If our lives were to be described in themes, I would love mine to be described with this: Enduring saint! The journey of faith is one weary journey, perhaps a weary one until we reach the golden shore where we shall behold our Savior’s face, and hear his majestic voice tell us, “Welcome home beloved, good and faithful servant.” One of the images that have stuck in my mind as I contemplate this journey is that of Mr. Bunyan’s work on the pilgrim’s progress. When Christian enters the interpreter’s house and is shown different rooms, he comes to one where he sees “a place where was a fire burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter.” Christian is astonished that though there is water being cast to the fire, it does not get extinguished but burns all the more. Begging some explanation, the Interpreter takes Christian to the backside of the wall where Christian sees “a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of which He did also continually cast, but secretly, into the fire.” The reason why the fire kept burning even though much water was being cast on it on one side was that, on the other side, there was one steadily, but surely casting oil into the fire, and thus, it kept burning higher and hotter. The interpretation of this image is that the fire represents the work of grace that has begun in our hearts, and the one casting water is the Devil who wants to extinguish this work. Christ is the one pouring oil, the oil of grace to “maintain the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still.” Bunyan emphasizes the point that Christ does this secretly. How so?
This is a brilliant image friend! It speaks of our endurance. We persevere because our Lord preserves us by the oil of his grace! It is Christ who maintains the work of grace in us that he has begun. We can be certain and fully assured of our salvation (Phil 1:6).
The Psalmist gives us an image with similar truth of our preservation. In Psalms 1 he speaks of a tree that is planted by the streams of water. This tree yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither (v.3). The Prophet Jeremiah uses the same image in 17:8, describing the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD, such one is “like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” What compels me the most in these images is the fact that the tree’s leaves “does not wither.” The Psalmist speaks of its bearing fruit in its season, which does not contradict Jeremiah, that “it does not cease to bear fruit”, indeed, in its season. There are seasons when there is no fruit being produced by the tree, but throughout the seasons its leaf “does not wither,” and “remains green.”
This dear friend speaks of our endurance. We persevere because our Lord preserves us. Christ is the living water from whom we draw life, even life everlasting. We are the tree and he is the stream, whose water sustains and maintains the leaves ever-green, and in due season we bear fruit! How is this so?
Friends, we cannot neglect the various means of grace that the Lord has provided for us! Drawing from the Psalmist, we are called to, as frequent and often as possible, delight in, and meditate on the law of the LORD. This in other words is what Luke said of the saints in Acts 2:42, that they “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings…” Luke continues a list of things that characterized the saints, they were also devoted to the fellowship and the breaking of bread and the prayers. These friends are the means of grace that the Lord has provided for our nourishment and our preservation. Is it not interesting that in the moment of participation we do not often feel or experience the efficacy of these means, perhaps that is why we are often prone to neglecting them? The author of Hebrews (10:23-25) is keen to exhort us “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
This is How
Unknown to us, Christ uses these means to grow us in grace. Even when we do not immediately feel the work of grace within us, even when the fruit is not in the moment tangible, Our Lord is mysteriously working through the means of grace to grow us in grace. We are easily awed by immediate results, yet our Lord masterfully works over the long haul to make us sage saints! Perhaps not sages in our own eyes but in his eyes, that is, conformed to his image! O Saint, do not despise the reading of Scripture, even when it feels like climbing a hill, keep plodding! O saint, do not despise the fellowship with fellow saints! Attend the Lord’s table and keep with repentance as it were. Keep with prayers, even when your heart is not at it, for indeed these are the means through which our Lord works his grace in us. He sanctifies them to his own ends. Apart from Christ, they have no efficacy, they cannot accomplish anything in the soul of a man, but in Christ, they accomplish the work of grace –conforming us into the image of Christ, until we attain full perfection when he comes.
We persevere because Christ preserves us. Christ has provided us means for our perseverance and we should employ these means. He sees to it that we do, for he is the one who called us to himself and keeps us in himself, and indeed, there is much grace in him to keep us on the straight and narrow. Because of this grace, we are preserved and we persevere. What a mystery!
Grace and peace.