Friday, July 31, 2009

Kuyper - Psalm 73 - V - When He Turneth Himself Unto the Prayer

How is this? Does the Lord turn Himself unto our prayer only after long delay? Is not He omnipresent? Is not every whispered and stammering prayer known to Him, before there is yet a word in the tongue? How then can the All-knowing One at first indifferently stand apart and only gradually become aware that we are praying to Him, and turn Himself to the prayer which He temporarily ignored?
And yet without doubt this is what is meant. The Psalmist stands before a closed heaven. In sorrow of soul supplication is made, but trouble is not removed, and God contends against the prayer of His people. The arch enemy does not pray, does not understand God, but in this he is encouraged by Jehovah. God’s own covenant people continue to be repulsed. God hides His face. And the Psalmist cries: “O Lord hear my prayer and let my cry come unto Thee. Hide not Thy face from me. In the day when I call, answer me speedily” (Ps. 102, 1, 2).
This relieves his troubled mind. With prophetic daring he forecasts the day when the Lord will hear the prayer of his people again, and inspired by this thought declares: “When the Lord turneth him unto the prayer of the destitute, and despiseth not their desire, then all kings of the earth shall fear him” (Ps. 102, 17, Dutch Ver.).
Thus in fact he was still in a period, when the Lord holds Himself deaf to His people, and the future still holds the moment in which the Lord shall turn Himself unto the supplication of His people.
What do you think? Has not the Psalmist felt and known the objections that rise from the very Being of God against this human representation, and do you stand on a so much higher plane that thoughts arise in you, that were foreign to him?
But pray, who has portrayed in terms of finer imagery than he the omnipresence and omniscience of God? Are not the expressions in which you clothe your prayers borrowed for the most part from his writings? Did not he propound the question: “Shall he who planted the ear, not hear?” and did not he say in the hundred and thirty-ninth Psalm, “There is not a word in my tongue, but, In, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I can not attain unto it?”
In fact, it is the Psalmist who has described the virtues of God in behalf of all Christendom, and the secret things of the Almighty are nowhere placed before us, veiled or unveiled, more clearly than in his language.
And when this eminently saintly poet over and over again speaks to us of God, also in connection with this matter of prayer, in a way that is so purely human, what else then can it mean, save that the terms of intimacy between man and man retain their significance in the secret walk with God; and that therefore there are moments, when God turns Himself away from our prayer, and that, Praise His Name, there are moments when He turns Himself unto our prayer.
You believe in Christ, and in the truth of His saying: “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father, and how sayest thou then: show us the Father?” You yourself kneel down before Him, saying: “My Lord and my God,” and what is the Incarnation of the Word other than that God became Man? And what profit can this be to you, unless you feel that, in Christ, God has come to you in a human way.
Until the birth in Bethlehem, God spoke to you in human words, but in Christ God appears to you in human nature. He reveals Himself to you as the Son of Man. A human heart here speaks in human language and in human motions. S. John declares: “In Jesus we have seen and heard not only what is God’s, but we have touched and handled, and actually seen before our eyes the eternal-Divine in human stature and in human form.”
The whole Christian faith, the entire Christian confession rests upon the clear conviction, that God has not laid it upon you to lose Him in endless abstractions, but, on the contrary, He would come to you ever more closely in human form and in human language, in order through your human heart to make warm, rich fellowship possible with Himself.
Moreover, you must understand that all this rests upon sober reality. It is not semblance, but actual fact, because God created you after His Image, so that with all the wide difference between God and man, divine reality is expressed in human form. And that, when the Word became Flesh, this Incarnation of the Son of God was immediately connected with your creation after God’s Image.
And you would undo all this when in the place of this warm, rich fellowship with God which can not be practised except in a human way, you would put a whole system of abstract ideas about the immensity of God, and so create a distance between Himself and you which excludes all intercourse and fellowship of soul.
Leave this to philosophers who do not practice prayer; to theologians, dry as dust, who are no children of their Father in heaven. As for you, love God with a love, of which childlike fellowship with Him is the warm expression.
You know yourself that the practice of prayer puts the seal upon the words of the Psalmist. At one time, heaven is open to you, and as you pray angels descend and ascend to present your petitions at the Throne of God. At another time your prayer is formal and your words come back upon yourself, and the circuit of heaven, as Job (xxii: 14) calls it, is closed against you.
Then the turning point is reached in this oppressive isolation, and you perceive that the gate of heaven opens once again, and your prayer obtains free access to the Throne of the Almighty, and you understand from your own experience what the Psalmist here affirms regarding the blessedness of the moment in which the Lord turns Himself again unto the prayer of a soul that is utterly destitute.
But is the solution of this apparent contradiction as impossible as it seems? By no means, provided you have eyes to see the workings of God in your prayer-life.
Yea, when you deem that prayer originates with yourself; when you do not believe that the spirit of prayer goes out from your God within you, and you think that God’s active part in your prayer only begins when He hears and answers it, then indeed you face here an insoluble riddle.
But if you take it in the other, truer way, and make it clear to yourself that your prayer-life too is quickened, directed and carried on in you by God, then light shines in upon you.The farmer sows the seed in the newly ploughed furrows, and leaves it quietly to do its work, in order that when dew and sunshine from heaven have caused the seed to sprout and send the blade upward, and ripen the corn in the ear, he may return to the field and gather in his harvest.And is not this the case in our prayer-life? Here too our Father Who is in heaven takes the initiative by sowing the seed of prayer in our heart. Then follows a slow process. That prayer-life must come to development in us, and prayer in our soul must ripen. And only when this result has been obtained, and prayer has unfolded itself in us into that higher form, the heavenly Husbandman turns Himself again to the prayer-life in us; and then comes the rich hearing and answering of what went up from our soul to Him.
Such is the case with our prayer-life taken as a whole. Through foolish prayers we come to purified prayers. Through earthly prayers we come to those holier ones, which have been watered with dew from above and which radiate sunlight of a higher order.
And such is the case with individual, particular prayers. These, too, are not at once purified and made perfect. These, too, go through a process in the soul. These, too, spring up from a root, and only by degrees develop themselves into prayer such as our Father Who is in heaven expects of His child; prayer which is not merely a sound of the lips, but rises from the depths of the heart; prayer, in which one’s own sense and inclinations agree; prayer in which not merely a spontaneous thought but our whole person expresses itself; prayer, in which in very truth the soul pours itself out before the Holy One.
For this, God allows us time. It is not done all at once. If His response were immediate, no prayer-life would be developed within us, and no single prayer would be sanctified in us. Weeds that spring up between our prayers must first be rooted out. Every sort of infectious germ that creeps in must be removed. And prayer must refine itself, it must sanctify itself, so that in a heavenly sense by faith it may be able to ripen.
Therefore God leaves you to yourself for a time, so that by the trial of His seeming indifference the development may the better be prospered. And when at length your prayer has reached that degree of perfection which renders it meet, as a prayer of a saint of God, to be laid on the altar, then He turns Himself again to your prayer; and you offer thanks to your Father in heaven, that He has trained you in that holy school of prayer.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jenks - FACE - Seeking the Heavenly Manna

Seeking the Heavenly Manna

“Our fathers did eat manna in the desert . . . My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.”— S. John vi. 31, 32.

Picture: an Israelite in the wilderness looking upon the manna in the morning.

Resolve: more devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

  1. Manna.

    1. The word manna means “What is it?” Many dispute about the Blessed Sacrament, who might profitably learn to value it by grateful reception of the Father’s gift. Others despise it just because it is like a common thing (Numb. xi. 6, 7), although it is nourishing their brethren in the wilderness-life. Reflect that the benefit of the gift is not dependent upon understanding what it is.

    2. It is a new kind of food, sent down from heaven: “He gave them food from heaven” (Ps. lxxviii. 25, P.B.V.); “My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven; for the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world.” “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”

    3. The true science for the understanding of the Blessed Sacrament is the science of experience. To the faithful communicant it is found to be like wafers made with flour and honey, and like sweet oil (Ex. xvi. 31; Numb. xi. 8), which expresses to an Eastern mind the perfection of food (see Ezek. xvi. 13). The natural soul “loatheth this light bread” (Numb. xxi. 6); but to the spiritually-minded the promise of God is fulfilled (see Deut. xxxii. 13).

  2. The principle of supply.

    1. “He that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack.” S. Paul calls it the principle of equality (2 Cor. viii. 14, 15). Some do gather much, and yet they have nothing over; not the most advanced Christian can live without his communions.

    2. But each gets his omer (Ex. xvi. 18). By the generosity of God even he who gets little gets as much as he can use: more would not profit him. Spiritual gifts are not to be measured by a material estimate. Oh, wonderful application of the equality! Think more of God’s liberality than of your own unworthiness.

    3. There is no lack in God’s storehouse: “He opened the doors of heaven, and rained down manna upon them to eat” (Ps. lxxviii. 23, 24). It is in ourselves that we are straitened; no one has ever failed to find all that he needed, if he sought aright.

  3. Consider then how to seek aright.

    1. The manna was the food for God’s own people (Ps. Lxxviii. 20); and the heavenly food is for the sons of the kingdom, who have received the Holy Ghost. The manna fell upon the dew (Ex. xvi. 13, 14), and dew is the unction of the Holy Ghost: Let the heart be well nourished with grace, by prompt response to the Holy Spirit, and the manna will be abundantly supplied.

    2. It is true of the communicant that “the preparation of the heart in man . . . is from the Lord” (Prov. xvi. 1). See that the formal preparation for communion is such, and that it does not sink into the mere recital of an office. God promised, “I will be as the dew unto Israel ” (Hos. xiv. 4, 5). Then shall be realized the further blessing that “The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord” (Mic. v. 7); and it is a condition of gathering much that the communicant’s life shall not be lived for himself.

    3. There is no way more after the mind of God than that the communicant shall have kept the dew of his youth (Ps. cx. 3). The early grace of life is easily lost (Hos. vi. 4), but it will be fixed in the gifts of good communions. The manna fell upon the dew and absorbed it (Ex. xvi. 14: Numb. xi. 9).

Kuyper - Psalm 73 - IV - In the Covert of Thy Wings


The deepest question that governs our Christian life is that which touches our personal fellowship with God. And in the Book of Psalms, which is the richest outpouring of a devout heart, you see how the inmost longings ever and again go out after this Divine fellowship.

Certainly there is in the Book of Psalms also a mention of the tie that binds us to God as the Creator and Supporter of all things; and of the relation in which by faith he who fears God stands to the Holy One; but both this tie and this relation are still something else than fellowship with the Eternal.

The heart of him who fears God does not rest until it has come to such a conscious fellowship with its God, that between itself and the heart of God there is mutual knowledge, the one of the other—even the clear sense that God has knowledge of us and we of Him.

What we between people call mutual companionship, intimate association, union of soul with soul in faithfulness and in love, is implied from of old in >Psalm 25, 14: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.”

Even as two intimately connected friends go through life together, and mutually unbosom themselves to each other, and in this intimate walk through life become the confidents of each other’s secrets, so it is told of Old Testament heroes of the faith that they “walked with God.”

And although these are but figures and terms borrowed from those that are used to describe human happenings; and although, when we would describe our appreciation of our fellowship with our God, we should never use these terms and figures except with deep reverence for His Divine Majesty, nevertheless, it is equally certain that God Himself has pointed them out to us for this end.

The Scripture sets the example in this, even to the extent that it borrows pictures from animal-life by which to illustrate this fellowship with God. As Jesus portrayed His tender love for Jerusalem by the figure of a hen that gathers her chickens under her wings, so David not only said that he would abide in the tabernacle of the Lord for ever, but also that he would trust under the covert of God’s wings (Ps. 61, 4).

And why not?

Is it not God Himself Who in the world of winged creatures has created this exhibition of tender fellowship, as the expression of what moved His own Divine heart? And is not every such expressive, touching picture of love’s fellowship in nature a God-given help by which to interpret to ourselves what we perceive and feel, or only dimly sense, in the mystic depths of the heart?

Even the vast range of creation falls short of material for this, and therefore the Lord has purposely placed still another picture before us, by which to illustrate the intimacy of fellowship with Himself; even that of living together in one house.

The house, or with nomadic tribes the tent, was not, of course, a part of creation, but was mechanically constructed by human hands. When Jabal came to do this, the social life of man took an incredible step forward.

The house, as the family dwelling, was foreshadowed in creation. Jesus called attention to the fact that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests. And was there no deep sense of want expressed in the words that He, the Son of man, had no home of His own wherein to lay his head?

Intimacy of life is only born from dwelling together under one rooftree; the family home is the nursery of love; it is the external hedging in, with the tie of the most intimate fellowship of life.

And in Scripture the house, or dwelling, is presented as a means by which to make our fellowship with God assume a definite form. God also has a house; and the idea of dwelling in the house of our God is the richest thought that is given us, to set forth the most intimate and tenderest fellowship with Him.

Purposely, therefore, the Tabernacle of the Lord is erected in the wilderness, and presently it is rendered permanent in the Temple on Mount Zion. Moreover, it is stated, that at Horeb God Himself showed Moses the pattern of the Tabernacle. Hence Tabernacle and Temple were actual representations of what exists in heaven.

And in connection with this, the ardent longing to dwell in the house of the Lord finds expression in the Psalms. The Psalmist would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God, than dwell in the palaces of the ungodly (Ps. 84, 10).

“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (Ps. 27, 4).

But this was not permanent. Tabernacle and Temple rendered only temporary service. They were a transient form in the rich unfolding of consecrated life. And when Jesus came He said: “Woman, the hour cometh, and now is, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father, but when true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John iv, 21, 23). This means that without emblems, symbols, or outward forms, worship shall be spiritual, as from heart to heart.

If, therefore, we feel a holy sympathy for David’s burning desire, to dwell in the house of the Lord, we may not apply this to any earthly house, not even to the visible Church. That would be the return to the dispensation of shadows. That temple is no longer a symbolic house of God made of wood and stone, but the majestic palace of God in the heavens.

God dwelleth in the heavens. There is the Tabernacle of his Majesty. There is the Temple of his Honor. When Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father, who art in Heaven,” He detaches the soul from everything earthly, and lifts up our heart on high, iii order that we shall no more think in earthly terms of the Majesty of our God.

To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life, means: every morning, noon and night to be so clearly conscious of our fellowship with the Living God, that our thoughts go out to Him, that we hear the sound of His voice in our soul, that we are aware of His sacred presence round about us, that we experience His operations upon our heart and conscience, and shun everything we would not dare to do in His immediate presence.

The Psalmist goes one step further, which plainly shows that already under the Old Covenant, amid the shadows, the faithful grasped the higher reality. For, he adds, “I will take refuge in the covert of Thy wings” (Ps. 61, 4. R.V.)

To think of the glory of God above, to picture life in His holy Temple, to have walks among angels and saints before the white throne, is not yet enough. The house of the Lord may enclose our fellowship with Him, but in that house we shall look for God Himself.

One must live with a person in his house, in order to enjoy his company, the house is nothing to us without him, and he is our first and chief concern in it.

Such is the case with our search after fellowship with God.

Sursum corda!”—lift up your hearts. I will lift up my heart to the trysting-place of Thy holiness.

But this is not the end. In order to find God, we must dwell in His house. To be near unto Him in His house is the sole end and aim of all godly desire and endeavor.

And to express this in terms of passionate tenderness and daring boldness, David exclaims: “I will take refuge in the covert of Thy wings.” Here soul meets soul; here is the sacred touch; here one perceives, and experiences, and realizes that nothing stands between ourselves and our God; that His arms embrace us, and that we cleave unto Him.

But his imagery is attended with danger lest it be taken too literally, and God, in an unholy sense, be interpreted in terms of matter. False mysticism has shown to what errors this may lead.

But if you realize this, and are on your guard, this imagery is supremely rich and superbly glorious.

It means that you possess God Himself, and that you have made fellowship with Him a reality. Provided that it is in Christ, by your Savior alone, that you, the impure and unholy, are initiated into this tender fellowship with your God.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lessons of Grace

This if from In the Face of Jesus Christ, 1925, by David Jenks (1866-1935).

As I prepare for Sunday's reflection on the Gospel, 2009 July 26, I have been working with the following devotional:

Lessons of Grace

“Make the men sit down.” “Gather up the fragments.”S. John vi. 10, 12.

Picture: the scene.

Resolution: thanksgiving for mercies.

  1. “Make the men sit down.”

    1. Consider the orderliness of grace. In human bounty, when unstinted, there is often to be found a certain recklessness, which manifests the self-indulgence, of liberality. The divine bounty is indeed unstinted, but has not the wastefulness of self-pleasing. It is regulated and proportioned in its distribution.

    2. Consider the discipline of grace. The men must sit down in order, and wait until the distribution was duly carried out; then all were fed. A spirit of impatience will at times rebel against the discipline of orderliness, and the conditions of grace, misinterpreting the wisdom of the divine bounty by the undisciplined eagerness of their own minds. They would hasten where God acts slowly, would reject the measured life of grace, week by week, year by year. We should pray, “Feed me with food convenient for me.”

    3. The reception of grace. In quietness and obedience, prompted by confidence in the great teacher, they waited until the meal was given. Such is the law of the reception of grace. As the years of grace pass, we are more ready than formerly to sit down and receive. Lord! I have nothing, and I am hungry: feed me, that the word which thou hast spoken to my heart may be nourished.

  2. The meal.

    1. He made the meal like the Holy Communion, breaking and blessing the bread as he was about to do on the last night; and then he fed them by the hands of his disciples. Now he makes the Holy Communion like a meal. It is part of the orderliness and seemliness of grace. As of old he prepared the faithful for the gift of the Blessed Sacrament by the multiplication of natural food, so he prepares us now by these conditions to realize some of the laws of grace.

    2. The law of spiritual digestion, which requires a fit condition in the recipient, and then the spiritual food is assimilated silently and nourishes the life in health. And as the natural food requires exercise for its proper digestion, so the spiritual sustenance must be exercised by prayer which is the fruit of communion, and by daily life among the brethren who partake of the common meal.

    3. In the natural life appetite is a sign of health, and is the result of due exercise after healthy food. In the spiritual life also digestion through exercise renews the spiritual desire for food. And as in the disciplined daily life one is ready for each meal, while not conscious of extravagant hunger unless the meal be delayed, so too the spiritual life in normal condition is ready for each heavenly meal, and learns by grace the times of reception.

  3. “Gather up the fragments.”

    1. The position of this Gospel gives to these words a particular application in the review of a year of grace. Grace is one; it is only broken up for individual needs, and for distribution. So the years too are only fragments of eternity broken up for human requirements and distributed to us day by day for the fulfilment of their purposes in the exercise of grace.

    2. We cannot gather up what has been lost by misuse; we can gather up the “over and above,” the remaining portions of the life of grace which he has blessed and broken for us. Do this, in the spirit of grace, making such a profitable gathering up as may fit us for a new year more of grace, and less of reliance upon natural strength and resolution.

    3. And for this, reflect upon the divine estimate of grace. He could multiply five loaves for five thousand, and yet was careful that nothing should be lost. Let there be a reverent appreciation of the value of grace, and not a presumption based on its bounty. Let there be, however, a strong confidence in his supply, who supplieth liberally, but will not squander.

This if from In the Face of Jesus Christ, 1925, by David Jenks (1866-1935).