(1 Corinthians 1:28)
What complaints often proceed from many of the Lord’s dear family because of their felt insignificance. They are feelingly the hindmost ones, so inferior to the rest of the flock, so small in their own sight, just nothing. O, that I could be such as I esteem others to be. Thus they bemoan their littleness.
Dear, humble one, I have often looked upon you and envied you your meekness; I have said, O that I were lowly minded like this dear child of God; O, that I could walk the earth and live before God and his people in humility and simplicity, feeling to be but dust and ashes. It is far better to sigh over thy nothingness, than to have to blush before God over thy pride and fancied eminence. Ah, sometimes I have been carried away captive by my fleshly mind to esteem myself something, somebody. Then suddenly our God has given me a sight of the lowly, and in contrast a revelation has been given me of myself. How my spirit has sunk within me, such loathing of myself, and such a sigh of despair, its sickening bitterness I cannot put into words.. Perhaps you have never been in such a case, God grant, if it is his will, you never may. But again and again the Lord has shewn mercy even to me and beneath our heavenly Father’s rebukes and chastenings I have been brought as dust and ashes before the throne of God.
When we are led by the Holy Spirit to contemplate God’s infinite greatness, we shall feel that we are exceeding small. David, viewing the immensity of creation, exclaims, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers; the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the Son of man, that thou visitest him?” And by the mouth of the prophet Isaiah the Lord says, “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with a span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” How precious it is to trust in such an almighty One. He sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; he stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in. Our puny thoughts are swallowed up in the attempt to comprehend the eternal power and infinite greatness of the high and holy one that inhabiteth eternity.
“The spacious worlds of heavenly light,
Compared with Him, how short they fall!
They are too dark, and He too bright:
Nothing are they, and God is all.
He spoke the wondrous word, and lo,
Creation rose at his command!
Whirlwinds and seas their limits know,
Bound in the hollow of his hand.
There rests the earth, there rolls the spheres;
There nature leans and feels her prop:
But his own self-sufficiency bears
The weight of his own glories up.
The tide of creation ebbs and flows,
Measuring their changes by the moon;
No ebb his sea of glory knows,
His age is one eternal now.”
What are you, poor sinner, what am I, that God has set his love upon us, chosen us in Christ Jesus, chosen us to salvation, and predestinated unto the adoption of children, unto eternal glory?
Not only are we as nothing when compared to the infinite greatness of God, but when we consider the eternity of God, surely we are nothing. “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an hand breadth, and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Psalm 39:4-5). What is your life? It is even a vapor which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. “God remembers that we are flesh, a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth, for the wind passeth over it, and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more.” But “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish, but thou remainest, and they all shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fall” (Heb. 1:10-12). But it is especially in the kingdom of grace that the elect are brought to see the wondrous grace and love of God. It is an infinite and eternal wonder that God hath chosen unto himself “things that are not”. “For ye see your calling brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the things that are wise and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence.” The apostle Paul could claim that he was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles, and says also, “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more” (Phil. 3:4). Yet through the grace of God he had such lowly views of himself that he says, “I am nothing” (2 Cor. 12:1l). And in the church he esteemed himself “less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8). The exceeding riches of God’s grace is displayed in the objects upon whom this grace is placed. “Harken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” And in that prayer, which the wisdom of this world can never comprehend, we obtain additional glimpses of the ways of sovereign grace. “Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes, even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Matt. 11:25-26).
Far beyond our ways are the ways of our God, how unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out. The world that knows nothing of God and Christ can see nothing in the members of Christ to excite their admiration. They were despised in the days of the apostles, and accounted the off-scouring of all things. In our own times believers in Jesus have liberties and privileges to worship God in public and private, that perhaps surpass all preceding periods in the history of the church since our Redeemer ascended to glory, yet the carnal world no more loves the glorious gospel of grace than in former centuries, and would if it could suppress the proclamation of the truth, and would banish from the earth, the flock redeemed by Jesus blood. That we are worthless and a thing of naught is not very easily acknowledged, and in truth, it is only by the discipline of the Holy Spirit that we learn our insignificance. “Christ is all and in all, thus writs the apostle, then to appreciate the Savior we are taught of the Lord our nothingness. Persons may claim to believe the truth, to be attached to the church of God; they may have their names enrolled as members of the church, and manifest zeal for the doctrine, but if before God they have not been abased because of their sinfulness, if they know not what it is from their hearts to sigh and mourn, and to be ashamed because of their heart’s sins in the sight of the Holy One, then all their pretentions to pass among the people of God as believers in Jesus Christ are a delusion, and they themselves are deceived, or else they are presumptuous mockers, sporting themselves with their own deceivings.
It is well to examine ourselves whether we are in the faith or not. There can be no spiritual attachment to Jesus Christ only according to the soul’s felt need of his excellencies. It is only the afflicted and poor, the bruised and wounded, the sin stricken, perishing ones, that have any need of, or that are brought into any spiritual participation in the unsearchable riches of Christ. Persons may proclaim themselves to be sinners, and tell how canal they are; (who would dispute their statements?) they may say, I am the chief: of sinners; they may talk about their sinfulness ever so constantly, but being a sinner, worldly-minded, a contemptible, mean wretch, and talking about it is no evidence whatever that one is a subject of the grace of God, any carnal man might say the same. If we are born of the Spirit, sin will be our grief, our unspiritual-mindedness will make us heavy hearted, our vileness will abase us in our own sight, and loathing it the language of our moans and longings will be, O God, be merciful to me, a sinner, and bring my soul relief. O save me from my sins; grant me thy pardoning love. O let not mine iniquities have dominion over me. “Base things of the world, and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence.” Look at these “things which are not,” as they are portrayed in several portions of the scriptures. In Zechariah 3:2, it is written, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”; and in Ezekiel 15, there is a full presentation of how unprofitable, valueless and insignificant is the vine which the fire hath devoured. “Behold, when it was whole it was meet for no work: how much less shall it be meet for any work, when the fire hath devoured it, and it is burned.” The Lord has many fires in which his people are made meet for the display of his glory in them. He disciplines them beneath the fiery law (Deut. 33:2). Beneath this ministration of condemnation and death they tremble, shrink away in self-estimation to nothing. The just demands of God in his holy law bring the poor sinner to feel, I die, I perish (Exod. 20:19, Rom. 7:9).
Then again under the Lord’s fiery chastenings because of transgression and backslidings, how small Jacob is brought (Amos 7:2-5). Now, the Lord’s chastenings of his inheritance is all in his fatherly love. Notwithstanding this, no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous. Sometimes with the “things which are not,” whom God hath chosen, it is to be brought out of one fire, and then scarcely time to take ones breath, to be plunged into another. “O Zion, afflicted with wave upon wave, whom no man can comfort, whom no man can save.” They shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them” (Ezek. 15:7). Trial after trial, thus in such measure as God sees fit, our life will be. He hath chosen His people in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10), Deut. 4:20). But all our fiery afflictions are in the covenant faithfulness of God (Psalm, 119:75), and all is designed by him for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
What dross comes to the surface when we are melted in the fire. Such corruptions of our nature, we are made to feel as we little thought were in us. Before the consuming trials came we pictured perhaps to ourselves how quiet and trustful and heavenly minded we would be under the sore providences of our God, but fretfulness, rebellion and unbelief, and O so much perverseness of our flesh, came to the surface, but deep down in the caldron there is found sighs and cries to the Lord for his compassion and sustaining power. All the wood, hay and stubble are burned up, but the gold, silver and precious stones, our faith and love and all the divine work of the Holy Ghost in us, though melted, abides, and is found unto the praise and honor of God. In our fiery trials the Lord separates in us the precious from the vile, but O so much of the scum, so much that is vile at times we feel and see, we fear there is nothing of the precious left. Our poor hearts sink within us because of our felt destitution of the grace of God in us, so little that reflects the image of the Refiner, the Holy One of Israel.
There are no people like God’s chosen. There was once when even the Incarnate Son of God, the Head of the election of grace, moaned forth, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him” (Psalm 22:6-8). Ah, this was in deep humiliation, when he gave himself a sacrifice for his church. O, to what depths he descended for her sake, to bring her up unto himself in faultless immortal beauty. Did Jesus in his humiliation say, “I am a worm?” So we, abased in our own sight, feel to be poor worms, “things that are not.” Ah, this suits me, for much of my time I am as a poor, trembling, crawling worm. Who could take a worm to his bosom? Who takes pity upon a worm?
When the baseness of my nature is felt, I am to despise myself, and subjected to the assaults, insinuations of Satan. I have become so weak, I have feared in my trembling heart that I was such a vile, insignificant worm, fit only to be crushed under the feet of the Holy One of Israel. But a mysterious, and as I believe, a divine power, has moved me so that my thoughts have reached forth to the bleeding, dying Savior, and in brokenness of heart I have said, “I will creep beside him as a worm, and see him die for me; I’ll hear his groans, and view his wounds, until, with happy John, I on his breast a place have found, sweetly to lean upon.” The voice of redeeming love has spoken to my heart, saying, “Feat not, thou worm Jacob” (Isaiah 12:14). How this teaches down to poor, creeping things, to “things that are not”! The self-righteous might be offended by being addressed by the name, a worm, but not so those who are born of God, these are so taught of God that they feel themselves to be just such poor, crawling things. “Things that are despised hath God chosen, and things that are not, to bring to naught things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence.” There when the Lord speaks, saying, “Fear not, thou worm,” they are not offended, but they lift up their faces unto his gracious voice; their hearts respond to his soothing, strengthening, sating salutation. Job in his humiliation cries out, “Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro? and wilt thou pursue the dry stubble?” (Job 13:25).
In Psalm 72:6, the people of God are described as “mown grass”, and in Isaiah 64:6, they are likened to a fading leaf. With his fellows, Job could contend, saying, “I am not inferior unto you” (Job 13:2). But how frail and worthless he is in his own estimation when he is turned unto God. In his crushing afflictions, his earthly substance all swept away, bereaved of his children, his body covered with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown, O his grief was great! (Job 2:13). Then to aggravate all this, what fierce assaults he endured from Satan, and how the depravity of his fallen nature did at times so arise as a mighty flood that he uttered in his desperation (Job 6:26) grievous words before men, and before God, the language of folly. Grace is triumphant! How blessedly is its reign displayed in Job. Amidst all the wreckage of his earthly substance, the blasting of his happiness and hopes he arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” and unto his wife he exclaimed, “What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Thus, the mighty grace of God supported him, and even when driven to and fro, amidst his bitter woes and doleful lamentations this precious grace brings him lowly, and he sees himself as abject nothingness, and thus he comes before the Almighty saying, “Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro? and wilt thou pursue the dry stubble?” There is the faded, fallen leaf; every wind disturbs it, it is caught up in the whirlwind, and then let fall from the heights to the earth again; the wind asks not its consent, it has no anchorage, no resting place, but whithersoever the wind listeth, thither it is driven, a helpless, worthless, hopeless thing. What are we but base, vile clay? Is this too degrading? O, no! When very low, worthless and helpless in our own esteem, how gracious it is to be drawn near to God with this cry in our poor hearts. “But now, O Lord, thou art our Father: we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we are all the work of thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8). Take us in thine hands, and mould us to thy will, O our Father.
Abraham was lowly in his own sight when he confessed before the Lord that he was “dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). Daniel beholding a vision of the Lord tells us, “There remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned into corruption, and I retained no strength” (Dan. 10:8). “O bruised reed and smoking flax.” The destitute, ready to perish, are appellations well suited to and accepted by sinners called by God’s grace, and even such a view of ones utter worthlessness as is contained in the language of the son of Jonathan, is not too abasing for a poor, vile sinner to feel at times before the High and Holy One. “Mephibosheth bowed himself and said, What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?” (2 Sam. 9:8). Ah, truly it is to such “things which are not” that the “kindness of God” is shown! (2 Sam. 9:3). To the Lord our God and King we come, and all self- glorying is hushed before his throne, but here the leaf tossed to and fro, the dry stubble, dust and ashes, brands plucked from the burning, worms, base things, things that are despised, and things which are not, poor, sinful contrite souls can come and find a gracious welcome, abundant mercy, and plenteous redemption. Such creatures so signally blessed are prepared most willingly to give all glory to the Lord to whom it is due. God hath chosen them in his dear Son, called them by his grace, redeemed them, justified them, and will bring them to everlasting glory. Look upon believers in Christ in all ages, whom God hath called: not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble ones can be found in the chosen host. Happy are we if God’s grace has made us willing to become fools, that we may be wise unto the knowledge of God and his salvation; to be weak that we may be strong in the Lord and the power of his might; to be base in our own estimation, that we may be raised to the nobility of being kings and priests unto God, and though despised of men, accounted the off-scouring of all things, we are made in Christ our head, and by the sanctification of the Spirit, all glorious in the eyes of the Lord, an eternal excellency, and though nothing in ourselves, “things which are not,” in Christ Jesus we have all things and abound, for he of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
Less than the least is a name that well suits me, for who is so sinful, unworthy, unfit? To be with the flock is all of rich mercy, most blessed am I with God’s children to sit.
I am surely included in “things which are not”.
(Elder) FREDERICK W. KEENE
North Berwick, Maine
SIGNS OF THE TIMES, January 1, 1903, Vol. 71, No. 1
LONE PILGRIM, October 1926?