"... 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. 4, July - Aug. 1974 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



(Studies in the epistle to the Galatians)


Harry Foster

OUR consideration of the pathway of the truth of the gospel now brings us to think of the destination of the journey. We have already described this as the manifestation of the sons of God. It is important that we should understand that such sons are not only committed to filial union with God but to brotherly union in God's family. It is with this in view that the last chapter stresses the active and understanding participation due from members of this "household of faith", and on this note the letter ends. Earlier on, the apostle had explained that all believers -- whether they had previously been Jews or Gentiles -- have the Jerusalem which is above as their mother. He continued this emphasis on the corporate relatedness of the Church by describing it as "the Israel of God" (v.16). The sons of God are many, but they are of one household; there are a multitude of believers but there is only one new man (3:28). Hence the supreme importance of Christian fellowship.

Now it is possible to argue that the expression of this unity can only be realised in heaven, and that here on earth it cannot be enjoyed. When I pointed out that the public investiture with the dignity of sons is essentially future, I urged that even now the Spirit of adoption should be working in us and producing continual spiritual growth. The same is true with regard to fellowship: its full realisation awaits the dawn of eternity, but it should be finding practical expression here and now. If Paul was appalled at the idea of two separate tables in Antioch, what would he now feel about the multiplicity of rival groups of Christians in any given area today? If he so violently condemned those who excused their divisions by claiming that they were of Paul, what would be his indignation if he could hear the way in which modern Christians call themselves by names of outstanding leaders of more recent centuries and think poorly of others who do not wish to be of any party? He might well exclaim again: "I am afraid lest by any means I have laboured in vain" (4:11) and might even ask: 'Don't those people ever read my letter to the Galatians?'

Happily the apostle is resting from his battles now. As a matter of fact he had found a basis of heart rest by the time he finished writing this letter. "Henceforth" he wrote, "henceforth let no man trouble me" (v.17). He no longer sought to please men: the marks on his body clearly showed that he belonged to nobody and nothing except to Christ Himself. When we get to the glory the Lord's name will be stamped on our foreheads in glad recognition of His sole ownership. There would be much more glory in the Church now -- yes, and more freedom from tensions too -- if we could look one another in the face and see there nothing but the unique seal of His lordship. It is true that Paul may have been referring to some special scars of battle which were to him the marks of Jesus. There is no need, though, to limit his words to such scars for it was he who later wrote to the Ephesians to the effect that every believer has been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise as a purchased possession. Those who carry the marks of Jesus need never be troubled by those who base their claims on lesser considerations. There is peace for those who walk by this rule (v.16), the rule which refuses to be governed by outward distinctions, adhering to the divine reality of the new creation in Christ. God's new Israel, born of the Spirit and called to the heavenly kingdom, is one united people. This is God's rule and those who walk by it are delivered from internal strife.

SO this is what chapter six is all about -- the fellowship of believers. But make no mistake about it, a vital share in this fellowship will mean suffering persecution for the cross of Christ (v.12). Satan's focus of attack is always the spiritual reality of the household of God. Why did they have all that trouble at Antioch? Why was there such a threat to harmony and progress in the churches of Galatia? Why do tensions arise among God's people now, even in lands where one might imagine that the very oppressive circumstances would ensure unity? The answer is simple, though rarely appreciated. It is that unity among God's people is Satan's prime target. You and I as individuals never threaten [61/62] the gates of hell, but Christ's Church does. The devil cannot pluck one single believer out of the Saviour's hand, but he can and does tempt Christians to throw off the loving restraint of that hand which would hold them together in unity. This is the explanation of why Peter failed, why even Barnabas was carried away and why the Galatians were in danger of being bewitched. It explains why this matter of keeping fellowship represents our greatest area of conflict. The real battle is not between different individual Christians but between Christ's Church and the gates of Hades. The Lord Jesus indicated that it would be, and so it is. He also clearly predicted the outcome. This victory is clearly described in the book of Revelation. But whether we study this epistle to the Galatians or the book of the Revelation, what we really need to know is not theology or theory but what practical contribution we in our day can make to that cosmic victory. The answer is summed up in the word 'fellowship'.

The first contribution we must make is a spirit of meekness (v.1). This is Christ's priority. And it must be meekness in action, meekness in the practical sphere of our life together. Any brother may slip up, may be overtaken in a fault. This may be serious, though not necessarily intentional. His error will become a test of the spirituality or otherwise of the rest of the assembly. Will they pounce on him, denounce him, try to exclude him? Or will they prove their true spiritual discernment of the issues at stake by humbly seeking to carry this burden, being more careful to fulfil the law of Christ than to take sides with "the accuser of the brethren"? "Bear ye one another's burdens", so that the happy result may be healing and restoration in the body of Christ. Why is it that evangelical Christians seem at times to take delight in exposing, accusing and attacking other Christians who offend them? Sometimes this is even done in the name of loyalty to Christ, and yet it is in direct opposition to His royal law. A further contribution to fellowship is made by a proper sense of proportion. A sure way to jeopardise such fellowship is when you are deceived into thinking that you are a specially important factor in God's household, when it would be more correct and more seemly to accept the humble position of a nobody (v.3). By all means let a man properly assess the value of his own activities and get whatever justified satisfaction he can from his assessment, but let him not arrogantly set himself up to judge others, imposing burdens on his brothers instead of helping to bear them. The man who walks by the Spirit avoids the conceit and provocation which destroy fellowship (5:26), and seeks to prove that he is a son of God by being a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9).

But someone may protest that it is surely our duty to expose and denounce all who may be in error. It is certainly our duty to proclaim the truth. But in our dealings with our fellow believers we do well to heed the divine order: "Touch not mine anointed ones" (Psalm 105:15). The law which must govern all our relationships with our brothers is the law of Christ. Dr. Yu, a Chinese Christian, was once faced with the need for a sudden decision in such a matter. He was an elder in a large Shanghai assembly, who later died in tragic circumstances when, under communist interrogation, he refused to be disloyal to Watchman Nee. My story relates to a time long before this when the Shanghai assembly had one of its meetings disturbed by a brother who stood up and in an excited voice began to disclose publicly the alleged sins of a fellow member of the church. Dr. Yu's reaction was swift and decided. He walked over to the speaker and in the name of Jesus Christ commanded him to be silent. The man collapsed without another word. The godly Mr. Yu and his fellow elders found that in fact this 'inspired' denunciation was the work of a deceiving spirit. Without at that moment considering whether the charges were true or not, Dr. Yu knew that the man's impulsive speaking could not be the work of the Holy Spirit, for He would never depart from the course laid down by the Lord Jesus in such matters, which is that possible offences should be thoroughly dealt with in private and that there could only be public condemnation when all other efforts had failed (Matthew 18:15-17). There are other spirits who know men's inner histories, as well as the Holy Spirit; and these are all too ready to find some human instrument through whom they can make their disclosures and act as 'accusers of the brethren'. It brings especial gain to the kingdom of darkness and confusion among the fellowship of the saints if such accusations can be made under the guise of piety or spirituality. "Ye that are spiritual" will prove yourselves to be so by your ability humbly to heal fellowship, and not by helping to break it up, as this story from China shows. [62/63]

IF Paul's letter saved the Galatians from biting and devouring one another, and induced them to seek wisely and humbly to bear one another's burdens, then it was worth all the large letters which he so painfully wrote in its composition. His next point was that each individual must carry his own burden (v.5). At first sight this may seem to contradict what has already been said about bearing one another's burdens but it would not have so appeared to its first readers, for the word here translated 'burden' is quite different from the one used in verse 2. The 'burden' which each must bear for himself is rendered by the word which the Lord Jesus used when He offered heart rest and stated that His burden is light. It seems to represent the weight of responsibility which the Spirit has apportioned to each individual believer, and this is a personal burden which each one must wholeheartedly carry. Again we are told of a contribution which we can make to functioning fellowship, and this time it is to exercise one's own gift, to do one's own divinely appointed job to the full without wrongly trespassing into another man's sphere. It is all a question of the Spirit's anointing. The Church is desperately weak because individual members are failing to do the one thing which only they can do. The Church is also greatly confused because some of its members are not content to devote themselves to their own personal calling in God, but aspire to carry responsibilities which do not properly belong to them. If my gift is connected with preaching the Word I shall probably be a clumsy failure in other equally important matters. If my brother, who is gifted in practical matters, is always wanting to have a chance to do my preaching, instead of faithfully carrying out the tasks for which God has fitted him, then our church will be the poorer and there will be a hold-up in the harmonious progress of the work of Christ. Each of us should find his burden light. So if some spiritual 'burden' is crushing me with its weight then it is unlikely that I am truly walking in the Spirit, for the Lord Jesus is never wrong and He said that it would be light. I must take care to fulfil the ministry given to me and avoid trying to do work for which I have no calling and therefore no spiritual anointing.

There are, of course, some people whose spiritual activities preclude them from earning a living in the normal way. If God so calls them then they have nothing to be proud of, but equally nothing to be ashamed of, for this is all provided for in the household of God. Clearly if they are God's servants then He must provide for their financial needs, but He has made it plain that He places the stewardship of His money fairly and squarely on the shoulders of His people. "But let him that is taught contribute towards the livelihood of his teachers" (v.6). This is immediately followed by the passage concerning sowing and reaping, as though God includes financial giving in the methods by which men are to sow to the Spirit. I personally believe that one of the explanations of why God's people are not reaping as they might expect to do, may be found in this area of the adequate support of His servants. The Lord will not be fobbed of by our excuses; we are not to deceive ourselves into thinking that such matters have no close connection with spiritual life, and we must not allow ourselves to be put off or lose heart but keep steadily on with our sowing to the Spirit. That this sowing involves actions rather than mere words or prayers is demonstrated by the fact that the reference is both preceded and followed by exhortations about practical activities -- "Let him communicate" (v.6), and "let us work that which is good" (v.10).

THE verses about sowing to the Spirit are often used as a gospel text: there is a certain amount of validity in that respect, but it is limited. For example, I did not sow to the Spirit, but I have eternal life -- I received it as a gift. I did sow to the flesh and no doubt deserve to reap the fruits of my folly. Thank God that I will not do so, for Christ's sacrifice has delivered me from the threat of corruption. So these verses apply not so much to the unconverted as to the daily walk of the Christian and particularly, I think, to the relationships of Christian fellowship. We reap what we sow. We may put on a show; we may deceive ourselves even; but we can never deceive God. The sowing of selfishness, of discord, or lovelessness, of critical gossiping, of personal pride or jealousy will bring its inevitable harvest and put a blight on any assembly or church. It is vain for God's people to long for blessing or to pray for revival when this kind of 'sowing' is going on. The sowing to the flesh may be hidden from men but it is seen by God and will surely produce the visible outcome of decay and disintegration. Thank God that the opposite is also true, namely that when the Lord's people make it their constant concern to show Christlikeness, when they are careful to sow seeds of [63/64] His grace all around, then the harvest of a fresh fullness of life can be surely expected.

This "sowing of the Spirit" is a very individual and personal matter. Several times in these first eight verses reference is made to 'man' in the singular. Each one has a responsibility. We may wonder what difference a single individual can make, but we remember that it was the action of this one man, Paul, which saved the situation at Antioch. Things were very critical then for the whole household of God. Those responsible were all being swept away in a wrong direction. It would have been easy for Paul to have washed his hands of them and walked out. But then it would also have been easy for the Lord Jesus to have done just this with the twelve when they were quarrelling about washing one another's feet on the very eve of His crucifixion. He could have quitted that upper room, walked down the outside stairs of the house, and knocked at the door of the owner whose manservant had carried the waterpot. Either the owner or the servant would have been thrilled to have had the privilege of washing the Master's feet. It would have been the easier way -- to walk out. It often is. The Lord Jesus took the harder way; He stayed in, sowed to the Spirit by doing the menial task Himself, and so preserved the little community from breaking up. It mattered to God that they should be together. And it mattered to God that the saints of Antioch should stay together. They were kept together, all because one man sowed to the Spirit, displayed the mixture of frankness and patience which is essential to all true fellowship, and saved the situation for God.

We are one undivided household, the household of the faith. We are God's own household which is most precious to Him and most important to His eternal purpose. The book of the Revelation shows us this house coming down out of heaven from God and bright with His glory. There is, of course, another kind of glory, as indicated in verse 13, but this is man's glory. It is inadequate: it does not last. Those who were introducing legalism into the Galatian churches, imposing on God's people their own ideas of rule and procedure and using even the Scriptures to do so, were in pursuit of glory, but it was glory for them, not for God; the glory of the flesh. If it had succeeded it would have given them material for boasting. This was an earthly glory which Paul determined to avoid at all costs (v.14).

So we terminate these studies by noting that the straight path of the gospel is really the way of the cross. There is no other basis for true and sustained fellowship among God's people than that each member -- like Paul -- should be willing to be crucified. This is often painful, but it is never inglorious. It is the great glory of the cross that it can hold men together in living, loving fellowship and lead them on in the straight path of the gospel.


Poul Madsen

PSALM TWO is much quoted in the New Testament, which is reason enough for us to examine it carefully. We shall find that it is extremely relevant for our own days. It consists of four stanzas, each of three verses, as follows:

Stanza 1

"Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed. saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." Psalm 2:1-3.

In this way the psalmist describes the basic attitude of the earth's rulers. They regard God's law as an insufferable yoke; His will as constricting bonds. So it has been ever since the fall of man. This is the spirit of Babel. Since the fall, man has wanted to be 'free' in his own, that is to say, rebellious way. What mankind really wants is to be free from God. He finds the will of God obnoxious, since he regards it as a limitation of his own capacity for development. So the highest good (the good, acceptable and perfect will of God) is made an object of scorn and hatred.

This will culminate in the end-time, which is presumably our time. Under the leadership of [64/65] Antichrist and governed by an antichristian spirit, the world's leaders will decide to dethrone God. This is already clearly to be seen. The spirit of antichrist permeates society. The generation which has grown up since the war is more antichristian in spirit than probably any previous generation in human history. Such an atmosphere will inevitably produce the personal Antichrist, and will hail him as its saviour. The characteristic of our day is opposition to authority. People will not be submissive to anyone or anything, but always demand to be 'free'. They do not understand that this freedom amounts to nothing less than slavery to Satan, for man is only free when he accepts God as his Lord and subjects himself to God's order and the authorities which are a part of His order. That is why God's Word says: "Fear the Lord and the king, my son; join not with people who are rebellious" (Proverbs 24:21).

When the rulers and kings of the earth join together in plans to do away with God it can look very threatening, but we shall see in the next verses that God is far from being disturbed about it all.

Stanza 2

"He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure: Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. " Psalm 2:4-6.

When the mighty ones of the earth gather together in rebellion against God, they do not embarrass Him in the least. He is not disturbed, let alone anxious. Their actions do not force Him to any kind of action, which is proof that He does not feel Himself to be in a threatening situation. For Him the great ones of the earth are like a drop in a bucket or a speck on the scales, they are so tiny. One might truly say that the mighty ones of the earth are really without might. They do not know this themselves and it does not always look like it to others here on earth, but this is the divine fact. Before God they are nothing, and so they can never put God into a quandary or force Him to take emergency action. He knows their thoughts afar off. Before words come to their lips He knows what they are going to say; He besets them before and behind; they are dependent upon Him for every moment they breathe and every step they take, even though they do not know or recognise this fact.

That is why God laughs at them. This laughter does not involve anything unholy, for God is not malicious or spiteful. No, He laughs with a holy laughter. The meaning of this is revealed in Acts 4, where this psalm is quoted as the basis for, and indeed the content of, the prayer which the church prayed with Peter and John after they had been released from prison under threats for the future. After having quoted the psalm in a united appeal to God, they went on to say: "For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." The italicised words explain God's laughter in its holy humour -- a laughter which the praying church shared with Him. When all the enemies of Jesus joined together to cast off the Lord's yoke and to bring God's Christ to the cross, what did they actually accomplish? Neither more nor less than the purpose already formed by God. Having done their worst they were seen only to have performed the will of God. No wonder God had a good laugh, and no wonder that those early disciples shared His liberating humour.

It looked like a crushing defeat for God's Anointed, yet it became His final triumph. The mighty ones of the earth could do no more: they had to run God's messages for Him when they were doing their utmost to fight against Him. This shows their helplessness, although it does not free them from guilt. Behind them, of course, stood Satan and his army of fallen angels and demons. They also could not withstand the will of God. They neither understood the wisdom of God nor did they realise that their greatest apparent triumph would turn out to be their final and utter defeat. God's laughter and derision spring from the fact that He is sovereign. No one is equal to Him and therefore He has no real opponents. To take up arms against Him is to be doomed to failure from the first. The result of any such fight is certain, so that one cannot really speak of a battle between God and His enemies. For this very reason He often does not intervene and prevent evil. He did not intervene on behalf of His Son. He allowed men to accomplish their evil purpose [65/66] against Christ, but He did so because this was the method which He Himself had planned for the redemption of the world. Because we do not always understand this, we plead for God to intervene. We try to tell Him that He ought to do so, but happily He pays no heed to our advice. Peter was aghast at the idea of Jesus being crucified, for such an idea was contrary to all his ideas about God and the ways of God. How wrong he was! God's laughter is an expression of His undisturbed tranquillity. He never panics, and if we truly believe in Him neither should we panic or give way to anxiety.

God contents Himself with just speaking to His enemies. He knows that a word from Him, spoken in displeasure and wrath, is enough to strike terror to their hearts. They realise that they are not so great as they imagined themselves to be when once He speaks to them in anger . As His laughter and derision are holy, so also are His wrath and displeasure. They are two sides of the same holiness. His laughter and derision show a holy scorn of their presumptuous pride in thinking that they can thwart the purposes of almighty God. This pride is their basic sin, and that is why He is angry with them. He laughs at their folly: He is righteously angry at their pride.

"I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion!" This is all that God says, and all that He needs to say. This fact is their undoing. God has His king. This is the one whom the kings and rulers of this world despise and hate, and for this reason God is angry with them even while He laughs at their puny futility. That the king has been set on God's holy hill of Zion is capable of several interpretations, as is often the case with the Word of God. Historically the statement applies to the future when our Saviour will visibly return and be invested as king over all the earth, but spiritually it has already happened. In His ascension our Lord sat down at the right hand of the Father and was given all power in heaven and on earth. It is to this fact which God refers in His stern condemnation. To ignore this fact is the height of foolish stupidity and sinful pride. All the antichristian clamour will never alter this fact. God has already invested His king: the rebels will one day lie as the footstool of His feet.

Stanza 3

"I will tell of the decree: The Lord said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." Psalm 2:7-9.

Now God's king speaks for Himself. He is not disturbed or panicky either. He contents Himself with quoting the Father's word to Him. That is quite sufficient. It ought always to be enough for us too. We must place all our confidence in the Father's decree, even when the enemies rage the most. These enemies can no more shake God's promises than they can shake God Himself. They are powerless before God and His Word. This follows that they must be powerless before everyone who believes in God and holds on to His Word. The words which God's king quotes are God's call to Him personally. Through this psalm we are allowed to overhear what God has said to His Son. What a privilege, not only to know God's word to us men but to know His word to His Son. This is beyond our understanding. No wonder that the saints have meditated over these words for they must of necessity be of very great importance. What did God mean when He said: "Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee"? According to Paul the words speak of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead (Acts 13:32-33). The apostle told the men who listened to him in the synagogue at Antioch that by means of Psalm 2, many centuries before it happened, the Lord had said that Jesus would rise from the dead. His resurrection was then a divine decree: it happened according to the Scriptures. This was the tenor of the New Testament creed:

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

He was buried.

He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.

(1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

Tremendous emphasis was placed upon the fact that our Saviour's death for our sins and His resurrection were in full accord with the Scriptures, that is, in agreement with God's decree which for us is timeless because it was issued before the foundation of the world. The Son of God meets His enemies with this eternal [66/67] decree, and what can these pygmies do in the face of that? They cannot do other than act within the framework of this decree: it is quite beyond them to break or hinder its fulfilment. In any case, the decree has now been realised, Jesus has risen from the dead. What can Antichrist and all his followers say to that? There is not the slightest possibility that they can ever throw off His lordship.

But in His decree to His Son, God included an exhortation to the Son to ask for lordship over the whole earth: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee ...". The Son now quotes this as an answer to the raging of His enemies, and in doing so makes it plain that He intends to make use of His God-given right to rule with a rod of iron. Nobody can prevent this, least of all those who are part of His creation. The saints have naturally meditated often on this part of God's decree to His Son. The question is, What does God mean by it? Perhaps we can best obtain some light on this by considering Paul's words in the synagogue at Antioch when he states that God had fulfilled His promise given to the fathers by raising Jesus from the dead, according to the second psalm. By the resurrection of Jesus, then, there was a fulfilment both of God's decree to the Son and His promise to the fathers. This promise to the fathers was that a Saviour should arise for them (Acts 13:23).

So God has promised something to the Son and has also promised something to us. Both promises are fulfilled by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. By that resurrection we have been justified. We can stand before God even as the Son stands. We have received all that the Son has won. It follows that when God promised the uttermost parts of the earth to His Son, He also included us in the promise. This great truth dawned on the apostle John who wrote about it in the book of the Revelation. There he speaks of "a man child who is to rule all the nations ..." (Revelation 12:5). We may feel that these words apply to our Lord and Saviour, the Son of God, but it was He who said: "He that overcometh and keepeth my works unto the end, to him I will give power over the nations: and he shall rule them ... even as I received of my Father" (Revelation 2:26-28). These words of His were directed to born-again Christians, and they make it clear that to them is offered an honour corresponding to that given to the Son, namely to rule over the nations. All this is contained in Psalm Two. It gives God's decree to the Son. This is also God's decree to us. This decree is highly relevant today, and will remain so even though Satan rages and even when he is allowed to send his Antichrist. With this decree we can conquer everything. We need nothing more. It is more than sufficient. It is God's eternal promise to the Son, and so is made valid for us who belong to the Son. What grace! What an honour!

Stanza 4

"Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." Psalm 2:10-12.

Now the logical conclusion of what has gone before is made quite clear. As it has already been confirmed that no earthly opponent has the shadow of a chance against God, it is manifestly best to refrain from every thought of rebellion. The only logical behaviour of anyone who has rebellious thoughts is rather to tremble before his God and Creator and to cast himself in the dust before Him so as to escape His wrath. This is the advice which the psalmist, David, gives, when he says: 'Be wise; be instructed'. We ought to take great note of this biblical definition of wisdom which suggests that it consists first in being ready to seek and heed instruction as one who has the self-knowledge and humility to admit his lack of wisdom. In short, David advises men to fear God. Lack of the fear of God is the mark of all foolishness, since the fear of the Lord is, so we are told, the beginning of wisdom. It is the lack of a fear of God which characterises our day and therefore the race as a whole is devoid of wisdom. And so it is that foolishness grows and spreads, even gaining an entrance into the churches. The day of reckoning will be dreadful. Soon the Son's anger will express itself and consume the proud. The great Day of the Lord is surely near.

The call comes even to us, who should fear God, serve Him with fear and rejoice before Him with trembling. If we can only get a true conception of the nature and majesty of our holy God we shall cast ourselves down on our faces before Him. If the real seriousness of the issues of our day dawns upon us, we will want to re-examine our life and all our activities in the light of the coming again of Christ. [67/68]


There is nothing in the Scriptures nor in experience to indicate that the world's political leaders will take the proffered advice, but rather an indication that they will continue in stubbornness and rebellion until the culmination of the history of fallen man under Antichrist. The time for the appearance of this ominous figure does not seem likely to be far distant. Shall we then just stand back and leave men to their fate? No, that would be to misunderstand God and His Word. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 continues to apply right up to the end. Christians must never become fatalists, those who stand apart and leave people to their fate. God does not desire the death of any sinner, but only wants men to repent and find salvation in His Son. The power of the Word of God and the effective working of the intercessions of the saints must continue to control the situation. Perhaps there is a Joseph or a Daniel among the kings and judges of the earth. Perhaps there is one who, like the king of Nineveh, will repent even at a late hour and call for a humbling before the terror of a holy God. Perhaps there is a Nicodemus or a Joseph of Arimathea among the great ones of the earth. Abraham held on in prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah. We ought also to hold on in the long suffering and love of the Spirit, not imagining that we ourselves are guiltless. David's advice to the judges and kings of the earth is what we ourselves preach, and therefore what we should practise in every detail. We conclude, therefore, with one last consideration of this advice.

(1) "Be wise ... be instructed" (verse 10). This is said to the kings and judges of the earth, that is to its leaders. Let each one of us who has any position of leadership in the churches take this to heart. Let us be the first to set an example of being willing to listen to advice and instruction, whether it comes direct from God or from other believers. We can so easily grow too sure of ourselves and fall into the folly of no longer being willing to learn.

(2) "Serve the Lord with fear" (verse 11). This does not mean a paralysing fear which expresses and communicates discouragement and unbelief, but a healthy fear of failing God, a fear which causes us to do our utmost, like Paul who explained that it was because he knew the terror of the Lord that he persuaded men.

(3) "Rejoice with trembling" (verse 11). Both by its nature and in its expression, joy in God is different from the joy of the world. It carries a certain stamp of holiness which means that it is not superficial, exaggerated and uncontrolled, but sensitive and humble, so that it is worthy of God.

(4) "Kiss the Son" (verse 12). This translation is doubtful, but if it is right it implies the humbling of oneself in the dust as a conquered enemy might fall down before his victorious master and kiss his feet in slavish subjection. Well, the Lord's true servants often rejoice in being able to call themselves His slaves. Another translation, however, renders it: 'Embrace obedience'. The thought is not really so different from what we have already said. Let the man who has until now been disobedient take hold of obedience and embrace it as his greatest treasure.

In order that these four exhortations may lead to lasting good which is valid in times of trial as well as in daily living, the psalm closes with a beatitude of purely evangelical tone and content: "Blessed are all they that put their trust in him". The thought here implicit is that of seeking cover or shelter with Him, as Ruth did with Boaz (Ruth 2:12). It means that we come to Him in all our helplessness and littleness to hide under His shadow. Then when His wrath arises, we have Him as our shelter and protection. And so we, who are nothing in ourselves but are wholly His, shall appear together with Him and reign with Him in His new kingdom. Then we shall be truly blessed, for we are nothing and He is everything.


(Translated from the Chinese)

Newman Sze

THE epistle to the Hebrews gives us a wonderful unfolding of the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, and it also makes Him our example for, as God's people, we are also called to be priests. As we look at His High Priesthood we can learn valuable lessons concerning our priestly ministry. [68/69]

1. "... a merciful and faithful high priest ..."

The first thing that we notice is that His sufferings under temptation were necessary to fit Him to be a merciful and faithful high priest (2:17-18). The Lord Jesus took a body Himself so that He could be like man and go through all the sufferings of mankind. When His friend Lazarus died and He came to Bethany, Martha did not understand what He tried to tell her and Mary had unbelief in her heart, but He did not reproach Martha or Mary, because in His own heart He was sensing the pain and agony of human death. "Jesus wept." Why did He weep? It was not because He did not know what to do, for He knew that Lazarus would rise again at that command of His: "Come forth". Yet He truly entered into the suffering of those sisters and shed tears with them. This was why He was able to help them.

In His wilderness temptations Jesus fasted forty days and was afterwards hungry. Then one day He led His disciples through the cornfields and they had nothing to eat and were suffering hunger. We are amazed at the strange circumstances that those who were followers of the glorious Son of God who created the heavens and the earth, were without anything to eat and glad to make do with the bare grain which had neither been baked nor cooked. The Lord defended them from their accusers for, although He did not Himself pluck or eat the grain, He was able to sympathise with them because He knew by experience what it meant to feel very hungry.

In the United States I have found that those whom God was using to pray for the sick are often in poor health themselves. A healthy man who is never ill cannot understand the sufferings of those who are. It seems that God lets them endure infirmities themselves so that every time they pray for those who are needy they are filled with compassion and understanding. Brothers and sisters, if we are to fulfill our ministry as priests we must be tempted in every way so that we too may be merciful and faithful. Even our failures may prove valuable experiences to this end, for how can we expect to comfort others unless we know God's grace for ourselves? Our hardships are meant to teach us practical faith.

In Los Angeles I have been teaching young people who have left their jobs and given up their careers to serve the Lord, and had to remind them that they were not to go around with their Bibles in their hands laying down the law to people, correcting them and telling them what they ought to be and to do. That would mean that they would be disciples of Moses, whereas we must be disciples of Jesus, the merciful and faithful High Priest who can help others because He Himself has been tempted in every way -- only in His case it was without any failure or mistake. The Lord Jesus also knew what it was like to be lonely, to be rejected, to be brushed aside and abused. When the man full of leprosy came to Him, He was able to appreciate what it meant to be despised and rejected, and so He was full of compassion for this needy man whom nobody else would venture to come near to or touch. Christ touched him and healed him, for His was a ministry full of understanding love.

2. "... he that built the house ..."

The next reference shows that Christ's priestly work is connected with the building of the house of God (3:1-6). As priest the Lord Jesus was sent into the world for a great mission. What was this mission? It was the building of God's house which is, of course, a spiritual edifice. In the earthly aspect of things it was Moses who built the tabernacle, but he could not build God's heavenly home since he himself was a part of that house. It was the Lord Jesus who built Moses. The Lord Jesus built Abraham. The Lord built David, and Peter and Paul. He intends to build all the saints into a spiritual house as God's eternal dwelling place. He it is who cuts out the numerous stones and who moulds and refines them. His work in gold and silver and jewels requires the most exquisite workmanship, which explains why He laboured so patiently with Jacob, why He took three forty-year periods to fit Moses for his eternal destiny and why He worked with David so skilfully to build him into a great and rare stone. In the New Testament we read of His building work with Peter and Paul and many others. This is a tremendous task, calling for the greatest patience, this work of taking so many of us, each with his own different story, and leading us on to the same outcome, which is that together we should form the house of God.

There were twelve jewels, for the Lord Jesus deals with us as individuals. Our natures are [69/70] different, what we go through is different, but the end product is the same, even likeness to Jesus Christ. The twelve disciples had different dispositions and characters, and each had to be dealt with in the way which the Lord judged to be suitable. We often take Peter as an example. He was the impulsive one. At one time he was so brave that he would die for his Lord; at another time he was so weak that he was afraid of a servant girl. We may think that his name of Cephas means that he had something rocklike in his nature. This is hardly the case, though he was certainly a very stubborn man. It was not easy to get him to change his mind. He was obstinate and governed by prejudices. So tough was he that the Lord Jesus had a hard time in changing him. Yet he was one of the best of the disciples. Slowly, during those three and a half years, the Lord Jesus dealt with Peter, moulding him and building him by letting him experience failures and humbling. Afterwards we read in the book of the Acts how patiently the risen Lord dealt with him, for He was determined to make this disciple of His into one of His precious jewels. The great difference in those days described in the Acts was that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore more ready to cooperate in the transforming work.

Friends sometimes say to me: 'Brother Sze, why do you give so much time to the young people, for they are very wild and difficult to handle?' This may be true, but a priest's work is always hard. We are all difficult, but the Lord Jesus persists with us, for He knows how to build us together into Himself. It is no use being impatient. We cannot become spiritual in a day or two. The Lord is dealing with us slowly, little by little, and though we lose heart and are ready to give up, He never does. The patience of Jesus is greater than any earthly strength. No child of God is hopeless, because each child of God has a High Priest whose patience surpasses all. And when this spiritual house is gloriously completed, all the credit will go to Him. The Builder has more glory than the house. And for us, too, this priestly work means more than just singing hymns and praying: it means cooperation with Christ in the costly task of the building together of believers into the gold and jewels of the new Jerusalem.

3. "... the throne of grace ..."

Then there is the throne of grace (4:14-16). The great High Priest who has passed through the heavens has done so in order to become our throne of grace. In the house of God there was a golden mercy seat on the ark of the covenant, and this mercy seat is the throne of grace. For us it is a Person, even our Lord Jesus. We can always come confidently to Him and be sure of getting seasonal help, just the kind of help we need and just when we need it. He never replies that He does not know what to do. This may seem impossible to us, for we often feel that we have no answer to the needs which confront us. To be quite frank, I confess that I can hardly endure the personal pressures which come upon me, let alone care for others. Yet people are constantly coming to me with their troubles and problems and, being a servant of God, I cannot run away even though the burdens are too heavy for me. How can I help the mothers who bring me their complaints about their children, the tense people who ask my help because they cannot sleep at nights, and many others whose burdens I have no strength to bear? I can only stand up to it because the Lord stands behind me. He is not like me; He is not overwhelmed; He is never nonplussed; He is the throne of grace where mercy and timely help can always be found.

The Lord Jesus passed through Jericho knowing that He was on the way to the cross, but when the blind man begged for sight He did not excuse Himself by saying that He had too much on His mind to attend just now to this beggar, but He stopped and opened the man's eyes. The Lord's own burden was the heaviest of all, yet He behaved as though He had no personal burden at all. When He was actually on the cross His greatest test came but, even with those dreadful pains of crucifixion, with men mocking Him and the blood pouring down His face, He still was able to speak words of comfort and promise to the repentant thief. Thank God that we can come to Him at any time, and we will always have His full attention and prove His sufficiency to help us.

In Los Angeles we began with just a home and no public meetings, and did not know how to go into action. But we could -- and did -- pray for people who came to us. One day a young Chinese sister came to us with a big problem and brought a friend, an American young woman. Before they left on the following morning we had a time of prayer and were very [70/71] conscious of the Lord's gracious presence and the well of water springing up. We had so much liberty that I thought that I would rise and pray for the Chinese sister for whom I had great concern and who I knew was having to face grave difficulties, but the Spirit seemed to check me and move me to pray instead for her American friend. I did not know anything about this young woman, so first I went over and sat down with her and asked her if she had read the Lord's Word that morning. I found that she had been reading in John chapter four about the living water, but that she confessed to not having understood what she had read. I was led to point out that in verse ten three things are mentioned, the gift of God, the Giver and the living water, and that actually these three are one. The Lord's presence seemed so real that I was able to pray, and as we did so the Holy Spirit took possession in real power. Then the two sisters went on their way, and now they were both rejoicing and the well kept springing up. Afterwards I heard that she had been on the verge of sinning a serious sin and might well have proceeded on this disastrous course if I had not been obedient to the Lord in taking up her case in prayer. I knew nothing of her circumstances and she had not told me anything of them, nor did her Chinese friend who brought her along feel free to speak to me about it. Well, the Lord met her and the danger was averted. At a meeting that night she was broken down under the conviction of the Spirit and although the others in that prayer gathering were taken aback she was able to share with them the wonderful way in which the Lord had delivered her. It is in this way that we can work in fellowship with our great High Priest. At the moment when someone is going to take a perilous course or has special needs, we can be used to lead them to the throne of grace, and we can do this without even knowing anything about them.

4. "... ordained for men in things pertaining to God"

Here we are told that a high priest is ordained for men in things pertaining to God (5:1-10). These things were the candlestick, the shewbread, the golden censer, the altar of burnt offering, the laver and the ark. There were many things, and all came within the sphere of the high priest. Christ is all these things to us. Now that He is here there is no more need of a material candlestick, for He is our light. There is no more need for the material shewbread, for He is our living bread. No more censer or altar, for He is the fulfilment of them all. He is for man in all these things; all of them are taken care of by our great High Priest. Jesus feeds us with the shewbread because He is Himself the bread of life. He gives us living water to drink because whatever things we have need of, He is ordained to minister those things of God to us men. The Lord Jesus fulfils all spiritual fullness. Now the golden candlestick is unnecessary because He is our light. The golden censer is fulfilled in Him. The Lord Jesus undertakes to care for all those things which pertain to God on man's behalf.

Actually this is the new age of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do anything at all with regard to spiritual things; only the Lord Jesus can perform these things by His Holy Spirit. As the golden censer, He makes possible our prayer life. A brother told me that he knew how to pray but he had never had a deep spiritual experience. I could only answer that he must have had a greater experience even than the apostle Paul if he knew how to pray, for the apostle stated that for his part he did not know how to pray as he ought (Romans 8:26). In fact it is when we feel that we do not know how to pray that we can really pray in the will of God, for the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. That is the prayer of the golden censer which reaches the throne of heaven and touches the heart of God. It may be that sometimes the difficulty with our brothers and sisters is that they think that they do know how to pray, and in fact feel that they are rather good at it. In twenty minutes they can pray through from Genesis to Revelation. But have they been praying in the Spirit, or just preaching to God? Surely the Lord Jesus has had enough of suffering! Now that He is in heaven must He still suffer by having to listen to this believer and that preaching long sermons to Him in their prayers and telling Him what to do?

The Lord Jesus takes care of our love for God. There are times when people will come along and say that they want to love the Lord but cannot do so. The temptation is to hurry to the Bible in an endeavour to find passages which explain how we ought to love Him, and inexperienced workers will often try to explain [71/72] and reason with such people, and in the end lose patience with them. How different is our Lord Jesus! He simply stresses God's great love for us; He meets our coldness with His own flame of love. So it is that we cease trying to be or do something and are melted by the realisation of all that His love has done for us. So we find that in this area also He is ready to take responsibility for what pertains to God on our behalf.

5. "... made after the power of an endless life"

Our great High Priest is made not after the law of a carnal commandment but after the power of an endless life (7:15-28). It is the life of Jesus, His imperishable and triumphant life, which makes possible His priesthood. For us this means that we need to experience Christ first before we can share Him with others. Our ministry is not just preaching about Christ but sharing Him, letting people see and hear for themselves. It is the Lord Himself who has become the source of eternal salvation, and it is His triumphant life which is the power of His priesthood. So it is that this same life must be manifested in us, in the details of our everyday life, in our sufferings, in our loneliness, in our sickness, in our difficulties. The power of His resurrection is not just a theme to be discussed by those who are sitting back and enjoying their ice-creams; it is a vital proving of the power of Christ's incorruptible life in experiences of poverty, privation, weakness, rejection and the small details of life.

I would like to tell you of a Chinese brother who had not been to a meeting for twenty years but who came to the United States and experienced a revival in his own heart. He prayed, attended the meetings, had the joy of the indwelling Spirit and experienced the power of resurrection. He met a family which had emigrated to the United States and were friendless there, so he served and helped them, hoping that they would be saved. He said to me: 'Brother Sze, I preached the gospel to that family many times, but they just did not want to accept. When the husband seemed ready to believe, the wife objected, and vice versa. My spiritual power is so little and limited that I could never break through. Will you please go and preach the gospel to them?' So I went, and sat with eight of them, and this is the story which I heard. The head of the family said to me: 'Sir, the spirit of you children of God is just great. It leaves us speechless. When we came to the United States we found, to our great dismay, that the company which had offered me a job had gone out of business, so we were really in a tight spot. We had no car and did not know the language. We found that the country where we now lived was not like Taiwan; it covered such a large area that we could not get round from one place to another. This gentleman was not related to us. At that time he was not even a friend. But when we were at a loss to know what to do he bought groceries for us and delivered them to our home. He saw everything about us in our home; he even saw me quarrel and fight with my wife. Although he was a busy man he took time to buy food and bring it to us, either before he went to work or after he had finished for the day. And this lasted for two years -- rain or shine -- until we had enough English to get by with and until we ourselves had a car.' That day I preached the gospel to that family, but I myself was moved, for while I preached with words, this man had witnessed with deeds, and gone far beyond me. Our priestly work is not to be done just by our lips, but by what we do and how we do it.

6. "... a more excellent ministry ..."

Finally we are told that our Lord Jesus has "obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which is established upon better promises" (8:1-6). The priests of the Old Testament carried the book of the law in their hands, for theirs was a condemning ministry. When you approached them you were reminded of your sins, and although they could offer sacrifices for you, we know that the blood of calves and goats could never really make a man's conscience clean. We are not disciples of Moses but of Jesus, pointing men to Him who is at the right hand of God interceding for us. No child of God is ever forgotten by Him. No child of God is ever outside the sphere of His love. He mediates a better covenant because He gives us of Himself. He never fails. And He calls us to prove that love and life for ourselves, and then to go out and share it with others. Our priesthood consists in introducing men to this Mediator of a better covenant, so that they may be brought into personal touch with the one who saves them by His endless life. [72/73]


(Some thoughts on John chapters 13 to 17)


Roger T. Forster

THIS chapter deals with the two important signs which the Lord Jesus gave at the beginning of His last great sermon here on earth. The washing of the disciples' feet and the offering of bread to His betrayer were two striking symbols of His dealings with us and His challenge as to the way in which we live. The Lord Jesus washes our feet -- a tremendously humbling experience for us -- and then He does not turn and say: 'Now I have washed your feet, you wash Mine; I have served you, now you serve Me', but His challenge to us is that if He has washed our feet and served us, then He expects us to wash one another's feet and serve one another. Again, He took the bread and offered it to Judas, the man who at the feast was probably sitting at His left hand in the place of honour. The Lord took the special portion, perhaps bread dipped in gravy or even meat wrapped in bread, and handed to Judas this finest piece of food on the table, though He knew all about the plan to deliver Him to His enemies which the traitor had already made. In doing this, and even in answering John's question as to who would betray Him, the Lord did not expose Judas to the others. We do not know just what John must have thought (it may have been that Judas would make a foolish blunder), but we gather that most of the disciples still thought well of him even as he left the upper room. Jesus had honoured him, put him at His own left hand, offered him the morsel which stood as a symbol of friendship, given him the responsibility of the purse, and let the others go on thinking better of him than he really was.

We rather like to expose other people's sins, drawing attention to faults in our brothers, under the pretext of caring only for the Lord's glory. Now of course we should never cover our own sins, but when we are dealing with other people we should remember how Jesus gave honour to the man who was so great an enemy and allowed him to go out free, better thought of by the others than he deserved to be. This was either sublimely beautiful or just ridiculous, and since it was our Lord who did it, we know which of these it must have been. True it is very different from what we would have naturally expected Him to do and to teach, but we observe that although He does desire our devotion, He does not so much want us to wash His feet as to minister to one another. After all, He came not to be served but to serve, and He wants His disciples to have the same spirit of serving and not clamouring to be served. And He who so behaved with Judas does not approve of us when we, out of imagined zeal for His glory, pursue and denounce our brothers. He will not have us exposing and running down the characters of others, even when we do it out of a vaunted concern for His glory.

This is the way in which God's great purpose for the world is going to be accomplished -- by the washing of one another's feet and by the friendship and love which we show even to those who would betray us. We are so ready to expose, but which of us would care to have exposed to others all the baseness which the penetrating eyes of Christ can see in us? Therefore it is surely better if we keep quiet about one another and learn to speak well whenever we truthfully can.

What the Lord Jesus wants to do is to extend His own ministry through His disciples. "Truly, truly I say to you, the servant is not greater than his Lord, neither is he that is sent greater than He that sent him" (v.16). Again and again the Lord Jesus claimed that He was the 'sent one' of the Father. 'Now,' He says, 'I am sending you in the same way in which I was sent and so -- like Me -- you must wash one another's feet and go on loving in the midst of hatred.' The Lord further added: "Truly, truly, I say unto you, He that receives whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receives me receives him that sent me" (v.20). So we are to be an extension of what He was and did. As we are sent, Christ is sent with us, and as we are received, the One who sent Him is also received. What a tremendous privilege it is to be involved in an extension of what God began in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to reveal His heart to men. [73/74]

In this connection a familiar verse comes home to me with great force: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (v.34). This shows that with the new commission to 'wash feet' and to offer friendship in the face of hatred, there comes also a new charge to love one another. In one respect it is not new, for it is virtually a repetition of the command of Leviticus 19:18: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself". The newness is not novelty but freshness. Two Greek words are used for 'new'; one means new in time, that which has never been before but has just begun, while the other means new in quality, having something fresh about it. The word which Jesus used denotes that which is new in quality. His commandment is old in the sense of time; it has been there since the world began, for it belongs to the heart of God the Father; but the Lord Jesus sends us out into the world with a commission for a new quality of love. I suggest that this quality is indicated by the two symbols of foot washing and giving the honoured portion. This is not to be limited to the history of the scene in the upper room but is to be kept up-to-date in us now.

1. The Measure

First of all the chapter suggests a new measure of love. Love can be sentimental; it can be soft and cloying; it can be lacking in healthy strength. The measure of this love however is taken from what the Lord Jesus did in the upper room. It began with His washing the feet of all of His disciples. Now it is a fact that, apart from wives, no Jew was permitted to wash the feet of another Jew. Not even a Jewish slave, male or female, was allowed to wash the feet of a fellow Jew. So not only was this matter not commanded by the law, it was not even countenanced by it. Nevertheless the Lord Jesus took this lowest possible position. He knew that He came from God and that He was going back to God, and yet He did this most lowly service. This is the measure of the new commandment to love; it is to that degree, something which would not be required even of a slave. It was John the Baptist who, in expressing his sense of lowliness, exclaimed that he was not worthy to do this very thing, to "unlatch the shoe", meaning to take off the sandals and wash the feet. To him this was the work of the lowest of the low, and so it was to them all. Yet this is what Jesus did. He came from God and yet He got on His knees to unworthy men. I could not believe that God is really like that if it had not been demonstrated in this way. Unless Jesus had actually got down on His knees in front of His disciples and declared: 'This is what the love of God is like', I could never have credited it. No wonder the gospel message is revolutionary: this is the measure of God's love.

Following this our Lord sat at the table with a man who, in spite of having been in the privileged apostolic band for the two or three years, was at that very moment scheming to do the Lord a great wrong, despising all that Jesus was and stood for. The Lord not only sat down with him, but gave him the seat of honour and the special portion of favour, the symbol of friendship, whereas under those conditions He might have been excused if He had rallied the other disciples to strike the traitor down. This again is the measure of the new love which we are commanded to exercise. It is so new that I feel that I hardly know anything about it. Yet this is what it means to be a disciple.

2. The Motive

The motive which should inspire me to go out and love my brother in this way is the realisation of how greatly Christ has loved me. In this chapter we are shown in a nutshell the whole movement of His divine love. It started from the highest place; it involved divesting Himself of His eternal glory and investing Himself with the form of a slave, so coming to the lowest place, even to the death of the cross. Having washed away our uncleanness He then took His clothes again, put them on, and went back to the Father to sit down at His right hand. This was the extent of His love, even to unworthy sinners. One of them, Judas, was completely unmoved by this and still remained a traitor at heart, but nevertheless Jesus kept on loving him even though the love had been as it were thrown back into His face. Is this true of me? Alas, it is. I brought Him down from the glory to my base position so that He could wash my feet, and for a time I spurned His love and despised Him; yet He still loved me in spite of it all.

It appears possible from Luke's Gospel that it was actually while the nails were being driven into the hands of Jesus that He prayed: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do". It was this sort of love with which God loved [74/75] me, a love which has persisted even when I hated and rejected it. I can conceive of loving when people let me wash their feet, but I find it too much to go on loving when the only response to that love is hatred and treachery. This, however, is the measure of the divine love which must show itself even through me.

3. The Means

My problem is, of course, how can I begin to love people with even a trace of this love with which God has loved me? I must do it. It is a command. Yet how can it be? I am so weak and frail. I think of Peter who at this time was ready to jump up and assert that he was ready to go to prison for the Lord, and yet who so soon afterwards denied he had even known Him. It was he who protested: "Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet". Well, perhaps this gives a clue to this whole matter. If the Lord had let us do the serving, then we should have felt able to look around on our brethren with some pride, and boast about what we had done for Him. But because it is He who has done the serving, because He has stooped down even to wash our feet, we feel terribly humbled and have nothing to boast of or glory in. Had I washed the Lord's feet on the eve of His crucifixion I would have had some marvellous sermon material, and everybody would have reacted with enthusiasm, thinking that there was really something rather wonderful about me. But it is just the opposite. I have to confess that it was the Lord who washed my feet, and this reminds me of how low I have been brought, and this is what provides me with the means, the ability to serve others.

There is a sense in which there are dangers in our working for the Lord, since we are then tempted to rise up and exalt ourselves amongst our brothers. This does not mean that we should not work for Him, but it does impress upon us the importance of knowing how completely we are dependent on His grace. Paul could claim: "I laboured more abundantly than they all", but then he was quick to add: "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me", recalling at that very moment how he had been loved even when he had murderous hatred towards Christ in his heart (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). So it is that the Lord provides a means for our loving by His gracious condescension to us. Popular concepts of God put Him on a throne and demand that we bow before Him. Strangely enough such a concept can make us proud of heart. The Lord Jesus gave us a true revelation of God by stooping to wash our feet. Like Peter, we want to cry out against this. It is too humbling to our pride. But it has to be if we are to have any part with Him. The Lord Jesus offers me bread across a table, even as He offered it to Judas, and this very action provides a gateway for the entrance of energy to love as He loves, as I receive His gift and make it mine. Alas, that the rejection of it can open the gateway for Satan to enter in when it is rejected. This was what happened to Judas. When we receive such undeserved love it humbles us and brings our pride into the dust. And this is God's means for making us those who can show this love to others.

4. The Medium

There is always a practical area of life in which this love is to find expression, always a medium, a towel and a basin, which we must use. We read that it was while Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into His hands that He took a towel. But all things are in your hands, Lord: the destiny of humanity, the salvaging of the creation, the fulfilment of the eternal purposes of the Father! Surely Your hands are much too full for You to be bothered with a towel! Why I only need to have a very few things in my hands to make me too preoccupied to give practical help to others. I think that because I have to preach a sermon I must not get involved in any household task; I want to shut myself in my study; I want to be quiet and think; I am inclined to resent any demands of home or family, or friends or neighbours because of what I have on hand, though in my case I have only a very few things. The marvel about the Lord Jesus was that although the destiny of the universe was in His hands He could still cope with the lowly use of a towel and make that and the basin a medium for expressing divine love. Why did the Lord take the towel? Because it was through that action that He could give expression to the love of God. There is always a medium, an instrument, for channelling and communicating love. It may be some great achievement like the emancipation of slaves or it may be the homely action of washing up. It may even be passing bread across the table. So the thrilling thing about a life devoted to demonstrating the love of God is [75/76] that every detail of life, however petty and however naturally boring or irritating, can provide a channel for this great love. All things were in His hands, as He undertook the footwashing and in this way eternity became wrapped up in a towel. So it should be with us: the simplest servile action can bring in something of eternal significance.

And of course the special area defined by the Lord for the exercise of this love is the brotherhood of all believers -- "that ye have love one to another" (v.35). In the second century Tertullian recorded that pagans were amazed to see Christians loving, giving and serving, and they remarked: "See how these Christians love one another". Two centuries later Chrysostom had to complain that the pagan world mocked at the Christian message because of the evident lack of love, the ill-will and the quarrelling among professing Christians. The medium for the expression of divine love is indicated by the words: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one to another". The Church is called to be the extension of Christ's mission to the world. What was begun in the upper room in the person of the Lord Jesus is to be continued in His disciples, so that this world may know what the Father is like, and how greatly He loves. Men and women are meant to discover God through companies of people who love as He loved -- even to the washing of feet and the meeting of hatred with unfailing love.


T. Austin-Sparks

IN the terrible darkness of the cross, Jesus uttered the cry of desertion and forsakenness in which He could only use the term: "My God ..." (Matthew 27:46), but before He died He was able to say: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). After He had risen from the dead, among the first words that He spoke were these: "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father ..." (John 20.17). The battle was won. All that the first cry meant of sonship being obscured, had been set aside. In perfect tranquillity the Lord could not only speak of His Father but of our Father too.

Such passages as: "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee", and "declared to be the Son of God ... by the resurrection from the dead" can make for intellectual difficulty. What about the eternal Sonship? Was He not God's Son before the resurrection? The words: "This day have I begotten thee" evidently refer to the resurrection, as the first two chapters of the letter to the Hebrews confirm. In what way is the Lord Jesus God's Son by virtue of resurrection?

Let us at once state that this is related to the first and the last Adam. The first Adam was called God's son (Luke 3:38) and in a sense this was true, but that sonship was never fully realised -- all its meaning, all its potential, all the divine intention, was never known. It was sonship on probation which never attained to determination. In the case of the Lord Jesus, however, we are told that He was "determined the Son of God ..." (Romans 1:4 m.). The first Adam failed, and in him the whole race lost its sonship. That was why the Lord Jesus went to the cross as representative of the whole race, to meet the final consequences of that lost sonship. Those consequences were known in that eternal period of unspeakable agony, when there was the awful consciousness of what it means to be abandoned by God. By nature we are out of Christ, without God and without hope in this world, but we are not fully aware of it nor of what it involves. In that phase of the cross, the Lord Jesus was, so to speak, projected into the full realisation of that complete consciousness of what God-forsakenness really means, that which is the very terrible destiny of all deliberate rejectors -- to find themselves rejected.

Well, having suffered that judgment, and having carried all the agony of it to the disrupting of His soul and the breaking of His heart (for when the soldiers came to inspect, they found that He was dead already, while those crucified with Him were still alive) -- when that [76/77] was accomplished He came to the moment of consciousness that the judgment was past, and so could return again to use the word, "Father". Now, however, he used it with a meaning that it had never borne for man until that time, so that the last word of the cross is not "forsaken", but "Father". Sonship had now come on to a new ground of resurrection, restoration; the alienation of the race had been overcome. Restoration is made for the race in Christ, and so everything begins with "Father". What a wealth there is in the phrase: "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" when it is seen in the light of the cross! It is the ground of our approach, our appeal. It carries with it the full meaning of the triumph of His cross over all the alienation that had come to the human race with the loss of God's meaning of sonship.

Briefly, then, that is the doctrine and the explanation of "This day have I begotten thee". It speaks of a begetting not of the eternal Son, not of Christ as the Son of God; but the begetting of the Son of man, of the last Adam, and of sonship for man in Him. Sonship is ours in Christ, so Peter cries: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance " (1 Peter 1:3-5).

BUT while our sonship through the cross and the risen Christ is to be appropriated and entered into by faith as an act, yet for the purpose of our testimony here, it is something which has to be continuous as a spiritual experience. It is accepted in an act, but it has to be borne out in a continuous process. The New Testament shows that sonship is something which relates to the whole life of the believer in a practical way of expression, so that inasmuch as it is inseparably bound up with resurrection in the case of the Lord Jesus, for us it demands a constant experience of His resurrection power . How do we know sonship? Well, there was a time when we believed, and in believing were made children or sons of God. "Ye are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26). Because we believe, we have the sonship. That is very good, and of course we have always to cling tenaciously by faith to the fact that it is so. But that may have been years ago. Did the Lord just mean it to be something in our past history, something which took place years ago? We have always to hold on to that transaction with the Lord and believe, but does it not call for a reinforcement as we go along? Is there no opportunity for it to be more and more confirmed? Surely the Word teaches that there is; and so not only the origin but the experience of the believer should be that of sonship being freshly demonstrated and manifested on the same ground as its origin -- that is, resurrection.

What is God's confirmation of our sonship? It is that He gives us continual experiences of being raised from the dead. He has left us here in a setting and a background of death: we are called upon to live and to walk amidst death. This world is a tomb, which sooner or later will engulf all those outside of Christ; but here we are in this very tomb, this scene and realm of death, living. We are not a part of it, we are living, and this is the testimony, this is sonship. Sonship is meant to be manifested. The end of this process is the full manifestation of the sons of God according to Romans 8:19. Here, in a spiritual way, the manifold wisdom of God is shown in the Church, to the glory of His name and to the confounding of principalities and powers.

Our new birth is our first taste of resurrection life. We notice that, after quoting the passage concerning Christ: "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee", the Scriptures present a further quotation: "I and the children whom God hath given me" (Hebrews 2:13). The completion of the original statement is: "Behold I and the children whom God hath given me are for signs and wonders ..." (Isaiah 8:18). It is clear that Isaiah's words are put into the mouth of the Lord Jesus who links the announcement of His own Sonship by resurrection to the fact that by that same resurrection He has begotten us again unto a living hope. We are the children given to Him by virtue of His resurrection. And we are for signs and wonders. What does this mean? Well when the evil generation of Jews demanded a sign from the Lord Jesus, He replied: "... there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet" (Matthew 12:39). He went on to point out that this sign of Jonah was connected with death and resurrection. So the signs and wonders associated with Christ and the children whom the Father has given Him are the miracles of resurrection life. This is the experience of the spiritual [77/78] Christian, he repeatedly knows the impact of death and the glory of Christ's resurrection. So it is that the Church has survived. There is no other way of accounting for the continuance of the Church through the ages than the wonder-working power of Christ's resurrection. The powers of hell and death have come like a deluge upon the Church through the centuries and have sometimes almost seemed to quench it, but it has sprung up again in greater fullness than ever before after every such time.

WHAT is true of the Church as a whole is true in smaller ways in our individual experience. In our own hearts we sometimes become encompassed by death; we almost fear for our own faith at times, wondering if we shall survive; but we have gone on, and we are still going on. This is the marvellous outworking of "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe" (Ephesians 1:19). It is not our endurance: it is the power of His resurrection. This is the testimony -- for signs and wonders. The story is not to be read openly, but one day it will be revealed for His glory. It is now a hidden story. Everyone knows his own dark, deadly hours in the spiritual life, but he also proves the superior power of Christ's resurrection life.

Thank God that since Christ bore the bitter tasting of death for us, there is none left for us to taste. Spiritual death is the complete consciousness of what it means to be finally abandoned by God. There is no more of that for those who are in Christ; that death has been swallowed up in Him. So may the Lord give us faith to stand on that ground in the darkest hour. If we are children by resurrection, then we are for signs and wonders in Israel. However gloomy the prospect, we know that God's answer in His sons is the victory of resurrection life.



Harry Foster

THIS one English word is given as the rendering for various titles which His contemporaries applied to the Lord Jesus. The most common of them is the word which really signifies Teacher. The Hebrew counterpart is Rabbi (John 1:38).

There is nothing unusual about the actual word. It is applied to the 'doctors' with whom the boy Jesus reasoned in the temple; it was used by Christ to describe Nicodemus, the 'master of Israel'; and it is the word employed concerning those in the churches who had the spiritual gift of teachers (Ephesians 4:11). But the Lord took up the general word and gave it a unique significance to those who were proud to acknowledge themselves as His disciples. To them there was only one who could be their Teacher in the things of God.

Saul of Tarsus once had the great Gamaliel as his teacher, and he described the relationship by saying that he had been brought up "at the feet" of this great rabbi (Acts 22:3). The Scriptures make use of this same phrase, telling of those who were glad to sit at the feet of Jesus. Mary of Bethany was prominent in this respect, and this is how we always remember her.

When Martha sent her the message: "The Master is come, and he calleth for thee", she knew at once who had arrived and went out to voice her doubts and perplexities from this same position -- at His feet (John 11:32). Equally the Jerusalem householder, when told that the Master was asking for the promised guest chamber, responded instantly and with all his heart to this request. There was no need for names. For him there was only one Teacher.

All human teachers have their limitations. It seems that in the temple the Lord Jesus, though only twelve years old, had to supply the answers to the questions which He Himself had posed. There were things that the great doctors did not know. This was certainly true in the case of Nicodemus, as the Lord Himself had to point out to the great teacher who had arrived and opened the conversation with the words: "We [78/79] know ...". He clearly did not know the things of the Spirit (John 3:10).

Only Jesus knows it all. He is truly our Teacher. For this reason the most experienced of us had far better maintain our place at the feet of Jesus as His disciples. The would-be teacher can often finish up by exposing not only his limitations but his contradictions (James 3:1).

The last use of the title is perhaps the most moving and inspiring. When the unrecognised Saviour revealed Himself to Mary by the simple utterance of her name, she turned swiftly to Him and exclaimed: "Rabboni" (John 20.16). John tells us that what she really said was just "Teacher", but we know something of the ardent devotion that she put into that one word. It is not what we say but how we say it that matters.



Harry Foster

UNCLE JOE was Fred's favourite uncle. He was a preacher and often had interesting stories to tell. He also had some rather unusual ways of talking, as for instance when he spoke of 'holding on' in prayer. This phrase so puzzled Fred that one day he asked his uncle what it meant. He had heard his parents ask telephone callers to 'hold on' a moment, but somehow he did not think that it was this kind of holding on to which his uncle referred. 'How do you hold on in prayer?' he asked Uncle Joe, rather hoping that his question might produce a story -- and so it did.

The story was concerned with an experience which Uncle Joe had while in missionary work in Brazil. The only method of travelling then was by dugout canoe, and this was often dangerous because of the many rapids in the middle reaches of the river. To shoot these rapids was swift and exciting, but to find a way slowly through them when going upstream was very hard work. At places the only possible way of progress was by the members of the crew hauling the boat up by means of a rope. One end was tied to the canoe and the men took the other end to a suitable rock. When they were all in position, the one man left in the canoe pushed away from the bank and then, hand over hand, the others slowly pulled the canoe up through a gap in the rocks.

This was a man-sized job, so that when one day Aatu, a teenage Red Indian, begged to be included in the crew, Uncle Joe was inclined to refuse. However Aatu was a good lad and one of the first of that tribe to become a Christian, and at last Uncle Joe agreed to take him.

When they had these perilous pulls through the rapids it was always Uncle Joe who stayed in the canoe while the Indian members of the crew took the rope on ahead to drag it up past the danger. On this trip they had used this method several times until once when things went all wrong. Everything seemed to be going according to plan and with the men hanging on to the rope Uncle Joe pushed off into midstream, only to discover to his dismay that some commotion had made all the men except Aatu lose their foothold and fall into the river. There was no danger for them, for they could all swim well and were used to getting wet: the danger was for the canoe which could have been dashed on to the rocks with Uncle Joe in it.

'There was I,' he told Fred, 'standing helplessly looking at Aatu at the other end of the rope, and there was he, just as helpless, looking back at me in the canoe. Of course he could not pull me to safety -- even a strong man would not have been able to do that alone -- but he could hold on until something happened. And how I hoped and prayed that he would just hold on!' 'And did he?' asked Fred. 'Oh yes,' replied his uncle. 'He held on all right. Otherwise I should not be here alive today. And it was not long before the other men swam back to the rock and joined in pulling me to safety. It seemed a very long time to me, of course, and for that [79/80] moment everything depended on Aatu. All he could do was to stand firm and not let go of the rope. And I am thankful to say that that was what he did.'

After a pause Uncle Joe asked Fred if he understood better now what he meant when he used the phrase about 'holding on' in prayer. 'Yes Uncle,' answered Fred, 'but I am afraid that I am not very good at it. Not like Aatu.' 'Well,' said his uncle, 'that is true of most of us. We start full of eager interest but we feel helpless and are tempted to let go. Yet it was not a matter of skill for Aatu, was it? Nor was it a matter of strength. It was just a case of -- well, holding on. Wasn't it?

To each one of us there come times when our strength seems quite insufficient and the case so hopeless that we are ready to let go. How important it is not to do so, but just to keep holding on. This is especially the case in the matter of prayer. Really that was why the Lord Jesus told His disciples to "Watch and pray". And that is also why we are all told to go on "praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance ..." (Ephesians 6:18). So hold on!

RECORDED MESSAGES by the late T. Austin-Sparks

Our friend Mr. Alec Brackett has prepared cassettes with messages which Mr. Austin-Sparks gave at Honor Oak and elsewhere. He will be glad to make these cassettes available to any who wish to get the help and inspiration which they bring. Particulars of these and other tape recordings may be had on application. The address is: "THINGS THAT MATTER", 30 Western Road, URMSTON, MANCHESTER M31 3LF. [80/ibc]

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