|Vol. 11, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1982
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
UNTIL HE COMES
"Ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come" 1 Corinthians 11:26
THE important question is not only whether we share the belief that Jesus
is coming again but whether that glorious prospect is having upon our lives
the impact and the effect that God means it to have. If we ask why the young
Thessalonian church had such a powerful and effective gospel testimony, the
answer is that they "turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true
God, and to wait for His Son from heaven ..." (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
If we seek the explanation of the deeply spiritual character of the Philippian
Christians, we note that they "waited for a Saviour from heaven",
knowing that at His Coming the Lord Jesus Christ would give them bodies like
His own (Philippians 3:21).
The Second Advent is not just a kind of postscript to the gospel: it
is meant to be the glorious climax of the gospel. Jesus Himself promised
that He would come again! The angels announced it at His ascension! Every
New Testament writer makes mention of it! This same Jesus is coming again
in power and great glory, and every eye will see Him.
When I was converted, in the early twenties, this truth was on the lips
of evangelical Christians everywhere. I fully expected that if I lived a
normal life I would still be alive at His Coming. In this I was in good company
for, so far as I can see, both Peter and Paul had this same expectation in
their earlier days. The time has come now for me to prepare to die, but this
in no way diminishes the thrill and the incentive of the fact that Jesus is
coming again. Once more, I am in good company. In Paul's case, when he knew
that he was about to be "offered up", he still included himself among those
that "have loved his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8). It was also true in the
case of Peter. The martyrdom which he had long anticipated was now imminent.
He knew very well that he was near to death -- his "exodus". Yet even while
in his second letter he wrote of this, he concentrated his thoughts on what
he calls "the promise of his coming", sweeping aside as unworthy of consideration
those quibbles of unbelievers, and urging his readers to "look for and hasten
the coming of the day of God" (2 Peter 3:12). Peter and Paul were about to
pass into that timeless dimension which we call eternity. For them, as for
countless others, there can be no question of disappointed hopes, but only
of continuing to look for the glorious appearing of the Son of God with
whom they happily dwell. The Coming is as much their Hope as it is ours.
May I substitute the word 'incentive' for that of hope, for that is what
the Coming of Christ should be for us who are still here on earth. In the
fullest sense, the world has no incentive, no hope. We Christians have. But
what is it? What is your goal, your objective? If it is no better than the
world's, the aim of position or possessions here, then you are missing the
point. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire over 300 references to the Second
Coming in the New Testament, if He did not intend to make the matter the supreme
concern of all Christians?
The Devil is very clever. He has brought the whole matter into disrepute
in various ways. One is by making fulfilled prophecy a feature of so many
heretical sects. Another is by provoking well-meaning prophetical students
to make predictions which have proved obviously false. But perhaps the most
subtle has been to create bitter divisions among God's true people. In past
years there has been so much unchristlike contention about prophetic truth
that, if only for the sake of peace, God's servants tend to soft-pedal or
even avoid it. Yet we are commanded to look for that Day and to speed its
What is more, when we gather around the Lord's Table we are commanded
to have the Coming in mind. Whether we break bread together every week or
fortnightly or monthly, we cannot truly remember the Lord unless His Coming
is in the forefront of our minds. We do not just remember His death -- we
proclaim it -- but we remember Him, and we should do so not only in His capacity
as crucified and risen but also as the Coming One. "Till He come" tends
[101/102] rather to be tagged on at the end, just as a kind of
time indication, but it was meant to be much more than that. "Till He come",
the Spirit of God inspired Paul to write those words so that the great incentive
to consecrated lives should be stressed by constant repetition.
What authority had the apostle Paul to make the Second Coming the final
fulfilment of the Lord's Supper? I suggest that he was confirming the very
words of Jesus who, at the Last Supper announced: "I will not drink henceforth
of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it anew in my
Father's kingdom" (Matthew 26:29). Note the use of the word "until" -- "Until
He comes". This surely means that every earthly Lord's Supper is meant to
point us on to the great heavenly event described as "the marriage supper
of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9). He is coming as the Bridegroom!
When that Day comes, redemption's story will be complete -- the Bridegroom
will have His bride. Meanwhile all the Holy Spirit's activities are directed
towards the gathering and maturing of that bride, and so will ours be if
we realise how very much this means to our beloved Lord. I want to suggest,
therefore, that the Second Coming is, or should be, our great incentive --
incentive to faithful witnessing, incentive to holy living and incentive for
triumphantly facing death.
Incentive to Service
It was the Lord Jesus who first used this phrase: "Till I come". In His
parable, the nobleman said to his workers: "Occupy till I come" or, much
better, "Do business until I come" (Luke 19:13). While in one sense this is
a time limit, ordering that the work should be carried on right through until
the day of his return, it is more than that for it suggests that the coming
would be the completion of the responsibility and also the day of reckoning
-- as the story shows. Now our business is the gospel. We are to carry it
on in the light of our Lord's Return. The purpose of the gospel is not to
change the world but to gather out of the nations a people for His name,
that is, His bride. The same John the Baptist who announced the sin-bearing
Lamb of God also affirmed that "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom"
(John 3:29), so reminding us that the objective of the gospel is not just
to remove men's sins but to provide a Church which the Lord Jesus should
be able to "present to himself ... glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or
any such thing; but ... holy and without blemish". This is the great mystery
of the heavenly Bridegroom (Ephesians 5:32).
It is our great privilege, not only to be part of the bride, but to be
wholly devoted to the sacred task of sharing the gospel with those others
who must yet be saved so that the number may be complete and the Lord Jesus
have His heart's desire. You may remember Abraham's servant, who went with
his master's wealth and at his request, to seek and persuade Rebecca to
leave all and become the bride of the well-beloved son (Genesis 24). That
is an Old Testament story of the Spirit's work and is a picture of what
Spirit-filled Christians are meant to be doing. It is, of course, only partial,
for we ourselves have first been sought out and we have answered -- like
Rebecca -- "I will go" (v.58); but that does not alter the fact that we are
called to share in the servant's honoured task.
We may be sorry for those who are far from Christ, but this is not an
adequate incentive for gospel witness in itself, since God could long ago
have closed this gospel-age and avoided any more lost sinners being born
into the world. Compassion for the needy is right and good, but it is not
enough. We may aspire to obtain some satisfaction as so-called 'soul winners'
but that is a questionable motive. Dear friends, the Lord Jesus is coming
again and He is coming to find satisfaction for the travail of His soul in
presenting to Himself His redeemed bride. We read about it. We sing about
it. But what are we doing about it?
When I was converted there was great interest in the Second Coming of
Christ. Many of us young Christians were inspired by the reminder that Jesus
had said that He would not come until the gospel had been "preached in the
whole world for a testimony unto all the nations" (Matthew 24:14), and that
was why I felt impelled to go and witness in the Amazonian jungle. I would
be a hypocrite to claim that I felt some special compassion for those unevangelised
Red Indians, but I can honestly say that my simple witness there and anywhere
else was motivated by a genuine desire to hasten the Return of my Saviour
in glory. [102/103]
You will notice that in this verse the Lord Jesus laid stress on testifying
or witnessing. That is our business. Some will seem to be more successful
than others in the results, but there is really no means of judging this,
for the best of us is only a link in the chain of witnesses which result
in conversions. We are not out to increase numbers, but to have God's number
completed. He alone knows when that will be, but meanwhile this is our task.
"Keep at it", the Lord Jesus said; "Keep at the gospel business of witnessing,
and keep at it until I come."
Incentive to Holiness
Everywhere in the New Testament the great crisis of the Second Coming
is associated with the matter of growth in holiness and Christian character.
It was the Lord Himself who sent the message to the church at Thyatira: "That
which you have, hold fast till I come" (Revelation 2:25). What had they?
They had an experience of the gracious love of Christ and a heart relationship
with Him which had been expressed in "love and faith and ministry and patience"
(Revelation 2:19). All of us who are Christians have this. We must not slacken
as the years go by, but rather increase and grow in love to Him. We must
hold fast "until He comes!" The hope is a sanctifying power. "Every man that
has this hope in Him, purifieth himself" commented John (1 John 3:3), while
Peter asks the searching question: "What manner of persons ought you to be
in all holy living and godliness" if you are looking for that Day (2 Peter
3:11)? This theme runs right through the New Testament and ends with the challenge
from the One who says He is coming quickly: "... he that is holy, let him
be made holy still" (Revelation 22:11).
Advent preparation means being made ready for love partnership with our
glorious Lord. This must be our private aim -- to grow in grace -- but it
should also be the objective of all spiritual ministry. No man was a greater
evangelist than the apostle Paul, and yet no man devoted more time and strength
to the spiritual upbuilding of God's people. "I labour", he affirmed, "to
present every man perfect in Christ" (Colossians 1:28) and said that he did
so by seeking to communicate to others the vital truth of "Christ in
you, the hope of glory". To the Corinthians, a very mixed bunch of believers,
he wrote: "I am jealous over you with a jealousy of God, for I espoused
you ... that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians
Dear ministering brothers and sisters, this is the true objective of
all spiritual ministry, to help others daily to grow more Christlike. Young
or old, promising or difficult, those who attract us and those who distress
us -- the minister who is doing his work in the light of the Second Advent
will be both tender and fearless in seeking to help all those within his sphere
of ministry, to grow in holiness.
And this not only applies to those who carry pastoral responsibilities,
but to us all. Every act and attitude towards other Christians, whether those
of our own assembly or not, should be governed by the realisation that the
greatest need of all is to get to know the Lord better. We are one body
and we are destined to become one bride; how then can we be antagonistic
or even indifferent to other members of Christ? It may at times seem difficult
to be loving and patient to all but remember, it is only "Till He come!"
If the Holy Spirit urged every writer of the New Testament to stress
the importance of the Lord's Coming, it must have been a part of His deep
concern to prepare for that Coming by the mellowing and transforming of
every member of the Church. By all means seek more of the power of the Spirit
for service, but please do not forget to seek His sanctifying power both
in your own life and in that of your fellow Christians. Indeed, seek their
good and probably this will imperceptibly increase your own spiritual stature.
Incentive to Triumph over Death
The Thessalonians were naturally grieving over their dear ones who had
fallen asleep in Jesus. Only the bereaved can appreciate the sharpness of
such sorrow. Now please note that Paul did not comfort them by saying that
the living Christians would soon be re-united with their loved ones by themselves
falling asleep in Jesus. We remember that in connection with his dead baby,
David said, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (2 Samuel
12:23). Paul did not talk in this way to the Thessalonians, though no doubt
it was equally true. What he did say was that they who are outside the sphere
of time (at home with the Lord) together with us who are still in the earthly
dimension (absent from the [103/104] Lord), have the
same Hope, and that the sweetness of being "together" will be known in its
fulness on the Day when the trump of God sounds and the Lord Himself appears:
"we ... together with them shall ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians
4:17). This was to be their supreme comfort (v.18) and in my own bereavement
I find that it is certainly mine.
There is no need for us to pity Paul and Peter in the long wait which
they are having for the fulfilment of their promised hope; nor need we think
of our own dear ones as having to endure delay. Time has no meaning for those
who are in the eternal sphere. It seems most significant that in this connection,
as he was in the middle of his last words about the Second Coming, Peter
reminded us that "one day is as a thousand years to the Lord" (2 Peter 3:8).
If we used this reckoning we could say that Peter has now been waiting for
two days. In fact, of course, days and years can have little importance to
those who have passed from time into eternity.
It is sadly true that the world sorrows without hope (1 Thessalonians
4:13). Inevitably death is the ultimate misfortune to those who are not in
Christ. We who are should, however, be facing death in an entirely different
spirit for we not only have hope but we have THE HOPE, and this is not merely
the hope of being relieved of life's burdens and passing into heaven's peace
but more -- the Hope of His appearing! We share that hope with the blessed
Quite rightly Paul classed himself as one of those who loved that appearing.
He looked back on a well-spent life and a finished course, but he did more
than that, he looked forward to a fulfilled future. Perhaps some of us would
hardly dare to claim such a fulfilled life as he had but, if we love the
appearing of our Saviour, we have just as much right to contemplate the future
with glowing confidence: "Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of
righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that
day; and not only to me, but also to all them that have loved his appearing"
(2 Timothy 4:8). May the Lord keep us spiritually on our toes, "Till He Come"!
Thou art coming! Thou art coming!
We shall meet Thee on Thy way;
We shall see Thee, we shall know Thee,
We shall bless Thee, we shall show Thee
All our hearts could never say.
What an anthem that will be,
Ringing out our love to Thee,
Pouring out our rapture sweet
At Thine own all-glorious feet!
WE BEHELD HIS GLORY
J. Alec Motyer
THIS theme of the glory of Christ is announced right at the beginning
of John's Gospel (1:14) and the glory of Christ is referred to in the Gospel
of John more than in any of the other three. The very thought of this glory
should give us an inward glow. There are advertisements for breakfast foods
which show us a little boy, issuing from his home on a cold morning, meeting
a friend shivering at his gate, but himself all aglow because of his hot
meal of nourishing food. The Bible is much more wonderful than any television
advertisement; it brings an inward glow and glistening to those who are spiritually
nourished by feeding on the glory of Christ. Such divine food makes us glowingly
different from everybody else.
We can perhaps get some help from Moses in this matter of contemplation
of the glory of the Lord Jesus. In a moment of great despair, when everything
seemed to be finished and done with for the people of God, Moses offered
the prayer, "Show me now your glory" (Exodus 33:18); to which the Lord replied,
"I will make all my goodness to pass before you, and I will proclaim the
name of the Lord before you" (v.19). Moses, it is not that you will have a
vision of a great and shining light: it is that you will have a clear
[104/105] statement and manifestation of the goodness and character
of God. "We beheld his glory" -- not that He walked around as a glistening,
shining Person but that we were made aware of the glory of His goodness and
the glory of the Name which He manifested, even the very character of God.
Surely that is what John implies in these familiar words.
The Glory of His Creative Power
Of the many references to His glory in this Gospel, there are four which
are outstanding and indicate the central things which the Gospel testifies.
The first speaks of Christ in His glory as Creator: "This beginning of signs
did Jesus in Cana of Galilee and manifested his glory" (2:11). In a village
wedding in Cana of Galilee, Jesus showed His goodness an proclaimed His Name.
Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding and Mary was there. She
may have had some responsibility for the arrangements, since she knew when
the wine had failed.
When she came to Jesus and said. "They have no wine", He knew what was
in her heart. She may have felt that this would be the occasion for Jesus
to vindicate the purity of her motherhood. This was her home country; this
was the place where long ago she had lost and never again recovered her
reputation, for she had conceived a child before marriage. The story which
she told to explain this was perfectly true, but it must have seemed totally
incredible. All that she could say to her mother, and all that her mother
could tell the neighbours, was that her child had been conceived miraculously
by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now just imagine! Put that into a home situation
with that story told up and down the street where the baby was due to be born.
It is not difficult to imagine the reaction and the scandal of it all.
Now, at last, it must have seemed to Mary that a chance had come to restore
her lost reputation; to prove that her story had been right and that their
disbelief had been wrong. "They have no wine," she said, as if suggesting
to Jesus that this was an excellent chance for Him to show them Who He really
was. "My dear," replied Jesus, "You and I are not thinking along the same
lines. Mine hour has not yet come. Your good and beloved name will be cleared
one day -- but not yet!". But as He spoke, Mary must have seen something
in His eye which took the apparent sharpness out of the words, for she said
to the servants, "Whatever he says, you do." It must happen. It may not yet
be public, but it will certainly be. She was quite correct. The glory would
not be lacking.
The Lord often has wonderful ways of answering our prayers and meeting
our needs, ways which seem very strange to us but so very right. Here they
were, needing wine, and all He could say was that they should preoccupy
themselves with water. Six water pots to be filled with water -- gallon
after gallon of it. And John is careful to inform us that the pots were
all filled right up to the brim, leaving no opportunity for an admixture
of some Instant Wine, or any of the other things suggested by those commentators
who love to find ways of explaining away the miraculous. It was all water,
and only water, and yet when it was poured out it became perfect wine. Mark
that Jesus had nothing to do with the drawing of the water. He took no part
in it. He just told them what to do and then left them to do it all. He
had not used any special words; He had not laid His hands upon it; He had
not even gestured towards it. He had just decided that so it should be,
and it was so.
Now, I ask myself, where in the Bible did that happen before? When did
He speak and it was done, He commanded and things were created? This is
Creation truth from Genesis 1. My brothers and sisters, this is the glory
of Jesus; this is the revealing of His goodness and the proclamation of
His Name: He brings all the glory of His power as God the Creator right
down to where we are in our personal needs and to our little village. In
our problems and perplexities, in the lowly circumstances of our lives, He
performs things that only God can perform. What an encouragement to pray!
God may surprise us by the way in which He answers but the end result will
be for us to exclaim with John, "We beheld his glory!"
The Glory of His Tender Sympathy
The second outstandingly significant reference to the glory of our Lord
Jesus in John's Gospel is found in the story of the family at Bethany, the
story in chapter 11 of Mary and her sister Martha and the much loved but,
I fear, pampered brother [105/106] Lazarus. "This
sickness is not unto death," said Jesus, "but for the glory of God and in
order that the Son of God may be glorified thereby" (11:4), and then, "Did
I not say unto you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" (v.40).
Have you ever noticed that this was a situation which was deliberately
contrived? It was no mere accident but an event planned so as there might
be a display of glory. This is proved by the information. "When therefore
he heard that he was sick, he abode at that time two days in the place where
he was" (v.6). This was a deliberate, defined tarrying. When Jesus did arrive
each sister said to Him in turn, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother
would not have died" and Jesus was quietly saying to Himself, "Did I not
know that? Was it not for that very reason that I did not come?"
"He abode two days in the place where he was." Here is a manifestation
of the glory of the Lord; here is a proclamation of His goodness and a revelation
of His Name. He was in control of things in a most masterly fashion. It was
not accidental that Lazarus died; it was intended. It was a part of the
divine scheme of things. If Jesus had come rushing to the bedside of Lazarus
He would have forestalled death, as the sisters rightly claimed; He must
have stayed away because He wished to permit death. The onset of sickness,
the course of sickness, the outcome of sickness; all this is within the masterly
control of the Son of God. "This sickness," Jesus said, "is not unto
death; it is for the glory of God." In other words, it has been deliberately
permitted in the purposes of God and will run its course in the purposes
of God, finally coming to its end in the way that God has appointed. That
is the glory of Jesus.
We can therefore take the contents of each day and give Him praise for
them, not because they are comfortable but because they are perfect, since
His will is always perfect. To each of these different characters, Jesus
was the Master of life and experience and death. The Gospels give us a consistent
revelation of human character: Martha is the bustler and she bustles still,
while the quiet Mary still behaves in a quiet way. Here we find them just
as we did in Luke's Gospel. Martha is ready enough with a proposal, she has
the whole matter cut and dried -- a three-point programme for the resurrection
of Lazarus. "You only have to ask God even at this late hour," she says,
"and then it will be all right." Mary, too, is just the same. She had chosen
the better part when she sat at the feet of Jesus, and now she knows what
to do with her trouble; she comes to Jesus and falls at His feet, for she
has proved that this is the best place for her to be.
Now we are to discover the full glory of Jesus, the glory of His tender
sympathy. He brought them to the grave. To me the marvel of this story is
not that Lazarus was raised from the dead. That was logical. If the Son of
God is on the scene, then resurrection is logical, not so much miraculous
as standing to reason, for His is the voice which raises the dead. We need
not be so surprised about that, for it is the most logical and to be expected
outcome of His living presence. What is truly wonderful and does not stand
to reason is that this Son of God who was about to raise the dead should
first weep at the graveside. That, to my mind, is the great marvel of this
This is the revelation of His Name and of His glory; that He not only
comes down to where we are, but He knows by experience what it is to feel
as we do: He is utterly identified and one with us in all things so that
He truly still weeps with us in our sorrows, even though the solution of
them lies in His own hands and His own outworking. Having brought them to
the grave, the Lord Jesus told them to take away the stone. Once again good
old Martha intervenes. She knows all about it for she has doubtless laid
out too many bodies in her time not to know. "Lord, by this time there will
be such a smell. He has been dead four days!" The reply of Jesus was simple
but very direct: "Did I not say to you that if you believed you would see
the glory of God?"
So they took away the stone, and it was then that Jesus fell to prayer.
Why did He not pray first and take away the stone after that? It would have
been so much kinder, would it not? No, for the Lord wanted them to smell
that smell of death. He made them stand in the place of corruption, making
them feel all the loathsomeness and horror of it and face the reality of the
situation. When that was done He brought them out of it by the power of answered
prayer; He lifted up His eyes to heaven and said: "Father, I thank You that
You heard me". He did not say that the Father was going to hear Him then,
but [106/107] that He had already heard the prayers
of the Son. When were these prayers made? We presume that it was when Lazarus
first fell ill, and it is possible that the Lord Jesus waited for those two
days for the assurance that His prayer was to be answered in this way. So
it was that Lazarus was raised from the dead by the power of answered prayer,
and this resulted in a revelation of the glory of God and the glory of His
Son. This, then, is the manifestation of the Lord's goodness and of His Name;
He will always stand with us wherever the smell of corruption is worst, He
will weep with us, and then He will raise up out of death.
The Glory of His Finished Work
We find the word 'glory' again on the lips of Jesus in prayer on the
eve of His Passion: "I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work
which you have given me to do. Now, O Father, glorify me in your own presence,
with the glory which I had in your presence before the world was" (John 17:4).
Here we see the glory of Jesus in the fulness of His finished work. We have
noticed that the Lord had a strange way of answering prayer when He was told
about the lack of wine (chapter 2). They asked for wine and He only responded
by calling for water. This is in full accord with the Father's strange ways
of answering prayer, especially this prayer when the Son asked to have the
glory which He used to have with the Father before the world was, for the
Father answered the prayer by allowing His Son to go down, and down, and
down again. He made Him carry His obedience to the point of death, and that
the death of the cross. After the cross came the darkness of the tomb and
a tarrying for three days. What an odd way to answer prayer!
Then, however, the Father lifted Him out of the tomb in His glorious
resurrection, lifted Him up to His own right hand in that glory which the
Son had enjoyed before the foundation of the world. The Father set Him upon
His own throne and gave Him back the glory -- and yet it was not the same;
it was superbly greater. Before, it had been the glory of the One who was
the Lamb of God in prospect, but now it is the glory of the One who is the
Lamb standing "as though he had been slain" (Revelation 5:6). So although
the Father's manner of answering prayer seems to us to have been strange,
it is worthy of His goodness and the greatness of His Name. The glory of
Jesus, His name and His praise, is the glory of a finished work of salvation.
So confident was He in this whole matter that before actually going to the
cross, He could claim, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to
do" (John 17:4). He so completed that work that now by faith we can see
Him -- the slaughtered Lamb -- in the highest height of divine glory.
The Glory of His Love for His Own
At the end of this prayer we are delighted to find a lovely and superb
element in the glory of the Lord Jesus. He made His request: "Father, that
which thou hast given me, I will that, where I am, they also may be with
me" (John 17:24). Literally the word is neuter -- "the whole thing which
thou hast given me". He was not just speaking now of the disciples and apostles
that He had then, but the whole purchased possession -- every sinner that
He died to save. The whole lot, all that the Father had given Him
in the light of the purchase price of Calvary, including you and me, was
covered by this prayer . "Father, the whole company which You have given
me, I want them all to be where I am, with Me, so that they can behold My
glory." Jesus made a Will. "This," He said, "is what I write in my Will;
this is My last Will and Testament, this is what I want done, namely that
the whole company of the redeemed shall be with Me in heaven, sharing My
The Will has been accepted by the Father and will be granted in due course.
We will then see all the glory which we have already spoken of, but with
a further feature, and if we ask what that is, well, it is the great love
for us of Him for whom heaven would not be heaven if you and I were not there.
"I want them with Me," he said, "I want them all with Me; that is
what I want." Is this not glory indeed, that He should will to have the whole
group of redeemed sinners with Him where He is, beholding His glory? It is
as if when we are so there, He will say to us: 'I am so glad that you are
here! It wouldn't be the same without you!' Our last words, then, about the
glory of Jesus must concentrate on His precious love for us, that eternal
love, that heavenly love, which burns like a flame in His heart. Then, as
never before, we will gladly confess that we behold His glory.
NOTES ON 2 CORINTHIANS
13. THE APOSTOLIC SIGNATURE
CONCERNING this third visit Paul stated that he would come as if to a
court of action and that he would not spare them. Presumably this means that
he would give those who had not repented of their sexual sins over to Satan
(1 Corinthians 5:5). Such a serious sentence demanded witnesses. In a sense
there was no moral need for these since there were none among themselves
who would deny the facts. Some, however, might deny that these sins deserved
so serious a punishment; therefore it was necessary for two or three testimonies
about the matter to be given: "In the mouth of two witnesses or three shall
every word be established ...".
The Corinthians had wanted to have proof that Christ spoke through Paul.
His critics said that his personal appearance was weak and his speech of
no account, so they had despised his previous warnings. He assured them that
when he came they would find that Christ "to youward is not weak, but is
powerful in you: for he was crucified in weakness, yet he liveth through the
power of God" and that if Paul was weak in Him, he also lived by the power
of God. The apostle had no means of enforcing the exclusion of anyone from
the church unless the church supported him in the matter; but he could deliver
sinners to Satan, whether the church approved or opposed it, for Christ was
strong among them when he (the apostle) was present. They had actually experienced
this many times, but apparently had forgotten. The power of God had been
made perfect in the weakness of the apostle and when he spoke -- he whose
speech they classed as being 'of no account' -- the power of God through
the gospel had raised them from their death in sin to new life in Christ.
When His weak apostle arrived, they could be sure that the power of Christ
would be among them.
This is part and parcel of the mystery which is the gospel, namely, that
Christ was crucified in weakness, not because He lacked power to avoid the
cross, but, on the contrary, because He had power to lay down His life. He
chose the cross of His own free will, that we through His poverty might become
rich. In the seemingly powerless, crucified Christ, God's power is mighty
for the salvation of sinners. Christ crucified is the power of God and the
wisdom of God, through appearing to be weakness and foolishness (1 Corinthians
1:23-24). He now lives by the power of God, not by another or a greater
power than that which was operative in His weakness on the cross, but by
the power which in this age appears in weakness, and will not appear
in glory until the visible Coming Again of Christ.
We also, who are living in this age, are powerless in Him. Paul had sought
to explain this to the Corinthians, but they had not been able to grasp it.
The pseudo-apostles had no difficulty in gaining a hearing for their assertions
that weakness was a dishonour for Christians and a proof of lack of faith,
but Paul will have none of this, insisting that "we also are weak in Him".
The more a Christian knows his Lord, the weaker does he become in himself,
and if he knows Him as Paul did, there seems no limit to his weakness --
it may go to strange depths!
But Paul's history was one long demonstration of the fact that by faith
the power of God sustained him, when everybody else would have been finished,
and that in him the power of God worked mightily. The Corinthians must expect
that when he came to them in weakness, they would meet in him the power of
God. This would not involve new eloquence or ecstatic manifestations and
might not conform to their idea of how a man of the Spirit would operate but
it would bring all the authority of God in such a way that sinners would be
given over to Satan, with dire consequences to their bodies, if only to save
their spirits. [108/109]
Now, at long last, comes the challenge which we have been expecting.
As we have said, it is grotesque that Paul should have been under examination
as to whether he was an apostle, or even a real Christian, and it is time
to turn the tables on the pseudo-apostles and their followers by charging
them: "Try your own selves (not me!), whether ye be in the faith;
prove your own selves" (not me!). The challenge came not from a superior,
irritable man, but from their spiritual father: "or know ye not that as to
your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed you be reprobate"
Faith is presence (Hebrews 11:1 Danish). Faith in Christ
means Christ's presence in the believer. Did they know that? So Paul put
to the Corinthians a double test: first they must examine themselves to know
if they are in the faith. Paul does not say that they are to examine whether
the faith is in them, but whether they are in the faith. To be in faith in
Christ is to be in Him, that is to have one's life centre of gravity in
what He has done and Who He is. After this they should also discover whether
Christ was in them. This also does not come by self-examination or self-occupation,
but by absolute confidence in Christ. The Spirit, who testifies to the presence
of Christ in the believer, is freely given to him, that he might know himself
to be a child of God.
If they stood this test, they would cease asking questions about him.
At least, that was his hope: "But I hope that ye shall know that we are not
reprobate" (v.6). It would be strange indeed if they claimed to have passed
the test and yet rejected the very man who had led them into their spiritual
experience. The apostle's great concern was not what they thought of him
so much as the reality of their own spiritual condition: "Now we pray to
God that ye do no evil; not that we may appear approved, but that ye may do
that which is honourable, though we be as reprobate" (v.7). His great burden
is not so much that they should know that he was approved as that they themselves
should make a break with evil and work the works of faith. This was more
important to him than his own reputation, so much so that his words suggest
that if they could only be approved by his being rejected, he was willing
for that. This is the authentic apostolic signature- - the love which does
not seek its own, and voluntary weakness even to its full consequences.
He explains himself in more detail: "For we can do nothing against the
truth, but for the truth" (v.8). If the truth were that he was to be rejected,
a possibility which he mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:27 and the reason why
he never spoke as being cocksure or spiritually superior, then he could
only work out his own salvation with fear and trembling to avoid it. And
if it was a fact that he must be rejected in order that they might be saved,
then he could not prevent that either. He was unconditionally committed
to the truth.
The love which this great though weak apostle expressed in such a modest
way almost echoes his words in Romans 9:3. He continues in the same strain:
"For we rejoice when we are weak, and ye are strong: this also we pray for,
even your perfecting" (v.9). What he means by their being made perfect is
not quite clear. It may well refer to the matter of their complete restoration.
He goes on to explain: "For this cause I write these things while absent,
that I may not when present deal sharply, according to the authority which
the Lord gave me for building up ..." (v.10). As we have said, the apostolic
pattern for service is weakness, but this must not be understood as spinelessness
and a willingness to let things slide. If the Corinthians did not take seriously
the correction and help which he offered in his letter, then when he came
he would use the other side of his 'weakness', namely the sharpness which
unrepentant and arrogant sinners always meet when they are confronted by
Christ. He would deliver the unrepentant to Satan and uncover all lying and
deception among them if it were necessary, for the church must be rescued
from evil and built up in truth and love.
The letter closes with gracious words of refreshing encouragement. The
God whose nature is love and peace is very ready to impart that love and
peace to the Corinthians, as they adjusted to His will, and all His saints
saluted them in that spirit of love. The grace of the Son and the love of
the Father will be ministered to them by the all-sufficient Spirit. This
is what Paul wished for them all. He then has no more to say. There was no
more to say. What more could they wish for?
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERSHIP
(Illustrated by five kings of Judah)
5. KING JOSIAH. 2 Chronicles 34 and 35
CHAPTER 34 tells us of the beginning of the reign of Josiah and how he
walked in the ways of his father David, and how this led him to reforming
zeal, and how, like more than one before him, he found the Word of God which
applied to the life of his people and set about putting it into practice.
We read that he destroyed many of the heathen altars and practices that
went on in his land, and how he set about cleansing the House of God in
Jerusalem and restoring its worship.
We are told how, while the House was being repaired, Hilkiah the high
priest found a book of the law of the Lord which had been given through Moses.
It was a copy of an ancient and largely forgotten book and when it was brought
to the king and read to him, he was so smitten by its message that he realised
that his reforms up to that point had scarcely begun to scratch the surface,
so he was stimulated to still greater efforts to obey the revelation of
God's will for His people. He therefore gathered the people together to
renew their covenant with God, whereupon the Passover was kept, in some
ways like the feast kept in the days of Hezekiah some years before. Chapter
35 describes that great general celebration. Alas, the chapter finishes with
the story of how King Josiah went up to fight against the Egyptians on the
plain of Meggido where he was fatally wounded. That is the outline of Josiah's
As with many others, it has its highlights though perhaps the outstanding
and unique event was the magnificent incident of the finding of the book
of the law, and all that flowed from that discovery. The more I have thought
about this man, the more I have been impressed by his heroic stature and
by his immense and solitary goodness. As we read these two chapters, it is
Josiah's solitude that seems to be the ruling thought. He was a lonely man,
and it may help us if we consider the causes of this loneliness and some of
the fruits of it.
The Causes of Josiah's Loneliness
1. The prophet was not with him.
This is a most striking fact because the only other person of spiritual
stature at that time mentioned by the Scriptures is one of the greatest of
the prophets, Jeremiah. If we look at the book of Jeremiah we find, to our
dismay, that there is little reference there to this king in whose reign
the prophet began his ministry. It seems very much that what Josiah did by
way of reforming his people was not thought very much of by Jeremiah, for
he has little or nothing to say about the king who was on the throne when
the prophet received his call to ministry. We are amazed, moreover, to find
that Josiah has virtually nothing to say about Jeremiah also. If we ask ourselves
why this is, we may come to the conclusion that the account in the Chronicles
deliberately focuses on Josiah's loneliness, showing that he was a king without
In the first of our series, King Asa was greatly encouraged by the words
of the prophet Azariah the son of Oded. We saw that in the reign of Jehoshaphat
there was a procession of great prophets who came to the king's aid, namely
Micaiah the son of Imla, Jehu the son of Hanani, Jahaziel upon whom the Spirit
of the Lord came and also Eliezer the son of Dodavahu. The king called upon
his people to "believe his prophets" (20:20). When we passed on to the reign
of Uzziah we found in chapter 26 that he also had his spiritual confidant,
that great man Zechariah who kept the king on the straight and narrow for
the greater part of his reign. Then there was Hezekiah who, during the greater
part of the stirring times through which he ruled, had the ear of Isaiah
the son of Amoz.
It is with this sort of background that we come to the reign of Josiah
and find that, apart from the mention of Huldah the prophetess (34:22),
there is nothing of the kind. At the end we are told that Jeremiah lamented
for Josiah (35:25) but there is nothing else. For some reason
[110/111] Jeremiah let the outward activities of reform go on but
did not allow himself to be involved. The prophet was not with Josiah in
the things which the king felt he must do, but at all times he got on with
them, even though he was alone and unaided.
2. The times were not with him.
The times were not with him either. They were great stirring times in
which he lived. The chronicler says very little about them, just as he says
very little about Jeremiah, but he does set the reign of Josiah in a framework
which gives us a sufficient indication of the times in which Josiah lived.
As we look back in chapter 33, we find that the reign of Manasseh, his grandfather,
was passed under the shadow of the great and cruel empire of Assyria. We
are told that the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria took Manasseh,
bound him with fetters and carried him to Babylon (33:11). Nevertheless the
king was later allowed to return to Jerusalem where he built an outer wall
to the city of David, carried it around Ophel and raised it to a great height
(33:14). This may have meant that Manasseh had become independent or it
may have been that he acted as a vassal of Assyria, but it seems to indicate
real stirring in the kingdom: "He took away the foreign gods and the idol
from the house of the Lord" (33:15).
So even in Manasseh's reign there is some slight indication that the
power of Assyria was on the wane and this is almost stated explicitly at
the end of Josiah's story for "Neco king of Egypt went up to fight Carchemish
by the Euphrates; and Josiah went out against him. But he sent ambassadors
to him, saying, What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah?" (35:20-21).
All these world affairs were going on but they were struggles quite outside
of Josiah's kingdom. Assyria was on its last legs; the Egyptians, with the
most extraordinary volte-face, had turned round and were seeking to shore
up the Assyrian Empire at its last gasp instead of being its mortal enemy.
This was going on all around Judah but, as Pharaoh Neco quite rightly said,
"This is nothing to do with you, king of Judah, you get on with your own small
It was all so different from how it had been in Hezekiah's reign. In
his days the pressure was on, whereas in Josiah's time the pressure was
off. Hezekiah's reforms had to be carried through because the enemy was all
around; Josiah, however, had no outside pressure and no enemies to menace
him. So it was that in his reforms, Hezekiah was joined by all his people
who were stimulated by the crisis at their gates. By the time that Josiah
came to the throne, the crisis had gone and that meant that he had to carry
through reforms by his own unaided effort -- there was no stimulation to
make the people turn back to their God. Things were easy: the times were
not with Josiah. The people left him to it and were indifferent because of
their easy circumstances.
3. The people were not with him.
This leads me to the third consideration which is the plain fact that
the people were not with the king. No doubt the first reforms were very popular
if breaking down images and altars involved the repudiation of the imported
Assyrian religion. This would be popular because it was patriotic, and doubtless
Josiah was held in high estimation for instigating it. However when he went
further and began to deal with the ancient religion of the land, the Canaanite
religion of Baal, this was by no means so popular. When Hezekiah was bringing
about his reforms we are told that God gave all the people one heart to
support him. In this story, however, there seems to be a strange coolness
about the people, as though Josiah was largely left to do all the work himself.
We are told that "they brake down the altars of the Baalim in his presence"
(34:4). He had to see that it was done. The following verses place all the
emphasis on the fact that he did it: "When he had purged the land, and the
house" (v.8) and so it goes on -- he did this ... he did that ... until,
after the book of the law had been found, he decided that the covenant would
have to be made again (v.29). "He sent" and "He read in their ears" (v.30)
and "He caused all that were found in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to
We are finally told that "All his days they departed not from
following the Lord" (v.33). It seems that the king had the energy to make
his people do what really they did not want to do, but they were not with
him. That, of course, accounts for Jeremiah's coolness. The opening chapters
of his prophecies give a disconcerting view of what was going on in the hearts
of God's people. If you read the descriptions of Judah and its people and
their worship as found in the early [111/112] chapters
of Jeremiah, you feel impelled to ask whether this can possibly be the same
nation as the one depicted in 2 Chronicles 34 and 35 as sweeping away idols
by the command of the king. Well, it was the same. We therefore conclude that
all the zeal was in the one man, Josiah, and that the people were not really
Having realised this, I look back with new eyes at the beginning of chapter
34, where I read that "Josiah did that which was right in the eyes of the
Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father, and turned not aside to
the right hand or to the left", even though he trod that pathway alone. We
must surely honour that man; he was a true shepherd, though his flock cared
nothing for him. We may see in him the foreshadowing of another Shepherd
who came to His own and His own cared nothing for Him, and beyond that to
the fact that right up to this present time there are under-shepherds of God's
flock who may well find themselves in the same position. Through the Great
Shepherd and in some measure through faithful Josiah we may learn the lesson
of personal steadfastness, even without any human help.
The Fruits of Josiah's Loneliness
Although Josiah had no-one with him, he nevertheless followed his own
vision. We are now to see where that led him.
1. Back to the Book.
That lonely quest of his in the ways of his father David led him first
of all to the book. It is really rather a marvellous verse, this one which
tells us that while Josiah was still a boy, in the eighth year of his reign,
he began to seek the God of his father David (v.3). I wonder what that really
signifies. He came to the throne when he was eight years of age and he began
his reforms when he was twenty, but the chronicler just slips in the striking
bit of information that when he was only sixteen "He began to seek after
the God of his father David". It was clearly an inward thing, rather what
we would call "conversion" or its equivalent. While he was in his teens he
started walking in the way of David, and ten years later he set about repairing
the house of the Lord. So here we follow his early history, his personal seeking
after God at the age of sixteen, his active fight against idolatry when he
was twenty and his setting about cleansing and repairing the house of God
when he was twenty-six. It was his personal decision to seek and then follow
God which led to that remarkable incident of the finding of the book.
The story is dramatically told from verse 14 onwards. While they were
bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the Lord,
"Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of the Lord given by the hand
of Moses" (v.14). He sounds surprised as he informs Shaphan of his amazing
discovery and then hands the book over to Shaphan so that he can deliver it
to the king. The items at the top of the agenda in his meeting with Josiah
were all concerned with the work: "all that was committed to thy servants
is being done and the money handed over to the workmen and their overseers
..." and then "... Oh, by the way, Hilkiah has given me a book. What do you
make of it?"
"And Shaphan read therein before the king." Surely seldom has there been
a more dramatic and far-reaching reading of a book: "When the king heard
the words of the law, he rent his clothes" (v.19). It all links up with that
earlier determination to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord and to
walk in the ways of David (v.2). His lonely walk led him to the book.
2. Back to the Law.
Having been led back to the book, he was now led back to what that book
stood for, namely the law of the Lord. Most of the earlier kings had been
able to adopt the necessary tactics for the occasion; they were pragmatists;
they were faced with the duties of the day and they faced them as best they
could and did what they felt to be right. When, however, we come to the reign
of Hezekiah we find that things were getting to such a pass that the people
had to look back and start enquiring something about principles. You may
remember that we saw Hezekiah returning to the golden age of Solomon, realising
that things had slipped so badly that they must deliberately try to get back
to the days of the ideal so many hundreds of years before. It was a very
great ideal, and Hezekiah so succeeded in recapturing it that he enjoyed
a golden age of the monarchy. [112/113]
That was where Josiah began. He began by walking in the ways of David,
the great original king, to whom he looked back and whom he honoured, longing
to resurrect the glories of that reign in his own time. That, however, was
not enough. He was taken beyond that, for one fine day he was confronted
not by the ways of David but by the book of the law of Moses. This law had
stood behind the kingdom of David; it was deeply fundamental and it was in
the light of that that Josiah kept the Passover, as described in chapter 35.
We read that "there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the
days of Samuel the prophet ..." (35:18), and it was all based on "the Word
of the Lord by the hand of Moses" (v.6).
In some ways Josiah was very like Hezekiah who based everything on the
keeping of the passover. Concerning that we are told, "There was great joy
in Jerusalem; for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel
there was not the like in Jerusalem" (30:26). But Josiah's passover went
farther back than that. Not one of the kings of Israel, not even Hezekiah,
had kept such a passover as that kept by Josiah. He went right back to Moses,
to the well-spring, for that book led him back to the law.
3. Back to the Covenant.
This was most necessary. If he had only gone back to the days of David
and Solomon, the promises given to David might have provided some false
hope in the hearts of the people, for they might have claimed that David's
city was sacrosanct, and that therefore they did not have to be right with
God provided that they lived in that city. They could wrongly imagine that
they were safe without any reference to their own heart condition, for they
could claim the promises given to David. That was the danger of only going
back to David, to the beginning of the monarchy. Josiah had gone beyond
that, right back to the law of Moses, which was no ground for false hope
nor indeed for any hope at all, except for those who had passed through the
despair of the law and found true hope through grace. In going right back
to the beginning, Josiah realised what the command of God truly is and what
His covenant is based upon, and was humbled before Him. Alone of all the
kings of Judah Josiah did this.
The link with Jeremiah is obvious, for he was the man who prophesied
the new covenant. I do not propose to consider Jeremiah here nor do I wish
to talk about the significance of Bible numbers. Nevertheless I find it
a fascinating point that the reign of Josiah comes at the mid-point of covenant
history. Josiah reached right back 640 years to the days when the Old Covenant
was established. That was the vision of the lonely king. No-one else in
his kingdom seemed to be with him as he went right back to the beginning
and the covenant. Even as he did so, the prophet Jeremiah was looking forward
640 years to the establishing of the New Covenant which is the true fulfilment
of grace. And there, at the mid-point of covenant history, comes the reign
of this amazing and lonely king. Josiah looked back, trying to make the people
see what he saw but not being able to compel them for, after all, covenant
relationship with God is a matter of the heart. But the prophet Jeremiah
looked forward over an almost exact span of time and saw how God can make
His covenant effectual by putting His law actually into the heart of man.
That, and that alone, is the only solid basis of fellowship with Him.
The Perils of Josiah's Loneliness
The story has a sad ending. In a moment of folly, Josiah rose to the
challenge of the passing Egyptian army which was not invading his territory
but only passing through on their way to Carchemish on the Euphrates (35:20),
and there he met his end. Rejecting all warnings, he persisted in going out
to combat the Pharaohs, and he was killed. There followed on the throne of
Judah two sons and two grandsons before the exile, but everyone of them was
an unworthy shepherd. So with this great lonely figure, there perished the
last of the royal shepherds of God's people until there arose the True Shepherd
-- the only one in whom is no failure at all. He is the One whom we must follow.
Now it is true that our setting is the corporate life of the Church, so that
we are never really alone. Having said that, though, the fact remains that
in the last analysis each one of us must walk with our God, irrespective of
what others do. Whether or not others will come with us, we must base ourselves
firmly on the covenant mercy of a forgiving, life-giving God. That is our
prime responsibility of leadership.
PICTURES IN A BOOK
(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 1)
John H. Paterson
WE do not know who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, but we can form
an impression of the people to whom it was written. They were Jews who had
come to recognise and accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah awaited by their
nation, but who had more recently begun to doubt whether they had been wise
in embracing this new faith in Christ. Since doing so they had had nothing
but trouble, and it seems as if they had begun to regret their decision.
They felt now that they should have held to the old faith in the God of Israel,
and the old hope in the still-future Messiah.
The epistle was written to urge these wavering believers to hold on to
their faith in Christ. The way to God through Him, says the writer, really
is better (that characteristic word of Hebrews) than the old way
-- the narrow, circumscribed way under the old covenant. What the writer
had to do, however, was to convince his readers that this was so.
He did it by giving them a history lesson. But I must at once add that
it was rather different from the lessons that you and I had at school about
the Wars of the Roses or the Battle of Waterloo, and that for two reasons.
Firstly, these Hebrews had a different outlook on history from yours and
mine, because for them and their nation history and religion were inseparable.
History was for them not something in a book but the actual dealings of God
with them. Apart from God they had no history -- and they knew it.
They had history because God had chosen them out of all the races of man:
everything that had happened to them was an act of God, whether in blessing
or in judgement. About such a history nobody could be indifferent or neutral;
nobody could complain that history was boring or irrelevant. History mattered!
And secondly, therefore, they knew their history. God had commanded
them to remember it, and to teach it to their children. It was one of the
most common complaints of God through His prophets that they forgot
but, while they would forget Him, they never forgot -- and have never
forgotten -- their nation. Collectively, Israel's memory of past events was
The writer of the epistle reviewed some of that history, and we may feel
that we know it, too. But I do not think that we could ever read it with
the same depth of understanding as those original readers of the letter, for
their own familiarity with the story may well have given them insights which
we lack. It was their history; they had been taught it from infancy
and they had never been more proud of it than in the period of foreign occupation
of their land during which the epistle was written.
This leads me to suppose that there may be references or allusions in
the letter to more than just these historical characters like Moses who are
explicitly mentioned in the text. After all, if someone says to me, 'I knew
what was happening, but I turned a blind eye to it' then, with a little
knowledge of English history behind me, I can fit into the statement the
name of a historical character -- in this case Lord Nelson, who did not want
to obey a signal and so claimed not to have seen it because his telescope
was applied to his blind eye. Again, if someone refers to 'fiddling while
Rome burns' then I can supply the name that goes with the metaphor -- Nero.
But a person knowing nothing of the history would miss the allusion.
We can, of course, put nothing into the Scriptures which is not already
there. But I find it interesting to speculate along these lines, for it seems
to illuminate the text. Did you, I wonder, when you were young have the
same kind of book I had, in which there were pictures and a caption saying,
'Turn the page around and you will find hidden in the picture the faces
of four of Tiger Tim's friends'? Well, you can do that with Hebrews, too!
Let me take just two examples.
The Missing Character
The argument of Hebrews follows a clear historical sequence: it starts
with creation and the role of man and there then follows in order
[114/115] references to the family of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16), Moses
(3:2) and Joshua (4:8). The writer is offering a review of what might be
called Israel's great men and great times. He wants to show the Jewish reader
that, even at its best, the old is less than the new. It is easy enough
to seize upon the weak spots in anybody's history to make a case -- as critics
of the Christian church love to do -- but the writer of Hebrews scorns this
easy method. He will make his case against the greatest in order to prove
the greatness of Christ.
In following this train of thought I was drawn to the verses in Hebrews
2 which seem at first sight something of a digression -- verses 9-13. Since
we may expect these verses, in keeping with the general run of the argument,
to have some bearing on Israel's history, we can ask either 'Of what
great man in that history do these verses remind us?' or 'In a list
of Israel's great men before Moses, whose name might we expect to find?'
In either case, one name stands out: that of Joseph.
I believe that, if you will read Hebrews 2:9-13 afresh, with Joseph's
name in mind, you will find the passage most illuminating. Who came through
suffering to power and glory? Who tasted death (in years of imprisonment
and possible execution), only to emerge and save the whole world from death
by famine? Who brought many sons -- or brothers -- to glory? Who took those
brothers, the very brothers who had betrayed and sold him, and "brought them
to glory"? Who, when the moment came to present his family to the king, was
"not ashamed to call them brethren"? Who was happy and proud to say of his
treacherous brothers that he and they were "all of one"?
Well, the answer to all those questions, at least if you are Jewish is:
Joseph! Everyone of those statements fits him perfectly. Between Adam and
David, there never was a Hebrew who exercised such power and authority; who
to such an extent had "all things subject to him". No list of Israel's great
men could possibly exclude him -- which is perhaps why the writer did not
bother to include his name: the reference was so obvious!
Of course, our writer was not going to leave matters there. His purpose
was to show that Christ is greater than Joseph. And the weak spot in Joseph's
career was this: that although he brought many sons to glory he left them
to slavery! In the end they had to be rescued from Egypt, the land to which
he had brought them in the days of his glory.
No need to remind a Jew of that! And so we find that the immediately
following verses are precisely about deliverance from bondage (2:14-15).
Tactfully, the writer does not criticise Joseph. Instead, he moves on to
a mention of the man who brought about Israel's release -- Moses (3:2).
But the sequence seems to me to fit perfectly into the general plan of the
epistle: choose the greatest figures in Israel's history, and I will demonstrate
to you that Christ is greater. He not only brings many sons to glory but
He keeps them there, free from bondage to sin for ever!
The Great Mistake
Let me take a second example of the hidden faces in the picture book.
In Chapter 4 the writer refers to Joshua, but in a rather dismissive way:
" If Joshua had given them rest ..." (4:8). Over the history of Joshua
there hangs, in fact, the same sort of cloud as over Joseph's -- that, in
the aftermath, Israel fell away into disorder, defeat and enslavement; they
were overrun by enemies (see the Book of Judges) and had to be rescued time
and again. It cannot have been very 'restful' to live in the land in those
Why did this happen? We can answer the question very precisely. Joshua
was a great military leader. As long as the business was fighting, Joshua
led Israel from success to success. God's orders were to clear the land
completely -- Jericho, Ai and all. But then at a point Joshua was tricked
-- tricked by the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:3-27) into making an alliance which
Israel could not break. Now the sword of Joshua was powerless! From these
Gibeonites there spread a pollution through God's people which, after Joshua's
death, dragged the whole nation into idolatry and lawlessness.
If only Joshua had known! If only he had been as perceptive in diplomacy
as in war! If only he had been able to see past the worn garments and the
stale bread of the Gibeonites, to read their devious minds and detect their
trickery! If only ...! [115/116]
It was a fatal mistake, for it robbed generations of God's people of
any rest. It arose out of an inability to pierce the disguise and see below
And so we come to the verses which follow the reference to Joshua in
Hebrews 4, and to this wonderfully reassuring contrast: "The word -- the
Logos -- of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword"
(like the one Joshua wielded so successfully for so long) "and quick to discern
the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not
manifest (unconcealed) in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open
before the eyes of him with whom we have to do". No disguises!
(To be continued)
A CLOSER WALK WITH GOD
"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good,
and what doth the Lord require of thee ...
to walk humbly with thy God." Micah 6:8
5. JOSHUA. Walking into Battle
PROBABLY Moses was the most outstanding man to walk with God. There were
times when he may have seemed to have been walking round in circles, but
in his case the circles were always ascending -- like a spiral staircase --
so that he was ever coming nearer and nearer to what his psalm describes as
our eternal home in God (Psalm 90:1).
The earthly account of his life may give the reader the impression that
after all he never arrived, but I am confident that his was a fulfilled life.
Its obvious fulfilment, though, was through his successor, Joshua, so I
therefore propose to leave Moses in his majestic solitude and devote this
last article to Joshua, the man who walked right in to possess the promised
land. Significantly enough, the opening verses of Joshua take up what Moses
had said about possessing every place where the soles of the people's feet
would tread (Deuteronomy 11:24) and applies this in a more personal way
to Joshua (1:3). His was to be the first foot to move forward into possession
as the people moved on with him into the inheritance. We make progress in
the spiritual life by putting down our feet on the possessions which are
already ours in Christ. But the way will be fiercely contested, right through
to the end.
"The Lord", we are told, "is a man of war" (Exodus 15:3), therefore it
is not surprising that the man who walks with Him is one whose progress
is marked by conflict. This, I suggest, is the special lesson to be learned
from Joshua. Not that he was naturally aggressive. Far from it, for he had
constantly to be exhorted not to fear and to be strong (Joshua 1:9). But
from Jericho onwards his life was a life of battles and warfare.
The battle in which the believer is involved is essentially a spiritual
one; God's warriors cannot prevail by their own soul strength but only by
having complete faith in their strong God. When the promising young fighter,
Joshua, had completed all his battles and become the old veteran about to
die, he reminded the people that victory had only been possible because of
God's power: "The Lord our God, he it is that hath fought for you"; "he it
is that fighteth for you, as he spake unto me" (23:3 and 10). For all of
his long and successful life, Joshua was an outstanding example of what the
New Testament calls, "A good soldier of Jesus Christ". He walked with his
God into battle. Let us consider a few lessons to be learned from his experiences.
1. The Deciding Factor in Intercession
The first mention of Joshua is found in Exodus 17:9-14. It is a war story,
but its main feature is that the outcome of the battle depended entirely
on the upraised hands of a hidden intercessor (v.11). If we take Moses as
a type of Christ, we may rightly suggest that any victory of ours depends
on His heavenly intercession, but such an illustration is faulty, for our
Risen Saviour [116/117] never grows weary and needs
no support. It is probably better to adhere to the simple lesson which was
so vividly presented to Joshua, that the deciding factor in the conflict is
not natural effort (however necessary) but answered prayer.
It is striking that Joshua is introduced to us as a warrior, and that
the lesson of this victorious battle is directed to him personally: "Rehearse
it in the ears of Joshua" (v.14). Moreover the name of the altar was specifically
personal: "Jehova-nissi -- The Lord is my banner" (v.15). No doubt
the attack by the Amalekites had larger significance, but it is reasonable
enough to argue that it set the tone for the whole of Joshua's future. God
is at war; therefore the man who walks with Him must face the inevitability
of conflict "from generation to generation" (v.16). He can, however, enter
confidently into the spiritual battle, for Jehovah is his banner, but must
always remember that the deciding condition for victory is sustained and
The Lord had this written down not just for Joshua, but that it might
also be rehearsed in our ears. The Christian life is not a pushover. It is
not just a matter of enthusiastic parades or musical marches. It is a continual
experience of fighting "the good fight of faith". At the same time, there
must be a hidden work in intercession to support and match the visible activity
of the one concerned. It is not a case of prayer instead of action; still
less should it be activity without prayer, for that way lies defeat, as
Joshua realised whenever Moses' arms were lowered. If we are to walk with
God into battle we must be sure to give full place to the altar and to the
banner, and this we do by prayer.
2. The Background of Selfless Service
The next reference to Joshua shows that he had become attached to Moses
as his personal servant (Exodus 24:13). He seems to have continued in this
important but lowly task throughout the whole forty years (Deuteronomy 1:38).
It was part of his preparation for leading into victory.
When the Lord Jesus made a reference to the triumphs of believers in
Laodicea, He compared their experiences with His: "... as I also overcame"
(Revelation 3:21). In other words Christians get the spiritual victory in
their circumstances just as He did in His, and we know that the characteristic
of His whole earthly life was selfless service. He got the victory by humbling
This is one of the lessons we can learn from Joshua. Ultimately he was
destined to lead God's people into the victorious conquest of the land,
but the long work of preparation seems mainly to have consisted of his being
content to fill the role of servant. What did he do during those two long
forty-day periods on the Mount? We do not know. We only know that he went
up with Moses and that it is almost in an incidental way that he is mentioned
when God's servant came raging down from the Mount (Exodus 32:17). We know
that he acted as the assistant of Moses in the Tent of Meeting and that he
remained there as a kind of caretaker whenever the pillar of cloud lifted
and Moses returned to the camp (Exodus 33:11). We note also that in this
connection he is classed as "young", a description which hints that he had
no special standing among the more important leaders.
It may surprise us to find that Joshua's apprenticeship as a warrior
consisted of responding to the constant calls to do menial service. At that
time had no official position; he was just the loyal helper who was always
at hand when he was needed. In his article on Leadership in our January
issue, Alec Motyer remarks that the Bible insists on men being cast down
before they can be trusted with leadership. He remarks: "Of the three great
leaders, Moses, Joshua and David, only Joshua was spared (these) preliminary
humiliations, and the probable reason is that there was no need to cast
Joshua down -- he was down already" (page 7). For forty long years of testing,
Joshua continued in humble faithfulness in the everyday chores of service.
That was the background of the man who walked with God in victory, and it
must be our background too.
One wonders whether Moses himself fully appreciated the worth of this
servant of his. It was not he who proposed the name of Joshua as his successor.
All he could do was to request God to appoint "a man over the congregation
... that the congregation be not as sheep which have no shepherd" (Numbers
27:16-17). Was he perhaps rather surprised when God replied that He had already
chosen this person (whom perhaps the old Moses still regarded as a "young
man") and [117/118] told Moses to ordain Joshua as
the new leader? Was he taken aback? We do not know. All that we do know is
that once again "Moses did as the Lord had commanded him" (Numbers 27:22-23).
The Lord described Joshua as "a man in whom is the spirit" (v.18). What spirit?
Why, surely, the spirit of the Servant.
3. The Need for Largeness of Heart
The next reference to Joshua is found in Numbers 11:28. The passage tells
how Moses separated seventy men as elders and found his action confirmed
by the outpoured Spirit coming upon the whole group. Two of the company, however,
for reasons best known to themselves, did not go out to the Tent but remained
in the camp. The Spirit is never limited to special locations, so He fell
on these two just as He did on the other sixty-eight. Jealous for the authority
of his master Moses, Joshua appealed for a ban to be imposed on the two who
did not conform to the accepted pattern. Whether Moses could have prevented
the special manifestation of the Spirit or not does not matter, for he had
no intention of attempting to do so. His reply to Joshua showed a breadth
of mind which gave full play to God's Spirit to act in a sovereign way. So
Joshua had a further lesson for his walk with God, namely, that the Spirit
of God will never cause division -- and nor must we.
Too many of Christ's would-be warriors spend their time and strength
disputing among themselves. Was it not the Lord Jesus Himself who replied
to John's request for a ban on a man acting in His name but not following
"with us" by saying: "Forbid him not: for he that is not against you is
for you"? (Luke 9:50). And was it not the great apostle Paul who ruled:
"Let each man be fully assured in his own mind"? (Romans 14:5). If we are
not careful the heat of the battle can make us intolerant of one another.
We must watch against Satan's wiles. The Evil One knows how God often destroyed
the power of Israel's enemies by setting them one against another, so he
tries to ape God's methods and blunt the effectiveness of God's people against
his own kingdom of darkness by provoking dissension among them. Strangely
enough that dissension often concerns spiritual matters.
No doubt Joshua sincerely meant to be concerned for God's honour, but
in fact he was jealous not for God but for man, as Moses pointed out to him.
Such a spirit must be repudiated, since the important thing is not for men
to wrangle together about procedures but for them to accept God's sovereign
right to glorify Himself in His own way. If Joshua were to lead God's people
into victorious battle, he must accept the Spirit's sovereignty over them,
even if this did not accord with his personal ideas or wishes. Largeness
of heart is essential for walking into battle with God.
4. The Balance of Faith and Patience
The next reference to Joshua is found in Numbers 13, where he and Caleb
are found to be the only two men of faith prepared to accept the challenge
of moving forward with God. Obviously these two were men of faith. After
all, "Faith is the victory that overcomes the world". In their case, though,
the faith had to be sustained over long periods of testing so that it had
to be balanced by patience. We might prefer brief contests and quick victories,
but in the spiritual warfare patience is an essential attribute.
Two points may be stressed concerning the faith which marked Joshua and
his companion, Caleb. The first is that although they had been eager to march
forward, they showed remarkable restraint. When the people saw that the
ten unbelieving spies had died by a plague from God, they were ready to
acknowledge their sin but planned to rectify it and justify themselves by
a belated attack against the Canaanites in the mountain. This would not have
been the obedience of faith but a carnal attempt to remedy their former unbelief;
Joshua and Caleb would have nothing to do with it. They had been the men
to urge advance in the first place, and it might have been easy for them
to succumb to this impulse of unbelief, but Moses and the ark stayed in
the camp and they did the same, demonstrating that faith is not fleshly enthusiasm
but rather obedience to the word of God.
The operative word which describes the people's action is that "they
presumed to go up" (14:44). There is a world of difference between
adventuring in faith and presuming in self-confidence. Joshua refused to
"presume" -- and so must we if we are to walk into battle with God.
We cannot imagine with what dismay Joshua must have heard the divine
pronouncement that the whole people were doomed to spend forty
[118/119] years in the wilderness. Forty years! Could any of us
face such a delay without despairing? A whole generation was now certain
to die without ever inheriting the promise, while Joshua and Caleb had to
live with them, march with them, suffer with them and patiently wait for
God's ripeness of time. This is one example of how faith and patience were
balanced in Joshua's walk with God.
The next thirty-eight years gave him ample opportunity to show active
patience, that is, faith's persistence in waiting for God's time. Did Joshua
sense that he would ultimately be called to leadership? Did Caleb hope for
the honour, only to be disappointed when Joshua was appointed? We do not know;
we only know that both men had no doubts about ultimate triumph. Among other
things they had the constant reminder of the bones of Joseph. All through
the centuries those bones had borne witness to faith's expectations (Hebrews
11:22). Moses had been careful to see that that sacred coffin was carried
through the Red Sea (Exodus 13:19) and almost the final act of Joshua's long
life was to give the bones an honoured burial (Joshua 24:32). So with God's
words kept in remembrance and the constant testimony of those treasured bones,
Joshua kept walking on with God in faith and patience ready, when the time
came, to put his feet down in possession of the promises.
In fact his most serious mistake during the long campaign in Canaan was
in connection with this matter of patience. He was deceived by the Gibeonites
because he acted impulsively, without waiting for guidance from God (9:14-15).
It was an exception to his normal behaviour and serves to underline his usual
balance of faith and patience. As we saw in the case of Abraham, the man
who is walking with God must always beware of rushing impulsively forward
instead of keeping sensitive to the still small voice of the Spirit.
5. The Spirit's Enabling
When God first indicated that Joshua was to succeed Moses, He described
him as "a man in whom is the spirit" (Numbers 27:18), but at the same time
He instructed Moses to lay his hands upon him. When the time came for Joshua
to be set apart in this way, we are told that "he was full of the spirit
of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands upon him" (Deuteronomy 34:9). This
double experience of the Spirit need not be used for any doctrinal arguments,
but it does remind us of the New Testament fact that while we have the Spirit's
presence within us as our abiding possession, we need His special enduement
for service and for the battle. Our great weapon is "the sword of the Spirit".
Perhaps the obvious effect of this experience which came to Joshua was
that in a new way God was "with him". That, surely, is the crux of the matter.
In Joshua's case the stress is laid on the fact that as God had been with
Moses, so would He be with Joshua. The warriors of the two and a half
tribes emphasised this as the basis of their confidence: "Only the Lord
thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses" (Joshua 1:17). Even the weakest
of us can face the conflict and triumph in it, when we have the enabling
of God's Holy Spirit to carry us through.
It is not my intention to embark on a study of the book of Joshua. If
we did this we would discover that these five principles governed him all
through his life of campaigning for the Lord. He used the power of prayer
(7:6; 8:26; 10:14). He spent himself in selfless service (24:18). He displayed
largeness of heart, not just towards two unusual elders but also towards
the two and a half tribes who preferred the wrong side of Jordan (22:6).
His faith and patience run throughout the whole story, with the single exception
of the Gibeonite experience which we have already mentioned. They not only
brought him to the opening experiences of chapter 1 but were characteristic
of his steady persistence until he was able to send the people away, "Every
man unto his inheritance" (24:28). Joshua not only fought the good fight:
he finished the course.
We close this series with a reminder that the closer our walk with God,
the more severe will be the conflicts that confront us. Let us, then, appropriate
for ourselves what was said to Joshua: "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong
and of good courage; be not affrighted, neither be thou dismayed: for the
Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest" (Joshua 1:9).
"YOU also should wash one another's feet. For I have given you an
example, that you should do as I have done to you" (John 13:14-15).
The aspect of truth specially emphasized here is refreshment. Even our Lord
Jesus rebuked His host with the words: "Thou gavest me no water for my feet"
(Luke 7:44). This washing is not concerned with sins but rather with our
daily walk through the world and need for renewal and refreshment.
"You also ought to wash one another's feet." Of all Christ's commandments
to His disciples this is -- and I use the expression in its purest sense
-- the most dramatic. To impress on them its importance He Himself acted it
out before them. He set Himself to show His disciples what He meant by ministry.
It is not platform work. It is serving one another with a basin and a towel.
We must all do it and we all need it.
No superior class exists in the church that has no need to be refreshed.
It is something every servant of God depends upon. Those who have been employed
all day in a workshop or a kitchen may well need brightening up; but some
of us who have been working all day in churches also need to be brightened.
Our need of restoration is often just as great, though we may not always
realise it. Whether we work in an obviously secular sphere or are engaged
in so-called spiritual things, the world is all around us, closing in upon
us. Ever and anon therefore we need the help of some brother or sister to
lift us again to that fresh touch of God which corresponds to the washing
I thank the Lord that in my younger days I had the great privilege of
knowing one of the rarest of saints. I knew her for many years, and found
her to have many spiritual qualities; but I think the thing that impressed
me most above them all was the sense of God. You could not for long sit in
her presence, or even walk into her room and have a hand-shake, without feeling
a sense of God coming over you. You did not know why, but you felt it. I
was not the only one who felt this. Everyone who had touch with her gave
the same testimony. I have to confess that in those days many a time I was
feeling down-hearted, and it seemed as though everything had gone wrong. I
walked into her room, and immediately I felt rebuked. Immediately I felt that
I was face to face with God and was refreshed.
There are times when we are tarnished with the world's tarnish. It is
not actual sin but somehow our impact for God upon the world around becomes
blunted. How good it is at such a time to have around a brother or sister
through whom we are lifted once more to a renewed communion with God!
[Inside back cover]
SPIRITUAL PARENTHESES (39)
"(The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy)" Revelation
THIS is not perhaps a real parenthesis, or at least is not treated as
such by most translations, though Phillips and Moffatt have
enclosed it in brackets, and so has the old school Greek text which I have.
For this reason I feel justified in choosing the sentence to close this series
of New Testament parentheses, and am the more encouraged to do so because
of the great significance of the statement that the spirit of prophecy is
the expression of the testimony of Jesus.
WHAT is the testimony of Jesus? Weymouth renders it as "the truth
revealed by Jesus". Might it more accurately be stated that it is "The truth,
as embodied in the Man, Jesus"? All eternal truth is in Jesus (Ephesians
4:21), and with Him it is never the mere phraseology of truthful statements
but the truth as expressed in life. He could affirm: "I AM the truth" (John
THIS closing prophetic book of the Bible informs us that the essence
of all prophecy is the revelation of Jesus Christ. We tend to limit our
ideas of prophecy to the foreseeing and foretelling of coming events. We
even find it fascinating to observe the accuracy of Scriptural predictions
as they have been fulfilled, not to say the speculation of how they will
yet be fulfilled. Now the fulfilment of prophecy is important, but it is
something of a by-product; for it seems that the divine intention is to
employ it to make the Lord Jesus known in a living way. This communication
of Jesus is the very heart of the prophetic activity. If we miss Him, we
have missed God's point.
QUITE a large section of the Hebrew Old Testament was included in the
general title of "The Prophets", but even the other books are equally concerned
with the conveyance of God's prophetic message. Moses was certainly a prophet,
as also was David. The truth is that in everyone of the books, God's message
to His people goes beyond the immediate events to the eternal and ultimate.
The Lord Jesus said, "They are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). We
read that on the way to Emmaus, "Beginning at Moses, and all the prophets"
he expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself"
THIS, then, is the theme of all prophecy, and this is the acid test of
the validity of all those who claim to be prophets -- the ministration by
the Spirit of a personal experience of the living Christ. It even seems
from the angel's words to John, that heaven is actively involved in this
spiritual ministry: "I am thy fellow-servant, and of the brethren that hold
the testimony of Jesus".
THERE is something holy and awe-inspiring in the use, without any accompanying
titles, of the simple name, JESUS. Outside of the Gospels it is reserved
for the Spirit's emphasis on the uniqueness and dignity of God's Man. The
purpose of all His speaking is to make His Son inwardly real to us.
WE need to read, preach and distribute the Bible because it provides
the one means by which men may have a personal encounter with Jesus. Suspect
and avoid any "Prophetic spirit" which does not exalt Jesus in a living way.
Pursue and prize every truly Scriptural prophecy, for it will make the Lord
Jesus more real to you. "The testimony borne by Jesus is the breath of all
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.
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