Thursday, June 12, 2008
Branded for Christ
By Leonard Ravenhill
In a certain sense, all men are strangers to one another. Even friends do not really know each other. To know a man, one must know all the influences of heredity and environment, as well as his countless moral choices that have fashioned him into what he is.
Though we do not really know one another, tracing the course of a man's life sometimes offers rich reward, particularly when we see the great driving forces which have motivated him.
For instance, how greatly your life and mine would be benefited if we could experience the same surge of Christ-life that moved Saul of Tarsus (later called Paul) and plumb even a little the hidden depths of the meaning in his words, "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Gal. 6:17).
One thing is sure about these words: they were an acknowledgment of Christ's ownership. Paul belonged to the Lord Jesus -- spirit, soul, and body. He was branded for Christ.
When Paul claimed to bear in his body the wounds of the Lord, he was claiming no "stigmata," as did Saint Francis of Assisi in 1224 A.D. It is not a bodily identification by outward crucifixion. He had been "crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20).
Branded by Devotion to a Task
The marks of Paul's inward crucifixion were plainly evident. First of all, Paul was branded by devotion to a task.
If, as tradition says, Paul was only four feet six inches in height, then he was the greatest dwarf that ever lived. He out-paced, out-prayed, and out-passioned all his contemporaries. On his escutcheon was blazed: "One thing I do." He was blind to all that other men gloried in.
Pascal was bitterly criticized because apart from the immortal soul of man, he could see no scenery anywhere worth looking at.
By the same token, the Apostle Paul might be castigated for saying not a word about Grecian art or the splendor of the Pantheon. His was a separation to spirituality.
After the Athenian clash on Mars' Hill, Paul poured contempt on the wisdom of this world, dying daily to the temptation to outwit and out-think the wise. His task was not that of getting over a viewpoint, but of overcoming the legions of hell!
Somewhere, most likely in Arabia, Paul's personality had been transfigured. Never after that was he listed as a backslider. He was too occupied with going on. It would have vexed his righteous soul to hear a congregation sing, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it!"
Unsponsored, unwelcomed, unloved -- these made little difference to Paul. On he went, blind to every jewel of earthly honor, deaf to every siren-voice of ease, and insensitive to the mesmerism of worldly success.
Branded by Humility
Paul was also branded by humility. Moths could not corrupt this God-given robe. He never fished for praise with humility's bait, but in the long line of sinners, put himself first (where we would put him last).
The old Welsh divine said that if you know Hebrew, Greek, and Latin , do not put them where Pilate did at the head of Christ, but put them at his feet. "What things were gain to me," says Paul, "these things I count as loss for Christ."
What a heart's ease is the virtue of humility -- the great joy of having nothing to lose! Having no opinion of himself, Paul feared no fall. He might have swaggered in the richly embroidered robes of the chancellor of a Hebrew school. But in the adornment of a meek and quiet spirit, he shines with more luster.
Branded by Suffering
Next, Paul was branded by suffering. Consider the thing he mentions in Romans 8: famine, peril, nakedness, and sword (these belonging to acute discomfort in the body), and tribulation (perhaps of the mind), distress, persecution (of the spirit). Of all these sufferings the "little" minister partook.
This wandering Jew "made war on all that made war on God and on the children of men." This prince of preachers and his foe, the prince of hell, spared each other no beatings. It was a free-for-all and no holds barred!
Look closely at Paul -- at that cadaverous countenance, that scarred body, that stooped figure of a man chastened by hunger, kept down by fasting, and ploughed with the lictor's lash; that little body, brutally stoned at Lystra and starved in many places; that skin, pickled for thirty-six hours in the Mediterranean Sea!
Add to this list danger upon danger; then multiply it with loneliness; finally, count in the 199 stripes, 3 shipwrecks, 3 beatings with rods, a stoning, a prison record, and deaths so many that count is lost.
And yet if one could add it up, all must be written off as nothing, because Paul himself thus consigned it. Listen to him: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment..." That's contempt of suffering, if you like!
Branded by Passion
Furthermore, Paul was branded by passion. A man must be in the dead center of God's will and walking the tightrope of obedience to call upon the Holy Ghost to bear witness to his witness. Yet Paul does this in Romans 9:1.
Oh, that from this wondrous flame every living preacher might capture just a little light! Beatings could not cast the flame out of Paul; fastings and hunger could not kill it; misunderstanding and misrepresentation could not quench its fire; waters could not drown it; prisons could not break it; perils could not arrest its growth. On and on it burned, until life ebbed from his body.
The living Christ who was within Paul (Gal. 2:20), as manifested by his soul-passion, was at once the despair of hell, the capital for enlarging the Church, and cheer to the heart of the Saviour, who was seeing the travail of His soul and was being satisfied.
Branded by Love
Paul was branded by love. When Paul experienced becoming a "man in Christ," he developed the capacity for love. Only maturity knows love. How Paul loved!
First and supremely, Paul loved his Lord. Then he loved men, his enemies, hardship, and soul-pain. And he must have loved this latter particularly, else he would have shirked prayer. Paul's love carried him to the lost, the last, the least. What scope of love! Mars' Hill with its intellectuals, the synagogues with their religious traditionalists, the market places with their prodigals -- all these he yearned over and sought for his Lord. Like a mighty dynamo, love pushed him on to attempt great things for God.
Not many have prayed as this man prayed. Maybe McCheyne, John Fletcher, mighty Brainerd, and a few others have known something of the soul-and-body mastering work of intercession motivated by love.
I remember standing by the Marechale once as we sang her great hymn:
"There is a love constraining me
To go and seek the lost;
I yield, O Lord, my all to Thee
To save at any cost!"
That was not just a lovely sentiment. It cost her prison, privation, pain, and poverty.
Charles Wesley seemed to reach on tiptoe when he said, "nothing on earth do I desire but Thy pure love within my breast!" More recently Amy Carmichael uttered the heartfelt prayer; "Give me a love that leads the way, a faith which nothing can dismay!" These men and women were certainly on the trail of the apostolic secret of soul-winning.
Great soul-winners have always been great lovers of men's souls. All lesser loves were conquered only by the greater Love. Great love to the Lover of their souls drove them to tears, to travail, and to triumph. In this evil hour, dare we love less?
Let me love Thee, love is mighty
Swaying realms of deed and thought;
By it I can walk uprightly,
I can serve Thee as I ought.
Love will soften every trial
Love will lighten every care;
Love unquestioning will follow,
Love will triumph, love will dare!
Without any of their choosing, millions will be branded for the Antichrist one day. Shall we shrink to bear in our spirits, our souls, and our bodies our Owner's marks -- the marks of Jesus? Branded means pain. Do we want that? Branded means carrying the slur of the servant. Will we choose to be branded -- for Christ?
Have We No Tears for Revival?
By Leonard Ravenhill
"They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." (Ps. 126:5). This is the divine edict. This is more than preaching with zeal. This is more than scholarly exposition. This is more than delivering sermons of exegetical exactitude and homiletical perfection. Such a man, whether preacher or pew dweller, is appalled at the shrinking authority of the Church in the present drama of cruelty in the world. And he cringes with sorrow that men turn a deaf ear to the Gospel and willingly risk eternal hell in the process. Under this complex burden, his heart is crushed to tears.
The true man of God is heartsick, grieved at the worldliness of the Church, grieved at the blindness of the Church, grieved at the corruption in the Church, grieved at the toleration of sin in the Church, grieved at the prayerlessness in the Church. He is disturbed that the corporate prayer of the Church no longer pulls down the strongholds of the devil. He is embarrassed that the Church folks no longer cry in their despair before a devil-ridden, sin-mad society, "Why could we not cast him out?" (Matt. 17:19).
Many of us have no heart-sickness for the former glory of the Church because we have never known what true revival is. We stagnate in the status quo and sleep easy at night while our generation moves swiftly to the eternal night of hell. Shame, shame on us! Jesus whipped some money changers out of the temple; but before He whipped them, He wept over them. He knew how near their judgment was The Apostle Paul sent a tear-stained letter to the Philippian saints, writing: "I have told you often and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ" (Phil. 3:18). Notice that he does not say they are enemies of Christ; they are, rather, the enemies of the cross of Christ. They deny or diminish the redemptive values of the cross. There are many like this today. The church of Rome does not stand as an enemy of Christ; it traces heavily on His holy name. Yet it denies the cross by saying that the Blessed Virgin is co-redemptive. If this is so, why was she not also crucified? The Mormons use the name of Christ, yet they are astray on the atonement. Have we tears for them? Shall we face them without a blush when they accuse us of inertia at the Judgment Seat saying that they were our neighbors and an offense to us, but not a burden because they were lost?
The Salvationists can scarcely read their flaming evangelical history without tears. Has the glory of the evangelical revival under Wesley ever gripped the hearts of the Methodists of today? Have they read of the fire-baptized men in Wesley's team? Men like John Nelson, Thomas Walsh, and a host of others whose names are written in the Book of Life; men persecuted and kicked in the streets when they held street meetings? Yet as their blood flowed from their wounds, their tears flowed from their eyes. Have the Holiness people set a guard at the door of the beauty parlors lest any sister should enter to get her hair curled, while a block away there is a string of prostitutes trying to sell their sin-wracked bodies with none to tell them of eternal love? Do the Pentecostals look back with shame as they remember when they dwelt across the theological tracks, but with the glory of the Lord in their midst? When they had a normal church life, which meant nights of prayers, followed by signs and wonders, and diverse miracles, and genuine gifts of the Holy Ghost? When they were not clock watchers, and their meetings lasted for hours, saturated with holy power? Have we no tears for these memories, or shame that our children know nothing of such power? Other denominations had their Glory Days of revival. Think of the mighty visitations to the Presbyterians in Korea. Remember the earth-shaking revival in Shantung. Are those days gone forever? Have we no tears for revival?
By Leonard Ravenhill
The Cinderella of the Church today is the prayer meeting. This handmaid of the Lord is unloved and unwooed because she is not dripping with pearls of intellectualism, nor glamorous with the silks of philosophy, neither is she enchanting with the tiara of psychology. She wears the homespuns of sincerity and humility and so is not afraid to kneel!
The offense of prayer is that it does not essentially tie in to mental efficiency. That is not to say that prayer is a partner to mental sloth. But in these days, efficiency and smartness are at a premium. Prayer is conditioned to one thing alone, and that is to spirituality. One does not need to be spiritual to preach, that is, to make and deliver sermons of homiletical perfection and exegetical exactitude. By a combination of memory, knowledge, ambition, personality, plus well-lined book shelves, self-confidence and a sense of having arrived - the pulpit is yours almost anywhere these days. Preaching of the type mentioned affects men; prayer affects God. Preaching affects time; prayer affects eternity. The pulpit can be a shop window to display our talents; the closet speaks death to display.
The tragedy of this last hour is that we have too many dead men in the pulpits giving out too many dead sermons to too many dead people. There is a strange thing that I have seen even in the fundamentalist circles: it is preaching without unction. What is unction? I hardly know what it is, but I know what it is not, or at least I know when it is not upon my own soul. Preaching without unction kills instead of giving life. The unctionless preacher is a savor of death unto death. The Word does not live unless the unction is upon the preacher. Preacher, with all thy getting, get unction.
Brethren, we could well manage to be half as intellectual if we were twice as spiritual. Preaching is a spiritual business. A sermon born in the head reaches the head. A sermon born in the heart reaches the heart. A spiritual preacher will under God produce spiritually-minded people. Unction is not a gentle dove beating her wings against the bars outside of the preacher's soul; rather she must be pursued and won. Unction cannot be learned, only earned by prayer. Unction is God's knighthood for the soldier-preacher who has wrestled in prayer and gained the victory. Victory is not won in the pulpit by firing intellectual bullets or wisecracks, but in the prayer closet. The meeting is won or lost before the preacher's foot enters the pulpit. Unction is like perfume. Unction is like dynamite. Unction comes not by the medium of the bishop's hands, neither does it mildew when the preacher is cast into prison. Unction will pierce and percolate. It will sweeten and soften. When the hammer of logic and the fire of human zeal fail to open the stony heart, unction will succeed.
What a fever of church building there is just now, yet without unctionized preachers these altars will never see anxious penitents. Suppose that we saw fishing boats with the latest in radar equipment and fishing gear launched month after month and put out to sea only to return without a catch - what excuse would we take for this barrenness? Yet thousands of churches see empty altars week after week and year after year and cover this sterile situation by misapplying the Scripture. "My word . . . shall not return unto me void." Incidentally, this seems to be one of the very few texts that the dispensationalists forgot to tell us was written to the Jews!
The ugly fact is that the altar fires are either out or burning very low. The prayer meeting is dead or dying. By our attitude to prayer we tell God that what was begun in the Spirit we can finish in the flesh. What church ever asks its candidating ministers what time they spend in prayer? Ministers who do not spend two hours a day in prayer are not worth a dime a dozen - degrees or no degrees. Where are our unctionized pulpit crusaders? Preachers who should be fishing for men are now too often fishing for compliments from men. Preachers used to sow seed; now they string intellectual pearls.