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Standards Of Life And Service by T. H. Howard

XIV Lost Earnings

'He that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.' (Haggai i.6.)

In our Holiness Meetings we often speak of Full Salvation as a blessing to be obtained, and also a blessing to be retained; but I want now to turn the truth the other way round, and speak about 'losing the blessing'. These words of Haggai about the man who lost his earnings through a faulty bag will serve me as a text, and are very significant.

As a figure of speech, the words are well understood. From the boy who, by holding a horse, or running errands, earns threepence, and puts it into a pocket with a hole at the bottom, to the man or woman who puts the savings of years into a rotten speculation, all know the literal meaning of Haggai's text, 'He that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes'.

The central idea is that something gained by hard effort has been lost, and that the loss was due to the man's own fault. The man had earned his wages, and then let what he had won by toil slip through holes in the bag into which he put it. The possibility of this in relation to spiritual blessings is a danger we are warned against in God's Word, and the necessity for guarding against such losses is one of the important lessons to be learned.

This text reminds me of an incident and parable in the Book of Kings. During the progress of a battle one of the leaders, having captured a prisoner, called to a subordinate and placed the captive in his care, to be kept at the risk of his life. Later, the man had to give an account, and when admitting the loss of the prisoner he said, 'As thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone'. Alas! there are many whose spiritual acquisitions have slipped away like that.

The spiritual application of this thought is brought home to us by a verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews, 'Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip'. If you look in the margin of your Bible, you will see the words, 'run out as leaking vessels', and in the Revised Version the words read, 'drift away from them'. You see the idea is, that unless you are careful you will lose your blessing after having enjoyed it.

Looking round my audiences I can with fitness use these figures, and apply the idea to many who, after tears and agonies of heart, secured the Salvation of their souls, and the heavenly treasure which only the pardoned sinner knows; but, alas! through the faulty bag, or pocket with holes, their earnings slipped away, and they are now spiritual bankrupts, their latter state being worse than the first. Thank God, if those who have thus lost their Salvation and peace will truly repent and do their first works, they may again obtain heavenly treasure, and with it grace and wisdom to prevent the repetition of past follies. Let others learn and take heed lest they also drift away, as the Apostle puts it.

My chief purpose, however, relates to those who, though they once had the blessing of a clean heart, have lost it. Their present lack is not due to their having exhausted their earnings in lawful pursuits, or because they invested their treasure in sanctified enterprises, but because they have let the blessing slip; or, turning back to Haggai's words, they have been as him 'that earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes'. The experience is a thing of the past. At times they are tempted to say that they were deluded, and never had the blessing, or that they were as a man who only dreamed that he had his wages; but that is not so. The wages were earned, but lost.

So you must not regard your experience as the sensations of a dream. You had the blessing right enough, and some of you had secured it at no small sacrifice; but, alas! you let it slip out of your possession, and you woke up to find it gone.

It is remarkable how many sanctified people have to testify that before they settled into the regular experience of Full Salvation they lost the blessing which they had received; in fact, some eminent saints have recorded repeated experiences of loss before they learned how to carry themselves and guard against the dangers.

Perhaps here I ought to say definitely, that the Bible does not tell us of any stage in our heavenward journey at which we can be saved from the possibility of losing the blessing. This blessed treasure of perfect purity, peace which passeth all understanding, and joy unspeakable, is only ours so long as we maintain that entire consecration and faith which are the conditions on which the blessing is received. There is no spot where the advice is not necessary -- 'Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life'. Paul put it clearly, 'Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall', and showed how seriously he regarded the matter when he declared that he had to keep his body under and in hand, lest after preaching to others he should himself become a castaway.

I have called to mind two remarkable touches of Bunyan, in his 'Pilgrim's Progress'. The first picture shows us Christian, weary with climbing the Hill Difficulty, turning aside into a pleasant arbour where he sat down to rest. For the comfort of his own heart he pulled out his roll of assurance. He also began to examine with great satisfaction the coat which had been given to him, and 'after pleasing himself for a while' he fell into a slumber, and in his sleep let the roll fall from his hand.

Mercifully, Christian was awakened, and hasted along the road. Later, he got into great temptation, and, desiring to reassure his own heart, he put his hand into his bosom to find the roll, 'which was his pass to the Celestial City'; but, to his horror, it was not there! After great distress Christian remembered his sleeping in the arbour, and painfully retraced his steps 'bewailing his sinful sleep in the midst of difficulty'. He reached the place of his loss, and at last espied the roll which had slipped out of his hand. He secured it once more, and after giving thanks for his recovery, the Pilgrim betook himself again to his journey.

Bunyan's other picture of Vain-hope is even more pathetic. The vision shows the gate of the Celestial City, and the entrance of Christian and other pilgrims. But when this man, Vain-hope, came up, he had no roll or certificate, having lost it, if he ever had it; the poor wretch passed away to 'a door on the side of the hill', which caused the dreamer to write, 'Then I saw that there is a way to Hell even from the very gates of Heaven'.

How true, therefore, it is, that at every stage of the heavenward journey, one has to guard against the loss of that spiritual treasure which has been secured at such a cost.

I hope you see clearly that the Divine treasure is all right, and the possibility of its continued enjoyment is not in question. If lost, the fault is with the bag or carrier of the bag. But by pointing out some of the holes in the bag through which certain people have lost their blessing, we may help them and others.

As one hole through which spiritual loss is sustained, let me first speak of ignorance. I do not say that in an unkind way. By ignorance I mean lack of knowledge. You cannot imagine a man putting his wages into a faulty pocket if he knew there was a hole there.

There are traps and pitfalls for the newly sanctified. Some know of them; others do not know, and are unprepared for dangers and the devices of the Devil, who, if he cannot hinder a man getting the blessing will scheme to rob him of it. For instance, temptations to doubt are pressed on a soul just entering the path of Holiness: 'Can it be?' 'Have I been deceiving myself?' 'I thought I should have such and such sensations; where are the feelings of ecstasy which I expected?' The uninstructed soul often confuses feelings with assurance, particularly if in the moment of deliverance some special wave of feeling swept over the soul. When this wave subsides the sensations are different, and the soul is tempted to doubt the reality of the transaction.

Personally, I am always thankful that both in the matter of conversion and getting a clean heart, the Lord left me to claim the blessing by naked faith. I had little or no special feelings; I just had to go on believing. I stepped out, as upon thin air, and found my feet on the rock.

For lack of knowledge many souls imagine that Holiness will mean ecstasy, or that the sanctified soul will not feel temptation; and Satan feeds the anxious thought until sometimes the hand of faith is unclasped, and the blessing lost for the time being.

Later on the faithful soul learns to hold on, to resist the enemy's insidious attacks, and understands the meaning of the lines --

Quick as the apple of the eye
The first approach of sin to feel.

Again, unwatchfulness is a hole, a danger against which I warn you. Recently saved people, and those who have recently found Full Salvation, are tempted to say, 'Glory to God, now I am all right!' forgetting that, although on the right road, the journey is before them, and that the rule of the road is, 'As ye received the Lord Jesus, so walk in Him'. Do not forget the relation between those two little words 'as' and 'so'.

Now the word unwatchfulness, or I might change it for carelessness, is a very general term. I will touch upon two or three things in which it shows itself. Going where Jesus could not go with you; to do that is like playing with pitch, or with fire. Keeping company with the wrong people: some of you lose there; treating Meetings and prayer lightly; resenting little unkindnesses and persecution; carelessness of speech; gossiping, frivolity, forgetting that whilst the Holy Ghost is a Spirit of Joy, He is grieved by lightness and frivolous jesting. These are some of the little holes through which the blessing drops out. You must watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.

Then, holding back from testimony is a snare into which some of you have fallen. Listen to me! Some of you have tried to testify, and your very backwardness and fear have been holes in your bag through which the blessing has been lost.

May I once more refer to myself. When, during a long course of years, I have been bold and outspoken about my possession of the blessing of Full Salvation and my relations to God, sureness and confidence have filled my heart; but when I have been tempted to modify and hedge and hesitate in the terms of my testimony, I have had reason to say, 'Is it so? Where am I?' Apply what I am saying to your own experience, and judge ye what I say.

Failure to walk in the light has been the cause of many professors of Holiness losing their blessing. The path of Holiness brings many surprises and tests. Demands not previously thought of come upon one; duties not expected are presented; sacrifices are required: Do this, do that. Let that go. Follow here, go there. I doubt whether any single day passes which does not bring its test of our consecration. If you follow the light, you will be safe; but if you refuse it, you will go under. Disobedience and a spirit of unwillingness knock holes in the bag. It has been so with some of you, and loss has been the result.

I want to add a word about personal prayer in this connexion, for I believe many owe their loss to a neglect of that essential. The lack of prayer shows over-confidence in oneself, and accounts for many falls. 'Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication.' This is indeed a necessary condition of keeping the blessing.

My closing question Is a very straight one. Have you got the blessing of a clean heart now? If you have had it and lost it, seek it once more. Make haste to the altar; renew your consecration again, claiming the blessing, and the Lord will restore you.

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