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LEANING UPON THE LORD

By Curtis Pugh

Poteau, Oklahoma

 

            Great and grave problems existed in the Lord's congregation in Corinth. Because of the extent of the wickedness within the assembly, the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write these words: “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3). Sadly, Pentecostal and Charismatic groups pattern their pop-up meetings after the disorderly circuses typical of the Corinthian assembly. But that is not our subject. What we wish to point out is this: while we deny the existence of “carnal Christians” who never are obedient to the Lord, we ask, who among the Lord's people have not felt at times their own carnality? Are we not often grieved and burdened that we who have been regenerated at times feel our own wretched fleshly natures? Do we not find that we need ongoing repentance because of thoughts, words, deeds and omissions – things that we now see as sins? Are we not aware of times in which the Holy Spirit within us is grieved? Have we not at times quenched Him? It is God who teaches us that we, too, are like Paul who wrote: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not,” (Romans 7:18). So it is that God, who has justified us, continues the work of salvation in progressive steps of sanctification. He continues to work practical holiness in us.

            The Psalmist wrote: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all,” (Psalm 34:19). We understand that wicked men, their religious organizations and governments are often the means of afflicting the righteous. So also are health issues and physical suffering. But why is it that God deems it necessary to send these things into the lives of His elect? And be sure: it is God who sends plagues, diseases and all physical evils upon men. God prophet said, “...shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6). But why do those whom God  has justified – those whom He sees as righteous – why must they suffer? We say these things are necessary for the benefit of God's elect because God does not willingly or capriciously send them upon us. It is revealed that “...though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men,” (Lamentations 3:32-33). God afflicts because it is necessary to bring to fruition what He desires for His children, “the righteous.” Sometimes the righteous suffer more than the wicked. The Psalmist confessed his distress at seeing this. He wrote, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm,” (Psalm 73:3-4). Even in death often the wicked pass out of this life in painless ease while the children of God languish in awful pains as they near death. And sometimes death comes to the righteous after they endure years of suffering. Is there a purpose in the suffering of saints? Let us learn from one affliction caused directly by God upon one of His elect.

            Let us consider Jacob. God said of him: “...Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” (Romans 9:13). We can be sure that God's grace – His unmerited favor – was toward Jacob in all His dealings with him because God loved him. When he was fleeing Northward from his brother Esau, Jacob had met God at a place called Bethel – that is beth, house and el, God. Thus Bethel means the house of God. He later renamed the place Elbethel – that is El, God, beth, house and el, God. He called the place God in His house. For there he was found by God inasmuch as God came to him in that place. On his trip northward when God visited him in Bethel Jacob said, “...Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven,” (Genesis 28:16-17). Jacob was not seeking God when God visited him. He was like Saul of Tarsus who was not seeking God when God visited him. How foolish to think that the sheep seek the shepherd! It is the shepherd – in our case, the true Shepherd – who seeks the sheep, knowing exactly where they are. And oh how His inner dealings with us pierce our hearts! He knows exactly how to address each one of us as He finds us in our sins. For example, to the woman at the well he said “...Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly,” (John 4:16-18). Christ knew she was living with a man outside of marriage. And He addressed her heart regarding that sin. To the chief rabbi in Israel, Nicodemus, the Lord specified his need saying, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again,” (John 3:6-7). The Lord in the instance of the woman of Samaria anticipated her questions. In the case of Nicodemus he prevented his questions. God knows exactly how to reach the real issues of the heart rather than dealing with superfluous matters and curious questions that may be of interest to sinners.     

            The Bible points out a number of things that are accomplished by suffering. In this present article we will consider only one. This one is revealed to us in an incident in the life of this fellow Jacob whom we mentioned above. He was, as you will remember, father of the twelve tribes of Israel. The account we wish to consider is as follows: “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he [the “man”] saw that he prevailed not against him [Jacob], he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he [the “man”] said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh,” (Genesis 32:24-31 – brackets added).

            Most all Bible students are agreed that the “man” that wrestled with Jacob  was God – a pre-incarnate visit from God the Son. Theologians call this a Christophany. Before we go farther, let us note that whenever God visits someone on the earth He does it for a reason. That reason is to do something about that person's situation. God does not need to take a tour to learn what is going on on earth. He comes with a purpose, a plan, and the ability to carry out that plan. From the above text we learn that Jacob, after his wrestling match said, “I have seen God face to face.” He recognized the “man” as being God. By the way, The “man” came and wrestled with Jacob – that is, the “man” initiated the wrestling match. Men do not initiate either their salvation or their true encounters with God after salvation. Jacob did not see the “man” and decide that He had something Jacob wanted. Jacob did not jump on the “man” - rather the “man” began the wrestling match with Jacob. And so it is with us. All true encounters between God and lost sinners are initiated by Him. After all, “...there is none that seeketh after God,” (Romans 3:11). So it is that God must initiate salvation and He does so by means of the new birth.

            Jacob resisted the “man” who wrestled with him so strenuously that the “man” did not win until He supernaturally touched Jacob in “the hollow of his thigh.” What a lesson! In God's dealings with His elect it takes the supernatural power of God to overcome the natural man's enmity against God. Men do not willingly submit to God until God makes them willing. Proof: Paul wrote, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” (Philippians 2:13). The wrestling of the preacher is not sufficient to overcome the sinner no matter how accurately or enthusiastically he preaches the Word. The persuading ability of the preacher can move men's emotions. At times preaching may even produce effects in men's bodies perhaps causing them to cry out. Sometimes he can get them to walk to the front in a religious meeting. A preacher may even persuade some to be baptized. But all this is vain unless and until God moves in. It is only by His indwelling Holy Spirit that the individual is no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit. Paul made this clear, saying, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” (Romans 8:9). Until and unless the Holy Spirit (here also called the Spirit of Christ) takes up His residence in the sinner, men and women are just “in the flesh.” We realize that all our talk about God initiating the new birth apart from man's action is strange and unthinkable to the average professing Christian. After all that would take man's destiny out of his own hands. That would mean that God is selective in dealing with some and passing by others just as He passed by Esau. But this is the truth: Jacob did not initiate the wrestling match with the Lord Jesus. It was the “man” who wrestled with him until the break of day. It was the “man” who touched Jacob in the hollow of his thigh making a cripple out of him. So it was that at sunrise Jacob crossed the brook Penuel a handicapped man. He “halted upon his thigh.”

            Jacob halted upon his thigh, but he leaned on the LORD! What caused him to lean on the LORD? It was the affliction brought upon Jacob apart from Jacob's will by the “man” who wrestled with him. So it is in our regeneration: “...it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy,” (Romans 9:16). As my grandmother used to say: 'put that in your pipe and smoke it!' Only after it became clear to him that the “man” was more than a mere man did Jacob ask a blessing from Him. He wanted a benefit. He wanted something pleasant. He expected a gift. He did not expect to come away from this encounter as a cripple. Jacob was not asked if he was willing to be made a cripple. His will was not involved at all. And so it is with us. Would we choose to be afflicted? Would we choose pain? Would we choose cancer or diabetes or arthritis or some other terrible illness? Of course not! The flesh does not choose to suffer. Even the true believer may at times question his suffering because the reason is to him unknown. Only the regenerated spirit of man can be brought to the place where he is convinced of the absolute goodness of God and the benefits of suffering. What? Benefits of suffering? There are indeed several benefits that come from suffering although we are considering only one at this time.

            Only the born again ones who have been made acutely aware of their inner corruption and of the goodness and purpose of God are brought to suffer willingly. Only as the child of God grows spiritually will he arrive at the place where he is willing to halt upon his thigh and at the same time lean on the LORD. The babe in Christ begins to learn as the Holy Ghost teaches him – but his learning is gradual. A newborn child of God may be spiritual  immediately, but he is not a mature saint apart from time, experience, sound teaching, etc. Growing spiritually takes time. It takes the Word and the exercises through which God puts each of His own. Did not our Lord say, “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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:29-30). A yoke such as the hearers of Jesus were acquainted was for toiling. It was commonly placed upon oxen. It was emblematic of the bearing of burdens. How can a yoke be easy or tolerable rather than galling and oppressive? A yoke is beneficial to a child of God because he learns from it. “Take” infers a willingness. A child of God must be brought to the place where he willingly suffers else he will never “learn” of Christ. Christ and His preciousness are the blessed experience of those learning under His yoke!

            Surely we have a hint in Hebrews 5:13-14. There we read: “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”  Seventeen times the King James translators translated the Greek word “teleios” as “perfect” in contrast with their one time translation here of “full age.” The word does not denote sinless perfection, but rather manhood/womanhood or maturity. The full-ager is contrasted with the one who is a “babe. “While It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth,” (Lamentations 1:27) it is those of “full age” who have undergone the exercises of their senses or understanding as if they were in a school of athletics - for this is the meaning of the words. God's school! It is a strenuous school full of sweat and tears, of stretching and aches and pains: in short full of those exercises that enables them to “discern both good and evil.” They are brought to the place where they discern the goodness brought by suffering and the evil of the flesh left to itself. It is a school where one learns that the “yoke is easy” and that Christ's “burden is light.” How can this be? James penned it thus: “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble,” (James 4:6). There it is! “He giveth more grace”! More grace to the humble child of God who bears Christ's yoke. Grace makes the impossible possible and the difficult sweetly and peacefully acceptable.

            And so in the kindness of grace and mercy the Almighty God leads us along. He educates and exercises His elect. He teaches them the Word as He sees fit, bringing many sons to a level of maturity wherein they trust Him even in their afflictions. Their faith has grown to the point that they are made willing to suffer. Theirs is an experiential knowledge – knowledge gained by experiences in walking with God. That kind of knowledge is vastly different and vastly superior to mere head knowledge. That kind of knowledge makes a man unmovable in the things of God. And above all they learn to lean on the LORD. It may not be that God literally touched the hollow of your thigh – it may be some other physical ailment, but as surely as afflictions come to the child of God, they come for a reason. And they never come apart from the grace necessary to bear them. Remember, “He giveth more grace!” And what inner peace and calm comes to the hearts of those who are learning to lean on the LORD. And I write “learning to lean” for leaning is not something once experienced never to be needed again. It is not a one-time leaning, but a continual one as long as we are in our present state.

            And so it was that God – the Almighty Jehovah – took that scoundrel Jacob – that tripper-upper who even in birth reached out and caught the heel of his brother – so it was that God took him and brought him along to the point that he found it necessary to lean on the Lord. And this leaning on the LORD was a continual thing for when Jacob was dying we read of him: “By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff,” (Hebrews 11:21). The crook was made into a worshiper of God. When he was a dying, he was still a leaning! He who had once thought only of self now worshiped! The self-willed scoundrel was transformed into a “leaner” - not only physically on his staff as here in this verse, but he leaned upon the LORD. Is that not the testimony of all God's chosen people? May God grant that each one of us learn to lean on the Lord – when we are a dying and long before that time. Lean upon Jehovah and cry 'grace grace – Lord I need grace' every moment and in every situation, for “He giveth more grace.” And when once our education/edification down here is complete, know this: “... when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is,” (1 John 3:2). Oh glorious day – never ending day – when we shall need no more afflictions and God shall not just dry our eyes in the midst of suffering, but instead, “...God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away,” (Revelation 2:14). There is coming a time for the child of God when there will be no more need for suffering. When we have completed the course God has determined for each one of His own, our education shall cease and our glorification and reign with Christ shall begin – never to end!

 


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