The Imprisoned Eagle
I saw a pathetic sight in Scotland. It was a great eagle in a massive cage. The sun shining brilliantly in the heavens seemed to be calling to it to rise from the earth and rejoice in its natural element, and the royal bird in response to the call fixed its eye on the sun and spread its mighty wings and stooped for flight, and then, becoming conscious of the iron bars that held it prisoner, it dropped its wings and lowered its head in apparent disappointment and shame. I watched that captive bird on that lovely summer afternoon with growing interest. Again and again the light flashed in its eyes as it faced the sun and lifted its wings in the futile endeavour to soar away to the upper air, and just as often its wings sank down and it bowed its neck; the most striking figure of depression and defeat that I had ever looked upon. Had I been an artist and had I wished to paint a picture of defeat, that great bird would have been my model. And yet it had the desire for liberty, that was clear in the flashing eye, and it had power for liberty, that was clear in the outstretched pinions; it was the cage that held it prisoner in spite of its desire and in spite of the power. The captive bird became a parable to me. It spoke to me of Christians, and, alas! how many such there are, who have the desire for the things above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God (Col. 3: 1), and these things are their own things, for they have been freely given to them of God, and the Divine nature is in them, or they would not be Christians at all. They have the power also to rise up in thought and affection to where their true life is, for the Holy Spirit dwells in them, and yet as to the practical enjoyment of these things they know nothing. Some of them did once, perhaps, but not now, for they are held as prisoners to the earth. They are encaged who should be free.
These captive Christians are not happy. They get glimpses of the glory that shines in the face of Jesus, and their hearts are stirred, and they vow that they will be free, but sighs instead of songs break from their sad hearts and they confess to themselves, even if they hide it from others, the completeness of their bondage. They sometimes toss upon their beds with regrets and groans and prayers, but they find that their resolutions are unavailing. The snares with which the devil enticed them have become a cage in which he holds them, and they despair of ever feeling the thrill of joy of Christian liberty again.
Let it be freely owned, as it has been fully proved, that there never was any satisfaction or profit to any Christian in worldly or fleshly things, they only bring strife into the soul and bitter regrets into the heart, and make the unhappy Christian the captive of the things that he has tried. Yet is there no way of deliverance? and shall the captive never become an overcomer? Yes, there is hope, for the Lord is gracious, and there is a way of deliverance for those who feel their bondage. "Those vows in the night, so fierce" and apparently so unavailing, show that the life of the soul has not been utterly crushed. They prove that there is a faithful Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins; they prove also that there is a faithful Holy Spirit within the soul, for He it is that creates the exercise within it, so that the sighing of the prisoner goes up to God. And because of these things, and because it is God's will that His children should be free from every yoke of bondage, we turn to this Old Testament Book to learn, How to Overcome.
We need the whole Bible: to neglect any part of it means certain loss. The Old Testament is as necessary as the New, for in the New it is declared that the things which are recorded in the Old Testament were written for our admonition. (1 Cor. 10: 11.)
The largest nugget that the Californian gold-fields ever yielded was found upon a claim which was supposed to be worked out. The Bible is supposed by some to be worked out, good enough for former days, but out of date and of no practical value now, and so they have abandoned it for other fields that yield no gold at all. We know that it is an inexhaustible mine of wealth, for it is the word of the living God.
It is with this knowledge that we turn to the Book of Judges. We are not concerned as to what human hand held the pen in the writing of it; it is sufficient that it has its place in the Scriptures, and "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . . that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3: 16, 17).
There is in the Book of Judges the dark background of the failures and defeats of Israel. Solemn warnings indeed are they all to us, for we are in danger of being overcome and enthralled by foes not one whit less real than were those that enslaved God's people of old. But this dark background does but throw into bright relief the great victories gained by men whose faith was in God. These victories are illustrative of the way in which we, by the grace of God, may also overcome.
So the title of our talks shall be "How to Overcome," and the foes of which we will speak are:
- The Mesopotamians - The World.
- The Moabites - The Flesh.
- The Canaanites - The Devil.
- The Midianites - Earthly Things.
The Philistines - Carnal Religion.
It is in the foregoing order that they are presented to us and in that order we will consider them, with the earnest prayer that we may all be more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
We shall have little difficulty in proving that the nations that oppressed Israel set forth our foes as already stated, for the marks are so evident upon the face of them; nor shall we find many who will quarrel with us when we assert that the majority of Christians are under the power of one or more of these foes, and that the crying need of the day is deliverance.
The character of the Victories.
The victories gained by the Judges were not aggressive in their character; they were not the victories of conquest. Their foes sought to quench their light as a free nation, and to rob them of the inheritance which God had given them, and every battle that these leaders in Israel fought was to maintain their national existence, and to retain and enjoy that which belonged to them.
It was God's intention that these people should be ever victorious; when they crossed the Jordan He was with them in all the power of His might, and had they continued in subjection to Him no other yoke could have been placed upon their necks. But they turned away from Him and had to reap the bitter fruits of their backslidings. They followed the sins and gods of the nations, and they became the slaves of that which they followed. Now it is the same God, who, in those times which are past, overthrew the Egyptians and gave the promised land to Israel, that, has now wrought deliverance for us and given us an inheritance incorruptible and which fadeth not away. It is this which the gospel proclaims, and all who have received it can rejoice in a great Saviour, who "through death has destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2: 14, 15). And this deliverance from the power of the devil has been effected that we might enter upon and enjoy the great riches which have been given to us in and with Christ.
But we are exhorted to stand fast in this liberty wherewith we have been made free for the danger of being entangled with some yoke of bondage is ever present. It is when we fail in this, and the heart goes after the things of the world and the flesh, that we become enslaved, and, like these sons of Jacob, we become the servants of that which we follow. Then is all service and witness hindered; we become wretched ourselves and useless to others.
But as we stand fast in our God-given liberty, with single eye and undivided heart, we are able to fulfil our high destiny as witnesses for Christ, and to win fresh territory for Him; for every soul saved by our testimony is a fresh bit of territory won from the power of the enemy, for the Lord's kingdom and glory.
The secret of Christian liberty.
The gospel has set us free from the yoke of sin and Satan that we might "yield ourselves to God." This is the secret of a happy life of Christian liberty, for as we yield our necks to His yoke we shall be free from all others. And this yoke is not irksome but easy, for in yielding ourselves to God, we are yielding to the One whose measureless love has been manifested towards us in the death of Jesus. The blood through which we have redemption is the pledge and token to us of a love too vast to comprehend, and the knowledge of that love constrains us not to live unto ourselves but unto Him whose love it is.
A notable feature.
There is a notable feature in Israel's history at this time which demands attention. It is stated (1 Kings 6) that the number of years between the deliverance from Egypt and the building of Solomon's temple was 480 years. But the actual number according to Paul's address to the Jews (Acts 13) was 573, showing a difference of 93 years in the two accounts.
How can the Book be of divine origin when such a glaring discrepancy occurs in it? sneers the infidel - a discrepancy which ordinary human care might have avoided.
But that over which the infidel in his blindness stumbles is full of instruction to those who are willing to be taught of God, and in this, which seems to be an error, we have a solemn lesson.
The building of Solomon's temple runs on the line of God's intentions for His people. He had redeemed them that they might live wholly unto Himself and prepare for Him a habitation (Ex. 15: 2). But during the ninety-three years in which they served His enemies and theirs, they were not living unto Him, this was not His purpose for them, - and, as a consequence, He could not reckon these sad years in His calendar.
In Acts 13 the Apostle Paul pressed upon the people the fact that Christ was their only hope. He showed them that all apart from Him had failed. Even David, their greatest deliverer and boast, had fallen under the power of death and saw corruption. This was the line of their responsibility, and the years of failure are reckoned that the risen Christ, in His perfection and victory over all the foes, might stand out in blessed contrast to all that had passed before Him.
The ninety-three years omitted from God's reckoning, when it was a question of His purpose for His people, to be made up as follows:
|8||years under Mesopotamia (ch. 3: 8).|
|18||years under Moab (ch. 3: 14).|
|20||years under Canaan (ch. 4: 3).|
|7||years under Midian (ch. 6: 1).|
|40||years under Philistia (ch. 13: 1).|
We have, in addition to the above, the oppression of the Amorites for eighteen years (chap. 10: 8), but here it is distinctly stated to have been on the other side of Jordan only (not truly in the land), and so does not affect the question at all.
If this is the true explanation for the apparent discrepancy (and we believe it to be so), what a weighty lesson it teaches. All the days and years which are not lived unto God are lost days, and we do not truly live unto Him if we are held in bondage by our foes. We can only be said to truly live unto Him as our souls are free and Christ and His things are supreme in our lives. All else is death and loss.
This will all be manifested at the judgment seat of Christ, when every man's work will be tried. We shall see then, that every day in which we have lived for the world, the flesh, the devil, or for anything instead of Christ, has been a lost day. "If any man's work shall be burned he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3: 15).
Let us give earnest heed to this all-important matter, remembering that the days are few. The coming of the Lord is at hand, when we shall be swept by His redemptive power into the eternal felicity of our Fatherland, and, as we look back upon the path we have trodden, we shall be compelled then to write L-O-S-T upon every day and hour in which Christ has not been first in our lives, for then we shall see things as God sees them.
It is evident, then, that to live unto Him is the only life worth living, for this alone will remain for eternity. The world thinks differently, and the flesh within us may make other suggestions, and propose self-indulgence, ease, worldliness, fame, gold or pleasure as being more worthy of our attention; but deep down in our hearts we know better, and taught by the Spirit we clearly see that the great works of men will come to naught, while labour in the Lord is not in vain; the earth also and the works therein shall perish, while our inheritance and the things of God are precious, imperishable and eternal.
Hold the fort.
It is possible for every child of God to carry the war into the enemy's camp as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, and to boldly follow the unfurled standard of the testimony of our Lord; but this, which is true Christian warfare, is scarcely within the scope of our talks. It is only as the victories of which we speak are gained that we can take up the sword aggressively.
In overcoming the world, etc., we are "holding the fort" against foes that seek a footing within our hearts in order to make us useless for the Lord. We are, in short, "keeping ourselves for Christ."
We may feel our weakness, and our inability to do anything for the Saviour whom we love, but we can all keep ourselves for Him alone, and anything is possible to those who do this. But to do this we must keep the line of communication with Himself intact.
As a general leads his men against the enemy he must keep in constant communication with the base of his supplies. He will be a beaten man if he does not, for food, ammunition and reinforcements and everything he needs are at the base. The foe will use every means in his power to outflank him and to cut the line of his communications. He must guard that line at all costs; if he is careless as to this the valour and enthusiasm of his men will be in vain.
We, too, must keep in touch with our base if we are to be victorious. The devil is a wily foe and will cut us off from our supplies if he can, hence the need of the exhortation "Cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart," for all our supplies are in Him. He is indispensable to us, but He is all-sufficient for us, and we cannot fail if we cleave to Him. Our business is to -
- "Yield ourselves unto God."
- "Cleave unto the Lord."
- "Walk in the Spirit."
So shall we be more than conquerors through Him that loved us.