A long time ago, St. Luke tells us when Jesus was a boy of twelve, He went with His parents and neighbors up to Jerusalem to the Feast of the Passover. On the return of the company, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem. 'And Joseph and His mother knew not of it. But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance and found Him not' (Luke ii. 43-45).
Their mistake was in taking it for granted that Jesus was in the company. Joseph knew He was not with him, and Mary knew He was not with her, and the kinsfolks and acquaintances knew He was not with them, and yet each took it for granted that He was in the company with someone else. But lo! when they sought Him, they found Him not; He was not there.
Just so, frequently in meetings and conventions the people all suppose Jesus is in the company, and yet there may not be one that is personally conscious of His presence. They take it for granted that He is with someone else, and lo! He may not be in their midst at all. He has not been preseveringly, importunately, humbly and believingly sought for and invited to come, and so He has stayed behind.
I remember a number of years ago going to a camp meeting hoping to find Jesus there in power. I got there two or three days after the opening, and I found, if I now remember rightly, that no one had been saved. There was no grip and power in the meetings. At the appointed hour for the meeting, the bell would ring and the officers and soldiers who had been laughing and joking and singing songs, and visiting with each other and making merry generally, would come strolling into the meetings with smiles on their faces and 'God bless you' on their tongues, but with apparently no solemn consciousness of the holy presence of the Crucified One in their midst. Then the meeting would begin with a rush and a bang, and songs and prayers and jokes and laughter and collection and smart testimonies, and a Bible reading would follow, and the meeting would end again without souls. Everybody would go out good-naturedly, make a rush for the best seats at the dinner-table, and enjoy themselves beautifully until the next meeting.
Everyone seemed to take it for granted that Jesus was in the company, yet no one seemed to be specially conscious of His Presence.
At last it was pointed out that the meetings were galloped through but no souls were saved, and it was suggested that perhaps Jesus was missing. A prayer meeting was called to look for Jesus, and some of the people present had to allow that Jesus was not with them. Then some of them went to their tents to look for Jesus, and some went to the woods and got down on their knees to look for Him, and would not give up the search until at last, bless Him, He was found. And when He was told that He was expected and that He must come, and that we would not let Him go except He blessed us, then He came. Then there was a shout of a King in the camp, and He gave us a touch of His baptism, which is with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
The officers, soldiers and saints got awfully in earnest, and the poor sinner got awfully alarmed and convicted so that they were no longer anxious about what they should have for dinner. And some seemed so anxious to talk with Jesus and get filled with His Spirit, and His great thoughts, and to get Him to put the dynamite of the Holy Ghost into their testimonies and songs and prayers, that they lost their appetites, and did not care whether they had any dinner at all, if only they could be fed with bread from Heaven.
Oh, I tell you, it was wonderful the transformation that came over that camp ground when Jesus got there! The shallow joy that caused men to smile and make an empty racket, gave way before that deep joy of the Lord which makes men weep and be serious and fills their faces with the solar light of Heaven, and makes their shout almost as terrible to the wicked as will be the trumpet peals and awful thunders of the Judgment Day.
I tell you the presence of Jesus in the power of the Holy Ghost on that camp ground did make the remaining days of the camp meeting into veritable Judgment Days for some folks. Then the news went abroad that Jesus was in the camp, and the people poured in from all the country round about, and mighty things were done in His name. Weak folks were made strong. Timid folks became bold as lions. Broken hearts were healed. Sad folks were made into glad folks. The lame man leaped as a hart. The blind saw. The deaf heard. The dumb spake. The hungry multitudes were fed. Spirits that were full of passion and like a storm-tossed sea, became peaceful and calm. And dead souls were raised to life! Glory to God!
I tell you it was the presence of Jesus that saved that camp meeting from being recorded as a dismal failure, and instead caused it to be remembered as a time of wondrous refreshing from the presence of the Lord.
Now Jesus is ready and willing to go up to every camp meeting and convention and council and indoor and outdoor meeting all over the world, and to make His personal presence felt by every saint and soldier, but each one must seek Him as Moses did. God had set Moses to the tremendous task of ruling a mob of ignorant Israelites just rescued from centuries of hard bondage, and leading them through a barren, mountainous wilderness, to the promised land, where they would meet armed hosts, strongly entrenched in fortified cities. The burden was too heavy for Moses, and he cried out to God: 'If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? Is it not in that Thou goest with us? . . . And the Lord said unto Moses: I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in My sight, and I know thee by name. My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest ' (Exod. xxxlii. 15, 16, 17, 14).
I do not wonder any longer at the mighty things Moses did. If God goes with a man and tells him what to do and how to do it, and gives him the wisdom and strength with which to do it, then there is nothing too hard for that man. God becomes a servant of that man as much as that man is the servant of God. They are co-workers. One man like that can chase a thousand, and if he find a fellow, the two shall put ten thousand to flight. Bless God!
But Jesus is holy and humble and He cannot walk with any but humble holy men, so, my brother, if you want Him to go with you, you must humble yourself and be holy. Moses was the meekest of men, we read.
Then, too, if we want Jesus to go with us to the meeting, we must invite Him home with us after the meeting. He will not come to the meeting and walk back with us to our door, if when we get there we find it in our hearts to bid Him good-night and close the door in His face, and go in and scold the wife and children and talk about our neighbors and forget what manner of spirit we are of. Our walk with Him must be constant, not fitful, else we will seek for Him some day an not find Him.
Oh, that we may always make sure that He is with us, and not take it for granted, else we find we have been going on a fool's errand without Him! Poor Joseph and Mary lost five days and had no one knows how much anxiety and heartache, all because they supposed Jesus was in the company, but did not make sure. But, bless God, after diligent search they found Him! Is He with you now, my brother? If He is not, then get your Bible and go off alone and seek Him, and if you wake up and seek Him with all your heart, He will be found of you.
How To Study The Bible
The other day I received a letter from a young Officer asking for a few suggestions as to how to read and study the Bible. Here they are:
I. Read and study it as two young lovers read and study each other's letters. As soon as the mail brings a letter from his sweetheart, the young man grabs it and without waiting to see if there is not another letter for him, runs off to a corner and reads and laughs and rejoices over it and almost devours it. If he is a particularly desperate and demonstrative lover -- (the Lord make us desperate and demonstrative lovers of our Lord Jesus Christ!) -- he will probably kiss it and carry it next to his heart till the next one comes.
He meditates on it day and night, and reads it over again and then again. He carries it down town with him, and on the street car appears very quiet and thoughtful, till all at once a twinkle comes into his eye, out comes the letter and choice portions are read over again. He delights in that letter. If any part is hard to understand, a letter is sent off post haste for explanations, and the explanation and letter will be most carefully compared, and possibly also previous letters will be studiously compared with this one. I knew a young man whose fate was hanging in the balance. He wanted assurance, but the young woman was coy, and she veiled her true feelings and left him in uncertainty, and he studied her letters and weighed every word and phrase and brought them to me, and had me compare letter with letter, as we should compare Scripture with Scripture, in order, if possible, to discover the state of her mind and heart and his prospects. In due time he was abundantly rewarded.
Now, that is the way to read the Bible. It is God's will and testament. It is His own carefully written instructions as to what manner of people He would have us be; as to how we shall behave ourselves; what we shall do and not do; what our rights and privileges in Jesus are; what are our peculiar dangers; how we shall know our enemies and conquer them; how we shall enter into and constantly enjoy his favor and escape Hell and get safely home to Heaven.
II. Read in Acts xvii. 11, what the disciples in Berea did.
'They received the word with all readiness of mind.' A frank and noble mind is open to the truth, and wants it more than gold or pleasure or fame or power.
'They searched the Scriptures.' They wanted to know for themselves, and not by mere hearsay. They searched. Precious things are deeply hidden. Pebbles and stones and autumn leaves abound everywhere, but gold and silver and precious stones are hidden deep in the bowels and rocky ribs of the earth; shells cover the sea-shore, but pearls are hidden in its depths. And so with truth. Some truth may lie on the surface of the Bible, but those that will altogether satisfy and distinguish us and make us wise unto salvation are found only after diligent search, even as for hid treasure. 'Search the Scriptures;' said Jesus, 'for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me' (John v. 39). If you would know Jesus, search the Scriptures, and you will come to know Him and see His face, and be like Him.
'They searched daily.' Daily, not spasmodically, by fits and starts, but daily, habitually, they dug into the word of God, to find out if the things Paul preached were so. And just so must you do. 'Thou shalt meditate therein day and night' (Joshua ii. 8), was God's instruction to Joshua. And once this habit is formed the delight in God's word will become unspeakable.
'Thy words were found, and I did eat them;' said Jeremiah, 'and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart' (Jer. xiii. 16). 'O how love I Thy law!' cried the Psalmist. 'It is my meditation all the day' (Ps. cxix. 97).
In forming the habit of Bible study we may have to begin and follow it up for a time from a sense of duty, but once the habit is formed, if we are not only hearers but doers of the word, we shall follow it up for very joy, until we can say with Job, 'I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food' (Job xxiii. 12).
III. Read and study the word not to get a mass of knowledge in the head, but a flame of love in the heart. 'Knowledge puffeth up' (I Cor. viii. I), but love buildeth up. Read it to find fuel for affection, food for reflection, direction for judgment, guidance for conscience.
Read it not that you may know, but that you may do.
IV. Follow carefully the line of thought from verse to verse and chapter to chapter. Often the first part of one chapter belongs to the last part of the preceding chapter. For instance, in the last verse of the fourth chapter of Ephesians, we read, 'And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you,' and in the first verse of the fifth chapter we read, 'Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.'
Those two verses belong together. We are to follow God in what? Why, in the spirit of kindness and tender-heartedness and forgiveness.
Again, in John vii. 53, we read, 'And every man went unto his own house,' and in viii. 1, 'Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives.'
These two verses belong together. Jesus had no house. Bless Him! So when they went each to his own house for the night, Jesus went to the cold, dark mount!
Finally, do not be discouraged if progress in the knowledge of the word seems slow as first. It is like learning to play an instrument or master a trade; for the first few days or weeks it appears impossible, but it is not so. Some glad day a brain-cell will expand or a veil drop from your face and scales from your eyes and you will find yourself doing the impossible with ease.
So it will be in acquainting yourself with the word of God. Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it! Cry to God with David, 'Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law' (Ps. cxix. 18).
Pray for an understanding heart. You will only love and understand the word as Jesus reveals it to you. So walk with Him, take up your cross and follow Him through evil as well as good report.
After His resurrection, He came to His trembling, heart-broken, disappointed disciples, and Luke tells us that 'beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself' (Luke xxiv. 27), and later Luke says, 'Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures' (Luke xxiv. 45).
There are things in the Bible hard to be understood, and we may not know them till we stand by the crystal sea, but we can learn those things that will make us meek and lowly in heart as was Jesus, watchful, patient, loving, kind, forgiving, and utterly zealous and self-sacrificing for the salvation of men. Hallelujah!
Happy shall we be, if; like David, we can say, 'Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee' (Ps. cxix. 11).