"... 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. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1972 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: Zechariah 4

THE golden lampstand which Zechariah saw was the symbol of the divine testimony, the out shining of the glory of God. Lying behind all God's activities with men, the very reason for man's creation, is His desire to display His glory. The human race, as a whole, failed to realise this grand design, but the testimony was taken up by individual witnesses, like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and others. In a very real sense the testimony of the glory of God rested on their shoulders; they carried the enormous responsibility of being here on the earth where the enemy had almost entirely succeeded in marring or veiling that glory. These lonely figures were the men who stood for the preservation of that testimony to God's glory. Then the testimony passed from individuals to a nation, when Israel was brought into being to be a corporate vessel of the divine testimony, a people in whom the glory of God could be displayed. Ultimately Israel failed, so the testimony was transferred and passed on to the Church, consisting of Israelites to whom Gentiles were later added. The glory of God certainly blazed up anew in the Church at the beginning. In the course of time, speaking generally, the Church has also failed, and it is not without significance that one of the seven churches of Asia was threatened with an entire removal of its lampstand. The article, however beautiful in itself, has no significance by its mere form or profession, but only as the light of God blazes out from it. This is what God is always seeking, the display of His glory in and through His people.

The great concern and business of the Church is to be a testimony to God's glory. The one plumb-line which measured Jerusalem was that of the glory of God in the midst (Zechariah 2:8), and this measurement is what matters for us today. The final judgment will be based on the degree of glory found in our lives. Nothing else will be of lasting importance. Those who have lived most of their lives already and perhaps been active for God, still do well to face this challenge concerning God's glory, and those who are only just beginning should know the real standard for all Christian living. We may well wonder how it can be. Zechariah had the same problem in his day, and this vision gave him -- and us -- the answer: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts".


The only true Witness is the Lord Jesus Christ. Through all those early individual witnesses, through Israel, and through the Church, all is gathered up into one glorious witness, the Lord Jesus. All who went before Him, pointed on to Him; all those who followed (if there was any true testimony to God's glory in their experiences) took their character from Him; the glory of God is to be found in the face of Jesus Christ. It is there, of course, by the Spirit. The testimony of God was taken up at Jordan, where the Spirit of God came upon Jesus, who was immediately challenged by Satan's offering Him the kingdoms of this world and their glory in exchange for the glory of God. It always happens in this way: man is offered this world's glory in exchange for the glory of God. But by that same Spirit of anointing which had come upon Christ at Jordan He met the challenge, and He never swerved from the straight path of seeking only the Father's glory. [101/102]

It was often a trial, a fiery trial for Him, but the Spirit sustained Him and kept the testimony untarnished. Later Peter interpreted the fiery trial of fellow disciples as being connected with this same Spirit's work of glorifying God, "The Spirit of glory ... resteth upon you" (1 Peter 4:14). How can it be that in suffering and adversity the Spirit of glory, not of grace only but of glory, rests upon us? It can only be because the same Spirit who came upon the Lord Jesus to enable Him at great personal cost to glorify God, has now come to our lives for this express purpose of establishing and maintaining the testimony. Wherever you find the Holy Spirit coming, whether in symbol or in reality, you will find that the immediate outcome is always the glory of God. So it was that the tabernacle was filled with God's glory. The temple, also, was filled with this glory. At Pentecost the Spirit came in fullness to the Church, and the result was glory. That day was a wonderful day of glory for the men who had such a living experience of God being glorified in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, and the days following were equally wonderful as every new touch of God's Spirit upon them brought fresh evidence of God's glory.

Although we accept the fact of Christ's eternal sonship, we are told that as Son of man He was enabled to glorify the Father by means of the anointing Spirit. From the beginning of His public testimony to its completion when He offered Himself through the eternal Spirit, He carried through triumphantly His Spirit-given testimony to the glory of God. As representative Man, He lived and suffered for the one purpose of glorifying God, and so perfectly fulfilled this task that in Him the testimony to the glory of God has been secured for ever. So, then, our fears and sense of weakness must not cripple us, for He has sent His Spirit into our lives so that in us, too, the testimony might be maintained and the glory seen. We can claim the promise, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit".

This also gives us the answer to the interrogation, "Who hath despised the day of small things?" (Zechariah 4:10.) Out of the large numbers who went into exile, just forty-two thousand odd were ready to pay the price of letting go the comforts and security of life in Babylon to return to the land where God's testimony could be established. They were small in number, weak in themselves, despised by their neighbours, and they returned to a land which was desolate, impoverished and afflicted, so that it was indeed a 'day of small things'. But they were not to be despised, for God was backing them up as they truly sought His glory. It is no small thing to be involved in the testimony of God's glory. We should not make a virtue of smallness, as though there were something important about being despised by others, but at the same time we shall find that whenever God has called people to display His glory, He has chosen those who have no glory in themselves.

God has always been obliged to strip His instruments of their own glory. A Moses, full of Egypt's sufficiency, must go for forty years to the backside of the desert to be emptied out and made to confess his complete inadequacy before he can become an instrument for the display of the glory of God. There were times when some of the Israelites did try to despise this now humble Moses, and he made no attempt to stand up for himself, but God soon made it manifest to all concerned how wrong it was to despise him. The glory of God appeared at the gate of the tabernacle and took up the challenge. Sometimes it takes the Lord years to get us sufficiently emptied, weak and small, so that we can bear His glory in our lives, a fact which may well explain some of His dealings with us. When He has got us, small enough and empty enough, then there is a chance for the working of His Spirit in glory.


The testimony to the glory of God must of necessity be a heart matter. Ezra tells us that when Cyrus made his decree that the house of God should be re-built in Jerusalem and every facility be granted to those who would return to do the building, he did not make it a command that all Jews should go back. Had he done so, they would all have been compelled to return, and such compulsion would have given little prospect of glory for God. The decree was really an appeal for volunteers, "Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go ..." (Ezra 1:3). Like the original work of the tabernacle, it was entrusted to those who were of a willing heart, for God's testimony will always be a heart matter. Those who have personal interests in view are entirely out of keeping with the objective of God's kingdom and glory. So it was that only a comparative few returned to the land when the opportunity arose, the great majority having settled in and largely become a part of the life in Babylon where all [102/103] the glory was for man. Their interests and future was so tied up with that realm that it would have involved a tremendous upheaval to extricate themselves and return to a land of poor and unpopular people with only God as their security and hope for the future. It was because so many were not willing to pay the price that for those who returned it was a day of small things. Nevertheless it was not to be despised -- far from it.

The Lord Jesus Himself always stressed this heart aspect of discipleship, pointing out that without the denying of self and the daily taking up of the cross, the kingdom could never be fully possessed. The end which God has in view is something much more than mere personal blessing. He is looking for those who will share with His King the responsibility for the glory of His kingdom. Such a calling will find us out if we have personal interests, for it demands hearts which are consumed with jealousy for the glory of the Lord. The Holy Spirit will always support such an attitude, for He Himself burns with the same intense jealousy. This has nothing to do with a craving for special teaching or mere negative dissatisfaction with things as they are, but signifies a real heart hunger for more of God's glory. I am not referring to the people who are eternally disgruntled and full of criticism, those who will never be contented anywhere at all; but I wish to concentrate on the believers whose hearts are really groaning in travail for the full will of God. Such people sense that there are divine purposes which are not being realised, and they are on full stretch for a testimony of greater glory for God. It was a similar concern which stirred men's hearts to obey the decree of Cyrus. The Jews who remained in Babylon were not without God's blessing, but the remnant were full of concern not for themselves but for greater glory for the name of the Lord, and this made them ready to rise up and leave everything, if only that could be realised. To them -- and to us if we are their spiritual counterpart -- the promise is most reassuring, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit". We cannot pay the price, nor go through with all that is involved, in our own strength. We do not have to. The Holy Spirit is ready to take full responsibility for the glory of God, both in our own lives and also in the testimony of God through us.


The message of Zechariah's vision is that the testimony of God, which is the glory of God, can only be established, confirmed and perfected by the Holy Spirit. The testimony of God is not a teaching, a system of truth, but an experience in life. We must be very clear about this, for we may have a great grasp of doctrine, knowing all the explanations of divine things, and yet miss the essential, which is spiritual glory. It may be true that divine glory will require sound teaching and correct order, yet these in themselves may constitute a dry technique, a mere framework, an empty shell. It is true that the tabernacle was constituted and constructed according to God's own commandments, even down to the last pin, but it did not and could not function until the glory of God came into it. Again, the temple's plans and arrangements were given by God in a detailed pattern, yet it stood empty and valueless until the glory of God filled it. The testimony is not technique; it is glory. What a sad thing it is when would-be upholders of God's testimony are legalistically and meticulously pre-occupied with people's procedure, and even their dress and appearance, carrying heavy burdens themselves and imposing those burdens on others, when what God wanted was just a chance to display His glory.

It is possible, of course, to argue that just as the Old Testament insisted on correct form before the glory came, so in New Testament days the coming of glory will be dependent on careful insistence on right doctrine in the strictest correctness as well as on a perfect form of procedure, but surely Pentecost was the other way round, so far as men here on earth were concerned. In heaven, it is true, everything was perfectly according to God in Christ, and that was how the glory came down to the Church here on earth; but so far as the disciples were concerned, the doctrine and the procedure followed. The Church began with the glorious fullness of the Holy Spirit. Because of Christ's exaltation the glory was available, the anointing Spirit was released. The Church's experience was that it was the dynamic which came first, so that it was after they had the glory that they began to know what they should teach and how they should act. We must have it this way. It must be 'by My Spirit'. We can do nothing about the testimony until God acts. I cannot help to glorify God; you cannot help either; nothing that we can prescribe or provide can do it. The most perfect order will not bring glory. The most correct teaching will not ensure it. It does not come by our abilities, our understanding, our personality or drive, for [103/104] nothing from man can produce this glory -- it is only by God's Spirit.

The glory is itself a testimony. If we are bringing in the glory, people will want to know how they can get it. What is the use of answering them with the 'Thou shalts' and the 'Thou shalt nots' of legalistic teaching when they find no glow, no radiance, no power, but only an empty shell? The plumb-line which will show up their deficiencies is not that of Christian ideas or religious practices but the testimony of the glory of God in Christ. We begin with the glory; the whole emphasis is as positive as can be -- glory by the Holy Spirit. The only negatives in this verse are connected with the futility of human power and ability.

As we have said, the testimony of God here on earth is to be found in the Church. This is variously described as God's house, God's temple and Christ's body, but in each case the essential factor is the indwelling Spirit. This is really what is meant by the phrase, 'the glory of God', namely the reality of His presence. The vessel of Testimony has as its sole object the making immediate and actual of the presence of God and fellowship with Him. Of course God is everywhere, and can be met anywhere, even in the most isolated and remote spot a man can encounter God. The Scriptures indicate, however, that God has a wish for something more immediate than His universal presence. They speak of God dwelling with men; making His habitation among them; and then they describe the final triumph in the words, "The tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them" (Revelation 21:3). This is something more immediate and actual than the all-pervading fact of the deity, and so the Church has as its object the presencing of God in a more personal and conscious way for the purposes of His fellowship with Man.

This is what the Holy Spirit has come for, to make the presence of Christ a vital reality. The titles of 'house' or 'temple' are mere finger-posts, all pointing towards the person of the Lord Jesus. His very name, Christ, means the Anointed One, and it is by the anointing of the Spirit that God is present. The Lord's name is not only 'Jesus'; it is also 'Emmanuel', God with us. Christ is the true house of God, but since we are 'in Christ', we share in the reality of God's glorious presence.

So it is part of the Spirit's work to build us and hold us together so that there may be a united testimony to the glory of God. God needs something more than a heap of stones -- even if they are living stones -- if He is to have a properly constructed dwelling. Christ needs more than many members, even though they are living members, since a body can only function if its members are coordinated and integrated in vital relationship. Now although there are many members there is only one anointing; we either share His anointing or we do not know its power. The anointing upon Christ is the same anointing as that which we receive, and in us as well as in Him its one purpose is to express God's glory.

It is the anointing Spirit who makes the Church to be the house of God, and the house is one because Christ is one. We must never be caught in the mistake of imagining that those who hold the truth of the one body are more in the reality of it than those who do not. Those who know nothing of the teaching are as much part of Christ's body (if they are in Him) as those who feel that they have received so much light on the subject. We must beware of the schisms which come because of the things which we know and others do not, for light alone can easily cause divisions. "Is Christ divided?" (1 Corinthians 1:13). That was a challenge made to the church whose members were so ready to boast of their knowledge and so partisan in their attitude to various spiritual teachers. These were the very people whom the apostle described as being a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), and also warned very solemnly against destroying that temple. How is the temple destroyed? It is by trying to divide Christ, by making parties and groups among the Lord's people, often by wrongly imagining that they are superior to other Christians because of the teaching they have received or the teacher whom they follow. This is an offense to the Holy Spirit, and a sure way of thwarting God's desire to show forth His glory. The Lord Jesus has so identified Himself in the Spirit with all who are His own people, that what is true of Him is also true of them, and what is done to them is really done to Him. So it is that practical love towards any of His members opens the way for His Spirit's working and, conversely, carelessness, indifference or antagonism towards other members of Christ is a sure way of quenching the Holy Spirit. It may be that this is the explanation of there being so much less glory among God's people than there ought to be. The moment we grieve the Spirit, we begin to dim the glory. It is in their life together that God's people [104/105] form the golden lampstand into which He will pour the golden oil through His own golden pipes. Let us not accept any less objective than God's glory when we seek His fullness, for the Holy Spirit's presence among us is specifically promised for the express purpose of providing a testimony to that glory. God's negatives ("not by might, nor by power") are but to make way for His glorious positive -- "but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."


Harry Foster

"Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth,
that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh
reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit
reap life everlasting.
" Galatians 6:7-8

"SOWING to the Spirit" is a striking phrase which embodies Paul's last words concerning the Holy Spirit to the would-be 'spiritual' Galatians. Although it is simple and unsensational, it gets right to the heart of the whole question of how to please God. Already in the letter mention has been made of being born of the Spirit, of miracle-working by the Spirit, of praying, 'Abba Father' by the Spirit, of hoping and being led, of producing fruit, living and walking by the Spirit; now the final appeal comes that Christians should 'sow' to the Spirit. What did Paul mean?

The passage begins with a general statement that a man reaps what he sows. This is true in nature though, of course, there are accidents of pest and weather which can modify it. The apostle however was not dealing with nature but with moral and spiritual issues, and above all with the reminder that it is God with whom we have to reckon. The Galatians could deceive others with a show of spurious spirituality, just as we can also deceive our fellow believers. They could deceive themselves, and so can we, for the human heart is deceitful above all things and particularly so in the realms of imagined spirituality. But neither the Galatians nor we can deceive God. When we sow to the Spirit, we sow to God. We do not even deal with the inexorable laws of God, but with God Himself, for the Spirit is God. I have observed that in this life there is often an amazing fulfilment of this logical sequence of sowing and reaping. It is quite startling at times to see how relentless -- or rewarding -- the truth is that actions and attitudes have a remarkable way of boomeranging back on their authors. As we treat others, so in due course we shall find ourselves being treated, as others can observe, even if we do not realise what is happening. This call to sow to the Spirit, however, seems to refer to something even more certain and inevitable in the life of every Christian, which is the eternal outcome of present procedures in time. Although this is a text which has often been effectively used as an evangelistic warning and appeal, its original meaning was not in such a context, but was rather a message for men 'in Christ', reminding them that their present way of life, their sowing, will bring its own harvest in one way or another. Above all it was an encouragement to all believers to know that if they patiently continue to obey the Spirit's urges and seek His pleasure, they will reap in the 'due season' of eternity.

IN this sense "every man shall bear his own burden" (verse 5). Others may fulfil the law of Christ by rendering sympathetic aid, but, in the final issue, each of us has an inner life to lead which is peculiarly our own. Each Christian is regarded as a continual 'sower' with personal responsibility as to what he sows and with the constant possible alternatives of acting according to his flesh, and so wasting his time and strength in what will not last, or acting according to the Spirit, and so saving up a harvest of eternal gain. "God is not mocked." Although this is true, the statement is not made with regard to the matter of salvation, for in this connection God, who is marvellously merciful, does not press the law of sowing and reaping. We have sowed rebellion and iniquity, and yet God gives us a free pardon as soon as we ask Him to do so. We never sowed eternal life before we came to Christ, and yet we have received this life as a gift, without any need for working or waiting. In this matter we reap from our Saviour's sowing on the cross. Once we have entered into life by being born from above, however, we cannot escape from the law of the Spirit; we can never hoodwink God nor avoid receiving the harvest of what we have done [105/106] in the body, whether it be good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). God's grace is infinitely great, but in this matter of sowing and reaping He has made it quite plain that He will not deviate from His declared principle of seedtime and harvest. Let us not be deceived by wishy-washy ideas of God's kindness. His love is deep and unchangeable, but His principles are as fixed as His throne, being that, as the Lord Jesus Himself said, "Whatsoever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatsoever is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). No amount of sincere wishes can change the specific nature of a seed once it is sown. Not even prayer can alter it. Our deceitful hearts will try to convince us that we can take advantage of God's love to reap differently from what we have sown, but when the harvest comes they will be proved wrong. On the other hand, in our discouragement we may sometimes accept Satan's lie that spiritual sowing is vain, and that there will be no harvest, but equally we shall be proved wrong -- happily wrong in this case. What we sow we shall reap.

This makes us the more concerned to know what is involved by this activity of sowing to the flesh. How is it done? The answer to this question is that we sow to the flesh by giving expression to our own natural ideas and desires. Like many weeds, the flesh has its own way of self-propagating and hardly needs much deliberate sowing, but if allowed to do so, will spread into every area of life, even in the things of God. Let us not be misled by the word 'flesh' into imagining that the Scriptures are only speaking of obviously evil and unclean actions and habits. No, the flesh is something much more comprehensive than that; it includes just the normal reactions and activities of our self life, it is indeed what we are. As the Lord Jesus said, the flesh can only produce flesh; there is no miracle by which it can be turned into spirit, for its nature, like that of the seed, is permanent and final. Since all that is human is mortal, and therefore has the seeds of corruption within itself, sowing to the flesh can only produce 'corruption', i.e. that which will not be able to stand the test of eternity.

THIS, then, should be our first concern, to be saved from sowing to the flesh, and it is with this in view that the letter to the Galatians lays such stress on the need for the cross to cut back and cut out the natural corruption of our hearts. It is vain for us to determine that by our efforts we will not sow to the flesh, for we can do nothing else unless we experience a supernatural deliverance from ourselves. This is what God has provided through the cross of His Son which is intended not only to provide a free gift for us but also to do a work in us. For his part, Paul insisted that his new life in the Spirit sprang out of a very definite appropriation of the divine fact that he had been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). He indicated that the only possible way to walk in the Spirit is to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts (5:24). This is, of course, a symbolic expression, since we cannot ourselves do the crucifying. It is a fact that crucifixion is one of the few forms of death which can never be self-inflicted; a man may hang himself, poison himself or drown himself, but it is a physical impossibility for him to crucify himself. Clearly what Paul meant is that we must realise that Christ's cross is also ours; that we must accept the need for having our natural impulses slain by its power, and to this end must co-operate with the Holy Spirit in a day to day, hour by hour, setting aside of our wills in favour of the will of God.

Do we, then, need the Holy Spirit to deliver us from sowing to the flesh? Indeed we do. His method is the simple but drastic one of always leading us back to the cross. After all, the Lord Jesus was always and entirely under the government of the Spirit, and was led by Him to the divine 'must' of being lifted up on the cross. He did this not for Himself but for us, and He did it not to excuse us from the cross's sentence of death on the natural life but rather that this sentence might be applied in an active and effective way in order to deliver us from ourselves. So it is that sowing to the Spirit is the only sure way of not sowing to the flesh. And lest anyone should wrongly imagine that there is some handicap or loss because of this union with Christ on His cross, the apostle closes this section of the letter with a shout of triumph -- "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross ..." (6:14). Let us notice that his glorying is not in the old rugged cross of the past which brought him pardon and reconciliation with God, but in the present, sharp application of the cross which kept cutting into his own life to make and keep him a crucified man.

When you have realized something of the gloomy inevitability of your flesh's self sowing, with its distressing harvest, then you do indeed welcome the cross's delivering power. When you [106/107] find that the cross of Christ can work right deep down in your own nature, setting aside the innate rebellion against God's will which is entrenched there, and so enabling you to sense the Spirit's promptings to do the will of God and to obey them, then you have every reason for shouting 'Glory!'

ALL this negative work of the Cross produces the positive release of the new life. "I have been crucified with Christ" the apostle declares, but he then goes on to affirm, "nevertheless I live" (2:20). So it is that our text not only warns us against sowing to the flesh but provides positive encouragement to us to sow to the Spirit. We must face the fact that such sowing involves actions and not merely aspiration or longings, or even only prayers. Constant sowing must find expression in the practical ways of daily life, just as it did in the case of the Lord Jesus Himself who by the Spirit's leading "went about doing good ..." (Acts 10:38). It is interesting to note that Paul's words about this sowing are immediately preceded by instructions concerning a Christian's financial obligations towards those who minister God's Word to him. Is failure in this respect one of the reasons for the withholding of the Spirit's power among many groups of God's people? How can we expect to know the harvest of the Spirit's liberty and power among us if we neglect this practical form of sowing which God Himself has commanded? Even in this financial realm we are told that "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly" (2 Corinthians 9:6), and it is quite impressive how much God's Word has to say about this one practical matter although it is, of course, only one area in which we must sow to the Spirit.

We notice that immediately after these verses, Paul makes a double reference to "well doing" and doing, good", with the stress not so much on isolated actions as on the steady continuance indicated by the words "if we faint not". Sowing is an operation which requires patient persistence, the ability to keep on keeping on. This was precisely what the Galatians did not seem able to do. They could start enthusiastically, but soon they would go off at a tangent, drawn aside by some attractive novelty. This same characteristic is still found among those Christians who can be provoked into activity by new ideas and new ventures, but seem quite unable to persevere steadily in a course set before them by the Lord. Their enthusiastic beginnings are no proof of true spirituality, for one of the hall-marks of a man of God is his ability to go on sowing to the Spirit in faith, even though he sees no evidence of an immediate harvest. The test of time is God's way of finding out just how much of the Spirit's work is really found in His people.

THE Corinthians were also Christians who needed to learn how to sow to the Spirit. Indeed they were sad examples of how truly converted people, "in one Spirit ... all baptised into one body" (l Corinthians 12:12), could yet fail to sow to the Spirit. They were unspiritual, as Paul's letter clearly states and proves, so much so that in his second letter he not only spoke of their unkind criticism of himself, but confessed that he dreaded to visit them for fear of finding them marred by "debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults" (2 Corinthians 12:20). They had all drunk of the one Spirit, but they greatly needed to learn this simple but profound lesson of constant, practical obedience to the Spirit. This command to sow to the Spirit may help those who are confused about possible differences between the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the exercise of His gifts. It stresses, as does 1 Corinthians 13 also, that God looks for constancy in both areas. It is categorically stated that without the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts are of no eternal value at all, since what will abide then will be character and not mere activities. The only harvest which can come from the flesh is corruption, even if that flesh is trying to serve the Lord. On the other hand the fruit of the Spirit must be expressed in actions, so that sowing to the Spirit necessitates the employment of gifts, whether they be obviously supernatural or not conspicuously so. The whole fruit of the Spirit is essential if we are to act positively for God and thus sow to the Spirit. A man can never be a 'help' without love, nor exercise 'government' without patience, nor can he work 'miracles' without faith or 'prophesy' without self-control (1 Corinthians 14:31). And since all the gifts are to be exercised in harmony, it is certain that the variety of gifts demands considerable longsuffering if Christ's body is not to be a staggering confusion of uncoordinated members.

We have already said that this sowing demands the test of time, and it may now be added that such a test requires the setting of assembly life for its full application. Steady sowing is essential in corporate Christian testimony. It is not enough [107/108] for Christians to be taking long journeys or making big sacrifices to share in some special convention meetings if they fail to pull their weight at the local prayer meeting just round the corner. It may be a good prayer meeting or it may be a bad one, but in either case it is an opportunity to go on with the work of sowing to the Spirit, and absence may be regarded by God as inexcusable failure to sow just because the wind or the clouds tended to discourage (Ecclesiastes 11:4). One of the evidences of spiritual sowing is that we should be found in our places in assembly life and keep those places with unflagging steadfastness, even if the 'due season' for reaping shows no signs of coming. If we do so there will eventually come a day when persistence in faithful fellowship and prayer will reap its own harvest. In that day we may exclaim in surprise, 'Where has all this harvest come from?' and the Lord will reply, 'You see, I am not mocked. You have patiently sowed to the Spirit, and this is the rich harvest which I promised to all who obey My command in this respect.'

Let us, then, go on sowing to the Spirit by praising God in the face of adversity; by refusing to be discouraged by criticism or misunderstanding; by showing love to those who provoke us and by praying for those who try to harm us. In short, let us sow to the Spirit by allowing Christ to live out His life in us. He is the pattern Spirit-filled Sower, who is now reaping the great harvest of life everlasting from His faithful sowing.


T. Austin-Sparks

The phrase "in the Spirit" occurs several times in the book of the Revelation. It represents the way of escape for the Lord's people from the oppression of the earthly conditions which surround and beset them. John, being so oppressed on the island of Patmos, found deliverance from earth's limitations into the much larger realm of things as they are in heaven. The book of the Revelation shows, as perhaps few other books of the Bible do, how real and absolute is heaven's government. In the matter of the whole Church (represented by the seven churches), the nations, the great world systems (represented religiously by Babylon and politically by the Beast), and even to the hidden warfare with spiritual evil, it was made clear to John, and so to us all, that it is really the heavens which rule.

Emerging from this truth of heaven's absolute dominion is that fact that through the adversities and sufferings of His people, God is providing a fruitful ministry of spiritual fullness and wealth.

So heaven came in on Patmos, and turned what would have been misery and crippling limitation into something tremendously fruitful for the Church throughout many generations. There can be no question as to the untold value of John's ministry which resulted from this Revelation of Jesus Christ.

What was true in the case of John himself is revealed to be also the case for many of the Lord's servants. Those of us who have even a small experience of being shut up and hemmed in by difficult circumstances will perhaps realise a little of what the great apostle must have felt. He had so much spiritual wealth; he was the sole survivor of the apostles; he could realise how greatly the churches needed him; and yet he was, banished to a lonely island, cut off from all opportunity either of fellowship or service. In some way Paul before him had gone through a similar circumstance in his Roman imprisonment, and could also at times have felt singularly frustrated as to useful service to Christ. Yet how much poorer the Church would have been without his 'prison epistles'. So he and John had this in common, that the seeming limitation of being prisoners for Christ had produced unlimited spiritual helpfulness to many generations of Christians.

It may well be that what was true of them will be found to be valid for the whole Church. The vision at the end of this book is of a Church of such vast measurements that its dimensions seem to have been grossly exaggerated. The simple implication is that heaven will have overruled the earthly trials and tribulations of God's suffering saints and made out of them a fruitful means of dispensing Christ's riches to the whole universe for all eternity. This is the significance of being "in the Spirit". [108/109]



Roger T. Forster

Reading: Exodus 29

WE will now consider how the priests entered into their office (verse 1). Everything was to take place in the light of the offering of one bullock, a couple of rams, a basket containing various items of bakery and some anointing oil.

If you were an Israelite waiting to be consecrated as a priest, you would see these various offerings and you might wonder where the bullock had come from, and the rams, and those things in the basket. It could be an animal of yours or of your neighbour's, or it could be a neighbour's wife who had done the baking in her kitchen, but wherever they came from you would realise that they had been costly. Suppose that bullock had been given by a neighbour, then that would mean that he had slaved a bit harder out in his fields to make possible your consecration as a priest. You would be solemnised by the sacrificial effort of the donor, realising that the bullock represented a man's labour, and that he would have to work harder now to make up for that lost bullock. You would therefore feel that out of sheer fairness you should put at least as much labour into your priestly work. So the priest's office is seen in the light of a man's energy at his daily work.

In the Scriptures rams are sometimes equated with shepherds, because the ram looked after the flock, so if a couple of rams were provided, it would mean that the donor's flock was not quite as secure as it had previously been. Such sacrifice ought to make you more concerned to shepherd the flock of God in your priestly ministry, inspiring you by the example of the neighbour who had been forced to use extra effort to safeguard his flock now that he had given up two rams. In your consecration you would wish to be the more dedicated to shepherd the people of God.

Then again, the gift of flour and the labour of cooking in the kitchen, would be calculated to remind you of your charge to sacrifice and labour, even in the heat of the day, so that you could give food to God's hungry people. Thus we see that, in his consecration, the priest should be inspired to labour, to shepherd and to feed, on behalf of God.

Now we come to the washing at the door of the tabernacle, prior to the putting on of the priestly garments (verse 4). Unlike the use of the laver for washing hands and feet in the pursuit of sanctuary duties, and unlike the symbolism when Christ washed the disciples' feet, this was a first act and preceded the application of the blood. The priests had to be washed in this thorough way before they could put on the garments of beauty and glory. Such washing, I believe, represents the washing of regeneration, the complete removal of everything which belongs to the 'old man'. So we notice that the blood comes second, after this washing of water. There is a reason for this.

In John 19:34 we are told that from the side of our crucified Lord there flowed "blood and water", but in 1 John 5:8 we are told that the threefold witness is by "the Spirit, and the water, and the blood". John's Gospel is speaking of man's salvation, and so depicts first his justification by the blood of the cross, and then his introduction into a holy life by the washing of water in the Word. In John's epistle, however we are dealing not with justification but with priesthood, and therefore the first concern is the putting away of the old life, which can never please God, and then the power of the blood to bring the cleansed man into God's presence. In Exodus 12 we were concerned with the blood on the door to get a man out of Egypt, but in Exodus 29 we are considering how such a man may be brought in to God, how one who is rightly related to God may now minister to His heart; how someone who is saved may begin to serve. The blood of Christ is not only to save me from the devil and keep me from the lake of fire, but also to bring me into communion with God in a new and living way. The first involves the blood and then the water; but the second changes the order to the water and then the blood. One is to deal with justification and the other is to do with communion; one involves being a child of God, but the other is connected with priesthood.

So it is that this saved Israelite must know the thorough putting away of the filth of the flesh -- [109/110] the old man -- before he can find priestly access by the blood. Aaron and his sons must therefore be thoroughly washed, and then find the blood leading them in to communion. Following this washing, then, which speaks of the burial of the old man, a way is made for the putting on of the new, which we dealt with in our previous study.

Consecration is a filling of the hands. In fact this is the actual meaning of the word. A consecrated person has his hands full and plenty to do, but we must not be deceived into imagining that because we have our hands full, we are necessarily consecrated, for our hands are meant to be filled only with Christ. There is nothing spiritual about merely doing things, and certainly there is nothing spiritual about not doing at all; spirituality consists of a life full of Christ, ministering to God and to others what we have been able to appropriate of Him.

Let us look at the sacrifices which filled the priests' hands. Firstly there was the bullock of the sin offering; then the ram of the burnt offering; then the ram of consecration, which was the peace offering. So we have the basic offerings, with the exception of the trespass offering. Together with the peace offering there was the meal (not meat) offering, made of fine flour baked into wafers. All these were associated with the hands of Aaron and his sons.

As to the sin offering, they put their hands on the animal. The exact word tells us that they 'leaned on' it. In modern terminology the expression 'to lean on' someone does not mean exactly the same thing, but here the idea is that in leaning on the bullock, they rested all that they were upon it. When the ram of the burnt offering was produced, they again put their hands on it and leaned on it. But when the ram of consecration was being dealt with, they first had the blood put upon them and then they had their hands filled with this peace offering, which they first waved before the Lord and then ate. In all these ways we see aspects of faith which are important to grasp if we are going to enter upon our priestly service.


Firstly, if it is a sin offering, there is nothing we can do but lay our hands and lean heavily and hard upon it. We must identify all that we are with it, because there is nothing that we can do to take the weight off ourselves concerning the problem of sin. This is not just an elementary experience of the new convert, but a constant experience of the priestly believer, who finds an ever-growing appreciation of the sin offering of the Lord Jesus to meet an ever-deepening sense of need.

We see that the blood of the animal was placed on the altar and round about the altar at the bottom, so that it could be seen by all the people (verse 12). Then all the inner, choice, parts of the sin offering were burned upon the altar, but in addition, "the flesh of the bullock, and his skin and his dung" were burned with fire without the camp (verse 14). "... it is sin" (there is no word for 'offering' in the Hebrew). In other words, this Old Testament illustration points on to the fact that Christ was made sin for us.

These three actions reveal God's satisfaction, His pleasure and His anger, but we should realise that these three re-actions are harmonious and not contradictory, simply reminding us of the complexity of life. In the first place God was satisfied, seeing by the shed blood the proof that the last Adam had died. God longed to have done with the old, corrupt, race of Adam and by the blood of Christ this work has been done. After all, if you kill the last Englishman you will have brought the English race to an end. The shed blood is proof to God that the adamic race has been brought to an end. There is deep satisfaction in the heart of God when He can execute judgment upon sin and, in Christ, remove the old, adamic race for ever. That blood of the cross testifies to heaven, to hell, and to the world, that man has been finally judged and set aside. I need to know this. The blood not only pleads for me; it testifies about me, saying that I am finished. What a relief! And what satisfaction for God!

But more, the inner parts of the animal were laid out and burned on the altar (verse 13), and so they went up to God, for the word used for 'burn' is that which applies to burning incense. This, then, is something delightful to God. There is an inner feature of Christ's sin offering which is pleasant to God -- "But it pleased the Lord to bruise him". While it is true that this part of the sin offering is not described as a sweet savour, the implication behind this 'burning', which corresponds to the burning of incense suggests that it is, whereas the Hebrew word used to describe what is done to the skin and flesh denotes a burning which finishes and consumes. [110/111]

This third part was to be burned up, consumed into ashes, and this was to be done outside the camp, that is on the refuse-tip where all the Israelites took their rubbish for burning. The people saw the priests carrying this flesh and skin -- and even the dung -- to the place where all their dirty and ugly things were being destroyed by fire to keep the camp clean, and they must have shrunk back with repulsion. This shows very clearly what God thinks about our sin -- it is ugly and vile, and He hates it. God's anger was revealed and it was exhausted in the sacrifice of His Son. The word used for burning in this case was the same as that from which we get the name of the 'seraphim', and it reminds us that "our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).

So we have God's satisfaction, His pleasure and His wrath, all in the one sin offering. If we think carefully about these emotions, we will see that they combine together, and show how complex is this matter of dealing with sin. The priests had to know this, and so at the very introduction of their priesthood they were given this illustrative insight.


In the case of the burnt offering (verses 15-18), the blood was once more placed on the posts of the altar and put around the floor of the altar. This time we see that not only were the inner parts burned up on that altar, but the rest of the animal was also burned there. Nothing was carried outside the camp because the burnt offering speaks of Christ's utter devotion and every bit of that ascended up to God. Nothing was left down here but it all went up in smoke, symbolically showing the Israelites that everything in that offering was for the pleasure of God.

The burnt offering sets forth God's delight in His Son. Never, in all the history of humanity, had anyone else been asked to give a perfect life to God unto death. All the rest of us have to die -- "the wages of sin is death" -- but that did not apply to God's Son who voluntarily gave Himself in death to the Father, so rendering the utmost possible devotion. The priest needed to lean hard on that for, if the sin offering made him right with God, the burnt offering brought him acceptably into God's presence. So it is that for all of us, the perfection of Christ makes up for all our imperfections; His complete obedience is what we must lean heavily on if we are to have real peace. This illustrates what is meant by believing on the Lord Jesus. It means to lean hard on Christ in His devotion of obedience to the Father.


But with the other ram, the ram of consecration, the ram of filling the hands, something else must happen which is not just identification by leaning hard but another aspect of the work of the cross. In this case the ram's blood was put on the ears, the hands and the feet of Aaron and his sons. The man who was being consecrated to God's priestly service needed to be made aware of God's application of the blood to him personally. It was put on his ear so that he would know his hearing to have been paid for by blood, and so to be no longer his own. How, then, could he listen to unclean or unkind things? His hands, too, had the purchase price of blood on them, so that he was no longer to use them for self or the world, but only for God. His feet were also consecrated by the same blood, so that they could not walk in the ways of sin but must be reserved for the ways of the holy God.

So it is for us Christians. The natural sequence of leaning hard on Christ's death is to be set apart by the blood of His cross. Our ears have the price of Christ's blood on them. This should make us very careful of what we listen to and think about. One of the terrible features of our present society is that it brain-washes us into accepting so much that is ugly, nasty and dirty because these things are supposed to be realistic. These pernicious and corrupt features of behaviour are not realism at all -- they are empty and belong to the nothingness of hell. But the things which are 'lovely' and 'of good report'; these are the lasting verities of life, and we are called to think on these things.

The ram of consecration was also put into the hands of the priests (verses 24 & 25). This is yet another aspect of faith, not only to believe by resting upon, but also by receiving. This corresponds to the phrase of 'believing into' or 'unto'. Appropriating faith is as important as resting faith. As we have learned to rest and rely on Christ, we must go on to take, to receive from Him, to lay hold of eternal life. How necessary it is to do this and to put our fingers on to God's promises and lay claim to them.

Later on it says that the Priests were to take the offering and eat it, which typified the assimilation of Christ, representing the kind of faith which comes to know the Lord in an inward way. Some years ago I discovered the secret of abiding in Christ, not in John 15 but in John 6:56 where we are told that those who go on eating and [111/112] drinking of Christ's flesh and blood are those who abide in Him, and He in them. So for our priestly function we need to draw on Christ for our nourishment and life energy, we need to assimilate Him continually. This represents a further stage of progress in the matter of faith. By resting on Christ, by taking hold of Christ, by assimilating Christ in an inward way, we are given vital energy for our ministry to the Lord.

We note that these sacrifices for the consecration of the priests went on for seven days (verse 35). These have a typical significance, like the seven days of unleavened bread, and speak to us of the whole Church age of spiritual priesthood. The result of those activities of consecration was a sanctified altar which made whatever touched it holy also (verse 37). Priestly people are associated with a holiness which has a sanctifying effect on all who have contact with it. One of our problems, however, is that people seem to have contact with us without being affected. Is this because there is something lacking in Christ? No, but as the altar had to be kept in a suitable condition to function effectively, so we must present the Lord Jesus in such a way that the power of His holiness transforms others. Aaron and his sons offered a lamb every morning and every evening to maintain a continual burnt offering which was a sweet savour to God, and it was on this basis that the promise was given, "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 ..." (verses 38-46).

This, then, was to be the happy result of the continual ministry of the priests, of their continual dedication to their job, and of their continual occupation with the morning and evening offering of a lamb, namely that God was satisfied, and ready to live and walk among His people. It is a thrilling thought that we, who deal not with the types but with reality, form part of that priestly company on the earth, whose privilege it is to minister to the satisfaction of the heart of God by our appreciation and appropriation of His perfect Son.


Some Thoughts from 1 Samuel chapters 9 to 15.

Roger T. Forster

IN considering the nature of God's kingdom it may seem rather unfortunate to choose the failure, Saul, as our example. Would it not have been better to consider David or one of the great kings of Judah? Why the negative character?

I have chosen Saul because it seems so terribly important for us to see the pitfalls into which God's people may be ensnared. It is no easy, superficial matter to be called to the kingdom, and God's people of every generation need to be warned of the danger of trying to be associated with God's kingdom without a complete capitulation to His authority. There are certain basic principles of the kingdom, and Saul's failure may help us to understand them and avoid substituting our own ways and will for the jurisdiction and direction of our ruling God.

We must not get confused by questions as to whether Saul was a born-again man, but simply consider the case of a man whose problem right through life was the question of complete capitulation to God.


At the beginning he received from Samuel three symbols, three pointers, which were meant to show him how God's kingdom works. The first was an encounter with two men who would tell him that the lost asses were found; the second was that three men would give him bread; and the third was that the Spirit of God would come upon him and he would become another man. The fulfilment of these three signs would let him know that God was with him, calling him to take his place in the divine kingdom.


It happened as Samuel had foretold. Two men did meet Saul, mentioning that they knew of his worry about the lost asses, and telling him to forget his anxiety, since the animals had been found and were safe. A man with a worried soul cannot cooperate with God in His kingdom. God can only begin when we stop being anxious about our own affairs and find peace in leaving all our cares with Him. The Lord Jesus said: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you". This kind of peace, this freedom from anxiety, comes from the word of God. Samuel's command had been "Stand thou still a while, that I may shew thee the word of God". The kingdom of [112/113] God is not in word only, but in demonstration and power of the Spirit. The Lord promises, and if we will accept His promise we shall not just hear about His word but see it at work in power. It is the Holy Spirit who works, but what He does is to bring peace into our soul.

I was once on my way to a students' camp with my wife and little boy and all our equipment, when our car broke down. It could not be repaired, every minute was precious, and we were completely stranded. As I committed our case to the Lord, a great peace came into my soul, even before I knew what to do. It was then that a telephone number came into my mind. It was not a number I can normally remember, but it was the business address of a friend which was quite near to where we were seated by the roadside. My friend seemed quite unperturbed to hear of our predicament, and told me that he was just off to London airport to collect the car of a missionary who was flying back to S. E. Asia and wanted my friend to care for it. So my problem was solved and I had the use of the car for the whole weekend. It was a marvellous provision of God for our urgent needs, but I would emphasise that the first miracle was that He spoke peace into my soul.


On the previous day Saul had run out of bread and when he first met Samuel he had no food at all. He felt this to be almost a disgrace but when he yielded to his servant's pressure to seek out the seer, they not only got guidance but were made chief guests at a banquet, with a special course which had been reserved for him by the cook. It must have dawned on him that he himself was no longer in control of the situation but that God had taken over and he was in the presence of divine planning and provision.

Now his second sign was the encounter with three men carrying ample provisions, and giving him two loaves without any solicitation on his part. So it was that God assured him that His kingdom provides adequately for the body as well as for the soul and spirit. God is interested in speaking to us in the physical realm, on the body as well as for the soul and spirit. God is interested in speaking to us in the physical realm, on the body plane, and God's acts are not just casual happenings but His way of making us see His word. We are familiar with the testimony given to the whole Church by George Muller's proving of God's sufficiency for the many orphans he cared for, and many of us could add our own personal tribute to His constant provision for our daily needs. Saul did not ask for the bread. He did not even look hungry. But he was shown in this practical way how reliable are the promises of God whose kingdom is very practical and works efficiently here on this earth in the physical realm. "Thy kingdom come". "Give us this day our daily bread". This is all one prayer: the two are tied up together.


The third sign was that Saul would meet up with a band of praising prophets and would find the Spirit of God falling upon him, taking possession of his lips and words, and so enabling him to prophesy. This is a wonderful experience, to be seeing things by revelation of the Holy Spirit, communicated directly to one's own spirit. When I was involved in a real movement of the Spirit in a Royal Air Force camp, I found that although we were living a very busy life, on duty from 7 a.m. till 5 p.m., and then fully occupied with meetings, prayer times, etc., until midnight and after, I had amazing experiences of being met by God in His Word in the brief ten minutes or quarters of an hour which I snatched as best I could. The Word of God came alive and poured into my spirit faster than I have ever known at any other time in my Christian experience. Somehow the Lord would reveal more from the pages of His Word in the few moments before dropping off to sleep than I might have got from months and months in a Bible school It was not just something going on in the mind, but a communication in the spirit from God Himself.


So God speaks to us by these three signs, by life and peace in the soul; by daily bread and practical provision; and by divine illumination in the spirit. And yet, in spite of all this, Saul never entered into the good of this kingdom. He found it disturbing to his own way of life, he felt that God was asking too much, he was not prepared to capitulate to the absolute rule of God. So we have the sad fact that although three times the Spirit of God came upon him, he was discovered at the end to be an occult-seeking man demonised to his suicide death, and leading Israel astray and into defeat.

The truth is that there is something more important than God's Spirit coming upon a man and that is the Spirit within the man. Saul never capitulated to the inner working of the Holy [113/114] Spirit. God was with him. Yes, everybody could see that. But he knew nothing of the living presence of God in that inner realm of his life which others could not see. Outward manifestations give no indication of a man's inner spirituality. He may prophesy day and night, and yet this tells us nothing -- exactly nothing -- concerning his inner life with the living God. Jesus Himself said so. Even if a man can confidently affirm: 'Thus saith the Lord', and even if he can perform a healing miracle, this may show that the power of God is with him, but it says nothing at all about his spiritual stature -- unless I have completely misread the Bible.

1. 1 Samuel 10:10.

Saul's first experience of the Spirit's coming upon him was this occasion when he prophesied and became as another man -- he was beside himself. But God is not looking for automata who can serve Him in a mechanical way. God is after sons who gladly and voluntarily offer themselves in the freedom of their own spirits to cooperate with Him intelligently and on a Father/son relationship. God looks for the free service of love. He can, of course, overrule the activities of men who profess to be His servants and make use of them to accomplish some purpose of His, but this does not mean that their own inner stature and measure of Christ can be gauged by God's use of them. Even a Saul could be used in kingdom power, though his heart had never capitulated to the Lord. He thought that he could play the king and run the affairs of the kingdom without really submitting to God's authority in his own life.

2. 1 Samuel 11:6.

The second experience when the Spirit came upon him was when he heard of the threats of Nahash the Ammonite against the men of Jabesh. He took his oxen, hewed them into pieces, and put the pieces into the hands of messengers, sending them to go through all the regions of Israel and tell the people that this was what Saul would do to the oxen of those who would not follow him. The consequence was a great victory, and it was achieved by the Spirit of the Lord, but it was an expression of violence and how to rule by fear. This is not really the essence of God's kingdom. He does not rule by fear.

3. 1 Samuel 19:23.

In the third case Saul had an experience of the Spirit even when an evil spirit was driving him to hunt and hound David to his death. Although we might think it impossible, it seems from the story that a man who was being energised by an evil spirit suddenly had an experience of the Holy Spirit coming upon him and enabling him to prophesy. There is, of course, a hint that things were wrong because of the extravagance of his behaviour when he stripped off all his clothing and lay all night naked. The very exposure and excess reveal the unsatisfactory nature of the ecstasy which took hold of him.


It is clear enough how Saul surrendered his kingdom activity to the enemy and we are specifically told of the three unforgivable blunders which proved him to be unsuitable.

l. 1 Samuel 13:14

He lost the kingdom by forcing himself to try to hold things together instead of waiting for God. When Samuel seemed to be delaying his arrival and the people were scattering, he got busy with his own efforts, feeling that it was up to him to improvise some remedy instead of quietly waiting for God to fulfil His word. Human ingenuity and carnal effort may for a time seem to hold God's people together, but they betray the very basis of His kingdom. That kingdom was to be in the power and demonstration of the Spirit, not in the power and demonstration of a man called Saul.

2. 1 Samuel 14:24

While Saul was inactive and paralysed by unbelief, his son, Jonathan, with only an armour-bearer and one sword between them, was moving forward in faith and beginning a rout of the enemy. After all, it didn't need Saul's efforts to rally an army, it only required two men with God! Saul, however, as soon as he realised what was happening, tried to cash-in on a God-given victory with something which would emphasise his own importance. 'Cursed be any man who eats today before I am avenged of my enemies'. His enemies indeed! So in a false and hypocritical piety he tried to get some status and glory for himself, and only succeeded in involving God's hungry people in breaking the Scriptures by that home-made commandment of his.

3. 1 Samuel 15:23

Thirdly, Saul was given one last chance. Without enquiring into God's good reasons for ordering the extermination of the Amalekites, we notice that in his conceit Saul thought that he could improve on the divine commandment by giving [114/115] it only partial obedience and failing to destroy what he felt might be valuable and useful. So he spared Agag and the best of the animals and then pretended that he had obeyed God. God will not allow His kingdom to be run by those who substitute their ideas for His Word and try by some conceit of theirs to improve on His ways. Pious language and talk of sacrifices only aggravated his basic disobedience. He had betrayed the kingdom to evil powers, and he finished his own life under their mastery. Samuel had to pronounce the final rejection of this once-favoured man who had been called to the kingdom but had revealed by his pride and wilfulness that he was unfit for it. Saul surrendered to the enemy and ultimately finished up a ruined man, and all because he chose self-effort, self-aggrandisement and self-opinion instead of submitting himself to the rule of God.

How completely different is God's true King, the Lord Jesus! Of Him it is stated: "He made himself of no reputation ... he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross". This is the King who calls us to share His kingdom.



Poul Madsen

THE man of God, God's greatest wonder, needs to know the place that signs and wonders have in this wonderful world. This is now our consideration.


When the Son of man walked about in Galilee and Judea, everything spoke to Him of God. The lilies of the field and the birds of the air spoke of His Father's care for the least of His little ones. The corn of wheat, falling into the ground to die and then springing up again in fruitfulness, spoke of the divine way to eternal life. The vine and its branches spoke of the perfect union between Him and His disciples. The seed falling into various sorts of soil spoke to Him of the effect of the Word of God in human hearts. The waving cornfields spoke of the many people who were ripe for harvesting into the kingdom of God. All the creation spoke of the Creator and His laws of life. His view of the world was right, for He saw God behind everything, the least thing was a sign. So it is for the man of God, who has quickened senses to recognise God's hand. To him creation speaks continually of God's glory: His perfection in things great and small; His love of beauty and desire for harmony; His abundant generosity; His appreciation of variety and dislike of standardization; His inscrutable wisdom and infinite power. But creation also speaks to him of the corruption which it suffers. The man of God hears the groan of the whole creation, and shares it deep down in his own heart. Every flower that withers, every animal that suffers, every storm that rages, every hurricane that destroys, speaks of the vanity to which it has been subjected. The man of God groans with it, longing together with the whole creation for the day when it will share in the glorious liberty of the sons of God. The whole creation is, indeed, one great sign -- but only the man of God can recognise and interpret it.


God also speaks through what happens here on earth, for He is the God of history who controls all events. Only the man of God, however, can rightly see the signs of the times and interpret them (Matthew 16:3). The long history of the human race is a sign which speaks to those who can hear. If mankind had seen this sign and heard what it says, the course of things might have been very different. Mankind, however, has seen nothing and heard nothing, and therefore it has learned nothing. This is why it continues its own self-chosen way to destruction.

History shows clearly that man cannot create a paradise on earth without God. It shows dearly how weak are the mightiest empires, like giants with feet of clay. It shows clearly and unmistakably that sin is the true cause of all human problems, and that it is impossible for sinners to solve the problem of sin. History also shows that God's hand is behind everything, controlling, limiting with His decrees of 'thus far and no farther', chastising and judging, developing according to a divine plan. It is not difficult to see this today. Consider, for example, Israel, the great sign of the times, restored as an independent state after almost two thousand years of being scattered among all the nations, in a national resurrection which furnishes obvious proof that God controls [115/116] history, even as He had predetermined and foretold in His Word. The man of God sees this and interprets it as a sign of the times. There are, of course, other signs including those of false wonders, and these we will deal with later.


God is not a part of His creation, but is above and outside it, so the fact that He can annul or suspend the laws of nature is no problem for the man of God. He sees it as part of the fact that God is God.

Wonders never disappear from a disciple's life; he prays and receives an answer; he seeks the kingdom of God first and all the rest is added; he obeys God and finds that God is with him and works on his behalf. If wonders disappear from the life of a child of God, then his living contact with God has disappeared too, and something important and indeed essential has been lost. The thing to do then is to find the cause, and to return to the simple and unconditional obedience of faith, for the man who obeys God has reason to expect wonders.

But what about the more outward and sensational wonders which all can see? What about the mighty works which we read of in the Gospels and the Acts? We cannot affirm that the time for them has passed, since God is God and can do whatever He wills. It cannot be right to limit God to certain times or conditions laid down by men. Nevertheless it is the duty and the privilege of the man of God to search the Scriptures for a revelation of the ways of God, for He will not contradict what He has said in His Word, not even with regard to signs and wonders. The main passage is Mark 16:15-20:

"And he said unto them, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptised shall he saved: but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.' So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed ."

This is what these well-known and much-discussed verses say. They make no mention of qualified times or specially blessed disciples, but state clearly and unequivocally that certain signs would follow them that believe. We shall now consider this portion of Scripture under the following headings: (a) Definition of signs, (b) Context of signs, (c) Signs in the Church.

(a) Definition of signs

What is a sign? It is a divine intervention, depending entirely on God's initiative and happening when and where He decides. It must always come, therefore, as a surprise; it cannot be counted on in advance. Consequently no man can promise in his preaching that such and such a thing will happen, still less can he claim or accept any honour if God does use a sign to confirm his preaching. Signs are solely a proof that God is working, they speak only of Him and never of His instruments. This is the reason why there are no signs when we expected them, and then they happen when we least expect them.

The sun rises every morning and sets every evening. This can be calculated and predicted, and therefore is never a sign. Whatever happens regularly and predictably is never a sign. The day when the sun becomes black as sackcloth and the moon as red as blood (Revelation 6:12) will certainly be a sign, but nobody knows when that day will be. None of us can say that it will happen tomorrow. All true signs are surprises, and therefore the disciples were surprised when they began to speak in foreign languages on the day of Pentecost, as they were again when Cornelius and his household did the same thing during Peter's sermon. There was a real surprise element about the healing of some sick people in Jerusalem as a result of Peter's shadow passing over them, as there also was about the special miracles which involved contact with the handkerchiefs and aprons which Paul had used at Ephesus (Acts 19:11-12). These things were not anticipated nor planned by the disciples but were sovereign acts of God who chose thus to glorify His name among men. As a matter of fact those who do try to plan such things and advertise them often prove complete failures and cause great disappointment to those who are influenced by them.

All true signs, great and small, have this feature of being 'happy surprises' and can never fail to bring joy and encouragement to all. A situation where people are disappointed because they do [116/117] not experience the signs which had been promised can only arise when Christians do not realise that the great characteristic of signs is that we cannot tell beforehand whether they will happen. Let us then, be very careful not to add anything to the Word of God, and not to promise on His behalf what He has never promised Himself.

(b) Context of Signs

We need also to consider the situations for which these Scriptural promises were made. The Lord said, "Go ye ...." (verse 15), and "they went forth and preached ...." (verse 20). The Lord also said, "These signs shall follow them that believe ...." (verse 17), and when they went forth the Lord "confirmed the word by the signs that followed" (verse 20). The situation seems therefore to be that the Lord promises His disciples for all time that signs and wonders will follow when they go forth into all the world with the gospel. It is in this pioneer work that the Lord confirms His Word by signs and mighty works, as is demonstrated in the Acts of the apostles and testified to by missionary history. When the gospel is brought to people who had never heard it before, the Lord seems to work in a special way, confirming the words of His messengers by wonders. We can almost sense the fresh wind from heaven which accompanies bold pioneer work in obedience to this command of Christ. On consideration this is not difficult to understand since:

(1) Signs and wonders are not first and foremost for believers, but for unbelievers. All pioneer work deals with unbelievers.

(2) Signs and wonders are not, however, for those unbelievers who will not hear Moses and the prophets. If unbelievers have had the Word of God and rejected it, they will not be convinced even though a dead man returns from his grave (Luke 16:31), so there will be no wonders for such people.

This, then, is the context of Mark 16:15-20. It deals with those signs and wonders which will follow Christ's disciples as they pioneer with the gospel. Since all such pioneer work takes place among unbelievers who have not rejected the word of God for the simple reason that they had never heard it before, the signs can help sincere souls to come to a saving faith. Even so it must be emphasised very strongly that such pioneer work consists of preaching the gospel, that is, the message of salvation through the name of Jesus Christ. The disciples went forth to preach the gospel -- not to do signs and wonders. Indeed it was because they did go forth to preach the gospel about Jesus, and did not promise signs and wonders, that the Lord confirmed their message with the signs which followed. This is important. There is stress laid on the fact that the signs followed. They did not lead the way, but followed on behind; they were not the chief thing, for that was the preaching of the Lord Jesus. Where this first consideration is faithfully adhered to, then God can follow with such signs as may suit His time and purpose. It is not for us to reverse this order.

There is still the problem of those of us who are not doing pioneer work, but are witnessing where the gospel has been preached for years and among people who generally speaking have rejected it. Does the Lord confirm the word with signs following in such situations? The Scriptures give us to understand, and our experience confirms, that usually He does not. "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of Jonah" (Matthew 16:4). "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). God gives no signs to those who are so wise in their own conceits that they reject His word, and this is what so often happens in lands where the gospel has long been preached. God, however, is still God. He will never be debarred from doing what He wills. If He sees that such wonders will be of real profit to sincere seekers, He will still do His wonders. As we approach the end of this dispensation, however we must face the fact that while God does not intervene as we might wish, there are many false prophets and deluded people who will do such signs and wonders that even the elect may be deceived. We will deal with this matter of false and seducing signs in our next chapter.

(c) Signs in the Church

What about the Church itself? Surely God will work signs and wonders and all kinds of mighty works here! Yes, but not automatically, not unconditionally, not as something which is an everyday occurrence or to be claimed as a right. Christ is the Head of the Church. He knows whether signs and wonders will profit a church or not; He alone knows whether they will encourage spiritual growth or whether they will produce greater conformity to Himself, and He always [117/118] acts in accordance with such perfect knowledge. We are very limited in our understanding and not competent to decide such things.

Why has His Church almost always been persecuted and often left to suffer? Why did not God intervene when the Romans threw hundreds of His saints to the lions for public entertainment, or when martyrs were burned alive for their faith? In the history of the Church there are many examples of God's wonderful interventions, but there are also many examples of His seeming silence. And nobody can assert that it was greater when He acted than it was when He refrained from doing so. Mighty works, signs and wonders are not greater than God's apparent 'passivity', though many fail to realise this through lack of spiritual perception. Christ is the Head of His Church, and will always act in accordance with its best interests. If we realise this, then it is easier for us to consider two relevant Scriptures:

James 5:14-15

Does this passage not give an unconditional promise of healing? That it is a promise, a glorious promise which we ought to appropriate with gratitude, is obvious. Nevertheless we dare not call it an unconditional promise, for the healing described is consequent upon "the prayer of faith", a prayer that nobody can pray unless it be given to him by God. This prayer is not the expression of the penitent's trust in the Saviour as he receives the gift of eternal life for himself, but the affirmation of the will of God for someone else, an affirmation which depends on a man having been apportioned the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit. The prayer of faith is only possible when there is complete unity between the Lord and the one praying. If the Lord gives the prayer of faith, then He will also give the answer.

1 Corinthians 12:9-10

If miraculous gifts are active in a church does this mean that mighty works will be happening all the time? Is there any limit to what God can do? No, there is no other limit than that which He sets Himself for the use of such gifts, and this is that as all members must be subject to the Head, so all the gifts which members are equipped with are to be subject to the Head also. No gift can be used apart from the will of Christ. It is not the recipient of the gift who decides when and how it shall be used, but Christ, the Giver. All gifts depend for their operation on the superior wisdom of Christ. That is why Paul left Trophimus at Miletus sick (2 Timothy 4:20).

To the man of God the greatest wonder of all is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.

(To be concluded)



Michael W. Poole

JUST sixty years ago last April a crowd of people stood cheering and waving at Southampton docks. They were saying goodbye to the liner that was the pride of British shipbuilding, as she steamed out of port on her maiden voyage. Had they but known it, her first voyage was also to be her last. The Titanic , for that was her name, was nearly nine hundred feet long and her gross tonnage of over forty-six thousand made her the longest liner afloat. Each of her steel plates measured six feet by thirty feet, and she was built with a double bottom for strength and safety. In the unlikely event of an accident, even if a quarter of her sixteen watertight compartments were flooded, she would still remain afloat. By simply operating a switch on the bridge, the captain could close all of the massive watertight doors by remote control. As an extra precaution, should he fail to do so, any rising water would lift some floats and cause the doors to close automatically. The Titanic was, it seemed, virtually unsinkable.

But the seemingly impossible happened.

The night of April 14th was clear and cold. Beneath the stars the sea lay as calm as a millpond. Ablaze with lights from stem to stern, the Titanic sped through the darkness. Honour was at stake. How soon could New York be reached? Could the maiden voyage be a record-breaking one? The ship was in a festive mood. Against a background of music and laughter, powerful turbines thrust the gigantic liner through the black, icy waters of the Atlantic.

A slight shudder in the ship just after half-past eleven, went almost unnoticed by most of the [118/119] passengers. Down in the well of the ship, however, the grim truth was all too obvious. Titanic had struck an iceberg. Floating almost totally submerged beneath the dark waters, the iceberg had torn open the double bottom of the vast liner from the bows to the engine room -- a breach of over three hundred feet.

The story of the next two and a half hours makes grim reading. There were not enough life boats, and there were delays in the arrival of rescue ships. Finally, just before half-past two, her stern now vertical, Titanic slid beneath the waves to begin her long descent to the ocean floor two miles below. A report was entitled 'Death the Divider' and under this title there were two columns, one headed 'Saved' and the other 'Lost'. Listed under the saved were the names of sixteen wives whose husbands were listed as lost.

'Women and children first' is the tradition of the sea, and highlighted against the stark tragedy of that night were countless acts of devotion and heroism. There was the wireless operator who stayed at his post till the last, and the band which played 'Nearer my God, to Thee' as the ship went down. There was the lady who gave her place in a lifeboat in order that a mother might be saved with her child, and there were the men who bravely swam off into the darkness to die rather than risk sinking the already overloaded lifeboats. The words once spoken by the Lord Jesus apply so aptly to that night, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends". Man was made in the image of God, and although he is sinful, he still bears something of the noble stamp of his God.

When Jesus spoke these words, however, He was explaining to His followers what He was about to do. He said, likening men to sheep, "I lay down my life for the sheep", and again, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep". Only His death was different; it was not just in order that another person might enjoy life on earth for a few more years, but that all men who would accept His forgiveness might enjoy eternal life now and for ever. There is a list of 'Saved' and 'Lost' for eternity, too. There is a "Lamb's book of life" in which the names of all who have trusted in Christ are written. God would like you to let Him write your name in it, for He wants "all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth"!



Harry Foster

UNLIKE Jehovah and Jesus, the Holy Spirit has no personal name; yet He is the One responsible for this special title of Christ which we so often give to God's Son. Both the Greek word 'Christ' and its Hebrew equivalent 'Messiah' signify that the One so called is God's anointed. An anointed man was a man of the Spirit, a man so endued with divine authority and backing that he could perfectly do God's will.

Jesus of Nazareth gave full proof of His special anointing, for from the moment when the Spirit came upon Him at Jordan until He breathed out His last on the cross it was evident that "God was with him" (Acts 10:38). At the beginning of His public ministry Jesus openly laid claim to this 'Christ' experience (Luke 4:18). It is clear that although He had been born of the Spirit, something happened at His water baptism which singled Him out not only as God's beloved Son but also as His commissioned and empowered Representative, His anointed. The Holy Spirit, who ever proceeds from the Father, did not merely descend upon Jesus but remained on Him permanently (John 1:33); He was not just One who had had a 'Christ' experience but He was the Christ. He moved about under the Spirit's leading, acted by the Spirit's power and maintained mutual relationship with the Father by the Spirit's fellowship, and so was rightly identified as the Christ.

Whatever the actual text of John 3:34, there can be little doubt that the context marks out the Son as the One who enjoys the Father's measureless gift of the Spirit. In His case God has no reserves; all the infinite fullness of the Spirit is freely available to the Christ. But although there is only one Christ, there are -- thank God -- many who are 'in Christ' and so enjoying their share in the fullness. When John the Baptist recognised Christ by the Spirit's descent on Him, he was able to announce that "the same is he which baptiseth with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33). This stresses [119/120] the importance to us of the name 'Christ' (and consequently the tremendous significance of being 'a Christian' (1 Peter 4:16)) since it means that He is not only "the Lamb of God" who bears away our sin but the 'Baptiser in the Spirit' who fills us with divine life.

The disciples accepted Jesus as the Christ, but they found the cross such a stumbling block that they were in complete despair until the risen Lord had explained to them that the Christ had to suffer and die in order to make the promise of the Father valid to us (Luke 24:26). They accepted this by faith, and then proved it in experience on the day of Pentecost when, by virtue of His death, resurrection and ascension, He was able to pour out His Spirit upon them. This anointing did not make them petty 'christs', but it did release through them a mighty testimony that the Lord Jesus is God's Christ (Acts 2:36); 'Christ' was now no formal title but a pulsating reality.

They soon began to couple this title with the personal name of Jesus (Acts 3:6), often adding the further title 'Lord' and so completing His full description as "The Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:26). While still retaining the form 'the Christ' they tended more and more to refer to Him simply as 'Christ'. Indeed it seemed to become one of their usual ways of referring to the beloved Person who now meant everything to them. "To me to live is Christ" Paul affirmed (Philippians 1:21), and he also made the remarkable claim "Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20), basing all his future hopes on this new secret of living, "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).

As seems logical, all the promises of God are freely given to His Anointed, but by a marvellous redemptive act God has made all these promises available to us, too, by putting us 'into Christ'. It is not that we have a private and personal anointing; there is only one anointing and that is upon Christ; but what God has done is to establish us into Christ and give us a share in His anointing (2 Corinthians 1:21).

So it is that we have the seeming paradox of being 'in Christ' and also having Christ 'in' us. The phrases are not contradictory but complementary, both being necessary to explain our intimate relationship with Him. The truth is that the Spirit has produced this vital relationship which makes believers "the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:27). John's promise of Christ's work as the Baptiser in the Spirit has been fulfilled and has produced this organic union of Head and members, all sharing the one full anointing and apparently referred to as 'the Christ' (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

Any attempt, therefore, to define or describe why Jesus is called Christ is bound to fall short of the reality, which is so divinely marvellous that it defies analysis. The Lord Jesus has taken up the Old Testament designation of Messiah and filled it with such worth that it is seen to embrace all the eternal purposes and good pleasure of God for us men (Ephesians 1:10). No wonder that Paul longed with his whole being "to gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8)!

We need never fear that we will offend the Holy Spirit by seeming to pay less attention to Him. His supreme joy is the exaltation of Christ, and as we also make everything of Christ and come ever closer to Him in obedience and devotion, the Spirit will respond with increasingly richer experiences of the 'christing' work of the anointing.


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