Chapter 8 of Soul-Help Papers
“Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.”
— Exodus 14:15 —
where we did last night,
but rather a day’s march nearer home.2
“Go forward.” Death was behind Israel in the shape of the flower3 of the Egyptian army; or if not death, then slavery. They could not stand still.
The eleven on the slopes of Olivet stood looking into the vacant heavens, where their blessed Lord had just swept through the clouds to His home at the throne. But they could not stay there, even while trying to retain the sweet memory of that wonderful vision. Jesus sent his angel to say to them, “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?”6 Nothing wrong in the loving gaze so far as that is concerned. But neither could they stay there.
There is a place where to every soul it is said, “Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou.”7 We linger by the graves of our hopes, and mourn as those who have no hope.8 We cry after hallelujah experiences and stand gazing up into heaven longing for their return. We forget that we cannot bring the past back, nor our dead experiences again to us. They are taken away not to afflict us, but to bring us to that which is better. It was hard, but nevertheless expedient, for Jesus to go, dear as He was, and prized, and rightfully loved as He was, in order that the Holy Spirit might come and never go away. Even to Mary, Jesus had to say, “Don’t cling to Me,” (not “Touch me not,” as in the common version).9 She had come to the place where she was to part with the old order of things and receive the new. Her heart clung to the old. So Jesus sent her away on the first Christian missionary tour, and made known to her that He was indeed going away to remain with His Father, but would send the Holy Spirit.10
How many of us have had a Mary experience in this respect? How we have wanted to hold on to our clay loved ones,11 when Jesus wants them, like Himself, to go and be “where I am.”12 But that is not all: we have said we wanted always to live up on this mountain of vision, and never go down again. We cannot, for the Master has better schooling for us than continual vision and mere ecstasy. It took all kinds of weather and storm to bring Paul to Rome,13 where God wanted the gospel preached. Our storm by sea, where we have had to cast out our wheat cargo, was, in the end, a most prosperous trip for us. Warming ourselves by the fire on the shore, there is no use crying about the wheat in the sea and the broken ship.14 It is not the order of the going, but the thing I am coming to that counts. It is not what I have passed through, or what I have lost, but what the journey has made of me, and to what character and work it has brought me, which marks true progress.
It is well to get through the Red Sea all right, but not well to remain too long on the eastern shore. It is well to see Sinai all aflame and get the Law, but it is not a good country to homestead in. It is well to get safely across Jordan, but not well to tent forevermore in front of Jericho.
The object in getting into good places is not so much to stay there, as to use them to get into better places. We are made for eternal progress. There is no other side to the land to which we go. To stop is to stagnate. Like a river, we are to run to keep alive and to be fresh and pure. The life of the spirit, like the life in a muscle, must be used in order to retain strength and vigor. To bury the talent is to lose it.15 Knowledge unused passes away. To stop learning is to lose what we have. To stop in the middle of the journey is to fail, and what we were seeking is unattained.
It is no proper estimate of oneself to measure what we were forty years ago. Even last year is not the adequate measure of this. We are not to pitch our tent where we did last night, but rather a day’s march nearer home. We may seek for that land of pure delight16 where the “willing soul would sit and sing itself away to everlasting bliss,”17 but we will never find it in this life. We do not get there by sitting and singing. We can go singing along life’s way when Jesus lifts the load, but this “sitting” and singing ourselves away to everlasting bliss on flowery beds of ease is as yet an undiscovered clime. We are to “run” the race,18 not sit and wait.
- The text itself is public domain. The original book, Soul-Help Papers, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2008 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's Soul-Help Papers. ↩
- Title image created using a photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on https://unsplash.com/@eberhardgross. ↩
- Flower: used in this sense, the word is rarely heard nowadays. Webster's Dictionary of 1828 gives the following explanation: “The best or finest part of a thing; the most valuable part. The most active and vigorous part of an army are called the flower of the troops. Young, vigorous and brave men are called the flower of a nation.” ↩
- Matthew 17:1-8 ↩
- Matthew 17:9-18 ↩
- Acts 1:11 ↩
- Luke 9:60 ↩
- The allusion is to 1 Thessalonians 4:13. ↩
- John 20:17. Of course by “common version,” Reid means the King James translation, the version in common use in his time. ↩
- John 20:17-18 ↩
- “Clay loved ones”—that is, our loved ones alive in their earthly bodies. The metaphor of the human body as clay can be seen in various passages in the Old Testament, including Job 4:19, 10:9, and Isaiah 64:8; but the concept harks back to the Creation account in Genesis 2:7, when “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” The word formed is the translation of the Hebrew word yatsar, a pottery-making, clay-shaping word. And freighted in the name of that dust-formed man, Adam, is an underlying meaning of red or ruddy, perhaps relating that “dust” to clay. Because they understood this clay metaphor from the Old Testament, the phrase “clay loved ones” would have made perfect sense to Reid’s readership. ↩
- John 14:3 ↩
- The reference is to the two-week-long tempest at sea suffered by Paul and his companions on a voyage to Rome, as related in Acts 27. ↩
- Acts 28:1-2 ↩
- Matthew 25:14-30, especially verses 18, 24-25 ↩
- Reid's readers would have immediately associated these four words — land of pure delight — with the opening line of Isaac Watts’ famous hymn, There Is a Land of Pure Delight. ↩
- Reid quotes from the last verse of Isaac Watts’ hymn, Welcome, Sweet Day of Rest. ↩
- See Hebrews 12:1. ↩