Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Snapshots of Jesus 07 – The Bridegroom; Date: 28 February 2010

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The Bridegroom

 

What does it feel like to fall in love? How strong and mad can love be? The Bible is an old book and therefore knows a thing or two about love. It includes one intense love poem which is called the Song of Songs. Let me read to you some excerpts. There is no mincing of words – Song of Songs 1:2-3: “Kiss me – full on the mouth! Yes! For your love is better than wine, headier than your aromatic oils … ” Song of Songs 1:12-16: “When my King-Lover lay down beside me, my fragrance filled the room. His head resting between my breasts – the head of my lover was a sachet of sweet myrrh … ” Songs of Songs 1:15: “ … You’re so beautiful! And your eyes so beautiful – like doves!” Song of Songs 2:3-4: “ … All I want is to … taste and savor his delicious love … ” Song of Songs 2:5-6: “ … I’m about to faint with love! His left hand cradles my head, and his right arm encircles my waist!” Song of Songs 2:16-17: “My lover is mine and I am his … ” Song of Songs 3:1-4: “Restless in bed and sleepless through the night, I longed for my lover. I wanted him desperately. His absence was painful … ” Song of Songs 4:1-5: “You’re so beautiful … Your lips are jewel red, your mouth elegant and inviting … Your breasts are like fawns, twins of a gazelle, grazing among the first spring flowers.” Song of Songs 4:6-7: “The sweet, fragrant curves of your body, the soft, spiced contours of your flesh … You’re beautiful from head to toe … beautiful beyond compare, absolutely flawless.” Song of Songs 7:1-9: “ … Your limbs are lithe and elegant, the work of a master artist. Your body is a chalice, wine-filled … ” Song of Songs 7:9-12: “ … I am my lover’s. I’m all he wants. I’m all the world to him … ” Song of Songs 8:6-8: “ … Love is invincible facing danger and death. Passion laughs at the terrors of hell. The fire of love stops at nothing – it sweeps everything before it. Flood waters can’t drown love, torrents of rain can’t put it out … ”

There may be some who think that this kind of language is not appropriate for church. “Kiss me – full on the mouth” – this is too sensual – too many untamed passions. This is not measured Sunday preaching. Yet, here comes the surprise – the deep secret of our faith (what we may take a hold of this morning): The lovers – on the highest level (from the perspective of eternal destiny) – are God and his people. “Kiss me – full on the mouth” is the language of faith. “Restless in bed and sleepless through the night, I longed for my lover. I wanted him desperately. His absence was painful … ” – this is the yearning of God for us and our yearning for him. There is no intensity between man and woman that is not also in our relationship with God.

What do you make of this claim? Is this your own experience with God? One seminary professor writes [abbreviate and retell in your own words]:

 

“One of the most pleasant tasks I had … was to teach the book of Psalms [psalms are songs to God using language not unlike the Song of Songs] … As much as I love the Psalms, however, there were two things that consistently ‘bothered’ me whenever I meditated on the Psalms in those days. I felt uneasy about the psalmists’ intense pursuit of God. Let me give you a few examples of the kind of intensity that troubled me. ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?’ (42:1-2). ‘O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water’ (63:1). ‘One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple’ (27:4). ‘My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises’ (119:148) …

The writers of the Psalms had a longing for God’s presence that was overwhelming – and that bothered me … It bothered me because I began my Christian life with at least some of that longing. When I was seventeen years old, as a new convert, I remember staying up late at night after everyone else in my house had gone to bed, so that I could talk with God and have no interruptions or distractions. I can remember running to the mailbox to receive my latest packet of Navigator verses to memorize and then staying up till 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, meditating on those verses and memorizing every one of them.

No one made me do these thing. I did them because I hungered after God. But by the time I had become a seminar professor and was teaching these things in the Psalms, I was no longer staying up late at night to memorize the Bible … I could not say with the psalmists that my soul consistently ‘thirsted’ for God. I felt a twinge of guilt every time I read or taught one of those passages like the ones previously quoted. The second thing that bothered me in the Psalms was the emotion of the psalmists … the Psalms … did not share my view of emotions. The psalmists seemed to give full vent to their feelings. They were unashamed in their passionate hunger for God, in the intense joy they felt in his presence, and in the tears they shed over their sin or his absence. It bothered me that my experience did not match theirs, and I could not find a satisfying method to rationalize away my experience. Was their experience supposed to be normative? Why was mine different? … ” (Jack Deere: Surprised By The Power Of The Spirit, Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications 1993, p179-182).

 

This seminary professor was honest. Passion and emotions for God bothered him because he did not have them. His body was not longing for God. Therefore he was feeling a twinge of guilt. What was wrong with him? Is there anything wrong with us? The Psalms are intense and the Song of Songs even more so: “Kiss me, God – full on the mouthWhat does this mean?

Some Christians seem to know and they go to the extreme of saying that the Song of Songs is in fact describing their relationship with God and – even more unsettling – these Christians are not just weird fanatics on the fringe of respectable religion. They are our fathers and mothers in the faith. You may recognize some of these names – from the past and the present: Teresa of Avila, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, St John of the Cross, Madame Guyon, Charles Finney, Charles Spurgeon, Hudson Taylor, Basilea Schlink, Heidi Baker, Mike Bickle and many more.[1]

Many of these Christians wrote commentaries on the Song of Songs and made the most radical statements. For instance, Charles Spurgeon: “The true believer who has lived near to his Master will find this book [Song of Songs] to be a mass … of diamonds sparkling with brightness; and all things thou canst conceive are not to be compared with it for its matchless worth. If I must prefer one book above another … let me prefer this book above all others for fellowship and communion. When the  Christian is nearest to heaven, this is the book he takes with him” (Charles Spurgeon: The Most Holy Place). Charles Finney: “ … At this time … the language of Song of Solomon was as natural to me as my breathHudson Taylor: “The Song of Songs was the strength of my life and missionary endeavour

How are we feeling about this? When we talk about our relationship with God, who among us can say that the language of the Song of Songs comes as natural to us as breathing? I cannot say this about my own faith. I love God and there are glimpses of growing intimacy – wonderful times – but do I enjoy a relationship with God which is on the plain of the Song of Songs? (Song of Songs 1:12-16: “When my King-Lover lay down beside me, my fragrance filled the room. His head resting between my breasts – the head of my lover was a sachet of sweet myrrh … ”) No, not yet. At first – in my reading – when I came across these descriptions and experiences of such intense love between God and man (and woman) – breakthroughs in intimacy – I did not know how to process the information. What do you make of these love encounters when God has not yet come to you in this way?

Are you getting excited? I am. The witness to love is too strong. There is something beyond my current experience – your current experience. There is MORE and it will be exciting to attain the secret of our faith which others have discovered before us. [I love preaching beyond our current experience – whether it is a greater infilling of the Spirit, healings (even of cancer), signs and wonders, intimacy with God, throne room encounters … We preach the Word of God according to the Bible (not our current experience) until God does confirm his Word among us.]

And before anyone has a chance to become negative and feel second-rate in their faith experience, saying: “I can give up right now because nothing great will ever happen to meplease – this morning – do not go down that track. It is not true and – like us – none of our fathers and mothers in the faith began their Christian walk with the Song of Songs. There is always a process. Furthermore, God assures you that he is as available to you as he is to the next person. No one is a second-rate child of God. Jesus Christ died on a cross – gave so much of himself for love – that no one would miss out on anything. The Bible says – Ephesians 1:3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in ChristEverything in God is available to you. Therefore, this is not the time to feel sorry for ourselves but to go forward with excitement. There is more.

Throughout the entire Bible – God is consumed with love for his people which is the love of a bridegroom for his bride – Hosea 2:19: “I will betroth you to me forever … ” Isaiah 62:5: “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” Isaiah 54:5-6: “Your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is his name … The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit … ”

When Jesus came, he called himself the bridegroom (Matthew 9:15) and therefore – with him – the theme of bridal love grew even more pronounced – Ephesians 5:31-32: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the churchOne church leader described his work as making sure that the church – as the bride of Christ – was prepared for him in purity – 2 Corinthians 11:2-3: “ … I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ[Cf. Ephesians 5:25-27: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”]

Then, our future – unending eternity – is about enjoying bridal love with our Bridegroom-Saviour Jesus Christ – Revelation 19:7-9: “[In heaven] let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready … Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! … ” Revelation 21:9: “ … Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the LambThe Bible ends with these words – Revelation 22:12-17: “‘Behold I am coming soon! … I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you this testimony for the churches … ’ The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ …” We are the bride and we say: “Come, Jesus. We long for our bridegroom to return and bring this world to an end. We love you

The core Bible teaching on bridal love is not in doubt but – ignoring the biblical witness – I used to think that the Christians who made too much of Jesus as the Bridegroom – the Song of Songs – they were just emotional dreamers – not the people of action that we need. Church history even put a label on them – calling them “mystics”. Would you want that label for yourself – a “mystic”? I would want more reality than the label suggests.

Yet – to my surprise – I discovered that the “mystics” of many centuries ago were the movers and shakers of their time. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) reformed Carmelite monasteries and is a best-selling author to this day. [Forty years after her death, she was canonized, in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV and, in 1970, Pope Paul VI bestowed upon her the papal honor of Doctor of the Church, along with Saint Catherine of Siena making them the first women to be awarded the distinction.] St. John of the Cross is considered to be one of the foremost poets in the Spanish language. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1135) was a Frankish abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian monastic order. He was one of the most powerful churchman of his time – impacting popes and kings. He knew the gift of speaking in tongues and God granted him power – as his biographers testify. I quote: “The cures were so many that the witnesses themselves were unable to detail them all. At Doningen, near Rheinfeld, where the first Sunday of Advent was spent, Bernard cured, in one day, nine blind persons, ten who were deaf or dumb, and eighteen lame or paralytic. On the following Wednesday, at Schaffhausen, the number of miracles increased” (Quoted by P. Dearmer, Body and Soul, p. 359).

If this is what “mystics” do, then I may want to be one myself. The “mystics” were not just dreamers – but men and women of action – reform and power – and these people – for whatever reason – all celebrated the Song of Songs. Then, the active power of men and women like Charles Finney (1792-1875 – The highlight of Charles Finney's evangelistic ministry was the “nine mighty years” of 1824 to 1832, during which he conducted powerful revival meetings all over the eastern cities of Goureneur, Rome, Utica, Auburn, Troy, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. During his meeting in Rochester, New York, “the place was shaken to its foundations”. Twelve hundred people united with the churches of Rochester Presbytery. All the leading lawyers, physicians, and businessmen were saved. Forty of the converts entered the ministry, and the whole character of the town was changed. As a result of that meeting, revivals broke out in 1,500 other towns and villages … Some estimate that over 500,000 people responded to his public invitations to receive Christ.), Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892 – He is still known as the “Prince of Preachers”.), Hudson Taylor (1832-1905 – He was the founder of China Inland Mission [the first to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to inland China] and spent fifty-one years in China. The society that he began was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country who began 125 schools and directly resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as the establishment of more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces.) and Heidi Baker (Together with her husband Rolland – she is an American missionary in Mozambique and she writes – Heidi Baker with Shara Pradhan: Compelled By Love,  Lake Mary: Charisma House 2008, p61: “I have stood in awe as God has grown us from only a few churches to more than six thousand in ten years time.”) put any lingering suspicion to rest. Experiencing bridal love with God is not only for romantic dreamers but – in a complete reversal of our expectations (at least my expectations) – the indispensable prerequisite of doing anything great for God.

When you think about it, (of course) this makes sense. Even popular songs spell out the most profound truth: “I would do anything for loveWhen we are smitten with love for our Bridegroom Saviour, we suffer anything for him – rejection, poverty, persecution – anything for him. You leave your country and die in another – bringing people to Jesus who loves them. When visitors follow Heidi Baker to the garbage dump in Mozambique, it is so bad that they often throw up but Heidi is consumed with love – the Song of Songs is her life with God – and so she says: “I never see the garbage. I never notice the smell. I don’t see the maggots. I only see the children – orphans – precious ones – who are loved by God – my God. I have this mushy feeling – the one where your stomach is turning – being in love – this is how I am feeling about GodThis may sound a little “crazy” but it is the only way. Pressure – moral lectures – will not make anyone obedient to God (they will get your backs up and make you resentful) but when you are in love with him, you would do anything for him. And – corresponding to this – he wants your love – he wants you – more than any of your works, which then will simply flow from your love for him. [Furthermore, intimacy with Jesus is also the key to sharing his power.]

This may now sound like too much theory – lofty ideals – but trust the Bible – listen to our fathers and mothers in the faith – the intense love relationship is grounded in experience. Hudson Taylor writes: “ … the Song of Songs … Read aright, it brings a gladness to the heart which is as far beyond the joy of earthly things as heaven is higher than the earth. It has been well said that this is a song which grace alone can teach, and experience alone can learn” (J. Hudson Taylor: Union And Communion, p5). Hudson Taylor is right. You can have teaching on this – learned sermons of grace – good instructions about God’s undeserved love for you – but – in the end – experience alone can learn what the Song of Songs is about. [How can you teach a blind man anything about colour? He needs to see.] This morning – be open to experience something from God. Give yourself permission to feel something in church. Let God touch your emotions. Let it come to you – the gladness of the heart – the incomparable joy – the love of God.

Basilea Schlink almost pleads with her readership in the beginning of her book on bridal love: “What these pages contain are not thoughts about the ‘first love’, the bridal love, for Jesus, but rather what I myself have experienced along the path of love for Jesus. This is a reality. I can and must bear testimony about the truth of this verse: ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee’ (Psalm 73:25). Lord. You are everything” (Basilea Schlink: My All For Him, London: Lakeland 1971, p9). Be open to God this morning. Open your heart and let the truth of love flow from your understanding in your head to your heart.

How does this work in practice? Those that teach best on our union with God in bridal love insist that we do not produce this union. Prayer – the love language of the Song of Songs – is infused, that is, poured in by God (Thomas Dubay: Fire Within, San Francisco: Ignatius Press 1989, p59). Jesus taught us – John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last dayFurther, the means of drawing us close to God and infusing us with the love of God is the Holy Spirit who is poured out on all Christians. The Bible says – 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: “ … ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ – but God has revealed it to us by his SpiritTherefore, bridal love – the love union with God – what no human mind can conceive – is revealed to us – infused – by the Holy Spirit. One more reference – 2 Corinthians 3:8: “ … the ministry of the Spirit is [original: be] even more glorious [than the glory which manifested on Moses’ face when he came into the presence of God in deep intimacy].”

What all of these references mean is that none of us has to produce the love intimacy with God ourselves. Bridal love is what God produces in us – as the Holy Spirit ministers to us. However, there is a condition, that is: absolute surrender to him in everything. Like any bridegroom – God is not going to share us – his bride – with anyone else. He is a most jealous God and will deny us his affections, if we prefer anything else to him. Many a time – for us this creates problems. We get nervous. Like a nervous bride – we fear that the required commitment is too great. Isn’t God asking too much of us? This is not going to end well.

Jesus demonstrated the uncompromising proposition of God in his encounter with a rich young man. I read from the Bible – Mark 10:17-22: “As Jesus started on his man, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ … Jesus answered: ‘ … You know the commandments … ’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘God, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth

The treasures of heaven – Jesus looking at him with love – the love language of the Song of Songs – were within the young man’s grasp but he never discovered the secret of what was being offered to him. He walked away – sad and discouraged – because he could not give up his money for God. He kept his money and therefore kept holding on to his unfulfilled misery – never entered the joy and deep satisfaction of love. Hudson Taylor writes: “Could there be a sadder proof of the extent and reality of the Fall than the deep-seated distrust of our loving LORD and MASTER which makes us hesitate to give ourselves entirely up to him, which fears that he might require something beyond our powers, or call for something that we should find it hard to give or to do? The real secret of an unsatisfied life lies too often in an unsurrendered will. And yet how foolish … ” (Union And Communion, p6).

This is condition applies to everyone who wants to experience the love of God: Sell everything. Let go of all attachments that are not God. God may not ask of you to sell your car or your home – or whatever you have – but he will make sure that the attachments to human treasures are cut – including human relationships (e.g.: mother and father, wife or husband, children). This is not without its challenges and therefore the norm is that the experience of falling in love with God and receiving from him loving intimacy is a process of growing in our relationship with him.

For instance, someone prophesied over Heidi Baker, saying to her: “Your Bible book is the Song of SongsBut then it took sixteen more years for her to preach the first sermon on the Song of Songs. It took her sixteen more years to be in the place where the book meant anything to her.[2]

For most of us – absolute surrender of everything takes time and God – in his mercy – does not hurry the process. He is leading us step by step – wooing us with his love – but then – when we get there – we are in for a surprise. The secret unfolds. We thought that we would lose so much by selling everything – by giving everything to God – but the opposite is true. We are not losing anything but gaining everything. In the words of Hudson Taylor: “But ah! What follows? A wondrously glad surprise. No Moriah, no Calvary; on the contrary, a KING! When the heart submits, then JESUS reigns. And when JESUS reigns, there is rest” (Union And Communion, p6).[3]

Years into his work of preaching and bringing people to faith – Charles Finney had the following experience [abbreviate and retell in your own words]:

 

“ … this winter … my mind was . exercised on the question of personal holiness … I gave myself to a great deal of prayer … After praying … for weeks and months, one morning … the thought occurred to me, what if … my heart is not really subdued … Just before … I had had a great struggle about giving up my wife to the will of God. She was in very feeble health, and it was very evident that she could not live long … I had never before seen so clearly what was implied in laying her and all that I possessed upon the altar of God, and for hours I struggled upon my knees to give her up unqualifiedly to the will of God. But I found myself unable to do it. I was so shocked and surprised at this that I perspired profusely with agony. I struggled and prayed until I was exhausted, and found myself entirely unable to give her altogether up to God’s will, in such a way as to make no objection to his disposing of her as he pleased. This troubled me much … But … I was enabled, after struggling … to fall back in a deeper sense than I had ever done before upon the infinitely blessed and perfect will of God. I . told the Lord that I had such confidence in him that I felt perfectly willing to give myself, my wife and my family, and all, to be disposed of without any qualification according to his views and will … I then had a deeper view of what was implied in consecration to God than I ever had before. I spent a long time upon my knees … giving up everything to the will of God … the whole of that day … nothing troubled me. I was neither elated nor depressed; I was neither … joyful nor sorrowful. My confidence in God was perfect … Just at evening the question arose in my mind: ‘What if God should send me to hell – what then?’ … my mind . settled. I said, ‘No … hell could be no hell to me if I accepted God’s perfect will.’ This sprung a vein of joy in my mind that kept developing more and more for weeks and months, and indeed I may say for years.

For years my mind was too full of joy to feel much exercised with anxiety on any subject … It seemed as if my desires were all met. What I had been praying for for myself, I had received in a way that I least expected. Holiness to the Lord seemed to be inscribed on all the exercises of my mind … The language of the Song of Solomon was as natural to me as my breath … I not only had all the freshness of my first love, but a vast accession to it. Indeed the Lord lifted me so much above anything that I had experienced before, and taught me so much of the meaning of the Bible, of Christ’s relations and power and willingness, that I often found myself saying to him, ‘I had not known or conceived that any such thing was true.’ … I had had no conception of the length and breadth, and height and depth, and efficiency of his grace … I found myself exclaiming, ‘Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!’ … “ (Charles Finney: The Original Memoirs Of Charles Finney, Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989, p328-332).

 

When Charles Finney shared this testimony, he was already more than three hundred pages into his autobiography which covered his conversion and subsequent church work. This did not happen to a brandnew Christian but was the fruit of growing maturity. After praying for weeks and months – God tested him. Was he able to give up everything for God – his own wife – even his own place in heaven? At first – he could not. He struggled and prayed until he was exhausted. The powerful preacher could not make the sacrifice but then he came to a place of absolute surrender – trusting God and his intentions completely – resting in him with confidence – which then came with the surprise experience – not of being deprived of anything – but the freshness of first love. He cried out: “Wonderful! Wonderful! WonderfulThe language of the Song of Songs became to him as natural as his own breath. And – one day – this is what I want. I don’t have it yet – in the same overwhelming measure – but I am on the journey. I hope that this excites you as well. The love relationship with God and the experience of him can grow.

Another Christian – years into her faith journey – also made the surprising discovery of bridal love. Here is her testimony and it is very practical [abbreviate and retell in your own words]:

 

Basilea Schlink: My All For Him, London: Lakeland 1971, p14-18: “For a long time I could not find the key, the solution, to my questions: What is true discipleship? What does Jesus want? On the one hand, He calls us to an uncompromising discipleship. He calls us to forsake everything, to lose our lives for his sake. He calls us to leave father and mother. On the other hand, we are supposed to honour our fathers and mothers. In the same way, the Bible says that the whole creation is God’s handiwork; thence springs human knowledge and science, and thus our civilization: surely we should hold it in esteem? Now, if we forsake all things to tread the path of uncompromising discipleship, we become ascetic and seclusive, denying civilization and everything that God has created. Yet this cannot be right! What are we to do?

Many voices reached my ears … One view was that as the body of Christ, we should not concern ourselves with what is happening in our country … I listened to this but then I discovered that those who held this view lacked joy … At the same time, they were very self-righteous … Then I heard a very different view … they took their place in the world. It seemed to me, however, that they had so fully conformed to the world that they did not pay attention to the warnings of Scripture, e.g., ‘Do not love the world or the things in the world’ (1 John 2:15) …

Still I wondered. What did God want? … After following first the one path for several years and then the other, I still did not feel that I had found His way … He had to make me see the truth about myself before He could show me the right way. He had to show me that I was a poor sinner. I had to become so desperate that I could cry over my sins. I could not get on with a difficult woman with whom I was living … Then the Lord showed me my sin … This experience drove me into the arms of Jesus … He began to reveal Himself as Love. It was He Himself – not any particular teaching … but rather He Himself who was the answer … Only one thing was important: I was drawn to love him … He was the jewel of my heart … He truly is the sweetest …

My love for Him helped me to find the answer to my questions. I had found the key – love for Jesus, this first love, bridal love. Through this love I saw that to tread the path of Jesus does not involve abstention from the riches of our Father’s world. All at once I noticed the two phrases which Jesus always added whenever He called someone to uncompromising disicpleship: ‘For My sake,’ ‘For My name’s sake’. We are called to tread His path and be close to Him out of love for Him …

After the Lord showed me that the way of uncompromising discipleship is the way of voluntary love, He let me find the key to Christian freedom. Because Jesus is Love, He must have enjoyed hours of relaxation with His disciples. He drew their attention to the beauty of nature: ‘Consider the lilies of the field … ’ (Matt. 6:28) … I began to comprehend this; now that I was joined with him in love, I could enjoy creation.

Now the gifts of the Creator were no longer strange and foreign to me, nor were they something to be avoided lest they draw me away from strict discipleship. Now they were a loving greeting from God the Father … Previously, too, I scarcely dared to admire religious art. But, now when I saw pictures of Jesus or of the marvels that God had brought into being in lands where I had met Him, they aroused deeper thanksgiving and greater love in my heart … No, now I loved my people and all other peoples, because they shared the radiance of the Father’s love; they were a creative thought of His heart … Now I was truly free … because I was completely filled with His love … In the fellowship of love with Him I now had part in everything that belongs to this earth and to the whole universe … ”

 

Like Finney – Basilea Schlink also had to surrender all. In her case it was not the marriage partner or her place in heaven but the sin of unforgiveness. The awareness of sin came to her rescue. As God confronts us with our sin, we are humbled and let go of our pride and control. We repent and seek his forgiveness. We learn to depend on him – his goodness – not our efforts. The pathway to experiencing more of God’s love is a growing awareness of sin in our lives and letting them all go. And then – like many before her – Basilea Schlink was also surprised – by love. She turned away from holding a grudge but the sacrifice (and forgiving someone can be so hard) turned out to be pure joy. God became the jewel of her heart and more. She found the secret of discipleship which is neither retreating from the world nor compromising with the world. As long as she was joined to God in love, she could do anything. As long as she loved God – shared his heart – she was free to enjoy God’s creation, praise him in human culture and feel his compassion in the everyday affairs of cities and nations.

We come back to the main key for experiencing more of God: Surrender all. Let God confront you with the question which will bring on the most important crisis in your life. Can you give up the person that you love – for him? Can you forgive someone? Can you – if so required – sell everything – for him? These crisis times are never easy on anyone. The most mature Christians will struggle and even Finney (he never expected that this would happen to him) – at first – could not comply with God’s wishes. Endure the crisis. Face your sin and distrust of God. Be on the journey of letting more and more of your baggage go. This may seem hard and – right now – you may never want to return to this church but persevere and you will also be surprised. You will – according to the promises of the Bible – discover the secret of our faith: bridal love. The Song of Songs will begin to make sense to you: “Kiss me – full on the mouth! Yes! For your love is better than wine, headier than your aromatic oils … ” (Song of Songs 1:2-3).

I will finish here. There are further disciplines of guarding the love relationship with God – such as praising him for his glory and spending time in his presence [Basilea Schlink: My All For Him, London: Lakeland 1971, p98: “His way consists of certain ‘stepping stones’: poverty, humiliation, love of the cross, humility, obedience, purity … Your bridal love will be deepened when you put your trust in Jesus your Bridegroom.”] – but the most important discipline is the ongoing surrender of all to his will. We may also mention that God keeps growing our love relationship according to the principle that “absence makes love grow fonder”. At times he seems to withdraw from us [what the mystics call “dark nights” (cf. Thomas Dubay: Fire Within, San Francisco: Ignatius Press 1989, p159-174)] – or we withdraw from him in periods of disobedience – but these times are meant to make us even more desperate for him. They strengthen our resolve and conviction that nothing is as precious as our God. We want him before anything else.

Now – this morning – are you ready to be surprised? Are you longing to understand the secret of our faith? Jesus is looking at you with love. He is your bridegroom. You are his bride. He is waiting for you. [Does Jesus not make us look like his bride when – over recent weeks – out of his glory he makes gold sparkles manifest on our hands, faces and body?] For him – let go of everything. The cost may seem high – at first – but his love will not come to you in any other way. He will not share his bride with anyone else. Say “yes” to him. Take the risk and then discover the secret: LOVE. Jesus will touch your emotions and give you peace and joy. Song of Songs 7:9-12: “ … I am my lover’s [and my lover is God]. I’m all he wants. I’m all the world to him … ” Amen.

 



[1] Fred & Sharon Wright: The World’s Greatest Revivals, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2007, p260: “ … Then he asked me if I had ever given any thought to what might be the focal truth of the next tsunami wave [after the focal truth of the Father’s heart through the outpouring in Toronto 1994]. Suddenly, blurting out of my mouth came the words, ‘The Bride and the Bridegroom! The Bride and the Bridegroom!’ … ”

[2]  Heidi Baker shared the following:

 

“ … extravagant lovers of God will take nations … I used to believe that I was a slave … put your ear down, let God put your stake through … preached it for years … then, I preached be a servant … do anything because you are a servant … servants do not get into the inner chambers … I was getting so close to Jesus, that I was feeling that I was a friend of God … a servant-friend … He likes me … wonderful place … wow … come on closer … the more I have been laying down (it is a dying thing) … if you lay down, then you will be an extravagant lover now (past the slave thing, past the servant thing, past the friend thing) … years and years ago, Larry Randolph prophesied over me: Your book is the Song of Songs, the Song of Songs … 16 years ago but first time I preached on the book was last book … that’s the place I’m in now … mission sermon: here it is. It is all about love … the whole thing, the whole thing, the whole thing. It is about extravagant love … so close … living in this place … instead of ear pierced with a stake, you have your head on his breast … hearing his heart-beat … intimate lover means that you are in union with him … means that there is nothing he wouldn’t do for you … you want power – heal the sick – reach the poor, then have intimate union with him … I am just beginning to walk in this place, never want to leave this place … last week out in his presence … I am a worshipper first (lover of God first) … then mercy person, missionary … I couldn’t care what anyone thinks … you want compassion for the multitude, it’s about intimacy … walking so close with Jesus that nothing else matters … you can hardly stand not to hug anyone because they are his children (they are not projects) … we used to have missionary stories … who has the worst life … whoever suffered the most got the prize (missionary plague) … “I don’t have any hot water.” “I don’t have any water.” “I live in the slums with the poor.” “I live in a cave in the garbage.” That was the deal. Whoever could suffer the most, they got the missionary prize … used to preach it … ninth floor in the slums with no elevator … 1st storey: gang leaders … 2nd storey prostitutes … 3rd storey …  you buy grocery by weight … so desperate to suffer for him … do anything … the poor could not get to me because the little old ladies could not climb that high … my idea … if we can suffer enough, then we can win the lost …. The goal is not to see how hard it can be … the goal is intimacy … some are afraid of this book … this is a pornographic book (Song of Songs) – seminary professor … my favourite book right now … “let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth for your love is more delightful than wine – pleasing is the fragrance of your oil. Your name is like oil poured forth. No wonder the maidens love you … ” … Madame Guyon: God is all mouth … He is the Word … let him kiss me … my word will be in you … start to think what I think … Rolland and I couldn’t stand each other … he cried for a month there in Toronto … I cried there … we need marriages that are strong … I never see the garbage, never smell the smell, never see the maggots – only see the child, incredible joy … that mushy feeling … know what it’s like … your stomach is turning … this is how I am feeling about God … I don’t care if I ever preach again … don’t care where I go … all I want is just be where he is … I want my head against his chest … I can’t do the emails right now … I can’t have a room-mate … can’t think straight … I’m so in love with him … when I see people, I see his kids – their pain, their joy … what’s the prophetic … so close to the Father’s heart, that you feel everything … I’m just desperate for him … be in this place for ever … all the major miracles in my life have come out of major compassion … hugging and weeping over them … anointing is the wine/oil of his presence … churches grow and submit when there is this kind of love … started the mission twenty years ago by ourselves because no one wanted us … (Sermon – 12 October 2000).

      

Consider also how long it took for Mike Bickle to understand that bridal love underpins everything in our relationship with God. The following is an excerpt from a previous sermon:

 

The young man from the opening story later became a pastor and one day [1983] – by revelation – he clearly understood that God wanted him to focus on prayer ministry – intercession, spiritual warfare, 24 hour prayer, 21 day fasts, … He became known internationally for global prayer strategies, books, conferences, … He threw himself into the work.

However, five years after the initial call into prayer ministry – one morning [1988] – he received a wedding card and on the card was printed the Bible verse of Song of Solomon 8:6: “Place me like a seal over your heart.” He thought: “What a cool verse.” He had never read the book of Song of Solomon but now he was intrigued and opened up the verse in the Bible. He kept reading: “Place me like a seal over your heart … for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away … “

The Spirit of God began to move on this pastor. He began to yearn that God might place him like a seal over his heart. He prayed that God would release love in him – divine fusion, flames of consuming love, stronger than death. It takes God to love God. He wanted that love that was supernatural and amazing. He began to weep. Something unusual was happening. He told the receptionist not to let anyone interrupt him – something which he had not done in 30 years. He had never had an encounter with God like that before. Something heavy was happening to him – weeping – feeling the presence of God – giving himself to the Lord … Ten minutes later the phone rang.

The receptionist said: “I know that you don’t want any phone calls but Bob Jones is on the line saying that he had just heard audibly from God.” That had happened four or five times in the past and each time the word was subsequently confirmed.

This time Bob Jones said to the pastor: “God is going to call you and deal with you according to Song of Solomon 8:6-7.” Wow! No one knew that the pastor was reading this very passage at that very moment. Bob said: “I’ve just heard this but haven’t even looked it up yet. This is now at the very center of your life calling for the rest of your life. Whatever promise that is God is going to release this promise on the church world-wide.”

The pastor was so excited. He called his wife. He was weeping. He took the rest of the day off. He finally had clarity about his life’s mandate and purpose but then he began to read the Bible book Song of Solomon from beginning to end and was no longer impressed: Chapter 1 – kisses, perfume, vineyards, … chapter 2 – roses, lilies, flowers, … chapter 3 – chapter 4 – fawns, lilies, perfume, gardens … chapter 5 – chapter 6 … Oh my goodness.

When he came home to his wife that night, he didn’t want to talk about it. As far as he understood, he was mandated to prison for the rest of his life by the audible voice of God. He said: “God, give me anything but this. Don’t let me be stuck for life with this book.” It took him a while before he realized that the content of the book did not undermine his manhood. In time he discovered that he had received a most dynamic calling – revealing the affections of God’s heart for us.

Only he was confused. Five years earlier he had received a mandate for prayer ministry and now there was this other mandate of delving into the passionate love of God. What was to be his priority? Another eight to nine years later [1997] the pastor had another spiritual dream. He was standing in a crowd of people on a platform and a voice came saying: “Tell them. They are Hephzibah. Tell them that the Lord delights in them.” He woke up and again was so excited. He thought: “This is really cool that God gives me the message for next Sunday.” At that time he did not understand that this was related to his life’s mandate.

Where was the Hephzibah word in the Bible? He knew that it had to be in the book of Isaiah the prophet and so he began searching chapter by chapter. Chapter 1 – chapter 2 – chapter 3 – and so on – flicking through the pages. When he came to chapter 62 of Isaiah he skipped that particular chapter because that was the chapter he had studied more than any other in the Bible. Since he was focused on prayer ministry, he had developed a passion for Isaiah 62:6 which says: “I have posted watchmen on your walls … they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord give yourselves no rest.” He had preached more than one hundred sermons on this particular verse admonishing constant and ceaseless intercession – praying to God about his kingdom to come. The pastor’s Bible was average looking – in good condition – but that one page of Isaiah 62 was worn out – used again and again. So the pastor skipped that particular chapter in his search for Hephzibah and continued with chapter 63 – chapter 64 – … He didn’t find the word in Isaiah and thus continued to search all the prophets – right on to Malachi – but he had missed the reference.

Thus, (since he is a man and does not ask for directions) he began again with looking through Isaiah chapter 1 – chapter 2 – chapter 3 – and so on. He skipped Isaiah chapter 62 because he knew it so well and then kept searching once more until the end of all the prophetic books. Where was that word Hephzibah?

He had wasted another hour, at last broke down, conceded defeat – and used his concordance. He could not believe his eyes. The concordance must be wrong. He was shocked. There it was right at the centre of his most favourite Bible passage. He had always preached on Isaiah 62:6 but had never understood that the entire prayer movement was built on the previous verse: Isaiah 62:5 and verse 4– where the people of God are called Hephzibah – meaning “I, God, delight in them.”

The pastor cried out: “Lord, did you know that the bridal paradigm [the love relationship with you] is the key to the prayer movement?” God knew that but it took the pastor years to work out that the mandate for prayer ministry and the mandate to preach the Song of Solomon were in fact the same mandate. Intimacy and intercession go together. Unless we are immersed in the love of God and overflow with his love, there can be no sustaining power for prayer or anything else. Only he who loves, can handle the task – whatever it may be.

Listen to Isaiah 62:4-7: “ … you will be called Hephzibah … for the Lord will take delight in you … as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem [O church]; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem [his kingdom] and makes her the praise of the earth.”

Do we hear this for ourselves? Hephzibah – the Lord delights in you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride – you are immersed in love overflowing and divine – and then as Hephzibah you take up your post – perhaps – as watchmen on the walls calling on the Lord and giving him no rest until he has established his kingdom in eternity.

 

[3] An excerpt from Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor. J. Hudson Taylor, M.D. was a missionary to China, and the founder of the China Inland Mission:

 

“ ... God made me a new man! God has made me a new man!” Wonderful was the experience that had come in answer to prayer, yet so simple as almost to baffle description … Do you know, I now think that this striving, longing, hoping for better days to come is not the true way to holiness, happiness or usefulness. It is better, no doubt, far better than being satisfied with poor attainments, but not the best way after all. I have been struck with a passage from a book... entitled Christ is All. It says, “The Lord Jesus received is holiness begun; the Lord Jesus cherished is holiness advancing; the Lord Jesus counted upon as never absent would be holiness complete …”He is most holy who has most of Christ within, and joys most fully in the finished work … ” … To let my loving Savior work in me His will, my sanctification, is what I would live for by His grace. Abiding, not striving nor struggling; looking off unto Him; trusting Him for present power … resting in the love of an almighty Savior, in the joy of a complete salvation, “from all sin” – this is not new, and yet ‘tis new to me … Christ literally all seems to me, now, the power, the only power for service, the only ground for unchanging joy …

How then to have our faith increased? Only by thinking of all that Jesus is and all He is for us: His life, His death, His work, He Himself as revealed to us in the Word, to be the subject of our constant thoughts. Not a striving to have faith … but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need; a resting in the Loved One entirely, for time and eternity.

… I looked to Jesus, and when I saw -- oh, how joy flowed! It was resting in Jesus now, and letting Him do the work – which makes all the difference. Whenever he spoke in meetings after that, a new power seemed to flow from him, and in the practical things of life a new peace possessed him. Troubles did not worry him as before. He cast everything on God in a new way, and gave more time to prayer.

It was the exchanged life that had come to him – the life that is indeed “No longer I” … It was a blessed reality “Christ liveth in me.” And how great the difference! – instead of bondage, liberty; instead of failure, quiet victories within; instead of fear and weakness, a restful sense of sufficiency in Another. Perhaps I may make myself more clear if I go back a little … I prayed, agonized, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word more diligently, sought more time for meditation – but all without avail. Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness sin pressed me. I knew that if only I could abide in Christ all would be well, but I could not. I would begin the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye off Him for a moment, but pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, and constant interruptions apt to be so wearing, caused me to forget Him. Then one's nerves get so fretted in this climate that temptations to irritability, had thoughts and sometimes unkind words are all the more difficult to control. Each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power. To will was indeed “present with me,” but how to perform I found not.

Then came the questions, is there no rescue? Must it be thus to the end – constant conflict, and too often defeat? … Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no longer, for faith and even hope were getting low. I hated myself, I hated my sin, yet gained no strength against it. I felt I was a child of God. His Spirit in my heart would cry, in spite of all, “Abba, Father.” But to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless.

I knew I was powerless. I told the Lord so, and asked Him to give me help and strength. Sometimes I almost believed that He would keep and uphold me; but on looking back in the evening – alas! There was but sin and failure to confess and mourn before God. And yet, never did Christ seem more precious; a Savior who could and would save such a sinner! … And sometimes there were seasons not only of peace but of joy in the Lord; but they were transitory, and at best there was a sad lack of power.

All the time I felt assured that there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was – how to get it out. He was rich truly, but I was poor; He was strong, but I weak. I knew full well that there was in the root, the stem, abundant fatness, but how to get it into my puny little branch was the question. As gradually light dawned, I saw that faith was the only requisite – was the hand to lay hold on His fullness and make it mine. But I had not this faith.

I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Savior, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word … I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do?

When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before.

“But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” As I read, I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed)! That He had said, “I will never leave thee.”

“Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I'll strive no more. For has not He promised to abide with me – never to leave me, never to fail me?” And … He never will.

… As I thought of the Vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul! How great seemed my mistake in wishing to get the sap, the fullness out of Him! I saw not only that Jesus will ever leave me, but that I am a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. The vine is not the root merely, but all – root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit. And Jesus is not that alone – He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for or needed. Oh, the joy of seeing this truth! I do pray that the eyes of your understanding too may be enlightened, that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ.

… It is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Savior, to be a member of Christ! Think what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and your left poor? Or your head be well fed while your body starves? … No more can your prayers or mine be discredited if offered in the name of Jesus (i.e., not for the sake of Jesus merely, but on the ground that we are His, His members) so long as we keep within the limits of Christ's credit – a tolerably wide limit!

The sweetest part … is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient … So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trials, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.

And since Christ has thus dwelt in my heart by faith, how happy I have been! … I am no better than before. In a sense, I do not wish to be, nor am I striving to be. But I am dead and buried with Christ – ay, and risen too! And now Christ lives in me, and “the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

… Do not let us consider Him as far off, when God has made us one with Him, members of His very body. Nor should we look upon this experience, these truths, as for the few. They are the birthright of every child of God, and no one can dispense with them without dishonoring our Lord. The only power for deliverance from sin or for true service is Christ. And it is all so simple and practical! “But are you always conscious of this abiding in Christ?” Mr. Taylor was asked many years later. “While sleeping last night,” he replied, “did I cease to abide in your home because I was unconscious of the fact? We should never be conscious of not abiding in Christ.” I change, He changes not; The Christ can never die: His truth, not mine, the resting place; His love, not mine, the tie.