“And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.”
The curious multitude so intruded itself that Christ and his disciples had no privacy, no leisure moments to rest and eat together, so Jesus and his wearied disciples departed from the disturbing throng. You see the picture, Jesus and his followers in all privacy resting and eating together; there are no intruders, they are apart from the coming and going of disturbing visitors, Jesus and his own are alone, all around them is the desert. There is nothing there; the one attracting green spot is here: Jesus and his disciples resting and eating together. This is the oasis in the desert.
I penned these few lines and sat musing; after some moments I said within me, How sacred is the mystery of my life since Jesus came into it. Before this I wandered in the world unconcerned with regard to things eternal; I was dead in trespasses and sins, an enemy of God; Jesus was unknown, undesired, at that time. Saith the apostle Paul, “Ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13). It is all a divine mystery. Yes, I felt I was a sinner doomed for my sins to endless woe, a poor, guilty worm; I trembled with a broken and contrite heart at the feet of him whom I knew had not only power to take my life from the earth, but had power after he hath killed to destroy me both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28). In my sin-stricken, law-condemned heart I feared I should die in my sins (John 8:21), and that I should be driven away in my wickedness from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2 Thess. 1:9). I could see no hope of escape for such a great sinner, but at length the Holy Spirit revealed Jesus to me, he opened up and sealed to my heart the sacred mystery of the shedding of Christ’s precious blood, then I tasted the blessedness of the forgiveness of my sins, that all was covered by the blood and righteousness of the Lamb of God (Romans 4:6-8). As I have expressed it, Jesus came into my life; since then the companionship of the Savior has been my highest blessedness. But I am finding continually that there is much to interfere with this fellowship; it appears at times to be suspended, and sometimes such seasons are so long I fear that intimacy between Jesus and me, a poor, sinful one, will not be resumed. I say in my fearful heart, Surely he is wearied of me, one so worthless, perverse, ungrateful, and yet I am forced by a power within me to cry out, Do not abhor me (Jer. 14:21). Only those who are of God and called unto the fellowship of God’s dear Son know what it is to live by faith upon Jesus, and such only know how many are the hindrances from the world, the flesh and the devil that would so interfere as to cause to cease all privacy, rest and communion with our Redeemer, who only hath the words of eternal life. Those words are our sustenance, and only by them can we live, but the coming and going of intruders at times is such that we can find no leisure, and have not a moment even to eat a few crumbs in private with Jesus.
No doubt that was a mixed multitude with mixed purposes that so thronged Christ and his disciples. So in a spiritual sense there are various things with whose coming and going we are buffeted, and our spiritual leisure with our Savior is much broken into. If in very truth we are Christ’s, believers in him, we cannot remain very long indifferent, at ease, having no intimacy with him. No, we are poor sinners, and the pressing needs that the Holy Spirit causes us to feel awaken in us pinings of soul for the words, of eternal life that flow from Emmanuel’s lips. “None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good.” The cares attending our earthly life, the occupations we are engaged in, or the well-nigh all-engrossing business, and the unceasing intercourse with our fellows, each or all of these as a coming and going throng must absorb our time, and then sometimes we are so pestered with incoming and outgoing carnal thoughts, a thievish swarm infests our life, and we are much buffeted, and though Jesus be in our sight, yet there is no leisure, no privacy, no time so much as to eat our morsel with him, our life becomes so unsatisfying, there is an aching void because of the coming and going of the distracting, wearying depravities of our fleshly nature.
The senses of the natural body are the channels by which we have participation in natural things, and are requisite to our living upon the earth. But as our bodies are mortal, vile, dead, because of sin, so all the senses are depraved; therefore our seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling are all the inlets and outlets of our depravities in our natural lives, and sometimes every outlet and inlet are so taken possession of by Satan and sin that we have no leisure to rest, or to eat a crumb of the Bread of life. We have many foes, the world, the flesh and the devil, who all conspire to allure or to vex and to overthrow us. Yes, many are our foes, but we have one ever-gracious, almighty Friend, who sticketh closer than a brother (Prov. 18:25).
“An earthly brother drops his hold,
Is sometimes hot and sometimes cold,
But Jesus is the same.”
If ever a poor sinner upon the earth has been favored by faith with moments of sacred intimacy with Christ, I feel I can say I have, and yet very often I find my heart pining for yet nearer and nearer communion. My yearning heart tells me that it is only glimpses that I have seen, only moments of intimacy by faith have been mine; it is only in part, just a little that I know of Him whom to know is life eternal, and I know I can only be satisfied when I shall be like him and see him as he is (1 John 3:2-3), then face to face (1 Cor. 13:12), immortal, incorruptible, conformed to the image of the Son of God (Romans 8:29), so shall we ever be with the Lord Jesus Christ, our heavenly One (1 Cor. 15:49; 1 Thess. 4:17). Jesus knows all the hindrances from without and within that we have to encounter, and he knows that we find ourselves at our wit’s end in our plans and endeavors to escape from the engrossing, harassing throng that so interferes, suspending those intimate private relations with himself, our Savior and dear, dear Friend. We have not the sufficiency in ourselves to dismiss the thronging multitude. The vanities, cares and fleshly lusts of our natural lives come and go, and our lives appear to be the very playground for the world, the flesh and the devil. There these loathed enemies engage in their vile traffic to the unrest and disconsolation of the quickened sinner. I repeat, we become conscious of our insufficiency in this conflict, we cannot drive the enemy from the field, and if all depended upon us when should we do exploits? (Daniel 11:32). “I can do all things,” says the apostle Paul. How? “Through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). “My grace is sufficient for thee” (l Cor. 12:9). Here lies the secret of the believer’s triumphs. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (l John 5:4). Christ is the nourisher and cherisher of the church (Eph. 5:29), and receiving succor from him we are helped to lift up our heads, yea, in all our trials we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. The inward man is renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). Though thronged and disturbed by the multitude Jesus speaks, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” At his word immediately we privately take ship and sail away. The spouse of Christ exclaimed, “Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib” (Solomon’s Song 6:12). So the voice of Jesus, or a glimpse by faith of his loveliness, is so alluring. His one word, “Come,” takes hold of our hearts and we follow him into the wilderness (Jer. 2:2). There we are apart from the disturbing powers, and alone with him. He speaks to the hearts of his people. “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her” (speak to her heart) (Hosea 2:14). One word of Christ spoken to our heart and the vexing powers are held in check, they recede from us, and we are apart with Jesus. That word, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place,” separates us, and all around is a desert. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we see the world with all its inviting charms to be blighted, fading, perishing; it is all to us a desert.
“Let earth’s alluring charms combine,
While Thou art near in vain they call;
One smile, one blissful smile of Thine,
My dearest Lord, outweighs them all”
By the operations of his gracious power the emotions of the depravities of our flesh are stilled. The disciples of Jesus in that literal desert place were free from alluring or vexing intruders, they then had leisure to rest and to eat. There are quiet resting-places in the gospel (Isaiah 32:18). There is the place where Christ maketh his flock to rest at noon (Song 1:7). Ah, sometimes so far have I wandered and become so confused I have forgotten my resting-place (Jer. 1:6). Our God has his pavilion in the secret of his tabernacle, where he shelters and consoles his troubled ones (Psalm 27:5). “And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark” (Gen. 7:1). There were eight souls shut in with the Lord in the ark, and all around them was the desolating flood of mighty waters. Those moments when with Jesus we have privately taken our flight by ship to a desert place are very sacred. Because, while the tumult of the vanities and cares of life, while sin and Satan suffer us to have no leisure, we find many things arising that demand attention. There are hard questions that we would like Jesus to solve; there are dark sayings (Psalms 78:2), mysteries of the kingdom all so wrapped in obscurity, and our anxious, yearning heart longs to enter into these things. Because of the disturbing, coming and going multitude we have no leisure to eat, and the pangs of hunger are felt, we become faint from the lack of food, we are stricken through for want of the fruits of the field (Lam. 4:9). A true child of God must have food to live, he must have the words of eternal life, he must feed upon Jesus, the Bread of life. Jesus in the desert is the one attraction, our one consolation, our all. “Without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples” (Mark 4:34). There is no one else near, no attracting strange god nigh (Deut. 32:12), our eyes and our hearts are toward Christ when he openeth our understanding to understand the Scriptures. It is so blessed to be by faith alone with Jesus, and to have our souls absorbed in his gospel; here we enter into his rest (Heb. 4:10). Believers are the sheep of his pasture and the people of his hand, and he maketh them to lie down in green pastures, and leadeth them beside the still waters. Ah, everywhere else is a desert place. To rest and eat with Jesus, this is the oasis in the desert, the one green, fruitful, happy place. O what a bauble, a waste howling wilderness is all the world, and all that is in the world (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life). All is an empty show, vanity of vanities, when we are taken apart into sacred repose and are favored to hold communion with Jesus.
“I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved” (Solomon’s Song 5:1). Let this be my portion and no one will I envy. While we are plagued with the coming and going multitude so that we have no leisure to rest and eat with Jesus, then our devotions decline, our faith and hope, our prayers and praises, all spiritual emotions, become languid and ready to die (Rev. 3:2). But when Christ says, “Come up hither” (Rev. 4:1), “Come ye yourselves apart,” then immediately we are in the spirit, and we privately take ship and sail away with our Beloved. O more frequent let this be. O, Savior, thou knowest all my conflicts, how buffeted often I am by the world, the flesh and the devil; come and take me away with thyself apart, I will sit down under thy shadow with great delight, and thy fruit shall be sweet to my taste.
FREDERICK W. KEENE,
North Berwick, Maine
SIGNS OF THE TIMES,
Vol. 77, No. 14
July 15, 1909,