"... 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. 13, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1984 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Editorial 81
Like Father, Like Son? [Hebrews] (11) 82
When Grace Reigns 85
"Hail, Abraham's God And Mine!" (2) 88
Further Studies From Mark's Gospel (3) 91
Our Happy God 96
Old Testament Parentheses (11) ibc



CHAPTERS 5 and 6 of Isaiah contain seven expressions of woe. If I take the chapters in the order in which they are found (which is not unreasonable), I note that Isaiah's personal exclamation, "Woe is me" (6:5) is the seventh and final use of the expression. The logical conclusion then to be drawn is that the young prophet who had so forcefully denounced the sins of his day with the six-fold sequence of woes to others (5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22) now found himself under the same condemnation. With the searchlight of the divine holiness turned upon him, he collapsed under the realisation that he was no better than his fellows.

In the blinding light of the presence of the thrice-holy God, Isaiah forgot everything and everybody else, being overwhelmed by the shocked realisation of his own ghastly sinfulness. According to his account, this devastating experience was mercifully rectified by the divine application of the power of the altar to bring him pardon and cleansing. After that he could be sent out to speak on behalf of God in a lifetime of anointed ministry.

It is all too possible that a prophet who is ready to detect and denounce the sins of others should need first to have a new encounter with the holy Lord and to be brought low with a discovery of his own unsuspected unworthiness. If he is thus humbled under the mighty hand of God, he can be God's mouthpiece in a new and effective way. I know this because it has been part of my own experience from time to time as God has dealt with me.

HAVING said this, I must record that the general comment on this crisis in Isaiah's history is that it happened before the events described in Chapter 5. This seems clearly to be the case and makes it logical to suggest that Chapters 1 to 5 form a kind of foreword to the whole book, so that chapter 6 describes retrospectively how it happened that Isaiah ever became a prophet in the first place. If this is indeed the case, then his "Woe is me" was the first and not the last of the seven "woes".

If this was the case, then the clear lesson to be learned is that before we dare to criticise or denounce the sins of others, we need to be brought to the dust in humbling about our own sinfulness. It is only the person who has voiced the dismayed confession, 'I am undone' who is entitled to pronounce God's woes upon others, and such a one will be able to follow them with the Good News of cleansing and forgiveness for those who acknowledge their need of them.

FOR me, whether Isaiah's "Woe is me" was the first or the final of his seven woes is not of great importance for, in either case, I find this to be one more Scriptural emphasis on the call for humility in those who would be servants of God. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this Christ-like but all too rare virtue of humility. Some have made a gospel message of Isaiah 6, as though it illustrated how a sinner can find salvation. It makes a good illustration. Others have felt that it contained a lesson on a 'second blessing' of sanctification. This, I think, is more difficult to substantiate, though I would never depreciate the importance of the solemn crisis of call which it depicts. For me, though, it seems that I need an Isaiah 6 every day. How can I help others unless I have seen afresh that humbling vision of "The Lord, high and lifted up"? How can I serve the Lord today if I am not newly aware of the spiritual reality behind that "live coal ... from off the altar"? And how can I continue my humble ministry unless I have an up-to-date hearing of the Lord's own voice of commission?

As I meditate on this crisis experience of Isaiah's, I am not surprised that his ministry continues to be so full of blessing, even till today. I think I see, too, the secret of the spiritual vigour and depth of the Ephesian Church, for it had begun with three years of ministry from the man who could claim: "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, after what manner I was with you all the time, serving the Lord with all humility ..." (Acts 20:18-19). There can be no doubt that the apostle, like Isaiah before him, had constantly kept in view his vision of "the Lord, high and lifted up". Perhaps that is the secret of true humility. [81/82]



(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 11)

John H. Paterson

IN our studies of the characters portrayed in Hebrews 11, we have been considering how, one and all, they had to cope with the need for faith and patience in serving God who is eternal, time-free and, therefore, not bound by human schedules. It is remarkable how often, in these histories, God appeared to have left it too late to transform a situation, or redeem a promise; how often these men must have been tempted to think, 'If it doesn't happen now, it never will!'

We, of course, know better! We know -- at least when we are considering someone else's situation -- that what God is really doing is to wait until all human resources and expectations are exhausted, to make it quite clear to one and all that the power or the glory are His alone. Let me add, in passing, that I hope we are equally confident in asserting that principle, next time it is we, and not Abraham, or Joseph, or our next door neighbour, whose faith is being tried in this way!

In our present study, we are concerned with two of the characters chosen as examples by the writer to the Hebrews, to whom the problem of time and its solution were presented in rather different ways: that well-known father and son combination of Jacob and Joseph. You will at once notice, I am sure, that in citing the details of these two lives to which he wished to call attention, this writer was at his most mysterious (Hebrews 11:21-22):

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.

By faith Joseph, when his end was nigh, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

What a curious choice! Here we have a man -- Joseph -- whose whole life consisted of a series of adventures; who ended up as the effective ruler and provider of the entire Middle Eastern World, and all the writer has to say about him is that, when he was too old to do anything else, he talked about his bones! We had better try to find out what is going on here!

And the answer in both cases, for Jacob and Joseph, is the same: what was going on was the education of one of God's men in how to cope with problems of timing and delay within the purposes of God.

Jacob: Trying to Hurry God

Jacob must have been an unpleasant young man. While his brother went out, doing the things that most young men like to do, Jacob stayed at home, close to his mother, Rebecca. From her he doubtless learned what she had been told at the time of her twin sons' birth: "the elder shall serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23). He discovered that God intended great things for him: that he belonged to that special line of descent from his grandfather Abraham to which God had committed Himself. And with the private backing of his mother, he set out to make it all come true.

God had promised Abraham that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed, and Jacob promptly took steps to secure for himself the birthright and the blessing. God told Jacob himself that "the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it" (28:13), and Jacob promptly set out to cheat his way to wealth (30:31-43). He cheated others, and was cheated in his turn, and became the very model of a self-made man. How unlike his grandfather, who said, "I will not take a thread nor a shoelatchet ... lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abraham rich" (Genesis 14:23)! That would not have worried Jacob one bit. He was impatient for the promised blessing and, by the time he left Laban, with his wives and his "two companies" (32:10), he was well on the way to securing it. And into the bargain he could say, to quote a modern song,

"And what is more,

   I did it my way."

Poor Jacob! Poor Jacob because, after he had deceived his father, left his mother, enraged his brother, alienated his father-in-law and been [82/83] saddled with a wife whom he did not love; after all that he at last became aware that everything he had schemed for God had intended to give him, and much more besides. He need not have gone to all that trouble!

All this became clear in a single night, in a famous encounter between Jacob and "a man", which is described in Genesis 32:24-31. At the end of it, Jacob had a new name -- Israel -- but, much more than that, Jacob was a changed man: sadder, weaker, wiser. We know this because on the following day, there occurred his encounter with Esau, which he had been dreading for so long. It was to Esau that he spoke the revealing words -- words that nobody who knew the old Jacob would ever have expected to hear him utter (33:11): "God has dealt graciously with me, and I have enough."

"Graciously" -- that meant that God had done it and he had not. It meant that all the effort had been pointless, and all the stratagems were wasted. God was going to bless him anyway! And "enough" -- that meant an end to the crafty, acquisitive life he had been leading; an end to the drive to get rich, and to go on and on, accumulating more wealth, more sheep and, in the process, more enemies. One blow from Esau, whom he had so bitterly wronged, and what use would the wealth have been then?

So now let us return to Hebrews 11, and to the writer's choice from the life of Jacob of the lessons of faith and patience. There are two, says the writer. Firstly, Jacob "blessed each of the sons of Joseph". You will remember the incident (Genesis 48:12-20). Joseph brought his two sons to receive their grandfather's blessing, but Jacob crossed his hands, so that the blessing of the right hand was on the younger boy, and that of the left on the older. He explained that he did it because "his younger brother shall be greater than he (the elder)".

I think that what Jacob was saying was this: 'I have learned by bitter experience that God blesses whom He will. We may have our personal priorities, but God will overthrow them. We may take matters into our own hands, but He will discount all that we do, to act in His own way and in His own time. God acts towards men on one basis and one only: the basis of grace. He blesses because He chooses to bless. I wish I had not frittered away a whole life time before I found that out. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life (Genesis 47:9), because I just wasted them trying to do God's work for Him.'

Secondly, the writer calls attention to that oddly unimportant-sounding detail, "Jacob worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff". (Admittedly, there is some question here as to whether that is a correct translation of the Greek text but, if it is, it is certainly suggestive.) Why should Jacob's staff be brought into this recital of the heroes of faith?

I am sure that you can think, as I can, of at least two good reasons. (1) In Genesis 32:10, we read of Jacob saying, "With my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two companies." Like a great manufacturer who keeps in a glass case the very first engine or appliance his firm ever made, as a reminder of how it all started, Jacob could look on his staff as a measure of his success. This was all he had to begin with, and now he had family and possessions -- two companies of them. He was a wealthy man.

But then another thought must have struck him. What were his "two companies" by contrast with what God had in store for him: "Thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south" (Genesis 28:14)? The staff reminded Jacob of the time when he had nothing. The two companies reminded him of a lifetime of grasping and cheating. The dust of the earth was the measure of what God planned to do, not with his help, but by grace alone!

(2) Then there is a second possibility, and this one particularly impresses me as I read Hebrews 11. Why did Jacob lean on his staff? The answer is simple: he was lame. And why was he lame? Because he met a man, and fought with him, and lost: "and the sun rose upon him as he crossed over Penuel, and he halted upon his thigh" (Genesis 32:31).

That encounter had been decisive. Up until that time it was upon his own strength that Jacob had been relying. Knowing as he did of God's promises, he had set out to achieve, by his own resources, the fulfilment of those promises. Now [83/84] the strength was gone; now he couldn't even run away from Esau any more, let alone run away from God! The staff must have brought back to him this realisation: in the end, God did it His way!

Upon this realisation, we are told, Jacob "worshipped". This is one of a number of Bible references to worship as no more and no less than submission to God's way of doing things. Do think about that! Recall David, for example (2 Samuel 12:15-23), who prayed that the child of his sin might survive. But when he knew for certain that God had refused his request; when he was told that the child was actually dead, then "he came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped". Or think of the words of Paul (Philippians 3:3), "We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh". Worship is saying 'yes' to God's way, even when it conflicts with your own.

Joseph and the Trial of Non-Fulfilment

The problem which confronted Joseph is very simply stated, even though it must have been agonisingly difficult to live with. Joseph began his life with a clear vision of what was going to happen to him, and then for years and years not only did the vision not materialise, but the very opposite happened. His vision was that he would be raised up to great importance, with his brothers subservient to him. Thereupon his brothers (for whom one cannot help feeling some sympathy!) got rid of him into slavery. He was no sooner beginning to make a favourable impression on his master than he was falsely accused and thrown into prison. There he proved again what a reliable person he was, and how gifted, as he saw his predictions come true for others, one of whom promised to put in a good word for him -- and promptly forgot all about it. Thirteen years after his initial vision, Joseph was a slave, in jail, forgotten!

All of this would, of course, have been much easier to bear if he had not had that original vision -- if he had not had those expectations of greatness. In that case, he would just have shrugged his shoulders and said whatever was the equivalent of today's 'You can't win them all!' It was having the vision from God in the first place that created the problem. The psalmist agreed: "Until the time that his word came to pass; the word of the Lord tried him" (Psalm 105:19 R.V.) Having no word from the Lord is bad enough for any believer. But having a clear word of promise which is totally contradicted by events is much worse!

But Joseph hung on, to earn his place in Hebrews 11. Confronted by the contradiction between promise and event, he clung to the promise. The Revised Version of our Bible marvellously captures the spiritual triumph of Joseph, by translating Psalm 105:18 as "He (Joseph) was laid in chains of iron", and then offering, as a footnote, the alternative reading, "His soul entered into the iron"! Not, you notice, that the iron entered into his soul, which is our way of saying that he became disillusioned, cynical, bitter, but that his soul entered into the iron: he did not waver.

And what a good thing for everybody -- in Egypt, in Canaan -- that he stood firm! Have you ever paused to consider what would have happened if, when Joseph was sent for to interpret Pharaoh's dream of the fat and lean kine, he had said, "Oh no, your Majesty; it only works sometimes. I can't really interpret dreams. I was lucky with your butler and baker, but I'm wrong as often as I am right." In that case, there would have been no warning of the famine, no stockpile of food, nothing for the Egyptians or for those others who, like his own brothers, came to buy food from him. They would all have starved. They were saved by Joseph's faith in the vision.

How important it was for everybody, then, that Joseph held to his belief in God's word! The writer to the Hebrews obviously thought so too. Yet his strange choice of detail in Joseph's life still has to be explained. If Joseph's faith in his vision of God's purpose was so vital to his world, why did the writer not say, 'By faith Joseph spoke about a coming famine, and stored up food supplies'? Why this strange mention of his bones?

You may have your own answer to that question, but let me give you mine. When Joseph spoke about the Children of Israel leaving Egypt, they had only just arrived there. Do you know how long it was before they actually left again? So far as we can tell, it was about 400 years. During those four centuries, the experience of [84/85] Israel ran exactly parallel to that of Joseph during his thirteen years of trials -- from freedom to slavery, to ever more bitter and painful experience. The period during which "the word of the Lord tried them" was many times longer than those years through which Joseph had to live.

And that, I think, is why the writer chose this particular aspect of Joseph's life for his commentary in Hebrews 11. Here was a man who could look centuries ahead and say, "God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land" (Genesis 50:25), and who enjoined it upon his descendants, when that happened, to carry his bones with them, as a reminder of the lesson which, in slavery and prison, he himself had learned, that if God says a thing then, whether soon or late, He will do it. It is for us not to grow impatient with the delay, or try to hurry things along, but to keep trusting Him for the fulfilment.

(To be continued)


Poul Madsen

Reading: Romans 5:12-21

THE prophet's reminder that God's thoughts are as high as the heavens above ours applies not least to His thoughts over the matter of salvation. This short passage from Romans 5 gives us the impression of something quite overwhelming. There are three matters which come to us with heavenly illumination: they are the mixture of comparison and contrast (the 'as ... so' and 'not as ... so'), the consideration of what reigns over us and the stress on abundance.

The Reign of Death

The passage speaks first of the reign of sin and death. What does it mean when it tells us that the death reigned? It certainly does not mean that men have life for seventy or eighty years and then death takes it from them. No, it means that even while they seem to live, men are dead -- in other words, have never lived.

Adam's fall was a deliberate transgression against the will of God. He did what God told him not to do. So it was that sin came into the world and, as a consequence, sin began to reign. The generations which followed Adam were not guilty of definite transgression, for they had no commandments or prohibitions (v.13); nevertheless sin reigned over them. When God gave His law through Moses that might have been thought to help them but no, it only revealed clearly that they were dead, for the good and perfect law of God caused their sin to become definite rejection of the revealed will of God. Dead people are not raised up by appeals of any kind -- not even when those appeals contain definite information about the will of God. The more that sin was emphasised, the more violent sin became, so that sin reigned through death. That is the situation, apart from Christ.

What is born of the flesh is flesh. Even things that are done under the name of Christian, when they come from man's ideas and suggestions, are and remain dead. They may be friendly, well-intentioned, cosy and cheerful; they can contain every form of presentation, drama, music, etc., and use the name of Jesus, but they belong to death for, outside of Christ, the reign of sin and death is complete. Persons may be young and hopeful, but that does not mean that they are more alive or exempt from the reign of death than others. Death reigns over all. Its reign is not only total, but also cunning, for it allows people to imagine that they are very much alive, especially if they have good intentions.

Christians are quick to repeat the words, "Our sufficiency is of God", but that is a postulate without any connection with reality if it is not based on the conviction, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to account anything as from ourselves" (2 Corinthians 3:5). The kingdom of self is the kingdom of sin and death.

This reign of sin and death, from the cradle to the grave and on into eternity means that man is a slave as to his will and a slave to his thoughts; a slave who has grown used to his [85/86] bondage to such an extent that he imagines it is freedom. It is a tragi-comic situation when the man who is bound tries to show how free he is. There is modern talk about liberated youth whereas the truth is that the youth of our day is more bound than ever. There is talk about liberation as to sex, but the fact is that it is in this realm that the reign of sin and death shows itself in all its hideousness. There is talk about the younger generation having freed themselves from all authority, whereas the truth is that they are more under the domination of sin and death than ever before. So deep is man's wretchedness that what men call 'freedom' is really the reign of sin and death.

This reign means that all are under condemnation. They are not only on their way to it, any more than they are on their way to death. No, just as they are dead already, they are also under condemnation, so that when eternal condemnation comes on the day of judgment, it will be the consequence of the reign they served under all the time, that is, the reign of sin, death and condemnation (v.16).

Paul knew what he was writing. He did not exaggerate. He had once thought, as Saul of Tarsus, that he was alive and serving God. If anyone had told him he was under condemnation, he would have angrily rejected such a charge. When, however, he met the Lord and fell to the ground before Him, the truth penetrated to his very marrow and he rea1ised his condemnation as a slave of sin and death. Saul of Tarsus had never been alive; all his attempts at service had been out of death and leading to death.

The tragedy is that while men fear physical death as the only kind of death they recognise, few fear the idea that they are dead while they live. Most would shrug off the very idea of being in bondage to sin and death, an action which in fact proves how dead they are. It is also sad to see the attitude of Christians who fail to see this basic truth and do not learn to say 'No' to the flesh so that they can say 'Yes' to Him who alone is life.

Comparison and Contrast

The passage begins with the comparison "as ... and so ..." but then changes to "Not as ... so" in verse 15. The comparison is broken off and gives place to a contrast. The thread which runs through it all is "one man". The first "one man" is Adam and we begin with a reference to him: "As through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men". There is, however, another "one man" and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. If it were only a matter of comparison, the verse would state that "As by one man sin entered into the world so by this second Man, sin was taken out of the world". This might be logical and consistent, but it would leave the human race with what it was before the Fall. Christ has done much more than that.

The apostle, however, had hardly begun to compare the two racial heads when he had to break off since the person and work of Adam cannot bear comparison with the person and work of Christ. So instead of continuing with a comparison, Paul had to make a striking contrast. The difference is enormous, for Christ had accomplished a work by which mankind may receive much more than had been lost by Adam's sin. Therefore Paul wrote, "Not as the trespass, so also is the free gift" (v.15) and again, "Not as through one that sinned, so is the gift" (v.16). There can be no comparison between the result of the trespass of the one man, Adam, and the act of righteousness of the "one Man" of whom, in a sense, Adam was a figure (v.14).

Adam sinned when, humanly speaking, there was no reason for him to do so. He was in an atmosphere of purity and beauty, in the paradise of Eden, and we may well wonder how he could transgress as he did. Jesus came into a world permeated and governed by sin; He not only met sinners but had to endure an atmosphere of envy, discontent, hate and treachery. Humanly speaking, He had every reason to succumb to irritation and bad temper, but even when He was dying on the cross, betrayed, forsaken and rejected, "He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth". He who is God's free gift to us is entirely different from our sinning ancestor. It is certainly true that " not as the trespass, so also is the free gift".

We are reminded that the consequences of Adam's one act of sin are not only cancelled by Christ's one act of righteousness, but are wonderfully exceeded. The first led to condemnation; the second offers much more than exemption from condemnation for Christ gives justification, [86/87] that is, tried and confirmed righteousness, a righteousness which is perfect and abiding, through time and into eternity.

In verse 18 Paul returned to comparison, for he wrote: "As through one trespass came ... condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness ... came justification of life". By virtue of the Lord Jesus, Who is God's free gift to us, we stand not with Adam, at the beginning of the way to perfection, with the risk of everything breaking down because it is untested, but in Christ, possessing a righteousness which has already been perfected (Hebrews 10:14). The phrase "not as" and "much more", are simple, but the truth expressed is superb. Faith does not need and is not strengthened by big words or dramatic gestures, but by the simple assertions of truth made living by the Holy Spirit.

Exceeding Abundantly Above

The repetition of the phrase "much more" emphasises that the free gift of God exceeds all our ideas of what salvation really is. "Much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many" (v.15). From God's side, salvation is not a near thing but generous and profuse. Moreover this theme is pursued by the assertion: "much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace ... reign in life through the one, even Jesus Christ" (v.17). What a glorious truth is this, that men who were slaves under the tyranny of death are now princes in an entirely new world which is even better than Eden!

Paul returns to this incomprehensible salvation in the closing words of our passage: "Where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly: that as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (vv.20-21). If you stand on the shore of the Atlantic, look out over its mighty expanse and listen to its steady swell, you are struck dumb, feeling that any attempt to describe it would be meaningless and only detract from its majesty. So it is with these verses. They are too vast for us; they are divine.

We note Paul's strong expression, "grace reigned ...". This plays havoc with our ideas of grace, for we think of it as something which we receive. But according to the apostle, it is a power which exercises sovereign dominion. It is not so much that we lay hold of grace but that grace lays hold of us. It has taken us from the reign of sin and insisted, "Now they belong not to you but to me!" It has taken us from the realm of death and said, "You have nothing to do with them now; I am the one who governs here!"

So it was not that we asked for grace, but that grace not only asked for us but took us and made itself Lord over us. We belong to grace, and grace will never let us go from under its reign. Grace has begun to reign over us through righteousness unto eternal life. Need I say that the righteousness is supplied not by us who are forgiven but by the Saviour Christ Himself? The eternal life also comes direct from Him. It follows then that the grace and the righteousness and the eternal life are unshakable and unconquerable, for what can sin and death do against Him who has completely defeated them and rendered them powerless? It is Himself who is the free gift, or the grace-gift of the Father to us. He has been made Lord over us for life, that is, for all eternity, since His life never dies.

God's Free Gift

This word rendered, "free gift" is the well-known Greek word, Charisma . In Danish the word is translated "grace-gift" in verses 15 and 16, where it is in the singular, and then "grace-gifts" (in 1 Corinthians 12:4, 9, etc.) where the plural form is used. There is no difference in the actual word used other than in this matter of singular or plural.

May I close with some comments on this matter of God's charismatic "free gift"? We have noticed that the gospel provides an all-embracing 'No' to everything which does not come from the free gift of life which is in Christ. This means that if we are to live at all we must live in Him and by Him. This again means that all true life and service are charismatic, always and only coming from Jesus Christ who is the free gift of God. It is quite contradictory when Christians ignore this, seeking to administer spiritual things on the basis of natural considerations without proper concern to hear the voice of the Spirit which, like the wind, "blows wherever it pleases", irrespective of and often contradictory to human ideas. It is sad when no-one [87/88] trembles as to whether he is living or acting charismatically, that is, under the government of the Holy Spirit.

The grace of God is not given to us to use as we like but rather it is that which assumes reign over us so that we dare not act of our own accord. This is charismatic life for it is life in Christ under the reign of grace. All true Christian life is charismatic life. It is common enough now, though quite erroneous, to think that the real eternal life which Christ has given us in His salvation is not yet charismatic, though it can become so. No, what Jesus has given us in His salvation is in its very nature charismatic, His grace-gift. It is the eternal wonder of life which leads from glory to glory, even in the humdrum experiences of daily life with its many repetitions which is the lot of most of the lowly friends of God.

Never will the charismatic life have any other interest than to know the Lord Jesus Christ better. Nor will it have any other message than that of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. How can it speak of anything or anyone else, since all the fulness is in Christ alone and everything outside of Him is hollow and empty? The true charismatic life is day and night concentrated on God's all-embracing Grace-gift, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all the lesser gifts are present. Obviously God does not give us anything which is not found in Him, as though there were something extra to Jesus or in addition to Him. As if there could be an 'extra' to Jesus!

If, in order to honour the Lord and to help His Church, we seek more gifts, that should be because our God-given charismatic life is in constant growth. The Lord said that "to him that hath, shall be given", but we must be careful that we are under the reign of grace and governed by God's Word of grace in all our seeking for gifts. There is instruction in these matters in Chapters 12 and 14 of 1 Corinthians but in between these two chapters we have Chapter 13 which deals with the most charismatic gift of all. Love is God's grace-gift on the highest, most beautiful and also humblest plane. Only in the charismatic spirit of love can we use all our gifts to the glory of the Lord and so avoid the tragi-comical situation of men using spiritual gifts to draw attention to themselves.



(Names by which Abraham came to know God)

Michael Wilcock


"WHEN Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am God Almighty ..." (Genesis 17:1). This is the first mention of the name El Shaddai, which is translated 'God Almighty'. We remember that through these names Abraham is speaking to us. It is he who tells us how he learned to know God and the names and titles by which he came to call Him. In this, as in so much else, Abraham is the prototype. His learning of the things of God is a pattern for all the ages and the experience of all God's faithful people, so that what he came to know of his God is similarly what we can come to know of our God.

We began with YAHWEH, the LORD, which is the only real name of God, and now we turn to this wonderful title of El Shaddai. We shall find any number of possible meanings of El Shaddai in the commentaries, but we will leave these and learn from the Word by considering the circumstances in which the name was used, so finding what apparently its users meant by it. Why in these circumstances of Genesis 17 should Abraham think of his God as El Shaddai in distinction from any other of His titles? Why is it used here? We must try to put ourselves in Abraham's place when this name first appeared and see what it meant to him to call God by this most comforting of names, God Almighty.

1. The Length of His Reach

First it becomes plain to us that El Shaddai is God Almighty in the length of His reach. The first vital clue to this chapter is implied in the [88/89] opening verse of Genesis 17 where we are told that Abraham was ninety-nine years old, but the link between this and the name El Shaddai only becomes clear in verse 16 where this Almighty God tells Abraham that He will bless his wife Sarai and give him a son by her. He was told that there would be a child born into his family who would be both his and Sarai's and not like Ishmael who is mentioned at the end of chapter 16. So the Lord is God Almighty in the length of His reach.

Abraham was then ninety-nine years old and childless, for Ishmael did not count, though Abraham had rather hoped that he might (v.18). God, however, said, "No! That is not the child I am talking about. So far as I am concerned you are still childless". Now for a man to be childless in those days was a tragedy in itself. It might be thought so in any case, but certainly it was so then, and even more of a tragedy in view of what had gone before. When Abraham was seventy-five years old God had promised him that a great nation would come from him (12:2) and that promise had not begun to be fulfilled. Then when he was eighty-six God had renewed the promise (15:5) and yet Sarai still had no son. Now we find El Shaddai making the same promise a third time, and Abraham might have been forgiven if he had questioned the whole thing. We are told that he "fell upon his face and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?" (v.17).

The truth was that old Abraham and barren Sarah had come to the place where the promise seemed literally ridiculous. Like Abraham, Sarah laughed at it (18:12). "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick." We may be sure that the laughter that went up from Abraham and Sarah was a very bitter laughter. The one thing worthwhile was still eluding this greatly blessed couple, and they rightly felt that this would have been the thing which would not only have pleased them but would have vindicated the promises of God. And the thing was impossible!

Now it is in this chapter, where the impossibility of their situation and their own total incapacity is shown to us, that God reveals Himself as El Shaddai. He is indeed God Almighty in the length of His reach. There is no incapacity to which He cannot reach. In Abraham's and Sarah's case it was childlessness, but we may well think of what is the equivalent incapacity in our case. Is there some thing which has reached the point where we say, 'I just cannot do it'? Is there some matter about which we are totally helpless? There probably is in most of our cases, and sometimes it is not very far beneath the surface. The answer is in El Shaddai.

This impossible situation of Genesis 17 was not undesigned. The whole thing was part of the plan of God.

Glory to thee for strength withheld,

For wants and weakness known;

For need that drives me to Thyself

For what is most my own.

This is where El Shaddai comes in, and the lesson was well learned because the name reappears all down through the stories of Genesis. Abraham's son, Isaac, sent away his son alone into desert country on a long solitary journey with the words: "May God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful ... and give the blessing of Abraham to thee, and to thy seed with thee" (28:3-4) and when that son, Jacob, returned, he was able to affirm that it was God Almighty who had met with him at Luz and had indeed blessed him (48:3). In his later years, when he sent his sons down into Egypt in that last sending when he was pushed to the ultimate and compelled to send all of them, even Benjamin, down into the care of the unknown ogre who turned out in the end to be his own son Joseph though he did not know it, his words of commendation appealed to El Shaddai: "And God Almighty give you mercy before the man ..." (43:14). Joseph, who was that man down in Egypt, who had in fact been the most hard done by of the lot, he it was who received the blessing that El Shaddai might "bless him with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep beneath ..." (49:25). It was these people who had known what the depths were, who had gone so far away into the desert, who had been found in such positions of helplessness, whom El Shaddai could reach.

So when we think of our own depths, of our equivalent in this matter of extreme need, we must remind ourselves that our God is Almighty in the length of His reach. He can reach even you; He can reach even where you are. You, like these men of old, can learn in such circumstances to come to a new knowledge of El Shaddai. Those who feel self-sufficient and who are able to cope [89/90] with this and that and the other, are indeed in a perilous situation; but those who are made aware of their own helplessness can enjoy the wonder of El Shaddai. If, like Abraham, we become aware of our equivalent of all those fruitless years, of all those empty hopes and of the impossibility of what is most important in our life with God, then we will find that this is just where we are met by El Shaddai. We see the parallel to this in the story of the Good Shepherd, where we are told that He goes seeking the lost sheep, "until he finds it" (Luke 15:4). He is God Almighty in the extent of His reach of love.

2. The Greatness of His Plan

Genesis 17 reveals to us God in the greatness of His plan. We note the promises: "I will make my covenant between thee and me" (v.2); "I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee ..., I will give to thee and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God" (vv.6-8). We have already seen the great promises of Genesis 12, where the prospect of blessings for Abraham were opened up in such a way as to make the name Jehovah clear, and we have seen how that name was revealed to the generation of the exodus (Exodus 6:6). The name Jehovah tells us what sort of God He is, whereas the name El Shaddai tells us what sort or things He does. Jehovah tells us that He is a God who is faithful to His covenant, and the central feature of the revelation of that name is to be found in the verb 'I will'. El Shaddai, however, tells us what sort of things God does, and it centres upon a couple of nouns, and they are 'people' and 'land'.

We look at the promises of Genesis 17:6-8 and have to admit that their context was quite outrageous. Here was a man who had nowhere to live, and no children to make a family, yet God said not only that He would give him a son, but that He would make of him a great nation. He also said that He would not only give him a home but would give him a land. It was outrageous, and yet within months it had become true. 'How can I possibly have descendants?' Abraham might have asked, 'I haven't even got a son. I am not allowed to count Ishmael, so I am childless.'

Very soon, though, God gave him the foretaste, the first fruits, of that harvest that was to come, for the son was born (21:2). That was the beginning of the realisation of the promise so that he was not left with the mere promise but was given its first instalment. And the land? Well, in Genesis 12 it was just words, for he did not own a square yard of it, yet within a short space of time we read of his bargaining with the Hittites for a place to bury his wife, "And Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver which he had named and the field and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession ..." (23:16-20). That was the first little bit of the land of promise that Abraham ever possessed. True it was the burying place of his wife but it was his. Over that cave which was a burial place might have been written: "This is the beginning of the land of promise". And as the principle of the first thought that God is El Shaddai in the length of his reach comes down through the generations so that Abraham's descendants knew that He could reach even down to where they were, so this part of the name is also valid for the generations as well as for Abraham, namely, that God is El Shaddai in the greatness of His plan. It was not simply that Abraham could know God in this way, but his son, his grandson and the rest of them could come to know Him.

Again and again and yet again, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob trusted Him as El Shaddai, and found His promise to centre on the people and the land. God reached down unto the dark present of Abraham's experience of "no son" and "no home", and pointed forward to a great future, telling him that one day he would have a whole nation and have the whole land for an everlasting possession. He knitted the two things together, for both ends of the spectrum are within His grasp, as if saying: 'What I am promising you in the future is not pie in the sky when you die, for I want you to have a foretaste of it now. Here is a son, a real son, a baby on Sarah's knee. Here also is a land, and now you have a piece of that land as a foretaste. It is the grave of your wife, but it is yours!"

In the greatness of His plan God has all sorts of things stored up for us, but what we can ask from Him who is El Shaddai is not only the vision but also the foretaste. "Because I believe in the coming multitude, will You now give me a son? Lord, I believe in the promised land, will You give me an acre of it for myself now?" God [90/91] answers that kind of prayer. He gave the son amid Abraham's laughter and He gave the land amid his tears -- but He gave it. And the God who promises for the future shows how real is His promise by giving something of it right now, and He does so because He is El Shaddai, God Almighty.

3. The Depths of His Working

Our passage marks the place in the story where names were changed, the name of Abram becoming Abraham and Sarai becoming Sarah (v.15). What is more, the name of Abraham's son is replaced entirely, for Ishmael turns into Isaac. As with God, so with men, a name is significant, but what is more significant in this chapter is the fact that the character goes along with the name, so that it is character which is changed. We need not here go into the actual meaning of these names; what matters is not so much what these people were called, but that it was at this point that God decided to call them something different, indicating that they were different people.

God was saying, 'Up to this point you have been Abram, but henceforth you will be a new person because I am El Shaddai.' This comes out most clearly as the generations roll by and we come to the experience of Jacob. The person that Jacob had been was emphasised several times, not least in his experience with the angel at Jabbok, but then God put it into words for him, saying to this man -- a bad lot if ever there was one -- "Thy name is Jacob; thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name" (35:10). So it was God who called the man by his new name, Israel.

We know all about the character of Jacob, and what a scoundrel he was, but what I think we have to see out of this story is what happens to people when El Shaddai gets to work in their lives. The heart of the matter, the depth of His working, is seen in the way in which He brings about His plans by changing people. Whatever situation they may be in, God's answer is to bring about a basic change in them. El Shaddai, God Almighty, reaches to all the lengths of men, bringing about the greatness of His plan by changing men rather than their circumstances. When He says, "I am El Shaddai", he dos not do so to make us admiring spectators. That is not His purpose. The Lord is keen on audience participation; He wants to draw in folk so that they shall know themselves to be involved in what He is doing. That is the object of His exercise. He says, 'The working out of My purpose depends on all of you taking part in it. I can't fulfil My almighty plans and all these magnificent things while you just stand and watch. I need you, and I need to change you into the sort of people who will forward these plans; and to do that, of course, I have to work at a very deep level. You have got to be the right sort of people if I am going to succeed in My purposes.'

The plan is brought about and the promises begin to come true, not by changing our circumstances, my dear brothers and sisters, but by our being changed. The circumstances may or may not alter as the time goes by, but what will certainly be true is that as we seek to follow El Shaddai, He will do things in us. He goes to all lengths to reach us where we are. He has in mind to bring into being the greatness of His plan for us, which includes a whole load of assignments and testing, which may seem frustrating and make the future appear dark. The whole thing, however, is part of the working out of His plan as He draws us into it and does things in us, making us the right sort of people to be incorporated into it. These are the depths of His working and it is all because we come to know Him as El Shaddai, God Almighty.

(To be continued)


J. Alec Motyer

3. Mark 9:30-50

AS we read this passage we are struck by the marvellous skill of the Lord Jesus as a teacher -- He is the Prince of Teachers. He knew how to use Visual Aids (vv.36-37); He was supreme in providing a memorable phrase (v.40); He knew how to make His point by sheer exaggeration (vv.43-47) and He finished by bringing His lesson to the point and driving it home (v.50). These [91/92] verses bring before us most vividly the mastery of the Lord Jesus in the art of communication.

Lessons on Fellowship

He gathered His own in the privacy of His company to minister to them the great truths of fellowship. All the time He was leading them to Jerusalem, although they did not know it. First he had taken them [on] a long walk, going north from the Sea of Galilee (8:27). It was in Caesarea Philippi, far from the milling crowds, that He had the conversation with them about who He was. Having elicited the great confession of faith from His disciples, taken a few of them up into a mountain for His transfiguration and then come down to the valley and dealt with the demon-possessed boy, He led them on their way south: "They went forth from thence, and passed through Galilee" (9:30). Mark gives us some route marks:

9:33 "They came to Capernaum." Back on home ground.

10:1 "He arose from thence and cometh into the borders of Judea beyond Jordan," making His way south and crossing over the Jordan.

10:32 "They were in the way going up to Jerusalem." At last the destination is mentioned, and with that turn to Jerusalem, Mark notes an increasing sense of foreboding as the Lord takes up again what we read at the beginning of our present passage, His death and resurrection concerning which we read: "But they understood not the saying, and were afraid to ask him" (9:32).

10:46 "They come to Jericho." The journey goes on.

11:11 "He entered into Jerusalem." Step by step Mark has been bringing us on the way to this destination of Jerusalem and the cross.

In our remaining studies we will divide up our subject matter according to these route marks, following the Lord not just as a traveller but as our great Teacher.

The verses under our present consideration [9:30-50] continue the personal tuition of the disciples so we are informed that "He would not that any man should know it". The period of private instruction ends with this chapter, for 10:1 tells us how they went forward and the work of teaching the multitudes was taken up again. We see, then, that at 10:1 the private time with the disciples has ended. This seems to me to underline the importance of the passage which lies before us. The Lord Jesus had put a fence around His disciples because He had particular things to say to them, the subject being fellowship, how to enjoy being in the company of those who love the Lord Jesus.

Fellowship Imperilled

No sooner had the Lord Jesus intimated to them that the end of their journey was to be the cross, death and resurrection, than fellowship becomes imperilled. "They came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, What were ye reasoning in the way?" They kept silent, for in the way they had been disputing as to who was the greatest. One commentator, perhaps imaginatively but rather helpfully, pictures the Lord Jesus and His followers coming along a single-file path where it was evident who was coming first and who was bringing up the rear. He imagines them jockeying for position, arguing all the time as to who was more important than the others with the right to be at the head of the procession which followed the Lord. It makes the matter very clear to us if we put it that way. So we begin with the matter of fellowship imperilled by jockeying for position and desire to have the pre-eminence, but happily the chapter ends with a fellowship that has been found: "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another" (v.50).

Fellowship and the Cross

In teaching the disciples about His own career, the Lord's central emphasis is death: "They will kill him; and when he is killed ..." (v.31). But the end of the matter is not the stone-cold tomb for "after three days he shall rise again". We then notice the comment which Mark here injects: "They were afraid to ask". They were not afraid of getting it wrong or being stupid but rather, I believe, their fear was such that they would rather not know the whole story. There was something about this statement of death and rising which stopped them in their tracks and their intuitive response was that they [92/93] did not want to know any more. Matthew says that they were terribly afraid. It was to such a condition that the Lord Jesus referred when He later said, "I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now"; they would be a crushing weight on you for the full reality of the cross and its meaning would be more than you could bear. At this point Luke notes: "it was hidden from them", no doubt mercifully hidden and their inner intuition kept them from inquiring about the matter.

Every time the Lord Jesus speaks of His cross, He goes on to speak of the cross in the experience of those who follow Him. We have already seen how that He did this earlier: "If any man will come after me, he must take up his cross ..." (8:34). The course is set for every believer in the example of his Lord. Of course the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus are fundamentally much more than an example to the Church, for there is the objective factor in that He died to deal with our sin which He bare in His own body on the tree and so for us made peace With God. But in the actual carrying out of those great objective targets of salvation, the Lord Jesus set us the example of perfect living. Peter is the foremost to stress this aspect of the redemptive work of Christ: "He gave us an example, Who did no sin neither was guile found in his mouth" he wrote, and then went on to add how the Lord bore our sins in His own body on the tree. For him it was clear that Christ has set an example to His followers.

The example here is of one who went down into the full reality of death and then entered into the reality of resurrection but, as Mark makes quite plain, the disciples did not understand the meaning. All the Gospels, however, are written with the benefit of hindsight and of the full teaching of the Holy Spirit. When the Lord Jesus told His disciples that He could not divulge the whole truth to them then, for it would crush them, He also promised that when the Spirit of truth came, He would guide them into all the truth that had been necessarily kept back for a time.

True Greatness in Fellowship

In verses 33 to 37 the Lord Jesus took the disciples on a further step, explaining what it is that constitutes true greatness in His followers. They had been arguing in the way as to who was the greatest and now He took a little child and put him in the midst and said, "Look at that!" The dispute of the disciples is put in such a way as to make us marvel at its childishness. How childish they were, to jockey for the position, not for the honour of being closest to Jesus but to be recognised, so that passers-by could see who was first and who was last. How childish! Beloved, all self-importance is childish. The Lord Jesus calls us to give up being childish and to become child-like.

The Lord Jesus took up the child and made use of a double visual aid. The first is a visual aid of greatness in fellowship and the second is a visual aid of greatness in service. "He sat down, and called the twelve; and he saith unto them, If any man would be the first, he shall be the last of all, and minister of all" (v.35). He then took a little child symbolising what is small and insignificant, something that is right down at the bottom of the heap, and putting it in the midst He said, "Now that is greatness in the fellowship, the one who is the servant of all". Just as Jesus Himself took the lowest place, and by taking that lowest place came to the highest place, in accordance with what He had already told them of His death and resurrection, so He called His followers to be governed by His example. It was by going down into the reality of death that He came to the glory of the resurrection. The lowest place and the highest place coincide in His experience. In the Greek there is a little bit of a pun involved in this visual aid, for it so happens that the word for a child and the common word for a servant are the same. This is not the word used in verse 35, for there the word used is 'deacon', but the implication is the same. Greatness in the fellowship is for the one who takes the servant place. Within the fellowship we are to serve one another; as soon as self-importance leads us out of the servant's place, then we have become childish, and we have lost any true golden greatness in the estimation of Christ.

The Lord then proceeded with His second visual aid, taking the child out of the middle of the group and identifying it with Himself: "taking him in His arms". We might say 'folding him in His arms' or better still, 'wrapping His arms round him'. We don't know who this child was. They were in Capernaum and it could well have been in Andrew's or Peter's house and this one of Andrew's or Peter's children. We don't [93/94] even know if it was a boy or a girl. What we do know is that His enfolding arms give us a glorious sight of His gentleness and love. And since we are all children, we can all put ourselves into that privileged and comforting position, with His arms around us.

This is not a visual aid about being kind to children. If you want that truth you can find it in other Scriptures. The Lord is honestly not talking about setting up orphanages, adoption societies for waifs and strays, but what He is saying is that in this realm where the same word means 'a child' and 'a servant', He is talking about one who takes the lowest place for His sake, by serving within the fellowship and saying that wherever he goes, he takes the Lord Jesus with him: "Whosoever receives one of such little ones in my name, receives me". More than that, where Jesus goes the Father goes so that "whosoever receives me receives him that sent me". That is the effective service, the carrying of the message of Christ which is so winsome, so apt and so winning, that it wins the heart of the person to whom it is brought.

The Lord Jesus is saying that whoever is willing to be at the bottom of the heap within the fellowship, to be the servant of all, that person has the arms of the Lord wrapped around him, being locked into the same unity so that wherever that person goes, Christ goes, and where He goes, the Father goes, and wherever that person's ministry is received, the Son and the Father are received. Isn't it worth coveting to have the lowliest place on those terms? Isn't it worth eschewing self-importance and taking care to be delivered from it? Is it not worthwhile searching out for those occasions on which we may serve within the fellowship, for Jesus wraps His arms around those who serve; the individual life becomes a true sacrament to the Father and the Son.

True Membership of the Fellowship

John wanted to exclude someone: "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in thy name and we began to (tried to) forbid him, for he was not following us" (v.38). The Lord said to him: "Stop forbidding him, for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name and be able quickly to speak evil of me, for he that is not against us is for us. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink because you are Christ's, he shall in no wise lose his reward." The literal translation is more effective, though not good English, for it reads, "in the name that you are Christ's". Although it is an expression used in the general sense of 'because', one cannot help feeling that in this case it was deliberately chosen because it contains the word 'name'.

This unknown man was evidently a very committed person. When the Lord Jesus said, "He that is not against us is for us", He was not talking about someone who is unconcerned to criticise because he is equally unconcerned to be identified. Taken out of its context, the statement could mean that it concerns a man who is unconcerned to oppose because he is unconcerned to help. Here that was plainly not the case. We are told quite a lot about this exorcist. First of all, he was one with Jesus in His crusade against Satan; he saw the work of demons with the eyes of Jesus, that is, as something that should be fought against and banished, something that blighted people's lives and should not be allowed to do so. Secondly, he was persuaded of the personal power of Jesus to deal with the situation. The name of Jesus involves all that Jesus is in His own reality and identity, all that He is and has shown Himself to be. This man found the name of Jesus to be effective in its power.

It is rather remarkable, and a great rebuke to any who has a denominational spirit, that john wanted to excommunicate this man for succeeding in something that the apostles had failed to do. When the Lord Jesus had come down from the mountain, He met the father who told Him that he had asked them to help but they couldn't do it. It was not because they lacked the gift, for earlier the Lord had sent them forth with this power. Now, however, they could not do it, yet now they wanted to excommunicate the man who could. There, in one sentence, is the condemnation of a denominational spirit. Thirdly, this man is described by Jesus as the humble servant of Himself: "Whosoever shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble" (v.42). "Woe to you," the Lord said, "if you offend one of these little ones, who are like the ones I have used as a visual aid of the true servant."

The Lord Jesus here enunciates three principles of fellowship. The first is that the name of Jesus is the principle of association. A person may not belong to our company, but he can [94/95] belong to our fellowship because he belongs to Jesus. It was to this effect that Paul wrote to the Philippians as he looked out through his prison bars and saw people who were trying to stir up trouble for him. He didn't use any apostolic authority to excommunicate them, he did not say that because they had departed from him they were to be treated as outsiders; he simply said: "Christ is preached, and therein I rejoice". We pass from the principle of association to the principle of reward: "Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in the name that you are Christ's ...". The simplest act of loyalty is recognised in heaven. Thirdly there is the principle of retribution: "Whoever shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it were better for him that a great millstone were hanged about his neck ..." (v.42). There is a condign punishment awaiting those who offend one of Christ's little ones. So fellowship embraces all those whom God recognises as belonging to Him, that is the human end of it, but then there is the far more important divine ending that God looks down into our lives and says either 'Yes' or 'No' according to how He sees us acting and reacting in the name of Jesus.

Personal Commitment to Fellowship

It is one thing to know theoretically where our fellowship extends, but it is quite another thing to enjoy the actual fellowship where we are. Is it not the case that we find it easier to love the brother whom we have not seen than to get on well with the brother whom we do see? We rejoice and are thrilled to think of a fellowship that embraces all those of every colour and every clime, but at the same time find little enjoyment in the fellowship to which we actually belong. The Lord Jesus is so wise and practical that He turns from the wide-ranging fellowship of all those who acknowledge His name to the local fellowship in which the individual lives and moves. He challenges us with the matter of personal commitment to fellowship.

The facts are easy to grasp: "If thy hand causes thee to stumble, cut it off ...". You are not watching somebody else stumble now, you are not making one of the little ones to stumble, you are doing your own bit of stumbling. "If thy foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is good for you to enter into life limping, rather than having two feet to be cast into hell. If thine eye causes thee to stumble, cast it out. It is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell" (vv.43-45). Man's hands, feet and eyes. For them Jesus proposes here two alternative destinies: on the one hand, the kingdom of God, and on the other hand, hell.

And to whom is He talking? It is all quite individual as shown by the words, "Thou and Thee". At the beginning of our study we laboured the point that in this passage the Lord Jesus was talking privately with those who were His own. How then could He speak in this way? Well, we are all too painfully aware of the fact that Judas was among them, and it may well be that Mark was inspired to record this because in church circles there are always those who are not real. If the question has to be asked as to how we may know the difference between those who are real and those who are not, we must look into our own heart to be sure that we are real. For notice how personal and individual this is: "if thy hand offend thee ...". We may well be past-masters at cutting off other people's hands, but the words are addressed to us not about others but about ourselves. How am I to know that I am the genuine article, and not in the company of poor Judas? How am I to know if my membership of the band of disciples is real? What is the mark of the true? The answer is a personal attachment to Jesus accompanied by a determination, at whatever cost, to enter into the kingdom of heaven. It is possible to give an identical and apparently equally real testimony to the others and yet not be genuine, so I suggest that this additional factor of determination, at whatever cost, to enter into life is what makes that testimony real.

Paul voiced the same determination when he said that it was his desire, if at all possible, to experience resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:11). Not that he was in any doubt about it, for God had pledged it to him, but he expressed his resolution to leave no stone unturned to fulfil in his own life that which the Lord had in mind when He called the apostle to Himself. Here the Lord Jesus says, "Look at your hand, what are you doing? What is your actual conduct like? Are there things that should be cut off? Look at your feet. In what direction are you steering your life? Is there any tendency or trend that you should cut off? Look at your eyes. What are [95/96] your desires? Are there illegitimate longings that should be cut off? Are you willing to show by the outward reality of self-sacrificial living that your testimony is true and that you actually belong to the name of Jesus?"

So we are told to make our calling and election sure by the quality of our lives, and the Lord Jesus speaks of this as a fiery salty sacrifice: "Every one shall be salted with fire" (v.49). He is reaching back to the book of Leviticus where the use of salt and of fire are the constant elements in the sacrificial system. The two standard meanings of salt are the preservative of good and the destruction of corruption. Fire is that which makes the burnt offering a reality, so that it goes up to God in a fiery experience. Everyone shall be salted with fire. In the life of the individual believer -- every one -- there must be the experience of both the salt and the fire.

"Have salt in yourselves." Never mind about going round pouring salt on other people; let them deal with their own corruption. We have inherited in our garden what seems like the world's largest colony of slugs. Poor things, they don't like salt! We have no time to worry about the slugs in other people's gardens, we are too busy having salt for ourselves. This matter of salt and fire provides the outworking of the cutting off of hand and foot. It suggests the costly aspect of being living sacrifices, the cleansing power of the salt of the Word and the fire of the burnt offering. It carries with it the secret of true fellowship.

"Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another," the Lord said to His disciples. "Are you jockeying for position? I know what you are doing. I heard what you were saying. If you find it difficult to be harmonised with each other, then keep the salt cellar going in the direction of your own lives." In the Greek these two imperatives depend on each other, as if it were, " If you have salt in yourselves, then you will be at peace as a consequence." This is the secret of an enriching fellowship.

(To be continued)


Harry Foster

"According to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. 1 Timothy 1:11

THERE are two New Testament adjectives which are rendered "blessed" in our English versions. One involves highest praise and is never used of men, but is reserved for God Himself (e.g. Mark 14:61). The other is the familiar word, found in the Beatitudes and in a multitude of other places and often translated as "happy". This, of course, refers to people who enjoy God's blessing, but twice in 1 Timothy, Paul employs it to describe God Himself, so our verse can correctly be rendered: "according to the gospel of the glory of the happy God". This use of the word is not only unusual but it is most heart-warming, for it does us good to think of God's happiness.

If we were able to ask Peter or John or Mary, or others of the early disciples what was their happiest day, their immediate and united reply would be, 'The resurrection day; that first day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead'. I hope that I may not be thought irreverent if I suggest that this was also God's happiest day. Very early on that day the glory of the Father descended to the garden and entered that dark and silent burial cave and raised the Son from the dead (Romans 6:4). What had hitherto only been a plan and a promise became a fact: the gospel day had arrived, and its arrival filled the Father's heart with heavenly happiness.

We may rightly ask why the resurrection meant so much to Him, although we hardly need to do so. I make three suggestions.

The Perfect Son

In his Pentecostal sermon, Peter made the categorical claim concerning Jesus that "It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" [96/97] (Acts 2:24). This is a remarkable statement. As a true man Jesus could and did die, but as a perfect Man He could not be overcome by death -- the Father was obliged to loose Him from its grip. Not that there was any reluctance on God's part -- far from it -- for in this way He was able to give His final attestation concerning the perfection of Christ's human life.

Twice before, the Father had spoken from heaven to voice His deepest satisfaction with His Son, and on this third day He gave His third affirmation, and He did so in an emphatic way, by deeds as well as words, in His action of raising Him up from the dead. Paul explained this in his preaching by saying: "He raised up Jesus; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Acts 13:33).

The Lord Jesus had been perfect in His daily life at Nazareth. After thirty years of simple living in what are often called "the hidden years", He went out to Jordan and, after He was baptized, heard the Father's glad acclamation: "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22). He had also been perfect in the few years of His public ministry. Not long before the crucifixion, He took three disciples with Him up into the Mount of Transfiguration where they heard the second utterance of this kind: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 17:5). He had emerged from all the exposure and peculiar tests of public life and service to God with His full perfection untarnished. Then came the biggest test of all, the challenge of obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. The Lord Jesus did not fail. He maintained His perfection of character right through to the cross.

It was now up to the Father to give His final expression of satisfaction, and on the third day He did so by the miracle of resurrection. God is not impulsive. He is strong enough to wait. For His own wise reason He did wait, but on the third day He "declared Jesus to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection of the dead" (Romans 1:4). May I not rightly suggest, then, that this was God's happiest day.

He who is Father as well as Creator, had longed from all eternity to have this kind of son, but He had never found perfection, not even in the most outstanding of His servants. Let there be no doubt about this; perfection could never be found in the human race until Jesus came. The psalmist describes how God Himself looked down from heaven to see if there were any who could bring Him this kind of gratification, with the sad verdict that there was none, "No, not one" (Psalm 14:3). There were many whom He loved, but not one who could measure up to His holy desires.

Then Jesus came! Truly Son of Man as well as Son of God, He passed every test, even the supreme test of Calvary. The centurion who was on duty at the cross was so overwhelmed by the majesty of His dying that he was forced to exclaim: "Truly this man was God's Son" (Mark 15:39). That day of the crucifixion was followed by the remarkable "high sabbath" of the second day. There was silence in heaven and silence one earth. Was this perhaps the silence of God's satisfaction? We do not know. All we know is that early on the morning of the third day the Father made known His decision by the greatest thing that even He could do -- He raised Jesus by His glory and to His glory. The Son of Man is now at His Father's right hand in the place of supreme honour. This is the glory of the gospel, and it is this which makes it the gospel of our happy God.

Before we begin to think of man's benefits or our own blessings, can we not pause to marvel and rejoice that the God with whom we have to do, is a Being who crowns His satisfaction with His whole creation with the supreme joy of a perfect human Son. May I again not be thought irreverent if I say concerning our heavenly Father that His cup runneth over. What is the Christian's joy but a sharing in the overflow of divine delight? Our gospel is indeed the Good News of a happy God, and that is most glorious.

A Shared Perfection

The Scripture's reveal that what God wanted from all eternity was not just this one perfect Son but a vast family of living and obedient children. He longed to be able to announce: "These are my beloved sons in whom I am well pleased". In a limited way He can do this now, for the cross with its subsequent resurrection has made sure that the divine desire can find fulfilment. We understand that Jesus was raised from the dead not only to demonstrate His own perfection, but to prove that all His redeemed people [97/98] could now share in this perfection. So we read that "He was delivered up because of our sins and was raised up because of our justification" (Romans 4:25).

When Peter affirmed that the Lord Jesus could not be kept hold of by death, the thrust of his message was that through that death there is now the promise of eternal life to all who believe. Concerning the great task of redemption the Saviour had cried out from the cross: "It is finished!" Was this a valid claim? How can we be sure? Only because on the resurrection morning heaven attested its truth.

The strife is o'er, the battle done;

The victory of life is won;

Now be the song of praise begun,


The gospel is the gospel of a happy God because He now has an ever-growing family of those who by faith share the perfect life of His perfect Son. So much more has to be done in us to seal our final perfection, but even now, in a limited sense, God can express His good pleasure towards us, for we are "accepted in the Beloved". Ours is the gospel of the happy God because even now He has an ever-growing family of those who by faith share in all the values of redemption.

The gospel is the good news of forgiveness, a matter which in itself gives great pleasure to the heart of God. But it is more than this; because of the cross it provides an entirely new relationship between God and man, so that the perfect sinless life of the Son is actually resident in all the sons. The true believer is not only cleansed, but also indwelt. "The witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life" (1 John 5:11-12). We know only too well that we still have features of what we are by nature, but in Christ we are partakers also of the new man.

God has solved the problem -- His and ours -- by providing in Christ a new type of man who is a son of God because he participates in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). In his first Letter Peter had explained this when he wrote of the fact that by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we have been begotten again unto a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). Our relationship is more than that which we commonly associate with the word 'adoption', for ours is a genuine relationship born of a legitimate sonship: "God dealeth with you as sons" (Hebrews 12:7).

We have a new Father. The Lord Jesus referred to this on His resurrection morning when He sent the message to His disciples: "I ascend unto my Father and to your Father ..." (John 20:17). From this Father, through Christ and by the Holy Spirit, a new and perfect life has been communicated to us. We call it "eternal life", but this does not only mean that it goes on interminably (that would be a very doubtful blessing in itself), but that it is a new kind of life, namely, the perfect resurrection life of the Lord Jesus.

John affirmed this glorious truth when he wrote: "Beloved, now are we children of God" and then went on to say that this means that within us there is now this divine seed which cannot sin (1 John 3:9). At present we still have also the old adamic nature which not only can sin but cannot help sinning. Nevertheless we are now regenerate, which means that we now have the indwelling Spirit who communicates to us the life of Christ. Our business is so to learn Christ as to be continually putting off the old corrupt self and putting on the new self which is created to be like God in righteousness and holiness of truth (Ephesians 4:21-24).

God is the happy God because His gospel has made possible the impartation of Christ to each believer. If the cross of Christ had only put us back to Adam's innocency, He would have every reason for concern since, even with a completely new start, we would only fail once more. The cross has done far more than that. It has provided a new humanity, giving us another Adam to be its Head; we take our life from Christ, the Head, and it is this perfect life which brings such pleasure to the heavenly Father. More often than not, Paul is misquoted as calling Christ, "the second Adam". This is correct in the sense that the Lord Jesus has begun a new race all over again, but what the apostle actually wrote was "the last Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:45). Finality is provided in Christ. He is the last Adam as well as the second Man. To me this fits in with that cry from the cross, "It is finished". By His passion the Lord Jesus has provided full satisfaction to [98/99] the Father, not only for Himself, the Son, but for all believers who are called to share His sonship. The gospel has made our God to be the happy God; for by it He has a new humanity.

If we refer again to John's First Letter we will find the double implication of this impartation of new life from above. He tells us that "even as he is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). Faith needs facts upon which to rest, and this is the great reality of salvation, almost incredible yet stated in the inspired Scripture, that believers have a positive and vital union with Christ, even though He is now in heaven and we are still on the earth. We are not yet like Him. How we wish we were! That is a happiness which is yet in store for us, for "we know that when he is manifested, we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2). Meanwhile, however, we do have a share in His perfect life -- we are "partakers with Christ".

John was a most practical man, so he leaves no room for theorising in merely doctrinal terms, but insists that this life has to be lived out in our daily circumstances. Is his statement dogmatic that even as Christ is, so now are we? Then equally dogmatic is his challenge: "He who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk even as He walked" (1 John 2:6). We naturally rejoice at the first "even as", but we must not try to evade this other "even as", which refers to walking or manner of life.

God is pleased that we can behave as His true children now, but one wonders how often He is deprived of complete pleasure by our carelessness or self-will in this matter. He is happy that by the cross of Christ He has provided the basis for unity in the Church, so that we all have a share in the eternal fellowship of life and love of the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3) but alas, in the Church there exists much unchrist1ike lack of charity which must diminish the divine satisfaction. That is why I have written that it is only in a limited way that the Father can now look on us and say, "Behold, My beloved sons, in whom I am well pleased".

The implication of the fact that by grace we now share Christ's perfection is that by the same grace we should make it our supreme concern to be well-pleasing to our heavenly Father and, since even the Lord Jesus "learned obedience by the things which He suffered", we must be prepared to pay the price of daily following in His steps.

A Consummated Perfection

God is happy because He knows that the day will come when all His children will become truly Christlike and bring astounding glory to Him, their Father. When Jesus took His three disciples up into the Mount of Transfiguration, He informed them that they were going to see "the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1). What they saw was the pledge and foretaste of that coming kingdom in the glorified Man. Moses and Elijah were present but they were not glorified. Not yet! Peter was there but he did not at that moment realise the fullness of glory for which he was destined since he only asked to stay there as a delighted spectator. What those Old Testament saints, the New Testament apostles and all of us are to look forward to is our own participation in that glory, when the bodies of our humiliation will be made like unto the body of His glory. On that day the Father will truly be able to exclaim: "Behold, My beloved sons in whom I am well pleased". The kingdom of God will indeed have come with power when there are gathered around Christ the "many sons" whom He has brought to glory.

Paul tells us that this will be when the Lord Jesus, our Saviour, appears from heaven (Philippians 3:21). He also describes the Second Advent as the day of "the manifestation of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19). In another place he reminds us that the heart of the gospel is "Christ in you the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). When that hope is realised it will mean that the perfection of sonship will have been consummated in the sons of God, to the good pleasure of their Father. For us this is all future, but it is certain. So far as the eternal God is concerned, the glory is already fully secured in Christ and only awaits the day chosen by Him for its manifestation.

For the time being, we are not recognised by the world to be sons of God and at times we ourselves are far from feeling as if we were, but, thank God, it does not depend on appearances or feelings, but on the mighty stream of living power which flows to us from the Father through the Son by the Spirit. God already sees us as we will be on that day of glory. What is more, He knows just when it will be. He knows! Nobody else does. Daniel, the great seer, spoke about it but he did not know when it would be. The apostles gloried in it and lived in [99/100] daily expectation of it, but none of them knew when it would take place. None of the angels, not even Gabriel, is aware of the actual day. But God knows, and that is what makes Him the happy God.

We groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption and the resurrection body of glory. The whole creation groans in expectation of that day of deliverance and fulfilment. God does not groan. He is supremely happy, for He knows exactly when it will occur. He has determined the Day and He will keep faith with Himself, with His Son and with His many sons, in being right on time when He displays to a wondering universe redeemed sinners who are radiant with the beauty of Christ's perfect holiness. Then perfection will be consummated so that without reservation God will be able to announce: "Behold, My beloved sons, in whom I am well pleased". That is the glorious Good News of the happy God and in anticipation of that glory we share in His happiness.

It would be unrealistic to ignore the strange mysteries of that coming glory. So far as the saints are concerned, we may well wonder how there can be perfect satisfaction if some of them have failed to fight the good fight and to finish their course. We thrill at the promises given to him that overcomes, but we are inclined to question, 'What about those who have failed to overcome?' I do not know the answer to this query, nor am I convinced that it is a valid question for us to ask. What I do know is that my heavenly Father is encouraging me not to faint when He rebukes me and not to despise His chastening work, but always to remember that His purpose is to conform me to the image of my Saviour, who is the perfect Son. I am also coming to learn that it is most unseemly for any child of the Father to lend his tongue or pen, his ear or eyes to criticisms and condemnation of other children of God. As Alec Motyer rightly says, "The division of Christians is the sin of fratricide ".

Then there is the sad question of those whom the Scriptures describe as lost. How can God be happy if so many of His creatures will be excluded from His family when they might have been included in it? Here again, I just do not know. It is certain that many will be so excluded. To me the word 'Hell' is an ugly word and the older I get the less inclined I am to make use of it, but that is not because it is not a reality. Far from it! I find nothing more tragic than the thought of people permanently excluded from God's kingdom of love; excluded, moreover, by their own blindness and willful choice. It does not bear thinking about, except as it spurs me on to more fervent prayer and faithful witnessing so that some, at least, might be saved from such "eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

In spite of all this, ours is the happy God. We are not called upon to understand all the hidden things of His sovereignty, but we are called upon to be earnest and consecrated in our obedience to His Word. As Moses told the people of God in his day: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29). [100/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(For Solomon had made a brasen scaffold, of five cubits long,
and five cubits broad, and three cubits high, and had set it
in the midst of the court; and upon it he stood, and kneeled
down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and
spread forth his hands toward heaven:
)" 2 Chronicles 6:13

THE narrative in the book of Kings makes no mention of this structure. Clearly the chronicler wished to draw our attention to Solomon's great prayer. The term he used for scaffold was the word "laver" and, what is more, its dimensions were exactly the same as those of the Tabernacle's brasen altar (Exodus 27:1). Why is this matter so emphasised?

FIRSTLY because this was a most important prayer. It was essential that all the congregation of Israel should not only hear the words but actually see their interceding king stand before this large altar with his hands outstretched to heaven.

IT must have been a dramatic moment when they all saw the king fall down upon his knees before God. Strange as it may seem, before this no person is ever said to have prayed while kneeling in this way. Others followed, but in the Scriptural record, Solomon was the first to do so.

ONLY once are we told that Jesus knelt in prayer. It was on that outstanding occasion when He agonised in Gethsemane (Luke 22:41). Then that most Christlike man, Stephen, also knelt in his last moment as he made his final plea for his murderers (Acts 7:60).

SURELY this act of kneeling down signified complete submission. Those were days of great spiritual heights for Solomon, and it must have moved the people mightily to see their king down on his knees in this way. The brass platform ensured that everyone could see this symbolic action as well as note the prayer.

AND what shall we say of our much greater King and His costly submission to the Father as He humbly accepted the cup of suffering given to Him? We need no brass dais to focus our attention on this sacrifice of His or to lift Him above His people. He is now exalted to the highest place. He is not on His knees now, but is seated on the royal throne of heaven.

EVEN there, though, He continues to intercede for us. The great glory of His elevation is based upon the fact that He first knelt in holy submission to the Father's will. The King upon His knees is the King upon the throne. And we owe everything to His mighty intercessions.

AS Stephen followed so closely in the Master's steps, so must we learn this lesson. Spiritually we must bow the knee if we are to engage upon the holy task of intercession.


[Back cover]

Ephesians 4:3

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