Circumstances and Consequences
'And fears shall be in the way.' (Ecclesiastes xii.5.)

The man who wrote these words was specially emphasizing the importance of settling one's relationships to the great Creator before the coming of days when infirmities increase, and decay of natural powers sets in. The practical outcome of that thought is, that postponement only adds to one's difficulties when the battle really has to be fought.

Amongst those difficulties the sacred writer places that natural foreboding, physical shrinking and hesitation which paralyse men when, after lives spent in sin and selfish indulgence, they desire to make their peace with God; for, says he, 'They shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way'. The imaginary obstacles which arise in people's minds, seeming to make holy living impossible, are varied in character, but I see that many are influenced by fears and feelings concerning things which I class under the headings of 'Circumstances and Consequences'.

How often, when giving earnest advice, one gets the response, 'My circumstances are against me', 'Placed as I am, it cannot be', or 'The consequences are too serious', 'The price of the blessing is too high'. Even with persons who have no doubt as to the possibility of a clean heart and sanctification of life, these thoughts operate; and we find the fear of circumstances hindering one, and the fear of consequences influencing another, so that they are held back from definitely seeking the blessing. True, in many instances, the idea is a delusion, a snare of the Devil, by which souls are kept out of God's Full Salvation; but, there is the fact -- 'fears are in the way'.

Fear is like a great magnifying-glass; or one of those mirrors which give a distorted image of things reflected in them. This effect is often produced in persons both as regards their own circumstances and the consequences of following the leadings of God's Spirit.

You may remember how Bunyan, in his 'Pilgrim's Progress', represents Christian desiring to enter the House Beautiful, but suddenly he espied two lions in the way, and was almost frightened out of his purpose until some one told him that, if he went boldly on, and kept in the middle of the path, he need not fear, seeing the lions were securely chained. What an illustration of the quaking fears which hinder definite action in regard to spiritual blessings!

1. A few words as to circumstances may be helpful to some one. Let me, however, first make one thing clear. With some people circumstances exist which are insurmountable barriers; there are positions in the world which could not be held by a fully sanctified person any more than fire can be carried in a man's bosom and he not be burned; situations involving the practice of evil or resulting in gain through the unjust sufferings of others. Such positions must be given up, if men wish to enjoy God's sanctifying power. I am not, however, dealing now with such positions or the circumstances connected with them; I am referring to circumstances or conditions of life which are lawful in themselves and in the light of the Word of God, but which may present difficulties and involve serious trial to those determined to live purely and serve God faithfully.

The fear in some instances is that if they obtain the blessing the strain of temptation would be such as to render a fall probable. 'I could not keep the blessing if I got it'; 'If I could change my position, or surroundings, or connexions, then I would take the necessary steps'. These are words we frequently hear. A married man or woman says, 'Ah! if only I were single, then I could live a life of full consecration'. With equal seriousness the single person says, 'Ah! if only I were married, then the life of purity and Holiness would be possible to me'. The mother, fearful about the strain which the care of the children brings, often speaks in the same way. So it is with business relationships and many other matters in which the circumstances are presented as things making Holiness an impossibility.

When I was a young man in business I yearned for a position in which I could be separate from all worldly entanglements, so that I could obtain and enjoy the blessing. But, do you know, since I have been a Salvation Army Officer, I have often been tempted to think that the sanctified life is easier in the circumstances of commercial life, and that if I was so placed the spiritual things would be more appreciated, and I should be able to live nearer to God. You see, it is the same old temptation, 'My circumstances, my conditions of life, my work, my home', and the fear of these things often becomes a snare.

That is a pathetic picture which the Psalmist gives us of these poor Jews by the waters of Babylon, who, when urged to sing the songs of Zion, answered, 'How shall we sing the Lord's songs in a strange land?' Is not that the feeling which bursts from many lips and many more hearts, 'How can you expect me, in my circumstances, to get sanctified and live a holy life?'

But is not that just the point where the triumph of faith comes in? It is there that we see the value of those exceeding great and precious promises by which you are to become a partaker of the Divine nature, and on which your faith is to build. 'As thy days, so shall thy strength be'; 'My God shall supply all your need'; and that includes your need in cleansing, your need in keeping, and your need in blessing adapted to your circumstances. Remember, the Lord is the Master of circumstances, and you must put yours into His hands, and trust Him not only to sanctify you wholly, but to preserve you blameless unto the end. You must trust God to make you equal to your circumstances.

2. But there is that second class of anxious persons to whom I referred: those who are held back by the fear of consequences.

Oh, what crowds of enlightened souls might be walking triumphantly along the King's highway, who are yet tramping on amidst doubts and fears and frequent condemnation, all because they dread the pressure of God's claims upon them, and fear the consequences of making a whole-hearted surrender to Him.

There is another point of view about which I must speak a word in passing. When looking at the consequences of fully yielding to God's claims, and perhaps trembling and hesitating, do you ever think of the results of holding back what you know God wants? Do not forget that there are some consequences of saying 'No' to the Lord. When a child knows his father's wish, but, in answer to a reasonable request, says, 'No', you call it disobedience. Is it not a still more serious thing to be disobedient in the presence of more than a father's love? You must count the cost of that, when resisting the light and influence of God's Spirit.

Surely, you will not choose to be numbered among those who 'knew their Lord's will, but did it not'. In the Gospel story such were 'beaten with many stripes'; that means stripes of loss, stripes of pain, stripes of sorrow, perhaps even stripes of death. If we are to suffer, let it be the result of following Him, rather than the consequence of denying our Lord.

Now, I do not want to mislead anybody, for, of course, there are consequences of surrender and determination to live the holy life; but, unfortunately, these fearful ones look at the wrong side of the list. They think of the separateness from the world involved in a life of Holiness; they think of the cold shoulder which some, even Christian friends, would give them; they think of the toil after souls which the sanctified must maintain; of the money that they may have to give; of the partnership in Christ's sufferings, and other self-denying expressions of devotion to God and the Kingdom. 'Oh, I shall have to wear uniform!' or 'go to the Open-Air', or 'perhaps become an Army Officer', and, as an Officer, 'may have to leave my native land'. The enemy holds these and many similar things before the eyes of a convicted soul, very often magnifying the facts until the word difficulty is changed to impossibility, and, like the young ruler of the Gospel story, they 'go away sorrowful'.

A man came across London to be present at one of our Thursday Meetings. When spoken to by an Officer, he admitted the force of all that had been said, but he found an insurmountable difficulty in his business as a shopkeeper. He saw that the goods on his shelves and sold over the counter were mixed, including what he realized to be bad and damaging to many others. His heart was full of conviction and desire, but anxiety about his wife and family prevented him closing down, while his conscience prevented him selling a business which he knew had wrong and doubtful things connected with it. 'What is wrong for me', he said, 'would be wrong for another'; and so he could not pay the price, and, like the young ruler referred to, he has gone away sorrowful.

In the Meeting of the following week a man came to the table seeking the blessing, and he cried out aloud, 'O Lord, give me a clean heart! Take the malice out which I have had towards these two persons! O Lord, I will go straight to them, and confess, and ask them to forgive me!' Needless to add, the blessing came, and, rejoicing, he went off to his home, fifty miles out of London, to fulfil his word. The contrast between this and the man previously mentioned teaches its own lesson.

Now, it is quite right that seekers of Full Salvation should look at the cost, and count it well; but, Oh, that they would also think of the tremendous balance of joy and peace and blessing which more than makes up for what has to be borne or done or given up! Instead of dim twilight, or hazy doubts or forebodings, the sunshine of the Divine Presence makes all things bright and gladsome. Instead of depending for light and peace on 'suns' which 'go down' and 'moons' which 'withdraw' themselves, the fully sanctified man finds that God has become his 'everlasting light, and the days of his mourning are ended'. As I have said, there will be sacrifice, but there also will be satisfaction; and, as with the mother in regard to her new-born babe, the fully saved soul forgets the suffering and the sacrifice which has been made.

Sometimes we are tempted to look at sacrifice apart from love. I heard Mr. Bramwell Booth say in a Meeting, 'Sacrifice is the flower of love'; and you know full well that things which are otherwise impossible become comparatively easy to true love and faith. Men do not talk about sacrifices when they realize that they have received more -- much more -- than that which they gave up.

When I hear people dwelling on how much they have given up for God, I begin to wonder whether those self-denying ones have realized the joy and satisfaction which God wants to give to the fully consecrated heart. If they have, it is strange for them to talk of rushlight sacrifices whilst they are bathed in the sunlight of the Divine Presence.

Sometimes distressing consequences do follow surrender and faith, but are there not also glorious consequences in the form of joy in the seasons of sorrow, light and guidance in the hours of perplexity, Divine approval and communion when others misunderstand and shun us? Surely the knowledge of this leads me to cry, 'O my Lord, let me have the blessing with all its consequences!'

Oh, my friends, whilst counting the cost, look at both sides of God's gift, the crown as well as the cross; the delight as well as the denial; the heavenly sunshine as well as the earthly shadows; and the great, glorious, everlasting reward in eternity. When you have looked at all these things, make your choice; and, having chosen aright, 'hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown'.

vii the pathway of the
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