"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

Previous issue | Next issue


Vol. 8, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1979 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

What Peter Never Forgot 21
Pilgrim Songs Of God's People (2) 24
A Matter Of Urgency (4) 30
Learning From Leviticus (4) 32
Chapter By Chapter Through Romans (16) 35
The House That God Built 38
A Pilgrim's Prayer (4) 39
Inspired Parentheses (18) ibc



Harry Foster

Reading: 2 Peter 1:12-21

IT is interesting that in his final message to the coming generation, Peter laid great stress on the need for remembering. It is, perhaps, more interesting that his greatest concern in this connection was that the Second Coming of Christ should always be kept in mind. The same two factors are very evident in Paul's last message; he urged on Timothy the need for remembrance and he stressed the matter of Christ's appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). Both of these men wrote with a knowledge of the imminence of their own death, and both were agreed as to the Christians' great hope. In fact Peter finished his last letter by identifying Paul's teaching with his own, particularly on this subject and, what is more, he alluded to Paul's God-given wisdom in what he had written (2 Peter 3:15). It may be noted in this connection that it was the Lord Jesus Himself who described the five virgins who would be ready at His Coming as "wise" (Matthew 25:2). Clearly then it is wisdom to maintain a constant awareness of the Second Advent. Peter displayed something of this wisdom when he decided to use his few remaining days to remind people of this matter (v.13) and wrote to ensure that after his death it should not be forgotten (v.15).

Both Peter and Paul spoke frankly of the fact that they would soon die and so not live on to be alive at the Coming. Paul used a graphic word to tell of his expected "launching away" into eternity (2 Timothy 4:6), but Peter used an even more striking word, for he alluded to his approaching passing from this life as his "exodus" (v.15). The Greek word only appears three times in the New Testament. One of these is the obvious reference to Israel's departure from Egypt (Hebrews 11:22), the movement which has given us the title for the Second Book of Moses. The second is found here, where Peter used this same word as a bold beautiful way of describing what we have every reason to believe was a most painful death. When the Lord Jesus had indicated, many years before, what would be the end of Peter's earthly career, He did so in a way which signified "by what manner of death he should glorify God" (John 21:19). Probably that had already happened when John wrote his Gospel.

At the moment of testing it must have been a great comfort to Peter to know that his had been a planned life, with its duration decided by the Lord Jesus Himself and its end calculated to bring glory to his God. This made him more confident to describe what was coming to him as his "exodus". Happily, if like Peter we truly follow the Lord, we can all share his certainty of a divinely planned life and death. Once we get this clearly in our minds, we shall not get into any unrest as to whether or not we shall be alive when the Lord returns.

Both Peter and Paul retained the great Day of Christ's Coming as their supreme hope, even though the time came when they knew that they must die before it came. Death makes no difference at all to that hope. Many years before, under the constraint of the Holy Spirit, Paul had assured the Thessalonian believers that those who are asleep in Jesus, far from suffering disadvantage at the Coming, will actually be the first to rise to meet the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16). We cannot therefore believe that there was any tinge of disappointment in his heart when Peter spoke so frankly of his forthcoming exodus.

The third, and only other, use of this word "exodus" is found in Luke's account of what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration, where "Moses and Elijah appeared in glory, and spoke of his exodus which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:31). It is just possible that as Peter used the word to describe his own imminent death, his memory flashed back to the time when he overheard that conversation and saw the glory. As memories of those years of his early discipleship rushed in upon him, it may well be that the Holy Spirit prompted this special recollection because of its value in stressing the importance of the Second Advent.

Some doubters might regard the subject of the Second Coming as irrelevant, or even as a cleverly invented story (v.16), but Peter had actually had a prevision of the coming splendour. He knew because he had seen. He had not then understood, and especially he had not realised how the death (the exodus) of Jesus was so essential to the realisation of the purpose of the coming kingdom; but he had seen and he had heard, and now, for the benefit of the next generation and of us all, he drew upon his experience. [21/22]

Here is the eye-witness of the whole gospel period selecting just one of its incidents, as if saying: 'That reminds me ...' We can hardly wait to know what was this supreme moment of the whole three and a half years which he so vividly remembered. It was not any of the great healing miracles, sensational though these must have been. It was not his own wonderful experiences: the miraculous catch of fishes, the few thrilling moments of walking on the water, or the finding of the shekel in the fish's mouth. At this particular moment it was not the Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, nor even Calvary, which remained uppermost in his memory. No, what Peter could not forget was the majestic glory of the transfigured Christ on the mountain. He tells us that this was indeed a momentous and unforgettable experience. It not only pointed forward to the prospect of Christ's coming glory but it gave some indication of the nature of that glory.

Peter's mountain top experience not only confirmed the witness of prophecy to his own heart, but it has a meaning of immense value to all of us. "We have the word of the prophets made more certain", he affirmed (v.19). What did he mean by this? The statement is somewhat ambiguous. It could read: 'We have a more sure word of prophecy' which would mean that the prophetic Scriptures are to be preferred above a personal experience, however wonderful. In this case it would imply that Peter asked us only to pay attention to any private experience of ours if it is confirmed by the Word of God. This is profoundly true and is reinforced by the reminder that individual prophecies have no 'private' or isolated interpretation, but only have value as they flow into the mainstream of the Spirit's revelation (vv.20-21). True as this is, it seems that in this case Peter was saying the opposite, namely that the experience on the mount is the Spirit's confirmation of what the prophets say about Christ's appearing in glory; it makes the word of the prophets more certain. As I have already suggested, the Transfiguration did not only point forward to Christ's coming glory but it gave some indication of the nature of that glory. What Peter saw was a Man resplendant with the eternal glory of God. This splendour was not a divine light shining upon Him, but the brightness of divine glory gleaming out from within Him.

It is noteworthy that Peter makes no mention of Elijah and Moses, though he saw them both. With John he could have claimed to be the only living Jew who had actually seen the great law-giver Moses and heard the voice of him whom every Israelite so revered. He had caught a glimpse, if only for a moment, of Elijah the prophet whom God had promised to send back to this earth (Malachi 4:5). Peter passed all this over as relatively unimportant, as something which he had no special wish to recall. What he did remember, and never could forget was the sight of the Son and the awe-inspiring voice of the Father. "We ourselves heard this voice", Peter recollected, adding that it confirmed the prophetic word as nothing else could do.

In Peter's old age all this came back vividly to mind and perhaps at a time when he was able to appreciate how it sheds light on what we may expect at the Coming of Christ. This is the meaning of that Day to us. We are not merely to be caught up to the sphere of glory, but to be inwardly transfigured in glorification together with Christ. We shall not only see the Day Star in the sky but when that Day dawns the day-star will arise in our hearts (v.19). Such a hope is for us like a lamp shining in a dark place. Peter's companion on that Mount of Transfiguration assured us in his old age that: "When he shall be manifested, we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2) while Peter's "beloved brother Paul" told us that the Saviour from heaven will "fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory" (Philippians 3:21).

As we have said, Peter and Paul were of one mind in this matter, and the former recognised that his beloved brother had special wisdom from God in the interpretation of God's purpose for His redeemed people. So with Peter's experience and Paul's revelation, we will try to elucidate more of the significance of this unforgettable Transfiguration Mount experience. As we do so, we will rejoice that these two great men of God who had quite different callings (Galatians 2:7-8) and who once had a big dissension (Galatians 2:14), were now so one in heart as they spoke of Christ's Second Coming.

1. A Glorious Race of Men

First of all, the transfiguration of Christ reminds us of man's original destiny. If, as seems quite possible, Satan's original rebellion was in anyway connected with God's eternal purpose for man, it is not difficult to appreciate how cleverly he has been able to make use of theories of evolution to further both his enmity against the Creator [22/23] and his hatred of the human race. The world, through its so-called wisdom has accepted ideas which not only reveal that it does not know God (1 Corinthians 1:21) but also that it is abysmally ignorant concerning the origins of man. As unfallen man came from the hands of his Creator he was a most majestic creature. He was destined for much greater glories. That is why, when sin threatened the future, the Creator became the Redeemer, paying the price to redeem Adam's sons because when He first made man He had in mind for the human race a specific destiny, an eternal purpose for which He had performed the creative act. Jesus had become a member of the human race to ensure the success of that original purpose, and what Peter saw in the Mount was a perfect, all-glorious Man.

The first Adam was a failure: he was never glorified. The last Adam was the One whom Peter saw on the Mount of Transfiguration: so far as personal attainment was concerned He was full of glory. It may seem wrong to make any comparison between the two, yet if we consider Adam in his unfallen state we can understand why he was called "the figure of him that was to come" (Romans 5:14). Take the matter of his clothing. The superficial reader will exclaim that Adam had no covering until he sewed leaves together and was subsequently given garments of skin. The more careful student, however, will note that it was only after they had broken with God that Adam and Eve were conscious of shameful nakedness. The truth seems therefore to be that when they sinned, they were suddenly stripped of their former covering. They became naked when they lost their glory. If this is the case, then it would seem that previously they must have been clothed with light. This accords with some Bible facts.

When Old Testament saints saw angels in men's form, were they naked men? Of course not! Yet when they disappeared they left no abandoned clothes behind. When angels were present at Christ's empty tomb, did they appear unclothed? Certainly not! They are described as being "in shining garments" (Luke 24:4). This in itself reminds us of the Mount. But consider our Lord in His resurrection glory. At the cross His clothes had been snatched from Him, divided up and gambled over. They were never returned. His naked body was reverently covered in grave clothes by Nicodemus and Joseph and so He lay in the sepulchre. When He rose from the dead, though, He left the linen cloths behind for all to see. Yet He appeared to one and another of His disciples as a normally clothed person, and what is more, He easily disappeared from their sight without leaving behind any garments. Now when Peter saw the Lord Jesus on the mountain, he reported that Jesus' raiment "became white and dazzling" (Luke 9:29). Clearly the holy Person of the Lord and even His clothes were bright as light. The vision on the Mount foretold the destiny of redeemed mankind. Unfallen man was clothed with light, and this is to be the joyful experience of raptured believers. We are to be "clothed upon".

This might seem unimportant if we did not appreciate that in the Scriptures clothes are used to indicate character. In the Bible what a man wears reveals what he is. Now in a limited way Adam was a figure of a man as he was intended to be in this respect also, that he brought great pleasure to the heart of his Creator. When God looked on His original creation, with man at its head, His verdict is given that He considered it to be "very good" (Genesis 1:31). When the Son of Man stood on the mountain, the voice came from heaven: "In him I am well pleased" (Matthew 17:5). The Lord Jesus had regained for Adam's race the lost status before God. In the divine eyes the new creation is "very good". The Mount of Transfiguration pointed on to that coming Day when we, the redeemed, will bring unalloyed pleasure to the heart of Creator God. He will at last have been able to realise His original love-purpose. The human race will be able to take its rightful place in God's scheme of things, never again falling short of His glory. In Peter's day the whole mountain top must have glowed with Christ's glory: in the Day of Christ the whole universe will be ablaze with that glory as it is displayed in the Church, and "the nations shall walk by the light thereof" (Revelation 21:24). That suffering saint Peter, who had been a witness of the sufferings of Christ, found superlative comfort in knowing that he was also a partaker of the glory "that shall be revealed" (1 Peter 5:1). It was as if the Day-Star had already risen in his heart.

2. A Glorious Family of Sons

The second wonder to which that unforgettable vision on the Mount pointed was the manifestation of the sons of God. Now these are Paul's words, but it was Peter who first glimpsed redeemed man's destiny, and it was he who spoke [23/24] of our calling on God as Father (1 Peter 1:17). We have no knowledge of how much weight he attached to the presence of Moses and Elijah, but imagine that his desire to remain in the mount indefinitely was partly because he naturally wanted to enjoy the company of those two spiritual giants. In any case we sense some reproof in the message from the cloud as Peter and his friends were told to listen only to the Lord Jesus and promptly found themselves alone with Him. Moses and Elijah were servants -- great servants, honoured servants, but only servants. Jesus, however, was the Son, and in Him the divine purpose is to provide God with many sons. 'Look at Him', the Father seemed to say, 'listen to Him; and then realise that through Him My purpose is to conform you to His image. I am not only the Creator, I am the Father, and I long for sons'.

Was Peter's suggestion that they should linger on the mountain due to a confused longing to be more like Christ? If so, his intentions were right, but his method was quite wrong. Sons are not made by outward influences, however sacred. The glory must be inside before it can shine out. That is why Jesus insisted on going down from the mountain and why they talked about His "exodus" being accomplished at Jerusalem. Only the cross could make us sons. The Lord went down from the Mount not only to care for the people in the plain but to die for us all so that the inner transformation of redemption could be made possible. Even Moses and Elijah were waiting for that (Hebrews 11:40).

The glory of sonship is the goal which Adam never reached. It was the objective which Israel as a whole could never realise, though it was for them (Romans 9:4). Even for Jews full sonship could only come by new birth, as the Lord Jesus tried to explain to Nicodemus when He spoke to him about the need for the Son of Man to be "lifted up". By that cross Peter came to know new birth (1 Peter 1:23), entering into the realm of sonship and receiving precious and exceeding great promises to become partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

His "beloved brother, Paul" had a great deal to say about this feature of the coming glory. He called it "the adoption as sons" (Romans 8:23), to coincide with the redemption of our bodies, and involving nothing less than a whole redeemed family of sons, gathered round the Firstborn and deriving everything from Him. If on the Mount heaven reverberated with the Father's cry of delight at His lovely Son, what will it be like for Him -- and for us -- when the many sons are brought to glory!

Peter was not asking his readers to enjoy his reminiscences: he was bringing them the greatest challenge to holiness that he knew. This is how he put it: "What sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness? ... give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his sight (2 Peter 3:11 & 14). The effect of the Day-Star in our hearts must be godly living.

This brings us to one more parallel between Peter and Paul. With the exception of a rather different use of the word made by Luke in the Acts, this word "godly" is peculiar to Peter and to Paul's Letters to Timothy and Titus. It is as though their great concern in the light of the Second Coming is that believers should learn to be godly. Somehow this is a word which has rather gone out of fashion. We talk of 'keen' Christians, of 'gifted' Christians and even of 'spiritual' people, but all too rarely do we spontaneously think of others as godly men or godly women. Perhaps this is because we tend to forget what Peter was so anxious to remember. We do well to take heed to these things, "as unto a lamp shining in a squalid place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts" (v.19 m.).



(Studies in the Songs of Ascent)

J. Alec Motyer

2. PSALMS 123, 124 & 125

FOLLOWING the pattern of the first three of these fifteen pilgrim psalms we again have the believer under pressure (123), the believer under protection (124) and the believer in security (125). There are many linking thoughts between the two sets of psalms. In Psalm 120 the pilgrim is [24/25] under pressure: "Woe is me that I sojourn in Meshech" (v.5) and he counters the pressure by prayer: "In my distress I cried unto the Lord" (v.1). In Psalm 123 he is still under pressure: "We are exceedingly surfeited" -- we have had as much as we can take (v.3) and again he counters it with prayer: "Unto Thee do I lift up my eyes" (v.1). In Psalm 121 he cries: "My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth" (v.2) while 124, the matching Psalm, speaks also of protection from the Creator God: "Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth" (v.8). In Psalm 122 the pilgrim found security as his feet stood within Jerusalem's gates (v.2) while Psalm 125 shows Zion to be the model of security and stability for God's people: "They that trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion which cannot be moved but abides for ever" (v.1).

In the former group the particular stress was on trouble arising in the pilgrim pathway, so we asked the comprehensive question: 'What can the pilgrim do when troubles arise?' In this group of three psalms the matter goes on a little further and becomes more inward and personal. The question is: How does it fare with us on our pilgrimage when resources fail? When the troubles pressing from without have to be met by diminishing and terminating resources within, what can we pilgrims do? Notice the repeated reference to the soul: "Our soul is exceedingly filled ..." (123:3), "The stream had gone over our soul" (124:4), "the proud waters had gone over our soul" (124:5) and then, "Our soul is escaped" (124:7). In the Old Testament the word "soul" is used to summarise the very life of the person, his own being now constituted upon earth. Therefore what touches the soul, touches the person at his deepest, and that which threatens the soul menaces the person at the very inmost point of his life and continuance. How can a pilgrim people meet such a challenge? The righteous are set in such a situation that they can endure no more and are at the point of abandoning God and His ways and putting forth their hands unto iniquity (125:3). The intensity and prolongation of the opposition is so great that further standing for God seems impossible.

In each psalm, however, we see that the Lord is the answer to the people's need. He is over us "Unto Thee do I lift up my eyes" (123:1). Notice how the thought of God comes even before the thought of prayer, for it is " unto Thee" that he turns. The God who is sitting in the heavens is the answer. God is above us, ready to listen to our cry. He is beside us: "If it had not been the LORD who was on our side ..." (124:1). He is at our side to repel even the deadliest opposition. And He is all round us: "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about his people" (125:2). This then is the answer -- a God who is above, who is alongside and who is all round.

The great question is as to how we enter into the benefit of this knowledge of the Lord. Is there any lever which we can pull in order to bring into our troubled lives the blessings of the God above, alongside and all around? In this matter each of the three psalms we are now considering has its own testimony to bear, as we shall see:

PSALM 123 -- Living in the Place of Prayer

The psalm begins with the upward look of prayer and this is no telegraphed request but a sustained action by the man who lives in the place of prayer.

i. The access of prayer. The psalm begins: "Unto thee ... I". Entering into the place of prayer we find a person to person contact. It is not so much "do I lift up my eyes" as, "I have lifted up my eyes". I have determined to keep my eyes lifted up. Sometimes it is difficult to bring out the force of Hebrew verbs without appearing to paraphrase and embroider what is said. Nevertheless the force of his first verse in English is: "I have lifted up my eyes, and I have set myself to hold my eyes lifted up". The marvel of this place of prayer is that it provides constant access. There is no such idea as lifting up my eyes at 3 p.m. because that is the time when God is at home. No, as believers we may determine to maintain the upward look because He is always at home! We notice that that prayer is described simply as looking up. The psalmist has not yet said anything; he is just looking up and seemingly finding that God is looking down. What a happy thought, to remind us of this wonder of immediacy of communion! We are not like members of parliament trying to catch Mr. Speaker's eye! We are not waiting for someone to say: 'I'll listen to you now'. The wonder of our God is that the upward glance seems to meet the downward glance, so that person to Person, there is immediacy of communion at any time. [25/26]

A Concordance will show you that the word 'sit' in the phrase, "sittest in the heavens", is used in three ways. It denotes 'sitting still', 'reigning upon a throne' and 'living at home'. It encourages us to come into the place of stillness, to know the balm of prayer as it is directed to the One who is not flurried but who is sitting still. It means that we come into His throne room. The enemies have not levered Him off His throne. We may come to the seat of power, to the place where sovereignty functions, where God is in charge. We may also come to the One whose home is in heaven, that is to say, the One who is at home there with all heavenly resources at His disposal. Things may well have got beyond your earthly capacity to deal with them, but His home is in heaven and you always find Him at home at the place of prayer.

ii. The submissiveness of prayer. "As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master and the eyes of a maiden to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes are unto the Lord" (v.2). There is no verb there, as the italics indicate, but simply an outline of the situation: 'the eyes of servants to the hand of their master; the eyes of a maiden to the hand of her mistress; our eyes to the Lord our God'. Our status is that of servants. Both men servants and women are mentioned in order to indicate a totality -- there is nobody who is outside the servant position. If you are a son of God then you are a servant. If you are a daughter of God, then you are a servant. If you are meeting collectively to pray, then you accept servant status. If you meet with the Lord individually you also come submissively as a servant. Servants do not go to their lord to dictate to him -- they go to be dictated to. Submissiveness is the very essence of prayer. Even our Lord Jesus prayed: "Thy will be done". Gladly we take a servant's place and gaze with servants' eyes upon the Lord whose opening hand supplies our every need. Submissiveness is further thrust upon us in that our condition is that of those who seek mercy. "Our eyes look unto the Lord our God until he have mercy upon us".

iii. The perseverance of prayer (vv.2 & 3). The waiting attitude is coupled with repeated cries, "until he have mercy upon us". We must persevere if we will come to the place of prayer. It is not that God cannot answer; that is not why He delays. His home is in heaven, He is the sovereign upon the throne. And it is not that He will not answer, for He is the LORD, Yahweh. That is the personal name of the Redeemer God who went down to Egypt because He loved slaves, and brought them out for love's sake. The eyes of a slave to the hand of his master; the eyes of a female slave to the hand of her mistress; our eyes unto Yahweh, who stretched out His redeeming hand in Egypt because He loves slaves.

They to uncertain human power,

Frail means and fickle will;

But I to God who -- hear His name! --

Loved slaves, and loves them still.

Not mine to fix the hour, but wait,

And mercy, mercy plead.

Mercy within the heart of God,

And mercy for my need.

No, it is not that He cannot answer, and not that He will not, but just that He is God and does things His own way and in His own time.

iv. The privilege of prayer. "Have mercy upon us, O Lord have mercy upon us, for we are exceedingly surfeited with contempt" (v.3). We can come to the place of prayer on many footings. We can come on the basis of a divine promise, saying to Him: "O Lord, give me this because You promised to do so". Or we can use the name of the Son of God, saying: "For Jesus' sake". "You have said that we can come on the basis of the name of Jesus, so we plead His name." The psalm does neither of these things. It neither pleads the promises nor the name; it just says: 'Have mercy upon us because we have had more than we can take'. He so loves us that we only have to say: 'Look Lord! Just look at me!' That is the privilege of prayer.

v. The transforming power of prayer. The place of prayer is, of course, the place where we get things done. When we pray -- bless our God -- He works; He does things. But there is also an extra benefit for the people of God who do the praying, for the place of prayer is so often the place of transformation and personal girding. It was so for the Lord Jesus who was transfigured as He prayed (Luke 9:29). The psalmist was bothered by complacent people: "the scorning of those who are at ease" (v.4). It does not state just how they expressed their scorn but it may well have been that they scoffed at him because he was sensitive on moral issues. Maybe they scorned him about living with God. Whatever they were saying, it was getting him down. In any case he found that persevering in prayer gave him the victory over complacency, enabling him [26/27] to set aside the temptation to be careless about moral values. To come into the place of prayer is the beginning of spiritual victory; we never win other victories until we win that one. The place of prayer is the place of renewal and refreshment.

PSALM 124 -- Living in the Light of Truth

This psalm gives us the second part of the answer to the question of what we do on our pilgrimage when our resources are running out. We live in the light of truth. Now this psalm is obviously a testimony. Whether it refers to one single deliverance under four different illustrations, or whether David is looking back over a series of deliverances, we do not know. In any case each one has a significant illustration. Notice the common factor to all such deliverances: "Our help is in the name of the LORD who made heaven and earth" (v.8). So the psalm does more than testify to individual deliverances, it states a constant and abiding fact. It asserts that this testimony concerning past experiences is an abiding revelation of what the Lord is like and what He will do for His people; it belongs with His name.

The Lord's name is not just a convenient label by which we may address Him, but it is a summary of all that He has shown us of Himself. The Lord said to Moses: "This is my name for ever" (Exodus 3:15), meaning that what He did at the Exodus time was an eternal revelation of the sort of God He is. This gave David hope in the dark hours of his fourfold trials.

The first two of these are set in the inanimate earth -- the earthquake, ("they had swallowed us up alive" v.3) and the raging waters (v.4). These first two illustrations are drawn from the world of what we loosely call 'nature',' the earthquake and the flood. The second two illustrations are drawn from life, animal life and human life -- the lion, ("a prey to their teeth" v.6) and the human enemy, ("the snare of the fowlers" v.7). The whole of life is in these illustrations, for they speak of the troubles that come upon the believer either by natural calamity or from deliberate enemies. The illustrations are all-embracing, covering the whole area of possible troubles which may arise for the pilgrim church.

We see the variety of these illustrations: the sudden threat that comes without warning as the earth opens to swallow up alive, and the gradually mounting threat as flood waters rise slowly and inexorably. The beast of prey suggests the unexpected peril -- everything was calm, but suddenly the claws lashed out and the teeth dug in, while the fowlers speak of the hidden threat, the trap deeply laid, waiting for the unsuspecting foot.

In the first two there may be a suggestion of those difficulties in life which seem to speak of the wrath of God -- the earthquake and the floods of divine judgment. The second two speak of the ordinary enmities of life. So we may feel that God is against us or that people are against us. What shall we do?

Happily the psalm is a revelation of total escape: "Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers" (v.7). It was a very near thing! The bird was actually in the snare. In order to escape it had to be taken out of it. See how these psalms bring us to the crucial point where things are just about as bad as they can be. But see also the totality of God's saving power: "the snare is broken, and we are escaped". This is not just temporary deliverance but the end of all danger. The peril is gone. You can walk now over that place with impunity because the trap is destroyed. So if the psalm spreads before us every imaginable danger that faces the pilgrim path, it also brings us to the place where the danger is totally dispersed.

Let us consider this revelation of God, because it was the Lord who was on our side; we were not delivered by our native capacity, by our own cleverness or strength. It was not just the helping hand that we give to each other which got us out of our predicament. It is all the Lord. We see here:

i. His constancy in the realm of grace. Twice over it is repeated: "If it had not been the Lord ...". In the first verse the phrase stands in isolation; it is an unfinished thought. It is true that every 'if' sentence has its consequences, but sometimes they are so numberless and so unthinkable that the 'if' stands in isolation. Anything could have happened. But nothing evil did happen because we had the Lord on our side. God protects and delivers His people even from the hidden dangers, the unsuspected perils. Perhaps it will be part of the glory of heaven to discover how God steered us clear of dangers that we never knew about. We did not bring Him in on [27/28] our side; He brought Himself in and the constancy of His grace is such that He will never depart from us.

ii. His superiority in the realm of power. "If it had not been the Lord that was on our side when man rose against us." It is true that the R.V. has "men" but in fact the Hebrew has the singular word, "man", and it is a word which is not used of an individual man but rather to give the general idea of that which is human. After all it was only man that rose up against us, whereas it was the LORD who was on our side. This is not to despise what man can do. We dare not be superficially complacent of the power that man can exercise, the hurt that man can do to the church, the suffering that man can inflict on any of us -- it does not do to be frivolous or contemptuous of human capabilities. The great thing, though, is to see the immense superiority of our Lord over all the power of man. Seeing this we can take new heart.

iii. His sovereignty in the realm of decision. "Blessed be the LORD who has not given us as a prey to their teeth" (v.6). Here is a hungry lion looking out for prey and he sees a potential victim and decides that it will do very nicely for him. The decision seems to lie totally with the beast of prey. But it does not! It is the Lord who decides. That is what is meant by saying that He is enthroned in heaven. All decisions are made there; it is the Lord who decides what shall or shall not be. And just as it seemed that we were to become a prey to this determined lion, the Lord exercised His sovereignty in the realm of decision and said "No!" What an enheartening vision of God this gives us!

iv. His authority in the realm of creation. "Our help is in the name of the LORD who made heaven and earth" (v.8). Look at the dangers -- the earthquake, the flood, the ravenous beast and the cunning man and then remember that all these features of creation have been made by the One who is our help. Any danger that arises in His world, over which He rules and reigns as God the Creator, is subject to Him. He began all things, He maintains all things, He guides all things in their operation and brings them to their appointed destiny. Live in the light of that truth. The world will very rarely look like this; rather will it seem to be governed by these threatening forces of nature and of evil. But we, beloved, are called to look through the seeming to the real, to be governed not by what the world seems like but to live in terms of truth which is real and absolute. So hold on to the truth! When you are beleaguered come back and remind yourself of the Creed. "I believe in God the Father Almighty." Every time we say that we do so even though the world doesn't look a bit like it, no, not even to us. Perhaps He doesn't even seem like a Father to us in view of our trials. Maybe He does not seem to be almighty, because the world is so awry. But Scripture brings you home to base. Come back to Psalm 124 and plant your feet firmly upon it. Say that although your world seems to be all earthquakes and floods, full of ravenous beasts and hostile people, nevertheless God is on our side. He is superior in power, He is making the decisions, and He is the almighty Creator God who will see us through. Live in terms of the truth.

PSALM 125 -- Living in the Way of Faith

What does the beleaguered pilgrim do when resources are running out? He lives in the way of faith. "They that trust in the LORD ..." (v.1). This brings us from the place of prayer (Psalm 123), from the place of resting upon the truth (Psalm 124) into the place of active, positive trust in the Lord. The psalmist seems to be meditating on what was indeed quite a frequent experience among God's people: "The sceptre of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous, that the righteous put not forth their hands unto iniquity" (v.3). The people of God have lived through a time when iniquity seemed to be rampant in the kingdom. The 'sceptre' of wickedness suggests that the government itself was wicked. There were many unworthy kings in the line of David who sat on his throne and who organised police states. There were many times when sovereignty over God's people was vested in a foreign ruler so that the people were oppressed. There were many occasions such as Amos speaks of, when he said that a wise man would keep his mouth shut. These were times when God's people were under duress and seemingly in danger of despair.

The Bible leaves us in no doubt that such a situation is perilous, both spiritually and morally. When the sceptre of wickedness rested upon the lot of the righteous in the days of King Hezekiah and the Assyrians came to assault Jerusalem, the [28/29] righteous turned to self-help. They actually pulled down the houses in Jerusalem to build up the walls; they looked to themselves for security, being driven away from resting upon the divine promises by the sheer weight of opposition which was coming against them. It was a perilous time for God's people. The same truths are brought out in Nehemiah 4 and 5, when the people of God were moved to despondency and even to preying upon one another by the sheer oppressiveness and difficulty of the time in which they lived. There is only one answer, and that is to live by the way of faith.

i. The trustfulness of faith (vv.1 & 2). Here is a lovely double statement -- first negative, "it cannot be moved", and then positive, "it abides for ever". The Old Testament often says a thing twice over, from two different points of view, as a means of emphasis. They that trust in the Lord have Mount Zion's stability, they cannot be moved and they abide for ever. "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about his people, from this time forth and for evermore". They not only have stability, they have security. When does it begin? It begins right now -- "from this time forth ...". It is not a happy blessing which is reserved for tomorrow only, but it is immediate, and it is also lasting -- "for evermore".

ii. The confidence of faith (v.3). That sceptre of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous. It shall not! Faith speaks in confidence concerning a world that is ruled over by God in the interests of His people. Do you remember that the Lord Jesus said: "For the elect's sake the days shall be shortened" (Mark 13:20)? The world is ruled by God in the interests of His people. Over and over again in Scripture we encounter this truth. Things will not be allowed to go beyond the point that God's people can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). God is faithful. He will not suffer you to be tried beyond your strength. He is in absolute charge of everything. He Himself sieves and sorts everything before it touches you.

iii. The obedience of faith (vv.4 & 5). "Do good, O LORD, unto them that are good and to them that are upright in heart". That is one group of people in the community. Since "upright in heart" refers to their inward morality, we can presume that the word "good" points to the outward marks of righteousness in their lives. Outwardly and inwardly they are righteous; they are identified with God's thoughts. The prayer continues: "But as for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways", may the Lord "lead them forth with the workers of iniquity". One cannot be dogmatic about this rendering of the verse, but it seems a reasonable assumption. Again, the unrighteous are classed outwardly and inwardly. They "turn aside", they have "crooked ways" and they are "workers of iniquity". So the psalmist is reviewing two classes in the community. On the one hand there are those who are inwardly and outwardly identified with the righteous things of God, and on the other hand there are those who are inwardly and outwardly identified with unrighteousness. The prayer is for a blessing on the righteous, and for judgment on the unrighteous.

Now who could pray such a prayer? Only those who are persuaded concerning moral values that are precious to God. We must not allow the curses of the psalms to offend us. We are a generation which should be the last to claim a position of judgment in these matters because we have lost all sense of moral outrage. What is found not only in this psalm but also in many other psalms is an absolute and whole-hearted identification with those moral values which are precious to God. The prayer, then, is simply that God should have His way in the world. But who can pray a prayer like that? Who can pray: 'Do good to those who are good and bring judgment on those who are not'? Only the person who is pre-committed to God's cause and who knows that he is rightly involved in the blessing.

So this implies the obedience of faith. Faith is not just a happy emotion resting upon God, a joyful confidence that God will see things all right in the end. Faith is the committal of heart and life to go God's way and to continue in it day after day under His blessing. In a sense we can say that obedience is a means of grace. The Holy Spirit is given by God to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). Faith must commit itself along the line of this means of grace in obedience inwardly and outwardly to going God's way.

So, beloved, what do we do when our resources are running low and we are not able to face things? We live in the place of prayer; we live in the light of truth; and we live in the way of faith. So says Scripture.

(To be continued) [29/30]


(Studies in John's Gospel. Chapters 13-17)

John H. Paterson


IN the first of these studies I referred to the view, which is held by some scholars, that these chapters are not so much a minute-by-minute account of Jesus' last evening with His disciples, as a collection of His sayings gathered over a longer period. There is no very compelling evidence for this view, but rather much which speaks of its unity as a whole.

As we seek out evidence of unity in the passage, we find one such piece of evidence in the repeated use of the word 'if'. In the Authorised Version it occurs 25 times in John 13-16. Bearing in mind the thoughts with which we began this series -- the urgency of the hour, the shortness of the time which the Lord Jesus had with His disciples, and His concern to prepare them in every respect for His going away -- there must surely be some significance in His use of a word which, to us, normally implies doubt rather than certainty. Yet certainty was what He wanted to produce in His disciples: why, then, all these 'if's'?

There can be few words in our language which lend themselves to a wider range of meanings. Many of our 'if's' are sad ones: 'If only he had spoken ...'; 'If he had kept his promise ...'; or even as in this Gospel: "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11:21). But the uses which the Lord Jesus made of the word on the occasion which we are considering did not fall into any of those categories. His every assurance to His disciples was that this was a joyful occasion, not a sad one. Consider these four sentences, all of which contain an 'if':

IF you know his date of birth, you can tell how old he is.

IF you want to know his name, you must ask him.

IF you are happy, you'll smile.

IF you want tea, you can't have coffee.

Now each of these sentences offers a different context for the word 'if'. The first indicates its use to indicate extension or extrapolation : IF you know A, you can also know B. The second represents condition : IF you want A, it is conditional upon B. The third represents the 'if' of evidence: IF A is true, B will be present as proof of A. The fourth 'if' represents exclusion: IF you choose A, B is excluded because you cannot have both.

When we study the 'if's' of the Lord Jesus in these chapters, we shall find that some of them fall into each of these categories. It may well, in fact, be important to notice into which category a particular 'if' falls. For example, when the Lord Jesus said to his disciples, "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also" (14:7), Philip took Him up as though the 'if' was conditional -- as though Jesus was saying. 'Under this or that condition, you will be allowed to know the Father', whereas Jesus' real point, as He explained, was quite different: 'If you know me then, by extension , you know the Father too, without any further condition.' Let us examine some of these 'if's' more closely.

The 'If' of Extended Knowledge

If there is one principle which, more than another, is basic to the process of teaching, it is that the teacher always leads the pupil from the known to the unknown. Given what has already been taught him, the pupil is invited to take a step forward, and to embody that next step into his knowledge. For most of us, these steps forward have to be short and very carefully explained; it is the privilege of genius alone to take very long steps into the unknown, although the process is exactly the same. We argue from what we know, according to the formula: 'If I know this, then that follows'.

Teacher to the last, the Lord Jesus used this method in the chapters we are studying. He did so in part, I think, because the disciples had suddenly become alarmed at how little they knew. They felt that all they had was Himself, and they [30/31] were going to lose Him. So He tried to show them that they actually knew, or could know, much more than they realised, because their knowledge could be extended. They had seen Him, so they had seen the Father (14:9). They knew what He had done to them, so they knew what to do to each other (13:14-15). They knew the world persecuted Him, so they also knew that it would persecute them (15:20). Their knowledge was much wider than, in the near-panic of the moment, they were prepared to believe.

"from henceforth ye know ..."

I think that we are dealing here with a principle of some importance in the spiritual life. It is one of our human weaknesses as Christians to imagine that, in every new situation which we confront, we may look for -- indeed, are entitled to -- a fresh revelation from the Lord before we can be expected to go on. Certainly this was exactly what Philip wanted: "Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us". But Jesus immediately referred him back to what he knew already. He did not need new knowledge, because he could extrapolate from what he knew to what he wished to know: "If you had known me, you should have known my Father also; from henceforth ye know him".

There may be, in the lives of all believers, times of fresh, brand-new revelation, when God does indeed intervene to do something or say something wholly unexpected. But I do not think that the history of His dealing with His people should lead us to expect that as His normal way. There is, in fact, a tendency (which, if we are honest we may identify as not spiritual at all) to want the Lord to do a new thing for us so that our position may be special! I fear that some, at least, of the prayers to the Lord to do a 'new thing' I have heard over the years, were unconscious but misguided failures to work out, or extend, the 'old thing' that God had given -- the knowledge or experience of Himself which could perfectly well be extrapolated to cover the new situation.

There is, after all, a danger about 'new things': it takes time to discover whether they are really the work of God or not. There is that dangerous interval while the novelty dazzles and the fruit has not yet appeared. So many of the false trails along which God's people have been led have started by a breakaway from that main road of reasoning to which our 'if' directs us: 'If this is true, that follows', and no amount of special revelation can make it otherwise.

It has often been remarked that God holds us responsible for such spiritual light or knowledge as we have already received. I am sure that this is true, but I believe we can rephrase the statement to take this form: God holds us responsible for using that knowledge as we face the future; for arguing from what we know to what we do not, rather than expecting Him to start us afresh each time.

"He shall ... bring to your remembrance ..."

There are, it is true, two possible objections to this line of thought and, lest they trouble any reader of these words, let me deal with them at once. One is that, in pursuing this line, I might be accused of exalting the process of human reasoning and belittling the work of the Spirit. To that I should make two replies. The first is that the Lord Jesus' description of the work of the Spirit is here couched in precisely the terms I am using: "He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you ... He will guide you into all truth ... he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (14:26; 16:13, 14). The Lord Jesus was promising not so much a set of new revelations, as an appreciation of the meaning of what His disciples knew already, the point of which had not yet struck them. The Spirit would extend their knowledge, enabling them to say, in effect, 'We already know this; so now we know that, too'.

The second reply I should make to anyone anxious lest it appears that the Christian life depends solely on human reasoning is that of course it does not, but at the same time it contains an element of reasonableness . In evidence I should cite the experience of the apostle Paul. Paul's life in the Spirit began with a call -- miraculous, individual and utterly transforming. He never had another experience like it but, once he had received it, he followed the logic of it for the rest of his life. He was called to preach the gospel of Christ, and we do not read of him seeking 'new' revelations of God's will in between sermons. He knew Christ and he knew his calling, and when they threw him out of one town, he simply went on to the next and started all over again. The interesting thing about Paul's ministry is that, after that original call, the special interventions of the Spirit in Paul's life all occurred -- [31/32] and only occurred -- when God wanted him to step out of the logical course he was pursuing and go somewhere else. The classic case was that recorded in Acts 16, when "they assayed to go into Bithynia; but the Spirit suffered them not ... And a vision appeared unto Paul in the night; there stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us" (Acts 16:7-9). I take this simply to mean that, as the Lord's people, one thing from which we are never excused is thinking about what we are doing for Him.

"This is life eternal, that they should know thee ..."

And we must take this one step further. The idea of extending our knowledge of God makes that knowledge one of our most valuable possessions. "This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ" (17:3). No one can successfully extend a knowledge which is fragmentary. I cannot personally speak sensibly about 'extending' my knowledge of nuclear physics because I do not have a base from which to begin. To be extended, a thing must first exist.

On that last evening, with the disciples claiming total ignorance of God apart from Christ, the Lord Jesus almost cheerfully assured them that they had the knowledge they needed to begin with, and that the Holy Spirit would be shortly arriving to see its extension.

I am writing this in the fading hours of an old year and first moments of a new one -- a traditional time for taking stock, and a useful time for Christians to do so, too. Two things strike me about this knowledge of God. One is what an enormously valuable possession it is. We may know God! We, the creatures, may know the Creator; we have the basis of knowledge and that knowledge can be extended indefinitely, by the Spirit's teaching and leading. At this time of stocktaking, let me list among the chief of all my blessings this fact: I know and I may know more and more. It I have started, I can go on.

The second thing is a solemn accompaniment of the first. If there ever comes a New Year when, looking back, I realise that there has been no extension of my knowledge of God; if I have drawn no new conclusions about Him, seen no new implications of the knowledge I possess, then I shall have stopped growing and started dying. I fear the coming of a year like that. I fear the realisation that I might have stopped thinking and given myself over wholly to feeling; or so neglected or written down, the value of my fund of spiritual knowledge that I no longer esteem it as my most cherished, most useful possession. May God keep us all from the coming of such a day!

Next time we shall consider some of the other 'if's' the Lord Jesus spoke about on that unforgettable evening so long ago.

(To be continued)


Arthur E. Gove


Reading: Leviticus 4:1-12

THIS book of Leviticus shows us the utter impossibility of approaching God except on the ground of sacrifice -- the shedding of blood. The stress laid upon sacrifice is meant to bring home to us the heinousness of our sin. Here we are confronted with God's estimate of sin. Charles Finney said: 'Sin is the most expensive thing in the universe, pardoned or unforgiven. If pardoned, that is because its cost falls upon the atoning sacrifice. If unforgiven, it must rest for ever upon the impenitent soul.'

By means of the Burnt Offering we have already been shown what God thinks about the death of Christ. By the Meal Offering we have been impressed by the perfect sinless life of the Lord Jesus. This is of extreme importance since only a sinless One could make atonement for the [32/33] sins of others. By the Peace Offering we have been drawn into God's fellowship, for what satisfies Him in the death of His Son must also satisfy me. Now we have the Sin and the Trespass Offerings which have a similar lesson and might therefore be considered together, but since there is such a wealth of meaning in them I have decided to take them separately and in this article deal only with the Sin Offering. Though in the divine institution this is the last offering, in our experience it is the first in its application our need.

In our previous studies we have considered Christ offering Himself to God as a sweet savour, bringing satisfaction to God's heart, but now we learn of His work of atoning for sin to put away God's wrath. In the Burnt Offering Christ meets the divine affections, whereas in the Sin Offering He meets the depths of the sinner's need. In the former we see Him as taking pleasure in doing the Father's will, whereas in the latter we see Him in His sufferings to take away our sins; in the former we see the preciousness of the sacrifice, but in the latter we are confronted with the sinfulness of sin. We distinguish between this offering and the companion one, which is the Trespass Offering, which we shall consider later. There is a difference between our trespasses and our sin. Trespass is concerned with what we do, but the Sin Offering is concerned with what we are. The fact is that man not only does evil things but that in himself he is evil, and a holy God must judge what we are as well as what we do. Hence the need for the Sin Offering.

IN this passage there is a recurring phrase: "sin through ignorance". The grace of God is so wonderful that it provides plenteous and perfect redemption. There are many things which man would perhaps pass over, his conscience might never accuse him in the matter and he might mistakenly imagine such actions to be right. But our needs are much greater than our consciousness of them. If God's salvation merely made provision for such sins as we recognise and understand, there could be no sure and lasting ground of true peace. We are here shown that sin has been atoned for according to God's holy standards, His provision been made not only for our known sins but also for our sins of ignorance, that is sins which we are unaware of but that are known by God. This is a most forcible argument against man's competence to deal with his own sin. If he cannot properly measure it, how can he ever put it away?

For the love of God is broader

  Than the measures of man's mind

And the heart of the Eternal

  Is most wonderfully kind.

But we make His love too narrow

  By false limits of our own;

And we magnify His strictness

  With a zeal He will not own.

There is plentiful redemption

  In the blood that has been shed;

There is joy for all the members

  In the sorrows of the Head.

We observe that no particular sin is specified in what is said about the Sin Offering, but we must note that at least classes of people are mentioned, namely, the priest, the ruler, the congregation and the common people. In this way stress is laid on the person of the sinner. Each individual has a personal need of Christ's atoning work and provision is made on a personal basis. Romans 7 shows that if there is good in a man there is always sin -- "evil is present with me" -- and this offering tells us that the cross has fully dealt with that sinful nature of mine as well as putting away the guilt of my sinful actions.

The Israelite came to God as a worshipper but he also came as a sinner. It is a most blessed truth that Christ's death satisfies God and is a sweet fragrance to Him (Ephesians 5:2) but it is a most comforting truth that He also "gave himself for our sins" (Galatians 1:4), and without that we could never be acceptable worshippers. The truth is that Christ took our position, with all its consequences, that we might be given His position, with all its consequences. He was treated as sin, that we might be treated as righteous. He was cast out and forsaken that we might be taken in and have our home with God. God hid His face from His Son, in order that we might walk forever in the light of His countenance. There was everything against Christ at Calvary, that there might never again be anything against us. He was identified with us in our sin and death so that we may be identified with Him in His life and righteousness. [33/34]

THE bullock, or whatever animal it was, had to be "without blemish" (v.3). Christ alone could be our Sin Offering for He, and He alone, is the One who was entirely sinless. If in the whole of His life here below there had been one unholy thought, one act out of line, one word or even one look of the flesh, then He Himself would have needed an atonement and could never have made atonement for us. It is stated about the earthly priests that compassion was not enough, they must also offer a sacrifice for their own sins (Hebrews 5:2-3). This stresses how different Christ is, and how completely sufficient is His offering, for only the sinless One could make one sacrifice for sin for ever as He did.

Three times the blood of the Sin Offering was made to operate on behalf of the sinner. It was sprinkled before the veil (v.6) to show that there is no way into the presence of God apart from the shed blood. It was put upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense (v.7) since without the shed blood there can be no worship of God or fellowship with Him, and then it was poured out at the base of the brazen altar to stress that there can be no forgiveness of sin and no individual approach to God at all apart from the shedding of the blood of the Sin Offering. The unusual thing to note is that this sequence shows that the priest sprinkled or applied the blood on his way out, not as he was going in. God has provided this blood so it is brought out from Him to meet the needs of sinful men. From our side we appropriate its benefits from the opposite direction, beginning at the brazen altar and finishing at the veil of the holiest of all.

As in the case of the Burnt Offering, so here the offerer was to lay his hands upon the sacrifice, as though he were thus confessing that it was he himself who deserved to die for his sin and to be carried without the camp. It was God and not man, Who laid men's sin upon His spotless Son, but this act of identification suggests that we wholly concur with the divine verdict that our sin required to be dealt with by Him in this way and indeed that this is the true meaning of the cross. As we have previously stated, we need various sacrifices to give us the complete picture of the whole meaning of Christ's work of redemption. The Sin Offering helps us to appreciate what a terrible thing our sin is and then to appropriate for ourselves what has been done for us at the cross.

ONE of its main challenges to us now concerns our faith in the sufficiency of Christ our Sin Offering. Do we live in the good of absolute assurance that the sin question has been fully and finally settled where we are concerned? What does the Scripture say? "They shall be forgiven" (v.20). And what does the New Testament say? "In whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins" (Ephesians 1:7). For the Jew the matter was settled only for one year; his offerings had to be annual and continual. In our case we lay our hands on Christ to affirm that in Him we have eternal redemption. We do not have to struggle and we do not even have to pray or plead; what we must do is to live in the continual good of the fact that Jesus was our sin-bearer and that His is a perfect work.

We ought to be continually glorying in the cross. That was where the law was magnified, where justice was satisfied, where hell was stultified, where God was glorified and the Scripture fulfilled. We have a complete answer to our soul's sense of guilt. Sin's barrier has been removed, heaven has been opened widely to us, all God's blessings have been secured for us. God Himself is fully satisfied and asks for nothing more.

And yet, in a sense, there is one thing more, without which it would not be right to present the spiritual meaning of the Sin Offering. In the passage before us now we are told that apart from the fat, which was to be burnt upon the altar (vv.8-10), the whole bullock was to be burnt "without the camp" (v.21). We might have thought that this referred solely and only to the Lord Jesus Himself if we had not been given the exhortation of Hebrews 13:13 which is based upon this very feature of the sin offering. We take for granted the picture of the Lord Jesus, rejected and reviled, being crucified "outside the city wall", but we may not be so ready to understand that we are to be involved in His rejection. We are, in fact, told that we must go forth unto Him, bearing His reproach. What kind of Christians are we? We rejoice in His substitutionary work for us, but are we prepared to follow Him anywhere -- even outside the camp? "With such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Hebrews 13:16).

(To be concluded) [34/35]


Poul Madsen

16. GOD'S LOVE IN CHRIST (Chapter 8:26-39)

"IN like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity". Infirmity or powerlessness is a comprehensive description of our condition in the present dispensation. Paul has described in detail his personal experiences of infirmity in his second letter to the Corinthians. In this Roman Letter he has set it out in the section which culminates with his outburst: "Oh, wretched man that I am!" (7:8-25). Presented with God's mighty plan of salvation, we feel our infirmity and inadequacy to be almost unbearable. How helpless we are, in the face of conditions in the world and in the churches! When we consider our calling we are appalled at our feebleness, not least in the realm of our task in the secret place where we should be fulfilling the important work of intercession.

"But the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities ... himself making intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered." Paul has already said that the whole creation groans, and that we who have the first fruits of the Spirit also groan within ourselves (vv.22 & 23); now he says that the Spirit Himself intercedes with groans that cannot be uttered. Are the deep groans of the whole creation and of believers in reality the work of the Spirit? If, as Paul seems to indicate, this is the case, then it provides a new emphasis of the fact that there is none that seeks after God and none that longs for righteousness apart from the operation of God's Spirit. Then the groaning of the whole creation is God's longing for that creation, expressed through the continual groaning of the Spirit, a fact which helps us better to understand why the creation's groans are likened to birthpangs. In God's good time the result will be good and blessed. It is He who is at work. It should be a great comfort to us in our conscious helplessness to be told that God reckons our groans as intercession and supplication in the power of the Holy Spirit. How true it is that His power is made perfect in our weakness!

What is more, we are told that when God searches our hearts, He does not take note of their poverty and shortcomings but recognises the mind and activity of His Spirit as He makes intercession according to the will of God. This is indeed a gospel for feeble Christians. From our hearts, which God searches, emerges from God's own Spirit continual intercession for us and for all the other members of Christ's body. This is prayer which does not grope in realms of vagueness but harmonises with God's good and perfect will. Perhaps we never knew that it was like this, namely that we who are powerless, work together with God in the completion of His perfect plan of salvation as His Spirit in us carries on His powerful intercession.

WHAT follows may seem even a greater wonder, not now God's work in us but also His work for us: "With those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose, God works together in everything for good" (v.28). God, then, is personally present with His helpless children in all their circumstances, turning everything to their good. However desperate things might seem, God works in such a way that they turn out for our good and for the fulfilment of the plan of salvation of the God whose poor servants we are. Circumstances around us can appear overwhelming, quite out of control; spiritual powers of evil seem to reign unchecked and our powerlessness is glaring; yet in spite of everything we emerge "more than conquerors" (v.37). God, who forms the light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates evil, makes all things contribute to His end, co-operating with us, partly through the Spirit's groans within us, partly through our daily walk of obedience and lastly, but not least, through our apparently meaningless trials and sufferings. He will show the perfection of His work to all, in the Day when He reveals Himself gloriously in His saints.

The wonderful statement in verse 28 only applies to those who love God. The question arises, then, as to whether we do so love Him. If Paul made his glorious statement to depend upon how much we provide, then the decisive condition which determined whether God made all things work together for good for us would be our love to God. This cannot be his argument, for the thought is quite foreign to him and to the other New Testament writers, not least the apostle John, who writes: "Herein in love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us" (1 John 4:10). The gospel message never demands that we should love God, but tells of His love to [35/36] us. Paul's own description of those who love God is that they are "the called according to his purpose", so that our love for God is not a matter of our subjective feelings, which may be of greater or lesser intensity, but of a fact which rests in God Himself. It is His call from eternity, His redemption by the cross, His salvation, which provides this love in us.

Paul emphasises that we are called "according to his purpose". In contrast with all our decisions, feelings, consecrations and enthusiasms, His purpose never fluctuates. The stability of our love to God derives from the unshakable character of His love to us and His eternal purpose. God does not vacillate in His intentions or change His purposes, and His omnipotence supports those purposes. In the midst of our powerlessness we build on a stable rock: we are helpless, yet everything is made to work together for our good.

THE apostle expands his words about God's purpose: "for whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren". God's purpose does not merely embrace His choice of us, but also the goal to which He will lead us, which is Christlikeness. Like the apostle, we may be ashamed of our Christian attainments and groan that we are wretched failures, but we need not doubt that we shall reach the goal. We have been shocked into self-discoveries about our miserable selves, but we must realise that God is not surprised at all. It is those whom He foreknew whom He has foreordained to become like Christ. We do not know ourselves as well as God knows us. We never shall. He knew all about our despicable corruption when He decided to call us and conform us to Christ, and He will realise His original plan for us, however impossible that may look in our eyes. We may be inclined to despair and feel that there is nothing for us to do but to give up, but God will never give us up and does not despair even of His purpose for us. The gospel is His power unto salvation, a perfect salvation which makes us like Christ. One day we shall arrive at that goal: God will have brought us there in spite of a total helplessness on our part. He will never fail His Son whom He has destined to be the firstborn among many brethren.

Paul speaks boldly about our glorification: "whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (v.30). He leaves behind all time factors and sequences. We can follow him when he says that God has foreordained and called and justified us, but we find it difficult to follow what he says about our being glorified, since according to our ideas of time and sequence, this is yet in the future. He is not governed by such natural logic, for he is immersed in God's ways and work and the gospel of God's love for us. Since the foreordaining, the calling and the justification have no ground in us, no more has the glorification. Everything has its cause in God alone. So it is that Paul regards the glorification as if it had already happened, and so must we all think when we think of God. Our helplessness will never get less but rather increase, but the background of God's amazing love delivers us from despair and gives us confidence to face any trial that can come.

"WHAT then shall we say to these things?" asks the apostle. What shall we say in our impotence? The gospel has revealed that "God is for us". When we were so weak, He was for us (5:6). When we were against Him He was for us. He proved this by the love which gave Christ to die for us while we still were hopeless sinners (5:8). There can be no doubt about God being for us -- passionately and unreservedly for us! Since that is the case, it is obvious that no one can be against us with the slightest chance of success.

We are heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (8:17); this is what God made us by His loving work on the cross of Calvary. Since He did not spare His Son but gave Him up for us, then it is absurd to think that He will not freely give us all things. It is inconceivable to think that God should not lead us into the enjoyment of the whole inheritance with all its glory, when He has allowed His Son to die in order to obtain fullness of blessing for us. 'But what about my sin?', asks the tender conscience. 'What about my defeats as a Christian? I can understand that God has forgiven me all my sins committed before my conversion, but I cannot understand how He can continue forgiving me when I cannot forgive myself. Do not my shortcomings make it impossible for Him to reach His original goal for me? In other words, Does not my sin cancel or at least limit God's work of salvation?'

Paul answers the wounded conscience with short, pithy sentences which exclude further objections or discussion: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that [36/37] justifieth! " He justifies the ungodly (4:5)! Any accusation against God's elect implies an accusation against God. God is righteous in all He does. No accusation against Him can be valid. When, then, He justifies the ungodly there can be no accusation against His elect. "Who is he that shall condemn?" There is only one who can condemn -- the judge. Now Christ is the Judge but He has now become our Defender. He died in the place of the accused and now lives as their Forerunner at the right hand of God and there, far from reproaching and condemning them, He intercedes on their behalf. This settles the matter. If anyone tries to condemn us then the Judge Himself wholly rejects such an attempt.

The question then arises as to our trials. Sin cannot hinder God from reaching His goal with me, but can sufferings and need do so? Paul is better able to answer this than anyone else, for there can hardly have been another who so suffered for Christ. That he was alive at all was a wonder. Who survives five beatings with thirty-nine stripes, three scourgings and a stoning? "In deaths oft", is his own testimony, but still he knows no separation from Christ's love. Notice that although his list tells of impersonal things: "tribulation or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword" his question is not: "What shall separate us ...?" but " Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Behind all his trials he sees our adversary the Devil, going around like a roaring lion against us. He knows that our warfare is against the spiritual powers of evil in heavenly places, demon intelligences, but is assured that none of them can pluck us out of the hand of the Lord who has conquered them all. It is characteristic of the man that he refers all the sufferings mentioned to "what is written", quoting in that connection Psalm 44:22: "For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter", since this means that such trials are not accidents but are in accordance with the Word and will of God. Seeing that this is so, none of them is negative but all are meaningful and neither able to do us harm nor separate us from Christ's love. Paul knew that his sufferings were not chance or misfortune but "for thy sake", that is, part of his fellowship with the Lord and so part of the process of learning to know Him better. Not only could they not separate Him from Christ, they actually served to bring about a closer personal union with the One who was Himself led as a sheep to the slaughter.

Hence the exclamation: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us"! Trials do not come between us and Christ, but force us nearer to Him and help us on our way to His glory. This victory is only through the cross. Only because He was crucified and purchased us to God by His blood can we be triumphant under all circumstances. By Christ's death and resurrection we have become God's children by faith, and all the impotent raging of Satan can do nothing against God and His loved children. With something like a hymn of triumph, Paul goes through the whole of life, indeed the whole universe, and can discover nothing or nobody who has the ghost of a chance of separating us from our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ (vv.38-39). I wonder how the apostle was able to refrain from a mighty Doxology. Perhaps it was because he still had more to say before he could reach the climax at the end of chapter 11.

MEANWHILE he has answered the timid conscience's fearful question as to whether my sin and my trials can rob me of God's full salvation. The answer is a categorical 'No'! God is greater than your guilt and shame and greater than all your trials. The great apostle has taken us by the hand and led us step by step through the gospel, the power of God unto salvation. As we look back we see that our salvation does not rest on our decision to be converted but on God's decision to call us. The light in which we understand election is not the starting-point for a dogmatic system of teaching but the expression of what every child of God feels so profoundly -- it was not I who chose Him, but He who chose me! Every single decision I have made for Him was really His work: without Him I would never have made it. Just as the atoning work of Christ is fully and wholly His work, so also is the amazing fact that I have received a share in it as His undeserved gift. And when one day He introduces me as His co-heir of total glory, it win be fully and wholly His work. We began with our sin, but we have reached the assurance of glory. This is the effect of God's mighty gospel.

There is just one more objection that must be answered before we can rest absolutely convinced. 'You have said, Paul, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. How do you reconcile that with the fate of God's chosen people, Israel'? In the next three chapters Paul will deal with that objection.

(To be continued) [37/38]


Buddy Bultman

IN this small Polish town a passer-by can barely distinguish the large, two-storey rectangular structure from the homes that surround it. But the simple building stands out as a testimony of God's miraculous work in the Polish Church today. It is the house that God built.

When the congregation applied to build a church over two years ago, the authorities refused to approve it. The believers applied time after time, but without success. But they would not give up. Instead, they took a great step in boldness. 'Since we can't build a church, we'll build a house' their young pastor suggested.

The group then submitted blue-prints to the authorities and began plans to build a house. The authorities, however, imposed rigid building standards on its construction. They specified that the cement for the foundations had to be twice as strong as that of any normal house, and in addition that the steel beams for the structure must be of double strength.

The congregation discovered that these materials could not be found anywhere in their country. All the cement in Poland had vanished; steel also had disappeared. This was due to the fact that the Soviet Union had purchased all available cement and steel for the construction of the Olympics site in Moscow.

The believers still did not give in. They had managed to find six bags of cement. In faith they decided to start pouring, remembering the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The day they began mixing the cement for the foundation, a woman from the neighbourhood dropped by as Jan was mixing the cement. The woman approached him. She told him that she had some cement stored in her garage and volunteered to sell him nine bags. Jan was elated. After further conversation, however, the woman discovered that the group was building a church. 'I can't sell you nine bags of cement', the woman said. Jan's face fell. 'But', she added, 'I can give you eighteen bags!'

And the day wasn't over yet. That afternoon Jan heard through a friend that another man in town had some cement. He approached the man, who donated another eight bags. The congregation now had enough cement to pour the entire foundation.

The building also required steel girders to support the second floor over the large open room that was to serve as a chapel. The inspectors demanded that the 'I' beams be thicker and heavier than what was normally needed. Such material was not available anywhere. Again, the believers refused to concede. Instead, they prayed.

A friend came to Pastor Jan soon afterwards. He said that he knew a steel worker who could acquire the girders they needed. On checking, however, they found that these girders were two centimetres wider and also heavier than the standards required. But this was all that was available, and the believers accepted them gratefully.

Construction soon got under way. All able bodied members of the small congregation shared in the labour. Their problems were far from over, though. Building inspectors constantly harassed the project. Each time that an inspector discovered any defect or deviation from the submitted blue-print, he would demand that the workers tear down that part of the structure and start over again. But the believers persevered for two years, until the building was completed in the Spring of 1978.

After the building was completed the congregation received word from the authorities that they could now build their church. Joyfully, they submitted their new prayer house for registration as a church, only to be told that since the building had been constructed as a house, it would first have to meet the stringent structural standards for a public building. The 'house' was minutely inspected and the officials were amazed to find that the foundations with their double strength met their standards perfectly, as did all other features. But imagine the elation of the congregation when they found that the extra two centimetres on the steel girders gave them precisely the minimum size permitted for such a structure!

The 'unreasonable' demands and harassment of the officials produced the kind of building which an inspector had to accept! Today, a happy Polish congregation is meeting in the house that God planned and built.

(By kind permission of the Slavic Gospel Association, Wheaton, Illinois). [38/39]


Harry Foster


"With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth"
Psalm 119:13

"Let my lips utter praise; for thou teachest me thy statutes"
Psalm 119:171

THERE can be no such person as a silent pilgrim. It is true that the Israelites were commanded to march in silence around Jericho (Joshua 6:10), but there was a special reason for that and it was only to prepare them better for their great shout of victory at the right moment -- "then shall ye shout". We have already noted that the pilgrim is both a singer and a speaker; at every rest house he no sooner recovers his breath than he bursts into song, and he even rises at midnight to give thanks to God. Whether, then, his emotions are those of gratitude, of deep longing or even of alarm, he is careful to verbalise them, talking to God face to face as a man speaks to his friend. His lips, as well as his heart, mind and will, are fully committed to this pilgrimage of faith.

Although the whole of this long psalm is spoken directly to God it is by no means a vain repetition of formal prayers. It is true that the pilgrim makes good use of his memory, calling to mind and promising never to forget. What he reminds himself of, however, are not repetitive phrases which he has memorised but vital experiences in association with God's Word: "I have remembered thy judgments of old, O LORD" (52) and "I have remembered thy name, O LORD, in the night, and have observed thy law" (55). He makes a great point of keeping things fresh in his memory, even when there are powerful distractions. "My soul is continually in my hand; yet do I not forget thy law" (109). The psalm closes with a final appeal which shows that all his hopes of deliverance and safe arrival are based on such remembrance: "Seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments" (176). If we are wise enough to memorise God's Word at the beginning of our pilgrimage we will be wonderfully helped in our prayers as we draw near to its end.

As he struggles along the pilgrim way such vivid memories give him confidence in opening his lips to cry for help: "I will never forget thy precepts, for with them thou hast quickened me. I am thine, save me ..." (93). Happy is the pilgrim whose first thoughts when facing calamity are of the faithfulness of his God. And happier still if he remembers to open his lips not in panic or complaint, but in calm confidence that this new trial is only intended to give him a fresh experience of that unfailing love. "Hear my voice according to thy loving kindness" (149). He not only remembers the Word, he also recalls to mind what he has witnessed in other people's experiences, and puts in a humble but bold claim that the Lord will not be less to him than to his predecessors: "Turn unto me, and have mercy upon me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name" (132). Past mercies encourage him to open his lips in new appeals for help.

Prayer, however, is more than mere supplication: it is also worship and appreciation. Listen to the spontaneous interjections as the pilgrim plods along: "Blessed art thou, O LORD" (12), "The LORD is my portion" (57), "The earth, O LORD, is full of thy mercy" (64). In a sense these may well be quotations, like the songs or responses which are set down for him. But he is not content with this (and nor should we be) but makes his own personal utterances: "Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O LORD, according to thy word" (65), "Oh, how I love thy law" (97) and "How sweet are thy words unto my taste, yea sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (103). "Thy testimonies are wonderful" (129). To have walked in the company of men like this must have been like one of those early church meetings when brethren came together each one having his own psalm or revelation or tongue (1 Corinthians 14:26). It is important that provision should be made for such personal contributions in our gatherings, but it is equally important that each pilgrim should have heart and mind and will and mouth dedicated to glorifying the Lord.

It may perhaps be true also to say that many of these spontaneous outcries of wonder from the [39/40] pilgrim's lips are not public utterances, not meant for the ears of others. They seem to be private and intimate confessions of love to the Lord Himself. In human experience there is much of this nature in early married life, but so often it tends to diminish and even cease in the course of time and familiarity. It is all too easy for us to fall into the same fault, tending to take for granted mercies which once produced in us constant outcries of wonder and delight in our beloved Lord.

Dare we take this feature of the psalm as a criterion for testing our own prayer life? Can it be that our private prayers are almost entirely a matter of: 'Show me', 'Help me' and 'Bless me'? Or are they interspersed with the simple expressions of wonder and appreciation which seem to be in the pilgrim's mouth? "Consider how I love thy precepts" (159) is really only saying to the Lord what we so often say to our friends when we tell them how we appreciate some activity of theirs. 'Oh, I do love your letters' we say, and we mean it. Perhaps the Lord would like to hear us say things like that to Him. No doubt He gets some pleasure from our standard thanks of Grace before meals or from the occasional 'Hallelujah' or 'Praise the Lord' which we may voice, but how much more pleasing it must be to Him when some grateful believer just whispers simple protestations of love to Him and to His ways. How beautiful it must sound to Him when some pressed pilgrim follows the cry: "I am afflicted very much", with the; request: "Accept, I beseech thee, the freewill offerings of my mouth" (107-108). It is as though we told Him that although life was almost too much at the moment, yet we love Him more than life itself.

BUT if we give first place to praise and prayer we must not neglect the use of those same lips for what we call 'testimony'. God has His own testimonies, as we so often read in this psalm, but He has made it plain that we are His witnesses who are expected to give our testimony when the occasion arises. It is a tremendous claim that the psalmist makes when he affirms that at the end of the day's trek, the Lord's statutes formed his songs (54). Others would voice their complaints or their opinions; he only wanted to recount the praises of the Lord. It has often proved that the simple testimonies of tried saints have attracted to Christ men who might never have been affected by the most eloquent of sermons.

We notice, however, that the psalmist does not merely say that he will give his testimony. Perhaps he does so -- Paul certainly did -- but the important thing is to draw attention to the Lord and not to ourselves. Even for one who is seeking to serve God it is perilously possible to use our testimony for self-advertisement. What the psalmist says is, of course, backed by his personal experience, but it is essentially God's testimony -- the testimony of Jesus -- which is his theme and which the Spirit will bless.

THERE are times when the pilgrim has to ask for a suitable Scriptural reply to his critics: "So shall I have an answer for him that reproacheth me" (42). It may well be that a quiet reference to God's Word will be more effective than a whole host of human arguments, however good these may seem to be. There are, however, other times when silence is needed and for this the psalmist is thrown back on the Lord: "Princes also sat and talked against me; but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes" (23). When unkind tongues wag in this way it may need quite a miracle for him to keep his lips closed and suffer in silence. Not that 'suffer' is the right word, for the pilgrim can find something deeply comforting to occupy his mind: "Thy testimonies are my delight and my counsellors" (24). Princes sit and criticise: I sit and take counsel with my God.

"With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth" (13). The praying traveller makes the bold claim that a great honour has been given to him in his being allowed to speak for God. What a combination -- my lips and Thy mouth! What a partnership! It is a marvellous privilege to be a pilgrim for God; a pilgrim whose lips are opened.

Oh could I tell, ye surely would believe it!

  Oh could I only say what I have seen!

How should I tell or how can ye receive it,

  How, till He bringeth you where I have been?

Therefore, O Lord, I will not fail nor falter,

  Nay but I ask it, nay but I desire,

Lay on my lips Thine embers of the altar,

  Seal with the salt and furnish with the fire!

(To be concluded) [40/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


"(whether in the body or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth )"
2 Corinthians 11:21

SOME comments on this double parenthesis are fairly obvious. One of them concerns the frank confession by this senior apostle that he did not know the answer to a straightforward question. Was he alive or was he dead when this happened to him? He did not know. In a Christian world of strident dogmatists who are only too ready to assert that their explanation must be the correct one, it is refreshing to find a godly leader who openly admits that he has no explanation for his remarkable experience.

WAS he still alive and in a kind of trance when he entered the third heaven, or had he actually died and left behind on earth the battered body which he could only resume again by a divine act of resurrection? Only God knows. If the apostle himself would not dogmatise, then it ill becomes any of us to do so. It would seem that in any case the important point is not in this parenthetical footnote about his physical state but in the amazing experience of the spirit which Paul enjoyed.

NOT that we are to be told any more about that either! Oh, no! Let those who love to publicise all their spiritual ecstacies do so if they will; Paul preferred holy reticence, and even regarded it as a matter of divine command so far as his visionary experience was concerned. The amazing thing is that he did not even mention it for fourteen years. It was something very intimate and private as all the deepest spiritual experiences must be. Even when he mentioned the fact of this visit to the highest glory, Paradise itself, he would neither tell anybody what he had there seen or what he had heard.

FOR what it is worth, we may suggest that all this happened while Paul's body lay for dead after his severe stoning at Lystra (Acts 14:19). If so, there is added meaning in his uncertainty as to whether or not he had actually been raised from the dead -- only God knew that. The striking thing to us must be that if he were -- and why not, since his enemies presumed him to have died -- then neither he nor his biographer, Luke, thought the matter worthy of great attention. One might almost read into his repeated remark a suggestion that not only did he not know but that he did not very much care. Frankly he did not attach much importance to that feature of God's dealings with him. Again, this is worthy of serious thought by those who are apt to lay great store on the sensational.

FOR a brief moment Paul had been in the immediate presence of a holy God. That was what mattered. And no doubt it was that which strengthened in his heart the hope that at the Coming of Christ we shall all be caught up to meet our glorified Lord, not for a moment but for ever, not "in the body" but clothed upon by our new bodies.

IF we read on we find that a man with such a history needed the balance of suffering to keep him humble. This brings us back again to the very heart of this parenthetical comment. The man who wrote it made no claim to superior knowledge or higher spiritual status. Only God knew all the truth about him. What he knew was that he needed and found in Christ a sufficiency of grace. He needed grace to enjoy God's blessings as much as he did to bear God's discipline -- and so do we.


[Back cover]

1 John 2:28

Printed by The Invil Press, 4/5 Brownlow Mews, London WC1N 2LD -- Telephone: 01-242 7454


  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological