2 Cor. 8:5 "They first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God."
This verse is rich in its treasures of truth. As the rose opens its petals under the morning sunlight, so does the quartet of truths in this passage unfold under the light of the Holy Spirit. These truths are:
"They first gave their own selves to the Lord."
In the fashioning and keeping of our own lives there are no hands so safe as God's. He has planned those lives in Christ Jesus from before the ages. He knows their strength and their weakness; He knows how to mold them to a nicety to their destined end; He knows the place which He has prepared for them; He knows the preparation needed; He knows their limitations and their possibilities. He knows how they can be best made to so glorify Him and advance His kingdom here that their influence shall last through all eternity. And so, knowing this, the Macedonians did not take their lives and try to fashion them after their own individual desires and plans, and then, after years of disappointment and failure, hand the fragments over to God for Him to use. But they first gave their own lives into God's hands before the mistakes of their own hands marred them.
Well do we recall the hour of crisis in the life of a dear young friend but a few years ago. Bright, winsome, gifted: of pure heart, lofty ideal and knightly life, he stood at the parting of the ways. One was the way of a secular calling, with all its glittering prizes and gratified ambitions. The other was the way of abandonment to the Lord with all the sacrifice, service, and surrender involved therein. There in his own room, with the bright sunshine streaming through the window and falling upon his bowed form, young Hugh Beaver chose the latter and first gave himself to the Lord.
But three short years elapsed when we stood by his coffin and looked into his sweet face, pale and rigid in death. As we thought of his beautiful life as a servant of his Lord; of his power in prayer; of his great influence over the young men of the colleges; and of the close and climax of his ministry at Northfield, when hundreds of cultured college women sat at the feet of this young teacher with their lives stirred to their innermost depths by the power of God's Spirit through him, there came to us the overwhelming realization of what a calamity it would have been had this young life, with but three years of span before it, been given to the world instead of to God for the world, and there in that solemn hour we realized the need that God's children "first give their own selves to Him."
What costly mistakes we make here. This life, which we shall live but once; this life, with which every unsuccessful experiment means eternal loss; this life, the most solemn and precious trust that can be put into human keeping--we dare to lay our hands upon, and abase it from God's eternal destiny to our own selfish ends. The unskilled child essays to run the delicate and costly mechanism of a great locomotive, of whose power and possibilities the child knows absolutely naught. There is but one result. The great machine "runs wild," and wreck and ruin follow its unguided flight. Even so are we who lay our hands upon these lives of ours, regardless of our Lord's claim upon them. Sad wreck do we make of them. Disappointments, baffled plans, darkness, clouding of God's presence, suffering, break-downs,--bodily, mental and spiritual,--and utter failure are the woeful results. And then after years of disappointment and failure, we hand over to God the marred remnant for Him to use.
And yet even then how good our Lord is! How great His grace; how tender His love! Without a word of chiding or a whisper of reproach, He deigns to take what is left. He puts the past under the blood. He glorifies Himself unspeakably with the yielded remnant, using it as best He can. Withal, while this is His second best for us; while, possibly, these years of disappointment and affliction were His only mean of bringing us to Himself, let us ever remember that His best is always that, like the Macedonians we "first give our own selves to the Lord," and then to the life work which has been ordained for us "by the will of God."
Rom. 12:2 "Be ye transformed."
With the Macedonians, as with all of God's children, after dedication came transformation. When they gave their lives into the hands of God they were filled with the Spirit of God. We need not read very far between the lines to discern this second great truth of our text. Mark the words of fullness and of transformation: "abundance," "joy," "abounded," "riches," "liberality," "beyond their power," "they were willing," and the like.
How clear it is, and how consistent with the love of God, the will of God and the Word of God, that all His children, like the Macedonians, should live a life of fullness; that they who receive the Spirit in regeneration should be filled with the Spirit at dedication. The Word of God abounds in texts that prove God's will of fullness for His children. "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst for they shall be filled;" "Be filled with the Spirit;" "And of His fullness have all we received;" "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost;" "That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." So, too, our Lord says, "I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly;" "The water that I will give you shall be in you a well of water springing up into everlasting life." So, too, in Acts 2: 17 the Holy Ghost says through Peter, "I will pour out of my Spirit." God's will of life in Christ for us is not stint but abundance; not poverty but riches; not weakness, but power; not scantiness, but fullness. As the mountain spring pours out its cooling streams; as the great pipe organ pours out its flood of melody; as the willing heavens pour out their showers of refreshing, so it is God's will to pour out the fullness of His Spirit upon His children. But mark upon whom that fullness comes (verse 18.) "I will pour out my Spirit upon my servants, i. e., my bond slaves;" upon His slaves; His bond slaves; His servants who are wholly dedicated to Him, who are wholly given up to do His will; upon these not only does the Spirit come, but He is poured out in all His fullness of life and light and power. Upon our Lord Jesus, God poured out the Spirit "without measure." But of His fullness do we all receive, if not in degree, yet surely in kind, if we first give ourselves Wholly to God; if we say, "Lo, I come to do Thy will," even as He did.
Two men were walking by the banks of a river at the twilight hour. One of them, quoting the words of a famous Christian worker, said: "The world has yet to see what God can do with one man wholly dedicated to Him." His companion stopped and said: "Say that again." Again his friend repeated with renewed emphasis: "The world has yet to see what God can do with one man wholly dedicated to Him." Lifting his hand in the twilight, Dwight L. Moody, for it was he, said: "By the grace of God, I will be that man." And he went forth to do a work for God and His kingdom such as has been given to but few of His servants. Here was the hiding of the great evangelist's power. Wholly dedicated to the will of God he was transformed and filled by the Spirit of God, and went forth to do the work of God. "God's man, in God's place, doing God's work, in God's way," are the significant words of Hudson Taylor as to the place for the life of every true servant of God.
Mr. Meyer, too, tells of the time in his own life when young Mr. Studd was used of God to bring home this same truth to himself. He tells of his own heart hunger for a deeper life in Christ, and how the young Cambridge student pressed upon him the duty and the privilege of a complete dedication of his life to the Lord, and of a simple and absolute trust in the Spirit of his Lord to transform him and fill him, and work perfectly and completely through him. His own will for his servant's life of ministry in Him. And then the great London preacher tells how he went forth into a little woodland copse; how he knelt there in the hush of nature's own sanctuary; how he simply and trustfully yielded his life to God, and went forth believing that His Spirit was in him, and trusting Him henceforth to will and to do of His good pleasure through him. No great manifestation followed this simple step of faith and obedience. No ecstatic spiritual experience flooded his soul. But from that time he realized the presence and power of God within him, and was ushered into the fullness of his wonderful life of power and service for Him. Transformation followed dedication. Fullness followed the faith of surrender. Abandonment to God brought the rich and blessed ministry of God which has made the name of this consecrated servant a sweet savor of peace and blessing to multitudes of God's seeking children.
"Young men," said the saintly missionary, George Bowen, as he stood before his students in the classroom, "young men, the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ in my heart is more real than the bodily presence of you who sit before me this morning." Is the presence of Christ as real to us in the Spirit as it was to this godly servant of the Lord? Is He just as real to us as men and things are? Does His life fill us as the self life fills the worldling? And if not, why not? Our Lord Himself in John 14: 21 discloses the open secret of His own abundant life. There He distinctly says "I will manifest myself to you." It is His plan, His desire, His full purpose, to fill all His children with His own fullness of life. And what is the secret? "He that keepeth my commandments I will manifest myself to him." "And this is my commandment: "That you love one another." "And greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." The greatest commandment of Christ is love--love of others. Therefore he who keeps His greatest commandment will have His greatest manifestation. But the climax of love is the laying down of our lives even as He laid down His. Therefore the climax of that manifestation is this dedication of the life to Him. As we perfect our dedication in the ever widening revelation of the will of God, He perfects His manifestation in the ever increasing fullness of the Spirit of God. In the measure that we live in His will in that measure will we be filled with His life. We thus have His greatest manifestation in proportion as we keep His greatest commandment. As we approximate the one we approach the other; as we fulfill the one we are filled with the other. Because we save our own life we lose the fullness of the Christ life. But as we give up our own life we gain His Divine life. The Macedonians had learned this secret. May our Lord help us to learn it also.
"First...unto the Lord...and then...the will of God."
After they had yielded themselves to God, they saw the will of God, for their lives. This is ever true of all His children. After dedication, transformation; after transformation, revelation. Dedication brings fullness of life. In its wake comes fullness of light. It is not the dull intellect but the rebellious or unyielding will which keeps us from the light of God's plan for our lives.
God has a plan for every life in His Kingdom. In Ephesians 2: 10 He tells us that we are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." For Christ Jesus, His Son, God had a perfect plan from before the foundation of the ages. He knew that plan; He yielded Himself to it; and he walked in it, not only day by day, but hour by hour of His earthly career. "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" said our Lord, thus showing that not only was His life meted out to Him day by day by the Father, but that each hour coming to Him was part of a perfect plan for His life, extending even to the minutest detail. But if God had a perfect plan for Christ Jesus, our Lord, so also has He for every one who at regeneration is created in Christ Jesus. If there is a plan for the Divine Head of the body, so there must needs be one for each member of that body. And such, by God's grace are we. Wherefore from the eternal ages the Divine Architect has laid up in the archives of heaven a perfect plan for the life of every child of His, from its beginning through its eternal and unending existence in the ages to come. "In all the ages there never has been, nor never will be a man or woman just like me. I am unique. I have no double." How true is this for you, who are children of God. God has a fresh life plan for you, distinct from every other human being in the universe. No man or woman in existence can do your God-ordained work. There will be something missing from the glory of heaven, something lacking from its fruitage, if you do not find and walk in that Divinely created plan in Christ Jesus for your life. Why then are so many of God's children ignorant of such plan? Why are they in darkness concerning His will? Why have they never seen the good works in which they are to walk? We answer with an illustration. Imagine a man coming to a great industrial establishment in search of employment. He seats himself on the curb-stone across the street. All through the morning hours he loiters there. Then at high noon he approaches the superintendent of the works and begins to complain because he has not been shown the work he is to do. Very soon would the superintendent of such an establishment inform the loiterer that as soon as he would come and offer himself, his time, skill, and talents to his employer, then would the latter show him what work he had for him to do. "For," says the superintendent, "we do not show our plans, nor assign our work to a man until he comes and places himself at our disposal. Until that time, sir, you cannot expect us to show you what work we have for you." Is not this the open secret of the failure of many of God's children to know His will for their lives? So long as they remain unyielding to Him, not offering themselves for His service, He does not, nor could He reasonably be expected to reveal the work He has for them in His vineyard. But as soon as they present their bodies a living sacrifice, placing will, time, talent and skill all at His disposal, to be used for His glory, He is only too glad to disclose His own loving plan of ministry for the life offered to Him. "If any man will to do my will he shall know."
"First .... unto the Lord, and then unto us."
To every dedicated child of His, God not only reveals His plan for their life, but also leads them into the doing of it, usually by some seemingly insignificant beginning. This was true for the Macedonians. First, unto the Lord--the person to whom they gave themselves; then, unto us, the thing which He showed them to do, in this case a simple ministering to the needs of His saints. This is likewise true for all of us. Note the case of Paul: First there was the query of dedication: "Who art thou," and the answer--"I am Jesus, I am thy Lord." Then came the query of ministration--"What wilt thou have me to do." And then the answer, a command to do a very simple thing, "Arise, go into the city and it shall be shown thee what thou shalt do."
Take again the example of David. Picture the prophet coming into the home of the shepherd lad to anoint him as the king of a great nation. What a wonderful honor for one so young, to be called from the obscurity of his humble occupation to become the head of his people. As the prophet's hand was laid upon him; as the anointing oil touched his bowed head; as the consciousness of the presence of God's Spirit in new power and blessedness thrilled his heart, what a great and solemn moment it must have been for the young David. A moment of dedication, of transformation, of revelation, of God's wondrous, gracious, and, to him, astounding purpose for his life. And yet as the days and weeks rolled on there came no great change in the environment of that life. There was no great vision; no voice from heaven; no burning bush. We can imagine him communing with himself. "Is this a reality? Am I in very truth the King of Israel? Why does not God take me hence? Why does He not put me upon my appointed throne? Why am I kept waiting here? And then something happened. The shepherd lad was called to carry the needed supplies to his warrior brothers. How insignificant and commonplace seems this incident. Yet out of it God led him to his destined place. It was the first step in the golden staircase which led upward to a kingly throne. He met his brethren; he heard the boastful challenge of the giant; his heart was mightily moved by the Spirit of God, and we know what followed.
Even so is it with us. We give our lives to God in dedication. Peace, power, and blessing inflow. But no great change meets us at once. Still we keep the sheep; we follow the plow; we sit at the desk; we pursue our daily task as of old. We wonder what it all means. Has God really a work for us? Will He really show it to us? Will He lead us into it? And now something happens to us, even as to David. A door of service opens. Perhaps but a modest door, a little wicket gate, as it were, of ministry. It may be a call to teach a class; to lead a meeting; to fill some humble place of service for the Lord. But now, as it comes, there is a new drawing in our heart to do this thing. There is a consciousness of God's call to it, however humble. There is a feeling that it has more significance in our lives than its humbleness would indicate. And so we obey. God blesses our obedience. We follow on and on. Opportunities multiply; the blessing grows; fruitage follows; the joy of service is with us and by and by we awake to the glad consciousness that God is leading us into our life work.