“It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.” HEBREWS 13. 9.
IT is a good thing to have an established heart. With too many of us the inner life is variable and fickle. Sometimes we have days of deep religious earnestness, when it seems impossible for us to spend too long a time in prayer and fellowship with God. The air is so clear that we can see across the waters of the dividing sea, to the very outlines of the heavenly coasts. But a very little will mar our peace, and bring a veil of mist over our souls, to enwrap us perhaps for long weeks.
Oh for an established heart! Now there is one thing which will not bring about this blessed state of establishment. And that is indicated by the expression, “meats”; which stands for the ritualism of the Jewish law. There is ever a tendency in the human heart toward a religion of rites. It is so much easier to observe the prescriptions of an outward ceremonial than to brace the soul to faith and love and spiritual worship. Set the devotee a round of external observance, it matters little how rigorous and searching your demands, and the whole will be punctually and slavishly performed, with a secret sense of satisfaction in being thus permitted to do something toward procuring acceptance and favor with God.
There is a great increase of ritualistic observance amongst us. We behold with astonishment the set of our times toward genuflexions; the austerities of Lent; the careful observance of prolonged and incessant services; and all the demands of a severe ritual. People who give no evidence in their character or behavior of real religion are most punctilious in these outward religious rites. Young men will salve their consciences for a day of Sabbath-breaking by an early celebration. In many cases these things are revivals of ancient Babylonish customs, passed into the professing Church in the worst and darkest days of its history. But their revival points to the strong religious yearnings of human nature, and the fascination which is exerted by outward rites in the stead of inward realities. But “meats” can never establish the inner life. The most ardent ritualist must confess to the sense of inward dissatisfaction and unrest, as the soul is condemned to pace continually the arid desert of a weary formalism, where it comes not to the green pastures or the waters of rest. “They have not profited them that have been occupied therein.”
Another obstruction to an established heart arises from the curiosity which is ever running after divers and strange doctrines. In all ages of the Church, men have caught up single aspects of truth, distorting them out of the harmony of the Gospel, and carrying them into exaggerated and dangerous excess; and directly any one truth is viewed out of its place in the equilibrium of the Gospel, it becomes a heresy, leading souls astray with the deceitfulness of the false lights that wreckers wave along the beach. And when once we begin to follow the vagaries and notions of human teachers, apart from the teaching of the Spirit of God, we get into an unsettled, restless condition, which is the very antipodes to the established heart. There is only one foundation which never rocks, one condition which never alters. “It is good that the heart be established with grace.” Primarily, of course, the established heart is the gift of God. “He which stablisheth us with you in Christ is God.” “The Lord shall establish thee an holy people unto himself.” “The God of all grace make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” We need therefore to pray to him to give us the heart established in grace. But there are certain conditions also indicated in this context with which we do well to comply.
WE MUST FEED ON CHRIST. The very denial of the tenth verse proves that there is an altar whereof we have a right to eat. Not the Jews only, but Christians also, lay stress on eating; but ah, how different the food which forms their diet! In the case of that ancient system out of which these Hebrew Christians had just emerged, the priests ate a considerable portion of the sacrifices which the people offered on the altar of God. This was the means of their subsistence. In consideration of their being set apart wholly to the divine service, and having no inheritance in the land, “they lived by the altar.” But we, who are priests by a diviner right, have left behind us the Tabernacle, with its ritual and sacrifices, and cannot feed on these outward meats without betraying the spirituality of the holy religion we profess.
Our altar is the cross. Our sacrifice is the dying Saviour. Our food is to eat his flesh. “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.” “The bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Eating consists of three processes: apprehension, mastication, and assimilation; and each of these has its spiritual counterpart in that feeding upon Christ which is the very life of our life. We, too, must apprehend him, by the careful reading of the Word of God. The Word is in the words. His words are spirit and life. We need not be always reading them, any more than we should be always eating. But just as a good meal will go on nourishing us long after we have taken it, and indeed when we have ceased to think about it, so a prolonged prayerful study of the Word of God will nourish our souls for long afterward. We, too, must fulfill the second process of eating by meditating long and thoughtfully on all that is revealed to us in the Word of the person and work of the Lord Jesus. It is only by allowing our heart and mind to dwell musingly on these sacred themes that they become so real as to nourish us. Better read less and meditate more, than read much and meditate little.
We too must assimilate Christ, until he becomes part of our very being, and we begin to live, yet not we, because Christ lives in us, and has become our very life. Our Lord told his disciples that he lived by the Father; and said that, if they desired to live in the same dependent state on himself, they must “eat him ” (John vi. 57). In Christ’s own case his being had reached such a pitch of union with his Father’s that to see or hear or know him was to see and hear and know God. And if we would only spend more time alone with him in prayerful, loving fellowship, a great change would pass over us also, and we should be transformed into his likeness in successive stages of glory upon glory. At regular intervals we meet around the table of the Lord to eat the bread and drink the wine. But our feeding on him ought to be as frequent as our daily ordinary meals.
Why should we feed the spirit less than we do the body? Alas! how we pamper the latter, and starve the former, until we get past the sense of desire! We spoil our appetite by feeding it with the cloying sweetmeats and morsels of sense. We are content to live as parasites on the juices of others, instead of acquiring nourishment at first hand for ourselves. What wonder that we are carried about by every wind of doctrine, and lack the established heart? And perhaps there would be nothing better for the whole of us Christian people than a revival of Bible study, a fresh consecration of the morning hour, a regular and systematic maintenance of seasons of prolonged fellowship with our Master and Lord.
IF WE WOULD FEED ON CHRIST, WE MUST GO WITHOUT THE CAMP. In the solemn ritual of the great Day of Atonement it was ordained that the bodies of all the victims which had suffered death as sin-offerings, and of which the blood had been sprinkled before the mercy-seat, should be burned without the camp (Lev. xvi. 27). And in this mysterious specification, two truths were probably symbolized: first, that in the fullness of time, Jesus, the true sin-offering of the world, would suffer outside the city gate; and secondly, that men must leave the principles and rites of earthly systems behind them, if they would realize all the blessedness of acceptance with God through the sacrifice of Christ.
If, then, we would have Jesus as our food, our joy, our life, we must not expect to find him in the camps which have been pitched by men of this world. We must go forth from all such; from the camp of the world’s religiousness equally as from that of its sensuality; from the tents of its formalism and ritualism, as well as from those of its vanity. The policy of going forth without the camp is the only safe course for ourselves, as it is the only helpful one for the world itself. There are plenty who argue that the wisest policy is to stop within the camp, seeking to elevate its morals. They do not realize that, if we adopt their advice, we must remain there alone; for our Lord has already gone. It is surely unbefitting that we should find a home where he is expelled. What is there in us which makes us so welcome, when our Master was cast out to the fate of the lowest criminals? Besides, it will not be long before we discover that, instead of our influencing the camp for good, the atmosphere of the camp will infect us with its evil. Instead of our leveling it up, it will level us down. The only principle of moving the world is to emulate Archimedes in getting a point without it.
All the men who have left a mark in the elevation of their times have been compelled to join the pilgrim host which is constantly passing through the city gates, and taking up its stand by the cross on which Jesus died. Looking back on that memorable spot, we seem to see it thronged with the apostles, martyrs, reformers, and prophets of every age, who invite us to join them. It remains with us to say whether we will linger amid the luxury and fascinations which allure us to the camp; or whether we will dare to take up our cross, and follow our Master along the Via Dolorosa, bearing his reproach. Ah, young hearts, secret disciples, halters between two opinions, the issue of such a choice cannot be doubtful! With the cry, Deus vult, you will join this new crusade, and take your stand with Jesus, at the trysting-place of his cross.
IF WE GO OUTSIDE THE CAMP, WE MUST BEAR HIS REPROACH. It is related of the good Charles Simeon, of Cambridge, that, at the commencement of his career as an evangelical clergyman at Cambridge, he encountered such virulent abuse and opposition that his spirit seemed on the point of being crushed. Turning to the Word of God for direction and encouragement, his eye lighted on the following passage: ” As they came out they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear his cross.” The similarity of the name to his own arrested him, and he was moved to new courage with the thought of his oneness with the sufferings of Jesus. So is it with us all. If we are reproached for the name of Jesus, happy are we; and we should rejoice, inasmuch as we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that, when his glory is revealed, we also may be glad with exceeding joy. How marvelous is it to learn the closeness of the bonds by which we are bound to the saints of the past. When we are reproached for being Christians, we know something of what Moses felt when taunted in the royal palace of Egypt with his Hebrew origin; but “he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt, because he had respect unto the recompense of reward.”
BUT WHILST BEARING CHRIST’S REPROACH, WE SHALL FIND THE ONLY CONTINUING CITY. It is very remarkable that, as we tear ourselves away from the gate of the city, and say farewell to what had seemed to be a symbol of the most enduring fabrics of earthly permanence, we are really passing out of the transient and unreal to become citizens of the only enduring and continuing City. The greatest cities of human greatness have not continued. Babylon, Nineveh, Thebes, the mighty cities of Mexico — all have passed. Buried in mounds, on which grass grows luxuriantly; while wild beasts creep through the moldering relics of the past.
But, amid all, there is arising from age to age a permanent structure, an enduring City, a confederation which gathers around the unchanging Saviour, and has in it no elements of decay. Do we enough live in this City in our habitual experience? It is possible to tread its golden streets as we plod along the thoroughfares of earth’s great cities; to mingle in its blessed companies, and share its holy exercises, though apparently we spend our days in dark city offices, and amid money-loving companions. The true pilgrim to the City really lives in the City. It will not be long, and it shall not be only an object for faith and spiritual vision, it shall become manifest.
See, it comes! it comes! the holy City out of heaven from God, radiant with his light, vocal with song, the home of saints, the metropolis of a redeemed earth, the Bride of the Lamb, for whom the universe was made.
F.B. MEYER, The Way Into The Holiest