"If My people that are called by My Name -then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2nd Chronicles, ch. 7, verse 14.
ONCE again we find ourselves contemplating a New Year and choosing a motto suitable for the mood created out of past experience and future outlook. In some respects the text for our motto this year is somewhat unwieldy; the text lacks the succinctness, the brevity, the instant appeal that one associates with a motto. However while these considerations are valuable they are not conclusive, and I feel that once again we shall find that we have words that are peculiarly suited for the hour, a critical hour, in which we meet together.
THE HEAVENLY GLORY
Let me remind you that Solomon had just concluded the dedication of the temple. By lavish giving on the part of David, himself, and also the people, a temple of exceptional splendour had been built. You may read the details in the earlier chapters. In the same lavish way, the temple had been dedicated for the worship of God. The brazen altar upon which sacrifices were to be offered was quite inadequate for this opening occasion, so many were the offerings. Solomon had offered a wonderful prayer at the conclusion of which fire came down from heaven and the glory of the Lord filled the house. The priests could not enter the temple, the people were prostrate with their faces to the ground in the presence of such awful majesty. Finally after the feast, the chronicler records: Solomon "sent the people away into their tents glad, and, merry in heart" because of the wonderful goodness God had displayed. It was, indeed, an occasion never to be forgotten by those privileged to be present. That same night, however, the Lord appeared to Solomon and assured him that his prayers were heard. He pledged Himself that, if at any time there should come adversity upon the people and land, then, if the people should humble themselves, and seek God's face and repent, He would hear from heaven and forgive them and heal the land.
THE EVIL SITUATION
Now the evils that are particularly mentioned, drought, locusts and pestilence, do not, happily, afflict us at this present time, but I think I would be speaking soberly in expressing the view that we are living in a perilous hour. Nothing in the history of man encourages us to think that we may feel confident concerning international goodwill. After two world wars of a magnitude not known before, no national problem has been settled, and we are living on the brink of tragic possibilities. Indeed, this has become so much the circumstance of the times that the masses are not disturbed but rather feel that, if these things are coming, the only course is to enjoy what we can before they arrive.
This much may be said with confidence. With all, the problems that beset the human race, nowhere is there a voice that declares these things have any reference to the state of man before the Living God. The masses know nothing about it, the great leaders of religion are silent. They claim to be God's representatives amongst men, but in handling the affairs of men they handle them as issues between man and man, ration and nation, whereas no person speaking in God's Name may speak truly and with authority, except upon issues between God and man.
Let us set aside national issues, most serious .as they are, and consider those that affects us more intimately. I would emphasise what is known to anybody familiar with the spiritual situation in this country but we must regard it as our own responsibility. The number of those who, year after year, withdraw from us and walk no more with us profoundly disturbs me. The easiest thing in the world is for a Christian to backslide. It may be, as John tells us in his first epistle, that they have gone from us because they never were of us. That is probably true of some, but it leaves us wondering how they ever joined us if that be true. It would be correct to say that, on an average, one person leaves us every fortnight, and appears to forsake God and the people of God. Many of them are young people who fail under the tests of business and never prove the power of the Lord to keep them.
Then there is the spiritual inertia that settles down upon many members who seem content to live on the circumference of the Church's life, and it is apparent they find their real interests elsewhere. Spiritual fellowship is not important and certainly not essential to them. They are wrong, but they do not think they are!
Then the numbers who attend our services but are not constrained to join the people of God impresses one. I could wish that those to whom this applies would be so kind as to tell us why they come (and for that we are truly glad), but do not come into fellowship with us. I would be deeply thankful to anybody who attends our services and does not respond to the Lord, or at least to His people, if they would tell me frankly what the obstacle is.
THE BOYS AND GIRLS
Then, of course, there is the supreme fact that literally hundreds of boys and girls pass through our Sunday Schools and, in spite of all the ministry of Officers and teachers, go out at ages of ten upwards and want no more to do with us. This is a serious fact about which we ought to be concerned
WHEN IN TROUBLE
and in answering this matter, I feel we shall be wise to consider the word of the Lord to Solomon. If things are adverse, difficult and insoluble, and if we feel we are in difficulty, let us not doubt that the Lord has the answer. He Who once blessed us will surely tell us why the blessing is withheld, and to know that secret we need to follow the intimation given to Solomon by the Lord: " If My people " that are called by MY Name. That is to say, the people who in all their fellowship are gathered together in the Name of our Blessed Lord need not wallow in distress, failure and privation. There is a way into blessing and prosperity if they are willing to take it. Therefore, let us each one take the injunction to heart for our individual concerns and, as a Church and people, apply it to the issues of our Church.
The first step is to humble ourselves. The great buttress of man in his sin is man in his pride. Pride is deeply embedded in human nature. Thousands are kept from the joy of salvation because they will not suffer themselves the anguish of being humbled, and there are few saints of God who have absolutely been delivered from the bondage of pride in all its ramifications. In humility a man chooses God's will, no matter what the cost to himself and without regard to what men may think of him. Getting down low is the secret of being raised up on high. None of us likes being humbled but God sends His blessings down upon us when we are sufficiently low to receive them. Pride is our worst enemy. Self-righteousness, inward boasting, all reflections of the mind that tell us that we are greatly to be esteemed, are deceptions, mental states in which God cannot bless us. If this is our need, tonight we may be sure that, even while I am speaking, there will be inwardly revealed to each one of us some example of foolish pride in our hearts, and we shall know it beyond dispute. At least, here and now, confess it, but be sure that as the confession is sincerely made, so another example of pride will be revealed until we shall be truly humbled before the Lord. That, so far as the Lord's word to Solomon was concerned, was the first step. Let us each one now seek a true humbling before the Lord.
The second step is to pray and seek the face of the Lord. I link these two together although they are in some respect distinct operations. A humble and a contrite heart God never despises. That is to say, He ever welcomes such a one into the sanctuary on high. God wants men and women to have personal dealings with Him, longs for those who will seek Him for Himself, who desire to find in Him personally all they need apart altogether from His ministry and gifts. The great saints are ever those who seek God for Himself. When the spirit of the believer cries in the ear of heaven: " My goal is God Himself" then indeed God delights to unveil Himself in all the hidden wonder of His being. It is this longing that God can put into the heart of the truly humble man that is the secret of infinite blessing. We may not have known very much about it. Many Christians spend all their lives professing the Name of Jesus without ever finding themselves satisfied in God. They may not even know how it may be their experience. The answer is that if we seek Him for Himself we shall find Him. From the moment that God knows the deep unfathomable longing of any man or woman to know God, God will unveil Himself in all His love and beauty and strength. God waits to bless those who seek His face with ever increasing desire, with a passion that grows daily, that will not be set aside.
Thirdly, they are to turn from their wicked ways. Now we may be pardoned if we suppose that while we are not what we ought to be yet "wicked ways " is a strong description. But the word could be translated " provocation." Is there a way of provocation in our lives? Are we provoking God? How can we tell? Partly as we know the reaction of God upon ourselves. Do we love to please Him? Are we enjoying God's peace in our hearts at this moment? Can we freely pray about all our affairs and plans and objectives? Does God get in the way? Is He an unfortunate necessity? Do we regret that He is inescapable? Then these pointers will be somewhat of a guide to us. We cannot go through such questions without the Holy Spirit presenting to the conscience a precise issue in which we are provoking God by something that is wicked. When God thus presents the issue, however difficult it may be, it is surely God's golden moment of grace. No matter how deeply rooted, however menacing its strength, when God thus makes us to see its essential nature that is the moment for absolute deliverance. The first step is to repent of this thing as being what it really is: wickedness. Let us here and now repent and renounce the wicked way, for it is in the moment of absolute repentance that God hears our prayer and forthwith begins to work.
THE PROMISE FULFILLED
How wonderful is the promise! God will hear and God will forgive and God will heal! How precious is this moment of grace. God can turn the tide of blessing tonight! God waits to be gracious and God wants to be gracious. It is our sin that stands between us and all that God has for us.
What might not be accomplished if every Church member were to take this promise seriously, sure that the individual member counts and means much in the eyes of God. Shall we not pray that the Holy Spirit may be able to move upon the heart of every Christian and do His work of grace within. Grant that He may bring us to the place where we are ready to be humbled, and to renounce our wickedness and to seek the face of God. We should surely be on the way to blessing we have never known before.
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