Spiritual Times and Seasons - Part 2
Now these are some of the feelings of a broken-down soul. Were you ever there? Was your lofty religion ever thus smashed? Did God Himself ever step forth into your hearts, and turn all your comeliness into corruption? I do not mean to say that all are broken down into the same depths of self-abasement, but you know nothing of being built up, unless you have been in a measure broken down; for the "time to break down" precedes the "time to build up".
There is, then, "a time to build up," but God will never put His glorious temple upon a rotten foundation. Who would think of building a palace upon the walls of a hovel? Who would put beautiful columns of marble, and all the splendid ornaments of the residence of a king, beside a pauper s cottage? Shall such a wretched hut deface and defile the royal palace? Sweep it away: remove it out of sight-it is an eyesore to the king. So with our pauper-religion, our hovel of self-righteousness, our hut of creature-wisdom and creature-strength. It must be taken down, removed out of sight, and utterly swept away. That is what God does to our creature-religion. I trust God has done something of it to my religion; and that makes me so earnest in pulling down other people s religion, as seeing how easily the devil has been able to blind me in times past; and knowing what delusions and devices I could rest upon, before the Lord brought me down, it makes me stretch forth my hand as the blind and fettered Samson, and lay hold of the pillars of the temple of creature-righteousness, that I may pull it down upon the heads of the worshippers of that idol.
(iv) There is "a time to build up". This building up is wholly and solely in Christ, under the blessed Spirit s operations. But what building up can there be in Christ, except the creature is laid low? What has Jesus, as an all-sufficient Saviour, to do with one who can stand in his own strength and his own righteousness? Such a one wants not Jesus Christ; He is only a nominal Saviour to him; he merely sees Christ in the Bible; he has only some dim speculation floating in his mind; but as to any experimental manifestation of Jesus to his soul, or any sweet communion with Him by the revelation of His love, he knows it not; nor can he know anything of Jesus experimentally, until he is brought into those exercises of soul to which, and to which alone, Christ is suitable.
But the Holy Ghost, when He has broken down a man s religion, begins to "build up," and as His covenant office is to take of the things of Christ and show them to the soul, He will only build him up by giving him a sight of Jesus; by showing him that all saving religion from first to last stands in an experimental acquaintance with Christ, that all his righteousness is in Christ, that all his acceptance is in Christ, that all his wisdom comes out of Christ, that all that he spiritually is in time, and all that he will be in eternity, springs out of an eternal union with Christ.
When, then, He raises up a sweet persuasion in a man s conscience that he has an interest in Christ, when He brings into the heart one soft whisper that he stands complete in Christ, He builds him up. The temple rises up in a moment; it is not labouriously put together. It is not like the ancient temple, which was the work of many years to raise, and was put together stone by stone, though "neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron, was heard in the house while it was in building" 1Ki 6:7 But the moment that God the Holy Ghost discovers the Lord of the temple, the temple rises to receive and lodge Him at once in all its fair proportions and complete harmony.
When the soul is built up in Christ, it wants no other religion but to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. It wants no other righteousness to recommend it to God, it wants no other salvation, nor title to eternal bliss. It wants no other hope but that which Jesus sweetly communicates; no other faith but that which He blessedly gives; no other love but that which He deigns to shed abroad. Being crucified with Christ, Christ lives in him; and the sum and substance of his religion is to live by the faith of the Son of God. The religion of the Holy Ghost is for us to be brought to enjoy the sweet testimony that we are Christ s, and that Christ is ours. And then, through the feeling effects of it in our souls, to be laid low in our own eyes, to be abased in our own sight, to have our consciences made tender and sprinkled from guilt and filth, and to spend our breath in praising and blessing His holy name.
But what a different way of building up this is from being built up in the Arminian method on the one hand, or the dead Calvinistic mode on the other! The Arminian says, "You must pray, strive, and do your best; you must be active in God s cause; you must go about collecting money for the missionaries; you must be up and doing: and so in some way or other make yourself fit to receive the grace of God". The dry Calvinist says, "Away with your doubts and fears, we will have none of that rubbish. Where do you find hope in the Bible? Believers are to rejoice always, and have done with sighs and groans. The gospel is all liberty and peace. Christ is everything, all in all-and therefore away with all your rubbish of experience". So that the Arminian on the one hand pulls down the work of Christ to substitute creature-righteousness; and the dry Calvinist on the other pulls down the work of the Holy Ghost in the soul to build up a nominal Christ.
But the way in which the Spirit of God works is to lay the creature low, by bringing it into nothingness, and crushing it into self-abasement and self-loathing, so as to press out of it everything on which the creature can depend. Like a surgeon, who will run his lancet into the abcess, and let out the gory matter, in order to effect a thorough cure; so the Spirit of the Lord thrusting His sharp sword into the heart, lets out the inward corruption, and never heals the wound until He has thoroughly probed it. And when He has laid bare the heart, He heals it by pouring in the balmy blood of Jesus, as that which, by its application, cleanseth from all sin.
But, as was observed before, this breaking down and building up run parallel with a Christian s life. As pride rises, it must be broken down. As self-righteousness starts up, it must be brought low. As the wisdom of the creature exalts itself against the wisdom of God, it must be laid prostrate. So that the work of the Spirit, continually going on in the conscience of a living soul, is breaking down and building up, breaking down and building up, breaking down and building up. When we are low, He will give us a lift; when we are high, He will pull us down; when we are secretly exalting ourselves, He will give us such a sight of our awful depravity and corruption, as shall lay us in the dust; when we are full of guilt and self-condemnation, He will sometimes raise us up by a discovery of salvation through the blood of the Lamb. So that the Spirit of the Lord, carrying on His twofold operation in the hearts and consciences of God s children, will keep breaking down when needful, and building up when needful; and thus, in His own time and way, fits them for Jesus, as well as fills their souls with the love of Jesus.
(v) But there is "a time to weep, and a time to laugh: a time to mourn, and a time to dance". Does a man only weep once in his life? Does not the time of weeping run, more or less, through a Christian s life? Does not mourning run parallel with his existence in this tabernacle of clay? for "man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards". Then "a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up," must run parallel with a Christian s life, just as much as "a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance". Living souls will know many times to weep; they will have often to sigh and cry over their base hearts; to mourn with tears of godly sorrow their backslidings from God; to weep over their broken idols, faded hopes, and marred prospects; to weep at having so grieved the Spirit of God by their disobedience, carnality, and worldliness; to be melted into contrition at the feet of a dying Lord, so as in some measure to be led into the path in which Jesus walked as "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief".
They will have to bewail the falling off of those friends whom once they looked upon as bidding fairer for the kingdom of God than themselves; to weep at the cruel arrows of calumny which are shot against them by professors; to mourn over the low state of Zion, how few there are who really serve the Lord acceptably with reverence and godly fear, and adorn the doctrine in all things. But above all things will they have to weep over the inward idolatries of their filthy nature; to weep that they ever should have treated with such insult that God whom they desire to love and adore; that they should so neglect and turn their backs upon that Saviour who crowns them with lovingkindness and tender mercies; and that they bear so little in mind the instruction that has been communicated to them by the Holy Spirit.
There is many a weeping time for God s children; and if there be one frame of mind in soul experience more to be coveted than another, it is to be weeping at Jesus feet. We have two sweet instances of the Lord s manifesting Himself to those who were weeping-one to "the woman which was a sinner," who stood behind Him, and washed His feet with her tears; the other was to Mary Magdalene, who "stood without at the sepulchre weeping". Oh, how different is the weeping, chastened spirit of a living soul from the hardened, seared presumption of a proud professor! How different are the feelings of a broken-hearted child of God from the lightness, the frivolity, the emptiness, and the worldliness of hundreds who stand in a profession of religion! How different is a mourning saint, weeping in his solitary corner over his base backslidings, from a reckless professor who justifies himself in every action, who thinks sin a light thing, and who, however inconsistently he acts-never feels conscience wounded thereby. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" Mt 5:4
But there is "a time to laugh"-not carnally, not with vain mirth and frivolity; the Spirit of God does not mean that, but to laugh as Sarah laughed, when she had on her lap the infant Isaac; to laugh as Hannah, when her countenance was no more sad; to laugh as those whose "mouth was filled with laughter, and their tongue with singing," when "the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion" Ps 126:1,2 to laugh as one who has seen the tricks and stratagems of his enemy defeated.
This spiritual laughter is not one of unholy levity, but such as the Lord Himself intended, when He said, "Blessed are ye that weep now; for ye shall laugh" Lu 6:21 Spiritual laughter is to laugh inwardly in response to the smile of God; to laugh at seeing Satan baffled, and his temptations overthrown; to laugh at seeing that the way in which the Lord has led us, though it was a mystery to ourselves, has been a way most glorifying to Him.
Oh, how different is this inward laughter of the spirit from the outward laughter of the face! How different is it to laugh thus in some secret corner from exciting the smiles of a congregation, or laughing at some droll event through carnality and lightness of heart! Of carnal laughter and jocund merriment Solomon truly said that "it is mad" -the Ec 2:2 hysteric laugh of the lunatic. But to be secretly smiling because the Lord smiles; to have an inward chuckling of spirit to see how Satan has laid his snares, and the Lord delivered us; to laugh at one s enemy, at seeing how all his toils and stratagems have been defeated, is to imitate "the virgin, the daughter of Zion, who despised Sennacherib, and laughed him to scorn" Isa 37:22 Thus to laugh inwardly, without any witness, seriously and in the spirit, is a very different thing from the broad grin of self-delighted humour; and however we may be betrayed into unbecoming levity and mirth, this spiritual laughter is that which the blessed Spirit alone sanctions.
(vi) But there is also "a time to mourn, and a time to dance;" we need indeed to mourn over our wretched hearts-that we are so carnal, so stupid, and so earthly; that we have so little power to resist our evil passions that are continually striving for the mastery; to mourn over our lightness, our frivolity, and our emptiness; to mourn over the things that will drop from our lips, whether we will or not; to mourn over the unsteadiness of our walk in the strait and narrow path; and to mourn over our many declensions, backslidings, and secret departures from the Lord. This is mourning-mourning in secret; mourning before the Lord; mourning on our midnight couch; mourning in our solitary chamber; mourning as we sit alone, because the hand of God is upon us.
And there is a "time to dance;" not with carnal revelry at the midnight ball, not with those amusements that the devil has invented in order to drown souls in everlasting perdition; but to dance as David danced before the ark. Not to dance as the daughter of Herodias, but as Miriam on the shore of the Red Sea; not the dancing of the children of Israel round the golden calf, but of "the virgin of Israel who goes forth in the dances of them that make merry" Jer 31:4 The dancing of which the Psalmist speaks, "Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing" Ps 30:11 that is, to dance with inward joy, to leap in one s soul at the presence of the Lord, as the infant John leaped in his mother s womb Lu 1:41 to dance before the Lord with solemnity of spirit, and yet feeling such powerful emotions within, as though the heart would dance in one s bosom.
Have you never felt, when the Lord dropped a sweet word of consolation into your conscience, what emotions filled your bosom beyond utterance, and how there was such an inward palpitation of soul, such an inward leaping of your heart in your bosom, that you could spiritually dance before the Lord, though it never affected one limb of your body, or broke out into open gestures? This, then, is the way in which the saints of old danced, and this is the way in which the saints dance now; not with carnal mirth, and wanton tripping of the feet, not with ungodly revelry, but in the inward spirit before God, dancing and leaping with joy to the praise of His name. "Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King; let them praise His name in the dance; let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp" Ps 149:2,3But these times and seasons are in the Father s hand; and "what God has joined together, let no man put asunder". Never talk of healing, till you can talk of killing; never think of being built up, until you have been broken down; never expect to laugh, until you have been taught to weep; and never hope to dance, until you have learned to mourn. Such only as are taught of God can enter into the real experience of these things; and into them, sooner or later, each according to his measure, does God the Holy Spirit lead all the ransomed family of Zion.