by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Ruth 1:1-5; 4:11-17; Matthew 1:6-16.
Here we are in the presence of a, if not the, all-governing, all-comprehending, all-encompassing truth, which is that God from the beginning has worked, and does ever work, on the line of His Son. His Son is God's starting-point and ending-point in all His works. Christ is the beginning, and Christ is the end of the work of God. Christ casts His shadow forward and backward over all the ages. If at any time we ask: 'What is it that explains the government and the ways of God?' whether they be in the nations, or in the people of God as a whole or in individual lives, there is always one answer - from God's standpoint that answer is Christ.
God's Answer in all Things is Christ
What lies behind all God's government and all His ways? What has God always and only in His eye and mind in His activities, wherever they are, whatever they are? The answer is the same - Christ. What is behind His dealings with us individually or together? There is only one answer, and that answer is His Son. His Son is going to be the answer and the explanation of every activity of God. God has confined Himself to His Son, has bound Himself up with Christ, will not do anything apart from Him, but will do all things in relation to Him. If God is ever found to be against us, or the world, or any particular course, decision, situation; or refusing to countenance something, judging it; it is because He sees that in some way the interests of His Son are involved in an injury. On the other hand, if we would find God committing Himself to us, free to go with us, we must ourselves be wholly committed to His Son. There must be on our part the same singleness of committal, devotion, interest, zeal and jealousy for the Son of God as there is with God Himself. That is where we shall meet. We shall meet God in Christ and God meets us in Christ. Just in so far as Christ has His place, and is really our concern, not in mind, in thought and in word only, but in action and in spirit, so shall we find the Lord.
That is a great general truth which sums up and comprehends the whole Bible as a book of the history of the ages of this world.
This little book of Ruth is a classic illustration of that truth. We start with Bethlehem and we end with Bethlehem. We start with God disapproving, in judgment, not in evidence at all, not committed, and we end with God there in fulness of blessing. Where is the end? It is Christ. Bethlehem - Obed - Jesse - David - then a leap - and it is Christ. All that is in this book, which is a beautiful little gem, is really an illustration, almost a matchless illustration, of this truth: Get on the line of Christ and everything will be all right in the end. There may be tragedy, failure, and lots of other things, but get on the line of Christ and the end is all right. It comes out like a romance in the end, for all is well.
But not only is it an illustration of this general truth which we have just enunciated. It is an illustration of the meaning of Christ as God's way to that happy end.
The Reaction of God in a Dark Day
The first thing we see here is that because of Christ God reacts to a state of spiritual declension, weakness, breakdown, failure and tragedy. This book contains a reaction of God in a dark day. It opens with a dark day. We know what it was like when the Judges ruled, and all about that period of four hundred years. It was indeed a dark day, a day of declension, weakness, failure and spiritual tragedy in Israel, and the opening of this book just shows how it was working out in famine and death. But God does not leave it there. He reacts, and He has done so again and again against those conditions in history because He has His Son in view. It is a good thing that God never gives up His Son and never gives up His purpose concerning His Son. Here we see the turning of the tide. When we open the book it is as though the tide had gone far, far out. Everything is stark, bare, naked and unpleasant to look upon. The tide has gone out, and then there is that oscillation that we know when the tide is about to turn - something is going to happen, and in this book the tide is turning. We go from here into Samuel, the book of transition and recovery. Here in this book the tide is turning - on what ground? What is it that governs the turn of the tide when things have gone out just about as far as they can go and everything seems to be lost? God has His Son in view. The tide is always made to turn by the heavenly government in relation to Christ. It has to be more of Christ and not less. 'This won't do for God. Get into line with God's end, His Son. Things may go far out and far down, and it may look as though everything is lost; but, no, if you are on that line, the tide is going to turn. God is going to bring it back, and perhaps it is going to be a higher tide than ever before.'
God is governed by His Son. We shall only lose everything if we get off God's line on to the line of, well, our ambitions, things, or whatever of the many substitutes or alternatives there may be for Christ Himself; we will lose out. Get right into line with Him and the lowest tide will turn and come rolling up again, perhaps to cover more ground than ever before.
The Increase of Resurrection
That is the story of Ruth: the turning of the tide because at the end there is One in view with God. Note: Christ as God's way always does come back with greater increase than ever before, for the end is not less than the beginning, or at any time since; it is the fulness of Christ. But Christ as God's way always comes back with this increase on the principle of resurrection. God holds very truly to His law of resurrection. With Him resurrection is resurrection, not resuscitation. It is God's own act, which none other can perform.
Now this book is first a story of death. We read the first five verses and see that there is death in the land, death threatening everyone. This family, afraid of death, thought to find life somewhere else, and only found death; the husband and two sons died. Notice the words at the end - "a restorer of life". That is the key. This end of God is by His own mighty work of resurrection, and with Him that is the way of Christ. You are so familiar with that truth that I wonder if you really do sense what it means. Listen to it again: God is the God of resurrection, Christ is the very embodiment of that unique work of God, resurrection. Get on to the line of Christ and you are on the line of resurrection. It just must be so. He is the resurrection and the life. Get on to the line of Christ and you are on the line of God in this unique way, that is peculiarly His own way of life and power.
In Christ Every Embargo Removed
Then, again, here is such comfort for us. Christ as God's way means the removal of every embargo, and the very curse itself is dismissed when you get on the line of Christ. Ruth, the Moabitess -and you know the embargo put upon the Moabites: "...a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord... for ever" (Deuteronomy 23:3). Remember, Balaam was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse Israel, and when Balaam was unable to curse directly, he taught Israel to commit fornication. How? by marrying Moabitish women. And here is a man, a leading man in Israel, marrying a Moabitess under God's blessing, bringing her into the sanctuary of God, over against the embargo! Is it not strange? How can you account for it? Only in the words spoken to Peter from Heaven: "What God hath cleansed, make not thou common" (Acts 10:15). The Cross has done something. In Christ every embargo is removed, every curse is destroyed, and there is a way into the sanctuary of God for those who would otherwise have no way, but would meet the judgment of God and be under the curse. Get on the way of Christ and there is no embargo, no curse, no forbidding, no saying 'No, never!' The way is open. There is a lot of comfort in that, but I hasten to the last thing which I think also has a real word of comfort.
Human Failure Turned to Divine Glory
Christ as God's way means the turning of human failure into divine glory. Yes, Elimelech made a tragic mistake. He went to the land of Moab, and Moab was a hereditary enemy of Israel, a thorn in Israel's side. Elimelech went down there and you see what resulted, what he involved his wife and his sons in. What a tragic mistake! What human failure! We could say a lot about it. He knew better - or he ought to have done. But there you are! under the stress of life - and how many people do the wrong thing when spiritual conditions are at low ebb! they go and do something because of the state of things in which they find themselves. Well, we will not be too hard, but, nevertheless, here is human frailty, human mistakes, human weakness involving much trouble on the natural side. Is there any one of us who can say: 'We have not made mistakes'? I do not know. I did once hear a dear servant of God say: 'In thirty-eight years I have never been allowed by God to make a single mistake.' Well, I envy anyone who could truly say that! The Lord's servants have made mistakes, and they do. Paul made mistakes. I am not one of those who believe that Paul did not make a mistake when he went up to Jerusalem against all advice, counsel and pleading, and became involved in a compromise, and all the rest. Ah, but the point is this: If our hearts are really on the line of Christ, not on our own line for our own ends or interests, then God over-rules our mistakes for His glory.
You see, we cut into a Scripture with which we are so familiar. We divide it and do not finish it - "To them that love God all things work together for good", and there we stop. But the rest is: "...even to them that are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). What is His purpose? It is centred in His Son. Get on the line of the purpose of God concerning His Son and weakness, failure, mistakes (and this is no brief for going and making mistakes and doing wrong that good may come) are over-ruled by God for good. There is glory at the end.
And so this story begins with failure, breakdown, mistake, and tragic consequences in human life, but it ends in that same family with glory, with joy. "The restorer of life". It is on the line of Christ, you see. Get on to that line, and with all our faults, our failures, our mistakes and our tragedies, it will be all right in the end because God is concerned for the glory of His Son. If we are too, that is where we shall find Him.