|Vol. 18, No. 4, July - Aug. 1989
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
MAY I send my personal greetings to all readers, both those whom I know
personally and those who have only been known via the Throne of Grace.
With many regrets but with a firm belief that this is the will of God,
I now have to inform you that TOWARD THE MARK will cease to be published
after this year. For a long time I have been facing this decision, and have
even wondered whether it would be made for me by the Lord. However, after
prayer and consultation with trusted friends, I have to tell you that the
November/December issue must be the last.
Several factors have combined to make this termination inevitable; yet
the chief consideration is a clear sense that this is God's will. No words
of mine can adequately express my gratitude for the prayer support which
I have enjoyed. It has been wonderful to be the focus of so much intercession.
Quite often I get grateful letters from readers who assure me that they
depend on the magazine for spiritual food. For them I feel real concern,
and can only try to assist by more earnest prayer that the Lord may graciously
minister to their spiritual needs by other means.
I have now reached my 85th birthday, but I am no Caleb, and I must be
content to lay down my task at this point. Like Caleb, though, I can thank
the Lord for His gracious miracle of my survival until now.
Through the years a good deal of emphasis has been given to various aspects
of the Second Coming. Though I have become less dogmatic about details, I
look ever more eagerly to the Day of our Saviour's Return. To me, and to
all of us, His message to us is surely, "Occupy, till I come!"
AN OPEN HEAVEN
"His servants shall serve him; and they shall see his face" Revelation
WITH the book of Genesis and the book of the Revelation we have the whole
bound of human history and, as we read through the Scriptures, the matter
which governs in this long record of human life is that of the face of
The expulsion from the garden (Genesis 3:24) was expulsion from the face
of God. From that time on, the face of God was never again seen by man --
except in tokens such as His mercy and goodness -- and then only on certain
occasions. In reality man did not and could not see God's face.
Throughout the Bible we find that man's greatest blessing, highest good
and deepest longing always related to such a Vision. How often from the heart
of believing men the cry is heard: "Lift thou up the light of thy countenance".
"Make thy face to shine on thy servant"! On the other hand, man's deepest
misery is always when God's face is turned away -- when he senses that God's
countenance is not toward him. To be spiritually sensitive and yet to feel
that there is a cloud over the face of the Lord is the most desolating experience
of which we are capable.
The abiding issue of the face of God was brought to a focus in the cross
of Christ. At the beginning, God drove the man out. At the end, "they shall
see his face". But midway, not in the Bible as a book, but in human history,
the cross makes it possible for men to see God's face. On the one side, that
face is turned away -- man is in desolation. On the other side, that face
is turned to him -- there is hope, with new joy and new prospects. All things
are new because once more the light of God's countenance is, in the full
sense, lifted upon believers. Genesis and Revelation meet at Calvary.
A wilderness is always a type of desolation and death. The wilderness
came when the garden was lost. It was the result of the curse, in other words,
the outcome of God's face being turned away. Israel would certainly have
perished in the wilderness if Heaven had not intervened -- and what is more,
they knew it. There was nothing there to maintain life; it was only because
there was the Testimony in their midst that they could possibly live in the
wilderness. When their hearts were rightly adjusted to that Testimony, they
survived in the wilderness. In the midst of death they were in life; in the
midst of desolation they were in plenty; in the midst of the curse they were
Later they went into captivity and knew desolation for seventy years,
and it was only when that seventy year's accomplishment came into view that
the prophet cried, with his gospel of hope: "Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished". From that came the issue:
"The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose"; "In the wilderness shall
waters break out, and streams in the desert" (Isaiah 35:1, 6).
The wilderness is always a symbol of desolation and death because of
the curse. Perhaps one of the most poignant of all the issues of the Tabernacle
ritual was that of the scapegoat. One cannot read the story without feeling
desperately sorry for that goat, with all the curse of Israel's sins transferred
to it by the laying on of hands, led out by the priest to the outer bounds
of the camp and beyond, away until the last signs of [62/63]
human life were out of sight, driven out into the wilderness to die,
forsaken by God, desolate, bearing the burden of sin.
All this, of course, was symbolic of the sufferings of the Saviour who
came to bear our sins. After His baptism He went for forty days into the
wilderness, into the realm of Satan who was the cause of it. Every wilderness
belongs to the Devil. In that place of Satan's power the Lord Jesus would
not have survived had He not been a heavenly Man, and in type a resurrection
Man. He had been to the Jordan and in figure had died and by rising, had
We note that He was led of the Spirit into the wilderness. When He rose
from the baptismal waters in triumph, the Spirit came in a new way upon Him,
leading Him into the wilderness as One who had overcome desolation and death.
This was all leading to the cross. The Lord was led forward by the Spirit
and He sensed what was coming. There have been many arguments about His
cup, His exceeding sorrowfulness in the garden and His cry: "If it be possible,
let this cup pass from me" (Matthew 26:39). Surely it was because He sensed
what was coming. It was certainly not His physical death and sufferings
which troubled Him; it was because of necessity He was going to be forsaken
of the Father with whom, through those thirty three years, He had enjoyed
unbroken fellowship. Favours were shown to Him at His birth: He grew in
that favour as a lad, and when He came out into public life, the heavens
were opened to Him and the voice came: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I
am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). In the secret of His own heart He enjoyed
he Father's favour, dwelling in the Father's bosom every day, and now that
was to be withdrawn. He was to have the Father's face turned away. This
was most dreadful of all.
So it was that on the cross He cried: "My God,, my God, why hast thou
forsaken me?". Why have You turned Your face from me? Why am I in this awful
desolation, beside which every other kind of desolation is nothing. Thank
God that when we hear the gospel we know why. The heavens were closed against
fallen man who, apart from this suffering of Christ, would be lost for eternity.
Job gives a hint of that cry of an orphan soul: "Oh that I knew where I might
find him ... Behold I go forward, but he is not here; and backward but I
cannot perceive him: on the left hand where he doth work, but I cannot behold
him: he hideth himself on the right hand that I cannot see him" (23:8-9).
This, however, is but a faint indication of the sense of forsakenness known
by the Lord Jesus as He took the sinner's place.
To attempt to compare any other human distress with Christ's cry of forsakenness
on the cross would be a sacrilege, yet many Christians have passed from experiences
of blessing when God seemed so near and so full of favour, to times when
it all seems completely to have gone. All the tokens of the Lord's loving
presence seem to have departed. It can be a dreadful experience. But how
small are our worst trials in comparison with the experience of being forsaken
which came to the Son who from all eternity had been in the bosom of the
Father and was now taking the place of all who had lost the face of God through
CHRIST'S OPEN HEAVEN
Yet there is the other side, the open heaven, the face of God. Jesus
had it from the first, for heaven was open to Him. We know that at the age
of twelve He spoke freely of God as His Father (Luke 2:49). His language
was expressive of a life with God on most intimate and affectionate terms.
At His baptism, the heavens were opened to Him and a voice heard saying,
"You are my beloved Son". To Nathanael the Lord was able to say, "Ye shall
see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon
the Son of man". His transfiguration saw those heavens opened again, with
the same voice attesting Him as the beloved Son.
After the desolation of the cross and the tomb we read of His being "received
up in glory" (1 Timothy 3:16). Somehow that term gives point to His resurrection.
His "receiving up" suggests that the heavens were opened to give Him a tremendous
reception. There was no-one to question His right to be at the Father's right
hand; the gates lifted up their heads and the everlasting doors opened to
welcome Him. Then at Pentecost the heavens were opened to all believers.
He poured out His Spirit through the heavens which [63/64]
He Himself had opened by the merits of His cross. In this way He attested
to all who would believe that God's face was again in their direction. How
could one better express those Pentecostal days than to say that the light
of God's countenance was upon them all!
But there is also an inward witness. Men received the Holy Spirit when
they believed (Acts 19:2). The Spirit is not only given to the Church as
a whole, but to every member of that Church. It is an inward reality; it
proves that the Lord is with us and His face in our direction. The coming
of the Holy Spirit, as we come into the good of Christ's death and resurrection,
brings the light of God's face. In the terms of the Old Testament benediction:
"... the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace" (Numbers
6:26). When His face is not toward us there is no peace. In what seems like
the crowning blessing of that last chapter of the Bible, it is said, "They
shall see his face". This is the one thing which has been the issue through
all ages -- the face of God towards man being his greatest blessing; the
loss of that vision man's greatest desolation. Here then is the end of the
story: "There shall be no curse any more ... they shall see his face".
AN OPEN HEAVEN FOR US
This may seem a simple fact, how Christ won the victory for us in the
wilderness, and how much blessing comes to us because He was willing to be
forsaken on the cross. The explanation of His cry, "Why hast thou forsaken
me?" is that this has brought to all believers the supreme and all-inclusive
blessing of knowing that we will never be forsaken if we are in Christ. It
is not really as simple as it sounds. Have you, a believer -- perhaps for
many years -- in spite of devotion to the Lord been tempted to feel that God
has forsaken you? Have you never felt as though God had left you, parted
company with and washed His hands of you? I am not going to say that you ought
to have passed through such an experience, but it may well be, even now.
As in Adam's case, so with every child of Adam, every member of the human
race, the efforts of Satan are directed to getting between us and God. If
only he can do that, if he can bring about that separation, it is an end
of everything and an occasion for despair. Happily in the case of the believer
in Christ, he cannot do that in actuality; he can only tempt us to accept
his suggestions and accusations. To grasp the significance of Christ's cry
and to enter into the value of His work on the cross in destroying the works
of the Devil, this is at times the sphere of our conflict. Nothing can get
in between us and God.
Calvary always provides an open door, an open way to God's face, and
faith is the victory (1 John 5:4). The central matter for faith is that
for one terrible moment the Lord Jesus suffered the eclipse of that divine
face so that fellowship with God might be secured for us for ever. He has
brought the light of God's countenance back to us, and that is the great
blessing. I am not saying that we may not experience some shadow between
us and God because of some folly in grieving His Spirit. This does happen
but, thank God, it can never be a total eclipse, for grace restores. The
Lord is behind that shadow, so that however often we experience it because
of some unbelief or failure of ours, we will find Him still just where He
was when we get the matter adjusted and are again right with God. His promise
is secure: "I will in no wise fail thee, nor will I in any wise forsake thee"
Satan is the great enemy of fellowship with God. When the Lord Jesus
was bout to come into the world, the prophetic statement made by Zacharias
was that God would grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand
of our enemies would serve Him without fear" (Luke 1:74). That went far
beyond any earthly enemies. Have you never had times when, through stress
and suffering, Satan has got so near your soul that it seemed he might turn
you against God and make you bitter towards Him? This can be a very real
experience. Satan tries to use the believer against God, for there is no
instrument more useful to him than a Christian revolting against the Lord.
You are not surprised when unbelievers, men of the world, flare against
God, but when there are Christians rebelling against their Lord it is a great
disgrace to His name. This need not be. Our Lord [64/65]
has secured victory for us, destroying for all the impingement of the
Devil's insinuations and suggestions. If you ever do come under such a cloud,
remember that the Lord Jesus has established for ever the ground upon which
God will never leave nor forsake you, never withdraw His face from you. Believe
that! Remember that!
DELIVERANCE BY THE CROSS
"Why hast thou forsaken me?" I am so glad that the story of the cross
does not end there. The awful cry to "My God ..." is followed by the last
words from the cross: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke
23:46). Jesus was back on the ground of perfect fellowship with the Father.
The victory is gained; the work is done; the enemy is defeated; the Father's
smile is upon His beloved Son.
And upon us in Christ! Whatever Satan may suggest in our deep temptations
to feel that God has left us, it is not true. It can be a very real trial
for even the most mature Christian, to be enveloped in spiritual darkness
and provocations to despair. At such times we have many precious promises.
But even more effective for us can be the recollection of the time when the
depths of forsakenness -- real forsakenness -- was plumbed for our sakes,
producing that bitter cry from our Saviour, and then followed by the shout,
"It is finished" and the restful committal into the hands of the Father.
All that was not for Himself; it was for us who belong to Him. Never, never
will a true believer know the desolation of God-forsakenness now that by His
cross Christ has obtained the blessing of the light of God's countenance shining
So let us rejoice that we have an open heaven, secured for us by our
blessed Lord. Not to Nathanael only but to each of us is given the promise:
"You will see heaven opened ..." One day in the glories of eternity, we will
see His face and have His name on our foreheads. "And there shall be night
no more ... for the Lord God shall give them light: and they shall reign
for ever and ever" (Revelation 24:4-5).
GOD'S KEY MAN (1)
"There is a man in your kingdom" Daniel 5:11
THE New Testament reminds us that our position in this world is that
of pilgrims, but it also asserts that we are ambassadors from the court
of heaven. How can this contrasting experience be applied to the same person?
Daniel provides us with an excellent example of this divine paradox. He was
a captive in a strange land, but he was also God's key man, placed in the
very heart of the kingdom of this world to serve the interests of that other
kingdom, the kingdom of our God and of His Christ.
Fundamentally the book of Daniel is only about two kingdoms, as interpretation
of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Chapter 2 clearly shows. It is true that, as
the book unfolds, the kingdom of this world is seen in a great variety of
aspects, but it is essentially one kingdom, and it is in constant antagonism
to the kingdom of heaven. We have to look on to the last New Testament book
to find the stark truth of the two kingdoms, for there we are told of a future
day when "the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our God and
of His Christ" (Revelation 11:15). For the moment the stern encounter still
proceeds as it did during the period covered by this book. Various earthly
rulers functioned during those seventy odd years, but we have the story
of the man who lived and functioned for [65/66]
God through them all. Daniel was God's key man in Babylon.
He is introduced to us as one of the first captives brought to Babylon
by Nebuchadnezzar, and described as the one who continued until the first
year of Cyrus, which was the year when the captivity ended (1:21). In fact
he lived beyond that year, but both here and in 6:28 our attention is especially
called to the fact that he survived during the whole seventy years of Israel's
captivity. No doubt his survival required divine miracles, but my contention
is that he did more than survive; he played a key role in God's watchful
care for His captive people and for the sacred vessels of the temple which
had been brought to Babylon from Jerusalem.
This book of Daniel continually asserts the absolute sovereignty of God,
stating, illustrating and predicting that the YAHWEH of Chapter 9 and the
Ancient of Days of Chapter 7 is indeed the Most High God. From His supreme
throne in heaven the Lord chooses to work through His own men here on earth,
and especially through their prayers. For this reason He took care throughout
all those seventy years of captivity to have Daniel as His representative
at the heart of the worldly kingdom and to preserve and promote him as and
when the occasion demanded.
It is not actually stated that Daniel's influence with Cyrus brought
about the release of the captives (though his prayers certainly did), but
it seems reasonable to suggest that his promotion (2:48), his reinstatement
to rulership (5:29) and his close relationship with Darius (6:3) made it
possible that his counsels helped the next ruler, Cyrus, to plan the rebuilding
of Jerusalem. When Cyrus issued the edict for the release of the Jewish
remnant, he specified that the gold and silver vessels should also be released
and restored "each to its place" in the rebuilt temple. One senses the influence
of Daniel in this matter.
We may not be able to follow the many disclosures as to future world
rulers which Daniel received from time to time. On occasion he himself admitted
that there were matters which he could not understand (8:27 & 12:8), but
the main purpose of the revelations which he and we can fully understand through
our study of this book is that our God is absolute Sovereign and perfectly
able to cope with every eventuality. To cite Nebuchadnezzar's own tribute
after his conversion: "He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and
the peoples of the earth. No-one can hold back his hand or ask him what he
is doing" (4:35). Daniel's story, however, reminds us that here in the midst
of the situation where the god of this world operates, He has chosen to have
His representatives who are workers together with Him.
We see that although Daniel was in Babylon, he was determined that Babylon
should not be in him. The history of the Israelites in the wilderness discloses
that although they were no longer in Egypt, Egypt was in them. The very reverse
was true of Daniel and his companions, so that we see from the first they
would admit no heart defilement. The food from the king's table evidently
represented such a compromise, so they would have none of it. The rich food
and the wines were not a matter of pampering or luxury, but were specially
designed to prepare them for service to the King (v.5). Daniel knew that
to accept this ungodly stimulus would be to defile his heart relationship
with the Lord. He could accept outward circumstances, the captivity, the schooling,
the service at court, but he felt that he must keep his heart right with
God. Was there some occult implication in this food? Was there, perhaps,
some use of narcotics? We do not know.
This certainly does not provide an argument for vegetarianism: it was
not the food but the power of God which made them so healthy. Nor is it an
argument against the use of alcohol. I am a total abstainer, but I do not
base my attitude on Daniel 1, and I am glad that I do not do so for, in Chapter
10 I get the evidence that when not engaged in fasting, Daniel both ate rich
food and drank wine. But Daniel was no loud protester: he was a courteous
abstainer. His humble spirit is most noteworthy: "Daniel purposed in his
heart that he would not ... therefore he requested that he might not ..."
(v.8). Only the man of faith can be so quietly positive.
There was nothing merely negative about his words. He actually proposed
a trial period of ten [66/67] days, confident that
he could rely on his sovereign God. Prayer is often mentioned in this book,
but it can easily be discerned when it is not so recorded. They must have
prayed about the original request, and it is certain that they prayed all
the more during their trial period. Grace before meals, when you are living
on bread and water, can never be just a formality. They prayed and God abundantly
answered as the chief official could easily see for himself. They must also
have worked hard during the discipline of the three training years, for at
the end they were ten times better than the rest. No doubt this was also
an answer to prayer but it was a sure proof that their heavenly mindedness
made them very useful in earthly things too.
Here we find that it was only in the nick of time that Daniel discovered
what had been going on and how he and his friends were in peril of their
lives. The immediate issue appears to have been Nebuchadnezzar's distrust
of his advisers and consequent determination to liquidate them all. He had
no special thought for the young Jews who were involved with the rest, but
the book of Daniel clearly shows that there are evil spiritual powers behind
all visible tyrants, so that we need not hesitate to say that behind these
affairs of state there was a satanic conspiracy to destroy the agents of God's
It was late -- but not too late. There is always a supreme throne in
heaven, so Daniel and the other three lodged their appeal there. Although
he had implicit faith in his God, he would not be rushed, and asked for time.
In this rushing world of quick decisions, this is a helpful lesson. To the
king's credit, he granted that time, little realising that it would not be
used in puzzling or arguing, but in prayer. The other three were entrusted
with this task, they were to appeal to the Lord on the basis of mercy. And,
of course, God answered the prayer. One might imagine that Daniel would use
all speed to get through to the king, but no, his first action was to give
thanks: " Then was the secret revealed ... Then Daniel blessed
the God of heaven" (v.19), and he took his time about it. When Arioch knew,
he acted "in haste" (v.25), but then poor Arioch knew nothing about prayer.
It has always seemed to me a pity that expositors tend to spend so much
time explaining the striking image and so little in developing the vast significance
of the stone cut out without hands. No doubt Nebuchadnezzar would concur
with this, but to us the chief interest is not the world's kingdom but the
kingdom of heaven. But then we know who the Stone is! The immediate feature
of this chapter is, however, the triumph of God's kingdom over the kingdom
of darkness: destruction is turned into promotion.
This theme is repeated in the next chapter. The kingdom of evil could
not tolerate within its boundaries men who were intimately in touch with
God by prayer, so a fresh plot was hatched for their destruction. It was clever,
for it posed two alternatives, either death in the fiery furnace or loss
of spiritual power by yielding to compromise. Happily the Lord had a third
alternative as will appear when the story is told. It so happens that Daniel
was not involved in this conspiracy. Was he perhaps protected by the king?
Or were the jealous conspirators silent about him because they feared their
There is much that we do not know. If Daniel were aware of what was going
on we may be sure that he re-doubled his prayers. Perhaps this helps to explain
the presence of the Son of God in the fires, causing the king who was reckoning
to enjoy this scene of destruction to cry out in amazement: "Lo, I see four
men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and
the form of the fourth is like a son of the gods (v.25).
This was the Lord's own alternative -- to justify their uncompromising
faith by taking them safely through the fires, and then repeating the process
of promotion in the province of Babylon (v.30). The challenges to us are
different; the fires are not the same; but the spiritual lessons to be learned
are in line with Isaiah's promise: "When thou walkest through the fire, thou
shalt not be burned" (Isaiah 43:2). The apochryphal account of their experience
describes the hymn of praise which they sang in the midst of their fiery
ordeal, and tells us that they called on all the works of
[67/68] the Lord to praise the Lord and magnify Him for ever. I
can well understand that in that furnace they could sing about the waters,
the frost and the snow magnifying God, but I marvel that one of their purported
lines was: "O ye fire and heat, bless ye the Lord; praise him and magnify
him for ever".
This chapter describes Nebuchadnezzar's conversion. It is written in
his own words, as a kind of testimony, and is therefore a most unusual and
remarkable document. We must not try to draw any parallel in the king's
experience with what we know as conversion; he did not hear the gospel which
we know and he could not repent and believe as we have done. Yet he did repent
and humble himself before God, and he did express himself in terms of active
This is his story, but Daniel appears in it from time to time, and he
probably inserted the central section which Nebuchadnezzar did not write.
The prophet showed himself to be a wise and faithful counsellor, free from
all vindictiveness against this royal enemy of Israel and deeply concerned
for his well-being. True to the general off-hand way in which he seems to
have been treated, he was the last to be called in, and that when everybody
else had failed; he was a faithful servant, explaining God's message with
courageous faithfulness but showing real compassion in wishing for this foolish
braggart a lengthening of his tranquility" (v.27). His warnings were shrugged
off and seemed futile, but no doubt Daniel was often on his knees, pleading
God's promises, not only during that year of the King's persistent pride
but also through the ensuing seven years of his humbling.
The Most High is merciful as well as mighty. This is revealed by the
divine decree to leave the stump of the tree intact, protected by bands
of iron and bronze. When Nebuchadnezzar was restored it was a virtual resurrection,
but then this is always how God's mercy expresses itself. There is no hint
that Daniel felt any concern for himself. Yet he could not be so naive as
to fail to realise that if his royal protector was removed his own position
would be in jeopardy. Seven years of interregnum might have been long enough
to eclipse all his authority in the city, but by divine overruling he was
evidently at hand when the end of the humbling period was reached (v.36).
It is of course possible that during the seven years he remained as a kind
of senior Civil Servant in charge of affairs (2:48). He certainly "continued"
as the whole book reveals, outliving Nebuchadnezzar and some of his successors.
God allows nothing to thwart His purposes for His ambassadors provided they
remain true to their basic position of loyalty to Him. A footnote to this
is appended, namely, that "those that walk in pride he is able to abase".
Thank God for that. He is able to deliver (3:29). He is able to abase (4:37).
We may thank Nebuchadnezzar for reminding us of both these truths, for we
need them both.
The hand of the Father came heavily upon His dear Son. The Anointed was
"cut off" as Daniel later learned (9:26), not for any fault of His but for
our sakes. Yet it was not only to redeem us; it involved the express purpose
of the Father that Jesus should be exalted above every name that is named.
The Lord Jesus humbled himself under the mighty hand of God and has duly
been exalted for evermore. Nebuchadnezzar returned to an earthly throne just
for his lifetime, and that was wonderful. However God has planned a greater
wonder for us, since the Church is destined to have a share with the Lord
Jesus in His universal throne and to reign with Him for ever and ever. Around
the roots of every humbled believer is the band of iron and bronze which guarantees
that destiny. [68/69]
(To be concluded)
TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS
J. Alec Motyer
5. GRACE AND LIFE
(2 Corinthians 6:1-10)
"WORKING together with him, we exhort also that you receive not the grace
of God in vain". This is a striking verse because it speaks of something
which we would not have thought possible. How can one receive the grace of
God in vain? When God is gracious in salvation, He is irresistably gracious.
His saving work is of the same nature as His creative work. The same God who
said, Light shall shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts (4:6). "Light
shall shine out of darkness" was a sovereign word. It was not a consultative
word; it was not an invitatory word; it was a directive word. When His time
comes with any one of His children He says, Let there be light, and there
is light. How, then, can you receive the grace of God in vain?
The truth of the matter is that this is not possible in respect of salvation;
saving grace, once for all received, is God's sovereign purpose. It cannot
fail. It cannot be frustrated. Once given, it cannot be lost. In respect
of sanction, however, God's grace can be frustrated. The grace which He makes
available to us for a daily life is always waiting for us to take up and
use, but we must make use of it. The grace of God in this sense is offered
to us, not as His sovereign decree concerning our salvation, but as His loving
provision concerning our daily life. There are times when we come to the
end of a day and have to confess to our loving heavenly Father that there
were failures which did not need to be, because His grace was available but
we did not appropriate it.
The Grace That Leads To Life
The grace of God is available for us, so that we can live the life of
Christ in this world. The exhortation of verse 1 contains the word "also";
in addition to saving grace we are urged to make use of sanctifying grace.
The first part of the verse tells us that this is what God wants of us: "As
working together with him". Paul has already spoken of God's co-workers. "We
are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating
by us" (5:20). Here in verse 1 we have the same word, "entreating". We are
God's co-workers and we are entreating because He is entreating. This not
only speaks of the dignity given to us, but also of the power that attends
even our feeblest attempts to share the gospel, for we are caught up into
His exhortation to sinners; when God exhorts, so we exhort, entreating people
to be reconciled with Him. That is one exhortation. Now in Chapter 6 we have
a second exhortation in which we are co-workers with God.
This is an exhortation not to the world to be saved, but to Christians
to be sanctified. Paul entreats the Corinthians not to receive the grace
of God in vain, but in his exhortation he uses the plural "we" to suggest
that this is a common ministry. He does not speak as one peculiar or unique,
but as a model, for we all have these two exercises of ministry, because
we are the Church of God. The two aspects of ministry are committed to us,
not because we hold some office but because we are believers. We must reach
out to the world evangelistically and we must reach out to one another helpingly
and encouragingly, sustaining and stimulating one another. We reach out to
the world, saying, "We beseech you, be reconciled to God" and we reach out
to each other, saying, "Don't let the grace of God lie idle; grasp hold of
grace and live by it. Rise to fresh heights by grace".
Now as co-worker God pledges His help to bring this about for the Scripture
goes on to [69/70] say, "In an acceptable time have
I hearkened unto you. In a day of salvation did I succour you." In order
to grasp the meaning of this quotation we must go back and look at Isaiah
49 where it came from. The opening verses of Isaiah 49 are predictive of the
Lord Jesus as the great ideal Servant of God. In these verses the Lord Jesus
appears both in the dignity which is rightly His and the magnitude of the
work committed to Him as the world's Saviour, with the demands of that task
which fall upon Him in His humanity. It is as though He were afflicted with
questions regarding this commission entrusted to Him by God, as if passing
through a trough of depression regarding His ministry, and then receives
confirmation and encouragement. The Lord says to His Servant, "In an acceptable
time I have answered you, in a day of salvation I will preserve you" (v.8),
promising to be with Him in His great task and to succour Him with all the
strength of salvation.
We often use the phrase "the day of salvation" in an evangelistic sense,
but in both Isaiah and Corinthians it is aimed at rather a different target.
The point is that when God calls His servant to do something, He will stand
by that servant to give him success. What dignity, then, is ours when a verse
originally spoken to the Lord Jesus is now directed to us. Later in this
study we will return to this matter of dignity. God looks upon the Lord Jesus,
the ideal Servant of the Lord, and promises to see Him safely through, and
now, as God's servants, we receive the same words of reassurance as Jesus
received. Our task is to exhort one another not to leave grace unused but
to lay hold on it and occupy its values and virtues and strength. In that
task God offers to deal with us exactly as He dealt with His ideal Servant.
What a marvellous dignity He gives us.
Grace includes all that we will ever need to fulfill the will of God.
And God tells us that it will be given "in an acceptable time", which means
a time that pleases Him in the outworking of His perfect will. This is the
day of salvation. Now is the time that pleases God. All the strengths of grace
are available for us now so that we can encourage one another to press on
in the things of God and of course to do so ourselves while we exhort others.
The Life That Is Lived By Grace
We notice that Paul opens this chapter by acting in his own person that
task of concern for his fellow Christians. He exhorts or entreats them because
he feels a responsibility for their souls. The actual words of the exhortation,
as he develops it, really begins with verse 11. Although we will not deal
with it in this study, we notice some of its calls: "Be ye also enlarged"
(v.13), "Be not unequally yoked" (v.14), culminating this long series with
the exhortation to cleansing and perfecting holiness in the fear of God (7:1).
These are the exhortations that he would give to the Corinthians and also
to us: Open your hearts to apostolic truth. Separate yourselves from the
world. Go on perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
As is so often with Paul though, he has an inspired digression, suddenly
launching out into the sort of person he is, as he brings this exhortation
to them. The connection between verse 1 and verse 3 is that he explains the
sort of person he is when he exhorts them: "We are persons who give no occasion
of stumbling in anything". This description of himself goes right through
to the end of verse 10. As we read these verses we see Paul so clearly in
his total commitment to the Lord Jesus: "Giving no occasion of stumbling
in anything, that the ministry be not blamed, but in everything commending
ourselves". What Paul was saying was that in giving the exhortation he was
insistent that we are commendable people, showing ourselves to be ministers
of God in much endurance in afflictions, in necessities, in distress, in
stripes, in imprisonment ...." He commends the exhortation by being the commendable
That was the original situation, but we must remember that Paul is a
model. He speaks of himself in this way not in connection with his unique
functions as an apostle but in his model functions which are to be copied
by all Christians. We therefore do not only read these verses as a description
of a bygone apostle, we read them as a picture of what we are all to be.
If we are to exercise this ministry of encouragement and exhortation to
each other, to take up available grace and to grow in Christ, then here we
have the model that we are to follow. It is no use standing and calling to
others unless we are out [70/71] in front by our
own holiness, calling others to follow. We consider the verses in this sense,
taking them as a picture of the life to which by grace we are called according
to the apostolic model, so that we may be in a position to commend that grace
to other believers and encourage them to make use of it.
Careful Not To Hinder
We must give no occasion of stumbling. For the idea of stumbling we turn
to Romans 14:13: "Judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block (or
trip wire) in his brother's way". We are all running in a race, and we must
make sure that we do not inadvertently stretch a trip wire on the course
and so make the next runner fall flat. In this case the issues are our manners
and customs of life. Christians then were only just growing slowly out of
their cultural backgrounds. Many of them had been brought up with a devotion
to food laws which were largely a matter of traditions of men since they
had been abrogated by Christ when He made all foods clean, and some still
had consciences so drilled in these things that they could not yet free themselves.
Others, of course, felt that they must leap straight away into their liberty
in Christ by totally rejecting such matters, indifferent to the fact that
they were offending.
The other reference to this matter is found in 1 Corinthians 8:9, in
rather a different context, where the problem concerned the eating of meat
offered to idols: "Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours is
a trip wire to a weaker brother. You know that the idol is nothing: to you
it is immaterial whether meat is offered to it or not. Your brother, however,
does not feel like that. He could not eat it without feeling that he was
departing from strict loyalty to Christ. In both these references we are
commanded not to let our scruples or our liberties provide a kind of invisible
wire, stretching across the road and tripping up a brother or sister who
is also running in the race of faith.
The reason behind this is a solemn one -- it is that the ministry
should not he blamed. What lay behind Paul's words was not just his
ministry but the ministry, the service of the gospel. When we
give offense it not so much affects us as the fact that in this way we bring
the gospel into disrepute. We might even make people say that if such behaviour
represented the gospel, then they did not want it. The offender can so advertise
the gospel as to make the gospel unacceptable.
Careful To Commend
"But in everything commending ourselves" (v.4). This may seem a strange
thought. Paul had said, "We preach not ourselves" (4:5), and yet he may seem
to be doing that. We must not divorce this claim from the rest of what follows.
What Paul was saying was that we commend ourselves as servants of God. I
avoid the use of the word "ministers", because the title has been abused
into a form of title or office in a church, whereas it applies to every member,
as servants with a service to perform. The title "servant" is inherited directly
from the Lord Jesus Himself, and in this matter we are to resemble Him as
the great, supreme and ideal Servant of the Lord. We commend ourselves therefore,
not by advertising our good qualities or great virtues but by being like
Jesus. Paul goes on to speak of virtues which demand the Holy Spirit as their
explanation, "longsuffering and kindness in the Holy Ghost" (v.6). We only
possess and display these virtues because of the Spirit's indwelling presence.
And then in verse 7 we commend ourselves "In the word of truth, in the power
of God". So we commend ourselves not by calling attention to ourselves but
by being like Jesus, by being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and by operating
within the sphere of the power of God. If we have to be careful not to offend,
we must be equally careful to be under the government of Father, Son and
Virtues We Must Cultivate
After verse 4 Paul is working out the detailed application of the whole
idea of being careful to commend ourselves. These are the virtues we need
On his list he puts first the virtue of patience or perseverance. We
are to operate in the likeness of Jesus in much endurance. The word specifically
means "bearing up under the adversity of circumstances." First of all, in
the ordinary hardships and difficulties of life. There are the distresses,
the troubles which come to us [71/72] all. There are
deprivations, when we feel that we have less than we should have had. There
are the pressures, the way in which life presses in upon us and squeezes
us. The pathway is narrower than we would wish, and we feel constrained, lacking
in freedom of movement.
In all the ordinary difficulties of life, what is the Christian keyword?
Often to some Christians the keyword is "Pray to the Lord and he will change
your circumstances", but you will not find anything like that in the Scriptures.
In the Acts, when the believers came back from one of their encounters with
the religious authorities, they did fall to prayer, but what they said was,
"Look on them and give us boldness to preach the Word". They did not pray
for a change of circumstances; they prayed for grace to live for Christ in
those very circumstances. This, beloved, is a derivative of the idea of
a sovereign God. If He is sovereign, then my circumstances are His appointments.
God is not defeated by circumstances; He is not pushed to one side by the
onward rush of events; He is not outwitted by Satan; He is sovereign Lord.
Paul speaks of stripes, imprisonment, tumults, that is, the deliberate
suffering inflicted upon us by other people. Paul knew all these things,
and there are believers today who have to endure them. They do not happen
to many of us now, but if or when they should be our portion, what do we
do? The Scripture tell us to wait on in endurance. Then the apostle passes
on to personal commitment, speaking of labours, watching and fastings. These
are not from circumstances or from other people, but they are things which
we impose upon ourselves out of devotion to Jesus. Paul practised them all.
He was ready to forego sleep and food because of his love for Christ and
care for the churches. In all this the virtue of endurance is called for.
In verse 6 Paul launches on to another side of the sort of persons who
commend the gospel. He speaks of pureness, longsuffering, kindness, the
Holy Spirit and unfeigned love. These are personal qualities that are to
be coveted and cultivated within the Church so that the grace of God is
not to be in vain. Longsuffering involves a patient attitude towards one
another, and kindness is its co-partner. Patience means that we accept what
the other person is, and kindness that we reach out to that person in all
the gentleness of concern.
After this Paul mentions the Holy Spirit. There must be logic in bringing
in the Spirit in this way. First of all, it is a reminder. We are not alone
in all this exercise of seeking to cultivate moral values in our own lives.
They are possible because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He is the
well of indwelling power from whom we may draw strength. But not only a reminder.
I believe that the apostle is challenging us to have these virtues in an
exceptional degree. We know unconverted people who have great concern for
moral values and great patience and consideration for others. Paul insists
that where we are concerned, those qualities must exist in such a manner and
measure as can only be explained by the Spirit of God. All these, including
love unfeigned, must be something which expresses the fruit of the Spirit.
If He is in our hearts, then love like the love of Jesus must be seen in us.
Paul does not mention our tongues until verse 7, and he does so by pointing
out that we have a ministry of exhortation to one another. He does not begin
with our tongues, because the tongue of a Christian needs the context of
making certain that we are not tripping others up but really living in great
concern for them. Having established the matter of character, he now passes
to deal with our speaking. And he does this with the lovely combination of
the Word of truth and the power of God. The ordinary outreach of the power
of God is through the Word of God. Then with the background of Christian character
we can use the pure Word of God in a ministry of helpfulness.
As we live in this world, with its various challenges and pressures,
we have the protection of God's armour. As we pass through experiences of
glory and dishonour, good report and evil report, the weapon given us for
all these changes and chances of life is the righteousness of Christ: "By
the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left". His robe
of righteousness [72/73] is not only a soft, flowing
robe, but it is also an armour-plating. The righteousness, the imputed righteousness
put upon us by God, represents what we are in Christ. And we put it on when
we live up to our God-given dignity. Not, beloved, to stand on our dignity
but to live up to what God has made us in Christ. Men may consider us as deceivers,
but our dignity is that we possess the truth. Men may consider us as unknowns
but we are well known in heaven where our names are written. Why should
we care about critics when we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ?
We have here a lovely catalogue of the sevenfold dignity of the Christian.
We possess the truth. Our names are written in heaven. We are nourished constantly
with divine life. We are guarded in a purposeful pathway. We are sustained
with joy. We have riches to share. We need to have constant reminders of
what we are in Christ if we are going to live for Him in this world. Let
us go all out for being quality people, living up to the dignity which we
have in Christ. In ourselves we are earthen vessels but we are privileged
to carry heavenly treasure.
John H. Paterson
WHEN it comes to dealing with spiritual things, there is a great difference
believing and understanding. I mean this not only in the sense that, when
things become difficult for the Christian, he or she will say, "I don't understand,
but I believe the Lord means it for good, and I trust Him." Many of us know
that experience. Rather I mean that it is quite possible to believe in the
Lord Jesus, and yet totally mis-understand His ways.
In recently re-reading the Gospels I have been struck by the truth of
that statement where Jesus' disciples were concerned. They provide the best
example of how one could have a growing faith, culminating in the acknowledgement
that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and the Messiah, and even have a daily
contact with Him, but without any real grasp of the meaning of the events
and the words which they witnessed.
This was apparent, in the first place, in the questions which they asked
Jesus, sometimes cutting right across His train of thought and teaching to
do so. For example, in those last, precious few moments which the Lord had
with them, and which John recorded in chapters 13-17 of his account, their
persistent questioning betrayed an ignorance of what it all meant
that must have been intensely saddening to the Lord. A lesser man would
have shouted at them, or thrown up his hands in disgust, and asked "Haven't
you understood anything that I've taught you?" The Lord Jesus, sad
though He may have been, went patiently on, answering their silly questions
and then returning to what He wanted to say.
These questions, while they give us some measure of the disciples' ignorance,
were at least a frank admission of what they did not understand. What I find
particularly interesting, however, is the frequency with which they thought
they did understand -- but were wrong! Time and again they acted,
or made suggestions for action, evidently confident that they would meet
with Jesus' approval, only to be rebuked, or disregarded, or put right.
They must sometimes have felt utterly baffled like children who think
their parents will be pleased when they pick all the flowers in father's
garden, and are astonished that their offering is not appreciated! What the
disciples were reduced to was trying to guess: would He be pleased with them
or not? [73/74]
Let me refer to a few examples of this guessing game that went wrong.
There was the time (Luke 9:52-56) when Jesus and His disciples were not welcomed
in a Samaritan village, and James and John wanted to call down fire to avenge
the insult to their Master. "But he turned and rebuked them, and said, ye
know not what manner of spirit ye are of." In the next chapter (Luke 10:17-20),
we have the story of how the seventy whom He had sent out to preach "returned
again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through
thy name." Surely, they could be happy about that? No! "In this rejoice
not, that the spirits are subject unto you but rather rejoice because your
names are written in heaven."
Then there was the occasion (Matthew 19:13-15; cf. Mark 10:13-14) when
little children were brought to Him, and the disciples were doing a splendid
job of shielding the Lord from unnecessary pressure. They were doing what
good secretaries nowadays are supposed to do -- making sure that the manager's
time is not wasted by visitors who are not bona fide customers! But
they were wrong again: He wanted the children to come.
Then there was the sternest of all His rebukes recorded in three Gospels,
when Peter took it upon himself to tell Jesus His own business: "Peter took
him, and began to rebuke him saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall
not be unto thee" (Matthew 16:22, etc.) Peter obviously felt that, if Jesus
did not know what was good for Him then he, Peter, would see to it that He
Poor Peter! Not only did his boldness earn him a crushing rebuke on that
occasion, but his was the ill-judged proposal on the Mount of Transfiguration,
that they should build three tabernacles there to commemorate the event ("He
wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid" reports Mark 9:6). And
Peter was the subject, also, of the ultimate in brain-twisters, of which
we read in John 13:6-10. He told the Lord Jesus that he did not want his
feet washed. That proved to be the wrong response, so what did he do? He
tried the opposite reply! Surely, one or other of them must
No! Neither response was right, which simply goes to show that in the
realm of spiritual things, guessing is no good. But I can sympathise with
Peter, as I am sure many of us can. Confronted by a choice in the Lord's
service between two courses, we either try one of them -- gingerly -- and
then go back and try the other, or we simply guess. And so often it later
seems, as it must have done to Peter, that both courses are wrong. The Lord
was really leading us by neither of those ways.
Understanding At Last
Of course, a time came when all these experiences must have seemed merely
a bad memory; when the disciples now become apostles, showed such a grasp
and understanding of spiritual things that men and women were amazed by their
wisdom One of the striking features, surely, of the Acts of the Apostles
was the confidence, the "boldness", of these same men. They spoke and acted
with complete assurance in the foundling years of the Church. No more guessing!
What had happened in the meantime was, of course, that the Holy Spirit
had come, and was giving them understanding of the ways of the spiritual
life. He taught them gradually, and sometimes He startled them, as He did
Peter at Joppa (Acts 10), but what quick learners most of them proved to
be! Now they were growing, as Peter was later to put it, both in grace and
in the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18).
Learning The Lessons
Did they, I wonder, sometimes look back and marvel at their own earlier
ignorance? Did they ask themselves, "Where did we go wrong?" Perhaps they
did and, if so, perhaps this is how, with the benefit of hindsight, they
now saw those incidents to which I earlier referred:
Firstly, they now saw that they had been too concerned with maintaining
the dignity of their Master, at times and in places when He Himself was not
so concerned. They took offence on His behalf when a village cold-shouldered
Him; or, on a previous occasion, when they saw someone who did not belong
to their number casting out devils in Jesus' name -- infringing His copyright.
[74/75] They wanted Him to save Himself for really
important people, and not to waste time and energy on children who, they
probably argued, were too young anyway to understand Him.
They now realised that He had not been concerned in any of these ways
for Himself: that when He told them that He had come among them as one who
served (Luke 22:27), He was explaining that it was not His personal status
that concerned Him, but obedience to His Father's will. In other words, their
standard of values, their priorities, had been wrong. The things they felt
should be important to Him were not important at all. They had been baffled
by that reversal of values of which Paul was one day to write so movingly
-- by that spiritual world where rich is poor, and great is small, and weakness
Secondly, they now understood that many of their mistakes had arisen
from assuming that Jesus had come to establish, then and there, a permanent
kingdom or rule. Their concern was that it should be founded (with themselves,
incidentally, playing key roles!) without delay, to last for ever. So, when
the Lord Jesus began to talk about being killed, or going away, they were
totally lost. Why should anybody with His powers throw away all that He might
achieve -- simply pass across the scene and disappear again? For all the
vicissitudes of its history, Israel had a measure of permanence: it could
look back to Moses, David and the rest. The Roman Empire -- alas for the
Jews! -- must have seemed to them the absolute embodiment of permanence.
Yet here came a Man, greater than Abraham or David, and all He could talk
about was going away again.
The last thing they asked Him -- the last of many questions before the
coming of the Spirit brought them answers -- was, "Lord, wilt thou at this
time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). The heavenly time-scale
-- the idea of ultimate rather than immediate fulfilment -- was still a mystery
to them, just as it had been that day on the mountain when Peter wanted
to give permanence to a fleeting experience by building his tabernacles.
The Lord Jesus then clarified once for all the question of time. He answered
in one sentence all the questions that Christians would ever ask which would
begin with the word "When?" He said, "It is not for you to know the times
or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:7). In
the spiritual world, the time-scale is different, and it is known to God
alone. For now, as for the early Church, everything is temporary, movable,
transitory. We crave permanence in the work of God, but we can never have
it -- not until God Himself says "Now!" and brings about in that moment the
consummation of all things, and the presentation of the Lord Jesus in His
true status, as King of Kings.
OUR PRECIOUS FAITH
AS Abraham was nearly a hundred years old and his wife was long since
past bearing children, it was simply impossible that they should become parents.
Such was the clear reality; there was nothing to do but accept it; facts
are facts! And yet! Had not the Lord revealed Himself to them and promised
that next year Sarah would have her own son on her lap?
So we see that two realities were in conflict with each other; one was
the impossibility due to their age, and the other was the promise of God.
If there had been the least human possibility for it, there might have been
some support for the promise, but they had only the promise, nothing else,
and it contradicted what they felt was possible in their case.
Unbelief could emphasise the impossibility, could assert it and repeat
it again and again. But unbelief did not get the victory over faith. On
the contrary it was defeated by faith. Of course Abraham knew better than
anybody what the circumstances were, but in view of the impossibility he
found the promise of God much more glorious. He was able to thank God for
this wonderful and joyous promise.
Abraham did not doubt, though he had nothing visible or reasonable with
which to support his faith. He was fully convinced that God is well able
to fulfil His own promises, however impossible they may seem. He glorified
God by counting Him faithful. He set God above ail possibilities or impossibilities,
above all calculations and above his own common sense and wisdom. God is
not limited to what is possible. He makes the dead live. No man is capable
of that, but it is characteristic of the living God. He is able to call the
things that are not. By His Call they come into being.
What makes Abraham the father of the faithful is that he believed, even
when what God promised him was the impossible. This is so great that God
counted it to him as righteousness.
Our Most Holy Faith
It is characteristic of faith that a person has nothing in himself for
basis or support but "only God"! Let us imagine that Abraham had not believed
God. What then? Surely by this he would have regarded God as a liar, which
would be greatly dishonouring to God's name. What is more, he would have
rejected the idea that the impossible was possible for God. He would, in
fact, have relied just on common sense. Indeed he would have counted more
upon himself than on God, and so placed himself on a higher plane than God,
virtually making himself the highest authority.
Had he done, this, he would have remained in his own small circle and
never reached further than himself. The course of his life would have been
"normal", that is, without any element of wonder, with no enjoyment of God's
gift and no meaning to other people. Happily Abraham did believe God and
thereby came out of his own little circle into God's great world.
So faith became the all-decisive thing is his life. It was truly wonderful.
Peter speaks of our precious faith (2 Peter 1:1). It is indeed precious;
in a sense it is the most precious thing we have. By faith we honour God,
setting Him above everything and everybody in our life. By faith we learn
that we are not slaves of necessity, for everything is possible to him who
believes. Jude speaks of our most holy faith (verse 20), and so emphasises
that faith is not a humanly produced characteristic, but that which comes
from God and leads back to Him. You cannot touch that which is most holy
in a superficial or light-hearted manner, but can only regard it with gratitude
and wonder. It is wonderful to realize that we possess and exercise that
which is most holy.
It works mightily in us, for it sanctifies and changes us, while it is
continually lifting our thoughts up to the Lord and educating us to walk
with Him. It builds only upon God, and finds its support in Him alone. Therefore
we can speak of the assurance of faith. We could certainly not do this if
faith found its support in our feelings, our understanding, our strength
of character and will, our past experience, or anything else. Rather, because
faith exclusively builds upon and finds its support in what God has said,
it is sure and lasting, for God cannot lie and His power is unlimited.
Nothing can replace faith. If faith is not operative there is nothing
in man which can please God. Without faith it is impossible to please God.
Piety, sacrifice, willingness to serve, humility and all good works avail
nothing if they do not spring from faith.
The Good Fight of Faith
In hope Abraham believed against hope, This is the condition for faith,
since what God has promised often goes beyond the realm of possibility. Apart
from it, the Christian would be overcome with despair. He knows that no
sinner can stand before the holy God, and yet as the years go by he is more
conscious than ever of his own hopelessness. He had expected to make great
progress in holiness and love, but he now realises that his progress is
not sufficient to give him boldness in God's presence. He is conscious that
many accusations could rightly be made against him and, when he looks back
on this life, there is much that he regrets. [76/77]
If he had not faith in his Saviour and Lord, who was given up to a humiliating
death for the sake of his transgressions and raised again for his justification,
he would sink down in utter despair. But against hope, he believes in hope
in the God who justifies the ungodly, and in this way he continues to honour
God by counting Him faithful to the gospel. It does not lie within the realm
of human possibility that he should be able to stand before God without spot
or wrinkle, free from all accusation and condemnation, but since for God
nothing is impossible, the failing Christian has perfect confidence that he
can be presented before God innocent and pure, justified by faith. This is
the masterpiece of God's grace. Faith is the victory which overcomes.
Time and time again faith is tried, and the trial is always essentially
the same. Appearances rule out the possibility that what God has said will
really happen, and only faith can enjoy the certainty of His promises. But
faith does not only listen to those promises; it goes on to heed all that
God has said. He said to Noah: "Build an ark". To Abraham he
said: "Offer your son as a sacrifice on the mountain I will show you". He
said to Moses: "Go to Pharaoh and lead my people out". God also speaks
to us and tells us what we should do, and nothing is more liberating than
to obey God by faith. It may indeed seem impossible, but it always turns
out that nothing that He commands is impossible. Noah built the ark. Abraham
brought the sacrifice. Moses led the people out. He who believes is never
put to shame.
We must keep this precious gem of faith in a good conscience. We must
walk in the light if we are to keep faith. We must accept God's chastening
if and when that is necessary. We must build up ourselves on our most holy
faith and not fashion ourselves according to this world, which is anything
but most holy. We must practise praying in faith, speaking in
faith, walking in faith and doing the works of faith.
The hardest fight comes when we have to wait a long time for God's promise
to be fulfilled. We are tempted to become offended with God and our impatience
can swallow up faith. At times it seems a life and death struggle and those
concerned are tempted to feel that all is in vain, with no purpose or meaning.
This is the moment for them to find that their faith is stronger than the
world around or within, and will lead them triumphantly through every discouragement.
John's words greatly help us: "Whatsoever is begotten of God overcomes
the world; and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our
faith" (1 John 5:4). The good fight of faith has only one result, and that
is victory! This is certain because the victory has already been won before
the conflict starts. What is divine cannot be overcome.
PAUL'S LETTERS TO SEVEN CHURCHES
4. EPHESUS Purpose
THERE are elements about the Epistle to the Ephesians which make it outstanding.
Indeed it is suggested that it may have been a kind of circular letter, for
there are virtually no local allusions but very full attention is directed
to the spiritual nature of the whole Church.
What single word can be used to describe the theme which was uppermost
in the writer's mind? At first sight one might suggest "heavenlies", for
this unusual word is repeated five times. For me however, the supreme impression
gained from constant reading and rereading of the "Ephesians"
[77/78] is the word "purpose", and this is high-lighted by 3:11:
"The eternal purpose of God in Christ Jesus our Lord".
The word "mystery" is also prominent here, though by no means confined
to this Letter. It seems to imply a confidential secret. In human life people
at times have some secret purpose of ambition which they keep to themselves
until it suits them to share it with confidential friends. If their hope
is eventually realised, then clearly it will cease to be a secret but will
be manifest to all. Meanwhile they first cherish the matter in the hidden
realms of their own heart and then share their confidence with trusted friends
who may even themselves be included in the project.
God's "mystery" or secret appears to be of this nature. He did not choose
to disclose it in Old Testament days but it was a treasured plan, hidden
for ages in the Creator's heart, yet the motivating purpose in all His dealings
with man. At last, though, the time came when He determined to share this
secret with those concerned, and He began by revealing it to His holy apostles
and prophets, and particularly to the apostle Paul (3:1-11). Through their
spoken and written ministry these men were commissioned to "make all men
see" the divine plan. This inclusive term refers to all believers everywhere,
to whom it is God's good pleasure to confide -- hence this Letter -- but it
limits it to them, since the things of the Spirit are unintelligible and even
foolish to the natural mind. The words are here for all who will to read,
but no-one who is not personally a member of the Church can receive God's
confidence about its character and destiny. All of us, however, who have
by grace been brought into Christ's Church can learn, by the Spirit, through
the Word, what is God's eternal purpose in Christ.
This Letter precludes the idea of limiting the revelation to any specially
enlightened group among God's people, but it does demand something more than
new birth, and that is attention to God's Word and responsiveness to His
Spirit. This is not just a matter of gaining theological information concerning
God's purpose, as if those being instructed are outsiders, for all those
who are truly in Christ are vitally involved in the plan, even if they have
little mental appreciation of it. The Letter is directed to those who are
already blessed in Christ, but it goes on to expound the divine idea behind
all the blessings. The humble believer may well be astonished to discover
the immensity, the unbelievable glory, of his own place in God's eternal
purpose. It is clearly important that he should be enlightened over this
divine intention, but in any case he is involved in it by virtue of his being
found in Christ.
In one section of the Letter, we are told that this is a "great mystery
" (5:32 -- see also 1 Timothy 3:16), with the apostle's explanation that
he is speaking of Christ and the Church. By all means let us emphasise that
this is no special truth into which special initiation must be given, but
let us not be so anxious to stress that God's secret is open to all Christians
in a way which takes it for granted that we are all aware of it. Far from
this being the truth we find that Paul not only expounded it in this Epistle
but at the same time spent time on his knees praying that those who can and
ought to be apprised of it may be given spiritual revelation concerning it.
One day it will cease to be a secret; all the creation will witness Christ
presenting to Himself a glorious Church which He Himself had redeemed and
sanctified. Meanwhile, however, we who have an opened Bible and the privilege
of being taught by the Holy Spirit, can gain continual enlightenment as to
God's ultimate and supreme motive in calling us out of darkness into His
marvelous light. This concerns the Church as one corporate entity, but it
provides for each one of us as individuals. Predestination presumably means
having one's destiny already decided and sure. In the nature of things this
must apply to every individual involved, but we need to avoid unnecessary
and unprofitable speculations if we allow ourselves to reason about people
whom God may have chosen to be permanently excluded from His blessing. Surely
this quarrel about those who could have been elected to remain unforgiven
should have a high place on Paul's list of "disputes about words" which are
unprofitable (1 Timothy 6:4 & 2 Timothy 2:14). We should in any case note
that the main thrust of election is not only freedom from perdition but predestination
We cannot question that there will be saved sheep and lost sheep (or
goats if you will), but while we marvel at the privilege of having the Lord
Jesus as our Shepherd, this Letter goes far beyond the simple designation
of those who are [78/79] the sheep of His pasture.
The divine heart purpose for each of us as individuals is that we will be
fused together with all other believes in Christ, so that in the Church
our God's timeless longings may be fully satisfied. We are dealing with
the God who is eternally Triune, so it should not surprise us that we should
be given indications of the eternal purpose in terms of the whole Trinity.
Stated in its simplest forms, I suggest that we can say that the Church
is destined as a family for the Father, as a body (or bride) for the Son
and as a temple for the Holy Spirit. There can be no uncertainty about this
destiny for it was decided "before the foundation of the world".
The Father and His Family
God is the Creator of the universe and no doubt feels deep satisfaction
in His creation which He described as "very good", though it included humanity.
But God is supremely the Father as well as the Creator; it is from Him that
all fatherhood is named. Within the Godhead the Fathers/Son relationship
is perfectly expressed. The obvious desire of such a One is to have a whole
family of satisfying sons, and this represents a part of that eternal purpose
of which we are speaking.
The usual way in which this relationship is expressed is found in the
word "child" which stresses the fact that such a one actually is born into
the family. To believers in Christ, God "gave power to become the children
of God" (John 1:13). The great love of the Father provided that "we should
be called the children of God" (l John 3:1) and, as John points out, not
only called but actually born of the Father.
There seems to be a somewhat different connotation in the word "son",
though unfortunately the King James' Version confuses the two words. While
including the Father/child relationship, the expression "son" seems more
to stress the status value of the new birth, very often pointing on to the
day of mature manhood when we are no longer children but have attained to
the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (4:13-15). The climax
of what is called the "adoption" (Romans 8:23) will be the realisation of
the hope for which we were saved, the day when we not only see Christ but
are like Him. This, so we are told, was that destiny for which grace originally
chose us (1:5), and this is the purpose which will bring the Father infinite
satisfaction when it is fulfilled.
A few years ago, while he was my guest, the late George Harpur confided
to me that his son was his best friend. No other father has ever said that
to me, and I was deeply moved. It set me thinking of the kind of ideal relationship
of our heavenly Father to those who are not only born of His will but fully
satisfying to His desires -- His best friends. This is what grace has planned
for us; for this reason the Father has purposed beforehand those good works
in which we should walk (2:10). This, I presume, is what Paul's prayer meant
when he bowed his knees to the Father to ask that "all the saints" should
be filled "into all the fullness of God" (3:19).
In ourselves we can never provide our Father with the fragrant offering
of sonship, but Christ has already done that for us (5:2). In this sense,
like true sons, we can be imitators of our Father as beloved children, not
by our own efforts to work towards that goal but by gracefully accepting
the beloved Son's gift of grace and working it out as we "learn" Him (4:20).
Most of the Letter is directed to giving us help in this connection.
The Son and His Bride
The aspect of divine purpose described in this Letter which refers especially
to the Son is that the Church is His body and His bride. We are told that
we are all members of the one body of which Christ is the Head (4:15-16),
but when the apostle comes to speak of the love relationship between Christ
and the Church he uses the descriptions both of the body and of the bride.
On the whole it seems that the body relationship describes our unity with
Christ and with one another during this present dispensation whereas the
reference to the bride focuses especially on the coming Day when the Lord
Jesus will present the Church to Himself as His spotless and glorious bride
This brings me back to the objective of God's eternal purpose which will
find its fulfilment when the Church of all the ages will be revealed with
the Lord Jesus, a revelation in which it is especially characterised as the
bride (Revelation 19:7-9; 21:2). In this connection we again encounter a
reference to God's secret: "This is a great mystery" (5:32). Paul tells us
that he is speaking [79/80] of the bridal relationship
of the Church the Son.
We are not permitted to limit this matter to its consummation at the
end of time, but are charged to model our whole lives on that coming destiny.
Just what John meant when he wrote that "the bride has made herself ready"
(Revelation 19:7) may not be altogether clear, but it certainly implies active
cooperation in preparation for the great Day. God's ultimate purpose of
a people characterised by purity and unity demands first that we know of
that purpose and then that we live in the good of it.
In Chapter 1 we read of the Father's elective choice that we, His children,
should be "holy and blameless before Him" (1:4), and now we read of the Son's
determination to present us to Himself, a glorious church, "holy and without
blemish" (5:27). I repeat that most of this Letter is devoted to practical
help towards this end. In all things we should be purposeful people, and
our purpose should be God's. This is not just a matter of theology. It demands
a kind of lifestyle. Indeed it may be questioned as to how much Christians
have really been enlightened as to the great secret of the Church who do
not live in accordance with it. Happily the converse is true, namely, that
those who have a minimum of acquaintance with what this Letter and other Scriptures
say about the mystery of Christ may be daily approximating to the ultimate
as they walk in the Spirit and in love.
The Spirit and God's Temple
The essential feature of the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple was
that they represented a place where God was truly at home. The glory with
which the shrine was filled (Exodus 40:34 & 2 Chronicles 5:13) was the
manifest presence of God the Holy Spirit.
At the time of the crucifixion, when the veil of the temple was split
apart by the hand of God, this laid open the fact that there was nothing
there. No-one knows where the Ark of the covenant had gone, but it was certainly
not there. And although temple worship was continued for a brief period,
and seemingly reverenced by the first disciples, the fact remains that God's
house was not in that or in any other inanimate structure. No doubt the Jewish
leaders hastened to have the divided curtain joined up again, but Christ's
death had shown that the place was but an empty shrine without meaning. However
the Spirit of God had His home among men from Pentecost onwards, and further
revelation disclosed that redeemed sinners form that temple where God dwells:
"a habitation of God in the Spirit" (2:22). By no means let us undervalue
the personal meaning of Pentecost to individual believers, but we miss the
main implication of that great event if we fail to recognise that that great
"baptism" provided for God the Holy Spirit the reality of that which had
been typified by the Tabernacle and the Temple.
As Stephen reminded the Sanhedrin in his great discourse, the Most High
does not dwell in houses made with hands (Acts 7:48). Had Stephen been allowed
to continue with his argument, he would have finished quoting the prophet's
explanation of where the Almighty does dwell: "But to this man will
I look ..." (Isaiah 66:2). The Man in whom God dwells is Christ Jesus, and
His body is the Temple which He promised to raise from the dead on the third
day. He is the living Cornerstone of the eternal House of God, of which it
is said, "Whose house are we, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying
of our hope firm unto the end" (Hebrews 3:6).
The marvellous privilege extended to us by God's electing grace is that
we come to Christ and are made living stones in Him so that we may be builded
together as the true House of God. "Don't you know that you yourselves are
God's temple, and that God's Spirit lives in you? ... You are that temple"
(1 Corinthians 3:16-17). This Letter which has spoken of the fullness of
the Father and the fullness of Christ also describes the fullness of the Holy
Spirit in which God's people speak to one another with psalms and hymns and
spiritual songs, making melody in their heart to the Lord, always giving thanks
to the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and being subject to one
another in Christ (5:18-21). To me the implication seems to be that every
vital expression of fellowship in Christ is a scene for the fullness of the
Spirit and a small foreshadowing of the eternal purpose of God for His Church.
Other Scriptures amplify this aspect of God's eternal purpose for His
Church. Meanwhile we should allow this Epistle to sharpen our own sense of
the dignity and responsibility of being called to Christ so that in us the
divine purpose may be realised. Great indeed is the mystery of the Church's
vocation in the Lord Jesus Christ. [80/ibc]
(To be continued)
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (16)
SOME of the prophets wrote songs which have no place in our Book of Psalms.
This is a notable one. It is to be sung "In that day", a phrase often used
by the prophet in his predictions. It frequently refers to some event in
this history of God's earthly people, but since here it follows the announcing
of the Child born and the Son given (Isaiah 9:6) and the Spirit-endowed Branch
(11:1-2), we can confidently apply it to our times, the day of grace, and
sing in celebration.
1. A Day of Comforting Forgiveness. The nearer we get to the Lord,
the more we can feel of His anger against sin. Indeed, quite apart from God's
feelings, we are angry with ourselves. Thank God, though, the anger has
passed for ever, and His gracious comfort is sweet to our souls.
2. A Day of Saving Protection. To be fearful of the unknown future
is natural enough and is a healthy matter of concern to those who know nothing
of God's salvation. For us, however, who have found shelter under that very
wonderful name of the LORD JEHOVAH, the Saviour Jesus, there need be no more
fear. I will trust, and I will sing as I trust, but fear has no place in
the lifestyle of a believer.
3. A Day of Joyful Renewal. God's grace is likened to a well,
or more accurately to "wells of salvation". Even if we fail to let down
our bucket, the water is there waiting for us. However empty the bucket may
be when I let it down, it always comes up full, and even running over. I
understand that Jacob's well is the one absolutely certain landmark in Israel.
The Samaritan woman said, "The well is deep" (John 4:11). It needed to be
to have lasted all these centuries. Christ's well is eternal and it is bottomless.
It provides a joy that no man can take from us (John 16:22). But we must
keep on drawing up its waters.
4. A Day of Triumphant Witness. "Let this be known in all the
earth". Joy shared is joy multiplied, and to us is given the privilege of
letting others know of these wells of salvation, and to sing as we do so.
We are not here to proclaim how needy people are. By the aid of the convicting
Spirit they can discover that for themselves. Our great privilege is both
to call upon the Lord's name and to make known His doings among the peoples.
His name is indeed exalted, but it is our glad task to mention that fact
to all who will listen.
5. A Day of Glorious Indwelling. References to "The Holy One of
Israel" abound in Isaiah's writings, but this song of his ends with appreciation
of the wonderful fact that this Great One actually lives within us. "In that
day", Jesus Himself affirmed, "In that day you will know that I am in my
Father, and you in me, and I in you" (John 14:20). It is something
to cry aloud and shout about! It is also something to be lived out in daily
life. Isaiah has already said that the LORD JEHOVAH is not only his strength
but also his song (verse 2). Even the least musical of us can have a part
in the heavenly symphony, since the Lord Jesus lives in our hearts.
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
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