FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still." -- Isa. 30:7.
THERE is immense power in stillness. All of God's greatest creative works are done in silence. All the vital functions of our bodies are silently performed. The moment they make a noise, we are sure they are out of order. If I can hear the beating of my heart, I know at once that something is wrong. If my brain makes a buzzing noise in my ears, I am afraid that I have brain disease.
This is far more true of spiritual forces. Their work is always done in the stillness. Faith, that mightiest of all spiritual powers, makes no noise in its inward exercise. The new birth is silently accomplished. The Spirit of God works noiselessly within our hearts, and effects all its mighty transformations in deepest stillness. The "creature" in us may accompany all these processes with noise and bustle, but as to the process itself, we must all recognise that it is silently wrought.
This being the case, one would suppose that we could not fail to understand the truth of the declaration that our "strength is to sit still." And perhaps on the Sabbaths of life we do catch some glimmerings of this fact. But our week-days are so full of bustle and activity that it is difficult for us to see how it can be possible to "sit still" in the midst of it all. We are accustomed, on the plane of matter, to accomplish all our results by active work and struggle, and it is hard for us to understand how it can be different on the plane of spirit. Or rather, it is hard to see that any activity can exist in stillness. The Quakers have an expression that exactly describes our natural attitude in spiritual things. They call it "creaturely activity," and they mean that the creature in us, that which the Bible calls the "natural man," is apt to push its activities outside of its own sphere of matter into the sphere of spirit, where it has no power, and where it can never accomplish anything. This is simply a law of its being. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
The caterpillar, no matter how much it might try, could never fly, because on the caterpillar plane of life there is no flying power. But let this same caterpillar become a butterfly, and flying will be natural and easy. In the same way the "flesh" or the "natural man" cannot be active in spiritual things, because its sphere of life is not on the spiritual plane, but on the natural.
"So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." This does not of course mean that man in the body cannot receive the things of God nor be subject to His law, but that the natural or fleshly man in us cannot, because it belongs to a different plane of life. And similarly the natural or fleshly activities in us cannot control spiritual forces, because they also belong to an entirely different plane.
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
No carnal, i.e., fleshly, weapons can ever pull down spiritual strongholds, and no carnal activities can accomplish spiritual results. Therefore our strength in the region of spirit must necessarily be to "sit still" as to the activities of the creature, and to be alert only as to the activities of the Spirit.
"For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift. One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill" (Isa. 30:15-17).
The Israelites of old, like Christians now, could not believe that quietness and rest were the way of strength and deliverance; and they tried instead to "flee upon horses," and to "ride upon the swift," just as we now try to find our deliverance by earthly means and by creaturely activities. It is as useless for us as for them; and our defeats, as theirs were, are as a thousand to one. The truth is, the silent way is the only victorious way. A great student of Christian philosophy once said to me, "All things come to him who knows how to trust and be silent;" and the words are pregnant with meaning. A knowledge of this fact would immensely change our ways of working. Instead of the restless and wearying struggles of our present methods, we would "sit down" inwardly before the Lord, in "quietness and confidence," and would let the divine forces of His Spirit work out in silence the ends to which we aspire. You may not see or feel the operations of this silent force, but be assured it is always working mightily, and will work for you, if only you can get your spirit still enough to be carried along by the currents of its power.
"And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you to-day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever" (Exod. 14:13).
Only when we "stand still" can we see the salvation of the Lord. While full of bustle and hurry, we have no eyes to spare for God's work; our own work absorbs all our interest. Moreover, our creaturely activity, instead of helping, really hinders His working. Spiritual forces cannot have full flow when carnal forces usurp their place; and to see God's salvation fully worked out, we must let His power accomplish it all, and must not permit our own "carnal" working to interfere.
"Then said she, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest until he have finished the thing this day" (Ruth 3:18).
To many this "sitting still" may seem like laziness, and they may naturally think that nothing can be accomplished under such conditions. But we are only to sit still because God works. Naomi could tell Ruth to sit still, because she had faith enough in Boaz to be able to add, "For the man will not be in rest until he have finished the matter this day." The Lord cannot rest while there remains anything unfinished for His people.
"For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth" (Isa. 62:1).
No mother can rest while her children are needing anything, and neither can God. Therefore, just as the child "sits still" in its little heart, in perfect confidence that the mother will care for it, so must we "sit still" in our hearts, in perfect confidence that our Father will care for us.
I say, sit still in our hearts, because this stillness of which I am writing is an inward stillness. It may also be an outward stillness as well, and I think the outward stillness often helps the inward. But, on the other hand, it may be accompanied with great outward activity; though never, I think, with bustle or hurry, for "he that believeth maketh not haste." But whether the body is active or still, the attitude of the spirit must always be one of stillness.
"And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places; When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place" (Isa. 32:17-19).
There may be storms of hail outside; but within, the "habitation" of the spirit is a "quiet resting-place" in God. This sitting still, therefore, does not interfere with outward activity, but is, in fact, the source of its strength. If I am working at anything outwardly, and am inwardly at rest about it, I shall do it far more successfully than if I fret, and fume, and fuss inwardly. This is a matter of universal common-sense experience.
"Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near, then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment" (Isa. 41:1).
Our strength is never renewed in noise and bustle. These only weaken and waste it. Try it for yourself, dear reader. The next time you find yourself in need of a renewal of strength, get still before the Lord. If possible, sit down in silence somewhere, and collect your restless and wandering spiritual faculties into a silence waiting upon Him, and see if strength does not flow into you from Him. This is what the old saints used to call "recollection;" and it was in this way they gained the wonderful spiritual vigour for which we so envy them.
"Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for He is raised up out of His holy habitation" (Zech. 2:13).
"And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountain, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice" (1 Kings 19:11, 12).
Only in the "silence of all flesh" can the "still, small voice" be heard. A large part of the difficulty experienced by Christians in hearing the voice of the Lord arises, I am convinced, from the absence of this inward stillness. Our own internal clamour drowns His quiet speaking. We listen for His voice "in the wind" and "in the earthquake," expecting their thunder to sound above all our own clamouring; and because we are disappointed, we complain that He does not speak at all; when all the while, the "still small voice" of His love is waiting for the quiet in which it can be heard. I am convinced that there are many at this moment hungering for the voice of the Lord, who would hear it at once if they would but "be silent before Him" for a little while. This is the foundation thought of the silent meetings of the "Friends," even though it may be that their outward stillness does not always secure the perfect inward stillness that is the vital thing. All the saints of old have insisted upon stillness as a necessity of true communion with God, and have exhorted their followers to cultivate it, and every saint of the present day knows its value.
I remember a story of a little girl at her prayers, that impressed me very much. Her mother was in the next room, with the door ajar, and she heard the little trusting voice going through its childish petitions, and then adding quaintly, "And now, dear Jesus, I have said all I want to say to you, and I will listen to hear what you have to say to me." There came a few moments of perfect silence, and then a soft, satisfied, "Thank You, dear Jesus, that was very nice," and the little listener ran off to her play.
Try the baby's plan, dear grown-up Christian, and see if you, too, cannot get quiet enough inwardly to hear the "still small voice" of God.
"And David said to Solomon, My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God: but the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight. Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days. He shall build an house for my name; and he shall be my son, and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever" (1 Chron. 22:7-10).
To know the indwelling of the Lord as a conscious experience, there must be inward quiet. Where there are wars and fightings inwardly, His presence cannot be realised. I do not mean that when the soul is in conflict the Lord has forsaken it. A thousand times, No! The Lord was with David just as truly as He was with Solomon; but it required a "man of rest" to build the house to His name, and not a man in the midst of wars. What I mean is only this, that His indwelling presence cannot be consciously realised when we are in the midst of internal wars; and that to have the conscious experience of His indwelling we must be at rest inwardly, and must know what it is to "keep silence" from all our fears and anxieties, and all our fussings and worryings.
"But the Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him" (Hab. 2:20).
"Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Peter 3:3, 4).
Our active service may or may not be pleasing to the Lord, according to what is the motive behind it; but if we would cultivate something that can never fail to please Him, we will seek to have always that "meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." Stop and think for a moment what an inestimable privilege it is to be able to offer to the Lord something that is of "great price" to Him, and see if we shall not be stirred up to cultivate more and more of this inward quietness of spirit, that knows no anxiety and no hurry.
"But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you" (1 Thess. 4:10, 11).
"Study to be quiet," that is, study to dismiss all bustle and worry out of your inward life. Study also to "do your own business," and do not try to do the business of other people. A great deal of "creaturely activity" is expended in trying to do other people's business. It is often very hard to "sit still" when we see our friends, according to our ideas, mismanaging matters, and making such dreadful blunders. But the divine order, as it is also the best human order as well, is for each one of us to do our own business, and to refrain from meddling with the business of any one else.
"Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit" (Eccles. 4:6).
"Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife" (Prov. 17:1).
If this is true, and who can doubt it, in the earthly life, how much more true must it be in the spiritual life. There is nothing more distressing than the "travail and vexation of spirit," and the "house full of sacrifices with strife," that is so often the prevailing condition of the Christian heart. All of us know far too much of these sad conditions, and can speak from a bitter experience. We may feel that the Lord is feeding our souls with very "dry morsels," and may be tempted to make "sacrifices with strife" in order to procure for ourselves what seems to us more nourishing food. But if we have learned anything of the strength of stillness, we shall understand that far better is a "handful with quietness than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit," and shall be content with whatever morsels the Lord may give us, and rest in quiet peace until He shall give us more.
"But whoso hearkeneth unto me, shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil" (Prov. 1:33).
The key to this interior quietness of soul, is faith. To "hearken" to the Lord does not simply mean to hear Him, but to hear Him in faith, that is, to believe what He says.
"And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest" (Heb. 3:18, 19; 4:1-3).
In order to enter into this inward rest, our hearing must be "mixed with faith;" that is, we must implicitly believe what the Lord has said, and must never let in a question or a doubt as to the blessed declarations He has made concerning His love and care for us. The real fact is, that if we do believe these declarations, we cannot fail to be at rest. No child can go on worrying or being frightened when once it is convinced that its mother is at hand to protect it. Often it is hard to convince the child of this, for its little heart is in too great a flutter to hearken. But when once it really is convinced, all its trouble vanishes. And just so will it be with us; "we which have believed do enter into rest" always.
"But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4-6).
This is our rightful place, to be "seated" in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and to "sit still" there. But how few there are who make it their actual experience! How few, indeed, think even that it is possible for them to "sit still" in these "heavenly places" in the every-day life of a world so full of turmoil as this. We may believe perhaps that to pay a little visit to these heavenly places on Sundays, or now and then in times of spiritual exaltation, may be within the range of possibility; but to be actually "seated" there every day and all day long is altogether another matter. And yet it is very plain that it is a universal command for Sundays and week-days as well, and therefore, even in the life of the greatest turmoil, it must be possible.
I believe myself that this is the only way in which one can get through the week-days of life with any sort of real success. A quiet spirit is of inestimable value in carrying on outward activities; and nothing so hinders the working of the hidden spiritual forces, upon which after all our success in anything really depends, as a spirit of unrest and anxiety.
To secure this inward stillness, but three things are necessary, and these are fully set forth in Lesson IV. (Yield, Trust, Obey). When our affairs are really handed over to the Lord in absolute trust, and we are prepared to obey His will in regard to them all, there must be quiet of spirit. There is, in fact, no room or place for unrest.
"Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Ps. 46:10, 11).
In order really to know God, this inward stillness is absolutely necessary. I remember when I first learned this. A time of great emergency had arisen in my life, when every part of my being seemed to throb with anxiety, and when the necessity for immediate and vigorous action seemed overpowering. And yet circumstances were such that I could do nothing, and the person who could, would not stir. For a little while it seemed as if I must fly to pieces with the inward turmoil, when suddenly the still small voice whispered in the depths of my soul, "Be still, and know that I am God." The word was with power, and I hearkened. I composed my body to perfect stillness, and I constrained my troubled spirit into quietness, and looked up and waited. And then I did "know" that it was God, God even in the very emergency, and in my very helplessness to meet it; and I rested in Him. He was exalted "among the heathen" and in my earth. It was an experience that I would not have missed for worlds. And I may add also, that out of this stillness seemed to arise a power to deal with the emergency that very soon brought it to a successful issue.
I learned then effectually the lesson that my "strength was to sit still."
I believe it is often helpful to compel the body to be still, as an aid to the quieting of the spirit; but where this cannot be, let me entreat all my readers to begin from this time onward to "sit still" in their hearts, sure that the Lord "will not be in rest until He have finished" the matter, whatever it may be, that concerns them.
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