"The diligent soul shall be made fat." Proverbs 13:4
The professing Christian who is not painfully conscious of a strong tendency to spiritual sluggishness, is but imperfectly conversant with the sinfulness of his own heart, and knows but little of the subtle workings of his own mind. Not more certain is the setting of the sun at even, or the going down of a time-piece the moment it is wound up, than is the tendency of the renewed nature, from its highest point of experience, to spiritual declension and relapse. "On my bed I sought him whom my soul loves. I sleep, but my heart wakes," was the humiliating confession of the Church of old; and in numberless cases, were they honest to themselves, would be the confession of many Christians now.
It is not thus is it with the men of this world: they, for the most part, are no signs of sluggishness. In their toil for gain, in their struggle for honor, in their chase of pleasure, they are seldom found reposing upon the bed of sloth. Rising early, and sitting up late, they eat the bread of carefulness. Enlisting every faculty, employing every means, and straining every nerve- one thing they do, and that one thing they attain. And although, when they reach the goal and grasp the prize, they find it but a shadow, a phantom, a dream; nevertheless, staking their life for "a corruptible crown," they win it, and so they have their reward.
But how different with us, the professed disciples of Christ, the children of God, and heirs of glory! How languidly we run the race, how feebly we struggle with the foe, how slow to lay hold on eternal life. The passage which suggests our present reading, places before us two characters in striking contrast the "sluggard" desiring and having nothing; the "diligent, and his soul made fat."
The points of contrast are many and striking. The "sluggard" has his religious "desires," and nothing more. He would sincerely be saved, but makes no effort to get salvation. He would be religious, without real religion; pious, without true piety; claiming the fruit of godliness apart from the root of godliness; looking for the reward of labor, without the labor that secures the reward; expecting the conquest of sinful habits without the battle that ensures the victory: in a word, looking for heaven without taking one real step heavenward!
Is this rational?- is it sane? Ask him to apply the same rule to his worldly affairs- in his race for wealth- in his chase for honor- in his pursuit of pleasure, and he would laugh you to scorn. Alas! that in the all-momentous matter of the soul's salvation, the religion of multitudes should consist in nothing more than mere desire- which means, and ends in, nothing. My dear reader, does this apply to you? Then let me, in all faithfulness, endeavor to dispel your delusion. An old divine remarks that, the path to hell is paved with good desires. Satan has not a more flattering, or a yet more fatal mode of smoothing the soul's pathway to the nethermost hell than this. If he can but foster in you these dead, meaningless desires after salvation, until your conscience becomes so torpid, and your heart so languid, and your soul so indifferent, that even these desires at last fail, he well knows he has secured his victim.
But if ever you become a true Christian, if ever you are really saved, it must be by a desire more vital, by a struggle more severe, by an influence more spiritual and divine than that which now moves you. Oh! it is of the utmost importance that you are sincere, and earnest, and persevering in the all-momentous matter of the soul's eternal well-being! It admits of no sluggish effort, it will be obtained by no languid desires, it will be secured by no faint, heartless competition for the prize. Let the solemn, earnest words of Jesus ring in your ears until they awaken a response in your soul: "STRIVE to enter in at the strait gate."
If in anything you must be down-right earnest, it is the salvation of your soul. All other considerations are, in comparison with this, but as shadows upon the wall, as the foam upon the billow. Eternal life or eternal death- endless bliss or endless woe- heaven or hell, are suspended upon the issue! Oh! remember it is written by the pen of Inspiration that, "the sluggard desires and has nothing." -NOTHING!
But let us turn our attention to the diligent soul, "The soul of the diligent shall be made fat." What are some of the characteristics of the spiritually diligent? Let us group them. The diligent soul is a converted soul. The words are descriptive of a gracious state. The truly diligent believer is a partaker of spiritual life; to speak more emphatically, he is a living soul; or, in language yet more expressive, Christ lives in him: so that it is not so much he that lives as that Christ lives in him. The "diligent soul " is a sin pardoned soul. All his sins are washed away by the blood of Christ, God, for Christ's sake, having forgiven him all iniquity. He is equally justified. Forgiveness and justification go hand in hand. By grace the pardoned soul is accepted of God in His beloved Son. He thus stands before God, through imputed righteousness, freely, fully, justified from all things.
Sanctification, or progressive holiness, is another characteristic. A partaker of the divine nature, the diligent soul aims after the divine image, hungers and thirsts after holiness, and experiences its highest happiness in doing and suffering the will of God from the heart.
Love to the Savior is an essential attribute of the spiritually diligent. The absence of love would involve the absence of the great motive power of religious diligence. Love is the grand moving principle of God in redemption. "God so loved," is the key-note of the wondrous announcement. And love to God unfolds the great secret of all earnest, holy obedience and diligence in the great matter of the soul's spiritual and eternal well-being.
But let me now, having thus briefly portrayed the character of the diligent soul, specify some of those things in which spiritual, earnest diligence is demanded. The first is, to make quite sure of our personal salvation. This is a matter too vital and momentous to admit of a careless, languid, or postponed consideration. It is the only moral problem in a man's life which demands incessant study and accurate solution. The proof must be demonstration itself. It is a fact the truth of which cannot be assumed. It is a matter which cannot be taken for granted. It is a question which, speaking after the manner of the logicians, we cannot "beg." It must be Scripturally proved, divinely authenticated, and internally witnessed.
Listen to the strong language of the Apostle Peter, addressed to the saints of God- "Wherefore brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure." The transposition of the Apostle in these words is worthy of remark. It will be observed that although "election" is the antecedent act, he mentions "calling" first. There is much wisdom and skill, as well as tenderness and love in this. He would teach us that, in this great matter of working out our salvation, we must begin with "calling," since it is God's part to begin with "election."
With "election" we have nothing to do but simply to believe it and holily to live it, since it is one of those "secret things which belong unto God." It is the first link in the chain of our salvation, and is fastened to the eternal throne of the everlasting God. But the link in the chain with which we, as sinners, are more especially concerned, is the lowest one of all- that of our "calling." If we once get firm hold of this link, the question of our election is settled.
We are to give all diligence to make our calling sure, and this in its turn makes sure to us the fact of our election. Thus with what confidence the Apostle addresses the Thessalonian saints- "knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God." How did he arrive at a knowledge of their election of God? By what evidence was the fact confirmed? He himself answers, "For our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance." Thus, it was by their effectual calling of the Spirit that he knew their eternal election of God. By the same simple process we are to arrive at the same happy conclusion.
Like the Apostle, we must reason, not from election to calling, but from calling to election. We must take hold by faith of the lowest link and so rise to the highest. Use all diligence, then, to make your calling sure. Let it not be a questionable, doubtful matter whether or not you have heard the call of the Spirit in your soul. All God's people, sooner or later, are a called people. "Whom He did predestinate, them He also called." What does the Apostle, referring to himself? "and called me by His grace."
Have you then been called? Have you heard the voice of Jesus calling you from the world, from your sins, from your idols, from your own righteousness to Himself? "My sheep hear my voice." Have you heard it? It is a sweet, winning voice, unmistakable in its accents, melodious in its tone, and irresistible in its power to those who hear it. It whispers in love now- it will thunder in judgment before long. It now invites the weary, the burdened, the sorrowful to the repose of His loving, gracious heart; by and by it will be the voice of the Archangel sounding the trump of God, saying to the ungodly, "depart!"
Have you, I again ask, heard the call of Jesus? Has His Gospel come to you, not in word only, but with the quickening, converting power of the Holy Spirit? If it is still a doubtful matter, if you are not quite sure that you are converted give all diligence to be so. Rest not until you have got, as the old Scotch divines were wont to express the thought, "a grip of Christ." Get hold of Him by faith, and you may rest assured as to your calling; and if called of God, you maybe equally sure as to your election of God.
Election is a most unmerited and glorious act of God's love and grace; and when it occupies in our experimental religion its proper place, it is one of the most encouraging, comforting, and sanctifying truths of the Gospel. But if you are just setting out in the divine life; if you are seeking the Lord, feeling after the Savior, let the subject of your election remain in abeyance for a while, until you have first given all diligence to make your calling sure. You will then find God's electing love sweet and holy nourishment to your soul.
Our growth in grace also demands all diligence. The soul's progress in holiness is not promoted by languor and neglect. It must not be left to its own spontaneity. The soil in which the holy seed is sown, the garden in which the divine plants are reared by God, is too hostile to the culture of holiness to admit of their growth apart from the strictest diligence and incessant watchfulness on the part of the believer. There must be much self communion- holy vigilance- close walking with God- and the diligent use of all the appointed means of grace. It is thus the Apostle Peter exhorts us to this: "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. . For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
What a lesson in sacred arithmetic for the saints of God to learn- the holy lesson of increasing their grace, and adding to the graces of their Christian character. This sacred lesson is only learned by giving to its study all diligence.
It is, too, the lesson of daily life and of our whole life. Each day should find us growing in an acquaintance with Christ; augmenting our stock of grace; strengthening the graces of our Christian character; and "increasing in the knowledge of God." Nor is this diligence to terminate but with the termination of our Christian course. "We desire," says the Apostle, "that every one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end." The necessity of watchfulness, earnestness, and perseverance in the things relating to our eternal future will exist until that future is reached.
The race we run, admits of no pause; the pilgrimage we travel, of no halting; the battle we fight, of no truce; the prize for which we compete, of no compromise. There is an end before us, and that end we must keep full in view. The Savior has said, "He that endures to the end shall be saved." "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life that fades not away."
The garden of the believing soul will soon show the lack diligent care and skill of its culture. "I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with, thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down."
But to those who keep diligently their own spiritual vineyard, seeking to walk in all godly obedience, the promise is, "The Lord shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make fat your bones: and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of waters whose waters fail not." O who would not give all diligence to work out a salvation- which God by His Spirit has wrought in us- with fear and trembling, knowing that such blessings as these are held out as its reward?
We can only further remark, in general terms that, spiritual earnestness and activity involve diligence in prayer: the praying soul will ever be a diligent soul. Prayer preserves religion alive in the soul. Prayer draws in the vital influence that keeps it healthful and vigorous. And if we would forego the couch of ease and the bed of slumber, we must keep the heart with all prayerful diligence in close communion with God.
If, too, the soul would become fat and flourishing, there must be all holy diligence in the employment of those means and appliances God has appointed for our use. "Blessed is the man that hears Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of My doors." We can expect nothing but leanness of soul if we are found sinfully undervaluing and wilfully neglecting God's appointed ordinances and means. When a religious professor imagines that he has got above the means -that he has reached so advanced and elevated a point in his Christianity as to be independent of a teaching ministry, of sanctuary worship, of the ordinances of Christ's Church, of social Christian fellowship, of closet prayer, and of the communion of saints -it is time that he should look with holy jealousy and alarm to the real state of his soul as before God. That man is deceived. He is not that diligent soul whose grace is vigorous, and whose graces are radiant. He is not fighting manfully, nor violent in prayer, nor trading diligently with heaven, nor so employing his Master's talents as to bring to Him the largest revenue of glory. His soul shall be lean, while the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.
We must give all diligence, too, that God's afflictive dealings with us may be sanctified. There is scarcely any path in our Christian course which so loudly calls for diligence as this. The loss of an affliction, of a trial, of a temptation, is an irrevocable loss. It cannot be repaired. There was a necessary reason for the rod of correction with which our Heavenly Father visited us- some sin to be removed, or some backsliding to be restored, or some evil to be checked, or some lesson to be learned, or some blessing to be bestowed. If, then, we are not diligent in seeking a sanctified possession of the discipline, earnest in securing the end for which our God chastened us, we have lost the mission and the blessing for which it was sent- and O how great and irreparable that loss! Let us, then, see that we lose not one of our sorrows- they are too precious and valuable to be lost; but that we turn them all to a good account; diligent to extract some sweet thing from the bitter, some nourishing thing from the eater, and to find a penciling of light in the somberest cloud. Let us see that under the afflictive hand of God we become more humble, more spiritually minded, more dead to the world, more prayerful, more Christ-like, and Christ more precious- in a word, made by our Father's corrections more "a partaker of the Divine holiness." O hallowed fruit of sanctified sorrow!
Earthly sorrow is, too, a preparation for heavenly joy. All the saints in glory graduated from this school; and many with high honor- honor to themselves and honor and glory to our God. No tongue can adequately describe the costly, sacred blessings flowing from one hallowed sorrow. We have, perhaps, become more intimately acquainted with the character of God, more experimentally know the Lord Jesus Christ, and more spiritually understand the meaning of God's holy Word, in one sanctified affliction, than we ever attained to in all our previous history.
"Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord, and teach him out of Your law." Trial makes us apt scholars- skillful interpreters of the Scriptures. "I never understood the Psalms," says Luther, "until God afflicted me." Thus affliction performs a heaven-sent mission. It stirs us up to Christian diligence and wakefulness.
Some of God's people are 'spiritual sleep walkers' - they are apt to walk the heavenly way in their sleep! "I sleep, but my heart wakes." In consequence of this infirmity they are exposed to great danger. If Israel's Keeper, who never slumbers nor sleeps, did not hold them up, a single step in this their drowsy, dreamy state, would prove forever fatal. But God wisely and lovingly provides for this moral 'sleep walking' of His saints.
By the rod of affliction, sometimes very gentle, at other times very heavy, He wakes them from their slumbers, rouses them to a sense of their peril, and stirs them up to more diligent, earnest, prayerful waiting upon Him. And then they testify, "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep Your Word. It is good for one that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes." This subject is a most practical one. Let us, as believers, watch against sleepy frames. "Drowsiness covers a man with rags:" it robs and impoverishes him.
Spiritual drowsiness will be followed with like spiritual effects in our souls. We shall forget how glorious is our clothing in the righteousness of Christ, how lovely are our people before God, viewed in Jesus, and consequently we shall not realize our present acceptance in the Son of God; we shall lose the enjoyment of the blessing which flows from the blessed state described by the Apostle: "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
There is no position or place in which there is not need to watch against spiritual sluggishness and lethargy. The disciples fell fast asleep on the mount of transfiguration, and in the garden of Gethsemane! Who of us, then, are safe? Some grow lean in the midst of plenty, while others are kept alive in famine. Rutherford quaintly but truly remarks, "An empty stomach often keeps a man awake, while a full one lulls him to sleep." When God removes us from fat pasture, leads us into the desert, creates in us hungering and thirsting after the means of grace, after the banqueting house of His Gospel- fills the soul with a sight of sin, with a sense of its deep need of Christ, and with earnest longings after Him- O, what a powerful means has all this proved of keeping believing souls broad awake, watchful, prayerful, close to God!
Equally must we be on our guard against that which produces supineness and sleepiness of frame. The world is a powerful soporific. Its spiritual effect is stupifying, deadening. Watch against it. Go not into it. You cannot drink of its cup of pleasure and not be spiritually drowsy. The world and Christ are the antipodes of each other; and it is impossible for you to carry Christ to heaven in one hand, and the gay, the frivolous, the Christ-despising world in the other.
Sin in every shape is spiritually stupifying. It is a fearful narcotic to the soul of a man of God. Watch against its pleas and its disguises; its small departures which inevitably lead to great ones. Be careful of a too great absorption in your worldly calling. Let not business drown your soul. Be content with a limited measure of success, that you may find time for spiritual privileges and duties, public and private. Never allow the interests of Christ's cause to give place to, or be slighted by, your own. Seek first the kingdom of God- this will tend much to keep your soul alive. You will not be less "diligent in business," for being first "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.
"Watch, then, against all these sleeping draughts. Remember Pharaoh's dream- it is strikingly significant. "The ill favored and lean-fleshed kine did eat up the seven well favored and fat kine." All these things against which I have guarded you are the "ill favored and lean-fleshed kine," which will "eat up" the marrow and fatness of your soul, compelling you to exclaim, "My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me."
Be studiously, prayerfully watchful against the world's religion. O yes! It looks very religious, but in reality it is all hollow, sinful, and fatal. The holiness of the world is false. Its religion is false. Its worship is false. Its hopes are false. Its professors are false.
Be on your watch-tower against Ritualism- it is fascinating, ensnaring, but soul-destroying. The skeptical religion and ritualistic worship of the day- the religion and worship of vestments, of altar lights, of incense, of crosses, of sacraments, of genuflexions, of a ghostly priesthood- which is no priesthood at all- is drugging the souls of thousands, who, drinking of its fleshly, enticing cup, sink into a profounder sleep of spiritual death, from which, perhaps, they never wake until awakened by the groans and curses, the flames and torments of hell!
Perhaps the Lord is rousing you to spiritual sensibility, by causing you to feel how cold, and sleepy, and dormant your heart has too long been. And now, it may be, you feel as if you had no feeling! You are sensible only of insensibility! You are softened by the very consciousness of your hardness. You are alive only to the existence of death. The words of the Christian poet may best express your experience:
"O yes! I'm sinful: that I know,
For God and conscience tell me so;
But yet, for all my sin and woe,
I cannot feel!
"I know the Truth: I'm deeply read;
And Bible doctrines fill my head
But oh! my heart is cold and dead-
I cannot feel!
"O could I feel enough oppressed,
Then Jesus Christ might give me rest
But with a stone within my breast,
I cannot feel!
"If I could weep and mourn for sin,
Then my salvation would begin
But what a hardened state I'm in,
I cannot feel!"
Do these lines express your spiritual experience? Then, thank God, and take courage! These thoughts, these words, these feelings are unmistakable evidences of grace. They are not the marks of a dead, but the vital breathings of a living soul- a soul alive from Christ, and alive in Christ. As a corpse is not sensible of its insensibility, so an individual entirely "dead in trespasses and sins," would never weep and mourn for sin, and lament its want of feeling. The Lord comfort, encourage, and stimulate you with these words! If you have this true, real desire for Christ, His whole heart travels towards you. Yes, the diligent soul shall have its reward- "it shall be made fat."
Just as a man diligent in the business of this life prospers and becomes rich, so the spiritual merchantman, the soul trading with heaven and heavenly things, who, waiting on the Lord, constantly attending on the Word and ordinances of His house, laborings for the food which endures unto eternal life- shall be fat and flourishing, shall be filled and satisfied as with marrow and fatness, shall become fruitful in every good word and work, a vessel of honor fit for the Master's use.
Be watchful, be prayerful, be diligent. Christ is coming! the Lord is at hand! "It is high time to awake out of sleep; for now is your salvation nearer than when you believed." Everything bids you persevere. The prize held out to you bids you persevere. The glittering crown, the snowy robe, the waving palm, the golden harp, the new song, the vision of Jesus in His glory, all, all with one accord unite in saying to you- persevere! Wherefore, beloved, seeing that you look for such things, be diligent, that you may be found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless."
Sweet thought, that Jesus, amid the drowsiness of His people, never sleeps. He watches over us by day, by night, moment by moment, with unwearied care and with unslumbering love. See how patiently, faithfully, lovingly, He stands at the door of your cold and half dead heart. "Open to Me, My sister, My love, My dove, My undefiled; for My head is filled with dew, My locks with the drops of the night." Does this look as if Jesus slumbers when we sleep, or as though He had withdrawn when we depart? Ah, no! Expressive attitude, touching words, tender irresistible appeal! O that the response of our innermost heart may be- "Come, Lord Jesus come quickly! Enter and claim me for Yourself, body, soul, and spirit." "Watch, therefore; for you know not when the master of the house comes, at evening, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping."
"Wake, you that sheep in enchanted bowers,
Lest these lost years should haunt you in the night
When death is waiting for your numbered hours
To take their swift and everlasting flight
Wake, before the earth-born charm unnerve you quite,
And be your thoughts to work divine addressed;
Do something-do it soon-do it with all your might!
An angel's wing would droop, if long at rest,
And God himself, inactive, were no longer blest."