"... 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. 15, No. 3, May - June 1986 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

The Quiet In The Land 41
The Spirit In Romans 8 (3) 42
Let Him Who Boasts Boast In The Lord (2) 46
Truth And Life (4) 51
Times Of Refreshing (1) 55
Life In The Heavenlies (3) 57
Old Testament Parentheses (21) ibc



Poul Madsen


THE significance of the story of Ruth lies in the fact that it tells of happenings during those distressing days when the Judges ruled. From time to time during that era God brought help to His people through these individuals who did their specific tasks by faith but who mostly proved faulty characters whose work was limited in its duration.

Apart from the inspiring and admirable Deborah, I do not find among the great judges those qualities of character that I could wish to see. In certain points I can look up to them. They were brave when the Lord sent them. They were active in the tasks committed to them. But as regards holiness and likeness to the Lord, they seem to me to have proved sadly lacking. We are told that it was by faith that they accomplished their great deeds, but we feel that their personal relationship to the Lord tended to remain superficial.

We turn from the book of Judges to this little book and here we encounter three unheroic characters, Boaz, Naomi and Ruth, who came to no prominence but were "the quiet in the land" (Psalm 35:20). Their story is recorded in the Holy Scriptures because, in the long run, theirs was the most significant and lasting service to God and to His people. From their lineage came the king David and later great David's greater Son. Their story gives us the other side of the book of Judges and it shows how God answered the cry of Israel not only by giving them those who became public figures by their acts of deliverance, but by sending them -- even from Moab -- those who could be described as the quiet in the land.

These very ordinary people were not great figures in their own lifetime, but God has kept their record for posterity: they were hidden from the eyes of men but they counted much for Him. And so it is today. I am sure that there are modest saints here in Denmark who count more for the Lord than some of us who are on the platform and in the public eye. I think of some farmers or business men who resemble Boaz in that nobody publicises them, but their names and their godly behaviour arc recorded in the heavenly books. There are unrecognised devoted women who will be found to have meant much to God's purposes when the final story is told.

What did Ruth really do? She just told her mother-in-law that she would always be faithful to her and to her God. Nobody except Naomi took note of that decision. It could not be regarded as an exploit of any significance in Israel, yet it was of the utmost importance to Israel's history. In such unadvertised decisive choices, great spiritual purposes can sometimes be realised. Ruth must have fought with herself when she took the path to Bethlehem with Naomi for she literally forsook her own interests to go to a land where -- as a Moabitess -- she had no right of entry and no future. She could not have known then that this path would lead to her becoming a famous Israelite.

Having arrived at Bethlehem she faithfully helped her old mother-in-law by going out to glean in the fields, so engaging in the lowest task which the destitute were allowed to perform. We know that this proved to be the key to the whole future destiny of those concerned, but for her it only represented a humble willingness to serve. Such hidden service is far more difficult than to be given a conspicuous position in the harvest field of the world where everyone notices what you are doing. Spirituality, however, is best expressed in the hidden choices of daily life when the conscience hears and obeys God's call and chooses to follow in faith and serve in humility, as Ruth did. [41/42]

Naomi is rather a tragic figure who began in sorrow but who was able at the end to rejoice in God's faithfulness to her. Her only contribution was trust -- but that is a most vital contribution to God's plans for His people. And what shall we say of the godly Boaz whose character was revealed in his treatment of his workers on the farm and especially in that extra touch of kindness when he ordered bundles on purpose to be provided for the forlorn stranger? These would hardly seem to be matters for reports to be made in the accounts of what happened in Israel. In the history of God's kingdom, however, they are important in quite a different way from what might be reflected by publicity and statistics. They are mighty because of their spiritual content and not because of their sensational character. They are effective, though they have been done in quietness and purity and humility, without any kind of publicity.

There are differences between the equipment of the Spirit with some gift and the spirituality of character which is all important. It is possible to be fully extended in what we are doing for the Lord and yet not growing in a personal knowledge of Him, as I know to my cost. There is nothing greater than to learn to know the Lord. This knowledge, however, is only gained slowly and often painfully by those whose secret choices, known only to Him, are directed towards a deep sense of what is His will.

The greatest gift which the Spirit can give us is faithfulness. To maintain a life near to God, to spend time in the prayer chamber, to spread the spirit of goodness, purity and gentleness, love and helpfulness, these are the unadvertised virtues of the "quiet in the land" which can mean so much for the great purposes of God. Such people do not seek their own, even as Christ did not seek His own, but let nobody question their true importance in the kingdom of God. I suggest that one of the purposes of this little book of Ruth is to remind us that in the midst of circumstances as unpromising as those described in the book of Judges, and in contrast to the public figures who may have their part to play, God looks for simple and devoted souls -- the quiet in the land.



Michael Wilcock


"WE ourselves also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit" (v.23). The firstfruits are the foretaste, the sample of what is to come, the guarantee that the rest is on its way. In the Old Testament they represent the beginning of the harvest, the first sheaf and the first bunch of grapes. The word speaks of a guarantee of good things yet to come in abundance, as if saying, This is only a small part of the whole, but the rest will surely come. That wonderful future is summed up in the one word 'glory'.

At the end of verse 17 we have read: "If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him." The suffering is one way of looking at our present life: the glory is something which is still in the future. This was the pattern that our Lord went through, as He explained to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus; first suffering and then entering the glory. The lesson was not lost on the early Church. Paul preached this truth: "Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). [42/43] Occasionally we may get a glimpse of the glory, as the three disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration, but for the vast majority of us there may be no such vision until the reality of the inheritance is fulfilled in eternity.

This passage begins with the word 'For' and it continues to use the same word to express a sequence (vv.19, 20, 22 & 24). In my first article I spoke about a building of various storeys with a view from the top storey. Then we were thinking about verses 1 and 2 and the way up in the experience of deliverance from the bondage of sin. It may help us to use a similar illustration here. There is the top floor which enables me to say that incomparable glory still awaits us. Now what is that based upon? Let me take you one floor further down, "FOR the creation ...". And so on. Paul starts at the top storey, and each level is based upon something below it. We will start at the top floor and work downwards. There are eight verses but there are six storeys.

1. Glory

"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which is to be revealed in us" (v.18). Many versions speak of the glory which is to be revealed to us but we are not just going to be spectators, sitting back and watching God do something. The meaning is more like the glory being revealed into us. We are not to be mere onlookers; glory is what God will actually do in us. What is glory? It cannot mean luminosity, as though the great aim an object of the Christian life were that we should end up as immortal electric light bulbs. It must mean something more than mere light. It may perhaps help us if we change from the noun to the adjective and speak of that which is glorious. When that day comes what God is going to do for us and in us will be simply glorious. We will say, 'What a glorious place to be in! What a glorious experience this is! I couldn't have described it in words, anyway down there on the earth, but now I am here I realise how glorious it is.'

We know that it is that which altogether outweighs the sufferings of this world and life here below:

O day for which creation

And all its tribes were made!

O joy, for all its former woes

A thousandfold repaid!

What we shall have on that last day is something which we cannot explain, we cannot begin to understand. It will be a glory which is so outstanding that it will outweigh and compensate a million times for everything that there has been in this life.

2. The Creation

"For the creation awaits with eager longing the revealing of the sons of God" (v.19). Maybe it is worth remembering that the great and glorious future is first and foremost the future of the people of God; they are at the heart of this whole scheme. What God is aiming for is not just a general renovation of all things; He is aiming at our renovation. The glory that is to be revealed is to be the glory of Christ in His people.

Having said that, however, we note that the whole creation is to affected by what happens to us. Man is very good at spoiling God's creation. It must be over twenty years ago now that the whole ecological conservationist movement, then in its infancy, received a great boost from a writer called Rachel Carson, who wrote a book called Silent Spring. In this book she high-lighted certain things which were going on in the world, caused by man's misuse of some of his abilities which basically had the best of intentions. His actions are having spin-offs for which he had not bargained. For instance, he used DDT to poison pests, but those pests were eaten by other creatures so that the DDT passed into them, and the process continued in a chain right up into his own food. The thing had got out of control; all kinds of things were being poisoned because of the original pesticide. Man, without necessarily intending to do so, can spoil his environment doing things that have incalculable risks.

The glorious thing about this present verse is that it speaks of a day when the very opposite will be true; man will be redeemed to God and the whole of God's creation will receive the benefits of the glory which God bestows on His [43/44] people. The whole of creation is waiting on tip-toe for the revealing of the sons of God, as if knowing that its destiny is bound up with the destiny of redeemed mankind. Maybe we do not think of this as often as we might. We read, for example, of the day when the world as we know it will be rolled up and done away with, to be replaced by new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness reigns. But that will be the result of God's people having been glorified. We read in Matthew 19:28 of our Lord's promises of the renewal of all things. The Greek word is paliggenesia which means that God will do Genesis all over again, but that re-making of the whole universe depends upon the re-making of God's people. It is their day of glory which will fill the rest of God's creation with glory, doing away with the creation as we know it and replacing it with a brand new one. God plans to bring glory to His people, and through them to make all things new.

3. Futility

"For the creation was subjected to futility ..." (v.20). We are still considering the building and noting what the previous storey was based upon. Why does the creation long for the great Day? Because it has been made subject to futility. Some translations render this 'fallacy' and 'emptiness', and perhaps the best way to render it is 'frustration'. Nothing ever gets permanently fulfilled; all the great achievements of mankind sooner or later crumble to dust. Sooner or later it all wears out and runs down. It disintegrates because it cannot be permanent. Paul tells us that this is no accident and ultimately it is not, in a sense, man's fault, though Genesis 3 gives a very interesting background to what is said here. It is God who has subjected, and He has done so 'in hope'.

After the first sin in the Garden of Eden, God said to Adam: "Cursed is the ground because of you ... thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you ... In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground." This tells us that man himself is going to run down and wear out and return to the dust. By dint of a great deal of sweat in a world which naturally produces its thorns and thistles, he will be able to keep down the weeds and grow wheat, but the creation is going against him, and it is his own fault. The whole thing is a struggle against something which is actually working in the opposite direction. "Cursed is the ground because of you."

Paul tells us, however, that there is a deeper reason. It is not the fault of the creation itself and not only the fault of man, for behind it all there is the One who did the actual subjecting. It was God Himself who decided that since man is a sinner, therefore this would be the result in the creation around him. God decreed the futility of the whole world, allowing it to work, more or less, with seedtime and harvest, cold and heat never actually ceasing, making sure that it does not altogether disintegrate, but making it unable to work as He wanted it to.

But God subjected it to futility in hope. God built something else into the scheme. Because of Adam's sin God decreed that all through the rest of its existence as it is now, the world will be characterised by futility, frustration, vanity, emptiness, but at the end of it all there will be hope. Right through until the Second Coming of Christ there will be futility with hope.

4. Decay

What is beneath that? Let me take you down one more flight to the storey which lies underneath this one. "Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of decay into the liberty of the glory of the children of God" (v.21). There used to be stories of a little American girl, Pollyana, who played the Glad Game by always trying to find something to be glad about in every situation. Now suppose we took anti-pollyana attitude to life, it would not be difficult to take a thoroughly bleak, pessimistic view of the world, looking even at the good things and finding something wrong somewhere. The trouble is that in one sense we would be right. There is always something wrong, some flaw, some crack, if we are cynical enough to look for it.

Paul calls this bondage -- 'bondage to decay'. But he also speaks of glorious liberty; the creation is to be liberated. And while it will be glorious, [44/45] the force of his words is that it will be "the liberty of glory". On that great Day when hope comes true and the sons of God are revealed, glory will replace decay by a divine liberation. And this will all be a part of the glory which is spoken of in so many places in the Scriptures, summed up by the Lord's declaration that He will make all things new (Revelation 21:5). In other words, the glory will reverse the process of decay; everything which has been loss and pain and sorrow in this world will be reversed.

The bondage will be ended; the chains will be broken; the prison will be opened; we will all come out and those things we have lost will be replaced by what is a million times better. None of us knows the details, but we are assured that whatever we have enjoyed here we will enjoy far more there, and all the pain and loss will be gone for ever. Glory, whatever it means, is the very opposite of decay and will bring a complete reversal of all the running down, the wearing out, the pain and tears of this present life.

5. Groaning

"We know that the whole creation groaneth ... and not only so ... even we groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption ..." (vv.22-23). The key word here is 'groaning'. Paul uses the expression 'until now' not to say that just then it would stop, but rather that it has always been groaning, is still groaning and it will continue to groan. So here are we, he says, even though we have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groaning in these mortal bodies which are still a part of the whole decaying creation. As the years go by, we are less able to do what we used to be able to do, we ourselves know frustration in some realms for we recognise that the Holy Spirit who lives in us is only the firstfruits of what is to come. He has told us that He will yet change our mortal bodies, but for that we will have to wait awhile until the great Day of our full adoption.

We are already truly God's sons, but the day is coming when our actual bodies will be redeemed. That is the Day we look forward to, the day of glory, the day in the future when our adoption will be complete. Naturally we groan now, because we have not yet arrived and are all too aware of the mortality of our bodies, and as we groan, so does the whole creation, because it is waiting on us. A Day is coming when all the groaning will stop, and that takes us at last to the ground floor.

6. Hope

"It was in hope that we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope ... but if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" (vv.24-25). These are not easy verses but they do underlie all the rest. Hope is an intrinsic part of the gospel, it is a key thought in the New Testament. The very word implies that all things are not yet as they should be and there is something better to come. Those who believe in the Christian hope accept that there are lots of good things which we still have not seen.

We hope for that which we do not see. This means that we recognise that this life is not all and present experiences are only the beginnings. We do not expect to have the fullness here; we do not expect total healing; we do not expect everything to go right. We accept the fact that we do not have all we could wish for here: that is part and parcel of believing in hope. We have to learn patience, which is another New Testament word. It does not, however, mean only passive resignation. That is not at all what Biblical patience is about. It rather means endurance and perseverance; it is active and eager in its expectation, saying that it can cope with today because it knows that good things are coming tomorrow. It will stick it; it will go the extra mile; it can take some few more steps because it knows what lies ahead.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Do you note once again that although in one way the Holy Spirit is the theme of this whole chapter, at every stage He points away from Himself. In this passage He is hardly mentioned, except for that meaningful and pregnant phrase, 'the firstfruits of the Spirit'. What the Spirit is doing here is to point us on ahead, telling us that what we know of Him now is only the beginnings, the samples, the foretastes. He points on to the glorious Day when the sons of God will come into their own. He tells us to look at that prospect, to think of it, to let it colour all that we do here and now.

(To be continued) [45/46]


(Studies in 1 Corinthians 1 to 4)

Eric Alexander

2. THE WISDOM OF GOD (1:18 - 2:16)

THE basic problem in the Church at Corinth was that they were boasting in human achievement, absorbed with the importance of men, being man-centred rather than God-centred. This man-centredness is the specific disease which Paul deals with in the first four chapters of the Epistle. All through his teaching on the Church Paul's great emphasis is upon God's initiative in man's salvation, His sovereignty in all His dealings with men and, above all, His sovereign purpose for the Church. In our present passage the apostle shows us that the spirit of man-centredness is a gross distortion of the whole manner in which God reveals His wisdom and displays His power.

There are four areas where God exalts His glory and excludes human boasting. They are:

1. In the nature of the gospel (1:18-25)

Paul had introduced this section by what is a kind of bridge verse: "Christ sent me not to baptise but to preach the gospel; not in wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made void." Now in verse 18, he proceeds to explain to us how God has displayed His wisdom and power in the nature of the gospel. The message of the gospel is described as "the word of the cross" and nowhere is the glory of God more fully displayed or more jealously guarded than in the cross of Jesus Christ.

The word, or the message, of the cross tells of God's whole method of saving sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And nothing so effectively humbles the natural man as the full revelation of that gospel. I think that it may be important to add that it is possible so to manipulate the message as to evacuate it of this essence and so rid it of that stumbling-block to human pride, that skandalon which Paul describes in verse 23. That is, it is possible for us so to lay emphasis on a gospel appeal which merely invites people to Jesus to sort out their problems and make them happy, that neither is God exalted nor man humbled. The essence of the message of the gospel is that it does both of these things. When, however, our concentration is upon asking people to come to Jesus because He will be the One to sort out all their confusion and problems and troubles and difficulties, this does not necessarily happen. 'Are you unhappy? Come to Jesus! Are you dissatisfied, are you empty and mixed up? Then come to Jesus! He will deal with all your problems for you.'

Now can we see what happens by that manipulation of the gospel? What happens is that man is left at the centre. In a sense it makes God man's servant. There is something really important here for we are not thereby dealing with the real problem of man, nor are we dealing with the real essence of the gospel of the cross of Christ, because the message of the cross does not just deal with the symptoms of man's condition. Those troubles are all symptoms of man's basic problem, but the message of the cross goes to the root of the disease. It exposes what is at the very heart of the human dilemma, and the heart of that dilemma is not what sin does to me --- though in God's name that is drastic enough -- nor what sin does to other people -- although you cannot be in the pastoral ministry for very long without finding how the lives of men and women are wrecked by the reality of sin as it touches them -- but the ultimate dilemma which the gospel comes to deal with is what it does to God. [46/47]

When Paul begins his exposition of the gospel, he tells us, "I am not ashamed of the gospel ... for therein is the righteousness of God revealed ... for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness ..." (Romans 1:16-18). Sin draws down upon it the wrath of a holy God. And the cross of Jesus, the heart of the gospel, is dealing ultimately with this problem, and it exposes man's pride, his worship and service of self rather than of God. It shows the desperate seriousness of that condition in the light of God's holiness and wrath, and man's utter inability to do anything about his plight. At the same time it exalts God as the only Saviour. Nowhere is the glory of God more fully displayed than in the cross of Christ. His holiness, love, justice and truth, His compassion and grace, His wisdom and power are displayed above all other places in the cross of Jesus.

It is precisely because God has on the cross so displayed His own glory that every opportunity for human pride has been excluded. The cross is an offence to the natural man, and we must never seek to remove that offence which lies the very core of the gospel. Whether to the Greek pride of intellect or the Jewish pride or religion, the message of the cross is unacceptable. It is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

You will notice that here two groups are described. There are those who are perishing and those who are being saved, with present participles which speak of an incomplete process. The first group are those who are moving towards a day of final destruction. The second group are those who are moving towards the final day of full salvation. It is their relation to the message of the cross which puts them in these categories. Those who are perishing, perish because the message of the cross is offensive to them; it is foolishness. Now the word for 'foolishness' is a close relation to the word which we have taken into our English language, the word moron. They regard this as moronic! For us who are being saved, however, it is not only the power but also the wisdom of God.

It is in the cross of Christ that God's power is supremely revealed. Have you grasped that, dear friends? The place where God's power is supremely revealed is not in the astonishing feats of God's creation or preservation of the universe, but in the redemption of sinners through the blood of His Son. It is in the gospel that the arm of the Lord is made bare. He has set forth that power and wisdom so that human power and wisdom are excluded. Paul supports this principle in three ways.

i. It is true Biblically

It is written: "I will frustrate the wisdom of the wise" (1:19). Paul wants to demonstrate that what he is saying is neither novel nor peculiar to himself, but Biblical. Throughout these chapters there are frequent quotations with the formula, "As it is written" (1:31, 2:9, 3:19). To the apostle this is the fundamental issue; he is tied to the truth of the Scriptures. He quotes God as saying that He will set aside or reject the intelligence of the intelligent, pointing back to the words of Isaiah 29:14. It is clear that salvation for Israel was never a matter of human ingenuity. They had to learn to stand still and see the salvation of God.

Isaiah's reference concerns the occasion when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was planning to conquer Judah. God told the prophet not to worry or fear because the king's plans would most certainly fail. The reason that the plans of God's enemies would fail had nothing to do with the strength of Judah's army, the strategy of Judah's king or the subtlety of the king's advisers. Jerusalem would be saved solely by God's power without any human help. God was so eager to display this that He took up the wisdom of men, set it aside, and rejected it.

Now this is the God whose gospel we are preaching, says Paul. The commentator adds something which is very much to the point. The wisdom of Hezekiah's advisers was very much like that which was trying to magnify itself in Corinth; it emanated not from God but from godless thinking. The only way in which we deliver ourselves by God's grace from being infected by worldly thinking and a worldly cast of mind even in relation to the gospel, is by soaking ourselves in Holy Scripture, as the apostle did at all times and here displays and supports his principle Biblically. [47/48]

ii. It is true Contemporarily

Paul also supports his principle contemporarily (v.20). He asks these rhetorical questions. Now I believe that the apostle is generally referring to his modern contemporary world, although the quotations that he seems to be using come from places like Isaiah 19:12, which of course is Biblical too. He asks what are the important things: "Where is the wise man?" he asks rhetorically. "Where is the scholar, where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" The expected answer, of course, is that He has done just that.

You see when it comes to the real issues man has no answer. The apostle is pointing to the contemporary world, asking us to observe what has happened to the wisdom of men. People are driven to ask the ultimate questions. Where are the great thinkers and the great philosophers; where is the wisdom of this world in which we put such reliance? Of course it is not that we decry what man has done; the Scriptures have no interest in detracting from human achievements, but the question is: Where has it got us? We need to confront this modern world with the question, Where has the wisdom of men got us? Our technology has advanced to the point which would have seemed ludicrous day-dreaming to our forefathers. Now we can control so much and accomplish such astonishing things. We can take a man to the moon, bring him back again and land him within a square mile of the area where we had intended, but when we are facing the real issues of life and the real agonizing crisis of man's world, we have no answer. Statesmen are trembling as they take these problems into their hands, leaving us all to confess that while we can control a man's journey to the moon, we cannot control his behaviour here on earth. So we can have men on the moon and hell on earth at one and the same time, and we are not able to do anything about it.

We hold conferences, and we gather together the think-tanks and brains of all different kinds. That is where the modern world places its confidence. The apostle validly challenges this. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar of this age? Has not God made foolish this world's wisdom? Of course He has. He has done so by accomplishing what the world has failed to accomplish, and in doing so He has dismissed the world's wisdom as folly.

That is why it is so important for us to have our confidence in God and the gospel and why in God's name we dare not betray a sick and needy world by allowing our confidence to drift anywhere else -- even marginally. We must be firm in our belief that it is only in the gospel of God that hope is to be found for the modern world.

iii. It is true Theologically

"Seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the thing preached to save them that believed" (v.21). Why is it that in the gospel human pride is brought to nothing and human wisdom shown up in its poverty? Paul tells us that it is a matter of the sovereign pleasure of God. There is a kind of threefold divine decree expressed in this verse, negatively and positively. Negatively that God has decreed in His wisdom that the world will never come to know Him by its wisdom and positively that God has been pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

We notice the verbs employed: Jews demand signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach and God calls. We do not respond to the demands for signs or attempt to provide the arguments in terms of wisdom. We do not tailor our ministry or message to the demands or requirements of men. The Jews may 'demand' and the Greeks may 'seek after', but the verbs we stress are that we 'preach' and God 'calls'.

There is always a great temptation, in desiring to be up-to-date and relevant in our modern world, to tailor our methods and our message to the demands and requirements of men. God knows we need to know the world; it is important to do that, for irrelevance is a sin and not a quality. But the nature of our message must never be merely a response to what Jews demand or Greeks require. It is a proclamation of unchanging truth in a given gospel. That is a vital principle for us to grasp. As we preach Christ and Him crucified, the man who worships human reason will undoubtedly dismiss it as folly, but the [48/49] mysterious and glorious thing is that as we do so preach Him, the sovereign God who calls men to Himself will draw both the self-righteous Jew and the proud Greek to experience the power and wisdom of God in the profound simplicity of the gospel.

May I apply this a little to our contemporary world? It seems to me that we are experiencing a crisis of confidence in these areas. A crisis of confidence in the gospel itself, in God's power of salvation. Am I absolutely clear who it is and what it is that saves men? It is neither human gift, wisdom, new methodology nor intellectual skill: it is the power of the gospel.

The other crisis of confidence is related to preaching as the primary method which God has ordained for proclaiming Christ crucified in the revealing of His power and His wisdom. You will notice that the power of God is not revealed in miraculous signs, the signs that the Jews demanded. There is a remarkable illustration of this in Luke 16, in the story which Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. Both died and in hell the rich man cried out that since there was a great gulf fixed between heaven and hell, someone should be sent to warn his brothers, arguing that they would believe if somebody went to them from the dead. He suggested that a miraculous sign would convince and convict and save them. Jesus put into the lips of Abraham that it was enough that they had Moses. The reply was, 'No, father Abraham, you are wrong. If somebody from the dead goes to them, they will repent', only to be contradicted with the words, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, even if one rise from the dead."

Men are to listen to the Word of God. There are some notable exceptions, but this is the God-ordained method of the revelation of the saving power of the gospel. It is a burden on my spirit that the general picture of the Church of Jesus Christ today is one of a decline in Biblical preaching. Such a decline is always historically the mark of a weakening and declining Church. We have dialogue and discussion, well thought out and well prepared; we have fellowship and sharing, often full of real Christian love; we have music and singing, most of it excellent; but there is such a dearth of Biblical preaching that needy Christians cry out, 'Will nobody feed my soul?'

In the days of Amos they staggered to and fro, from East to West and North to South and from coast to coast, searching for the Word of God and could not find it. We need to plead with God most earnestly for a new visitation of His grace in which He will raise up gifted godly pastors who will feed the flock of God by expounding and teaching His Word. They must assess their priorities so that they can take time to dig into the Word of God, pore over it, pray over it and then preach it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

2. In the constitution of the Church (1:26-31)

God exalts His glory and excludes human boasting in the membership of His Church. 'Look around you' says Paul, 'Who are the people whom God has called and brought into His Church in Corinth? According to worldly standards there are not many who are wise or powerful. On the contrary, God seems to have chosen those who by human reckoning are foolish, low and despised. He seems to have gone out of His way to select those who are nonentities in men's eyes.' If we ask why God does this, the answer is "That no flesh should glory before God" (v.29).

God's choosing of a people in Corinth was done with the specific design of showing that salvation is by His power alone. You will notice how Paul hammers home the truth that salvation is God's work and not man's by the stress on the divine call (v.26). The saving event is God's calling me, not my calling upon Him. Twice in verse 27 and once in verse 28, Paul emphasises this fact, and then in verse 30 affirms that it is by God's action that men are in Christ Jesus, and for no other reason. Verse 31 tells us that His wisdom is revealed producing righteousness to justify us, holiness to sanctify us and the redemption of our bodies to glorify us.

Christ has become for us wisdom from God. It is very clear that in calling His people in Corinth He had avoided the very possibility of self-glorification. He designed the gospel and called the Church is such a way as to exclude it. Notice that the reverse of self-glorification is not a kind of man-centred and negative obsequiousness: it is a positive glorying in the Lord. The opposite of self-glorying is not a kind of self-conscious denigration, pretending that we are [49/50] something different from what we really are. That is not a Biblical picture of humility. True Biblical humility is a positive thing; it glories in the Lord.

3. In the ministry of the preacher (2:1-5)

God exalts His glory and excludes human boasting in the ministry of His servant. Here again, Paul quite deliberately contrasts human weakness and divine power. As John Stott so rightly says, 'Neither the flesh of the sinner seeking salvation nor the flesh of the preacher seeking the salvation of others has any value. If the sinner must humble himself to receive God's word, the preacher must humble himself to proclaim it.' That principle is illustrated both in the message which Paul preached, and the manner in which he preached it. His resolve to preach only Christ crucified (v.2) is of course a use of that term to express a comprehensive summary of the entire gospel. It embraces Jesus in His perfect humanity, in His Messianic dignity, in His willing obedience to the Father even to the death of the cross, His perfect offering of Himself as a substitute for sinners, the power of His death to breach the strongholds of Satan and the reign of sin, and our union With Him in that death and His subsequent resurrection and the guarantee by His atonement of His ultimate enthronement and ours with Him. All of that is the fulfilment of what God has spoken of in the Scriptures. To preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified is to preach the whole counsel of God. It does not allow for just a fragment of the gospel. Paul did not say that he had decided just to concentrate on one aspect of the gospel. "Jesus Christ and him crucified" involves the exploration of the riches of the glory of the cross and the whole panorama of the gospel. The trouble is that we do not explore it enough.

However not only the message which Paul preached but the manner in which he preached it bore witness to the fact that the power and the glory belonged to the gospel and not to Paul. These verses show the zeal that burned in the apostle's heart, a zeal that nothing whatsoever should distract the people's attention from the centrality of the Lord and the message of Christ crucified. So he eschewed all reliance on human gifts, capacities and powers. He exercised them but he did not rely on them. It is probable that the weakness of which he speaks was bodily weakness with which God had entrusted him. It seems that the apostle did not, as we say, enjoy good health. Like many of God's choice servants, he was plagued by bodily sickness, exacerbated and compounded by the exhausting experiences in Greece before he came to Corinth and then the effect of preaching in this notoriously wicked city. He had learned in a sensible way that God's strength is made perfect in human weakness, so he was able to glory in his infirmity.

The lesson is that Paul's methodology was controlled by the same principle which controlled his message, namely the centrality of God instead of man and confidence in God which excluded confidence in men. It is vital that our methodology should be subjected to that kind of scrutiny. We must refuse to employ methods which betray confidence in men rather than in God and draw attention to man rather than to God. Paul's great concern was that through his message and the methods by which he proclaimed it, there should be a demonstration of the power of God. His concern was that their faith might not rest on man's wisdom but on the power of God. At the end of the day that is what matters.

4. In the revelation of the truth (2:6-16)

All that the apostle has been saying so far has a kind of negative emphasis, calculated to minimise human wisdom and worldly power. He now turns more positively to the way in which God reveals His wisdom: "Howbeit we speak wisdom among the mature ..." (v.6). Paul says that this is not like the wisdom of men. We note the contrast in verses 6 and 7. The point about the wisdom of this age and of the princes of this age is that it is passing away. Divine wisdom, however, is unchanging and eternal, having been destined before the world began. Human wisdom is doomed to come to nothing and bring its devotees with it. God's wisdom is hidden; it has unfathomable depths. The apostle is eager that we shall not come to the end of Chapter 2 without making us know that there are depths in the wisdom of God which will take us all eternity to fathom.

God's plan of salvation was made before time began. It is hidden and secret in the sense that natural skills do not enable us to grasp it. Brilliant intelligence may be baffled by it. The wisdom of God is not known by human research but only [50/51] by divine revelation, and that revelation is the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit as Paul is now about to expound to us. Will you follow me as I trace the stages by which Paul shows the process of revelation:

Stage I. God the Father decrees and prepares His wisdom before time begins, with the purpose of the glorification of His people. Here is God working out the details of His perfect wisdom in the plan for our full redemption before time was. It begins in the secret mind and purpose of God.

Stage II. The Holy Spirit searches the deep things of God. You will notice that no human mind can do this; "Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not ..." (v.9) have been revealed to us through the Spirit. Here is a ministry of the Spirit that we seldom think of. He ransacks the deep things of God in order to bring them to us. This is an astonishing thought, that the Spirit plumbs the depths of God's wisdom in order to bring that wisdom to us.

Stage III. What the Spirit searches He reveals to the apostle: "... unto us God revealed them" (v.10). The tense of this verb is aorist and the words "to us" emphatic, so that we accept the comment that it refers to the original apostles.

Stage IV. What God has revealed by His Spirit to the apostles, He enables and equips them to understand, and through them inspires and enables us also to understand it (v.12).

Stage V. "He that is spiritual judges all things" (v.15). "We have the mind of Christ" (v.16). In His grace God gives us the Spirit of understanding. What a glorious picture of how eager God is to teach us His wisdom. Correspondingly how jealous He is in guarding His glory in the whole process of revelation. If we really believed this there is one place in which it would make a world of difference, and that is the place of prayer. If only the Holy Spirit can illumine our darkened minds, we will be much more diligent in our prayers concerning the revelation of the truth of God to ourselves and to others.

(To be continued)


J. Alec Motyer


Jude tells us that we are to contend earnestly for the truth since it is so possible to seem to hold it and yet to deny it by one's manner of living. I don't know if Jude was one of those people who keep on his desk a motto card which says 'Do it NOW', but he certainly acted in this spirit. He had intended to write of our common salvation but found himself under the necessity of dealing at once with the threat posed by certain men who had wormed their way in among God's people though their lives were a denial of the Lord Jesus Christ. They did not do this by a denial of the true doctrine of the Incarnation, as we saw in John's Second Letter; theirs was not a doctrinal or credal denial, but a vicious and plain practical denial, brought about by unholy living. This threat forms the main contention of the Letter of Jude.

The central part of the Letter is taken up with the description of these men. Five times over Jude circles round them, pointing out how they deny our only Sovereign Lord Jesus. They are mentioned in verse 4, "ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness" and with the [51/52] connecting link, "In like manner these also", he begins in verse 8 to give five marks of them and carries this right through to verse 19.

Marks of Denial

i. Their Imaginations

"Yet in like manner these also in their dreamings defile the flesh, and set at nought dominion, and rail at dignities" (v.8). There are three positive thoughts here. There is the defiling of the flesh, that is, the taking of fleshly appetites, built by the Creator, and using them as means of defilement. They set at nought lordship or dominion; that is to say, they resist all thoughts of restraint being imposed upon them and -- as the literal Greek is -- they insult glories. Now I honestly don't know what that means and having spent time with the commentators, I am persuaded that they don't either, but I do know that there are some verses in the New Testament where the word 'glory' represents what we would call a true sense of values, that awareness of a glorious life which ought to be the point of comparison with the actual life we live. I suggest, therefore, that alongside the denial and refusal of limitations and restraints, these men denigrate the thought of a proper sense of values governing life, and this in all their imaginations and dreamings. The Greek says, 'living out the life of dreamers'. In their imaginations they deny the lordship of Jesus.

ii. Their Understanding

"These rail at whatsoever things they know not; and what they understand naturally, like the creatures without reason, in these things they are destroyed" (v.10). Here Jude indicates that it is [in] the life of the mind that Jesus is denied, "they understand in purely natural terms." In their thinking they are governed by nothing more than that which comes naturally to the mind of fallen man. Jude helps us to grasp this by the use of three Biblical characters: "They went in the way of Cain ... they ran riot in the error of Balaam ... and they perished in the argumentativeness of Korah" (v.11).

What does this mean? Cain tells us of man's religion. When God revealed the way in which He wanted to be worshipped, Cain said, 'Oh no! This is the way in which you are going to be worshipped!' In the religious thinking of these men, they are entirely governed by what the mind of man can produce. Balaam speaks to us of man's riches. He was the man who did his utmost to make God change His mind so that he himself could fill his house with silver and gold. Korah portrays man's determination to be the master. He was the one who would not have Moses to rule over God's people, the one who resented authority. Jude suggests that these are matters which are according to the human mind. 'God ought to be grateful that I worship Him at all!' 'I am out after the wealth of this world!' 'I will not have anybody imposing restraint upon me!' In these things, says Jude, they are going to be destroyed.

iii. The Life of the Soul

Verse 12 brings us back again to the subject of "These", as though Jude is obsessed with these men and the peril which they constitute to the Church. To put it mildly, Jude was indignant about this life of the soul. He pictures those concerned as they are found in the love-feasts of the believers, at the Lord's Table, at the high point of spiritual solemnity and joy. In that situation they are looking for religious privilege without religious restraint or religious awareness of judgment. They want a religion that has no thought in it of the holiness of God and, even at worship, they are denying Jesus by the life of the soul.

iv. Their Emotions

"These are murmurers and faultfinders, walking after their desires" (v.16). They deny Jesus in the life of emotions. Please don't allow that word to be anything necessarily wrong. The Revised Version has 'lusts' and the N.I.V. 'evil desires', but the Greek just says, 'desires' -- walking after their desires. If we amplify it in any way we can perhaps say, 'after their own desires'. They want emotional satisfaction. It appeals to them, and because they are so intent on their own emotional fulfilment, their natural stance in regard to other people is to be murmurers. At the end of the verse we are told that they show favouritism when there is anything to be gained from it. Such an insistent determination to find satisfaction in one's own desires, says Jude, is a denial of Jesus. [52/53]

v. Their Divisiveness

Finally, "These are they who make separations (or cause divisions), sensual, having not the Spirit" (v.19). They deny Jesus by acting out the life that is natural to the human spirit. The word translated 'sensual' in the Greek is 'soulish'. They have a human soul, and they live out all that divisiveness which a sinner cannot help living out because, sundered from God, we cannot have meaningful relationships with anybody, being sundered from each other. As these men inevitably make separations, they show that they are untouched by the Spirit of God, and so deny the only Sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ.

God's Reactions

How does God react to all this? Here we touch another pulse in the Letter of Jude, namely a deep awareness of the judgment of God. He does not actually use the expression that God is not mocked, but the God he believes in is certainly One who will not be mocked. Before Jude tells his readers of those men described in verse 4, he tells them what is God's attitude towards such men: "Now I wish to put you in remembrance, though you know all these things once for all ..." (v.5), that God is a God of judgment. These people with the life of the imagination, the mind and the emotions etc. are not just an interesting phenomenon, they are those who come under the eye of God for judgment. Jude spells this [out] three times over in verses 5, 6 and 7. You know all these things:

1. That the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterwards destroyed them.

2. That the angels which kept not their own sphere of influence, but left their proper sphere, He kept in everlasting bonds under darkness and unto judgment.

3. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them, having in like manner given themselves over to fornication and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire.

Jude stresses that it is no light thing to live as these people do, because the Lord is a God of judgment, and in that judgment there is nothing that can save them. There were people (v.5) who were saved out of the land of Egypt; they had the experience of knowing about the redemptive work of God, but they did not experience it. There were the angels (v.6) who had the privilege of an exalted position, but they stepped out of it, so it did not save them. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah (v.7) had either the privilege of conscience or the privilege of the testimony of the righteous man, Lot, who came and lived among them, but who nevertheless remained under the judgment of God.

According to verse 5, the judgment of God is because of unbelief. He brought a people out of the land of Egypt, but when they came to the borders of the land of Canaan, they knew that God could bring them out but they did not believe that He could bring them in. They would not believe the promises of God, and therefore they failed of the inheritance and perished in the wilderness. Verse 6 tells of the angels who stepped out of their proper sphere and acted contrary to their own nature. Verse 7 gives a clue to these angels, linking them with Sodom and Gomorrah and so with the 'sons of God' who lusted after the daughters of men (Genesis 6:2), stepping out of their own proper place and of the nature which God had given them, and becoming involved and entangled with the human sphere of things, and on the wrong level at that. So God does not only judge unbelief, He judges people who corrupt the creation ordinances, who act contrary to the nature and place He has given them, who step out of His creation line. The lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah is that He punishes sexual grossness. In using the phrase "given themselves over to fornication", the unusual Greek word implies that they have allowed fornication to become their pre-occupation, those who have ruled everything else out of their lives but lustful practices, to whom sex has become a way of life. "Who have gone after strange flesh" is also a strange expression, not found anywhere else but plain in its meaning that they have gone into areas forbidden by the Bible in homosexuality and bestiality. The judgment of God is upon these things. They are not interesting social phenomena, not brave souls pushing out the frontiers, but people defying God and therefore under His judgment. [53/54]

What the Saints Should Do

Having told us what people are like and what God thinks about it, he goes on to say what God's people should do in these circumstances. We should contend for the truth (v.3); we should guard ourselves (v.20) and we should be pitiful and seek the salvation of those in need (vv.22-23).

i. The Christian and the Truth

The Church possesses the truth: "I was constrained to write, exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith once for all deposited." As we read these last little Letters of the New Testament, 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 and 3 John and Jude, we find that they have one thing in common, namely, that the Church possesses the Truth. It has already been deposited and is possessed. Later Jude writes: "Remember the words which have been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus" (v.17). Nowhere -- I repeat NOWHERE -- do these final Letters of the New Testament point on forward to truth; they always point us back to truth. When Paul was bequeathing the Church to the care of the rather weak Timothy, he pointed him back to a truth already established. Here Jude does just the same thing: the faith had been once for all delivered unto the saints (v.3) and they were to remember what they knew once for all (v.5). That is a very challenging thought, to know all things once for all. Would to God that I had such a totality of grasp of Holy Scripture that the truth was as though it had been once for all deposited in my mind and I was master of divine revelation. Do you not feel like that about the Word of God? Jude only had to remind these believers of what they already knew of Scriptural truth, the truth of the finished Word of God.

ii. The Christian and Personal Security

Before you try to do anything for anybody else, make sure of yourself. That is a great Biblical truth -- the right kind of self-centredness of the saints of God. But you, beloved, says Jude, make yourselves strong, for only so can you strengthen anybody else. "Take heed to thyself and to thy ministry" (1 Timothy 4:16). The main verb of Jude's exhortation is that the beloved brethren should keep themselves (v.21). Although it may not be too clear in the translations, this is the main verb which carries three participles: building, praying, and looking. The main idea therefore is "Keep yourselves in the love of God." We are to keep ourselves in an unclouded relationship with God so that all the benefits of the fact that He loves us will flow into our lives. The three participles will tell us how to do this:

1. By building ourselves on our most holy faith (v.20); by growing in our awareness of the truth. In this verse the word 'faith' looks back to what was said at the beginning, namely that the faith was once deposited with the saints. We are to keep edifying ourselves in that truth which God has deposited with His Church, a truth to be believed and lived out.

2. By praying in the Holy Spirit. This is the basic gift of the Holy Spirit. There are other gifts which God in His sovereignty may or may not bestow, but the basic gift for all is the ability to cry 'Abba, Father'. We are to come into the place of prayer, for that is distinctively the place of the Spirit's operation.

3. By looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to keep our eyes constantly skyward for a sign of the Son of Man, for there is nothing that will keep us in the love of God more than a fresh expectation of the coming Saviour.

iii. The Christian and Evangelism

"On some have mercy who are in doubt, some save, snatching them out of the fire, and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garments spotted with the flesh" (vv.22-23). The Christian must face up to the requirements of evangelism. Keeping himself in the love of God, he must go out in pity for the salvation of others. For this exercise there are three specific requirements:

Firstly, there is the mental requirement which can deal with the people who are in doubt. The evangelist must know his material so that he can persuade the waverer.

Secondly, there is the spiritual requirement. The evangelist must be persuaded of the eternal distinction between heaven and hell; otherwise he will not be urgent in his task because he will not be aware of the desperate need of the unsaved. [54/55]

Thirdly, there is the moral requirement, "on some have mercy with fear". Tremble to go near them. Why? Because you hate even the garment spotted with the flesh; you are so sensitive about sin and about defilement that it becomes hurtful to your own spirit to run the risk of the contagion of sin in your own life. This is a moral requirement of sensitivity towards sin and evil. So the Christian possesses the truth, establishes himself in the truth; and then goes out to contend for the truth amongst those who are denying it.

The Letter begins and ends with the reality of God's keeping power: "Kept for Jesus Christ" (v.1) and, "Unto him that is able to keep you ..." (v.24). The central verses of Jude are occupied with the world under judgment. Around that dire reality there is the Church which possesses saving truth. And around that Church there is the God who keeps His people safe. The whole thing is bound together.



John H. Paterson

"When the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the
Lord ... until the times of restitution of all things
" Acts 3:19-21

THE words "times of refreshing" strike a curiously modern note in the text of a Bible translated in that way in the seventeenth century. A little research into the original text, however, shows that the translation is valid and that it could, in fact, be rendered in an even more up-to-date way, as "time to get your breath back." The thought is of what we nowadays call "a breather" after a period of stress or busyness.

The only other place in the King James Version where the word "refreshing" occurs is in Isaiah 28:12, and there the original suggests, even more vividly, the calm of the sea after a period of storm. Evidently, then, God's message on these two occasions was a promise to His people of periodic relief in hard times and a chance to gather new strength for the next stage.

That this pattern has been borne out in the history of Israel and of the Church in various parts of the world can readily be shown. Much of the prayer of God's people for a revival in their spiritual lives is a plea for just such a "time of refreshing". For the moment, however, I should like to concentrate your attention on the way in which this pattern of stress and calm can be seen in the lifetime and ministry of the very man who used this expression in Acts 3 -- Peter, the leader and spokesman of the Church in its earliest days.

Stress and Calm in the Early Church

If you read the early chapters of Acts you cannot help being struck by the way in which progress or development went by fits and starts -- rapid growth followed by setbacks: mass conversions followed by mass persecutions. And if you examine the text in a little more detail, you will find, I think, that the stages in this early history are indeed marked off for us by "times of refreshing" -- periods of growth, joy and even approval by outsiders: all the marks, in fact, of what we might describe as success.

Let me suggest to you that there are at least eight references in Acts to such intervals of calm. There may well be more -- that is for every Bible student to discover! But the ones I have found are in 2:46-47; 4:32-34; 5:12-13; 5:42; 6:7; 8:8; 9:31, and 11:24-26.

To cite only one or two of these references in detail: the first of them, Acts 2:46-47, describes the state of the Church after its first great burst of excitement and activity at Pentecost. We see here a Church in unity, "gladness and singleness of heart", and "having favour with all the people." Then again, in 9:31, after many ups and downs and much persecution, we find the Church, several phrases later, at peace, being built up, and enjoying both "the comfort of the Holy Ghost" and numerical growth.

Now there are two ways of looking at this record, with its sequence of stress -- calm -- stress. One is to say, 'How good of God to grant these [55/56] "times of refreshing"' (and that is quite true). The other is to ask, 'But if this was the work of God, why was it not continuously successful? Why did they need "times of refreshing"?' After all, this beginning of the Church was made in uniquely favourable circumstances. There can never again be such a situation, with the memory of the Lord Jesus only a few weeks old, and a population which had heard and seen Him; which, moreover, had heard and seen the apostles both before and after Pentecost, and could judge how they had been transformed. We might have expected that, once they began their ministry, they would have carried all before them!

So, instead of concentrating on the times of rest and refreshment, we may do well to ask ourselves an opposite question: what disturbed the calm? What happened in the intervals between those references which I cited earlier, to put the believers under stress?

If we do so, we can at once distinguish between two types of pressure or stress -- that from outside and that from inside. On several of these occasions the growth and the joy of the Church were impaired by hostility from those outside its ranks, while on four occasions the trouble, the brake on growth, came from within.

Trouble From Outside

Opposition to the spread of the Gospel of Christ had, of course, begun in His own lifetime and had culminated in His death. So far as His enemies were concerned, no doubt, there was every expectation that, once the Lord Jesus was removed from the scene, the whole movement which He had started would quickly collapse. After all, that had happened any number of times before to the followers of other rebel leaders. The disciples during Jesus' lifetime had been an unimpressive lot, and it must have seemed inconceivable to the Jewish leaders that, without Him, they could cause any trouble.

The realisation that trouble was indeed what the disciples were going to cause seems to have dawned only slowly upon the high priest and his colleagues. To begin with, they seem to have contented themselves with a warning, "not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18), and even this they issued only after a careful discussion (4:13-17). No doubt they were hoping that the whole business would die down and allow them to forget about Jesus. The disciples, for their part, made light of the whole matter, and returned to their fellow-believers full of joy and confidence for another time of refreshing (4:32-34), and we read that "great grace was upon them all."

The next act of opposition, however, was more serious -- and the next, and the next. In Acts 5:17, the apostles were put in prison and, although they were almost immediately released by "an angel of the Lord", it is evident that the attitude of the Jewish council was hardening. This time, the apostles were brought back and beaten (5:40) as well as warned. But once again calm followed the storm, and another period of rest and refreshment evidently intervened (5:41-42).

Now we move ahead to Acts 6:8 and the story of Stephen. At this point, obviously, the scale of hostility changed and the Church had its first martyr. It was evident from Stephen's speech in his own defence (Acts 7) that the trouble caused by the followers of Jesus just was not going to die down, as had that caused by other agitators in the past (Acts 5:35-39). It was now clear, on the contrary, that the apostles and their message were irreconcilable with the Jewish position. Opposition to the preaching of the Gospel was going to develop into a full-scale campaign, headed by Saul of Tarsus, to stamp out the whole movement -- "a great persecution", as it is called in Acts 8:1.

All this must seem to us, looking back, as quite predictable. If there is any surprise about it, that must surely be that it took as long as it did for the full opposition to the Gospel to develop. The Jewish leaders would not have known of the experiences of the disciples after the resurrection, or of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and it took them time to adjust to the idea that the message or movement of Jesus was going to cause them just as much trouble in His absence as it had when He was there, living and preaching among them!

So the calm and joy of the Church were disturbed by opposition and persecution, just as they have been at intervals ever since. What we can notice, from Acts and from the history of God's people, is how brief the disturbances have been and with what resilience His true Church has shrugged off such opposition; how, in fact, it has grown in spite of the opposition. While I do not wish for one moment to minimise either the sufferings or the heroism of God's saints over the years, I have to suggest that, in the context of this [56/57] story, the pressures from outside the Church are the easy ones to identify and resist. If somebody tells us, as the apostles were told, not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, the answer is clear, simple and straightforward: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). For getting that answer wrong, there is no excuse whatsoever: would that all the issues of life could be so clear, so unequivocal!

Trouble From Inside

But they are not, and we know that they are not! Those pressures or stresses from outside, as I have already suggested, seem to have held up progress in the Church only briefly. The more troublesome issues, and the ones which had a more serious impact on the calm and joy and growth of the Church came from within.

What kind of thing holds up the growth and spread of the work of God? There were in the early Church four obstacles or setbacks interspersed between the times of refreshing:

(1) Following upon the joyful days described in Acts 4:32-34, there comes the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

(2) Following the calm of 5:42 there comes the trouble over "the daily ministration".

(3) Following on the joy of Acts 8:8 there comes the problem of a counterfeit spirituality.

(4) Following on the peace of Acts 9:31 comes the long-continuing argument over the admission of the Gentiles into the Church.

If we look for names for those hindrances to growth, we can call them hypocrisy, envy, counterfeit and exclusiveness. Under those names, we all know them all too well. And in the battles of the spiritual life, they are self-inflicted wounds.

(To be continued)


(The Epistle to the Ephesians)

Harry Foster


ALTHOUGH we are in the heavenlies we do not yet know all that there is to be known -- far from it. The first section of this chapter called for praise concerning that which the Father has planned in Christ; now the second half provides a section on prayer for enlightenment, asking that we may clearly perceive the deep range and realities of God's eternal purpose in Christ. It would be folly to imagine that we already know these, but even greater folly to think that the unrenewed human mind can grasp them or profit from them.

The apostle highlights our need of the Spirit's revelation. Centuries before the time of Paul, the eloquent pilgrim poet who wrote Psalm 119 intermingled in his worship of God's ways many appeals that he might be taught more of them. In the course of that carefully constructed psalm he eleven times asked to be taught, three times confessed that he was learning, five times prayed to be given understanding, and anticipated Paul's prayer that his eyes might be opened to understand the wonders of God's Word (v.18). Can we wonder, then, that Paul, who was also a pilgrim and a worshipper, should be so earnest in his prayers that the Ephesians might be given enlightenment: "Making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened ...".

Years ago, when we tried to stress the importance of spiritual insight into divine truth and used the word 'revelation' in that connection, we were accused of claiming to have special light from God which was not found in Scripture. That was not the case. What we did affirm, and what to this day I must maintain, is that even the Holy Scriptures need to be humbly approached by those whose minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit and that God always 'has more light and truth to break forth from His Word'.

The apostle had a unique experience of revelation and was commissioned to impart it to God's people. The readers of 1 Corinthians were very proud of their knowledge, so it may have been with something of a shock that they read Paul's words: "Now we know in part" backed home by his personal confession "Now I know in part ... then I shall know fully ..." (1 Corinthians 13:9 & 12). It is a bad day for any disciples when they imagine that they have nothing more to learn. Those who belong to the heavenlies [57/58] are constantly exercised that the Father of glory will continue to give them a better knowledge of Himself by His Spirit of wisdom and revelation.

We are grateful that so long ago Paul prayed this prayer for our enlightenment as well as for that of his Ephesian contemporaries. We pray it for ourselves and in doing so we understand that the answer will not only bring us a better mental understanding of divine truth, which is most important, but will also lead us into lives which correspond more closely to that truth. So we concentrate on this prayer for revelation, noting that it has three parts, relating to our future, to God's goal and to the principle of resurrection.

1. Our Hope

"That ye may know the hope of his calling" (v.18).

In a parallel passage concerning God's election, Paul wrote: "Whom he foreknew, them he also called ...". It is a thrilling feature of our salvation that it began with a direct call from God. We are "the called according to his purpose", and that purpose is that we should be "conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:28-30). In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul describes this as "the upward call" (3:14), speaking no doubt of the great climactic hope of the Christian when our salvation will be fully accomplished. Of course there is a sense in which we may say that all God's calls summon us on to higher ground, calls to liberty, calls to holiness, calls to fellowship, to service and to sacrifice -- every one of these summons us to pass from the hopelessness of the godless into the realm of the God of Hope. Nevertheless the true sphere of the Christian hope is not time but eternity; justified and at peace with God, we rejoice in the hope of His glory (Romans 5:2).

Surely it is concerning this hope that we need enlightenment. To the modern Christian, the exclamation of the old divine, 'All this -- and heaven too' may sound authentic, since the emphasis of such preaching is on the immediate blessings of salvation with heaven little more than a bonus given at the end. The reverse is the truth. Theologically speaking, it would be more correct to exclaim, 'Heaven! And all these other blessings too.' I read that when Paul wrote to the Colossians about their outstanding faith and love, he said that these qualities were being shown "Because you have grasped the hope reserved for you in heaven ..." (Colossians 1:5). Heaven is not an extra or a kind of Holiday Home for Retired Christians; it is the fulfilment of the destiny for which we were redeemed. The best of what we experience now is but a foretaste of what is to be, though it is a genuine foretaste of the real thing.

For my part I did not turn to Christ because my sense of sin caused me any immediate discomfort, but rather because I was afraid to meet a righteous God in the future. I was not then unhappy or depressed or noticeably lacking in peace about the present. What worried me was to have the prospect of what lay beyond the grave. I found a full answer to all my problems at the cross and entered on a transformed life with the certainty of ultimate glory. Later I was privileged to go to the Red Indians in Amazonia to preach the gospel to them. I have to admit that then I thought little of church building and nothing at all of social or economic benefits, but only wanted them to know of a home in heaven through Christ the Saviour. And it was just as well, for an early convert was murdered before he had much time for the gospel blessings of this life. I had the comfort, however, with my beloved colleague Horace Banner, of hearing the man's dying words as he breathed out his faith in Jesus. The gospel had brought him eternal hope, and supremely it is this same hope which it brings to all of us. We need the eyes of our heart enlightened to know more of its scope and implications.

This matter of knowing the hope of glory is far from being just visionary. Later in this Epistle we shall find the apostle urging from his prison that the Ephesians might live a life worthy of the calling which the had received (4:1). Surely the petty ambitions, carnal rivalries and mean unkindnesses which can be found in Christian circles would never be tolerated if the offenders could but appreciate the nobility and dignity of their privileges and prospects as sons of God in the glory that is to be. Life now becomes different if it is lived in the light the hereafter. Paul himself was able cheerfully to endure his privation in prison not only by looking back to trace his eternal origins in the purposes of God but also by looking forward to the eternal wonders of the future and the glory which will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). So he kept on praying for the Ephesians -- and for us too -- that the same vision might captivate and transform us. [58/59]

2. God's Hope

"the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints" (v.18).

God also has His hopes. He has settled on a Day when the glory of His Son and Heir, Christ Jesus, will be fully expressed in a whole host of sons and heirs, redeemed from their many faults and made holy and blameless before Him. He alone knows when that great event will take place, but the Lord Jesus has assured us that He has fixed it and that we can safely rely on its realisation.

When we speak of an inheritance we naturally think of what is coming to us, and rightly so, but ought we not also to rejoice in what is coming to our heavenly Father? "The Lord's portion is his people" sang Moses, "Jacob is his inheritance" (Deuteronomy 32:9), a truth often repeated in the Old Testament and amplified and confirmed in the New. We who belong to the heavenlies need wisdom and revelation in this matter, and it will be a healthy exercise for us to ignore for a moment our own hopes and concentrate our thoughts on the expectations of our beloved Father. We who are creatures of time cannot understand how the eternal God may have to await a future pleasure, but nor can we believe that He is already fully satisfied about us. We are all too aware of how far short we come at present from what is to be expected of members of that family of mature sons upon whom God's heart has always been set. He is waiting for His inheritance in us. In this connection Isaiah so rightly said that the ploughman does not go on sowing indefinitely -- he expects a harvest (Isaiah 28:24-29). Concerning our Lord Jesus it is written that from His exalted throne, He is "from henceforth expecting" (Hebrews 10:13). For Him then, there is a future and a hope.

We note the superlative terms in which His inheritance in the saints is described: "the riches of the glory of his inheritance ...". Now when Paul will write of "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (3:8), we shall be able to appreciate this, for we know that the Father regards His Son as infinitely precious, but what we cannot understand is that we can contribute anything to that great wealth. Well, of course, we cannot. Nevertheless when we grasp the fact that the Church takes all her character from Christ, we are perhaps dimly aware of how the riches of Christ, imparted to us without any diminution to Him, can bring peculiar gratification to our Redeemer God.

Two of Christ's parables concerning the heavenly kingdom describe God as finding supreme satisfaction in the great worth of His Church to Himself by likening it to a treasure hidden in a field and also to a most precious pearl. These stories give us hints of the Father's joy. The first speaks of Him as a merchant, finding and hiding a treasure so great that he was glad to give everything in order to purchase and secure it (Matthew 13:44). The second repeats the idea of His being like a merchant, this time questing for pearls, and again stresses the fact that He gave His all for the 'one pearl of great price' (Matthew 13:44-45).

I suggest that both of these parables give some indication of the value which God places on His redeemed people. The first indicates that the Church's value to God is at present hidden, while the second highlights its essential utility as a feature of His inheritance in the saints. There was only one such pearl and of course pearls -- unlike precious stones -- cannot be divided. Nor can the Church. Those who long and pray for the true spiritual unity of God's people may take heart from the fact that their hope is also God's hope, and it will not fail.

God's heritage, then, consists of a unity of mature sons, all exhibiting the virtues of Christ in full display, to the blessing of the universe and the eternal glory of the Father. If we may borrow from another parable, that will be the Day when the superior-minded elder son will accept the Father's description of his fellow as "This brother of yours" and no longer grieve Him by talking critically of "This son of yours" (Luke 15:30 & 32 N.I.V.). The Father's joy will then be complete. We are never meant to lose sight of this as the object of God's desiring, His planning, His working and His hope.

3. The Hope of Resurrection

"that working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead ..." (vv.19-20).

Our hope and God's demands resurrection. The main theme of this section of Paul's prayer is concerned with the incomparably great power of God. I hope to deal with this matter of power in the next article and therefore limit my remarks now to the matter of resurrection. In the New Testament there is a very close association between the ideas of hope and resurrection. This is not surprising since man is entirely without hope apart from such a miracle. [59/60]

Our whole world has been subjected to frustration by the will of the One who subjected it in hope. That hope consists of an eager expectation of the revealing of the sons of God which will mark its deliverance as well as ours. This will be when Christ returns (Romans 8:19-20). I would not for a moment question the blissful experience of our dear ones who have gone home to be with Christ, but I find the Holy Spirit stirring my emotions in quite a different way when I anticipate the resurrection Day and our re-union then. That will be the Day!

If we ask about the significance of resurrection, the answer is that there could be no hope of unholy and blameworthy sinners becoming holy and blameless in God's sight without the sacrificial offering of Christ in death and its confirmation in His literal resurrection. It is true that some versions punctuate verse 4 to make it read: "holy and blameless before him in love", as though the Father were content to look on us with indulgent affection, overlooking our blemishes and fondly imagining us to be perfect, as human parents might do. God has something better than that for us. Probably the better punctuation is to end the sentence with the phrase 'before him', and then begin a new one with the statement that it is "in love" that He foreordained us actually to be made perfect. The Father loved us in spite of our sinfulness, but He loved us out of it and into Christ's holiness. So it is that Paul goes on to speak of the redemption which we have through the blood of God's beloved Son (verse 7). It is only because of the cross that we can have hope.

Let us make no mistake, that although Christ's death for us is the ground of our hope, that death would be useless without the subsequent resurrection. Paul goes so far as to say that if Jesus had not risen from the dead, then our faith would be useless and futile. Resurrection is everything. There is no hope apart from it. We miss the point if we limit our hope in Christ to spiritual and physical well-being here on earth. "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19). In fact there are times when even now the world does pity us, but that is because it only sees the costly side of being true to Christ, but the opposite will be true in the future. The time is coming when they will envy us, the time when "they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament" and that will be when the redeemed have come out of the dust of the earth in an awakening to eternal life (Daniel 12:2-3).

These verses at the end of Daniel give an amazing preview of resurrection glories beyond what is usually found in the Old Testament. Nevertheless the whole basis of God's dealings with His people has always been that of resurrection. This can clearly be traced in such experiences as that of Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22), Moses 'drawn out' of the Nile (Exodus 2:10) and Aaron's budding almond branch (Numbers 17). To Daniel God gave the consolatory promise: "Go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and shalt stand in thy lot at the end of the days" (Daniel 12:13). It was as though God was saying to His honoured servant, 'I know, Daniel, that you are disappointed not to be among those who are returning to Jerusalem. You have prayed so earnestly about this return, but you will not have a part in it by being one of the favoured band of returning captives. Be at rest, though, for a part will be reserved for you in that eternal destiny of the New Jerusalem, at the end of the days.'

These and many other Old Testament Scriptures underline that fact that resurrection is the hope of God's people. The most outstanding, however, was what happened to Jonah. The Lord Jesus used Jonah's story to point as a sign to His own much greater triumph over death which was to come on the third day. No doubt it was these, as well as some other prophetic passages, of which Paul was thinking when he declared that Christ had been raised on the third day " according to the scriptures". To the Corinthians he gave the theological argument: to the Ephesians he stressed our great need of spiritual wisdom and understanding in connection with it.

So much as to enlightenment. We have yet to consider the practical effects of it. Indeed I think that it is right to say that increasing enlightenment is only consequent upon obedience to the light already given. May we not say that to live in the heavenlies, whether in Ephesus or in our modern world, we need ever to be learning more of the significance of the resurrection life which we have in Christ. As we learn, we must live it out: as we live it out we will always be learning more.

(To be continued) [60/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


"(His visage was so marred more than any man, and
his form more than the sons of men
)" Isaiah 52:14

THIS the most dreadful and the most sacred of all the Bible parentheses. It stands between the prophecy of the world's amazement at the horror of the cross and its startled realisation of its glorious outcome. What can we say about this dreadful reduction of the perfect Son of Man to a being so maltreated as to be hardly human any more?

I do not find it spiritually profitable to dwell too much on the actual physical sufferings of the Saviour. Enough is said in the New Testament to impress us with their reality, so that we know that Isaiah's words are not poetical hyperbole but a sober prediction of the literal agonies which Jesus suffered. We get little spiritual gain from trying to imagine them, for such an exercise may harrow our emotions without transforming our character. It may well be that the chief purpose of this parenthesis is to stress the sheer humiliation and degradation of it all.

SEEMINGLY it had to be. Abel had shed his life's blood for God, but his death was swift and unexpected. Stephen laid down his life for the truth but although his was a painful death it was mercifully soon over. Christ's death was quite different. Even when we accept that He had to die for our sins we still cannot begin to understand why that death had to be accompanied by such excruciating agonies. This atoning death evidently had to be in the context of horrifying agonies, physical, mental and spiritual. And it was my sin that made all this so necessary.

MERCIFULLY I will never see the marred condition of that holy countenance, for in resurrection glory it is now radiantly beautiful. No word of pity or sadness came from those who saw their risen Lord.

THE couple were not aware of anything unusual in the face of the Companion who went with them to Emmaus. His feet were marked but not mangled, for He walked freely on the road. They sat with Him at the table, but only recognised Him when those nail-marked hands grasped the loaf and broke it. It seems that while the scars of His passion remained, they left no disfigurement -- rather the reverse.

WHEN it is sanctified, suffering can impart an extra quality to a beautiful face. The dreadful pains of Calvary have surely done this to our beloved Saviour. All the ugliness of His brutal treatment has somehow been displaced by an added beauty which might not have been there without the cross.

WHAT incredible joy will be ours when we are permitted to look on His blessed face in the eternal realms of glory! "His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars. His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my Beloved and this is my Friend" (Song of Songs 5:15-16).


[Back cover]

Titus 2:11-12

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