<< THE AMBITIOUS THISTLE. >>
The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son, to wife. And there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trod down the thistle.-II. KINGS xiv. 9.
OF THE NATURAL MIND.
THE thought of the natural senses cannot comprehend spiritual truth. And yet, throughout the history of man, the natural mind, seeing in the light of the natural senses, has attempted to penetrate the mysteries of man's spiritual life. But no such effort has been successful; and it never can be; for spiritual things are visible in their own light, only.
THE LITERAL STORY.
In the days when Judah and Israel were separated, Amaziah, king of Judah, having conquered the Edomites, and thirsting for greater military glory, sent a message to Jehoash, king of Israel, challenging Israel to, combat. But Jehoash declined the challenge, and advised Amaziah to tarry at home, and not to meddle with others, to his own injury. And, to express his contempt for the army of Judah, Jehoash introduced into his reply the parable of our text, contrasting the mean and worthless thistle, which any large beast could tread down, with the grand, towering cedar of Lebanon, deeply and firmly rooted in the earth, and withstanding the storms of centuries.
Amaziah, not heeding the advice of Jehoash, insisted on making war; but, in the battle that followed, he and his army were utterly routed.
The lessons of the literal sense of the context are plain and useful. In the first place, it is never safe to provoke a quarrel. In principle, it is not right to quarrel. But, even if ambitious and quarrelsome persons seek quarrels from policy, they often meet unexpected results. Therefore, both good principle and prudent policy would induce men to be peaceable. Secondly, it is never safe to under-estimate the power of an enemy ; for our mistake gives the enemy a great advantage over us, and leaves us unprepared for what we have to meet. One of the best proofs of ability, in a leader, or in a man's management of his own affairs, is his habit of carefully and accurately estimating his own resources, and also the difficulties of the work before him, The most successful managers are those who always make an allowance for contingencies, and who never permit anything to take them by surprise, or to catch them unprepared.
In all the practical affairs of life, weak men and careless men are taken by surprise, and found unprepared. They take things for granted; they suppose that, somehow, things will come out all right; they guess that their ways will do. But they do not carefully see that things shall be brought out all right. Thirdly, another lesson of the text is the danger of over-estimating our own abilities. Many a young man, unduly exalted by a little local fame as an athlete, sets out upon a journey through the continent, expecting to excel in the wide world, as he excelled in his own village. And generally such a man soon returns to his home, humbled by defeat. "Let not him who girdeth on his harness, boast himself as he that putteth it off." (I. Kings xx. 11.) Many a man who can do something fairly well, ruins himself by attempting too much. " Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit. before a fall." (Proverbs xvi. 18.) Those who have been prosperous, should be grateful and modest. If they become proud by success, they turn a blessing into a curse.
Of course, a man must make an effort, or he will never succeed. But every man should seek to know what his own capacities are, and not fail by attempting too much, or by under-estimating the difficulties of the work. Over-confidence in himself has induced many a man to be careless, when by proper care and work he could have succeeded; as, in the old fable of the race between the hare and the tortoise, the plodding industry of the slowly-moving tortoise outstripped the careless ability of the speedy hare.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING.
All these things are suggestive; for the spiritual sense of the text treats of similar principles, applied to our spiritual life.
"The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son, to wife. And there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trod down the thistle." Mount Lebanon, with its grand forest of gigantic cedar-trees, represented the spiritual man, or the spiritual mind of man, with its far-reaching rational knowledges of spiritual truth. Cedars, which are evergreen trees, denote rational thoughts. The cedars of Lebanon represented the knowledges of spiritual truth, rationally seen and understood. Thistles, from their noxious character, and their dangerous prickly points, represent the false principles which spring from evils. As the thistle, once allowed a foot-hold in a field, is very difficult to exterminate, so the false principles which spring from evil affections, cling to our minds, with great tenacity. The son of a thistle is a false thought, springing from a false principle. The daughter of a cedar of Lebanon is the affection for spiritual truth.
To give the daughter of the cedar to be the wife of the son of the thistle, is to join our affection for truth to some false thought of the natural mind. And the attempt to effect such a union is constantly made by the natural mind. Affection needs the light of truth. It longs for the truth. Our Lord is cultivating, in us, an affection for spiritual truth; and He seeks to unite this affection with our knowledge of truth, in our understanding, and thus to lead us into the heavenly marriage of goodness and truth. But the evil spirits, who associate with our unregenerate tendencies, seek to prevent this heavenly marriage. They try to induce our growing affection to fix itself upon the falsities of the senses and to love them as truths. They seek to make us expect to be wise in spiritual things from our natural senses.
The idea of marriage is introduced into the literal parable, in order to illustrate the subject of equality; for, by Oriental custom, he who asked another for his daughter, must be at least his equal in social rank. And in the spiritual sense, we see the arrogance of the natural mind, filled with false notions of the senses, imagining itself fully equal, in spiritual degree, to the inward affection for spiritual truth. There is a continued effort of the sensuous mind to drag down the spiritual part of the mind, to the low level of the senses, as represented by the low and miserable thistle, seeking to wed the lofty cedar of Lebanon.
Our senses suggest that we should live for this world, and that we should be free to feel, to think, and to do as we are naturally inclined. Such anarchistic thoughts are the sons of the prolific thistle. But our Lord guards and protects our affection for spiritual truth, our daughter of the cedar of Lebanon, from any wretched marriage-union with the thistle-falsities of our senses. But, in such protection, He needs our co-operation, in learning His truth, and in keeping His commandments.
The history of the church is full of painful examples of the falsities of the senses forming mis-union with men's love of truth. Witness the number of persecutions of conscientious heretics. How many loving men have done most unlovely deeds, because convinced of their virtue and necessity, under the cunning arguments of false notions as to the character and plans of God. And similar misalliances occur in our individual mental life, in which our sensuous falsities, springing up from our evil tendencies, drag down to their low level, whatever we have of love for spiritual truth. That young maiden-love, which should be given to a noble husband, her spiritual equal, a grand truth of spiritual life, is drawn into misery in an unholy union with some false notion of our natural senses. We lose sight of the real truth, and wed our affection to some cunning falsity.
Perhaps, for instance, we have some love for truth, but we join it with the dreadful falsity of self-intelligence, under whose direction we imagine that we are fully capable of understanding the truths of human life, without any revelation from the Lord. Perhaps we imagine that natural science has all necessary truth, and that there is no spiritual life, or spiritual world. Or, perhaps, with still more subtle power, a false principle has led us to acknowledge a God, and a spiritual world, and to have some love of the truths which we know; and there is not, in ourselves, and of ourselves, any ability to distinguish between truth and falsity, and goodness and evil, except when led and taught by our Lord, in the revelation of His laws.
Many times; although we have some love of truth, yet some miserable falsity of the senses holds our affection for truth in an unholy union, and renders it practically unfruitful of good. Perhaps in actual life, we continually under-estimate the power of evil, acting upon our wrong inclinations and tendencies. Perhaps we over-estimate our strength, and forget our entire dependence upon our Lord. Our Lord teaches us that all good is in Him and from Him, And if we keep this truth always in mind, we shall accept the good, and use it as the Lord's gift, without imagining that we are good, apart from the Lord. And, on the other hand, if we remember that all evil is frorn the hells, we can see and acknowledge our own tendencies to evil, and then ascribe these to the hells, and reject them from our feelings, thoughts, and conduct. In this way, we shall not appropriate evils as our own. But, if we love evils, as our own, we make ourselves responsible for them. And if we claim good as our own, we separate it from its source in the Lord, and thus deprive it of its heavenly quality.
You notice many young men who have acquired bad habits. If you warn one of them of these habits, he may reply, "I am not a slave to my habits. I can stop these things, whenever I please. Do you suppose I have no strength of mind?" And what is the usual result? The young man over-estimates his own spiritual strength, and he under-estimates the subtle power of evil.
And some of us have lived long enough to see a great many such men go down into premature graves, wrecked physically, mentally, and morally, and probably spiritually, also, and leaving behind them bad names, bad examples, and bad influence. While such men flatter 'themselves that they can cease their bad habits, at any time, they forget that they are daily growing weaker, morally, by indulgence, while their evils are growing stronger by the same indulgence.
The only safe time to throw off an evil, is as soon as we see it to be an evil. Every indulgence of a known evil is but a new rivet in the chain that binds our manhood in slavery to the hells. Forewarned, we are forearmed. A great point is gained, when we know the practical differences between good and evil. Our evil tendencies are like fires: before they gather headway, a little of the water of truth may quench them, but, later, they grow beyond control, and destroy our mental house. Evil influences are always urging us to quarrel with the higher life that the Lord is developing within us. But, if we could lift the veil which hides the objective spiritual world; and if we could see the origin of our bad impulses : we would acknowledge our folly, in heeding the malicious and insane suggestions of evil spirits.
Picture to yourselves a man under the influence of evil passions. He is acted upon by evil spirits. He stands near the open door of some hell; and the foul influences rush out, and push him on, to do their bidding. Above him there is an open door to heaven; and the angels are beckoning him to the celestial beatitudes. But he has turned his back to the heavens, and his face to the hells. Why can he not recognize his own wretched condition? Because some false principle has possession of his understanding, and has encouraged his tendencies to evil. If he has any love of truth, that daughter of the cedar of Lebanon has been wedded by the son of the miserable thistle, and she is wofully misdirected. The universe is full of good; but a man must be in condition to appreciate, and to adopt it, before he can be fully blessed by it. The earth is full of food for the body, but the body must be in condition to digest and assimilate its food.
The Lord always supplies, to every man, all the good and the truth which the man is ready to use, without abusing. "No good will He withhold from them that walk uprightly." Men live on different planes of life. Each man is open to a certain degree of life, on a certain plane. And each is satisfied when his open faculties are filled. He does not feel the lack of those things to which he is not open. It never occurs to a worm to cry out" Oh that I had wings like a dove." The mole loves to travel under ground; this is his life. But it would be death to almost any other beast. Thus, the Lord, in His infinite love, " opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing," each according to its form of life.
And it is so with the principles of our mental life: the Lord develops every spiritual faculty that we are willing to have opened in us, with our co-operation. And in many ways, seen and unseen, He protects us from false principles and false notions, as far as we are willing to be thus protected. He guards and guides our affections, so that they may not be imposed upon by the falsities of our natural and sensuous thought. And, among all the safeguards that protect us, the most important is our daily life of obedience to His commandments, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine." (John vii. 17.) "He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."
TREADING DOWN THE THISTLE.
In the text, although the thistle proposed marriage with the cedar, yet it is said, " And there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trod down the thistle." Beasts, as forms of life, represent affections. For every consciously living thing is a form of some affection. These affections may be either good or bad. A wild beast is mentioned, as wild, in the sense of free, and not in the sense of bad. A wild deer, for instance, is the representative of good natural affection. The merely natural man is like the beast, in his passions, etc. A man is distinguished by his spirituality, his inward ability to see and know truth and good. A good wild beast trod down the thistle; i.e., a good natural affection prevented the falsity from uniting with the affection for spiritual truth. When the love of spiritual truth is developing within us, and the falsities of the natural senses seek to attract us, and to deceive us, as a bad man to wed an innocent virgin, then the Lord protects us through our love of good, in our natural mind, our practical desire to keep the commandments of the Lord.
The beast was in Lebanon; i.e., the natural love of good was united with the knowledge of spiritual truth. The natural mind is willing to keep the commandments, for the sake of a higher life. And this love of good, on the natural plane, determined to keep the Lord's commandrnents, is our great protection against the subtle influences of falsities. It leads us to test every suggestion by its agreement with our Lord's practical commandrnents. The natural man tries to understand spiritual truth, from the standpoint of the senses. This is the camel trying to pass through the needle's eye; natural science, expecting to penetrate the fine mysteries of spiritual life. As the Jews contemptuously asked concerning Jesus, " Is not this the carpenter's son?" so the merely natural-minded man is always doubting the existence of anything beyond the natural senses, and refusing to believe that there is anything that he does not comprehend by his senses.
Now, practically, who is always prepared for the, emergencies of life? Surely, he who understands the two worlds in which men live; who lives upon known spiritual principles; who co-operates with the Divine Providence; who "prays as if everything depended upon the Lord, and works as if everything depended on himself; " who, in all things, marries his love of truth to a competent knowledge and rational understanding of truth; and who, in a useful life of keeping the Lord's commandments, finds not only protection from the subtle falsities of the senses, but also a fulness of spiritual life, in "the measure of a man, that is of an angel." "Great peace have they who love Thy law,and nothing shall cause them to offend." (Psalm cxix.165.)
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1903