I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Dagon before the ark. I. Samuel v. 4, 5.
John Newton (1725–1807)
When first to make my heart his own,
The Lord reveal’d his mighty grace;
Self reign’d, like Dagon, on the throne,
But could not long maintain its place.
It fell, and own’d the pow’r divine,
(Grace can with ease the vict’ry gain)
But soon this wretched heart of mine,
Contriv’d to set it up again.
Again the Lord his name proclaim’d,
And brought the hateful idol low;
Then self, like Dagon, broken, maim’d,
Seem’d to receive a mortal blow.
Yet self is not of life bereft,
Nor ceases to oppose his will;
Tho’ but a maimed stump be left,
’Tis Dagon, ’tis an idol still.
Lord! must I always guilty prove,
And idols in my heart have room?
Oh! let the, fire of heavenly love,
The very stump of self consume.
—from Olney Hymns. Book I: On select Passages of Scripture.
I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.”
39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41 You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
There are things taught in this passage of Scripture which are peculiarly truth for the times. Well would it be for the Churches if all Christians would ponder carefully the matter which it contains.
We are taught for one thing the ignorant self-righteousness of the natural man. We find the Jews pluming themselves on their natural descent from Abraham, as if that must of necessity, cover all deficiencies: “Abraham is our father.” We find them going even further than this, and claiming to be God’s special favourites and God’s own family: “We have one Father, even God.” They forgot that fleshly relationship to Abraham was useless, unless they shared Abraham’s grace. They forgot that God’s choice of their father to be head of a favoured nation was never meant to carry salvation to the children, unless they walked in their father’s footsteps. All this in their blind self-conceit they refused to see. “We are Jews. We are God’s children. We are the true Church. We are in the covenant. We must be all right.” This was their whole argument!
Strange as it may seem, there are multitudes of so-called Christians who are exactly like these Jews. Their whole religion consist of a few notions neither wiser nor better than those propounded by the enemies of our Lord. They will tell you “that they are regular Church people; they have been baptized; they go to the Lord’s table;”—but they can tell you no more. Of all the essential doctrines of the Gospel they are totally ignorant. Of faith, and grace, and repentance, and holiness, and spiritual mindedness they know nothing at all. But, forsooth! they are Churchmen, and so they hope to go to heaven! There are myriads in this condition. It sounds sad, but unhappily it is only too true.
Let us settle firmly in our minds that connection with a good Church and good ancestors is no proof whatever that we ourselves are in a way to be saved. We need something more than this. We must be joined to Christ himself by a living faith. We must know something experimentally of the work of the Spirit in our hearts. “Church principles,” and “sound Churchmanship,” are fine words and excellent party cries. But they will not deliver our souls from the wrath to come, or give us boldness in the day of judgment.
We are taught for another thing the true marks of spiritual sonship. Our Lord makes this point most plain by two mighty sayings. Did the Jews say, “We have Abraham to our father”? He replies, “If ye were Abraham’s children ye would do the work of Abraham.”—Did the Jews say, “We have one Father, even God”? He replies, “If God were your Father ye would love Me.”
Let these two sayings of Christ sink down into our hearts. They supply an answer to two of the most mischievous, yet most common, errors of the present day. What more common, on one side, than vague talk about the universal Fatherhood of God? “All men,” we are told, “are God’s children, whatever be their creed or religion; all are finally to have a place in the Father’s house, “where there are many mansions.”—What more common, on another side, than high-sounding statements about the effect of baptism and the privileges of Church-membership? “By baptism,” we are confidently told, “all baptized people are made children of God; all members of the Church, without distinction, have a right to be addressed as sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.”
Statements like these can never be reconciled with the plain language of our Lord in the passage before us. If words mean anything, no man is really a child of God, who does not love Jesus Christ. The charitable judgment of a baptismal service, or the hopeful estimate of a catechism, may call him by the name of a son, and reckon him among God’s children. But the reality of sonship to God, and all its blessings, no one possesses who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. (Ephes. vi. 24.) In matters like these we need not be shaken by mere assertions. We may well afford to despise the charge of undervaluing the sacraments. We have only to ask one question: “What is written? What saith the Lord?” And with this saying before us, we can only come to one conclusion: “Where there is no love to Christ, there is no sonship to God.”
We are taught, lastly, in these verses, the reality and character of the devil. Our Lord speaks of him as one whose personality and existence are beyond dispute. In solemn words of stern rebuke He says to His unbelieving enemies, “You are of your father the devil,”—led by him, doing his will, and showing unhappily that you are like him. And then He paints his picture in dark colors, describing him as a “murderer” from the beginning, as a “liar” and the father of lies.
There is a devil! We have a mighty invisible enemy always near us,—one who never slumbers and never sleeps,—one who is about our path and about our bed, and spies out all our ways, and will never leave us until we die.—He is a murderer! His great aim and object is, to ruin us forever and kill our souls. To destroy, to rob us of eternal life, to bring us down to the second death in hell, are the things for which he is unceasingly working. He is ever going about, seeking whom he may devour.—He is a liar! He is continually trying to deceive us by false representations, just as he deceived Eve at the beginning. He is always telling us that good is evil and evil good,—truth is falsehood and falsehood truth,—the broad way good and the narrow way bad. Millions are led captive by his deceit, and follow him, both rich and poor, both high and low, both learned and unlearned. Lies are his chosen weapons. By lies he slays many.
These are awful things; but they are true. Let us live as if we believed them. Let us not be like many who mock, and sneer, and scoff, and deny the existence of the very being who is invisibly leading them to hell. Let us believe there is a devil, and watch, and pray, and fight hard against his temptations. Strong as he is, there is One stronger than him, who said to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not,” and who still intercedes at God’s right hand. Let us commit our souls to Him. (Luke xxii. 32.) With such a being as the devil going to and fro in the world, we never need wonder to see evil abounding. But with Christ on our side, we need not be afraid. Greater is He that is for us than he that is against us. It is written, “Resist the devil, and he shall flee from you.”—“The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” (James iv. 7; Rom. xvi. 20.)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.