"... 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. 2, No. 3, May - June 1973 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



Roger T. Forster

Reading: Ephesians 3:21 - 4:6

NORMALLY we tend to make a close connection between the ideas of glory and liberty. We assert that it is a glorious thing to be free, never questioning that not to have liberty is surely to be in an inglorious situation. In the Roman letter the apostle tells us that the wonderful new age to be introduced at Christ's coming again can only be described as "the liberty of the glory of the sons of God". When there is true freedom then there will be real glory. We also read of the Spirit of the Lord bringing such freedom -- "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" -- and Peter assures us that the Spirit of the Lord is the Spirit of glory. It is therefore a natural link to put the ideas of glory and liberty together. We speak of a glorious meeting, a glorious church, and think at once of the coming together of a people who are a free people, a people who are not bound or tied up.

Nevertheless we find, in this close connection between Ephesians 3 and 4, that Paul linked glory with restriction, with being, in fact, a prisoner. What appears at first to be a contradiction is really the other side of the coin, the balancing truth which defines what freedom truly is. This other side is a more difficult aspect for men of the twentieth century with its spirit of permissiveness, anarchy and the throwing off of all restraint. To think as precisely and carefully of the true nature of freedom may be more difficult for us now than it was for those of other ages. Yet it involves the secret of true glory.

Paul follows his prayer that there may be glory in the Church with an immediate self-description as "the prisoner in the Lord". He has already called himself "the prisoner of Christ Jesus" (3:1), and he concludes the letter with the reminder that as Christ's ambassador he is "in chains" (6:20). So by the use of the different prepositions Paul declares himself to be the prisoner of the Lord and the prisoner in the Lord.

By his many imprisonments Paul had become familiar with the restrictions which prison life entails. It is true, of course, that it was by being in prison that he found time and opportunity to write those beautiful epistles which were born out of his experiences of Christ. In this way we have all benefited from what God is able to get out of the apostle's imprisonments, releasing for others, right down to this twentieth century the measure of Christ which was in him as God's servant. One of the great spiritual truths stressed in this letter to the Ephesians is the eternal purpose of God for the Church. This is that in the Church there might be glory for God, or better still that there might be 'the glory' in the Church. Paul had already spoken of "the praise of his glory" (1:12) and also of "my tribulations for you which is your glory" (3:13), but in 3:21 he reached the great climax of what God is after, namely that now there should be glory -- or better 'the glory' -- in the Church. In order, then, that there might be a Church in which the deposit of divine glory should be found, Paul continued: "I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord ..." immediately connecting his restrictions and seaming limitations with 'the glory'. How different this is from our usual connotations of connecting glory with freedom! It was as though Paul were affirming that in his case glory could only come by imprisonment. He himself was content to be a prisoner, for he was not in prison just as any other captive might be, but was in prison 'in the Lord'. We note that it was not just that he was a prisoner for the Lord -- though he was that -- but that he claimed to be a prisoner in the Lord. In other words, as he looked around his cell he did not only see stones and chains and guards, but he saw the Lord. He was enabled to see beyond his circumstances, looking behind them and finding Christ there. So he could claim that in reality he was imprisoned in Christ, confined and restricted in Christ, and he pointed out that the glory will only be found in the Church if its members are men and women who know the spiritual reality of captivity to Christ. Glory is expressed in the Church not by emotional atmospherics or noisy excitement but by those who truly accept the restrictions of being "in Christ".

And there are restrictions. But before we speak of them we do well to enquire what glory is. It is exceedingly difficult to define. When we encounter something which takes our breath away, filling us with awe and wonder; when we have a sense of deep, satisfying harmony in the presence of what seems so right, so beautiful, so different from all else, then we want to worship. Now it is glory [41/42] which evokes this worship, for true glory is found only in the experienced presence of God Himself. Paul had already told the Ephesians that the riches of the glory of God are given to us by the Spirit. For us, then, the glory of God is His greatness, His wonderful presence, brought into the Church by the Holy Spirit. Now if glory comes to us it always has the effect of provoking us to give glory to God. A really glorious Church in which the glory of God resides is continually glorifying Him -- it cannot help doing so. The automatic response to God's riches and greatness being channelled into us, His people, as He works through one, reveals something of His character in another, overcomes difficulties in another, is that we all give glory to Him.

"I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord ...". Paul looked around his prison cell and from his familiarity with prison conditions was inspired to use this as a kind of illustration of what it means to be restricted and limited within the sphere of Christ Himself. Some things are obvious. It means that we have no liberty to sin. The restrictions of Christ's holiness are ours also. Further, it imposes limitations as to whom we depend on. If a man is shut up in prison, he has to depend on whoever governs for supplies, for programme, for food and for exercise in the courtyard. It follows that prison life is free from some of the normal worries of the day, which is a happy aspect for us, but it also means that we have to accept what is provided. If we are prisoners in the Lord then we must expect to be governed by His directions, to be given a programme for our lives and we must learn to be content with the provisions which He supplies. This is no real limitation -- far from it. One of the pernicious features of our permissive society is that when men are continually demanding freedoms and calling for their rights, they are trying to strip off restrictions which were never made to be so thrown off. Man was made to be restricted by his real manhood, by his being a human being and eventually a son of God. That is the dignity of a true man. It follows that the person who is all the time seeking an elusive freedom under the guise of permissiveness, finishes up in frustration and bitter disillusionment. Paul had ceased from the quest for false liberty; he had learned in whatsoever state he was to be content; and he had done so by being imprisoned in Christ.

It was for this reason and on this basis that he made his appeal to God's people to walk worthy of their calling. His prison state was a plea to them to be true to their vocation. And what was this? It was to be prisoners of the Lord too, to proceed as though they were held firmly in the prison of Christ. There were often four guards to whom a prisoner was chained, and in this passage the apostle indicated the four factors which enforce the divine restrictions. We are familiar with the term 'quaternion' which denoted a group of four guards. There were four such at the cross and they divided Christ's garments into four parts. When Peter was imprisoned by Herod, he was chained to four guards. Here, then, in spiritual terms, are four ways by which the Spirit holds us into captivity to Christ.

Guard No. 1

The first is "all lowliness". The word translated lowliness was originally used in a derogatory sense until Paul began to give it a noble significance. It implied that the one concerned was base-minded, servile, a man who did not think much of his own merits or accomplishments. Such lowly, self-estimation is not base but Christlike, and it is the first of the chains which the Spirit uses to keep us prisoners in the Lord. The result is that every time we want to parade our own merits or think too much of ourselves, He will pull on the chain to restrain us. Unfortunately, although the Spirit of God is so faithful in giving such checks, we can easily learn to ignore them. The inveterate prisoner probably grew accustomed to the jerks of the chain, and perhaps tended to ignore them, but we must be careful to heed the warnings if we are to safeguard God's purpose of the glory in the Church.

Guard No. 2

The second spiritual guard is meekness, mildness or gentleness; and denotes a spirit which does not take offence at others, and never asserts its own claims. Meekness is not impressed by its own importance: it has no axe to grind. Any attempt to drag this chain by asserting ourselves or taking offence at the way we are treated will be dealt with by a sharp check given by the Holy Spirit, who is faithful in demanding that we do not try to break out of our imprisonment in this way.

Guard No. 3

The third guard is called long-suffering. This means going on and on, bearing with others, not taking vengeance, but putting up with wrongs without indulging in any retaliation. The implication [42/43] is that we may have to go on suffering for a very long time, and shall need much grace to bear it uncomplainingly. I can think of one man in the West Country who for over forty years had a very evil lie spread about him, and only towards the end of his life was he vindicated. But this very trial made him the man of God that he was. Now the impatient prisoner will tug at this chain, finding it intolerable to bear injustice. If, however, there is to be the glory in the Church, it is important for him to heed the Spirit's restraint and respond to His call to go on patiently enduring suffering.

Guard No. 4

Then there is forbearance. This means putting up with one another's weaknesses. When we start to despise another brother and are exasperated at his inability to see things as we do, yielding to the temptation to resent his being so slow, then is the time for us to show forbearance in love. Actually all these four are 'in love' since the chains are love chains. If they are allowed to hold us, they will always work to produce new expressions of the glory of God. Here we are then, in our prison, checked and held by the four guards, but all to a purpose, the purpose of glory. Although our experiences may be personal, though, they are not merely intended to produce glory in us as individuals, but glory in the Church.

A prison, however, has walls as well as guards, and if we press the analogy further we find according to 4:4-6 that Paul's prison had seven walls which are listed in these verses. His prison -- and ours -- has seven sides; It is septenary or, if you like, a heptagon. This may sound unusual, but we will see the point if we appreciate that any attempt on our part to break free from this sacred imprisonment will result in a head-on collision with one of the seven spiritual realities of being in Christ.

(1) "one body". The first wall is the fact of there being one body. Our attempt to break prison by ignoring the wall of the one body will involve behaving as though there were two or three bodies -- or more -- whereas in Christ there can only be one. This obliges us to take an attitude to all other believers which is totally, absolutely and completely without any reference to what type of federation or affiliation true believers belong to. This is something more than 'non-denominational', for it insists that if there is to be true glory in the Church then there must be a total repudiation of any mental attitude that there might be two or more bodies. It often happens that the sequel to the discovery that the other man is a Christian is the enquiry as to what he belongs to. This is all right when it is merely a question of locality or enjoyment of fellowship, but it is very wrong if it is really aimed at knowing whether the brother is 'in' or 'not in' from our point of view. We must concentrate on the Lord, and our fellowship in Him. Remember we are in prison; we are restricted by the one body; and we must refuse to have anything to do with 'in-groups' or 'one-up groups' or special and separate groups. God's people are one.

(2) "one Spirit". The second wall is the oneness of the Spirit, for it is He who is the living substance of the one body. If the one Spirit has given us a certain experience, and the one Spirit has given someone else another experience, this does not contradict but rather confirms the oneness of the Spirit. Our second temptation to break prison will be concerned with an effort to emphasise a division caused by one experience of the Spirit being opposed to another, one manifestation of the Spirit being made to clash with another. Immediately we do this, we step outside of our imprisonment in Christ, we step through the wall of the one Spirit. It is a painful thing to collide with a wall, and this kind of clash can not only hurt us but it can also hurt others and, worse still, it can diminish the glory in the Church.

(3) "one hope". The third wall is the one hope which is common to all believers. What is it? That we shall see Christ, and that when we see Him we shall be like Him. This is the glorious hope of the gospel, and its effect is to make a man purify himself. To have this hope, however, should enable us to endure a lack of Christlikeness in our brother, if necessary, for God is committed to the task of conforming him as well as us to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. Imprisoned in Christ, we learn to bear with one another; our common hope is the same, so we must not misjudge our brother or question his sincerity.

(4) "one Lord". The fourth wall is that of the absolute authority of the Lord. This does not mean that what God authorizes my brother to do, He also authorizes me. Nor must I be so pompous [43/44] as to insist that if He has told me to do something, then everybody else must do the same, and do it my way. Such an attitude would divide the body and diminish the glory. What it does mean is that I am responsible to the one Lord, and so is my brother responsible to Him; so we stand or fall to Him. As we hold out hands of helpfulness to each other, responding to the sweet limitations of His lordship, then His glory will be found in the Church.

(5) "one faith". Here is another wall which marks the limit of movement for the prisoner in the Lord. What is meant by the assertion that there is one faith? Does it mean that there is one credal statement which all must be called upon to accept? Well, it does involve the fact that there must be a complete expression of the true faith with which we shall all eventually agree, but it certainly does not mean that anyone can yet postulate this in a credal statement. We are told that we shall all come finally to the unity of the faith (verse 13), but we have not yet arrived. Statements of faith cannot be rigid in detail, for we begin, grow and develop differently as we move towards perfection in Christ. There is, however, one necessity, and that is the doctrine of Christ. The Church consists of those who are welcomed on the basis of their one faith in the same Person, even the Lord Jesus. We do not see all things as others see them yet, but we do share a common faith in Him.

(6) "one baptism". It may surprise some to know that there are people who would actually divide God's people into those who have been baptised in the name of the Trinity and those who have been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. It is fantastic, but all too true, that men are actually ready to split up churches on such an issue. This tendency is rife in all Scandinavia, and it is spreading to this country. The solid wall of the one baptism means that any baptism is valid, provided it is based on true faith in Christ. If we are prisoners in the Lord, then we have to refuse ourselves the indulgence of being superior about our concept of how baptism should be administered. There is no chance of the glory of God resting on partisan groups which are based on a matter of procedure.

(7) "one Father". The life of the Spirit (v.4); the lordship of the Son (v.5); will lead to worship of the Father (v.6). Here we are brought back to the matter of glory in the Church, for such glory is only possible by the presence of the Father, acknowledged and appreciated in terms of worship. The implications of 'one Father' are very far reaching: they exclude and they embrace. This, then, is the final sacred wall which holds us in the blessed imprisonment of being 'in Christ'.

Seven is a great Bible number, so we are not surprised to find that the glory in the Church calls for a people who are ready willingly, deliberately, and continually to be included within the seven walls of oneness in Christ. The four guards and the seven walls mean such an imprisonment as will produce a wonderful expression of the glory of God. Paul closed another of his prison epistles with the words: "Remember my bonds". Let us be sure to remember them.


Jonathan McRostie

I DON'T know if this happens to you, but every so often I find that I have an acute need of a fresh word from the Lord to my own heart to keep me going. Some time ago I found that my spiritual battery was getting very low. It was after our Summer crusade which God had greatly blessed. This had left me drained of energy, spiritual as well as mental and physical, overwhelmed with all the work of cleaning and sorting things out ready for the following year's tasks. I had to go to a conference in Germany, and went very much against my own will because our teams for India had been delayed at Zaventem and I felt that I wanted to remain at our headquarters there, in order to join in praying them out and also to make sure that they were fully equipped. I knew, though, that I had to fulfil an earlier promise, so I went. It was there that God met me.

The group of Germans to whom I went love to praise and to pray; they love the Word of God [44/45] and they are keen to spread the gospel. Many of them have recently been converted from Catholicism, and it was a blessing to be with them. One of the men said to me: 'You do not have much time to preach. Preach a short message, but full power '. I trust that this is what happened, but everything there had its beginnings in a time of prayer which we had together. They were all praying in German, of course, and I could not understand them, but I knew that they were getting through to God, and it was there among them that God got through to me.

I was praying about the work at Zaventem and at the time I wondered how I could manage to endure another year's responsibility of running the headquarters of 30 to 35 people. It seemed hopeless, and as I was crying to the Lord to know how it was possible to go through for a whole year, teaching the 50 per cent of new people their jobs, maintaining unity and constant freshness, I felt quite overwhelmed. I continued with this exercise throughout the whole prayer meeting, and sought to cast the burden on the Lord. Next morning God gave me a message from His Word which answered all my questions. It was: "Be strong and of good courage and do it". The Lord seemed to say to me: 'Do it! Just do it! You stick there at Zaventem again this year.' The message went on: "Fear not, nor be dismayed: for the Lord God, even my God, is with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished" (1 Chronicles 28:20).

Perhaps Solomon had been thinking that if his father, David, could not perform this task, how would he be able to do it? David's reassurance was: 'You do it, and God will be with you'. And to me it was as though the Lord said: 'Don't ask Me how but do it; and as you go forward in faith you will discover that I am backing you. My power, My presence, My wisdom, My provision, My love, My patience and My perseverance; all that I am and have is with you until the work is done. So just go back to Zaventem and lead the team. Stick it again! Be strong and do it!' This was the answer to all my praying.

NOW it is true that my experience was very personal, but the spiritual principle applies to all of us. Whatever the task, whether it be for a year, for only five minutes or for a lifetime, there is the same guarantee of God's presence, power and provision to all those who, in spite of their own weakness and insufficiency, will be strong and do it.

A similar promise was given to Zerubbabel and Joshua when in their day they were called to build God's house. "Then spake Haggai the Lord's messenger in the Lord's message unto the people, saying: I am with you, saith the Lord" (Haggai 1:13). But when did God say this? When they had risen up from their inactivity and obeyed His command to "go up ... and build the house" (v.8). The two leaders "with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God ..." (v.12) and immediately the divine response was: "I am with you".

It may help you, as it helped me, to realise that the condition to knowing God's presence and power is to move forward in faith. The Israelites of Haggai's day wondered why they were working hard with so little result, but the truth was that they had lost sight of God's purpose, and needed to get their thinking straightened out. They had come back to Jerusalem and laid the foundation of the house, but because of opposition they had abandoned the work. On the surface it sounded very reasonable and logical; a law had been passed against such building and this was such a great obstacle that they felt that they had no other alternative than to give it up. But even men of the world do not accept defeat in this way. If they see an obstacle in their path, they get to work to find a way round it so that they can pursue their plans. Alas, that Christians so often get discouraged and give up when difficulties arise!

To Haggai the people argued that it was not the time to build but, through the prophet, the Lord demanded how it could be the time to build their own houses -- and good ones at that -- while His house was neglected. With us today it may not be houses but perhaps our projects or our plans. We can be so occupied with our own affairs that we have no time for worship, no time for fellowship, no time for prayer. We may even be so preoccupied with our own plans in Christian work, with time for our project, for what we like or want, that we have no time for God's house. Haggai reasoned with the people: 'Do you wonder why there is no blessing, why everything [45/46] goes wrong in your affairs, and your own work proves futile? There is no knowing question of your knowing God's mighty presence if you allow His house to lie in ruins while you busy yourselves with your own houses, your own pursuits and your own interests.' Surely the same challenge comes to us today, warning us that before we can expect to have the promise of God, 'I am with you' we must turn from our own ideas and put first God's great project. And what is that? It is God's house.

WHAT is it that God wants us to do in the world today? I have been deeply exercised to discover this. I have thought of the evangelistic crusades, the distribution of literature and the radio activities, thanking God for them all. Still, in the midst of my rejoicing, I ask myself 'What is it that God is seeking to produce from all this?' Yes, I believe that He wants the message to get to every creature -- He has said so in His Word -- but through that He has made it plain that He seeks above all else to raise up living fellowships of those among whom He may be at home. What the Lord demands is not just the proclamation of the gospel; not just the salvation of individuals and their organising into groups; but a living fellowship that is alive in Christ and a loving fellowship maintained in true brotherly love.

I have a brother who is working as a missionary in a Moslem land where such work has been going on for almost one hundred years. Very, very few have been won for Christ, and it seems that nowhere is there a church, in the sense of believers who meet together regularly to worship, to love one another and to learn from one another. At least my brother knows of none. There are a few scattered believers, but there is no functioning fellowship. A colleague of mine visited some parts of this country and was shaken to find that the various missionaries he talked with tended to criticise other missionaries and to tear down their work. There were a few exceptions but, as he related the sad state of affairs to me, I felt how can living, loving fellowships be found among converts if they are not already in evidence among missionaries? We must pray very earnestly for those who are in the front line of the spiritual battle, for Satan uses their isolation and lack of a regular ministry of the Word for the sustaining of their spiritual life to press home his attacks upon them.

MY chief prayer request for any of our Operation Mobilisation teams is that they may learn the reality of a living fellowship together. How can we go out and preach the gospel without the background of the house of God? Are we then to expect to see God raise up fellowships in other lands, when we ourselves know little or nothing of such fellowship among ourselves? Can we really ask God to do in those whom we point to Christ what is not operative in our own case? We need God's help all the more in this matter because in the future our teams are likely to include Africans, South Americans and Asians; and it is vital that our fellowship together should be typical of the whole Church in its experience of the unity of the Spirit. What is the Church but the active fellowship of the house of God?

I feel very strongly that what is upon God's heart in the matter of evangelism is the producing of fellowships. It is true that individually believers are temples of the Holy Spirit, but God's purpose is that by living, loving fellowship He may give expression to His house even here on earth. This must be first. This is what our faith is all about. This is what God wants us to concentrate on above all else. And when we do so, even with all our weaknesses, then His immediate response is: 'I am with you. I am with you in your difficult and impossible task. I am with you to give you My power and My sufficiency. All My provisions are fully at your disposal.'

In Haggai's day the people did obey God's voice: they returned to their calling to build God's house and to put Him first. Then the blessing came, the people rejoiced and the Lord was pleased and glorified. Not only that, but the way was made for them to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, as we see in the book of Nehemiah. Then it was that the nations around understood that God was at work. It is always so. When God's people really put Him first, then the world is impressed with the fact that He is alive and on the move. May the Lord encourage us by the message of Haggai, and may we give new attention to His great desire to have His house in practical expression among the nations in our day. If we do this we can be sure of the heartening assurance: "I am with you, saith the Lord". [46/47]


Poul Madsen

Reading: Zechariah 4

THOSE who are engaged in the work of God often face insurmountable difficulties and problems. There is always, in fact a prepared way ahead, but it can only be seen by the eyes of faith. It lies just there, where the mountain stands, for the prepared way and the insuperable difficulties are concurrent experiences. It is not that there is first a great problem, then that is solved, and consequently the way is opened for continuance. No, it is rather that the difficulties remain, but through the midst of them a prepared way is opened.

Zerubbabel and Joshua had begun to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem on the site of the ruins of Solomon's temple which had been burned down by Nebuchadnezzar. In many respects theirs was a desperate venture. The workers were few and the enemies were many. So great was the opposition that for a long while they gave it up and the work stopped. It seemed to them as if they were facing a very great mountain. They could not climb over it; they could not get through it; and neither could they find a way round it. It completely barred their way and halted all hopes of progress. Then one day they heard what the Lord had to say about their situation. It was quite simple, and yet entirely different from human words or counsel. By this word of the Lord they surmounted the insurmountable, accomplished the impossible.

"... Not by might nor by power ..."

The Lord's word insisted that the work did not require their might or power. These were the first words they heard, and they cast an entirely new light on their hopeless situation. They had become discouraged because they had neither power nor strength, but now the Lord proclaimed to them that they should not let this worry them, for it was a good thing, an advantage, and a condition for their really being able to accomplish something for Him. Does it seem a surprising word? We might ask, 'Is it not God's intention that we shall have power and strength?' Yes, but only in His way, and His power needs to be made perfect in weakness. The one who has might and power, will lack God's backing, but the one who has neither might nor power can prove how God allows His Spirit to work so that mountains of difficulty are removed.

Paul understood this. That is why he was able to take pleasure in his own infirmities, and even glory in them. He had discovered that when he was weak, then he was strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Zerubbabel did not understand it until he heard the message of the prophet Zechariah. No one naturally understands this; that is why God keeps having to say it. Thus we see that Joshua and Zerubbabel were really well placed, for their hopeless situation made a platform for God. When by the preaching of the Word they realised this, then real faith blazed up in them, and they were doubtless very grateful. Perhaps, like Paul, they rejoiced. At any rate their eyes were opened and they saw the situation in an altogether new light.

"... but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts ..."

The Lord of hosts commands ten thousand times ten thousand. However great the mountain, it is no problem to Him. If He allows His Spirit to work in power what will become of that great mountain? It will become a plain. The conditions which make this miracle possible are, partly, that there should be no human power or might, for otherwise men would immediately claim their share of the glory for the miracle; and partly that in the midst of human weakness there is an opportunity for living faith, based on the Word of God and leading to acts of faith. Such conditions were present. Zerubbabel and Joshua, in the promising situation of total weakness and helplessness, received the Word of God in living faith and went to work in the face of the huge mountain of difficulties which confronted them.

"... Who art thou, O great mountain ...?"

We note that God addressed the mountain as though it were a person. Behind the mountain of problems and difficulties He saw His great adversary who always opposes His work. Zerubbabel could only see the insoluble problems and the people who were fighting against him: God saw Satan himself. Our real battle is against the unseen powers of darkness. It is Satan and his agents who seek to bar the way in front of us, and it is also [47/48] they who work to deprive us of our courage and faith. At first we tremble when we realise this, for Satan is a terrible opponent. Nevertheless even while we tremble we must be careful not to give way to panic, for God has something further to say and it is important to hear His voice and to hold on to His Word in our hopeless situation.

"... before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain ..."

We might have expected to hear God say, 'Before Me thou shalt become a plain' but on the contrary He said what would surprise both Zerubbabel and us: 'Before that weak and discouraged Zerubbabel who is almost ready to give up, thou shalt become a plain'! That huge mountain of insurmountable difficulties raised up by Satan, was to be smoothed down into a plain before the weak and demoralized little Zerubbabel. It was a wonderful pronouncement -- shattering for Satan but most enheartening for God's servant. It was a fact even before it was seen, for truly the promises and pronouncements of God are facts which faith can lay hold of.

The prophet Isaiah had said something similar long before Zechariah: "Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth; thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff." (Isaiah 41:14-15). Here also mountains and hills were to disappear before powerless 'worms' who would be changed into sharp threshing instruments by the hand of God upon them. This is what our God is like. He is the Lord of hosts. Why then are we always so eager and fretful to be big and strong?

"... that stand by the Lord of the whole earth ..."

How did it happen? Did the mountain suddenly disappear as if by the touch of a magic wand? Of course God could flatten any mountain to the ground by the word of His power, but usually He does not do so, for if he did we would not learn to believe Him and to walk and work by faith. At any rate He did not cause Zerubbabel's mountain to disappear all at once. The work had commenced with a beginning that was very small, especially in comparison with the enormous mountain, but God promised that the hands which had started should continue the work and finally finish it. So it happened that as he worked, the mountain gradually disappeared, and by the time he came to lay the topstone it had completely vanished -- it had become a plain. The mountain was there, then, but it was as if each stone which was laid made it diminish steadily, until finally it ceased to be.

We often make the mistake of asking the Lord to remove the mountain of difficulties and expecting Him to do so before we will take up the task to which He has called us. We pray, but the difficulties remain just as great, so we pray again -- perhaps we pray for power -- but nothing is changed, so we settle down to wait. We can continue like this to the end of our days without anything happening, as if it were the Lord who was holding things up. How much better to read the Word of the Lord in quietness and prayerfulness, stilling our restless tensions and then moving forward in the simple obedience of faith! This is the way in which God's work will be done.

If we ask who can function in this way the answer is, only those "who stand before the Lord of all the earth", like Joshua and Zerubbabel. It was their relationship with the Lord which enabled them to carry out His work against all odds. They were more occupied with Him than with their difficulties, and as a result they surmounted them. They were more occupied with Him than with their own lack of might and power, and as a result He was their strength and might. They looked to Him, and therefore He looked upon them and solved their problems. They expected everything from Him, and they received even more than they expected. They began with a great mountain and they finished with a much greater God.



Roger T. Forster

IN passing from the tabernacle to the temple we need help from God to stimulate us in our search for fresh inspiration. With the tabernacle it was not difficult to find interpretations from the Scriptures, but in the case of the temple it seems that we are left much more to our own reflections. We may well ask why we are given the additional symbolism of the temple. Perhaps we can best answer such a question by first seeking to analyse the connection between the tabernacle[48/49] and the temple. There were really three Old Testament places of worship, the tabernacle of Moses, the temple of Solomon and the tabernacle of David which was a sort of interim between the other two.

There was, of course, a very close connection between the three. In Revelation 15:5 the whole idea of God's dwelling is indicated in the phrase: "the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony", words which stress the intimate association between the three. There must be an element of continuity, for naturally the tabernacle disappeared and was not again needed once the temple was erected. But there is also a difference, and this will repay investigation.

THE distinction is seen in various matters. The tabernacle of Moses was wholly Israelitish. It contained the ark of the covenant, was served by priests and its worshippers merely exhorted the nations at the ends of the earth to praise the Lord. Now this was not quite so in the case of David's tabernacle, for this was served by Gentiles as Jews [sic], as may easily be verified, and it concentrated especially on one sacrifice. When this interim tabernacle was taken down it was replaced by Solomon's temple which was inaugurated not by priests only but by the king, acting as a priest. The old Mosaic symbols continued, but the house offered a much wider realm of ministry. It was located in the City of David which had once belonged to the Jebusites. Foreigners also had a part in its preparation and in some of its spheres of service. Moreover there was a difference in the matter of location. Moses' tabernacle was moveable, it could be pitched anywhere on the desert sand. David's tabernacle was in Jerusalem, but it was only meant to be a temporary structure. The temple, however, was very solid with its own flooring and was a permanent building with firm foundations. In the tabernacle men always had to stand, no provision of seating of any kind being made there. The temple, though, had chambers built all along its sides, in a kind of honeycomb fashion. These rooms on the sides of the temple were chambers, abiding places. It may have been that these were in the mind of the Lord Jesus when He stated: "In my Father's house are many abiding-places" (John 14:2 R.V. margin). The word employed comes from the same root as that which He used in the next chapter when He said: "Abide in me". In this connection then, the promise "I will come again" does not specifically refer to His second advent, but rather to the fact that in his resurrection and in His capacity as the temple of God, He would offer an abiding place for each one of His own. There were certainly many resting or abiding facilities in the temple. More those temple chambers were of different sizes, seeming to predict that there would be varieties of spiritual dimension and capacity in our eternal state.

ALTHOUGH the spiritual significance of the temple often tallied with that of the tabernacle, there were some quite real differences. The tabernacle was made of relatively flimsy material which could not last indefinitely, whereas the temple represented a very solid, secure and immoveable edifice. An Israelite would have very different thoughts if he could pass from contemplating the frail structure of the tabernacle to considering the huge blocks of masonry which went to make up the temple, and if he entered both, he would find it very different walking on the gold-covered floor from what it had been on the soft desert sand of the tabernacle.

Basically it seems that the difference has something to do with resurrection. Whatever the tabernacle says to us, it speaks of things which belong to the earthly side of our existence in all its frailty and constant changes; but whatever the temple says, it clearly has something to do with the eternal stability and power of resurrection life. The temple points up and on to the divine incorruptibility which is fixed and permanent. This is perhaps indicated in John's Gospel, which begins by telling us that Jesus "tabernacled amongst us" and then in chapter 2 quotes the Lord as insisting that even if they tried to destroy His 'temple' they could not do so, for He would raise it again on the third day. The temple speaks of that which is indestructible. It is true that both Solomon's temple and Herod's temples were destroyed, but there was a reason for this which does not affect the meaning of the type which speaks of the eternal expression of the glory of God in His house.

THE tabernacle had the same glory, but it was as though heavenly truths and values were being expressed in the realm of the earthly and temporal. This tabernacle life of ours means that eternal factors are being expressed in the frail flimsy circumstances of our daily movements and [49/50] experiences. Spiritual truths are being embodied in redeemed man in the onward march of human history. This is not only true of us as individuals for, in a sense, our church life has this same element of passing events and changing conditions that are being expressed in human and mortal bodies. Even as this happens, however, something eternal is being built and established; something which will not be subject to change but which is going to be fixed for ever and ever. The temple speaks to us then of what God is now building in the unseen realm, using our tabernacle experiences to make this possible. This is the building which will be established for ever and ever on the sure foundation. The earthly temple was built on Mount Sion, and this is the name given to the heavenly realm to which we truly belong, as may be seen from Hebrews 12:22 and Revelation 14:1.

In this way we realise that something is being built which is not just an expression here in time and on earth of eternal truths (as in the tabernacle) but the establishing of those truths in a permanent way in the day of resurrection. Thank God that our church life, here and now, expresses something of the eternal truth of God as seen in the Lord Jesus. We wish it were more, but we are grateful for what is. Even more exciting and inspiring is the fact that even while we prove this in our corporate life down here, even while we enjoy it our tabernacle experiences of glory in Christ down here, we are providing material for the eternal dwelling of God, we are being built into the permanent structure of God's heavenly temple.

PAUL tells us how this process is at work. "For which cause we faint not" -- we do not cowardly surrender -- "but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). We ought to like people and things which work for us, so we must learn to like present afflictions which are features of our wilderness journey. The tabernacle had to bear the strain of sun and wind, and of the rain beating on its frail fabric, and so do we. But we are assured that the final result will be the substantial weight of glory in an imperishable temple. The tabernacle is temporary, but for a moment; it will fade away, indeed it must do so; but by means of the stresses which come upon it, the solid substance of the glorious temple is being produced.

Note the secret of changing these afflictions into a weight of glory -- "While we look not at the things seen, but at the things which are not seen". The trying experiences are just for a time, they are passing away changing every moment and moving towards disintegration. Nothing can alter the fact that as we pass the prime of our lives, the natural man which is outward gives many indications that it is perishing. Only the unseen values of our lives are eternal. If, however, we keep our sights fixed on those eternal things of God, translating them into the practical experiences of daily life, the vicissitudes of the earthly tabernacle will provide occasions for the building of the substantial edifice which is permanent.

So we read straight on into what we call chapter 5 -- "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved; we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens". We know, then, that when these flimsy, frail earthly bodies, which serve us now as tents, are finally dispensed with, we will have a more substantial building (as the word indicates) which is already settled in heaven. We may well ask if that building is already in heaven, how did it get there? The answer is to be found in the activity described as 'working' in 4:17. It surely means that as things happen here on earth, a corresponding process of storing up is going on in the heavens. If this is the case then it seems that our eternal body will be commensurate with our experiences here in our earthly body, and therefore that there will be different glories. Paul tells us that the eternal buildings will be waiting in heaven for us at the resurrection. They represent a spiritual, solid counterpart in the heavenly realm to our earthly experiences of the Lord Jesus Christ here on earth. Such values can never be lost, a thrilling thought, but also one which challenges us as to our daily life here and now. Christianity is the only message which insists that what we do in the body now, matters for all eternity.

ALTHOUGH there are differences, there is an amazing continuity about the relationship of the tabernacle and the temple. What is expressed now in the desert sand of life, as we pass from place to place in our earthly pilgrimage, is being eternally established on Mount Sion on the foundation which cannot be moved. That glorious chief cornerstone has already been laid. He is the foundation upon which we in our spiritual fabric of learning and experiencing Him, are now being built. It is thrilling as well as challenging, always [50/51] posing the question as to what weight of glory has accrued to my spiritual body today. How has that building grown in heaven as the result of the way in which I have walked with the Lord here on earth? When one day we see our spiritual bodies, we may be disappointed or we may be delighted. We may also be surprised to see the spiritual substance of people whom we thought little of down here, and rejoice at their eternal weight of glory.

The real fulfilment, then, of the tabernacle of Moses was not so much in Solomon's temple but in the Lord Jesus, whose glorious shrine was raised up on the third day as He had said it would be, so constituting the true and eternal temple of God. He it is who has brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel, and it is in Him that we are destined to be a permanent dwelling for God. When the temple in Jerusalem was built everybody knew that it was not big enough for God, and Solomon readily confessed this fact in his prayer of dedication. God has something in view which is much bigger and better than anything which can be seen here on earth. The stumblingblock for the Jews was that they could only look at the seen, and this kept them from the great revelation that the true temple is the Lord Jesus. It is possible for us, too, to focus down on to the earthly expression of the house of God which we are in, imagining that this tabernacle is the goal of God's building. If we do this, letting the frail and temporary building take the place of the overall prospect of God's temple in the heavens, then we will suffer many disappointments, The earthly is perishable -- it is meant to be so. It is a functional means of expressing eternal truths which can only find their true and final fulfilment in the temple which was not made by Solomon, or Zerubbabel, or Herod, or us! It is not made by hands at all, but it is eternal in the heavens.




T. Austin-Sparks

ON quite a number of occasions Elisha's story is associated with the sons of the prophets, so we do well to ask who and what these were. We need to go back to the days of Samuel for our introduction to this particular form of the prophetic ministry. Originally it was the priestly function to instruct the people concerning the law and the ways of God, but in the days of the judges, the priests became so degenerate and their ministry fell to such a low level that it became well-nigh extinct and altogether inadequate. Then Samuel came on the scene. With him there came a transition and also certain reforms. One of these was the institution of these schools of the prophets, and we find references made to one of them as existing at Ramah, with Samuel at its head (1 Samuel 19:20).

It may not be necessary to point out that the term 'sons of the prophets' must not be taken literally. These men were not their fathers' successors but were men of spiritual promise who were gathered together to be prepared for their spiritual ministry. They were to be very thoroughly instructed in the law, especially the oral, as differing from the symbolic law. The priestly instruction had been mainly along the lines of symbolism, that is, the priests taught by action rather than by word. It was what they did which conveyed their message. For this the people needed to have discernment and perception, seeing the divine meaning through the symbolic actions. When things were in a state of purity, the people did understand something of the spiritual meaning of the priestly activities, but when conditions degenerated, as in the years described in the book of Judges, such perception and understanding almost entirely disappeared. What is said about Eli typifies the spiritual state of the people. His eyes had become dim so that he was almost completely without sight, and he had grown so weak that he had no power to control the moral life of his own household. This is what had happened to the people; spiritual perception had so far departed that moral paralysis had set in, and government according to the mind of God had practically disappeared. [51/52]

SINCE, therefore spiritual insight (or what was called in those days 'vision') had ceased, a new form of instruction became necessary, and this was in oral form. The prophets were trained, not by topical or symbolic expressions of the mind of God, but by the direct declaration of it in words. These schools of the prophets were set up with a view to preparing men to declare the will of God in a direct way, and such ministry involved association with the history of God's people, and of the world, from the divine standpoint. If we read the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Daniel and Haggai, we see how history had a part in their prophetic work. It seems, therefore, that the schools of the prophets provided for the teaching of the spiritual implications of history. Furthermore, another element was included which we may call 'spiritual patriotism'. Since it was God who had chosen the people and separated them to Himself they represented something for God in the midst of the nations. For this reason the prophets were fired with a holy jealousy that their nation, which represented God, should fulfil its divine vocation. This was the nature of their concern; they were jealous for Israel because of her importance to God; and so the schools of the prophets nurtured and cherished this spiritual patriotism.

Nevertheless, the primary function of these schools was that which was the very essence of prophetic ministry, namely the revelation of God by inspiration, revelation, which was not the product of man's reasoning but illumination by the Holy Spirit of God. So it was that the prophets became God's means of revealing His desires and His thoughts, being not only spokesmen but personal embodiments of the truths they proclaimed. The sons of the prophets of Elisha's day were under spiritual instruction for this very purpose. They differed from the actual prophets in their immaturity; for they were still in a process of preparation; and part of Elisha's function was to assist in their education. In each encounter with him they betrayed signs of immaturity, but clearly they were ready to learn, and that is what matters. We have already stated that Elisha represented the power of resurrection life, so we rightly expect that through him these trainees would find instruction concerning the life which triumphs over death as the full issue of the cross.

WE notice that the first reference to them was their question to Elisha: "Knowest thou not that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today?" (2 Kings 2:3). These early encounters seem to suggest that Elisha was not honoured by them, but rather treated in a casual and condescending manner. They appeared to think of him as a mere servant of Elijah, regarding themselves as rather superior to him. This is a real indication of immaturity, this tendency to spiritual conceit. They had little respect for one whom they regarded as a mere layman. They themselves were 'called to service', inclined to take themselves very seriously and to convey an atmosphere of what was official, with a certain kind of pity for a man who had no office. They had no knowledge of Elisha's secret history with God. If they had realised what God was doing with him in preparing him for his great resurrection ministry, they might not have taken up this superior attitude. It is one of the perils of any training institution that it may produce men who claim to have some official standing which they deny to others. One of the marks of spiritual maturity is that it repudiates any such conceits. All the knowledge which can be imparted by training colleges and a most comprehensive grasp of Scriptural teaching cannot of themselves provide real spirituality. This has to be learned from the beginning by a humble walk with God. No one who has really begun to grow spiritually will feel superior to others. With regard to these sons of the prophets we must excuse them because they were in a state of preparation, but we do well to take warning from their example, and, unlike them, we must not ride rough shod over others who may be passing through deep experiences with God, as Elisha was, wrongly imagining that their lack of outward status proves their inferiority to ourselves.

AFTER Elisha had received Elijah's mantle and had parted the waters of Jordan (2 Kings 2:14) we find that there was some recognition of him by the sons of the prophets. They had been confronted by the great fact of the triumphant power of new life over the waters of death and they bowed in submission to this evidence. Yet there is a great deal of difference between accepting the fact of resurrection life and having its implications wrought into the very substance of our being. The sons of the prophets signified their acceptance of the principle but this was not enough, any more than it is enough for us to get hold of the teaching and imagine that because we have recognised and accepted this doctrinally it will automatically work out in experience. We [52/53] may have to find that in our case it does not work out yet, for it must become a matter not merely of teaching or conviction but of inwrought experience. It is striking that there was no interval between their acceptance of Elisha and their beginning to argue with him (vv.16-18). They allowed their natural reasoning to work, and so made room in their minds for a possibility that after all Elijah might be lying dead or dying somewhere. We are told that "the mind of the flesh is death" (Romans 8:6) and that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him, and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged" (1 Corinthians 2:14). We cannot know the power of resurrection by our reasoning.

Nor can we know it by our feelings. That which is real and that which we are conscious of may be two different things. Looked on naturally, those who have known and lived on the principle of the risen life of Jesus may seem to be very unimpressive in themselves. If we could meet the apostle Paul now we might say: 'Is this the man who has done and written such mighty things for God? Can it be that he who has stirred the world in this remarkable way is such an ordinary man? We do not see anything spiritual about him.' We might ask if the result of living by the risen life of Christ meant that he never felt tired or depressed, never anxious or fearful. He would answer that in fact he had often known 'lightings without and fears within', he had even 'despaired of life', it seems that very often he did not actually feel resurrection life, and yet he lived by it and this was the secret of his spiritual fruitfulness. The sons of the prophets had begun, but they had much to learn. They would never graduate to the full prophetic ministry until what was true of Elisha had become true of them. Meanwhile they became involved in mental questionings and got busy scouring the neighbouring mountains and valleys, instead of accepting the spiritual reality by faith.

IN 2 Kings 4:38-41 we are told of how the sons of the prophets went out to gather herbs for a meal, and very nearly incurred disaster by a wrong choice. The lesson is simple and clear; it is again the coming in of the element of death: "... there is death in the pot". In this case death came by a lack of discrimination of what was suitable for the maintaining of spiritual life. With famine in the land, the life of God's servants was endangered by food shortage, and the necessity of sustaining life among them was a first priority. These men, we remember, were being prepared for spiritual ministry and in that ministry it is essential to know how to feed God's people. Such a work requires real discrimination so that, under the pressure of urgent needs, the prophets should be able to decide what is and what is not suitable. In our own day there is often a real hunger in the hearts of men, and the devil is not slow to take advantage of this to get that which is poisonous into the prophetic ministry. It is easy to be deceived by appearances, as was the man who put the wild gourd into their pot, and in this way to try to meet spiritual hunger with what in fact is not food but poison. Elisha's remedy for this peril was to add meal, which speaks to us of the very nature of Christ, the fine flour of the meal offering. The sustenance of the Lord's people can only be by the impartation of Christ in His moral and spiritual excellencies.

FINALLY we find that death broke in when, in conscious need of enlargement, the sons of the prophets made an energetic endeavour to extend their house (2 Kings 6:1-7). In the course of their tree-felling there was one axe-head which came off and fell into the river Jordan. It was a calamity, but there are always hidden lessons at such times, and this is no exception. The energetic son of the prophet found that his strength was quite useless, for the axe-head lay at the bottom of Jordan. It was in the place of death. He had started out to use his borrowed axe, never looking to see that its head was perfectly safe. The loose axe-head might easily have gone into another man's head, and then a very real question of death would have been involved. From every viewpoint, then, this was a parable of death and an illustration of what happens if a man attempts to do spiritual things by means of natural energies.

We need say no more than to conclude the story, which resulted in a restored axe-head and a completed task, done now in the power of resurrection. We do not want to stay with the typology but to learn the spiritual lesson, which is that preparation for full usefulness to the Lord in the power of resurrection means that those concerned have to go through an experience where their energies are brought to an end, their own strength and hopes buried in Jordan, so that the only way of progress is by a new discovery of the power of His resurrection. [53/54]


C. R. Golsworthy

Reading: Isaiah 60

THROUGH His prophet Isaiah God issued a call to His people to "Arise and shine" accompanying the call with the words: "thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee". Our God is a God of resurrection and, according to this chapter, He has plans to put forth His power for the regathering of His captive people, causing them to live again as He would have them live, and shine again as He would have them shine. This chapter shows the released captives returning at last from distant lands, and Jerusalem again restored to dignity and honour. And it shall not only be a return or a restoration, it shall be a resurrection, a whole national coronation, and the establishment once more of a shining testimony -- from decimation to scintillation. Such, thank God, are the thoughts which He has towards us also, in our day. All this and more besides, He can do for us, in view of the resurrection and exaltation of His Son. Resurrection power is "to usward who believe".

It will be noticed that this chapter of the shining glory is studded, or bejewelled, with five beautiful and significant names for the favoured city. Each name, of course, presents a particular aspect of God's spiritual city, the Church, raised and restored and shining again with His own glory, and it is our purpose, here, to draw attention to these five names.

"... the house of my glory ..."

In the first place the city is referred to as "the house of my glory" (verse 7). This has always been the thought of God concerning His Church, that it should be the vessel, or the herald, of His own majestic glory. We are plainly told in the Psalms that God saves "for his name's sake, that he might make his mighty power to be known" (Psalm 106:8). His present activity, basically speaking, is to make known His own glory and His redeemed people are the primary instrument that He is using to this end. The Lord Jesus said: "I am glorified in them" (John 17:10). We are amazed to find that God has planned to "make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy which he had before prepared unto glory" (Romans 9:23). Here is a truth which throws back our horizons and lifts the whole level of our spiritual outlook. And it supplies us with entirely new objectives and ambitions, we see that we are related to something very deep and very far-reaching for God's own satisfaction, namely the revelation of His glory. This promise of verse 7 speaks of God glorifying the house of His glory. We may be sure that this is what He always has in view when He turns the captivity of His people and makes them to rise and shine in the power of Christ's resurrection.

"... the place of my sanctuary ..."

Further down in the chapter we find another arresting name for the people of the Lord. They are called "the place of my sanctuary" (v.13). The simple thought here is that God's people are the chosen and anointed place where He Himself delights to dwell. Redeemed sinners though they be, they have actually become God's home. They are now renewed in Christ, and God can find His rest among them. How essential it is for God's people to understand this truth right from the beginning! Individually we are indwelt, and corporately we are indwelt; indwelt by the very God who has redeemed us. The same Isaiah gives us one of the great revelations in the whole of Scripture: "Thus saith the Lord ... where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? ... but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word" (Isaiah 66:1-2). Once we have known our inward poverty and have learned to tremble at God's Word, obeying it gladly and implicitly, we become 'the place of His rest'. And surely the more we are weakened as to ourselves, and the more we go on to obey, the more delight does God find in taking His deep rest among us.

Our verse goes on to say that God will 'beautify' the place of His sanctuary. This is something which we can easily understand for, at some time or other, we have set ourselves the happy task of making as beautiful as possible the place which we call 'home', decorating it with furnishings and flowers. The real beauty of His house, however, is due to His love and His all-pervading presence, without which there can be no true beauty in His Church. Only He can bring in the beauty: "In [54/55] that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people" (Isaiah 28:5).

"... the place of my feet ..."

Yet another name for the happy and shining city is "the place of my feet" (v.13). This seems to add something of great significance to what we have just mentioned. The appended title seems to say that God's Church, infinitely blessed and favoured as it is seen to be, should at the same time consist of those who are altogether submitted to Him, completely under Him and glad to have it so. The redemption of God's people actually constitutes the recovery of an essential order in His creation. Those who accept the operation of that order soon discover it to be something completely beneficent and a total joy. What better place can any creature find than to be at the feet of his Creator? It is good to realise that the word 'Israel' not only means 'Prince with God' but also 'Ruled by God'. The two titles are inseparable, the first being the issue of the second.

It is a tragic story how man originally lost his highest privileges and possibilities by choosing to reject this place at God's feet. Instead he aspired to be alongside God in personal importance and position, and failed to realise that to continue in happy submission to God would make him 'the man of God's right hand'. Was it not by being 'at Jesus' feet' that Mary discovered the one thing that was needful, which would not be taken away from her? (Luke 10:38-42). The Church urgently needs to learn, or relearn, this lesson in our day. It needs to recover the emphasis implied by this title, and to beware of the unworthy and even casual approach which is all too common even in Christian circles. Modern thoughts about God and His Son are not only unworthy, they are audacious and insolent: our attitude should always be of awe and reverence, even though we find ourselves so honoured in Christ. We need to learn, as John did, that it is when we are at His feet that Christ can lay His right hand on us, and commission us to serve in the outworking of His purpose (Revelation 1:17-19).

"... an eternal excellency ..."

The next title follows very naturally from this point. God says to the shining city which is the place of His feet: "I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations" (v.15). Who can measure the grace and goodness which lie behind such a resplendent title? A people who had been under divine judgment, scattered far away in an apparently hopeless captivity, was now to be raised up, made to glow with divine glory by a miracle which would live on and be seen for ever. The needed judgement had run its course, and death itself has now been conquered. In the New Testament there is, of course, much which emphasises and develops this wonderful fact. Looking right on into eternity, the Lord Jesus said: "Then shall the righteous shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43) and speaking of those who had been prepared to share at least something of His trials and sufferings, He said: "I appoint unto you a kingdom as my Father appointed unto me" (Luke 22:29). Even the prophets of the Old Testament had begun to see something of this vision for Daniel stated: "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:3). It is part of God's plan that His people shall be beautiful for ever.

"... the branch of my planting ..."

The fifth and final title in this chapter is perhaps the most significant and certainly the most challenging. God describes His people as the branch of His planting (v.21). Evidently the Lord would have us know very clearly that this people whom He has been describing is a people whom He Himself has brought into being. He is the One who planted this branch -- it is the work of His hands. Paul tells us that "we are his workmanship" seeing that we have been 'raised' and are shining with God's glory (Ephesians 2:1-10). The whole shining testimony is "of him" and therefore "unto him" (Romans 11:36).

In this connection it is important to notice that the New Jerusalem is described as the city which descends "out of heaven from God, having the glory of God:" (Revelation 21:10). The picture is most impressive, almost startling -- a city descending from God out of heaven -- but the meaning is, in fact, very simple. It just means that God Himself is the originator of this city; it is all the result of what He is and what He has done. Over the whole shining glory, then, we write the word: 'God did it'. It is the branch of His planting, the work of His hands.

We close by noticing the strange expression concerning the planting of a branch. We often [55/56] speak of planting a seed or planting a tree, but we do not normally speak of planting a branch. Why, then, does God use this expression? Can it be that God is reminding us that the Church is really the branch of Christ? Christ is the seed that was sown at the cross, and He is really the whole vine which has emerged. But we are the branch of that emerging vine and are able, in Him, to bring forth fruit unto God. So we may say that the branch was also planted in His planting, raised in His resurrection and made partaker of His glory -- the branch of His planting. It is this that we meant in suggesting that this fifth and final title is the most challenging of them all. The shining testimony is the issue of the cross. And the degree of our entering into the calling will be the degree of our participation in the cross. When we are prepared to be planted in His planting, then we shall be correspondingly raised in His resurrection, and be partakers with Him in His own eternal glory. What is 'old' and 'natural' has to fall into the ground and die. There is no other way. This shining testimony, in all its parts, is the fruit of Christ's travail and the issue of His cross.



Poul Madsen

"Again the next day after John stood and two of his disciples,
and looking upon Jesus as He walked he said, 'Behold the Lamb of God!'
And the two disciples heard him speak and followed Jesus.
" John 1:35-37

WE have seen how John stood there 'again' at his God-appointed place of duty. We also find that he had two disciples who stood there with him. They were involved in the repetitions of life, too. They were not in the foreground like John, but were rather overshadowed by this master of theirs. They were really helpers, learners, but that is how we all begin. We are to be disciples, doing small things day by day. Elisha started like that. He gave daily help to Elijah being found faithful in the repetitions of life in the shadow of his master, until one day he became a prophet himself.

These two disciples had done many small things day by day, and now they stood there again with John. So it was that a great opportunity came to them. Why did they get this wonderful opportunity? Because they were steadily carrying on where they ought to be. Great opportunities arise in the repetitions of life. It was so in the case of Elisha and it will be so in the Lord's dealings with us today. Superficial people are always out for novelties, looking for but never finding the opportunities of life, but these only occur when one is found at the God-appointed place in daily life. And it says that these two men heard John speak. They had heard him speak hundreds of times before, in all probability. They may have woken up rather tired that morning and wondered whether it was really necessary for them to go to be with John again. They may have thought: Cannot we take a day off today? Must we listen to him again? We have heard him so often. This was true, but if they had heard him a hundred times and had never heard that cry: "Behold the Lamb of God", what they would have missed! Those few words made new men of them; they revolutionised their whole lives, and this happened to them because they were prepared to go on with daily repetitions. The two men were standing. Standing for the opportunities from above as they stood in their daily duty and expected every day to be a day of the Lord, a day of salvation. The verse says that they heard him speak, but we know that what they really heard was the voice of God, calling attention to His Lamb. They were there, and so they heard.

And what is more, they followed the Lord. This action of theirs had worldwide and eternal consequences. The idea of 'following' is in fact the keynote of John's Gospel. Following means [56/57] leaving everything; it is a total break with your own ways, a total farewell to your own conception of life, a total renunciation of your own ideas and dreams. It means giving up the right to direct your own steps. And this is precisely what they did.

THE Bible speaks of this as a deliberate act. "Then spake Jesus again unto them saying, I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12). So this break with your own conceptions is really a break with darkness. You do not usually call your own good ideas darkness, and when you dream about life, especially in your youth, yours are the brightest of dreams. But they are darkness all the same, and following Jesus means a total break with darkness, including the form of darkness which you have imagined to be light. If you follow your own ideas about light you will end up in darkness and disappointment; but if you follow Christ, even though the path may seem dark, you will always find yourself enjoying the wonders of the light of life. This will mean that as you follow Him, every step will be confirmed by an experience of that true light which is life and which alone can really satisfy. So for these two men the total break with their own right to direct their steps was a wonderful gift from above. They were not in themselves wonderful men and we do not admire them, though perhaps we may envy them, but they received a marvellous gift from above. A break with darkness and an entry into light is part of our wonderful gospel. It is sometimes proclaimed as though the person involved was taking a tremendous step but in fact he is really receiving a wonderful gift.

BUT following means more than this. It means serving the Lord, and indeed is the only way in which we can serve Him. Service for the Lord is not just doing something for Him. Actually our conception of ministry can be quite mistaken. For example, we have a small boy in Odense who has such a strange idea of ministry that he said to his father: 'I don't want to be like Uncle Poul because he only works on Sundays'! That was his conception of ministry. Is yours rather similar? Do you think that some special activity of yours is service for the Lord but that the rest of your time is not service? This means, then, that you serve Him for certain hours and perhaps for certain days, and the rest is time off? Such a conception is quite wrong.

"If any man serve me let him follow me" (John 12:26) was what the Lord Jesus said. We might have expected Him to say that if any man wanted to serve Him he must do his very best. The Lord did not say this. Actually He is never satisfied with our very best and that is why He equates service with following. These two disciples followed Him, and they were made servants straight away for following is service, it is the doing of His will. Very many people -- including myself -- would do wonderful things for the Lord if He would only excuse us from doing His will. If He would permit us to avoid doing His will, we feel that there is so much that we could do for Him. But this would not be following, and therefore it would not be ministry. One of the greatest of all God's servants was Abraham. Abraham never preached a sermon -- but he followed. He followed all the way, right on to Mount Moriah.

When you read the Gospels you sometimes wonder why they give more chapters to the last few days of the life of Jesus than to all the rest of His activities through the years. You think of all that He did during the rest of His life and then you ask what He did in those last chapters of the Gospels. He was arrested, and then He was crucified, but what did He do? He died. That, we might feel, could not be ministry. Yet, of course, we know that it was. The truth is that He followed the Father right through to the end, in spite of the great cost of so doing. And that was His greatest ministry. Similarly as you read the book of the Acts, you are tempted to wonder why so many chapters are given to Paul's journey to Jerusalem. What did he do there? Well, he too was arrested, and he remained a prisoner. But what did he do? He followed his Lord right up to Jerusalem, suffering, being imprisoned and prevented from going on with his ministry. At least that is what a modern Christian might well think, for to him ministry would involve movement and activity, whereas to the Lord it means following. Of course if you do follow Him, He will lead you in a narrow path where you will meet with the cross. You will probably not like this, and be inclined to tell the Lord that if you [57/58] were allowed to take another path you would be able to do much more for Him. Many do just this, and then they call it ministry, even sacrifice, but if it is not following it can never accomplish what He really wants. The Lord is not interested in quantity, but in quality. That is why those who wish to please Him must follow the Lamb, the Lamb of God. Such following does not make them lions, it means that they, too, must be lambs; and it is as lambs that men serve God, and in serving Him serve humanity.

BUT following means even more still. Following constitutes fellowship. "This he spake, signifying by what death Peter should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned back on his breast at the supper, and said, Lord who is he that betrayeth thee? Peter therefore seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry until I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me." (John 21:19). Here we find two other men, and we might think that it would be impossible for them to be in fellowship, because one will die on a cross while the other might live on until the coming of the Lord. What a gulf there seems to have been between them. One dying on a cross, the other living on; one suffering and the other almost with a guarantee that he would not suffer, at least not in that way. Peter might have been offended by the apparent injustice of it, and if we start comparing others with ourselves we may easily get offended, complaining that others have an easier life than we do, escaping as John seemed to do while we have to go to the cross. Some Christians even feel it unjust that others have better cars than they have. The other temptation is to feel conceited that we -- like Peter -- are suffering the cross, while others -- like John -- seem to be escaping it, as though those others were superficial in comparison with us who are knowing the 'deeper life'. No, as soon, as Christians start looking at one another, comparing themselves with others, a gulf opens between them which cannot be bridged. There is only one way of avoiding that gulf, and that was why Jesus said to Peter: "what is that to thee? Follow thou me". Do not compare your circumstances with those of John; do not complain and do not get conceited, just follow Me! Fellowship is only possible between those who keep their eyes on the Lord and follow Him. Following constitutes fellowship.

WE return to John the Baptist and his two disciples, and we are struck with the tremendous result which came from John's faithfulness in daily repetition. So much came out of his wonderful testimony and simple message. He did not challenge his disciples. He did not urge them to make a decision. He did not even say: 'Behold the Lamb of God and now go and follow Him'. He simply said "Behold the Lamb of God". When this comes from vital experience and vision it is enough. It takes real faith not to say more. But this is how it is. When Christ is truly revealed, that revelation constitutes a call. Yes, and more than a call, for something happened inside these men as they saw the Lord. Life and power touched their spirits and they became new men by beholding the Lamb. I am not sure that they said: 'Let us follow the Lord'. I am not sure that they made a decision, but just that they did it. So the Scripture does not tell us that they decided to follow Jesus or that they started to follow Jesus. Human decisions can so easily break down and what man starts soon comes to an end. Drawn by divine power they followed, and they kept on following, they never stopped, because the initiative had not been with them. Their following was a gift from above. It was the Lord Himself who made them followers. They were not the same men who had made a new decision, but they were new men.

We may ask what happened to John? He lost his two disciples. That is true, but it is not the whole truth, for really we keep whatever we lose for the Lord. The only way of keeping is by letting go to Him. These two did not say goodbye, and I am confident that John did not wish them to do so. When John said: 'Behold the Lamb' they saw the Lamb alone and John disappeared from their sight. John was happy about this, for it was just what he most wanted. When we see the Lord Jesus we do not want to keep our disciples, our possessions, our conceptions, our ambitions, for we find fullness of life in Him alone. He is wonderful. That is what the two discovered that day. Their hearts were full of joy because they had lost their own lives and found Him. John was happy because there is no greater Joy than to see men follow Christ as a result of our simple testimony. [58/59]



Harry Foster

TO the Jewish nation the saddest day in their history was when, in their besieged capital in A.D. 70, all supplies were exhausted and the sacrifices had to cease because there was no longer a single lamb which they could offer. To God, however the saddest day must surely have been when, some forty years earlier, the temple priests had heedlessly and industriously continued shedding the blood of innumerable Passover lambs while the Lamb of God was being sacrificed on a cross just outside the city.

John the Baptist had faithfully testified that Jesus was God's Lamb (John 1:29) but the nation, whose whole history was based on the concept of the sacrificial lamb, did not receive his witness, persisting with the shadows while they decisively rejected the substance. Happily there was a remnant within this nation which pioneered the way for the new, spiritual Israel, basing their faith and hope on the fact that Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7). It is clear from Philip's preaching (Acts 8:32-35) and from Peter's teaching (1 Peter 1:19) that all believers identified Jesus as the Lamb of God. Just as pardon, protection and deliverance came to Israel by the blood of a lamb, and just as communion with God was maintained by the daily sacrifices, so we now enjoy cleansing, access to God and spiritual victory through the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11).

The lamb is a symbol of gentle meekness. The only reference which the New Testament makes to Christ's heart is to quote His own words about its essential lowliness (Matthew 11:29). This emphasises the aptness and beauty of His name. The lamb is also a symbol of purity. It was always a feature of the sacrificial lambs that they were without a blemish of any kind. The Passover lamb had to be reserved for three days of careful scrutiny to ensure its suitability, and only then was it pronounced a valid sacrifice. The Lord Jesus, however, was exposed to more than three years of the closest examination by men and devils without any fault being discovered in Him, and was pronounced by the Father's own heavenly judgment to be perfect. He was God's spotless Lamb, and His blood the sufficient provision for the sinner's need, now and through endless ages (Revelation 7:14).

The book of the Revelation not only discloses the glories of Christ's coming kingdom but it also uncovers the true character of the present kingdom of this sinful world, and for this purpose it employs the symbolism of a wild beast. In complete contrast to the arrogant pretensions of this beastly embodiment of Satan's kingdom, John was inspired to stress the true nature of God's appointed King. He is the Lamb. The title is used twenty-eight times in the course of the book, and the word would more accurately be translated 'the little Lamb'. The final issue of the history of this age will be a climactic conflict between the beast and the Lamb (Revelation 17:14). Of course the Lamb and His lamb-like followers are assured of victory. In God's universe, love will always conquer hatred, meekness will always triumph over pride, purity will always emerge triumphant from its fight with brute force. The Lamb and His cross guarantee this.

The Lamb will be the central figure in God's eternal city of life and love. He will be its light (Revelation 21:22) and it is interesting to discover that this title is used seven times in the description given by John in his wonderful ending of his own book and of the whole Bible. There can be no higher privilege than to be citizens of that heavenly metropolis. This honour is reserved for those who "follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth".



Harry Foster

OURS was a London family so that country life was strange to us. Once, however, when we were staying in the country my brother took me out for a walk. We passed by a farm gate where there was a pump. No sooner did we see it than we both began to feel very thirsty. It is a strange thing that you often do not realise how thirsty you are until you are suddenly given a promise [59/60] of water, and then your mouth seems to get so dry and you long for a drink. It is still more strange that when you are reminded of water but cannot actually get it, your thirst grows even stronger. This is what happened to us, for however hard we pumped the handle, nothing at all came from the spout.

I tried, my brother tried, we tried together; but all to no avail. There was just a clanking noise from the handle as we pumped it up and down, but not one single drop of water came from the spout. What made us even more thirsty was that there was a can by the side of the gate, and this had some water in it. The water did not look dirty but we were so unsure as to what it was that we dare not drink from it. How hot the day now seemed! How thirsty we were! And what a pity that the pump was mocking us by giving up no water!

As we stood there arguing, a farm worker came trudging slowly up the road, and when he reached us he asked what was the matter. We explained that the pump had run dry, but he smilingly told us that this was not the case and that there was plenty of water in the well. We explained our failure to get any, rather hoping that as he looked such a big strong man he would work the pump for us. Instead of taking the handle, however, he picked up the can, poured its water back into the top of the pump, and just said: 'Now try'! My brother just worked the handle up and down, and at once a steady stream of fresh water began to gush from the spout. All the pump needed was priming. The large amount of water was there, but it was out of reach. Just a little of the same water poured into the pump released as much as we needed.

I did not understand priming. I am not quite sure that I do now. I doubt whether that simple countryman understood either. But we got the water. We did not have to know the theory -- we just had to act. The water in the can had come from the pump. It just needed to be put back into it to release the flow.

This can teach us a spiritual lesson. There are many times when we work away at prayer just as my brother and I had done with the pump handle, but however hard we work, nothing seems to happen. There is a secret. Perhaps God is waiting for us to put something in before He releases His flow of blessing. We cannot make it ourselves, any more than the countryman or we could make water, but we can take some of what God has already given us and -- as it were -- put it back in the pump. Surely we have some of His love to give. Surely we have some praise to offer. It just means giving back to Him what He has first given to us. This will release the flow of grace and power which we and others are so greatly needing. It was the Lord Jesus who said: "Give, and it shall be given to you" (Luke 6:38). So let us stop questioning, arguing or doubting and learn to prime the pump.


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