“A Root Out of Dry Ground”
Now I would to God that I could say that the congregation and ministry where my parents and I attended held this spiritual standard firmly and clearly, but I cannot. They would recognize the desirability of such a life and readily give lip service to it, but the daily reality of thus “living on the altar” had passed from them. Some of them were entirely ignorant of it—it was just words that sounded good, but others had a little more spiritual life. One sister was from a spiritual congregation where this standard of the “eye single” to God and His will had been lived out, and her heritage stirred her. She and her husband were not living so that the full blessing came through in their daily family or individual lives, but she appreciated a truly spiritual life. The pastor had once had much more than he possessed at that time, but it seems (in retrospect) to have “leaked out,” and he did not demonstrate the power of a wholly sanctified life, though he preached it firmly and in an orthodox manner. But he had lost his anointing to the extent that he could not feed your soul, only your mind. How God was leading me was not on display in that congregation in its fullness, neither in testimony or message.
I had no idea of what it would cost me to follow the Lord all the way. I just loved Him and had been stirred to love Him perfectly (1 John 2:5; 4:12,17-18). I loved all men and was completely delivered from “evil surmisings.” (1 Timothy 6:4) I was very young and naive, very ignorant of the nuances of social relationships, and the people in the congregation saw no ill in many of their attitudes and practices, even though they were not much led of the Spirit of God. They received me as a child prodigy, and when the Spirit of God began to use me in exhortation and eventually preaching, they were proud of the “boy preacher” thus raised up among them, and at first, felt that it reflected well on them. This was true even when I refused to accept their praise, for the Spirit of God taught me to completely give all the credit for any good to Him only that deserved it. In this way I escaped what is described in John 5:44. Sustained efforts were made to dab on the “great praise” ointment,* but the Spirit of God defended me and kept me little. Praise His name! I little realized the deadliness of the situation, nor did those who unwisely would have loaded me with the praise of men.
Eventually, there was no more problem at all with the praise of men. The Spirit of God began to give me truth that cut to the heart of the need of the people. Then was brought to pass the story of the old brother of long ago.
According to the account, an old colored brother got saved in the deep south of the United States many years ago. Racial prejudice was rampant. The only congregation around was a white congregation. The old brother, who had really been changed by the power of God, had lost all his prejudice, and so he went to the church board and told them about his conversion and humbly asked permission to come to services. They didn’t want him, but were unwilling to say so at that point, so they told him to live it for a year. They thought he might lose out and give up. But they were mistaken. God blessed the brother, and he lived for God the whole year and showed up again. This time they just outright told him that they didn’t want him and sent him away. According to the story, he went and prayed about it. “Lord, they won’t let me in, and I so much want to be with Your people.” And according to the story, God answered him and said, “I’ve been trying to get in that place for years. If they won’t let Me in, what chance do you have?”
And this is what happened to me in the congregation of my parents. Most of them had been holding God at arm’s length for years, and when God began to deal with them through an adolescent, they were no more minded to receive truth from that direction than from any other. Of course, they did not put it that way, either in word or thought. But the fruit has proven out over the years. It is sad to consider.
The Bible began to be inspired to my heart in a wonderful, rich way, and a great carefulness to please God was extended to every facet of my life.
“Only one life, ’twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”1
[P. H. Harding]
Brother Paul told the the brethren at Colosee, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” (Colossians 1:9-13) The prayers of those of who had lived before me, who had prayed for those who would come after them, were being answered in my case, too, and God was helping me to walk in the light, as they did, too. These brethren, such as Brother Paul, had long ago finished their course and entered into rest, but their works followed them. My conversion, infilling, spiritual nurture and growth were all the fulfillment of my Savior’s labors and those who followed Him before me. To put it another way, the roots of my spiritual life reached out further and further back into the rich fertilizer of the gospel and its shadow and type in the Old Testament. From this wonderful divine preparation, I received strength and succor in spite of what was all around me.
It was curious how all of this was received/not received by the congregation where I attended. The more spiritual-minded were glad the Lord was using me and encouraged me as best they knew, while the more world-minded were cynical and doubtful. Most of these latter were still minded not to discourage me, however, at this time, for they felt that my zeal and enthusiasm reflected well on them as a group. I did not recognize this distinction at the time; I had not this discernment. I simply loved the Lord and wanted to please Him, and I endeavored to think the best of everyone. I did not realize that putting the best face on things brought very inaccurate conclusions and actually hindered effectual dealings with them. God was not using me with discernment and perception of evil at that time; He used my child-like innocence to deal with those who were walking behind light. This also preserved me from the natural hostility of those who are reproved by the Spirit of God. It was not the time for active confrontation of the conditions of their hearts.
In spite of a lack of overt opposition, there was the natural incompatibility of life in God versus less than that. “For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters,saith the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
When I obeyed the latter part of this scripture at a later time and took a stand for spiritual living and a stand against less than all-pleasing to God, the spiritual brethren that I found were amazed that I survived the spiritual death and sickness that was all around me. How could I have come from such a place? I have come to realize that this is common with God’s people. Of the Master, it was said, “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.” (Isaiah 53:2) Jesus was surrounded with influences not of His Father in heaven. He was as a root out of dry ground. His life, His continuing, growing, flourishing life, could not be explained by the synagogue at Nazareth or the mentoring of some devout brother or sister in the Lord (although I doubt not that some of these, such as Simeon or Anna and His parents, may have contributed). But it was the influence of His Father in heaven and the help of the Holy Ghost that caused Him to wax strong in spirit and to be spiritually favored. And we are called to follow in His steps. The manna of heaven is given for us to gather, too, even as it was given for our Master in the days of His flesh.
He grew up before Him “as a tender plant.” Jesus did not possess in the days of flesh the omniscience that is one of His abiding characteristics as God. This He laid aside when He “took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself.” (Philippians 2:7-8) “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” (Hebrews 5:4-9) It is wonderful to consider how our Lord humbled Himself to walk the path through this life, born as a baby (yet without the curse of Adam, because of the miraculous conception of His physical being); a child; an adolescent; a young adult. His course through this world was short, intense, and incredibly poignant with meaning. He walked with God the Father and had this testimony that He always did the things that pleased the Father (John 8:29).
Jesus also was a child preacher. We find Him at the age of twelve in the temple disputing with the preachers of His day, putting before them spiritual questions that could only be answered if their hearts had been taught of God. No doubt, they were similar to the conversation between Nicodemus and our Lord at a later time. “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (John 3:10) These men in the temple were steeped in the knowledge of the Law and Old Testament. They were “masters in Israel,” but it had all been learned by human effort alone, and it did not fit when faced with One taught of inspiration from heaven.