|Vol. 10, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1981
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE LIGHT THAT COMES FROM HEAVEN
"Where there is no vision the people perish;
but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
THERE are visions and visions. We must not be carried away by ideas or
intrusions into the unseen (Colossians 2:18) but should seek the revelation
which God will give us through His Word. It is true that without vision
the people are led astray but the vision which rescues God's people from
such perils must come from Him, and that is why the verse continues by stressing
the importance of knowing and keeping the law. It is usually through the
Word that God reveals His mysteries for, as the psalmist explains: "The unfolding
(revelation) of thy word gives light" (Psalm 119:130). The greatest need
of God's people, therefore, is not visions which provide sensations for men
but that the Scriptures should be expounded with the Spirit of wisdom and
When the Bible deals with the transcendent, it often uses the word "mystery".
That which men can never find out for themselves is a mystery which must
be revealed to them if ever they are to establish contact with it.
Christ, the Mystery of God
Christ is the fixed centre of existence, its Alpha and Omega, beginning
and ending, and yet He is a mystery. He has created everything and everything
is held together by Him, and yet He is a mystery to His creation. He is the
goal of life, one day everything is to be summed up in Him and subjected
to Him; and yet He continues to be a mystery, so that His creation does not
know, and never can by its own efforts learn to know, what its goal is.
There were many who saw Him when He walked the earth, and they thought
that they knew who He was, but they were mistaken. Even His disciples could
not understand who He was by their own efforts. But when it finally dawned
upon Simon Peter that Christ is the Son of the living God, Jesus commented
that it had been revealed to him by the Father in heaven. The same is true
today, and it will always be like this. All human efforts to 'explain',
'prove' or 'define' Christ are in vain, for He simply does not belong to
the realm of mere human understanding. It takes revelation from the Father
-- usually through the preaching of the Word in the power of the Spirit
-- for a man really to meet the Saviour and to know Him as Lord.
The Mystery of "Christ in You"
Paul tells us that "Christ in you" is a glorious mystery (Colossians
1:27). That the exalted Lord and Saviour should dwell in every born-again
believer is entirely beyond our understanding. We can perhaps accept that
He dwells in the high and holy places, but that He also dwells in the least
of His children -- that they are in Him and He in them -- this exceeds anything
that man can imagine or discover. Yet it is one of the greatest realities
of the Christian life.
Without revelation, that is, unless God makes us see this reality, none
of us can conceive of it. It is absolutely beyond the thoughts of natural
man. It is not a question of mysticism, for mysticism can never bring anyone
into the transcendent. What people experience in mysticism is no more than
their own visions or ideas, whereas revelation embraces that which no man
can discover or produce for himself; it lies entirely beyond man's reach
and comes from God alone. So when a man claims that by meditation or introspection
he has gained contact with God in an extraordinary way, he must be mistaken,
for the knowledge of God comes by revelation.
It is characteristic that the Word emphasises that God wishes to reveal
His mystery to the Gentiles. The Gentiles are those who were regarded
religiously as being despised outsiders. It was to such that God chose to
reveal His mystery, for Christ in you is an unmerited gift, an aspect of
divine grace. It is not an advanced stage of experience for those who have
shown themselves worthy of it, as some who are specially striving after holiness
may think, for the moment a Gentile humbles himself in shame and confession
to his Lord and Saviour, he is given a share in this mystery of "Christ in
you". He is entirely unworthy of it, but is there any feature of the gospel
of which any of us is worthy? [21/22]
The Mystery of the Church
Paul was also particularly entrusted with the work of giving light on
the mystery of the Church (see Ephesians 3). The Church belongs to the transcendent,
that is to say it is unattainable for the natural man and far exceeds all
human thoughts or ideas. Societies and organisations are not like this. Men
can start them and run them; for them no special revelation is needed, for
they can be devised and understood by men. The Church, on the other hand,
is incomprehensible; it lies quite beyond anything which men can devise or
create. When Paul says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, man nor woman,
slave nor free, but we are all one in Christ Jesus; when he says that Christ
is given to the Church as Head over all things and that it is His body which
fills all things -- when he reveals the true nature of the Church -- we are
gripped by something which exceeds all our understanding.
We might think that once secrets have been revealed to us, then they
cease to be mysteries, but this is not so. It was once a mystery that the
sun, and not the earth, was the centre of the universe, and that the earth
revolves around the sun. Once the mystery was revealed, it ceased to be
a mystery. The theory of relativity was a mystery hidden from everyone until
Einstein revealed it. Now it is no longer a mystery but familiar to every
high school pupil. It is quite different, however, with God's mysteries.
They remain mysteries even after they have been revealed, for those who have
the revelation never accept them as truisms but find that they are ever unfolding
in new ways. A Christian never feels that he has mastered God's mysteries;
he always knows himself to be one who has not yet fully apprehended the truth
but rather has been apprehended by it.
Christ, the mystery of God, remains too great, too incomprehensible,
too glorious, even for those who have lived with Him longest and know Him
best. A Christian will never stop learning to know Christ. The love of Christ
will never become a matter of course to him, nor His work of salvation a
The great mystery "Christ in you" will never cease to be a mystery; it
remains an incomprehensible and inexplicable mystery even though it is an
enjoyed reality. The same is true of the Church. He who has had his eyes
opened to see something of God's secret counsels in His plan of salvation
will never cease to wonder at the Church as the body of Christ, even though
his whole procedure will be governed by that revelation so that he continually
asks himself whether, on the foundation of Christ, he is building the house
of God with gold, silver and precious stones or with the world's materials
which are cheaper and inflammable.
That two plus two are four is a reality which any man can find out for
himself. That God has revealed Himself in Christ is a truth which belongs
to another realm altogether and is something which man can never understand
by his own reasoning. Nowadays people speak of transcendental meditation.
It is a deception, for man can never reach beyond the immanent by meditation.
He meditates in his own religious world -- his own inner feelings and raptures.
This has nothing at all to do with the really transcendental truths of God
which He alone can reveal in Christ. Such meditation can, of course, open
the door to spiritual powers of darkness, whereas light can only come through
Revelation by Faith
God's mysteries can only be received by faith, and they can only be held
by a living faith which is renewed day by day. The transcendent, reality
of Christ must be apprehended by faith, and faith involves a firm conviction
that the things seen are passing away while the unseen are the real lasting
things which endure for eternity. On this basis faith does not seek to support
eternal realities by means of what is seen and passing. For instance, in
the matter of the 'mystery' of Christ, why should people spend their time
seeking to prove that He really is the Son of God? They do not seem to realise
that in this way they are allowing people to sit in judgement upon the Lord,
offering them 'proofs' in the hope that they will condescend to approve of
Him. This makes Christ to fit into human thinking and to conform with human
ideas; it has the effect of giving undue importance to the people who are
asked to decide whether they will accept the fact, and of reducing Christ
to be one who is forced to await their verdict. If faith must be dependent
upon what 'proofs' it can find in the realm of human ideas, it is a very poor
kind of faith. If faith is so to be watered down and made acceptable to human
reasoning [22/23] it would be more honest not to call
it faith, but rather common sense.
Preaching the Truth in a Mystery
True preaching brings revelation: it opens a world which would otherwise
be closed to every man. It cannot be effective if it operates by arguments
with "persuasive words of man's wisdom" (1 Corinthians 2:1-4). In proclaiming
Him who "had no comeliness" it does not have to use aesthetic aids to make
Him more attractive and acceptable to man's understanding. Revelation does
not come in a manner chosen by men -- it comes with the conviction and power
of the Holy Spirit, with the overwhelming touch of the truth on man's conscience.
Nor does the preacher seek to make an impression on his hearers by using
the attractiveness of his own personality. He does not aim to display how
clever, well-spoken and pious he is, but wants to reveal Christ in a way
which leaves the speaker hidden as much as possible. Preaching is not just
saying something that is biblically correct and true. A man who speaks about
eternal things as though dealing with a subject on which he can lecture and
perhaps lecture well and eloquently is not preaching in the Biblical sense.
He will kill revelation if he drags it down to the level of a theme among
others to be fitted into a lecture syllabus. It is true that preaching is
sometimes called 'teaching', but this does not alter the fact that it is teaching
about things which lie beyond man's ability to grasp by natural reasoning
-- it is a teaching which makes men's hearts burn, unless they harden their
hearts against Christ. Only the quickening power of God's Spirit can convey
such a message, and therefore he who is teaching must himself be anointed
by the Holy Spirit. Any other kind of teaching is liable to make people even
more deaf, although objectively it may be correct according to the letter.
It is characteristic of Him who is the truth and who revealed God, that
when He was on earth He did not engage in 'dialogues' with people. He did
not need men to tell him their opinions, for He knew what they were and how
far they were from the truth. He made it His business to tell them what He
had heard from His heavenly Father; He spoke out from a world that by nature
they knew nothing of. Those who had ears to hear were blessed. The same
The Great Mystery of the Church
This great mystery (Ephesians 5:32) is by no means revealed to all those
who know Christ as their Saviour, though it should be. Many Christians seem
to think in terms of man-made traditions or institutions which could go on
indefinitely even without the Holy Spirit. Although the Church is in this
world, it does not belong to it. Its nature and work lies quite outside of
what man can appreciate. In the Church God's thoughts, not man's, apply and
God's methods, not man's, govern.
Because the Church is thus like its Saviour and Lord, every individual
member is made responsible for its existence and testimony. The term 'Members
of His body' reminds us that we are each limbs which have a vital part to
play in the life of the whole. Our responsibility can never be discharged
by occasional attendance at meetings and making some financial contribution.
That sort of help is all right in connection with earthly causes or societies,
but it is quite another matter to be a member of the Church. That means
that we live for the Church, being ready to fill up that which is lacking
of the sufferings of Christ for it and willing to make sacrifices of any
and every kind, spiritual, financial, time and effort, so that the Church
can grow up to maturity and rescue as many as possible from their lost condition.
If the Lord has really revealed to you His thoughts concerning His blood-bought
Church, then you must give yourself to it with all your might, regarding
it not as an occasional filling-station but as your spiritual home, your spiritual
responsibility and joy. This should be clear to all who observe you.
Paul tells us that the plan of the mystery was "from all ages" hidden
in God (Ephesians 3:9). The Danish version reads: "from eternity". This shows
that God's mystery is not only a reality which lies outside of man's discovery
but also that it lies outside of time. It is a reality without a beginning
or end in time, for it is from eternity. By faith -- which is not to say
that we understand it -- we accept that Christ is eternal. "Verily, verily,
I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). That the Church is
also without beginning or end in time, is such a great mystery that even faith
can hardly grasp it. We are assured, though, that "He chose us in him before
the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before
him ..." (Ephesians 1:4). The Church was not [23/24]
inaugurated by man and can never be established by man's hands or according
to man's thoughts; it is the body of Christ and as such is the pivot which
is central to God's plan of salvation. So great is the honour of being called
in our generation (which only lasts for a time) to serve God's plan of salvation
which is from eternity, that he who receives this revelation of the divine
mystery, cannot do less than commit himself to it with all his heart and
Light to be Seen in His Light
To see light in His light is a Biblical expression for seeing God's mystery
and then preserving it by the Spirit. The mystery is so great that we must
pray for grace to see it in His light and not in our own. There is
always a danger of our seeing God's light (that is, His thought and purposes)
and then drawing that truth into our human light of understanding or opinion.
That has happened time and again through the centuries. Christ and His Church
have been accommodated to human thought and the gospel has become man's enterprise
for God instead of God's work through man.
What did the risen Lord do when He went and joined the two on the way
to Emmaus? He did not say: 'Here I am -- you can see for yourselves
that I am risen from the dead. What more do you want?' No, "He interpreted
to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).
That was when their hearts began to burn. He gave them insight through the
Word, true spiritual vision. It is surely our job to do as He did.
IN THE BEGINNING
(Some studies in Genesis)
1. GOD'S WORD
I did not begin my Christian life with the book of Genesis. I began it
by finding salvation through Jesus Christ as revealed to me in the Gospels.
I had not known the Lord Jesus long, however, before I found that He was
constantly referring back to the Scriptures, which I took to be the Old Testament.
What is more, by about the middle of the first Gospel I found Him alluding
to what is said about the beginning and the work of the Creator (Matthew 19:4).
What more natural, then, than to open my Bible at the beginning and read
Genesis 1 and 2?
To my delight, I found that my Creator had taken the trouble to explain
to me how it all began. Appreciating that I -- like most other Christians
-- am no scientist, He avoided technical terms which He knows I would never
understand, and has presented the account with masterly simplicity. He knows,
too, that I am no astronomer, so He has made no reference to galaxies and
light years, but kept strictly to a simple story of days, which is just how
I live my own life. As a Christian, my greatest desire is to be a better
man, so I have no great interest in time periods, as such, and no desire to
get bogged down with unprofitable allusions to them. So far as my limited
apprehension is concerned, the difference between a few thousand years and
many millions of them is quite unreal and could be rather muddling. Since
my Creator is eternal, I can't see that such matters are of interest, except
perhaps that they make Him all the greater in my eyes, for He assures me that
He was there before the beginning. That is something which even I can grasp.
Clearly this is not the introductory chapter of a students' textbook
on cosmology, but rather the opening chapter of a Book which aims to lead
men into godly living. The book of Genesis has much to teach us if we approach
it in this attitude, and I propose to offer a series of articles with this
in mind. The series will carry the overall title of 'In the Beginning' and
commences with this present consideration of the Word of God.
The Creative Word
It is amazing how much this chapter has to tell us. God says that the
formation of everything in our world arose from careful consideration on
His part. "Brooding" is the word which He uses (v.2) and this is a word which
helps me to realise how much thought He gave to this world of ours right from
the very beginning. This seems particularly to have been the case
[24/25] when the time came for the creation of the human race,
for He says that He took counsel with Himself in a special way at this point
(v.26). Indeed it seems that the Creator took a great personal interest at
every stage of the process: He observed and commented, He gave His blessing
to His work and He found deep satisfaction in it. He describes Himself as
saying, "Good" and "Good" and "Good" at almost each new step, and finally
looked it all over and pronounced it "Very good".
And seemingly it was all so easy. When I realise how much trouble God
has to make me a better man and when I consider the infinite costliness of
my redemption through the blood of the cross, I marvel at the impressive
ease with which these great cosmic events were accomplished. God tells me
that He only had to speak the necessary words, and the whole universe came
into being. If we take Genesis 1 and read it quietly, not allowing questioning
thoughts to send us off at a tangent, we will surely agree that the governing
thrust of the story is the repetition of the words, "God said". Chapter 2
mentions several other activities of God but again continues: "The Lord God
commanded" (2:16), "The Lord God said" (2:18).
It is surely significant that God's people keep coming back to the original
act of creation. The most famous of the many Old Testament references is
the psalmist's assertion that "He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and
it stood fast" (Psalm 33:9), but also in the New Testament we find that Christians
reverted to it almost spontaneously. The first recorded church prayer begins
on this note (Acts 4:24) and the first recorded worship of heaven maintains
it (Revelation 4:11). It was part of the apostolic preaching (Acts 14:15
and 17:24-26), and the Genesis story is quoted in support of the spiritual
instruction of God's people (2 Corinthians 4:6 and Hebrews 4:3-4). It mattered
to those early Christians that their God was the Creator of all.
What is more, they associated the eternal Son with the Father in the
work of creation. Genesis 1 mentions the Holy Spirit, but in ages past it
was not yet time to reveal the 'mystery' of the creative Word who was eternally
with the Father. The New Testament makes this very plain (John 1:3, Colossians
1:16 and Hebrews 1:2). Every Christian should therefore return to Genesis
1 and 2 with eager and reverent attention to its every statement, for it
deals not just with spoken words but with the eternal Word of life. The threshhold
statement of the great chapter which treats of vital faith is that: "By faith
we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that
what is seen hath been made out of things which do not appear" (Hebrews 11:3),
as though instructing that the man of faith should begin at Genesis, and
not only at Genesis 4 (Abel) but at Genesis 1. The Bible offers no answer
to the question, 'When?' It gives a limited reply to the question, 'How?',
leaving us with an all-inclusive assurance that it was because "God said".
The Rejected Word
Here, then, is a scene of earthly environment and human life which even
Almighty God could commend as "very good". We are left in no doubt as to
its basis, it is founded on the speaking of God. The rest of the book -- and
indeed most of the rest of the Bible -- has to deal with a very different
scene, the one with which we are all too familiar. Genesis 3 tells us of
a curse, Genesis 4 describes a murder and Genesis 5 presents us with the grim
reality of death. The next chapter tells us that "The Lord was sorry that
he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart" (6:6). There
is a great deal in human history which amply justifies this divine disappointment.
What has gone wrong? What is the cause of this cosmic tragedy? The answer
is almost as simple as the original introduction. There it was, "God said",
and all was well; now it is, 'Hath God said?' and nothing is well.
The question was satanic, but it was accepted and acted upon by our first
parents. Their action represented a deliberate and insulting refusal to accept
God's Word, casting doubts on His authority and so on His wisdom and love.
There can be no question as to the factual historicity of this racial action,
for everyone of us has to confess to an inborn distrust of God. All of us,
at some time or another, has yielded to the Devil's temptation to question
God's Word. 'Really, is that the truth?' we ask ourselves, or 'Has God said
that? I don't believe it'.
It would be easy, but not very profitable, to enlarge on this innate
distrust of God by considering examples from the world's rebels. It may
be more surprising and perhaps salutary for us to consider illustrations
from the most godly people which our race has produced. I invite you, therefore,
to consider the case-history of [25/26] three of God's
greatest saints, Abraham, Moses and David. In the careers of each of these
there came a moment when the governing authority of God's Word was set aside,
and with tragic results.
The emergence of this great father of all the faithful marks a new and
more hopeful era in the history of man's relationship with God. The Lord
often spoke to Abraham and found that His words were received with such faith
and obedience that in the end their ties became those of real friendship:
"He was called the friend of God" (James 2:23). Can a man achieve any greater
honour than that?
The fact remains, though, that even Abraham had his moments when he nursed
a doubt about the reliability of God's promise and so took matters into his
own hands. He had been promised a son. He had believed that promise. When
ten years went by, though, and there was no implementation of the promise,
he became so doubtful about its reliability that he accepted Satan's suggestion
that he should use Hagar to make up for God's lack. It was as though Eden's
serpent had again whispered into Sarai's ear: 'Yea, hath God said?' and she
had communicated her unbelief to her despondent husband.
It may have seemed a reasonable matter for doubt. Sarai concluded that
the Lord had no intention of fulfilling His promise through her, so that
she actually charged Him with being responsible for her barrenness: "Behold
now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing" (Genesis 16:2). The natural
alternative (later accepted in the case of Jacob and Rachael) was that the
slave-girl should become a substitute mother. On the face of it this may
be regarded as self-sacrificial advice on the part of Sarai, born of a desire
to bring comfort to her disappointed husband. Such an assumption, however,
cannot be justified, since her words reveal that her motive was far from
unselfish: "It may be that I shall be builded by her" (v.2 margin).
Probably her motives were mixed. She wanted to help Abraham; she wanted to
help God; and she wanted to gain advantage for herself.
What concerns us in it all is that the underlying reason for her advice
and for Abram's acceptance of it was a question about God's pledged word.
"Hath God said?", they asked, and then allowed their actions to express their
doubt. It is not my purpose to enlarge upon the consequent suffering to
all concerned, nor to comment on the delay of thirteen years before God again
was on speaking terms with His servant. These are the human consequences
of disobedience or even half-disobedience to what God has said. As for God's
side, there is nothing more wounding than to be mistrusted by one's friends,
so the Lord must have felt very deeply this culpable unwillingness to rely
on His promises.
Most of us have erred in similar ways. The ever-active serpent has repeated
to us his tempting question: 'Hath God said?', with the result that impatience,
self-interest, even natural logic, have led us into schemes and manoeuvres
which betray our underlying lack of trust in God. We deplore the treacherous
betrayal of faith in Adam and Eve, and even perhaps in Abram and Sarai, while
we ourselves offend in the very same way when we disregard or act independently
of the promises of God's Word. In the end, and after considerable suffering,
Sarai and Abram came to believe and prove how trustworthy those promises
are. The change was reflected in their names, since they became Sarah and
Abraham after that. By the strange miracle of divine grace, their failure
led them into an even closer intimacy with their heavenly Friend. Happily
the same may be true in our case.
It may be rightly argued that Abram's fault was partly due to immaturity,
and that his later life was blameless, but this cannot be said of Moses.
There was one -- only one -- great glaring disregard of God's Word in his
years of service, but it came almost at the end when we have become so accustomed
to the refrain, "As the Lord commanded Moses", that we begin to wonder if
the failure in Eden had not been completely overcome in at least one man.
"Moses indeed was faithful in all God's house as a servant" (Hebrews 3:5).
Yet the moment came when even he brushed aside God's clear words and gave
way to anger and self-will. It cost him dearly. It produced an irrevocable
decision from God that he should be excluded from the land. Is it possible
that such a spiritual giant, who received and communicated so much of God's
Word, should himself eventually succumb to the sin of rejecting what God
had said? Let the story speak for itself. [26/27]
Unbelief was in the very atmosphere. All the people were questioning
God's reliability. As a result, Moses was commissioned once more to go out
to the rock for water, only on this occasion he was told simply to speak
to the rock. He was too angry and impulsive to do that. He shouted out to
the people: "Hear now, ye rebels; shall we bring you forth water out of this
rock?" (Numbers 20:10). He then lifted up the rod of God -- not his old shepherd's
rod but the rod which was "kept before the Lord" (Numbers 17:10) -- and
struck the rock twice. God had said, "Speak": Moses decided to strike. It
had worked before, so reason argued that it would work again. Just to make
sure, he struck not once but twice. He had been told only to speak this time,
for that previous striking had been a picture of Christ crucified and that
was a once-for-all event.
Moses might not have understood the full significance of the type, but
he knew very well what God had said and he had regarded the command as being
of little importance. Once again the tempter was near, whispering, "Yea,
hath God said?" in Moses' ear. He allowed his own feelings of resentment to
set aside God's orders; he spoke no longer as a servant but as a master and
he dishonoured the name of the Master in heaven both by his words and his
Like Moses, David was responsible for part of the Scriptures, and some
of his psalms stress the supreme importance of God's Word, extolling its
greatness, stating that in keeping of God's commandments "there is great
reward" (Psalm 19:11). Even so, David became a distressing example of how
one of God's most honoured servants was seduced by the tempter to flout His
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife", said God, but David paid
no attention to the divine Word. "Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit
adultery. Thou shalt not kill" -- commandment after commandment was defied
by the man who should have honoured God but finished up by defying Him (2
Samuel 12:9). As he lusted after Bath-sheba and acted so disgracefully to
get and keep her, we can almost hear him casting scorn on what God had revealed
and muttering, 'Yea, hath God said?'.
Someone will point out to me that David is described as a man after God's
heart. True enough. The fact, then, seems to be established that distrust
of God and rejection of His Word is native to our race. If these great men
failed, what hope could there be for the rank and file of God's people? And
what hope, then, of recovery of those first days of man's existence when
all was beauty and joy and there was no death. Could there ever be a man
who would never harbour the faintest doubt about God's speaking and always
give Him perfect and loving obedience?
The Vindicated Word
There could! God Himself became Man and recovered all that Adam had lost.
He did more than that. He realised all that Adam never attained to. And the
real battle was fought out not in a garden but in the waste wilderness when
the Spirit-anointed Man refused every subtle temptation to question or contradict
what God had said. Luke graphically describes that three-fold attack as
"every temptation" (Luke 4:13) and reports that the Son of Man achieved
a total victory over Satan at that time. They were only the opening stages
of the great conflict, but they laid the foundations for all the further triumphs
over temptation which the Lord achieved and which culminated in the full
and final victory of the cross. By that triumphant death the Lord Jesus has
brought into being a redeemed humanity to constitute the new creation in
which old things have passed away and all things have become new (2 Corinthians
5:17). The blood of the new covenant not only means the removal of all past
guilt, but also that Christ's righteous obedience becomes so truly ours that
our Creator can look upon us in Christ and find that it is possible for Him
to say as He never could at the time of Genesis that everything He has made
is "very good". Happily this time the verdict is final: it can never be reversed.
By redemption the Lord Jesus has ensured that the Father will never again
The comprehensive temptations in the wilderness were of supreme importance,
for they prove that in His own Person the Lord Jesus was building a new creation
in which the word and will of God will never again be questioned. That was
God's reason for allowing the Devil so to attack His beloved Son. It is
true that in some ways we may feel that Satan took the initiative in tempting
God's Son, but this is not the whole truth. It was the Holy Spirit who took
the initiative, [27/28] for He led Jesus into the
temptation situation, and He did so for the specific purpose of establishing
in the Son of Man the basis for the new creation. It may be true that in
the temptation Satan was trying to cast doubts on the sonship of Jesus. If
so, he failed. It may also be the case that in the three temptations Satan
offered his suggestions as to how Christ could pursue and fulfil His ministry
for men without needing to go to the cross. In this, also, he completely failed.
We do not understand the scope and subtlety of the temptations, but it does
seem clear that the Lord accepted this opportunity of establishing at the
outset that He -- as Man -- was totally committed to the Word of God, and
determined to provide for the Father a new humanity which would never for
a moment harbour that satanic question as to the reliability of His Word.
His direct response to each temptation was prefaced by the words: "It
is written". We who love to argue must feel rebuked by the fact that Jesus
did nothing of the kind. He did not enter into any discussion with the Tempter.
He did not need to do so. For Him the straightforward statements of the Word
of God provided an end to all argument. If "it is written", then man's wisdom
is to listen and obey. According to Luke's Gospel, in the third temptation
Satan made use of the Scriptures in order to take advantage for his own ends
of that phrase, "It is written". The Lord's response to this faulty quotation
was simply: "It is said ..." (Luke 4:12), showing that true Man does
not regard the Word as merely a written book, but also as the personal speaking
of God. So it was that as Man, Jesus met and totally defeated the enemy
of God's creation purposes. By His death and resurrection He then went on
to bring into being the new creation which is produced and maintained on
the simple basis of "the word of truth" of the Father of lights (James 1:18).
In this new creation there will never arise that treacherous question, "Yea,
hath God said?" Faith will always triumph, for Jesus is both the Pioneer
and the Perfecter of faith.
Christ is the Amen as well as "the beginning of the creation of God".
It is most striking that when here on earth, He introduced so many of His
saving statements with the word "Amen", often saying it twice. To us the
significance of the word 'Amen' is that it is used as a concluding utterance,
but the Lord used it at the beginning. He begins with finality. It is rather
a pity that the translators so often mask the word by using some phrase or
words which give the rendering of 'Verily' or 'in truth'. This tends to blunt
the forcefulness of what He said. 'Amen' is not a Greek word which needed
translation; indeed it has become an untranslatable word in all languages.
Its force is to express the total reliability of Him who is "the God of the
Amen" (Isaiah 65:16 m.). The oft repeated "Amen, amen, I say unto you ..."
of the Gospels points us on to His message to the seventh Asian church: "These
things saith the Amen, the faithful and true, the beginning of the creation
of God " (Revelation 3:14). The new creation begins with the "Amen".
So the wheel turns full circle from Genesis to Revelation. The humble
believer delights to read Genesis 1 and dwell on the implications of the
words, "And God said ...". In the sequence of that original story, he notes
that the blissful seventh day of God's rest had no evening (Genesis 2:3).
In the spiritual counterpart, the new creation, there will happily be no evening
and no night. Ours is indeed "a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19) and His
Word an eternal Rock.
(To be continued)
THE REST AND THE COURAGE OF FAITH
(Ten years ago, on the 13th of April, Mr. T. Austin-Sparks went to
be with Christ. We have felt it right to re-print one of his last messages,
hoping that it will stir the memories of those who knew him and provide a
spiritual challenge to us all. -- Editor)
THE very door into true Christianity is the door of rest, the rest of
faith. The very simple way in which the Lord put it in His appeal was: "Come
unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"
(Matthew 11:28). The words are rightly used in messages to the unsaved, but
in Hebrews it is given a very much deeper and fuller meaning
[28/29] than is generally recognised: "There remaineth therefore
a sabbath rest for the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9).
A PRESENT ENTERING INTO REST
If you look at the context, you will find that the meaning is something
into which the people of God had not entered. "They were not able to enter
in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19). They could not enter in. And
who were they? They were the people of God. It is the people of God for
whom the rest remaineth. Do not restrict this to the future. It does not
mean that when we get Home to glory we shall arrive at the sabbath rest. It
is not something for the tombstone -- 'He (or she) entered into rest'. It
is something which remains now, as a present thing for the people of
God -- not in death but in life.
One of the things which is lacking in so many of us is this rest, or,
to put it the other way, the things which characterise us are fret, anxiety
and all those things which are just the opposite of calm assurance and quiet
confidence. One thing our enemy is always trying to do is to rob us of divine
rest by churning us up and harassing us.
God's rest is the rest of faith, not just the rest of passivity or indifference.
There is all the difference between carelessness and carefreeness. We have
no right to go to the unsaved and bid them to come to Christ and find rest
until and unless we ourselves know that rest. Our testimony and our ministry
are jeopardised and discredited if we are not ourselves in rest; and the
object of the enemy's activity in this matter is to discredit us by taking
from us that very birthright of our union with Him who is never perturbed
or in doubt because He is the One who reigns. He is Lord, and the very lordship
of Christ is contradicted by the unrest of the people of God.
The rest of faith must be our position; first in the great matter of
justification, for if we are not settled there, we will not be settled anywhere.
The enemy is ever seeking to raise again the question of our right standing
with God, that is, with Christ on the ground of what He is. So there must
be the rest of faith in that, but also in a hundred and one other ways,
in the practical things of everyday life, things which are not in our power
to arrange or secure. Every day brings many ways in which there is the opportunity
to stand into the rest of faith, into that faith in the Lord which brings
rest. So subtle are the enemy's ways that he will even tell us that some
things are too small with which to trouble the Lord. However small a matter
may be, if in it our testimony is preserved in rest, then it is a big thing
to the Lord and not a little thing. If in any matter the Lord's glory stands
to suffer, then it is a very big thing, even though it may be only an incident
in our daily life.
THE NECESSITY OF FAITH
'We see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief.'
Not able because of paralysing, incapacitating unbelief. That means
that the sooner we face this whole question and, as far as possible, get
it settled, the better. For thirty-eight years Israel was held up and went
round and round on this one question as to whether they were going to believe
God. It arose on all kinds of matters. It arose on physical matters, for
life in that wilderness was a great proposition physically. The Lord did
not change the physical conditions, but called first for a change in the
people themselves. The physical conditions were settled when He had got the
change inside them. When the matter of faith in Him was settled, then the
Lord dealt with physical needs. The question arose in the emotional and intellectual
realms, and the challenge was made along all those lines in numerous ways.
The Lord never changed it, never prevented it, but He always focused on one
point. The thing that matters is the inner man, and not until the issue was
settled there did the Lord deal with the other things.
We say: 'If only the Lord would deal with this physical matter, or these
circumstances, or this something else!' That is our way of reasoning, but
the Lord's thought is deeper down than that, and it is simply a matter of
believing in God, or resolute faith and confidence in God. The Lord is trying
to get us out of our variable soul life, where we are at the mercy of our
feelings and reasonings, into a realm where in spirit we are steadfast: "Their
heart was not steadfast with him" (Psalm 78:37), and around that the whole
of the forty years of Israel in the wilderness is gathered. The key to this
is spiritual; to be strengthened with might by His Spirit is the
[29/30] answer to it all. The other may then give way or, at least,
we shall gain ascendancy over the other, even if it is not removed.
FAITH IN GOD THE SECRET OF COURAGE
The message in Hebrews turns us back to the Scripture in Joshua 14:6-24.
Of that first generation only two men got out of that soul realm -- Joshua
and Caleb. They triumphed in that realm first and then the Lord brought them
out, but the fact that it was the rest of faith which was the secret of
their triumph is brought out so beautifully in this episode described in
Caleb, one of the two, comes to Joshua. He is an old man now, but he
is still living by faith in the position which he took up with the Lord
years before. The spies who brought the evil report looked at God through
their circumstances, but these two men looked at their circumstances through
God, and it made all the difference. Now as an old man Caleb comes to Joshua
and, while all the other people are being given their inheritance in nice
easy, prosperous positions, Caleb says: "Give me this mountain where the
giants are; this hilly country where the cities are great and walled up".
This brings a challenge to all our hearts. What are we looking for? An
easy inheritance, something that will give immediate satisfaction? Are we
looking for the flourishing land? The faith which brought Joshua and Caleb
into rest of heart before they came into the rest of the land was this kind
of faith: 'Give me a tough proposition! Here is a situation full of difficulties,
full of threatening, full of adversaries. It is almost an appalling prospect,
yet give me a chance there!' 'It may be that the Lord ... as the Lord spake.'
It is a case of looking at the mountain through the Lord, and not at the
Lord through the mountain.
I think that this is the kind of faith that we need to bring us into
rest. Yes, there is a mountain right enough, a physical mountain, a circumstantial
mountain, a mountain of difficulty in our work, and naturally we would do
the wise and commonsense thing if we said: 'No, we are not going to touch
that'. But faith says: 'I am not going to skirt that mountain. I am not going
to turn my back on it and run away. Give me this mountain!'
It is not just a question of natural courage or pugnacity. We know that
if we are left to ourselves we have nothing and had better quit. But the
Lord is challenging us, and uses this example of Caleb to do so. At the end
of a long life, when we might think that now is the time for us to be given
an easy allocation and a place of restful contemplation, we must be ready,
with Caleb, to say, 'No! Give me this mountain wherein are the giants and
the walled cities!'
The choice was a difficulty for him but it was an opportunity for the
Lord. As we move into the future we will have to face similar choices and
they will not be easy. We may have to face what seem to us appalling difficulties,
within and without, things which could easily take the heart out of us, but
may God give us the quiet, restful assurance and confidence in Him which says:
'Give me this mountain as an opportunity for proving the Lord!'
And Caleb got it! It turned out to be Hebron, a name full of spiritual
significance. Hebron had a wonderful place in the purposes of God. David
was crowned in Hebron before he was ever crowned in Jerusalem. The word 'Hebron'
means 'fellowship', which emphasises the great inheritance which comes to
men and women of faith, people who declare that they are not wanting to
escape from their difficulties and avoid the hardness of the way of God's
will, but are ready to trust Him. Let us be among them, taking what faces
us in the Lord's strength and seeking always to give Him an opportunity to
do for us what is naturally impossible.
"There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God." Such
a rest takes no account of what we can or cannot do in ourselves. It is
a sharing of the complete rest which God enjoys in His own finished work.
To have it is not only to experience calm but also to show courage. May
the Lord give us that faith!
Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.
J. Alec Motyer
Readings: Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36
IN a certain sense we enjoy a privilege which the Lord Jesus never had.
We have our own copy of the Bible -- often a prized one -- whereas the Word
of God was not printed in pocket form in His day, but was much too bulky
and too expensive for most people. On the other hand, in the mystery of God
becoming Man, He grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52) and knew the Word of God with
such accuracy and aptitude that as a child of twelve He surprised learned
professors by His understanding and His answers. How magnificent was His knowledge
of the Bible! He had a reply for every temptation drawn out of the Word of
God. He took care to honour the Word of God when men came to Him with their
questions. "What is written in the law? How readest thou?" He asked a lawyer,
so displaying His confidence that it was all there in the Scriptures. When
He spoke of always doing the things that pleased the Father, He was not mainly
speaking of any intuition as to the will of God but of the will of God as
stated in the written Scriptures of which the Lord Jesus was Master. Oh,
if we would be like Jesus, let us covet to be like Him in our knowledge of
the Word of God!!
The knowledge which the Lord Jesus had of the Word of God not only allowed
Him to quote the Scriptures but enabled Him to use them in a special way.
There were times when He reached back into the past, into Scriptural events
which had happened earlier, and then reproduced those events in His own experience
so that the Old Testament acted as a commentary upon Himself. It was this
that He was doing when He took His three disciples up into the mountain
for what we call His transfiguration. It would seem that He deliberately
reached back into the past and plucked events out of the earlier Scriptures
so that we might learn more of Himself.
IN the first of our two passages we read that when Moses came down from
Mount Sinai "he did not know that the skin of his face shone by reason of
his speaking with him" (Exodus 34:29). Bible translators try to help us by
sorting that one out and some say that Moses' shining face was by reason
of the Lord speaking with him and others that it was by reason of his speaking
with the Lord. The Hebrew simply says, as we have read, "by reason of his
speaking with him". Who was speaking with whom? I don't know; you don't know;
nobody knows! Usually when a Scripture has two possible meanings, I like
to suggest that we take them both. What we do know is that as the result
of that mountain-top fellowship, something of the divine glory was imparted
to Moses so that the skin of his face shone.
Jesus went up to enjoy mountain-top fellowship with the Father and while
He was praying, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment
became white and dazzling. The glory that Moses had was on the skin of his
face; it was imposed from the outside. It was a glory that rubbed off from
God and rubbed on to Moses. The glory of Moses was partial; it touched his
face only. The glory of Moses could be hidden; he wore a veil upon his face
because the people were understandably scared by this sight of glory. The
glory of Jesus, however, was the glory of His whole person; the glory of
Jesus could not be hidden so that even His clothes became white and glistening.
Out from His whole person there shone a radiance which penetrated even the
opaque veil of His clothing. The lesson is plain and thrilling. It is that
the glory of Jesus transcends any glory that preceded it. Here on earth those
three disciples had an inkling of the surpassing glory of Jesus which fills
The passage in the Gospel tells us that "Jesus took with him Peter and
John and James" (Luke 9:28), while in the Old Testament we read: "Then went
up Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel,
and they saw the God of Israel" (Exodus 24:9). Jesus went up with three
named individuals; Moses went up with three named individuals; and they
saw the God of Israel. As they went up that mountain did Christ's three
disciples remember the incident in history and did their knowledge of the
Bible prompt them to realise that Jesus was taking them up into the place
of revelation? They knew that both Moses and [31/32]
Elijah in their day had gone to the mountain top and held communion with
God, so did their glimpse of the two heavenly visitors heighten their expectancy
that they too were to have this supreme privilege?
We do not know. Surely, however, the divine record has been assembled
in this way so that we might appreciate the facts. Certainly when the three
went with Jesus to the top of the mountain and saw the cloud approaching,
they knew very well what that meant. The cloud was the presence of God Himself.
On Mount Sinai the cloud came down because God was there, and Moses is said
to have gone into the cloud where God was. No wonder that these three were
afraid then, for they were being introduced into the very presence of God.
When the cloud lifted, though, they saw no man but Jesus only. In other words
they did see the God of Israel, for the glory of Jesus is the glory
IN another Old Testament passage there are again three men whom God met
in the cloud of His glory: "Moses and Aaron among his priests, Samuel among
them that call upon his name. They called upon the Lord and he answered them.
He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud. They kept his testimonies and the
statutes that he gave them" (Psalm 99:6-7). The psalm tells us that "He
used to speak to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his testimonies ...".
What wonderful days they must have been when God's people walked with Him
in those wilderness ways, accompanied by the towering pillar of cloud! When
the blackness of the desert night fell, they were able to appreciate better
that the cloud was just a gracious veil thrown around them by the glorious
presence of God in light and fire. God was there! The whole camp of Israel
was lit up with the radiance of a God who had come down to dwell with His
people. He was not there just as an ornament, and not only as a protection,
but He was there to reveal Himself, to speak His word and to be obeyed. Moses
an Aaron were the greatest men of their day, but when God used to speak to
them, they kept His statutes. Great as they were, they were under the Word
of God. They had to obey what was said.
When the cloud came on the mount of transfiguration, God was again present
in the midst of His people and again He spoke from the glory. This time,
though, the Voice from the cloud said: "This is my beloved Son, hear him".
The Lord Jesus is not under the Word of God: He IS the Word of God and the
One who must be obeyed. He is the One of greater glory, divine glory, and
He is the supreme authority. And every part of that divine acknowledgement
of the Son reaches back into the past.
"This is my Son" -- that points back to the promise inherent in the line
of David, that a king would be born who would be the Son of the Most High
God: "You are my Son, this day have I begotten you" (Psalm 2:7). "This is
my chosen" -- that goes back to the Servant of the Lord prophecies in Isaiah
chapters 42 and 53. The Servant was the One who would bear His people's sins
and perform the work of atonement, so in this way the Father nominates Him
as the promised priest who would be responsible for the atoning work of
redemption. "Hear ye him " -- that looks back to the prediction given by
Moses that the Lord would raise up a prophet like unto him. "Him shall ye
hear", he said, "in all things that he will declare unto you" (Deuteronomy
18:18). The mountain-top utterance, then, declares the Lord Jesus to be the
King, the Priest and the Prophet of the people of God.
IT is striking to look back into Luke 9 and discover there that the question
keeps arising as to the identity of Jesus. That wicked man, Herod, said:
"John I beheaded, but who is this?" (v.9). When Jesus had been praying and
the disciples were with Him, He asked them: "Who do the multitudes say that
I am?" (v.18), and later on He asked them directly: "Who do you say that I
am?" (v.20). Who? Who? Who? Who is this Jesus? Who is He to you? Is He to
you the One of greater glory than any who have ever preceded Him? Is He to
you the One of the very divine glory, God Himself? Is He to you the One who
exercises authority through His word, the One to be heard and obeyed? Is
He your Prophet, Priest and King? Who is He to you?
And never let us think that this is an unpractical exercise in Bible
study and nothing more. The transfiguration of the Lord Jesus comes to us
with a date, and the date is "about eight days after these things" (v.28).
He had already spoken before He unveiled His glory. And what did He say?
He called the Twelve together and, sending them out on a mission, He said:
"As many as receive you not ..." (v.5). Your [32/33]
mission will not be a push-over. You will find that often you will not
be received; there is discouragement ahead. In the midst of a hungry crowd,
Jesus said to His disciples: "Give ye them to eat" (v.13). They had to face
clamant demands which completely outran their resources. After Peter's confession
that He was the Christ of God, the Lord seriously charged and commanded them
to tell this to no-one, saying that "the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected
and be killed" (vv.20-21). He then added His solemn words: "If any man would
come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross" (v.23), going
on further to warn them that "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and my words,
of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed" (v.26). It was eight days after
these sayings that He showed them His glory. He warned His disciples
that they would suffer discouragement, face demands which outran their resources,
endure many disappointments and shocks, have to face the costliness of discipleship
and be ready for the challenge of His Coming again as Lord, and then He
seemed to say to them: 'For all this you will need to know who I am. You
need to see My glory. That vision and knowledge can alone suffice to carry
you triumphantly through'.
If we do not see the glory of Jesus, how can we live for Jesus? The two
go together. It is of supreme importance to have a spiritual revelation of
Him. Inner renewal always comes by a fresh awareness of the great glory of
the Lord Jesus Christ. In all life's setbacks, He is King. In all life's
failures, He is the Saviour Priest. In all life's demands, He is our mighty
Prophet. At every moment we must hear the Father's voice from the glory: "This
is my Son, my chosen; hear ye him!"
NOTES ON 2 CORINTHIANS
3. THE FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST
PAUL was not able to evangelise in Troas. Nevertheless he had no sense
of defeat there but rather of triumph in Christ. The apostle does not say:
'Unfortunately I didn't accomplish anything in Troas', but instead he thanks
God for what happened there. Something had been accomplished in Troas, and
accomplished through him. He was not like an employee whose value could
be measured by man-hours of work. His whole life was active, because everywhere
and always it was a testimony to Christ. He was able to affirm that God
always leads us in triumph in Christ, and spreads the fragrance
of His knowledge everywhere (even in Troas).
The main emphasis is clear enough, though it is not easy to interpret
the pictorial language in detail. Does the passage mean that we share in
the triumphal procession as victorious generals who have conquered, or as
captured prisoners who have been conquered? Both interpretations make sense.
The former points to the fact that we share Christ's triumph even when, as
at Troas, that triumph is not evident. The latter, however, stresses the fact
that, since we have been conquered by Christ, we are no longer our own, a
truth on which Paul enlarges in 4:10 and the following verses.
In the triumphal procession the knowledge of Christ is diffused everywhere
as a fragrance. The choice of words is typically evangelical, for the apostle
does not say that through him God imparts the knowledge of Christ everywhere,
for the knowledge of Christ cannot be likened to any other knowledge which
can be communicated merely by human words. The knowledge of Christ must be
revealed; no man is capable of knowing or understanding Christ who is the
mystery of God unless revelation is given to him from above.
The apostle compares the revelation of Christ to a "fragrance", and then
goes on to expand this idea with his explanation that "we are the aroma of
Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who
are perishing" (v.15). It was an aroma of Christ to God --
[33/34] notice that! As he travelled around, Paul was always being
given over to death for Christ's sake, and in this way the life of Christ
was being manifested in his mortal flesh" (4:11).
Presumably Paul took this idea of fragrance from the offerings under
the old covenant where it is said of the sacrifices that they were "a sweet
savour for the Lord" (Leviticus 1:9). This means that the Lord was pleased
by them. The Old Testament altar always directs us to the cross, and Paul's
claim that it was no longer he but Christ living in him (Galatians 2:20) was
based upon the fact that the death and resurrection of Christ were actively
operative in him. In this way -- and only in this way -- was it possible
for the knowledge of Christ to be communicated through Paul everywhere as
a sweet fragrance.
This fragrance is not stated to be directed primarily to men, for it
is described as a perfume to God among men, both among those who
were being saved and those who were perishing. For the latter it was anything
but a fragrance; it was rather the foul smell of death to death. This suggests
that such men despised Paul's smallness, the working of death in him; they
had no awareness of the treasure in the earthen vessel (4:7) but were rather
irked and offended by him. They must have been affected in some way, for
they could not avoid the touch of what was pure and holy. They were, in fact,
brought face to face with Christ through the apostle, but the spirit and word
of the cross was foolishness to them and consequently unacceptable. For those
in the way of salvation, however, there was a fragrance of life unto life.
They breathed in new life in all its sweetness as they accepted his message.
It is hardly accidental that Paul mentions first this matter of fragrance
of death to death and afterwards that of fragrance of life unto life, for
the whole gospel springs from Him who died. That which is offered to people
as a testimony to the love of God is Christ crucified. It is the message
of His death, and it becomes death for those who are offended by it. For those
who receive and understand the message, though, it is Christ's death which
brings them life, and His resurrection life which gives life to them. He
who died is alive today. He is risen! It is startling that the same testimony
can bring either life or death, eternal life or eternal death.
When Paul speaks of "those who are being saved" and "those who are perishing"
he reminds us that it is God who alone decides whether a person passes into
life or remains under judgement. Perhaps that is why he exclaims: "Who is
sufficient for these things?" No doubt this question embraces the whole matter
of spiritual sufficiency in general, especially as the Christians in Corinth
were inclined to think themselves superior to the apostle in this respect,
but it refers particularly to sufficiency in always manifesting the knowledge
of Christ as a sweet fragrance everywhere. Paul's answer is quite clear
and it is that no-one in himself is sufficient for this.
And yet it happens! How can that be? The apostle later explains that
spiritual sufficiency comes from God alone (3:5). His immediate words, though,
give a clearer description of how that divine sufficiency operates in the
matter of preaching. "We are not as the many, making merchandise of the
word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak
we in Christ" (v.17). While his whole life was a testimony to Christ, a sweet
fragrance to God, Paul's main calling was to minister the Word as a preacher.
He therefore concentrates on this feature of his ministry, fully aware of
the fact that although the knowledge of Christ cannot be intellectually
imparted but must come by revelation, such revelation is given through the
spoken words of preaching.
Here indeed a man is cast upon the Spirit's aid, for much that is spoken
about Christ can be right without there being any vital impartation of the
fragrance of spiritual revelation. If the preacher seeks prominence for himself,
he will hardly reveal Christ. He may talk about Him, but he will only succeed
in exposing himself. Such a self-seeking man is bent on saving his own life,
whereas the central feature of the knowledge of Christ is that He refused
to do this, but chose the death of the cross. A preacher who is not himself
marked by the cross but rather one who seeks to avoid its operation in himself,
or even seeks to use its message for his own aggrandisement, is quite incapable
of conveying spiritual revelation to others. Such a one waters down the
cross and robs it of its power.
Paul could claim to be quite unlike so many others -- even in Corinth
-- who sought personal gain by means of God's Word. He was able to write
of his "sincerity ... as of God, in the [34/35] sight
of God, ... in Christ" (v.17). His motives were pure; he spoke as commissioned
by God, the God whose love is the very opposite of man's self-love and self-seeking.
He claims to speak "in the sight of God ... in Christ". This means that as
he spoke it was with the conviction that God was near and listening to every
word. He also says that he himself was abiding in Christ as he spoke. In
this way Paul found his sufficiency in God. As his words were spoken "as in
the sight of God", so his life and ministry diffused the fragrance of Christ
It is instructive to notice the strong contrasts which he makes in these
first two chapters:
||Trust in God (1:9)
||Grace of God (1:12)
|Yes and No
||Yes and Amen (1:20)
|Lord over your faith
||Helper of your joy (1:24)
|Peddlars of God's Word
||Directly commissioned by God (2:17)
These five contrasts clearly express the difference between what the
Lord disowns and what He acknowledges. The left hand side has nothing to
do with true evangelical Christianity.
(To be continued)
THE GRACE OF GOD FOR AN ANGRY PROPHET
"Salvation is of the Lord" Jonah 2:9
THE true Christian has no problems about the story of Jonah. The Lord
Jesus settled those once and for all. It is a noteworthy fact that our Lord,
without any systematic teaching on the inspiration of the Bible, made it
plain that some of the most disputed passages of the Old Testament are wholly
reliable. These include the Creation (Matthew 19:4), the Flood (Matthew 24:37),
the prophet Daniel (Matthew 24:15) and this story of Jonah when He authenticated
not only the prophet's successful mission to Nineveh, but also his strange
experience inside the huge fish (Matthew 12:40-41).
We therefore do not question the facts, but we may well ask why this
book is given a place among the prophets since -- unlike the rest -- he
has no words of correction or exhortation for us. Clearly it is the story
itself which is meant to convey God's message to us, and perhaps that message
is best summed up in Jonah's own words, spoken from the depths: "Salvation
is of the Lord". His deliverance was so wonderful that Christ chose it as
an illustration of His own death and resurrection, and it was so undeserved
that the worst of us, in the most hopeless circumstances, can take heart of
grace from its message.
I suggest four obvious truths which emerge from this little book:
1. However unlovely a man may be, God still loves him.
One of the simplest items of evidence that this book is inspired is found
in the fact that it is not allowed to end with chapter three. What a dramatic
climax that would have made! What a success story for God's servant! The
first three chapters tell of the prophet's deliverance, his recovered ministry
and the mass turning to God of those who heard him preach. If this had been
written by human skill, it would have ended on that high note. But it does
not do so. We go straight on into chapter four and find the whole chapter
devoted to the anticlimax of Jonah's sulky petulance. 'Is this a man of God?',
we ask. 'Can a preacher so mightily used by the Spirit of God be such a mean
complainer, such an unchristlike character?' The answer is here for us all
to see. He can. And since the Bible acts as a mirror, we may have to confess
that we see something of the corruption in our own natural hearts as we read
this sad disclosure of unexpected depths of meanness and ingratitude in
We know that he resisted God's original call to go to Nineveh, but we
also know why he did so. A man may perhaps be forgiven for unbelief in such
a situation, so if Jonah had argued that the Ninevites were so corrupt that
they would not pay any attention to his call to repentance,
[35/36] we might have felt some sympathy with him, even though
this proved not to be the case. Not that he could be justified in such an
assumption, for we are told to despair of no man; but at least his disobedience
might be a little more excusable.
Or if he feared for his own life, we would not feel so critical of him,
since most of us shrink from activities which expose us to mortal danger.
If Jonah had run away from God's will because he was afraid of being martyred,
who of us could blame him for that? The reason, however, was quite different
from this. He later freely admitted that his reluctance to obey was not due
to either of these emotions but simply and solely to the fact that he did
not want God to spare the city: "Was not this my saying, when I was yet
in my country? Therefore I hasted to flee into Tarshish: for I knew that
thou art a gracious God, and full of compassion" (4:2). Grace for me, but
condemnation for them!
Quite possibly, as a true patriot, Jonah might have been apprehensive
that this heathen power would overthrow the kingdom of Israel. It may be
that he presented to God arguments -- and very good arguments -- as to why
it would be risky to spare Nineveh and much safer to destroy it. We usually
have pious arguments when we try to reason ourselves out of obedience to God's
demands on us. The blunt truth was, however, that Jonah was a man of mean
and selfish character, a most unlovable type.
We may perhaps attribute better things to him when we read of his advice
to the frightened sailors, for this seems unselfish enough, and we are ready
to forgive his original reluctance when we find him accepting the second
chance of obeying God, setting out on his mission and faithfully delivering
his message to the city ripe for judgment. His subsequent outburst, though,
confirms our worst fears as to the baseness of his character; he is "exceedingly
displeased" (4:1), not because his mission had failed, but because it had
succeeded beyond any human expectation. Four times over we are told that he
was angry, angry with God, when he saw a mass repentance and a sensational
demonstration of the very words he had earlier uttered about himself: "Salvation
is of the Lord". How nasty can a man be! Even a believing man!
Jonah forgot the grace that had delivered him and even told God to His
face that it would have been better to have left him in the fish: "Therefore
now, O Lord, take I beseech thee, my life from me ..." (v.3). We are aghast
that any man, above all a most successful preacher, should talk to God like
that. We find ourselves in sudden agreement with the last part of his outburst:
"it is better for me to die than to live!" Amen, Jonah! We quite agree. You
really are not fit to be allowed to cumber God's earth!
Yet God loved him. Our heading reminds us that even the most unlovely
man of the covenant is loved by our faithful Jehovah. We are therefore not
surprised that God did not lose patience with him but took the trouble to
remonstrate with this sulky servant of His, trying to teach him a lesson
of Godlike compassion. What condescending grace was this! The great God of
creation, Maker and Sustainer of the universe, took the trouble to order
the sun and an east wind and to prepare a shady bush and a destructive worm,
in a patient effort to teach Jonah a spiritual lesson. In that lesson He
gave the complaining prophet an indication of His own compassion towards His
needy and ignorant creatures. How much Jonah profited from that lesson we
are not told. So far as we know his last words on the subject were: "I do
well to be angry, even unto death" (v.9). What an unattractive character!
Yes, but he was loved. That is miracle of divine grace. Salvation is indeed
of the Lord.
2. However distant a man may be from God he can still pray.
We pass over the first chapter and move into the prayer which "Jonah
prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly" (2:1). This is poetry,
so one imagines that it was composed after he was safely back on dry land,
but it is clearly his painstaking and elaborate effort to record for us what
were his thoughts and words as he found himself "in the belly of hell" (v.2).
Possibly the prophet used poetry as his medium because he felt that anything
less would be inadequate to describe the horror and hopelessness of his situation.
For the moment we focus on his realisation of how far he now was from God.
In his original folly he was trying to get as far away from God as possible,
as he himself confessed to the sailors (1:10). For their part they were
horrified at his madness. Let us not regard him as an ignorant fellow who
[36/37] imagined that Jehovah was a mere tribal
god, limited to his own circumscribed territory. Oh no, Jonah's creed was
correct enough, as he himself confessed: "I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord,
the God of heaven which hath made the sea and the dry land" (v.9). Unbelief,
however, is the most illogical of mentalities; it induced him to imagine
that he could hide from God by travelling as far West as possible. Geographically
he never got very far -- God saw to that -- but spiritually he became as
remote as a living man can be.
See how he describes his predicament: "Cast out from before thine eyes",
"I went down to the bottoms of the mountains, the earth with her bars closed
upon me for ever". With the weeds wrapped around his head and with all God's
waves and billows passing over him, he made the confession that "they that
regard lying vanities forsake their own mercy" (v.8), which he had certainly
done. With his life in "the pit" and his soul fainting within him (vv.6-7)
he must have felt that no living human being could be farther away from God
than he was.
But God is infinitely gracious. He made Jonah aware that he could still
pray, even if it was from that most unlikely prayer chamber. And God could
still hear, for Jonah reports: "Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou
heardest my voice" (v.2). Hope was not altogether extinguished, for he tells
us: "I said, I am cast out from before thine eyes; yet I will look again
toward thy holy temple" (v.4). Even in those dark depths he was able to remember
the Lord and to seek again the mercy which he had so foolishly forsaken when
he regarded the lying vanity of his own self-will. "And my prayer came in
unto thee" he thankfully exclaimed, "into thy holy temple" (v.7). The subsequent
arrival safe on dry land was proof positive that God had answered his prayer
but, even before that happened, he appears to have had the inner comfort
of knowing that God had not rejected his appeal for mercy.
The message is for us all. In the darkest hour or the most hopeless circumstances,
even when the matter has been aggravated by our own folly, we can still look
towards the holy home of God in heaven and still be confident that our prayers
are accepted there through Jesus Christ and will be answered. It only needed
a word: "the Lord spoke to the fish ..." (v.10). That is the one verse in
the chapter which is not poetry. It is plain fact. God spoke the word of
salvation. And why did He do it? He did it in answer to a sinner's penitent
prayer. So whether we are in fact distant from God or whether it is only
that we feel remote and downcast, we learn from Jonah's story that our prayer
will be accepted and will receive a swift and effective reply. Salvation
is of the Lord.
3. However deep a man may be, God can still lift him.
As we have seen, the language used by Jonah was alarmingly desperate.
He had gone down into the depths; "the waters compassed me about even to
the soul" (v.5). Not only was he in trouble, but the trouble was in him.
He was down as low as a man could possibly be. What made it worse was that
he knew that he was there by his own fault. It was his sin which had taken
him down "to the bottoms of the mountains".
We cannot but marvel that the Lord Jesus deliberately chose this story
as an illustration of the depths which He Himself would plumb. As He considered
this chapter, He must have been greatly troubled as His holy soul registered
the horror of a man who had been cast away from the presence of God because
of his sin. In the Gospel passage the Lord identified Himself with the prophet's
experience: "as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a sea-monster;
so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the
earth" (Matthew 12:40).
In the same passage Christ describes Himself as "a greater than Jonah".
The surface meaning of the passage must be at once rejected, for the same
could be said of any of the other prophets. They were all greater than Jonah,
so that there could be no point in the Lord's claim to be greater than this
individual. I conclude, therefore, that what the Lord did mean was that His
deliverance from the depth, His resurrection, was greater even than the
miracle which happened to Jonah. It certainly was! The Lord Jesus went down
into deeper depths than all these verses can describe and, like Jonah, He
went down under the load of great sins. Unlike Jonah, though, it was not His
own sins which separated Him from the Father, for He was sinless, but He
was submerged under the indescribable [37/38] weight
of the sin of the world. No wonder He sweat as it were great drops of blood
at the grim prospect!
But the Word of God offers comfort, even in the darkest hour, and to
the Lord Jesus the story of Jonah spoke of lifting from the depths, of a
power which is able to raise a man even from the deepest grave. If the Lord
Jesus was greater than Jonah in His sufferings, He was infinitely greater
in His experience of God's lifting power. He had to wait the full three
days, and He was fully committed to do so, but when God's moment came He
was raised by the glory of the Father. And it is He who offers that same
power to every believer. Jonah illustrates the fact; the Lord Jesus confirms
it and makes it real; that however deep a man may be, God can lift him.
Salvation is of the Lord.
We remember that Paul longed to know more of "the power of His resurrection"
(Philippians 3:10). This suggests to us that Jonah's story speaks of something
more than the first deliverance which comes to the repentant sinner when
he first believes -- though it includes that. The unfolding of the Christian
life involves ever fresh experiences of fellowship with Christ in His death,
experiences which provide God with opportunities of demonstrating in us the
might of His resurrection power. By all means let us allow Jonah's story
to tell the sinner that salvation is full and free, and by all means let the
faulty saint be encouraged to look to God for restoration, but the full message
of Jonah to Christians is surely what Paul meant when he claimed: "we are
always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus
may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:11). Every day, however
low we may be brought, the Word of God assures us that there is a lifting
from the depths for us. Salvation is of the Lord.
4. However much a man may have failed, God can still restore him.
"The word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time ..." (3:1). These
simple words have so often been used by the Holy Spirit to console and inspire
believers who are conscious of having failed in the matter of obedience.
It may be that the apostle Peter derived comfort from them. He certainly is
an excellent example of how the Lord can not only forgive our failure but
renew our call to service. I would imagine that there are few of us who can
claim to have given prompt and immediate response to God's first call to
us. Our flight from His will may not have been as blatant as Jonah's but,
like him, we have been all too ready to seize on apparent guidance -- a suitable
ship, a provision of passage money -- to justify our moving off in the opposite
direction from the revealed will of God. Jonah is not such an unusual character
after all, but a rather typical specimen of the average believer who has
not learned the discipline of prompt obedience.
It may sound romantic, but it is seldom easy to give such obedience.
Many centuries later, in this same seaside town of Joppa, the apostle Peter
received a call to carry the gospel to those whom he regarded as unsuitable
outsiders. He was in a similar predicament to that of Jonah. For a time
he argued with Christ, saying: "Not so, Lord" (Acts 10:14). Happily he capitulated
to the Lord's sovereignty and went to Caesarea, with results almost as startling
as Jonah's mission to Nineveh. But it was not easy, and it was not uncontested,
as every obedient servant of Christ discovers.
The special message here, though, is for those who have been running
away from the will of God, have regretted it and found forgiveness, and
yet are tempted to feel that they are now disqualified from further service.
To them Jonah's story brings the heartening message that however much a
man may have failed, God still has work for him to do. It may be that, like
Jonah, he can be entrusted with the very task he formerly rejected. It often
happens like that. Or it may be that the second call has different features.
That is God's business.
One amazing truth emerges, though, and this is that somehow God is able
to make use of our past failures to further His own purposes. Here is a new
factor in what we now do or Him. This is typical of sovereign grace; it
not only pardons the failure but incorporates values from it into the new
mission. Can anyone doubt that Jonah's ordeal, and quite possibly even his
physical appearance occasioned by it, gave powerful re-inforcement to his
message? Let us be under no misapprehension. It does matter whether we are
obedient or not. It matters to us, for refusal to obey God's will always
brings loss. In addition to his harrowing experiences, Jonah forfeited the
passage money he had paid [38/39] and may even have
lost his luggage. The point is, though, that God did not lose. He
gained. He was able to send as a messenger a man so clearly owing everything
to grace that the message had an even more powerful impact on its hearers
than it may have done otherwise,
These, however, are the secret things of God which belong to Him alone.
The clear and simple message which is for us all is that however much we
may have failed -- or feel that we have -- God can take us up and use us if
we newly commit ourselves to Him.
SURPRISED BY THE SPIRIT (1)
John H. Paterson
THE New Testament tells the story of a lot of surprised people. The evidence
is there in the use of words which express their surprise: the New Testament
is studded with "amazement", "astonishment", and reports of "wonder" and
"marvelling". From the time when the coming of the Lord Jesus was first announced
to the time when the narrative ends in Acts 28, nearly everyone connected
with Christ and His Church received a surprise at one moment or another! Friend
or foe, committed or indifferent, they all seem to have been astonished at
the way the story unfolded -- all but the Lord Jesus Himself and an old man
who had gone up into the Temple to pray, and had no difficulty at all in
recognising the Messiah, however astonishing His outward form.
The coming of the Messiah was one circumstance, we might feel, by which
no Jew ought to have been surprised. On the contrary, it was the single
great event to which they had all been looking forward for centuries. Their
surprise, not to say their failure to respond, arose from the fact that,
when the Messiah came, He did not look or act in the way they had
expected He would. So His birth was a surprise; His choice of career or public
role was a surprise; and His death was a surprise -- only that is far too
weak a word for a situation in which they themselves brought about the death
of the One they had so long expected. It was a case of lacking discernment
or understanding: "Which none of the princes of this world knew, for had
they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians
What I want to draw your attention to at present, however, is the way
in which the surprise continued after the Lord Jesus had returned
to His glory, and left the task of witness to His Church. Not all the surprises
by any means were pleasant ones -- we need only to recall the astonishing
events that surrounded the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5): great
fear, we are told, came upon all who heard about them. The world in general
seemed surprised by the vigour and the powers of the early believers, and
the believers themselves were surprised by the direction in which they found
If we follow the narrative of Acts and ask the question, 'What were the
greatest surprises of those early days?' then it seems to me that the answer
is clear. For the onlookers, the most surprising thing was the transformation
of the disciples from a timid, divided and, frankly, rather witless band
of men into a team endowed with courage, clarity of thought and miraculous
power. For the believers, the greatest surprise was the replacement of a
Jewish tradition and Messianic hope by a universal message of God's grace
to all who would believe and receive.
Why the Surprises?
Why should God's actions in His Church have so greatly astonished people?
It seems to me important to attempt some kind of explanation, and I think
that there are three answers.
1. The first is that we must remember that what we have in Acts is the
record of the work of the Spirit. Essentially, it was He who provided the
surprises, for to human beings He must always appear mysterious in His ways.
And this is so, I think, not simply because we lack a sufficient understanding
of those ways to foresee what He will do, but also because the Spirit will
not be tied down or commanded to act in a particular way. One thing which
emerges very clearly from the study of Acts is that, on different occasions,
the Spirit acted in different ways. [39/40] As a
result, it is dangerous to try to build doctrines of the Spirit's work on
individual incidents (a rich source of confusion, alas, among God's people!)
As soon as they become convinced that they have fathomed the secret of the
Spirit's ways, Christians seem to succumb to the dual temptations of thinking
that they can command Him for the future and of writing a book to pass on
their formula to others!
We shall return later to what might be called the certainties of the
Spirit's activities. The point, as we shall see, is that these are few in
number and that the Spirit always retains freedom of action in individual
cases. What we learn from Acts is that there is no universal formula
of His working. Pentecost was different from, say, Samaria (Acts 8:14-17),
and Samaria from Caesarea (Acts 10:44), and Caesarea from Ephesus (Acts 19:2-6).
We may certainly gain experience of the work of the Spirit, and profit by
it, but we may never treat Him as predictable; never take for granted that
we know what He will do next.
2. The second explanation of those many surprises in the early days was
that people were constantly underestimating the Spirit's capacity to change
lives. And here we must be sympathetic. God had done many wonderful things
for Israel in the old days, but the only known examples of lives changed
for the better lay far back in their history -- and some of them had unhappy
endings to their tale. These Jews had certainly read of the transformation
of Jacob after he met with God, and they knew how God had given Saul "another
heart" (1 Samuel 10:9), to fit him to be Israel's king. But the transformation
in Saul's case did not last, and the more common occurrence in the history
of their kings (as with, say, Solomon or Uzziah) was that a change took place
only for the worse.
Small wonder, then, that the conversion of that notorious persecutor,
Saul of Tarsus, found the believers not merely surprised but extremely suspicious
(Acts 9:26)! Small wonder, too, that these spectacular transformations were
interpreted by men like Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:18-19) as some kind of
magic -- a trick that could be learnt and practised by anyone. Nothing in
their previous experience had prepared people for this kind of transformation
in the lives of individuals.
3. The third explanation is of a different character. But I think that
the main reason for the surprise at the Spirit's working arose out of the
simple human tendency to dislike or resist change, and so to be unprepared
for it when it happens. If that sounds like a highly subjective assessment
of the situation on my part, I can at least claim some excellent supporting
evidence. For when Stephen was given the opportunity of defending himself
before the council (Acts 7), it was resistance to change which he took as
his theme! What his apparently rambling historical review was intended to
do is summed up in his last sentences, and the reaction of the Jews to his
statement made it clear (7:51-54) that they, at least, had understood the
point: "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always
resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye".
We are all caught out by change because, fundamentally, we are hoping
that it will not happen. Change scares us, and threatens us. And in the early
Church the principle threat to its original members was clear: that the special,
God-given status and privileges of the Jewish people -- and they were all
Jews -- might have to be shared with Gentiles. That this came as a surprise
to them is readily understood, for it was a reversal of everything which
their early history had taught them -- no mixing with heathen peoples; a
God apparently exclusively their own. The surprise was reasonable enough.
But the reaction was not -- not if they gave any heed at all to the gospel
message, and not if they had listened to the Lord Jesus proclaiming a new,
universal kingdom. Their reaction was defensive; they wanted to keep their
Christ Jewish, not share Him with the world.
We know from the epistles that these Judaizers were present from the
start within the Church, and that they caused endless trouble. And if we
are honest with ourselves we have to recognise that their descendants are
with us today; indeed, that we all are guilty at times of wanting to possess
an exclusive Christ. Is it not tragically easy to find ourselves reassuring
ourselves that, because we have more light on the Scriptures than some other
group of Christians, or more evidence of the Spirit's work in our midst,
therefore we have a special status as believers, or greater claim upon Christ
than they? [40/ibc]
There are plenty of modern equivalents to the scene in the house of Cornelius,
described in Acts 10. Picture it, if you will. Here are a group of Gentiles,
headed by a Roman soldier, untutored in the Christian faith and, until this
very moment, unlinked with the movement that is sweeping the land. Upon this
group, whose members have made no profession of faith so far, and who have
been prepared by only the sketchiest of sermons from Peter (and actually
the sermon was not even finished yet!), the Holy Spirit chose to fall. Do
you not imagine, as I do, that there were some Christians present whose reaction
was an astonished: 'Lord, how could You?' And that they then set off hotfoot
for Jerusalem to report that Holy Spirit's breach of protocol, and blame
Peter for allowing it?
There are lessons there for us all but, for the moment, let us concentrate
on the positive, the happy side: that there was one man present -- Peter
-- who was probably just as surprised as the rest but who responded splendidly
to this shattering revelation of the Spirit's sovereign ways. So much depended
on Peter at that moment -- so much that God had taken the very special precaution
of preparing him by a dream (Acts 10:9-16); that is, of giving Peter what
we should now call a 'dry run' so that, when the reality burst upon the company
in Caesarea, Peter recognised the principle and accepted this dramatic change
of direction. You may care to speculate on what would have become of us
all -- of us Gentile Christians -- if Peter that day had come down on the
side of tradition; if, throwing the weight of his own authority into the
scales, he had announced that this could not be Pentecost all over
again because God would never do such a thing for Gentiles.
So the scene of action shifts in Acts 11 back to Jerusalem. It seems
to me that, in the Book of Acts as a whole, Jerusalem generally meant trouble.
But on this occasion we can thank God that there were men there willing to
do one of the hardest things that man can do -- admit that they had changed
their minds! They began by reproaching Peter, as though he himself had in
some way commanded the Spirit to appear. But in the end the New Testament
reports, in one of its happiest verses: "When they heard these things they
held their peace and glorified God" (11:18). They might well be surprised
by the Spirit's ways, but they didn't have to be stubborn!
This particular battle had to be fought many times over, and similar
battles are ours today, but at Caesarea the principle, at least, was established
of the Spirit's sovereign right to do as He pleases; to bless whom He will;
to lead while His people follow. There were longstanding prejudices to be
overthrown, but how important for us that they were overthrown! It is not
so much the unexpected in the Christian life as our reaction to the unexpected
But this, of course, leads us on to the problem: how do we identify
the work of the Spirit? Is every unexpected thing in our lives one of
His surprises? In these chapters of Acts which we have been using as a background,
there are reports of many false spirits, and much confusion between
sham and reality. And so we must ask what guidance there is, what safeguards
there are, in our 'discerning' the spirits. How do we know when we are discarding
mere prejudice, or when we are throwing away some vital principle? We shall
try to answer this question next time.
(To be continued)
[The text of this article ran onto the inside back cover.]
[There was no "Inspired Parentheses" in this issue.]
"BUT HE SAID: YEA RATHER, BLESSED ARE THEY
THAT HEAR THE WORD OF GOD AND KEEP IT."
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