"... 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. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1972 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster




Angus I. Kinnear

EARLY in July this year reliable news reached the West that on 1st June, at the age of seventy, Watchman Nee of Foochow passed into the presence of his Lord. At the time he was, we are told, somewhere in Anhwei Province, several hundred miles up the Yangtze. Less than eight weeks had elapsed since the completion of his twenty years' confinement in prison and labour camp. There seems no means of knowing whether he was ever aware of the powerful impact of his earlier preaching upon the lives of Christians round the world during this period.

Older readers of A Witness and A Testimony will remember the transcriptions over the initials W.N. of a series of addresses given in 1938 at Helsingor, Denmark, under the title "The Normal Christian Life". We too at the Christian Fellowship Centre, Honor Oak, London, were among the few Christian groups in Europe to hear, over a brief period in that and the following year, the inspired preaching of this gifted and clear-thinking Chinese brother. It is safe to say that all those who remember him thank God for his gracious personality and for his truly Christ-centred teaching and exhortation.

It was in February 1920 that a Chinese woman evangelist was preaching Christ in Foochow. The resulting dramatic conversion of Watchman's mother from a revolutionary agitator for Sun Yat-sen to a humble follower of the Saviour induced him, the eldest son, to attend the meetings in search of an explanation. A few days later, in a change of heart no less complex, he himself found the Lord Jesus as Saviour and King. From that day he made the Scriptures his special study, and set himself to bear witness to his Lord by life and word, preaching the good news first among his fellow students at the C.M.S. Trinity College, Foochow, and later more widely through the southern provinces.

Working from Pagoda Anchorage, Foochow, he was soon faced with the problem of what to do with his village converts. Not a few Chinese of his generation were finding the confusing variety of Western church traditions ill-adapted to their people's situation. Watchman and his young co-workers sought instead a simpler and more flexible pattern of church fellowship. (In this his reading of the New Testament was for a time coloured by the writings of the earlier Brethren.) By 1928 the centre of his work had moved to Shanghai, with well-attended meetings at Hardoon Road and a widely distributed devotional magazine.

The ensuing years saw household churches spring up far and wide throughout China, all with a strong evangelistic witness. The simple message of redemption and new life in Christ Jesus met a deep hunger among Chinese of all classes. His Rethinking Our Missions (English translation, Concerning Our Missions, Shanghai and London, 1939) indicates the point then reached in their strategic thinking. It was to be a long pilgrimage and a painful one, for because its methods were untraditional the 'Little Flock' (as the movement was nicknamed from the title of its hymn-book) was viewed with caution and even hostility by some in the establishment of the Western foreign missions. There were always those among them, however, who saw in Nee a Christian thinker and [81/82] missionary strategist of outstanding spiritual insight. On his visit to Britain in 1938-39 he enjoyed stimulating fellowship with Christian leaders like Mr. Norman Baker of the China Inland Mission, while particularly in Mr. T. Austin-Sparks, editor of A Witness and A Testimony , he made a close friend. And few who were present at the Keswick Convention of July 1938 failed to be moved by his prayer at its great missionary meeting.

With the ending in 1946 of the Japanese war, Watchman Nee began an intensive training of young workers to carry the gospel throughout China. His plan to evanvelise its unreached cities by group-migration of Christian believers into the far interior (an idea based on Acts 8:4) seems in retrospect an inspired preparation for the Church's enforced dispersal so soon to follow. After 1948, in a statement perhaps deliberately exaggerated, he was credited by the People's Government with heading the largest Christian denomination in the country.

But it was the Little Flock's very independence of foreign links and foreign support that enraged the Party representatives in the Christian Three Self Patriotic Movement, for it did not accord with their doctrine that all Christianity but their own was imperialist inspired. They framed Nee therefore, and he was tried on a series of wholly extravagant 'criminal' charges and sentenced to twenty years, which he served from April 10th 1952, mostly in or near Shanghai. Stories of his gross mutilation during this period are to be discounted, but if any positive Christian witness was possible it can only have been to his captors. His death this year was from a long-standing heart condition. His wife, Charity, visited him regularly in prison until her own death in October 1971. They had no children. A single final message from Watchman Nee himself, written in his own hand after her passing, mentions his ill-health but characteristically adds, "The inward joy surpasses everything."

Since 1966, throughout the People's Republic of Mao Tse-tung, all places of worship have been closed. On the surface there exists no longer a Church in China. What survives is hidden and informal. It is also surely still pilgrim, cast for its very existence upon God. Through the recent spread in the West of Watchman Nee's devotional writings, his name became for many a focus for their prayers on behalf of the oppressed people of God. I believe he would have urged us both to step-up and to broaden the scope of those prayers. We thank God from our hearts for the witness of this one dear brother in Christ. We must thank Him all the more, and with renewed hope, for the anonymous multitude who, like him disdaining release, conspire to set forth Christ crucified and risen and exalted, still triumphant over all. "The Lord sat as king at the Flood; yes indeed, the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever!"

The following is an extract from a testimony given at
Honor Oak Christian Fellowship Centre by Miss Joy Betteridge.

AFTER previous years of service for Christ in China, I returned to Shanghai in 1948. At that time Brother Watchman Nee was holding Workers' Conferences at a mountain resort near Foochow, his old home. The workers came from all over China and from other places in the Far East, and I was present at two of them. On the second occasion I was taking part as one of the workers, and it was then that the Communists came so near to Foochow that the conference had to be abandoned.

Brother Nee told me that those responsible felt that I should move off at once to Hong Kong, adding that if I had strong convictions that I should not go they would take responsibility for me. Much as I would have liked to have stayed, I felt it right to take this advice, and so I made one of a party which sailed immediately for Hong Kong. Mrs. Nee was one of the party. I had a great regard for her. She was practical in the home, and a quietly helpful influence among all the sisters. Later Brother Nee himself came to Hong Kong to stay with his wife for a while, but then they returned voluntarily to Shanghai, never to come out again.

I did not have many personal touches with him, for he was not a man for much light conversation, but I greatly profited from his ministry of the Word. At the conferences he always wore a dark blue Chinese cotton gown. I never saw him with any notes. He would walk up and down, with his hands behind his back, just speaking from his heart. He would invite questions after his messages to the workers, and his answers were always full of spiritual value. Every morning there would be one session given over to individual testimonies [82/83] from workers. They would speak freely for half an hour, after which the others were invited to give their criticisms and finally Brother Nee would sum up for the benefit of the one concerned. I remember how nervous I felt when I was asked to do this, but I did it, though with fear and trembling. Among other things which Brother Nee said at the end was, "We thank God for all that our sister knows. It will be good if she is led into some experiences where she discovers what she does not know." I understand now the point of that criticism and thank God for all His way with me since then. When inviting me there he had said "If you are only just with us, it will be a testimony that God's Church is not just Chinese". He never liked the use of the phrase 'Chinese brothers and sisters' preferring 'brothers and sisters in China', for he affirmed that all born-again believers are citizens of heaven.

I remember that last meeting at Foochow before we all scattered. Brother Nee knew that he must remain in Shanghai for the sake of the church there, and therefore at that conference he made the decision, regardless of the cost, which he already knew would be very great. I saw God's grace, as well as sorrow and foreboding, on his face as we commended Him to God for that. He could have stayed out, but he chose to stay in. And I remember that we sang a hymn which he had translated into Chinese from an English poem. He loved to sing it and we did so in the light of the fact that we were to be separated the next morning. A rough rendering of it includes such phrases as, 'If my way lead me to suffering: if Thou commandest me to pass through adversity, may there be intimate fellowship between us through it all. The longer the trial, the sweeter the fellowship. If earth's happiness grows less, I pray Thee give me more of heaven. Although the heart may be sorrowful, may the spirit still praise. If Thou dost separate me from the ties of earth's sweetness, may the link between Thee and me be more precious. Although the road may be lonely, I pray Thee to be my Friend, encouraging me so that I can finish the course. Lord I trust Thy gracious strength, hoping always to be a clean vessel through which flows Thy life.'


A message given at Honor Oak by Brother Watchman Nee
and published in "A Witness and a Testimony" May 1939.

Reading: Mark 14:3-9

THE LORD has ordained that the story of Mary anointing Him with the costly ointment should always accompany the preaching of the gospel. We know the story well. Judging by the story in connection with her brother's resurrection, we know that the family was not an especially wealthy one. The sisters had to work in the house themselves, and one of them, Mary, had an alabaster box with three hundred pence worth of ointment in it, and with a stroke she broke it and poured the whole of that costly nard upon the head of the Lord. According to human reasoning it was altogether too much, even for the Lord. That is why Judas took the lead with the other disciples in thinking that Mary was wasting something (John 12:4-5).

Now we come to the word which the Lord wants to emphasise at this time, the word 'waste'. What is waste? Waste simply means giving too much. If a shilling will do and you give a pound, it is waste. If two ounces will do and you give a kilogramme, it is a waste. A waste means that you give something too much for something too little. A waste means that the one who is receiving the something is not worth so much. Yet we are dealing here with something the Lord said was to go out with the gospel, wherever the gospel should be preached. With the preaching of the gospel the Lord is out to have a result that corresponds with Mary's action here; that is, for people to come out and 'waste' themselves on Him. That is what He is after.

Now we must look at the question from two angles, that of Judas and that of the other disciples. They all thought it to be a waste. To Judas, who had never called our Lord the Lord, everything that was poured upon Him was waste. Even water would have been waste. To the world, the service of the Lord, and our driving of ourselves to Him is a pure waste. 'Such and such a man would have made good in the world if he were not a Christian', is a sentiment that is frequently expressed. For anyone with natural talents to be a Christian, to serve the Lord, is deemed to be pure waste. [83/84]

So thought Judas. 'We could manage better with the money. We could give it to charity; we could do some social service; we could help people in a more practical way. Why pour it down at the feet of Jesus? As to yourself, can you not find a better employment of your life?' That is what Judas was thinking, and that is what the world is thinking. It is too much to give yourself to the Lord! But no! when once our eyes have been opened to the worth of the Lord, nothing is too good for Him.

But it is upon the reaction of the other disciples that I want most to dwell; for they affect us more than does Judas. We do not mind very much what the world is saying, but we do mind what those other disciples are saying who ought to have understood, yet did not. We mark that they said the same thing as Judas; and not only so, but they were moved to indignation, saying, "To what purpose is this waste ...?"

Now here is the whole question of waste, and of what the Lord is after. Today, even amongst Christians, there can be found much of that spirit that wants to give as little as possible to the Lord and yet to get as much as possible from Him. The prevailing thought today is of being used, as though that were the one thing that mattered. That my little rubber band should be stretched to the very limit seems all important. But this is not the Lord's mind. The Lord wants us to be used, yes; but what He is after is that we pour all we have, ourselves, to Him, and if that be all, that is enough. It is not a question of whether the poor have been helped or not, but of whether the Lord has been satisfied. The question is not one of working for Him, my friends, but of service to Him, of ministering to the Lord. That is what He is after, that I should give Him my all, even though people should say, You are doing nothing! My service to the Lord is not on commercial lines. No! my service to the Lord is to please Him. There is many a meeting we might take, many a convention at which we might speak, many a campaign in which we might share, but this is not the first consideration. That my usefulness should be brought to the full is not what the Lord is after, but His concern is rather with my position at His feet and my anointing of His head. What I have as an alabaster box, the most precious thing, my whole life, I give it all up to the Lord. It seems as if it is a waste, but that is what He is after.

May I tell you something? One thing some of us have come to learn is that in the divine service the principle of 'waste' is the principle of power, whereas the principle of 'usefulness' is the very principle of scattering. The real usefulness in the hand of the Lord is 'waste'. The more you think you could do, the more you employ your gifts to the very limit -- and perhaps beyond the limit -- that you will find to be the principle of the world, and not the principle of the Lord. I knew a sister in the Lord, now in His presence, who was very greatly used of Him. But my first concern about her was that she did not seem to be being used. Every time I said to myself, Why did she not get out and take some meetings, get somewhere, do something? It was a waste to live in a small village without anything happening. Sometimes when I went to see her, I almost shouted at her: 'No-one knows the Lord as you do. You know the Book in a most living way. Do you not see the need all around you? Why don't you do something? It is a waste of time, a waste of energy, a waste of money, a waste of everything, just sitting here and doing nothing!' But she was the one who helped me most of all. The highest thing is not just to be moving about. I do not mean to say that we are going to do nothing, but the first thing is the Lord Himself, not the work. That is what He is after.

So the Lord said, 'Why trouble ye her? She has wrought a good work as to Me. The poor you will always have, but you cannot always have Me.' The whole point is, What am I going to do to the Lord today? Did those other women who came with their spices to the tomb succeed in anointing the Lord's body? No! He was risen. Only one succeeded, Mary, who anointed Him beforehand. It seems as if man will say I am wasting my time -- but Lord, nothing is too good for Thee! He is worthy to be served. He is worthy for me just to be His prisoner. He is worthy for me just to live for Him. Let others say what they will. Have our eyes been opened to see that working for the poor, working for the benefit of the world, working for the eternal welfare of the sinner, as things in themselves, are not to be compared with the work we do to the Lord, with our being just for Him. What is your estimate of the Lord?

Then the Lord said, "She hath done what she could". It means that Mary had given her all. That was all she could do, no more; and she did it. The Lord will not be satisfied with anything less. The whole point is a life really laid down at the [84/85] feet of the Lord, and that in view of His death, His burial; that is, in view of a future day. Then it was His burial, now it is His crowning day that is in view. He will be acclaimed by all in that day, but how precious, far more precious to Him it is that we should anoint Him now, not with any material oil, but with that which is deepest and, maybe, hard for us to break. The Lord get anointing from us today!

Further, the Lord said, 'Wherever the gospel shall be preached, this story shall be told'. Why? Because the gospel is meant to produce this. The gospel is not primarily for the satisfaction of sinners. The gospel is preached that everything may be to the satisfaction of the Son of God. Not to sinners first of all, though, praise God, sinners will be satisfied. But supremely it is Christ who must find satisfaction through its preaching.

Once more let me repeat. The whole question for us is simply this: It seems that I am giving too much for too little. That is waste. Others appear to far better advantage than I, though they have given up none of the things that I have. As for me, I seem to meet with all the difficulties. Continual trial and suffering is what comes my way. Now, am I not wasting my time? If I consecrate myself enough for the blessing, but not enough for the trouble; if I consecrate myself enough for the Lord to use me, but not enough for the Lord to shut me up, it will be all right! Are we not found thinking thus at times? But the principle of waste is that which satisfies the heart of the Lord Jesus. You can get something for yourself out of your consecration, but often real satisfaction can only come to the heart of your Lord when you seem to be 'wasting' yourself on the Lord; giving too much and getting nothing back for yourself.

O friends, what are we after? Are we after mere usefulness, as those disciples were? They wanted to make every penny of that three hundred pence go to its full length. They wanted to be used themselves. If only we can please Him, surely that should be enough.

Now the breaking of the alabaster box and the anointing of the Lord filled the house with the odour, with the sweetest odour. Everyone could smell it. Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered, been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savour of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odour of sweetness. The odour which filled the house that day still fills the Church; Mary's fragrance never passes away.

Friends, we cannot produce impressions of God upon others, impart the sense of the presence of God, without the breaking of everything, even the most precious things, at the feet of the Lord Jesus. The Lord would have us here, not first of all to preach or to do work for Him, but to create hunger in others. No true work will begin in any life apart from a sense of need. We cannot inject that into others, we cannot drive people to be hungry for God. Such hunger can be created only by those whose lives convey vital impressions of Him.

Oh, to be wasted! It is a blessed thing to be wasted for the Lord. So many of us who have been prominent in the Christian world know nothing of this. Many of us have been used to the full -- have been used, I would say, too much -- but we do not know what it means to be wasted on God. We like to be always 'on the go': the Lord would sometimes prefer to have us in prison. We think in terms of apostolic journeys: God dares to put His greatest ambassadors in chains. "But thanks be unto God, which always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the savour of his knowledge in every place" (2 Corinthians 2:14).

From 'A Table In the Wilderness', a book of daily meditations
from the ministry of Watchman Nee. -- December 31st.

David, after he had in his own generation served the counsel of God,
fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers.
Acts 13:36

David served in one generation, his own. He could not serve in two! Where today we seek to perpetuate our work by setting up an organisation or society or system, the Old Testament saints served their own day and passed on. This is an important principle of life. Wheat is sown, grows, ears, is reaped, and then the whole plant, even to the root, is ploughed out. God's work is spiritual to the point of having no earthly roots, no smell of earth on it at all. Men pass on, but the Lord remains. Everything to do with the Church must be up-to-date and living, meeting the present -- one could even say the passing -- needs of the hour. Never must it become fixed, earth-bound, static. God Himself takes away His workers, but He gives others. Our work suffers, but His never does. Nothing touches Him. He is still God.


Roger T. Forster

Reading: Exodus 2:11 - 3:14

WE use the title of 'The Acts' for one book of the Bible, but in fact the whole Bible is the book of 'The Acts of God'. It tells us of God in action, God manifesting Himself in history, and the history is His story. Other people's stories are included because God involves them in His own story, whether it is a Moses, whose heart was wide open to God, or a Pharaoh, who hardened his heart against God; everything was incorporated and woven into this means of showing what God is like by His actions. God is a living God, and living people express their characters by what they do. Commentators may interpret God's great name of I AM as referring in a philosophical way to His self-existence, but the Hebrews never thought in these detached ways, so that the words really meant to them, 'I am doing what I am doing'. God told Moses, 'I am being what I am being; I am bringing to pass what I am bringing to pass', and He told Moses -- and us -- that to know Him is to become involved in His activities so that we may, as it were, be a chapter in His book of the history of humanity.

Of course there will be conflict about this matter, because the Evil One is contending against the unfolding of God's history. He wants the human race to contribute to what he is trying to write of his own history; he wants us to spell out his dark drama, his horror story and so there is a fight between the good that God does inwardly with men like Moses, who let Him invade their lives and operate through them, and the evil in the hearts of those who refuse to submit to God. That is why there was a battle between Moses and Pharaoh. If we also want to be used by God we shall find that our story inevitably becomes a war story. And although many centuries have passed, our battle is essentially the same as that of Moses, for if we are involved with God, we have a part in His great liberation movement. We see, as Moses did, a world in which men are enslaved in a terrible bondage; a world in which there is something basically wrong; and we feel convinced that God is going to do something about it, and this means that we ourselves must abandon mere theorising and be ready to act.

MOSES was prepared to do something about what he saw. Wrong as his first action was, it sprang from the right motive, from a concern burning deep down in his heart which insisted that the world had got to be changed. It was as though he said, 'There is something wrong with society as I know it, and I want to be on the side which is prepared to put it right.' At that time he did not know how to be on God's side, but at least he wanted to start to right things -- he wanted to act. He bungled the whole affair, and so was soon on the run into the Sinai peninsular. As he sat down be a well in Midian, God began to say something to him which was very, very fundamental. He did it by means of the seven shepherdesses who brought their sheep to the well and were then molested by local toughs who were preparing to repeat the very injustices which Moses had so resented in Egypt, by trampling on the rights of the weaker and again implementing the world's slogan that 'might is right'.

This time, however, Moses did not fight, or at least it does not say that he did. This time he did not use his fists against the oppressors, but what he did was to interpose himself in their way, and care for the oppressed. The story simply records that "Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock". Perhaps there were still enough traces of his Egyptian royalty to overawe the troublemakers; but in any case the sheep were watered, and what is more, God spoke to Moses, telling him that what people needed was not his big fist to fight but his helping hand to quench their inner thirst. There is a deep longing [86/87] in the hearts of men which can only be satisfied from the fountain of living waters, even the Lord Jesus. The men and women about us are thirsty, and it is our privilege to carry living water to them all, the oppressed as well as the oppressors, the advantaged as well as the handicapped. Moses had to learn that the problems of humanity were not to be solved by his high-handedness, nor by his strong-mindedness, but by his ability to convey the living waters of Christ's love to quench their heart thirst. This is God's world-changing programme; this is what God is doing for mankind. He does not change men by force, nor relieve their oppression by new ideas or political remedies; His answer is a living ministry of Jesus Christ which will do the work of transformation.

WE all know this. But how do we bring it about? How can the Lord Jesus flow out from us as from a well of living water? Perhaps the example of Moses can help us. What happened there in the wilderness was that the bottom was knocked out of his natural life. Moses was an honest man and, as he sat by that well, tired and dispirited, he must have been saying to himself, 'Perhaps I was not as righteous as I thought I was when I struck the Egyptian down; there was a mighty lot of self wrapped up in that action. I thought that I was better, not only than him, but also than the Israelites. And I was shifty, too; I looked this way and that to make sure that I wasn't being watched. Of course I pretended to myself that I was doing it all for God, but I was rash and impetuous, and I did not wait to be checked by the Spirit. And then, when the Israelites turned on me, I did not like it, for I was a patronizing prig, feeling so superior to them.' As Moses mused, God was digging a well in him, digging away the self life which had hindered the flowing of the Spirit.

Perhaps God speaks to us in the same way, and we find ourselves agreeing that perhaps we were looking for men's commendation when we were preaching, or perhaps our motives in trying to help others were far from unmixed. Even in our most zealous activities for God we find complications of our ego and pride of heart. We must guard, of course, against allowing such heart-searching to become unhealthy introspection, but our safeguard will be to recognise that God is only knocking the bottom out of our life in order to use us in His activities. The really honest person whom God is using to minister Christ will always have to acknowledge that in his best moments there are impure motives; in his highest and most devoted service there are times of self-congratulation and conceit. We are not meant to try to get to the bottom of ourselves, for there is no bottom except as we are on the cross. Calvary is the end of us. If we accept this, and have a bottomless life, then He can make us into wells of living water. When Moses saw himself as a bottomless hole, then God was able to make him into a well.

AFTER many years Moses came to the second great crisis in his experience, and that was at the burning bush. In the loneliness of the desert, with the sheep all around him, he met God in a new way; one of the desert bushes burst into flames, and then went on burning without being burnt out. Moses knew that there had been a time when he, too, was on fire to change the world, but his fire had not lasted. This bush however, burned on and on, so much so that Moses felt that he had to go out and look at it. He went, and God spoke to him out of the burning bush, telling him that the second fundamental for those who are going to be of use to Him must be their willingness to turn aside and listen to His voice. At that moment Moses received the greatest Old Testament revelation of God, and it came to him because he was spending time alone with God. The fire which burns without ceasing is the fire of love, and the basic requirement for such love is time spent alone with the Heavenly Lover. Moses was an honest man, exposing himself to God; not trying to hide his falsities, his wrong motives, his pride and his conceit but baring his heart to God so that there was nothing between them. This was essential, for love must practise heart-to-heart communion if it is to meet God and receive His revelation of Himself. As Moses looked around the desert, he saw the God of creation, but as he spent time by the bush he discovered the God of revelation, as he humbly waited for God to speak to him.

Soon after I was converted and was at Cambridge University I used to get up early in the morning, go out into the countryside to sit under some bushes or on the grass and there, with a New Testament in my hand, I would first enjoy the God of creation and then open the book to discover more of the Lord Jesus Christ. So for me Elohim, the Creator, became Jehovah, Jesus, the Redeemer, and I learned much of Him because I met him alone. Later I was in the Royal Air Force and again, on Saturday afternoons, I would go out on to the hillside with my [87/88] New Testament in my pocket to walk and walk and be alone with God, the Creator of heaven and earth who became known to me in living reality through the Lord Jesus; and so I could read of Him in the book and we could walk together. Be sure of this, no man truly ministers Christ who does not fulfil the basic principle of love, which is to spend time with his Lover. He never will. He must get alone with God and be absolutely honest with Him.

TO Moses this was how the great revelation of God's name came. The bottomless hole in the ground; the humble little briar bush, nothing in itself but aflame with the love of God; this was the man who was told by God to describe his mission as authorised by the One who is called, 'I AM THAT I AM' or 'I am doing what I am doing'. In this way Moses came to realise that as the water fills the hole in the ground, and as the fire wraps itself around the bush, so God wished to involve him in His own purposes and activities. God wanted to express Himself by taking the hand of Moses and bringing him in to share in His great liberation movement. So it is that in recounting the history of the world, men can look back at the moment when Moses lifted up his rod to part the waters and say, 'God did that'! They can also look back to the moment when Moses stood before Pharaoh and say, 'God stood there'. 'That was God'!

God is writing history, but He is drawing men into fellowship with Himself as He does so, making them the occasion for a chapter in His book of the story of humanity. There is a chapter for Noah, a chapter for Abraham, a chapter for Moses and many others, and a chapter for you and me. He calls us to share in His great declaration, 'I am bringing to pass what I am bringing to pass', encouraging us to be like Moses, a hole in the ground filled with His living water, or a common bush, aflame with the unquenchable fire of His love, so that He can use us in His great movement of liberation.


T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: Psalm 77

THE heading of this psalm shows that it was contributed by Asaph, who was David's choir master -- the leader of the singers. Quite a number of psalms are attributed to him, and in this one he was in real trouble; he was a man of music who had lost his music, a song leader whose only song was a lament. We do not know the actual cause of his difficulty, but it seems quite clear that it was due to the lack of evidence of God's presence or power. The signs which should have manifested God's glory were not forthcoming; Asaph could see nothing to indicate that the Lord had any interest or concern in his situation; and so, cast down and depressed, he brooded over the circumstances; and the more he did so the more he found himself in the mire of despair.

The words are alarming, but right in the full flow of his outpoured complaint there came a turning-point, when he pulled himself up short and decided that he would not allow his weakness or infirmity to govern any longer, adding, "But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High" (verse 10). This became the turning point. From then on the dark night began to give place to the rising sun of a new outlook. Once again life had a meaning.

In the course of his recollection there had come to mind one of his own experiences, "I will call to remembrance my song in the night" (verse 6). This does not mean that he proposed to recall that there had been a time when he was more cheerful and sang even in the dark, but implies that he called back to mind the subject matter of that nocturnal song. There had apparently been a night when he could not sleep and so occupied his waking hours by composing a song for the choir. Its subject matter was that ever-recurring theme of Israelite psalmody, the exodus from Egypt. Asaph remembered how he had indulged his poetic gift in describing the way in which the Lord got His people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, celebrating the mighty work of God which was expressed in this deliverance. As the words came back to him, he suddenly realised that he himself was now in the same predicament, needing to find a way through, and that the song which had applied to the nation was now valid for him -- he needed to take a dose of his own [88/89] medicine. He remembered what he had said and sung to encourage others in their times of difficulty and was able to appropriate the same comforting truths for himself. It was at that moment that streaks of dawn came into his dark sky, heralding a coming day, so that his psalm finished in a blaze of light.

THE operative phrase, which seems to be the focal point of his awakened memory, was "Thy way ...." Asaph's own trouble was that he could see no way. His situation was such as to be like a siege around his soul; the dark forces had compassed him about and he could see neither a way out nor a way through. This is so often the perplexity of God's children: they can see no way through.

In his song that night, Asaph had made much of the fact that the Lord's way was in the sea and His paths in great waters. Israel could first of all find no way out -- they were held fast in Egypt's bondage. Then God solved that problem, only for them to be faced by another and a greater, for they had been given a way out but there was no way through. The Red Sea lay in front of them, Pharaoh's pursuing army was coming up behind; and the desert and the mountains were on either side. So it was that they were confronted by that impassable, threatening sea which straddled their path ahead and only suggested death and the grave. They had come out, but now it seemed that shame, reproach and calamity were imminent. It looked very much like the end of the road.

On that occasion the problem was no problem to God. He was not in a panic, not even in a quandary, nor did He propose to lead them around by detours and by-passes. No He went straight through. We may be without a way, but God never is. He led them right through the deep. For others, great waters present an impasse, but the Lord has His own path through them. The words, "Thy footsteps were not known" suggest that everybody was wondering where the Lord could tread, for there was no visible foothold. When it was all over they were still wondering how He had done it, but the thing that mattered was that they were out on the other side. The Lord was not daunted by the waters -- He just made His way through them and led His people with Him. Sea or mountains do not present obstructions to Him, for He proceeds unhindered on His way. He took His people with Him; He led them through the impassable.

How vividly Asaph remembered that night when he composed his encouraging song to celebrate that great historical movement through the sea, but now he suddenly realised that he was being challenged by his own words, as every speaker for God, and singer for God, always is. His sea was not the same as theirs, but it was just as threatening; the hostile pressure from behind was different from Egypt's armies, but just as cruel and just as unavoidable. What should he say? That God had forgotten? That God had allowed him to be hemmed in without a way of escape? That the waters were too deep for God, or that He who had brought him out was now unable to bring him through? No, that could not be true. He would think again of that song in the night, the song of God's deliverance and of the way through which He Himself made for His harassed people. "Thy way was in the sea". Then he would tell himself that this same God who brought His people through then, would make a way for him -- even though it had to be through deep waters.

AGAIN and again in the Old Testament this experience was repeated in the history of God's people. Men found themselves encircled by difficulties and confronted by the impossible, but in every case the Lord led them through. His footsteps were unknown, but they were always sure; as untraceable by man as any footprints on water, but direct and purposeful as befits our almighty God.

In Luke 21 the New Testament records a preview of the end, as given by the Lord Jesus to His disciples. The descriptions are such that they were certainly not exhausted by the happenings when Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. Among the many predictions concerning features at the end-time is the prophecy that there will be "distress of nations with perplexity". The force of this last word is to describe an impasse -- no way out. That, said the Lord, is what the nations will have to face, and face it without God. Was there ever a more accurate description of the world situation? Distress -- with no way through, no prospect but despair? It is a dreadful experience to be gripped by complete despair, but this need never happen to Christ's disciples. He has promised that His faithfulness will always provide a way of escape. This time it will be upwards, so they must lift up their heads to see redemption -- a way out -- personified, as He Himself comes swiftly to greet them with footsteps which are not known. [89/90]

So we see that what can be true for any Asaph in his own personal circumstances, will one day be equally valid for the whole Church. In the darkness of the world situation, the human prospects for God's people grow gloomier and gloomier. It may seem, as it did for the psalmist, that God's very mercy has clean gone for ever and that His promises have failed. God, however, has guaranteed to give a way out and up by the return of Christ. Men without Christ have every reason to feel their hearts failing them for fear, but the redeemed can quietly and confidently rely on a way through with God. No seas like these seas! No deeps so daunting as these! But God is not at all at the end of His resources. His way was in the seas as He led Israel through the depths; He made a way for Asaph in his time of distress; so we can be certain that He has a pathway for us too, even though it be through the darkest waters. "Who is so great a God as our God?"



Poul Madsen

IS there a greater and more important event here on earth than a birth? Every new baby is a wonder. As with the physical, so with the spiritual, the new birth is a tremendous miracle which potentially -- like physical birth -- includes all that will later develop into perfect maturity. Everything depends upon birth. We ask, then, what is this new birth, being born again, born from above?

Let me first say what it is not. It is not the creation of another and different person. Even be his human birth a man is created in the image of God, a personality, a masterpiece. It is true that he is born in sin and so separated from God, but nevertheless all the qualities implanted in him are of such value that God has taken great pains to save men as individuals, each with his own personality. This personality with its potentials, is not to be rejected as though it were devilish, but saved, so as to be used for the glory of its Creator. Standardisation is repugnant to God, who made no mistake when sovereignly and with lavish liberality He gave us our individual gifts and distinctive characters. We are all created by Christ and for Him (Colossians 1:16). If we reject what He has created then we reject Him, the Creator.

The new birth is not the creation of another person, but the re-creation of the personality now emancipated from sin, the world and the Devil. A musical parson does not become unmusical because he is born again, nor does the unmusical become musical; a practical person does not become unpractical, nor vice versa. God does not reject what He has created, for He does not reject Himself, the Creator.

The positive result of the new birth is that by it the man of God is created (2 Timothy 3:17), the restored, emancipated personality being united with his Lord and Saviour through the Holy Spirit. So it is that the regenerative power of the Spirit of God comes into the liberated personality, giving it the healthy condition which it was originally intended to have. The real man is born, the true man, the right man, the man of God. This birth requires the co-operation of the person to be born; it is necessary that the human will be placed on God's side without reserve. Since the will is the central point of the personality, every bit of it which is not on God's side gives the Devil a footing, which he knows how to make use of for man's eternal undoing. The strife is not about abstract neutral views; it is a life-and-death struggle which cannot be won by a divided heart or a partial obedience. All such dividedness is fatal. This is why the gate feels so narrow. You cannot negotiate with God about entering in, you cannot make your own conditions; you must say 'Yes' to God's will and 'No' to everything else.

IT was on the day of Pentecost that the first men of God in the dispensation of grace made their appearance, and that is the reason why many, with some justification, call that day the birthday of the Church, for the Church consists of men who are born of God. The man of God is the great miracle. Everything is included in his new birth. What is given at birth, however, must be exercised; otherwise it will not develop. The growth of the man of God cannot proceed in fits and starts, but must move in organic development from spiritual childhood, through spiritual [90/91] adolescence to spiritual maturity. This growth takes place when the man of God is faithful. He then grows in every good thing, in spiritual wisdom and insight; in experience and knowledge; in acquaintance with God's will and ways, His plans and His thoughts; in holiness and power; in love and joy; in short, in likeness to Christ.

Grace can be arrested as a result of slackness and lukewarmness. These cause great damage. But the damage can be fully made good and the wasted years restored, if the person humbles himself and repents wholeheartedly. God is the God of restoration and renewal. Do not let us lose heart if He chastens us for lukewarmness or unfaithfulness, for His discipline is a sign that we are true sons.

An unmistakable sign of spiritual maturity is the right use of God-given gifts, spiritual gifts which are intended for the common good of the whole Church. In the new birth many qualities and gifts lie hidden, as yet weak and undeveloped, but as the man of God grows, these gifts develop; and as he exercises and uses them in faithfulness to the Lord, he learns to know himself and becomes conscious of his calling and election. Other spiritual gifts may be added to him, but always on the basis laid down in 1 Corinthians 12:11, "All these worketh the one and same Spirit, dividing to each one severally as He will". It depends, then, upon the will of the Holy Spirit. If He decides to give you another gift, it is because He sees that it will be for the building-up of the whole Church. If He does not do so, then all your natural efforts to produce gifts will be in vain. If your will is entirely on the Lord's side, so that you only want what the Holy Spirit wants you will find yourself desiring gifts that can be of value to others rather than for your personal gratification, and above all your aspirations and desires will be towards the "still more excellent way" of love described in 1 Corinthians 13.

BUT concentrate most of all on growing in the knowledge of the Lord and in likeness to Christ; then you will mature and attain to that measure of stature where you can contain as much as possible of the fullness of Christ. It is in this way that the man of God, the God-given personality filled with the Spirit of God, is formed, and through organic growth and development in the school of Christ reaches maturity. It is not to be wondered at that the enemy of souls does everything in his power to hinder the growth of the man of God, employing every possible device to this end. He delights in turning a child of God into a weakling, and all too often he succeeds. The method he employs is to implant in his mind something spiritually unsound, pretending that it is of special value. This is made to appear to be an 'extra' which can enhance his spiritual standing, and all too often is a subtle appeal to the conceit which is in all of us by nature. If the one concerned accepts this idea, he will develop in abnormal ways, although he may be so deceived about this that to his dying day he asserts that he is endowed with special grace, whereas in fact he has suffered irreparable damage.

What is the remedy? The best remedy against infection is overflowing health, that is, spiritual sturdiness and soundness. The great apostle, who more than any other strove to present every man perfect in Christ, standing by every man of God in order to help him forward to spiritual manhood and maturity, knew better than any other how to discern spiritual 'germs'; he exposed them bluntly, and offered the saints vitamins as a prevention against them. He never tired of recommending vitamins for protection against that unsoundness in the faith which is spiritual ill-health. In his two letters to Timothy as well as in the one to that other man of God, Titus, he lays great stress on 'sound words' and 'sound doctrine'. "wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus" he speaks of in 1 Timothy 6:3 and in Titus 2:8, "Sound speech, that cannot be condemned". Perhaps it is because such Scriptures as these are neglected that Christians lack essential vitamins and consequently become susceptible to every kind of spiritual sickness.

O MAN of God, watch your health, take care of your spiritual soundness, ever conscious of your responsibility before God. Do not neglect divinely-given vitamins. There are many spiritual epidemics threatening the well-being of God's people. Guard against what is artificial and affectation. Do not be a caricature of a human being, do not let emotionalism carry you to excesses where you cannot discriminate between the spurious and the genuine. "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong" and yet at the same time, "Let all that ye do be done in love" (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).

It is the man of God that matters, the man who demonstrates the dignity and beauty of [91/92] Christ in his daily living. Do not imitate anyone else. Do not advertise yourself, but do works of love without talking about them. Visit the lonely; give willingly; if necessary go the extra mile; but keep your good works hidden. Practise curbing your tongue, for if you can do that you will be a perfect man, a man of God (James 3:2).

It is the man of God that matters -- God's greatest miracle, His masterpiece. As he grows to adult maturity he will learn to have a sense of proportion; he will lay stress on quality without being overcritical; he will be careful but not pedantic or fussy, he will not think highly of himself but will also avoid false humility. He will not attach too much importance to non-essentials; he will not be gullible but will try all things and hold fast only to that which is good.

Strange as it may seem, you, O man of God, are one of God's great wonders. God's eternal purpose for you is that you should be fully conformed to His Son. The responsibility for your growing up to a balanced manhood in Christ, to tested holiness, to full maturity is your own. The responsibility for your spiritual health is also yours. Nobody can bear that responsibility for you, though others can help you if you are humble and grateful enough to receive their help. By God's grace may you keep close to Christ, and realise that measure of growth in Him which God has purposed for your short earthly life. If you feel inadequate and the task seems overwhelming, remember that: "Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

So remember the vitamins!



Roger T. Forster

Exodus 29 is the second of the chapters on the priesthood, and deals particularly with the consecration of the priests. In our previous consideration of the garments of the high priest and his sons, we saw the Lord and His Church represented by Aaron and his sons as a composite whole, so that the putting of garments on the high priest and his sons spoke to us of the glory of the Lord Jesus. To our surprise, perhaps, we found that as we honoured the Lord by investing Him with beauty and glory, we ourselves began to share the spiritual garments with Him, and to be clothed not only with His moral beauties but also with the priestly responsibilities of bearing God's people on our shoulders and our heart.

Now we have reached an important part of our consideration, for, if we are going to act as priests, we need to be instructed as to how a priest is consecrated to God, how he enters into this sacred ministry of making much of Christ by investing Him with His true glory. We need to know how to be introduced into this service of God which places the beauty of Christ on our fellow-believers, and brings us also into a share of it. This is God's objective, and it is of supreme importance. When we are tempted to decry the state of the Church, bemoaning the faults and shortcomings of our fellow Christians, we might well turn round and ask ourselves if we really have been placing the holy garments on our Lord Jesus. If we had taken care to keep investing Him with His honour and glory, there would have been some reflection of this in His body for, as we have seen, the high priest's family are included in His adornment. Possibly the weakness, the lack of moral beauty and spiritual fervour among God's people, is due to our failure to fulfil our priestly task. We need to know, therefore, what is involved in the consecration of a priest, and we look for the answer to this question in verses 2 to 43 of this chapter.

The first verse defines something of the function of this priestly ministry saying, "to minister unto me in the priest's office ...". Again verse 44 repeats this emphasis in the words, "I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons to minister to me in the priest's office". The intervening verses describe the consecration, but first of all we must observe that whatever else was going to happen, and whatever else the priesthood produced, the [92/93] main purpose was to serve the Lord's own heart. The priest is to do that which brings pleasure to God, and as He is filled with delight, there will be the inevitable comeback of His people being clothed with beauty, which is itself a source of deep satisfaction to Him. It is interesting how it works in this way, so that whenever we give priority to ministry to the heart of God, we find that our fellow-believers are blessed and there is an extension of His kingdom among men. We can test ourselves as to whether we are truly ministering to the heart of God in the priest's office by ascertaining if the Church is really being clothed with His beauty, and if there is also a constant extension of His body. This is a valid test. It is of little use to employ pious phrases about being 'here for the Lord' or 'standing for the Lord', if there is no outworking of blessing among others. We may imagine ourselves to be high-powered priests, but we have reason to question whether we are truly serving the Lord's heart if we do not see the things which please Him taking place around us. Perhaps something has gone wrong somewhere. The test of a true priestly consecration and ministry to the Lord is whether there is an ever-growing extension of the beauty of Christ in His people. As we have seen, verse 44 repeats this assertion that the function of a priestly work is to minister to God's satisfaction, and the chapter then goes on to describe the purpose of it all -- "And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them ..." (verses 45-46).

So we see that a true ministry to the Lord will cause us, His people, to know that He is in our midst, walking among us, proving to us in practical ways that He is the God who brought us out of Egypt, the redeeming God of deliverances. This is the end product of priestly ministry, having the living God active among us, working wonders, taking us by surprise, doing things we never expected. Now the evidence of non-priestly ministry is that the outcome can always be accurately anticipated. We put in ten grams of energy, and we get out ten grams of results. Even this is unusual in Christian enterprise where, unhappily, we have to put in about a hundred grams of effort to produce ten grams of lasting spiritual value. (Most secular businesses, running on a commercial basis, would soon become bankrupt if they were conducted in this way.) The business of the Church, however, which is meant to be not just earthly in its character but a truly spiritual ministry to serve the heart of God, results in happy surprises. We put in a little, and so much more comes out and takes us by surprise, for God is in it, working His wonders.

I remember that when in a R.A.F. camp I felt rather lonely, as there was no other officer in the mess who was a Christian. Someone told me of a man about to be posted to a unit, and as I had previously been on a course with him and knew him to be a Christian, I wrote to him saying, 'Pray that you may be sent here.' He wrote back at once saying, 'Praise the Lord! I am on the way.' This was a wonderful answer to prayer and greatly encouraged us. We soon got together, and there was also a Scripture Reader who used to visit the camp, so we got hold of him and one or two others, and began to pray. We not only prayed, but were bold in our witness, for men went round all the billets, leaving tracts everywhere, and we put verses on the boards in our classrooms. After a time, things began to happen and men started to come to Christ all over the camp, but it was not because they had been in our classrooms. It was elsewhere, and not in our classes, not where we had been giving out tracts that people were converted. It all happened in another billet, and it was just as though we were standing back and watching God work. Not that we ourselves were idle -- far from it -- for we were on stretch all the time, but we had the impression that God was doing something beyond what we were doing, in fact in different places from where we were operating. This is what happens when a truly priestly ministry begins to function. There certainly was such a ministry in that camp, for the men who were converted started to pray five times a day. They prayed when they got up in the mornings before parade; they prayed in my room during the NAAFI break; they prayed again at lunchtime, then again after work, and finally before they went to bed. It was priestly activity ministering to the Lord; and as they were doing this, worshipping and praising God and interceding with Him, things began to happen all over the camp. God was walking in our midst.

Such an expression of God's presence and power requires a priestly ministry, and it is therefore most important that we consider this passage not just as an interesting scriptural study, but as truths which, if taken up in a living reality by the Spirit, will create a sphere in which God can [93/94] move and act. 'I will walk amongst them and they will know that I am the God who has brought them out of Egypt. I will bring them out of Egypt every day. I will be overcoming the world in their lives every day. That is the sort of God I am.'

Now in the light of these promises we are in danger of criticising one another, judging that it is the other person's fault that we do not see the Lord at work. We may be tempted to blame others, thinking that if only this brother would be different, or that one more reliable, or if a certain group did not form itself into a clique or if other disorders were not going on, then we would get better spiritual results. Such complaints, however, are the very antithesis of a priestly ministry, for such a ministry is always positive. It concentrates on the things of Christ to be found in that difficult brother and gives God the glory, or it finds reasons for appreciation of that awkward group and so finds an opportunity for fresh praise. This kind of priestly exercise will result in a new expression of the Lord Jesus moving and walking in our midst.

It was a group of men at Antioch, Barnabas, Simon called Niger, Saul and others who ministered to the Lord and fasted with the consequence that two of them were sent out into the nations. Because there was a ministry to the Lord and a true place for Him, He was able to walk through Barnabas and Saul right out into Asia Minor and beyond, planting churches in many lands. This kind of movement and extension is what is meant by God walking in the midst.

We therefore look again at the consecration passage, to see how such priestly activity is actually expressed, and we notice that it has four aspects.


The first is that a priest was empowered to teach the law of God (Leviticus 10:10-11). He was to discern between the clean and the unclean and to teach the law of God. This does not necessarily mean that he was an expert who knew all the answers; in fact we are warned against this kind of assumption in the words, 'Be not many teachers'. We should all be priests, though, and this means that we are all involved in a teaching ministry, which is not so much instruction in words as example in life. In practice, the Church finds that by no means all its members actually fulfil this ministry. In Israel it was only a twelfth (the tribe of Levi), and then the actual priestly work was done by only a small proportion of this tribe, so that the actual practising priests were only a small part of the nation. Nevertheless this need not be in our case, every member of the body of Christ being called to priesthood, and so it is that we are all meant to instruct others by demonstrating the truth, teaching by our actions more than by our words. The primary characteristic of the priest was that he had to do the word of God before he taught it. To start with he had to put on the garments, to lay his hand on the sacrifices and to minister in the tabernacle. He had to act himself in all these matters before he was qualified to tell other people how they should act. So a priestly teacher is not only one who tells others what to do but one who is an example of obedience to God. It is said of Ezra that he "had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it", and only then "to teach in Israel statutes and judgments" (Ezra 7:10). So his teaching was based on the fact that already he was an example to the rest because he was doing God's will. To the Corinthians Paul wrote that they would be put in remembrance of his "ways which be in Christ ..." (1 Corinthians 4:17). He did not remind them of his super-sermons, though he certainly was a greatly gifted preacher, but it was 'his ways' which were primarily the expression of what he taught in all the churches. Our first business is to do the truth, to exemplify the will of God in our daily life, rather than to set ourselves up as correctors and instructors who talk down to our brothers, telling them where they are in error and endeavouring to put them right. Priestly teaching must be expressed in terms of daily living.

This was the first activity of the priesthood and such living can be used by God to give men the sense that it is He who is walking among them. As priestly people live in this way, others are caused to exclaim, 'My! Is God really like that?', and as they see a brother putting the will of God into practice they will enquire, 'Is the Lord Jesus like that?'. The only effective way of showing God's truth is by living it out before their eyes. This is priestly teaching.


Secondly, the priests judged between the clean and the unclean: they judged whether men were leprous or whether a house had been contaminated. [94/95] The priests were the judges, the discerners of what was unhealthy, impure and contaminating. Once again let it be noted that they did not make it their business to go around criticising and condemning other people, but their importance was that they had an understanding as to what sin really is. Had there been even a trace of leprosy in themselves, they would have discerned it at once. This is so unlike the harsh censoriousness of the man who condemns others for seeming to contravene some jot or tittle of Scripture while he himself offends against any number of divine injunctions by his own attitude and behaviour. Being self-righteous he is, of course, quite unaware of his own defilement; he thinks that he can discriminate, but the truth is that he can only see sin in others and not in himself. If, however, he were a priestly man, he would draw near to God in sanctuary ministry and he would first be shown the defilement in his own heart. In this closeness to God he would have perception as to what sin really is, would know that his so-called correctness was really self-righteousness, that his heated orthodoxy was defiled with pride, and that his very devotion to the Lord was contaminated by a selfish desire to outshine others.

This does not mean that self-diagnosis will be of any help to us. In that sense it is just as well that we cannot detect our own leprosy, for we would probably pass from self-diagnosis to self-healing, self efforts to improve and then, such is the nature of our inner self life, instead of being humbly Christlike we would tend to become proud of our own spiritual growth. The more we try introspectively to investigate ourselves, the more blind we may become to our true condition. On the other hand, when God shines His light into our hearts and we see something of ourselves as we truly are, then we cease from efforts to justify ourselves and defend our motives which we had imagined to be so pure, and we concur with the Lord's judgment, we get discernment as to the true nature of sin. How different from this spiritual perception is the critical complaining about other people's appearance, dress, procedure, etc., which is all too common but which is not priestly but pharisaical. Christ had the severest condemnation for the Pharisees who were so ready to condemn others and so self-assured as to their own correctness. It is easy to formulate rules -- even Scriptural rules -- as they did, and yet to be entirely lacking in real discernment of what is offensive to God and to fail utterly to minister to His pleasure.


The third aspect of priestly function was to value the gifts which the people brought and to estimate what was required for the recovery of the first-born children and animals (Leviticus 27:12). This ability to estimate values is the positive side of priestly discernment, in contrast to the negative side which we have just considered. As the real root of sinfulness is not so much the outward manifestations as the inner nature, so the essence of goodness is often an inner value which is not obvious to the ordinary observer. It was the priest's function both to evaluate what was truly weighty in God's estimation and also to perceive what might have looked important but had lesser worth in His sight. "That ye may approve the things that are excellent" (Philippians 1:10) is how Paul describes this priestly capacity, implying that God's people should be able to appreciate what is of real worth, so making sure to give full weight to what is of value to God, and not being occupied with the tawdry which may look attractive but has no lasting excellence. Such evaluation is very difficult and requires priestly access to God. Only the Holy Spirit can show us the best way of using our time, our strength, our money; only He can convey to us how best to select our Bible reading and direct our prayers. All this, and much more of the incomings and outgoings of life, needs to be considered in the light of God's estimation of values.

"To approve the things that are excellent" above those things which may be quite good or at least not bad, but which nevertheless have low values for God. In other days when life was slower and often shorter, it was perhaps more usual for God's servants to submit their plans to Him and be given His assessment of their activities. Today life moves at such a pace and change of direction seems so much easier, we are tempted not to worry too much about false starts or mistaken moves, thinking that sooner or later we shall catch up with the real thing. Actually this is a delusion and a snare. We never do catch up. Our lives can become so cluttered up and preoccupied that, in the sheer pace of it all, our sense of true values is lost. This, in itself, shows how far removed we have become from true priestly service, for in that kind of life the matter of estimating everything according to divine values is fundamental.

We affect others, too. If our sense of values is erroneous we fail to provide our families and [95/96] fellow-believers with the steady example which ought to proceed from priestly lives. We dare not be swayed by popular standards, nor should we let our lives be impoverished by the influence of the world's false values, for we have the privilege of living close to the Lord and checking up in a priestly way what are the genuine values of life.

Is not this the reason why our Lord Jesus had such a revolutionary impact on His contemporary world? He had an entirely different standard of values from the world around Him -- the same world as that which is around us -- and this not because He was trying to be different but because He had constant priestly access to the Father. He put no weight on things which seemed very important to the religious experts and yet He appreciated the preciousness to God of some whom men despised. This, alas, is untrue of most of us. So unpriestly are we that we seem unable to estimate true worth as God sees it.


The fourth, and indeed the obvious, duty of the priests was to offer the sacrifices. Among God's people there often seems to be much weakness in the matter of voicing praise or prayer at church meetings. This may well be due to the fact that worship is a sacrifice, and therefore it is costly. Those who realise the privilege of being called to priestly exercise will find that there is nothing automatic or easy about true worship. The offering of the sacrifices was not an occupation for every Israelite, but the task was performed by those who had been set apart for priestly ministry and had sacrificial gifts put into their hands. This does not mean that a newly converted person is unable to offer the sacrifice of praise, but it does mean that he is only able to do so as he lives a priestly life. This same truth governs the whole of our Christian experience, and if we have not acquired any vital and costly knowledge of the Lord Jesus in the course of the six days of the week, we should not be surprised if we have nothing to offer when we come to the time of worship on the Lord's Day. Worship is not merely a matter of words: it emerges from experience, and costly experience at that. The Old Testament sacrificial act illustrates how we are meant, through costly experiences, to gain ever deeper appreciation of the Lord Jesus (the true Offering) and by the Holy Spirit to present this appreciation to the Father in outpoured worship.

Our next study dealing with the actual consecration, will explain this matter of having the offering put into our hands so that we may hold it up to God.


[Eric Fischbacher]

Dear D....,

I felt quite concerned last week to find you so exhausted, and under such obvious internal stress. I know that you have much external stress, but when this gets really inside it becomes very hard to bear.

I do not expect to solve your problems -- I have a hard job trying to solve my own -- but someone helped me quite considerably two years ago, when I was under severe pressure, and your work situation is similar to mine at that time. I came to the conclusion -- and I have confirmed it since -- that perhaps the most difficult lesson in the whole range of personal experience is contained in the parable of 'The Eleventh Hour' (Matthew 20).

I think most honest minds, on reading this parable, find themselves on the side of the labourers who had worked all day; yet a little uneasily, as this puts us also under the rebuke of the Lord of the vineyard. We wait for some satisfactory explanation of the apparent injustice, and when the story ends we are left with the feeling that the labourers who worked all day in the heat of the sun had a point.

On the face of it the answer is, I suppose, simple and obvious. God has made us with a built-in sense of justice and fairness, and it is generally reliable, but it becomes confused in this particular connection. The labourers who were employed early in the day were presumably perfectly satisfied with the terms of employment, and since the employer was the Lord these were certainly generous. They were happy to work that way, for those hours and for that pay, right up until they discovered someone else was getting a better deal -- the same pay for less work.

We have known this parable since childhood and it all seems simple enough, but I defy you to learn this lesson overnight. I now believe it to be one of the most profound and important lessons [96/97] in life. The problem it covers reaches into every part of our lives, almost every day; and harasses us unceasingly, disturbing our peace of mind, frustrating and irritating us. To be entirely delivered from it would be a vast relief, but it is a subtle and persistent threat, soaking in like water through every crack in our defences.

The theoretical -- and true -- answer is simple: we deal with the Lord only, accepting the terms from Him -- so much money (or whatever) for so much work. If we do not like the terms, then we earnestly request better terms from Him; but having finally settled with Him, we keep our eyes firmly on our contract with Him, steadfastly refusing to look at what anyone else is doing or not doing.

As a spiritual exercise this can be successful for a time, but inevitably this sense of injustice and unfairness comes back like the rising tide, and engulfs the mind, submerging our resolution under waves of resentment against those who are not 'pulling their weight', or who are 'taking advantage of our willingness' and giving us a disproportionate share of the work to be done. Once again, taking an objective view of our own part, we agree that we are doing no more than a reasonable day's work for a reasonable wage -- but for the same wage others are getting away with less! Aye, there's the rub.

It is well known that psychological stress can be far more exhausting than physical, so we add to our daily work load a degree of psychological pressure that leaves us weary at the day's end, and, what is more damaging, unable to sleep well. A good night's sleep is the labouring man's reward, but if he is troubled by nagging problems which disturb that sleep, he forfeits his reward. Some problems may with better reason threaten our nights, but this one ought not to do so.

The answer must lie in a steadfast refusal to contemplate what others do, and in a persistent return to our own contract with God, If it is a 'fair' deal in our view, we must give thanks, but if we think not, then we must discuss it with Him -- He may be prepared to make some changes. The parable says: "Did you not agree with me for a denarius?" Your own satisfaction with the deal is spoiled by your comparison with others.

This is one of the most deceptive issues I have met. On paper it looks simple and obvious; in practice it is as near to impossible as makes no difference. However, as you yourself have already proved, ours is the God of the Impossible.

"Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ." (Colossians 3:23-24 RSV).

Your brother, E. F.


Harry Foster

Reading: Psalm 72

THIS psalm concerning Solomon represents the grand climax of David's life and sufferings. With it the preparatory stages of the bringing in of the kingdom are terminated, the throne being now established, and by its two-fold Amen the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended. The terms of this declaration concerning Solomon are perfectly clear. In brief, it means that the king is everything. He is the source and the goal of every activity in the kingdom, and his own person is the explanation of its superlative blessedness. To us this all speaks of the greater than Solomon, and illustrates the New Testament affirmation concerning the Lord Jesus that "all things have been created in Him, through Him and unto Him" (Colossians 1:16) and that in the new creation, "Christ is all, and in all".

There is a striking difference between the greatness of Saul, man's king, and Solomon, the chosen and anointed of God. Saul's wealth was at the expense of his subjects (1 Samuel 8:11-18). Solomon's kingdom was much more magnificent than Saul's, but his riches meant the people's enrichment, his greatness made them great, and they all prospered because of his prosperity. So it is in the sphere of Christ's dominion. He must be supreme, not at the expense of His people, but for their increase. It is not harsh despotism but generous love that summons us to submit to God's King "Because the Lord loved Israel for ever, therefore He made thee king" said the Queen of Sheba to Solomon. It is in a gracious purpose of love to us that God has so highly exalted His Son, and we need to recognise the absolute [97/98] supremacy of His anointed King if we are to enter in to that purpose. Among the many important aspects of Christ's sovereignty which are indicated in this psalm we consider but two, those of prayer and service.

TRUE prayer must have Christ as its object, "And men shall pray for him continually" (v.15). It may seem strange, at first sight, to be making intercession on behalf of the Lord Jesus. Surely He cannot be more highly exalted than He is nor His throne more securely established, but in fact since everything in the kingdom is for Him, the true direction of all prayer should be towards Him. We may bring others into the scope of our prayers, we may encircle men and women, activities and places by them, but we must be careful not to regard their prosperity or blessing as ends in themselves. Prayer which is not in the first place prayer 'for Him' is gravely at fault. In extreme cases, alas, prayer may degenerate into a mere means of obtaining things. Funds are required; healing seems desirable; unpleasant circumstances would be more congenial if the trying elements could be removed from them, and so 'prayer' is used to effect these ends. Money is brought in by prayer; sickness is overcome by prayer; people have their trials removed by prayer. All this is excellent provided that the Lord's interests are served by what is obtained. But supposing they are not! Or supposing there could be greater fruit for God if the requests were not granted. Is it not far more profitable to focus prayer on the essential concern of God in every life and in every circumstance, namely the glorifying of Christ? It is thus, and only thus, that we may have confidence that our requests are really expressions of the mind of the Holy Spirit. To pray thus will involve no limitation or restriction, but rather will bring a great enlargement. What possibilities for Christ there are in any human life! If we pray for a sinner as needing salvation we have a strong motive for true exercise of heart, but how much more powerful does the motive become when we regard the life as firstly and essentially an opportunity for Christ to come into His own. Let us be more diligent in our intercessions for those whom Satan holds in bondage, but let our prayers be rendered the more effective by their being 'for Him'. The force of this emphasis is even greater in our intercessions for the Lord's people. Our natural reasoning and emotions may lead us astray here. They can even induce us to ask for that which involves loss to the Lord even though it seems desirable for the moment. As soon as the intercessor descends to the earthly level of praying for the prosperity of a cause, of for the propagation of a teaching, the essentially spiritual character of prayer has been lost. It is not that the cause is not a good one, nor that the teaching is unimportant, but that they should only be considered in relation to the supreme purpose of God, which is the fullness of Christ. Paul pleaded for the fickle Galatians before the throne of grace but what was the burden of his prayers. Not that they should be corrected as to their doctrine; not that their attitude to him personally might improve; not even that they might prosper in God's work. No, there is something more than these, though it includes them all. "My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you' (Galatians 4:19). That is the kind of prayer which is 'for Him'.

ANOTHER realm where everything should be 'unto Him' is that of service. "All kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him" (v.11). Now there are few phrases more constantly on the lips of Christians than the well-worn expression 'serving the Lord', and perhaps there are few which so often fail sadly of the true meaning of the words. The suggestion implied in the psalm is that the king and his interests are the explanation of all service performed within the boundaries of his kingdom.

Such a conception of service may seem idealistic in an earthly kingdom, but in Christ's dominion there is no other. Self-interest, earthly advantages, and such unworthy motives, intrude themselves all too easily into our activities. The judgment seat of Christ will doubtless provide a sad exposure of the unreal nature of much that has passed among men for the work of God. Here is the golden reed for measuring all that bears that name. Is it really for Him? Does it represent an increase of glory for Christ? If not, be it never so costly and energetic, it is as nothing. Ministry which is not 'unto Him' is no ministry at all. Good works which have not the increase of Christ as their object can have no eternal value. At first sight this may seem to involve a limitation of much activity and a narrowing down of usefulness of our lives. Without a doubt the application of the divine standard to many lives might mean the exclusion of things which were previously classified as being the service of God; nevertheless it opens up before the humble believer a broader avenue of service than had ever seemed possible. Service is not official, nor is it only the more [98/99] public religious activity which passes under that name, for every activity of life can be part of privileged service to the King. Not some things but all things may be, and indeed should be, 'unto Him'. Even the drudgery of the bond-slave, unappreciated and of no apparent worth, can be done 'as unto the Lord', with the assurance, "ye serve the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:23-24).

This leaves no place for rivalries, jealousy, or sectarianism. There is but one King, and His interests must be paramount in all things, and the governing factor in every task. However well-intentioned the labours may be, if they are not a part of the Spirit's activities to enhance the glory of Christ, then God has no place for them. And however small and lowly the action, if it is truly unto Christ, then it will be gathered up by the Father and cherished for all eternity.

Once again let it be repeated, the increase of the Lord's glory will never mean loss for any of His own. Let Christ be given a greater place in an individual life and that one will find increasing blessing; let everything that is not genuinely for the Lord be banished from an assembly or a work of God, and the result will be not limitation but a glorious enlargement. Give the King His rightful place and "There shall be abundance of corn in the land upon the top of the mountain: the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon ..." (v.16).



Graham Scott

IT was Wednesday, and we were sailing over the Pacific Ocean whose waters were incredibly blue, perhaps because of the bright blue of the cloudless sky above. There was just enough breeze to keep the sun from being unpleasantly hot, and our ship seemed alone in a peaceful world of blue and gold; but I was in trouble. That week was to be different from any I had had before and (since I never went that way again) different from any since. The problem was that there would be no Thursday.

This posed me a big problem. We were sailing with an Asian crew who, like me, had never traded in those waters before, and although I had been taught about the International Date Line, they hadn't. In fact they had never heard of it. My command of their language, Hindustani, though sufficient for the normal running of the ship, was not good enough for any complicated explanations. How was I to explain to them that there would be no Thursday?

Those who sail across the Pacific Ocean find nothing to mark the presence of the International Date Line, but though it is unseen, it is very real and is usually marked on maps as a red line. It has one or two zig-zags, as you can verify on a map, and this is to ensure that it does not pass through any islands, for it would be most confusing if two nearby villages were living in different days, and it is on this line that one day changes to the next.

Let me explain. When the sun is at its highest point overhead, we say that it is 'noon'. Suppose we think of noon on Monday in Britain and then keep steadily moving West for noon in all the different places as the sun is overhead there. If we keep on long enough we will arrive again in Britain and might think that it is still noon on Monday. But of course it would not be Monday any longer, but this time it would be Tuesday. So somewhere or other we would have to change from Monday to Tuesday. Years ago it was decided that this should happen in the Pacific Ocean because there are no big land masses there.

This means that when a ship sails across the International Date Line heading West it must skip a day. So on that special week I had to pass from Wednesday to Friday and lost my Thursday altogether. (Don't feel too sorry for me, for on the way back I had a week with two Tuesdays; so though in my life I missed a Thursday, I have had an extra Tuesday to make up for it!)

But back to my Asian crew. On Wednesday morning I made an attempt to break the news to them, speaking to the bosun as we walked round the ship together. I sent a man for a piece of chalk and began to draw diagrams on the hatch. Soon all the crew had stopped work and gathered round, struggling to understand in five minutes something I had learned over the years. Suddenly, noticing that the work had stopped, the bosun came to a decision. "All right," he said, "go back to work. If the Chief Officer says there is no Thursday then there is no Thursday." He still did not understand, but he was going to trust and [99/100] obey. It was the sensible thing to do, for if I hadn't known about such things I would not have been Chief Officer. We had worked together for some months and a sort of trust and comradeship had built up between us. To him it was strange, but he trusted me.

He could have done the opposite, saying that as he did not understand this which was so unexpected he would insist on having a Thursday, just the same as in every other week. If he had done so, he would have found how wrong he was when he reached the end of the journey, for his unbelief or disobedience would have made no difference to the facts, though it would have made a difference to him and made it very awkward for me. Fortunately he was ready to trust and obey.

God's ways sometimes seem strange to us. He appears to be robbing us of something even if not of a Thursday. But provided we learn the bosun's lesson of being willing to trust even though we do not understand, we shall arrive at journey's end finding that after all He was right, though at the time things did not seem to make sense. "Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them." (Psalm 119:165).



Harry Foster

ALL the great men of the Old Testament were proud to be called God's servants. None of them, however, fully fitted into the character of the suffering Servant of Jehovah so vividly described by Isaiah. This prophetic role belonged exclusively to the Lord Jesus. He alone provided in perfection that service which Israel was called to do and which the spiritual Israel within the nation partly performed. In accordance with the prophecies, the great service of Christ reached its climax when He gave His life on the cross (Isaiah 53:11).

After the resurrection, the Spirit-filled apostles defined Jesus Christ as God's servant (Acts 3:26) and also as His 'holy' servant (Acts 4:27), employing the same simple word which provided the Greek rendering of Isaiah's title (Matthew 12:28). With more usual words they afterwards began to call themselves servants of God, too, but they did so only as they sought humbly to follow the footsteps of the great Servant (1 Peter 2:21).

The heart of the matter is that the Lord Jesus not only bore the title, but was always activated by the servant spirit, as was proved by His behaviour among His disciples (Luke 22 26). He served because He wanted to do so, and not because of any compulsion or prospect of reward; indeed John is careful to point out that even while He stooped to wash His disciples' feet He was well aware that the highest position in the universe already belonged to Him (John 13:3).

We gather that He frequently gave practical help to others, but it appears that His action with the girded towel was especially to be noted. Why did He take it? Partly, no doubt, to shame their feeble false dignity, but more to give them -- and us -- an example of the true dignity of service (John 13:17). Even more than this, though, He spontaneously expressed His very nature for, in a startlingly unexpected passage, He promised that at His second coming He will again gird Himself, this time to wait on His faithful servants (Luke 12:37). It was a striking feature of one of His resurrection appearances that He Himself both prepared and served a breakfast to seven of His hungry and weary apostles (John 21:13).

The highest form of human activity is the humble serving of others. It is not without significance that a common phrase in modern life is 'Self Service'. Ever since Satan arrogantly refused to be a servant and aspired to be a lord, men have brought trouble to themselves and misery to others by imagining that there is something ignoble in the idea of being a servant. In this way pride has corrupted our society. There would have been no hope at all for the human race if God had not started anew with the Son of man who came not to be served but to be a servant (Matthew 20:28).

Perfect love in sublime humility has founded a new kingdom in which the highest dignity is given to the servant. Earth is full of would-be bosses -- hence its unhappiness. Heaven gives centrality and supremacy to the one who gladly consented to be the Servant, and therefore it is the sphere of true bliss. Indeed it may well be that when we assemble in the resurrection glory, we shall discover that among the many glittering titles accorded to Christ, the noblest of them all may be The Servant of the Lord.


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