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

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Vol. 10, No. 3, May - June 1981 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

A Letter From The Editor 41
Not Now But Afterward 41
Crossing The Jordan 42
How To Face Tribulation 43
The Renewed Mind And The Transformed Life 45
Notes On 2 Corinthians (4) 49
Surprised By The Spirit (2) 52
In The Beginning (2) 55
Inspired Parentheses (30) ibc



BELOVED Friends,

I have had to abandon an Editorial which I had already prepared in order to write and tell you the news concerning the sudden and unexpected Homecall to Christ which came to my dear wife, Hilda, on April 1st.

The painful loss is deeply acute to me and to her family but, since it means infinite gain to her, we cannot but worship the sweet and perfect will of God.

Her "Promotion to glory" was encompassed about with tender mercies from her heavenly Father, even to the smallest matters, so that I find great comfort even in the depth of my sorrow.

Hilda Bennett, who became Hilda Foster to my great gain 18 years ago -- almost to the day -- had very many friends in a number of lands all over the world. It is not for me to speak her praises, but at least I feel that I can rightly say that she was highly respected and deeply loved by them all.

In the last issue of this magazine I appended to a message by the late T. Austin-Sparks (to whom she was very dear), one of the verses of the hymn: "Be still, my soul". I feel that the best way to terminate this letter is to quote the last verse of that same hymn:

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on

  When we shall be for ever with the Lord:

When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,

  Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.

Be still my soul: when change and tears are passed,

  All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.

During the years Hilda and I have been much privileged to be remembered in prayer by very many. Thank you, dear friends! I know that I may count on your continued support in the little time still left to me.

Lovingly yours in His great grace, Harry Foster



T. Austin-Sparks

"Who is there among you that will give ear to this?
That will hearken and hear for the time to come?
Isaiah 42:23

WITHOUT considering the context of these words, I use them to ask if we really believe that there is a time to come. Do we believe that the time to come is a bigger time than now, that the afterward is much greater than the present; that there are ages of ages before us, and that however long it may be, our whole lifetime here on earth is only a small fragment of what is yet to be? Do we believe also that our service in the ages to come is far more important than what we do in this age?

I do not thereby rule out the importance of this life, in which we should buy up every opportunity and redeem the time, but even so our life is but a span which will soon be completed. It sometimes even seems that we depart just when we are reaching a condition of being more able to help others than ever before. No sooner have we learned something which might be a real value to other people than we are called away. What a problem, what an enigma, life is!

"For the time to come." That was the perspective of the apostles, one of whom wrote: "I will give diligence that ... you may be able after my decease ..." (2 Peter 1:15). This is the real test -- whether we measure things just by our own lifetime or whether we are content to wait for the values of eternity.

Some have believed that it has been worth it to go to some foreign land for Christ for just a month or two, and then to die. They were [41/42] absolutely right! It was well worth it, if that was the will of God for them. Indeed if they had not thought so, then they had no right to go. God's values are always eternal.

Let us always have "the time to come" as a real motive in our living. The fruit of our lives is never all to be seen now. Only a small part of its meaning can be in our days: the total value will appear in the afterward. We have to live not only for this time for, although we live right up to the limit in our own day, we cannot do or be much and may even doubt whether the outcome here is worth the cost of it all. The cost, however, is not just for our lifetime; the Lord has in view "the ages of the ages".



Harry Foster

FOR certain reasons it became necessary for me to arrange ministries for the weeknight Bible studies in our local church here, and it seemed right to give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to develop and release new gifts among us. To this end I arranged for six different brothers to take a chapter in Joshua, beginning at chapter 1 and working through to finish with chapter 6. Many helpful points emerged but I now select two of them.

THE first comes in chapter 3. The story of the river was very familiar to me, but there was one point, so obvious and yet so telling, that it may be good to mention. It hinges on the word "until" in 3:17. We are reminded that when once they were all over, the waters returned to their place and there was no way back. Whether any of them, from Joshua downwards, had any wish to return to the familiar ground of the past 40 years, we do not know. The fact is, though, that even if they had so desired, there was no way back; for the river which had seemed so effectually to bar the way and had then been parted to provide an open door, had now so resumed its steady flow and risen to its flooded state that no-one could return even if he wished to.

They probably did not want to retrace their steps. I am afraid that we often do. If, however, the waters of Jordan have any spiritual meaning for us, the lesson must be a reminder that:

"I have decided to follow Jesus,

No turning back. No turning back."

THE brother who took chapter 4 is a practical man -- manager of a Travel Agency -- and he had some most practical points.

Our town lies at one side of the River Severn, with Wales clearly in sight across the river. "Suppose", said the speaker, "that the Lord did for us what He did for the Israelites, and dried up a way right across our river! Could we then walk over to Wales? We certainly could not. We should hardly make a start before we found ourselves completely bogged down in the mud. Even if the waters were no longer a barrier, we would still be unable to walk very far before we were hopelessly bogged down in the mud". We do not know about the bed of Jordan as we here know our River Severn, but with the whole area under flood there must have been impassable areas of soft muddy ground. But they were not impassable! The priests could stand there without floundering and the people, even the children, were able to walk over: "All Israel passed over on dry ground, until all the nation were passed clean over Jordan" (3:17).

God may allow us to pass through the floods, but it is certain that He will never let us get stuck in the mud. He has set our feet upon the Rock. We rejoice at the miracle of the holding back of Jordan's waters, and rightly so, but we may not have realised the further and most striking miracle of feet standing firmly on dry ground when humanly speaking we would have been hopelessly floundering. Thank God for fresh light on old and familiar truths! "He will keep the feet of His saints". [42/43]



Arthur E. Gove

Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1

FROM the first the Thessalonian believers had been inspired by the great hope of the Second Coming, but it is apparent that in aspects of that matter they were confused. They had other problems too. There was weakness in the matter of order, since the leaders in the church were not respected and honoured as they should have been. Alas, that in our own day there are leaders who do not command respect, those who do not deserve to be followed because they themselves are inconsistent and unspiritual. The main thrust of this letter, however, seems to have been to deal with the confusion connected with the Coming of Christ, a confusion which had been intensified by false teaching attributed erroneously to the apostle himself (2:2).

There was dismay because some of the saints had died and seemed to have been cheated of the blessings of Christ's Return. This was put right in Paul's first letter. Then there were those who lived in such an atmosphere of crisis that they gave up their daily work and wanted to wait around for the Coming while living on the charity of others (3:11-12). The main problem, however, was associated with their intense suffering. They were passing through deep tribulation and they wondered whether the day of the Lord, the judgment period, was already upon them. In fact this church had been born in tribulation, as is shown by Acts 17:1-9 and by many references in the two letters. Happily this did not cripple their testimony or prevent their growth, but rather the opposite. Nevertheless it was all very painful and hard to understand, as we well know. This letter, therefore, offered them and offers us now, some helpful advice as to how to face tribulation.

1. The heart must be right [(verses 1-4)]

The Thessalonians are an example to us all, for their church was clearly pleasing to God and one for which Paul could give sincere thanks. In spite of their sufferings and persecution, their faith was growing, their love for one another was abounding and their patience was outstanding. The apostle felt an obligation to thank God for them; it was only right and fitting that he should do so (v.3). He never lost a chance of telling other Christians of the way in which they were triumphing in the midst of much affliction (v.4). How right were their hearts with God! This no doubt explained how they were able to meet adversity, not only bearing it but actually growing spiritually because of it.

i. Their faith grew exceedingly. Paul had been rather anxious about this matter of their faith and sent Timothy to establish and confirm them (1 Thessalonians 3:2). It must have been a tremendous joy to him to find that Timothy's ministry had been so effective and that faith was not only preserved but constantly growing. The verb indicates 'organic growth as of a healthy plant' so that the only effect of the outward trials seems to have been to produce deeper rooting in God and increasing trust in Him.

Faith can only grow as we come to know more about the One in whom our faith has been placed. It therefore depends upon a growing heart knowledge of the Lord. God had permitted the testing of their faith because He knows that this is the only way by which it may be made more robust. A faith that cannot be tested, cannot be trusted. Not only Paul but Peter: "The trial of your faith ... more precious" (1 Peter 1:7) and James: "Count it all joy when ye fall into manifold trials" (James 1:2) remind us that an easy life can well lead to a shallow life. The Christian who has to meet tribulation must be sure that his heart is constantly fixed on his Lord. Only so can he be ready for the blow when it falls. Winston Churchill is most apt for us in our spiritual warfare when he comments that 'we must always be ready at our average moment to meet the enemy at his selective moment'. At all times our heart must be right.

ii. Their love abounded. The word used here refers to the kind of over-spreading resulting from fire or flood covering everything in its path. To us suffering may seem to deny rather than to prove that God is working out His purpose, and our first tendency might be to try to avoid it at all costs. The New Testament, however, teaches us that all our trials are an expression of God's love towards us, and are being used to develop our character for His [43/44] glory. Faith and love work closely together and it is love which enables us to trust the Lord even while we are in the furnace of affliction. God never wastes our suffering, as the Thessalonians were proving. They kept their hearts right and found that this enabled them to endure and to have ever growing faith and constantly expanding love. Their steadfastness was a cause of help and encouragement to "the churches of God" as Paul spoke freely to them about it (v.4). There are greater consequences than we know of when, instead of giving in, we keep going on in faith.

2. The mind must be right (verses 5-10)

We have already pointed out that there was a certain amount of confusion in the minds of the Thessalonian believers. Like the rest of us, they were plagued by the nagging question, 'Why?' They wondered how their harsh experiences tallied with the glorious hope given to them in the gospel. Human logic has no answer to such problems; only the people with renewed and enlightened minds can begin to understand the strange ways of God. They are first assured that everything is governed by "the righteous judgement of God" (v.5). Their experiences are then explained in the light of the Second Coming, the time when the full truth about the Church and the world will be manifested.

i. 'To you'. The truth about you is that you are being fitted for the kingdom of God. You will not always have to suffer. There is an end and an objective in all that God permits, and when that moment of fulfilment comes, then you will enjoy "rest with us". It will be, of course, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven, for He will come "to be glorified in his saints" (v.10), that is, to show out His glory to the whole universe through the people who have not only believed on Him but also suffered for His sake. At the present time those sufferings may seem to be acute and almost endless, but the same apostle assures us that they are only light afflictions which last for a moment but which are guaranteed to produce in us "a more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17).

The truth, then, about the Christian, especially the suffering Christian, is that God in His wisdom is allowing things to happen which will make him ready for the Coming in glory of the Lord Jesus. In that day He will be "admired in all them that believe". When the universe sees the glory of Christ shining out through His Church, all will wonder at the grace of God which can lift sinners to the place where they reflect the very glory of God. It is useless to try to reason out what we are going through; it must be enough to allow His Word to enlighten our minds as to the eternal destiny of the faithful believer and to interpret all our experiences in the setting of our being conformed to Christ so that we will be "counted worthy" of that kingdom. That is what we are suffering for (v.5) and that is the end which God has in view.

ii. 'To them' (v.6). There is another side to that Day -- a very sombre side -- and the apostle clearly judged it important that our thinking about that should also be clear. Christ will come "in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them ...". It is not that He will come seeking personal revenge, nor that we should take any pleasure in thoughts of revenge, but rather that when God begins to put everything right, His holiness demands that sin should not be left unjudged. Revenge involves the satisfying of a personal grudge. The Lord Jesus does not hold any personal grudges against His enemies, and nor must we, but when men refuse His mercy and will not obey His gospel, it becomes inevitable that they should bear the punishment of "eternal destruction from the face of the Lord" (v.9). If we are to endure tribulation triumphantly, we must get our heads right as well as our hearts; we must maintain a clear understanding of the fact that Christ is coming again and we must also have Spirit-enlightened minds as to the implication of that Coming. How different the future will be for those who trust Christ and suffer for their faith! Eternal glory for them! For those who refuse to do this there can be no glory but only lasting shame. We must not be confused. God will carry out His plan. A right heart and a right mind will enable us to face tribulation and be unmoved.

3. The walk must be right (verses 11-12)

In the closing verses of the chapter the apostle carries through what he has been saying to the realm of prayer and discloses that he is concerned that the Thessalonians' heart fervour and spiritual understanding may be worked out in daily living. Those who have such a great and glorious prospect must be careful that their present behaviour does not contradict it. Having spoken of a future day when they are to be "counted worthy of the kingdom" (v.5), he now [44/45] prays that even now "our God may count you worthy of your calling" (v.11).

Simply because we have a future hope, we are not to neglect our present daily duties. The right preparation for the future Day when the Lord will be glorified in us is so to live that even now there may be glory for Him in our daily walk: "That the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (v.12). Trials do not so much make a person as reveal what that person is made of. The Psalmist's advice to those who had good cause for fretting because of evildoers was that they should "Trust in the Lord and do good" (Psalm 37:3). Those who are called upon to face tribulation need to have a right heart and a right head, but they equally need to have right hands and feet to be occupied in well-doing.

This chapter begins with grace and ends with grace. If it is a fact that in the last days the love of many will grow cold, then how we need God's grace to keep our hearts overflowing with love. If it is also true that such days are characterised by increasing darkness and perplexity, how wonderful it is that God's grace can enlighten and instruct our renewed minds. And if it is true that "the time is come for judgement to begin at the house of God", how right it is that we who "suffer according to the will of God" should commit our souls "in well-doing unto a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19). Only so can we adequately face tribulation.



J. Alec Motyer

Reading: Ephesians 4:17-24

IN the Epistle to the Ephesians great stress is laid on the importance of the Christian's walk, and the walk is seen to be the result of an enlightened mind. The word 'walk' is a lovely one. It describes our manner of life and tells us that there should be a visible distinction where the people of God are concerned. The new man is not like the man of the world and does not walk like him for he is created in the image and likeness of God.

The Divine Plan

What is man? What constitutes someone a truly human being? The answer to that question is that man is in the image of God. This is something which could never be arrived at by logical reasoning, but it is the real truth which can only come by divine revelation. It seems to me that we can almost sum up one line of teaching in this letter by saying that what God has done in Christ is to make it possible for us here and now to live out what is our true nature and to be seen for what we really are in Christ. I know that there are other lines of thought in the Letter to the Ephesians and that the main stress seems to be on the Church and its fellowship, but this is certainly one of the aspects of truth in it, namely that God has planned and wrought and then applied a salvation which has as its great overriding effect that we should be renewed into the image of Him who created us, and so be the distinctive people of God among all others on the face of the earth.

The opening word in the passage under consideration is, "therefore". This refers us back to the earlier part of the letter where we find how God planned, accomplished and supplies this salvation for us. He planned! "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (1:4). Here, in simple words which a child could understand, we are given that which is quite beyond our understanding. It may be plain, but it is most precious, and we hold on to it by faith. You and I are in Christ today because there was a transaction in the mind of God before the world was founded. He accomplished it. This eternal scheme of God came to fruition in the cross of Christ: "In him we have redemption through his blood ... according to the riches of his grace" (1:7). How did God the Father bring His plan to pass? By sending the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Christ saves the world by standing in for us and accepting unto Himself all our demerits, our offensiveness and our failures, and by bearing them in His body on [45/46] the tree. So the counsels of God which go back before the world was, took effect in time and history in the cross of Christ where the blood of Christ was shed for our redemption.

He applies this salvation. The full drawing back of the veil reveals to us that it was the Father who planned, the Son who accomplished and it is the Holy Spirit who is the bearer to us of all the blessings which come to those who believe in Christ: "... having believed in him, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is an earnest of our inheritance ..." (1:13). In the work of saving sinners, God reveals Himself in His total way as God the Holy Trinity. Not till Jesus came was God fully, truly and utterly known. Not before Jesus came and not until Jesus, were men permitted to know the glory of the eternal Trinity. And further, this God wished to come and dwell in His redeemed. In this work of salvation which God planned and accomplished and applied, His intention is that in all His fullness, Father, Son and Holy Spirit should come to reside in His people. This intention is described in Paul's prayer (3:14-19), where he tells us that God's great purpose is that the Holy Spirit should reside in our inner being, so that we may be "filled unto all the fullness of God". So God's purpose in salvation is to impart Himself, to come and take up His residence within those who believe, so that they may bear His likeness.

All this brings us to the "therefore" of 4:17. We have had a lovely vision -- first the vision of God in His full reality as God the Holy Trinity, and then the vision of God residing in us so that at long last we might be rescued from all the corruption and inhumanity of fallen man and the sub-human condition which has been brought about by sin, and that through the indwelling Spirit we might become renewed humanity, the ideal human people in whom the image of God is seen. How is that vision to be realised? How can we pass from seeing God's plan to having it realised in daily life? These verses tell us.

The Renewed Mind

The word "therefore" bridges over to this point, connecting the provision in Christ with the daily experience of the believer. Paul now begins to spell out the mechanism whereby the glorious vision can become a daily reality for you and me. The verses which follow are therefore most important, and they deserve much prayerful consideration.

They focus on one distinct aspect of our lives which is the mind, and they show that this is central to the whole idea of the realisation of the image of God in our everyday life. If we look for the difference between the walk of the unredeemed Gentiles and of the redeemed people of God, we find that it is in the mind. The unredeemed walk "in the vanity of their mind" (v.17). There is no lasting meaning and no true fulfilment for them, but the blight of vanity is over all their thinking. Further, the unredeemed are "darkened in their understanding" (v.18). Their way of grasping things is different and no light from heaven penetrates their natural darkness. Then they are "alienated from the life of God", having no vital basis of communication with Him. We are told the reason for this alienation; it is again a matter of the mind, being "because of the ignorance that is in them". This constitutional ignorance keeps them cut off from any vital fellowship with God.

Believers, on the other hand, have a different mind. They have been delivered from natural ignorance for it is said of them that they have "learned Christ" (v.20). This different mind has delivered them from having to wander around in the vanity which formerly governed their walk; they are not alienated as the others are, but are plugged into life, animated and governed by the power of the gospel. They have "learned Christ", they are "renewed in the spirit of their mind" (v.23) and they are "created in righteousness and holiness of truth" (v.24). So, if it is the mind which makes the Gentile, it is also the mind that makes the new man.

How much do we know of this new mind? How do we find ourselves in our daily walk? Do we despair of ever losing the image of the world and enjoying the image of God? Do we constantly wonder how we can ever shuffle off this likeness to the unredeemed and receive the blessed image of the Redeemer? Or, are we like Peter, in our best moments saying, "Lord I will follow Thee to prison and to death" and yet ending the day, as he did, with failure and bitter weeping? Often it is not that we do not know all about Satan's assaults. It is true that they are subtle, but they are often quite predictable. And yet we find them overwhelming, and once more we go down before them. What can we do about it? [46/47] Well, we can at least note from the Scriptures that the battle lies in the area of the mind. If we are seeking progress in sanctification, it is the mind that matters. That may not be the whole story, but it is certainly a major factor.

We may find help in Romans 12:1-2. We find there that we are exhorted to present our bodies a living sacrifice to the Lord. There is no problem about such an action. I have heard preachers try to make a great crisis out of it, but it seems to me to involve a very simple committal. The act of consecration is relatively easy; it is what follows which makes heavy demands, for we are then commanded: "and be not fashioned according to this world; but be transformed ...". Ah, that is different. That demands a constant crisis of experience, as is shown by the present continuous tense -- "Do not go on being fashioned according to this world". We may make the presentation of our bodies quickly enough, but it is what is meant to follow that is hard and often painful. We are always being pressurised by the world and must maintain a firm resistance to this pressure. What is more, the rest of the verse tells us that we must "go on being transformed". The same word is used here as is employed in the Gospels concerning Christ's transfiguration. We are to go on being transfigured!

Stop being like the world! Go on becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus! A lovely thought, but how can it be realised? The verse goes on to explain: "... by the renewing of your mind". This is not so much a call for a single act of an emotional transaction with God which solves all my problems at the moment of total committal, as a call to a lifetime of discipline under God's Word. The act of consecration may be the beginning, but the middle and the end of this work of sanctification consists of going on in a progressive withdrawal from the likeness of the world and a progressive attachment to the likeness of Jesus. And this can only happen by a renewing of the mind.

On the way to Emmaus, the two disciples began with slow hearts and ended with burning hearts. How different was the end from the beginning, and all because of a conveyance of biblical truth to the minds: "He interpreted to them in all the scriptures, the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). These old, stultified, wayward hearts of ours can be lifted up out of their natural foolishness and made to burn for God, if only divine truth grips the mind. Later on we read that the Lord Jesus "opened their mind, that they might understand the scriptures" (v.45). It was as though the one cardinal thing that He needed to do before He could go back to heaven and leave an effective working Church here on earth was this ministry of the Spirit in opening their minds.

In Ephesians 4:17 we noted that the Gentile mind was a mind of vanity. Its state is such that it can never, never grasp divine truth. It can never arrive at it, nor see it, nor hold it; it is a mind of vanity. As to capacity, it is darkened; as to its effect, it brings alienation from the life of God through ignorance. What a sorry picture! Well, it must have been sad for the sisters of Lazarus when they saw their brother in the darkness of death. All the old animation had gone: those eyes of the loved one with whom they had lived and whom they loved were now quite lustreless. But Jesus came, and through His restoring work, Lazarus came out of the tomb, now with eyes that were full of freshness and animation. That is how renewal works. It will be so in the future, and the words of the hymn are justified by God's Word when they look to the day of full renewal:

Then eyes with joy shall sparkle

That brimmed with tears of late;

This is a true expression of our prospect of heaven, but we do not have to wait until the future. It can happen now, There can be animation and renewal here on earth.

Sanctification begins as the mind is engaged in the truth of God and grasps it. This, however, is not just a matter of things in the intellectual realm. Please do not imagine that I am calling you to take high degrees at a university. No, I simply point to the possibility of a mind illuminated to know God in His Word. If you are troubled by constant spiritual defeat, and you wonder how to overcome, enter into the university of Jesus. Take the higher degrees which He Himself took. When He was put under test, His reply to Satan was simply: "It is written". Then Satan came a second time with a further testing, and once more Jesus replied: "It is written ...". That was His first higher degree. But Satan came again, and this time he quoted Scripture, but only to receive from Jesus the further reply: "Ah, but it is also written". That was His [47/48] research degree. His triumph was not just intellectual but moral and spiritual. He just knew and used the Bible, and Satan went packing. If you are inclined to regret that you cannot quote Scripture as accurately as Jesus did, may I say that I have discovered that sometimes Scripture is even more effective when it is not quoted aptly. That seems to confuse Satan! The power is resident in the Word of God and not in our aptitude for selecting the right verses.

The Transformed Life

We must see, however, that becoming like God is much more than a mental exercise. The mind is to determine the quality of the life. The proper function of the renewed mind will bring us into the reality of the transformed life. The darkened state of ignorance is said to produce "uncleanness with greediness" (Ephesians 4:19), but the renewed mind leads to "righteousness and holiness". The renewing of the mind is in fact placed in the context of "putting off" and "putting on". We are told to "put on the new man which is after God" (v.24 mar.), as though it were a garment. In the Bible, garments are a visual picture which speak of capacity and committal. You remember the story of how Joshua was in great straits before the city of Jericho, wondering how he was to lead his army and crack open the stronghold which stood at the entrance of the promised land. God met him there in the form of a Man in armour with a drawn sword in His hand. Joshua needed a God who was a soldier, so God came to him in a soldier's garb. Garments are a picture of capacity and committal. Being dressed in this way, therefore, was God's way of telling Joshua that He Himself had all the military capacity that was needed and that He was committed to fulfilling that capacity. It was as though He said: 'I come to you as a soldier, Joshua, because I have all the power needed for this task and My drawn sword confirms that I am fully committed to it'.

It is in this way that we are commanded to "put on" the new man. The garments speak of what we truly are. If you are a Christian, God in Christ has made you a new man. He has supplied those garments for you. Put them on! That is your real nature in Christ, so live in the good of it. Note, however, that by doing so you commit yourself to the pursuit of holiness, for the dress speaks of committal as well as capacity. The new mind must have practical expression in a transformed life.

This passage in Ephesians 4 calls us first to the new mind and secondly to holiness. But there is a further call, the third, that directs us to the Lord Jesus Himself. What is the difference between the unredeemed Gentile and the redeemed? The mind. What else? A holy life. What else? "The truth in Jesus" (v.21). Here is the secret of everything, a personal experience of Jesus Christ. You learned Christ (v.20). It was He who made all the difference. Moreover you heard Him, and were taught in Him, even as truth is "in Jesus". It is nowhere else. Here is the very quintessence of the new man -- Jesus, the One who is the exemplar of this new way of life. He saves you and shows you the way, so that what you have to do for the rest of your life is just this, to learn Christ and be taught in Him.

To learn, speaks of a pupil relationship while to hear, speaks of a listening relationship and to be taught, points to educational progress. All is focused on Him. Day by day we are to be in the School of Jesus; day by day we are to come to the One who is anointed as Christ to save sinners, and is Jesus, the Exemplar of the whole new man. "Even as truth is in Jesus." The Bible does not just say "the truth" but insists that truth itself can only be found in Him. Be like Jesus, and you will be made in the image of God, as you were always meant to be.

A full salvation has been wrought out at Calvary. At that point, Father, Son and Holy Spirit revealed Himself. There is nothing more that God has to reveal of Himself, though there is very much more that we must apprehend. But it was all done at Calvary. When God brought me into relationship with the cross, He brought me into a full, final and finished work of salvation. It is mine, and it is mine now.

Do not acquiesce in a lower standard of life than God intended for you. Do not say to God: "I have had fifteen or more years of experience to show what I am like and will remain like that till I die. I cannot change now, so there is nothing that can be done about it." Listen, rather, to what He says and obey His command to put on the new man. Engage your mind to Jesus. Listen and learn in His school. How wonderful to find your true manhood or womanhood in Jesus, the One in whom is the reality of truth. [48/49]



Poul Madsen


WHAT Paul had been saying in the previous chapter might possibly have seemed like self-advertisement: "Are we beginning again to commend ourselves?" The word "again" does not mean that the apostle had previously commended himself, for no-one who truly speaks in the sight of God in Christ can ever do that. It shows that he was taking up an accusation which had been made against him by his critics. These may even have given an impression of greater humility than he by saying: "Others recommend us, so we do not need to commend ourselves. How is it that Paul does not have the letters of recommendation which are customary among us?"

Paul takes that matter up by insisting that the Corinthians themselves were sufficient letters of commendation so far as he was concerned. It would be easier to understand him if the few manuscripts are right which read: "You yourselves are our letter, written on your hearts", and would certainly be in accordance with his latter words about the letters being written "in tables that are hearts of flesh". However the majority and best of the manuscripts have "our hearts", which suggests that the Corinthians are a letter written on Paul's heart. They certainly were (7:3) and those who knew him could testify that this was the case.

Perhaps it is simplest to suggest that Paul felt that his letter of recommendation was written both on his own heart and on the hearts of the Corinthians, a fact which emphasised their mutual belonging together. In any case the important point is that Paul tells them that they are a letter from Christ , suggesting that through them the Lord speaks to men of His salvation and His purpose of salvation. Their life testifies to who He is and what He is able to do, with Paul delivering or penning this letter. The thought is that by his ministry, Christ wrote His letter in the hearts of the Corinthians. This is the only letter of recommendation which Paul valued.

FROM this follows something which is typical of Paul. Out of petty squabbles concerning something as trivial as letters of recommendation, he creates a great and liberating view of the glory of the gospel. Step by step he has led his readers away from the formal documents which can be written in ink, and now the time has come for him to teach them the difference between the old ministry of the letter and the new ministry of the Spirit, and for this purpose he uses another picture, that of the Old Testament tablets of stone. The apostle does not actually quote Ezekiel 36:26, nor is his thought identical with it, but the idea is akin to it when he emphasises that the letter he is speaking of has been written by the Spirit, not on tables of stone, but on tables of flesh, that is, on human hearts. What he is really saying is that what is written in the Corinthians is really the gospel.

Paul's evangelical work had borne the fruit that the law of God had been written in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, which implies that his ministry had been a fulfilment of the prophetic word concerning the New Covenant. It may seem that this is rather presumptuous, but he counters that idea with the words: "such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God" (v.4). He repudiates self-confidence by stressing his complete confidence in God, the God who raises the dead (1:9). He had worked as a servant of the gospel, and God had not disappointed his confidence but had done what was beyond any human possibility by giving the Corinthians new hearts of flesh to replace their old hearts of stone. Only a God who is able to raise the dead could do this, and this is the God on whom he had learned to rely.

Paul cannot emphasise enough his confidence in God. Having stressed this confidence positively in verse 4, he now goes on to describe it negatively: "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us" (v.5). It could hardly be expressed more strongly. The apostle does not regard himself as competent to [49/50] supply even one thought that could serve God's interests. He accepts Christ's words: "Apart from Me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). His words are a frank condemnation of his opponents in Corinth. They considered themselves able. They had their letters of recommendation. Since Paul had no such letters they regarded him as incompetent. It is a sad fact that every teacher of the law who ignores the total operation of grace must of necessity consider himself and his pupils as having some ability in themselves. Paul confessed himself totally dependent upon God.

HAVING said this, he returns to his positive confidence in God's enabling grace (v.6). Paul had not become a minister of the new covenant because he was competent for it, but because God's sufficiency had been given to such an incompetent man as he. This new covenant is described by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34) and is established by our Lord Jesus in His own blood (Luke 22:20). This is the area in which Paul has been made a minister, but he makes a further contrast by adding: "Not of the letter, but of the Spirit, for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life."

The Spirit gives life. In other words, He does something which lies quite beyond any human capability. Only the Spirit can carry out this divine new covenant work. Paul is anxious to stress this point. He does it by insisting firstly, that the new covenant is a work of salvation through Christ Jesus, wrought by Him, and Him alone, and secondly, by showing that it can only work salvation in a person when it is God Himself in action, by His Holy Spirit.

In complete contrast: "The letter kills!" We shall get a clue to the apostle's meaning if we start with the fact that the Spirit does a work which is beyond man's capabilities -- He gives new life. The "letter", therefore represents what man accomplishes when in self-confidence he imagines that he is able to do what only God can do, namely, to make alive. Thus the term "the letter" covers every form of religious effort which springs from and is based upon human ability, whether this comes from a man's mind or will or emotions. Nothing of this kind gives life, but it rather kills.

WE must be careful not to interpret the apostle's words about the letter as meaning that the old covenant was unspiritual. On the contrary, the Old Testament, in which we have God's law, is "breathed out by God" (2 Timothy 3:16). In all the Scriptures, therefore, the letter contains the Spirit of God. "The law is spiritual" (Romans 7:14). If, then, Paul says that the old covenant was of the letter and not of the Spirit, he means that under the ministry of the law, hardly anyone got hold of the Spirit which was in the words. They knew only the letter -- and that killed and will always kill. The Spirit who is in the letter is the Spirit of Christ, so that as soon as a person is apprehended by Christ, he is apprehended by the Spirit who makes alive. He now finds that all the words in the old covenant, including the law, contain this Spirit.

Paul's thought is not that the old covenant is unspiritual, being only the letter, but that we need to find the Spirit in the letter. I have already said that "the letter" applies here to what a man accomplishes when he tries to justify himself by his own abilities and actions, but the phrase must be explained still further. Fundamentally it is God who kills the self-righteous and self-confident person. God lets him work and struggle himself to death. The Word of God confronts us with only two possibilities: either to be killed and remain dead, or to be killed and then made alive! And it is God who does both. If you listen to the Word of God and are so led to Christ, you find that it first slays you then gives you new life. If you listen to it without submitting to Christ, then the same word slays you. In the first case the word is Spirit through the letter and brings life; in the second it is only the letter which brings death.

The apostle has now travelled far from his introduction about the tiresome question of letters of recommendation: he now continues to enlarge on the ministry of the Spirit which makes alive by comparing it to the ministry which kills. The latter he now calls plainly "the ministration of death" (v.7), as he develops the paragraph with an explanation of Exodus 34:28-35 which describes how on Mount Sinai God gave Moses the tables of the law, and how Moses' face shone after this meeting with God.

For an Israelite it must have been shocking that Paul could describe this epoch-making event and the ministry there entrusted to Moses as "the ministry of death". We have already said that the law was spiritual and good; yet it led [50/51] to death, because sin found an opportunity in the commandment (Romans 7:8-16). Had the law not been spiritual and perfect, it could not of course had appeared in glory -- but that is just what it did! The law, then, is not a mistake. It is perfect, even when it slays. God's purpose is that he who is slain by the law shall be made alive again by faith in Christ, as Paul testifies in his own case: "For I through the law died to the law, that I might live unto God" (Galatians 2:19).

The apostle now makes a further comparison by referring to the temporary outshining of God's glory in the face of Moses and the full and abiding glory to be seen in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6), pointing out that what once had splendour (which was connected with Sinai) has come to have no splendour at all because of the splendour which surpasses it (from Calvary). The glory on the face of Moses could only last for a while, but the greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit, which makes alive, will never cease.

TO recapitulate, the ministry of death (1) was carved in stone, (2) led to condemnation and (3) only had a grandeur which faded away, while the ministry of the Spirit (1) is written on human hearts, (2) leads to righteousness and (3) has a permanent splendour. By this we understand that the two men who for this purpose represent respectively the ministry of death and the ministry of the Spirit, namely Moses and Paul, had to behave differently. Paul says that the effect on him was to make him very bold (v.12); he had nothing to hide. It was otherwise with Moses who "put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading glory" (v.13). The thought seems to be that Moses, as opposed to Paul, could not behave with full openness because the law was only temporary and could never create anything permanent. The word translated "end" can just as well mean "goal", as exemplified in Romans 10:4 which says, "Christ is the end (goal) of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified". In this way Moses is said to have worn the veil to hide from the Israelites the fact that the law was only temporary, and that its true goal was Christ.

This is entirely in agreement with God's purpose to Israel (Romans 11:8 and see also John 12:40). Moses acted on God's behalf, then, when by veiling his face he hid from the Israelites that the goal of the law was Christ. Now we might have expected Paul to have written that the consequences of his action was to darken their minds, but what he does say is: "But their minds were hardened" (v.14). That which appears to be a consequence of Moses' veiling his face, he speaks of as a contrast, showing that the hardening of the Israelites was not a law of nature but rather their own fault. They were a stiff-necked people: they could have avoided hardening if they had humbled themselves and given up their self-righteousness. There were indeed some who were not so hardened: in the Roman letter Paul calls them "a remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5).

The bulk of Israelites still had the veil which hindered them from seeing clearly that the end of the law is Christ. They think that they must continue to use the law to procure for themselves true righteousness with God. Only in Christ is that veil done away. Every time that an Israelite turns to Christ, he sees clearly that Christ is the law's end unto righteousness for everyone who believes.

NOW Paul returns to the boldness with which he operates, contrasting it with Moses who, in the ministry of the law, had to hide both the powerlessness and the goal of this law. The minister was limited. How diametrically opposite is the minister of the gospel: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (v.17). Where there is liberty, there is boldness. What then is liberty? Paul had already written about this subject to the Corinthians in his first letter (especially chapter 9), showing that freedom is not freedom for anything or everything. In a negative sense, it is freedom from the law of sin and death, and positively it is freedom to follow Christ.

The law cannot procure this freedom for anybody. No-one can obtain it for himself. It is found "where the Spirit of the Lord is", so that freedom is one and the same thing as the presence of the person of the Holy Spirit. How, then, can I get the Spirit and thereby find freedom? This has already been indicated by the words: "when a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed" (v.16). The Spirit is given to those who turn to the Lord. [51/52]

"And we all (converted Jews or Gentiles) with unveiled face (because we have turned to Christ), beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness ..." (v.18). This is not an encouragement to be introspective or indulge in subjective mysticism, but it is the essence of evangelical Christianity. No-one can behold God directly, so Paul speaks of "beholding the glory of the Lord in a mirror", that is, indirectly. Who reflects the full glory of God? Where can we see that glory as in a mirror? Nowhere else than in Jesus of Nazareth. Only in Him has the unseen God become visible, and our clearest view of Him is on the cross.

Those who do so behold Him are "changed into the same image". When we remember that Christ is "... the very image of his substance" (Hebrews 1:3) and when we also recollect that man was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), we understand what the apostle means. As we are transformed, we do not become divine, but we become like Christ and so become the kind of humanity which God desired when he created man at first. So it is that the Spirit works to change us from one degree of glory to another, till we are truly Christlike.

(To be continued)


John H. Paterson

THE New Testament story reminds us, and our own experience confirms it, that the working of the Holy Spirit is often unexpected and, for all ordinary human purposes, inexplicable. The early Church never knew what was going to happen next.

With centuries of church history now behind us, we may feel that we can trace a pattern in the Spirit's dealings with God's people; that experience has taught us something of His ways. And so it should have done; yet once let us begin to presume upon that experience, and take for granted that we have discovered the formula by which He works and He is sure to surprise us all over again! He acts as He pleases, not as we think He should.

But in that case, how can we ever be sure what is, and what is not, the Spirit's work? Is every unexpected thing the sign of His presence? And if another believer tells me that the surprising action he has just taken was ordered by the Spirit, am I obliged to believe him? If I doubt him, is he right to regard me as "unspiritual"?

I think you will agree with me that these are practical questions for Christians. We are, most of us, cautious about contradicting a brother or sister who claims to have been guided in a particular action by the Holy Spirit, but we may well be puzzled by the unsatisfactory result of that action. In fact I have come across (as you probably have) everything from selfishness to bad poetry all covered by that unchallengeable claim, "The Spirit led me to do this."

But is it unchallengeable? Surely we have some guidelines? I believe that the early Church applied some, and that the Lord Jesus' own explanation of the Spirit's coming provided others. Let us then consider what these are.

The Spirit and the Church

Faced with the unexpectedness of its Spirit-led life, the Church in those early days seems to have adopted two basic tests for the acceptability of any particular line of thought or action. The first was to pray and fast (Acts 13:1-3) together. This was no less than we should expect of them, but it is clear that the whole tendency of those days was against individual declarations of the Spirit's way. I am not at all sure that it was God's will for the church in Jerusalem to play so heavy-handed a role in the life and development of God's people as it did, but it is evident that the "apostles and elders" there did act as a sounding-board, and that even Peter and Paul accepted the need for a collective view of the rightness or otherwise of particular developments. [52/53]

As the believers prayed together, that collective view evidently emerged. I take it that the point of their fasting, as well as praying and "ministering" was that they could be free from all sense of rush and interruption, even the otherwise legitimate interruption of stopping for meals two or three times a day. It was, if you like, a safeguard against being swayed by sudden, private assertions of the Spirit's leading.

We know, of course -- perhaps from our own church life -- that sometimes conservatism and caution replace prayerful progress, and that we may ourselves be quite sure of the Spirit's leading while our stick-in-the-mud brothers and sisters just can't see the right! We have all known the temptation to say, "Well, I am sure, even if you are not. I am going on, alone if necessary." But I think that we may be betrayed by impatience. Quite possible the whole point of the Spirit's exercise lies not so much in the accomplishment of His leading as in the transformation of those who have not yet seen the way. To leave them and go on alone then removes the whole point of the Spirit's action.

The second test to which the Church had recourse was that of assessing new developments in the light of the Scriptures. You will recall the believers at Berea (Acts 17:11), who received the word and then searched the Scriptures, to check what they had heard. And you will remember that, in all the early apostolic defences and sermons, the speakers -- Peter, James, Paul -- were at pains to document the astonishing new developments in terms of the Old Testament passages already known to them.

We are under no obligation to accept assurances that "this is the Spirit's work" if we cannot reconcile that work, and especially its outcome, with the clear voice of God's Word. I once worshipped for some years, when I was a young man and, no doubt, an opinionated one, with a group of Christians who had a firm but courteous way of greeting flights of spiritual fancy with the question, "Have you Scripture for that, brother?" And what they expected in response was not some personal, idiosyncratic view of the Word, but an insight that could be shared and accepted by all.

It is not, of course, unknown for whole companies to misinterpret Scripture, just as individuals may. It is hard, for example, to feel happy about the "necessary things" (Acts 15:28) laid upon the church in Antioch and Syria by the church in Jerusalem, even though the former rejoiced to receive the latter's message, presumably because it was so much less severe than it might have been! The fact is that the use of Scripture to validate claims of spiritual guidance must itself be subject to some accepted principles.

I suggest two such principles. The first is that our judgement must be based on the whole Scripture, and not just on our favourite parts of it -- the parts that make the case we want to prove. There are companies of Christians who seem to dwell, with their ministers, permanently in Paul's middle epistles, or the Acts of the Apostles, or the Sermon on the Mount. Scripture confirms and re-confirms their beliefs (or their prejudices) because they carefully confine themselves to those passages that do so. Of the rest of God's revelation, they seem to have no knowledge. But the Spirit, for His part, is in all the Word.

The second principle is that each part of Scripture must be used according to its characteristics -- doctrine as doctrine and illustration as illustration. History is not doctrine, and should not be used as such -- which is why it is dangerous, in this matter of the Holy Spirit, to build our position on the Acts of the Apostles while neglecting, say, the teaching of the Lord Jesus in John 15 and 16. In particular, we must never risk building our position on symbolism or parable. I once came across a Christian who wished to show (for what reason, I am not clear) that Sunday Schools are not God's will for His people. He tried to do it by arguing that when the Lord Jesus wanted to enter Jerusalem, He sent for a young colt tied up outside a house, and that, he argued, is where the Lord will look for our young people -- at home, and not in some Sunday School! But that was not using Scripture to verify the Spirit's leading; that was a conjuring trick!

The Spirit and the Lord Jesus

Prayer and fasting and the Scriptures will help us to identify the Spirit's work, but we shall all be glad if we can obtain some further clues. And these are provided, I think, as they undoubtedly were provided to the disciples, by Jesus' explanation to them before His arrest of [53/54] what it was that the Holy Spirit was coming to do. What He said on that occasion will allow us to conclude that whatever the Spirit does is likely to be conformable to a few basic principles.

You will recall His words in John 15 and 16. For one thing, He said, the Spirit's concern will be with truth: He will lead you into all truth, for He is the Spirit of truth (16:13). I wonder whether we have sufficiently grasped this fact. I have a feeling that, if one carried out a gallup poll of a hundred believers, and asked them, "What is the main thing which you associate with the Holy Spirit?" ninety of them would reply "Power" and most of the rest "Love". The number who would say "Truth" would be very small!

He is, of course, the Spirit of power and love, but evidently His fundamental business is with truth -- the truth about the Lord Jesus (16:14), and about the real condition of mankind (16:8-11). He reacted violently to the lies which Ananias and Sapphira told, and Peter described their action as "tempting the Spirit of the Lord" (Acts 5:9). He will never be associated with anything in which the truth is shaded or compromised. I wonder sometimes whether our eagerness to receive and enjoy the gifts of the Spirit in our lives is matched by our eagerness to have Him "lead us into all truth".

A second feature of the Spirit's work which helps to identify that work for us is that He is essentially self-effacing: He promotes not Himself but the Lord Jesus Christ. "He shall not speak of himself ... He shall glorify me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 16:13-14). It seems to follow from this that the Holy Spirit does not give experiences of Himself but experiences of Christ. Consequently, when someone assures us that they have had "a wonderful experience of the Holy Spirit", we may properly share their joy, but we may also properly then ask them, "What new thing about Christ has it taught you?" for that is the reason, surely, why it was given. We must be careful not to exalt the means above the end!

In the Acts we can see the Spirit leading the early believers into an enlarging knowledge of the truth about the Lord Jesus, exactly as had been promised. They had seen Him and grasped, in some dim way, the idea that He was the true Messiah, the answer to Israel's longing and prayers. They proclaimed Him as such in the first halcyon days of their ministry. But they had still to recognise His greater significance for a whole world of need. And like someone forcing open a long-closed door with rusty hinges, we then see the Spirit opening their eyes to the fact that the Lord Jesus was much greater than they imagined; He was the answer to the needs, not of Jews alone but of the whole world. The Spirit was leading them into the truth about Jesus by enlarging, step by step, the sphere of His Church.

This brings us to the third mark of the Spirit's work, as we see it in Acts and as we know it from Paul's epistles. It is that the Spirit will always build up the Church. We need here to distinguish between His method and His object in doing so. So far as method is concerned, He gives gifts on an individual basis, but His object in doing so is to benefit the whole Church: "He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets ... for the building up of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12). His gifts are not given in isolation, or for purposes of enlarging individual standing. They are to draw believers together, to benefit wholes and not parts.

By the same token, however, it may be worth noting that we do not read in the New Testament of the Holy Spirit establishing gifted companies or churches. It is the effect that is supposed to be corporate: the means are individual. The Holy Spirit gifts one believer or another and the whole Church progresses in knowledge of the truth about Jesus, and in discernment of the Spirit's ways. Occasionally, a company of God's people may say, in effect, "We are something special: we have a particular revelation of the truth." The result is at best misleading; at worst disastrous.

That, of course, was what the early Church had to learn, or rather unlearn. For it was a point of view which the Jews not only might legitimately hold, but which had been drummed into them in Old Testament days. They were indeed a special people in God's sight. But after Pentecost all that changed. Into their exclusively Jewish church, unthinkably, the Gentiles were to be admitted! Listen to the surprise in Peter's voice as he reports to the leaders in Jerusalem on his experience at Caesarea: "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did unto [54/55] us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:17). The Holy Spirit does not play favourites. Where He has His way, He blesses and benefits the whole Church equally.

We have, then, some criteria by which to judge what may be, and what may not be, the Spirit's work. We need these, and any other helps we can get, in recognising His activity. We must not be credulous. We need not bow to every assertion that what we are witnessing, or hearing, is from the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, we shall share Peter's anxiety not to be found "withstanding God" -- refusing to recognise the Spirit's handiwork when we see it. May experience bring us discernment, and the Spirit Himself teach us His ways!



(Some studies in Genesis)

Harry Foster


MUCH of the confusion and perplexity which accompany a study of Genesis 1 is due to people asking the wrong questions about the Creation. They ask, "When?", and find no answer. They ask, "How?", and receive no scientific explanation. The question which they should ask is, "Why?", and they will find that the Word of God offers the fullest possible reply to such an enquiry. The reason is indicated in 1:26, where God expressed His determination to make man in His own image; the rest of the Scriptures, notably the New Testament, disclose and unfold this heart purpose of God, calling it "the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ephesians 3:11 ). This purpose preceded and explains the Creation.

The simple fact is that the eternal Creator is also the eternal Father. From all eternity God has desired to have loving and obedient sons and He planned to satisfy this desire in the realm of created humanity. For this, then, He brought the world into being. Father-love gives the necessary clue to the Creation story of Genesis 1 and 2. It provides the startling suggestion that the divine purpose behind all those cosmic operations was the preparing of a home for God with His "many sons".

To many this will sound preposterous. What with excitement about Unidentified Flying Objects, speculations as to possible inhabitants of other worlds and the phantasies of so-called Science Fiction, everybody seems intent on denigrating the status of the human race. Those who ignore or reject the supreme importance of man in God's scheme of things, offer us a strange mixture of spurious humility and intellectual conceit. "What is man?", they ask, realising an individual's relative insignificance but wholly failing to appreciate his value to God. The question is a Biblical one, but there it is asked in wondering worship and humble faith. The psalmist received as an answer: "Thou crownest him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion ..." (Psalm 8:5-6). Men are intended to be the rulers of God's creation and the sons of His love. The simple believer rejoices that the great Christian fact is that God Himself became Man and condescended to live here on this little earth of ours; moreover He was such a Man that all God's other created beings (called angels) were called upon to worship Him (Hebrews 1:6).

Men are of supreme importance to their Creator. They represent the crown of His creation and have as their everlasting destiny the privilege of being God's very dear sons. Now it is true that the first man, Adam, failed dismally of this high calling, dragging all his descendants down with him to share his disgrace, but it is equally clear that Jesus Christ, the last Adam, has fulfilled the Father's purpose to have a human Son (the Son of Man), and has lifted up all who believe in Him to share with Him the full enjoyment of sonship. [55/56]

Although Adam failed, this was no fault of God's so that we may rightly presume that the divine preparations for possible success were carefully made, the beginning of the human race being fully provided for. Any responsibly-minded parent would reckon to provide a suitable home for his children, thinking ahead and arranging for a place which would offer them security and comfort. He would ensure that whatever was necessary to facilitate and develop loving family life would be available, so that when children arrived they would be greeted and provided for in the parental home. I suggest that we look at Genesis 1 in this setting.

If we do so, we will regard the whole process as the Eternal Father's work to provide a perfect environment and home for His human family. Considered this way, we suggest that the five days preceding the arrival of man were days of preparation occupied with Illumination, Atmosphere, Food, Guidance and Vocation. The statements of Genesis 1 may not always satisfy the scientists; but we gather that the order and sequence are not contested by any of them. We have to accept the first verse by faith, but after this basic affirmation that it was the eternal God who began everything by creating our world, we are given five preliminary steps which led up to the commencement of human history. They seem to make quite good sense.

More than that, they reveal something of God's love of beauty as well as His supreme power. Can we not believe that the soothing green of nature, the colourful and shapely beauty of flowers and trees, the glories of sunrises and sunsets and so much more that is provided for man by God, were part of the Creator's generous work of home-making? Genesis 2 brings before us the additional features of God's parkland garden, planted by Him, perhaps in a world yet undeveloped; it tells us of a flowing river and precious minerals, with the footnote that "the gold of that land is good" (v.12). What was all this for? It was part of love's planning and preparation -- an earthly shadow and foretaste of God's heavenly home and parkland, "the Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7).

As we have said, after the opening sentence concerning God's act of creation, we are told of the wonderfully wise provision for human needs as the days unfolded. They are:

1. Illumination

The first day was devoted to the introduction of light. The apostle Paul assures us that he fully accepted this Genesis account (2 Corinthians 4:6). Light is absolutely essential for life and growth. It is not essential for us to see the sun. Some people live in areas of the earth where clouds and mists obscure its direct rays, but they all have light. Ultimately, it would seem, redeemed humanity will not need the regular periods of rest for, in the city of God, there is no night (Revelation 22:5). When God Himself is present there is illumination, for "God is light". We note that God's comment that "it was good" relates only to the light (1:4). Meanwhile, however, day and night are His wise provision for His creatures, though we notice a reversal of the normal order in that day followed night: "There was evening and there was morning, one day" (v.5).

2. Atmosphere

Verses 6 to 8 are somewhat obscure, but it is usually understood that they point us to the miracle of earth's atmosphere, which is called "expanse" in the Hebrew. In our day God has permitted brave and clever explorers to visit the moon and send back to us pictures which reveal to us how impossible life would be without air and water. Let men indulge in their speculations about life on other planets if they will; the fact remains that this earth of ours has been provided with atmospheric conditions which are perfectly suited to our human needs. According to Genesis 1:6-8, God made sure of this before He brought the human race into being. The book of Job has startling disclosures of the scientific accuracy of patriarchal philosophy, not the least of these being that air has weight: "He maketh a weight for the winds" (Job 28:25).

There is one mysterious feature of this second day, and that is the complete lack of any divine approval concerning it in that God did not say that it was good, as He did on all the other days. It is possible to surmise that this arises from the fact that a division between heaven and earth is spoken of. God's ultimate is certainly the removal of any such division, but that will be when all invisible powers of evil are banished from what the New Testament calls "the heavenly places". We are entitled to wonder if evil was abroad before ever man was created. It may [56/57] even be that such evil was permitted, to provide a crucial test as to whether man would or would not open his world to rebellion and unbelief. Nothing is revealed here about such a consideration, so we are left with the bald fact that God did not say that it was good though, of course, the atmosphere around our planet is not only good but vital.

3. Food

The description of the Creator's activities in the realm of the earth's flora makes specific reference to the seeds and fruit which were provided for man's food (1:29). The third day begins with the emergence of dry land from the all-embracing waters. How did Moses know that the volume of water in the seas greatly exceeds the volume of land above sea level? Only by divine revelation. By the same revelation he describes the provision of plants and trees made by the Creator, reminding us that they are self-propagating. God's creations are reproductive: man's are sterile!

4. Guidance

It is nowhere stated that God created these heavenly bodies at this stage of His activities, but simply that they were provided by Him to mark out times and seasons for man. There is no doubt that the sun and moon do rule human life and that sun and stars make direction-finding possible. It is significant and comforting that God had already provided for man in this way before ever he existed, marking off the days, months and years and also giving a system of navigation for travellers. Whether by day or night, the heavens can always be consulted when men need guidance on their journeys.

5. Vocation

The fifth day speaks of the first created animals, and in the recognised order -- fish and then birds. It does not move on to the "beasts of the earth" until the sixth day, but we recognise that all these classes of creatures were provided to furnish God's earth with life and that the phrase, "And God saw that it was good" is repeated on both days before man appeared (vv.21 and 25). Good for what? To give man a worthwhile job of work. I suggest that the totality of non-human animate beings was intended to provide a suitable occupation for man, in that his vocation would have been "to have dominion" over them (vv.26-28). So much so that Adam's first task -- daunting enough in all conscience -- was to classify and provide names for each of them (2:19-20). Adam, then, was placed on earth to rule as a king and then later to become a son. Men were meant to be kings as well as sons. The prospect, then, was so overwhelmingly according to divine intentions that God Himself is on record at this point as describing everything as "very good".

After this the Creator began to enjoy His sabbath rest of satisfaction. The seventh day (which is not described as having evening or morning), was the opportunity for God to settle down and enjoy with man this promising world over which He had expended so much thought and effort. He blessed and sanctified it as a most pleasing day.

What a different Bible we would have had if only man had continued in harmonious and trusting fellowship with his Maker! Christ would have come, for after all Adam was only "a figure of him that was to come" (Romans 5:14). True reigning sonship could never have been achieved without the divine Son as its Head. But the whole heart-breaking story of human history would never have been what it is if the Father's enemy had not corrupted human life at its source and done so by the willing cooperation of mankind. It is vain for us to speculate, for God made His eternal purpose outside of time and with full awareness of how it would all work out and how, by the cross, He would right all sin's wrongs.

The Creator was not frustrated. The would-be Father was not disappointed. No, for immediately He set to work to prepare on this same earth a new creation in Christ, a permanent and wholly satisfying fulfilment of His original plan. In one sense, of course, the Church is a salvaging operation, for God is gathering out sinners from the nations to turn them into sons. From His point of view, however, it is nothing of the kind, for His redeemed sons were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and moreover were predestined to sonship in Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5). Through the cross of Christ God has secured His new creation and will yet fulfil His original purpose to have trusting and loving sons. [57/58]

It is not our purpose at this stage to consider the immense cost of redemption by the blood of Jesus, but simply to deal with the subject in the context of creation. It is clearly stated that "If any man is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old things are passed away; behold, they have become new. And all things are of God ..." (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). By the cross God has not only recovered everything which Adam lost; He has provided everything to which Adam never attained. In Christ manhood reaches the full intentions of Creation, and in Him God's family of sons is secured. Christ is the Son over God's human household, and we constitute that family "if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end" (Hebrews 3:6).

Returning to Genesis 1 and taking its days as our pattern, we see that in Christ our faithful Creator has provided:

1. Illumination

"Seeing it is God that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts to give the illumination ..." (2 Corinthians 4:6). The blood-cleansed are those who "walk in the light as he is the light", and so find their fellowship with the Father and with one another.

2. Atmosphere

We are "in Christ" and He is in us. The Church began its new life when Christ "breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). Already here on this polluted earth Christians are privileged to be able to inhale the pure air of heaven.

3. Food

The Lord Jesus said: "He that eateth me, shall live because of me" (John 6:57). He is the living bread. Adam never did eat of the tree of life which was at the very heart of the garden, but we are now told: "Blessed are those that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life ..." (Revelation 22:14). The Lord's Table was never meant to be a religious ceremony but a recurring testimony to the fact that the Church feeds on Christ in its heart and is thankful.

4. Guidance

The Lord leads and guides us from heaven, not by the sun and stars, but by His own Holy Spirit. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God".

5. Vocation

As holy brethren we are told that we are "partners in a heavenly calling" (Hebrews 3:1). Adam was never intended to be an idler. Concerning the earth, he was told to "replenish it and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28) and he was put into the garden of Eden "to dress it and to keep it" (2:15). Believers in Christ are entrusted with a fulfilling vocation, a "high calling" and even while they serve God on earth they are being prepared for greater and more lasting service. Through the blood of Christ we have been redeemed for a purpose, and that purpose is to be "a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father" (Revelation 1:6).

This, then, is the new creation in which by grace we have a part. We are not just potential sons, as Adam was, but are actually sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty through Jesus Christ, the Son. The answer to our first question, Why the Creation? is that its intention is that God's Son, as true Man, should inherit all things and so that His blood-bought people should be co-heirs with Him, all for the satisfaction of God's Father-heart.

New creation life is God's own eternal life. We are sons not by creation but by regeneration, that is, by birth. God has initiated this new creation work in us by planting within us the incorruptible life of His Son. That is why John can so boldly assert that "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God" (1 John 3:9). We may profitably forget those attempts to render this more acceptably by the words, "does not habitually sin" since the new nature that is in us never sins. The old nature may habitually sin or it may seem only to sin every now and again, but make no mistake about it, God has no use for it at all.

Christians are people of two natures. We already belong to the new creation but we also have a share in the old until we receive our new [58/59] bodies which will be like unto Christ's body of glory. We are constantly exhorted to enjoy deliverance from the old -- indeed to put it off -- and to enjoy the blessings of the new which is "created to be like God in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Ephesians 4:24). What man is by nature is incurable: growth in holiness comes by ever-deepening appreciation of this fact. All that God could do with that old man was to crucify him.

The prophetic Scriptures give us a glimpse into the future so that we may know how God plans to demonstrate that natural man can spend a thousand years in garden of Eden conditions and still rebel against God. The passage is found in Revelation 20:1-10 and the period is usually called The Millenium, since the words "a thousand years" are repeated six times over. According to the chapter it is followed by the final judgment of the great white throne. The scene is set as idyllic in that this Eden has no serpent. One presumes that during this long period the "golden age" conditions described by the prophets will literally be fulfilled and that such passages as Isaiah 11:6-9 accurately describe the conditions which will obtain when the earth is "full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea". We are not surprised to be informed that death persists, for this is no resurrection scene, and we note that sin will still be present (Isaiah 65:20), but we can hardly imagine the delights of a world ruled by God's King and completely protected from the Tempter's activities.

Little is said about the prevailing conditions over that thousand years, for the striking thrust of the passage is that even after such a long enjoyment of every outward privilege, the unregenerate heart of men will be so unchanged that when the serpent is again allowed a short time of liberty, the nations will rise against God once more and converge in murderous hate upon His beloved city, the camp of the earthly saints. This will present no problem to God or to His trusting people. Just as long ago the whole Assyrian army was decimated in a night, so these enemies who are as numerous as sand of the seashore will be dealt with by fiery judgment from heaven.

Some Bible students regard this passage as symbolic and find the idea of the Millenium unacceptable. To me the significance of the whole passage is not the satisfying of our curiosity about future events but the demonstration of what the New Testament has all the time insisted, namely that man's trouble is not in his environment but in his own heart. Even the Old Testament confirms this with such statements as: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt" (Jeremiah 17:9). Can it not be that just before the final "great white throne" judgment, God plans to demonstrate to the universe that there is no hope of improvement for the old adamic nature. Only what belongs to the new creation in Christ is acceptable to God.

We are specifically told that this will be a period when those who have part in the first resurrection will reign with Christ (Revelation 20:4). If it were not so there would be a vacuum in the unseen realm occupied by the "hosts of wickedness" who now exercise their influence on men. They will surely be replaced by reigning saints who have learned here on earth to overcome, just as their Lord first overcame before He sat down in His Father's throne. It is for our own good, therefore, that the Spirit should press home to us the truth of the incurability of the old creation and the need for a growing experience of Christ's newness.

Moreover I humbly suggest that this literal acceptance of the thousand year period is wholly compatible with the conviction that God still waits to fulfil His promises that earthly Israel will be the central nation among all the nations.

It is important, though, that we do not lose practical spiritual values by devoting too much attention to the opening days of creation or the closing scenes before the introduction of the new heavens and a new earth. Holy living is what matters, and that may be helped by the realisation that the Creation was not a mistake, but God's first step towards His constitution of a vast family of trusting, loving sons. Redemption means that He has recovered for Himself that joy of Fatherhood which seemed to have been snatched away from Him. By the incarnation, cross and resurrection of His eternal Son, God's eternal purpose can be fulfilled.

Tennyson's seemingly hopeless wish:

And ah for a man to arise in me,

That the man I am may cease to be!

is far from hopeless, for the poetic words cast some light on the very essence of God's redemptive [59/60] work. The new man is provided: the old man has been crucified. At the resurrection we will be totally freed from our old natures, and only what is of Christ in us will survive. The pertinent question about each one of us in that day will concern how much of Christ has been truly appropriated in personal experience of the new man. According to Peter, those who look for new heavens and a new earth should "grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" as a preparation for that glorious future.

(To be continued)

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[Inside back cover]


"(But if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how
shall he take care of the house of God?
)" 1 Timothy 3:5

IN a sense, the logic of this verse is obvious. In practical church life, however, it raises some real problems. Rather than pursue these in a negative way, I suggest that it may be helpful to extract from this rhetorical question a few positive points of spiritual value.

1. The structure of the local church is based upon that of a household. It is not an institution arranged by men, but a living community brought to life and kept together by the Holy Spirit. Its leaders, therefore, are neither young bachelors nor old grandfathers, but men whose church life has as its background the daily domestic relationships and functions which apply in any normal home.

New children are constantly being born into the spiritual family and they need -- as all children do -- to start their lives in an atmosphere of affection and security. All kinds of stresses are possible and perhaps inevitable in robust family life, but a firm influence from the top will keep these under control, and the various members of the family come to gain mutual profit both from their privileges and their problems. This is the background for our parenthesis.

2. The function of an elder is to 'take care' of the church where he operates. The word used does not suggest official government, but it does imply loving consideration and responsible guiding of the flock entrusted to such under-shepherds. The only other New Testament use of the verb here employed is made by Luke when he says that the Good Samaritan "took care" of the wounded traveller and paid the inn-keeper to go on tending him. Elders should be 'fathers in God' who function on behalf of the one God and Father of us all. The stress, then, is not on status but on sacrificial love.

3. The obvious implication of this verse is that such men should literally be family men. An apostle or an evangelist may perhaps be without any marriage commitments, but this does not apply to an elder. It is taken for granted that such a man has his own household, and then it is stipulated that he should fulfil his function there in a responsible fashion. No father can force his children to become Christians, though he may sometimes wish that he could. No father can be held responsible for the 'hiving off' of a prodigal who chooses to pursue his own way of life. What a father can do is to insist on the maintenance in his own home of standards which accord with his faith. Perhaps Christians do not pray enough for divine help for their elders both in their own houses and in the house of God.


[Back cover]

Luke 11:28

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