"... 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. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1981 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Lessons In Leadership (2) 81
Whiter Than Snow 85
Life In Its Fulness (2) 88
Pages From A Notebook (1) 91
In The Beginning (4) 93
Notes On 2 Corinthians (6) 96
He Wants Us With Him 99
Inspired Parentheses (32) ibc



J. Alec Motyer


IF I were to try to summarise the supreme subject of the book of Joshua, I would put it this way: 'It is that God keeps and honours His truth'. As the book comes to us we tend to look upon it as a mere link between the books of Deuteronomy and the book of Judges -- that is to say, as something within the flow of Bible history. It is good therefore to recall that the book was written as an entity in its own right, not just for the recording of history but for its own distinctive message. God does not record facts for the sake of history but always gives them as matter for a sermon. And the subject of the sermon presented by the book of Joshua is that God keeps and honours His truth.

Throughout the book, it is the promise of God which prevails.

i. It prevails over the human factor.

Right at the beginning we read, "Moses my servant is dead" (1:2). That looks like the end of everything, but not at all, it simply provides God with the opportunity of further promise. Great as was Moses, it is the promise of God, the purpose of God expressed in that promise which continues and prevails. So Joshua is told to take courage and go right on over Jordan, "for thou shalt cause this people to inherit the land which I sware unto their fathers to give them" (v.6). The death of Moses cannot interfere with the promise of God. He assured Joshua not only of blessing but of that particular blessing which was according to promise. The promise of God prevails over the human factor.

ii. It prevails over the people's sin.

Chapter 7 records the sin of Achan, a defection from God within the camp of the people of God which brought to their enterprise such a halt that the tiny and unimpressive town of Ai was sufficient to stop them in their tracks and send them back defeated to their camp. But the defection of the people cannot stop the working out of the promise of God so, when the matter is sorted out, the Lord said to Joshua, "Fear not, neither be dismayed; ... See, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai and his people" (8:1). By itself, the people's sin would have inhibited them from making any further progress in the land, but the purpose of God still carries forward.

iii. It prevails in the face of foes.

"The Lord said unto Joshua, Fear them not ...!" That was easy for the Lord to say; it was not easy for Joshua to believe. There is Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem (10:1), gathering Hoham, king of Hebron and Piram, king of Jarmuth, and Japhia, king of Lachish, and Debir, king of Eglon against him (10:3), and they were surely enough to strike terror into anybody's heart. But the Lord calmly says, "Fear them not" -- there is nothing there to cause any terror -- "for I have delivered them into thy hands", going on to repeat the original promise given to Joshua: "There shall not a man of them stand before thee" (10:8), which is what He pledged in chapter 1.

iv. It prevails in totality.

The sum of the whole matter is found at the end: "So the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers ..." (21:43). We notice that it is not just 'a land', any land, nor is it just 'the land', as indicative of the divine benevolence, but it is the land which was the land promised. There was fulfilment; a promise was made and a promise was kept. And so the Word continues: "And the Lord gave them rest round about according to all that he sware unto their fathers" (v.44) and then "There failed not aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass" (v.45). The Hebrew gives a very satisfying emphasis to the word 'All'. And even if we missed that emphasis, we would pass on to 23:14: "Ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you; not one single thing hath failed thereof". The Revised Version has not got the word 'single', but it needs to be there to grip the emphasis of the original Hebrew -- not one single thing has failed of those specific promises made to you by the Lord. God's promise prevails in totality.

Joshua's Leadership

It is the truth of God and God's prospering of His truth, which makes the way forward for His people. Consider the experiences of Joshua at the beginning. He was facing that tough nut at [81/82] the outset of the whole campaign, the city of Jericho which was "walled up to heaven". Very wisely, Joshua sent spies, and by divine providence these met up with Rahab, with the result that she told them: "I know that the Lord has given you all the land, and that your terror has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt before you. Because we have heard ..." (2:9). There was Joshua, trembling on the other side of Jordan and wondering however he was going to capture that great citadel, and Jericho had fallen already, because the truth got there before Joshua. "We have heard ...".

"When all the kings of the Amorites which were beyond Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites which were by the sea, heard how the Lord had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel ... their hearts melted" (5:1). Then there were the Gibeonites. "They answered Joshua and said, Because it was certainly told thy servants ..." (9:24). How could a royal city like Gibeon come to make a voluntary surrender to the people of God without a shot being fired? The answer is the same as among the Canaanites and the others: the truth got there and God used it as a lever to bring about the submission of the enemy.

Finally in this sequence: "It came to pass when Adonizedek king of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai ... that they feared greatly" (10:1-2). Again the news of the wonderful works of God got through to him, driving him to mobilise his forces, though he little knew that he was mobilising them for destruction. So this thread is woven through the book of Joshua -- God keeps and honours His truth, bringing it through to the point where everything is fulfilled exactly as it had been said beforehand. And that truth, with God watching over it, was far more powerful than the sword in Joshua's hand to bring the nations of the land into submission before God's people.

Joshua and the Word

Now it was necessary to dwell upon that, hardly mentioning the name of Joshua, because it was the key factor in his leadership of the people. One of the most encouraging things about Joshua is that he does not seem to have had in himself any special leadership capacity. He was the very opposite of Moses, that strong natural leader. At the beginning God accompanied His words to Moses about his successor by saying: "Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you; he shall go hither. Encourage him ..." (Deuteronomy 1:38). Once again: "But charge Joshua and encourage him, and strengthen him ..." (Deuteronomy 3:28). At the time of the handover: "Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage ..." (Deuteronomy 31:7), with the final charge: "Be strong and of a good courage ..." (Deuteronomy 31:23). It almost becomes monotonous, but shows how badly Joshua must have needed it. Then God Himself took the matter up: "Be strong and of a good courage ... only be strong and very courageous ... Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage" (Joshua 1:7-9). The chapter ends with a final assurance of God's backing against all comers and then a repetition of the words: "only be strong and of a good courage" (1:18).

Moses, the towering natural leader, never needed anyone to say that to him, whereas everybody who looked at Joshua saw the chattering teeth and the shaking knees and felt bound to say to him, It is all right, Joshua! Don't take on so! Joshua was certainly not one of those powerful extroverts, natural leaders, capable of sweeping all before him. Nevertheless he had a brilliant career as a leader. He led the people of God into their possession. It was God's Word that did it. The explanation was that Joshua's brilliant career was wholly due to the fact that he kept closely to the line of God's Word. Having no natural capacity for victory, he had the wisdom to get in where the action was: he identified himself with the victory-bringing Word of God.

Joshua and God's Presence

It will be worth while to find another explanation for Joshua's leadership by looking again at his past history. "Moses rose up and Joshua his minister, and Moses went up into the mount of God" (Exodus 24:13). Read on and you will find that "Moses turned and went down from the mount" (Exodus 32:15). Forty days have elapsed. Moses has been in the presence of God for forty days. Joshua went with him and, as we read on, we find him saying to Moses as they went down together, "There is a noise of war in the camp" (Exodus 32:17). Clearly he had been up there all the time, tarrying in the presence of God. Later on we are told that "the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And Moses turned again to the camp, [82/83] but his minister Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the Tent" (Exodus 33:11). Joshua was a man of the presence of God. That bit of pre-history cannot be without significance as we move forward with Joshua into his active days of leadership in the land of Canaan. He was a man who in the secret days of apprenticeship learned to live in the presence of God.

When, therefore, he took up his task of leadership and was commanded to be strong, God's personal instruction to him was that "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success" (Joshua 1:8). So Joshua was instructed that the only way of prospering is to walk closely with God along the line of His Word.

This obedience fact of the man who had learned to live with God, is the outstanding characteristic of Joshua as leader. Over and over again in his story, this sequel is followed out "The Lord said unto Joshua ... And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come hither and hear the words of the Lord your God" (Joshua 3:7-9). "It came to pass when all the nation were clean passed over Jordan, the Lord spake unto Joshua saying, Take you twelve men ...". "Then Joshua called the twelve men ..." (4:1 and 4). He had learned to live close to God. He knew himself to be a man called by God to live out his leadership along the lines dictated by the Word of God and that was precisely what he did. The Lord spoke to Joshua, and Joshua spoke to the people. And up to chapter 11, that it to say, in the days of active campaigning, there are no less than ten sets of references which contain that as the centrepiece of Joshua's leadership, that he commanded the people that which the Lord had first commanded him. He walked with the Lord in the light of His Word.

Joshua's Failures

How remarkable, then, are the two stories given in chapter 7 and chapter 9! "Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai" (7:2). Not a word about seeking God. As we discover subsequently in the story, Achan had sinned, and his trespass in the matter of coveting and taking the dedicated things of Jericho brought defeat to them all. Achan's sin was totally needless, but so was Joshua's lapse from leadership policy. For if he had sought the Lord at the beginning of chapter 7, do you think that the Lord would not have done for Joshua what he had earlier done for Moses? "The Lord said unto Moses, Say this to them, Go not up for I am not among you" (Deuteronomy 1:42). Do you not think that God would have said words like that to Joshua? The whole matter would then have been exposed, could have been put right, and there would have been no defeat and no loss of life and no widows in Israel' How extraordinary that Joshua, of all people, should so lapse from his leadership ideal!

Incidentally, and in passing, Achan's was a totally needless sin for, when the Lord had got things right and finally sent His people on the way to Ai, look at the gracious and liberal permission He gave them to be enriched by their conquest: "the spoil thereof and the cattle thereof shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves" (Joshua 8:2). What price a few stolen sheckels of silver, a Babylonish garment and a wedge of gold, when you can go with the Lord's full permission into Ai and there help yourselves to all you find! The Lord's way is always more bountiful than that which we would grasp for ourselves.

Joshua's second blunder was concerned with his reception of the Gibeonites (chapter 9). Joshua made a pact with them without asking any counsel at the mouth of the Lord (verse 14). Of course, the Lord turned it all to good. He always does. He is not stopped in His tracks by our sinfulness and folly and defection -- He is the living God. As C. S. Lewis says in one of his science-fiction books: 'He is not a twig that can be snapped under foot, a leaf that can be blown out of the path'. Of course He recoups it; He makes it better than it would have been otherwise. He uses the news of Gibeon to bring out to their destruction a great amalgam of the kings of the South (10:3-4). Of course God overcomes our sin and even makes things better than they would have been otherwise, but that doesn't excuse Joshua. Joshua went wrong. That was the nub of the matter; "the men took of their provision and asked not the counsel of the Lord". How extraordinary! At Ai, it was a presumption of the adequacy of human power; in the case of the Gibeonites, it was the presumption of the [83/84] adequacy of human wisdom. The Bible certainly makes no effort to whitewash God's servants. Perhaps these two exceptions are reported to accentuate the point. The message of the book is crystal clear, for it concerns the man who bound his life to the Word of God -- except when he didn't!

Joshua's Faith

At the beginning of the conquest of the land God gave Joshua a wonderful foretaste of what He, the Lord, could do for a person who was obedient to Him. And, as is often the case, He strengthened faith by doing things the hard way round. At the wedding at Cana of Galilee they were in sore need of wine, and then Jesus had them fill the waterpots with water. He often seems to act in a similar way. He brought Joshua to the banks of the Jordan at a time when it was uncommonly in flood, at the time of harvest. And then He gave Joshua the command that the priests with the ark were to walk right into that flood. What a marvellous foretaste of what God can do through the power of His Word, if only men will obey Him. The whole nation passed through that flood on dry ground. Faith involves facing the frankly impossible with God.

This brings us to the great encounter by Jericho. Now, Joshua, what is your way forward? The Word of God has brought you through a river in spate, can that same Word of God bring you through a city that is walled up to heaven? "It came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes ..." (5:13). I should think he did! I don't suppose he could ever get that city out of his mind, day or night, wondering however he could possibly take it. But when he actually looked at it, what did he see? "Behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand". He went out to look at his problem and he found himself looking at his God. What was more, God presented Himself in that specific guise which showed His adequacy to meet the military problem: "with a sword drawn in his hand". God the Sufficient One!

Well, for once Joshua's knees did not knock. He approached and demanded: "Art thou for us or for our adversaries?" The only answer he got to that question was "No". At first it may seem strange, but the point being made by God was that it was not a question of whose side He was on but of who was on His side. He had not come as taking sides; He had come as the Captain. 'Thank God,' said Joshua, 'Someone is going to lead us into this city of Jericho. I am not baffled any more. I have got a Leader'. So it was that he directed this further question: "What says my Lord unto his servant?"

Then it was that the Captain of the Lord's hosts said to Joshua: "Put off your shoe from off your foot, for the place whereon you stand is holy". Surely nothing more irrelevant to the situation had ever been said since Moses had earlier received a similar charge (Exodus 3:5). What had that got to do with the situation? What had Moses' command to the Israelites in Egypt to slay a lamb to do with their quandary? It had everything to do with it, because if Joshua was not right with God, he could not expect success. And if Joshua had not obeyed that seemingly irrelevant command (Joshua 5:15), he could never have been right with God and received the promise of victory (6:2) and the revelation of the programme which would bring Jericho tumbling to the ground. God will work for us, and His ways are so astonishingly simple, but they are made to depend on a right relationship with His holiness. "Take your shoe from off your foot; for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Victory comes by coming to terms with a holy God.

This, then, is the secret. Joshua lived closely with God. Joshua not only won through himself, but led the people of God into their possessions. And when he was an old man, making his last Will and Testament, this was what he said to the people: "... choose you this day whom you will serve" (24:15). So the story of the conquest is spanned: "What says my Lord unto his servant?" (5:14) -- "Choose you this day whom you will serve." Joshua had not changed. The people answered "... we will also serve the Lord" (24:18), but Joshua had to remind them that they could not serve the Lord "for he is a holy God". To live in the land, to possess your possessions, to go on forward in the way, is more than a matter of declaring yourself on the Lord's side; it means coming to terms with His holiness and remaining obedient to His Word.

(To be continued) [84/85]


Poul Madsen

Reading: Psalm 51

I HAVE sometimes spent a few winter days in a cottage in Sweden. Everything was covered with snow. The boughs of the trees glistened in the sunshine and the purity of everything was so overwhelming that it made a silence which could be felt.

The Sinner

How wonderful is the pure white snow! Could a sinner like David, who had defiled himself so disgracefully, ever hope to stand like this in the presence of a holy God? What does this mean: 'Whiter than snow'? Even whiter! From the start it sounds hopeless; such defilement as his would surely cling to a man for ever. And yet David dared to ask God to do this for him. Did he really appreciate what he was pleading for? Can murder and adultery be blotted out? Can such a deep-dyed sinner be made even whiter than the snow?

In a sense David was praying for the impossible. And yet he did so. It was to God that he was looking when he so prayed. According to the Danish version, the first word in this psalm is God: "O, God!" David realised that his greatest offence had been against God Himself. His sin was more than a slip -- it was a "transgression" (v.1); it was "iniquity" (v.9); it was blood-guiltiness (v.14). It is one thing to trip up but quite a different thing consciously and deliberately to pursue an evil course. He had wronged Bathsheba in a way which could never be put right; he had been responsible for Uriah's death in such a way that the murdered man could never even be asked to grant forgiveness. Most of all, though, he had wronged God.

That is why he cries: "Against thee, thee only have I sinned" (v.4). He had done terrible things against Uriah and Bathsheba, crimes which could never be excused or explained away, but Uriah and Bathsheba were sinners themselves and sin, in the deepest sense, can only be committed against the One who is without sin, and that is God Himself. It was not Uriah or Bathsheba who gave the commandments: "Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill", but God Himself. It was against God the Lawgiver that David had committed his greatest offence.

In a sense this is always true. We do evil things against people, but our real sin is against God. Every sin is sin against God. Sin is never a trivial matter and pardon never to be lightly regarded. Humanly speaking, the forgiveness of past sins is the most hopeless prospect. And yet David turned directly to God and asked for such forgiveness. If his prayer were to be answered, it would constitute the supreme miracle, far greater than any imaginable wonder in the physical realm. For an adulterer and a murderer to shine in God's light and to be whiter than the snow is almost outrageous. It seems to contradict all human ideas of what is right and reasonable.

The truth is that we are all in the same plight as David. Outwardly we may not have committed the acts which he did, but when we find ourselves in the bright light of God's holiness, it will soon dawn upon us that we too must cry out, "O, God!" It is in this connection that David exclaims: "Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (v.5). This is not offered as an excuse -- there is no excuse for sin -- but rather as an explanation. He was not blaming his mother for anything, but he was appreciating with shame, that he had been born into a world of sinners. Whether sin be hidden or exposed, it is an abiding fact. We cannot help ourselves; we cannot help one another; and we have no hope apart from God.

With this realisation, David can do no other than surrender himself unconditionally to God. "Against thee have I sinned ... that thou mayest be justified when thou speakest and be clear when thou judgest". Of course he does not mean that he has sinned in order to justify God; he has done God no service by his sin and not even by his confession, for he owns that he has no claim upon God at all. Sometimes Christians forget this. They think that God is obliged to forgive, especially if the sin is not too ugly, and in this they fail to appreciate the supreme miracle involved in forgiveness.

"Whiter than snow." David knows that he is asking for a miracle, but he realises that his God is so great that He can do even this, and be just in doing it. Later on he also cries: "Cast me not [85/86] away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me" (v.11). Now it may seem that such an idea of the removal of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with our accepted religious formula, but who are we to say what God can do or cannot do? As a true penitent, David was so horrified with himself that he knew that he had forfeited every claim upon God. He had no right to say what God could do. His only hope was grace, and grace has never been a matter of obligation or it would no longer be grace. He must, and does cast himself upon God.

The Gospel

Real conviction of sin is the most dreadful experience which can be entered into here on earth, for it makes God's wrath terribly real and terribly near. Out of a truly broken and contrite heart, David asks himself if there can possibly be mercy for him as he casts himself upon God's grace. Moreover he still fears, for he has come to know his own true nature, and he realises that given even the glistening whiteness of forgiveness of past sins, he is still in danger of fresh transgressions just as foul. He fears himself. He dare not trust himself about the future, for he now realises the depth of his own corrupt nature. He therefore has a further petition: "Create in me a clean heart, O God ..." (v.10). He asks God to make him an entirely new man. If grace is to be effective it must do that too.

From this point David seems almost to go too far. He was clearly not what we would call a pious man, for in our thought, piety would insist that for the rest of his days he must walk with lowered head and gloomy countenance, always grieving over what he had done. What David prays, though, is "Make me to hear joy and gladness: that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice" (v.8). Is this not a superficial approach to sin? Is he, after all, a really broken man? Yes, he is truly broken for what he means is that if such an enormity of evil may be dealt with by such perfect cleansing, then he will be carried away by transports of joy that he is experiencing the greatest miracle that even an almighty God has ever done. He can believe in those great wonders of creation and deliverance of which the Bible speaks, but this is the greatest of all wonders -- that a foul sinner can be so restored that even before God's holy judgment seat he can appear "whiter than snow". He has no pleasure in thinking what he can do to try to remedy his situation, but if he can hear the unbelievable words of pardon from a gracious God, if his black heart can really shine like the pure snow in sunshine, then it is almost as though his heart will break with rejoicing.

Still more amazingly, he goes on to speak of his tongue singing aloud of God's righteousness (v.14). But he is a blood-guilty man! We may appreciate his proposal to sing of God's mercy to a vile sinner, but how can he possibly associate this with righteousness. In my capacity as a lawyer I was present at the trial of war criminals and heard the dread verdict of the High Court Judge as he passed sentence of death on murderers and traitors. In theory they had two days to appeal to the king, but in fact there was no way of maintaining justice and sparing them. The law may convict or exonerate but it cannot forgive. How then can David rejoice at righteousness and yet expect pardon? Clearly it had been revealed to him, as it must be revealed to us, that the only answer is to be found in the gospel of God's Son.

That gospel always leads us out to a barren hill outside the gate of Jerusalem, where God reveals Himself in His Son, nail-pierced, thorn-crowned, and outstretched on the cross. In those awful hours of eternal significance and the forsaken cry of the suffering Redeemer, provision was made for the forgiveness of David's sin -- and yours -- and mine -- and of all who will. The Lord Jesus was there made sin, though He had never sinned, and was able perfectly to complete the work of atonement. That is why David -- and all we who have received the incomparable grace of believing in the Lord Jesus -- can praise the righteousness of God. From this grace and righteousness spring all real praise. Anybody can sing sacred music, but only pardoned sinners can offer true praise to God. Many virtues can be found among non-Christians, but the opposite of sin is not virtue -- it is faith.

We know that there was nothing ceremonial or liturgical which could answer to David's need. There were many sacrifices prescribed by Moses, but none of them could provide cleansing from the kind of sins that David had committed. How could liturgical activities or ceremonial performances deal with a heart so blackened by sin? It was impossible in David's day, and it is equally impossible today. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (v.17). [86/87]

But you will have to go back to Calvary to see a really broken spirit. If you come to God with any thought that what you can do will give some value to the sacrifice, then He will certainly despise you. As we come to the reality of the depth of man's sin, listen to David's words and seek to grasp them, we find that they lead us out to the place of sacrifice outside the walls of Jerusalem where we see a truly broken Man, given over to death for our transgressions.

Even as a fallen man cannot himself provide atonement for his sin and enjoy a clear conscience, neither can he provide himself with the necessary basis for receiving God's deliverance, namely a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Though he examined his inmost being and his past every day, though he wept and mourned, though he sobbed at prayer meetings and in private prayer, all would be in vain. No, he must go out to the cross where everything was won for him, where everything is genuine and true. Dwelling on that sight and taking time to enter into its truth, self shrinks to nothing and the sinner sees himself as God sees him. Now God will not despise him, for what He loathes and despises are the excuses and promises which we mingle with our sacrifices.

Out there the lost sinner realises what is otherwise unbelievable, namely that his iniquities are blotted out for time and eternity, and he really is made whiter than that snow in the sunshine. God has done it all. And God gives him that new heart which overflows with praise and worship. What is more, he becomes a winner of souls, as David explains: "Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee" (v.13). We need to be in the present joy of salvation's miracle to attract others to Christ.


But what about all that David has destroyed? What about the consequences of his sin? Here is a problem which defies all human understanding and every solution. As for the closest circle of his family, we know that his children had lost their respect for their father. Calamity upon calamity fell upon David's family. The sword did not depart from his house. He had indeed to reap as he had sown.

The end of the psalm shows us that he is thinking of the consequences of his sin on the people over whom he was set up to reign. When a man sins, he does harm to those he influences, and the more important his position, the more serious is the effect of open, or even secret, sin on others. David had harmed Zion alarmingly, he had broken down the moral defence of the people. It is true that the stone walls of Jerusalem remained standing, but since he had broken down the spiritual and moral walls which made its real defence, could there ever be the same moral and spiritual stability in the sphere where he ruled? This is a serious thought, and has its own particular application to each one of us. There were certain areas of David's life on earth which would seem to be incapable of restoration.

And yet we believe that redemption means restoration -- full restoration. We can only understand this by looking forward to the day when David stands before the judgment seat of Christ, and we do not have to speculate, for the New Testament tells us that he "served the counsel of God" in his lifetime (Acts 13:36). No higher thing than that can ever be said of any man. We are bound, therefore, to believe that God did not allow David's sin to hinder his serving the will and purpose of God, and to believe that Christ will receive him with the words: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant". If that is so, then we can truly say that David was fully restored. No-one can truly explain the problem of those painful consequences of his sin in his own family and people -- this goes beyond all our powers of understanding -- but we do know that David was able to speak confidently of the building of the walls of Jerusalem. In His unsearchable wisdom and grace God has not allowed David's fall to have lasting demoralising effects. On the contrary! David's deep humbling and forgiveness have to this day been used by the Holy Spirit to bring saving power to millions of people. This is part of the mystery of grace -- a mystery that we can rejoice in but never truly understand.

So the psalm ends on a note of grateful devotion. There will be sacrifices for God which He can delight in. Bullocks, the most costly form of sacrifice, will be gladly placed upon the divine altar. It is as though the forgiven David is so grateful that he will place no limits on his new devotion to his forgiving and restoring God. The more aware we are of the miracle of our black condition being made "whiter than snow" by the blood of the cross, the more will our lips be opened to utter God's praises and the more unreserved will be our devotedness of love to Him. [87/88]



(A running commentary on Romans 8)

George Harpur

IT is difficult to break into Paul's Letters, especially this one, because all the sentences are tied together logically with conjunctions, such as 'for', 'but', 'wherefore' etc. Our middle passage which we are now to consider is introduced by the word 'for' (v.14). "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." With those words Paul plunges into the highlights of this letter, taking us to the great subject of glorification.

We might have been well satisfied with the subject of justification which occupies the first five chapters, telling us how in His wonderful grace God can take plain sinners and, by their simple but real faith in Christ, put away their sin, justify them and make them His children. We might have thought that this was surely enough, but the apostle goes on in chapters six and seven to deal with the further subject of sanctification. He shows that God is not only able to wash us whiter than snow but that He takes us in hand from that point and starts to make us holy, carrying His salvation forward from the forgiveness of sins into an experience where we are changed and made into what we ought to be. The saved sinners are to be transformed into the image of Christ.

NOW he goes on to assure us that this is by no means the end of the story. He plans to glorify us -- surely the most incredible blessing of all. This is the amazing consummation which God has in view; we are to be glorified together with Christ. In this connection we are now brought to the important matter of sonship. We who were the sons of Adam are now the sons of God. We were Adam's sons by pedigree. Adam had sons who also had sons and so the family continued right down the line till at last we find ourselves here at the end of the list. We are all Adam's sons, connected with him by a pedigree. It is a long drawn out pedigree. Adam seems very remote from us, though he is our father and we take our nature from him. The case with Christ, however, is quite different. We are not descended from Him by a long pedigree, but have been born directly from Him. We may talk sentimentally of 'spiritual fathers', but in fact everyone of us who is a true Christian is directly descended from Jesus Christ: we are the children of God by a single step. That is why the New Testament talks about "the church of the firstborn". The word is in the plural. We are firstborn sons of God through Christ. This is much more than a figure of speech; it means that we have no intermediate line at all but enjoy a personal relationship. That is why we use the familiar and endearing term of 'Abba', calling Him our Father. We would not call Adam that. We have a natural father whom we might call 'Daddy' (or Abba) and we may have a living grandfather, but probably beyond that we do not know, and we would certainly never think of calling Adam 'Daddy'. But we can direct ourselves to God in that way because He is the Originator of our lives. So we say, 'Abba, Father'.

And we have His Spirit. We are not now to be ruled by what is called 'the spirit of bondage again unto fear'. This is the spirit which the ordinary man has. If you ask him why he does certain harmful or undesirable things, he will reply that he cannot help it. Indeed many times we have to deal even with Christians who are in bondage to sin, and they tell us that they have tried to break that bondage but cannot do so. They try hard, and sometimes they have a little success but, with the best intentions in the world, they fail because the old nature carries with it the spirit of bondage and fear. We, however, have been given another Spirit, the Spirit of liberty, and so we are free to do the will of God. We have not come under another bondage. The Spirit of God has not come to impose upon us another kind of bondage, so that we cannot help doing right and are forced to do God's will in everything. No, the Spirit leads God's sons, which means that they always have the choice which comes from true liberty. Christians need not surrender to the power of sin and darkness. They are not forced into doing the will of God but they are free to choose and follow that will. This is the way by which the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God.

PAUL goes on to point out that this relationship with God makes us His heirs: "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ". It is [88/89] from this point that he begins to build up his doctrine of glorification. The child has a right to what his father owns. I know that social-political ideas today may run against that, but it was true in the ancient world and it is spiritually as true as ever today. The children are the rightful heirs. In earthly matters it may be argued that if the parents have too much, then it is reasonable to take part of it, but the principle is still that it is the children who inherit. And we are God's heirs. That may sound exaggerated because everything belongs to God. Yes, says Paul, and everything [belongs] to you also in Christ; things up there and things down here, present things, future things -- "All things are yours" (1 Corinthians 3:21).

God says, You are My sons; I am going to give you everything. Let us make no mistake, though, God is not going to die. All that He has will remain in His hands as well as in ours. The ideas of heirship may be described as a figure of speech, but how else can we grasp this amazing fact that all God's wealth comes to us in Christ. We are joint-heirs with Christ. In human affairs it is not so good to be a joint-heir, for it means having only a part of the inheritance which has to be divided up among the heirs. Of course it is a happy enough situation to be a joint-heir with your wife; it makes no problems, for you already share things. So the heirship depends on whom you are sharing with. Well, we are joint-heirs with millions of people, but the special stress made here is that we are joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. I am sure that we are only too glad to share anything with Him.

Notice, though, that there is a snag. Well let us rather say that it is a condition. Paul says "if so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together". Salvation as justification is absolutely free; salvation by sanctification is a business which demands the co-operation of our wills; salvation as glorification will depend upon the kind of people we are. The Lord Jesus gave a parable in which He spoke of ten cities being given to one man, five to another, and none for the other (Luke 19:13-26). That was the Lord's pictorial language to illustrate the truth given here: "if so be that we suffer with him" (verse 17). The matter of suffering with Him need not make us think at once of martyrdom. We need not feel excluded because the opportunity for martyrdom in our locality is very small and unlikely. It was not that which in His parable the Lord was talking about. What it is, though, is a matter of sharing His reproach.

OUR chapter goes on to tell us that the creation is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God (verse 19), linking this up with what has gone before about "the sufferings of this present time". The fact is that for the moment we are not manifest as the sons of God. People do not necessarily see any obvious proof that we are God's sons. As they look on us, they do not take note of the fact that we are children of God. Outwardly we look much as we did before our conversion. As time goes on we get old, we lose our hair, or we get sick; we pass through the same experiences as everybody else. We don't have a halo round our heads. Neither did the Lord Jesus. We are not seen by the world as God's favourites. Neither was He.

There were sufferings for Him before ever He came to the sufferings of the cross. He was content to be the Son of God when no-one believed it. Philip was stone-blind to the fact, even though he had been all that time with Jesus. Outwardly there was no "manifestation" that He was the Son of God; and that was part of His sufferings. He was cold and hungry; He fell asleep in the boat because He was so very tired. He was cast down and troubled and, in the garden of Gethsemane, He said that His soul was "exceedingly sorrowful even unto death". He went through all that we go through -- sin apart -- and yet He was the Son of God. And He accepted it joyfully, not choosing His own way but being led by the Spirit as the true Son of God.

We, too, are called upon to accept the will of our heavenly Father, however unpleasant it may be. He is in charge of our lives. He puts one here and the other there; He makes one a man and one a woman; He gives one a strong constitution, and He allows another to be in poor health for a long time; He calls one to serve Him abroad, and another to stay and plod along at home. In a word, He deals with us in what we may describe as His providence; and we are called upon to show that we are sons of God by joyfully accepting our Father's choice for us. It is a pity that so many Christians complain of the way in which God has ordered their lives. They walk out on their family. People even walk out on their husband or wife if things don't go as they could wish. Or they change their jobs without any reference to what will best [89/90] serve their Father. Sometimes it is because they would prefer to serve the Lord in some other way, are influenced by other people's opinions or bored with steady routine. Or it may be that they change for the sake of material benefit.

Paul writes very clearly about this matter. He says: "As God called each, so let him walk" (1 Corinthians 7:17). Again he repeats his command: "Brethren, let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God" (1 Corinthians 7:24). Accept the position in which God has placed you. Of course he doesn't mean that you should never move, but stresses that you should only move when God moves you. Are you prepared for this expression of sonship? Can you bear the suffering of being governed by the Word of God? Surely it all becomes wonderfully possible when we realise that God's end in view is always glory.

There are a lot of rebels in the world today. There are children who could support their father in his business, but no, they would rather break stones than conform. All right! Independence of spirit is quite good. Money and security are not everything. It may all be made to sound so noble. But for a Christian there is nothing more foolish than to reject the situation into which God's providence has led him and strike out in self-will. We must believe that the whole scheme of life into which we have been born, our culture, our poverty or riches, our marriage or our lack of opportunity to marry, all this God has fixed for us. He gives us the opportunity of proving to be His obedient son or daughter just there.

IT may be painful, but it is infinitely worthwhile. "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that shall be revealed in us." That is how we ought to feel about it. Alas, it is so much more natural to be concerned with some passing glory which we can enjoy here and now. Is it not better to suffer with Him and for Him by faith, until the day comes when the whole creation will see what it has been waiting for -- "the manifestation of the sons of God"? That Day is coming, the Day when God will raise the dead and change those who are still alive. Then He will announce to the whole creation: "Here are My sons!" Everybody will know then that we are the sons of God. It will be evident. The immediate question for us, though, is whether we are prepared to accept the hostilities and even indignities of the present day, confident that our Father has planned for us and knows just how best to prepare each one of us for eternal glory. If only we knew it, there are very big issues involved.

To return to the matter of the pounds in Luke 19. The man who had a talent which he did not like the look of, put it out of sight and disassociated himself from active dealings over it. He didn't like to do what he knew his master would have wished. It proved to be a most foolish decision. I don't know what he did with his time, but it was certainly wasted, for it did him no good. The others had to work and sweat in a city that was in rebellion. It cannot have been easy. One of them, however, made such a living that he was able to turn the talent into ten. That was because he accepted his lord's conditions all through the testing waiting time. In the end he lived to enjoy his lord's glory. "Take ten cities", he was told. Fancy, ten cities! All for ten talents! The reward was altogether out of proportion to the profit he had made. And, what is more, he was also allowed to keep the ten talents, as we know by the fact that when the nobleman ordered that the wasted talent of the first man should be given to him too, those around objected, "Lord, he hath ten pounds". So now he had eleven! And what is more he was entrusted with the responsibility of ruling over ten cities. The final comment made by the Lord Jesus was: "To everyone that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away that which he seemed to have".

As we have said, there are big issues involved in this qualifying for glory. This parable leads us to believe that the Lord Jesus was teaching that throughout the ages of eternity, our share in the coming glory will be related to our faithfulness here and now. Just as there were arrangements about the division of inherited property in the past, so it will be then. In the Old Testament days the eldest son had a double portion -- twice as much as his brothers, the reason being that he had to carry extra responsibilities in the family. It was not favouritism: the division was made on a rational, understandable basis. And so it is in the matter of spiritual inheritance. There are great responsibilities to be entered into in the ages that are to come, and it is now that we are being tested and prepared for them. The share in the glory that is to be, is directed by the [90/91] degree in which we share with Christ in His sufferings. This seems to be the clear implication of the Lord's parable of the talents.

"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to usward." It appears that our share in that glory will be somehow related to our present endurance of things we do not like and wish that God would change, our humble acceptance of the Spirit's leading us into the will of God, even although that involves suffering. As we shall see in the next article, reigning with Christ for ever and ever means that there is work to be done in eternity, work in which marvellous privileges and responsibilities might be ours. This consideration will give new force and value to the reminder that the sons of God are those who are led by the Spirit of God.

(To be continued)


John H. Paterson

IT is just 30 years since the death of my father, George Paterson. He left behind him many warm memories but few possessions. Among these, however, were two notebooks which I have kept, and which contain the outlines of Bible studies.

My father was an infrequent preacher, in the formal sense. His talks to children were memorable, and he always seemed to have a brief and telling word for special occasions, but preaching was not his particular gift. During the 1930s, he regularly led a Bible class on a Sunday afternoon, and it is from this period, now almost half a century ago, that these talks date whose outlines are before me as I write.

One of his series in those far-off days attained a kind of local celebrity. It was a study of the Old Testament peoples with whom the Children of Israel came into contact -- the 'ites' of the Bible narrative. The line of argument in this series was straightforward and, to the student of the Bible, perfectly logical. He drew attention to the fact that Israel was surrounded by many other nations, some actively hostile and others anxious to be friendly but, in their very friendship, a threat to God's people. Each of these nations had its own character, posed a particular problem or temptation; and was dealt with, in the providence of God, by a particular weapon in the hand of an individual leader.

Taken together, then, they may be seen to represent the obstacles and pitfalls upon the believer's way. It is therefore important firstly to be able to identify them -- to 'know your enemy' -- and, secondly, to use the right weapon to combat them.

In such a study the critical point, obviously, is the identification of who-represents-what. Unless that can be clearly established, the history of Israel's conflicts in the Old Testament remains little more than a bald, not to say bewildering narrative. My father agreed that, despite the excesses of some 'spiritualisers' of the text, a fair identification could be achieved by tracing the story of each '-ite' from the earliest reference in the Bible to the last, so that history and character might emerge together.

The kind of question he asked was: What do we know of this nation's ancestry, whereabouts or occupation? With whom were they actually allied? What methods did they employ to harass Israel? What weapons did they habitually use? What language does the Bible use in speaking of them? To a remarkable degree, in fact, each of these people remained constant in character throughout its dealings with Israel.

The power of each study, then, was to raise the same question: 'What is it that poses this kind of threat, or temptation, or obstacle, to the believer in his walk with God and his occupation of the "land" of God's promise and purpose?' From among the case studies contained within my father's notebook, I have chosen as an example his analysis of the Midianites .

The Story of Midian

The Midianites were descended from Abraham and his wife, Keturah (Genesis 25:2): they were, in fact, near relatives of Israel. Although there are some references to a "land of Midian" (Exodus 2:15) they seem to have been a nomadic people, turning up in unexpected places, for trade [91/92] or for war, so that nowhere was safe from them. Yet they were by no means without a knowledge of God, for Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, was their priest (Exodus 2:16; 3:1; 18:9-10) and, through him, a good deal of Midianite counsel and opinion seems to have found a place in Israel (Exodus 18:14-27). They seem to have known of, if not shared in, the faith of Israel; in this respect they were inside rather than outside the sphere of the knowledge of God. At the same time they periodically allied themselves with such patently hostile tribes as Amalek (Judges 6:3) and Moab (Numbers 22:4).

What else do we know of them as a people? The Bible goes out of its way to stress that the Midianites came in swarms, like locusts (Judges 6:5; 7:12). Periodically, they overran the land of Israel. In between their raids they were merchantmen, like other desert-dwellers (Genesis 37:25), trading in commodities which, in the fullness of time, were to be particularly associated with Christ -- spices and balm and myrrh.

The Midianites as Israel's Enemies

Israel suffered from the attentions of Midian in two different ways. Firstly, Midian "beguiled" Israel, and "vexed them with their wiles" (Numbers 25:18). Without coming into open conflict with God's people, they tried to divert them from faith in God and a pure attachment to Him. Not only were they mixed up with their allies, Moab, in the attempts to bribe Balaam to curse Israel, but immediately afterwards a Midianitish woman was introduced into Israel's camp in the most blatant manner possible (Numbers 25:1-15). They were hard to keep out!

And then, in the second place, there were the deliberate military attacks, especially those during a seven-year period which culminated in the call of Gideon (Judges 6:1). Like a swarm of locusts they devoured the food supplies. By the end of the seven years the people of God were starving and homeless, robbed of food and rest. This was the situation which Gideon was summoned by God to put right, and summoned, interestingly enough, while he was in the act of making some small, personal effort to keep the food supply flowing.

What kind of enemy was this? One answer to the question of identification and an answer which, as his notes make clear, my father had considered and discarded, is that 'Midian' means 'strife' or 'brawling', and that it is strife among [92/93] God's people which robs them of nourishment, deprives them of spiritual rest, and leaves them perplexed and "beguiled". But, taking all that into account, my father's notes record his own answer to the question, which was that what Midian most characteristically stands for is the spirit of busyness in God's work.

That this is an enemy can be disputed by no-one who has experience of spiritual activity. That it is possible to be busy with God's work, yet in the wrong spirit, is all too evident. That Christian activity often hinders, and only sometimes helps, God's interest is a sad fact. There is activity which is produced by men who think that they are helping God but may, alas, merely be drawing attention to themselves by what they do.

Keeping Midian Out

Strife or busyness: whichever of these we may feel most accurately reflects the character of Midian, the question at once arises as to how best to get rid of it! And to answer the question we must turn to the story of Gideon, the man God chose to rid His people of this particular problem.

In the familiar, yet paradoxical, tale told in Judges 6 and 7, the first thing that strikes us is what not to do, and that is to try to match the Midianites, man for man or weapon for weapon. If they came in swarms, like locusts, then God's man is sent out against them not with 32,000 Israelites, nor yet an army of 10,000, but with a mere 300, "lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me" (Judges 7 .2). And if they come armed, then Gideon is to meet them not with swords (for we cannot even be sure that he owned one!) but with a trumpet, a torch and an empty pitcher.

This is not an enemy to be met on his own terms, but by that divine law of opposites that becomes so familiar to us as we read the New Testament. God chooses the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are strong (1 Corinthians 2:27). Gideon himself is what we would nowadays call an 'anti-hero', with no qualifications and no confidence. The prescription for dealing with this enemy becomes clear:

1. Keep the food supply flowing at all costs;

2. Shine the light!

*    *    *    *    *

At this point in my father's notes I looked expectantly for a reference to a New Testament passage, but there is none. It may have been so obvious to him as not to have required a cross-reference, but let us for our own part take no risks! In 2 Corinthians 4 is a passage which, surely, provides a perfect match for the story of Gideon, light, pitcher and all. In the Corinthian church was a situation of total disorder. There was certainly strife ("I am of Paul; and I of Apollos") and there was equally certainly a great deal of activity, which left untouched the appalling moral disorder within the church.

When Paul first wrote to rebuke the church, its members evidently responded by asking, in effect, 'Who does he think he is?' (Gideon, as it happens, met with a rather similar reaction in Judges 8:1-3.) The second epistle was Paul's response. "You seem to think," he said, "that for a person to be an apostle he must look or sound like one. But being an apostle is not a matter of strength of personality. I do not claim the right to speak to you because of what I am. All I can do -- all any apostle does -- is to let the light of God shine through him. It's not the man that counts; it is the light."

Whether or not Paul was thinking of Gideon at this time we shall never know, but his words strongly suggest that he was (2 Corinthians 4:6-7): "God ... shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power of God may be of God, and not from ourselves". The answer to strife or busyness among God's people is not the accumulation of force or the cult of personality but rather the breaking of the pitcher so that the light may shine out.

Gideon and the Fleece

My father's notes on the Midianites close with a reference to the fleece which plays a rather baffling part in the story of Gideon (Judges 6:36-40). What was the point of all that? To my father it provided both a warning and an encouragement. He saw the dew-wet ground and the dry fleece on it as a reminder that, when there is outward prosperity and plenty in the world, there is likely to be dryness and leanness among God's people, for there is nothing in the world to sustain or refresh them. But by contrast he would encourage us to realise that, in a world starving for spiritual food, or life, or hope, where there is nothing but dry ground, the dew of heaven can and does fall on God's children to refresh and enliven them.



(Some studies in Genesis)

Harry Foster


THERE was just one thing which God required of the race He had created, and that was that men should have faith in Him. Alas, He did not receive that requirement. Since He Himself is unchanging, however, faith is still the essential demand which He makes on man. "Without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

We consider the story of Genesis 4. In Genesis no actual mention is made of the word 'faith' until we come to Abraham, but the New Testament throws light on the story of Genesis 4 by directing our attention to Adam and Eve's second son, Abel, the man who became the first in the long line of men and women of faith described in Hebrews 11. In the New Testament Adam gets no good mention. Whether in the mercy of God he found repentance and that reconciliation with God which comes by faith we do not know. In any case Hebrews 11 is not an account of all those who received mercy -- they are innumerable -- but rather of those whose names are worthy of special mention in view of their whole-hearted response to God in terms of faith.

For, after all, faith is not just a matter of holding convictions, but it is a question of accepting, grasping and acting upon what God says when He speaks. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). [93/94] If this is so, then we need have no doubt that Abel's offering of a lamb was no mere impulse of his, nor was it the accidental fact that he happened to be a shepherd; he did what had been commanded by God and in doing so "offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain".

From this offering came what is described as "the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24); not -- I think -- blood from his own death wound, but the blood of sprinkling which God required of any man who would be acceptable to Him. In this passage we are told that Christ's blood of sprinkling speaks better than Abel's because the blood of the cross is the true and full propitiatory sacrifice of which all others were but shadows.

ABEL made his sacrifice because he had perceived and grasped by faith the fundamental fact that a man finds God's acceptance of him and of his offering only if that offering is associated with the perfect sacrifice of God's Lamb. The opposite is described in reference to his older brother, Cain, to whom God gave no respect and whose offering was quite unacceptable (Genesis 4:5). We are told that Cain was very angry about this, so much so that even his face betrayed his disappointed rage. God took him up on this anger, pointing out that, whatever he offered, a perfect man would never fail to find acceptance with Him. "If thou doest well ...". But Cain was not a perfect man. Nor, for that matter, was Abel. Nor has it been true of any of Adam's offspring since that day. We none of us do well for, on earth, "there is no man that sinneth not", as Solomon so rightly acknowledged (1 Kings 8:46).

The real difference between the two brothers was that Abel had humble dealings with God about his sin, acknowledging that he needed a substitutionary sacrifice, whereas Cain, even as he brought his hand-picked selection of fruit and vegetables, tried to ignore his own basic sinfulness. Our Bible reads that for him God said: "Sin coucheth at the door" (v.7) and in a sense that was true, though sin does more than that; it enters into possession of the heart. The original could equally mean that it was a sin-offering which lingered outside and, for my part, I prefer the idea that what God said to Cain was: "The sin-offering coucheth at the door". Since the Hebrew word here translated 'sin' is precisely the same as the word employed for 'sin-offering', the words being used in almost the same number of times for the one as for the other, it seems to me more likely that God was talking to Cain about the availability of the required sin-offering, reminding him that right at his very tent door there was lurking a suitable lamb which would have made him every bit as acceptable as Abel. The choice for Cain, and indeed for us all, was whether he would claim acceptance on the grounds of the fruit of his own labours, or whether he would accept God's answer to man's sin on the basis of shed blood.

SINCE Abel's action was based on faith, we must conclude that God had specifically instructed the two (and probably the whole family) that this is how it had to be. If this is so, then the words about what was couching at the door were just a reminder of how available the proper offering was. There need have been no problem and no delay. The man of faith used that offering, and was accepted: the man without faith spurned it, and was rejected. Once Adam had sinned there would never be any other basis of acceptance with God than that of shed blood. And there never will be. In the glory of eternity this is constantly celebrated in joyful songs, as the book of the Revelation so vividly shows.

Cain, however, had no joy and no song. He was so angry that he became a murderer and that not by a sudden impulse but by deliberately inviting Abel to his death. The Bible informs us that Cain was of the evil one, whose works were evil (1 John 3:12), but even so, not every sinner is a murderer. Why did Cain react so violently? Why did he have to bring Abel into it? This merits closer enquiry.

Cain did not raise sheep but was employed in arable farming. We gather, then, that the creature crouching at his door was presumably one of Abel's flock. It follows that if Cain were to make the appropriate sacrifice offering he would either have to buy a lamb -- which he could easily have done with his basket of succulent fruit -- or receive the lamb as a gift from his younger brother. In either case he would feel himself indebted to his younger brother, and that he could not bear. My own view is that the righteous Abel would have been only too glad to make one of his lambs available and that Cain's pride not only made him reject such a thought but conceive a mad hatred for the brother. Faith needs humility: the two of them go together. [94/95]

He would question why he should be beholden to his junior. Was he not the firstborn? If he received the lamb through Abel, would he not be forfeiting his rights as senior of the two? God assured him that this was far from being the case, and seems to have suggested that he could secure and even enhance his superior position if he made the necessary sin-offering. This is what God's subsequent words seem to imply: "Unto you will be his (Abel's) desire, and thou shalt rule over him". The very same language had been used by God to describe Adam's priority over Eve (Genesis 3:16), and could have applied equally to the relationship between the two brothers if they had both been men of obedient faith. Faith is not a competition. It is simply a matter of humble sharing in God's mercies. But, as we saw in our previous article, pride had now taken possession of the human heart, so Cain was too proud to turn to Abel for the necessary sin-offering, preferring to try to induce God to accept the fruit of his own efforts.

He might even have been able to join in the hymn:

Just as I am, young, strong and free,

To be the best that I can be ...

Lord of my life, I come!

No doubt the writer of that hymn had good intentions, and may even have taken it for granted that it was to be sung by blood-cleansed sinners, though she does not say so. Cain could reasonably have sung that hymn as he brought his best efforts to his Creator God. But he would still have been rejected. Abel, the man of true Bible faith, would doubtless have preferred -- as I do -- the original hymn, composed by another lady:

Just as I am, without one plea

But that Thy blood was shed for me ...

O Lamb of God, I come!

That was how Abel came, and that is the fundamental beginning of all faith. God not only accepted Abel, but gave him honourable mention at the head of the list of those men and women of faith who are still patiently waiting for us to complete their number (Hebrews 11:39). Faith is not only the beginning, when we take shelter under the blood, but its principle runs right through life. Abel did not have much time to exemplify this, but at least he reminds us that, in a sense, faith is always a matter of life and death. It is never easy to allow one's life to be governed by a humble and ready response to God's Word.

But if for Abel faith was very costly, it was also eternally rewarding. The lasting power and preciousness of vital faith is shown by God's epitaph: "He, being dead, still goes on speaking". From the dawn of human history until the time when the writer to the Hebrews sat down to pen his message, many thousands of years had passed, but Abel's clear testimony was as fresh in the apostle's ears as it had been in Abel's own day. And now another two millenia have passed and, as I write of sacrificial blood, it is Abel who reminds me that this is the way of faith, and that as I take that way nothing can hinder my acceptance with God. Even if I do not go on to read the rest of Hebrews 11, I would already have an up-to-date encouragement to be sure to have faith in God. Abel still speaks to me of God's Lamb.

But of course I do go on, and as I do so I find that every subsequent believer in the book of Genesis has a message for me concerning the many aspects of true faith. Each one had to pioneer his own way with God, for no two people had similar experiences. By its very definition, the way of faith must be an unknown way to each one of us. From the beginning right to the end, therefore, God's men and women responded to God's requirement by giving Him the trustful obedience which we call faith.

THE next man for us to consider is Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24). Little is told us about him -- even less than Abel -- but his story stands in stark contrast to all the other names in that chapter, for of each of them it is recorded that he died, whereas concerning Enoch we read that "God took him". This, no doubt, is a beautiful way of describing the way in which many Christians pass from this scene, but in Enoch's case it was literally true. He never died but went straight to his Home in God. His message to us concerns the matter of fellowship with God, for it was of this man that it is recorded, "Enoch walked with God". We are not only to be accepted by God: we are to walk with Him.

There had been a time when Adam had walked with his Maker, "in the cool of the day" (3:8), but he lost that privilege when he discarded simple faith. So far as the company of man was concerned, this might seem that God suffered from loneliness. If so, it did not last long, for [95/96] though His first man of faith, was roughly thrust from the earth, Enoch took up faith's privileges, finding a basis of fellowship by sacrifice we may be sure, but continuing a life of faith by a humble walk with his God. He was no recluse; he was a family man; but he had a place for God in his life and made time to cultivate the fellowship which is offered to all who have a true faith relationship with God. Enoch walked on through time and right on into eternity. Whether for him that walk was costly or not, we are not told. For him such a question would have little relevance, for he carried in his heart the glad assurance that his heavenly Friend and Companion was enjoying the walk. To bask in the smile of God's good pleasure is heavenly glory indeed, so Enoch had a foretaste of heaven here below: "Before his translation he had witness borne to him that he was well-pleasing to God" (Hebrews 11:5). A similar sense of harmony with our Lord can come to all those of us who walk humbly in the pathway of faith.

And what shall we say of the next faith-man, Noah? He lived in days as dark as ours (Luke 17:26) but of him also it is recorded that he walked with God (Genesis 6:9). He worked with his hands as well as witnessing with his words, and proved God's grace in every circumstance. He was a man of the workshop and the farmyard, but he was also a man of the altar (8:20). He was a man of the stormy tempests, but he was also a man of the rainbow. He learned to listen to God and to obey God and in doing so he "condemned the world" which does neither of these things and "became heir of the righteousness which is by faith " (Hebrews 11:7).

When we read the early verses of Genesis 4, we are apt to pity Cain and to think that the basis of Abel's acceptance was rather cheap and easy. Easy enough, in one sense, for faith is quite simple, but Abel found the way hard, for it cost him his life, and Cain found it too hard, for there is nothing more difficult for the proud heart of natural man than to confess his utter emptiness and unworthiness and cast himself on the mercy of God. As to faith being cheap! Let the next man of faith after Noah, Abraham, whose faith required him to offer up his only beloved son, tell us if faith is cheap. Ask the rest of those great characters in Genesis, notably Jacob, clinging helplessly in crippled need at Jabbok; ask his son, Joseph, in the bitter sorrows of Egypt's dungeon, if faith is cheap. No, it is never cheap and often it is not easy, but it is always possible. It is God's minimum requirement and His greatest joy.

When the long story of Hebrews 11 is finished and we pass into the next chapter, we are reminded of Him who is "the author and perfector of faith" (Hebrews 12:2). Nobody would think of using such words as 'cheap' or 'easy' concerning this Man who, at last, gave the Father all that He rightly required of those called to be His sons, namely, complete, implicit and joyous faith. What Enoch had in part, the Lord Jesus had always and in full measure, the deep heart satisfaction of knowing God's full pleasure as He walked with God. "He that sent me is with me", He declared, "he hath not left me alone; for I do always the things that are pleasing to him" (John 8:29). John adds, "As he spake these things, many believed on him". Does this suggest that faith can be stimulated in others as it is seen in us? "Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief!"

(To be continued)


Poul Madsen


IN the previous chapter Paul assured us that he was looking not at the passing moment but at the world to come which is eternal. Such was his faith. And his hope -- like his faith -- was based upon certainties, so he begins: "For we know ...". What is it that he knows, and presumes that the Corinthians also know?

Both the translation and the interpretation of the verses which follow are difficult. Many interpreters [96/97] take them to mean that Paul hoped he would not see death before the Coming of Christ, since that would mean waiting for the resurrection in a body-less intermediary stage, as though the dead in Christ are now naked and unclothed in a waiting period.

I am unable to accept this interpretation, for it does not agree with other Biblical statements. It seems to me that it only complicates matters if one supposes that when the apostle wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:52 he used the word "we" because he expected Christ would come in his lifetime but afterwards, when he wrote 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, he had begun to fear that after all he might die first. This would mean that he had at first expected to have an advantage by being alive when Christ returned but was now afraid that he might lose that advantage by dying and so being "unclothed". This would mean that if he lived until Christ came he would avoid the naked, unclothed period. I cannot agree with this, for it is quite contrary to what we know elsewhere about his view of death (Philippians 1:21).

IN his assertion as to what "we know", Paul uses two illustrations; that of a tent and that of clothing. Firstly, our earthly life is like camping in a tent on a temporary basis. Just as the Israelites on their way to the land of promise had to be tent-dwellers until they reached the goal of their permanent home, so we are journeying on towards our home but meanwhile live, tent-fashion, as strangers and pilgrims on the earth. In both cases the goal was certain for it was promised by God, but in our case we have the joy of knowing that if this earthly tent in which we now live decays, we pass straight into our permanent home. 'We have' a permanent home, already prepared for us by God, so that death only means exchanging our discarded tent for His glorious temple. "We have ... a house ...". I am not quite clear what Paul means by his use of the present tense. It may be just a means of expressing that utter certainty that our hope will be realised, but it may also indicate that immediately the believer is called away from his tent by death, he finds himself in his heavenly and eternal home. As he reminds us in verse 8, to be absent from the body means to be "at home with the Lord".

The second illustration speaks of a dress which we are to put on so as not to be found naked. Now Paul had already "put on" Christ (Galatians 3:27), and so he could never be found naked like those who are not in Christ. It may seem to us a strange contrast when he tells us that he has put on Christ and is in Christ and yet found death working in him all the time (4:11). This did not surprise him. Although he makes no secret of the fact that he groaned, he did not by this mean that the sufferings of his present life in Christ were so great that he could have wished to have remained unclothed, but only groans by reason of his deepest longing for that great experience of being "clothed upon" which would occur when everything connected with mortality would be swallowed up by life.

This thought is identical with his resurrection assertion: "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:53). As we have said, we have put on Christ and are not naked -- nor shall we ever be found naked -- but still we rightly long for the full glory of putting on immortality.

THIS passage ought to be read in the context in which it was dictated. The writer was constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake which, from his opponents' point of view, meant that he was being unclothed. They argued that Paul had no real knowledge of the risen Lord, that he was a nonentity. They therefore regarded the decaying of his outward man as a process of being unclothed which would culminate when he died. For him it was just the opposite. He insists that although it was true that his outward man was decaying, in fact his inner man was being renewed day by day so that simultaneously as he was moment by moment being delivered unto death, he was also being delivered into a more exceeding weight of glory. If his earthly tabernacle broke down entirely under the weight of his overwhelming burdens, it would not be -- as his opponents asserted -- the culmination of being unclothed, for he would die as one who had put on Christ and would put on incorruption and immortality, and thus be clothed upon with a habitation from heaven. The Holy Spirit within him guaranteed this.

Understood in this way, the message is a natural part of the whole presentation and logically continues: "Being therefore of good courage, and knowing that whilst we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord ... we would [97/98] prefer to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord" (vv.6-8). This corresponds exactly to his testimony: "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

The parenthesis comments, "for we walk by faith and not by sight". It is true that Paul is "in Christ" but he is not yet "with Christ" and therefore must continue to walk by faith. Faith enabled the apostle to keep looking at the invisible Christ, when otherwise he would have seen nothing but the afflictions and weaknesses which he had to bear. Even if Christ did not exert His omnipotence to spare His servant from death, Paul would still go on trusting, for by faith he could rely on the reality of his yet unseen Lord. What mattered most was to be well-pleasing to the Lord (vv.9-10). Whether to live or to die made no difference to the apostle's attitude; he sought to show the Lord the same obedience now as will be expected of him at the resurrection. It is important to give Him the same obedience now here on earth, for "we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ".

PAUL saw no contradiction to his emphatic emphasis on faith alone for justification and his reminder of the coming judgment. Justification does not cancel out God's demand for obedience, but makes it possible for us to meet it. In saying that we must receive the things done in the body ... "whether it be good or bad", he is not suggesting that the Christian must face condemnation, but rather that eternity will reveal and assess true spiritual value. The Greek word used for 'bad' can mean worthless; if so it refers us back to the "wood and hay and stubble" of 1 Corinthians 3:12. The Day will make them all too plain for what they were. Thank God that in eternity all the hidden and perhaps unsuspected values -- the "gold, silver and precious stones" will also be displayed for the glory of God at the judgment seat.

We notice that the apostle does not speak cock-surely about the appearing before the judgment seat, but with deep concern: "Knowing, then, the fear of the Lord, we persuade men" (v.11). The urgency of his ministry was due to his appreciation of eternal values; this was manifest to God and should also be made manifest to their consciences for Paul lived as a man who expected soon to "leave his home here in foreign parts and be at home with the Lord" (v.8 Danish). In Corinth it was not always easy for the church to defend Paul against his critics. What he wrote now was to give them some insight into his motives and to answer those judgments which were based on appearances and not heart realities (v.12).

It was the love of Christ, and that alone, which drove him on. His whole existence could be summed up negatively in that he did not live for himself, and positively that he lived for the One who died and rose again for him, being convinced that "He died for all". By this expression, "He died for all" we take it that Paul is stressing the fact that Christ's death was representative, as is clear from his conclusion: "therefore all died".

Being dead by virtue of the death of Christ means being made free from the sin and selfishness which He took upon Himself for us -- free to live an entirely new life. It is entirely new, and the exact opposite of that which we inherited from Adam. It is governed by the love of Christ, which drives out all self-love; it has not its centre in self but in the will of God; it does not seek its own but what profits others. Seidelins, a Danish translator, renders verse 16: "From now on we cannot look at anyone with the eyes of the world", which seems to give the sense quite well, "if we ever have looked at Christ as the world sees Him, we do not do that any more". To "know Christ after the flesh" is the same as not knowing Him as He is, even though you may know all about His life and death. Not that we can know Christ as who He is without knowing Him as the One who came "in flesh". Paul does not teach that the "historical Jesus" is without significance for true spiritual knowledge, for he is fully in agreement with his fellow-apostle John who wrote: "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God" (1 John 4:2).

There are, however, many people who know about Jesus. They study His life and words, but what they do is limited to the flesh's activity. They know nothing of having been reconciled to God. The ministry of reconciliation is neither just an account of what once happened with regard to salvation, nor even instruction on the right attitude of mind towards it, but a means by which men actually meet with Christ for themselves. But God has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ (v.18). The wording is most striking. [98/99] Reconciliation brings enmity to an end. It is the duty of the one who has wronged the other and thereby created the enmity. We are guilty as to the enmity and it is our duty to bring it to an end. If I wrong anyone I can reconcile myself with him, but I cannot reconcile him with myself. Yet, that is just what God has done. Christ's death for all (v.14) is the ground of reconciliation. He did it by not reckoning their trespasses, but by reckoning them to His Son.

GOD reconciled Saul of Tarsus, His archenemy, to Himself and then gave him the ministry of reconciliation, to be His ambassador, His messenger, to entreat men to enter into the good of what God has done for them. There can hardly be any doubt that Paul's words: "We pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (v.20) apply to the Corinthians themselves. It suggests that their situation was serious. They are the church of God (1:1); they stand by faith (1:24) and yet they are urged to be reconciled to God. It appears that they who had before received the reconciliation had allowed something to come between which was spoiling the relationship. They therefore needed to be reconciled all over again. Grace must be continually renewed if it is to have practical effects.

The apostle closes this profound section with that which is even more profound: "Him who knew no sin, he made to be sin on our behalf ..." (v.21), a statement which makes the commentator lose his desire merely to explain by reason of an overwhelming desire to worship. What this meant, none of us can fathom. Jesus was not made a sinner -- He could never be that -- but He was made sin. That means that God placed His Son in that relationship with Himself into which sin has placed us -- separated from God and an object of His wrath. God did this that "we might become the righteousness of God in him". The righteousness of God is the rightness which God approves, and that can only be His own righteousness. So the chapter ends with those thrilling words, "in Him". They have a wealth of meaning. All God's past intentions and all Christ's historic sacrifice are for us today, provided in a present and real sense we are "in Christ". And all God's glorious purposes and values for eternity are also for us who know ourselves to be "in Him".

(To be continued)


Harry Foster

Reading: John 17

THE Lord Jesus taught His disciples to pray, but we are not told that He ever prayed with them. He prayed for them, of course, and on this special occasion He allowed them to overhear His prayer and to record it. And what a prayer! Whenever we are reminded that now He lives to intercede for us in heaven we ought, perhaps, to re-read this chapter and allow the Holy Spirit to remind us of how He prays for His Church.

For it was the Church that He was praying for. It is only reasonable to conclude that His last supreme prayer would concern that which mattered to Him most, and both the spirit and the words of this prayer reveal to us how very much we do matter. For it was for us -- His Church -- that He prayed so earnestly. He might have prayed for the nation Israel. No doubt He often did. God knows, it needed prayer then and has done ever since, even till today. He might have prayed for all the nations of the earth, for they were in misery and confusion then as they certainly are now. But no, in this connection He specifically stated that He was not praying for the world -- not in that prayer. He was concentrating all His affections and His earnest pleadings on behalf of His redeemed people.

He hardly prayed for Himself at all. We are not surprised, for that is just like Him. He did announce several times that He was about to return home once again: "I come to thee" (v.11). In that connection He felt it right to ask that as Man, and as our Representative, He might be received into the same glory which He had always had before ever there was a world (v.5). We take it that His first request that the Father would glorify His Son was really a confession of need to be supported right through to the end of [99/100] what He Himself calls His finished work (v.4). The real burden of His intercession, however, was for that group of people whom He seven times describes as "those whom thou hast given me" (vv.2, 6, 6, 9, 11, 12 and 24). In that last verse He does ask something for Himself, as well as for us, for He gives voice to His longing desire, praying concerning this God-given people: "I will that, where I am, they also may be with me" (v.24). We are His precious treasure and He wants us always near to Him throughout all eternity.

It needs no argument to prove that His prayer was not confined to the eleven men then present with Him, but included all His blood-bought people. We are, perhaps, familiar with the idea that we are precious to Him because He bought us at such a tremendous cost, but probably far less prone to dwell on the amazing fact that we are the Father's love gift to Him.

He prayed for His Church not as an institution but as individual men and women. He certainly prayed that the Father would make of all His own a people so knit together in divine love that we would be one in partaking of that eternal fellowship of the Father and the Son -- admitted into the family. We are glad to know that that request was granted at Pentecost when there was created "the unity of the Spirit" which we are now enjoined to give diligence to keep (Ephesians 4:3). But He prayed for us not only as a 'Fellowship', but as individuals in that community, namely, "those whom thou hast given me".

I imagine myself as John, or Peter, actually hearing the dear Lord asking His righteous Father that I might have a place near Him in the glory, ever learning more of the great Name and sharing more of the divine and intimate love. Well, although I was not there, it is equally true of me. I may read myself into that prayer. Seven times over, then, I am assured that I form part of the special people chosen out of the world to be Christ's precious and personal possession. I am the Father's love gift to the Son, a gift so valued that His supreme request on the eve of Calvary was that I should be cherished and kept so that, when He is in the glory, I may be there with Him.

Can it be that His final request to the Father before He moved on into the Garden, and then emerged from the darkness of Calvary to the bright light of eternal glory, was that He must always have me with Him? Dare we put it like this: Heaven would not be truly heaven for Him unless He had His people there with Him? Or, putting it more positively: Glory will be all the more glorious for Him by reason of the fact that with Him He will have those who are the Father's gift of love to Him?

It needed the Holy Spirit to make this divine fact real to those listening disciples. And later on, Paul (who had been given some glimpse into the preciousness to Christ of His Church) prayed that a spirit of wisdom and revelation might be granted to us Christians so that we might know "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" (Ephesians 1:18). A spiritual apprehension of this great gift must surely melt our hearts and inspire us to new longings for holiness. How much -- how very much -- we matter to Him!

As I re-read the prayer in this light, those phrases about knowing and keeping God's Word, about sanctification, witness and unity, take on an altogether new importance. That is surely why God inspired John to write the prayer in such detail. The truth is at one and the same time a cause of deep humility and an inspiration to greater devotion.

So even I, and with a heart more burning,

   So even I, and with a hope more sweet,

Groan for the hour, O Christ! of Thy returning,

   Faint for the flaming of Thine advent feet.


Will readers please note that the Editor has now removed to a flat close to his previous home and that the address is now:

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[Inside back cover]


"(as the Holy Ghost says, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)" Hebrews 3:7-11

THE Revised Version does not use brackets for this quotation, but the Authorised seems to clarify the spiritual argument by passing from the "Wherefore" of verse 7 and connecting it up with the "Take heed" of verse 12. In other words, the quotation from Psalm 95 is slipped in as a parenthesis inserted into the flow of the exhortation which then reads: "Wherefore ... take heed, brethren".

THIS undoubtedly is what the writer intended. It flows naturally from the divine condition of "holding fast" in verse 6, reminding us that even we who have been so favoured of God can have within us "an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God".

THE psalmist reminds us that this was precisely what happened in the case of those blood-bought believers of the first generation. They erred in their hearts and they were a source of grief to God. Are we not also exhorted to beware of grieving the Holy Spirit? The writer to the Hebrew believers urged them to be sure that in their day -- today -- they should be careful not to let anything bring hardness into their own hearts and disappointment to the heart of God. For us the same word, 'today', is most relevant. We must take heed.

THIS is no merely human exhortation, for the writer points out that the Holy Spirit Himself inspired these words. If we needed a reminder of the fact that the Scriptures are "God breathed", we have it here: "As the Holy Ghost says". And when He speaks, He keeps things in the present. He said it in the psalmist's day, He said it in the apostolic era, He is still saying it now. He wants us to remember the past but to do so in the urgency of the present.

IN this short chapter the word "today" appears three times over. It is today that matters. Eternal values and issues may hang on our response to God today. The living God is speaking to us today. It is His voice to which all we brethren must give heed.

IN the Old Testament, the setting is of the whole people, "that generation", but this New Testament appeal is much more individual. It is not to the whole Church, not even to a local church, but to the individual Christian; for the danger is that "anyone of you" may come short of God's full purpose. That incredibly marvellous purpose is that we should be "members of His household" (v.6) and partners with Christ (v.14). The Lord give us receptive and obedient hearts to His voice!


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Luke 11:28

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