|Vol. 6, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1977
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
WAYS OF ESCAPE
J. Alec Motyer
Reading: Genesis 3:1-7
THE first question that springs to mind about this passage is not necessarily
the most important one, but it should certainly be faced. It is often put
in this form: "Is this true?" And what the questioner means is: "Are we to
consider this story of a man, his wife and the serpent as a historical narrative
of things that happened? Or are we to look upon it all as a parable in which
truth is taught by means of a story?"
I think that in these days it is all too easily written off as fiction.
It seems to some to be simpler to regard it as a picture of truth, a spiritual
parable, and to leave it at that. For my part I feel it good to share with
you my own convictions on this vexed question, and I want to suggest that
we accept this as straightforward history. I am certain that the Bible commits
us to do this. I see no other course than to accept Adam and Eve as real
persons, nor for that matter do I see any difficulty in doing so. On any view
of human origins, the race starts with one couple. The Bible requires us
to believe in the historicity of this man, Adam, not least because it draws
such an emphatic parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam, giving
to the first the same historic reality and part in God's plan as it does
to the second heavenly Man.
Then there is the serpent. Just consider the situation as we find it
in Genesis. The tempter is at his usual and continuing purpose of defeating
and overturning the plan of God the Creator. How is he to approach Adam and
his wife? They are newly created from the hand of God. They, with the rest
of creation, have come under the Creator's verdict that they are very good.
That is to say that the tempter has no internal foothold in these two. He
cannot speak to their hearts and minds as Satan can speak to us, since they
do not have the fallen nature which we now have. There is no basis on which
he can gain an entrance to their inner life; he has to speak to them from
outside, and first gain their attention so that they will listen. What then
is he to do? Is he to come to them in a direct disclosure of his true nature?
Is he to allow them to see in his face the contortions of his hatred of God?
To do that would be to foredoom his plan of temptation to failure even before
he started. He would stand exposed at once as what he is, the prince of evil.
It is therefore essential that he adopt a disguise. If that is so, why not
therefore the disguise which the Bible describes? This account of the man
and his wife, the tree and the serpent are presented to us as history, and
as such we accept them. It seems to me that I may do this without sacrificing
either sanity or good sense.
My present message, however, is to agree that this true story is a parable,
for like all Bible history, it is written to declare truth. The Bible does
not tell us stories for the sake of acquainting us with ancient facts; it
selects its stories and tells them in such a way that they become a revelation
to us of truth concerning God and concerning ourselves, and concerning life
on the earth. In the Hebrew Bible, what we call historical books, Joshua,
Samuel and Kings, are classed as the Former Prophets. This is because they
prophesy; out of their facts they declare to us the truth about God. So although
I hold that this story is factual, I want to share with you some observations
concerning its meaning and message to us.
My constant reaction to the account of this first temptation and the
first sin is to remark how easily it could have been avoided. As we look
back, it seems as plain as daylight who this serpent is, why he talks as
he does; his malicious purpose seems evident to us as soon as he opens his
mouth. We say in amazement: "How on earth were they ever deceived? How could
they have fallen into this sin?" Unhappily this is a recurring fact of Christian
experience. The same questions can so often be asked about us. Part of our
remorse when we have sinned is amazement that we were so easily fooled, that
we were so readily the dupes of Satan. He came in a [81/82]
disguise that now, of course, we see through, but at the onset of our
temptation Satan was so well concealed from us that we were fooled by his
devices. We must therefore consult God's Word about this matter of temptation,
and I offer to you now a verse which might have applied to Adam and Eve then,
as it certainly applies to us now. It is: "God is faithful, who will not suffer
you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make
also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
We can readily apply this to Adam and ask him why he did not use the avenue
of escape provided by God. We feel that we want to ask him: "Adam, why were
you so foolish and easily deceived? Did you not see this way, that way, the
other way, that would have saved you from falling into sin?" Perhaps it will
be more practical to apply his possible avoidance of evil to ourselves, examining
his story to discover what God wishes to teach us about avenues of escape.
1. There is a Way of Escape if We Appreciate the Position in Which God
has Placed Us
Such an appreciation of where God has placed us will not save us from
the onset of temptation -- nothing will do that until we are safe in heaven
-- but it will provide a way of escape so that we do not fall before it.
We will not succumb if we pay due regard to the position in which God has
placed us. Here is the serpent, talking to Eve, and here is Adam, the silent
observer. I suggest that Adam should have interrupted the conversation by
reminding the serpent that their previous encounter had been when all the
living creatures were mustered in obedience to man so that he could use his
divinely-given authority to bestow names upon them (Genesis 2:19). God had
a gracious purpose of providing Adam with a wife. It may be that the man
was not yet even conscious of his loneliness, so God set about educating
him, and did so by making all the pairs of animals parade before him. It
was then that Adam showed his regal likeness to God by using a rational faculty,
dividing the animals into categories and giving them names. His lordship was
so absolute that the names he gave remained permanent. He might have said
to the serpent: "Pardon me! Where did I last see you? And what did I say
God had given man the position of lordship. He had been made not to fall
before some tempting beast, but to exercise authority by banishing him and
his tempting talk from the garden. Adam was then the lord of creation and
not its stooge. How much more should we who are redeemed appreciate the position
which God has given us in Christ; we should recognise that He has pre-placed
us in a position of victory and domination. What has God said to us? He
has said: "If any man be in Christ there is a new creation". He has also
told us that: "Like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the
Father, even so should we walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). This is
our right position. We must never allow our awareness of that God-given position
of ascendancy to be obscured by awareness of personal weakness and sinfulness.
In many situations of life we have to ask ourselves: "By which truth am
I going to live? By what God says or by what I feel?"
Here is a person on a sick bed and the doctor, having just come in and
examined him, pronounces: "I find no remaining trace of your illness. You
are better." The patient, hearing this, jumps out of bed and tries to proceed
normally, only to find that he is still very weak. Does that invalidate
what the doctor has said? Is he to allow his conscious weakness to persuade
him that after all he is not cured? There are two truths, the first the
declaration by the doctor that he is better, and the second the evidence
of his conscious weakness; so it becomes a choice between medical authority
and personal feeling. Now God says that you are a new creature. Your experience
may suggest that the old and the weak elements are still there. Very true,
but which are you going to accept as the dominant truth. God's statement
or your feelings?
Here are two young people standing together before their minister in
church as he pronounces them man and wife. As they return to ordinary life
they may feel no different, but something is true of them which was not true
before. They are not going back to their old ways and their previous manner
of life; they will go a new way because a new truth governs their life.
It is not a matter of feeling. The new truth has to be lived by. And we have
to learn and hold the new position which God has given to us in Christ.
When Satan comes to tempt us, we are authorised to claim that we now have
dominion: It has been given to us by God. If we will recognise that divinely
given position of ours we will always have an avenue of escape.
2. There is a Way of Escape if We Act upon the Sufficiency of the Word
Watch the tempter as he approaches the woman and mark that his assault
is upon God's Word. "Yea, hath God said ...?" Notice the subtlety of this
approach, as he deliberately chooses the ground upon which he knows that
the man and the woman are already weak. Listen to her reply: "Of the fruit
of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall
not eat of it ...". Which is quite correct. "... neither shall ye touch it"
-- incorrect! God did not say that (2:17). You see what was happening. Already,
perhaps for what they felt were good reasons, they were tampering with the
sufficiency of the Word of God. Tampering by adding, which will consequently
leave the door wide open for tampering by denying. See how quickly the serpent
leaps in -- if a serpent can leap -- and is now in a position to contradict
God's Word. It may not seem so heinous to insert a few words as it is to
take away something which God has put there, but it robs us of a way of escape,
for its casts doubts on the sufficiency of that Word.
Tampering by adding. This is still done; in some circles it is widespread.
Procedures and practices can be adopted for which there is no authority in
the Scriptures. "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according
to this word, surely there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20). Here are people
who come to a new believer, telling him that he cannot be in the will of
God unless he joins their particular body. Is not this tampering by adding?
Here are Christians who come to a Christian, saying: "Have you had such-and-such
an experience?" The brother replies that he has found salvation by accepting
Christ and relying on His atoning work, only to be told that if he lacks
some special experience he is no true Christian. The experience in question
may very well be found in the Word of God, but if it is made to be an essential
thing, then this goes beyond what the Scriptures themselves insist upon.
At least such procedure borders perilously on tampering by adding.
Tampering by denying. Here is a person who expresses agreement over most
Christian truths but says: "I cannot accept this idea of the bodily return
in person of the Lord Jesus Christ to this earth in glory". He will go so
far in faithfulness to the Word of God, but when it comes to eternal judgment,
he declines to accept what the Bible says. This was the very first doctrine
to be denied, the doctrine that there is a God in heaven who visits sin with
the punishment of death. To reject this is to tamper by subtracting. The
arguments revolve around the fact that God is a God of love, declaring that
there is no room for judgment or punishment or hell in the theology of those
who know Him to be a loving Father. But the Bible says that there is! In
this matter there can be no question as to what God has said. The Bible is
not given for us to protect, as though it were under us, nor for us to trim
by subtraction, as though it were at our mercy. It is the Word of God, given
to us for our obedience. If we will acknowledge the supremacy and sufficiency
of Scripture and its place of government in our lives for daily obedience,
we will always have an avenue of escape from deceit or defeat.
3. There is a Way of Escape if Our Eyes are Opened to the Goodness of
These opening creation chapters of the book of Genesis are full of God's
goodness. The very word "good" is a key word in Chapter 1, for the Creator's
pronouncement over all His work is that He considered it very good. Good
for whom? Why, good for that cherished man who was placed in the centre of
it, as we are told in Chapter 2. The story is one of the bounty and the goodness
of God to His creation. The subtlety of the tempter was to magnify the one
prohibition that God had wisely imposed upon this couple. Look again, though,
at the liberality of the Creator. "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest
freely eat" (2:16). "Help yourself," God said, "every tree there is for your
enjoyment, so be free to eat as much as you like. There is just the one
exception in the case of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but
apart from that you can freely enjoy it all." Now, listen to the subtle tempter:
"What a pity that you are being so deprived! A whisper has reached me that
God has forbidden you to enjoy yourselves. There is a tree of which you may
not eat." See how Satan concentrates on the prohibition, seeking to blind
your eyes to the vast bounty of God. God was bountiful in creating so many
trees for their delight. He was bountiful in providing Eve for Adam as soon
as he was ready to receive her. He added to all His gifts by His
[83/84] own presence and Self-revelation, for He came to walk with
them in the garden. What a favoured couple they were! If only they had kept
their eyes on the goodness of God, the tempter's words would have completely
But see how the temptation proceeds. The tempter makes them a promise:
"God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened,
and ye shall be as God". Were they not like God already? Had He not created
them in His own image? (1:27). What the deceiver was after really was to
make them like himself. "Take for yourself," Satan said, putting as a change
of centre for their lives this idea of selfishness and self-advancement. In
fact God's bounty had given them everything already. Here is the deceitfulness
of sin, as we can find over and over again in our own experience. Satan comes
and lures us with vain promises when the implicit benefit in that promise
is something which God has already pledged to us in Christ.
The promise is deceitful, but even if we get the benefit we will have
it on the basis of perverted selfishness instead of receiving it as God's
gift on the basis of purity and for the sake of Jesus Christ. If our eyes
are opened to appreciate the goodness of God, His goodness in creation, His
goodness in provision, and above all His goodness in Self-revelation, we
will find a way of escape from all the tempter's tricks. Has not God showed
us Himself in all the matchless beauty of our Saviour? How can we then be
drawn away from Him by a wretched wriggling and abhorrent deceiver? Let us
ponder afresh the great goodness of God, and we will never lack an avenue
of escape from the tempter.
4. There is a Way of Escape if We Consecrate Every Faculty to God
Our final point is a very powerful one; it concerns the use of our God-given
faculties, everyone of which should be consecrated to the One who gave them
to us. Just watch Eve in front of that tree. "She saw that the tree was good,
and that it was a delight to the eyes ..." (verse 6). An appeal was made
to her emotions. Her emotions were aroused and stirred in a matter which was
under divine prohibition. Those emotions produced such inward delight that
she coveted what God had said she should not have, and her selfish appetite
carried her away. Read on! "The tree was desired to make one wise." She began
to use logic now. If it were called the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil, then it must be reasonable to eat of it and so become wise. Her reasoning
joined her emotions in this approach to disobedience. It is a fact that
when the human mind begins to reason it comes to conclusions which make
sense to human logic but defy the divine logic. God has said that she is
not to eat, but on the heels of her emotional reaction, her mind now begins
to justify her in saying: "No" to the wisdom of God.
So "she took ...". The decision was made. What the heart craved for and
the mind justified, the will now grasps; her capacity to decide comes into
play. So it was that what began as a mere toying with an emotional satisfaction,
and was carried on into an intellectual justification, became settled as
an abiding feature of fallen humanity, namely the decision of the will in
favour of self and against God. The whole range of human personality has broken
away from God.
Did you ever ask yourself if perhaps God was not making rather an unnecessary
fuss just about a stolen fruit? If so, you failed to realise that this was
an action which involved the whole law of God. It was all made so simple
for man. There was only one precept which he had to submit to. But there was
no escape for this couple, because their God-given faculties of desire and
reason and will were placed at the disposal of self instead of being consecrated
to the One who had given them. If only we will bring our emotions into disciplined
consecration; if only we will bring our minds into glad submission to God's
Word, knowing that our thoughts are not His thoughts, and learning to think
His thoughts after Him as we follow His Word; and then if only we will come
to the place of dedication of our power to choose; we will always find that
there is a way of escape. In bringing us into His new creation, the Lord
Jesus has made possible this complete consecration of heart and mind and
will, so leading the way for us to prove the faithfulness of God in silencing
the tempter and knowing the victory of faith. [84/85]
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
7. TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS (Chapter 3:1-31)
CHAPTER three will lead us through the arguments and counter-arguments
of the self-righteous until we come to the "But now" which introduces that
which is new and altogether satisfying to God.
1. Jewish Counter-arguments (verses 1 to 8)
We now encounter the Jews' objections to Paul's condemnatory exposure:
"If you say that a Jew is not one who is a Jew outwardly, what advantage
is there in being a Jew anyhow?" We might expect Paul to answer that there
is no advantage and that it means nothing and does not profit at all, but
he surprises us by answering: "Much every way!" In chapter 9 Paul gives quite
a list of the Jews' advantages but here he contents himself with what is
primary, namely "that they were entrusted with the oracles of God". The psalmist
expresses it in this way: "He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and
his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for
his judgments, they have not known them" (Psalm 147:19-20). In his introduction
to this letter Paul has already said that the gospel was predicted by the
Holy Scriptures (1:2), so that it was clearly a tremendous privilege for
the people of Israel to possess the Word of God. Such a privilege, however,
brought also a great responsibility.
Now Israel as a whole had not proved faithful, in spite of being so privileged,
which raises the next question: "What if some were without faith? Shall their
want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God?" This is not
only a question but in reality a counter-argument from a stubborn Jew who
insists that Israel is not only privileged but also protected from the wrath
of the God in whom they boasted. That is why he frames the question thus:
"What if some were without faith?" He does not feel that he is without faith,
but that such a description only applies to some. Paul knew him all too well.
His train of thought is the same as is often found today among those who
reason: "God can never reject us. That is quite impossible, for we have the
Bible and accept all that is written in it. We may not always be what we
should be, but that does not matter since God cannot be unfaithful." The
one concerned has no qualms about himself, feeling confident that God must
be on his side.
Paul's clear answer points in exactly the opposite direction from this
stubborn, confident Jew, and he exclaims: "God forbid!" Yes, it is impossible
for God to abandon His faithfulness, but such faithfulness is first and
foremost truthfulness. God is faithful to His own Word -- that is the central
feature of the faithfulness of the God who cannot lie. "Let God be found
true even if that makes everyone else a liar." The original is sharper,
making it plain that God is the only One who stands true, while every man
is a liar. This cuts like a sword into the stubborn, self-righteous disputant,
for it reminds him that he is included. With all his counter-arguments,
even when he quotes the Word and stresses the faithfulness of God, man is
still a liar.
The apostle goes on to quote another psalm: "That thou mightest be justified
in thy words, and mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment" (Psalm
51:4), emphasising that truth is characteristic of God just as untruth is
characteristic of every man. When God speaks (and judges), His judgment must
be entirely righteous; if anyone seeks to argue with Him, like this stubborn
Jew, then God will always win. This means that the Jew, in spite of all
his objections and counter-arguments, must collapse in the face of God's
unchallengeable truth. The apostle's aim is directed at God's goal of stopping
every mouth and silencing the contradictor with His judgments (3:19). Expressed
in positive terms this objective is that men should justify God without
reserve (Luke 7:29).
But Paul knows human self-righteousness in its stubborn strength, and
realises that it is no easy job to deal with it. He therefore allows the
obstinate Jew to continue with his objections, even though he now becomes
somewhat insolent, demanding: "But if our unrighteousness commandeth the righteousness
of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath?" The
questioner has begun to weaken, [85/86] but he will
not give in. While at first he spoke of "some", being careful not to include
himself, he now speaks of "our unrighteousness", so confessing that he is
in the same boat himself. However he still thinks that it will not sink,
and is still able to argue with God, accusing Him over this matter of wrath.
This is so abhorrent to Paul that he hastens to assure us that he is speaking
"after the manner of men". Though disagreeing with such arguments, he feels
obliged to present them, partly to show how foolish they are and partly to
pave the way for the truth of God.
Now, in his audacity, the insolent and self-righteous questioner lets
himself go: "But if the truth of God through my lie abounded unto His glory,
why am I also judged as a sinner ...?" We see him rising and stepping forward
to confront God, hands on hips, bold in his effrontery. Now he does not speak
of "some" or "we" but challenges God to single combat: "my lie" ...
"I am judged as a sinner". He has the brazen impudence to say: "All
right, I am a liar. So what then? Why on earth does that matter if it still
leaves God in the clear? I might as well continue in my own sinful way if
that will give God the chance to get more glory for Himself." When mockers
speak in this way, Paul brings the argument to an abrupt end. He dismisses
them with these words: "whose condemnation is just". When, on the other hand,
there are anxious, troubled consciences, who fear that the gospel of God's
free grace in Christ may lead to taking sin lightly, he explains in detail
that justification by faith, far from leading to irresponsibility, liberates
from the power of sin (chapter 6).
But it is interesting and instructive to notice that whenever the gospel
is preached in all its purity there is always the objection raised against
such preaching that it offers license to sin. Such criticism either comes
in the form of mockery or from the legalistically-minded who cannot accept
the message of God's free and liberating grace in Christ Jesus. The charge
that this message is dangerous or too easy may well confirm that we are preaching
the very same gospel that Paul preached.
2. Guilty Before God (verses 9 to 20)
Paul has finished with the mocker, the stubborn Jew. This man began with
an apparently honest question about the advantage of being a Jew but developed
his argument in such a way as to reveal that he did not really want an answer
when he was challenged as to his basic attitude. The apostle now returns
to his main proposition, arguing that both Jews and Greeks are "under sin".
This is a strong and striking expression which discloses that sin is not so
much a greater or lesser weakness in us as a power which dominates us, as
though we were under the heel of an oppressor who is too strong for us.
This is the first occasion on which the word "sin" appears in the Roman
letter. Until now the apostle has described many of its manifestations (1:24-32)
but now he reveals sin as the ruling power behind all evil passions and bad
behaviour. From this tyrant no person, however pious or well-meaning, has
any earthly chance of delivering himself. It is a power which affects everyone
and defies every human effort to resist it. Both Jews and Gentiles, all
of them, are under its sway.
In order to prove that Jews have no advantage over Gentiles in this matter,
Paul uses their prided Word of God to press home his charges. His accusations
rest not only upon the observations of human life which he himself has made
but upon the infallible words of God in the Old Testament, that "law" of
which they so boasted; confirming the fact that all are under sin with the
phrase: "as it is written". For this he proceeds to quote a number of references
from the law, that is, the Old Testament and chiefly the Psalms. We may ask
if these, which seem to us to be isolated quotations, really provide valid
scriptural proof that there really is none righteous, no, not even one. Paul
feels so and evidently reads Scripture in a special way which we would do
well to learn.
i. Firstly, he does not read as a spectator or objective observer, but
as one who is himself addressed by God. Whatever the law says, it speaks
to those who are under, or within the law, that is the Jews. Everything that
is written, he says, even when it does not seem to apply to us, speaks directly
to us. When the Word describes the sin of the Gentiles, there is no ground
for us to say that that is for the heathen and does not apply to us, for
we must test ourselves by the description. If we do this as before God, we
shall realise with dismay that the sin of the heathen is our sin also. We
Christians will not go wrong if we read the whole Bible in a corresponding
way. Everything that is written is spoken to us. [86/87]
ii. Next, we find that he reads the Bible as speaking to him here and
now: "What things soever the law saith, it speaketh ...". This
means that it has a present potency. He sits at God's feet and listens to
what God has to say to him here and now. This is what it means to read the
Word under the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit; though it is written, you
not only read but you also hear, for it is God Himself who addresses you.
Read in this way, the Scriptures do not give us a single chance of sheltering
behind the sin of others. We can only come to the regrettable conclusion that
no one is what he should be, ourselves included; we find to our dismay that
God is saying to each one of us: "Thou art the man! Thou art the man! Thou
art guilty before Me."
iii. Then he learns to be silent before God. "Every mouth is stopped."
The case against God has to be abandoned, and all arguing with Him ceases.
You who are so clever at accusing or reproaching God for this and that,
and an expert at avoiding taking the blame, now smite your breast like the
publican, waiting with downcast eyes, with no other expectation than that
the Judge will rise from His judgment seat and pronounce you guilty and
worthy of utter condemnation.
Through His law God speaks to you in this way with the one purpose of
silencing all excuses and making you recognise your just condemnation. All
self-righteousness bites the dust; man stands without excuse before his Judge.
This applies to the flagrant sinner of chapter 1; it applies to the highly
respectable man of chapter 2; it applies to Jews and Gentiles alike; it applies
to you and me. It is indeed part of the gospel, much as we may dislike it.
If we refuse to accept this position, then there will be no gospel for us
3. But Now! (verses 21 to 26)
The words "But now" introduce a section which not only offers a satisfactory
solution to the insoluble problem of how an unrighteous person can be declared
righteous, but opens up an entirely new age, a new dispensation in "the
time that is now" (3:26 Danish).
We are told that "apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been
manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets". No one can imagine
how an unrighteous person can be declared righteous. If it happened in an
earthly court, it would indicate an unjust judge setting aside the law and
ignoring justice. We must never think in this way, as though God were condoning
or overlooking our sin, though this is all too common a way of counting on
God's love. Such an idea of God's grace is completely erroneous, though it
is popular because it neither makes men fear God nor be too worried about
sin. God's grace, however, does not consist in His overlooking sin and weakening
the claims of justice, but rather in upholding the law to the full. At Calvary
God did not give His Son any exemption from the demands of the law, but allowed
judgment to exact its full penalty. At the cross God established the law.
He did not for a moment deviate from it; He never does and He never will,
for He is just and holy.
What then does it mean that a righteousness of God has been manifested
apart from the law? If God did not ignore the law but upheld it
to the full, how can Paul speak of His righteousness being manifested without
the law? Clearly the words do not apply to God's relationship to the law,
but to our relationship to it. This strikes a death-blow at any righteousness
which we may pretend to have. The words mean "apart from the works of the
law" (3:28), "without working" (4:2-6), "not through the law" (without
building on the law -- Danish) (4:13). This humbles man to the
dust. He stands guilty before God without excuse. His own sense of what is
right and true condemns him. It is then, but only then, that he is in a
condition to receive from God the righteousness which is by faith in Jesus
Christ. Historically this righteousness was revealed at Calvary where once
for all God manifested it (v.21). We should notice in this connection that
the perfect tense is used -- "hath been manifested". For the condemned sinner,
though, it is revealed through the preaching of the gospel (1:17), where the
verb is in the present tense.
This righteousness is "through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that
believe" (v.22). It may seem unnecessary for Paul to express himself in this
way, for surely faith can only be found in those who believe. It may well
be that he wrote thus because he wanted to emphasise that it really is by
faith alone, so that it is not possible for anyone to feel superior and
say: "You only have faith, whereas beside my faith I have also sincerity
and deep devotion, therefore I have a better standing with God than you have!"
"For there is no distinction." The flagrant sinner from chapter 1 and
the moralist from chapter 2 are alike in that they have nothing upon which
to build their righteousness. Men stand on different levels of education
or culture, they may be vastly different in their behaviour, but no one possesses
the glory of God which man has lost because of sin. There is only one way
in which any of us can ever be justified and that is by grace. The gospel
reveals the righteousness of God in terms of free grace. We who could not
stand before God, can now do so. We who have lost the glory of God now have
that glory bestowed on us, and all this not because God disregards righteousness
but just because He is righteous. For us it is free. We do not justify ourselves
but are justified because of the sacrificial death of the Saviour on the
cross. On the ground of righteousness God has in His wrath settled accounts
with Him. In that cross all we who were guilty were condemned to death and
the sentence executed, so that now we are guilty no longer.
Up till now we have been in the Courtroom, facing God's judgment seat,
first acknowledging with shame how guilty we are and then finding ourselves
proclaimed righteous by faith in Christ Jesus. Paul now leads us out into
the Slave Market. Again we stand in shame, this time knowing ourselves to
be slaves to sin with no possibility of freeing ourselves. We are, however,
liberated, as Christ pays the full price for our freedom. This is another
illustration of redemption, for we are justified freely by His grace "through
the redemption that is in Christ Jesus". Finally we are led into the Temple,
where we find that Christ has been provided by God to be a mercy-seat (v.25).
The typical propitiatory, or mercy-seat in the temple was hidden from sight
behind the veil, but the living Reality, our Lord Jesus Christ, is set forth
publicly on the cross. What the animal sacrifices under the old covenant
could not do, the sacrifice of Jesus fully accomplished. He is God's mercy-seat,
the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The initiative
is God's, not ours, for it was He who provided this gracious living Mercy
The law and the prophets testify to this righteousness. We have already
been told that the gospel had been promised in the Holy Scriptures (1:2).
Righteousness from God is the central theme of the Old Testament, so that
when Paul proclaims free righteousness through grace by faith in our Lord
Jesus, the whole of the Old Testament contributes its glad "Amen".
Paul takes time to throw light on God's treatment of sinners "aforetime".
His reference cannot mean that previously God had overlooked sin and so run
the risk of an ultimate failure in righteousness, but rather that all was
done in the light of the fact that before the foundation of the world Christ
was destined to make a full end of sin (1 Peter 1:19-20). When Christ made
the blood sacrifice for sin on the cross, God was fully justified for that
previous forbearance and now, "at this present season", He clearly shows
His righteousness by justifying all who have faith in Jesus. That is what
God is like! This is how He acts! No wonder that Paul calls this the gospel
of God, for God is its Author and also its content.
4. Where Then is the Glorying?
Earlier the apostle described the Jew who boasted of knowing God and
His will (2:17), and went on to show that really the man had no ground at
all for glorying. He now asks: "Where then is the glorying?" and gives his
own answer to the question: "It is excluded!" He then explains that this
exclusion is because of "a law of faith". We might have expected him to
say that the law of works excludes all possibility of self-praise, but he
knows only too well that those who operate on the basis of works never give
up hope of having something to boast of, for self-confidence and boasting
are twins. When, however, a man lives by a law of faith, all glorying is
excluded since faith can only gratefully accept its righteousness as a free
gift of God's grace. When the ungodly is justified he takes no credit to
himself but gives all the praise to God; he knows that there is no merit
in himself, not even for believing. When faith comes in, boasting goes out.
The apostle seems to attach great importance to the phrase: "apart from
the works of the law". He knows that self-righteousness is so deeply ingrained
that we are inclined to regard the grace of God as a reward for our sincere
endeavour to please Him, thinking that perhaps we deserve a little praise
at least for trying. However great our experience of life in the Spirit we
must beware of man's natural tendency to boast. In Philippians 3:9 Paul says
expressly that his place in Christ means that he has no righteousness of
his own. We are surprised that even he thought it necessary to insist on
that. [88/89] Luther also knew the tendency of the
human heart to bring self-righteousness into the realm of the life of faith
and so took the liberty of adding the word "only". His translation reads:
"We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith only, without
the works of the law (v.28). He has of course been criticised for this addition,
but in fact it precisely expresses Paul's teaching.
"Do we then make the law of none effect through faith?" Why does Paul
conclude the chapter with this question? He has already shown that righteousness
from God is witnessed to and confirmed by the law and the prophets (v.21).
Is he merely repeating himself? No, he is not now thinking about how far justification
is supported by the Old Testament, but how true faith is not in conflict
with the law, which demands works of obedience. Rightly understood, the law
which stops every mouth and causes the whole world to stand guilty before
God is the law which also excludes all self-praise. It is only when we fail
to appreciate the law in its deepest sense that we think of it in terms of
conflicting with faith. If we understand what it really says we will appreciate
in deepest humility that it is upheld and established by faith. Paul is most
emphatic in insisting that grace confirms and establishes the law.
Later he develops the thought that the demands of the law are fulfilled
in those who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (8:4), but I do
not think that this is the issue at question here. Rather it is that there
is no greater way of upholding and honouring God's law than to affirm: "God
forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
THE VOICE OF THE SON OF GOD
"The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice
of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." (John 5:25)
STUDENTS of John's Gospel will know that chapter 10 marks the end of
a series of spiritual truths and principles which are largely individual,
and that from then onwards those truths are taken up in a collective way.
From chapter 12 the Lord Jesus is found more particularly occupied with
the corporate life of His people. Chapter 11, therefore, stands exactly
halfway, with ten chapters on either side, and this is the chapter in which
Lazarus hears the voice of the Son of God and lives.
After the raising of Lazarus a little group is found with him gathered
around the table at a feast made for the Lord Jesus. This company suggests
two entities: Israel and the Church. Israel's history will be exactly that
of Lazarus. There will be a sickness in which Christ will not intervene.
He will deliberately remain away from Israel (as such), even though she is
greatly beloved, waiting until there is no further hope except the miracle
of resurrection. Israel will "stink" in the nostrils of the world. There
will be no ordinary remedy for her. Only by a resurrection as from the dead
by the voice of the Son of God will the nation have its glorious future.
Since, however, there is always a double view of the truth in John's
Gospel, we may say that Lazarus brings the Church into view typically. The
company gathered around Christ after the raising from the dead of Lazarus
typifies the Church as the company of those who have their very being by
reason of the resurrection miracle. This is quite clearly stated in the
most "Church " part of the Bible, the letter to the Ephesians. "You did
he quicken when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins ... and made
us to sit with him in the heavenlies" (Ephesians 2:1 & 6), which is
illustrated by the fact that "Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with
him " (John 12:2). The very heart of this message is found in Christ's words:
"The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God".
FIRSTLY, it is obvious that something more than a typical faculty of
hearing is in mind. The dead have no such faculty. There must be a hearing
which is not natural, which is deeper and more inward than the natural. Nor
is it just that by God speaking some actual result occurs. There must be
a hearing for there to be a result. Briefly, then, a living relationship
with Christ and its corporate expression, the Church, is the
[89/90] result of a hearing of His voice, which is something more
than merely human words. It is possible to hear the verbal statement of
truth, and to do so many times and over many years, but never really to
have heard the Lord's voice. It is possible, after having heard those truths
so often and so long, suddenly to hear that Voice, with the result so new
and wonderful that it is as though we had never before heard at all.
Living relationship with Christ is not an emotional or intellectual reaction
to a presentation of gospel truths, it comes not merely by signing a card
or making a "decision". This may have an apparent effect and be overruled
and used by the sovereignty of God, but it not seldom adds to what is one
of the Church's most difficult problems, namely an unworthy regard for the
Christian life with a number of people who claim to have tried it and found
that it did not work. The fact that there is much indifference to Christianity
today is partly due to the message having been cheapened and vitiated. No,
the New Testament insists that the basis of all true spiritual life is by
the voice of the Son of God being heard deep down in the human spirit. This
may or may not be a matter of actual spoken words, but when it happens the
one concerned is truly able to say: "The Lord has spoken to me" or "I know
that the Lord has made me aware of His will". It is a voice -- a power --
through words, but it is something more than words.
EVERYTHING depends upon this. "They that hear shall live." Our very life,
in the divine sense, depends upon it. Our salvation issues from it. And what
is true initially is also valid continuously in principle. There are, of
course, obvious and unmistakable duties, but otherwise for all major decisions
in life we should listen for the voice of the Lord. Paul based his whole ministry
upon this principle. When God speaks in this way, it is not only a
case of something being said but of things being done. We who hear that blessed
voice know when something has happened in us or to us. Such a knowledge is
essential to stability. There are times when people radically change positions
which they once held so strongly. After taking up such matters and affirming
that they are the greatest things which God has shown them, they subsequently
repudiate them and change their whole attitude. If this is not a question
of deliberate disobedience, the only reasonable explanation seems to be that
in the first place what they believed did not come from heaven but from men.
It may have come by some mental or emotional acceptance in which the impact
was so strong and so temporarily satisfying that it was taken up in a superficial
way. Those concerned were not really broken in soul and humbled before God.
Since this was not a hearing in the spirit of the voice of the Son of God
it could not last, so the life has become characterised by lack of permanence.
Of course this is quite a different matter from the changes which mark
true development and growth. Very big changes may take place in this area,
but not in the basic revelation. It is most important that, as to the basic
knowledge of the will of God and the revelation of Himself to us, we go
on to the end as we started at the beginning, though enlarged and with possible
changes of outward features.
Further, in the moment when God speaks to us in Christ, eternity has
broken through time, registering lasting values in us. All that belongs
merely to time and earth has been suspended, and there is brought into our
lives that which was in God's mind "before the world was" even His plans
for the ages of the ages. Our very existence is bound up with this. "Upon
this moment hangs eternity."
THEN again, it is most solemnly important to recognise that this hearing
of the voice of the Son of God is a sovereign act of God, only possible when
and as He chooses. Unless God speaks, all men's speaking is dead. Neither
those who are in view nor those who are trying to help them can choose the
time. That sovereign decision is most clearly seen in Christ's attitude over
Lazarus. There were many human factors at work, and the Lord was involved
in misunderstanding because of His behaviour; nevertheless He would not move
until the time of God had come. The point is this, that when that voice is
heard then it is God's moment, and we can never say if or when that time
will come again. The Lord Jesus asked: "Why do ye not understand my speech?
Even because ye cannot hear my word" (John 8:43). God had spoken and they
had not responded, and now they could not hear, even when He spoke to them.
The question may arise as to what is the first and immediate effect of
God speaking to us. It will not necessarily be exhilarating. Mere
[90/91] exhilaration can be deceptive; it is not necessarily eternal
life. There is a great difference between rest, peace and quiet joy and mere
excitement. It may more likely be a solemn awe and fearfulness, but with
The first effect of hearing the voice of the Son of God is the gift of
faith. What could not be contemplated before now becomes possible. What
we knew to be hopeless, now becomes a living prospect. "Blessed be the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy begat
us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the
dead" (1 Peter 1:3). It is a resurrection hope. How hopeless and impossible
the situation was with Lazarus until he heard the voice of the Son of God!
The strain goes out of life when God enters, and the impossible mountains
are no longer there.
TWO things remain to be mentioned. If the dead are to hear the voice
of the Son of God and live, it will only be the dead who do so. We have
seen that the Lord Jesus was very deliberate in His determination that Lazarus
should really be dead before He came on the scene. He first used figurative
language: "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth", but when His disciples did not appreciate
His meaning He said emphatically: "Lazarus is dead". The sisters knew what
the state would be ordinarily after four days in an Eastern tomb. Was Lazarus
dead? Indeed he was. This was essential to the divine principle. We are
at times too much alive in our own efforts, ambitions, activities, etc,
to stand a chance of hearing this voice of the Son of God, and as a consequence
our works are "dead works", having the life of nature but not the life of
God. If the greatest thing that can happen to mortals is to happen to us,
we, like Paul, will have to be smitten to the ground to hear that voice (Acts
9:4). There is no hope until we are dead:
"I lay in dust life's glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be."
Finally, what is the nature of your relationship with Christ? You may
believe in Christian doctrine concerning the deity of Christ and believe
it very intensively, but if it is only a doctrine, an objective fact, it will
not carry you through the tests which come to all true Christians. Make sure
that you have really heard His voice for yourself. You will only truly live
if you can say for yourself: "I was brought up out of death by hearing the
voice of the Son of God and I constantly find new life by hearing that voice."
PURPOSE AND PATTERN
(Studies in the Epistle to the Ephesians)
John H. Paterson
6. CHRIST IN OUR DAILY LIVES
IN our previous study of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, I suggested
that the long, highly practical section of the epistle which extends from
4:1 to 6:9 is best thought of as consisting of two parts: a set of principles
(4:1-24) and a code of practice (4:25 - 6:9). Last time, we considered
the first of these; this time, we shall concentrate on the second.
One of the most nagging problems which the leaders of the early Church
had to confront -- and in this respect the task of our own pastors and teachers
is no easier -- was that of getting Christians to strike a true balance between
beliefs and actions. Paul had no sooner proclaimed the great principle of
justification by faith in Christ alone than he found Christians arguing,
'In that case, we can do exactly as we please; in fact, the more we sin, the
more ground we shall provide for grace' (Romans 6:1). We know, too, that James
had to strike out sharply at those who, while stressing faith, would not
lift a hand to give any real help to people in need (James 2:14-17). It seems
that, among believers who had been liberated from Judaism's implicit idea
of justification by the works of the law, the freedom of faith had gone to
their heads. The misunderstanding persists: that the really important things
are heavenly and spiritual, and [91/92] that therefore
-- a fatal 'therefore'! -- the earthly and material do not matter. But Paul
was determined that, if the Ephesian Christians formed that impression, it
would not be his fault; he was going to make the true situation as clear as
he could. In this epistle of his, which contains unsurpassed revelations of
God's heavenly purpose for His people, are also to be found some of Paul's
most practical injunctions.
They are, at first sight, a very assorted collection, and it will be
helpful if we can classify them in some way. The first half of the collection
carries on Paul's major line of thought about a "worthy walk", and is structured
by a threefold use of the word 'walk': we are to walk in love (5:2),
walk in the light (5:8), and walk in wisdom (5:15, cf. Colossians
4:5). The first of these relates to our attitude to other believers, the
second to our attitude to God, and the third (as the parallel reference in
Colossians makes clear) to our attitude to the world around us. The second
half of the collection then deals with relationships.
1. Walk in Love
In all that concerns our contact with other believers, we are to be governed
by love. This follows from Paul's earlier insistence that we are all members
of one Body, and that to act on any ground other than love is to do despite
to the Body as a whole and so, ultimately, to ourselves. Among God's people,
there can never be any question of 'we' and 'they'; we belong together.
Once again, however, we must be aware of the need for balance here. Some
Christians are so busy loving other Christians that they will put up with
anything, even arrant nonsense and, in a spiritual sense, let them 'get away
with murder', rather than appear unloving by objecting. But that does not
help, or build up, the Body to which we all belong; it can only do harm.
Paul himself, who never hesitated to tell a man when he felt he was wrong
-- even if the man in question was the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11) -- sought
to create this needful balance by his use of the phrase, "speaking the truth
in love" (4:15), and by repeating the injunction to "speak every man truth
with his neighbour" (v.25). It is interesting that this second phrase follows
immediately on from his reference to lying. What he seems to be saying is
that to hear a Christian brother say something which is manifestly untrue,
and to let it pass unchallenged on the grounds that it would be unloving to
disagree, is tantamount to a lie.
Unhappily, the equal and opposite danger also exists. There are people
who make it their business to go round sniffing out untruth, and branding
it as heresy for the benefit of others less observant. They appoint themselves
as policemen for the rest of us. But the Bible image of a guardian of the
truth is not a policeman but a shepherd -- someone who not only can detect
the danger, but who also cares for those he protects. "Be ye kind
one to another."
2. Walk in the Light
In our relationship to God, we are to walk as children of light. Paul
saw the heathen as walking in a world of darkness, a darkness compounded
(4:17-18) of ignorance and self-esteem in equal parts. They thought that
they knew better than God; they created their own rules of life, but if they
only realised it they were, to all intents and purposes, dead (2:1; 5:14).
The new man in Christ is to "arise from the dead", and enter the light which
comes with a knowledge of God's revelation and obedience to God's rules.
It is not, said Paul, as if there is any mystery about these rules. God
has made it abundantly clear what He does, and does not, approve; there is
no excuse for making up rules of our own. If you are out on a dark night
and see a light, you do not have to argue about where it is, because its position
is given away by the darkness all around. All you have to do is to walk into
the circle of light and you will know you are there. And the light of God
is steady, unmoving, unwinking. It is not a will-o'-the-wisp. He does not
change His mind or alter His standards. You will "prove what is acceptable
unto the Lord" by making for the light and then taking care to remain within
3. Walk in Wisdom
When we come to the third aspect of the Christian's walk, we may well
feel a little surprised at Paul's choice of terms. He told the Ephesians
to walk wisely. In relation to the world outside, evidently, what
we need in the first place is not so much courage, or pity, or caution, as
wisdom. And we need this wisdom most particularly to understand the time
factor: "redeeming the time, because the days are evil."
Why this? Evidently because it is the first task of wisdom to realise
that, in this time-bound life of ours, time is not on our side. It is quite
a common experience to hear people refer casually to time as 'the old enemy'
and, for a Christian, this is true in a very specific sense. Time is limited,
and the passage of time will by itself solve nothing. So we must assess, as
objectively as we can, how much time we have and what can be done with it.
Some things can be accomplished in this world within the will of God for
this period of time, and other things cannot. Some things God has promised
to do, in the here and now, and other things He has reserved for a future
day. It is the part of wisdom to spend the time which we do have on
the things which are for this present time, and neither to attempt what cannot
be accomplished, nor yearn for things He has reserved for later. As Psalm
90:12 puts it, "So teach us to number our days that we may get us an heart
Paul's words say the same thing: "See that ye walk circumspectly (or
accurately, or carefully) ... understanding what the will of the Lord is".
This is, of course, no more than a development of the general theme of the
epistle -- that Christians should discover what God's eternal purpose is,
and make their individual contribution to it. Apparently, it is possible
to be foolish in our use of time -- to squander it by pursuing courses which
are not His own. Some men, after all, spend their time getting drunk (v.18)
-- a classic example of how to waste the small amount of precious
time we have at our disposal. The Christian must guard against such foolish
waste, and the best way to do it is to have our lives filled with spiritual
things (for that seems to be the probable meaning of v.18b). Some people
would regard singing hymns and giving thanks to God (v.19) as a waste of
time, too. But the wise man, the new man in Christ, does not.
Redeem the time: these words of Paul's both challenge and reassure us.
Their challenge is obvious; their reassurance less so. But is it not true
that a good deal of our discomfort and worry as Christians living in the
world arises from our frustration at being so limited? Not only do
we have so little time to do everything, but, in relation to the world's
great needs, there is so little that we can do. If we drop everything to
preach the Gospel, we can reach only a few thousands of the millions who
need it. If we go without food entirely, our rations may keep alive two or
three of the billion or so of the world's starving people. Even our faith
is limited. I should like to pray that all England would hear God's word
and be converted in my lifetime, but I do not have the faith to believe that
this will actually happen. I do not in practice believe that for all London
-- or even Leicester, or Lowestoft. I may believe it for a dozen, or a hundred,
people but more than that is beyond me.
It is comforting indeed to realise that one thing for which God never
blames us is our human limitation. He knows that we cannot be in two
places at once, or feed all those who are hungry. He knows that our faith
is limited by our experience, and can never grow far beyond it. He can do
all the things that we cannot. But for us the part of wisdom is to recognise
our own limitations, to leave the impossible to Him, and to concentrate on
using our time for specific tasks that lie to our hands. Perhaps Paul was
remembering, here in Ephesians 5, the words of Proverbs 17:24, "The eyes of
a fool are on the ends of the earth."
"On this account be not foolish, but
understanding what the will of the Lord is."
The New Man and his Relationships
But now we must notice another aspect of the "worthy walk". It affects
not only our conduct but also our relationships. It is a commonplace to
say that Christians are always in danger of seeing their daily lives first
and foremost in terms of the rules that they keep and the number of things
they deny themselves. They may then make the mistake of thinking that the
more rules they keep the holier they become, or they may try to foist their
rules on others. But that is not the way of Christ; on the contrary, that
is exactly what the Lord Jesus complained that the Pharisees were doing.
A useful corrective to this tendency is that we should think of our Christian
lives not in terms of rules but of relationships. And since God has, for
the present, left us here as human beings, what we need to consider are our
human relationships. This is the point that the Lord Jesus made to
the rule-keeping Pharisees in Mark 7:9-13. Each of us lives at the centre
of a network of personal relationships which link us, like the spokes of a
wheel, to those around us. As God's people we must not, we cannot afford to,
neglect these relationships. But much more: as His people we are to give to
each type of [93/94] relationship a special quality
which makes it a distinctively Christian relationship.
In Ephesians 5:22 - 6:9, Paul mentioned three kinds of relationships
-- only three but, in the world of his day, these three covered all the
main human situations, for society lacked the more varied gradations with
which we today are familiar. In Paul's world, there were husbands and wives,
parents and children, and masters and servants, and that was about all.
But Christ was to transform each of these relationships.
Is it unfair or unkind to suggest that, by and large, Christians are
better at rules than relationships; that they are actually not very good
at relationships at all? Is being married to a Christian a guarantee of
happiness? Have Christians a clear, joyful testimony regarding the problems
of our teenage children or of, say, business disputes? We know the answers
to these questions all too well.
But Paul had some encouraging advice for his readers about these relationships.
Consider, for example, the famous passage about wives and husbands (5:22-23).
Wives are to submit and husbands are to love. But notice the extra dimensions
which are given to these commands by their Christian context. There are,
for one thing, models which give meaning to these terms, 'submit' and 'love';
which help us to see what is involved and to measure our own progress --
"Husbands ... wives, Christ ... the Church". We now know how we are
to love, or to submit. We know that, however much our language may be debased,
the term 'love' will have an unchanging meaning for us, because it refers
to a relationship that we have seen and experienced ourselves -- "Christ also
loved the Church, and gave himself for it". That is the standard.
A second extra dimension is given to these relationships by the fact
that they are all, for the Christian, to be positive and constructive in
character. The submission of the wife to the husband is to be a positive
attitude, not a resentful acceptance of inevitable defeat. Every husband
has at some time heard his wife say to him, 'Very well, if you say so',
in a tone which warns him of rough weather ahead! This is approximately
the equivalent of the eastern 'Kismet', which means to say that, since we
mortals cannot change God's mind, we hold Him responsible for the trouble
He is causing us. But all this is far removed from the positive submission
of the Church to Christ, because she knows Him to be wise and loving and
to have shown that He has her best interests at heart.
And the love of the husband for the wife is to be a constructive
love. Christ loved the Church that He might make something of her;
that, under the influence of His love she might become "holy and without
blemish" (5:27). In the Christian relationship, the husband is to be asking
himself all the time, 'How can I love her in such a way as to draw her out,
or build her up, or make her more of a person, or help her grow in Christ?
This may not fit too well with the idea that our wives are perfect from the
start, but most of us, husbands and wives, will agree that it fits the facts
better than the more romantic view!
So, said Paul, each human relationship is transformed by that great,
fundamental relationship between Christ and His own. And the multitude of
our human relationships are all part of the exhibition -- the display of
God's many-sided wisdom, which is glimpsed in all the diversity of our ties
with one another, each illuminating a little more of that great, divine
wisdom which has purposed for us all things in grace and good will.
ANANIAS OF DAMASCUS
Alan G. Nute
Reading: Acts 9:8-19; 22:12-16
SAUL of Tarsus forces the pace as he makes his way towards Damascus.
A fanatical hatred of the followers of Jesus and a desire to have them behind
prison bars spurs him on. Nor would any of his retinue have thought of objecting.
No one lightly crossed Rabbi Saul.
But that was before the vision, before the challenging voice from heaven.
What a contrast Saul now presents. He has discharged his escort; lonely,
indeed forlorn, he sits in the shadows of the guest room in the house of Judas.
He is scarcely recognisable as the same person. [94/95]
Judas is careful not to break in on the solitude which his guest insists
he needs. Meals are refused. So is the evening lamp. But that, in any case,
is superfluous -- for Saul is blind. When he does approach his host, it is
to ask whether perchance a man called Ananias has been making enquiry for
him. Otherwise, it seems to Judas that Saul spends the whole of his time
on his knees in prayer. It so happens that he is not unique in this. Another
in Damascus is engaged in the same holy exercise. His name is Ananias.
This 'disciple', for so Luke describes him, is in that spiritual condition
which enables him to receive direct intimations of the will of God. Would
that we were more often in such a state. Indeed, it appears that Ananias
is not in the least surprised when God speaks to him directly and personally.
His response as God addresses him by name, is identical to that of Abraham
and Isaiah before him -- "Here I am, Lord" (Genesis 22:1; Isaiah 6:8). Such
words indicate the spiritual posture which ever marks the servant who is
ready and waiting to perform the bidding of his heavenly Master. Little wonder
that the instructions he receives are clear and precise. He is supplied with
a man's name and address, and means of identification. The street called Straight
which intersects Damascus is well-known to Ananias, the house of Judas will
not be difficult to locate, and he will recognise the individual he is sent
in search of by the fact that "he is praying". But if Ananias is not surprised
when God speaks to him, he is far more than surprised by the instructions
he is given. He is to seek out "a man of Tarsus named Saul". Aghast, Ananias
must have felt like replacing the receiver! Surely the lines have got crossed
somewhere. The very name -- Saul of Tarsus -- is enough to make him blanch
with fear. There is not a believer in Damascus who is unaware of Saul's reputation
and his intentions.
ANANIAS knew God well enough to be frank with Him. Perhaps he appreciated
the fact that a situation never arises where we need to be other than open
and honest with God. Immediately, and doubtless instinctively, he expresses
his misgivings. Nor is he reproved for so doing. Instead, quietly but firmly
the Lord informs him that He knows and accepts full responsibility for what
He is about; He tells Ananias of His appearing to Saul "on the road". He
answers Ananias' cavil that Saul has come to the city "to bind all who call
upon thy name". This He does by telling him that in future Saul will "carry
my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel", and that he
will "suffer for the sake of it". "He is a chosen instrument of mine," says
No one who, in imagination, puts himself in the position of Ananias,
can fail to understand his initial reticence to accept the Divine briefing.
But let such an one note that when God answers his doubts and fears Ananias
willingly relinquishes them. This is greatly to his credit. Too often we
have shewn a much greater reluctance to abandon our deeply held prejudices
-- even when these have been shewn from the Word to be ill-founded.
In his 'Suggestions on Prayer', L. H. M. Soulsby bids us 'realise the
aggravatingness or wearisomeness of our virtues'. It is a salutary word.
For Ananias the caution would have been quite unnecessary. His virtues are
attractive. In addition to being a man available to God, he is acceptable
to his fellow-men. Luke describes him as "a devout man according to the law,
well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there". His character wins the respect
of friend and foe alike. Such is the man God selects for this delicate, potentially
dangerous, and all-important mission. God always has His man, but each of
us needs to ask himself, am I such a man?
BUT to return to blind, fasting, praying Saul. It may well be that "the
third day" held out special hope for him. If so, he is not disappointed,
for Ananias arrives. The first thing he does on entering the room where Saul
is closeted is to lay his hands upon him. This is no formal or ritualistic
act. It is the spontaneous gesture of true friendliness. The love that moved
Jesus to touch the leper works in the heart of Ananias. The physical contact
and the reassuring voice meant more to the sightless Saul at that moment than
ever he would be able to describe.
And how wonderful the greeting -- "Brother Saul" sounds in his ears.
So hackneyed has the term 'brother' become, that it is in danger of being
evacuated of its true meaning. The fact is, it occurs in Scripture but infrequently.
This, itself, may indicate something of the richness of its significance
on this occasion. Not only does it convey a sense of genuine comradeship,
it proves a delightful way of extending to this erstwhile enemy a loving welcome
into the family [95/96] of Him who declares that He
is not ashamed to call us brethren.
The service Ananias renders Saul is marked by quiet confidence. Acquainted
in advance with the Divine call, he acts with all the dignity which befits
the agent of the Almighty. His word -- "Brother Saul, receive your sight"
is authoritative though not ostentatious. Nor is there any delay in its fulfilment.
"Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his
sight." In accordance with the commission given him, Ananias proceeds to
outline the career which God has assigned for this new convert. It is "to
know ... to see ... to hear", and of these things to "be a witness". But
before Saul can embark upon this task he must first be baptised. Ananias commands
rather than counsels baptism and advises against delay. Strangely, current
practice tends to deviate from this precedent in both these respects.
And so Saul's sight is restored and his future service is outlined. In
baptism his past sins are repudiated and Christ is acknowledged as Lord.
Saul is filled with the Holy Spirit. Ananias' task is at an end.
THIS servant of God appears but briefly on the page of biblical history.
We catch but a fleeting glimpse of him and he is gone. John Pollock in his
book 'The Apostle' refers to him as 'Ananias the obscure'. He observes that
in his vital ministry to the one who was to become the renowned Apostle Paul,
Ananias provides 'the first example of a historical pattern that great ambassadors
for Christ, however much prepared in other ways, are brought to their vocation
by unimportant agents'. Pollock cites in support, the experience of Augustine,
Wesley, Moody and Spurgeon. Doubtless we could add other names. Let us allow
this indisputable fact to challenge and encourage us.
And so we take our farewell of one of whom Prof. F. F. Bruce has written
that 'he has an honoured place in sacred history, and a special claim upon
the gratitude of all who in one way or another have entered into the blessing
that stems from the life and work of the great apostle'. We shall meet Ananias
again. Meanwhile, let us heed the exhortation of the nameless author of the
letter to the Hebrews as he bids us to "remember", "consider" and "imitate"
CURSE TURNED TO BLESSING
"Nevertheless the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam;
but the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee,
because the Lord thy God loved thee." (Deuteronomy 23:5)
THE forty years of wandering were drawing to a close. Israel was moving
on victoriously towards the land of promise. Her enemies were nonplussed
and even frightened. They had one weapon, however, which they could still
rely upon, and that belonged to the realm of the occult. If they could find
a man in touch with the spirit world, then they would induce him to muster
those evil powers to bring a curse upon God's people. Someone knew such a
man, Balaam the son of Zippor, and it was generally agreed that provided the
money was right, he would do the job.
Now Balaam is a mystery to most of us, and the questions about him are
complicated by his free use of the Lord's name and by the undoubted fact
that God did speak both to him and through him. Probably our wisest course
is to concentrate first on what the Bible clearly states about him. It says
that he had a reputation among his contemporaries for putting spells on people
(Numbers 22:6); moreover that he normally used "enchantments" for this (24:1).
It is clear that he was no mere charlatan, for he freely admitted that he
had no control of the messages which came through his lips (24:13). The
New Testament discloses that he was a man who went astray, who transgressed
and who behaved badly (2 Peter 2:15-16). His love of money was such that
he followed up his ignominious failure to curse Israel directly by instructing
Balak how to corrupt the people and bring them under the judgment of God
(Revelation 2:14). We must not be misled by his talk about altars and offerings,
for Balak himself [96/97] went in for that kind of
religious camouflage (22:40). It seems in keeping with Balaam's "ouija board"
mentality that he was not at all disconcerted when his donkey began to speak
to him. (Incidentally those of us who speak God's Word may be saved from
conceit if we remember that God can even use the mouth of an ass if He so
wishes.) It may be that Balaam had some sense of the spiritual peril of his
position for he expressed a vain wish that he might "die the death of the
righteous" (23:10), but he proved that the wages of sin is death when he
was slain by the very nation which he had done his best to destroy (31:8).
We will not pursue the various salutary lessons which we might learn
from Balaam's procedure, but concentrate instead on the strange happenings
in the high places, as Israel quietly worked and worshipped in the desert
below, "dwelling according to their tribes" (24:2). As the people rose to
a new and apparently ordinary day, they little new what diabolical plots
were being hatched against them. They did not need to know. Nor could they
have done anything to protect themselves if they had known, for these were
no ordinary foes who could be met openly but spiritual wickedness in high
places, seeking to bring upon their persons and their homes spells and curses
from evil, occult powers. We, too, have little idea of the way in which Satan
and his demon hosts plot and plan against God's redeemed people today. We
do not know, and we do not need to know. What we do need to do is to be careful
to abide in Christ, as He commanded. In those days we are told that God not
only shielded His people from the curse, but actually turned the curse into
a blessing, and since every Old Testament narrative has prophetic value for
us, we may rejoice that our God is able to turn every attack of evil against
us into fresh experiences of His blessing.
My own conviction about these prophetic utterances of Balaam is that
they had an element of the ecstatic, that is, the words were poured through
Balaam without choice or control by him. Nevertheless they have enough of
the man in them to reveal the prophet's personal reactions. We find, for
instance, that he was obliged to confess his own powerlessness. At the beginning
he told Balak's messengers: "I cannot ..." and when he met the Moabitish
king he repeated this confession of inability (22:38); but in spite of this
he tried his best to earn the money and status offered to him by cursing
God's people. As he launched out into his mediumistic utterances, however,
he found that he could not put a spell on this people as in the past he
had done on so many others. "How shall I curse ...? How shall I defy ...?"
he was obliged to ask, and in his second prophecy he announced: "He hath
blessed and I cannot reverse it" (23:20). With so much money at stake how
this greedy spiritist longed to speak the magic words of evil, but he was
quite unable to do so.
We are appalled at the light way in which the sacred name of Jehovah
was glibly mouthed by these evil men. "Lo, the Lord hath kept thee back
from honour" shouted Balak in his anger, only to be met by a further confession
from Balaam: "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold I
cannot go beyond the word of the Lord to do good or bad, of mine own
mind" (24:13). The true prophets of the Lord could speak their own words,
but they chose not to do so. Balaam, however, who functioned by spirit-impulsion,
could not say other than he did, much as he longed to do so. Real occult workers
are not hypocrites: they are the instruments of evil powers. Balaam found
that God stepped in, His Holy Spirit temporarily took over (24:2), and instead
of curses he had to speak words of richest blessing. What a comfort to us
to know that, as we abide in Christ, evil powers have to bow to God's sovereignty
and admit: "We cannot!"
A word of qualification must be inserted here. After all Balaam did succeed
in getting the money out of king Balak, and he did so not by occult means
but by advising the king how to seduce Israel into sin. The sad story is
told in chapter 25. He knew, as Satan always knows, that if God's people move
from their position of abiding in Him and turn to disobedience, then calamity
is bound to come upon them. The plague of God's wrath was only halted by
the faith of Phinehas, the priest (Numbers 25:11). Judgment came on Israel,
but it came with mercy. Against Midian in general and Balaam in particular,
though, the judgment was swift and final (31:8). Balaam had very little time
in which to enjoy the wealth and status gained by his craft.
Another striking confession extracted from Balaam was that his eyes had
been opened to see things as God sees them (24:4). He saw what human eyes
could not see, namely the covenant faithfulness of God in justifying His
trusting people, the essential unity of that people, the
[97/98] beauty of their present ordered life together and the glories
of their coming kingdom. Before considering these matters, it may be helpful
to notice that the New Testament gives further light on Balaam's opened eyes:
"that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might
be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God" (Ephesians 3:10).
From his high place Balaam was made to see spiritual realities which eclipsed
all earthly appearances. This is most significant. Balaam not only spoke true
words, but was also given an insight into ultimate truth. In this he was
a valid representative of that dark kingdom of evil spirits who even now
recognise Christ in His Church, as they certainly recognised Him in His person
when He was here on earth. They know! They know when we contradict our faith,
and doubtless gloat at such times. They know when we abide in Christ, and
Well, if Balaam's eyes were opened to spiritual realities, we would like
to know more about such things, and we may do so through his words.
"He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob"
We perceive the divine safety of God's people; they are safe because
God sees no fault in them. Among the many amazing statements which Balaam
had to pronounce, this must surely be the most amazing. "He hath not beheld
iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel" (23:21).
We who have read something of the history and behaviour of the Israelites
in the wilderness, find it hard to believe; yet believe it we must, for it
applies to us as well as to them. It is not that they see no fault in themselves,
not even that their enemies cannot accuse them, but something much more important.
God Himself sees no fault in them, so much so that He is content to dwell
among them. "The Lord his God is with him."
Herein lay their complete safety. They had no walls of protection around
them, but they had the even surer fortress of God Himself as a wall of fire
around about them. Israel illustrates a most enheartening truth about the
people of God, which is that so long as they abide under His government they
cannot be defeated. They are defended by the armour of righteousness on
the right hand and on the left. We must enquire further into this divine
justification. God forced an unwilling opponent of Israel to announce publicly
that His people were sinless in His sight. It was, of course, their only hope.
Satan, like God, will never accept partial righteousness: it must be absolute
to defeat him. Balaam found himself confronted by absolute righteousness,
declaring that the verdict on Jacob must be: "No iniquity!", "No perverseness!".
Satan's only ground of strength is man's unrighteousness, so that if Jacob
is completely justified by a holy God then there can be no enchantment against
These men were sinners as we also are. How then could God see no sin
in them? The answer is to be found in the arrangement of the Israelite camp
and the activities of its people. As for the camp, we know that it was arranged
on four sides of a square, and that in the centre of this quadrangle there
stood the Tabernacle of the Testimony. In that Tabernacle there was a Mercy
Seat and there was shed blood. All the people faced towards these emblems
of redemption. The altar was at the centre of their life. Their representative
priests were at that very moment engaged in the maintenance of the symbolic
ritual. The sinful people were accepted as sinless, because of the substitutionary
sacrifice which God Himself had prescribed.
We are told that God negatived Balaam's curse because He loved His people,
but His was no indulgent love. He did not overlook their sin; He did not
agree for love's sake to turn a blind eye to it. No, that would never satisfy
Him, nor would it paralyse Satan. They had been delivered from judgment in
Egypt because they had sheltered under the blood of a slain lamb. They were
now being kept in the good of freedom from all judgment on the same basis.
There is no other. God would never trifle with the truth by declaring us sinless
unless this were a solemn fact. And, praise God, it is a definite and glorious
fact for all who genuinely trust in the blood of Christ.
It is true that the blood of Israel's lambs had no saving efficacy, being
only a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God at Calvary. But
the cross is timeless, and so potent and effective was Christ's once-for-all
offering of Himself that Israel in the desert long ago and the Church in the
wilderness of this world today are judged sinless in the eyes of the thrice-holy
God. "Him who knew no sin, he made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness
of God in him. " The justified sinner is here and [98/99]
now as fit for the presence of God as he ever will be. It is not a matter
of human effort or gradual improvement, but only of heartfelt trust. While
Israel quietly lived on the plains below, ignorant of the plots hatched against
them, God was speaking and working on their behalf, giving new blessings
which Balaam admitted he could not reverse. "The effect of righteousness
is peace and quietness for ever."
"How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob"
There is something very special about the orderly relatedness of God's
people. The natural eyes of Balaam, or anybody else, would have looked down
from that rocky viewpoint and seen rows and rows of drab tents in a background
of arid sand. The central Tabernacle was no less drab, for its holy beauties
were all hidden under layers of skins. Yet, as the prophet had his eyes opened
to see as God sees, he was moved to exclaim with surprised appreciation:
"How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy tabernacles, O Israel! As valleys
are they spread forth, as gardens by the river side, as lign-aloes which the
Lord hath planted" (24:5-6). If it was amazing to see this people as faultless,
it was scarcely less amazing to receive a revelation of their surpassing
beauty. There they were, fresh and green, bright with colour, watered by
a sparkling river which made that humble camp look wonderfully like the heavenly
Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1-2).
Again let us remind ourselves that God never indulges in empty fancies
or unjustified exaggerations. This is what the camp of Israel really looked
like to Him. At that time the people were quite unaware of Balaam's words;
they only knew that for them it was an ordinary day. They were not putting
on a show. Nevertheless that had a part to play, for it was the divine orderliness
which made Israel beautiful in God's eyes. Each tribe was encamped in the
place and manner appointed by Him. Each group of three was arranged under
the banner of its leading tribe, as God had prescribed (Numbers 2). All were
filling their God-given positions: three to the east under Judah's standard,
three to the south under that of Reuben, three to the west under Ephraim's
flag and three to the north under the standard of Dan. Some writers tell
us that the salient features of these four standards were: a lion for Judah,
an ox for Reuben, a man for Ephraim and an eagle for Dan. If this were so,
then they fitted in with the fourfold view of Christ given by the cherubim
and by the four Gospels. In any case the Tabernacle, which was the central
feature of this living quadrangle and the focus of Israel's orderly life,
was full of types of Christ, the One who tabernacled among men and displayed
the Father's glories here on earth.
So we have the picture of a people whose position and movements onward
as they marched was governed by the centrality of the Ark of the Covenant,
the supreme testimony of Christ. Putting this into New Testament language,
we would say that the people were fitly framed together, related to one
another in perfect harmony under the supreme government of the Head, even
Christ. This is God's order for His people, and when they accept it and
function in accordance with it, they present a lovely sight to heaven.
It seems as if Balak had some suspicion that this might be so, especially
after Balaam's first rhapsody about their separated national entity (23:9),
for he took Balaam to another vantage-point from which he could only see
a small portion of the camp. "Thou shalt see but the utmost part of them,
and shalt not see them all," he explained (23:13) as if hoping that it might
be easier to curse an isolated group of the people. It is possible that this
stratagem might have succeeded if those concerned had really been isolated,
but they were not. The people were dwelling together in unity, so that there
could be no question or separated or detached groups. The schemes of Satan
thrive when Christians are divided or mutually antagonistic or even allowing
gaps to widen in the fellowship. Amalek made a special feature of this treacherous
assault on laggards when Israel first came up out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 25:17).
It is always Satan's tactic to divide up God's people and then to wreak
havoc on the separated groups. Happily there were no such divisions in Israel
at this time, and that is doubtless why they looked like Eden before the
fall, a garden planted by the Lord Himself and watered by the river of His
Let no one think that every Israelite naturally enjoyed his relatedness
after the divine pattern. Many would rather have faced the other way, or
moved to live under another banner (or no banner at all); other tribesmen
would want to be Levites and perhaps some Levites would much rather have been
ordinary citizens. There is always discipline in staying where the Lord has
[99/100] placed us and practicing fellowship with
those who do not naturally appeal to us, but this is the triumph of God's
manifold wisdom which He displays in His Church. The word which Paul employed
can be rendered "variegated wisdom", which seems to point back to the garden-like
beauty which Balaam so eloquently described.
Their unity was not only striking in beauty but it was strong as well.
Twice over Balaam stated that Israel had, as it were, the strength of the
wild-ox. He also spoke of them in lion-like terms. They would soon move
forward into mighty conquests and would be victorious by the power of God.
It is not by chance that the matter of spiritual strength for warfare is
reserved for the last chapter of the letter to the Ephesians. The earlier
chapters concentrate on the beautiful unity of the whole Church, a unity
made by the Spirit but to be observed by the redeemed people of God (Ephesians
4:3). When all the doctrine and all the exhortations had been soundly laid
down, then Paul could go on to speak of the whole armour of God and the spiritual
victory of Christ manifested through the Church. Balaam's words were not
descriptive of individual Israelites or of selective groups among them but
of the whole people. And in these descriptions he used both their names,
Jacob and Israel. It is true that Hebrew poetry is composed on the basis
of repetition, so that it was good style to say the same thing twice in a
slightly different way. It was more than poetry, though, which made Balaam
declare that God did not see sin in either Jacob or Israel and that the beauty
lay in both the tents of Jacob and the tabernacles of Israel; it is a reminder
that in all their earthly lowliness as Jacob, as well as in their spiritual
attainment as Israel, God's people are such objects of His grace that even
the curses against them are turned into blessings.
"There shall come forth a star out of Jacob"
Here again both Jacob and Israel are mentioned as Balaam was carried
away with God's messages concerning His people. By this time Balak had had
more than enough and wanted Balaam to be silent, but the prophet still had
something to say, for the full extent of the blessing which God had substituted
for cursing had not yet been revealed.
The objective of a curse is to ensure that the one concerned has no future.
It is aimed at frustrating hopes and ensuring that they never mature. Satan
excels in such activities. It is his constant purpose to spoil and disappoint:
he is the god hopelessness. In Israel's case, however, he completely failed,
for their God -- and ours -- is the God of hope. Balaam's very first prophecy
had foretold Israel's future as a special nation with a unique identity;
his last utterances developed that theme with the additional element of God's
coming King. "I see him, but not now: I behold him but not nigh," he announced,
and then went on to foretell: "There shall come forth a star out of Jacob,
and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (24:17).
This is the wonderful prospect set forth for God's redeemed people, the
appearance in person of their glorious King. Prophecy has its own mountain
peaks which tower above the valleys of intervening time periods. This promise
has three fulfilments, with spaces of centuries in between. The first coming
of God's king must have been realised in the person of David. Israel had
a future to which to look forward, a kingdom with the man after God's own
heart ruling over it. The next fulfilment was in Jesus concerning whom Gabriel
predicted: "the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David".
The nation had a future, and its true prophets confirmed what this false prophet
said about the birth in Bethlehem of this Star of Jacob. But what about us?
What is our future? It is the furthest and highest of all prophetic peaks,
even the Second Coming of Christ. When the Devil derides us because of our
bleak present or mocks at any idea of a future for the Church, then we are
able to declare that even if we cannot see our King yet, we shall
see Him, and in our case the words "not nigh" do not apply, for His Return
is very near.
"The shout of a king is among them" (23:21). If it is not it could be,
and it should be. For the Lord our God loves us. He will not allow any spell
of Satan to come upon us, but will surely turn every diabolical attack on
us into a new source of blessing and enrichment. "At the due season shall
it be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!" (23:23).
No doubt Balak and Balaam suffered some surprises as they were shown God's
purposes for His redeemed people. The day is coming when the whole world,
including all God's foes, will see Christ's glorious Church and marvel at
the miracle of divine grace displayed in her. And by that same grace we shall
be there! How important, then, to keep our place of abiding together in
Him until that due season arrives. [100/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (9)
"(He is Lord of all)" (Acts 10:36)
THIS particular parenthesis may not seem to warrant more than casual
notice. In the setting of a Spirit-empowered proclamation of the great gospel
truths of life, death and resurrection, it may almost appear that this is
just a passing reference to Christ, as though Peter felt it right to add
this little comment that of course Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
It was not in this spirit, though, that the apostle uttered the words.
Right as it may have been for the transcriber to enclose them in brackets,
they in fact present the very heart and core of Peter's ministry. To him
the Lordship of Christ was much more than an essential matter of doctrine;
it was a burning reality, brought right up-to-date in his own personal experience.
"He is Lord of all."
Peter should know. Not long before, he had thrice voiced the biggest
contradiction of all time. Our version renders it: "Not so, Lord", but this
is much milder than Peter's refusal. "Never, Lord" was what he said, "By
no means", "Surely not"! Sincerely believing in the theory of Christ's Lordship,
he dared to take issue with Him, trying to assert that in this matter of
sacred and profane he knew better than his Master. To him this distinction
of the clean or common was a matter of natural instinct, of conscientious
conviction and of scriptural regulation. "Never," he insisted, "no, not
ever, will I accept this sweeping away of age-long barriers."
BUT he did! He went into the Gentile house. He took six witnesses to
support him, but all the same he went. He went with his mind seething with
problems about what was lawful, but he went. And God was with him. God gave
him grace to set aside Jewish prejudices which still lingered even in a
leading Christian, in favour of the over-riding fact that Jesus Christ is
Lord of all.
"Is Jesus Lord of the Gentiles, Peter? All right then, go and preach
to them. Is He Lord of the Jerusalem judaizers? If so, then defy them and
leave your case in His hands. Is He Lord of your life, Peter? Really your
Lord, not only when it is agreeable and convenient, but when you are given
an assignment which you dislike and fear? If He is Lord indeed, then you
must go 'without gainsaying'."
Peter was making history, though he did not realise it. He was about
to witness one of the greatest marvels of all time -- the out-pouring of
the Holy Spirit on the nations. Everything, however, seemed to hang on his
willingness to stop arguing and yield to the sovereign government of Christ.
He did so yield, and this very fact gave an awesome power to the words which
he spoke in that Roman household. The terms of his message were simple,
but the effect of it was a sensational break-through for God.
OF course Peter was challenged and criticised. His choice of no less
than six companions revealed how keenly he anticipated such a reaction.
His greatest vindication, however, was not by men but by the Holy Spirit
of God, who made it perfectly clear that this was no mere sermonising by
man but a divine utterance. He is Lord of all! When this is first experienced
in life and then proclaimed in words, the ground is clear for heaven to give
its own attestation to the glorious fact.
Peter was on sure ground when he challenged his accusers with the question:
"Who was I, that I could withstand God?" Who indeed? It may be a painful
experience but it is a most privileged one to have to yield to the sovereign
command of the One who is Lord of all, and then to be used by Him to bring
life and blessing to others. As believers we may argue. We may find God's
ways difficult to understand, and pass through inward suffering as our own
set ideas have to be abandoned. We may well have to meet criticism even from
our fellow believers. Provided, however, that we capitulate to Christ as Lord
of all we can leave the responsibility with Him and go forward to prove the
power of the Spirit's working. We need to learn Peter's secret which was
to obey "without gainsaying" (10:29).
"THEY THAT SOW IN TEARS SHALL REAP IN JOY."
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