I want to speak about the relationship between our secret life and public testimony. Everyone of us must have a secret life before God, and everyone must have a public testimony. Some are very highly gifted, and are naturally much in evidence in public testimony but it would be a poor thing if we allowed the idea of a public testimony to be in the hands of a few gifted people.
Every one of us has the privilege of public testimony - brother and sister, gifted and otherwise - and I want to emphasize just what is stated in this sermon on the mount by our Lord about praying in secret and the Lord rewarding openly. I do not believe we shall get very far unless we have a secret history in our souls before the Lord alone, that our nearest and dearest cannot share, and everything of any spiritual value springs, I believe, from Him. There are many questions that we sometimes run to some brother to solve, whereas if we take these things into our closets, and speak to the Lord, He will give our answer very often in a very effective way. Indeed, we should get our directions from the Lord Himself and not from this servant or that servant, however rightly we may value their help and direction.
And I think we can emphasize this thought by these illustrations from the Scripture that I have read. God intended to use Moses. Moses, perhaps, was the most prominent servant of the Lord in Old Testament times. There was no man quite like Moses. He had a very honorable position, for he became a type of Christ as the Great Apostle, and in the book of Revelation, you remember, they sang the song of Moses and the Lamb. Wonderful position Moses has in the history of the Old Testament! We find in the book of Numbers that when Aaron and Miriam found fault with Moses because of his Ethiopian wife, the Lord suddenly called out Aaron, Moses, and Miriam and allowed Miriam to be stricken with leprosy, and let her see that what was inside was to be visible outside. If there had not been the leprosy of evil thoughts inside, there would not have been evil words outside, and the hand of God would not have brought the leprosy upon her body outside.
There is a beautiful parenthesis in the account; it says: "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men who were upon the face of the earth" (Nu. 12:3). In the few verses we have read it did not look like Moses was meek. He was brought up in a peculiar providential way in the palaces of Pharaoh, and versed in all their learning. But the call of his blood was strong, and when he saw his fellow countrymen being misused, he saw an Egyptian and a Hebrew striving together, and he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no eye upon him, he slew the Egyptian. The next day he found two Hebrews striving, and when he approached them, he who did the wrong said, "Intendest thou to kill me, as thou hast killed the Egyptian?" He feared that the thing was known. It got to the King's ears and he fled.
What a change! From the palace - the place of power and position - to find himself a solitary unit in the desert, and for forty years that man with all his capabilities and with all his powers was just humbly keeping sheep. What was he learning? He was learning to be meek - he was learning in secret what was later to shine out in public. What a wonderful experience.
I would like to speak very earnestly to our younger brethren. I quite identify with dear Dr. Anning's comment in saying how indifferent one's own service has been, and how one has had to discover pride and the assertion of the flesh in one's heart and a desire to be big in the things of the Lord. It is a great matter when all that is completely taken from us.
God was indeed going to make Moses into to a very great servant. I have seen people who have got into a prominent place in service, and have felt like this: Oh, how they need the grace of God, that they may not have exaggerated sense of their own importance!
It is only as there is a secret history in our souls that we shall be preserved from that. I think, dear friends, one of the most horrible things is what we call pious boasting - to try and make out we are something other than we are. That is not meekness, it is pride and hypocrisy; and I believe God would teach us by a secret dealing with Himself the emptiness and folly of it all.
Now let us look at the other incident we have read. David was a very remarkable servant of the Lord in the Old Testament. If anyone had said to David the shepherd lad, keeping his fathers sheep, that he was going to be called to be the shepherd of Israel to be king for God over His ancient people, he would have been very astonished. But God had His hand upon him, and as he kept his father's sheep he was faithful. One day there came a lion, and he might have been excused for saying, "My life is more valuable than the life of the lamb"-but no; he showed his devotion to the task before him, and he went after that lion and took it by the beard and slew the monarch of the forest. The bear came. We know what a terrible creature it is, but, undaunted he went after the bear and delivered his lamb from it. And now there comes the crisis of his history. There appeared then a great giant, Goliath of Gath, eight or nine feet high, excelling in all the training of war, with tremendous accoutrements upon him, and here is the Shepard lad. And Saul looks at this stripling and asks if he is sufficient to go. Modestly David tells Saul what he has done in secret - about how he had dealt with the lion and the bear - and said God who had delivered the lion and the bear into his hand would deliver this Philistine also, who had defied the armies of the Lord. And Saul said "Go".
David had learned what God could be to him in secret, and now when a question of public service and testimony to God's faithfulness and power came, we was ready to take his place in confidence in God.
Oh, how we shall see light in His light by-and-by, and learn how he has loved us and drawn us away from ourselves, and saved us from being our own enemies! If we will seek Him in secret, He will show us ourselves and He will show us Himself, and we shall learn these lessons more deeply now.
These do not exhaust the illustrations that we might have of how God deals with His servants. Take Peter in the New Testament. The Lord saw his affection for Him and saw mixed with that affection a great deal of self-confidence, and He knew that with that self-confidence He could not do much with Peter. Now the Lord did not arrange Peter's fall, it was Peter's condition that brought it about, but the Lord in His tender love to Peter allowed it. Peter, the very first of the Jewish apostles! It is extraordinary to think of Peter failing in the way he did - denying the Lord with oaths and curse, quailing at the taunt of a servant maid as she spoke of his Galilean dialect and oh, the bitterness of Peter's soul! The Lord looked upon him and he went out and wept bitterly; but that experience of his own weakness and his Master's grace was the making of a servant.
When the day of Pentecost came, that wonderful day, when the promise of the Father came down upon the disciples, and inaugurated the great Christian dispensation, what should we have said to Peter? Peter, you have failed tremendously - you get behind the rest and take a back seat. John or James should speak not you, who has failed so terribly. If something correct is wanted James should speak; if something loving is wanted John should speak. But, Peter, your mouth should be closed.
But that that was the very mouth God opened that day. How different God's ways are from man's! you have got to be melted before you can be molded. Perhaps we have got to be broken before we are made serviceable vessels; and Peter's fall was just the occasion that the Lord took for forming him for the great testimony God had called him to.
Then take the Apostle Paul. God had separated him from his mother's womb, marked him out to be his great servant to the church. Caught up to the third heaven he heard the things not lawful to be uttered. And what happened to him? He had a thorn in the flesh - something exceedingly humiliating, something most painful as a messenger from Satan to buffet him. It was as if an evil sprit were smiting him continually. God allowed this lest his flesh should be exalted beyond measure.
To the dear young Christians I address myself: do cultivate this speaking to God in secret and having your private history with God. Take time to get into your closet and shut the door and get to know what the mind of the Lord is as to yourself; and know this much, if you come out from the presence of the Lord you cannot come out with fleshly pretension, you cannot come out with carnal ambitions in the things of the Lord.
But I believe, dear friends, there is one thing that we ought to crave in connection with our testimony - that we should be first affected by what we speak, we should crave that our words may come home to our own hearts before they come to the ears of our hearers.
I am sure that if the speaker does not earnestly desire for himself what he is putting before his hearers there cannot be the unction and power of the Holy Spirit.