The Seen - or the Unseen?
by Charles J.B. Harrison
(First published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, Vol. 25-4, May-June 1947)
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Reading: Gen.13:10-18; 14:18-23.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." Matt. 6:19-34.
"Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." Col. 3:2-4
In the narrative of the parting of the ways between Abraham and Lot there is revealed a matter of the greatest possible significance for every one of us - namely, that of the solemn necessity for a choice between two levels or realms of spiritual life and effectiveness. The issue is one affecting Christians, not the unsaved. There must be either an utter and wholehearted choosing of the unseen, eternal and ultimate things as those upon which the heart is set, or else a preferring of things seen, present and tangible - not necessarily instead of God, but as an accompaniment to a life which in some measure takes Him into account. These two alternative ways, one represented by Abraham and the other by Lot, may for simplicity be called the way of faith and the way of sight or sense. The conflict between these two ways is an old one - it began when "the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise." Yes, this issue is an old one, and yet a very present and up-to-date one, which none of us can escape; and it is very needful that each of us should know which of these two alternative, and soon widely diverging, courses we are taking. In the case of Abraham and Lot there had been strife, and now had come the parting of the ways; and in their choices the two men stand revealed. Representing as they do two altogether different levels and ways of life they cannot continue together. Abraham's words are very clear - "Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou take the right hand, then I will go to the left." The quarrel of the herdsmen was incidental; the sequel shows that the real crux was a radical difference between the two masters. So we see that Abraham represents the man of faith, the man who has staked his whole life, resources and prospects for time and eternity upon God. For him there are no other considerations or dependencies; everything else flows out of a background where God Himself is the one all-embracing desire and confidence. Lot, on the other hand, represents the man who, though a Christian - for Lot had a knowledge of the Lord and is spoken of as "righteous" - has not made God alone his ground of hope and confidence. He does look at the earthly considerations and prefers to have something a little more tangible and (as he would doubtless express it) more "practical" to go on. Of course he does not leave the Lord out, but he has as his life basis God and other things that appeal to him as good and even needful.
The Divine Purpose and the Way of Faith
Now the significant thing is that throughout Scripture it is the men of faith who alone count in relation to the Divine purpose, and they alone who have the full Divine approval and blessing and eternal usefulness. The others - and what tragedies many of them are! - appear on the scene almost incidentally, and as part of the setting for the record of real faith in other lives, and then they disappear. Lot appears before us as a "justified" man, one saved from destruction, but as to Divine purpose he is a non-entity. The key to spiritual and eternal issues is Abraham. Lot beheld all the Plain of Jordan, well watered; Abraham saw it too, but he saw something else. His choice was God and the will of God at the cost of all other considerations.
Dear friends, these two ways are very, very different: they involve all the difference between heaven and earth as to spiritual value and eternal outcome. To choose the way of sight, of present convenience and gratification, means loss now and eternally. This no doubt we realise, but for many of us the weakening thing is our failure to appreciate that to desire the higher way of utter faith, and yet in some degree or other to be in bondage to the lower way of self-consideration and lack of full confidence in God, is a paralysing thing. Is it not just here that we are so often being tested? There is the pull of the outward, the appeal to our natural life of this present world of sense. The appeal varies according to our background, temperament, make-up; but certain things even ideas, associations, sights and sounds bring the power of some influence to bear upon us. It is the lure of "a Plain... well watered." If we trifle just here, give way a little, we are weakened in our walk with God. It saves so much time to be quick and definite in rejecting those overtures, and, knowing where we stand, to say "no." The words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew, chapter six, are so true and searching. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Is it not true that if we love the one - i.e. the world, our own souls, other things - we do hate the other? There is a secret resentment against the Lord when these things are withheld from us; a terrible thought, but true - the heart is divided. But on the positive side, if we love Him and "hold to" Him, we find that something happens in us so that we even despise the other - we realise how hollow it is, in spite of its momentary appeal, and can, like Abraham, refuse all the offers of the King of Sodom, and be perfectly content with what comes from God.
Now the point of all this is that if we are to be established in the way of Divine purpose and fruitfulness, this great basic choice between faith and sight needs to be a settled thing in our life. When it is not so there will always be an element of uncertainty in the life, something not altogether safe, simply because the heart has not really come to rest in the conclusion that God is altogether trustworthy and true to His Word, whatever happens.
I believe, difficult as it sounds, that the Lord does want us to be on sure ground in this matter, and His Word now is one of encouragement to us to take that ground without delay. How then is it to be? What is the secret of Abraham's glorious detachment from dependence either on the well-watered Plain or on the gifts of the King of Sodom?
Faith's Secret - An Utter Committal to God
The answer is first of all in the fact that in Abraham's life the altar was now the foundation of all else. You will note that chapter thirteen of Genesis both begins and ends with an altar. In the first instance the altar represented his recovery of ground lost by a weakening of faith a little earlier. To us who so easily fail it is comforting to note that even with Abraham there had been failure in this matter of faith. When things became difficult he had gone down to Egypt, and only a special Divine intervention saved him from disastrous consequences. But, being a man who in spite of everything really wanted the Lord beyond all else, when he saw what had happened he knew the way back - the altar. After that thorough adjustment with the Lord came the separating from Lot, and then yet again he built an altar - a fresh reaffirmation of an utter committal and abandonment to God, whatever the cost.
The altar of course always represents the Cross of the Lord Jesus, and the building of it betokens on the part of the one concerned appreciation and acceptance of what the Cross involves. The challenge for us is simply this - is the altar yet a settled thing as the basis of our very life? Have we ever really said to the Lord with all our heart, Lord, I am tired of my own ways and will and ideas, and from now onwards I want everything really to be the expression of Thyself and not of myself. I want "not I, but Christ" to be made true in my life, and I now commit myself wholly to Thee and to Thy grace to work in me to that end. If some such utter committal as that is the secret ground of our relationship with the Lord, all else begins to follow. In Abraham's case he was now committed - he had lifted up his hand unto God Most High and now, separated unto God and in a sense alone with God, he was in a condition to deal very powerfully and effectually with the practical situations that arose.
In passing, we may say that all powerlessness and ineffectiveness in spiritual life - and that means too in dealing with practical every-day problems and situations - is due in the first instance to an inadequate position in the background with God. But Abraham had the background, and it was very quickly seen - in the battle with the Kings - with what tremendous effect he could come into situations among men and influence their course. Yes, the Cross is the basis of all abiding effectiveness.
Faith Triumphant Under Test
But now we come to the next phase, which is inevitable - the testing of the new position, the appeal once again of things other than what is altogether in God and from Him. But with Abraham the position is secure, in the language of Matthew 6:24, he "holds to" the Lord and can despise the proffered things of the King of Sodom. "I have lifted up my hand unto the Lord, God Most High... I will not take a thread nor a shoelatchet..."
Here is our help and comfort. If we also have lifted up our hands unto the Lord - if we have in secret fought this matter out, and decided that the Lord is more to us than all else and worthy of absolute trust - there is an inner position and resource with which to meet the enemy. We know where we stand because the matter has been thoroughly settled, and on the ground of the Cross we are able to say what the Lord Jesus said with such utterness and absoluteness of truth - "the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me."
May the Lord help each one of us to come to a very definite position with Him in this matter of where our dependence lies. Much is then going to follow.
Faith's Effect - Ascendancy Over the Enemy and Settled Satisfaction of Heart
We have said that when the test comes there is grace to enable us to stand and to give the answer of faith; but how about our daily attitude to life and its demands?
The answer is in the deliberate setting of the heart day by day on the "things which are not seen," "the things that are above, where Christ is." This is something to be deliberately and purposefully done - we do not drift into it, for the down-drag of the earth is ever present. The Lord is calling us to nothing less than to be heavenly in our attitude and valuation in the midst of a life on earth which properly necessitates much occupation with earthly things - the home, business affairs, dealing with the men of this world. How is this ever to be? If the position has been settled already in heart it will increasingly be true that the heart and mind do tend to the values that are spiritual and eternal - things are seen in their right proportion.
Finally, we shall discover that, just as the way of confidence in the things of sight and sense militates against spiritual growth, the true life of dependence begets spiritual measure and is the very means whereby Christ is formed in us as our very life and resource. "Be not anxious for your life," "Your heavenly Father knoweth," are words to which we need to give their full weight and meaning. As we do so, and on the ground that we have put our whole life into the Lord's hands, we shall not only find increasingly that "He is faithful," and that all His paths are peace, but also we shall become more and more available to Him as vessels for the display of His glory, both in time and in eternity. It is "while we look at the things... not seen" that the glory is being wrought. The eternal purposes of God are bound up with men who find their all in Himself alone.