"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

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Vol. 3, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1974 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



J. Alec Motyer

Reading: Psalm 23

THE fact that the Lord is my shepherd carries with it the rather unflattering description of me as a sheep. But that is what I am. Now, so far as the shepherd is concerned, what would you say was the chief virtue of a sheep? What does the shepherd want to see? I think the answer must be that he wants restfulness, relaxation, submissiveness, acceptance of His will. He wants to know that when he leads his flock to a place, there it will be and there it will bide, until He leads it somewhere else. He wants a sheep with an even, equable temperament, not boisterious but relaxed under his hand.

Now we must be careful about Bible descriptions, since not one of them is the whole truth. A Christian is a sheep, but a Christian is also a soldier, and he is an athlete, a farmer and a bride. None of these descriptions is the whole truth, but it is important to realise that each one of them is part of the truth all the time. This analogy of the sheep, then, is meant to be part of the truth all the time in our case. Always we are meant to be characterised by restfulness, submission to God's will, accepting everything that He says. We may be engaged in the bitterest warfare against sin and Satan, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, but part of the truth is that we should always have peace and rest in the midst of the warfare. And the purpose of this psalm is to show how it can be part of the truth all the time that, as the Lord's sheep, I may be of a restful and trustful disposition. The sheep here described is completely satisfied. He has three words of glad testimony: "I shall not want" (v.1); "I will fear no evil" (v.4) and "I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever" (v.6). This is the voice of contentment, the voice of assurance and comfort, the voice of inward, unworried confidence. Can we be like that at all times? Let us consider five supports which this psalm gives us by truth which can hold the faltering step steady, come what may.

1. The Lord Himself in person attends to every need

I find the whole of life in this psalm. There are the contrasting experiences of life in rest and in activity; the contrasting elements in the inner and the outward life; there are life's troubles and life's happinesses; there is the fellowship of friends at the table and the presence of enemies all around. Then we notice the allusions to various times. There is the past tense (v.5 R.V.), the present tense, and the future (v.6). Every moment of day or night, we are somewhere in Psalm 23. We are either resting or moving; either contemplating or busy on our pathway; either in trouble or in joy; either with friends or with enemies; and the whole time we are accompanied by our wonderful Shepherd. All the time, in every circumstance of life, there He is, and the greater the need the closer and more real is His presence.

Halfway through, the psalm suddenly changes from 'he' to 'Thou' and this change takes place in the valley. There is a time-honoured translation here: "the valley of the shadow of death", but death is only part of life's darkness. The true translation should be: 'the deepest darkness of all'. Not just death, but deep darkness, and when the deepest darkness comes, then the 'He' changes to 'Thou'. He guides me, but when darkness comes He moves right alongside. Nebuchadnezzar said: 'How many men did we throw into the furnace?' and all those fawning, flattering courtiers of his answered: 'Three men, O king.' 'But,' said he, 'I see four men loose in the middle of the fire and the fourth is like the Son of God.' The Lord Himself in person attends to every need.

2. The will of God gives purpose to life

Have you ever met a person in the sudden onset of trouble who has not said to you: 'Why has this happened?' And God very rarely answers that question, 'why'. The reason is He holds the answer back because it would not help us if we knew: His medicine for the soul is not an icy spoonful of logic. We face the agonies of life, and what makes double anguish is that things offend our sense of logic. We cannot trace the pattern behind what has happened to us. The scriptures say: 'I am not concerned with your logic: I am only concerned with His logic and His wisdom. It is of no concern whether or not you can understand your pathway, the great thing is that it makes sense to Him.' The will [1/2] of God gives purpose to life. The two great problems of life are in this psalm. First there is the problem of happiness, of contentment, of ease. Do I hear you asking me where is the problem in that? Ah Christian, Christian, is it not a mystery that a holy God should give you even one moment of peace? It is in His infinite forbearance and mercy that He provides such happiness for us. The other problem is that valley of deepest darkness. There is the onset of that horrible thing which blights our life and takes away our happiness and mars our home. So there are the problems of happiness and pain, and there is one common link which holds them together: "He guideth me in the paths of righteousness." Righteousness is a word which has one single meaning all the way through the Bible. It is true that you have to adapt the way in which you translate it, but it has one single meaning -- that which is right with God. So we are speaking of paths which make sense to Him, paths in which there is no mistake and no error, paths that are right.

Satan will come to us in our moments of anguish, and will prompt us to ask: 'Where did I go wrong?' That is a moment when you need the very strong support of such a psalm as this. Your effective answer to all such questioning must be to affirm: 'My Father has not gone wrong. He never goes wrong. He leads me in paths that are right with Him, and He will never stop doing that, for He does it for His own name's sake. He does it because He is the God that He is, and He will never change.'

3. Provision is independent of circumstances

There was a time when David was fleeing from Absalom, and for all that David knew, Absalom was already pursuing after him. All that David could do was to make his best speed to get away. "And it came to pass, when David was come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and Machir the son of Ammiel of Lo-debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim, brought beds, and basons, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched corn, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness" (2 Samuel 17:27-29). "Thou spreadest a table before me in the presence of my enemies." It was not a convenient time to have a party, but the party was provided. We will not go into any situation where we can say that God cannot provide for us there, or that it is impossible for Him to help us then. There can be no such circumstances. The Lord will always have His ministers. The noble army of Barzillai the Gileadite did not perish when that man died.

Consider the basis on which this abundance is provided: "Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over." There is an anointing in the past which is a guarantee of provision in the present. Because God has anointed us, then there can be no lack at any time. For us that anointing is the blood of the Lord Jesus and the gift of the gracious Holy Spirit. Will our heavenly Father anoint us with the blood of His Son and the presence of His Spirit in order to forget us? No, that is something that He will never do.

4. The protective covering is utterly sufficient

Many years ago I used to be an officer at a boys' camp. One year I had five of these youngsters to look after. We had one of the nicest tents that it was possible to have, a ridge tent, with a ridge seven feet high, so that one could walk upright into it without even stooping. One night I came across the camp site. It was pouring with rain and the boys were supposed to be in bed, but when I entered I found these five small objects mopping down the inside of the tent with towels. They started to explain to me that the tent was leaking, and by the time they had done their mopping it really was leaking. They had gone into the tent, lit the lantern and noticed that the inside of the canvas on the tent was glistening with moisture. Wrongly supposing that this must be dealt with, they began to mop down the tent. Fortunately by the time that I got there they had only had time to mop down one side, so we still had a dry side to sleep under. But if only they had left it alone! It was entirely sufficient, but it had to be trusted and not tampered with. So it is with divine protection. It is utterly sufficient.

See where our Protector is: "He leadeth me ..."; then He is out in front, the pace-maker and the pathfinder. "Thou art with me." Where is He now? He is alongside, He has come to join me. "... shall follow me." Where is He now? [2/3] Why, He is out behind; He is my rearguard. So He is in front, alongside and behind. I must give up mopping the canvas. The protective covering is sufficient. All I have to do is to trust Him to keep out the rain.

"Thy rod and thy staff ...". Now I do not know whether there is any difference between a rod and a staff. I do know, though, that so far as the Hebrew words are concerned these mean exactly the same thing, for the words can be used interchangeably. They do not signify different objects in the Hebrew. Some commentators want us to believe that one is the hook for guiding the sheep and the other is the club for hitting lions over the head. I do not know. But I do know this, that when the Bible says a thing twice, it means completeness. So this to me means that my Shepherd is completely, fully equipped to deal with every situation. So, dear fellow sheep, why not relax and let Him be your protection?

5. The longest way round is the shortest way home

"I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." What could this verse have meant to David? There was no house of the Lord in David's day; it had to wait for Solomon to be built. David was expressly forbidden to build such a house. And even if there had been one, David had no chance of living there for ever , since it was reserved for the priests and only they could enter it. What David was talking about was not some house down here on earth, but the eternal house up there in the heavens. This psalm seems to change half way through. It starts with the shepherd and the sheep; and then it changes to the pilgrim and his companion; and it ends up with the host and his guests. There is a 'table' and a 'house'. Beloved, there is a time coming when travelling days will be done, then "we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens". And He is going to bring us there. Through all the ups and downs of our experience; through all the fluctuations of our love to Him; through anything and everything, He has gone on to prepare a place for you and me, and where He is, we may be also. Those who have Him as Shepherd will not want and need never fear.




T. Austin-Sparks

IN 2 Kings 13:14-25 we read of the closing scenes in the life of Elisha. There are three instances which are a very fitting conclusion to the life of Elisha in the light of the spiritual meaning of his life, namely that he represented the power of resurrection life. His story all the way through was one of testimony against death in various and numerous forms, and here at the end we see how wonderfully that testimony was maintained. Life was triumphant over death right through to the last.

Elisha as an old man was on his bed in great weakness and soon to pass away. The king of Israel came to him, and he lifted himself in his bed, calling the king to bring his bow and arrows and to put an arrow in the bow. Then the prophet placed his hands over those of the king, they two drew the bow to its full extent, and the arrow sped from that bed through the open window. The life of resurrection was in that arrow, for the arrow of the Lord's deliverance means triumph over death. Then came the command to the king to smite the ground with his arrows. He did this three times and then stopped, which filled the man of God with wrath. There was still much more energy in the dying prophet than there was in the living king. Elisha was the embodiment of energy to the end, breathing life and energy in spite of great human weakness.

The mortal sickness was only one aspect of his being; there was another sense in which the testimony to life triumphant over death was maintained even when the human vessel had [3/4] gone. Even when Elisha's body was dead and in the tomb, we see that contact with that body brought life. It was a marvellous conclusion, full of significance and spiritual value. Nothing could more aptly fit into his whole testimony. It might have been a disappointment if some tragedy had overtaken him or if he had simply disappeared from the scene. This did not happen. The triumph of his testimony was that it continued right through this life and beyond. The resurrection life of Christ outlives its vessels; it does not end here, but goes on. We close these studies by emphasising three lessons which we can learn from the end of Elisha's story.

1. The Arrow of the Lord's Deliverance

It was a question of victory over the enemy. And it is part of the Lord's purpose to give full and final victory over every foe. That the king of Israel only entered into this in a limited way was his own fault. The Lord provided for much more than that, as we shall see. From the divine standpoint provision is made for the full and final overthrow of the Lord's enemy.

Although for the time being, because of the limited appropriation of the king who was representative of the Lord's people, the prophecy may be postponed as to its full realisation, nevertheless the arrow of the Lord's deliverance has been released, and ultimately the Lord's people will have a complete and full deliverance. Prophecy makes this certain. This arrow of deliverance was the arrow of a prophecy, the fuller expression of which may be found in the other prophets, such as Ezekiel, with his vision of the valley of dry bones. In that vision there was depicted the triumphant activity of the Lord's people, and their ultimate standing upon their feet as a mighty army. But the arrow of the Lord's deliverance foreshadowed the ultimate full triumph of God's people over the last enemy: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." The guarantee, the earnest, the title deeds of the final triumph over death is the fact that resurrection life is already given spiritually to the Lord's people.

The last enemy will be overcome in the Church, the body of Christ, by the power of His resurrection. The Church has long been entering into the spiritual values of Christ's resurrection life, perhaps knowing all too little of it because of its lack of faith, but assured that in the end it will be realised to the full. The Word of God makes that quite plain; it is to be in the Church, the body of Christ, that the last enemy will be destroyed and death finally cast out.

The earnest of the fact that this will be is in the truth that Christ, already triumphant over death, is resident within His body. In Ephesians 1:17-21 we are told that "the exceeding greatness of his power", the power by which God raised Jesus from the dead, is to result in universal authority. Resurrection life contains the very power by which death shall be fully and finally vanquished, so that the Church, the body of Christ, will come to the place where the Head already is. Later on we read the words: "... according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20). What power is this? "The exceeding greatness of his power ... which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead ...". It is resurrection power, and by it there is to be "glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever".

Let us repeat, then, that the last enemy, death, is going to be finally and fully overthrown in and by the Church, on the basis of the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus operating within. For this reason there is the necessity for us to learn to live on the basis of resurrection life now. This explains why the Lord takes pains to bring us to the place where only His risen life will meet our need. It is the explanation of the constant application of the cross to cut from under us every other basis of life save the life of the Lord.

This brings us to an interesting and significant point in the story of Elisha on his death-bed. When the king of Israel cried to Elisha: "O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof" (2 Kings 13:14) did he mean that he was expecting Elisha to go the same way as Elijah? Did he think that Elisha was about to be raptured? Elijah had gone up into heaven amidst the shouts of Elisha: "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof", so celebrating Elijah's victory over death. It is as though the Holy Spirit were suggesting that even if there was not the same form of victory over death in Elisha's case, yet the same words applied aptly to him. He came within the category of those who conquer death and are not conquered by it. Not that there was so much difference. If Elijah was raptured outwardly, Elisha was raptured inwardly, but in [4/5] both cases it represented an expression of complete victory. What is rapture? It is glory. And, so far as the principle and basis of rapture is concerned, which is the power of His resurrection, it holds good whatever may be the outward form of its consummation.

Was not Paul as truly raptured at the end of his life as he had hoped for at the beginning? He had earlier written: "... we which are alive and remain shall be caught up ..." but towards the end of his life he came to see that such was not to be the manner of his going, and he wrote quite frankly: "... I am already being offered, and the time of my departure is come", knowing then by what method he would go. But spiritually, in his inner life, he was as truly raptured at the end as he had hoped to be at the beginning. In his case it was not defeat, not the mastery of death, but glory. He could go through in perfect confidence and complete triumph; he could go through with a shout of victory. Although the executioner's axe was about to be lifted to sever his head from his body, he could exclaim in triumph: "the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof"!

But there was something more. Paul had two phases of resurrection in his heart and in his faith. Firstly he had resurrection inwardly. The power of resurrection was at work in him all the time, so that death was being transcended in all its workings. In his spirit he was always above death. But in the second place, Paul had his heart and his faith set upon a specific form of its outworking in what he called uniquely: "the out-resurrection from among the dead". Paul's desire and ambition was not just to attain unto the resurrection from the dead. You have nothing to do to attain to that resurrection, provided you are saved by faith in Christ. The fact that you have eternal life is the guarantee that you will be raised from the dead. The Lord Jesus made it perfectly clear that He would give eternal life to those who believed on Him and would raise them up at the last day. But Paul spoke of the out-resurrection from among the dead, and if Philippians 3:10 means anything at all, its language does seem to indicate that this is not just the general resurrection which is a gift, but something which is a prize. A prize is always something worked for, striven after and which may be missed, and Paul confessed that this was a matter which extended him to the full.

2. The Smiting on the Ground with the Arrows

The one arrow of deliverance leads us to the other arrows. Elisha did not leave things with the releasing of the one arrow, prophetic of full and final deliverance, but instantly proceeded to instruct Joash to take the arrows and smite upon the ground. This Joash did, but he only smote three times and then stayed. Elisha asked him why he stayed, why he accepted less than he might have had, why he did not go the full way and possess the whole at once. He grieved that the king had fixed a lower measure, instead of exerting himself for the full expression of divine victory. This fits in with what is stated in Philippians 3, namely that the measure of victory and glory will depend on faith's appropriation of the power of His resurrection. This is not dealing with the matter salvation, but rather with God's full thought as to the purpose of salvation. Unlike the king who only smote three times, we find in this chapter that Paul speaks of himself as smiting, and smiting, and smiting again: "... if by any means I may attain to the out-resurrection ...". He was a man who did not stay short of the full purpose of God. Paul himself says in another place that in the resurrection there will be different degrees of glory, just as there is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars.

This presents a great challenge to us. It suggests that there is something which may be lost, not in salvation but in the measure and positions which the Lord would have us occupy and enjoy but to which we may not attain. The Word of God points out that the generation of Hebrews which fell in the wilderness failed to reach God's purpose for them. When we view this whole matter in the light of God's own need -- "His inheritance in the saints" -- and when we view it in the light of what it has cost God and His Son, it becomes a sin to be satisfied with anything less than God desires. The Lord Jesus did not endure all the great sufferings of Calvary just to get us out of hell and into heaven. There was far more than that bound up in His cross.

3. The Revival of a Dead Body by Contact with Elisha's Bones

"... as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood up on his feet." This story makes plain the fact that the power ministered through Elisha did not come from him [5/6] personally but was indeed the miraculous power of God. It also reminds us that the spiritual reality of being identified with Christ in His death is not some negative and gloomy experience, but is the way by which new life is ministered to others. When by His Spirit the Lord Jesus brings us into a further measure of the meaning of His death, His purpose is always that we may enjoy a new measure of His resurrection life. The two things go together. It is death unto life: it is loss unto gain. The death and the loss concern that which will in any case have to go and is of doubtful value even while it remains, whereas the life and gain are eternal and have in them all the values of God. So Paul could hail conformity to the death of Christ with joy. To him it was not a mournful matter of self-pity but the glad shout of a victor. He suffered loss so that he could experience "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord". Such knowledge excels everything that can come to a man in this world; power, popularity, position, possessions. It is the knowledge of the power of Christ in the fullness of His resurrection, leading on to a place in the throne with Him.



Roger T. Forster

THE Church of Christ moved triumphantly forward into this dispensation as the believers "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). These four things are means whereby men and women who have come to Christ always find rest, help, gift and power to continue in His way. We are now to consider the breaking of bread or the Lord's table.

There are only six New Testament books which mention this matter, although both Peter and Jude seem to make it clear that the early Church did not just take a morsel of bread or a sip of wine, but made the occasion one of feasting together. At the end of such feasts of fellowship they would presumably break bread together and say that they were doing this in remembrance of the Lord Jesus who held them together and made them one. Then they would pass round some wine and say that this reminded them of how much they owed to the Lord's death. So their feasts would conclude with fresh worship of the Lord.

This, of course, laid it open to possible abuse. Paul had to reprove the Corinthians because they tended to draw together in groups, some enjoying their rich food, others having to be content with their poor food, and some being left out altogether. The apostle said that such people would do much better to eat at home. So generally believers throughout history have not prefaced the Lord's table with a meal, but have met together in a more formal way to eat a small portion of bread and drink a very little wine. This has its own perils. To the first believers there was nothing ceremonial about what they did; its modern equivalent would be much more like cutting a slice of bread and taking a drink of milk or tea. The whole point was that the Lord Jesus had taken the elements of ordinary, daily life, and then put into them that bit extra of spiritual significance that only He could. But over the centuries something mysterious and far removed from daily life has been introduced, with special qualifications for those who administer the religious rite, and special procedures which they must follow and even special places reserved for this observance. The Lord Jesus did not give it to us for this purpose. He gave it, not to make some extraordinary, out-of-this-world performance, but to bring the things of God right down into the realm of daily life.

There follows a further peril, namely that of ascribing some 'sacramental' or magical efficacy to the elements. 'Sacrament' is not a Bible word. Sometimes those who use it have the erroneous idea that their mere swallowing of these specially administered elements has a spiritually beneficial effect, as though it did not matter whether the recipient had a heart estranged from God or a life of disobedience to Him, or no personal relationship at all with Christ, so long as he had received the 'sacrament'. As though this in itself had any value or importance! Some even go so [6/7] far as to worship the bread and wine, as though it were God. They are seemingly ignorant of the truth that in actual fact the Lord Jesus did not employ the word 'is' when speaking of the bread and the wine. What he said, literally translated, was 'This My body', 'this My blood', meaning: 'This represents what I am, My body' and 'This represents My blood'; so that if you take what they stand for, if you take Me, then you know true life.

The third peril is connected with the communal aspect of the feast. Of course the bread and the wine are symbolic of our community. Those who sit around the table are a family. If friends come and sit down with them, then it is as though they have been invited to join the family. This is true, but it is not limited to any special group, but is symbolic of the totality of the whole family of God. Too often people have said: 'If you do not belong to our particular denomination, then you cannot partake of "communion" with us. If you do not see things as we see them, then you have no part nor share in our community. You may be a child of God, but you must keep away from our bread and wine. If you have not followed our procedure, or if you are in association with Christians whom we disapprove of, then do not come to us, for we will not give you a place at the Table.' In this way the Lord's Table is used as a weapon of separation; it keeps people at a distance as though saying: 'We are special people, and only if you are linked with us and nobody else can you eat our little bits of bread and drink our sips of wine.' So it is that people misguidedly build up their own select societies, something which the Lord Jesus certainly never meant to happen.

THE phrase, 'breaking of bread' denotes an action which was quite common and ordinary. Whenever Jesus had a meal, He would take the bread, lift up His eyes to heaven and thank the Father; after which He would break it and pass it round. Although the circumstances were most unusual, the action was the same when Paul, "took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all: and when he had broken it he began to eat ..." (Acts 27:35). Until this, the others had fasted and were in a state of despair, but they were encouraged to share in the food and to hope for the deliverance which Paul had prayed for and been promised. So the breaking of bread was a common act at a common meal: it was never meant to be something separated from ordinary life. I myself have been in places where there was no building for a formal service and with others have broken bread and drunk wine at the end of a meal. The whole atmosphere has become solemn and very wonderful, as we have passed from ordinary mealtime fellowship to remembering the Lord and worshipping Him. After all, Christianity is something to do with living here and now for the Lord; it is to do with the harsh realities of everyday life, and is not just a kind of escape into a mystical, make-believe world.

It is, of course, a feast. God calls us to taste of His rich provision for us in Christ. It was a feast at the beginning, the feast of the Passover. For over a thousand years before Christ the Jews had known this as one of their great festivals. Large numbers would flock into Jerusalem, leaving their work and homes for seven days, and would mix together in glad rejoicing, praising God for the fact that they were His people and were gathered to enjoy Him and for Him to take pleasure in them. The Passover feast reminded them of the night of their deliverance as a nation; they had been captives in Egypt but God had brought them out. So for some 1,200 years, in picture-book fashion and by means of visual aids which could easily be understood, the Israelites were really being prepared for the great Passover sacrifice, when the Lord Jesus would give Himself so that men could feast on Him, not merely for seven days but for all the days until He comes again. So it is that we are told that "Christ, our passover, is sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

SOMETIMES we describe this as a 'communion', which is a good name, for it emphasises fellowship or communion. No Christian is ever expected to break bread alone, and indeed it is generally agreed that solitary eating is not a healthy exercise. Spiritually it is certainly not acceptable, being contrary to the whole concept of our calling to be a new community. It is a beautiful consequence of our appreciation of the fact that the bread represents our Lord's body. The first disciples ate bread which spoke of a body soon to be on the cross, to be buried, resurrected and then ascended out of their sight. In future they would take the bread to remind one another of that wonderful [7/8] body which they could no longer see but only remember. As they did so, however, the Holy Spirit would remind them that since Christ lived in each one of them, they were His body. The Church is the body of Christ. We are one people and, as a body needs each member, so those who take the bread declare their oneness with Him and also in Him. What a pity that people now describe their sectional Christianity as their 'communion'! There can only be one communion as there is only one Table.

The Bible uses the phrase, the Lord's Table. It is His feast. He supplies it; He makes the provision; and He is personally present. On that last supper night, when the disciples were gathered around, it was Jesus Himself who took and distributed the bread. When we gather and are welcomed to a Table which is not that of some special church or human connection, but is truly the Lord's Table, then there may be some brother who gets up and hands the bread for others to distribute, but this is simply a convenience of procedure which need not obscure the fact that it is really the Lord Jesus who calls us to the fellowship of His body. He is present, and He is in charge. At the beginning, I spoke of the larger meals which the believers shared. These were called the 'agape' or 'lovefeast', and it was in this spirit that they finished up with the Lord's Table and especially remembered Him.

IN the various accounts of that last supper, we find different stresses in the various Gospels. Mark records the Lord as saying: "Take, this is my body ..." (Mark 14:22 R.V.), and so reminds us that every time we break bread we are accepting what God gives us in Christ. So we take His gift and give Him thanks. Matthew adds a further point by recording: "Take, eat ..." (Matthew 26:26). In this way the Spirit stresses the inward nature of our acceptance. We are taking more than forgiveness, more than peace; we are taking Christ and allowing Him to be assimilated into our lives. As food becomes part of us so the Lord Jesus associates Himself with our inner life; we continue to feed upon Him. Luke goes further; his record says: "Take this, and divide it among yourselves" (Luke 22:17). The Lord never meant this to be an individual act, but one in which we share and distribute, in helpful fellowship. Such help is most important. Some may come to the Table with heavy hearts, either because of the pressure of circumstances or because of a sense of having failed the Lord. Some may not have praised the Lord much during the past week, and may not even feel like praising Him as they sit at His Table. Others, however, may be full of praise, full to overflowing, and this can bring inspiration to the downcast and release some new energy of praise in them. So it is not only the bread, but thanks or prayer or a hymn which provides the means for one to serve and help the other. We are to take the Lord not just for our own good but to distribute to others in helpful fellowship.

It may be surprising to find that John's Gospel makes no mention at all of the actual Last Supper in this way. Chapters 13 to 17 cover this episode but it is never once recorded that Christ did what the other Gospels say, taking the bread and saying: "This is my body" or taking the wine and saying: "This is the blood of the new covenant". John does say that the supper came, and also records how the one who ate bread with Him also lifted up his heel against Him, reminding us how Judas took the bread and the wine and then, as it were, kicked the Lord and then went out to betray Him. Why does John not follow the pattern of the other three evangelists? The reason is surely to lay emphasis on the person of Christ. It is not the Table, the bread and the wine, not even the atmosphere of the meeting which matters most; it is the Lord Himself. So it seems that John deliberately avoids anything which might be made into ritual, stressing the actual, real Christ who is Himself in the midst. It is as though the Lord said: 'I am here, your bread, giving Myself to you and applying the efficacy of My shed blood.' It is the Lord Jesus who matters, not just the supper but Himself. In this way the four Gospels give us help in our spiritual walk with Christ, a walk which is not reserved for a special hour of a special day, but which should be everywhere and all the time.

THE breaking of bread is mentioned three times in the book of the Acts. In Acts 2:42 it is closely linked with prayer, for one cannot eat the bread and take the cup without praying. Mostly we tend to do this in silence, worshipping Christ in our hearts, as though our spiritual mouths are busy assimilating more of Him even while our natural mouths are eating the bread. There are sometimes those who cannot contain themselves; even as they eat they use their mouths to speak the Lord's praises. Mostly, [8/9] however, we tend to do what Paul calls 'making melody in the heart unto the Lord'. The important thing is that our praise should be truly unto Him. In verse 44 it tells us that: " All that believed were together and had all things common, and sold their possessions and parted them to all as every man had need. And they continued with one accord daily in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart." So another characteristic of the Table is joy. Joy because we know the presence of the Lord and are thrilled to have Him with us, giving us a new revelation of Himself. How joyful they were when Christ appeared to them in resurrection and actually ate and drank with them (Acts 10.41)! They were so happy that they could hardly believe. They did not try to understand; they simply accepted the fact of Christ's presence and rejoiced to have it so. That is just the spirit in which we should come to the Table. Both prayer and joy are parts of true worship.

It is notable that the third time in which this matter is mentioned we are told that it was in an 'upper room' (Acts 20.8). This enhances the idea of remembering the Lord, for it was in an upper room that they had first broken bread on that Passover night. This was far away from Jerusalem, away in what is now Turkey, but Christ was as truly with them as He had been with the first disciples on that dread night. The Jesus who had been incarnate, who had gone out to shed His blood for them on the cross, this same Jesus was truly present with them now, by the Spirit. They remembered that the crucified Jesus had risen from the dead, and was in the power of that resurrection now. He had ascended into heaven, and yet He was with them now, and so the upper room was like heaven itself. And they reminded one another of the certainty of His coming again, and remembered Him even as they waited for Him to return. So the upper room seems to stress the fact that this is not just a time for praise and joy but also for sharing together the reality of Christ's presence, and keeping active the hope of His coming. This challenges us. We can never treat the Lord's Table lightly. You can come as a sinner, but not if you imagine that sin is of little importance and can be allowed to remain uncleansed. It is not just that a man with such an attitude does harm to others, but that he harms himself. Some Christians were weak and sick in Corinth for this very reason; they were offending the Lord and doing despite to His body. Every man should first ask himself: 'How do I stand with God? Am I truly loving my brethren? Do I really want to go the way of the will of God?' Thank God that after such an examination we can still be welcomed by the Lord, for the Table was made for sinners, provided that those sinners acknowledge their wrongs.

IT is possible that a sinner may come to Christ for the first time if he comes in true repentance. I was personally present at a breaking of bread at which a free invitation was given to 'all who truly love the Lord'. A non-Christian young man was present and as the elements were passed round he realised that he could express his faith in Christ by taking the bread and the wine. He did so, and was truly converted. I know personally of other such conversions which have happened at the Lord's Table. Over 150 years ago something of this kind happened at Cambridge to an undergraduate named Charles Simeon. I do not think that it is an overstatement to say that much of the blessing among undergraduates at Cambridge from that day to this comes from the streams of God's grace which began with Charles Simeon and his preaching in Holy Trinity Church. It was in that very church that I first saw what it meant that Jesus had died for me and later I had the thrilling privilege of going back to preach the gospel to students in that same church. Countless undergraduates have found Christ there through the years, as a veritable stream of divine power has continued to flow among Cambridge men and women. It all came from one man's life and began when he realised that the university rules of those days insisted that he should take communion on Easter Day. He was appalled to make this discovery, knowing himself to be utterly unworthy to do any such thing. He felt that Satan himself was as fit to attend as he was, and immediately began to enquire how he could get right with God. Under deep conviction and almost in despair, he reached Holy Week and was reading a book about the Lord's Supper which referred to the divine provision of an offering for sin. He asked himself if God had provided an offering on to which he could, as it were, place his burden of sin, and finally came to see that every provision for the penitent sinner was made by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He tells how on the Wednesday of that week a glimmer of hope shone into his heart, and as the [9/10] days went on he was encouraged to hope in God's mercy until, on Easter Sunday morning, he awoke with a heart full of assurance and faith in the risen Saviour. He continues: 'From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul, and at the Lord's Table in our chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour'.

The Lord's Table should always be a challenge to us; it should make us examine ourselves in the light of God's holy presence; it should be an occasion of the sweetest access to God through our blessed Saviour. We come not to the elements of bread and wine but to the living and all-sufficient reality of Christ, who is the bread of life.


(Studies in the epistle to the Galatians)


Harry Foster

OUR consideration of chapter 3 will centre on the matter of spirituality. By this I do not mean what is often called spirituality, that is refinement or other-worldliness, nor merely the presence of the Spirit in a life, but rather what is expressed by Paul's own words to the Galatians: "If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk" (5:25). The Galatians had eternal life, so they lived by the Spirit, but they had been duped into departing from the upright path of the gospel and were not walking by the Spirit, so they were failing in this most important quality of life, spirituality.

Firstly, though, we must remark on the rather surprising fact that it is only in the third chapter of this letter that the Holy Spirit is so much as mentioned. Paul had written a great deal about himself and his own experiences, and he was a man of the Spirit if ever there was one. He had introduced into his narrative two other men, Peter and Barnabas, who had elsewhere been specifically described as "full of the Spirit". It may seem hardly credible that until now he had failed even to allude to the Holy Spirit. But why should it be? What would have been unpardonable would be if he had failed to make reference to the Lord Jesus. There was no fear of that, and so far he had spoken twenty times of Christ before he referred to the Holy Spirit. This suggests to us that the main emphasis of the spiritual man is Christ Himself. It is a feature of the Spirit's gracious presence that He does not draw attention to Himself but centres us on the Lord Jesus.

At this stage, however, Paul clearly felt impelled to call the attention of his readers to their resolute need of the Spirit's power and authority, so he set to work to disabuse their minds of any idea that they could become spiritual by their own efforts. We will try to follow through his reasoning. In the last verse of chapter 2 we find what appear to have been his final words to Peter. The import of these seems to be that if you can do the will of God in your own strength, then it is a pity that Christ died. If any man can find a way by human efforts to reach man's true destiny, then it is a tragedy that the Lord Jesus shed His blood to make that way. We know what Peter would respond to that. In chapter 3 Paul began by saying essentially the same thing to the Galatians. Christ became a curse for us so that we might receive God's promise of blessing (v.14). Anybody who imagines that this blessing can be obtained other than by the free gift of the Spirit is really implying that it would have been all the same if Christ had not been crucified. The Galatians were 'foolish' but whether they were 'so foolish' as that, depended on the heed that they would give to this letter.

THE Galatians had been born of the Spirit. The same God who sent His Son to die for sinners had sent the Spirit of that Son into the hearts of believers, so that they could rightly claim God as their Father (4:6). So they had "begun in the Spirit" (v.3). We are not left to guess how this happened. When he first visited them, Paul had been enabled to preach the gospel so graphically and so effectively that it was as though they had actually seen Christ dying on the cross for them (v.1). Paul does not merely say that he explained to them the meaning of [10/11] the cross, but that they had had a personal and revolutionary encounter with the crucified Saviour as they listened to his preaching. Would to God that there were more preaching of the gospel like this in our day! It is not only the doctrine of the cross that men need but the Spirit's communication of the power of that cross through the preached word. On that occasion the Galatians were privileged to have such a messenger and such a message. They looked to Jesus; they opened their hearts to Him: and He came into them by the life-giving presence of His Spirit.

It is important to notice that Paul took it for granted that the Galatians had received the Holy Spirit (v.2). He never for one moment suggested that having received the Lord Jesus they should now receive the Spirit as a subsequent act. It is true that they were most unsatisfactory Christians, and that Paul had grave questions about them (4:20), but nowhere is there any indication that he doubted their indwelling by the Spirit. When they heard the gospel message, they received Christ. You become a Christian when Christ enters your heart. But how can He enter your heart when He is at the Father's right hand in heaven? Surely only by the Holy Spirit. There is a sense in which the Spirit of Christ is Christ's other Self. He is, of course, a person, just as much as the Lord Jesus is a person. He is such a wonderful, divine person that He has not left the Father by coming to us. He lived in Jesus throughout the years of the earthly ministry, but He did not leave the Son at the ascension or at Pentecost. The Spirit is with the Father, He is with the Son, and He is with us if we have eternal life.

WE are not only told that the Spirit had given eternal life to the Galatians but also that He was actively working among them. It seems clear that signs and wonders had been witnessed among them, and that these were continuing (v.5), though how many of the Galatians were actually gifted in this way we do not know, for Paul's statement only mentions what was happening 'among' them. They were no strangers to the presence and powerful working of the Holy Spirit, and yet it seems that they were in danger of taking 'spiritual' things into their own hands, wrongly imagining that their own efforts and ideas would lead them along the road of God's will to their final goal. Spirituality, however, involves an ever-growing dependence on the Holy Spirit -- it demands not only life but walk, the walk of faith.

And faith is the key to this whole matter, as it is the key to the letter. That is why we find such emphasis being given to the word 'promise'. This is a lovely word, for it shows us God's desire to send His Spirit to be our guide and helper. We saw in chapter 1 that it brought pleasure to the heart of God to reveal His Son in Paul, and now we notice that He finds pleasure in giving us His Spirit. He does not say that if we study more, or pray more, or agonise enough, we will be rewarded by the Spirit's presence. No, the Holy Spirit is not a prize but a promise. The Jews new, of course, that Abraham was the man who had the promises, but in their case they had many erroneous ideas as to what those promises involved. To us the promises are all included in the one marvellous promise of the Spirit. So do let us throw off those tensions and disputations which are so often associated with the subject of the Spirit's fullness, and let us be filled with joyful expectation that God is well able to implement His promise to us in Christ. The condition, clearly, is faith on our part. You Galatians began by trusting Christ, you proved God's miraculous power by trusting Him; now get back on to the straight path of simple trust and you will move on towards spiritual maturity. You have been deceived into trusting men, trusting things, trusting theology, trusting yourselves. Trust Him! If you submit yourselves anew to the Scriptures you will be appalled to realise your own hopelessness, but you will also find that you can trust God for the fullness of His provision in Christ (v.22). The Spirit has come not only to give us life and not only to bestow on us gifts but to make us heirs according to the promise (v.29).

SO we see that to walk in the straight path of the gospel we must learn to walk in the Spirit, to be led by Him. What is the truth about the Holy Spirit? Well, the truth is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21), so perhaps we should turn back from this letter to the gospel story and focus our attention on the experiences of Jesus. He began His public life of walking in the will of God at Jordan. And it was then that in a visible way the Holy Spirit came upon Him. Luke tells us that this happened while He was praying. What was He praying for? Surely it was to be guided in the will of the Father, as seems evident by the fact that we are at once told how He was led of the Spirit into the wilderness. He had been [11/12] born of the Spirit; for thirty years He had lived by the Spirit; and now in a more definite way He was to be led by the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit. His prayer was answered. Even the observers were able to see the visible expression of the Holy Spirit coming from the Father to the Son, and John tells us in his Gospel that the Spirit not only came but stayed. The other Gospels tell us in what form He came -- it was "like a dove".

We are expected to take note of this dove-like appearance of the Spirit. What did it signify? Undoubtedly that there was something gentle about this descent of the Spirit. We remember that for the disciples the Spirit came with "a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind" (Acts 2:2). Some people evidently need that kind of visitation, but it seems that the Lord Jesus was not one of them. To Him the Spirit came in unostentatious gentleness. But probably there were other reasons for this form which the Spirit adopted. Might it not be connected with the directness as well as the gentleness with which He proposed to guide the earthly steps of the Lord Jesus. Doves are members of the pigeon family, and homing pigeons are remarkably skilful at finding their way home without any guides or signs. Without outward indications or helps, they fly in a straight path, and in this are typical of the directness of the Spirit's movements. In Ezekiel's prophecies we are given a description of beings who provide a living expression of God's movements, and it is said that they had "straight feet" (Ezekiel 1:7), but they also had "straight wings". The only way to have straight feet for the path of God's will is also to have straight wings. That path is not marked out by external, legal guidelines and signposts but by the inward urge and government of the Holy Spirit. The living creatures in Ezekiel are said to have gone straight forward. And the Lord Jesus always went straight forward, because the Spirit so led Him. His path did not appear straightforward to the Pharisees; it did not seem right to His own family; there were times when it did not seem sensible even to His disciples; but it led accurately and unerringly to the divine goal. Those who are led by the Spirit in God's straight path must be prepared for misunderstanding, sometimes even by those who are closest to them, but they can find comfort by looking off unto Jesus who has walked that path before them by the enablement of the dove-like Spirit.

How did the Spirit lead Christ? He led Him by the way of the cross. He was really leading Him to the glory, but the way to glory is always the way of the cross. This is why He was first led into the wilderness to meet with fierce temptations. We are told that there He suffered (Hebrews 2:18). It is always suffering to say No to self and Yes to the will of God. But we are also told that He emerged from those temptations full of the Holy Spirit's power. It is always like this. The Spirit leads us to an experience of the cross which is painful to our flesh but, if we accept it, the result is a new release of His power in our lives.

IF Peter had taken less notice of the Judaizers and kept his Lord in mind, he might not have made that dreadful mistake at Antioch. Seeing that Jesus spent two days in Samaria, it is most likely that He ate with Samaritans there. That whole story is a wonderful example of how Christ walked in the Spirit. The cause of His journey into Galilee was the fact that publicity minded people were drawing attention to the larger numbers coming to His baptisms than those who were going to John. We are not told that the Lord had any special revelation from heaven that He should leave Judea. He did not need it. Enough that the gentle Spirit should make Him sensitive about self-advertisement, for Him to come at once to such a decision. Again we are not told why "He must needs pass through Samaria" (John 4:4). Most Jewish travellers took the longer road on the eastern side of Jordan. Was this the result of some special guidance given to Him, or was it just because the man of the Spirit will not waste his own time (and God's) by unnecessary conformity to human conventions? In any case the two days which Jesus saved by taking the shorter route were well spent in His stay with the Samaritans. If there were a settled time for Him to arrive in Galilee, then He reached there on time, but He did so having used the days so much better than by taking the customary circuitous route. It was more costly. It involved tiredness and thirst. But we are never to expect that walking in the Spirit will be the easy or comfortable way.

I have already suggested that Jesus may well have eaten with the Samaritans. He certainly ate with some most unlikely people, though whether the unrighteous or the self-righteous were the most repugnant to Him is left to our conjecture. He did not allow Himself to be governed by [12/13] personal likes or dislikes -- He walked in the Spirit. Peter, however, was unspiritual enough to recoil from eating with some of his own brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank God that he responded to Paul's challenge by putting this matter right. And he did it where we all get put right, that is at the cross. For it is a mark of the man who is being led by the Spirit that he is constantly coming back (and down) to the cross. Right through His earthly life our Lord had to keep saying 'No' to His own wishes and preferences in order to respond to the direct, though gentle, voice of the Spirit. In the end the Spirit did actually lead Him to the cross and there enabled Him to make His unique sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14).

SO it was that the Lord continued in the straight path of the will of the Father right to the final climax of spiritual maturity. This is God's goal for us all. The Corinthians and the Galatians needed to know -- as we do too -- that spirituality is more than witnessing striking operations of the Spirit or exercising His passing gifts; it means lasting conformity to the will of God in terms of character. This is the path, the straight path of the gospel. But how can we keep to it? It is a well-known fact that a human being cannot walk straight, but will go round in circles if left without landmarks to counter this natural tendency to veer away from the straight line. Well, we have landmarks to help us, for we have the perfect example of a Spirit-filled life in the Gospel description of our Saviour. But more -- much more -- than this, we have the same Spirit who led Him, who is able and willing to lead us. With the Word in our hands and the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we too may become spiritual people and make good progress in the straight path of the gospel.



Reading: John 1:45-51

Poul Madsen

NATHANAEL was not an attractive person, but he was sincere. To some extent his heart was filled with religious prejudice. Philip was wise not to enter into an argument with him but just to say: "Come and see". This is the only answer which can overcome religious prejudice, but to use it one must have something to show. If you have nothing, then it is useless to invite people to give you their attention. Philip had found reality in Jesus. Unless you have this vital knowledge of Christ you can never effectively ask people to come and see. Philip invited Nathanael so convincingly that by his few words he was able to overcome the other man's prejudice. Philip could be trusted, he was truthful; and that is why he was able to remove the prejudice of Nathanael. Sometimes I wonder whether we are to blame when sincere people remain prejudiced. Is it due to some lack on our part?

Jesus saw Nathanael coming. Now Nathanael's heart was no different from that of other men, and was included in Jeremiah's diagnosis that the heart is deceitful above all things. Nathanael was no better than the rest of mankind; his heart was also deceitful; yet Jesus described him as an Israelite indeed in whom was no guile. How could the Lord use such words about a man who had been speaking so contemptuously of Him? We notice Nathanael's prejudice, but the Lord Jesus said nothing about this prejudice. Surely this was because Nathanael was ready to bring his prejudice out into the light. He did not cling to it; he was teachable. Truth meant more to him than his own ideas, and so he was objective and allowed the truth to penetrate his prejudice and his deceitful heart. This is what it means to be without guile. He was not without prejudice; he was not without deceit; he was not without sin; but truth meant more to him than everything else. I think that many of us would have said: 'Behold a man full of prejudice', but the Lord did not speak like that because He knew Nathanael's sincerity. He made no reference, therefore, to his deceitful heart, his weaknesses or his sins, but he spoke of him in positive terms.

It is a very remarkable thing that the wonderful words of Jesus did not make Nathanael feel [13/14] proud. In fact they did the opposite. When you speak in faith the words of love, people are made to feel smaller, but when you speak words of criticism they react with strength and become bigger. Nathanael had met a Man who knew him fully, so he asked how Jesus came by this knowledge. Jesus spoke a word of truth and love, so Nathanael felt that he wanted to know Him, and so he asked Jesus how and when He had come to know him. Jesus answered: 'Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree. When nobody else could see you, I was watching. When you thought that you were quite alone, I was there.' It is always like that. Whatever a man does or even thinks, he does in the sight of God whose eyes are everywhere. Jesus had read Nathanael's thoughts, He had seen his longings, He had felt his sincere desires.

As Nathanael was under the fig tree it seems possible that he was studying the law. He was sitting quite alone. studying the law and longing for light. Then Philip came and answered his problems by saying: "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write." There was another Philip later on, and he was sent to another man who was studying the Scriptures, the Ethiopean eunuch, and this Philip also solved his problems by telling him about Jesus. If anyone seeks, he finds; and the Lord finds him. Jesus the Truth met Nathanael who was looking for the truth.

NATHANAEL must have been a humble man, for love of the truth is a mark of true humility. We must not think that humility means just giving in to people. Oswald Chambers once said: 'Whenever a man tells you to bow down, keep your neck as stiff as possible.' Humility is not a weak thing; humility is love of the truth, truth at any cost, truth whatever anybody else thinks. This humble man, Nathanael, was full of prejudice but he loved the truth, and so he was able to see in a moment who Jesus really is, and said: 'Thou art truly the Son of God.' He gave a tremendous testimony. All his prejudice had gone, and truth had taken its place. It was not flesh and blood which had given him this revelation, but it had come from the Father in heaven. Nathanael went on to say: "Thou art the king of Israel." Jesus had called him a true Israelite, and as such he recognised Israel's true king. It is an inescapable principle that light received and obeyed always brings more light. A well-known Danish hymn by Grundtvig says:

Light that is followed leads to more light,

Light that is hidden only leads into night.

This is true. Nathanael followed the light that he had. It started with his being willing to investigate. In Philip's company he took the first step out of darkness into light, and in that light he saw the Lord Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel. And what did this lead up to? The promise that he should see greater things than these. To him who had, more was given, and he was given the promise of greater things. It is always the same for all of us. There is always more, and those who accept it find that it leads to even more. We must never stop on the way: there is always another step forward.

As we study carefully the words of the Lord Jesus we find that He used for the first time His special introduction: "Verily, verily ...". This is a way by which the Lord stresses the great importance of what He is about to say. His was an authority greater even than that of Moses. He led Nathanael from Moses to Himself, and then He passed from His individual promise to Nathanael and spoke in the plural -- ye -- to make him representative of many who would also share this experience of the opened heaven. By His use of the word "hereafter" He indicated that it was not possible at that moment for Nathanael to appreciate all that was involved. Clearly Nathanael and the others were going to have an experience which would correspond to what Jacob had known at Bethel.

THE story is told in Genesis 28, for there we read of how Jacob saw the ladder from earth to heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending on it. We need to realise that when Jacob had this vision he was at the point of despair. He was experiencing the results of his folly and deceit. He had lost everything. He had become a stranger. He had a stone for his pillow. And that was where he saw the heavenly ladder, in the dreadful place where he was isolated and at the end of his resources. There was a much more dreadful place at Calvary, for there the Lord Jesus experienced in all its fullness the utter desolation which is the result of man's sin. There on the cross, a stranger to heaven and rejected by earth, He even lost His very life. For Him not a stone for a pillow but [14/15] a tree. And that cross has become the ladder, the top of which reaches to heaven. Jacob said that it was a dreadful place, and so it was, but he also said that it was the gate of heaven, so we can well understand the Lord's use of this story to reveal Himself to Nathanael as the divine ladder. It reaches from the depths of despair to the gates of heaven. These are the vertical dimensions of Christ crucified: this is the way by which the sinner, Jacob, in the depths of despair, can be lifted up as Israel to the heights of communion with God. Then there are the horizontal dimensions. From the place where Jacob saw the ladder, the living power of God spread to the west, to the east, to the north and to the south. No other ladder could have such dimensions, reaching to the very ends of the earth. There was indication also of another dimension -- that of time. God said to Jacob: "In thee and in thy seed, shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 28:14). So we see Christ's dimensions, from the jaws of hell to the gates of heaven, from lonely despair to everlasting blessing to all corners of the earth and throughout all generations. No wonder the Lord Jesus told Nathanael that he would see greater things! He would see something of the greatness of Christ and His cross.

Jacob did not see an actual house. He sensed the amazing dimensions of God's purposes and became aware of the spiritual reality of the house of God. So it is that whenever we perceive something of the divine dimensions of the Crucified we know that we are in the house of God and at the gate of heaven, though we may not understand much of what it means. Nathanael certainly did not understand much about the house of God at that time and the Lord did not use the phrase, for He wanted His hearer to experience the reality of the house of God before he received teaching about it. There was to be a 'hereafter' in the experience of Nathanael. He, too, was to be reduced to total despair. When the Lord was being crucified, everything was dark and he was one of those who ran away, with a heart full of despair. That was indeed a dreadful place, for he had nothing more to rest on -- not even a promise. Like the others, he was quite alone; they were strangers, they wept; everything had gone and they felt that there was no room for them in heaven and no place for them here on earth. Then there came the Easter morning, and later the upper room where the heavens did open and the Spirit brought them into the reality of having the Lord Jesus as everything. They knew then that His kingdom extended over the whole earth and through all generations, and in Him they found the ladder which lifted them from the actual depths of human despair to the very heights of heaven. Seeing Jesus, they experienced the house of God. They loved Him -- how could they do else -- and they followed and obeyed Him. It was the gate of heaven. Outsiders saw in them something of the reality of God's house. They were a new humanity, a new people, with an authority which was not artificial, a power that could not be explained, and a fellowship that was not arranged, not even planned. It all resulted from seeing the Lord in His divine dimensions, and everything else assuming its proper proportions.

WE see that here the Lord called Himself not the Son of God but the Son of man. He was referring, of course, to the title given Him in Daniel 7. That chapter tells how this Son of man came to the Ancient of Days and it proceeds to give the divine dimensions of the Son of man: "Dominion was given to him, a kingdom, that all peoples to the west and east and north and south, all nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away and which shall not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:14). This is the Son of man. He is the ladder with those divine dimensions. He is the house of God. For this reason we read: "And the kingdom and dominion and greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the most High" (verse 27). It was given to Him (v.14): it was given to His people (v.27). The seed of His travail inherit together with Him. These are the dimensions of the ladder. Jacob saw the ladder, but he realised that the Lord and His people in some mysterious way belong to one another. He saw the Lord, and spoke about "the house". It is always like that. With your eyes on the Lord, you can speak about His Church. The Lord and the Church have tremendous dimensions, to the north, to the south, to the east, to the west, to all generations; and some day the Lord and His Church will be given universal dominion which will last for ever.

"Hereafter"! There is always a "hereafter". There may be a "hereafter" for you, too. Nathanael had seen much, and yet there was [15/16] much more to see. You may have seen much, but there is still much more for you to see. We have already said that God is a God of repetition, but it should be added that every repetition should involve enlargement. The one thing which will hinder such enlargement is prejudice, that is, being bound up with your own ideas and dominated by them. The ideas may to some extent be right -- "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" In posing that question Nathanael was saying something which was partially true, but he needed to be taught that it was not the full truth, for one good thing did come out of Nazareth. However much we may know, we are limited, and if we hold on to our own ideas too much, we may miss the fresh light which God wishes to give us. So let us turn our backs on all that has been in the past, even on our good experiences and blessings, and let us turn to the Lord in a fresh way and say to Him: 'You have promised, Lord, that to him that has, more shall be given. I have something, Lord, but I believe that You want to give me more. Give me Your own dimensions.' And the Lord will do it. He Himself will be the answer to your questions about the Church. God's purposes will be realised by Christ being all, in us all.



Harry Foster

"THOU shalt call his name Jesus ... they shall call his name Immanuel ..." (Matthew 1:21 and 23). Isaiah had prophesied that they would call Mary's infant Immanuel, but there is no evidence that anybody ever used this name during the earthly life of Jesus. Joseph called Him Jesus, as he had been commanded to do, but we have no means of knowing how much he understood of Matthew's identification of the child as the virgin-born Immanuel of Isaiah's prophecy. Yet if people did not use the name it is clear that the spiritual reality was appreciated from time to time. There were moments when people sensed that in meeting Jesus they found themselves in the presence of God.

Peter began his history as an apostle with an abject confession of his own sinfulness which only the holy presence of God could have provoked (Luke 5:8). When a man was raised from the dead, those present exclaimed that God had visited them (Luke 7:16). What made the squad which had come to the garden of Gethsemane go backward and fall to the ground when Jesus confronted them with the words: "I am he" (John 18:6)? Was it not a momentary awareness of divine majesty? They sought Jesus of Nazareth, and they met the great Immanuel. They fell back in dismay; but others knelt in worship. The Lord Jesus had insisted to Satan that God alone must be worshipped (Matthew 4:10), yet He did not demur at the worship given to Him by the man born blind (John 9:38) and others. Indeed He clarified the position to the rich young ruler who knelt before Him and called Him 'good', by explaining that the only valid way of so describing Him must be to recognise Him as truly God for: "... there is none good but one, that is, God" (Mark 10.18).

Reference to Isaiah's prophecy may explain why men never used the name, for the circumstances of the early life of this Immanuel were gloomy in the extreme. The background of the sign given by God to Ahaz was that the child would be born into the famine conditions of a land devastated by war (Isaiah 7:14-16). Spiritually this was fulfilled in the case of the child whom Joseph called Jesus. The prophecy was fulfilled; the virgin bore her Son; but God's appearance in incarnation was made confused and sombre because of His people's sin. God was with man indeed, but He was here to share man's misery and to bear the consequences of his departure from his creator. No man realised it at the time, but in fact God was with us, with us in all the shame and degradation of human folly and sin.

After the cross came the resurrection, and then the true glory of Immanuel was made evident to all believers. In Christ, God is for us and God is with us. Thomas began the happy testimony with his: "My Lord and my God" [16/17] (John 20.28), and from that day to this, Immanuel -- God with us -- has been linked with the saving name of Jesus in the grateful praises of all believers. The Lord Jesus gave added emphasis to the encouragement and comfort of this name of His when He told His disciples to go into all the world, backed by His universal authority, and added: "Lo, I am with you all the days ..." (Matthew 28:20).

So Matthew's words have proved true -- "they shall call his name Immanuel". We count ourselves happy indeed that we shall know Him eternally by this marvellous name.



Harry Foster

THE moon is dry and airless. This means that matter does not decay up there. The instruments and flags which the astronauts left behind after their various visits will still be there at any future time when man may land there again. As a matter of fact nobody plans to land on the moon again, so it seems that the different human articles left there will remain for ever unused and undisturbed.

Two years or so ago, when Apollo 15 landed its commander, David Scott, and another astronaut on the moon, they finished their assignment and when they blasted off again they left behind a Bible. So there is a Bible on the moon. It is interesting and rather wonderful that the Word of God should have been honoured in this way but, apart from the curiosity, there does not seem to be much value in their action. In some senses that Bible is a wasted message.

We are not told that God loved the moon, but we are told that He loved the world. God did not send His Son to the moon, but He did send Him to this earth of ours. God has not given any life to the moon -- it is a completely lifeless planet -- but He made provision for eternal life to be given to those who live on the earth. So there is a sense in which we may say that God has no message for the moon, and therefore the Bible deposited there is really a wasted book.

Not that this matters. There are so many other copies of God's Word in the earth that just one may well be spared as a relic to be left on the deserted surface of the moon. The sad thing is, though, that this is not the only wasted Bible. How many more copies of this wonderful book, with its thrilling message of love, are just as neglected as though they were lying up there among the moondust. Nobody opens them. Nobody reads them. Nobody seeks light from God from their pages. Nobody makes use of them to receive the message of life through Christ the Saviour. A Bible on the bookshelf, a Bible in the attic, can be just as closed and powerless as that Bible on the moon.

It was an English Bible. In China and in Russia they cherish the few Bibles that there are, because it is difficult, and sometimes almost impossible, to obtain a copy. Why, in some of those countries, one page of the Scriptures is treasured and valued beyond everything else that the owner possesses. We English people have so many of them that we are apt to despise them. Perhaps if the Word went round that there was only one Bible and that was lying on the moon, men might be more anxious to recover and read it. It is interesting to realise that even if every copy of the Word of God were destroyed down here on this earth, there would still be a fadeless, fresh copy stored away on the moon.

But it should not be stored there so far as you are concerned. And it should not be stored in the church or in your bookcase only. It should be stored in your heart. For this is not like any other book; it is a life-giving message from God. The psalmist tells us what he had done with his Bible: "Thy word have I hid in mine heart" (Psalm 119:11) and he tells us why he had done this: "... that I might not sin against thee." The Bible keeps us from sin. But more than this, it tells us of God's remedy for sin which is the sacrifice of Christ our Saviour. [17/18]

What have you done with God's Word? Have you left it as a dead museum piece, like the Bible on the moon. It need not be so. You do not have to be blasted off into space and journey a long way to find God's message of love. All you have to do is to open your heart to its living message and find how willing the Lord Jesus is to come into your heart and stay there with you.


The Story of Watchman Nee

Eric Fischbacher

THE name of Watchman Nee was little known in the Western Christian sphere until Angus Kinnear, publishing first in India, brought to it the first of a series of books carrying the name. These were not direct translations from complete books in Chinese, but selections culled from various sources and compacted into highly readable volumes which rapidly came to the fore in a competitive field -- not simply for their immediate appeal, but for their practical contribution toward a fuller understanding of the Christian life. Many have found real help in their personal lives through study of the ministry of this outstanding Chinese Christian, and not a few of these must be curious to know more of the man and his story.

For this reason Against The Tide, The Story of Watchman Nee, has been produced and it is appropriate that Dr. Kinnear who brought the ministry to us here, should now shed some light on the man himself, and his contribution, under God, to the Church in China.

The book begins with a fairly extensive account of his family origins and highlights the importance to a young life of Christian family influence, both directly and indirectly through Christian friends. His mother was not without fault in her dealings with this highly intelligent and sensitive son, yet his conversion through the preaching of evangelist Dora Yu owed something to his mother's own experience with God, and her obedience to His commands. Surely this holds a lesson for those of us who as parents bear a deep responsibility before God for the right beginnings of our children -- our own personal relationship with God must play a major part.

He came to a personal knowledge of Christ while at school and his concern for the sharing of the Good News was immediately evident. Laying down the pen at the end of the day's lessons he and his friends would take the Bible and go out into the surrounding villages to preach the Gospel. Holidays were similarly employed and one can see at this early age the compulsion in the man to communicate. He admits that from these early years he loved to preach but there can be little doubt that the urge, and evident gift, had its origin with God 'who would have all men to be saved'. It was not all talk. The record shows that Watchman and his friends were building at that time a platform of real experience and practical knowledge of God, and the account of how the rain came is a good example of this. He was not simply a man with a message; he was to be a servant of the Living God, bringing evidence of the reality and power of his Master.

The account of his progress goes on. He gave much time to intensive study of the Scriptures -- surely a sine qua non of Christian service. It was his habit in his regular reading to go through the New Testament several times a month. The influence of Miss Margaret Barber and her library was absorbed into his lively and receptive mind, and like Paul he shut himself away from time to time in a small hut by the river, giving sufficient opportunity for these influences to become integrated into his own particular circumstances and style. He began to write -- a small paper entitled Revival, consisting of Bible expositions -- and this no doubt laid some of the ground work for later writing published in book form.

His progress was then interrupted by a serious, life-threatening illness which forced to a halt the increasing spiritual activity in which he was becoming engaged with his friends. The work [18/19] of God's Spirit, however, in his inner man was if anything accelerated by this apparent catastrophe, and it is a classic example of the kind of basic experience which the Apostle Paul found so hard to accept at first -- the thorn in the flesh. It was perhaps in this experience of weakness that he found the strength that sustained him not only through the years of expanding work, and highly effective church building, but also through the long years of confinement in a Shanghai prison. This illness, 'nigh unto death', seems to me a highly significant factor in his story.

Various Western missionaries working in the area came into association with Nee; some became strongly drawn to him, deeply impressed with his gifts, and growing indigenous work; others regarded him as a threat to the established mission scene, a 'sheep-stealer', enticing the best of the flock into his own part of the fold. There is no evidence on his part of any strong anti-missionary feeling -- rather he took the view that God had given him a work to do, and he must apply himself positively to it. He was too occupied with the problems of a young and growing church to take time for negative criticism of other Christian workers. Despite a war situation with its fragmentation of the country, its interruption of communication and curtailment of travel, the work spread rapidly, and assemblies on the simple lines developed in Shanghai sprang up all over China.

He did take time however to visit Britain again, and deepen an association with Mr. T. Austin-Sparks, the editor of A Witness and A Testimony , the predecessor of this magazine. Many known to the writer of this review, including his father, were privileged to meet Watchman Nee at this time, and he spent a number of months in relaxed fellowship with believers in England and Scotland, and also in Scandinavia.

There were now some two hundred full-time workers in a rapidly expanding work, and the financial needs led Nee into what would appear from the account to have been an ill-advised excursion into the commercial world. The establishment, with his brother and other colleagues, of pharmaceutical laboratories, was misunderstood by many, although there is insufficient information to judge the implications of it all. His brethren felt on this evidence that he had abandoned full spiritual commitment, looking for a foothold also in the material world, and at length, to avoid further misunderstanding and conserve unity, he abandoned the project to others.

The political changes in China, with the Communist army advancing from the North, brought Nee now into an intensive programme of teaching and training, preparing the believers for harder times. Special conferences for leaders and workers were convened, and serious thought given to the way ahead. Priority was given at this time to memorisation of Scripture -- how many are still living in the value of this inspired emphasis? He was still free to travel even to Taiwan and Hong Kong where he laboured to establish the work of the Lord. Many urged him not to return to China, but 'I have children inside the house', he said, 'and if it is crashing down I must support it, if need be with my head'. So he returned to Shanghai, and then followed the inevitable accusation meetings, his own arraignment and imprisonment, and the gradual throttling of the external life of the church.

The book is an exhaustive presentation of the life and times of Watchman Nee, and yet the reader is left with the impression of the personality and nature of the man as a hardly traceable thread through great movements in China, political and spiritual, with which he was involved. Perhaps this is only to be expected of this man of God who was counted worthy to suffer twenty years in prison for Christ's sake, and who penned on the fly-leaf of his Bible the most moving words in the book -- 'I want nothing for myself; I want everything for the Lord'. [19/20]

Contrary winds, rough seas and fierce tempests seem to be the inevitable experience of the Church of Christ. Whenever the Lord sets a course for His people, there is no lack of satanic opposition against it. It was enough for Jesus to propose to His disciples that they should go to "the other side of the lake" for a hellish storm to menace their boat, a storm of such magnitude that it frightened even the experienced sailors in the apostolic band. (Luke 8:22-25.) Equally, if the apostle Paul was on his way to fulfil a divine commission in Rome, then it seemed inevitable that a violent storm should threaten to drown him. (Acts 27:20-25.) In both cases the diabolical attack was frustrated, for Jesus really is Lord of all, but the striking difference in the two stories is the contrasting reactions of the disciples who were involved in the storms at sea.

In the Gospel story we read that the hearts of the disciples were filled with panic. "Master, master, we perish" was the faithless cry which so deeply disappointed their Lord. The very cry was full of contradiction. If He is indeed Master -- the one who stands over -- how could they possibly perish? But then, there is nothing so illogical as unbelief. Of course Christ is Master. He soon proved that. But what a pity that they had reacted to the storm with such abject unbelief! "Where is your faith?" It was lying almost stifled under their load of selfish fear. Like some people in our day, they only prayed for themselves. 'How does it affect me,' they ask; 'why doesn't the Lord do something quick to relieve me?'

When the apostle Paul was in a storm -- a much worse one -- he also feared, but at the same time he trusted. He too prayed, but he forgot himself in his sacrificial prayer for others. He was surrounded by a large number of men who had lost all hope, and most of whom did not know how to pray for themselves. He knew that his life was hid with Christ in God, so had no panic about himself. His personal concern was connected not with safety but with the fulfilment of his God-given mission to testify before Caesar. He was re-assured about this, and then, as a kind of royal bounty, he was told that God had granted him all that sailed with him. His prayer had clearly been directed towards the needy men around him. Some were friends, some were enemies, but he prayed for them all, and God wonderfully answered his prayers. "I believe God", the storm-tossed apostle was able to affirm, and they could all see the reality of his triumphant faith, just as they all shared in the value of his intercession.

Today we seem to find ourselves in a tempest-stricken world. Whether we are to be granted emergence into a God-given calm, or whether the ship is to be splintered on the rocks, we do not know. Time will show this. But our business meanwhile is to know how to pray in such conditions. And our prayers should not be the selfish cry of panic: "Master, master, carest thou not that we perish?" but rather the prayer of those who so believe God that our tempested fellow passengers may find salvation through our prayers and through our steady witness. - Selected


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