ISHMAEL AND ISAAC; OR, THE DEATH OF
"Not I, but Christ." Gal. ii: 20.
The story of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac is a parable, illustrating this text.
The casting out of Ishmael is most clearly declared in this very epistle
to be an allegory setting forth the spiritual experience of the believer
when he dies to the law and sin through the cross of Jesus Christ, and comes
into the resurrection life of his Risen Lord. But there is something more
than the experience of Ishmael and our deliverance from the power of indwelling
sin. In the patriarchal story, this was followed by the offering up of Isaac
on Mount Moriah, and there can be no doubt that this sets forth the deeper
spiritual experience into which the fully consecrated heart must come, when
even the sanctified self is laid upon the altar like Isaac upon the mount,
and we become dead henceforth, not only to sin, but to that which is worse
than sin, even self.
There is a foe whose hidden power
The Christian well may fear;
More subtle far than inbred sin
And to the heart more dear.
It is the power of selfishness,
The proud and wilful I;
And ere my Lord can live in me,
My very self must die.
This is the lesson of Isaac's offering and Paul's experience. "I have been
crucified with Christ," that is the death of sin; "nevertheless I live,"
that is the new life in the power of His resurrection; "yet not I, but Christ
liveth in me," that is the offering of Isaac, the deliverance from self,
and the substitution of Christ Himself for even the new self; a substitution
so complete that even the faith by which this life is maintained is no longer
our self-sustained confidence but the very "faith of the Son of God who loved
me and gave Himself for me, that is, instead of me, and as my Substitute.
I. THE FORMS OF SELF.
We read in the book of Joshua of the three sons of Anak, who formed the Anakim,
the race of giants who held the city of Hebron before Caleb's conquest, and
were the terror of the Israelites. Literally Anak means long-necked, and
represents pride, confidence, willfulness, and self-sufficiency. The first
of the Anakim may be called,
Self-will, the disposition to rule, and especially to rule ourselves; the
spirit that brooks no other will and is its own law and god. Therefore the
first step in the consecrated life is unconditional surrender. This is
indispensable to break the power of self at the centre, and to establish
forever the absolute sovereignty of the will of God in the heart and life
of the Christian. We cannot abide in holiness and we cannot be wholly used
for God until self-will is so utterly crucified that we could not even think
for an instant of acting contrary to His will or without His orders. This
is obedience, and obedience is the law of the Christian life and must be
absolute, unquestioning, and without any possible exception. "Ye are my friends
if ye do whatsoever I command you."
It is true that God requires of us in the life of faith the exercise of a
very strong will continually, and there is no doubt that faith itself is
largely the exercise of a sanctified and intensified will, but in order to
this it is necessary that our will be wholly renounced and God's will invariably
accepted instead, and then we can put into it all the strength and force
of our being, and will it even as God wills it, and because He wills it.
In short, it is an exchanged will; the despotic tyranny of Anak exchanged
for the wise, beneficent yet still more absolute sovereignty of God.
Self-confidence is the next of Anak' s race. It is the spirit that draws
its strength from self alone and disdains the arm of God and the help of
His grace. In a milder form it is the spirit that trusts its own spiritual
graces or virtues, its morality perhaps, its courage, its faith, its purity,
its steadfastness, its joy, and its transitory emotions of hope, enthusiasm,
or zeal. It is just as necessary to die to our self-sufficiency as to our
self-will. If we do not we shall have many a fall and failure until we learn,
with the most triumphant and successful laborer that ever followed the footsteps
of his Lord, that "we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as
of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God." The sanctified heart is not
a self-constituted engine of power, but is just a set of wheels and pulleys
that are absolutely dependent upon the great central engine whose force is
necessary continually to move them. It is just a capacity to hold God; just
a vessel to be filled with His goodness, held and used by His hand; just
a possibility of which He, in His abiding life, is constantly the motive
power and impelling force. The word "consecrate "in Hebrew means "to fill
the hand," and beautifully suggests the idea of an empty hand which God Himself
must continually fill.
Self-glorying is the last and most impious of these Canaanitish tribes. He
takes the very throne of Jehovah and claims the glory due unto Him alone.
Sometimes it is a desire for human praise. Sometimes it is more subtle, the
pride so proud that it will not stoop to care for the approval of others,
and its supreme delight is in its own self-consciousness and superiority,
ability or goodness. Metaphysicians have sometimes made this happy distinction,
that vanity is an inferior vice to pride. Vanity only seeks the praise of
others, but pride disdains the opinions of others and rests back in the
complacent consciousness of its own excellency. Whatever its phase may be,
the root and principle is the same. It is impious self, sitting on the throne
of God, and claiming the honor and glory that belong to Him
These three forms of self are illustrated by three very solemn examples in
the word of God. Saul the first king of Israel is a fearful monument of the
peril of self-will. His downward career began in a single act of disobedience,
a disobedience which seemed to have respect to a mere question of detail,
but which was really an act of self-will, a substitution of his choice for
God's express command. The prophet Samuel characterizes his sin in these
very expressive words, "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken
than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (or devil
worship), and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast
rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king."
It is evident from these words that the very essence of Saul's sin lay in
this element of willfulness and stubbornness which had dared to substitute
his own ideas and preferences for the word of Jehovah. From this moment his
obedience was necessarily qualified and of course worthless, and God sent
His prophet to choose another king, who, although full of human imperfections,
had this one thing on which God could fully depend, namely, a purpose to
obey God when he fully understood His will. Therefore God calls David "a
man after my own heart who shall perform all my will." David made many mistakes
and committed many dark and terrible sins, but they were when under strong
temptation and when blinded by passion and haste, but never with the purpose
of disobeying God, or, at the time, with the consciousness that he was
transgressing. The sad, sad story of Saul's downward descent and final and
tragic ruin should be enough to make us tremble at the peril which lies before
the willful soul, and to lead us to cry, "Not my will but thine be
We have just as marked an instance of the peril of self-confidence in Simon
Peter. Strong in his transitory enthusiasm, and ignorant of the real weakness
of his own heart, he honestly meant what he said, when he exclaimed, "Though
all men should deny thee yet will I never deny thee." But alas! the shameful
denial, the upbraiding look of Jesus, the bitter tears of penitence and the
sad days of the crucifixion that followed had to teach him the lesson of
his nothingness, and the necessity of walking henceforth with downward head
in the strength of the Lord alone.
We are not left without as vivid and impressive an object lesson of the last
form of self-will-the pride that glories in its own achievements or excellencies.
"Is not this great Babylon that I have built?" cries Nebuchadnezzar, in the
hour of his triumph, as he looks upon that splendid city, which was indeed
a paragon of human glory, and surveys in his imagination the mightier empire
of which it was the metropolis, an empire which literally comprised the world.
If mortal could ever have cause to glory in earthly magnificence, Nebuchadnezzar
had, for God Himself had compared him and his kingdom to a majestic head
of gold and had symbolized his power under the figure of a winged lion, combining
the majesty and sovereignty of the eagle and the lion in one splendid image.
But the very instant that vain-glorious word reached the ears of God, the
answer fell from heaven like a knell of judgment, "The kingdom is departed
from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be
with the beasts of the field, till thou know that the Most High ruleth in
the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will." This is the glorying
of the carnal heart, but even the follower of God may mingle his own self-seeking
and his own honor with his work for God and thus impair his usefulness and
lose his own recompense.
There is not a more pitiful picture in the long panorama of the Bible than
that morbid and grumbling prophet, sitting outside the gates of Nineveh under
a withered gourd, his face blistered and swollen with the scorching sun and
his eyes red with useless weeping; asking God that he might die, because
his ministry had been dishonored; and presenting a spectacle of ridiculous
melancholy and chagrin while all around him millions were rejoicing and praising
God for the mercy which had just delivered them from an awful catastrophe.
Poor Jonah! God had given him the most honorable ministry ever yet accorded
to a human being. The first foreign missionary, he had been sent to preach
to the mightiest empire on the face of the globe and the imperial city of
the world, proud Nineveh! His preaching had been successful as no mortal
ever had succeeded. The whole city was lying prostrate on their faces at
the footstool of mercy in penitence and prayer through his words, and the
nation's heart, for a moment at least, was turned to God. And yet so full
of himself had all his work been, so utterly was he absorbed in his own credit,
reputation and honor, that when God listened to the penitent cries of the
Ninevites and revoked the sentence which Jonah himself had uttered, and rendered
his prophecy null and void, so that instead of his word coming to pass he
himself would probably be afterwards ridiculed as a fanatic and idle alarmist,
poor Jonah became disgusted and exasperated and like a petted child went
out and threw himself upon his face on the ground and asked God to kill him,
just because He had by His mercy spoiled his reputation as a true prophet.
He could not see, as God did, the unspeakable horror and anguish that had
been averted. He could not see the joy of the divine heart in exercising
mercy and in hearing the penitent cries of the people. He could not see the
great principle of grace which underlies the divine threatenings. He could
not see that great-souled pity, that felt for the one hundred and twenty
thousand infant children of the great capital, or the dumb brutes, which
would have moaned in their dying agony, if Nineveh had fallen.
All he could see was Jonah's reputation as a true prophet or what people
might say when they found that his word had not come to pass; and with that
one little worm gnawing at the root, his peace and happiness, like his own
gourd, withered away, and God had to set him up as a sort of dried specimen
of selfishness, to show the meanness and misery of the self-life that mingles
its own glory with the sacred work of the glorious God, and which, ever since
the days of Jonah, has rendered it impossible for God to use many a gifted
man, and has blighted the church of Christ and rendered vain the ministry
of thousands because God could not use them without giving to men the glory
which He will never give to another. God had tried to kill Jonah before He
sent him to Nineveh, for He knew the secret bane of his heart, and so He
immersed him for three days and nights in the sea and buried him in the bowels
of a whale; but out of that Jonah came, as a great many other people come
out of the experience of sanctification with a big self, supreme even in
the sin-cleansed soul. Oh let us lift up the heart-felt prayer,
O to be saved from
myself, dear Lord,
O to be lost in
O that it may be no
But Christ that
lives in me!
II. THE EFFECTS OF SELF.
It dishonors God and sets up a rival on His throne. The devil was not altogether
a liar when he said to our first parents, "Ye shall be as gods." This is
just what fallen man tries to be, a god unto himself. This is the essence
of the sin of selfishness, that it puts man in the place of God by making
him a law and an end unto himself. Whenever, any person acts, either because
it is his own selfish will, or for his own self-interest, purely as an end,
he is claiming to be his own god and directly disobeying the first commandment,
"Thou shalt have no other gods besides Me." Moreover, in assuming the place
of God, he is doing it in a spirit the very opposite of God's, for God is
love, and love is the very opposite of selfishness. He is thus mimicking
God and proving, at the same time, his utter unfitness to occupy His throne
by his unlikeness to Him.
It leads to every other sin and brings back the whole power of the carnal
nature. For while self alone attempts to keep the heart it finds sin and
Satan too strong. A self- perfection is not possible for any man. There must
be more than "I" before there can be victory. In the seventh of Romans the
apostle tells us what "I, myself" can do and that is, ineffectually struggle.
In the eighth it is what "Christ in me" can do, and that is victory and
everlasting love. The man or woman who only goes so far as to receive Adamic
purity, if such a thing be included in the Gospel at all, will soon have
the next chapter of Adamic history, and that is the temptation and fall.
But the man who receives Christ to dwell within and keep the heart by His
mighty power, shall rise "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of
The self-life leads back to the dominion of Satan. Satan's own fall began
probably in a form of self-love. Made to be dependent on God every moment,
probably he became independent; and contemplating his own perfection, and
thinking it was something that was his own, he became separated from God,
and then inevitably fell into rebellion against Him and eternal rivalry,
disobedience and all that can be the opposite of the divine and the holy.
And so still, any soul that becomes self-constituted or occupied with its
own virtues, and tries to be independent of Jesus, either as the source of
its strength or the supreme end of its being, will fall under the power of
Satan and share his awful descent. Where can we find a sadder illustration
of the end of self than in the story of Saul? He began with Saul and ended
with Satan. The first chapter is self-will, the last is the awful night at
Endor and the bloody day of death and ruin on Mount Gilboa.
It is fatal to the spirit of love and harmony. It is the opposite of love
and the source of strife, bigotry, suspicion, sectarianism, envy, jealousy
and the whole race of social sins and grievances that afflict the Christian
life and the church of God. It is the mother of the strifes and sectarianisms
of the church from the very beginning. Where it prevails there can be no
true unity, no happy co-operation. You never can have a harmonious church
or a happy family where self is predominant in the hearts of the people.
The very secret of Christian co-operation and happy church life is "forbearing
one another in love," endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the
bond of peace, "in honor preferring one another."
It mars our work for God. Self-will will try to force the chariots of God's
power and grace upon our own side-tracks, and that God will never permit.
Self-confidence will seek to build up the kingdom of Christ by human means
and unsanctified instrumentalities, and presume to go where God has not sent
and to do what God has not qualified us by His Holy Spirit to do. The result
is, it is but crude work, defiled by worldliness and sin, impermanent and
unfruitful, as much of the Christian work of to-day is, in all the churches
of Christ. And above all others, the spirit of self-glorying will try to
use the pulpit, the organ gallery, the subscription books, the religious
paper, the charitable scheme, the very mission for winning souls, as a channel
for developing some brilliant character, or to glorify some rich man or woman,
or minister to the spiritual self-sufficiency of some successful worker;
and God is disgusted with the spirit of idolatry, and His Holy Spirit turns
away grieved for the honor of Jesus. Until we are so yielded to our Master
that He and He alone can be glorified in our work, the Lord cannot trust
us with much service for Him or it will simply become the pinnacle of the
temple from which the devil will hurl us down.
Self makes us unhappy. It is a root of bitterness in every heart where it
reigns. The secret of joy is hidden in the bosom of love, and the arms of
self are too short ever to reach it. Not until we dwell in God and God in
us, and learn to find our happiness in being lost in Him and living for His
glory and for His people, shall we ever know the sweets of divine blessedness.
All the world cannot fill this hungry heart. All our spiritual treasures
only corrupt if we hoard them for ourselves. Only water that runs is living
water. And only when it is poured into other empty vessels does it become
wine. The self-willed man is always a miserable man. He gets his own way
and does not enjoy it, and wishes after he has had it, that he had never
got it, for it usually leads him over a precipice. The self-sufficient man
can never know the springs which lie outside his own little heart, and the
self-glorying man, like poor Herod, is eaten of the worms of corruption and
remorse with which God always feeds the impious soul that dares to claim
the honors due to Him alone.
Self-love always leads to a fall. The boasted wisdom must be proved to be
foolishness. The proud arm must be laid, like Pharaoh's, in the dust. The
self-sufficient boast, like Peter's, must be answered by his own failure.
The disobedient path which refuses God's wise and holy will, must be proved
to be a false way. Every idol must be abolished, every high thing brought
low, and no flesh glory in His presence. Oh, beloved, if you are going on
in your own will, your own strength, for your own gratification and glory,
beware! Thorns lie in your pathway, serpents lurk beneath your feet, yawning
abysses, perilous precipices, angry tempests, midnight darkness, many a sorrow,
many a tear, many a fall, await you. "He that trusteth in his own heart is
a fool." "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the ends thereof
are the ways of death."
Oh, let us ask our faithful God to save us from this tyrant that dishonors
God, that leads us into captivity to Satan, that withers love, mars the work
of God, poisons all our happiness; and plunges us into failure and ruin;
and so to show us that we are nothing, that we shall be glad to have Christ
live in us, our "all in all."
III. THE REMEDY FOR SELF.
God often has to let self have its way until it cures us effectually by showing
us the misery and failure which it brings. This is the only good there is
in our own struggling, that it shows us the vanity of the struggle and prepares
us the more quickly to surrender to God. And so sometimes even our disobedience
is overruled to make us fear to repeat the experiment or to venture again
one step beyond our Father's will. Let us beware, however, how we attempt
the experiment ourselves, for there is always one step too far ever to
God has placed around us the blessed restraints of other hearts and lives
as checks upon our selfishness, and links, which almost compel us to reach
beyond ourselves and, work with and live for others. He has made no man
independent of his brethren. "We are fitly framed together" and so grow
into a holy temple in the Lord. We are adjusted, one to His bone, and,
by that which every joint supplieth, the body is ministered unto and groweth
into the fullness of His stature. The church of Christ is no autocracy where
one man can be a dictator or a judge, but a fellowship where One alone is
Master. Any work which develops into a one-man despotism becomes withered.
It is true that God has ranks of workers, but they are all harmonious and
linked in heavenly love. The man who cannot work with his brethren in mutual
comfort and harmony has something yet to learn in his own Christian life.
True, God does not require us to work with unsanctified men; but there are
plenty of sanctified ones, thank God, to-day, where any earnest heart can
find a congenial fellowship of service; and while He will teach any of us
by ourselves, and wants us to be independent of our brethren in the sense
of leaning on them instead of' God, yet He does require that we should be
able to co-operate with them for God, submitting ourselves one to another
in the fear of God, one sowing and another reaping, and both rejoicing together,
"bearing one another's burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ," "true
yoke-fellows." And so by innumerable phrases and figures He has taught us
the blessed truth of Christian cooperation in the spirit of self-renunciation
and mutual confidence and love. Let us receive these blessed lessons and
helps, and let Him so slay in us the self-asserting "I" that we can be true
yoke-fellows, and like David's men, be able to "keep rank" in the great host
The love of Jesus is the divinely appointed prescription for the death of
self. Paul expresses it beautifully, "We thus judge that if one died for
all then were all dead. And that He died for all that they which live should
not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him that died for them and
rose again." Many of us have seen at some time a young, beautiful, petted,
luxurious and selfish girl, growing up surrounded with wealth, affection,
admiration, adulation, until she was wholly spoiled, and became the centre
of the circle in which she lived, her whole being perverted by her selfishness.
But we have seen that girl years afterwards, and we would not have known
her had we not traced the intermediate steps. She was now a self-denying,
loving wife and mother, her whole being devoted to the happiness of that
husband whose fortunes she had followed amid poverty, obscurity and separation
from all her former friends; sharing his penury, toiling for his comfort,
and nursing as a faithful and loving mother, the little children who had
come into her arms, with the love that never wearied, that felt no task too
hard, and no work too menial. What has made all the difference? What has
cast out that idol, self, from its throne? Nothing but love. That man has
won her heart. He has come in and taken the place that it had occupied; it
is cast out and he reigns. That is the simple story of the death of self
in the Christian life. It is the love of Jesus that has excluded it, and
never, until we become fascinated with His affection, and won in complete
captivity to His love, shall we cease to live unto ourselves. Then, like
that girl, we will follow Him anywhere. We will toil and suffer with Him.
We will be content without many things that before we thought we must have,
because His smile is our sunshine, His presence is our joy, His love, shed
abroad in our hearts, is our heaven, and we cannot speak or think of sacrifice
or suffering, our heart is so satisfied with Him.
Beloved, if you would die to self you must fall in love with Jesus and let
Him become to you the personal reality of Solomon's sweet Song in which the
whole heart summers into a land of Beulah and a "Hephzibah" of joy.
But it is not the love of Christ merely that we want; it is the living Christ
Himself. Many people have touches of the love of Christ, but He is a Christ
away up in heaven. The apostle speaks of something far mightier. It is Christ
Himself who lives inside and who is big enough to crowd out and keep out
the little "I." There is no other that can truly lift and keep the heart
above the power of self but Jesus, the Mighty Lord, the stronger than the
strong man armed, who taketh away his armour wherein he trusted and spoileth
all his goods and then takes forever the heart that has given him its goods.
Blessed Christ! He is able not only for sin, sorrow and sickness, put He
is able for you and me-able so to be our very life, that moment by moment
we shall be conscious that He in us fills us with Himself and conquers the
self that ruled before. The more you try to fight a self-thought the more
it clings to you. The moment you turn away from it and look to Him, He fills
all the consciousness and disperses everything with His own presence. Let
us abide in Him, and we shall find there is nothing else to do.
It is almost the same thing, but another way of saying it, that the baptism
and indwelling of the Holy Ghost within us will deliver and keep us from
the power of self. When the cloud of glory entered the tabernacle there was
no room for Moses to remain; and when filled with the heavenly presence of
the blessed Spirit we are lost in God and self hides away, and like Job we
can say, "Now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in
dust and ashes."
Beloved, these temples were reared for Him. Let Him fill them so completely
that like the oriental temple of glass in the ancient legend, the temple
shall not be seen, but only the glorious sunlight, which not only shines
into it, but through it, and the transparent walls are all unseen.
It is not a new, but it is an appropriate thought, that all the things that
God has used have first been sacrificed. It is a sacrificed Saviour, One
who emptied Himself, and made Himself of no reputation, that God has so highly
exalted, and given Him a name that is above every name, "that at the name
of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and
things under the earth." It was a sacrificed Isaac that God made the promised
seed and the progenitor of Israel's tribes. And it was on that very Mount
Moriah where Isaac was sacrificed, that God afterwards reared His glorious
temple. And so it is only when our Isaac is on the altar and our whole being
lost in God that He can lay the deep foundations and rear the everlasting
walls of the living temple of which He is the Supreme and eternal glory.
I look back to-day with unutterable gratitude to the lonely and sorrowful
night, when, mistaken in many things, and imperfect in all, my heart's first
full consecration was made, and not knowing but that it would be death in
the most literal sense before the morning light, yet with unreserved surrender
I first could say,
"Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my All shalt be."
Never, perhaps, has my heart known quite such a thrill of joy as when the
following Sabbath morning I gave out those lines and sung them with all my
heart. And if God has been pleased to make my life in any measure a little
temple for His indwelling and for His glory, and if He ever shall be pleased
to use me in any fuller measure, it has been because of that hour, and it
will be still in the measure in which that hour is made the key-note of a
consecrated, crucified and Christ-devoted life.
Oh, beloved, come and let Him teach you the superlative degree of joy, the
joy that has learned to say not only, "My Beloved is mine," but better even,
"I am my Beloved's;" and we shall find as one of our dear missionaries in
China used to say, "He is willing to come into the heart of every one of
us and love us to death."