – my sins. Yet I do not hate sin, nor loath myself as I ought.
A few days later he wrote to his friend John Thornton, and sent him a poem on the subject:
4 August 1776
John Newton to John Thornton, Director of the Bank of England
I observed the Eclipse of the Moon on Tuesday night, till it was
wholly covered by the shade, and endeavoured to draw some
meditations from it, which gave rise to a hymn that was the subject
of my discourse last night at the Great House – our Saviour’s
passion, the motions of the heavenly bodies being a pledge of His
faithfulness to His promises (Jeremiah 33:20-21 & 25) and the
dark seasons to which believers are liable in this present life,
were the principal points. I take the liberty to send you a copy of
the hymn for no other reason than that the subject is not common,
and that you have been pleased often favourably to accept what I
have sent of this sort.
Yes there is a better world, where our sun shall no more go down, neither the moon withdraw its shining – or rather, both moon and sun shall be needless, for the Lord Himself shall be the Everlasting Unclouded Light of His people. Oh how different is the land we are going to, from this wilderness through which we are now passing.
Your most obedt. and obliged Servant
ON THE ECLIPSE OF THE MOON
The moon in silver glory shone,
And not a cloud in sight;
When suddenly a shade began
To intercept her light.
How fast across her orb it spread,
How fast her light withdrew!
A circle, tinged with languid red
Was all appeared in view.
While many with unmeaning eye
Gaze on Thy works in vain;
Assist me, Lord, that I may try
Instruction to obtain.
Fain would my thankful heart and lips
Unite in praise to Thee;
And meditate on Thy eclipse
In sad Gethsemane.
Thy people’s guilt, a heavy load
(When standing in their room)
Deprived Thee of the light of God,
And filled Thy soul with gloom.
How punctually eclipses move,
Obedient to Thy will
Thus shall Thy faithfulness and love,
Thy promises fulfil.
Dark, like the moon without the sun,
I mourn Thine absence, Lord!
For light or comfort I have none,
But what Thy beams afford.
But low! The hour draws near apace,
When changes shall be o’er,
When I shall see Thee face to face,
And be eclipsed no more.
Note: Provided the sky is clear, a total eclipse of the moon should be visible in London (UK) on the night of 27th July 2018.
THE MERCY OF GOD
"Keeping mercy for thousands"-
Keeping mercy! - never expended - never worn out! Always in hand -
always ready for poor sinners, even for thousands! Yes, even for
thousands and millions of transgressors who come to the Fountain of
mercy by Jesus Christ. Oh, that precious blood which can meet the
need of the whole world - even your sins.
Poor sinner, is it your desire to get rid of your besetting sin?
Would you be holy if you could? Would you willingly give up your
destructive sin to be made a child of God? There is nothing to
prevent your being so, nothing but your own will; for He who keeps
mercy for thousands, has mercy in store for you - if you are but
willing to accept it upon the terms proposed by the Lord Himself, 'Let the wicked forsake his way, and
the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the
Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God and he will
abundantly pardon' (Isaiah 55:7)
Whatever may have been your sins, or however great their number,
here is pardon - freely offered to the humble penitent by our
gracious God, who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, for He
delighteth in mercy.
Your old companions may despise you, and you may hate your own
self, but God hates only sin, not the sinner. God despises your sin,
but yearns after your soul, like an affectionate Father - crying
out: 'Turn ye from your evil
ways; for why will ye die?' (Ezekiel 33:11)
It is not the will of God that any should perish but it is His will
that every one who believeth in Christ may have everlasting life
(John 4:39-40). It is the earnest desire of God to save you, sinful
as you are.
Oh, turn to God, and He will turn to you, not with an angry frown
but with a smile of love and mercy - which He keeps 'for
thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin'. 'Turn ye,
turn ye; why will ye die?' (Ezekiel 33:11).
EXTRACTS FROM THE TEACHING OF EDWARD DENNETT
- 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'. Untold sorrows characterise the human race, and this invitation is not confined to those who are laden with sin. Jesus addresses any one who is bowed down with any possible sorrow, any possible bereavement. Whatever the burden upon you, the Lord speaks to you.
- The perfection of the Christian life is absolute trust in God. All roads lead to this, and the one who reaches it in any measure will never be confounded.
- The fear of God can lift the feeblest and humblest above the fear of man.
- Sympathy is the rarest of all ministries, as it is also the sweetest: it makes no show to the world but it makes its mark.
- In praying for the sick I once heard a believer use this expression: 'May those who are too weak to pray be able to lean'.
- 'Who hath despised the day of small things?' We are slow to learn that the importance of any service depends upon God's estimate of it...that the meanest service...is worthy of all our devotedness and zeal if the mind and heart of God are upon it, and if He has put it into our hand.
- We cannot have power with men if we have not power with God. The greatest mistake that any of us can make is to seek to have power before men without having been in the presence of God.
- We are as dependent upon God when we speak to one soul as when we preach to a thousand. I have learnt this by experience; I have gone to see a sick person in great self-confidence and found I had nothing to say. And then the Lord taught me that I must wait upon Him for the message for a single soul as much as when I was going to preach. May we ever remember this that there may be no trace of self-confidence remaining in the heart.
- The wonder is that the Lord condescends to use anything which He gives one to say, seeing that we so often adulterate it with our own thoughts.
- It is so gracious of Him to give us any encouragement in our service, but I am convinced that the fruit of our labours which we have not seen will be far more abundant than that which we are permitted to know of, and hence it is that we have to scatter the seed in faith.
- Bear in mind that we must not expect the consciousness of power. It is on this point that so many stumble. They want to feel power, and failing to do so they conclude that they are in a wrong condition of soul for its exercise. No mistake could be greater. On the other hand the Lord has to break down His servants...in order to reduce them to the sense of their own utter impotence that they may learn the lesson that His strength is made perfect in weakness.
- Unconscious testimony is always the most powerful. I often think that at the judgment seat of Christ we shall find a word spoken casually, a little sentence dropped, has been more used than all our preaching and lectures.
- Nothing can justify a lack of tenderness in the presentation of the truth
- If you feel, 'I can do this or that service', you are not the vessel God can use.
- The Lord always sought to deepen exercises of soul, as He did in the case of the Syrophenician woman, refusing to grant her request until she was in a state to receive it. We seek to shorten them, as, for example, when we press souls to an immediate decision for Christ, without considering whether they have been brought to that point by the work of the Holy Ghost.
- When there are few gathered together at a meeting, remember there may be really as much blessing as with larger numbers. God will bring together those whom He purposes to bless, and if we remember this it will keep our eyes up to Him, and that is the one condition of blessing.
- A preacher has never to be anxious about results; that is God's concern. He has only to be anxious about three things: 1. the state of his own soul, 2. being in communion with the mind of God as to those to whom he is speaking; and 3. fidelity in delivering the message.
- Intellectual conviction is always powerless; it occupies itself with the truth, and never leads to Christ Himself.
- There are seasons when many believers feel as if they could not get into the presence, or obtain the ear of God...Surely it would prove an antidote to Satan's temptations at such periods to remember, that if we cannot pray ourselves, Christ never ceases to bear us up in His prevailing intercession...It would soon dispel our gloom and coldness of heart, because it would lead us to look away from ourselves and to expect all from Him and from His continual ministry for us in the presence of God.
- Christ Himself is to be our great example of faith, of a life of dependence upon God. If the holiest man that ever lived were to fill our vision it would only hinder us and not help us.
- Christ is everything. He is everything to the heart of God, and
He desires to be everything to the hearts of His people. That it
may be so with you is the highest blessedness I can desire for
Edward Dennett (1831 - 1914)
THE LORD'S SUPPER
The Lord's supper is ever a matter of deepest interest to those who love Him. I desire more and more that it may be to me what it was in His mind when He instituted it. There is not, so far as I see, in the institution, nor in the emblems employed, nor in Paul's references to it, any allusion to the Lord as risen or ascended. His body and blood, His death, are emphasised. No doubt this led Mr. Darby to stress that it was 'a dead Christ' who was recalled in the Supper. Though we do not recall His death merely as a fact; we recall the Person who died; it is 'for the calling Me to mind.' He would be remembered in the way that would most deeply affect the hearts of those who love Him. But the fellowship is of His blood and of His body, and in eating and drinking we announce the Lord's death, and those who do so unworthily are guilty in respect of the body and of the blood of the Lord.
The remembrance of Him as having been in death for us liberates and unifies us, and brings about that He is the one Object before all our hearts. If that were truly so He would not leave us orphans; He would come to us. And it is evident that if He comes to us the thought of remembrance or memorial gives place to His realised presence. Hence, as we have been learning for many years, the Lord's supper has its place at the beginning of the assembly service. If He presents Himself to us as living we are clearly not remembering Him; we have entered a new and further phase of the service. And so with association with Him before His Father and God. The Person whom we call to mind is living, but is not the whole point of the institution that He should be remembered as having been in death for the saints of the assembly? That was His point of contact with us, and of ours with Him. And while here in the place where He died we are in the fellowship of His body and His blood, and give expression to it in eating the bread and drinking the cup together. And our understanding of this, and affectionate identification with Him in it, is preparatory to our realising what it is to live with Him as out of death. The steps in assembly service must be taken in their due order; if we are weak in what the Supper presents we shall be weak in all that follows.
The Lord did not institute His Supper as risen or as in heaven. In the institution He viewed His death anticipatively as already accomplished and set before them in emblems which He selected for the purpose - emblems which would never suffer them to forget, as assembled, His body and His blood. These things were the voice of His love as expressed here, never to be heard again in the same way, but perpetuated as the rallying point of the assembly until He come. It is to be noted that when our apostle refers to this he does not touch on association with Christ in spiritual privilege (I suppose the Corinthians were not at all ready for this). He dwells on the fellowship and the remembrance in their intensely moral and practical bearing. If we participate in the fellowship of the Lord's body and blood it must condemn every unholy association here. If we announce the death of the Lord the very way in which we eat and drink must be in moral keeping with that death. In principle this would reach out to every detail in our responsible life.
We must bear in mind that the Lord's supper is the first thing in the assembly service, though we must admit that we came very slowly to the apprehension of this. It is what the assembly takes up as in the wilderness position. As we take up affectionately the remembrance or memorial side, with its far-reaching moral effect, we get liberty for spiritual privilege. And I think it must be borne in mind that the Lord, in putting His supper first in the assembly service was thinking of all His own; He would have babes and fathers to start together - all unified in calling Him to mind, and first of all in relation to His body and His blood. There would probably be more liberty if we did not attempt to bring into the service of the Supper what really has its place after the Supper.
2nd May 1944
Extracted from Letters of C A Coates (P 331-332)
In like manner also the cup, after having supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye shall drink [it], in remembrance of me. For as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye announce the death of the Lord, until he come. (1 Corinthians 11:25,26).