God's Pilgrim's: Their Dangers, Their Resources, Their Rewards
By Philip Mauro
Two Kinds of Ground:
That which Receiveth Blessing from God,
And that which is Rejected.
Jacob and Esau.
“FOR the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God; but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned” (Heb. 6:7-8).
The contrast between ground that produces herbage fit for the use of those by whom it is tilled, and ground that brings forth thorns and briers, is apparently given as an illustration of the two ages we have been discussing, namely, the present evil age, which is like the ground that bears thorns and briers, and the age to come, upon which the frequent rain of Heaven, the blessing of God, descends, and which brings forth fruit to those who till it.
The present age is “rejected,” being nigh unto a curse. The end of the things it produces is “to be burned” (literally “for burning”). The coming age, on the other hand, receives blessing from God. The mountains of Zion are in the habitable earth to come; and it there that God commandeth “the blessing,” which descends like the dew of Hermon (Psa. 133:3). This illustration, therefore, furnishes another reason why we should studiously withdraw our affections from the world, and the things that are in the world, and should set them upon the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the Right Hand of God, waiting until He shall appear “in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).
This is entirely a Divine view and estimation of the present age and its things. That this age is “nigh to a curse,” and that the boasted products of its scientific civilization are “thorns and briers,” whose end is “for burning,” is a fact which few Christians believe, and fewer still act upon. Yet this is a fact which the Word of God sets forth with unusual fullness and clearness. “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire” (2 Thess. 1:7-8). “The harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are the angels. As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be AT THE END OF THIS AGE” (Matt. 13:40). “Whose fan is in His Hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).
In view of these clear warnings of what will surely take place “at the end of the age,” it is sad indeed to see the time, energies, and money of Christians expended in raising a crop of thorns and briers to feed the flames of that day, when the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. For the fire-test will be applied to the works of those who are on the true Foundation, as it is written: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon THIS FOUNDATION, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, ye shall RECEIVE A REWARD. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall RECEIVE A REWARD. If any man’s work SHALL BE BURNED, he shall SUFFER LOSS: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by (through) fire” (1 Cor. 3:11-15).
The case of Lot illustrates this Scripture. Being a “righteous” man, he was identified, we may be sure, with all the commendable enterprises set on foot for the betterment of Sodom and its citizens. But whatever works he built, they were all consumed in the flames of judgment; and he himself was saved only as through fire.
It should not be overlooked that Lot was given a special warning and opportunity to get clear of Sodom. That warning and opportunity came when he was taken prisoner with the people of Sodom, and was rescued by Abraham. On their return, they were met by the King of Sodom, and also by Melchizedek, the King of Salem (Gen. 14:17-18). Then it was that Abraham refused to accept even a gift from the King of Sodom. Lot must have witnessed the incident, and must have understood the testimony of Abraham. Nevertheless, Lot parted company with Abraham, and returned to Sodom, perhaps deceiving himself with the thought of the many opportunities for “doing good” existing there; and the next reference to him states that “Lot sat in the gate of Sodom” (Gen. 19:1), that is to say, occupied an official post or honor and authority in the city.
So Lot stands as a type of the Christian who takes part in the affairs of the world, and attains distinction therein, but whose works are thorns and briers. Abraham, on the other hand, represents the ground that receives blessing from God; for it is written that Melchizedek “BLESSED him and said, BLESSED be Abram of the Most High God, Possessor of Heaven and earth” (Gen. 14:20). The circumstance that Melchizedek “blessed” Abraham is recited in Hebrews 7:1.
The bringing forth by the earth of thorns and briers, is not a normal thing. It is wholly abnormal, being the result of the curse which Adam, by his sin, brought upon the ground. Indeed, it is the thing which specially bears witness to the fact that a curse rests upon the ground. Therefore, we are confronted at this point with truth that is fundamental, truth that lies at the very bottom of the evil state of human society. When God set the earth in order for the occupation of mankind, He said, “Let the earth BRING FORTH grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind.” And God, after creating the man, put him in the garden to dress it and keep it. Thus, so long as creation was in its normal state, the earth brought forth herbs, meet for them by whom it was dressed. But when, by Adam, “sin entered the world” (Rom. 5:12), God cursed the ground for his sake, and said, “Thorns also and thistles shall it BRING FORTH unto thee” (Gen. 3:17-18)
The fact, therefore, that the ground brings forth thorns and briers is a testimony that the man who dresses it is still under the dominion of sin and death. “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth UNTO THEE,” that is, unto Adam, the natural man, now indwelt by sin. So long as the earth is possessed and occupied by the race of Adam, the natural man, it will bring forth thorns and briers. But when, in the age to come, creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the GLORY of the children of God—those “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”—then it will no longer bring forth thorns and briers, but will yield herbs meet for those by whom it is dressed.
The production of thorns and briers is, therefore, the characteristic of the natural man, and of this present age. Hence, when the Second Man, the Lord out of Heaven, came in the Body of His Flesh prepared for Him, wherein He offered Himself a Sacrifice for SIN, He was crowned with THORNS, signifying that He Himself bore the curse. Having borne the curse, He is qualified to deliver the purchased possession from the effects of the curse. In the age to come He will wear, not the crown of thorns, but the “many crowns” which show Him to be “the Blessed and only Potentate, the KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS"”(Rev. 19:12, 16; 1 Tim. 6:15). Therefore, the choice now offered to the saints of God is between the age in which their Lord and Savior was crowned with thorns, and that in which He will wear the many diadems.
The land of Canaan—the rest and the inheritance (Deut. 12:9) promised by the Lord to the Israelites—is put before us as a type of the rest of God to come. God said of that land, “But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys and DRINKETH WATER of the RAIN of HEAVEN” (Deut. 11:11). Thus it corresponds to the ground described in Hebrews 6:7, “which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it.” It also represents the land which “receiveth blessing from God,” for the passage in Deuteronomy continues: “A land which the Lord thy God careth for. The Eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year, even unto the end of the year” (Deut. 11:12). The promise of rain as symbolizing blessing from God is also given in Deuteronomy 32:2: “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, My speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as showers upon the grass.” Also in Deuteronomy 33:28: “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also His heavens shall drop down dew.”
The song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5 shows that, even under the best possible conditions, the natural man cannot bring forth fruit that is meet for God. Israel was a vineyard which the Lord Himself had planted, and which He tended. “For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah, His pleasant plant” (Isa. 5:7). He chose for the site of His vineyard “a very fruitful hill, and He fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine press therein: and He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (verse 2). There was nothing more that He could have done for Israel; for He asks, “What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?” (verse 4). After showing them His mighty works in delivering them out of Egypt; after driving out their enemies from the Promised Land and planting them therein; after giving them the law, and the covenants, and the priesthood, and the sacrifices, and the promises; after sending His prophets, “rising up early and sending them,” to call them from their evil ways, what was there more that He could have done to His vineyard? We may take as a concise explanation of this parable the brief statement found in Hebrews 7:19, “For the law made nothing perfect,” literally, brought nothing to full-growth; or that in Romans 8:3-4, “For what the law COULD NOT DO, in that it was WEAK THROUGH (because of) THE FLESH, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh (in order), that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
The reason for the failure of Israel, even under the holy law of God, to produce the fruits of righteousness, is the condition of “the flesh.” It was because of the hopeless corruption of human nature that the Lord of the vineyard “looked for judgment, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry” (Isa. 5:7).
Therefore, the Lord pronounced judgment, saying, “And now, go to; I will tell you what I will do to My vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned nor digged: but there shall come up BRIERS and THORNS; I will also command the clouds that they RAIN NO RAIN UPON IT” (Isa. 5:5-6). This passage connects the song of the vineyard with the sixth of Hebrews. Moreover, the Lord Himself applied the song of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-45. That Scripture contains the parable of the vineyard, and the Lord, in uttering that parable, uses almost the identical words of Isaiah 5 in describing the vineyard. The parable shows that the Lord’s judgment on His vineyard was put into execution only after God had sent unto them His Son, saying, “They will reverence My Son”; but the husbandmen, when they saw Him, said, “This is the Heir; come, let us kill Him, and seize on His inheritance.” And the parable also shows that the “inheritance” is the Kingdom of God; for the Lord said, “Therefore say I unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation BRINGING FORTH THE FRUITS THEREOF.”
So Israel became, and still remains, as ground that is rejected, that is nigh to a curse, bringing forth thorns and briers, whose end is to be burned. The hedge has been broken down, and the children of Israel have been scattered among the nations of the earth, to take part in their unprofitable doings.
But deliverance from the curse is promised to them through the Son of God, coming to His vineyard, and submitting Himself to the wicked will of the husbandmen, and being Himself made a curse. In Isaiah 53, He is described as the Lamb brought to the slaughter, wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and pouring out His Soul unto death. Then in Isaiah 55, is described the deliverance accomplished and through the Cross of the Redeemer, when “the mountains and the hills shall break forth—into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of THE THORN shall come up the fir tree, and instead of THE BRIER shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, and for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isa. 5:12-13). That will be also a time of the rain coming down, as indicated by verse 10: “As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater.” This speaks of a land that receives blessing from God, drinking in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth, in place of thorns and briers, herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed.
The Epistle to the Hebrews gives the names of a number of persons who were true pilgrims, holding fast their confession to the end. In contrast with these, but one person is named. That unenviable prominence is given to Esau. His case, therefore, calls for special consideration. What is related of Esau in Hebrews is that he so lightly esteemed his birthright as to sell it for one morsel of food; and that afterwards, when he would have “inherited THE BLESSING, he was REJECTED: for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Heb. 12:16-17).
Esau, therefore, is the Divinely chosen type of those who prefer the immediate gratification of the natural appetite to “the blessing” for which the heir must “wait.” Hence, he became like the ground that receives no “blessing” from God; but is “rejected.”
On the other hand, we read in Genesis 27 that Isaac, in blessing Jacob, supposing him to be Esau, said, “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath BLESSED: therefore, God give thee of the DEW OF HEAVEN, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine” (Gen. 27:27-28).
Believers are children of God, being “born of God” (Jn 1:12). They have therefore a birthright, as Esau had; but like Esau, they may hold their birthright in such light esteem as to forfeit it; and the way in which this great loss may be incurred—a loss which, when it takes place, is absolutely irretrievable—is by choosing in their hearts the things which the present age offers them for their immediate enjoyment, instead of the things of the age to come, of which they have heard through the Word of God, but have not seen as yet, and for which they must wait.
Upon reading the incidents recorded in the Book of Genesis concerning Esau and Jacob, we should infer that, in respect of natural disposition or character, Esau was much to be preferred to his brother Jacob. But Jacob was the true sojourner and pilgrim. We see him journeying alone in the land promised to his fathers and to himself for an inheritance, and lying down to sleep with a stone for a pillow (Gen. 28:10-15). And there he sees the vision of a ladder set up on the earth, its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending. Thus is he marked as the heir of salvation, to whom the angels are sent forth to minister; and the Lord God of Abraham and of Isaac appears to him, and gives to him the land on which he lies, a lonely pilgrim. Moreover, God adds this gracious word: “And behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I HAVE DONE that which I have spoken to thee of.”
Jacob’s infirmities of character did not defeat the purpose of God; for the “God of Jacob” is the “God of all grace.” So may the God of peace work in us that which is well pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory for ever.
We may follow Jacob in his pilgrimage and see the Hand of God dealing with him, often by means of sore affliction, but surely accomplishing thereby that which He had purposed. And so when Jacob, many years after, stands before Pharaoh, the ruler of the world, it is as a confessed pilgrim and the descendant of pilgrims; for this is his confession, “The days of the years of my PILGRIMAGE, are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage” (Gen. 47:9). Nevertheless, Jacob, though a confessed pilgrim on earth, took no blessing from Pharaoh. On the contrary, “Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh” (verse 10); “And without all contradiction, the less is blessed of the better” (Heb. 7:7).
And finally, it is recorded of Jacob, that he, “by faith, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph, and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff” (Heb. 11:21). Thus Jacob was, at the very end, a worshipping pilgrim, for, even when he was dying, he still leaned upon the pilgrim’s staff, worshipping God, and speaking of things not seen as yet.
The forty-ninth chapter of Genesis contains the last words of Jacob to his twelve sons. In one of the most beautiful, powerful, and sublime passages in all the Bible, he tells that which shall befall them in the last days. In it he speaks of the Shepherd and the Stone of Israel, of Shiloh, of the Scepter, and of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. In the very midst of this great prophecy he confesses himself a true pilgrim in these words: “I have WAITED FOR THY SALVATION, O Lord.” That was what he had accomplished, “I have waited.” It is like the confession of Paul, “I have kept the faith.” God’s grace had triumphed over the stubbornness of nature, and had fashioned even out of crafty Jacob, the supplanter, a true pilgrim; insomuch that from his lips, we get the first mention in all Scripture of the Salvation of God.
Surely, there is great encouragement here for the Lord’s pilgrims.
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