Precious Jesus

"Afresh, precious, precious Jesus, I resign this body to You, for doing or suffering, for living or dying. Will You accept it? Will You use me for Your glory more than heretofore, that You may have some little return for all the benefits You have done to me? Oh, do grant this request; my heart longs for it, my spirit pleads for it; and "if You will, You can." You know the hot temptation of which I am the subject. Bring Your glory out of it, and keep me from the evil, and it shall be well." - Ruth Bryan

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The heavenly ladder - and how to climb it

Frequently does God give to His people their sweetest comforts in their saddest hours. Look at Jacob as he left Beersheba and went on his way toward Haran. When wearied with his journey he lay down to sleep, the cold sod was his couch — a stone his pillow — the sky above his curtain. Sorrowful indeed that night must have been the heart of the patriarch. He had just parted from the father and mother whom he dearly loved. He had just left behind him the home of his childhood. He was setting out on a long and dangerous journey, with no companion but the staff he carried in his hand. Yet how gracious is God! "Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him."
This — the darkest, the most cheerless night in Jacob's life, became the brightest. Never before had he been so bereft of human comfort. Never before had God so graciously revealed Himself to His servant. He saw a vision of a ladder reaching from earth to Heaven. Upon it he saw the angels ascending and descending. Above it, stood the Lord God, who spoke to him words of blessed encouragement. He had thought he was alone; but he was not, for angels were there to minister to him. He had thought his journey was about to be a solitary one; but the Lord promised that He Himself would accompany him, and preserve him from the dangers of the way. And God promised him still more — that land upon which he was lying as a stranger should be given to him and to his seed. He who was now a lonely pilgrim — would become a great people, and through him should come the long-promised Messiah — that seed of Abraham in whom all families of the earth should be blessed.
Here is the account: "Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a ladder resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." Genesis 28:10-15
I shall now leave the history of the patriarch, and consider only the ladder which he saw in his vision. Christ often used similitudes — and so may we. Let that ladder teach us precious lessons as to the way of life. It plainly points to Christ and His salvation. It tells us of Him who is the only Mediator between God and man. It tells us how, lost and fallen though we are, we may yet climb the skies, and enter "that city which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God." Let me first give you a few thoughts with respect to the ladder itself, and then consider how we may climb it.
I. A few thoughts with respect to the ladder itself.
1. This ladder is the only communication between earth and heaven — between a holy God and sinful men. Sin has made a vast chasm — a vast separation between the creature and the Creator. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God." (Isaiah 59:2.) There is a two-fold reason for this. On the one hand, our sins have brought against us the sword of Divine justice: the degree has gone forth from the council-chamber of Heaven, "The wages of sin is death!" "The soul that sins it shall die!"
On the other hand, our guilty hearts shrink from the presence of our righteous Judge. We fear to approach One whom our sins have so grievously offended. The accusing conscience cries out with Simon Peter, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
Here is the separation — how can it be overcome? How can the breach be made up? How can God and man again walk together as friends? No efforts of our own — no self-made ladders can ever affect it. Our doings — our prayers — our repentance — cannot bring us near to God. They cannot atone for past guilt; they cannot remove the penalty of a broken law; they cannot pacify a fearful conscience. The best we can do is in itself sinful and polluted, and therefore needs forgiveness before it can be accepted; still less then can it be to us any ground of hope. Now God knows this: He has said, "O Israel, you have destroyed yourself, but in Me is your help."
So in His great mercy He has provided a means whereby we may return to Him. With His own hand He has let down a ladder of grace from above. He has given Jesus to be our Savior — to live and die for us. "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16.) "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10.)
Never be it forgotten that this is the only way by which the sinner can return to God. Nothing else can possibly avail: "There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." (Acts 4:12.) Has not Jesus said Himself, "I am the way — no man comes unto the Father but by Me?"
2. This ladder is firmly fixed and perfectly safe. Before climbing a ladder, you need to know whether it will bear you — and whether you can safely trust yourself to it. This ladder of which I speak is so firm, so safe — you never need fear for a single moment to venture your weight upon it. It has been fixed by God's own hand. Whatever man does often falls to the ground, often fails of its purpose — whatever God does stands fast forever: "He works all things after the counsel of His own will." (Ephesians 1:11.)
The erecting of this ladder is the fulfillment of the everlasting purpose of the Most High. Before ever man had fallen — before ever the world was made, was the plan of salvation determined upon. Then, in the fullness of time, Jesus came to carry out this plan — to seek and to save those who were lost. Safely, then, may we trust ourselves to this ladder, for it is God's own appointed way by which sinners may be saved.
Again, you may be sure it is firm and safe, for none have ever been able to move it. How often have wicked men tried to throw it down! See all the persecutions which have raged against Christ's Church! See the myriads who have been led to the scaffold or the stake for their faithfulness to Christ's name! See how often the skeptic or the infidel has tried to prove the Bible to be false, and Christianity a lie — but it has ever been in vain. Still is the religion of Jesus known and loved as the sinner's only hope, and the mourner's only comfort.
And how Satan has tried to throw down this ladder! When Christ was upon earth, did not Satan thrice tempt Him in the wilderness? And when he could not tempt Him to turn aside a single hair's breadth from the path of duty, did he not compass His death? Did he not stir up the covetousness of Judas and the malice of the chief priests? Yet, what was his success? The cross which was the very masterpiece of the devil's wickedness — became the chief means of the overthrow of his kingdom of darkness!
The cross became the very ladder of salvation to the sinner!
It became the resting-place of every heavy-laden conscience.
There we see mercy and truth meet together — righteousness and peace kiss each other.
There we see God glorified — yet the sinner saved; the law honored — and yet man forgiven.
"God forbid that I should glory," says the great Apostle, "save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world." (Galatians 6:14.)
Again, you may know that this ladder is firm and safe, for it has been tried by believers ever since the world began. All who have ever been saved, have been saved by Christ: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — prophets, apostles, martyrs — all the people of God in each age have reached Heaven by this ladder.
And who has ever found it to fail? Who has ever been able to say, "I went to Christ, but it was in vain — He could not, or He would not save me." Never one! Multitudes have refused to come to Him; multitudes have professed to come, who yet in heart turned away — but never one truly went to Jesus in humble faith, in earnest prayer, but found the word of promise true: "Him that comes unto Me, I will never cast out." (John 6.37.) With one voice they all declare that He has done for them far morethan ever they could have expected.
Oh, anxious, trembling sinner — cast away your dark, distrustful thoughts; venture your soul on Christ! He is a tried Savior — He cannot, He will not disappoint you!
Come sinner, with your load of woe,
And to your gracious Savior go;
He turns no beggar from His door —
He saves and blesses evermore.
3. Every step, every rung of this ladder is some spiritual blessing.
All that the sinner needs from first to last is found in Christ, and in Him alone. From the first sigh of a broken heart, from the first longing after salvation, from the first breathing of prayer in the soul, to the first note of praise in glory — all grace must come from Christ. Do not imagine you are to come to Christ at the beginning of your Christian course, but that the rest of it you must accomplish by your own energy or perseverance. Far, far otherwise. Of yourself you can neither retain the grace you have, nor take one single step forward. "Without Christ you can do nothing" — but through Christ strengthening you, you may do all things. Mark the four rungs of this ladder, described by Paul: "It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us . . .
Sanctification, and
Redemption." 1 Corinthians 1:30
Are you very blind, knowing but little of yourself, little of your own heart, still less of God and the way to Zion? Jesus says, "I will be Your Wisdom: I will teach you out of My Word; I will open your understanding, that you may learn all things needful for your salvation."
Are you very sinful — very unworthy? Jesus says, "I will be your Righteousness: My Blood shall cleanse you from every spot of guilt; My Robe of Righteousness shall cover you, and make you perfect in the eye of God."
Do you feel depraved and corrupt within — very unfit for the fellowship of the saints around the throne? Jesus says, "I will be your Sanctification: I will put my Spirit within you, I will write my Law upon your heart, I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols, I will renew you in my own image, I will make you fit for the inheritance of the saints in light."
Are you compassed about by manifold evils, painful infirmities, distressing doubts, trials, temptations, cares, and sorrows? Jesus says, "I will be your Redemption: I will deliver you from them all; in My own good time I will set you free; every fear shall prove a false prophet; from death itself will I redeem you at the day of My appearing!"
Yes, in Jesus is every need met. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ." (Ephesians 1:3.) "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory, by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:19.) "It has pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell." (Colossians 1:19.)
When you look at yourself, you may indeed say —
"What without You can I be?
 What without You can I do?"
But when you look at Christ, you may add —
"I lay my wants on Jesus —
 All fullness dwells in Him;
 He heals all my diseases,
 He does my soul redeem!"
4. This ladder reaches the very lowest spot on earth's surface. It reaches to the guiltiest, the most degraded sinner to be found on earth. It reaches not lower than this — not to Hell — for there is no ladder of salvation there, no gracious invitation, no promise of pardon, no voice of a merciful Savior heard there. But it does reach to the blackest sinner — the most hardened sinner to be found on this side the grave: "Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him."
See that malefactor hanging by the side of Jesus — as near as he was to Hell, yet this ladder reached to him. He owned his guilt. He called upon Christ: "Lord, remember me, when You come into Your kingdom." And his prayer was heard — Jesus said to him, "Today shall you be with Me in Paradise."
See those wicked Corinthians — what were they once? "Sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) — yet this ladder reached to them! They were "washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
It is even so now — there is still mercy for the chief of sinners. Go to the lowest dens of iniquity — go to the worst haunts of vice — go to the cottage or the room where the voice of prayer has never been heard, where the Bible has never been read, where the walls could bear witness to scenes of vileness and profligacy of which it is a shame even to speak — go there, and find out the very vilest, and tell such an one, "There is mercy for you!" "There is a welcome in the heart of God for you!" "There is cleansing in the open fountain for you!" Only acknowledge your iniquity, only confess it and forsake it, and Jesus is ready to save you — even you. Though your heart is as hard as the nether millstone — yet He will soften it. Though your sins are for multitude as the sand upon the seashore, though they be for magnitude as the great mountains of the earth — yet all shall be forgiven." "Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isaiah 1:18.) "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses from all sin."
Oh, what comfort is here for the despairing sinner! There is no depth of misery or sin upon earth to which this ladder reaches not.
5. The uppermost step of this ladder reaches to the Father's house. If the lowest step reaches very low, the highest reaches very high. We read in the vision of Jacob, "Behold a ladder set upon the earth — and the top of it reached unto Heaven." Oh, what a contrast between the lowest and highest steps of the ladder! The lowest step is here on earth, in the midst of sin, sorrow, temptation, disease, and death. The highest step reaches to that place where these things can never enter, where "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes — and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain. For the former things have passed away." (Rev. 21.4.)
Then shall the rejoicing spirit bid an everlasting "Good-bye," to all that now weighs heavy upon his heart. Then shall he say, "Farewell all my sad and sorrowful hours! Farewell doubts and fears! Farewell cares and anxieties! Farewell crosses and disappointments! Farewell sickness, suffering, and death!"
Then shall he breathe the pure and peaceful atmosphere of the heavenly Canaan. Then shall he drink of those unspeakable joys which are at God's right hand. Then shall he be forever in the presence of the Lamb! "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of water." (Rev. 7.16, 17.)
Oh, how thankful should we then be for this heavenly ladder! Justly might we have been left to reap the bitter fruits of our sins — justly might we have been left in our lost and fallen state. But God has looked upon us in pity and compassion. "He has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." He has opened to us a door of mercy. He has devised means by which His banished ones may not be expelled from Him. He has given us this ladder — so firm, so safe, so all-sufficient — reaching down to us in our deepest wretchedness and woe — reaching upward to His own blessed abode. Oh, that our hearts might continually echo those words of Paul, "Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift""
II. But now let us inquire how may we climb this heavenly ladder? How may we so tread it as safely to reach the Father's house?
1. Do not shrink from pain-taking effort — from real exertion. If you wished to reach some lofty eminence, it would not be enough for a ladder to be set up which would bring you to it. If you were to sit down at the foot of this ladder — if you were merely to look at it or speak of it, or wish you were at the top, what would it avail? All would be in vain, unless you put your foot upon it, unless you took the pains and trouble to climb it for yourselves.
So it is in the religion of Jesus Christ; it is all in vain to indulge in empty idle wishes. Sitting down at the foot of the ladder — hearing of Christ, speaking of Christ,thinking of Christ, wishing to be a Christian — will never save you. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you must come to Christ for yourself, you must seek Christ for yourself. Whatever efforts it may cost you, whatever pains or trouble it may require, relying on the help of the same Almighty Spirit — you must be willing to give it.
Say not because there is this ladder, because there is a Savior, that all is well. To many a one in a future state the saddest thought of all will be this, "There was a ladder — but I would not use it!
There was a Savior — but I would not go to Him!
There was mercy, but I would not seek it!
There was an open Heaven set before me, but I refused to enter in!"
Beware too of a religion that requires no pains, no trouble, no self-denial, no crucifying the flesh, no time to be specially set apart for it — a religion that leaves you much as it finds you. Such a religion may be enough to blind the conscience, but it is not the religion of the Bible — it is not the religion which Christ will own as the work of His Spirit in the heart. Listen to the words of our Divine Master: "The kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force!" (Matthew 11.12.) "Strive to enter in at the strait gate!" (Luke 13.24.) "Labor not for the food which perishes, but for that food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you." (John 6.27.)
2. Place your foot upon the lowest step. Don't imagine you must raise yourself a few inches, or a few feet from the ground — before you step upon this ladder. Don't imagine you must make yourself a little better, or your sins a little less, or your heart a little more penitent — before you come to Christ: in this way you will never, never succeed. Rather come to Him just as you are — exactly as you are at this moment — and He will make you all you need to be. Come to Him as a thoroughly vile, good-for-nothing sinner! Tell Him you have not a single good thing which you can bring to recommend you to His favor. Tell Him you have nothing of your own but misery, need, and sin; but that you come depending upon His own free promise, and His all-atoning blood.
Jesus will receive you just as you are! Though your sins are many, though your heart is hard — yet will He receive you; and receiving you, will supply every possible need. Oh, go to Jesus with those words, so precious to many a troubled soul:
Just as I am — without one plea,
But that Your blood was shed for me,
And that you bid me come to Thee —
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am — and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To You, whose blood can cleanse each spot —
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am — poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yes, all I need, in You to find —
O Lamb of God, I come!
III. Strive after continual progress. Do not be satisfied with low attainments. A man has not reached the top of a ladder when he has stepped upon the lowest round, but he ascends it step by step. So it is in the course of the Christian: "The path of the just is as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day." (Proverbs 4:16.)
We have a beautiful illustration of this in the life of Paul. Though so far above most all others, both in Christian experience and devotedness of life, still he was not content — he aimed at a yet higher standard. He writes, "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus!" Philippians 3:13-14
Let it be your aim to follow in the Apostle's footsteps. Strive every day to get a step higher on the heavenly ladder. Strive to become more humble, more holy, more faithful, more useful, more prayerful — in short more Christ-like! "Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!" 2 Peter 1:5-8
Nearer my God, to Thee —
Nearer to Thee!
E'en though it be a cross
That raises me;
Still all my song shall be
Nearer, my God, to Thee —
Nearer to Thee!
4. Carry with you no needless burden. If a man were to attempt to climb a high ladder, carrying with him a heavy load, he would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to reach the top. So, if the Christian carries with him unnecessary burdens, it will greatly impede and hinder him. Oh, cast every weight aside! Leave it at the foot of the ladder. Whatever it is that proves a hindrance and a snare to you — by God's help cast it away.
We are told that when Jesus called Bartimeus, "He cast away his garment, and arose and came to Him." So, do you cast away that which keeps you back.
Is it the love of the world in any of its various shapes?
Is it the love of money?
Is it the love of pleasure?
Is it the desire for display?
Is it the concern to win the praise of man?
Remember it is written, "The world passes away, and the lust thereof: if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15-17.)
Is it some secret sin known only to God and yourself?
Is it some injurious habit, that often breaks your peace and wounds your soul?
Is it some cherished resentment?
Is it an angry or passionate temper that you will not curb?
Is it an oppressive weight of earthly care, which unfits you for communion with God and meditation upon His Word?
Oh, forsake that sin! Watch against that unruly temper! Cast that care "upon Him who cares for you. "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us!" (Hebrews 12.1.)
5. Mind where you place your foot. In climbing a ladder, a man must be careful about his footing — a false step, and he may fall. It may be the breaking of a limb — it may be his death! So let the Christian be very watchful where his foot is found. Keep as far as possible out of the reach of danger. Let not your foot be found in scenes where the Tempter is accustomed to come. Mingle not in scenes of worldly gaiety or reveling. You carry with you a wicked and deceitful heart, so that a very small temptation may turn you aside. An hour spent in bad company has often been the prelude to a life of wretchedness and sin. A visit to a public-house, or a dancing-room, has often been the first step on the road to ruin.
On the other hand, let your foot be often treading the courts of the Lord's house. Let no grass grow on the path that leads you to the throne of grace. Frequent the society of those who will help you, and converse with you on spiritual subjects. I repeat it — be very careful as to your footing!
Remember that to the true believer many dark hours, much loss of inward peace, may follow a single false step, a single turning aside out of the narrow path. Very little while had Christian and Hopeful turned into By-path Meadow before they were in Doubting Castle. "Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men." "Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and pass away." "Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left — remove your foot from evil." (Proverbs 4:14, 15:26, 27.)
6. Keep fast hold. It will not do to take hold of a ladder loosely, with one finger or with one hand — it needs a tight firm grasp with both hands to ensure safety. So do you by strong faith, take a firm grasp on Christ. Relying upon the help of His Spirit . . .
cling to Him with all your heart and with all your soul!
Cling to His great and precious promises!
Cling to His cross as all your hope and salvation!
Cling to Him as your ever-living, ever-loving, ever-faithful Friend and Savior!
Cling to Him in your days of joy!
Cling to Him in your days of sadness and sorrow!
Cling to Him in life and in death — never let Him go!

He says to you, "I will never leave you nor forsake you!" Return back to Him His own promise, and say, "Lord, by Your grace assisting me, I will never leave You nor forsake You!"
7. Lastly. Let your eye ever be upward. If a man looks down a ladder when he is climbing it, he may perhaps grow dizzy and fall. While he looks upward he is safe. So here again is a lesson for the Christian. You must not look downwards — you must not look back to this perishing world.
The description given of a faithful minister, in Bunyan's great allegory, may teach a lesson to every believer: He saw hanging up against the wall, a picture of a very serious person: "He had eyes lifted up to Heaven. The best of books in his hand. The law of truth was written upon his lips. The world was behind his back."
Oh, let it be so with you!
Keep the Word of God your constant companion.
This world, with all it has to offer — cast behind your back.
Let your eyes be lifted up to Heaven.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
See Him standing on your behalf at God's right hand, ready to help you in every time of need.
See Him waiting to receive your every petition and to give you fresh supplies of His quickening Spirit.
See Him holding in His hand for you, a crown of glory.
See Him waiting to greet you with a joyful welcome when your course is finished.
So shall you be kept from falling — so shall you leave behind you doubts and fears that once distressed you — so shall you taste more and more the fruits of that land of promise to which you are hastening — so shall the warm beams of the Sun of Righteousness shine more and more into your heart, and fill you with all joy and peace in believing.
Reader, I have spoken of this heavenly ladder — let me now plainly put it to your conscience:
Is your foot yet upon it?
Have you ever yet realized that through sin, you yourself are lost and perishing?
Do you feel that none but Jesus can save you?
Have you come to Him?
Have you taken hold of Him by heart-faith?
Have you entrusted your soul to His care, as an almighty and all-merciful Savior?
Do you love Him?
Do you serve Him?
Do you follow Him?
These are solemn questions: for, bear in mind, there is another ladder. It is true there is God's ladder — Christ and His salvation, which leads to Heaven — but there isthe devil's ladder, which leads down to Hell.
Upon the former you may see here and there one and another, with much difficulty, with many discouragements, striving to ascend.
Upon the latter you may see multitudes — multitudes, going down quick into Hell. Step by step — lower and lower. Alas, there are very many hastening to the pit of everlasting destruction!
But what are the steps of this ladder? I will tell you. Open sins — such as lying, swearing, drinking, profligacy, and such like. Neglect of religion, an unread Bible, days spent without prayer, formal services, warnings unheeded, faithful sermons disregarded, hardness of heart, putting off repentance until a future day. Such are some of thesteps on the downward ladder. You never know when the last step on either ladder may be taken! You do no know but that last step may be taken this very day. If your soul is safe — if you are indeed trusting in Jesus, before tomorrow's dawn your pilgrimage may be over — your crown may be won. But if not — if you still are unpardoned and unsaved — before another sun shall rise you may be a castaway — the door of hope may be shut — your soul may be eternally lost!
What then ought you to do? Without one moment's delay step off the one ladder and upon the other. Cast away every sin — every false hope; kneel at the feet of Jesus, confess to Him your past guilt, and commit your eternal interests into His hands.
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." (Acts 16.31.)

"Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 11.2.)

George Everard

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