"... 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. 4, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1975 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



WHILE I was away in the United States, Mr. A. G. Taylor was called Home to be with Christ. Older readers of this magazine will be familiar with his name, and friends from many lands will remember with gratitude the help which they received from him and Mrs. Taylor in the Kilcreggan and Honor Oak Guest Houses. We all thank God for him and pray lovingly for Mrs. Taylor in her great loss.

George Taylor and I were close colleagues for about forty years. We were very different in temperament and did not always see eye to eye but, so far as I can recollect, there was never a shadow between us at any time. To God be the glory!

When the Lord Jesus faced life beyond death He looked forward to the fullness of joy which is to be found in the Father's presence. What is more, He anticipated a day in which He would be able to invite His faithful servants to share that joy with Him. "Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord", are the words which He promised to use. I dare to believe that George Taylor will be among those so honoured.

For years Brother Taylor maintained a daily ministry at morning prayers in the Guest House and, however preoccupied he had been with practical affairs and spiritual counsel to individuals, he always seemed to have something fresh from the Word for each morning. His messages in the assembly, though, were very few and far between. For that reason they were all the more impressive. His was something of the ministry of a 'prophet' among us, for he never departed from his sense that he would only speak when he had some special urge to do so. The fact that one message had been evidently blessed did not betray him into thinking that he must give another. On the other hand, his long silences never prevented him from speaking a timely word when he felt that God had so prompted him. And -- like all true prophets -- he was a great man of prayer.

In old age and ill health George Taylor became a living example of Paul's words: "... though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day". He seemed to get nearer and nearer to heaven every time one met him; it became a benediction to visit him even as he was near to the end of his earthly pilgrimage.

The following is a message which he gave at Honor Oak over twenty-five years ago.


A. George Taylor

"He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob; neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: The Lord his God is with him. And the shout of a king is among them" (Numbers 23:21)

THE successful movement of Israel had greatly disturbed Balak, the king of Moab, so that he sought means to hinder their further advance. His own nation and the surrounding peoples were as bread for this people Israel, who were just eating them up and possessing the land. Then he had the bright idea, given no doubt by Satan who is deeply disturbed by the prosperity of God's people, that if only he could bring an enchantment or curse against them, their progress would be stayed and they could be turned back. So he sent for Balaam, a man known to be trustworthy in this matter of prophetic utterances, and enticed him to pronounce such a curse against Israel that they would be weakened by doubts and fears, rightly judging that this would bring an end to their triumphs.

Balaam, however, was forced by God to utter blessings instead of curses, and among them was this verse which spoke of Israel's standing with God, which was at the back of all their triumphs. He gave God's point of view. This is always important, for everything in our future will be governed by the point of view which we have. We can, if we will, have the point of view of God's saving work concerning us. Let us make [101/102] no mistake about it; when Balaam was compelled to say that God had not beheld iniquity in Jacob it was not that the people lacked iniquity or perverseness. The whole story of the children of Israel gives the lie to such a thought. There was plenty of iniquity, plenty of perverseness, and there are many references which show us that often there was no shout of a king among them but rather the murmuring of rebellious hearts.

Was God, then, seeing something that was not really true? Can this be what it means? No. Balaam later declared that the blessings were being uttered by a man whose eyes had been opened. He was seeing Israel as God saw them; and how important that is! Let us apply this to ourselves. What point of view have you concerning yourself and concerning fellow believers? No iniquity, and the shout of a king? Can this be possible?

Before going further let me make it clear that nothing here is intended to encourage a light view of sin. We cannot be too sensitive concerning sin in our own lives, nor too diligent in seeking cleansing and deliverance from it. But we must consider the value of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus whereby both the guilt and power of sin were dealt with effectively, so bringing the believer on to the ground of perfect acceptance with God, seeing that "there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus". God sees all who are in Christ as perfected in Him. If your eyes have been opened, you will be continually at rest in the fact that Christ has settled the whole sin question. But if your eyes have not been opened you will be involved in a recurring cycle of sin and despair. Balak's diabolical cunning made him know that to instil questions in the hearts of God's people would soon land them in defeat. The devil is always doing his best to emphasise what we are, to get our eyes off the finished work of Christ. Do we then have to believe something which is not real? No, we are called upon to have our eyes opened as to what God has wrought. Christ has accomplished a perfect work for us by the sacrifice of Himself. As we are found in Him God sees no iniquity in us but accepts the perfect righteousness of His Son as attributed to us.

THOSE who have their eyes opened to this glorious truth have the shout of a king among them. We are in the good of Christ's great triumph. Such a people cannot be withstood. That is what Balak found out. A people who have this spirit move on from triumph to triumph. Nothing can stay them. If we let in a wrong kind of introspection we are undone. If we could only see it, there is a strange kind of pride in our acceptance of condemnation, for we would like the satisfaction of dealing (or seeming to deal) with our own failures. But it is grace that reigns -- not works, not effort nor even moping about our failures. By all means let us humble ourselves before God because of our sinful state, but do not let us regard it as a ground of condemnation, to rob us of our shout of victory in Christ.

The challenge is this: what is our viewpoint? Are we looking horizontally? If you look at me and I at you, we can see much that is faulty, and the enemy will come and tell us much more. But "God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob ... the shout of a king is among them". The people who go through in triumph are those who see what God has already wrought in the cross of our Lord Jesus. Every time they are conscious of the contradiction down here they look off to the saving person of the Lord Jesus. The Lord will deal with the contradictions. We need not be afraid that when we get to the glory there will be any spot or wrinkle left. When the Lord presents us to Himself, all will be perfect. What He is wanting and must have from us is faith's co-operation in spite of what we see. I know all the accusations of my own heart and all that Satan tells me, but I choose to believe in what God says as to the working of the cross for me, a salvation which has not only dealt with the past and the iniquity which is in me, but which also provides the ground for bringing me through to the place of glorious victory for all time and for eternity.

Is it wrong to suggest that the Lord Jesus, seeing us go through the varied conditions of life, with the burdens which come upon us, including the nervous conditions and all else, is not praying just that the Father will help us bear the burden or relieve us of the stress but rather that the Father will not let our faith fail? All our circumstances and experiences are designed to test us on this -- will our faith hold out? That is the co-operation which we must have with the high priestly work of our Lord Jesus in order that we may go right on triumphantly to God's end. All the consciousness of natural unworthiness, of battle, and even of failure must not deprive us of the assurance of the presence of our great King of glory. In wonderful grace Christ has dealt with [102/103] our sin and with ourselves in His cross. God now accepts us as perfect in Christ. Then those for whom this has been done should have the shout of a king among them and let nothing hinder them in their onward march of triumph in the name of Christ.


(Studies in 1 Samuel)


Harry Foster

THIS chapter makes sad reading, for it deals with Saul's final failure and rejection. It can never be pleasant for us to consider such a tragedy. We must take due note of the warning which it gives us, but we want to conclude on a positive note, and this I will endeavour to do. Nevertheless it would be dealing dishonestly with God's Word if We did not open our hearts and minds in a humble enquiry as to what He has to say to us in so recording the failure of a man who might have been a vital factor in God's kingdom. Again may I ask that no attempt be made to equate Paul with a New Testament believer? It is vain, and indeed would be most confusing, to treat Saul's story in this way. No, he is rather to be considered as one of those Old Testament characters whose story has been recorded, so we are told, in order that we may learn some spiritual lesson from it.

For born-again believers such lessons cannot relate to the matter of eternal life, for this is never to be questioned. They seem to me, however, to be very relevant in the matter of vocation, and this is how I propose to consider the story. In Christ we are called to a heavenly kingdom. This is our glorious eternal vocation: we have been anointed for this, and the Lord is greatly concerned that we should attain to this goal which is set before us. Saul was called but in the end he was not chosen. Laying aside the problems connected with the fact that God did not want Israel to have this king, but had His hand forced by the people's foolish clamour, we must agree that there was much that was good at the beginning of Saul's history. He was a man who did not wrongly aspire for position, who did not apply to be made king and was not voted to that office, but was called to it by God and given many helps and blessings to assist him to make his calling sure. When we pass to David we shall read that Samuel was told to take his horn of oil and anoint him. We must remember that Samuel had been told to do exactly the same thing in the case of Saul, and he had actually done it. This anointing had been followed by evidences of God's favour, beginning with the special dish of a shoulder at Samuel's banquet and culminating with the wonderful experience of the Spirit which enabled him to 'prophesy'. This last was not a New Testament gift of the indwelling Spirit, for that is clearly stated to have been consequent upon the resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus. No, but it was a genuine spiritual experience which must have been very exciting. Also by the three signs given to Saul as he returned home, he was assured of God's full provision circumstantially and physically as well as spiritually. God's king can always count on God's resources.

At this point Saul seemed to be in the mainstream of the will of God. He did not claim the throne or any special status, but very sensibly went back to his father's farm. A need later arose -- as it did afterwards in David's case -- and he responded to the challenge, gathering the people to resist the Philistines. For this he had a further experience of the Spirit's power, by which he secured a notable victory for Israel. So, amid great rejoicing, he was crowned king. This was a wonderful beginning, but alas it did not lead on to a wonderful fulfilment and finish. It was indeed a tragedy that a man with such a history could so abysmally fail and be disqualified. This is the message and the warning of the chapter which we are now considering. It finds its full support in the constant New Testament exhortations to us to go right through to God's end with Him. We therefore seek humbly to learn what He has to say to us from this example of Saul. [103/104]

We have already seen how he failed the first time, refusing to wait for Samuel and forcing himself to act. You never have to force yourself if you are walking in the Spirit. You have to be strong in the Lord, but that is something quite different. Saul's strength was carnal; he was rash, impetuous and disobedient, obliging God to repudiate him since such a man could not measure up to the divine requirements for kingship. He had enjoyed many advantages, some more than David was given. David was never called to a banquet and specially fed, nor did he have such striking signs as the three which were given to Saul. He did not have a fine son to support him, for until Solomon appeared, David's sons were most disappointing. Saul however had a noble son in the person of Jonathan, the man who advised him well and stepped into the breach to gain a striking victory over the Philistines. Alas, that his only response was to try to kill Jonathan, so adding jealousy, that darkest of passions, to his other sins.

SO our present chapter brings us to the place where God, in effect, gave him one last chance. This time there was no possibility of misunderstanding, for the orders were quite specific. Moreover there was no lack of resources, since we are told that Saul commanded a large army. Yet he completely failed. His disobedience was downright rebellion against the throne of God, as Samuel pointed out to him. We must not allow ourselves to be confused by difficulties about gruesome slaughters which are naturally repulsive to us. We are not asked to excuse or explain this matter but only to keep clearly in view the fact that God has given us this Scripture with all the rest because it has some spiritual message for us. The instructions were: "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare ..."

Saul, however, thought that he could trifle with God's Word and then manage to carry it off with some pious phraseology. He had, of course, destroyed the mass of the Amalekites. They were a vile people and better out of the way. But Agag! That was a different matter. After all, Agag was a king like himself, and it might somehow enhance his own importance to patronise and spare him. And the diseased sheep and cattle! Oh yes, they must certainly be put down. He agreed with God about that. But it was too much to expect him to destroy the good ones too. He was a farmer by upbringing and he knew good stock when he saw it. Besides, what would the people say? He couldn't bear the thought of unpopularity with them. So by common consent the best of the sheep and cattle were spared. It was true that God's command had been: "... utterly destroy ... do not spare ..." but that was too extreme for the carnal mind and too costly for the greedy will, so he and the people spared the best of the animals and "all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly".

When Samuel first arrived on the scene Saul tried to cover up his disobedience by empty words of blessing and by claiming that he had been obedient to the divine commands. Samuel knew otherwise, and had been agonising in prayer all night over what had actually happened, since God had revealed it all to him. 'How can you talk glibly of obedience,' he asked, 'when everybody can hear the sheep bleating and the oxen lowing?' Discovered in his partial obedience (which is as bad as total disobedience) Saul made the feeble excuse that those choice animals had been reserved as sacrifices to the Lord. This was a slick after-thought. It seems clear that the original motive was personal gain, as Samuel proceeded to indicate when he charged the ungrateful Saul with 'flying on the spoil'. The king however tried to insist that he really had been obedient and repeated his suggestion of consecrating the spared animals as sacrifices. God was not deceived, and neither was Samuel. There are some things that can be offered to the Lord, but there are others which He will not accept; they must be utterly destroyed. For if I understand the Word of God correctly, what is called 'the old man' with his deeds is entirely unacceptable to Him, so much so that He has provided for His judgment to fall on them in the cross of Christ.

THE Lord Jesus did not die to change this 'old man', but to make sure that he was crucified, carried down into the tomb and buried there. He calls upon us to recognise that we have been crucified with Christ and to accept this sentence of death not only on the sick and diseased areas of our life (which, like Saul, we are only too glad to have put away), but also on those expressions of our corrupt nature which we prize. There are expressions of this nature which we are ashamed of, so the message of the cross brings great relief when we are told that God has judged them and [104/105] put them away in Christ. But when I have a good opinion of myself and the Lord demands that this also should be crucified I am apt (like Saul again) to want to spare that, to grasp it for myself or even to consecrate it to Him. The Lord reminds us that: "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24). He expects us to come to the cross in spirit and say 'Amen' to this fact. Too often when we claim, like Saul, that we have obeyed Him, the question arises: "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears?" and the reminder has to be repeated: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice ..."

So, with pious language about going the Lord's way and planning to make greater sacrifices to Him, Saul was finally disqualified from being God's king. He was even told that such rebellion against God's commands was tantamount to witchcraft. At that time the king would indignantly have repudiated such a charge; for some time yet he gave orders that any complicity with the occult should be punishable by death; but in point of fact it was in this very realm of witchcraft that his career finally ended. We may protest about what we will never do, but once we set our feet on the slippery slope of disobedience there is no knowing to what lengths we may finally go. Poor Samuel! He had not wanted a king but had been told that he must accept and commission Saul. Out of the simple obedience of his own heart he had obeyed and, being the man he was, had done his very best and prayed his utmost for him. Now however God confided to His servant that He could have wished never to have made him king at all. It must have puzzled Samuel, and it is perplexing to us to read of the Lord repenting Himself. We have to accept what the Scriptures say. If we try to explain it or to encompass the Almighty's ways by our own human reasoning we will remain in a state of puzzlement. How can the supreme God repent Himself? I do not know. I only know that this is the stark truth, even if it defies explanation. It is clearly possible for a man to be called to a high position, given every divine facility to fulfil his calling, and then fail under test.

Before dealing further with this matter may I draw your attention to a striking sequel to this story of Saul and Agag? Over five hundred years later, when the Jews were in captivity, there was a descendant of Saul's, a Benjamite, named Mordecai. There was also a descendant of Agag, whose name was Haman. We read of these two men in the book of Esther and find that Agag planned and very nearly accomplished the destruction not only of Mordecai but of all his fellow Jews throughout the empire. This seems to me to give at least a hint of the far-reaching results of our disobedience. In fact Agag was destroyed, for Samuel made sure of that, and in the outcome so was Haman, for God is jealous over His own people. But the incident at least suggests that when God says "Utterly destroy" He has very good reasons for doing so.

WE return to this matter of testing being applied to those who are called to the kingdom. We are all tested. It may appear that the test applied to Saul was relatively trivial and the judgment very severe. Be that as it may, the fact remains that often the tests applied to us are connected with apparently simple matters. After all, Eve's test over the fruit may not have appeared a momentous matter, yet it was and it affected the whole course of humanity's history as well as her own. Christ's temptation in the wilderness was only concerned with the possible transformation of a stone into a loaf. Many might judge this to be of little importance. Yet the Lord's insistence on remaining obedient to the spirit as well as the letter of God's Word marked the first move of His triumphant life and led on to His even more triumphant death by which He destroyed the works of Satan. "Man shall ... live ... by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God," He so rightly said. So we find ourselves turning from the failure of the old man, as exemplified by Saul, to the complete triumph of the New Man. To Him partial obedience was just as unacceptable as disobedience, for every word coming from God's mouth was binding and final in its authority. He is eternally established as King of kings.

Every believer is called to reign with Him. In the light of this sad story of Saul we do well to ask if there is anything to suggest that a believer, a truly born-again Christian, can fall short of this high calling? Well, we listen first to Paul's statement about our being "joint heirs" with Christ and we find that he states it thus: "if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Romans 8:17). Almost his last words were a repetition of this idea: "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12). This was no theoretical proposition of a preacher, for [105/106] he confessed that in his own personal concern about the incorruptible crown he felt real concern that he might fail: "... I keep under my body and bring it into subjection lest by any means, when I have heralded others I myself should be rejected" (1 Corinthians 9:27). I am positive that the apostle was not worried about losing his salvation; but it seems quite clear that he was deeply concerned not to forfeit the great privileges given in Christ to him and to those to whom he proclaimed the message. It would be very easy to quote similar concerns as expressed in the letters of both Peter and John. Even in one of those personal notes of his, the apostle John wrote: "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things that we have wrought, but receive a full reward" (2 John 8).

The clearest message concerning the throne, however, comes not from an apostle but from the Lord Jesus Himself. In the message which He sent by John to the church at Laodicea, our Lord said: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne ...", adding the most significant and helpful comparison: "... even as I also overcame and have sat down with my Father in his throne" (Revelation 3:21). This helps us to turn away from the idea of failure, as so vividly illustrated by Saul, and to remember that Israel did have a king who was accepted and confirmed in his kingdom, and that one of the Bible comments on the Lord Jesus is that he was "the Son of David". So David will come, and he will point us to Christ, and we shall find inspiration to know that whereas we are as likely to fail as Saul, we can find grace and strength through our Lord Jesus to prove His victory and to share His throne.

Christ came to the throne through tribulation. It is through much tribulation that we may do the same. It was not just the birth or the ministry of Christ which made Him eligible for the throne; He reminds us that He was given that position because He overcame. And there will be much that must be overcome. If we return to the case of Saul, we notice that the end of this chapter does not mark the end of Saul. Far from it! We might have thought that the Lord would have swept him away as Samuel did Agag, and so left a clear way for David, the true king. But no, Samuel let Saul have some honour still among the elders and keep up some pretence of worshipping the Lord. After that the prophet kept right away from him. And God no longer blessed him. Nevertheless he was allowed to continue and in fact to provide the biggest and bitterest enmity to the new king, David. Why was this? Surely the answer was that the Lord planned to overrule Saul's wickedness and to use it for the refining and maturing of David. So that while David was soon anointed king, he himself was sorely tested, had to pass through much tribulation, and learned how to find grace to overcome. We shall be considering his story as the further chapters unfold. Meanwhile let us obey Paul's charge: "Remember Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, raised from the dead according to my gospel" (2 Timothy 2:8). Put off the old man, who is rejected; but put on the New Man, for you are called to be fellow-heirs with Him in the throne.

(To be continued)


T. Austin-Sparks

"Then answered one of the young men and said, Behold I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is skilful in playing, and a mighty man of valour, and a man of war, and prudent in speech, and a comely person; and the Lord is with him" (1 Samuel 16:18).

THIS verse gives us six features of the life of David, the man who came to be described as being after God's own heart. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that there are five virtues and that the last, "the Lord is with him", is really explanatory of the rest.

1. "... skilful in playing ..."

This introduces us to a main feature of David's whole life, which was worship. We owe many of the Psalms to him. The title for what we call 'The Book of the Psalms' was originally 'The Book [106/107] of Praises'. It became the book of worship, first for the nation and then for the whole world. There is an indication of what was to be an outstanding characteristic of David in this description of him as a skilful player. Where had he learned? How had he developed this talent? In solitude. When these words were spoken, David was unknown, living out his days in the fields of Bethlehem where he cared for his father's sheep. It was there in obscurity, and perhaps in loneliness, that he developed his spirit of praise. Afterwards it became public and the whole people profited from it, but it had its first beginnings in a simple humble life with God. How was the young man who recommended him to king Saul aware of this gift? It seems that he had somehow overheard David, for he appears to be the only one who was informed about him. We do not want to make too much of this point, and yet it is clear that what happened way back in those fields of Bethlehem did produce the foundations of David's later life. He himself referred to this when he offered to go out and fight Goliath. It was in the ordinary affairs of life that he proved the reality of the presence of the Lord and learned the secrets of an anointed life.

From this fact there immediately emerges the reminder that in the Lord's work we neither need to push ourselves forward nor to be pushed by others. Our first concern must consist of exercise Godward. If in your secret history you minister to His good pleasure, without the stimulus which comes from public applause, it will sooner or later, become apparent. God will see to that. Do not worry too much about your lifework; if you have a hidden life of worship, then that will show itself in the outward service to which He has called you. God has always described His service as worship and regarded worship as basic to His service. "Let my son go, that he may serve me," He demanded (Exodus 4:23). And how did Israel serve Him? By worship. The important point is that this does not begin in public. David's life of song was the result of a heart attitude of worship, in songs of praise which expressed his heart devotion to the Lord. Sometimes, perhaps, it was a case of songs without words, inner melody to the Lord for which there were no words.

We note that this first mention of music in David's life is associated with evil powers in king Saul. Saul had been given the highest opportunity, but he had been disobedient, taking into his own hands those things for which he should have waited for God. "Tarry till I come unto thee" -- but Saul could not tarry. He was restless, impatient; and in taking hold of the things of God for himself he had allied himself with evil powers. As Samuel told him: "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft ..." (1 Samuel 15:23), for it links a man with that other evil world. So by seeking to grasp at things for himself, Saul not only forfeited them but allowed Satan to gain a foothold in his life. This has been Satan's objective from the first, to draw things away from God and to himself. In his ultimate manifestation in the person of the Antichrist, he will sit in the temple of God, giving out that he is God and being worshipped as God. That is his ambition. David was just the opposite, for the motive in his music was that everything should be for God's glory. That explains the clash. There are the two kingdoms, one taking from God and the other bringing everything to God. No wonder, then, that Saul became David's greatest enemy.

From the first beginnings of his life David turned everything into music. All his experiences, all his history, he turned into song. It is a most helpful study to look for those Psalms of his which have an introductory explanation of the circumstances in which they were written. Even when Absalom drove him from his throne, David turned that bitter experience into a song (Psalm 3). The whole value of his Psalms is that they arose from a vital experience of God. The volume of Psalms then became the book of Israel's praises, until at last David organised the whole thing for temple worship. He drew together a choir of four thousand voices, and so organised their singing into twenty-four courses that praise was never silent in Israel, day or night. No sooner had one course finished than the next took over, and so round the whole twenty-four hours of each day, every week and every month, throughout the entire year. In this way there was an unbroken flow of continuous worship to God.

Even the deep and dark things of his life were turned by David into Psalms of praise to God. He had his failures, his tragedies, and even his desperate sin, but in all this he found forgiveness and restoration as he turned back in heart to God. This is why he was so beloved by God, because he never failed to find his way up and out through worship. And worship has always proved a most powerful weapon against the kingdom of darkness. "The lion of the tribe of Judah ... hath overcome" is part of the heavenly song, and since Judah means 'praise', this suggests that there is [107/108] a victoriously militant power in spiritual praise. Many a time Martin Luther found his escape by this means. He knew much of the onslaught of satanic powers; he seemed sometimes to be engaged in hand-to-hand conflict with the Devil. His only but very effective answer at such times was to say: 'Let us sing, brother'!

Psalm 22 is one of David's great Messianic Psalms and, although it opens with a dismayed cry at being forsaken by God, it soon breaks through in an appeal to the one who inhabits the praises of Israel (verse 3). It seems that God is provided with a throne for ruling when His people worship and praise Him. This is no small thing. Again in Psalm 114:2, speaking of the glorious procession out of Egypt and on towards the inheritance, the psalmist tells us that: "Judah became his sanctuary". This is only a figurative way of saying that the praises of the Lord provide a holy dwelling place for Him. Praise brings God into a situation as nothing else can, and it puts Him in His right place which is over all. It is a tremendous thing to be able to put the Lord over everything, over breakdown, over perplexity and suffering, over your enemies, over your failures and even over your sins. That was what David did, and that is surely the spiritual reality which lies behind the description: "skilful in playing".

Praise, real praise, means that we are on the victory side. Of course there is a kind of singing which is really a confession of defeat, singing to keep up your spirits, whistling in the dark to pretend that all is well. There was no need for David to do that, for the final statement about him was: "the Lord is with him". That was both the reason for David's singing and the result of it. Yet worshipper as he was, provider of praise as he might have been, David sometimes went down into the depths of despair and had to confess that, as he sang, his soul was cast down and disquieted within him. But he had an answer for this. It was to look on to the day of deliverance which must surely come: "Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him ..." (Psalm 42:5). The end of the story is written for us in the book of Revelation which gives us glimpses of the glorious choir of the redeemed in heaven. In that day we shall all be skilful in playing and it will be true in the fullest sense that the Lord is with us. So let us praise Him that we shall yet praise Him, and this in itself will bring us a present experience of victory.

2. "... a mighty man of valour ..."

This brings us straight on to the second feature of this anointed man's life, namely that he was a great man of courage. David may not have been as impressive in physique as those brothers of his, but because he had spiritual and moral courage he was rightly considered as a mighty man. Valour begins by getting on top of ourselves, by conquering our own moods and feelings; it begins within and not in outward things. At times it is not so difficult when you have an audience, and are inspired to courage by the fact that people are looking on, but it is much more difficult to be brave when you are quite alone. Once again we note that David first acquired his claim to valour when he was in the background, largely unobserved.

Of course there are also new challenges to the man who is exposed to public testing, but when that came, David confirmed that the original assessment of his valour was a correct one, for by God's grace he kept true through many temptations to doubt and fear. When the Philistines seized him in Gath he declared: "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee" (Psalm 56:3). It is fear which robs a man of his courage. Fear entered the world when sin came in, and it has governed human behaviour ever since, just as it exercises a dreadful rule in the ranks of evil spirits (James 2:19). If sin brings in fear, then courage often depends on having a good conscience. The most fearless or courageous Man who ever walked this earth was the Lord Jesus, whose remarkable moral courage was based upon an absolutely clear way between Himself and His Father. A bad conscience makes us small and makes us cowards but a good conscience gives stature and boldness. David was far from being a sinless man, but he had learned the secret of getting right with God and a great theme of his Psalms is the blessing of forgiveness and justification by faith in our Saviour God.

Valour also depends upon a complete faith in the Lord. David believed God implicitly; he believed and he loved. The Psalms are full of this fact. Only perfect love can cast out fear. Every new experience of God which came to David made him the more ready to trust God's great love and to love Him in return, a fact which doubtless established him more and more as a mighty man of valour. The Lord built up his strength by taking him through difficult and adverse circumstances in which he proved the steadfast love of [108/109] his God. Then as he grew in courage, he was able to undertake things altogether beyond his measure in the interests of the Lord. Tremendous odds mattered nothing to him provided he could be sure that the Lord was with him. He also proved his courage in waiting for God and enduring without complaining when things seemed to be against him. For a man of action to be powerless, just to endure and be patient while he waits for God, demands very great courage. There were times when David could have acted in desperation to rid himself of his great enemy Saul, but he refused to do so. He was prepared to wait for God. When we learn such a lesson then we are learning valour of a very high order.

3. "... a man of war ..."

In the third place David was a warrior. This reference is the first intimation of the constant warfare which was to be a feature of his life. David had to be a fighter, not because he was personally aggressive, not because he needed to be relieved of superfluous energy, and not because he was trained or qualified in military matters, but because he was jealous for the rights of God. It is quite clear that what stirred his spirit was both indignation that God's name should be dishonoured and concern for the good of God's people. It was a sense of responsibility for the Lord's interests which made him a fighter, and as we speak of this we seem to hear the words of that other great spiritual warrior, Paul: "Knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel" (Philippians 1:16).

As we have said, it all began in the simple and humble affairs of David's daily life. His first fight was over a lamb. Only a lamb! Why risk your life for just a lamb? Your father is a man of some substance -- witness his gifts to the king and the older brothers -- and he would never miss one little lamb. Surely the lion could have that one! But no, that lamb was David's responsibility, it was part of the father's possessions which had been committed to his care, and it was this sense of concern for Jesse's interests which led him later into concern for God's interests and made him the fighter that he was.

Warriorship, however, demands utter selflessness. Those who have personal problems and interests may be fighters in a wrong way but they will never be good soldiers of the Lord nor fight the good fight of faith. Those who spend their time complaining and criticising are doing the enemy's work. In the wilderness Israel was defeated not by outward enemies but by their internal complaining and murmuring. You may think that you have plenty to murmur about; David himself had times when he felt that he was being very badly treated, but he found -- as we shall do -- that whole-hearted devotion to the Lord's interests is the sure way of victory. God's man of war is also a worshipper; his mouth is filled with the high praises of the Lord. If worship is to come first, then this will mean a turning aside from selfish or personal problems and a total concentration of the whole heart on the honour of the name of the Lord. Only so can God's man be a true warrior. This brings us to a very practical point which is that the first phase of spiritual warfare and every subsequent skirmish and battle calls for a new letting go to the Lord. This is very often the secret of success, and especially so for the Christian whose enemies are spiritual and who is called not to personal conflicts or triumphs but to share in Christ's battle with evil and to share His victory.

4. "... prudent in speech ..."

David was known to be prudent in speech or, as the Authorised Version has it, "prudent in matters". David was a man of discretion, a man of wise counsel, and a man who could speak for God because he had first learned to listen to God. Perhaps teachableness was one of his outstanding qualities. The person who is self sufficient, who thinks that he knows so much, will never be able to speak wisely for God.

Some of you may have felt at times that God can make no use of you, since you lack the qualifications or natural abilities which men regard as necessary for serving Him. The prudence of which we are now speaking is not a natural quality at all, but that which becomes a spiritual feature of the one who truly knows what it is to have the Lord with him. The Lord is not looking for cleverness. Indeed He often cannot use people because they are too clever in their own estimation. Teachableness, however, is a quality which He greatly values, and this is a matter of the spirit as well as of the mind. There is often a big difference between knowledge and wisdom, or prudence. Knowledge may consist of a mass of correct information, but wisdom means the application of that knowledge in ways which are good. It is possible for a Christian to have a vast amount of spiritual information, information as to what the Bible teaches and what the commentators suggest, holding all this in the mind or in the notebook [109/110] yet with little evidence of it in the practical values of life. Wisdom is a matter of using the information correctly by turning it to account for the glory of God.

What is more, such wisdom will always be constructive. There are those who seem to think that they show their superior wisdom by their ability to criticise. If they can put their finger on a fault or discover some flaws, then they consider that they are being wise. But the effect of their activities is destructive, whereas the Scriptures make it plain that true wisdom is always constructive. Solomon, the wisest king of all, was a great builder, and it was he who wrote about wisdom building her house (Proverbs 9:1). So much is written in the New Testament about speech which is for building up or edification that the implication seems to be that if our tongues cannot contribute to positive helpfulness in this way then they had far better remain silent. Wisdom is always shown in its building values.

In fact wisdom is always actuated by the ability to discriminate as to what is for the glory of God. Nothing else matters. The Spirit's presence in a man is made evident by the ways in which he can avoid that which grieves God and devote himself to God's pleasure. If the Lord is with him then he will be prudent in matters.

5. "... a comely person ..."

The final verdict on David was that he was a comely person, a man of good presence. It is clear that God intended that this should be true of every human being. From one standpoint this is the Bible's theme. "Let us make man in our image" God said. So far as man is concerned God always had perfection as His purpose. Through sin, however, man has become stunted, deformed and repulsive to God, and he would always remain so but for the fact that the Lord Jesus has brought a salvation which makes men perfectly whole. As the Saviour passed along the way He met the blind, the paralysed, the deformed, and He spoke the words of deliverance and transformation which left them whole again -- they were saved. His eternal purpose in salvation is to have sons conformed to His eternal Son, who is indeed the Comely Person.

David is a foreshadowing of this mighty work of salvation. He who would by nature have been repulsive to a holy God (born in sin and shapen in iniquity) became a man after God's heart, a man of good presence who could be looked upon and admired. It may be helpful to consider some of his features, and the first one is undoubtedly meekness. David never claimed to be as good as the other man. He always thought himself to be the poorest of men. Emptiness of self is the very essence of meekness. See also how David suffered when things went wrong. Never for a moment did he blame someone else, but condemned himself outright. If ever a man was filled to overflowing with the consciousness of the marvellous mercy of God to a sinner, that man was David. See again how he suffered wrong without becoming vindictive. It is a mark of meekness to bear unjust wrong and not be embittered by it. For years David bore so much evil from Saul and yet he refused to take revenge, even when it could have been so easy. When Saul died in battle David did not gloat, he did not express relief but he made one of the most beautiful laments of grief over Saul as well as over his son, Jonathan.

Another thing which made David great was the way in which he accumulated wealth for the house of God. He took hold of every experience of suffering and wrung out of it something for God and God's people. Did he go into a deep and dark experience? Then he took hold of it and extracted from it that which would be for the enrichment of generations that were to follow. That is how we got our Psalter. That is not the little person's way of looking at things. He gets under his troubles, turns in on himself and gives way to self pity. The big man, however, does what David did, uses his own adversity to bring comfort and help to others.

One further feature of David's spiritual and moral stature was his single unifying passion. "... for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face ... For the zeal of thy house hath eaten me up" (Psalm 69:9). David's supreme concern was for the Father's house, and in that he was a true type of the Lord Jesus to whom these very words are applied. He had a mighty concern for the Father's glory, and tremendous courage to carry that concern into action. David was like that. So much is written in the books of Samuel and Chronicles about his concern for the house of God. This was his one unifying passion. His life was a unity. governed by a singleness of purpose, and that was what made him great. He had spiritual quality; he was a man of a good presence. God does not get glory out of [110/111] our littlenesses, our petty jealousies and selfish pre-occupation. But when we grow up spiritually, leaving all those childish things behind, then the glory of God begins to be seen in us.

All this, then, because the Lord was with David. He himself was aware of that Presence, though at times he was tempted to question and doubt. What is more important, other people took note of it. This is what matters most. When people meet us, do they meet the Lord? When the Lord Jesus came to this earth He was called "Emmanuel" -- God with us. The verdict upon His life after He had gone back to the glory was: "God was with him" (Acts 10:38). And the Holy Spirit has come to make this our experience. His anointing signifies that the Lord is with us, and this should make effective in our lives those five qualities which were observed in the young David. To have the Lord with him cost David dearly. It cost him his home; for a time it cost him his rightful place as king; it cost him comforts and popularity. But it gave him that which is more valuable than all earthy treasures. It gave him the supreme joy of bringing pleasure to the heart of God. The Lord was with him.


Arthur E. Gove

Reading: Jeremiah 13:1-11

IN my consideration of Jeremiah's prophecies I have come to see that one of his qualities was to be God's Visual Aid expert. Like so many old time preachers, Jeremiah was bent on getting his messages across. Some preachers do not seem to bother whether or not their messages have any impact on the hearers. That would not do for Jeremiah. He had something to say and he intended to say it in such a way that the people would remember it. The sad fact of the matter was that in spite of his earnest preaching the people had stopped their ears so that his words had no effect upon them. They had grown hard and indifferent to the preached Word. It therefore seemed necessary to do something unusual to make them sit up and take notice.

God knew all about this exercise of His servant's and for this reason He told Jeremiah to give them another object lesson. He told the prophet how to approach this evil people who refused to hear His words and walked in the imagination of their hearts. He said to Jeremiah: 'I want you now to take a linen girdle, not to wash it in water at all but to wear it and wear it, so that everywhere you go people will know you as the man who wears the linen sash. Never mind how dirty it gets; go on wearing this girdle so that in time everybody will recognise you as the preacher with the linen sash. Never mind how grimy it gets; never wash it.'

Jeremiah faithfully carried out these instructions until God told him then to take the long 250 mile journey to the Euphrates and there to bury the girdle in a hole of the rock. He did this, completed the long return journey and waited until after many days the Lord told him to go back again, dig up the linen girdle again and see what had happened to it. Obediently Jeremiah undertook the tiring journey once more and when he had dug up the buried girdle: "Behold, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing". He came back once more, so completing 1,000 miles, and all to make sure that the people took notice of his message. No doubt they thought him crazy. First they got used to seeing their preacher wearing his growingly grubby girdle, and then they found that he was without it and must have enquired what had happened to it. 'What a fanatic the man is,' they probably commented. 'What is he going to do next?' That was the whole object of the exercise, to arouse them from their apathy and to shock them into listening to what God had to say to them.

I heard of an evangelist who was being criticised for his message and methods. One day one of his critics came to him and said: 'I don't like your evangelistic methods!' 'Oh, that's strange,' replied the evangelist, 'neither do I. How do you do it?' Then the critic was overcome with embarrassment and answered: 'Well, as a matter of fact I don't [111/112] do it at all,' to which the evangelist responded: 'Well, I must say that I prefer my way of doing it to your way of not doing it.' Of course the supreme thing is for a man to be under orders from God, as Jeremiah was. They doubtless said that he was out of his mind, mad. But then they have always said that about God's servants. Festus said it of Paul: "... thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad" (Acts 26:24). Even our Lord was accused by His own human relations of being beside Himself, mad.

I don't think that at this stage Jeremiah was too bothered about what his listeners said about him. I feel that he was so filled with love and a desire for the glory of God that he was ready for anything that would make the people listen. What then was the object of the exercise? What was God's idea in telling Jeremiah to do these things and journey all that tremendous distance? Is there any message for us? I answer this question without any need to use my imagination or to consult commentaries or other books. God Himself gives me the explanation: "For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord; that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they would not hear". So there are two plain lessons. The first is to show what God had designed for all His people, and the second to point out how sin and disobedience had destroyed His plan. They are two simple but very forceful lessons; the glory of God's design of grace and the tragedy of His people's sin.

God's design for His people is superlatively wonderful. It has these four aspects:

1. There should be a binding relationship between the Lord and His people.

Just as a girdle was worn in order to bind together a man's clothing, so God intended that there should be a binding relationship between Him and His people. The Bible has many illustrations of the use of such a girdle, for this was an essential part of an Eastern man's attire. After the fire on mount Carmel and the fall of abundance of rain on the land, Elijah had need of his girdle so that he could run before Ahab's chariot: "And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab ..." (1 Kings 18:46). In the New Testament we are given the commandment in the light of Christ's return: "Let your loins be girded about and your lights burning" (Luke 12:35). The girdle was used to bind together the flowing garments of a man so that nothing could hinder him or trip him up. The Lord wanted His people to know that just as the sash bound the clothes of an Oriental to its wearer, so His plan and desire was to bring His people and Himself together in the closest possible unity. He wanted their whole life to be linked up with Himself in this intimate way. Is this a new thought to you? Well then, how thoughtfully have you ever sung that well-known old hymn about 'Standing on the promises'? There is a verse of that hymn which speaks about being 'Bound to Him eternally by love's strong cords', and this suggests the very same thought as that illustrated by the linen girdle. Between the Lord and His true people there is this wonderful binding relationship. Paul asks several questions in Romans 8: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? God justifies. Who is he that condemneth? Christ makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Thank God that we know the answers. There is no guilt, no condemnation and no separation for those who are bound together with the Lord in the bundle of life. This is the comforting message of the linen girdle.

2. A priestly ministry is committed to all God's people.

We notice that the girdle was made of linen. When God so commanded, His purpose was to make it plain that His people were not only bound closely to Him but by that very fact called to a priestly service. This reminds us of the glorious truth of the priesthood of all believers. Linen was the material from which the priestly garments were made, and the sash indicates that to every Christian there is committed a life of access and ministry, especially in the matter of intercession. You enjoy being close to the Lord, bound up with Him, but have you accepted the implications of exercising a ministry of intercession for needy sinners and saints? Priestly ministry is inevitably associated with the idea of sacrifice. How are you fulfilling your calling? Have you heeded the call to present your body as a living sacrifice? Are you constantly fulfilling your privilege of offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise? This is what God reveals as His plan and desire. He told His people: "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6), and through Peter He tells us that we are "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9.). The linen sash, then, reminds us of our call to priestly ministry. [112/113]

3. God's people should be free to serve Him.

In the East one of the purposes of a man's girdle was to lift and secure the flowing garments which he normally wore, so that he could move freely. At periods of idleness or inactivity its use was largely ornamental, but for movement and for work it served an essential purpose. So then, this figurative use of the linen girdle was an indication that God's design is that His people should be freed from all hindrance so that they can be active in His service.

There are those who, in their zeal to magnify the glorious sovereignty of God, would urge us to cease from our labours and leave everything to Him. They assure us that He will take the initiative in His own time and way without interference from us, and in so doing they tend to discount all evangelism and missionary enterprise. Perhaps a classic example of this attitude was given by the old Baptist minister who countered William Carey's plea for the needs of those without the gospel by saying: 'Sit down, young man. When God wishes to evangelise the nations He will do it without help from you or me.' We do not want to be unfair to this old minister. He recognised that God is sovereign -- and so must we. He recognised that God does not take orders from man -- and so do we. Furthermore he understood that if men did not help God, God would be no weaker as a result of this. We should also understand that. But the great mistake of the old minister was that he so stressed certain Scriptures that he lost sight of the fact that Christ had given a definite commission to His Church, a commission to preach the gospel everywhere and to make disciples of all nations, and that His Spirit is ready to empower us to obey this command. 'Saved to serve' may not be a text of the Bible but it is a truth made very plain and illustrated for us by this need to gird ourselves with the linen girdle that we may be without hindrance in His service. We must gird up our loins even as Christ girded Himself with a towel, so that we can serve God and men. The Lord's purpose is to make His disciples those who can gather other disciples, to save sinners so that they be used to make Him known as Saviour to other sinners. While I preach without hesitation the sovereignty and omnipotence of God, I also preach Christ as Head of the Church which He has ordered to go into all the world and make disciples. Now it is certainly true that at Corinth God said to Paul: "I have much people in this city", men who are elected and whom I will save; but He did not tell Paul who they were, but rather commanded him to keep up the good work of witnessing: "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace" (Acts 18:9-10).

4. God's people should be to the praise and glory of His name.

The Lord specifically stated that His chief purpose in binding His people so close to Himself was: "that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise and for a glory". When men of old who were of royal blood or high standing wore such a girdle, it was bedecked with jewels and ornaments to denote their high rank. This meaning is also implicit in the visual aid used by Jeremiah, for it showed men that he was a servant of the most High. What a tremendous responsibility for each one of us who profess to know living union with Christ that we are bearers of the Name! We must never forget that holiness is the visible part of our salvation. Your friends did not see the miracle of your conversion. Your acquaintances cannot see your faith, however much you talk about it. But what all can and do see is whether or not you are living a holy life. There is a wonderful verse about the future which tells us that the Lord Jesus is coming: "... to be admired in all them that believe" (2 Thessalonians 1:10). Admired! Is this possible? Yes, by grace it will be, as He is glorified in His saints. A practical question, posed by the linen sash, is as to whether He is being admired in us day by day. Is it happening now? Is there praise and honour to His name in our daily living? "We ... do those things which are pleasing in his sight" (1 John 3:22). What an amazing privilege that we should be able to bring pleasure to the heart of God here and now. This is God's intention. That is why He binds us so closely to Himself with the linen girdle.

I do not propose to spend much time with the second and negative lesson, though it is of solemn importance. Jeremiah's actions were designed to make God's people see that their sin and disobedience had destroyed God's plan for them. That is why He said to Jeremiah: 'Don't wash the linen girdle! Let it be seen in all its defilement. However dirty it gets, don't wash it!' What a tragic thing it is when a Christian goes on grieving the Spirit and disobeying God's Word without coming back to God for daily cleansing. It is like a bit of grit in my shoe, marring a whole day's outing, even though it is small enough in itself. [113/114] There is nothing to do but to stop and get rid of it unless the whole journey is to be spoiled. And for the Christian, unconfessed sin is bound to rob and hinder the whole progress in the spiritual life.

Because the linen girdle was never washed, the defilement went on and on increasing. Not cleansed! So far as Jeremiah was concerned that was a divine commandment to stress the point, but for God's people it is quite contrary to His will. It reminds me, though, that as a preacher, I can go on preaching to others, and yet be uncleansed. You may go on as a Bible class leader, leading others, and yet yourself uncleansed. You can go on as a Sunday School teacher, teaching others, and yet uncleansed yourself. How tragic if we are telling others the way of salvation, while there is some sin coming between us and God! Sin spoils God's designs. Jeremiah had to take that long journey to the Euphrates to bury the foul girdle. There are, alas, those who once walked close to the Lord but who are now buried, far away from Him. There are those who honoured God's name and brought it praise by their devoted Christian lives, who are now uncleansed and forgotten. Instead of being for a praise and a glory, they are a shame and dishonour to Him. Even the apostle Paul kept this tragic possibility always in mind: "... lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected" (1 Corinthians 9:27). Beware of defilement which is unconfessed and so uncleansed! Beware of anything which can come between you and the Lord. "Profitable for nothing!" That is the solemn challenge of Jeremiah's visual aid.

However I cannot close on such a sombre note, so I invite you to consider a glorious contrast to the ignominious end of Jeremiah's girdle. Thank God for the gospel. Thank God for the New Covenant, foreshadowed and promised by Jeremiah later in his ministry. There is still a way of cleansing for every sin-stained soul and every marred Christian witness, and such cleansing and full restoration can be found at the cross of the Lord Jesus. See the last words of this chapter: "How long shall it yet be?" (Jeremiah 13:27). It was God who uttered this yearning question, and it proves to us how much He longs after His sin-stained people. It is as if He cried out in pain: 'How much longer do I have to wait, before My people bring their marred lives back to me for cleansing and restoration?' This assures us that God yearns greatly over every one of His own. His first purpose for them was that they should be: "for a people, and for a name, and for a praise and for a glory", and that purpose has never changed. It is as true as ever and it is made possible of realisation by the fact that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". Our own failure makes us: "good for nothing", but divine grace can make us to be a source of deep pleasure to the heart of our Lord.



John H. Paterson

THE prophecies of Micah occupy seven chapters in our Bible, but the average reader might be hard put to it to say what, exactly, they are about. If there are highlights in the book, they are probably two in number. One is the verse which, long afterwards, the chief priests and scribes quoted in support of their view that it was in Bethlehem that Christ would be born: "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel" (5:2; cf. Matthew 2:5-6). The other is the admonition (6:8): "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."

Even so, at first glance, these verses do not appear to amount to much. The first of them, the prophecy about Jerusalem, we believe to have been fulfilled at the birth of Jesus: it is behind us now. The second, far from helping us, may well be considered something of an embarrassment to the Christian today. It appears to short-circuit the whole New Testament revelation, and to suggest that man can be justified by works, without the [114/115] need for redemption from sin. It may make us wonder what has become of God's plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, and has caused anxiety to some evangelical commentators, one of whom at least felt that a corrective word was necessary; in commenting on this verse he remarks, 'Along with Christ's teaching, this word of Micah is a sufficient rule of life for Christian men'. When we feel that we have to amend or apologise for the Word of God, it is high time that we examined it more closely!

The Basic Change

To ensure that we correctly understand the messages of the Minor Prophets it is generally necessary to begin by asking, "To whom is the prophecy addressed?" Nowhere is this more important than in the prophecy of Micah. And the answer is clear -- Micah's message was for the leaders of Israel and Judah: "Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel" (3:1).

We all became familiar, a few years ago, with those advertisements which assured and flattered us, 'Top People Read The Times'. The concept of the Top People -- the decision-makers, the establishment, the ruling class -- has passed into our vocabulary. And Micah in his day was the prophet to the Top People. His message was for those in authority, for rulers and judges and priests who were abusing their position and misusing their power. They used that power to seize other men's property, as Ahab once had done over Naboth's vineyard (2:2; cf. 1 Kings 21). They accepted bribes and were prepared to skin the common people alive for the sake of gain (3:2-3, 11). They practised evil, because it was "in the power of their hand" to do so (2:1).

It was to these men, quite specifically, that Micah's message was addressed. And the warning was a clear one: those who possessed power and abused it would in due course find themselves subject, in their turn, to a greater power. Zion would be ploughed as a field and Jerusalem would become a mere heap of rubble. God would hold them accountable.

The Missing Dimension

In each of these studies so far we have made the assumption that those who were denounced by the prophet had in some way misunderstood the prophet's God. Because of their faulty appreciation of Him they had miscalculated about what they were at liberty to do, and it was the task of the prophet to remind them of what God is really like -- of the missing dimension in their conception of Him. And so it was with Micah. To the men who ruled over Israel Micah was sent with a reminder that there are different ways of ruling; that God expects those who rule over his people to rule as He Himself does; that it, as a Shepherd-King.

The prophecy of Micah is full of references to shepherds and their flocks: "I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah: as a flock in the midst of their pasture ... their King is passed on before them, and the Lord at the head of them" (2:12-13). God exercises His power over His people as a Shepherd, not as a dictator, and He is the example for all those in authority. He shepherded Israel out of Egypt (6:3-5) and brought them into the Promised Land; He provided them with leaders who were under-shepherds, and broke down obstacles which got in their way, just as any shepherd would for his flock. And in the prophecy which makes this book famous He promised them a ruler who would be a true shepherd: "He shall stand, and shall feed his flock in the strength of the Lord" (5:4).

Where was this great Shepherd-King of the future to be found? Where else but in the place made famous by that other Shepherd-King of the past, the city of David? There never was a king in Israel like David. His predecessor, Saul, had been built in a mould familiar to Micah and his oppressed contemporaries; he had used his position for his own ends, just as Samuel had predicted that he would (1 Samuel 8:11-18). But it was David the shepherd who replaced him and although he became king, David never lost his shepherd's heart -- or only once, when he took another man's wife, and he paid heavily and bitterly for that lapse. Even when he made mistakes himself, he did not forget the people, or his relationship as ruler to them: "Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? Let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me" (2 Samuel 24:17). That was the kind of ruler who came out of little, insignificant Bethlehem. It was a ruler like that whom God promised to the oppressed nation. [115/116]

A Lesson in Leadership

So God sent His prophet to teach the rulers of Micah's day a lesson in leadership. They were not shepherds; the qualities required in a shepherd are the direct opposite of those which their own rule displayed. They must learn what those qualities are. And it is in just this context that we come to that other famous verse of Micah's (6:8). For this is not, nor does it purport to be, 'a sufficient rule of life for Christian men'. Its application is very specific; it is to the corrupt rulers of the day, and it contrasts their own performance in office with that of the true ruler, the Shepherd-King. His qualities are justice, mercy and humility -- humility because he recognises that he himself is subject in his turn to a higher authority; justice and mercy because it is in the interests and within the responsibility of the shepherd to see to the welfare of the flock. Harshness or double-dealing can only harm the flock and so, indirectly, harm the shepherd too.

This is one Old Testament lesson which is carried over intact to the New Testament and applied to the Church. The Lord Jesus Himself, of course, took the title of Shepherd and spoke so emphatically about the relationship of the shepherd to the sheep. He also drew His disciples' attention to the different styles of leadership within their experience: "Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you" (Matthew 20:25-26). In Luke 9 and 10 these same disciples showed, in a whole succession of incidents, how much they still had to learn about the exercise of power and authority: "Lord wilt thou that we bid fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?" There was so much in their attitude to put right: "Howbeit in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven".

We trace the theme forward into apostolic days, to Paul speaking to the elders of the Ephesian church about their role as leaders and shepherds (Acts 20:28 - 29:35): "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers ... I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." A far cry indeed from the rulers whom Micah knew! And we can follow the same line onwards to the well-known words of Peter. "Feed the flock of God ... not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind, neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away ... Humble yourselves therefore" (1 Peter 5:2-6).

As Micah looked around in the Israel of his day, he could see no sign of a Shepherd-King; there was no one who could begin to qualify for the role (7:1-6). He wisely decided, therefore, to "look unto the Lord", and so his prophecy moves on to a wonderful climax, as he anticipates the time when God will Himself assume direct rule over His people: "Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage ... as in the days of old" (7:14). The great days of His leadership will come again, "according to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things". The new leader will be the Man from the city of the Shepherd-King, Bethlehem. "Who is a God like unto Thee?"


Poul Madsen

GOD'S Word to us about His pattern for home life, as about every other matter, is: "Be not fashioned according to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). So in order to be able to discern what is the will of God concerning home life we must free ourselves from the pattern of this world and let our thoughts and attitude be renewed by the Holy Spirit. This can only be as we allow the light of God's Word to flood our whole being, and are ready for the practical consequences which this will entail. This world has its own ideas of how people should live [116/117] together in fellowship, and if we are influenced by these we shall hardly be able to discern the good and perfect will of God in this matter.

Nowadays the collective mode of living is finding favour in many parts of the world. The word 'collective' is in vogue. So it is that people move in together, have housekeeping in common, share all their lives with one another, and set to work to practise what they imagine to be the highest form of human life. They are willing to sacrifice much on the altar of collective life; they renounce their income and put it into a common pool, they often opt for the cheapest and roughest of clothes, and they largely renounce their private life. This they do because for the moment they feel that it will provide them with the freedom from custom and care which they have long been seeking, and will give them openness of friendship with all their fellows. Setting aside everything personal and having all things in common, they expect to find that they have escaped from the stress and hurry of life and can find their fulfilment by devoting themselves to the mutual intimacies of communal life. They can sit together and talk freely of whatever subject exercises their minds; all questions of class, of superiority or inferiority, are discarded; there is no imposed authority. In short their aim is that each shall be accepted and approved for what he or she is, and they feel that this is how human beings can best live together in fellowship. Is this right? Is this something which we Christians ought to take up, acknowledging that our normal pattern of home life has up till now induced us to neglect the cultivation of open fellowship as it should be? Is it, in fact, our duty to create Christian collectives?

Before we go further, we do well to confess that in the churches there has been much failure in this very matter of the warmth of true fellowship. There is no denying this as a general truth. It is not something to be lightly ignored or explained away; it must be acknowledged and confessed. But does such a failure or weakness signify that we can remedy our shortcomings by creating Christian collectives? Can we solve our problems by doing what the world is doing, only doing it with Christian principles? Can we make collectives which are only different from others because of the Spirit and life of Christ?

LET me make a little digression before I attempt to answer this question. Has my reader noticed, in recent years, to what great degree non-Christian ideas and methods have penetrated deeply into Christendom? I think, for example, of meditation, a form of absorption which belongs to Eastern religions (especially Hinduism). Many Christians now recommend what they call 'Bible meditation', by which they mean a form of Bible reading which emphasises the importance of what each reader gets out of the Bible, instead of considering what the Bible says and means. This is highly dangerous, for it puts too much stress on individual moods and emotions, so missing the actual point of those words of God which He has caused to be recorded for us and which will never pass away even when heaven and earth do so. Then there is mass emotion , much used for both religious and political purposes, as it has been ever since the days of Nebuchadnezzar and his festival of music (Daniel 3). Such concentrations of slogans and music are slanted towards the subjugation of men's minds and wills to a common aim, and are very different from the simple praises of the Lord whose only objective is the pleasure of God. The world invented this kind of activity, but Christendom has all too often borrowed the same method. Then there is the principle of collectives , long known in Hindu ashrams, and now introduced in various forms for social and political as well as religious purposes. Today we find that Evangelical Christians are tending to adopt these same procedures.

I do not doubt that this is all being done with the best of intentions, but we have to ask if the idea originated with God or with men. And we also have to remember that even the best of intentions and the sincerest of motives do not guarantee that a course is the right one. Twice over, making use of the Biblical method of stress by means of repetition, the Word of God warns us: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25). As in many other matters, the Lord gives us this reminder that men's way, however apparently good, are the very reverse of God's ways. For my part I do not think that the people of God should take on any such worldly trends, whether they are associated with non-Christian religions or unbelieving political philosophies. The most important condemnation of the collective, however, comes from the fact that it undermines home life. The home is God's order for His people. Can we Christians then relegate to a second or third place that which from Adam's day has been of primary importance in God's revealed will for men? Can we dare to change God's order? [117/118]

The truth is that we need more than ever to appreciate the importance to God and man of true home life. There never was a time in which family life was so exposed to disintegration as it is today. We cannot put the clock back. We cannot change the world around us. But we can refuse to be conformed to it and enquire again what is the mind of God. I suggest that every single Christian home is meant to show what is God's abiding thought for human life. "I will walk within my house with a perfect heart," says the great king David (Psalm 101:2). He had learned that what happens in our homes is basic and of extreme importance. This is one of the factors involved in the choice of responsible men in the churches, for a man who is not able to rule his own house cannot possibly know how to take care of the house of God (1 Timothy 3:1-5).

IT is at home that we give our children an example which they will remember for the rest of their lives, either with gratitude or with resentment. It is impossible to over-estimate the values enjoyed by those who have grown up in secure home life where they have never heard a hard word between father and mother, where everything is characterised by love, purity and order, and where the light of God is allowed to shine freely on all things. How many modem children have such a home? How many modem parents who are Christians even have this as their ideal? If we ignore the sacredness of Christian home life we risk damage to our children which can never be remedied in this life. They must be allowed to grow up in the wise love of a home, not to run wild in a collective. They have a right to a home which is not a department of something large and amorphous but a complete unit in itself. It is their home, where they have their parents and where they can have uninterrupted relationships with the dear ones of their family. To rob them of this is to do irreparable damage to their personalities.

Our wives must also be given their proper place. They also must know that the home is their home, and not something submerged in a general community life. That each home is meant to be an independent unit is emphasised in 1 Timothy 5, where Paul teaches that we are not necessarily to share all our intimate affairs and problems with the church. In these days of deteriorating home life we tend to forget this. The chapter suggests that each family is a unity, with independent responsibility for itself -- a fact which is not so much a burden as a blessing. So we are told that the children should look after the old members of the family and not leave this to the church, and it is also suggested that younger widows should not automatically receive financial help. Because the home is a unit, fellowship forbids that there should be a running from house to house to interfere with what goes on there. Indeed I venture to suggest that it is wise not to visit one another's homes too often. The Word clearly says: "Let thy foot be seldom in thy neighbour's house; lest he be weary of thee, and hate thee" (Proverbs 25:17). True fellowship does not consist of prying into another's business, wearing out one another's doorsteps in wearisome visits for gossiping about this and that.

It is a common feature of modern life that students live together in hostels. This can be good, provided that it is clearly accepted to be an abnormal and temporary interlude between the childhood home and the new adult home. It is a consequent -- and very happy -- outcome of this sort of student communal life that Christians work together in a boy/girl relationship where few of the principles of family church life obtain. But every blessing has its associated peril, and it is contrary to all the fundamental teaching of the Word that this kind of spiritual community should be substituted for regular assembly life where spiritual procedure and activity should be based on a family structure. It is quite unsuitable that a church should try to function as though it were simply a college Christian Union, for every local expression of the Church is meant to express the related life of the household of God.

There is evidence enough that God does not want the collective. And what God does not want can never succeed in the long run. He is not interested in Christians bunching together, but in their living scattered throughout the world as light and salt. Only in this way can there be a true functioning of the daily witness. The gospel always brings release. It creates free people who live as genuine, healthy men of God in the midst of an artificial, hollow and sick world. Every true Christian is meant to be a Spirit-governed personality in whom God can express Himself in a unique way. The values of individuality and personality can easily be lost in the collective, for here there must be submission to the community in ways which are not those of the family. Here people are so close to one another than in practice none is able to remain his true self. Everyone [118/119] knows everything about everyone else; nobody has any real privacy; inevitably all fall into line; and so it is that there is all unintentionally produced what is known as a 'collective person'. I believe that this is especially hard on wives and children. There comes an age when children naturally need to have a home of their own where they are not exposed to the critical advice or interfering enquiry of those who are not their parents. Such family relationships between man and wife, parents and children, are among the most beautiful and precious that human beings can experience. It is therefore most harmful that any should be deprived of them by a mistaken idea of the spiritual value of collectives. For this reason we should pray earnestly and lovingly for those who have adopted this mode of living. They have done it under the impression that by this means they serve the Lord better. We sympathise with their willingness to sacrifice their domestic rights out of zeal for Him, but we cannot accept that God ever intended this as a normal way of life for men, especially Christian men.

WE are left in no doubt as to the Scriptural teaching concerning the structure of human living. God's thoughts about fellowship find expression in two realms: (1) In our home, and (2) In our spiritual home , the local church. Fellowship is not the same as friendship. We are free to choose our friends but, as God's children, we are not free to choose those with whom God places us in His house. Both friendships and collectives are formed by human choice because of personal preference; the Church, however, has not come into being by any human decision, but by new birth overruled by divine providence. We need our friends, and we can greatly profit from their friendship, but we must not make of them an artificial collective family. Nor are we permitted to limit our spiritual family ties to those who are our natural friends.

The greatest difference between Church fellowship and all other forms of associated life, including the collective, is that Church fellowship is always centred on Christ, whilst collective fellowship almost inevitably centres on the practice of fellowship. Church fellowship is not a goal in itself: those concerned do not have fellowship with each other just to express or to cultivate fellowship, but to worship Christ. In contrast to this, all other forms of fellowship lead to the cultivation of fellowship as an end in itself.

Paul defines the fellowship of the Church in this way: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion (fellowship) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion (fellowship) of the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). It cannot be more clearly stated. The fellowship of the Church is not a fellowship of interest, of protest, of association for some Christian work, nor a fellowship to solve human problems: it is fellowship about the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, that is, about the person of the crucified and risen Lord Himself. So in this fellowship we do not concentrate on one another but on Him. We do not try to intrude into the affairs of one another, but keep our eyes on Him. We do not invite people to our fellowship but to Him. We are not united by a process of living together or even working together but by the bonds of the Spirit who has made us members of the one Body. This fellowship has its centre in heaven, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. It has not been created by man's ideas or man's will but by God's act of redemption. It is His house. Therefore it remains unshakeable. The gates of hell can never prevail against this divine entity.

In this fellowship we do not know one another "after the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:16), and we make no attempt to get that kind of knowledge of one another. Rather do we respect the individuality of each member, seeking to obey Paul's injunction that we should: "forestall each other in showing respect" (Romans 12:10 Danish Version). Anything other than this only results in a process of vulgarisation. When Christians go too much into one another's homes, they tend to break down the proper reserve which should exist between one and the other. They take for granted rights which are not properly theirs. They overlook or violate the integrity of other people's precious privacy, and finish by making demands of acceptance at all times and explanations of all things in areas where they have no business to intrude. If, on the other hand, Christians respect one another and keep their proper distance, they can be a real help when the need for such help arises.

THERE is a host of problems and difficulties which each family must tackle among themselves. In dealing with them they will attain proper maturity, as Paul intended when he wrote that each man must bear his own burden (Galatians 6:5). Interminable discussions with all and sundry [119/120] will only over-dimensionalise problems instead of solving them. On the other hand, where men keep a mutual distance in a right way, true fellowship is developed and, on the occasions where major problems are too great for the individual unit, then those who are so placed can give powerful assistance, so fulfilling the command: "Bear ye one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2).

The period at the beginning when Christians "had all things common" cannot refer to a collective, for over three thousand people were involved. It certainly did not mean that their individual integrity and development were interfered with, as witness Stephen, Phillip and Barnabas. And in any case that was a brief period, after which they were scattered to all parts of Asia. The right maintenance of home life and the expression of such life in local churches avoids the production of the 'collective person', who is a weakling, not to say an artificial caricature of a true man. It provides for the discipline and development of men and women who have a personal integrity of life in the Spirit. These are the ones who truly have 'All things common', calling nothing their own because the Spirit of God is working in them according to the principles of family life. Their togetherness is better than a collective: it is the unity of the Body of Christ with Him as the Head.


"BEHOLD, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken ..." (Jeremiah (6:10.) An uncircumcised ear! With this condition it is impossible to hear. Since circumcision refers to the work of the cross, and the cross means death to natural capacities and functions to make way for the spiritual -- then uncircumcised ears must be those which have confidence in their own ability to select right from wrong and good from bad, but in fact only hear and appreciate human wisdom. They are deaf to the voice of the Lord and heavenly logic, to spiritual truth. Uncircumcised ears, presumably, will only accept what comes through certain wavelengths -- the wavelengths of 'reason' and 'good sense'.

The circumcised ear would seem to me to be the one which is alert all the time, and tuned to one sound only -- the Shepherd's voice. It does not rule out any source or method of reception, but listens carefully for that sound, wherever it happens to be and whenever it may come.

Hong Kong Diary
Dr. E. Fischbacher [120/ibc]

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