THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST
by Octavius Winslow
"The Aged Christian"
or, "Jacob's Pilgrimage"
Then Joseph brought his father Jacob
in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh
asked him, "How old are you?"
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The years of my pilgrimage are a
hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not
equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers." Genesis 47:7-9
What a magnificent study does this group present for the
pencil of the spiritual painter! Here is a powerful monarch, an aged
pilgrim, and an affectionate son; and from the history and character of
each, ample material might be gathered well calculated richly to furnish our
minds with the most impressive and instructive lessons and facts in relation
to our present and future state of being. But it is more especially around
the central object of this picture- the aged patriarch Jacob- that the
peculiar interest gathers. There are three or four suggestive features in
the portrait; may the Spirit of truth make our meditation of them
instructive and sanctifying!
The first is the PILGRIMAGE of the patriarch. The aged
saint selects one of the most striking figures with which to depict his own
and all life- "the years of my pilgrimage." He stands before the king of
Egypt in the character of a pilgrim. His life, if we examine it with care,
will be found literally and strikingly to have exemplified this idea. He
seemed to have no permanent resting. His life was migratory. God saw fit to
lead His servant about in the wilderness, thus perfecting his character as a
Christian pilgrim. He first dwelt in Canaan, from thence he removed to
Padan-aram, and again he returned to Canaan. For some time he dwelt in
Succoth, and then at Shechem, and after that at Hebron; and now in his old
age, when we might suppose perfect repose would be vouchsafed to the aged
saint, we find him, under God's especial direction, emigrating into Egypt;
and from thence, as you will see by the sequel of his history, his remains
were carried back again, and at last found their final resting-place in
Canaan, the place from where he first set out.
Thus God is constantly teaching His saints that this
cosmos is not their rest- that the world is but an inn, and life a journey
to another and a distant environment. It is recorded of the ancient worthies
that "they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth;" they
were not ashamed to acknowledge that this was their character. Let us now
see how this character applies to all believers, and ascertain if in any
feature it corresponds with us.
What are some of the elements, or rather characteristics
of the Christian pilgrimage? In the first place, there is this
characteristic- the Christian pilgrim is not at home here in this world. A
pilgrim is never supposed to be so; he is traveling to a distant place. If
ever this characteristic finds a truthful application, it is in the life of
the child of God. He is not at home in this world; he does not feel so, and
he is day by day made to realize that he is a stranger here, and that he
experiences the heart of a stranger. Is this characteristic of the Christian
pilgrimage ours? Oh, do we feel that earth is but a lodge, a sojourn as for
a night? If so, then give grateful utterance to the sentiment: "My heart is
a stranger here; I feel myself homeless in this world; my witness is above,
my abode is on high; and if God sees fit to plant the thorn in my earthly
nest, that my life should in this respect be felt to be that of a pilgrim, I
will praise Him for the discipline into which it brings me, for the
deepening conviction it imparts to my soul that my home is in heaven."
Another feature or characteristic of the Christian
pilgrim is indifference to present objects, scenes, and events. A traveler,
passing through a strange city to another and distant place, feels but
little or no interest in the affairs of that city, its local administration,
and its party strifes. There is an emphatic and solemn sense in which we as
Christians ought to be indifferent to what is transpiring around us. We say
'a sense'. We do not think that God would have His people pass blindfolded
through life, abjuring their intelligent and observant faculties, taking no
note of His administrative government of the world. A true child of God
cannot be totally indifferent to the mode by which his heavenly Father
conducts His providential government. God's providence is the handmaid of
His grace; and events in the divine administration of the world which often
confound the statesman, baffle the diplomatist, and revolutionize the
nations of the earth, are but the awful footsteps of Jehovah preparing tile
way for the advancement and consolidation of His kingdom.
Our Lord, in His gentle rebuke of His disciples for not
studying the "signs of the times," recognized the duty of all His followers
to make themselves intelligent, interested, and prayerful students of His
dealings with individuals, with families, and with nations. Beyond this we
are to be Christian pilgrims, feeling no more interest or regard for these
things than as though they were not. Ah, many a Christian professor merges
his religion in his politics, loses the spirituality of his heavenly, in the
deadening influence of his earthly calling. Beware, as a Christian man, of
the politics of the world; beware of a too absorbing interest in worldly
scenes; beware, oh, beware, of having the affections, thoughts, and powers
of your soul swept onward by the tide of political, commercial, and
scientific excitement, which drowns so many souls in perdition. As a
believer in Jesus, you are a pilgrim on earth; and a denizen of heaven you
are the citizen of a better, that is, a heavenly country.
Another characteristic of the Christian's pilgrimage is
the life of faith that he lives. This is an essential element of the
Christian pilgrimage- a life of faith in God. It is a blessed life to live.
Some of our sweetest moments are those in which we trace the blessing
bestowed immediately to God's hand and to God's heart, when it comes to us,
so detached from what is human, and from what is the result of our own
planning, scheming, forethought, and anticipation, as compels the grateful
acknowledgment- "This is from my Father's love; in this I trace my Father's
hand; it comes to me in answer to prayer, and as the fruit of filial,
believing trust in God." If, then, we are true to our confession, the life
we live must be one of faith, day by day, on the fulness of Christ, on the
life of the Spirit, on a Father's care, protection, and counsel. O sweet and
blessed life! it is the most God-honoring, Christ-crowning, holy life the
Christian pilgrim can live. It is the happiest life too. What a pressure of
anxious care it uplifts from the mind, what fears it removes, what
confidence it inspires, and what peace it imparts!
A pilgrim's life must also, in a great measure, be a life
of privation and vicissitude, a chequered and changeful life. It must be one
of trial and disappointment. He has often a thorny path to tread, dreary,
desolate, and lonely. Were it otherwise, it would be lacking in much that
renders a Christian pilgrim's life blessed and enviable- a life above the
ordinary beings around him. To prevent him from sliding, God often makes the
believer's path flinty; to allure him into closer communion with Himself, He
makes it solitary; to bring him into the deeper experience of His love and
sympathy, He makes it trying and sorrowful. Thus the Christian pilgrim's
path homeward is just what his heavenly Father makes it- a truth well
calculated to bring us into perfect and cheerful contentedness with all
But let us not paint the Christian pilgrim's path in hues
too somber. It is not all loneliness and straitness; it is not all darkness
and sorrow. Oh, no! We partake in our earthly pilgrimage ofttimes of the
luscious grapes of Canaan. We often have in faith the first-fruits of glory.
David speaks of music in his pilgrimage: "Your statutes have been my songs
in the house of my pilgrimage." The Christian can sing in the ways of the
Lord- traveling to Zion with the songs of Zion floating from his lips. Oh!
it is a slander upon the gospel of Jesus to suppose that it inculcates a
religion of gloom and despondency, a religion rayless, cheerless, joyless.
Even in the deepest and most painful soul-exercises of
the believer, there is more of real happiness than in all the world
combined. One would rather have the tears of the Christian than the smiles
of the worldling, the mourning of the saint than the laughter of the sinner.
To sing in the Lord's ways- His trying ways, His disappointing ways, His
darksome ways, His chastening ways- to sing in the ways of His truth, and
obedience, and love- oh, there is infinitely more sweetness and melody in
those songs which wake their echoes along the Christian pilgrim's lonely,
tearful, weary path, than ever breathes from the world's harp of gladness
and of song. To sing of a precious Savior, of a full Christ, of a Father's
dealings, of a coming glory, of an eternal heaven; oh! who will say that the
Christian pilgrim is not a joyous, happy man?
Our Christian pilgrimage, too, has its especial supports,
succourings, consolations. The Lord does not leave us to tread this
pilgrimage at our own cost, relying upon our own resources. Ah, no! you do
not take a step in your homeward march but you are surrounded by the
presence of your Savior. Jesus is with you; He knows all your sorrows, He
sees all your battlings, your misgivings, your infirmities, trials, and
needs. Jesus is with you in the pilgrimage, and you cannot be alone.
Nor would we forget to remind you that the Christian
pilgrimage has a glorious termination. We must keep this fully in view. We
seek a city that is to come; we are not journeying to any uncertain,
imaginary place. We are going to our heavenly mansion; we are traveling to
the celestial city; we are wending cur way to our glorious inheritance, and
in a little while- O solemn thought! God give us to realize it!- it will
burst upon its in its glory, blessed, indescribable, inconceivable glory,
and we shall exchange an earthly yet Christian pilgrimage, for the heavenly
and eternal rest that awaits the people of God- the end of our pilgrimage!
Now, observe the CHARACTER of this pilgrimage as depicted
by the patriarch- it is emphatic and striking: "And Jacob said, Few and evil
have the days of the years of my pilgrimage been." This is its character-
"few and evil." Here is a good man's estimate of life. You will only obtain
such an estimate from a child of God. It is only a Christian man, a believer
in Jesus, one who lives as seeing Him who is invisible, that can form a
proper estimate of life. How impressive are these words! Let us consider
them for a moment.
First, the duration of our Christian pilgrimage- "Few
have the days of the years of my life been." He does not compute his life by
years, but by days. At the longest, they are but few. Ask the most aged
saint, as he throws back a glance on the past, if that retrospect does not
appear to be like a little speck in the horizon of his existence. At the
longest, our days are but few. Compare the days of our years with the
thoughts, the plans, the enterprises appertaining to our present existence.
How full of thought, of enterprise, of plan is human life! How much the mind
is contemplating, how much the hands are expecting to achieve! And yet,
compared with what we actually accomplish, and with what we leave
unfinished, how brief is our present existence!
Look at those teeming thoughts in the busy brain of man!
Look at those extensive schemes he is meditating! Look at those vast
enterprises He has embarked in! Why, those thoughts, those schemes, those
enterprises, were they to be actually achieved and completed, would require
the years of Methuselah! How contemptible, then, as to its duration, does
the present life appear in contrast with the teeming, enterprising thoughts
of man! His days are but few. "He gives up his life, and in that very day
his thoughts perish." All his worldly thoughts, all his ambitious thoughts,
all his miserly thoughts, all his selfish thoughts, all his sinful and
self-righteous thoughts perish in that day when God extinguishes his candle.
But the most impressive point of light in which we can
view the brief duration of human existence is in its relation to the soul's
preparation for eternity. The work of salvation is a mighty- the mightiest
work, wrought in man. When we think, then, of the great work that is to be
accomplished for eternity, the salvation of the soul, the preparation for a
state of being that is fixed and eternal- when we remember how much is to be
done in the soul before it is fit for heaven- when we think how much is to
be crowded into the few days of this short and fleeting life- the soul
quickened- sins pardoned- the person justified- the heart sanctified- God
loved- Christ accepted; Oh, it is truly but a few days that man has to
prepare for an endless eternity!
My reader, are you neglecting the great salvation? Are
you postponing to another and more convenient season the work of repentance?
I tell you that the one work of saving your soul is the work of a life! You
have no time to lose. Your hours are fleeting, your days are numbered- the
sands of time are flowing fast. Onward, then, in this great work, and do not
rest until you have "made your calling and election sure." Remember that
salvation is of God, and that the essential work is all finished and
perfected by Christ; that the work to be wrought in you by the power of the
Holy Spirit is the necessary work of repentance towards God and faith in the
Lord Jesus Christ- the new, divine, and heavenly birth, apart from which
there can be no place for you in the new heavens and the new earth. Christ
must make all things new- the heavens new- the earth new- man new- every
thing, every object, and every creature shall be in harmony with the
new-born creation which the coming of the Lord will usher in.
But not only are our days "few," they are "evil." "Few
and evil have the days of the years of my pilgrimage been." This is the
solemn conviction and testimony of a man of God- of a man who knew his own
heart, who as he threw back his glance on his one hundred and thirty years,
could trace nothing in them all that he could speak of as being righteous
and holy and good. If we take the interpretation of the word simply as
referring to trials, adversities, and sorrows, what an instructive life, in
that point of light, was the life of the good old patriarch! His life seemed
one continuous trial, one series of vicissitudes, calamities, and sorrows.
Look at him, a fugitive from the parental home while yet a youth; look at
him fleeing from the wrath of his incensed brother; think of his fourteen
years of labor in Laban's house; think of his crushing, domestic affliction
in Shechem. Then came the supposed death of his son Joseph, then the biting
famine- and then the series of trials growing out of that famine. Ah! Well
might he say, "Few and evil have the days of the years of my pilgrimage
been; my life has been a life chequered and changeful and sad. Few and evil
have my days been."
But this, more or less, is a picture of the Christian,
find him where you may. It is through much tribulation he is to enter
the kingdom. Trial is the allotment of the believer here. It is his Father's
will, it is the portion of Christ's pilgrims, that affliction should trace
their road hence to the eternal blessed city. Has God thus led you, beloved,
or is He thus leading you now? Oh, be not discouraged or cast down! The Lord
is not dealing strangely with you, but as He deals with all His saints in
all ages of the world; therefore do not write hard and bitter things against
yourself, and infer that you cannot be a child of God, a Christian pilgrim,
one whom God loves, because the Lord afflicts you and permits you to be
tempted in many stages of your Christian journey.
But, oh, what veiled blessings are these "evils!"
Exempted from them, you would be exempt from the choicest lessons of the
Christian school, from the most fruitful seasons of spiritual growth, from
the most authentic seals of divine adoption, from some of the most tender,
winning, precious unfoldings of Jesus. Oh, they are not "evil" in the sense
of a judicial correction, for there is no curse, no wrath, no frown in a
believer's afflictions- they are covenant blessings wearing a disciplinary
But was there no allusion in these words of Jacob to the
sins that had traced all his chequered history- to the outbreak of spiritual
evil dwelling in his heart- to his ten thousand times ten thousand
backslidings, declensions, and stumblings? Do you think that he did not
remember how often he had erred from God, like a wandering sheep, sinning
against Him who loved him so? Do you think he did not remember how
much ingratitude, unbelief, and disobedience, failure and flaw, had traced
the whole of his pilgrimage, from the moment that, by fraud and falsehood,
he had obtained the birthright, down to the moment when, in unbelief and
despondency, he pronounced against God's dealings, and exclaimed, "All these
things are against me!"
Oh yes! this would be his testimony to the heathen king
of Egypt: "I am but a poor sinner. My life, as a man that professedly feared
God, has been shaded and defiled, tinted and tainted, with many a sinful
blot, departure, and fall. I have been a disobedient, wayward, foolish
child, murmuring, rebellious, and restless beneath the yoke, and many a sad
memory now lays me in the dust of self-abasement before my covenant God.
"Behold, I am vile, and abhor myself in dust and in ashes. Few and evil have
the days of my pilgrimage been."
Such will be our humiliating acknowledgment when life's
pilgrimage draws near its close. "Unclean, unclean, evil and sinful have
been the days of my life. I enter heaven with the publican's petition- 'God
be merciful to me a sinner.' I rest now my hopes of acceptance with the Holy
One, not upon a long life, a useful life, an active life, a religious life;
for all, all is stained, and sullied, and darkened with sins countless as
the sands, sins as scarlet and as crimson; but I rest in the spotless
righteousness, in the atoning blood, in the one sacrifice, of my Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ. This is all my salvation, all my desire, and all my
plea- the blood of Jesus has washed them all away."
"How old are you?" A solemn question to ask ourselves.
How old are you in nature? how old in grace? how old in sin? Sit down and
ask yourself the question. Let there be a solemn pause between time and
eternity- the busy whirl of life and its final account. Oh, drive not your
worldly pursuits, and gains, and pleasures into the last stages of life! Set
apart from it a season of self-examination, solemn reflection, of faithful
dealing with your soul. Let your petition to God be, "Oh, spare me, that I
may recover strength, before I go hence and be no more!" Let not the solemn
summons to eternity surprise you. Let it not find you immersed in the cares
and pursuits and gains of this world. Look well to your religion; look well
to your foundation; look well to your hope! Aged pilgrim! how old are you?
Nearing the end of the journey? Entering upon its last, its closing stage?
Have you reached the verdant, sunlit slopes of Jordan's bank? Do its waves
murmur at your feet? Do you see 'Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood?'
Oh, rejoice that you are so near the end of sin and
sorrow, so near the end of the weary pilgrimage, so near to heaven, to
Christ, to the spirits of just men made perfect.
"Shudder not to cross the stream;
Venture all your trust in Him;
Not one object of His care
Ever suffered shipwreck there."
"And Jacob blessed Pharaoh." It is a touching, an
exquisitely beautiful feature this in our picture- Jacob blessing the king.
Pharaoh had never been so blessed of man before! Here was a great saint
blessing a great monarch. This was no empty compliment, fawning, flattering
act of the aged man of God. The blessing of Jacob was a real blessing, there
cannot be a doubt. The blessing of a man of God is one of the sweetest
blessings God gives us. The prayers of a man of God, the best wishes of a
believer in Jesus, are not to be despised. Jacob was a man of prayer- a man
mighty in prayer. He wrestled all night with the Angel of the Covenant, and
he was a successful petitioner with God. Now, for the king of Egypt to have
had his prayers and his blessing, oh! all the riches of his kingdom were as
nothing in comparison!
If God lays you on the heart of a Christian man, if God
gives you a place in his prayers, his sympathies, his Christian desires,
count that, my reader, among your most precious treasures. The intercessions
of a godly man, the blessing of a man of prayer, of an aged pilgrim, of a
departing father, of a dying mother, oh, treasure them up in the deepest
cell of your memory, in the warmest nook of your heart, as among life's
sweetest, holiest, costliest privileges. But, above all, seek the blessing
of the God of Jacob, for the God of Jacob is yours, and it is infinitely
better to have the blessing of the God of Jacob than even the blessing of
Jacob himself. "I will bless you, and you shall be a blessing." This is the
divine order -first, blessed of God, and then a blessing to man.
Aged saint! the God of Jacob is your covenant God! And
what was Jacob's testimony of God? "The God who fed me all my life long unto
this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil." And still His promise
and His presence are with you, your rod and your staff in old age, the
strength of your heart and your portion forever, when your flesh and your
heart fail. Does your trembling faith still cry, "Cast me not off in the
time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails?" Again the divine
promise responds, "Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob; . . . . even to your
old age I am He; and even to hoary hair will I carry you."
Enclosed within such Almighty arms, borne upon such a
Divine bosom, you have nothing to fear, and nothing to do, but in faith,
hope, and calmness, to exclaim to the loved ones clustering around your
dying bed, "Behold, I die! but God shall be with you." Ah! who could fill
the vacant place your departure hence will create but God himself? He has
promised to fill it, and will fulfil His promise. "Leave your fatherless
children, I will preserve them alive; and let your widows trust in me."
Dying pilgrim! your Joseph is with you! Your Jesus is at
your side! His blood has washed away all your sins. "I have blotted out, as
a thick cloud, your transgressions, and as a cloud your sins." Salvation is
finished- the great debt is paid- the covenant of grace is unchangeable- and
Jesus is gone before to give you an abundant entrance and a loving welcome
into the everlasting kingdom. And now, you have but calmly and patiently to
wait until Jesus gently closes your eyes in death, and unseals them again in
heaven's glory, bliss, and immortality. "In Your presence is fulness of joy,
at Your right hand there are pleasures for evermore." "Absent from the body-
present with the Lord."
"Absent from flesh! O blissful thought!
What unknown joys this moment brings
Freed from the mischiefs sin has wrought,
From pains and fears, and all their springs."
"Absent from flesh! illustrious day!
Surprising scene! triumphant stroke
That rends the prison of my clay,
And I can feel my fetters broke."
"Absent from flesh! then rise my soul
Where feet or wings could never climb,
Beyond the heavens, where planets roll,
Measuring the cares and joys of time."
"I go where God and glory shine,
His presence makes eternal day;
My all that's mortal I resign,
For angels wait and point my way."