The Lord's Portion

Deut. 32:9.---' The Lord's portion is his people.'

'The Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.' Put side by side with this that other word of the Old Testament: 'All souls are mine,' or the utterance of the Hundredth Psalm rightly translated:---'It is he that hath made us, and to him we belong.' There is a right of ownership and possession inherent in the very relation of Creator and creature. The being made wholly and altogether at the disposal, and is the property, of Him that makes him.

But is that enough for God's heart? Is that worth calling ownership at all? An arbitrary tyrant in an unconstitutional kingdom, or a slave-owner, may have the most absolute right of the entire disposal of all his industry, of the profit of all his labors, may be able to do anything he likes with him, may have the power of life and death; but such ownership is only that of the husk and case of a man. The man himself may be free, and may smile at the claim of possession. They may own the body, but after that they have no more that they can do. That kind of authority and ownership, absolute and utter to the point of death, may satisfy a tyrant or a slave-driver: it does not satisfy the loving heart of God.

That being so, the next thought is that the special relationship of possession is constituted by mutual love. The only ways by which spiritual beings can possess each other are by love, by sympathy, by communion; and these must necessarily be mutual. We have a perfect right to apply the human analogy here; in fact we are bound to do it if we would rightly understand such words as those of the text; and it leads us to this: that the one thing whereby God reckons that He possesses a man at all is by His love falling upon that man's heart and soaking into it, and by the springing up in the man's heart of a corresponding affection. The men who welcome the Divine love that goes through the whole world, 'seeking such to worship it,' and who lovingly yield to the Divine will, and take it for their law---these are the men whom God regards as His portion and the lot of His inheritance. So 'God is mine,' 'I am God's,' are two sides of one truth; 'I possess Him' and 'I am possessed by Him' are but the statement of one fact expressed from two points of view. In the one case you look upon it from above, in the other case you look upon it from beneath. All the sweet commerce of mutual surrender and possession which makes the joy of our hearts in friendship and in domestic life we have the right to lift up into this loftier region, and find in it the best teaching of what makes the special bond of mutual possession between God and man.

God owns men because God has given Himself to man. The Apostle puts it very strongly in the Epistle to Titus: 'The glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us'---'that he might . . . purify unto himself a people for his own possession.'

Israel, according to one metaphor, was God's son, begotten by that great redeeming act of deliverance from the captivity of Egypt [Deut. 32:6-19]. According to another metaphor, Israel was God's bride, wooed and won for His own by that same act. Both figures point to the thought that in order to get man for His own God has to give Himself to man. The very height and sublimity of that truth is found in the Christian fact to which the Apostle points. We need not depart from human analogies here either. Christ gave Himself to us that He might get us for Himself. Absolute possession of others is possible only at the price of absolute surrender to them. No human heart ever gave itself away unless it was convinced that the giving was mutual.

On the lower levels of human experience the only thing that binds one man to another in utter submission is the conviction that that other has given himself in absolute sacrifice for him. You cannot buy a heart with anything less than a heart. In the barter of the world it is not skin for skin, but it is self for self. If you want to own me, you must give yourself altogether to me; and the measure in which teachers, and guides, and preachers, and philanthropists of all sorts make conquests of men is the measure in which they make themselves sacrifices for men.

All that is true, and is lifted to its superlative truth, in the great central fact of the Christian faith. But there is more than human analogy here. Christ has not only given Himself to us, He has given Himself for us. And on that is builded, and on that alone has He a right to build, or have we a right to acknowledge, His claim of absolute authority over each of us.

Jesus expected that His love would have a wider range than the fellowship of Galilee, and that the world would yield to its spell. It was not for St John, His friend, Jesus laid down His life; it was for the Race into which He had been born and which He carried in His heart. No one has ever made such a sacrifice for Humanity. No one has dared to ask such a recompense. The eternal Son of God gave Himself without reserve, and anticipated that to all time men would give themselves for Him. He proposed to inspire His race with a personal devotion, and that profound devotion was to be their salvation.

The last thought is the issues to which the mutual possession points. God own's men, and is owned by them, in order that there may be a giving and a receiving of mutual services of love.

'The Lord's portion is his people.' That, in the Old Testament, is always laid as the foundation of certain obligations under which He has come, and which He will abundantly discharge. What is a great landlord expect to do to his estate? 'What ought I to have done to my vineyard?' The Divine Proprietor asks through the mouth of His servant the prophet. He ought to till it; He ought to fence it; He ought to case a wall about it; He ought to reap the fruits. And He does all that for His inheritance. God's honor is concerned in His portion not being waste. So He will till it, He will plough it, He will pick out the weeds; and all the discipline of life will come to us; and the ploughshare will be driven deep into the heart that 'the peaceable fruit of righteousness' may spring up. He will fence His vineyard. Round about His inheritance His hand will be cast; within His people His spirit will dwell. No harm will come near them if their love is given to Him. 'He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye.' The Lord's portion is His people; and none shall pluck them out of His hand.

And on the other side, What do we owe to God, as belonging to Him? What does the vineyard owe the husbandman? Fruit. We are His, therefore we are bound to absolute submission. Life, circumstances, occupations, all; we hold them at His will. We have no more right of property in anything than a slave in the bad old days had in his cabin and patch of ground. They belonged to the master to whom he belonged. Let us recognize our stewardship and be glad to know ourselves His, and all events and things which we sometimes think ours to be His also.

We are His, therefore we owe absolute trust. The slave has at least this blessing in his lot, that he need have no anxieties. Nor need we. We belong to God, and He will take care of us. Our Owner will not leave us unheeded. Our well-being involves His good name. Leave anxious thoughts to masterless hearts which have to front the world with nobody to protect them. If you are God's you will be looked after.

We are His, therefore we are bound to live to His praise. That is the conclusion which one Old Testament passage draws. 'This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise' [Isa. 43:21]. The Apostle Peter quotes these words immediately after those from Exodus which describe Israel as 'a people for God's own possession'---'that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you.' Let us then, live to His glory, and remember that they who know the sweetness of possessing God and the blessedness of yielding to His supreme control should tell what they have found of His goodness. Let not all the magnificent and wonderful expenditure of Divine longing and love be in vain. The Sun's flames, leaping millions of miles high in tongues of burning gas, must, they tell us, melt everything that is near them. Shall we keep our hearts sullen and cold before God's fire of love? Surely that superb and wonderful manifestation of the love of God in the Cross of Christ should melt into running rivers of gratitude all the ice of our hearts.

In Christ, timothy. Our Lord Comes