The Gum Trees and the Storm
A great storm has just swept over this part of the land in which I am staying, and its track is marked by giant gum trees lying shivered and broken where once they reared their proud heads to the heavens. As I viewed these magnificent trees overthrown by the tempest I felt that they held a silent lesson for me if only I were wise enough to learn it, so I set myself to discover why these had fallen and why those had stood when the great test came suddenly upon them. Here is one that has brought down others in its fall, lying across the roadway and far into the adjoining paddock; its length cannot be less than 150 feet, its girth 15 feet; but yesterday it stood, and seemed as likely to stand against any storm as any of its fellows; now it lies there, its history as a tree finished for ever.
The cause of its overthrow was easily found. Through some flaw or wound in the bark of its great trunk not far from the ground, white ants had penetrated to its very heart; silently and unseen, day after day, they had eaten out its strength just where it was most needed. A casual observer would have seen nothing wrong with it twelve hours before, its leaves were as green and its great limbs as strong as any other, but when the trial came the secret of years was revealed, the giant had been white-anted, and it could not stand the test, and great was the fall of it. The storm had broken it at what seemed to be its strongest part.
White ants are little things; you could crush a thousand of them with one stamp of the foot, but their work is deadly. I thought of certain things that are to the Christian what the white ants were to that tree, things which are often allowed a place in their lives, little things chiefly, some secret self-indulgence that grows day by day into a habit; some self-pleasing that does not seem to matter much at the time, but which really comes under: one of these three heads, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life—these are the things that are the undoing of many a promising life. Every human heart has a proneness to them, as each one of us knows right well:
“No infant’s changing pleasure;
Is like my wandering mind.”
There is one thing certain, and that is that at the beginning of every evil course the conscience will be active. The Lord above us who loves us, and the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, will see to it that conscience rings the alarm at the first appearance of these “white ants” that would destroy our spiritual life and testimony, and there it is easy to resist the invaders. If the alarm is silenced and the desire to please oneself prevails, and the invaders gain an entrance, it will not be so easy next week or next month to deal with them, and then a double work will need to be done; they must now be turned out, as well as kept out. Exercise of soul before God and repentance and confession only can affect this, and we must remember that spiritual ground is more easily lost than won
How often we excuse ourselves to our selves for these little things, and because nobody sees them or suspects them we think it does not matter. Outwardly things are the same, the spiritual vigour does not appear to be much diminished, and we forget that God sees, and that the inner life is being slowly but surely sapped. Then at last comes the storm, for Satan sees and knows what others do not, and he choses his time with consummate subtlety, and then—! What should we do if the Lord were not gracious! May God give us deliverance from evil. Oh, let us pray “Deliver us from evil,” and may we be watchful and self-judged before Him in little things, and never forget that the Lord is gracious.
But more is needed than diligence in resisting these invaders; if all our time were taken up in self-judgment and watchfulness, our lives would not be joyous and fresh as God would have them. And we must beware that we do not confound self-occupation with watchfulness; nothing hinders Christian life and growth and makes us such easy prey for the devil’s snares as self-occupation. It is in occupation with that which is good that we overcome evil. “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things . . . and the God of peace shall be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9). These things are in Christ, they are heavenly things, and we are to till our minds with Christ, and God will be with us, our shield from evil things without, and our great reward to satisfy our hearts within. Every exhortation to watchfulness in the Word of God is needed by us, and woe to us if we neglect them; but the surest protection from all evil is to rejoice in the Lord and to keep ourselves in the love of God.
But here there lies another tree, almost as great as this white-anted giant, not broken off six feet from the ground, but literally torn up by the roots. We marvel at the force of the wind that could do a thing like that, but the solution of the marvel is easy. The roots of the tree were widespread, but they had not struck deep into the soil; the visible growth and foliage were far in excess of the secret unseen growth, the tree had not much depth of earth. My brethren, we must give heed to this if we are to stand and withstand the assaults of the devil. We must be rooted and grounded in the truth and in love, and for this we must know the Word and live by it; it must be in our souls and not in our heads only, or the time will surely come when the shallowness of the work in us will be discovered. Nothing can be of greater importance to us than a secret history of soul with God, for it is in secret that our roots strike deep into the grace in which we are planted, and we learn that our security lies in Him and not in ourselves, and so we are preserved when the test comes.
Every tree that I examined that fell in that great storm had one or other of these two defects: either their strength had been sapped by these tireless insects, or their roots had not struck deep in the earth, and I pass on to others the lesson that they mutely taught to me. Finally, “make no provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14).