Various positions in life call for specific qualifications, and a prospective applicant is usually able, and eager, to ascertain what these are, by a careful study of the conditions attaching to the appointment he desires to secure. Is the Lord less particular than a business executive would be? We may safely say emphatically, “No!” On the contrary as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways. But not only are His standards immeasurably higher than ours—they are of a totally different kind. In worldly matters and business affairs, it is the man of intellectual ability, of dynamic force, the leader, head and shoulders above his fellows, who counts. Is there not a possible danger of regarding these characteristics essential and sufficient for those who seek to do the Lord’s work? If a man like Samuel, when prompted by Eliab’s countenance and stature to think that this was surely the Lord’s anointed, needed to be reminded that “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart,” we certainly cannot afford to forget it. Although we thank God for all who have laid their outstanding gifts upon the altar and consecrated them to the Lord’s service, it still remains true that spiritual work calls for spiritual qualifications, and of a sort usually despised by the man of the world.
The would-be servant of the Lord should surely not be less eager than a candidate for a secular post would be, to ascertain what qualifications his Master is looking for. The opening verses of Isaiah 66 will suggest some, at least, of the qualities essential for the deepening of the spiritual life and for effective service.
We are first told that the Lord we fain would serve has the heaven for His throne—the great earth is but His footstool. Where then is the house that we can build unto Him? Where is the place in which He can rest? To what kind of man will He look? To this man—to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at His word. Three things mark this man:—
(1) He is poor. We speak of people as poor in various respects—in this world’s goods, in health, or in knowledge. James reminds us that the poor of this world may be rich in faith. It is impossible in this connection not to think of the Lord Jesus, who “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might become rich.” And how poor He became, when He could say that whilst the foxes had their holes and the birds of the air their nests, He (the Son of Man) had not where to lay His head!
But is this the only meaning to be applied to the word “poor”? We know that a person may be poor but at the same time arrogant and domineering. On the other hand, a person may be endowed with much, socially and materially, and yet exhibit a grace that appeals to all. Then what is it about this poor man upon which the Lord looks so attentively? The Lord Jesus answers our question, for in Matt. 5. 3 we read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
David could slay the lion and the bear, could enter into conflict with the Giant of Gath, assured of victory in the Lord’s battle, yet in Psalm 34. 6 we read these words, “this poor man cried.” Again, look at that ardent persecutor of the early Church, that Pharisee of the Pharisees. On the Damascus road the Lord arrests him, and what a change! This erstwhile proud man writes later, “we… have no confidence in the flesh,” and again, “what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (Phil. 3. 7). Yet again he described himself as “least of the Apostles, not meet to be called an Apostle”; “less than the least of all saints”; and “sinners; of whom I am chief.”
This lowliness of spirit is wonderful in its influence upon the hearts, minds and lives of those who possess it, for such have learned that “no flesh should glory in His Presence” (1 Cor. 1. 29).
(2) He is Contrite. Man is by nature proud, ever ready to justify himself. He holds firmly to his integrity and walks abroad in the spirit of self-righteousness, ignorant that spiritually he is unclean, and all his “righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64. 6). But when the Spirit of God works, there is a breaking down, and this self-satisfied spirit gives place to godly sorrow and repentance—there is contrition and confession. How beautifully the Psalmist describes it! Listen as he says, “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psa. 34. 18); and yet again, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psa. 51. 17). “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57. 15). May the enormity of sin and the amazing love of God in Christ combine to create in us a humble and contrite spirit.
A Biblical illustration of real contrition is found in Luke 7. 36-50. Here was a broken heart and a truly contrite spirit, and this woman experienced that healing which the Lord graciously brings to the broken in heart.
May the Lord Jesus ever be before our hearts in all the wonder of His saving Grace. Let us not forget Calvary and all that it meant to Him. In spirit may we dwell .there, and sing in very truth:—
“Dwelling on Mount Calvary,
Contrite shall my spirit be;
Rest and holiness shall find,
Fashioned like my Saviour’s mind.”
(3) He Trembleth. What is this “word?” What is there about it that should cause the reader to tremble? Let us always remember that the Bible is not an ordinary book. As I hold it in my hand, let me reverently consider that it is the Word of God. It is old yet ever new. Said an aged saint, “I have been reading this Book for 70 years, and it is as new and fresh today as when I first read it.”
How important that we come to the Book with godly fear and reverence, looking to the gracious Spirit of God to illumine its pages and make its words live to us!
We turn again briefly to the Scriptures for our illustrations on the “trembling man.”
In Ezra 9. 4 we read of “everyone that trembled at the words of the God of Israel.” Look again at Daniel. How ardently we have sung at different times “Dare to be a Daniel,” and rightly so. What courage and nobility stamped this man, who in youthful days “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king s meat, nor with the wine which he drank” (Dan. 1. 8). Even the prospect of the lions’ den leaves him unswerving in his faithfulness to his God. Yet he records, And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling” (Dan. 10. 11).
Think again of the prophet Habakkuk. This messenger of God says inch. 3, v. 16, “my lips quivered at Thy voice. Self-confidence is considered a valuable asset in the man of the world, and probably few excelled Saul of Tarsus in this certainly very few can have had as adequate grounds as he for glorying in the flesh. But the vision and voice of Christ on the Damascus road stripped him of all that—he lay on the earth ‘trembling and astonished’ at the word he heard. Nor did he forget the lesson—years afterwards he wrote, “we… have no confidence in the flesh.” Since self-assurance suggests a lack of acquaintance with the presence of God, it can hardly be regarded as becoming one who seeks to serve the Lord.
There are two remarkable verses linked together in Psalm 119. It is a wonder the infidel has not seized upon them as a contradiction—perhaps he has neither the time nor the heart to read this long Psalm! Verse 161 says “My heart standeth in awe of Thy word.” Do we? The very next verse says “I rejoice at Thy word, as one that findeth great spoil.”
There is no contradiction here. Those who have stood in awe as the Word of God has searched their inmost hearts, are the very ones who can most rejoice in the same Word in its marvellous unfolding of the love and grace of God, in its revelation of our adorable Saviour, and in its unlimited and precious promises to the redeemed.
Alas, such is the weakness of human nature that sublime truths which once moved our souls, as they become more familiar to us may be taken for granted, and so we may lose the first sense of wonder. How deep is our need of that grace by which alone we can continue to serve Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear. Paul makes it clear to the Philippians that fear and trembling is the proper state of heart for those who would work out in life and service the salvation which God has wrought in them (Phil. 2. 12).
Let us hear the conclusion of the matter. God says:—
Are we among those who fulfil the conditions? We can be, for the Lord Jesus undertakes to be our Teacher — “take My yoke upon you and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11. 29).