"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

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Vol. 1, No. 3, May - June 1972 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



Harry Foster

Reading: 2 Peter 3

IT might be interesting to speculate on what Peter found hard to understand in Paul's writings, though it might not be very profitable. What is profitable, though, and interesting too, is to note what the subject was which so mattered to Peter that he actually appealed for confirmation of it to the letters of "our beloved brother Paul". This is not hard to discover. It was, in fact, the second coming of Christ.

Humanly speaking, both Peter and Paul could have been disappointed men, for in their early days of enthusiasm they had apparently -- like the rest of us -- expected to be among those who would not die but be alive for the thrilling experience of being raptured to meet the Lord in the air.


Had not Peter with his own ears heard the two angels promise that "this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts l.11)? Filled with the Spirit, Peter had announced to the Jews that if they would repent and be converted, God would send His Son from the heavens to restore all things (Acts 3:20-21). Now Peter was middle-aged and it had not happened, and what is more it never would happen in his lifetime, for he had been clearly informed by God that he would shortly make his exodus from this world by way of death. After all he was not to be one of those destined to be alive at the time of Christ's return!

Paul, too, had from the first preached the second coming of Christ: it is a part of what he liked to call 'his gospel'. His early letter to the Thessalonians was not to inform them of the fact of that coming, for from their conversion they had been taught to look for God's Son from heaven. No, the letter was intended to correct some mistaken ideas about this matter, for they imagined that their friends who had died would somehow miss the great event. Paul explained that in fact the dead in Christ will be the first to have their part in the coming glory, but he betrayed his own very natural expectations by the use of the words, "Then we which are alive and remain ..." (1 Thessalonians 4:17), showing that he cherished the hope that he would be alive to share in the great rapture at the last trump. Those days had passed. Paul also was middle-aged and realised now that this was not to be, for his last letter to Timothy showed that, like Peter, he now had his marching orders from this scene.

So it seems reasonable to say that both of these men had been forced to relinquish the very natural hopes of their earlier days. Their experience has been repeated down the years. Devoted students of the Word have become convinced that the Lord Jesus would return in their lifetime, and then they have been proved wrong by events as one by one they have been called home to be with Christ.


This mistake has been natural enough, and has done them no harm for, as Paul assured the Thessalonians, they will wake up from their "sleep" to take their full share in Christ's triumphant Day of glory. What is more serious, much more serious, is the possibility that those of us who in our youth lived and gladly sacrificed in the expectation of the imminent return of Christ should now [41/42] have become spiritually slack and middle-aged, so flabby about the Second Advent that it is barely an item of our creed and certainly not a dynamic power in our lives.

This need not be. This certainly did not happen in the case of Peter or Paul. The former devoted this final chapter of his writings to a last 'all out' appeal for readiness, while Paul's last chapter also stressed the fact that the crown is for all them which have loved the Lord's appearing. Perhaps at this point we may draw attention to the fact that old John, who wrote when he had ceased even to be middle-aged and was near the end of a much longer life than either of his two fellow apostles, also made a stirring appeal based on the great hope of seeing Christ face to face (1 John 3:3). Indeed there was no New Testament writer who overlooked this supreme event. So far as the fact of the return of Christ is concerned Peter might equally have appealed to the writings of beloved brothers Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James and Jude, to say nothing of the unnamed author of the letter to the Hebrews, with his "yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry".

In fact, however, Peter's appeal to Paul was not confined to the simple fact of the coming but to this problem of its apparent delay, for both realised that not only scoffing critics but puzzled saints might get involved in this question about the whereabouts of the promise of His coming. The fact is that all too many of us are getting vague and blurred about the return of Christ and so it may perhaps be relevant to suggest a few of the reasons why the matter is apt to be neglected.


One thing which has tended to discredit the subject has been the confusion caused by the unscriptural presumption of those who have tried to fix a date for the coming, in spite of Christ's warning that such efforts are futile. False prophets seldom learn from their mistakes and hardly ever admit them, so that dogmatic prognostications of this kind are made, exploded, excused and covered up, but not before they have succeeded in blunting the expectations of true believers and making the whole subject seem rather ridiculous.

Then there is the fact that a number of unscriptural sects have made the coming kingdom a main feature of their plausible propaganda. By pointing to fulfilments of prophecy in current happenings they mix up the 'signs of the times' with their own ideas in such a way as to obscure the person of Christ who is the real embodiment of our hope. When this is done by those whose doctrines concerning the Lord Jesus are unsound, then true lovers of the Lord not only recoil from false teaching about Him, but tend to downgrade the truth of His coming as compared with other aspects of His life and work. In this way the promise of His coming is neglected even if it is not denied.

Behind all this there is, of course, a satanic effort to postpone the inevitable overthrow of the present world system. The issue at stake is nothing less than world dominion, which at the second advent will pass from devil-influenced systems and men to the Lamb of God and His followers. Satan has nothing to learn about psychological warfare, and he concentrates his ingenuity on attempts to brainwash believers into doubt or indifference as to the arrival of the rightful, God-appointed King.

There are, of course, other reasons for neglect of this important truth. The one put forward by Peter, and the main purpose of his appeal to Paul's writings, was the non-realisation of the Church's expectations and the fact that "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick". The delay seemed endless in those days, and may seem more so to us now. The years of waiting since our hearts were first gripped by the advent message have brought upon many of us a kind of spiritual 'middle-age', in which first enthusiasms have waned and the armchair has been substituted for the arena.

Neither Peter nor Paul were affected in this way, but they were alert to the danger and joined forces to stress that God is only delaying the great event out of merciful concern for men. Peter not only appealed to Paul's letters to confirm the validity of the prophetic hope of Christ's sudden return, but he made a particular point of quoting a specific statement made by his great colleague to explain the puzzling delay in its fulfilment. The delay is due -- so both men affirmed -- to "the longsuffering of our Lord".


God is giving us more time. What for? Firstly for believers to enter into the full purpose of their salvation, which is to be delivered from the down-drag of earth, with its interests and possessions and to be formed into a kingdom of priests who can share the rule of Christ. This idea is certainly consistent with much of Paul's teaching, though it is not clear which is the actual statement which Peter had in mind. Both men stressed that the return of Christ calls urgently for holiness of life. Secondly [42/43] the longsuffering of God provides a further opportunity for the Church to spread the gospel. As Peter argues, God's great patience is due to His unwillingness that any should perish, and His desire that all might come to repentance. This thought does give a slight clue to the actual quotation borrowed from Paul, for it was he who wrote of the riches of God's goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, which are intended to bring men to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Peter's final call to the Church is meant to stir us all up to a new gospel activity. "God is not slack" he affirmed, and urged that neither should we be. There are souls yet to be saved, men ready to perish who can yet be rescued, and God has deliberately prolonged the period of respite so that the message may be taken to them. "Beloved brother Paul" would certainly say his 'Amen' to this sentiment. With almost his last breath he urged Timothy to be "Instant in season and out of season" and to "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Timothy 4:2 & 5). Both Peter and Paul drew attention to this important issue, "the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation". That is what God means it to be.

But somebody asks, 'What about the underprivileged nations?', and another enquires, 'Shouldn't the Church be devoting its energies to social improvements?' and yet another questions if it is right that Christian young people should be so pre-occupied with gospel witness that they have no time or strength to devote to world betterment. Peter has the answer to all such questions. "We look" he wrote, "for new heavens and a new earth", where all wrongs will be righted and no injustices will be tolerated, and moreover we believe that by holy living and faithful witnessing we are best contributing to the speeding up of the arrival of that new era, that "day of God" (verse 12 margin). Evangelism is not our idea: it is the command of the coming King.

There was nothing spiritually 'middle-aged' about Peter. Nor about Paul either. Their challenge -- made as they faced eternity -- comes ringing down to this present generation. We may well be the ones who are destined to be alive at the coming. In any case we must not allow anything to obscure the issue. Peter's stirring call and his beloved brother Paul's divinely given wisdom, remind us to be diligent while there is still time.


T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: 1 Kings 18:41-44

TWO of the major elements in the spiritual life and experience of God's people are the seemingly slow and hidden ways of God and the demand for persistent faith in His servants. As to the former, you will know quite well how much there is in the Bible about it. Again and again you will find the psalmist crying out because of God's seeming delay or indifference. Whole psalms are given up to this very problem, and also in other parts of Scripture we encounter the same phenomenon.

In our own spiritual experience we often find that not least of our trials is the fact that God seems so slow to respond, so inexplicable in His ways; sometimes it would appear that He is careless or indifferent. This is a common experience, even among the greatest and most devoted of God's servants. It is not an experience confined to novices, in fact perhaps they know little of it, but throughout the centuries even the most outstanding of God's servants have been confronted by this problem of the slow response of the Lord. It sometimes looks to His people as though He were unhurried to the point of being tardy, and that just when their needs were most acute.


In this short passage our attention is also drawn to the second point, namely the demand for persistent faith. It might be thought that the most critical moment on Mount Carmel was when the prophets of Baal had exhausted themselves in vain prayers and had to give way to Elijah with his water-saturated altar and his simple, dignified appeal to Israel's God. This was, indeed, a breathless moment and the high point of the story the great miracle when fire fell from heaven; but supposing that had been the end! For we must remember that the country had been suffering from three years of intense drought, and if life were to be sustained it was not fire that they wanted but water. What they needed was rain, and plenty of it. Wonderful and emotional as the burning [43/44] Sacrifice must have been, there could be no new life, no new hope if the rain did not come.

Now the Lord knew how critical their condition was and might have been expected to act, now that the people had repudiated Baal and committed their case to Him. When the crowd shouted, "The Lord, he is God" the reformation seemed to be complete, and the natural sequel should surely have been clouds, rain-clouds, and water pouring down on a thirsty land.

Yet no rain came. Elijah was quite assured in his own heart, and he unhesitatingly told Ahab that it was coming. Nevertheless he did not relax at all but went higher up on this mountain of crisis, put his head between his knees and set himself to pray the issue through. The reference in James' letter tells us that "he prayed earnestly" or 'he prayed with prayer', implying that something more than ordinary prayer was needed on such an occasion; it seemed to call for concentration and persistency. There was no sign of rain. God seemed so slow at this time of crisis. How can we explain His apparent lack of response?

For my part I think that this has a close connection with the anonymous servant, giving us all a lesson concerning service. This man not only is given no name but there is no mention of where he came from. Until this experience on Mount Carmel it seems from the narrative that Elijah was alone. After this he was dismissed at Beer-sheba, and later it was Elisha who served Elijah as a servant. The anonymous servant is just mentioned in this episode and then passes off the scene, but not before he has helped to illustrate to us one of the principle features of service to God, which is persistency. The battle had been fought through; it seemed that a mighty victory had been obtained; and yet -- still no rain!


This provides a very serious warning against anything in the nature of complacency. Even after we have poured ourselves out and been assured that we have succeeded, we must beware of letting go too soon. The principle or spirit of service surely demands a real persistence of faith. You will not find any servant of God of account or true value in the Bible who did not have developed in him this persistence of faith. We can see it in the case of this man, and strangely enough this was the very test put to the next servant, Elisha, whose real life's work started the day when Elijah was taken up to heaven. That was the time when Elijah said to Elisha, "Tarry here ... the Lord hath sent me as far as Bethel" (2 Kings 2:2). The same suggestion was repeated stage by stage, "Tarry here ... Tarry here ...", but Elisha would not agree to do so, his response being, "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee". At last the whole matter was gathered up into this one issue, so that Elijah promised Elisha "If thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee" -- a double portion of the Spirit for service was consequent upon this exercise of persistency.

Now, to return to Carmel, there was no doubt that Elijah's faith had produced a remarkable answer from God. The fire had fallen. We might think that he would have been perfectly justified in telling himself that all he now had to do was to see God working the whole matter out. He could have folded his arms, or taken his ease, while God did the rest. If you had gone successfully through an ordeal like Elijah's, seen such a tremendous victory and had an inner assurance that the end was reached, would you not have been inclined to sit back a bit and just watch events? Elijah, however, did nothing of the sort; he went higher up into the mountain to get closer to God. "Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel" -- to pray. He knew that his business was not finished yet, and was determined to see the matter right through.

At this point, our attention is drawn to the servant. He, too, must go up still higher, for there was something more to be done if the rain were to come. He was told to look toward the sea, the direction from which it would come. He looked and saw nothing, so he came back again to his master and reported "There is nothing"! After all that spiritual battle, after all that prayer, that exhausting ordeal of laying hold of God and seeing the fire fall, was it possible that after all, the skies were as closed as ever? "There is nothing"! Many of us have had to pass through similar experiences -- we may be doing so just now -- and we find it to be a most painful anticlimax. This is a moment of great peril for our faith, to have battled so far and expected so much, only to be disappointed to find a complete lack of any evidence of God's working.

What can you do? Well, one of two things. The first is to conclude that after all the whole thing has been an illusion, and to give way to the paralysis of despair because of the seeming unresponsiveness of God. The alternative is to keep going -- if necessary seven times. There was nothing the first time, so the servant must go and look [44/45] again. There is nothing! And yet a third time, but still a third time. "There is nothing"! The man had to go a fourth time, but there was still no vestige of an answer. I try to imagine the tone of his voice as he returned the fifth and the sixth time, and think that he may even have added a few comments. 'What is the good of it all?' he might have questioned -- 'there is nothing'! It would have been natural enough if he had remonstrated, 'I do not see the use of going right up there again; I am tired of continually coming back to report just nothing'. In any case he was sent a seventh time, just once more; this time he was able to report a tiny cloud. That was little enough in all conscience, to find that all that there was to be seen in the expanse of the sky was just one little cloud the size of a man's hand. It is surprising that God went so far in pressing this matter of faith's persistency. Whether there is any significance in the number seven is of little importance, but certainly there had to be the full continuance in faith until at last the situation broke. The little cloud was only a token but it was enough to Elijah who immediately warned Ahab to prepare for a deluge. Faith is the title deeds of things unseen, and accepts the token for the whole. It was right to do so, for soon the heavens were full of clouds.


I think that this makes the message plain. It is so easy to make a big start, with a good deal of noise and activity and high expectations of something big which we think God is going to do, and then to lose heart because of disappointments and delays. Our prayers are apt to wane and our energy and enthusiasms to decline just because God seems to be unresponsive. What is He doing? He is making a servant; to Him this is more important than the actual service which is being done. Such a servant has to learn that the Lord is more concerned about His own name than we are, and knows best how to vindicate it.

"The Lord, he is God." The Lord had to make that clear a second time, not only in the fire, but in the water, in the rain; not only in the judgment but in the mercy; not only in the death but in the resurrection life. His delays, His hiddenness, His seeming indifference, are all the testing means by which He develops true faith in His servants, and works something of His own Spirit into their very constitution. It was easy for Him to send the rain, what was more difficult but infinitely more worthwhile was to enable His servant to go on watching and praying for the full seven times, never despairing, never doubting, never giving up. In the end there was no lack of rain. But it came as the result of a second battle. First there was the battle with Baal, and then the battle with unbelief; the outside battle and the battle inside. It is on the last inward battle that the whole issue depends. Full victory comes as a result of faith's persistency.



Roger T. Forster

OUR first study reminded us that the tabernacle was the expression of what God is like, His mode of existence and the eternal thoughts and purposes of His heart. The second study dealt with the way in which the tabernacle teaches us to approach God for the appropriation of eternal life. Even after we have become Christians we need to have continuous experiences of life by means of a new knowledge of God, and the tabernacle indicates how we should be constantly exercised to come closer to Him. In this way the emphasis was placed on entering in to God's presence, and we followed a movement from the gate right into the innermost heart of God, right inside the ark of the covenant.


Now we will consider a movement outward from where God is, a movement which will be with God, for it is His desire to move out to a needy world.

A relevant New Testament passage is 2 Corinthians 6:16 - 7:1, with stress on God s words, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them". Paul associates this purpose of God's to walk in His people with the fact that we are temples, but the original quotation from Leviticus applies it to the tabernacle, which is the subject of our present consideration.

It is true that concerning the holiest of all God said, "There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee", but He also said that He wants [45/46] to walk in His people, which shows His desire to make us the vehicle for His moving out to a needy world. So, having gone in to the tabernacle to appropriate eternal life, we now have to learn to come out of the tabernacle, so that through us God can walk among men.

We must remember that the wonder of being the people of God is not just for self congratulation at the marvel of knowing Him livingly, but is also meant to thrill us with the realisation that we can walk out in His company, and so make it possible for Him to move around in His universe. I do not say this irreverently, for there is a sense in which God has ordained that He should reveal His presence to this world through His people. It is not enough for us to sit idly apart as mere spectators of His activities, content to glory in happenings which can be described as 'All of God'. This has its values, but God has ordained to act through His body; He has chosen to let us co-operate with Him; indeed Christ undertook to get the revelation to the farthest parts of the earth by saying to a handful of rough disciples, 'You go out into all the world and preach the gospel, and I will go with you'. He meant what He said; they believed Him and in their day they very nearly did evangelise the world, but subsequent disciples do not seem to have taken the command seriously for their generations.

So then, having found ourselves in the holy of holies deeply implicated with the ark, the tables of the law, Aaron's rod and the pot of manna, we can move out from there with God, and we shall find that the tabernacle will help us in our progress outward. Each one of the various stages of the journey confronts us with three items, either objects or pieces of furniture, so that we may think of this pathway as consisting of God's three-fold out-goings to the world.


The first group of three leads us to consider the contents of the ark, where we have fellowship with God about and through the truth in Jesus. First we observe the truth of the incarnation, exemplified by the tables of the law, the mind of God. God speaks to us, and shows us His will by means of the flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus. The law convicted men, but the sprinkled blood spoke peace to their conscience and gave them communion with God; so personal encounter with the Lord Jesus first shatters us and then brings peace and reconciliation.

Secondly God speaks to us in terms of resurrection, by means of Aaron's rod which from a dead state became full of buds, blossoms and almonds all at once. Again we have fellowship with God through His Son, this time in resurrectional truth; we prove His resurrection power.

Thirdly we also discover ascensional truth, for the manna reminds us how the Son of Man feeds our souls with heavenly bread from His place on high. No-one can begin to move for God until he has learned to feed on the bread of heaven. So we begin with the three-fold discovery of Christ at the very heart of things, finding Him as the embodiment of God's truth, and as we share this speaking of God in incarnation, resurrection and ascension we find a new experience of eternal life.

We are in the presence of miracles. The tables of the covenant were a miracle because God wrote them Himself; Aaron's rod was a miracle for it could never have budded if God had not done something unusual; and the pot of manna was a miracle, for the heavenly bread came down from God daily, except on the Sabbath. So everything in this expression of heart communion with God is miraculous. If we lose that emphasis in our lives, forgetting that God is the God of miracles, we will have no impetus to send us on our journey out into the world with Him.

We must start our communion with God with the possibility of a miracle. Whether it is by God's writing on stones, by a dead branch bursting out into bud, or by bread dropping from heaven, it does not matter; we must begin by learning to expect miracles. It was the miracle of new birth which began our history, and I reckon that the cooling off of our outgoing zeal is often due to the fact that we have lost our sense of the supernatural side of Christianity. We don't know God well enough; if we did we would say what was said about the incarnation, "With God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37), and with quickened faith be prepared to move out with God.


Taking a wider view, we now consider the actual furniture of the holy of holies, and find the number three repeated, for there was the ark itself, the slab of gold which formed its covering mercy seat, and the cherubim which were at each end. The three together formed a kind of throne, with the ark supporting the seat and the winged cherubim making [46/47] a shelter, something like the back and sides of an armchair. This gives a hint that we are being shown the throne on which God sits. Before we can ever move out with God we must realise that He moves from rest, the rest of a throne.

So we can only really start if we make room for the throne of God in our lives. That throne must give the central place to our enthroned Lord. Perhaps we are not outgoing enough just because we do not give Him His place on the throne. Of course the tabernacle could only show the throne and not the One who is sitting there for "no man hath seen God at any time", and although the pictorial representation directs us to God it cannot show Him to us, for He dwells in light unapproachable and our puny minds cannot grasp Him. If we were not given a revelation of God we could not know Him at all, but He does reveal Himself to us, and He does it in a way which we can grasp, that is through His Son, the Lord Jesus so we can know Him; we can speak to Him; and He speaks to us through the ark, the mercy seat and the cherubim.

Therefore it is not surprising that everything in the holy place reveals the Lord Jesus. Spiritually the ark is the Lord Jesus, the mercy seat is the Lord Jesus, yes, and the cherubim are the Lord Jesus. You don't think that there are really such beings as the cherubim, do you? If there were, the Israelites would not have been allowed to make them for, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above ...". They were, of course, symbolic of that which is embodied for us in Christ.

The ark was originally a box which was built first of all not to contain Aaron's rod or the pot of manna, but the tables of the law. 'This is what I am like' God said, and wrote it on stone tablets. The first time Moses tried to carry them down under his arm, he dropped and broke them. The second time he was instructed not only to bring fresh tablets but also to provide the ark as a box for them (Deuteronomy 10:1), and this time they remained intact. In the same way when God first gave the law to Israel they broke it, but then He provided the Lord Jesus as the spiritual ark, and He carried the law in His heart and did not break it. Not once!

Secondly on that box was placed a slab of gold which was called the mercy seat. The mercy seat is translated in the Greek Old Testament as 'propitiation'. Propitiation means 'turning away anger', but there are those who dislike this idea and prefer to use the word 'expiation', which is the one found in some translations. Expiation, however, means just 'turning away sin' and has no connection with wrath. Some people are a bit squeamish at the idea of God being angry with sin. 'Yes, sin has certain consequences' they say, 'and we need to be expiated from those consequences', but they do not like the idea of our needing to find propitiation from God's anger. God, however, is offended by sin, He reacts as violently against it as light to darkness, as health to disease, but it is a wrath which can be propitiated because of His involvement with us. He is afflicted in all our affliction, and because of His involvement in His love for us He has set forth the Lord Jesus Christ to be a propitiation for our sin. So we find that right at the heart of God's throne, the place of His preeminence in the universe, there is a blood-stained propitiatory. The real place of propitiation was not merely in an earthly locality but right in the heart of God. That was where the anger had to be met, and where by Christ's sacrifice it was fully propitiated. So that the mercy seat speaks of God's love, just as the ark speaks of His light.

The cherubim speak of God's life. There are those who think that they are a symbol of judgment, because they were put outside the garden of Eden with a flaming sword, but the New Testament interpretation makes it clear that they are to be called 'living creatures'. No doubt the life of God does bring judgment -- judgment against death. It is bound to do so. This, however, is not the prime purpose or meaning of the cherubim whose great concern was to secure and preserve life. They have the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox and the face of an eagle, representing life in all its forms. According to the book of Revelation "they rest not day and night", because the life of God goes on and on in unceasing activity. So the cherubim, as the manifestation of God's life, turn us again to the Son, for this eternal life is to be found in Him. Thus it is that as we acknowledge the full revelation of the throne of God's light, love and life we find the highway of God begins to appear and we can move out.


From the holiest we pass into the holy place, and again find three items of furniture, the lampstand, the table of shewbread and the altar of incense. There is a common factor in each of these, and it is the factor of fire. In the altar of incense there [47/48] was obviously fire, which the high priest had to be sure to keep burning. Then there was the fire which kept the lamps alight. In the evening and the morning the high priest would clean off the charred parts of the wick so that the burning light could shine more clearly. And even in the table of shewbread there was fire, for the bread was baked by fire and was called "an offering made by fire unto the Lord".

So each of the articles in the holy place had some experience of fire. Fire is one more characteristic of the highway of God, as we move out from our central place of communion with Him, the fire of God must burn in our experience. The Holy Spirit is not just as atmosphere, to give life as we breathe the Spirit of life; the Holy Spirit is not just as water, to apply the Word for our washing and cleansing; but the Holy Spirit is as fire, as burning passion.

Fire was the essential element in the holy place, and it is the essential element in the people of God. The fire of God should enthuse our churches. Who wants to be at a prayer meeting where people spend their time bemoaning the fact that they don't love God enough? Of course we can never love Him enough, but what would a man's wife say if he kept repeating to her that he did not love her enough? We must let the fire burn. "Stir up the gift of God that is in thee" -- that is God's command -- and such a fire will not only help us, it will help those around too. The high priest went into the holy place to make sure that there was fire for the incense, for the lamps and for baking the loaves, and our High Priest moves among the churches, greatly concerned to keep the fire of His love burning in and among His people. This is an important feature of our life together. If one of us is burning, even a little, then there will be light for others and if one is baking bread, then others will be fed, and if some are glowing with worship of the Lord then the sweet fragrance of Christ will mark the whole company. This is the way by which in the holy place we can help one another to make a highway for God, each having his own part to play, while the Lord Jesus ministers the fire.


The fourth stage is in the outer court, the outside part of the tabernacle which was exposed to the elements, the wind, the rain and the sun. Here again we have three things with a message for us in our contact with the outside world, they are the coverings, the laver and the brazen altar.

The coverings which were spread over the actual tabernacle preserved the rich treasures which were inside. They were especially calculated to withstand all the stress of weather because of the nature and strength of the materials. In this sense they speak to us of the Lord Jesus and His ability to preserve all the spiritual values which make possible the highway for God.

The coverings were not only strong enough to defy the worst that the elements could do, they also served to prevent the precious things of God from being wrongly exposed to the world. Of course there are spiritual matters concerning our Lord Jesus and the goings of God which were never meant to be ostentatiously displayed before the world, truths concerning Christ and His Church which must not be what He called "pearls before swine". We have no right to break out in our own directions, opening up to the eyes of all what God has hidden in Christ -- that will be like forcing a way out at the back or sides of the tent. No, if God is coming out to the world, it will be by His own chosen way. This means that if we want to be with Him in His programme we must learn to guard reverently that which He decides should be hidden. This is an important feature of our movement with God, for rash publicity and impetuous displays of what God says should be kept sacred, will mean that we shall have departed from the way which He had planned and ordained for the registration of His impact on the world outside.

So the tabernacle teaches us to differentiate between the things which are hidden and those which are meant to be exposed. The three items here show how Christ is able to preserve us as we move out toward what is, after all, a Satan-influenced world. We need Christ as our covering. Of course, if we remain in the tent all the time we shall never encounter the world's fury, but if we do that we shall be stopping short when God wants to go on, and we shall miss this further thrilling experience of how the Lord Jesus is able to keep us in this tempestuous world,

The laver naturally cared nothing for the storms, for no amount of rain could lessen its efficiency. And the laver is an important feature of God's provision for us on our journey, since we need its cleansing water just as much for going out as we did for entering in. We are not going out alone; it is the holy God who has said that He will walk in us, and how can this be unless we are made suitably clean. "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). Paul pointed out to the [48/49] Corinthians that those who are temples of the living God and those in whom He has promised to dwell and walk must cleanse themselves "from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit". So our route with God takes us to the laver before ever we dare to emerge from the gate, and we need to avail ourselves of its cleansing water, not only to enter in for communion but to walk out for witness. Those who want to sit in the tent all the time will protest that, having entered in by way of the laver, they are now clean. There is a sense in which the laver may not seem to be so important to them, as they are not being exposed to the enemy's attempts to defile or besmirch them, but what a pity it is to be a static tent dweller when we could move out with God and venture for Him! Those who do so venture know well how important is the constant washing by the Word.

Then there was the altar where the blood was shed and the sacrifice burned. It seems that its fire must have been strong enough to be entirely indifferent to rough winds and pouring rain. This altar is never damaged or weakened by its exposure to world conditions and world powers. Mercifully so, for how could we expect to face them ourselves without the protection of the blood of Christ? Once again we gratefully remember that we found an entrance into God's holy presence by way of the altar, for it would have meant death to try to go in apart from its cleansing power. But for those coming out there is a further challenge, the fierce wrath of the Devil, and we are told that he can only be overcome by the power of the blood of the Lamb, experienced by those who love not their lives unto the death. This, then, is a further provision of God for those who are going out with Him to meet evil supernatural forces which face us in our spiritual warfare.

How wise, then, to go God's way! How full and sufficient is His provision! In the exposed court where sun and wind and rain can do their worst He makes us to know Christ as our perfect covering.


From here we move to the gate itself; we have reached the area where God walks in us in order to minister Christ through us. Here again there are three features, the white linen walls, the brass poles and the coloured curtain of the gate.

It was the sheer white hangings all around which forced their attention on the outsider. Those who were attracted to the tabernacle were not attracted by the altar -- not at first. Neither the altar nor the laver in the outer court, nor the lamp of testimony in the holy place, and certainly not the mercy seat and the ark, drew men to the house of God. What did attract them, then? Why, the great white sheeting hanging all around. That was all they could see, and that was what attracted them at first. The closer they got and the more they walked round and considered it, the more likely they were to arrive at the gate and discover the way in. Yes, the white curtains of pure linen, going right round the whole area, attracted and drew men and made enquirers of them. We have no difficulty in explaining that while this again speaks of Christ, it specifically speaks of His will being worked out in our lives. "The fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Revelation 19:8) -- men shall "see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). This is the way in which people find that God has come out to help them, and are able to know Him by seeing His love in our lives in terms of good works. One of our best contributions to evangelism is good works, for this is the means by which the initial enquiry and interest are aroused. It is Christ working in His people which should make men think.

The linen hangings were supported by many poles, whose silver caps were the only parts visible from the outside. They were secured in sockets of bronze and stood firmly at regular intervals, so upholding the display of white linen. All were needed and each contributed its own quota to the whole structure. It is obvious that one pole out of place could have ruined the usefulness of all and even tended to pull others down. There was a minimum display of the actual poles. Nobody was to be attracted to them! Just enough could be seen to give reinforcement to their united witness with a hint that there was an inner side to the tabernacle if men would press on to the entrance and go in.

The pillars remind us of how much we need one another, and how feeble and insufficient would be an isolated testimony which had no relationship with the rest. This does not suggest that Christians have got to be regimented and stand stiffly in lines like soldier, but it does indicate the need for spiritual order. If we approach the subject of corporate life from a technical viewpoint, trying to force God's children into artificial uniformity, we shall produce dead orthodoxy instead of living [49/50] fellowship. If, however, we grasp the spiritual significance, which is the recognition that as brothers we stand together and help one another to live for God, then there will be a testimony to the world of good works, and a firm setting forth of the righteousness of Christ which will urge and encourage outsiders to continue to explore the matter until they arrive at the gate of welcome.

This beautiful gate, with its curtain of linen with rich blue, purple and scarlet colours, figured with cherubim, provides the third and last feature of the outside area. As we saw in our previous study, it was as though this colourful entrance cried out to men, 'This is the way in', the true and living way, which is Christ Himself.

So we are back again at the point of entry. This is the reason for our coming out. This is what God was purposing in walking out in us, that is the attraction of wanderers to His home, the pointing to them of the way by which they can leave the deserts, where men perish, and enter into the house of God where men have fellowship with Him and live.


Eric Fischbacher

Reading: Psalm 29

SOME years ago while passing through a period of spiritual drought, I re-read this psalm and was filled again with joy and singing, and a sense of elation reminiscent of a man's first encounter with God. I had heard the Voice of the Lord once more, and its effect was electrifying, exhilarating. Although I was not at that point aware precisely of what He was saying to me, the sound of His Voice was unmistakable.

I have little doubt that one of the primary keys in the Christian life is 'The Voice of the Lord'. By this term I mean the communication by God, by the Holy Spirit, through His Word, of something that He wants to convey to me today. We have the complete Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, and there can be no revelation beyond that. Yet we read, "Today, if you will hear His Voice ... the word of God is living and active ..." (Hebrews 4 RSV). The Voice of the Lord will never add to, or take from the Word of the Lord, the Holy Scriptures, but is a present application of it, in the light of immediate conditions, by a living Lord to a living people. Without it we wander aimlessly, going nowhere, or else drive furiously along the wrong road. As we hear it we seem to step into a new and living world where confusion and doubt become certainty, assurance and purpose, and there emerges in our affairs a sense of coherence.

Psalm 29 is devoted to this important subject. Perhaps David was sitting in the wilderness at flood-time, by a swollen river as it rushed through a steep and narrow gorge with thunderous roar. Tearing away some of the tall straight young cedar trees, and stripping others of their lichen-encrusted bark. Perhaps he had kindled a fire to cook his simple meal and he watched it extinguished in a moment as a sudden overflow engulfed it. And as he sat there deep in thought, a hind gave birth to a calf by the river bank as though by the surge of vital energy around her.

The New Testament refers to our being "born of water and of the Spirit" and of "washing of water with the Word". Here is birth by the Word of the Lord, as the hind calved, and here is cleansing as the trees were stripped bare by the mountain torrent.


We cannot be sure of the background to psalm 29, and all this is pure conjecture, but the importance of the Voice of the Lord is not in doubt. To the Christian it must be of first importance.

After speaking some years ago to a group of young people on this subject, I was mildly chided by a colleague, who said that recognising the Voice of the Lord was not a matter for the young but a very advanced lesson for the mature Christian. Yet recognising mother's voice is said to be the first learning experience of the baby. Feeding and crying are instinctive and automatic, but in the very earliest days of his life the newborn begins to learn the sound of mother's voice. Sheep are often characterised as lacking intelligence, yet they learn to distinguish the shepherd's voice, and will not follow a stranger. Speaking of His people as sheep, Jesus said "My sheep hear my voice ... and they follow me". We learn to hear His voice and run to Him. Just to hear it, and know that we are in touch [50/51] with Him, is enough to turn night into day, weeping into laughter, and a mountain of problems into an insignificant molehill.

To recognise the sound of His Voice should be an early learning experience for the young Christian, but this must progress to an increasingly clear understanding of what He is saying. When God spoke from heaven in answer to His beloved Son, some thought it thundered, some said 'an angel spoke to Him'. We have to listen carefully, for He undoubtedly has things to say to us. These are days in which we need clear direction regarding the present and the future; we need to have 'understanding of the times' and to know what God's people ought to do.


Going on to psalm 33 -- "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made. For He spake and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast" (vv.6 & 9). Here is a phenomenon of which we are all aware -- that creation was by the divine fiat. But we tend to forget that 'this God is our God', and that in the context of our current experience a word from His mouth is creative, corrective, and at times even destructive. His Voice can have a dramatic effect on our circumstances, if we will listen to it. The sound of it is sufficient to turn our thinking upside down, and alter our entire situation.

The use of the Voice, however -- the Word spoken -- while it can deal with rocks and seas and suns and moons, implies the presence somewhere of an ear to hear. If we are convinced of a person's total deafness, we do not waste effort in shouting at him, but use some other method of communication. However there are those who are not deaf but occupied, pre-occupied, whose attention must be drawn before we can make contact. So we call before we speak, or ring a bell, flash a light, or wave a hand. God frequently has to call our attention in some way before He can speak, and many dramatic and painful experiences may be explained in this way. God is trying to catch our attention, in order to speak specifically to us. How many have been brought to their first real contact with the living God through a severe accident or illness? How many have been brought back to a new beginning with God, or to a much deeper relationship with Him through a financial catastrophe or a sudden and unexpected event which compelled them to sit down quietly and listen?


In Elijah's case (l Kings 19) quite elaborate preparations were made for him to hear the Voice of the Lord. He had to travel to a remote spot in the desert, and on arrival he was met with a great wind which tore at the mountains and scattered rocks around -- "but the Lord was not in the wind". Then an earthquake, and a fire, but the Lord was in neither. So many negative experiences! And then a still, small voice, or 'a sound of gentle stillness' (RSV).

This 'sound of gentle stillness' seems to have been the Presence of God. It was not yet a voice saying something, nor was it complete silence, the absence of all sound. It was the music of His nearness. Have you ever heard that? It brought Elijah to the mouth of the cave where he composed himself to listen, his cape wrapped around his face.

These two actions seem to suggest:

1. that if you want to hear what God is saying, you must come out from your hiding place, wherever that may be, and stand at heaven's door and listen. We hide in many strange places, mostly in busy living -- eating and sleeping and talking and travelling and doing and watching others and competing, and thinking about ourselves. We will not hear what God is saying unless we give Him adequate opportunity, by coming out from our little world for a moment or two, and listening quietly to His Voice. "Happy is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors" (Proverbs 8:34 RSV).

2 Elijah covered his face. Spiritual things are not visible at the present. They are 'unseen'. We must listen. Perhaps this is why we often close our eyes to pray -- the blind usually have very sensitive hearing. We have to shut out the visible to reach the invisible. We must exclude noises and voices to reach the otherwise inaudible.

"Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard the Voice of one speaking. And he said to me 'Son of man stand upon your feet, and I will speak with you' ... and I heard him speaking to me" (Ezekiel 1:28 RSV). [51/52]



John H. Paterson

THE work of God in the lives of His people is designed to make them "partakers of His holiness". He undertakes their training in His school with the intention that, however difficult in practice the course may be, it will yield "the peaceable fruit of righteousness" in the lives of those who undergo it. This evidently represents His norm -- no short-cuts and no exceptions. At least, He did not make an exception of Abraham, or Joseph, or Moses, or any of the other great men whose names are listed in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Their training lasted for decades and led them into painful situations and difficult places. But their lives, as a result, were incomparably fruitful.

So God makes it clear to His people that His methods of training, although often painful, are ultimately productive. But just because the way is difficult, and He does not conceal this fact, there are times when we wonder whether, frankly, it is all worthwhile. In particular, there are two mistakes we may make, and it is to warn against these that the twelfth chapter of Hebrews is written. Confronted by the purpose of God to make us holy like Himself we may either despise or refuse. Both are disastrous. The example of Esau illustrates the peril of taking the first way out. The example of Israel in the wilderness illustrates the second.


"My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him" (verse 5). But we must understand what in fact this danger is, if we are to avoid it. And the mention of Esau (vv.16-17) will help us. He made the mistake of despising (Genesis 25:34), and it was a mistake for which there was, ultimately, no amendment, even though Esau sought a solution tearfully and desperately.

Esau was the elder son of Isaac, and Isaac was the son of promise. God had committed Himself to Esau's grandfather in a quite unprecedented way and, what is more, He had committed Himself to Abraham's family: "... in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 22:18). All the tremendous promises of God passed down from Abraham to Isaac and would, in the ordinary course of events, pass from him to his eldest son. This was Esau's birthright. This was what he sold to Jacob. And this was the measure of his 'despising'.

The writer to the Hebrews calls Esau, on the strength of this incident, a "fornicator" (or "disposer of merchandise") and a "profane person" (verse 16). This second term has in the original almost exactly the same sense as our phrase about someone 'stepping in where angels fear to tread' -- that is, Esau had no concept of the rightness or holiness of things; no sense of spiritual values. When Esau was confronted with a choice, he chose the pottage rather than the birthright, so little did he value it. This "pottage" was almost certainly the food which, in the eastern deserts, is given to a man who is dying of thirst. If he is given water immediately (which is what, naturally, he wants) it is liable to kill him. He first eats a kind of gruel, and then it is safe for him to drink. Esau came in faint and begged Jacob to feed him: he was at his last gasp (Genesis 25:29-32). Jacob refused, unless he was given the birthright -- which suggests, incidentally, that Jacob was even more mean than we customarily imagine him to have been, for Esau would die if he could not get the pottage. But for Esau it was a straightforward choice: survival or the birthright. He did not hesitate and by his choice he condemned himself.

The writer to the Hebrews feels that his readers are in danger of the same error. We make this error if we treat God's declared intention to make us holy in the same way as Esau treated the birthright -- as something unimportant compared with our own survival or well-being; as no more than an optional extra in the Christian life. To judge by the early verses of Hebrews 12, the Christians to whom it was addressed were saying, in effect, 'But this Christian life is uncomfortable; it's hard work, so we don't think that we will bother to go on in the school of Christ.' On the contrary, urges the writer: without holiness no man shall see the Lord (verse 14). There is nothing optional about holiness; without it, there can be nothing but loss, and loss as irredeemable as Esau's. For if God commits Himself in a special way to people; if He chooses them and lavishes upon them special care and training, then the corollary is that they must take special [52/53] care of the life and the purposes with which He has invested them. And we must all help each other in the pursuit of holiness (vv.12-15), lest the attitude of one infect another. The Esau attitude can so easily spread -- particularly with a Jacob or two about to provoke it!


The equal and alternative error when we are confronted with God's process of training is to "refuse" as did the Children of Israel. The word the writer was using in the Greek occurs three times in the chapter: twice in verse 25: "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not, when they refused him that warned them on earth ...", and once in verse 19, where it is translated: "they that heard intreated that no word more should be spoken unto them." In each case, it has the sense of to 'beg off' some event or some responsibility. For the Children of Israel, the events of Sinai were altogether too much; they brought the relationship of God to man on to far too personal a basis. The people preferred a God who remained aloof, remote and silent. When He appeared before them in glory and made demands upon them their reaction was, quite simply, 'Count me out'. And with that they condemned themselves and their descendants to a second-hand knowledge of God in perpetuity.

At that, they had an excuse! The sights and sounds of Sinai may well have been overpowering; even Moses was scared. But for us who follow on later, there is no such excuse. In the light of all the revelation that men have received since the days of Sinai, we know now what lay behind that "blackness and darkness". We know that the mountain of God is not forbidding but accessible; that it is full of His creatures enjoying His presence and, best of all, that access to it is held open for us by the Lord Jesus, whose blood secures our acceptance and our righteousness. Knowing all this, how dare we 'beg off'? Rather let us, says the writer, have thankfulness (verse 28, margin) -- thankfulness that God has provided this access; that there is a day of grace and a school for our training; that there is a divine intention to make us holy. For, in the last analysis, Sinai was not an illusion. Our God is a God of grace. He is also a God of consuming fire.



T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: Revelation 21 & 22

THE next great event in God's calendar is the return in glory of His Son Jesus Christ. It is the consummation of that coming and the final revelation of the glory of Christ which is shown to us in the form of this heavenly city, "coming down from God out of heaven". This bridal city represents the sum of God's working through the ages. Its many symbols display the features of His Son as they have been wrought into the people whom He has taken out of the nations for His name, a marvellous union of Christ and His Church which has a timeless task of ministering life to the universe. The nations are to walk in its light, and they are to find the maintenance of their health from the leaves of its tree; kings are to bring their treasure into this city, and God's glory will provide its radiance.

John twice affirms that the city was shown to him by God -- "He showed me ...". Perhaps as we humbly read and meditate God will show us something of its significance and importance, and by means of its symbols give us a clearer idea of the unseen and eternal things which we are to keep in view so that "our light affliction" may work for us "more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).


The Authorised Version makes a break between the first two verses of Revelation 22 which is misleading. The Revised Version indicates that the river is in the midst of the street of this holy city. The single street is central; a river runs down the middle of the street, and the tree of life grows on either side of the river. Nothing is in the plural, not even this tree, though it is found on both sides of the river. Up to this point things have been in the plural. Life has many ways of expressing itself, as the many trees of Ezekiel's river show (Ezekiel 47:4). At the end, however, everything is gathered up into an absolute unity: one city, one street, one river and one tree. It is a symbolic reminder that at the last all will be summed up into a perfect oneness, the oneness of Christ. [53/54]

Such unity can only be realised in the fellowship of the Spirit, but this is surely not only for the future but for today. The city is being spiritually formed now, and the work is going on now in preparation for the great consummation which it reveals; if the Church is to be God's metropolis with an eternal vocation at the centre of the universe, then here and now it must learn oneness with and in Christ. One street! This oneness, right down at the very core of the Church, is basic to its present witness as well as to its eternal vocation. The one street has one river, which means that from the inner realm of fellowship with Christ there is an outflow of life. The city is, of course, the ultimate goal to which the Holy Spirit is moving, but the same law holds good for all time. Our vocation on this earth here and now is not primarily to engage in a number of good works, but to provide a way by which the life of Christ may flow out to others. How can this happen finally if it is not beginning now? How can we enthuse about ultimate unity if we are not giving diligence here and now to keep the unity of the Spirit?

This being the case it hardly needs to be pointed out that the enemy's strategic movement against the purpose of God in the Church is to keep that Church divided, basically divided. He does not mind mere professions of unity, nor is he unduly troubled by external illusions of unity; but what he is set against is the deep-down inwrought oneness which will release God's great river of life to flow out to a needy world. "I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife" were the words of introduction which led John to see the great heavenly and holy Jerusalem in its glorious unity. Undivided love for Christ, as the love of the bride for her husband, is the only sure counter to Satan's wiles, and the only basis for real oneness.


The city was measured with a golden reed, everything in it being seen to conform to God's measurements. The whole idea is divine, and it can only be measured by divine standards, for it is to express divine purpose. Our calling in Christ makes many demands upon us, but if we can only view them in the light of things eternal, it will be much easier to face them. Not that it is ever easy for our human nature to be dealt with in accordance with this golden rod of divine standards but we can more readily bear the cost if we keep God's end in view. An outstanding characteristic of the city is its absolute clearness. This is true of its way of life, for the water of its river is as clear as crystal. It is true of its substance, which is of pure gold made like unto clear glass. It is true of its light, which is described as being "like a jasper stone, clear as crystal". This stone is also said to be "most precious", which suggests that such a condition of transparency is very precious to the Lord.

It also implies that we, His people, will find it a costly quality, one which can only be experienced as we accept discipline under the hand of God, and are given a spiritual education which makes us refined and Christlike. This clearness is not merely negative, a sort of stainless condition, but it is unshadowed and unclouded light. God is light: Christ is the light of the world, and the ministry of the Church is both to receive and to transmit His light. The city is radiant with the glory of God. What is the opposite of glory? It is darkness, cloudiness, murkiness; it is all that realm which is not clear, but mixed and shadowy. If you have had to deal with a person whom you cannot trust because of hidden elements which if not actually deceitful somehow lack clear transparency, you will have found it an unpleasant experience, the very opposite of glory. When the glory of God fills everywhere, then there are no such questions or shadows, but perfect, open confidence. "In Him is no darkness at all ..." (1 John 1:5). This glory is ours, by grace, and must govern all our ways.

All the portals of the city are of pearl. Pearls are a parable of the preciousness which results from suffering, since they are formed as a result of the agony of the host creatures. These pearls are the only gates. There is no other way into this city than by suffering love, for the elect people who are to reign with Christ are those who have first shared something of His sufferings. It is no use our opting for a casual or easy way into fellowship of this kind, for the love of Christ, purified from all mixture and precious to God demands a committal to Him for His supreme purpose to be fulfilled even though the cost may be fiery trial or deep travail. Let us not be deterred by the cost though, but keep our eyes on the outcome -- "having the glory of God". This is our destiny.


A further characteristic of this embodiment of God's thought is the fact that the city has a wall [54/55] "great and high". Much is said about this wall, with repeated mention of its foundations, its dimensions and its strength. It seems to depict the city's distinctiveness. It is true that walls are often used for purposes of defence, but as such a need could never arise with the heavenly city, we conclude that the wall represents a demarcation of what God wishes to be distinguished in a special way. Do you not agree that there is much weakness in Christianity today just by reason of a lack in distinctiveness of testimony and life? Not that God will allow us to think in terms of spiritual conceit or imagined superiority, but it is important that we should not lose that sense of definite purpose and set-apartness which should always govern the life of His redeemed people.

The wall is beautiful; it is high; and it is strong. It marks off in clear delineation that which has special meaning and value to God.


"Coming down from God out of heaven, adorned ...". If this city is to be the embodiment of eternal values, if it is not a thing but a people, then something must have been happening to shape and prepare them so that such a condition could be possible. You will notice that the wall of the city is adorned, and also that the adornment of the city itself is spoken of as being suitable for a bride. The wall is no ugly demarcation but its very foundations are adorned with all manner of precious stones. The costly gems are simply symbols of the many-sided preciousness of Christ. "For you therefore that believe is the preciousness" (1 Peter 2:7), the very preciousness of Christ Himself.

And the bride is also adorned. Her adornment is something more than external splendour which can be put on and taken off; her beauty consists of those inward qualities which delight the heart of her heavenly Bridegroom. "The king's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold" (Psalm 45:13). We are apt to pay such attention to externalities, even in spiritual things, but God's objective is a people whose inner life is beautiful with the pure gold of Christ's loveliness, for Christ is coming "to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe" (2 Thessalonians 1:10).

If these adornments come down from heaven, how did they first get there? They are the outcome of our walk with God here on earth. We live our lives down here, and although we frequently get discouraged, we do enter into new experiences of God's grace and learn more of His Son. The Word teaches us that something is happening all the time in relation to our life down here which is equivalent to treasure which is going ahead of us and waiting for us to follow. As we proceed on our way with the Lord there are heavenly values accumulating for the future. Did not the Lord Jesus tell us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20)? So while there is a temporal life, there are also values being stored up in heaven, features of Christ which will adorn His city. Our spiritual growth, our spiritual characteristics are, as it were, going ahead of us. They are eternal: they are not of time. And all this preparation is going on, so we are told, "while we look ... at the things which are not seen ... but eternal".

"Adorned as a bride for her husband". What the Lord is doing in us now as daily we learn new lessons of grace and humility, will be manifested in that day, and although this may bring gratification to us and joy to others, it is primarily meant for the pleasure of Christ. The Church's spiritual adornment is to be the reward to our Bridegroom-Redeemer for all His patient, suffering love.

The city descends from heaven, that is, it has been conformed to heaven. It has not been turned out of heaven because it is not suitable, but comes down to bring heaven's values into the rest of God's universe. We must measure everything down here by values which are heavenly and eternal. This brings us back again to the golden reed of God's standards, the reed which measures everything in the light of God's purpose of showing the greatness of His Son to a wondering universe by means of the Church which is in living, loving communion with Him. This is the end of all things. This is where the Bible closes. And this is our vocation in Christ.


Poul Madsen

MORE is written about man in our day than in any earlier generation. Children are written about, teenagers are written about, married couples are written about, and old people are written about; educationalists, psychologists, psychiatrists send out a flood of books, while criminologists, [55/56] sociologists and sexologists are not a whit behind them. Never has man been given so much good advice, never has more been done for man -- and never has there been greater confusion about him.

This confusion is due to the fact that the great majority of these specialists ignore the three basic characteristics of man:

(1) He is created in the image of God;

(2) He has fallen into sin;

(3) Although he wants to do good, he is not able to do so.

To write about man without knowing these facts results in a situation where the blind is leading the blind. Oh, the wasted efforts! If people had taken the trouble to read what a real specialist like Paul has written, they might have saved themselves trouble, and brought some help to a needy world. There is no truer description of man than that which Paul gave in Romans 7.

"when the commandment came ...."

"I was alive apart from the law once" (verse 9). So it is with every child. It is a wonderful time of innocence and spontaneity. The child follows its impulses and ideas without consideration of the consequences. If it is hungry, it cries for food -- if it is tired, it lies down to sleep -- if it is unhappy, it sheds tears -- if it wants something, it reaches out after it. The conception of law is utterly foreign and unknown to every child. Then one day its mother says, 'You mustn't'! The first time these words sound in a person's ears, history is being written; a new period begins; one which is not only completely new but also accompanied by pain and bitter struggles. "When the commandment came" -- this is how Paul describes the event which introduces this fatal period.

What happens in a child's life when the commandment comes?

(1) The spontaneous, simple life of the child passes, never to return. It now begins to understand that some things are right and others are wrong. The law has come, never to depart.

(2) The child feels an irresistible urge to do what its mother forbids. Sin springs to life. Sin is strengthened by the mother's prohibition; sin receives an opportunity through the mother's command; what mother said was good, but strangely enough it does not provoke in the child a desire for that good thing, but produces a contrary reaction.

The commandment came and man was exposed, the exposure not being flattering, for far from being a free agent, he was shown to be a slave of sin. "To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do" (verses 18 & 19). There is no truer description of man than this. This is what we are all like, whether we want to be or not. We see that which is perfect; we hear God's wonderful law; we decide to do it with all our heart and rise up towards it, but we find that our wings are clipped, and we fall back to the ground defeated.

Indeed, even worse -- we are driven towards that which we hate. When we summon all our strength against doing wrong, we are drawn to it as if by some irresistible magnet, even though we are ashamed of what we are doing. Our wings are clipped and our tendency is downwards.

Since this is the case, are we guilty? Some will say, No. They try to escape the tension of a troubled conscience by arguing that it is not really their fault, for they cannot help being as they are. They argue that a righteous God will not blame them, since they are only human and so doomed to failure from the start. This argument, however, will never satisfy an honest conscience. Those who resign themselves to such an idea will end by asserting that sin is not sin. They set aside the law of God, or try to do so, but God maintains that His law must not be so treated, for it is perfect and cannot be ignored. The problem seems insoluble. There is a law in man's members which makes him a prisoner, and this law of sin functions with an overwhelming power.

"O wretched man that I am!"

This condemnation which presses like a weight upon the tormented conscience is intolerable. Incessant accusations and heart oppression act deep down in the soul like a wound which cannot be healed. Such is man's soul sickness; it is most serious and threatens to be fatal. The more he struggles to please God, the more he fails. He thinks that he has conquered a certain temptation, only to find that it rises up again and overpowers him worse than ever, leaving him prostrate and in despair. [56/57]

'Guilt complex', say many modern psychologists, 'we can help you to get rid of that. You must accept yourself as you are; if you do that you will be free from the false guilt complex which is worrying you'. But to accept himself in this way is just what an awakened man cannot do. He can get no peace of conscience by this explanation. Condemnation does not disappear -- he knows that there is something shameful about his sin. Moreover he has to admit that when he feels condemned he is weaker than ever against temptation, for condemnation saps his courage and deprives him of vitality. He feels that he is condemned to defeat after defeat in a miserable existence for the rest of his life, and cries out, "O wretched man that I am"! (verse 24).

"... now no condemnation ..."

If there is any hope for him at all it must begin with a true and real deliverance from condemnation, for while that persists his soul is in prison. And such liberation from condemnation can never come by excusing sin, but must be soundly based on facts which end all questions of accusation and guilt. This is the liberation freely offered by the gospel, and unobtainable elsewhere.

"There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). This is not an explanation but a proclamation. It is not some psychological trick or psychiatric therapy but solid truth, proclaimed as a fact by the gospel. Paul insists that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 'Now' is the opposite of 'then'. 'Now' is the dispensation which dawned with the finished work of Christ. 'Then' was the time of law, but 'now' is the day of grace.

This word 'now' is a key word in the letter to the Romans. Among other references we find, "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God" (6:22) and, "But now we have become discharged from the law ..." (7:6). How could Paul write such words to Christians whom he did not know? Ought he not to have waited until he could examine their lives more closely? No, for Paul was a preacher, a preacher of Christ, speaking the word of faith. He does not call to self examination and to self analysis, but to faith. He speaks in the power of the Spirit, bringing a glad message on God's behalf. He is not a moralist lifting a warning finger, but an evangelist glorifying Christ. In this capacity he tells us that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He proclaims it before he explains it. He speaks to man's inner being, and lifts it up to the heights of faith. He turns man away from his own hopelessness to faith in the Lord. So long as we struggle with ourselves, we sink. As soon as we are gripped by Christ through the hearing of faith, we are set free.

"... God, sending His own Son ..."

'But am I in Christ?', the anxious will enquire, and will immediately turn to the hopeless occupation of an endless circling round itself. For the moment Paul does not directly take up this question, but continues to speak about what God has done in Christ, knowing that it is of supreme importance to get man to stop being self-occupied. So Paul continues: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8:2-3). Here also he writes of something which is a fact, whatever the Roman Christians felt like. This liberation is a work of God: it has happened. We are not asked to help, but only to accept the divine message of liberation. But it can only be accepted by faith -- by faith alone, in purity, in truth, in joy and in the clear air of the Spirit. Here the soul can breathe freely again, for it is set free. Yes, we are in Christ Jesus, and we are not there by furious soul activity and stirring up of our emotions, but by simple God-given faith.

Now we can say with Paul, "what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh ...". God did. God did it! Paul knew this, and so was able to write to the Romans without any hesitation, being convinced that although he did not know them personally he could assure them that they were free.

After this he turns from the preaching to the explanation, showing how God did this tremendous act of rightly removing all condemnation. God did it by sending His own Son. Jesus is the answer. He is the divine solution to the otherwise insoluble problem. He came as a man, and subjected Himself to our conditions. He suffered daily, for just to experience our conditions was indescribable suffering to Him. His sufferings culminated on the cross, when God condemned sin in the flesh by executing the sentence on Christ who was there made sin for us. Without any help [57/58] or credit on your part, God has fully and finally condemned sin -- your sin -- and nothing more is to be done, for nothing more needs to be done. It is a complete work. Do you really think that by moaning and groaning for a time, drawing attention to yourself and all your misery, you can bring any pleasure to the God who long before you began to sin, atoned for your sin and made you free? God does not lie! His good news is not an illusion. He is our Father. He loves us.

"... they that are after the Spirit ..."

In this way we do not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit. Paul writes that God condemned sin in the flesh "that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit" (8:4). So he takes it for granted that the Romans, like himself, walk after the Spirit. He does not raise the question which would revive further anxiety, 'Are you sure that you are walking after the Spirit?', for he is an evangelist, a preacher, a bringer of good tidings. He speaks and writes the word of faith, the word which creates what it says, the word which turns our attention away from ourselves and unto Jesus.

When we walk in faith, with our eyes fixed on the Lord, then we walk in the Spirit. It is as simple as that. When we walk with our eyes off the Lord, occupied with the question of whether we are walking after the Spirit, then we are walking in the flesh. Walking in the simple way of the Spirit, we are delightfully free from ourselves, and then -- surprising and miraculous as it may seem -- the requirements of the law are fulfilled not by us but in us. The requirements of the law are simply love. Where love is in control, the law is fulfilled, where love reigns, temptations have lost their power. Here is a new 'mechanism', a new law of life, a new power -- it is the unconquerable love-power of the gospel. Such a man is man as God meant him to be, the sum total of God's work of creation and of redemption.

"... if Christ be in you ..."

That is too good to be true! That is too cheap, too easy! These were the objections of Paul's day and they still come from people who have a good opinion of themselves, and are too proud to live the gospel way. Their gibes win hearers, especially among those with a weak conscience who easily come under their power and are troubled by their seemingly pious question, 'Are you quite sure that you are walking after the Spirit'? This is, of course, an important consideration -- much too important for them or any other man to deal with, so we must consult God about it. What does the Spirit say through the Word? Quite simply "Ye are not in the flesh but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you" (8:9).

Again Paul is speaking to some of whom he only knows that they believe in Jesus. They belong to the Lord Jesus and therefore have the Spirit, for "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his". They belong to the Lord Jesus because they believe in Him. These are facts. What do doubt and timidity help; what do 'pious' and 'humble' unbelief help? He urges them to look to the Lord; he speaks the word of faith; he is still an evangelist, a preacher of good tidings -- he is not a moralist with accusing finger and frowning face.

We are in the Spirit; therefore we can walk after the Spirit, if we will only walk by faith, not by feelings nor by unhealthy self-preoccupation and continual self-condemnation. The new 'mechanism', the law of new life, begins to work whenever we appropriate the fact that condemnation has been removed for ever. The impossible now becomes wonderfully possible; relieved from tensions we have courage and inspiration for the future. This is abundant life, and it makes us witnesses not by advertising ourselves but because the life within us itself speaks.

This, then, is what Paul has to say about release from the human dilemma. More than that, this is how God describes His own freedmen. If we find it difficult to recognise ourselves, then we must listen again to the truth. The gospel is truth. It sets free.



Michael W. Poole

I WONDER what sort of feelings you get when your parents are reading your school report. Do you feel that at last the moment has come when they can see how hard you have worked and how well you have done, or do you have the feeling that you are going to come in for [58/59] grumbling and criticism because you have done badly? One report which I received when I was a boy made me go all hot and cold, so much so that I can still remember it word for word. I was in the upper sixth at the time, and we had just had a new master for mathematics. Now maths was not my strong subject, but even so I had a big surprise, for the report ran 'Very disappointing indeed. He will have to do a lot better than this to have any chance of success'. I had never had as bad a report as that, and it shook me so much that I worked hard for most of the Easter holidays. Perhaps that was really what the master hoped I would do. Anyway, it had the desired effect, and in due course I passed my exam.

Some years later the position changed completely, for I became a teacher myself; so now I was the one who had to write the reports. During the years I have been kept busy doing this, and having made a quick calculation, reckon that since the day that I filled in my first report I must have written about 9,000. It makes me feel quite tired to think about it!

Most teachers are conscientious about writing reports, but being only human, and often very busy, some occasional slips do occur. Sometimes a teacher forgets who the person is when they are filling in a report and, instead of finding out, puts down a comment without much meaning such as, 'could do better', which is nearly always true of anybody, or 'trying' which might be true in more senses than one. Happily such thoughtless comments are rare, for most teachers take great interest in their pupils, and if you get 'could do better' on your report it almost certainly means that it is the considered opinion of your teacher and should help you to try harder.

Last summer I had to write a very different sort of report. Having finished marking several hundred Advanced Level Physics papers, I had to send in an account of the work I had been doing in the form of what is called an examiner's report. This was a statement about the overall performance of the candidates, including among other things a comment on which questions were answered best. Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks after sending it in, I was sent back a report -- a report on my marking! Clearly I was wrong to think that I had reached the stage when I wrote all the reports, for here was one written about me.

One of the highest honours a scientist can receive is to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of science, and if you see the letters F.R.S. after anybody's name you can be certain that they really are experts in their subject. Yet at the headquarters of the Royal Society is a library where are to be found reports which not only tell of the work of past Fellows but also include personal details of the sort of people that they were. So even at such an exalted level, it seems that no-one can escape having reports written about them.

All this leads up to what is said about some Old Testament men and women, which is that "these all, having obtained a good report through faith ..." (Hebrews 11:39). This was a report not written by men, who might make mistakes, but by God Himself who is the perfect judge.

I wonder how our reports will read. If we were able to write them ourselves we might find it difficult, if not quite impossible, to be absolutely honest. There would be some things about which we would like to write a lot, but others which we should not want anybody else to know of. God, however, does not hide anything -- He gives a true report. He certainly did in the case of king David, telling of his failures as well as his successes. Nevertheless God's report shows that He said that David was a man "who followed me with all his heart" (1 Kings 14:8). This was because when he failed, he confessed it, asked for forgiveness and was able to walk on with God 'by faith'.

This was not only true of David but of all those who are said to have received a good report by faith. Mistakes they made, yes; sins they committed, yes. But by faith they proved God's power to forgive and deliver. If they obtained a good report through faith, so can we if we trust in the Lord with all our hearts. This is the only way to be sure of having God's 'good report'.



Harry Foster

THE Israelites feared Moses but they loved David. He was their great ruler, but he was also their beloved friend. He was the Old Testament "King of Love". Sadly enough in subsequent history his dynasty fell on evil days until by New Testament times it had lost all semblance of [59/60] royalty, but even so everybody knew that God had promised David "sure mercies", and so all believed that ultimately One would appear who would be the true seed of David, not only in genealogy but in spiritual succession (Psalm 89:35-37).

Then came the Roman census, miraculously timed by God's over-ruling providence to ensure that the long-awaited Son of David should be born in Bethlehem, David's city (Luke 2:11). Gabriel had told Mary that her child was destined to inherit David's throne, with an endless and unlimited kingdom (Luke 1:32-33) and Zacharias had proclaimed that the babe in the virgin's womb represented the fulfilment of all the Old Testament prophecies "in the house of his servant David" (Luke 1:69).

As Jesus grew up He showed no intention of adapting Himself to a merely nationalistic or earthly form of sovereignty, yet He allowed Himself to be addressed as the Son of David without protest (Matthew 9:27 & 20:30-31). It seems that the people found in Him such a combination of kindness and authority that they felt that the most fitting title for Him was the Son of David (Matthew 12:23).

As his life's work moved towards its culmination He was welcomed as the Son of David both by the crowds in the streets of Jerusalem and by the children who cried out their hosannahs to Him in the temple (Matthew 21:9 & 15). He accepted this title, for He had every right to it, but in a memorable encounter with His critics He proved that He was David's Lord as well as David's Son (Matthew 22:42-45). So by this double reference to David greater emphasis is given to Christ's kingship -- He is the true King of Love.

His kingship is universal, for it is intimately involved in that gospel which is the power of God to all the nations, including the Jews (Romans 1:3). The gospel is the good news that Christ has been raised from the dead to be our KING as well as our Saviour. This was the essence of what Paul liked to describe as 'his' gospel, the fact that the Davidic promises have been guaranteed to all believers everywhere by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are all involved in those "sure mercies of David" (Acts 13:34) and must be careful always to remember the universal kingship of our risen Lord (2 Timothy 2:8).

The modern nation of Israel would re-act with scandalised contempt at the idea of the rule of Jesus Christ making them the central nation of the earth, and yet this is what is destined to take place. Earthly Israel is included, too, in that vast cosmic kingdom of the great Son of David; the smaller expression in a limited sphere of Palestine having its proper place in the larger context of the Son's universal rule. Unlike blinded Israel, we have had our eyes opened to know the Lord of the churches as He who has "the key of David" (Revelation 3:7).

After the conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Roman authorities were so anxious to ensure that the Jews should never have another claimant to their throne that they gave orders that all who were left of David's lineage should be hunted down and put to death. They were too late! Resurrection had already put David's Heir beyond the reach of man and devil. So while some poor unfortunates of that royal family were being hounded down and murdered, the great Son of David was already installed on His throne in heaven. The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, had received the title deeds of God's universe (Revelation 5:5)

Israel's hope and ours is the coming again in glory of the great King. He who is "the root and offspring of David" is also "the bright and morning star" whose last word to the churches was "Surely I come quickly". Knowing Him as the Son of David we gladly answer, "Even so comes Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:16 & 20).

[A note at the bottom of page 60:]

A conference will be held at Villar-d'Arene in the French Alps from September 9th to 17th. The speakers (D.V.) will be Brothers Poul Madsen and Harry Foster.

Those interested should apply for further information to:

M. Paul Vaiss, Boite Postale 14, F.78290 CROISSY, France [60/ibc]


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