|Vol. 17, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1988
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THIS issue completes seventeen years of the ministry of TOWARD THE MARK.
From many countries of the world I receive expressions of appreciation from
those who have found the messages helpful, so that I feel humbly grateful
for being allowed to have a part in the work. No words of mine can adequately
express my gratitude to the loving helpers who have played their part, in
printing, preparing and distributing -- it has all made the ministry possible.
Their names are written in heaven, and the Lord will know how to reward them
for their gracious service to Him. This is especially true of the faithful
contributors, and it equally applies to those who have helped by their prayers
and gifts. I thank them all in the Lord's name.
No-one knows how long any of us can go on. It is my prayerful expectation,
however, that we will be able to face another year together, as the Lord
provides and enables. Beyond that, the future is in His hands, as indeed it
Last month I wrote of King Josiah's single-mindedness. His predecessor,
Hezekiah, was a much greater man, whose proving of God's faithfulness makes
thrilling reading. It is tragic, therefore, that when Isaiah told him of
impending disaster for Jerusalem and God's people, his seemingly selfish reply
was: "The word of the Lord you have spoken is good" ... For he thought, "There
will be peace and security in my lifetime" (Isaiah 39:8). This was hardly
worthy of any servant of the Lord, even though his own days are numbered,
as Hezekiah's certainly were.
This has set me thinking of the last utterances of other godly men who
knew that their life was drawing to a close. I find that they had a very
different spirit, and have been tremendously impressed by their strong determination
that the work of God should go on and prosper, even though they themselves
were about to retire from the scene. Moses in the Old Testament and Paul
in the New are notable examples of men with an earnest concern for the future.
They deliberately commissioned their successors and prayed for them.
A natural attitude of old people is to look back to the past, and often
to do so with a general regret that things will never be the same again.
We cannot help looking back with nostalgia. Even Paul reminisced to Timothy
of his acquaintance with the young man's grandmother and also of those early
days of his first missionary journey (2 Timothy 1:5 & 3:11); while Peter,
in his last messages found himself calling to mind that occasion, long ago,
when he had stood on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:18). We are
privileged to listen to old Jacob, as he prepares to give his parting blessing
to Joseph's two sons: "As for me", the dear old patriarch recalled, "when
I came from Paddan, Rachel died by me ... when there was still some way to
come to Ephrath, the same is Bethlehem" (Genesis 48:7). Very many years had
passed, but the deep wound persisted, as such wounds do. Nevertheless the
dying blind old man looked forward with energetic faith into the future of
God's work: "Behold I die, but God shall be with you, and bring you again
unto the land of your fathers" (v.21). And so on! Instances can be multiplied
of those who rose above the natural selfishness of old age, typified by Hezekiah
with his sad contentment at the prospect of failure, so long as he did not
live to see it.
I wondered for a moment if old Simeon was rather a defeatist, with his
"Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace", but then I remembered that
his was really an on-going prayer, for in it he gave a powerful prediction
of the worldwide glory which was on the horizon (Luke 2:29). Simeon only
felt free to go because the Lord's testimony was in better hands than his.
And what shall I say of that wonderful old lady, Anna? She was too robust
a soul to voice any idea of departing, whether in peace or otherwise. She
was a descendant of Asher, the man who held the promise: "As thy days, so
shall thy strength be" so, with her foot dipped in the oil of
[101/102] the Spirit, and her shoes like iron and brass (Deuteronomy
33:24-25) she hurried to the Dedication Service, arriving just in time to
speak exultantly of the Redeemer's future glories. Well done, Sister! Bravo
Anna! Even if you are well on in your nineties or more, you are full of active
I confess that as I re-read the last utterances of Paul, Peter and John,
I sense an atmosphere of gathering gloom in "the last days" (2 Timothy 3:1;
2 Peter 2:3; 1 John 2:18) and I am duly solemnised about what lies ahead
of the Church. I would not be human if I did not feel some relief at not living
on into them. I remember the words of a beloved Swiss sister in her final
days who explained to me that she was in the Lord's Waiting Room, likely to
have her name called at any time. But if I am in that waiting room, I must
not be complacent or slack. I must look again at the inspired writings of
those godly men of old and there I find that however inspiring the past may
have been, it is the future which is important and it is up to us all to
face it with courage and prayer.
Paul wrote that he was just about to fly off and up into eternity; but
that the work of the gospel must go on and he must help the timid "Timothys"
to see that it does. They must stir up their gift into a flame; they must
be instant in season and out of season; above all they must never lapse
into feeble ineffectiveness. Did Timothy ever manage to reach him (2 Timothy
4:9)? Was Mark in time to fulfil his needed help (v.11)? Did Paul live long
enough to be warmed by the cloke and to use the books and parchments (v.13)?
We are not told. In spite of the various legends, we have no certain news
of how and when the apostle was poured out as a drink-offering, It does not
matter. What we do know is that his last days and hours were spent in active
concern for the on-going work of the gospel. In this sense, he was no Hezekiah.
When Peter wrote he knew himself to be on the verge of his exodus from
this earthly Egypt into the Canaan of heaven (2 Peter 1:14-15), but he kept
on his feet with his loins girded so that he could stir up the next generation
(1:13). He was under the shadow of death but he set a good example of giving
diligence and urged his readers to continue to do the same after he had left
them (1:10 & 3:14).
As for John, we have little indication of his personal feelings as he
approached the end of his unusually long stint in God's service, but his
words sound like a trumpet call to future generations: "My little children,
guard yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). The keynote of his Epistle is
the word "abide". Was he recalling that Upper Room exhortation of Jesus that
the apostles should abide in Him? He had not failed to do so. "He that keeps
his commandments abides in him" he wrote, (3:24). Abiding is a very active
operation. John's Epistle reminds us that God, His Word, His Spirit and
His love do their work of abiding in us. Our response must be to abide or
persist right through to the Second Coming: "Now little children, abide in
him; that, when he is manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed
before him at his coming" (2:28). Note the "we"! John was not giving up.
I hope that I have made my point. We live in a world whose attitude can
often be summed up in that rather crude catch-phrase: "I'm all right, Jack!"
No saint must have that spirit. Another menacing phrase in our modern jargon
is "working to rule". May the Lord deliver us from such meanness! Then, of
course, there is the familiar matter of "early retirement". That is not for
those in the Lord's service. We may argue that we have done our bit, but
have we? Even if we had, the Lord Jesus calls us unprofitable.
By all means let us happily relinquish some special job when the Lord
so orders or permits. Indeed, let us be ready enough to lay down life itself
when His moment arrives, departing in peace according to His word. But the
work of God must go on. The gospel must be preached; the Church must fight
the good fight and finish its course. "So much the more as you see the day
In his last Letter Paul refers three times to what he calls "that day".
The N.E.B. helpfully renders this: "That great Day", using a capital "D".
That was what the apostle looked for. It is the Church's objective. When
I adopted the title "Toward The Mark", that was my concern. It still is.
THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
John H. Paterson
'... increasing in the knowledge of God' Colossians 1:10
OF all the measures by which Christian progress may be assessed, these
words of Paul to the Colossians surely represent the truest and most important.
A church may congratulate itself on growing numbers, or rising levels of
giving, or impact on the community, but without an increasing knowledge of
God neither church nor individuals is truly advancing.
For the knowledge of God represents the real expertise of the Christian
believer. Not, to listen to many of our church leaders, that you would necessarily
realise that! You might think that they were experts in sociology, or politics,
or economics, and so they might be, but that would still not make them --
and does not make us -- experts in knowing God and His ways.
Let us begin by reminding ourselves of what this knowledge of God consists,
and how it may be increased. We can, I think, say that it consists of two
parts: a knowledge of God through His Word, and a knowledge of Him through
experience. Both parts, or kinds, of knowledge are supposed then to increase
as we continue in the Christian life, and to go on increasing to its very
end. I want to make a few, very simple comments on each kind of knowledge,
and then go on to the further subject of how and when this knowledge of God
may be useful.
The great constant, certain source of the knowledge of God is, of course,
His word. That being the case, we must all regret that we use it so poorly,
know it so sketchily, and quote it so selectively. Our knowledge is often
superficial: it is not the product of hours spent with the Book and the concordance,
with pen and paper, acquiring the expertise we are supposed to possess.
For we should be able to argue cases on the basis of Scripture, whether
or not we have read the textbooks on sociology! This is not to say that
the answer to every problem of life is contained in the explicit words of
Scripture, but rather that this is the basis from which we begin to
debate those difficult issues which confront us and all our contemporaries.
This aspect of the knowledge of God involves discipline and hard work.
It involves exploring unpromising parts of the Word of God, where there
seems little by way of bright thoughts for the day, or promises of God's
help. It involves -- in these days of a hundred paraphrases and translations
of the Scriptures -- asking the question: what does the Bible really say
The knowledge of God is also imparted through experience. Now experience
is a curious thing: when we are young we are usually hungry for it; eager
for new adventures; anxious to try everything. We welcome experiences --
of God or, for that matter, of anything else. But as we grow older, we tend
to do the opposite: we no longer welcome novelty. We fear new experiences
because that means change, and we would rather leave things as they are --
such things, for example, as forms of worship, types of music, spheres of
service, or patterns of prayer.
This is not, I must add at once, simply because age makes cowards of
us all. For what we discover as we go along is that many of the experiences
through which we acquire the knowledge of God are sad or painful. If, we tell
ourselves, our young people knew at what price this knowledge is to be gained,
they would be a great deal less hungry for the experiences!
Well, that may be so: what makes the experiences, the pain and the sadness,
worthwhile is the knowledge which they bring us. But what a great thing to
be able, in spite of all the difficulties, to be a Paul and say 'I count
all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my
Lord' (Philippians 3:8), or a Caleb and say, after 40 years in the wilderness,
'As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me; ...
Now therefore give me this mountain' (Joshua 14:11-12)!
Knowledge Gained and Applied
All that is familiar ground to most believers. But now let us move on
to one or two further points, the first of which is this: that it is most
important for spiritual growth that we tap both sources of the knowledge
In the world of scholarship where I work, there are a number of subjects
which are recognised as being divided into two parts: pure, or theoretical,
and applied. The method of the first is usually what we call deductive
; that is, workers are trying to deduce what ought to happen next.
The method of the second is largely inductive; that is, workers are
concerned to observe what actually happens, and to reason back from
that as to what is causing it. To separate these two parts, or these two
methods, would be ridiculous; in fact, in the past it often was ridiculous,
as when the ancients deduced (as it happens, on the basis of Scripture) that
there should be land here, or no land there, and centuries later explorers
found out that they were wrong on both counts!
The two parts of the knowledge of God are rather similar, and a separation
between them equally misleading -- equally liable to cause trouble. A knowledge
of God from His word alone, not worked out in experience, may produce some
quite unpleasant people, even if those people are Bible teachers or missionaries.
They know what ought to happen, but in their own lives it does not.
That this is a source of danger is readily seen by the way in which,
when God sent His prophets to His people, He so often took care that they,
the bearers of the Word, should become personally involved in what they
were to say. Think of Jeremiah, of Hosea, of Jonah: God took steps to see
that the knowledge of Him which they possessed and were to impart to others
was firmly grounded in their own experience.
Much more common these days, however, and in the long run more dangerous,
is an over-emphasis on experience. People, especially young people, embark
on a sea of experience without checks, charts or safeguards; without the
reference points provided by other types of knowledge, and they soon find
themselves at sea without a rudder, making shipwreck. For Christians, that
rudder is the knowledge of God through His word.
So that is the first point: to increase in the knowledge of God we need
both kinds of growth. The second point is simply this: both types of knowledge
are mediated to us by the Holy Spirit. He is our teacher, as the Lord Jesus
promised He would be. Without Him, the Word is dead, the experiences merely
misleading. No man in his time knew the Word of God better than Saul of Tarsus,
and look where it led him! His knowledge led him all astray until one day,
as he himself put it, 'it pleased God ... to reveal His Son in me' (Galatians
1:15-16). Gaining the knowledge of God certainly involves, as we have already
seen, hard work and hard experiences but, ultimately and quite crucially,
it also involves revelation by God's Spirit.
And then there is a third point, and it is this. We need as believers
to increase in the knowledge of God, because that knowledge can be lost as
well as gained. Students who 'swot' for examinations try to cram as much
knowledge as possible into their minds for a day at a time, but they are quite
frank that, a week or less later, most of that knowledge has already vanished
again: they have no further use for it. With the infinitely more precious
knowledge of God, not only may we lose what we do not use, but we know in
advance that there is an enemy of God whose stock-in-trade is ignorance, who
is opposed absolutely to the spread of the true knowledge of God, and who
will try by every means to rob us of it.
In other words, pressure and lack of use will both conspire to erode
our knowledge. Events -- tragedies -- in our lives will lead us to question
[104/105] whether what we thought we knew
of God could possibly be true in the light of what He has allowed to happen
to us. Carelessness on our part will result in loss and so, above all, will
disobedience to the knowledge which we have already received. Putting that
in still another way: to decide to settle down with the little knowledge
of God which we possess today, and be content with that, is already to foreknow
the loss of even that little.
What clearer, or more tragic, case history of loss than that of the Children
of Israel? To them were given the Law of God, the promises, and the leading
role in spreading the knowledge of Himself in the world of their time. No
people could have had more privileged access to that knowledge -- and none
would, over the years, squander it more completely. By the end of the book
of Judges, they had reached a point where 'in those days there was no king
in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes' (Judges 21:25).
And years later, the knowledge of God had been so far eroded that one day,
clearing out the temple treasury, somebody stumbled upon 'the book of the
law' (2 Chronicles 34:14-15), the public reading of which astonished and
appalled a nation apparently unaware of its very existence.
How was it possible for ignorance and loss on this scale to develop?
In Israel's case, the prime cause was disobedience -- not only direct disobedience
of the laws of God which had been given them, but also of His repeated injunctions
that they were to remember the past, and to pass on and teach the
knowledge of Himself to their children. But they had no sense of privileged
status; no real estimation of the value of this knowledge which they, uniquely,
possessed and so they lost it.
What Use is the Knowledge of God?
But the question to which all this, as I see it, is leading is what the
knowledge of God is to be used for. And here the realisation to which I have
all too slowly come is that this knowledge is not given to us simply to
make us more knowledgeable, nor even so that we can teach it in turn to
others, but it is to be used directly for their benefit.
Let me return to my example of the students and their examination 'knowledge'.
Here are two of them: one is preparing for an examination in classical literature,
and the other in medicine. If the student of literature forgets tomorrow
what he learned today, then neither he nor anyone else is, in a practical
sense, any the worse for it. His knowledge, if he retains it, may enrich his
own life, or enable him to shine in conversation by quoting the classics,
but that is all. Not so with the student of medicine. If he or she forgets
tomorrow what they knew today, then we are all in trouble! This kind of knowledge
is not disposable: to the end of the doctor's working life he or she has got
to know what drug or treatment suits which illness. This knowledge is not
merely personal: it is essentially for others.
The knowledge of God, I suggest, is much more like the second of these
types than the first. For we all share the human condition: we are subject,
together with all others, to the events of life which God permits or ordains
-- ills, worries, losses. Our knowledge of God is to be used to interpret
to others who do not understand what is going on in our world: to interpret
to them the ways of God.
What a tremendously challenging task that is! But even so it is far from
the whole of it. For our Bible is full of examples of men and women with
a knowledge of God using it on behalf of others, to affect those other
lives while the people concerned remained in ignorance of what was going
on. Do you suppose, for example, that Lot knew that he owed his deliverance
from Sodom to the astonishingly bold prayer that, miles away, Abraham was
praying on his behalf (Genesis 18)? Did Israel have any idea how Moses 'got
them off the hook' after the incident of the golden calf (Exodus 32)? Were
the sons and daughters of Job conscious of how much they owed to their father's
carefulness in averting the potentially evil effects of their thoughtless
feasting for so long (Job 1:4-5)? Probably not; yet in each case we have
one man using his knowledge of God, in prayer, to avert evil and protect others.
Here is something to ponder and explore. Is our knowledge of God sufficient
to make it effective on behalf of others? In a further article we shall explore
another of the Bible cases that reveal the value of this knowledge.
(To be continued) [105/106]
DAVID AND THE ASCENSION
MANY of the psalmist's allusions to Christ had as a background the trials
and experiences of David's own life; by these he pointed on to the sufferings
of the Saviour and also to His resurrection. Psalm 110 has no such allusions,
but is purely prophetic. As Peter rightly said, David himself never ascended
into the heavens, but prophetically he spoke of the Lord's ascension when
he uttered the words: "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand,
till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet" (Acts 2:34-35).
Psalm 110 is the most quoted of all psalms in the New Testament. It speaks
of an occasion which was epoch-making in human history, although only very
slightly honoured by many of us. We focus on Good Friday and the sacrificial
death of Christ; on Easter Sunday and His glorious resurrection; and also
on Whitsuntide and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by the exalted Saviour,
but on the whole we tend to give minor attention to Ascension Day and the
exaltation of Christ to the throne. Be that as it may, there are several
psalms devoted to this all-important matter, notably Psalms 2, 24 and 110.
[Psalm] 110 emphasises two divine mandates, the command about the throne and
the oath about priesthood, stressing the significance of God having constituted
His Son the Ruler who is all-powerful and all-loving, the Priest upon His
Melchizedek provides a striking example of the unity of the Scriptures.
After a brief reference to him in Genesis, he appears forgotten in one thousand
years of Jewish history until suddenly David speaks of him in this psalm..
Another thousand years of history passed before the writer to the Hebrews
found him a striking case to be argued from when highlighting the exaltation
of the Lord Jesus. Melchizedek was no passing incident, but an abiding provision
of God the Most High for all His redeemed people.
Before Abraham believed God's promise for the future and became the justified
father of the faithful, he returned from a victory to find that he was being
met and entertained by a mysterious character called Melchizedek, a heaven-sent
messenger who was both king and priest. We know so little about Melchizedek
that it would be idle to speculate, but we do know that he combined in himself
the two offices of rulership and priesthood. This suggests that even at the
dawn of the constitution of God's chosen people, there was an indication
of how they would be cared for. There was to be what is called "the order
So far as Old Testament history was concerned, there never was a King-Priest
of this kind, one single individual who would so function. Moses ruled for
God -- indeed we are told that he was king in Jeshuran (Deuteronomy 33:5)
-- but his ministry had to be complemented by his priestly brother, Aaron.
Kingship and priesthood could not yet be centred in one man. After many centuries
of turbulence in the kingdom, God raised up a true priest in the person
of Samuel the prophet. Samuel was only a Levite by birth, yet he was one
of the most priestly figures in all Israel's history. But he was never king.
To him was given the privilege of introducing and anointing Israel's kings,
first Saul, the unsatisfactory monarch, and then David, the progenitor of
the true royal line. Neither of these was ever a priest: indeed the beginning
of Saul's rejection was when he tried to act in a priestly way and had to
confess: [106/107] "I forced myself and offered the
burnt offering" (1 Samuel 13:12). It was a foolish action and it cost him
Samuel died before David actually came to the throne, so the two never
functioned together, but throughout his life David laid great stress on
recognising the proper priestly order, both in his own regime and in his
instructions concerning the reign of Solomon his successor. As events unrolled
there were kings and there were priests, but the same function was never
entrusted to one individual.
There was a very great priest who all but acted as king. His name was
Jehoida and with his wife he was responsible for the preservation of the
royal line when it was threatened with extermination by the wicked Athaliah.
Throughout his long life he was devoted to God's house, so much so that (unlike
Joash) when he died "they buried him among the kings" (2 Chronicles 24:16),
but he was careful always to keep the true king, Joash, in his rightful place.
Later on the great king Uzziah attempted to combine the two offices in his
own person, but it brought disastrous results and condemned him to a miserable
end. He had been called to be king and was greatly prospered by God in that
kingship, but he was never called to be a priest and his presumption in
trying to intrude into that office was clearly regarded as a great sin (2
Chronicles 26:19-21). Right through to the captivity God always operated
to keep government and priesthood separate.
When the captives returned from Babylon there was a ruler, Zerubbabel,
and a high priest, Joshua (Ezra 3:2), who worked together and became two
central figures in the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. Still, however,
rulership and priesthood were never combined, nor could they be until God's
perfect Man appeared. A graphic prophecy concerning His coming was given
by Zechariah when some captives arrived from Babylon with gold for crowning
Joshua, the high priest. There seems some doubt as to who was crowned, but
on this occasion the prophet announced that there was yet to come a Man called
the Branch. This One would be truly clothed with majesty and would be "a
priest on his throne" (Zechariah 6:13). The prophet added that then "there
will be harmony between the two", which I take to be a prediction that this
divine Branch would combine in Himself the double activity of king and priest.
It did not happen in Zechariah's day. If it happened in the interim period
between the Testaments it was of no account to Scripture. It did not even
happen in the gospel days when "the Branch" was here on the earth. Our blessed
Lord combined in Himself the holy characteristics of ruling and succouring,
but He was not crowned king and, as the Hebrew Epistle tells us, He could
not be included in the official priesthood while He was still on earth (Hebrews
The decree concerning Melchizedek came after the Lord Jesus had ascended
to heaven: "Having been made perfect, he became unto all them that
obey him ... named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews
5:9-10). It was after those momentous events of the crucifixion and the
resurrection that, after forty days, the words of another ascension psalm
were fulfilled, the heavenly gates lifting up their heads and the everlasting
doors being lifted up so that the King of glory, the Lord mighty in battles,
might enter in (Psalm 24:7). So, in His Son, God has provided us with a
perfect King and a perfect High Priest, and this is what Psalm 110 celebrates.
Melchizedek speaks of the rule of righteousness and peace. He points
us on to our triumphant Lord who now sits at the right hand of the Majesty
on high. Melchizedek appeared to Abraham in a moment of victory. The patriarch
had gone out against overwhelming enemies and had defeated them and recovered
all the captives they had taken away. Just as he was arriving back in his
triumph an emissary from heaven, Melchizedek, priest of God Most High, entertained
him to a feast of celebration. The occasion was one of total victory. One
thousand years later, David reminded God's people of the great event, using
it to foretell the greater Victor, made now to sit on the throne of God Most
High and constituted a perpetual and complete fulfilment of what Melchizedek
had typified. As our triumphant crucified and risen Saviour responded to
the divine command to take the highest place that heaven affords, the Father
took His irrevocable oath that His exalted Son would now be a Priest upon
His throne -- the true Melchizedek. [107/108]
The first six verses of this psalm focus on the cosmic victory and perpetual
ministry of the Lord Jesus. I have always found the words of verse 1 rather
puzzling: "He shall drink of the brook in the way; therefore shall he lift
up the head", an encouraging promise in its own right but seemingly out of
place in this setting. Who will drink? When will he drink?
Can it be that this casts a look back on the pilgrim journey which the
great High Priest made to the cross? Was it in the way of the cross that
He often had to pause to regain new strength from heavenly resources? Does
it remind us of that strenuous life of His that was so testing that from
time to time He had to stoop to drink of the brook of the Spirit's renewal
in order to go right on to Calvary? It may well be, for it was certainly
a true picture of how the Lord Jesus was strengthened and maintained by the
Holy Spirit. I would like, however, to make another suggestion which makes
this not so much part of the psalm but a kind of instruction and encouragement
of all of us who sing it.
If my exposition of the psalm is go beyond mere enlightenment and instruction
and provide help and encouragement to my readers, then my advice would be
that we constantly lift up our eyes to Christ on the throne and enter by
faith into what this means to us in our daily pilgrimage. I would say, "Brothers
and sisters, encountering all the hardships and difficulties of the pilgrim
way, there is a brook of divine resource just beside you in that way. There
always is such a brook, however that way may take you in the will of God.
There is a brook of the Spirit's refreshment by your way; drink of it and
your head will be lifted up, and in the lifting you will have a new vision
of your exalted Lord. Your loving heavenly Father has especially provided
for you His own King/Priest. He will give you the victory."
If any ask where that brook is, we may omit the letter "r" and describe
it as "The Book", the Bible. A constant reference to that Book as you journey
on will lift up your head to find courage and strength as you rely on the
divine Melchizedek. The cross was, of course, the complete atoning sacrifice
which our sins made necessary, but it was also a conflict in which the Son
of god totally defeated all the enemies of God and man. It may help us to
trace evidence of this victory in our psalm.
1. A Decisive Victory
"Sit thou at my right hand". Sin is the great enemy of God's purposes
and His people. Christ's position on the throne assures us that the sin question
is forever settled. Sin and forgiveness are not mentioned in this psalm,
as they are in so many of the others, but that is surely because it refers
to a moment when the whole issue has been decisively settled. Here the Lord
is not spoken of as a sacrificing priest -- He was both the priest and the
sacrifice -- but now that the atoning work has been completed, He is referred
to as the triumphant Warrior. David's psalm begins in the spirit of our own
hymn which says:
The strife is o'er, the battle done:
The victory of life is won:
The song of triumph has begun;
This does not mean that we Christians can afford to be careless or complacent
about sin. It is a fearful enemy. We must beware of its deceitfulness (Hebrews
3:13) and we must be careful to know continual cleansing from sin and sins
by walking in the light and humbly confessing sins (1 John 1:7 & 9).
Thank God we are assured that sin is no longer to have dominion over us, but
this is all and only because of Christ's victory on the cross.
Everything depends upon that victory. His place of exaltation at the
Father's right hand assures us of its completeness. He was not only told
to sit down but we are assured that He has done so: "When he had made purification
of sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews
1:3). He left that place in the heavens in order to come to earth to put
away sin and we may be confident that He would not have resumed His enthronement
if He had not completed that task. If we believe that Christ came into the
world to save sinners, then we must believe that He would never be prepared
to leave the world if the work of redemption were not totally fulfilled. This
surely is the implication of the Lord's own words that the Spirit would convince
of righteousness by the fact that He had gone to the Father and we see Him
no more (John 16:10). [108/109]
When Ruth was nervously pacing the floor and wondering about Boaz's handling
of her future, the advice given by Naomi was: "Sit still, my daughter ...
the man will not rest until he have finished the thing this day" (Ruth 3:18).
On the day that the Lord Jesus sat down, He and the Father were content that
the whole work of our redemption is complete. We, then, may enjoy peace in
their fellowship. The Lord is not worrying; He has neither fears nor misgivings.
Drink of that brook, dear Christian friend, and indeed your head will be
When early Jewish believers were troubled and unsettled about their standing
with God, their attention was not directed to the actual hill called Calvary
nor to the literal cross which Roman Catholics claim was preserved and treasured.
Nor were they exhorted to visit the site of the empty tomb which, unlike
today, could easily have been identified at that time. No, they were told
to look up. The crucified and risen King and Priest was now on the throne,
serene in the perfection of His atoning work. Again and again in the Letter
to the Hebrews the basis of all confidence and holiness was stated to be the
seated Saviour: "... the chief point is this: we have such a high priest who
sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heaven" (8:1).
There is no righteousness for us and no peace apart from Him who is the King
of both righteousness and peace, our God-provided Melchizedek.
God's problem of how anyone can ascend into His holy hill or stand in
His presence without clean hands, a pure heart, a soul free from pride and
a mouth without deceit, has been solved by Himself becoming Man, conquering
sin and condemnation and returning as mighty Conqueror through the uplifted
everlasting doors and so opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers (Psalm
24). On our behalf, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus not only can stand
in God's holy place but is seated there on the eternal throne. For this reason,
He is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through him (Hebrews
We are to run the race looking off unto Him. The conflict of the cross
is now past. The enthroned Christ, far from condemning us, ever lives to
make intercession for us. The true Melchizedek invites us to sit down at
His table and feast triumphantly on His bread and wine. The victory of Calvary
He hell in hell laid low;
Made sin, He sin o'erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death, by dying, slew.
2. A Final Victory
"Sit thou at my right hand until ..." This word "until" marks a significant
time factor in God's decree. The decisive victory has yet to be fully implemented.
Later in the Psalm we are told of devastating judgments when God will "judge
among the nations ... and strike through the head in many countries" (v.6).
That will be "in the day of his wrath", a time which is yet future. The event
is described in various ways: it is the Day of the Lord; it is the Day of
Christ; it is the times of the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21); and
it is called the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19).
Everything is waiting on that Day. The whole creation is waiting for
it and, so we are told, it groans at the long delay. The Church waits for
it. We in whom the Spirit dwells groan within ourselves as we wait for its
triumph. The glorified saints wait for it, if we are to be guided by the
Scriptural representation in which the souls under the altar cry with a
loud voice, "How long, O Master ...?" (Revelation 6:10). Most of all, though,
our enthroned Lord waits for it, since He has been told to sit there until
the moment of final victory comes: "From henceforth expecting ..." (Hebrews
10:13). What vast implications are bound up with the psalmist's "Until"!
For our comfort we are told that words spoken to those souls beneath
the altar apply in some measure to us all: "It was said unto them, that
they should rest yet for a little time, until ..." their full number should
be completed. "Yet a little time!" It may seem a long time to some of us.
Let us find comfort and patience in the fact that our Lord on the throne
is waiting with us for the great Day of final victory.
One day the Lord will come again in power to press His Calvary victory
to its total realisation. He Himself spoke of the time "when once the
[109/110] master of the house has risen up" (Luke 13:25). It seems
that His present session at the Father's right hand is for the limited period
of this gospel dispensation. His kingly priesthood is permanent -- He is
a priest for ever -- but He will not for ever postpone His day of judgment.
It was He who first introduced the subject matter of this psalm when He challenged
His critics with the identification of David's lord. And it was He who warned
the Jewish rulers that the Day would come when He would be seen coming on
the clouds of judgment. That will be the occasion when the Father will implement
His promise to put all enemies beneath the feet of His enthroned Son. Until
then we are passing through the prolonged period when, in His kind patience,
God holds back that inevitable day of judgment. It will be as though the
seated Christ rises up to impose the final victory.
Comment has often been made concerning the claim by Stephen that, through
the opened heaven, he could see the Son of Man standing on the right
hand of God (Acts 7:56). From the earliest days it has been suggested that
the Lord actually rose from His throne to welcome His first martyr -- to
my mind a fanciful idea. What seems to me much more likely is that this dying
servant of the Lord had a visionary pre-view of the Second Coming. This suggestion
is borne out by his unique use of the name, "Son of Man", a title closely
associated with the Second Advent and never used by any other than the Lord
Himself. That Day will surely come. The present exaltation to the throne
3. The Present Victory
"The Lord shall send forth the rod of thy strength out of Zion; rule
thou in the midst of thine enemies". In this interim period there are still
enemies and will continue to be until that last Day. The King/Priest, however,
is to exercise His rule even now. From His throne in Zion, the Lord Jesus
extends His powerful sceptre to answer every kind of challenge. While we
have to wait for "the day of his wrath" (v.5) we do not have to wait for
"the day of His power" (v.3), for it is now. Already the King is seated.
He rules in the midst of His enemies.
We hold firmly to the decisive victory of Calvary -- sin is vanquished
for us. We hold equally firmly to the final victory -- sin will be banished
from God's world. Now, not less firmly, we are told to have complete confidence
in His sovereign government here and now. We constantly need His delivering
power. Melchizedek gives us a graphic example of how he brought God's help
to Abraham. Returning from his battle with the kings and flushed with success,
it would have been easy for Abraham to respond to the subtle patronage of
the king of Sodom. This king awaited him with proffered friendliness and
offers to enrichment. "The king of Sodom went out to meet him" but Melchizedek
stepped in before him: "And Melchizedek brought forth bread and wine ... and
blessed him", and if ever there was a timely intervention it was that. It
turned Abraham's thoughts away from this world's glittering prizes and brought
him a heavenly feast and such an enjoyment of God's goodness that Abraham
gladly gave the priest a tenth of all he had.
This succour in the nick of time prepared Abraham to conquer temptation
and reject the world's seductive offers. "I have lift up my hand unto the
Lord, God Most High ... that I will not take a thread nor a shoelatchet ...",
he was able to say to the king of Sodom (Genesis 14:22-23), and all because
of the saving ministry of Melchizedek. Now Abraham felt that he had something
much better than this world's praise or wealth. And he was right, for immediately
following this incident, the message came to him: "Fear not, I am thy shield
and thy exceeding great reward." (Genesis 15:1). This promise is for all
of us. The One on the throne who has saved us is constantly on the watch
to keep us. This is His work as our great high priest. We need our Melchizedek
(Hebrews 7:26) and thank God we have Him: "Now to sum up what we are saying.
We have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne
The psalm gives us three comments on those who are governed by the Priest
on the throne. They are that His power makes His people willing; His grace
produces in them the beauty of holiness; His eternal life gives them the
dew of spiritual youth.
i. "Thy people offer themselves willingly in the day of thy
power " [110/111]
It may be argued that the Lord Jesus has His day of power among men when
His people are willing. There is a certain sense in which this is true, but
there is a sense in which those who appreciate that this is the day of His
power, that even now He is ruling in the midst of His enemies, respond to
Him with new devotedness. This is implicit in the fact that when Abraham
had been blessed by Melchizedek, he responded by giving a tithe of everything
he had in willing gratitude. We do not present our bodies to the Lord as
willing sacrifices in order to obtain His mercies, but as glad acknowledgement
that those mercies are already ours. Because we have a clearer glimpse of
Christ on heaven's throne, we the more wholeheartedly enthrone Him in our
ii. "In the beauties of holiness"
There are various renderings of this Scriptural phrase about the beauty
of holiness. I am not competent to comment on them, but to me supreme beauty
is found alone in my enthroned Saviour. "Let the beauty of Jesus be seen
in me" is the spontaneous response of those who have such a High Priest. It
is just because He is also King and fully able to transform even the most
hopeless sinner that the words pass from being a wish to an actual reality.
As the pilgrim drinks of the brook in the way, he not only has an uplifted
head but a transformed life. This transformation is called "salvation to
the uttermost" and it is the task on which our glorified Lord is busily engaged.
His purpose for us is beautiful holiness and He who died and was raised from
the dead is now at the right hand of God also making intercession for us
iii. "Thou hast the dew of thy youth"
This again is a problematic passage. It certainly applies to the Lord
Jesus, who is said to exercise His priesthood "in the power of an endless,
or indissoluble, life" (Hebrews 7:16). While this world and everything in
it grows old and weary, He maintains the eternal freshness of heaven. It
seems, however, that this may refer to the King's people. Thank God that
it is a reality that those who lift up their head in the way find their lives
touched with the dew of spiritual youth as eternal life is renewed within
them by the Lord on the throne. We rejoice in the literal youth of the Church.
However I have seen even aged saints, white-haired and wrinkled, of whom it
could rightly be said that they maintain the dew of spiritual youth. And why
not? Our fresh springs of eternal life are not natural but spiritual, coming
from the glorious Lord who promised that He would be as the dew to Israel
(Hosea 14:5). In every phase of our life and witness we may look up to Him
and find that for us He does send forth the rod of his strength out of Zion
* * * * *
The exalted Lord Jesus rules in the midst of His enemies. The early believers
found that to be witnesses for Christ involved them in a bitter conflict.
Wisely, they came together to pray about it. Perhaps it seemed strange. Perhaps
some faint hearts were asking "Why?" The answer to that question came when
they stopped to drink of the brook in the way and someone found it in Psalm
2 (another Ascension Psalm).
The inspired Scriptures lifted up their thoughts to the Father's declaration
concerning His ascended Son. "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of
Zion". It was a timely reminder. With uplifted hearts they then lifted up
their voice to God with one accord, not in complaint nor self-pity, but in
triumphant petition. God answered in a mighty way. Christ sent forth the
rod of His strength out of Zion, as our psalm said He would.
TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS
J. Alec Motyer
1. MERCY AND MINISTRY
(2 Corinthians 4:1-6)
"WE have this ministry". When we read the word "ministry" we so often
point away from ourselves. We think of the ministry not in "we" terms, but
in terms of "he" or "they", looking away to other people to occupy special
leadership positions. At the very outset of this passage, the Spirit of God
challenges us, telling us that it is we who have the gospel ministry.
We must make sure that this is what the Bible is saying to each one of
us, because the impact of these six verses depends upon our grasping the
fact that the ministry is a responsibility that rests upon every Christian
believer. At times, of course, the apostle uses the pronoun "we" in an apostolic
sense and referring only to him. For example, he asks, "Are we beginning
again to commend ourselves?" (3:1), talking about his personal relationship
to the church at Corinth. A certain coolness had arisen between some of them
and him. Things were not as they used to be, they were beginning to think
badly of him, being prompted by some of his enemies who had crept into the
church. If, however, we read on in chapter 3 we find that what he says applies
to all believers: "We all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the
glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image" (3:18).
That is not apostolic. That is common to all believers. Every Christian
is an unveiled believer. The veil has been taken from all our faces. The
effect is transformation, and that is certainly not just for the apostles
but for each one of us in Christ. This is the background to chapter 4. It
refers to every believer who beholds Christ and is being changed into His
likeness. Coming straight on from that glorious truth, Paul argues that
therefore , since that is so, we have the gospel ministry. Since we
are all involved in the experience of being transformed and so obtained mercy,
we all find ourselves committed to the gospel ministry. In this respect, Paul's
ministry is a model and not a speciality.
I rather shrink from the word "ministry" because it creates the wrong
vibrations for many people. Because of our tradition we speak of young men
going "into the ministry", so the very word conveys a wrong idea in our minds.
Those who are modest find the very thought of exercising a ministry as off-putting,
asking how they can be in the ministry at their age! Perhaps it will
be better if from these verses we make our subject that of gospel responsibility.
Gospel Responsibility Rests on Mercy
Seeing that we have received mercy we have this ministry! This is a way
in which we can rightly read verse 1. The ministry came with the mercy. When
mercy came, it brought ministry with it. The N.I.V. gives the impression
that it is in His mercy that God has given us ministry but that is not the
thought. It is not mercy which makes God condescend to give ministry even
to people like us. The thought is rather that mercy has been freely given
to us, and the ministry follows. We cannot have mercy without ministry; the
donation and experience of mercy have made us ministers.
This is addressed to all Christians. We are on common ground. With God's
mercy which has come to us there has come a gospel responsibility, so that
God's mercy is first of all an appointing [112/113]
mercy. But God's mercy is also a sustaining mercy, so that we are able
to continue and not to faint. Mercy does two things for us: it brings us
into ministry and it also brings us into endurance.
Gospel Responsibility Involves Commitment
There has to be a certain sort of renouncing life on the part of those
to whom the mercy of God has come. "We faint not". The word used here is
the same as that which the Lord Jesus uses in the parable where He says that
we ought always to pray and not to faint (Luke 18:1). We are exhorted to
pray and not to tail off. Sometimes we get a great stimulus to engage in prayer
and even make a prayer list, but later it tails off. We must not tail off
with our praying or in our witnessing either. Outside of the New Testament
the word is used about fresh fruit gone stale. The fruit may be quite fresh
when it arrives at the greengrocer, but after it has been there for a while,
the bloom goes off it. Mercy has come into our lives and with that mercy
has come an appointment to gospel responsibility, but we need more mercy not
to lose the freshness and bloom of the early days. It is mercy which gives
durability to God's people.
As we have said, Chapter 4 begins with the introductory word "therefore".
Having told the Corinthians of the change of heart which the gospel brought
to them, he speaks of them as living epistles which the Holy Spirit had written,
"not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh" (3:3).
This is a picture which the Bible uses for a change of heart. Jeremiah began
it, and then it was taken up in the Epistle to the Hebrews, likening God's
great work of salvation to having the law written on our hearts. It is a
pictorial way of saying that with the work of the gospel there comes a new
nature. This new nature matches and contains all the promises of the gospel
and lies behind the claim that when mercy comes, ministry and durability come
and we do not faint.
Paul starts in the inner reality of the private life. "We have renounced
the hidden things of shame". We need to be freed from the hidden things that
are seen by nobody but ourselves. Paul then goes on to the public life, "not
walking in craftiness". This outer walk of the Christian is the public life
that anybody can see. Paul passes thirdly to the thought of proclamation,
of telling something, "not handling the Word of God deceitfully". He then
does the same thing in reverse, "By manifestation of the truth", that is,
by proclamation; then "commending ourselves to every man's conscience", that
is, by allowing people to be impressed by the outward aspects of our lives;
and finally he comes back again to our private lives, "In the sight of God",
namely, what God alone can see. In this double way the apostle tells us
that our gospel responsibility demands commitment in the hidden life, in
the public life, and in our speaking to others.
The central thing is proclaiming the gospel. The expression, "not handling
the word of God deceitfully" contains all the ideas that are familiar to
us of not adding to the Word and not subtracting from it, as well as not misrepresenting
it, but rather making it clear and plain. This demands a purity of inward
and outward life. So these three things run together, the private life, the
public life and the proclaiming life. We need a holiness that touches the
inward life and the outward life in order that we may share the Word of God
with those around us.
So we cannot argue that we are not called, because ministry belongs with
salvation. We cannot argue that we are not worthy because the ministry is
for those who have received mercy. We cannot argue that we are not able,
for with the gospel come the ability to be strong and fresh in the work. And
we cannot say that we do not know, for all we have to do is to take the precious
Word of God and make it plain. It may be something out of our daily reading;
it may be some truth about the Lord Jesus; it has nothing to do essentially
with pulpit thunderings or evangelistic campaigns. "We" says Paul, "in the
same individuality in which we were converted and mercy came to us, have
at the same time been entrusted with gospel responsibility."
Gospel Responsibility Involves Conflict
Paul is very realistic; he gives no suggestion that this work of the
gospel is a pushover. We go on immediately to read that "If our gospel is
veiled, it is veiled in them that are perishing; in whom the god of this
world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving ..." (v.3). May I remind
you [113/114] that we are not speaking of special
"ministers" with special functions but of us ordinary believer's in our
daily contacts with others. As soon as we take up our gospel responsibility,
we find that we are in headlong conflict with the god of this world, who
fights hard for his kingdom.
The apostle speaks first of all of a fact -- the gospel is veiled. Blindness
is upon the fallen human heart. The natural man is unable to understand the
things of the Spirit of God. That is a fact. Now look at the implications
of that fact -- it is veiled in them that are perishing. The thought is not
at all the "if" of being open to question, but it is perhaps better translated,
"since". Those who are without gospel blessing, without that knowledge of
Jesus Christ that the gospel brings, without that inner change of heart
upon which the gospel is written, those without Christ are without hope,
they are perishing.
After this we have the explanation of this situation -- the god of this
world has blinded men's minds. Satan, of course, is not a god, but he is
so immensely powerful that the Bible does not hesitate to speak of him as
the object of worship which this world acknowledges. The Lord Jesus spoke
of him as the "prince of this world" and in the Letter to the Ephesians he
is described as "the prince of the power of the air". Now the focal point
of Satan's activity is the mind of the unbeliever. He blinds the mind.
What is the essential difference between the converted and the unconverted
person? Naturally the fundamental difference is in respect of a relationship
with God in Christ, but there is a difference within the persons themselves,
an essential psychological difference, and it is in the mind. The unconverted
are darkened in their understanding whereas, in contrast, those who have
been taught of God have learned truth in Jesus (Ephesians 4:18-21). Into the
converted person has come both the ability to grasp the truth and Jesus who
is the truth.
May I elaborate this a little by quoting the Scripture which calls us
by the mercies of God to present our bodies a living sacrifice and goes on
to say "and be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the
renewing of your mind ..." (Romans 12:2). It is not just the kindling
of the heart that leads to sanctification, but the renewing of the mind.
Redemption has been made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence (Ephesians
1:8); the wisdom that enables us to know and grasp the truth and the prudence
which teaches us what to do about it.
The god of this world has blinded that central faculty, the mind, and
the outward expression of that condition is unbelief. We are glad to say
that our neighbours are such nice people. Can they be blind? Can they be
perishing? We have to ask ourselves in the light of Scripture, can this fail
to be true? This is the diagnosis of the Word of God, in spite of what we
could have wished to be the case. Motivated by antagonism and hatred of the
Son of God, Satan will neither have the good of men nor the glory of Christ
and so, in case that light should come with benefit to men and with glory
to Christ, the god of this world fights desperately for his kingdom.
Gospel Responsibility Rests on Confidence
Our responsibility for the gospel may bring us into conflict but with
it there is always a sufficient resource to make us confident, we obtain
mercy not to faint. It is interesting to note that the first word in verse
5 is "For" -- "For we preach not ourselves ..." If we did that Satan would
not bother to oppose the preaching. He would not be worried by such a proclamation.
Why does he fight? Because "we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord
..." Our confidence is based upon our knowledge of the absolute lordship
of Christ. The gospel is backed by the sovereignty of God. So here is the
explanation of the opposition, but here also is the antidote, the fact that
the One we preach is Christ the Lord of all. In the face of Satan's antagonism
Paul does not suggest giving up the preaching of Christ and trying an easier
message. No, he discloses the fact that the spring which arouses the opposition
and triggers it off is Christ Jesus as Lord. This is the power which thrusts
us forward. The only tool put into the hand of the Christian is that "We preach
... Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake."
Preaching is the divine counter-action to the opposition of the god of
this world. But nobody [114/115] may excuse himself
by claiming not to be a preacher. The word used in verse 5 is the word "herald".
We are town criers for Christ. If you meet a town crier ringing his bell
and shouting at the top of his voice and ask him why he is acting so, he will
point back to the Town Hall and explain, "Because authority there told me
to do it." This, then, is simply another way of saying that our task is the
manifestation of the truth. Preaching here does not demand the use of a pulpit
and prepared sermon; it just involves being put somewhere and told what to
Towards the gospel we are preachers, heralds; towards the world around
we are servants; and towards the Lord Jesus we are lovers, doing what we
do "for Jesus' sake". When Paul says, "We preach not ourselves" he gives
us a timely warning, and yet he has already said that we have to commend
ourselves (v.2). There is a sense in which Christians have to be in the limelight,
for we have to let ourselves be seen. If we do not have the world's opinion
that we are commendable people, why should they listen to us? We have to
learn to live in the light without coveting the spotlight. Here, for example,
is a gospel singer. No spiritual one would wish people to note what a lovely
voice she has, yet it is the loveliness of the voice that commends the gospel.
Were it a horrible voice, no-one would listen to it. But the gospel singer
does not commend the lovely voice but the lovely gospel. And we are to be
like that, not asking people to look at the lovely life we live but at our
lovely Lord. Yet if we do not live a lovely life, no-one will listen us.
We do not preach ourselves, but we are called to commend ourselves.
Gospel Responsibility is based on Divine Sovereignty
The explanation of what has gone before is given in verse 6 which begins
with the phrase, "Seeing that". Our only way forward, in the face of satanic
opposition, is by the preaching of Christ. And why is that? It is because
the God who said "Light shall shine out of darkness" has shined in our hearts.
Conversion is a sovereign act of God. The miracle of conversion, says Paul,
is like the miracle of creation. When everything was in primeval darkness,
the sovereign Word said, "Let there be light" with emphasis on the
word Light. And that is the secret story of every conversion, when God becomes
known in the face of Jesus Christ.
The Bible has many ways of describing this gospel transformation. It
is spoken of in terms of birth -- "By his own will, he begat us" (James
1:8). This is dramatic, but it is also sovereign. Parents do not consult
their children as to whether they would like to be born. Birth is not an
invitation: it is an event. Salvation is spoken of as resurrection -- we
were dead in sins and raised to life together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5).
No-one would address a dead body and enquire if it wished to be raised. No,
resurrection is a sovereign act which depends on decisions and energies that
belong elsewhere. The Creator does not consult the creation. When the world
was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep, the
Creator did not come and say, "Would you mind if I created light? Would you
like to have light? If I offer it to you will you accept it?" It is a sovereign
decision. Paul says that conversion is like that.
The veil is that which is natural to fallen man and fallen man cannot
penetrate that veil. Only one thing can happen, and that is that the veil
should be taken away. Only God can do that. It is a work of the same dimension
as when God said, "Let light shine out of darkness" for He shines in men's
heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of
Jesus Christ. We preach because God is like that. The power that lies behind
our preached word is the power of the Creator God to make all things new,
the power to overcome the blindness cast by the god of this world.
Mercy has brought ministry. Ministry depends upon the pure Word of God
being made clear. This is not an exercise in cleverness, nor is it limited
to a special gift, but it is an exercise in clarity. When we read our Bibles
in the morning and some old truth comes to us with fresh clarity or a new
truth become clear, then we have a message. But of course the message is
also made clear by the lives that commend it. The god of this world is fighting
for his kingdom, but a mighty weapon has been placed in our hands: it is
the sharing of gospel truth. Nothing else is mentioned here. The power of
that weapon is the sovereign God who can sovereignly say: "Light shall shine
out of darkness."
(To be continued) [115/116]
3. REVELATION AND HEAVEN
"That you may know the hope of his calling"
WE now come to the first of the specified items in Paul's prayer for
the Ephesian Christians. It concerns our hope of heaven. The apostle clearly
regarded this matter as fundamental, declaring it to be God's objective in
ever calling us by His grace. The modern tendency is to stress the immediate
and practical implications of the gospel, with an inclination to leave considerations
about heaven to small children or senior saints. This, to say the least of
it, is unscriptural. It is also unreal, since the usual concern of sinners
when they first come to Christ has eternity in view. I fled for refuge to
Jesus the Saviour many years ago, not because I did not know how to live but
because I was afraid to die. I later took the gospel to benighted heathen,
not to ease their troubled consciences of guilt nor to invite them to taste
the joys of fellowship and answered prayer, but to give to those who feared
the mystery of death a sure message of hope for eternity.
Jesus did not hesitate to describe the future glory as heaven, and He
urged us on to live as those who expect not only life but treasures in heaven.
To the dabblers in the more superficial accompaniments of the gospel in Corinth,
Paul made the staggering assertion: "If in this life only we have hoped in
Christ, we are of all men most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19). However no-one
need pity us who have staked our basic faith and procedure on the future,
for Christ has certainly risen again and is preparing for us a place in
the Father's house.
Jesus is coming again. The original offer of the gospel made in Jerusalem's
temple pointed men on to "The times of restoration of all things" at the
Return of the Lord from heaven (Acts 3:21). The gospel offers not only pardon
from the wrath to come but a positive part in the glorious eternal kingdom
of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus. Hope is basic to the gospel. When Paul
wrote to the Colossians about their experience of salvation, he explained
their evident faith and love as being the outcome of the message of hope
which came to them in the gospel: "the faith and love that spring from the
hope that is stored up for you in heaven ..." (Colossians 1:5). This hope
is so important that he urged them not to be moved away from the hope of the
gospel (v.23), reminding them that the inward experience of Christ guarantees
for them the glory which is their hope (v.27).
With Christ reigning in our heart we can and should be ready to give
an answer to any enquirer as to what is our hope (1 Peter 3:15). Outsiders
cannot understand our faith and it is not always easy to explain it to them,
but people can be told by lip and by life that heaven is our confident hope.
They may scoff at the idea. "Pie in the sky when you die" they jeer. So be
it! If they imagine that human existence is limited to this life and that
death is the end, then they are in for a rude undeception. However you express
it, the reality of heaven awaits all true Christians.
Christ Himself is said to be our Hope (1 Timothy 1:1), so Paul's prayer
is valid in that it implies learning more of Him. Such revelation is much
more than mere prophetic study, for it is a mighty instrument for holy living.
"Everyone who has this hope set on him, purifies himself even as he is
[116/117] pure", wrote the man who probably knew more about heaven
than any of his contemporaries (1 John 3:3).
Heaven is certainly a subject which calls for divine illumination, and
a little of this is given to us by the final book written by this same apostle
John, namely The Revelation. We are creatures of time, and therefore are
not able to grasp much about this greater timeless dimension. For instance,
we know strangely little about those who "sleep in Jesus", though doubtless
we know as much as in the will of God we need to know. We know that they are
actually present, or at home, with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Whatever
blessings they enjoyed here on earth, "to be with Christ is very far better"
(Philippians 1:23). Far better! That is a comforting assurance. We know that
they rest from their labours (Revelation 14:13) and that there the wicked
cease from troubling: and there the weary be at rest" (Job 3:17). What is
more, we know that they will be the first to appear in the resurrection glory
in quite new bodies when the Lord Jesus comes from heaven with a shout (1
Thessalonians 4:16). We know that heaven is a real experience even now, but
we mean more than this present bliss when we consider "the hope of our calling",
which is a future prospect, hidden as yet but soon to be made manifest.
The Second Coming of Christ is central to the Christian's hope, for hope
and resurrection go together in the Scriptures. All the events described
in John's Revelation will reach their climax in what is called "The first
resurrection" (Revelation 20:5), which introduces the marriage supper of the
Lamb. (Incidentally the first miracle described in John's Gospel took place
at a marriage feast.) The redeemed Church is described as Christ's bride,
a relationship referred to by John the Baptist (John 3:29) as well as by
Paul who makes it the basis of his reference to the tender love of the Saviour
(Ephesians 5:32). He rather implies that while we wait for the great occasion,
we are treated as more in the position of being engaged or "espoused" to
our heavenly Bridegroom, and needing to keep ourselves for Him (2 Corinthians
Everything focuses on the Day of the Lord. I believe that this explains
John's claim to have been "In the Spirit on the Lord's Day" (Revelation 1:10).
I do not find it possible to accept the interpretation which makes this
to have been a Sunday. I would expect John to be in the Spirit on most days.
Why should he use this term, which speaks not of "a" day but "the" day?
Unless I am mistaken there is no evidence that at that time the first day
of the week was called "The Lord's Day", and in any case I find it hard to
believe that all those great apocalyptic events were seen and recorded in
a single day. It seems much simpler to accept that what he was involved in
by the Spirit was what everywhere else the Bible calls "The Day", "The Day
of Christ" or "The Day of the Lord", that Day which is to terminate and succeed
the present dispensation which Paul so rightly calls "man's day" (1 Corinthians
Much of what John reports is solemn and hard to receive, but the climax
of bridal glory seems clear enough though necessarily told in parabolic form.
We are given pictorial descriptions of the marvellous truth that the destiny
of the Church is to be bridal union with Christ. This, we have already seen,
constitutes the riches of the glory of God's inheritance in the saints. In
the first description the event is heralded by Hallelujahs. The bride is
said to have received beautiful white garments for the occasion, garments
which are said to be the righteousnesses of the saints. In the second vision,
the bride is likened to a magnificent city, refreshed by a crystal river and
itself richly adorned with gold, precious stones and priceless pearls. On
both occasions John was so overcome with the splendour of it all that he
actually tried to worship the heavenly messenger who demonstrated the matter
to him. It is amazing that such a spiritual and experienced servant of God
should fall down to worship an angel, and even more amazing that he should
confess the blunder to us, but it is most extraordinary that he should repeat
the error. On both occasions the angel admonished him: "Do not do it! Worship
God!" (19:10 & 22:9). I can only conclude that John was inspired to record
these two incidents in order to impress upon us that he had been overcome
by the surpassing wonder of what he saw and heard.
And indeed it is most wonderful. Surely there is no more marvellous prospect
in all the universe [117/118] than the bridal inheritance
of the saints in light. It is to be our destiny, and it is the eternal purpose
of the gospel. We may well pray to have the eyes of our heart enlightened
to its supreme importance. We may have some gracious foretastes of heaven
now from time to time, but this will altogether eclipse them. We cannot altogether
make a difference technically between the present and the future, nor can
we set limits on what God may give us of thrilling ecstasy or practical holiness
here and now; nevertheless eternity will totally surpass our present joys.
The operative Scriptural word in this connection is always BETTER
In some ways this description of future glory in terms of marriage union
with our glorious Lord embraces all that can be thought or said. It may be
helpful, though, to seek to enlarge a little on the prospect set before us.
It so happens that the Bible has a way of emphasing positives by means of
negatives, and this is particularly the case in John's revelation concerning
heaven, for he lists seven factors which will be absent from the eternal
kingdom. Sadly enough, he uses the same method to inform us of the Christless
eternity which we call Hell. In Revelation 18 we are told of this sevenfold
deprivation for those who are lost. There will be no more commerce (v.11),
no more pleasures (v.14), no more greatness (v.21), no more music (v.22),
no more employment (v.22), no more illuminations (v.23) and no more loving,
relationships (v.23). Seven times over the dread knell is sounded: "No more!"
This is a sobering thought. It should make us the more concerned for the salvation
of others. It certainly fills our hearts with gratitude for the grace which
has delivered us from this fatal kingdom of darkness.
Our present purpose, however, is to stress the sevenfold "No more" of
blessings which characterise our future hope. There is to be no more sea
(21:1), no more death, no more mourning, no more crying and no more pain
(21:4), no more curse (22:3) and no more night (22:5). The Scriptural perfect
number seven appears frequently in the Book of Revelation, and here at the
climax of the story is the fullness of glory emphasised by these seven uses
of the words, "No more!"
Here are a few of heaven's blessings, all of which have some practical
implications even now:
i. No More Separations
Some have interpreted the statement that there will be no more sea as
suggesting an end to divisions and separations. Whether this is so or not,
the Scriptures which speak of Christ's Coming make use of that happy word,
together, "... together with them" (1 Thessalonians 4:17) and "...
we should live together with him" (1 Thessalonians 5:10). There will
be no more unhappy partings.
In the creation story, the second day is remarkable in that it received
no word of approval from God. On each other day we are told that God saw
that it was good, and on the sixth day that God saw it all as "very good",
but there is no such verdict on the work of the second day which was when
God divided the earth from heaven (Genesis 1:6-8). Can it be, I wonder, that
God Himself could not find satisfaction until heaven and earth are completely
united? Is this part of our heavenly hope? John tells us that he witnessed
that union: "I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of
heaven from God ..." (Revelation 21:2).
O then what raptured greetings
On Canaan's happy shore,
What knitting severed friendships up,
Where partings are no more!
John and his elder brother James once made a foolish request that they
should be given places at the right hand and left hand of the their glorified
Lord. There were some mitigating elements in their wrong petition. They
displayed a confident expectation that Christ would reign as king. What
is more, they expressed a natural desire both to be as near to Him as possible
and to maintain eternally their own close relationship with each other.
Perhaps what they asked was not as wrong as it might have seemed. Note,
however, the interesting sequel to the story when John was on Patmos. First
of all, since the vision given to him of Christ showed that in heaven Christ
is central, it follows that there is no right hand or left hand
[118/119] there, but that He will be equally near to all and all
near to him, so that James and John would not be at any disadvantage. The
second is that we will all be together. In the mysterious providence of God
the relationship between James and John was severed very early on in the Church's
history when James was beheaded by Herod. John, however, lived on beyond
all the others and could well have felt very lonely, especially in the isolation
Where was dear James now? Well, he was given the answer to this question
for, among the many other wonders which he had witnessed, he tells us that
he saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus
(20:4). So he must have seen his brother James! And sure enough, with the
others, James had a throne. That was only a preview, but when the Day of
the Lord comes, James and John will be re-united. And they will live and reign
Why do we need the eyes of our heart enlightened about this? Naturally
enough, it brings immediate comfort for the lonely and bereaved. Certainly
that! But more, it should impress us with our destiny of perfect unity in
the glory. This hope is for all the saints. There will be no isolation or
division then. How earnestly, then, should we seek to avoid division and
separation now. We cannot always ignore differences among us, but we can
try to rise above them. They must be secondary, for they will have no place
in the glory where the centrality and supremacy of the Lord Jesus will be
our only consideration. Surely it will become increasingly the case even
now if the Spirit of wisdom and revelation has His way in us.
ii. No More Sorrows
No more mourning, and no more crying. Disappointments are an inevitable
feature of life here on earth, and sometimes spiritual disappointments are
the most acute. There are areas in which we are all mourners. I feel sure
that John, like the rest of us, found that life worked out for him very differently
from what he envisaged when first he began to follow the Lord. He would
not have been human if he had not grieved over the loss of James who had
been especially favoured by the Lord Jesus. While the rest of the Jerusalem
church rejoiced over Peter's deliverance from Herod, poor John was left
to mourn over the strange and sudden loss of his beloved brother.
What is more, when he had been in the midst of those tremendously exciting
Pentecostal days, he could never have thought it possible that Christians
could have deteriorated into some of the sad conditions described in the
seven letters which he had to write to the churches in Asia. And how did he
feel when his great book was finished? It must have been thrilling to have
a door opened into heaven and to be caught up to enter it but, when he had
finished his visions, we would imagine that it must have been hard to go
back again to the privations of Patmos to share with other suffering saints
the tribulation and patience which are in Jesus (Revelation 1:9).
For us too there were expectations which we had for ourselves and for
the work of God which, to our sorrow, have not been realised. Thank God that
there have also been blessings from God which we hardly dreamed of, notably
in world evangelisation. But some events have also disappointed us. People
have disappointed us. We have disappointed ourselves. We have "claimed" promises,
only to find them seemingly unfulfilled; we have prayed prayers which as
yet do not appear to have been answered. We seek to trust where we cannot
see but we cannot claim to have no sorrows. Then, however, it will all be
clear. Then all the promises will have been fulfilled and all our prayers
abundantly answered. Heaven allows for no more disappointments. We will no
longer have to wipe away our own tears, for God Himself has promised to wipe
them all away for us. We do not yet experience our hope but we wait in patience
for it (Romans 8:25). Patience, dear tried friends!
iii. No More Frustration
There will be no more curse. For us the curse has been removed by Him
who on His cross was made a curse for us, but we still live in a world which
is under the curse of judgment. Although we have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we groan [119/120] within ourselves. I am struck by
the fact that in Christ's parable of the eternal state, He quotes Abraham
as saying, "Son, remember ..." (Luke 16:25). But that man was lost. He was
in Hell. Abraham did not ask Lazarus to remember; he simply comforted him
with heavenly bliss. Heaven would hardly be heaven for most of us if we kept
recalling our past faults and failings, as we do now. Our pardoned sins
are so blotted out that God Himself does not remember them: one day we will
share His divine forgetting.
In this world so much is subject to deterioration and decay. There are
many minor frustrations which result from this fact, and some major ones
too. Over all this, God writes the words, "No more!" Perhaps the best positive
way of describing this is by the use of the word fulfillment. The ultimate
purpose of the gospel, according to Paul's Letter to the Colossians, is that
every man should be presented perfect to God (Colossians 1:28). The Greek
word here used is an adjective formed from the noun telos, which
denotes a purpose or a goal. What is perfect, therefore, is that which totally
realises the end for which it had been planned. We will call it full fulfilment.
Few of us attain any sort of fulfilment in this life, and none of us can
know the complete realisation of our hopes and ambitions while we are still
in the mortal body. But this is not the end. We are to be changed into the
image of Christ, and to know this experience as individuals.
Most of the blessings described for us in the Book of Revelation are
presented in corporate terms -- a praising multitude, a radiant bride, a
glorious city -- and that will indeed be heaven. But thank God that although
we will be united in this way, God does not overlook the destiny of each
one of us as individuals. The objective is that every man shall find his
full fulfilment in Christ. Far from making any of us complacent, this should
inspire us anew with holy determination to "press on toward the goal unto
the prize of the on-high calling of God in Christ Jesus." This brings us
back to the original apostolic prayer that we might be illuminated as to
the hope of that calling.
I would not be true to the Scriptures if I did not remind you that this
is a costly matter. It cost Christ everything. There is nothing cheap about
heaven, though grace is free. It was the Lord Jesus Himself who made the
contrast between treasures on earth and treasures in heaven, and who endured
all that He did in the expectation of an eternal weight of glory.
Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (12)
Psalm 131 GIVING UP
A further sign of the growing maturity of the pilgrim is his humility.
The use of the word "weaned" may seem to contradict this, but as it is placed
in the context of his claim not to be haughty or to have lofty eyes, it will
repay further consideration.
I have used the title "Giving up". My dictionary explanation of what
it means to be weaned is "to be reconciled to the want of anything"; so
the psalmist has learned to do without.
WHAT is more he has learned not to complain about it, but has quietened
both his lips and his soul. The song is sung to the Lord alone. It is not
an essay in self-congratulation but a simple assurance to the Lord of his
state of heart as he journeys on his upward way.
THERE had been a period in his life when he could rightly expect to be
carried and cared for, only needing to squall out in infantile and demanding
protest in order to be petted and comforted. The Christian life can begin
like that and alas, sometimes it can go on far too long in the same way.
Those concerned expect every discomfort to be attended to and every prayer
answered at their first appeal.
THE pilgrim discloses that a rather abrupt moment had occurred in his
life, the soothing nourishment no longer being provided and the embracing
arms giving place to an invitation to sit at the family table for his meals.
From then on it was no use his crying out for milk or demanding that his mother
should do everything for him; he had to reach out his own hands and learn
to appropriate and masticate his food. All of which surely has a spiritual
counterpart for every believer who is on the upward way. His joy in the Lord
is not less but more. Like the weaned child keeping very close to the mother
whom he has learned to look to, he simply continues the love relationship
in a more understanding and responsible way.
BEING but recently weaned, he has not yet entered that adolescent period
when everything is questioned: "Neither do I exercise myself in things too
wonderful for me". It is a picture of happy contentment, this pilgrim with
no complaints and no problems. He will go far on his journey.
NOW had this been fictional poetry, I imagine that this would have been
very early on in the series of Songs of Ascents. It rather suggests an early
stage of life and hints at immaturity. Interestingly enough it was David
himself who composed this psalm. Far from describing immaturity, it sings
of a most blessed and desirable condition of heart and soul. The one who is
content to recognise his own littleness and ignorance in divine things and
yet who chooses discipline and responsibility in his life of fellowship with
the Lord is what a very true Israelite should be, and should go on being right
into eternity. "From this time forth and for evermore".
WEANING or giving up does not in itself sound attractive, but in this
case it seems to indicate a faith which is not always demanding and enquiring
but content just to be stilled and quietened in the near presence of the Lord.
Discipline and responsibility are to be the features of the man who is on
the way up.
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
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