Bed Too Short, Blanket Too Narrow
By George A. Lofton, 1898
The picture drawn from this sketch is an illustration of Isaiah xxviii.20: “For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.” The caricature shows the wretched and sleepless condition of one upon a cold night under such a situation of unrest. The real theme of the text is an Insufficient Religion - that is to say, a religion which has an insufficient foundation upon which to lie, and an insufficient character with which to cover the soul. Self-sufficiency and self-righteousness, principles and practices which are fundamentally and resultantly inefficient and vicious, constitute such a religion. The occasion of the text, however, involved the literal condition of the Jews, in the mind of the prophet, when they should be shut up in Jerusalem by the siege of the Assyrians, and possibly pointing to the final investment of the Romans, when Jerusalem should be closed in and destroyed.
The concrete idea of Isaiah, therefore, was that the Jews thus enclosed in their city would be placed in the most straitened circumstances; and with no God to help them, depending upon their leagues with other nations and looking to false gods for help, they
would have no foundation for hope and no covering against their fate. Jerusalem, with her walls and her bulwarks, would be like a bed too short to lie on, an insufficient defense in itself; and with no God to cover them with His righteousness and protection, they would be without wisdom and strength, like a man on a cold night with his blanket too narrow. In such a situation there would be neither rest nor comfort, neither help nor hope; and any man who has spent a winter’s night at a second-class hotel or a third-rate boarding-house, where you are treated “just like home-folks,” can have some appreciation of such a condition.
The spiritual application of the picture before us - the figure of an insufficient religion - affords an interesting study. What is such a religion? It is any religion which has no foundation to build upon, no character to clothe itself with for eternity. The only religion which ever offered a sufficient basis and a sufficient covering is Christianity. Christ is the only Rock of our salvation; and He alone can be just to sin and yet justify the ungodly. He alone can pay sin’s debt and impute righteousness, save the soul from death, and cover moral guilt. He died for our transgression, and He was raised for our justification; and when the Christian appears at the judgment he will stand upon the Rock of Ages for salvation, and will be clothed in the righteous robe of Christ’s merit, the only “wedding garment” in which we can appear at the “great supper of the Lamb.” We are saved by grace, justified by faith; and our entrance into life and glory will be based solely upon and characterized by the record and dignity of Christ, our great and eternal Substitute. The Christian’s own character
and righteousness are the evidence and outcome of salvation by grace, justification by faith here below; and his own character and righteousness will be his joy and reward hereafter; but the grace of God alone can, through Christ, regenerate and justify him, save and sanctify him, crown and glorify him. Christ is our “all in all,” our “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,” the “Author and Finisher of our faith;” and He is the holy bed upon which we lie, the only covering in which we wrap for salvation and sanctification. “Other foundation,” says Paul, “can no man lay;” and Peter says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved.” The atonement which Jesus made for our sins under God’s grace is our all-sufficient foundation; and the righteousness of Christ wrought out in His perfect life, and imputed to us by faith, is our all-sufficient covering.
Thus we are redeemed and thus clothed for God and eternity. In Christ alone, as in no other conceivable way, can we be made alive from the dead, and reckoned “innocent.” Quickened by His word, justified by His blood through the operation of His life-giving and blood-cleansing Spirit, we are saved and sanctified; and when we stand at last before God, body and soul, we shall be absolutely perfect through the redemptive scheme, conceived, executed, and applied through the blood, the Word, and the work of Christ. We shall completely escape death, Hell, and the grave; and in the consummation of our resurrection from the dead we shall appear in glory without a stain upon our character, and without a defect in our nature - all through the perfection of Christ. It will take perfection to stand before perfection, both legal and moral.
There is no other way, philosophical or religious, to attain this end but by the cross of Calvary. A man must be justified from the guilt of sin, he must be made alive from the dead, both morally and physically, and he must be presented before a perfect God without spot, wrinkle, or blemish, to inherit eternal life. How can this be done except through the crucified, risen, and glorified Redeemer as revealed in the Bible? How plain to the devout and intelligent believer? Who that knows the depth and character of sin cannot see and believe this truth? We must be perfect to live with God; and perfection has no foundation except in the redemptive atonement of Christ and in the covering character of Christ. Nor can such perfection be wrought out in man or applied to his life except through the pardoning and justifying blood and the regenerating and sanctifying Spirit of Christ. Out of Christ, in the very nature of things, God must be a consuming and eternal fire. “Blessed is the man whose sin is covered, and to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.”
But let us now glance, by contrast, at the religions of human reason and superstition. The Jews tried idolatry. They made leagues with surrounding nations and worshiped their gods, seeking help against internal division and foreign oppression. They forgot Jehovah, they abandoned the blood of the typical covenant, and the consequence was that they became a prey to their own internal dissensions and corruptions and fell under the appalling domination of foreign despotism and superstition. All the gods and armies of Egypt, Assyria, and Moab could do them no good. Straitened and stricken by famine and siege, desolate, distracted, and divided among themselves,
without the help and hope of Israel’s God, they ever found heathenism and idolatry a bed too short to stretch upon and a covering too narrow to wrap themselves in. They only survived and lived when they cried and returned to God and to the ark of the covenant. When idolatry and heathenism had been cured among the Jews by captivity, they finally fell into Pharisaism and formalism, another bed too short and another blanket too narrow; and in the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, when the nation was shut up and slaughtered within the helpless walls of the golden city, we have a perfect idea of the Prophet in the declaration of this text and in the use of this figure, who beheld a people lying down upon a false and hollow religion, and seeking to cover themselves with their own sufficiency and righteousness.
So with every other nation worshiping the gods of reason or superstition. They have perished or are perishing from the face of the earth. Babylon, Nineveh, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, with all the glory of their empires and their civilization, have passed away upon the foundation and under the cover of an insufficient religion. The only nations which have lived, and prospered, and elevated the earth are those which have recognized and honored Christ and Christianity. All other nations now living are simply dead while they live; and they only quicken and advance with the glory of the age as the blood-stained banner of the cross is unfurled above them. What is true of a nation is first of all true with the individual; and in proportion as the true or false religions prevail is a nation, a State, or a community dead or vital.
Let us look, individually and characteristically, at
this subject before we come to a conclusion. Behold the moralist and the philosopher, depending respectively upon his self-righteousness or his wisdom for salvation, and see if his bed is not too short and his blanket too narrow. Intellectual self-conceit or moral self-righteousness is the foundation he lays or the roof he puts upon his religious structure. He needs no Jesus, or only wants Him as a convenience, not a necessity. Christ may have been a good man, a perfect teacher, a model exemplar in life and sacrifice; but He is not a Redeemer, a Saviour! He is a great helper, but His blood neither cleanses nor does His Spirit make alive! Christ and Him crucified is a stumbling-block to Jewish self-righteousness, and foolishness to Greek self-wisdom. The heart of man is the bulbous root of the hyacinth, and, at best, if you take Christ at all, the gospel is but the light of a moral sun which warms and develops the beautiful flowers of human excellence and immortality from the bulbous root in which is contained all the virtues and possibilities of eternal life. Many do not need Christ at all, in any sense. They are too good to be damned. They don’t need blood to cleanse them. They require no regenerating life from God. They don’t steal, nor lie, nor curse, nor cheat, nor drink, and they do good, are charitable, belong to the lodge or some benevolent order, and expect to get to Heaven upon their own goodness and righteousness. Ask one of them if he trusts Christ for salvation, if he worships God, if he contributes to His cause, if he loves and serves the Creator and Redeemer upon the principle of allegiance and devotion as a child its parents, as a beneficiary his benefactor, as a subject his king, and he will tell you, “No.” God is under obligation to him,
not he to God! At least, it is a matter of debit and credit, and God is on the debtor side of the account! Heaven is the result of covenant, a business transaction between him and his God; and he is expecting the reward upon the ground of his philosophical acumen or his moral self-righteousness. He is his own way, his own truth, and his own life.
Well, now, this gentleman’s bed is simply too short and his covering is too narrow. It is not long nor broad enough for eternity. His covering is about like the fig-leaf garb of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and his foundation is about like their hiding-place from the eye of God. His self-righteous service is about like the offering of Cain, the works and fruits of his own hands, offered to God and rejected. The fig-leaves had to be taken off of Adam and Eve and the skins from the slain animal, the type of Christ crucified and of Christ’s righteousness put on. The offering of blood by Abel, not the fruits of Cain, was acceptable, because it pointed to “the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world;” and our self-righteous and self-wise gentlemen will have to have Abel’s blood as a foundation and Adam’s lamb-skin as a covering to stand before God. Without Christ and His righteousness he shall never see God. Out of Christ, let me repeat, God is a consuming fire. Alas for all ritualism and formalism and self-righteousness even in the profession of Christianity! Even these are a bed too short, a blanket too narrow before God and angels and eternity.
We might speak of a number of sufficient things which this picture illustrates, but we must close with but a mere mention. In all the affairs and relationships of life men must have a “principle” to build upon
and a “character” to cover with. The foundations of government, business, society, family, and individual integrity depend upon this idea of life and success. In every case failure follows life and effort, if principle and character be wanting. The politician whose only ambition is office and spoils, the business man whose only aspiration is money and ease, the preacher whose only ideal of his high office is reputation and place, the social butterfly whose only aim is admiration and conquest, the young man whose crowning hope is a good time in the world - builds his house in the desert, and, like the ostrich, covers his head in the sand. His foundation will be swept away in the flood, and his destiny will be uncovered by time and fate, which, like the hunter, pursue the game of fancy and folly to destruction. Man has but three objects in existence: (1) to glorify God, (2) to help his fellowman, and (3) to develop himself, withal and by all, to the stature of manhood in Christ. Here is a principle on which to build and a character with which to clothe which time cannot destroy nor eternity take away. Any other principle or character is an insufficient foundation and an insufficient covering. The bed is shorter than a man can stretch out upon for eternity. The covering is narrower than that a man can wrap himself in for eternity. Life, temporal or eternal, must have true principles upon which to build and to rest, a true character with which to clothe and to cover.
[From George A. Lofton, Character Sketches, 1898, pp. 250-257, On-line edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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