The Barriers Dissolved
Christ came into the world then not only to redeem His Bride but also to enlighten her eyes on His own glory and worth and to win her to Himself by His Word and Spirit. But there are other suitors on the scene who would claim her heart and hand.
Although there is no hint of this in the story, it would be difficult to conceive that a young woman of Rebecca’s appearance and known qualities of mind and disposition would have no suitors in the land of her birth. We cannot tell. We know, however, that when Jesus Christ confronts the sinner with His plea ‘Give me thine heart,’ other suitors are present to oppose Him and to snatch, if possible, the precious soul out of His hands.
It is a fact that the opposition to God’s call is both real and terrible. It can also be subtle and deceptive. These other suitors often dazzle our eyes with the false but coveted prizes for which so many strive; but they hide the fact that all who listen to their voice choose the path of despair. Christ Himself was tempted of Satan. He was presented with a view and an offer of all the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them.
The only condition was that He should renounce His purpose of doing His Father’s will. The same temptation, in a thousand different forms, is presented to men and women in every age. But the dreadful mirage is but a false, alluring glow out of the pit of woe. It has no basis in reality. It is wrapped up in a lie. It leads to the precipice of utter spiritual destruction.
Those who oppose Christ and would claim our heart and life are known in the Bible as a trinity of evil. They are often spoken of as the world, the flesh and the devil. These strive for man’s soul. Those who listen to their voices and submit to their conditions can never again find the path of life. But the last word is not with them, but with God and with the sinner himself. There is a story told of a famous preacher, Mr Rowland Hill, which illustrates this truth.
One day this remarkable man addressed a large crowd in the open air in one of our English cities. As he pleaded with the people to choose Christ and life, rather than sin and death, a magnificent carriage appeared on the scene. Inside was an attractive bejewelled young lady who was that evening to dine in the palace.
The driver demanded a right of way through the crowd, but the earnest, if eccentric, herald of God cried, ‘No! Before you pass I offer this lady for sale. Already there are three bidders on the scene but it is left to her to say which of these is her choice’. This incident and its happy sequel are perpetuated in verses which preserve the words of the preacher and the wonderful conversation of Lady Anne Erskine - the lady of our story.
‘Twas in the king’s broad highway,
Near a century ago,
That a preacher stood - though of noble blood
Telling the fallen and low
Of a Saviour’s love and a Home above,
And a peace that they all might know.
All crowded ‘round to listen;
They wept at the wondrous love,
That could wash their sin and welcome them in
His spotless mansion above:
While slow through the crowd, a lady proud,
Her gilded chariot drove.
‘Make room,’ cried the haughty outrider,
‘You are closing the king’s highway:
My lady is late, and their Majesties wait;
Give way, good people, I pray.’
The preacher heard and his soul was stirred,
And he cried to the rider, ‘Nay,
‘Tis the king’s highway, but I hold it today
In the name of the King of kings.’
Then bending his gaze on the lady,
And marking her soft eye fall
‘And now in His name, a sale I proclaim
And bids for this fair lady call,
Who will purchase the whole - her body and soul,
Coronet, jewels and all?
‘I see already three bidders—
The World steps up as the first:
‘I will give her my treasures, and all the pleasures
For which my votaries thirst;
She shall dance each day more joyous and gay,
With a quiet grave at the worst.’
‘But out speaks The Devil, boldly:
‘The kingdoms of earth are mine,
Fair lady, thy name, with envied fame,
On their brightest tablets shall shine;’
His eye like the lightning flashes,
His voice like a trumpet rings
‘Only give me thy soul, and I give thee the whole,
Their glory and wealth, to be thine.’
‘And pray, what hast thou to offer,
Thou Man of Sorrows unknown?
And He gently says: My blood I have shed
To purchase her for mine own;
To conquer the grave, and her soul to save,
I suffered the cross alone.
Your grand fete days, your fashions and ways,
Are all but perishing things.
‘I will give her my cross of suffering,
My cup of sorrow to share;
But with endless love, in my Home above,
All shall be righted there:
She shall walk in light, in a robe of white,
And a radiant crown shall wear.
‘Thou hast heard the terms, fair lady,
That each has offered for thee.
Which wilt thou choose, and which wilt thou lose
This life or the life to be?’
She took from her hands the jewels,
The coronet from her brow;
‘Lord Jesus,’ she said, as she bowed her head,
‘The highest Bidder art Thou
Thou gav’st for my sake, Thy life, and I take
Thine offer—and take it now.’
‘Amen,’ said the noble preacher;
And the people wept aloud.
Years have rolled on - and they all have gone
Who formed that awestruck crowd,
Lady and throng have been swept along.
On the wind like a morning cloud.’
But Saviour has claimed His purchase;
And around His radiant scat,
A mightier throng, in an endless song,
The wondrous story repeat;
And a form more fair is bending there,
Laying her crown at His feet.’
Did Lady Ann Erskine meet in heaven Bethuel’s daughter, Rebecca, who when asked to make her higher decision for God also said, ‘I will go.’ All who are in heaven have a story to tell. It is the story of how the Lord loved them, drew them to Himself with ‘cords of love,’ and enabled them to make Him their own forever.
A few years ago there died in this country an excellent Christian lady who, when she was a young girl, had a remarkable dream, which remained with her all her life. In her dream she saw herself playing with a number of companions. As they thus played together a glorious Person stood among them who asked each one what she particularly desired in life. With eager eyes and words each expressed her wish. Some wanted lovely homes. Others wanted money and material comforts.
Others wanted gaiety and pleasure. But when He asked the girl of our story to state her desire she simply said – ‘Take my soul with Thee to Heaven to live.’ This was the only answer which seemed to make the Lord rejoice; for as He looked into this girl’s face He smiled and said ‘It surely shall be done.’ She smiled too; for she felt that her prayer was granted.
And the remarkable thing was that the dream of May Shayler of Oxford - for that was her name - came true. By a strange process of providence she lived to see the companions of her night thoughts each possessing the earthly gifts wished for, while she herself was led by the Spirit of God to choose the ‘good part’ and the ‘one thing needful;’ and for the remainder of her life to devote herself entirely to the Lord and His cause.
When death at last knocked at her door it only meant that she was going to see Christ face to face, and to enjoy His presence and fellowship forever. And here we are confronted with the terrible fad that we sometimes get what we desire like Esau who chose a perishing blessing rather than eternal life. Only those who embrace Christ have a lasting treasure in Heaven. The rest move toward eternal impoverishment.
The opposition to Rebecca’s call came from another, and perhaps a more dangerous, quarter than that we have mentioned. It came from those who loved her dearly within the tender ties of nature. It took, as we mentioned, the form of procrastination. Her people in Haran would have her stay for ‘at least ten days.’ Certainly she would go later on, but not just at once. Was this a mere sentimental reluctance on their part to say a final farewell to a much loved daughter and sister or was there another reason for it?
Conceivably it might have been that before God’s messenger appeared on the scene something had been arranged which required her presence, and that the messenger’s demand for her immediate departure clashed with it. It could be. We do not know. All we know is that the ensnaring shadow of delay fell on her path. And although Rebecca, to her eternal gain, did not do so, this is how many tamper with their destiny and with God’s propitious hour.
We have heard of some whose hearts had been deeply touched by a tender Gospel appeal. In the recesses of their spirit a voice seemed to plead with them to make an instant break with their sinful ways and to come to Christ at once. But for reasons of their own ‘tomorrow’ seemed more suitable than ‘today.’ And so they carried on.
Gradually the Inner voice ceased to trouble them. By delay and many excuses they let the time of their visitation pass till that warning voice was silenced, and the candle of spiritual opportunity had gone out forever. Their death-bed prayers met with a closed door and a remote and silent God. And so Satan can ensnare us through our earthly friends and cherished pleasures. Many find that his ‘ten days,’ so desirable at the time, culminate in forfeiting eternal life.
There are not only voices and influences from the world outside that would oppose our coming to Christ, but there is also that within ourselves which works in opposition to God. Indwelling sin, in whatever way it may show itself, is a barrier between us and Christ. The sin barrier in our own hearts may assume many forms, and may take on many colours. The Bible uses many figures to describe it. It may take the form of prejudice, guilt, ignorance, pride, a conscious aversion to God and the Gospel, or the fatal ‘excuse.’
In His parable of the marriage of the King’s Son our Lord speaks of that great event as being associated with God’s loving-kindness toward men. In the fullness of His mercy He furnishes His table and sends forth His servants to welcome all who will to the marriage supper of His son. And surely no one would decline the incomparable honour and privilege of participating in this feast of eternal joy in communion with God and His people.
But what should have been an occasion for joy became an occasion for sorrow. God’s messengers who had gone forth with the good tidings returned in due time sad at heart and deeply apprehensive of the fearful retribution which would overtake those who made light of His goodness. Those to whom, in the first instance, this good news came were so preoccupied with the inferior claims of this present world that they could not give God’s call any serious thought. Some were courteous and respectful in their refusal.
Others were violent and resentful. These looked upon God’s call as something which encroached on the only ‘world’ they desired to possess. Excuses began to multiply. These were Satan’s stepping-stones into the place of Despair. They were his masterpieces of distraction and deception.
The farmer whose mind was earth-bound; the man who preferred the beasts of the field to God and eternal life, and the one whose marriage had involved him in some form of religious neutrality or compromise, could not come. At the bar of their own reasonings such excuses were, no doubt, perfectly valid and reasonable, but at the bar of God’s judgment they were not so. They merely intensified their guilt.
Unbelief is another of the great barriers between us and Christ. In the final analysis, the ‘good news’ contained in the Gospel comes to us from the very heart of God - the God for Whom it is impossible to lie. But opposite these ‘glad tidings’ of great joy we place a question mark and adopt the fatal attitude of doubting. We do not, in reality, believe the ‘good news’ at all.
When the Queen of Sheba heard the story of Solomon’s riches and renown she at first dismissed the matter as a mere ‘tall story’. Nothing could have removed that barrier of doubt from her mind apart from her very wise decision to go and see for herself. And her faith led her out of her doubt till the full truth of what she had heard passed into her own experience. ‘It was a true report that I heard in mine own land. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it; and, behold, the half was not told me.’
Now Rebecca’s decision was entirely based on faith. She had never seen that wealthy prince who lived in the distant land of Hebron. The sincere servant whom she encountered at the well might have elaborated the story of his master’s dignity and wealth. And supposing the story should be true, would she command his interest and affection if she agreed to go? And why did this young prince not come himself instead of sending this man?
Besides, her going away demanded her separation from her home and her people. And were there not hazards in the way? Yes, Rebecca could have raised a thousand questions such as these, but over them all her faith triumphed. It leaped over every chasm of doubt and unbelief She believed that the story was true; and that somehow her eternal destiny and safety were involved in her decision.
There were many questions to which she would have liked an answer; but meantime the first step - ’I will go’ - must be taken in obedience to God’s call. And that first step was to be followed by an ever-growing light upon her path and an ever-growing realisation of God’s faithfulness and truth.
How often have we listened to and read of the more wonderful story of God’s love for sinners. It has probably reached our ears and eyes hundreds of times. Every time we listen to it we either ‘do not care’ or perhaps we ask ourselves a series of questions. Is it true? Is there really such a place as Heaven?
Does Christ really espouse mere sinful men and women to Himself? Is it not too much to believe that He does come into such a relationship with those whose feet are in the dust? Can I believe those men who preach the Gospel and who tell me that God has sent them to plead with me to embrace Christ and His gift of eternal life? Is it worthwhile to forsake ‘a real world’ for a world which may not exist?
‘The story is wonderful, no doubt, but...’ But whatever form the sin barrier between us and Christ may take, it can be removed and destroyed. God’s saving power is greater than the power of evil. His power can pull down the strongholds of sin within our hearts and enable us to overcome all opposition and temptation from without.
The power of the Holy Spirit is irresistible and can, therefore, break through all barriers of evil within and without the soul of man. ‘For the Word of God is quick, and powerful,.... piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.’ The Gospel of Christ when accompanied by the Spirit ‘is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.’
This deliverance from sins dominion coincides with an instantaneous passing out of one state into another or with our spiritual translation out of the kingdom of darkness into God’s marvellous light. And when the barrier between us and God is dissolved we become aware of His new life within us.
The break-through of this divine power can be experienced in many ways; but whatever the experience that may precede or follow it, the event itself is instantaneous and final. Many, like Paul, could speak of the explosive moment when, overwhelmed by surprise, they stood face to face with God. The old world was shattered and gone and they found themselves standing on the threshold of another.
They could also speak of that unutterably sweet moment when, instead of a sense of guilt and fear, the love and peace of God took possession of their hearts. They could tell of the strange and wistful feeling that they were now living in a new world.
All things had become new. They no longer looked at God’s wonderful creation, or at the universe around them, through Christless eyes. Every flower and every star seemed to smile upon them. This is what entered into the experience of the Bride as she tells us in song:
‘My beloved spake, and said to me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone: the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come.’
We also have known those who had felt the dark shadow which had rested on their spirits giving way to the first tokens of a new spiritual summer. A woman was once questioned about her spiritual qualifications for admission to the Lord’s Table. She said that she knew God had given her a new heart for she was now living in a new world. It was the time of her first love.
This event marks the birth of the soul. Our sky clears, for death and darkness are swallowed up in life and light. When by faith we see God’s glory ‘in the face of Jesus Christ’ and taste of His love, all resistance is forever at an end. It is then we sing a new song.
‘He put a new song in my mouth,
Our God to magnify:
Many shall see it, and fear,
And on the Lord rely.’
‘Just as I am - Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come.’
In this act of grace and power God offers no violence to our will. He knocks that we may open. He draws that we may come. We are made willing in a day of His power. He gains the Bride’s consent to be His, not by any arbitrary compulsion, but by drawing her with the bands of His love.
But at what point the sovereign power of God begins and the will of man ceases to rebel we cannot know. We do know, however, that at the moment when, by God’s enabling grace, our fingers touch the latch of the door to welcome the Blessed One into our heart, heaven is begun.
There are, of course, many genuine believers who cannot speak of the ecstatic moment when Christ passed by them and said ‘Live,’ and when His banner of love and forgiveness first covered their souls. Their experience lacks this initial assurance - this sudden dawn after a long starless night.
But a sense of need, daily bringing us to Christ, is as valid a proof of being in a state of grace as our sensible enjoyments and vivid experiences - however precious these may he. Let me illustrate this as follows.
One day in the city of Edinburgh two eminent scholars met each other in the way. Both were college professors who had attained to the highest academic honours. And both were humble Christian men. The one asked the other as to his spiritual welfare. ‘I am poor indeed,’ was the reply, ‘I am aware of three evils in my heart.’
‘There is a sense of guilt in my conscience, of rebellion in my will, and of darkness in my mind.’ And then with faltering voice he made the comment, ‘I can say, however, that I would welcome into my poor soul Christ as my Priest to take my guilt away, as my King to subdue me to Himself and as my Prophet to enlighten my mind in His own knowledge.’
What a deep insight we have in these words into the nature of true faith in Christ Who in his fullness stands opposite the void and the evils which lie within our hearts. The three chief rooms, as it were, which make up our real selves we would have Him to occupy forever. In this way He dwells in our heart by faith.
‘Nature,’ we are told, ‘abhors a vacuum,’ and for the soul of man there is nothing more dangerous than ‘the empty house, however well it may be garnished and swept. Our souls are made to be occupied, and in the ultimate sense they can be occupied only by either God or evil.
Man, as God created him, cannot endure the loneliness or emptiness of an unoccupied life, To throw away by a mere negative effort at self-reformation ‘’our dearest idols’ without a worthwhile replacement only paves the way for even greater despair.
Our Lord reminds us in one of His parables that the latter end of such is worse than the first. The devil is deceptive; for although he may leave us alone for a season he will, without fail, return to his old haunt to leave us no more. God grant that Christ and not ‘the strong man armed’ may dwell in our hearts.
A few years ago I met a woman who was in a state of great anxiety. She had been a Roman Catholic, and for reasons of her own she was led to renounce the false tenets of the papal system, but as yet she had found nothing to put in their place. She had cast away a false religion, but had not yet found the true.
As I told her of Christ who is the Pearl of great price, and the One who could give her living water and everlasting peace, she listened wistfully to my words. From that day - as I have reason to believe - God, in taking possession of her head, gave her a new song and blessed her with His own unsearchable riches.
Faith is therefore a receiving grace which is born in the soul through a sense of need. And all to whom the Spirit of God has revealed their sin and need leap out of themselves to embrace this great salvation which is in Christ alone. Such bring nothing in their hands. The need is theirs.
The fullness is His. These are they who are His guests at His table and who have His promise ‘If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’ When the door of our heart opens, the last barrier is gone. Christ is our guest, and we also sit at His table forever.