The Briar and its Blooming
I have just received, in this far away corner of the earth, a copy of the October Number of that useful magazine Simple Testimony, and have read with pleasure and profit a paper in it by the Editor under the above title. I am sitting in a garden of roses, which silently yet luxuriantly are sending their response to the glorious shining of the sun. But not far away, just over the road in fact, is some rough land in which briars and other wild things are growing rankly. In these surroundings this paper on the briar has made me ponder, and that right deeply. What a contrast between this fragrant garden and that tangle of useless growth! The first is a thing of beauty, and a joy to every eye, the latter is a pernicious plot and a pest. Yes, here is a lesson, here is truth to be learnt!
I and every other Christian once grew and found our whole life and pleasure in “this present evil world,” we had our part in the pestilential growth of “ungodliness and worldly lusts,” wild things were we, untrained and refusing all training, doing our own wills; fulfilling the desires of the flesh and the mind; by nature children of wrath. And the way was the garden where the Master trained His roses, where His will was supreme, “that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” I remember the time when I, a wild briar, looked over the fence and across the way and saw the beauty of the Lord’s tillage, and realised the uselessness of my life and its hopelessness. I knew what the end must be to all the wild growth in which I had my part, for I had read in Holy Scripture that “that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (Heb. 6:8). Yes, this present evil world must come under the judgment of God. “Behold the Lord cometh . . . to execute judgment,” and every wild briar must be burned up.
I remember how dissatisfied I got with my life long ago, how disappointed I was when in spite of all my sighs and struggles I could not produce roses such as grew in the Master’s garden, and my disappointment deepened into disgust as I learnt that it was my very nature that was at fault, so that I often addressed myself in some lines that I heard a servant of the Lord quote with considerable force at that time,
“Who knows thee well will treat thee with disgust:
Degraded mass of animated dust.”
I learnt afterwards that all this exercise of heart was the result of the Master’s interest in me. He had purposes of grace in regard to me, and these exercises were preparing me for a wonderful event that was to take place in my life, which was nothing less than being transplanted by grace to His own kingdom of grace. How it melts the heart and moistens the eye to consider the long-suffering of God with this world of iniquity, which still pleads with men in it who have no desire for anything but their own sinful wills, as it did with us who are now saved. He still holds back the well-deserved wrath and continues to take out of the world a people for His Name.
He is still choosing those who by nature are briars and transplanting them to His own plot that He may there fulfil His own purpose in and through them. Apart from this sovereign mercy, neither I nor any other Christian would even have desired to have any place or portion outside the world.
“By grace we are saved,” and of all such the Word says, “Ye are God’s husbandry.” What a joy it was to be a transplanted to God’s garden, to find oneself standing in “the true grace of God,” there to “grow in grace”; no longer under condemnation, but in Christ. The knowledge of that made me sing “Happy day.” But God’s plan was to do more than transplant us to His own plot. More was necessary than that; the briar growth had to give place to the true rose graft; room had to be made for Christ, the plant of renown, CHRIST had to be written in your heart and mine, and that was done in my case when I learnt that He had loved me and given Himself for me, that my salvation from a life of slavery and an eternity of woe had been secured for me by His suffering on the cross.
1 remember when first I had a garden, and knew nothing of rose culture, how delighted I was when I noticed a most vigorous growth on a beautiful rose tree, I looked for many fragrant blossoms on that branch that seemed to lengthen by inches every day, but no roses appeared and those shoots which were bearing roses began to languish and cease to flower. Then I realized that this, to me, most promising growth was the product of the briar root and because it had not been ruthlessly cut away the tree had lamentably suffered, and not again that season did it put forth its former beauty. Self in us abides the same and will to the end, and if the life of Jesus is to be made manifest in our mortal bodies, there must be the mortification of our members which are upon the earth. We must be those who have no confidence in the flesh. Self judgment must be our rule. Many a promising shoot will have to be cut away, and we be made little of, if Christ has to be seen in us. Many of those bitter experiences in life when things that we cherished, and in which we could boast, those things that made something of us, were taken from us, were simply the Master’s wise cutting down of the self-growth that Christ might be magnified in us. If we have been planted for the Master’s pleasure in His garden we must be subject to His culture, or we cumber the ground. How often under that culture has our pride been checked and our vanity wounded, and this must continue to the end; the experience is not joyous while it lasts, the sharp pruning knife seems to cut into the very core of our being, but it is all meant to yield afterwards those peaceable fruits of righteousness, the fragrant roses that delight the Master’s eye. Ah! let us yield ourselves to the Master’s hand who ever uses the knife for our good.
So these three things have been and are taking place: (1) We were transplanted from the wild briar waste to the Master’s garden when we were saved by grace; that was done once and for all. (2) Christ was grafted into our very hearts, that the beautiful graces that were ever perfect in Him might be reproduced in us. (3) There must be a constant cutting back, a crucifixion of that which is only of self, for as self flourishes what is of Christ in us must languish and decline, and this is to be a continual experience.
Hear what Paul says “I AM CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST.” He had seen the righteous judgment of what he was as a wild briar at the cross of Christ. “NEVERTHELESS I LIVE.” Grace had given him a place in God’s tillage, the only place of true life. “YET NOT I, BUT CHRIST LIVETH IN ME.” The life of the heavenly scion was seen in him and not the energy of the old briar. “AND THE LIFE WHICH I NOW LIVE IN THE FLESH I LIVE BY THE FAITH OF THE SON OF GOD, WHO LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME.” He brought forth the heavenly flowers in the joy of what he had learnt Christ to be; he responded to the bright shining of that love that had become wholly his life, glad to be nothing himself and less than nothing that Christ might be everything: that Christ might be magnified in him whether by life or by death.
Thank God that such a plant has grown and flourished in His garden; thank Him that it was grace that made Paul what he was, grace, all grace, as he himself confessed, “by the grace of God I am what I am”! And let us thank Him again that the grace that was sufficient for Paul is still within our reach. It has not changed or diminished, for it is in Christ who is the same yesterday, today and for ever. Hence what has been may still be, and we whom grace has saved and planted in God’s tillage may answer to God’s good and acceptable and perfect will just as these roses that surround me today in this fruitful south land respond so fragrantly and beautifully to the culture of the one in whose garden they grow.