ECHOES FROM EDEN
THORNS AND THISTLES
"And unto Adam He said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree...CURSED IS THE GROUND FOR THY SAKE; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; THORNS ALSO AND THISTLES shall it bring forth to thee...in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground" (Gen. 3:17-19).
As I have stated repeatedly in this series of articles, the Garden of Eden represents the realm of the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN on earth, a higher existence for man than the cursed state we find ourselves in by natural birth. It is the state of being that man was in when he was first brought forth from the creative hand of god. It is heaven and earth kissing each other. What if Adam had never sinned, had never been banished from that blest domain? Ever wonder about that? Ah! - that would have made a world of difference! There would be no giant military establishments today consuming the time of millions of soldiers and the wealth of governments. No violence. No wars. A different business and commercial world. No sickness or disease, no need for doctors, nurses, hospitals and their staffs. No crime, no police forces, jails and prisons. No death, no funeral homes or cemeteries. There would be peace everywhere - between nations, groups, families and individuals. Abundance everywhere with joy-filled lives effervescent with anticipation of the ever-increasing glories of the Kingdom of God. Yes, think of it! You and I would be living in a totally different world!
The Garden of Eden represents man living in the presence of God Almighty, walking in the presence and glory of celestial realms, with the heavens opened over his head. Living by the fruit of the tree of life man would know God as the indwelling power of life and be full of light, abounding in heavenly wisdom and knowledge, fearful in power and dominion, ethereal as a spirit and shining in the image of God. Man as master and Lord over all things! Man living above sin, sickness, pain, sorrow and death! In Eden's lovely garden the effulgent perfumes of the heavenly realm were fragrance and life to man's nostrils. He touched spiritual things and tasted spiritual realities. THIS was the glory of Eden - the Kingdom of Heaven on earth!
THORNS AND THISTLES
There is neither time nor space to consider the myriad ghastly consequences of the fall of man, but I would draw your attention to the judgment pronounced to the man: "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground" (Gen. 3:17-19). All the natural is a parable of the deeper spiritual realm, so let us look at the natural aspect first. The physical creation was brought under the same law of curse and death that came to Adam. Where previously the earth had freely yielded ALL that was needed to sustain Adam's life, now it was to oppose even Adam's efforts to cultivate his own food. The man would now have to struggle for survival. It would be only with sorrow, or pain, or great stress, involving significant physical effort, that Adam could continue to sustain his physical life. Sorrows and pains were to become a very real and distinct part of his existence in the earth. The soil of the earth itself would now oppose Adam's efforts to cultivate it. "Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." Where previously the perfect earth had nurtured only plants that were beneficial to the life of man in his domain, now the imperfect earth was to nurture noxious plants that would compete against those beneficial plants that were expected to produce man's food.
Accordingly, where, before sin, Adam walked about among the most fertile threes, in lovely meadows, and among vegetation and flowers of all kinds which grew spontaneously and profusely, there now sprang up out of the earth darnel, wild oats, weeds, nettles, thorns and thistles in such abundance that the good plants were almost overwhelmed. Consider a field that has been plowed and prepared for planting. The moment it has been sown, weeds and darnel come up more quickly than the crops that are useful for life. Unless they are destroyed with diligent care by the farmer every day, those pernicious plants gradually take possession of the field, and the good seed is choked. The earth indeed is innocent and would gladly produce the best products, but it is prevented by the curse which passed upon it "for man's sake."
As previously stated, all the natural is a parable of the deeper SPIRITUAL REALM. The book of Genesis deals largely in typical representations: that is, figures of spiritual realities, brought forth in the language and form of the physical world, but pointing to that which is higher and grander, the verities of the spiritual world. With this truth in mind let us consider further the words of the Lord in Gen. 3:17, "cursed is the GROUND (the earth) for thy sake." The Hebrew word that is translated "ground" here is the same word that is translated "earth" in Gen. 1:1 and other passages. The verse could well be rendered, "Cursed is the EARTH for thy sake."
What is the "earth" that is cursed? Ah, far more than just the dirt of the ground we walk on! Of the formation of man it is written, "And the Lord God formed man of the DUST OF THE GROUND" (Gen. 2:7). Then to man God said, "For out of it (the ground) wast thou taken: for DUST THOU ART" (Gen. 3:19). The sweet singer of Israel intoned these meaningful words: "For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we ARE DUST" (Ps. 103:14). The apostle Paul penned these inspired words, "The first man was from out of the earth, made of dust - earth-minded; the second Man is the Lord from out of heaven. Now those who are made of the dust are like him who was first made of the dust - earth-minded; and as is the Man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven - heaven-minded. And just as we have borne the image of THE MAN OF DUST, so let us bear also the image of the Man from heaven" (I Cor. 15:45-49, Amplified).
Ah, yes, as surely as the thorns and thistles grow up out of the earth of your garden and choke the life out of the good plants you have planted there, so do evil "thorns" and "thistles" abound in the "earth" of man's carnal nature to choke out the life from the good seed of the Kingdom of Heaven planted there by the heavenly husbandman! Can we not see that there came a fundamental change in the nature of man, the fall was a DESCENT from life on a higher plain to life on a lower plain, from a spiritual state of being to a sensual state of being. Where once the "ground" of Adam's spiritual mind brought forth spontaneously and profusely the manifestations of God's life, now his carnal mind would produce a vast crop of fleshly manifestations designed to choke the life of the spirit. So now man WORKS...and WORKS...and works...diligently pursuing multiplied religious observances, external forms, activities of all sorts, and for all his effort he is able only to produce a pitifully small harvest of reality, seeking out but a meagre spiritual existence! The "weeds" are not a special creation of God, for the Lord declared, "Thorns and thistles shall IT (the ground) BRING FORTH to thee." The "weeds" are the natural product of the "earth" to which the man is banished - the realm of the carnal mind! Here, the good seed has to be planted and cultivated, but the weeds are inherently present!
PLANTING THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
The first parable given by the Lord Jesus Christ is the one commonly called the Parable of the Sower. It is about the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus says of it that it is the parable of parables and unless it is understood other parables cannot be. You must realize that all the parables in the Gospels are about the Kingdom of Heaven and this parable is the first. It is the starting point of Christ's teaching about the mystery of the Kingdom. In Mat. 13:3-9, 18-23 we read, "And He spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among the thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit...Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When anyone heareth the Word of the Kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the wayside. But he that received seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the Word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the Word; AND THE CARE OF THIS WORLD, AND THE DECEITFULNESS OF RICHES, chokes the Word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that receiveth seed into the good ground is he that heareth the Word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit and bringeth forth..."
The first word of this parable challenges attention - "Behold - Hearken!" The last word repeats the challenge - "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." As we hear, may the spirit of wisdom and revelation from God make very clear to our hearts that this important parable is not the parable of the Sower, nor yet of the Seed, but rather a parable of the SOILS. It is about the soil of human understanding and response into which the Word of the Kingdom of Heaven falls. "And there were gathered unto Him great multitudes" - there was the soil! Why had they come? Some from curiosity - idle followers of the crowd. Some came from self-seeking motives - it might be profitable to cultivate the company of this rising star. Some came as revolutionaries - to make Him king, to use Him as a flag of revolt against Rome. Some came in quick but shallow enthusiasm, others in deep longing, yet others drawn irresistibly by the Father, and others they knew not why. How would they receive His Words? As variously as the soil of a Galilean hillside receives the seed! Not in vain had Jesus watched the sower tramping his furrows. He would tell the multitudes a story about themselves. Being under no illusions He would tell them just what chance His teaching would have with them, and why in some it would find no lodgment. "And He spake many things...saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow..."
Ah, there stood the Sower in their midst, and He was also the Seed! He was cast into their earth, He spake as never man spake, the Word of eternal life, the Word of the Kingdom, of a higher plane of life available to men, the life of the Spirit. Although no one can, with the natural mind, understand the level of life on which he is. Everyone can see the nature of life in this world. He can see through his outer senses what is done by people on this level of life: and he can, if he looks at himself, see with his inner senses what he does. He will then see what life is like and what he is like at this level. And I do not hesitate to say that neither life nor himself can be different at this level.
The fault was not in the Sower, nor yet in the Seed, but in the Soil. The fault was not in the factor of initiative, but in the factor of response; the hearer was at fault, for he was in a condition incapable of receiving the Word. We cannot now deal with all the aspects of the parable, but let us meditate briefly upon the seed which "fell among thorns" - not on ground already covered with thorns, but on land "fouled" by latent weed-seeds. Who has not seen a grain field brilliantly but ruinously streaked with red poppies or defaced by patches of thistles? The weeds were not visible when the crop was sown; they were in the uncleansed soil. There is a gradual ascent in quality of the four types of character revealed in the parable. The first, the soil of the wayside, is impenetrable. The second, the rocky ground, is too shallow, but the third is rich earth with possibilities of a generous harvest. This hearer is a man of high potential, of genuine vision, but he is not wholehearted, part of him is held in reserve, uncrucified. He lives in a state of duality, double-mindedness, divided between irreconcilable loyalties: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." "The care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word," Jesus says. This man fails to bring forth the fruit of the Kingdom because the soil of his life is "thorny ground" in which the weeds "growing up choke the Word"!
It is completely impossible to over-emphasize the importance of this foundational and fundamental truth: YOU ARE THE SOIL into which is cast the Word of the Kingdom of God! This is why Jesus declared, "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is WITHIN YOU" (Lk. 17:21). It is here, Oh child of God, that the majesty, magnificence, glory, power and dominion of the everlasting Kingdom of God has its beginning. The Most High God, full of wisdom, grace, and faithfulness is preparing a people in the lowly estates of this present evil world who are destined to reign with Christ in His throne, first over all the nations of this planet and then from universe to universe. Hear me! These present days of preparation in the lowest parts of the earth are fraught with infinite importance and eternal significance. It is here and now that preparations are to be made. You are mistaken, dear ones, if you suppose that the Lord has paid the high price of Calvary and wrought mightily by the sovereignty of His omnipotent Spirit within your life merely to whisk you away to some golden street to strum a harp forever!
"That ye should walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory" (I Thes. 2:12). "Wherefore we RECEIVING A KINGDOM which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb. 12:28). "Him that overcometh will I grant to SIT WITH ME IN MY THRONE, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne" (Rev. 3:21). The Greek word for "kingdom" is "basileia" meaning to rule, or reign, as well as all the territory or realm over which the king reigns. Thus, one could say that the word "kingship" could be used quite properly as an indication of the position of one receiving a kingdom. Those who truly become ONE IN UNION WITH HIM are to reign in glory with Him. It is a faithful saying and full of truth that ALL who are WITH HIM are called, and chosen, and faithful (Rev. 17:14). Think not in your heart that you pass your days here upon this earth, carefree, self-seeking, and careless concerning the high purposes of God, suddenly one day to find yourself sitting with Christ governing the universe and reconciling all things unto Him, because such a thing will not be.
God does not have any "honorary" positions in His Kingdom! You do not just awaken one morning to look in the mirror and discover that you have been raised up to sit with Christ in the sphere of His almighty power and infinite dominion. Well did Paul say, "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him; but if we deny Him, He will deny us" (II Tim. 2:12). To "deny" Him means more than verbal cursing and swearing and saying with Peter, "I know not the man." It simply means that if we do not permit Him His rightful place of LORDSHIP in our lives, if we deny Him in our identification with Him in His suffering, rejection and death to self, He will deny us the right to share the glory and dominion which follow death to self. Righteousness is the very foundation of His throne, and not until we are "holy as He is holy" will we be qualified to share that throne with Him. Many in this hour aspire to their "kingship rights" to fulfill their own will, in the lust for power to exercise dominion over others. The idea of exaltation and authority fills their hearts with pride, their ego becomes inflated. But before we receive a heavenly kingship we give up our rights, our will, our ways, and learn to be servant of all. "Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but HE THAT DOETH THE WILL OF MY FATHER" (Mat. 7:21). When in every fiber of our being there is a surrender to His will, followed by active obedience, then shall we enter into oneness with HIS KINGSHIP. Then shall the deep and earnest prayer of our heart be, "THY Kingdom come, THY will be done, in us." Until it is truly "NOT I, BUT CHRIST" we have not yet qualified to receive from Him a Kingdom - sharing His throne.
This truth of the Kingdom of God within us is of such dimension and vital importance to God's apprehended and separated ones that one scarcely knows how best to articulate its significance that God's people may be inspired to forsake the weak and beggarly things of earthly cares and pursuits and the vain things of tradition and religion to lay hold upon the glorious and eternal reality set before us. Jesus Christ has been in the process of PREPARING the Kingdom for almost two thousand years. The first word of teaching to fall from His lips declared, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." It was at hand when He spoke, for He was Himself the embodiment, expression and manifestation of the Kingdom. After preaching the Kingdom and displaying the glory and power and peace that issues from it, He then began to prepare through many fiery trials and processings A PEOPLE who themselves shall BECOME its fulfillment, its living reality in expression.
The Kingdom of God began to be established in individual, yielded, believing hearts as the great Sower planted there within the furrows of their earthen vessels the good seed of the Word of the Kingdom. Christ enters the fertile soil of the believing heart. He takes the throne and begins to rule and lead the believer till in him CHRIST IS ALL, and ALL IS CHRIST. This is the Kingdom of God in you. In some Christians His Kingdom is unable to gain a foothold and become established BECAUSE THE GROUND IS NOT FIT FOR THE SEED. It is unreceptive as the uncultivated roadside, where, finding no root, it brings forth nothing, but is carried off by the birds of the air, or stony, or thorny and full of weeds. The message is clear: In the thorny ground the seeds sprout, there is growth and new life, but the vitality is quickly smothered by prickly thorns so that the ultimate harvest is aborted. The cares, riches, and pleasures of life suffocate the new plants. They strangle the shoots. The synoptic writers all use the word choke. The buds appear; but there is no fruit. The seed never develops to maturity. The point is straightforward. JOBS, HOUSES, SWIMMING POOLS, SNOWMOBILES, STOCK MARKETS, SKIES, BALL GAMES, CLOTHING, CARS, AND STEREOS abort the growth of the Kingdom in our lives. They sap the life of the Kingdom and squelch the harvest!
But in some, thank God! the seed of the Kingdom brings forth fruit, some thirty, some sixty, some a hundredfold. Thus it has been through the centuries as God has prepared His Kingdom in men. In Jesus' day there was some good soil, and therefore Jesus sowed in hope. Among the multitude there were men and women who were sin-sick and world-weary, who longed and yearned and prayed for the righteousness, peace, and joy of the Kingdom of God. They were "such as...having heard the Word, hold it fast." These enlighted souls clung doggedly to every revelation of higher things! They walked in the light while it was day, and when night came they kept faith with the illumined hour, nor allowed the world's glare to turn aside from the hope beating perennially within their breasts. They were such as "bring forth fruit with patience."
Let it be fully understood that all through the past nineteen hundred years the Kingdom of God has been in our midst, within the elect and en-Christed ones. The body of Sons is now almost prepared. The King is making ready. Very soon the apprehended ones will move into an entirely NEW REALM, but not a strange realm, for we have already partaken of the firstfruits of its glory. Like the man of whom Paul spoke who, though here on earth in body, was nevertheless caught up into the realm of the third heaven, so these en-Christed ones will be "caught up to God and to His throne" that the next phase of the Kingdom may begin and spread its blessed government abroad in all the earth. During this age the Kingdom has been planted in the hearts of a firstfruit company composed of men out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. In the age to come the Kingdom shall find expression no longer merely in individual believers, but the NATIONS of them that are saved shall walk in the light of the city and the kings of the whole earth shall bring their honor and glory into it (Rev. 21:24).
There are two errors abroad in the land. The first error is the notion that the only manifestation of the Kingdom of God the world shall ever see is that which we have seen for the past nineteen hundred years. Of those who believe that the present indwelling of Christ in His people is the only phase of the Kingdom of God there shall ever be, some believe that this present arrangement will continue on indefinitely into unending ages yet to come and that in every generation there will be the repeated contest between light and darkness, good and evil, God and Satan and the saints and the wicked. Others embrace the crude notion that this age will finally end with Christ coming to snatch all the saints off some far-off heaven after which the sinners will be sent to hell to burn eternally and the earth passes away to exist no more.
The second error is the idea that there is a difference between the Church and the Kingdom, that the Kingdom has not truly come, that the KINGDOM IS A FUTURE AGE. Those who subscribe to this teaching are always LOOKING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME and cannot believe that it will ever be here until after the second coming of the Lord or the manifestation of the Sons of God. The truth lies between these two extremes. That the Kingdom of God is not merely a future hope but a present reality should be among the most evident of truths for "the law and the prophets were until John: since that time the Kingdom of God is preached and EVERY MAN PRESSETH INTO IT" and the Father "hath delivereth us from the power of darkness, and HATH TRANSLATED (Gr: transferred) US INTO THE KINGDOM OF HIS DEAR SON" (Lk. 16:16; Col. 1:13). What we long for and so intensely await is not the reality of the Kingdom but the INCREASE OF THE KINGDOM.
Long ago the prophet announced, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: OF THE I-N-C-R-E-A-S-E OF HIS GOVERNMENT AND PEACE THERE SHALL BE N-O E-N-D" (Isa. 9:6-7). Eternal INCREASE! Eternal increase of HIS KINGDOM! From realm to realm, from age to age, from galaxie to galaxie - of the INCREASE OF HIS GOVERNMENT there shall be N-O E-N-D! An ever-increasing Kingdom and dominion until God is all in all from sea and throughout all the unbounded heavens. It is inconceivable to imagine any Scripture or any inspired saying that could possible enlarge on such all-embracing words as these. Ah, yes, my friend, this age will end, yea, is ending, and another more glorious age looms bright upon the horizon. But make no mistake about it, the next age is NOT THE KINGDOM OF GOD. It is but the next stage of an ever-increasing Kingdom that through ages of ages shall grow, enlarge, advance, expand, intensify and triumph unto the glory of its eternal King.
The spiritual realms of the Kingdom of Heaven are being entered here and now by a company of the firstfruits of the Kingdom whether we know it or not. But Satan, knowing that his time is short, has great wrath and has stirred himself to destroy this manchild as soon as he is born, for he is to rule all nations in the age to come. The tactics the adversary uses are not what saints expect. He is not destroying them with drugs, drunkenness, demon possession, gross sins of the flesh, or even by persecution and martyrdom. He is destroying them with sleepiness, carelessness, much catering to the flesh, and with human zeal to accomplish things for God. Christians dread prayer and fasting but love crowds and excitement, forms of godliness and imaginary gifts of power, concerts and hand clapping, entertainment and dead works, pomp and ceremony. These are the weapons Satan uses, but it is not the Satan out there somewhere with horns, a pitch fork, and a funny suit, but the Satan growing up out of our own carnal mind as thorns and thistles in our very own Garden!
THE CARES OF THIS LIFE
The first mention of thorns and thistles is just this side of the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned, God sent them forth from the Garden and said, "cursed is the ground (earth, outer man) for thy sake; ...thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." Ever since that time man has contended with weeds. The thorns and thistles became the symbol of the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the pleasures of life which grow rampant in the lives of men and women today, choking the spiritual life of the Kingdom. Our temptations, fleshly desires, carnal appetites, worldly pursuits, pressures, and needs can all be symbolized by the bramble patch. Forever clinging, grabbing, tearing, choking, and hurting, the realm of the carnal mind reaches out to ensnare and entangle us in a hopeless jungle of no release. So for milleniums man has been fighting thistles, without and within, unsuccessfully. The roots run deep and wild, springing up in unsuspected places with a harvest of pain.
While there could be many and varied applications of the weeds growing in the fertile soil of the carnal mind, in His parable of the Soils Jesus spoke of how there was that seed which fell among the thorns that choked it. And when He gave the meaning of the parable, He said it was choked by CARES, and RICHES, and PLEASURES OF THIS LIFE and therefore brought no fruit to perfection. The word "cares" is from the Greek "merimna" meaning literally "divisions, distractions". Jesus gave another solemn warning about these "distractions" in Lk. 21:34-36: "And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all things...and to stand before the Son of man."
The cares of this world have turned many peoples lives into a pressure cooker. The strain of everyday living is steadily growing worse because of financial problems, higher taxes, inflation, government policies, the disturbing world situation, added responsibilities, sickness, hospital bills, rebellion in the home, unemployment, etc. The divisions and distractions of "this life" are too numerous to mention, we are all faced with them every day. There are those seemingly needful involvements of daily living, but when they so OVERWHELM us that we find ourselves fragmented and so divided that we are not able to gather ourselves together to serve the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength - then we need to be LOOSED from these things, escape from them, flee out of them. Many of God's precious saints are so encumbered with the CARES OF THIS LIFE that prayer and waiting upon the Lord have been shoved back into some far corner of their lives. They are utterly distracted by new cars, homes, furniture, keeping up with the "Jones", so that He provides we can enjoy, but we are not bound by them or to them. There is an escaping from the cares of this life - if we take care of the weeds in our earth!
God has a way out of the briar patch! When everything starts to fall apart, HIS LIFE WITHIN gives the strength and faith to ride out each crisis, to PASS THROUGH all these things, and to stand before the Son of man, praise His name!
There is another area of division and distraction that is a part of the cares of this life also - and that is the "religious realm" which can cause one to be so caught up in its programs and works that it literally becomes a CARE. Well do I remember former years of pastoring churches when every weekend was crowded with such a whirlwind of feverish activity, meetings, visitation etc. that come Monday morning I needed another sabbath to rest and recuperate from the one I had just been through! I suppose I will make some enemies, but I must tell you the truth nonetheless. How much eager-beaver religious work is done out of a carnal desire to make good or appear successful! How many hours of prayer are wasted beseeching God to bless projects that are geared to the glorification of men! How much hard-earned money is poured out upon men who, in spite of their tear-in-the-voice appeals, nevertheless seek only to make a fair show in the flesh! I have no hesitation in saying that a dynamic personality and a shrewd knowledge of human nature is ALL that any man needs to be a success in religious circles today, including the "spirit-filled" ones.
Let no one misunderstand me. I am not in any way condemning all meetings, ministry, or church activity. We praise God for all the precious saints that the Lord has meeting together in seasons of praise, worship, seeking the Lord, exhorting and edifying one another in the spontaneous flow of His life, we also meet and minister among these as the Lord enables and are blessed and strengthened thereby. The Church systems, for the most part, have accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity and bluster signify that something vital is being accomplished for God. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations, committees, board meetings, basketball tournaments, religious splash parties followed by devotions, weekend camping trips with a Bible quiz around the fire, Sunday School picnics, puppet shows, building fund drives, business men's banquets, revival meetings and a world more of feverish activities which occupy time, energy, and attention but can never satisfy the deepest longings of the heart. The shallowness of the average Chirstian's inner experience, the hollowness of his worship, the emptiness of his words, and that servile IMITATION OF THE WORLD which marks the religious system's promotional methods all testify that the whole program, instead of being a divine out-raying of THE CHRIST LIFE, is naught but part and parcel of "the cares of this world."
Oh! to escape religiousity that we might learn to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. And we rejoice to see how God is causing His people to flee this care. And let me assure you, my brother, I have no intention of assuming the burden of paying for men's programs, building men's kingdoms, or joining in their efforts to save the world, when God already has a plan for the salvation of all nations which will work, while men's efforts have failed. But to remain in the midst of all this activity and not become caught in its snare, is an escape which only God can work in us and maintain for us.
Dear man of God; dear woman of God; dear friend and brother of mine! Let us pull up by the roots the noxious, choking weeds of religious excitement and pseudo devotion and seek the face of the Lord in deep humility until He comes and breaks up our fallow ground and rains righteousness upon us! The soil that shall bring forth fruit unto perfection is that which has been PLOWED UP, CLEANSED, and impregnated with the incorruptible seed of the Word of God, daily exposed to the arising of the Sun of Righteousness upon it.
BURNING OFF THE FIELD
Jesus identified the "thorns and thistles" of the ground as the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and pleasures of life which choke out the good seed of the indwelling Kingdom of God. Any "care" of life that chokes the Word and makes it unfruitful in our lives is a pernicious weed growing in our ground. Were one to make account and analyze all the perils, tribulations, pressures, situations, etc. facing men today they could soon become double-minded, becoming over-anxious about these things. The more men take into account the so-called conspiracy seeking to destroy our nation, worry about inflation, economic collapse, famine, nuclear was, communism, etc. the more they are moved away from their settled place in God, they are no longer secure in the secret place of the Most High and these earthly concerns, like weeds and darnel, choke out the peace and triumph of HIS LIFE within. Blessed is the man who "has no fear of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord" (Ps. 112:7). He belongs to that KINGDOM WHICH IS FROM ABOVE, and which is established deep within, and no longer fears the collapse of the kingdoms of this world.
Though Jesus and the apostles told us there would be a rash of false prophets in the closing days of this age, I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who are claiming that they have some kind of direct revelation from God about any number of events to transpire in this hour, and the dates on which they are to occur. Recently Bill Maupon, leader of the Lighthouse Gospel Tract Foundation in Tucson, Arizona, proclaimed that Christ would return on June 28, and rapture his followers to heaven. He also stated that prior to the June 28th date, Damascus, the Syrian capital, and Lebanon would both fall to Israeli conquest, and Egypt would regain the Sinai Peninsula. Maupin said he would wait in the nude on June 28 for Christ to return and take him and his followers to heaven.
You may smile to yourself at such obvious error, but I will incur the wrath of many well-meaning people when I declare that not a few of these false prophets are in the so-called "end-time" or "Sonship" message, and in the midst of those sincere saints pressing on into the fullness of God. Over the past several years I have heard countless visions and prophecies proclaiming that the Great Tribulation would begin in 1970, or 1975 or on some other date; that the Sons of God would be manisfested in 1968, or 1974, or 1976, or 1978, or 1982, or 1986; many other events I have heard prophesied, the vast majority of which never came to pass. Some of these deceived persons are requiring their people to go out into the wilderness places to establish wilderness hideouts, hoping to escape the coming judgment. Some are stockpiling guns and ammunition and food and plan to shoot their way through the tribulation. THANK GOD that He delivers us from all this fantastic nonsense!
This may be a hard word for some, but the simple truth is that quitting your job, moving away from the city, buying a farm, clearing land, building a cabin, getting back to nature, trudging through mud, hand-pumping water, raising your own food, canning, cooking on a wood stove, sewing our own clothes, using an outdoor john, reading by lantern light, storing guns and ammunition, in short - BECOMING SELF-SUFFICIENT - has absolutely nothing whatever to do with producing the fruit of the Kingdom of God and entering into Sonship! Now, if you just naturally enjoy roughing it, or if your desire is to farm, then go ahead! Farming is a noble occupation, but farming will in no way enhance your prospects of becoming a Son of God! In fact, those who go to such lengths to prepare themselves in a natural way for the calamities to come upon the earth can become so involved with the physical and material aspects of coming events that the CARES OF LIFE AND THE DECEITS OF THESE THINGS CHOKE THE FRUIT-BEARING LIFE right out of the Kingdom seed!
The Sons of God live NOW in the peace of the Kingdom of Heaven and do not concern themselves with what tomorrow may or may not bring. Our omnipotent Father is more than able to keep that which we have COMMITTED UNTO HIM against that day. When we concern ourselves with the dangers of the hour, what might happen tomorrow, becoming so involved in MAKING PREPARATIONS FOR THE FLESH, a hedge against the future, until we miss caring for the seed of life that is within, we are in danger of losing the fruit that we waited so long for. Remember, dear ones, It is with much PATIENCE that we possess our souls and THROUGH MUCH TRIBULATION (not by missing it!) we much enter into the Kingdom of God.
The thorns sprang up in our earth as a result of Adam's fall. But God has a way out of the briar patch! The One who came into this world so many years later to pay the penalty for man's sin, was forced to wear a crown made of these vicious plant spines. In recording the events of the trial and crucifixion of our Lord, the apostle John writes, "and the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put in on His head" (Jn. 19:2). Palestine, the so-called "holy land," is like the rest of the world - unholy - and it has more than its share of them. Probably no other country exists where so many plants can be found there. Listen! "Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee...and the soldiers platted a crown of thorns and put it upon HIS head." We shudder at the thought of the piercing thorns and never look beyond them a creation DELIVERED FROM THE CURSE, and a King reigning WHERE THERE IS NO MORE CURSE.
We have read the dead letter of the Word - seeing only the physical, while the reason and the results were completely missed! Thorns...cares of life...pressures...problems...fleshly desires...and then comes the Word: "Casting ALL YOUR CARE upon HIM; for He careth for you" (I Pet. 5:7). Think of it - thorns upon HIS brow! Ah, that's where they all belong! May our meditations upon these things make us more aware of the curses that still remain upon the ground, and the need for full deliverance and restoration, not for ourselves alone, but for ALL OF GROANING CREATION. May we be able to truly "commit our cause" to the Lord, finding a deep place of peace and confidence in the very midst of the agitations and turmoils of the world about us.
Some will not cast all their cares upon Him, becoming identified with His thorn pierced brow, finding blessed deliverance from the curse, having their soil cleansed from the weeds of inner wickedness. For these careless or rebellious ones God also has a process. This ground in which the seed sprouts up with such promise only to be choked later, is described in Heb. 6:4-8. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain...and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; WHOSE IS TO BE BURNED."
The first eight verses of Hebrews chapter six are dealing one central truth - "going on to perfection". The apostle says, "And this we will do, if God permit." He then speaks of those who fall away, their spiritual life is choked, where once they had feasted on the glorious Word of God, and had tasted the powers of the coming age, but now turn away from the reality of these things and the Arthur S. Way translation says of them that "it is a task beyond human powers to go on indefinitely rekindling in them the new-life purpose." But as the earth has to be purged by fire to rid it of the thorns and thistles, so also these who will not continue in the increase of the Kingdom because their ground bears a bountiful crop of briars will have to be purged BY FIRE before they will come to that place of being able to bring forth fruit unto perfection. One cannot continue forever with a polluted, uncleansed soil, but will eventually be dealt with by fire to end the cause of their fruitlessness, that they might be restored into oneness with the purposes of God. M.R. Vincent, in his WORD STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, points out that in Heb. 6:8 it is the "earth" which is burnt, the land itself, and may I add that as a field full of thorns and briars is burned over, making way for the plowing and cleansing of the soil so that a new crop may be planted, so will God deal with our crop of weeds as He sends His purifying fire into our lives consuming the clinging, pricking, choking underbrush.
LILIES AMONG THE THORNS
In line with our thoughts in this Study there is a short but beautiful passage in the Song of Solomon 2:2 where the bridegroom announces to his love, "I am...the lily of the valleys. As the lily among thorns, so is My love among the daughters." The bridegroom is a type of Christ and here describes an aspect of His own character, "I am...the lily of the valleys." There is deep significance in this setting forth of His character and relation to us as the Lily of the Valleys, that white, spotless lily that grows down in the fertile valleys; the lily, which is so humble and yet so stately, so full of perfume and yet hidden away. It was when our blessed Lord emptied Himself, taking the form of servant; He humbled Himself to identify with men of the earth; when He humbled Himself to be obedient unto death, even the dead of the cross, that He became the Lily of the Valleys. Who knows the depth into which He went, and the suffering through which He passed? Who can fathom the waves and billows that went over His head as He went down into the darkness to redeem His own?
He would have His beloved rejoice in the goodly fragrance of His name and oils, but He would also have her see Him as the Lily of the Valleys. He would have her behold Him in His glory upon the throne, but He would also have her see His humility and behold Him in the beauty of that lowly flower that grows in the Valleys, bringing heaven's expression in the earth realm. He would have her smell the delicate fragrance of that meek and lowly spirit, which had its source in Him and was manifested as He learned obedience by the things He suffered as He participated in the experiences and circumstances shared by His "many brethren"; which sent forth fragrance before the Father as He joyed in the midst of sorrow, dwelt in peace in the midst of storm, and triumphed in the face of defeat. This humble plant is found growing in the fertile Valleys, but its blossoms are found in the courts of the Heavenlies!
Then the bridegroom says to his love, "As the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters." The Lord would have His chosen ones follow in His footsteps; and as they behold Him in His fragrance, and in His humility, they hear Him say: "As I am, so are ye in this world. He that saith he abideth in Me ought himself also to walk even as I walked." To be like Him one must go down into the fertile Valleys, and there must abide. One must draw strength and nourishment from the hidden springs and the rich soil of His life, and His life must flow into him until he blossoms out in his likeness and bears the fruit of His nature.
In the eyes of the bridegroom all other daughters are but thorns, and they are surrounded by thorns. The Bible makes the analogy many times. God told Israel that unless they drove the enemies from their land, their foes would become "thorns in your sides" (Num. 33:55). In Micah 7:4 we read that the people had become so corrupt that "the best of them is as a briar: the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge." The wise man observed that "thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse" (Prov. 22:5 RSV), and Jesus said that the fruit of an unrighteous man is thorns and thistles. But the beautiful lily has no thorns growing upon it! In the LILY PEOPLE there is nothing sharp that wounds those around them. There are no ungracious actions, no condemning words, no wicked or self-righteous attitudes growing upon this plant of the Kingdom of Heaven. The lilies are one with THE LILY.
The bridegroom has just told his love that He is the Lily of the Valleys, then He describes His beloved as a lily among the thorns; harmless, yet upright and beautiful; spotless and fragrant. As He is, so she must be. He would have her conformed to His image, with His every attribute adorning her and with every likeness to Him perfected; with every perfume and beauty manifested upon her and in her life. He would have her so perfectly partaking of this likeness, that she shall be in all the earth as a lily among the thorns.
Lilies among the thorns! Ah, a PEOPLE dwelling in the midst of all the pressures, problems, turmoil, confusion and curse of this world system - and being totally UNAFFECTED, UNINFLUENCED, UNDISTURBED; NOT DISTRACTED, NOT UPSET, PERPLEXED, FEARFUL, SHAKEN, OR DISCOURAGED - and coming forth pure, spotless, separate, gentle, longsuffering, upright, fragrant, full of righteousness, peace, and joy, in no way choked or overcome by the bramble, but growing and blooming in spite of them, exhibiting the rare beauty and sending forth the sweet fragrance of the Lord. During these dark days, as we await the lifting of the curse from off all creation, and the triumph of HIS KINGDOM in all realms - let us BE LILIES AMONG THE THORNS!
J. PRESTON EBY
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