God’s forgiveness is wonderful. If we fail, He gives us another chance. Even the saddest ruin of a life may be built into a holy temple of God. We have it all in a chapter in Hosea. We have the Divine pleading: “O Israel, return unto Jehovah thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.” Then the way back is marked out: confession, repentance, and consecration. Then comes the assurance: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away.” Then follows this wonderful promise of restoration and growth and prosperity: “I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall blossom as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.”
This is a picture of beauty and fruitfulness, where there had been barrenness and desolation. Sin is drought. It causes blight. Every flower fades, and every green thing withers. But God’s love is like rain! It falls on the parched life, and changes it to garden loveliness.
The prophet’s words contain a parable of spiritual growth. We may note some of the features, for they belong to all true Christian life.
One of these qualities of growth is purity.
“He shall blossom as the lily.” The other day, a friend sent me half a dozen white lilies; and all the days since, they have kept their freshness and their unblemished whiteness. They have preached their little sermon to everyone who has come in, saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God!” Have you ever noticed how earnestly this lesson of purity is taught in the Bible? Thus, in one of the Psalms, we have the question and the answer: “Who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah? and who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.”
Then James tells us that we are to have “pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father.” He tells us also that we are to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world.” We are not to flee away from the world, for our duty is in it; and we must be in it to bless it, to do good in it, to be light in its darkness, and to comfort its sorrow. But while we are in the world, we are not to become stained by its sin, or have our garments soiled by its evil. Someone has spoken of seeing an enameled plant growing on the edge of a coal mine. Although the black dust floated about it continually, not a particle of it adhered to the plant; and its snowy whiteness took no stain. This illustrates the purity which should always be found in the Christian life – in the world, but unspotted by its evil. That is the way the Master passed through this world. And that is the way He desires us to go through it.
Something else is necessary, however – more than our own good resolution – if our hearts and lives are to be like the lily in its immaculate whiteness. We need both Divine cleansing and Divine keeping. Reverend F. B. Meyer tells of visiting one day, in his pastoral rounds, a washerwoman – whom he found hanging the last of her day’s washing on the clothesline. During his brief stay in her house, there came a thick and sudden fall of snow. When he came out, the ground was white. “Your clothes do not look as white as they did when I came in,” Mr. Meyer remarked. “The clothes are just the same,” the woman answered; “but what can stand against God’s perfect white?” Compared with the snow, the whitest garments look soiled and dingy. We think we are reasonably pure and good; but when we stand beside the holy Christ, we see that we are unholy and unworthy and need cleansing. We must pray the prayer, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow!” Only Christ can cleanse us. Only He can keep us pure and clean. Purity is one of the qualities of the ideal Christian life.
Another quality of growth in a true spiritual life is root.
“He shall … cast forth his roots as Lebanon.” Probably the reference is to the cedars of Lebanon. Lilies are pure and gentle; but they are very frail, with shallow rooting, and are easily torn out of the ground. No single simile can tell all the story of a noble and worthy life. The cedar sends its roots down deep into the earth, anchoring it so securely that the wildest storm cannot tear it loose. It is true that purity is essential in a Christian life, and gentleness and delicacy are unfailing characteristics of a Christ-like spirit; but there must also be strength! It is never easy to live well in this world. We cannot hope to be kept always in a shelter of tender love, where no storm beats, and where there are no struggles. Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son, faced the most terrible temptations; His life was exposed to all manner of trials. And no follower of His can pass through life and escape antagonism. So there must be strength to withstand the tempest, as well as purity to look into God’s face. Roots are important as well as whiteness. The trees that grow on the mountains are deeply and strongly rooted. Therefore, if we desire to stand true, steadfast, and unmovable; we must be anchored by an unwavering faith in Christ.
The root is not the part of the tree that we admire the most. Indeed, it is not seen at all! No one praises it. It creeps down into the dark earth and is hidden. But we know its importance. It feeds the tree’s life; and it holds the tree in its place, amidst the storms. Every strong character must have a deep root. Shallow rooting means a feeble power of resistance. Because it lacked root, the seed sown on rocky ground withered away in the first hot sun. We must be deeply rooted in Christ if we wish to endure unto the end.
It takes both the gentleness of the lily and the strength of the cedar to make a true Christian character. Gentleness without strength is not noble; it is weakness. Strength without gentleness is not great; it is only brute force. But sweetness and strength combined yield heroic manhood! Such a man was Luther. Such a man was Cromwell. Such a Man was Jesus Christ!
Another quality of a true spiritual life is the provision of shade and shelter.
Cedars of Lebanon have spreading branches; and a little farther down in the chapter, we read this: “They that dwell under his shadow shall return.” The children of men find shelter and rest under the shadow of a godly person’s wide-spreading life. We all know people of whom that is true; others come and live beneath the shadow of their love, their strength, and their beneficence. They live to serve others, and not to be served by others. They always seek to do good to everyone whom they meet. Their doors are always open to those who come to them in need of counsel, cheer, help, and hope. They are an unspeakable blessing and comfort in the world. Their lives are like trees which cast a wide shade in which children play; and beneath which, the weary stop in their journey to rest.
There is something very admirable in the beauty of such a life as this picture suggests – a tree putting out its branches to make grateful shade and shelter for earth’s hunted ones, hungry ones, weary ones, and sorrowing ones. Too many people seek to broaden their lives – but only to gather more into their grasp for their own selfish ends. They do not desire to bless the world, but to gain the world for their own enriching. There are others who seek to draw people to them, but their branches do not make a safe and wholesome shelter for the weary and the troubled; rather, they are a poisoned and perilous shadow under which the innocent are harmed or even ruined. We who are Christians should be like trees of blessing, under which others may come – being assured of finding only comfort and good.
Another of the qualities in the spiritual life which is suggested here is beauty.
“His beauty shall be as the olive tree.” Beauty is a quality of the complete Christian life. Writers note the fact that the beauty of the olive is peculiar. There are other trees which are more brilliant and more graceful in form. “The palm at once impresses by its elegance,” says one person; “the apple tree by its blossoms, the orange by its golden fruit and unique fragrance, the tulip tree by its gorgeous flowers. The olive, however, is by no means picturesque; it often looks even stunted and shabby… But the soft, delicate beauty grows upon you until – stirred by the wind – the shimmering silver of its leaves makes a picture… So Christian character is often not in the least brilliant, heroic, or striking. The noblest men and women are modest, homely, simple souls; yet they reveal a mild and serious grace which is, in truth, the perfection of beauty.” Thus the olive tree becomes a true symbol of Christ-like character – not showy, and not flashing its brilliance in the eyes of men; but humble, quiet, and adorned with the beauty which pleases Christ.
Another quality of a true life suggested in this parable of growth is fragrance.
“His smell as Lebanon.” “A good name is better than precious oil.” There is an aroma that belongs to every life, which is the composite product of the things that are said about the person. Some persons live beautifully, sweetly, patiently, unselfishly, helpfully, and joyfully. Some speaking only good words – never rash, unreasonable, unloving ones. Some walk among men carefully, humbly, and reverently; and the fragrance of their lives is like that of Mary’s ointment. Other men are ruled by self, or by the world, or by greed; they are of the earth. They are untruthful, resentful, unloving, and full of hasty speech – and we know what the unpleasing odor of such lives is.
There is something very mysterious about perfume. No one can describe it. You cannot take a photograph of it. Yet it is a very essential quality of the flower. The same is true of that strange thing which we call influence. Influence is the aroma of a life. The most important thing about our life is this subtle, imponderable, indefinable, mysterious element of our personality which is known as influence. This is really all of us that counts in our final impression on other lives. “His smell as Lebanon.” Lebanon’s gardens and trees and fruits made delicious fragrance, which filled all the region round about. Every Christian life ought to be fragrant, but there is only one way to make it so. Men gather the perfume from acres of roses, and it fills only a little vial. Your influence, which is the perfume of your life, is gathered from all the acres of your years – all that has grown upon those acres. If it is to be like the essence of ten thousand roses – sweet, pure, and undefiled – then your life must be well-watched, clean, sweet, holy, loving, and true. Only roses must grow on your fields.
These are some of the lessons which this Old Testament nature-parable suggests. These are some of the essential qualities of a true Christian life. It should be pure. It should be deeply and strongly rooted in Christ. It should spread out its branches and become a shelter and comfort to other lives. It should be beautiful with the beauty of humility, truth, and love. It should be fragrant with the aroma of a sweet, holy, and loving life.
Is the picture discouraging because of its lofty qualities?
Is it so high in its excellence that we seem to be unable to reach it? At a recent event, one of the speakers told of two scenes which he had witnessed. The first was this: he was in an artist’s studio when the artist was beginning his work on a canvas. He was putting a little daub of paint here, and another daub there. There certainly was no resemblance of anything beautiful on the canvas. Indeed, there seemed to be no evidence of any design, no trace of any form or figure, and no clue as to what the artist meant to do. That was the first scene, but this was the second: a large crowd of people were standing before a great painting, all admiring it and praising its beauty. This was the finished painting of which the artist, a year or two before, was making the first rough outline.
Let us not be discouraged because the picture which we see today has almost none of the beauty which is envisioned in the great ideal that we have been studying. We are only beginning it. Let us continue at our holy task until – in every line – it glows with the loveliness of the ideal! But remember that we cannot dream the vision upon the canvas; we can only put it there by patient thought, effort, and discipline. Also, let us not forget that God will work with us in our efforts to grow into the Divine beauty, if we will only seek His grace and help. There is a story of an artist-pupil who had worked long at his canvas; but he was discouraged because the noble vision came so slowly, because his hand seemed so unskillful. Then, one day, he sat by his easel – weary and disheartened – and fell asleep. While he slept, his master came and took the brush; and with a few swift touches, he finished the picture. That is what our Master does with us when we are doing our best and seem only to fail. He comes in the stillness and puts His own hand to our work – and completes it!
Inspiration and hope!
There is one sentence in this parable of growth which is full of inspiration and hope: “I will be as the dew unto Israel.” In that region of the world, the dew is almost like rain is to us. When there is no dew, everything burns up. When dew does fall, the thirsty fields are refreshed. All the wonderful beauty described in these words is produced by the night-mist or dew.
Now God says, “I will be as the dew unto Israel!” What dew does for withering gardens and fields, God says He will do for His people – if they will only repent and return to Him. He does not say that He will send the dew; He says that He Himself will be as the dew. The dew which renews and refreshes withered lives is God Himself! Let us learn well this great truth: God wishes to put Himself into our withered lives! That is the heart of our religion. We are not set to merely copy a picture upon canvas, or to imitate a lovely model that is held before us. Christianity tells us of a Divine Spirit, Who – with unseen hands – comes to fashion the picture upon our spirits. “I will be as the dew unto Israel.” What the dew or the rain is to the withered fields, God’s Spirit will be to our barren and withered lives. Let us pray that we may yield ourselves to this gentle Holy Spirit!
Some of us are perplexed to know how we can ever grow into the purity, strength, usefulness, beauty, and sweetness of Christ. Imagine a field after a long drought – its foliage drooping, its flowers withering, and everything on it dying. You are perplexed, and you wonder how it can ever grow into garden beauty. Then a cloud comes up out of the sea, and pours its gentle rain for hours upon the parched ground. The question is answered! All the field has to do is to open its heart to the treasures of the rain. And all we have to do in our spiritual need is to look for the blessings of the Holy Spirit in our hearts!
Which of the above-mentioned qualities of a spiritual life could you use improvement on? What finishing touches is the Master Artist applying to your life? Have you asked the Lord to come like the dew, and refresh your burned-out heart?
Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts on this article! Feel free to leave your reflections and ask your questions in the Comments section below.
God bless you and your family, this day and always.
All for the King’s glory,
If you would like to keep up-to-date with my latest posts as they are published, click the button below to follow Christian Family Reformation on Instagram!
photo by Kahika on Unsplash
This post is another installment of Miller’s Monday Musings, a weekly series that is published every Monday on our website. The series features selected writings that have been adapted from the works of James Russell Miller (1840-1912), a much-beloved Christian author and pastor who is well-remembered for his practical thoughts on Christian home and family life. Learn more about this weekly series by clicking here.