"... 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. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1974 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



THE first article in this issue is a helpful one on spiritual vitality. It is based on an inspiring message which was given in our local fellowship, and it prompts me to express my ever-deepening conviction that much confusion among God's people is due to hasty human actions of those who cannot wait for God. Their efforts to ensure the survival of His work may be sincere, but the final criterion is not sincerity but spirituality. And the only basis which I know for spiritual survival is that of resurrection. The Christian worships on the first day of the week not only because he thus affirms the historical fact of Christ's resurrection, but because he himself is a 'resurrection man'. He begins to be a Christian by believing that God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, but for vital continuance in the faith he must learn to live constantly on resurrection ground. This is God's ground.

Resurrection is the Father's ground. Do we long to know more of the love and care of our Father in heaven? Then we must abide on resurrection ground, for it is only on this ground that He knows us as His children. He imparted His own life to us, "By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). Finding us in death, He lifted us up on to a new plane of life by bringing us into the realm of resurrection. We begin there and must stay there.

Resurrection is the Son's ground. As believers we are "in Christ", but this does not mean that we are in the Jesus as He walked here on the earth in gospel days. Nobody could be "in Christ" then. It was only when, by way of the cross, He rose to resurrection ground that He could bring believers into Himself and share His life with them in that new realm.

Resurrection is the Spirit's ground. His power to usward is the power of Christ's resurrection. Indeed it was not until the new era of resurrection life had come that the Spirit could be given in fullness to the Church. Those early days of fullness were days when the great emphasis of all concerned was upon the risen Lord, and upon the fact that it was in vital union with Him that the Spirit's power was being experienced. So the whole Trinity deals with us on this basis of resurrection.

NOW the pattern believer who based his whole life on this principle was Abraham. He was the man who believed that God raises the dead, not only in the future but now. Do I? Perhaps I can find help if I consider his story, and in doing so I am faced with the fact that to remain on resurrection ground he had to keep finding a way of being in harmony with God's repeated denials. Again and again the Lord said 'No' to him. Just as resurrection must be preceded by death, so every experience of it for Abraham followed some new death blow to his soul. We find this to be God's principle. Some disappointment, some hope crushed, some plan vetoed, some support removed -- all this represents God's refusal to let us have our own way. If we can accept them, then we find ourselves in a new enjoyment of resurrection life and fullness. Seven times over God said 'No' to Abraham; and each time this servant of the Lord was given grace to accept the denial.

It was in Ur of the Chaldees that the Lord first said 'No', and He said it concerning natural ambitions. In a society where false gods were worshipped and false values appreciated -- a society very much like our own -- he was told that if he wanted real glory he must say 'No' to it all and move out with God. So Abraham began where we all begin, by accepting God's 'No' to the idea of his allowing himself to be rooted in the things of this world. He moved on with God to a different form of citizenship, one which in fact will only become apparent in the day of resurrection.

When the family reached Haran, roughly half way to the land, they stopped there. That was the sort of man Abraham's father was -- a halfway man. Most of the family remained permanently there and on the whole they found Haran pleasant and profitable. There is something rather attractive about this half and half spiritual position -- one foot in the world and one in the kingdom of God. Its advocates can be very plausible and even suggest that we might be able to serve the Lord better there. Who wants to be labelled a fanatic? Why should we let the things of God crowd out so much that is interesting and pleasurable in contemporary life? There are many voices which will be raised in support of this halfway position. The question for Abraham was, however, [101/102] not what do people say but what does God say? God clearly said: 'No! This is not for you'. Happily Abraham accepted this second denial to his natural instincts and broke away from the half and half group. I believe that such a death would release altogether new life and power in many, if they would only accept it.

In the land Abraham found that a further denial from God had to be faced. It was a 'No' to very reasonable self-concern. When it became necessary to divide up the territory he must have looked with longing eyes at the fertile valley of the Jordan and been tempted to claim it for himself, knowing that he could much better use it for God than ever Lot could. Had he but known it, Lot was going to give up farming and buy himself a nice little property in the city of Sodom, but mercifully this was kept from him at that time. But even so, it must have been hard just to let go of all personal advantage. This call to let go -- even in the sphere of our calling for God -- comes as one of the most constant challenges to all true servants of God. It does not mean that we are expected to be irresponsible about our God-given charges, but it often does mean that we have to hear God's 'No' when we would reach out our hands for personal advantage, even when such a grasp of things would seem to be helpful for His interests. Abraham's story shows that his new experience of death brought him to greatly increased blessing, and I have found the same thing.

Fourthly, when the king of Sodom came out and offered his gifts after the great battle, Abraham had to say 'No' to the proffered favours. The hour of victory can be the time of greatest spiritual peril. There will always be those who come eagerly forward to make something of us. Alas, that we are all too ready to accept their plaudits and backing, to allow them to push us into prominence. Instead of letting us be God's man they want to make us their man, though often with the best of intentions. Abraham. who had come fresh from the bread and wine of communion with God, knew that he must refuse such advancement, so he said 'No'. God immediately responded with new spiritual reward.

THEN Abraham had to say 'No' to Ishmael. Of course his action over Hagar was really Sarai's fault! It often is the wife's fault. Did not Adam originally blame his sin on Eve? Since then it has not infrequently happened that feminine admiration or ambition has egged on a man of God to carnal actions. For my part, though, I cannot blame the wife. The man is the head of the family. Why did Abraham not say 'No' to Sarai straight away? A man should listen to his wife but he need not 'hearken' to her in the way that Abraham did. But it seems that for thirteen years Abraham had a sneaking hope that God would bless their little plan. To the last he prayed: "O that Ishmael might live before thee". But after thirteen years of no real speaking by God, he was again told that he must say 'No' to Ishmael, and by God's grace he accepted one more death. There is no doubt that this acceptance brought him right up on to resurrection ground again.

The sixth denial came when, at Sarah's insistence, Ishmael was turned out of the house. This was hard for Abraham to bear. Indeed we seem to find a progressive costliness about the way of self-denial. It gets harder rather than easier, even though we are maturing spiritually. But everything else was surely eclipsed with the seventh and last of the divine denials, when Abraham had to say 'No' even to his beloved Isaac. There is no need for me to labour the anguish of heart which this sacrifice caused him, but neither is there any need for me to argue the fact of the new resurrection fullness which resulted. We know the story so well. But we contradict what we know every time when we grasp or fight for our own ideas or position, or even our spiritual gifts. If they are truly of God we can hand them over to death in absolute confidence that they will emerge in greater resurrection fullness. And if they cannot survive the altar then the sooner we repudiate them the better.

RESURRECTION ground is unfailing. It is safe and certain. Nothing can keep us off that ground except our own unwillingness to accept the cross. Satan cannot prevent it. There is much that he can do, but he has been proved powerless to prevent resurrection. Circumstances may confine and limit us, or appear to do so, but we should remember that it was in the very prison which so seemed to hamper Paul's ministry that he wrote of being "raised together with him". So if we are not enjoying resurrection power we must not blame Satan or circumstances. Nor must we blame our fellow-believers. Fellowship with [102/103] others may involve us in acute problems, but we shall find that if we accept the cross's verdict on us and let the death of Jesus do its work, then the life also of Jesus will be manifest in our mortal flesh, and we will not only know the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God but also the communion of the Holy Spirit.

I truly believe that this repeated acceptance of the principle of the cross is the only way by which resurrection life can be operative and spiritual values be safeguarded and kept fresh. The principles which governed Abraham's walk are as valid today as ever. I can testify that for me they have proved to be the way of survival and, I trust, of some fruitfulness. Resurrection ground is the ground of lasting victory, though it can only be entered by apparent defeat. What God plans is that we shall be "more than conquerors through him that loved us".


J. Alec Motyer

Reading: Isaiah 40.27-31

THIS message of Isaiah's was given to bring comfort and help for a day to come. The people of God have ever been under pressure, and the pressures of today are essentially the same as those which have always afflicted them. The Word of God invariably speaks to our condition with a positive remedy, and in this case Isaiah was offering a spiritual provision for the future needs which still lay ahead. The past goes very quickly: it is the time to come which seems to move so slowly. The unknown future seems to grind us as it comes upon us. As we see in verse 27, this was what the prophet was talking about, as he put these words into the mouth of God's people: "My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed away from my God". Isaiah was casting himself forward to the time when the people of God would be captives in an alien land, and with the passing of the years would be tempted to ask why God was doing nothing about their need. The Lord might then seem to have forgotten His people. For all of us there are such times: God appears to have forgotten us. So in anticipation of such need Isaiah, in the prophetic wisdom given to him by God, looked forward to a period in which God's people would have no word direct from heaven. For much of the period of their captivity it was like this. In those days the last dated message through Ezekiel was in 517 B.C., when the Israelites still had thirty years of captivity to run, years of enslavement with no speaking by God. What is more, they would have all around them the triumphant pagan religions with their enthusiastic processions in honour of their false gods, while all the time the temple of the true God lay in ruins and He appeared to be doing nothing about it. All goodness would have seemed to have receded away into the past. They would have looked back to the good old days with a sad sense that there were no good days in the present and that the future seemed even worse. Life is like that:

'The heirs of salvation,

   I know from His word,

Through much tribulation

   Must follow their Lord.'

There can be no question about the need. The question is, Have we a remedy? There will be pressures upon us just because we are standing for the Lord. There will be problems that the world never has to face and knows nothing of. It is no trouble to the world that God does not seem to speak or that paganism everywhere abounds. That is a peculiarly Christian affliction. The answer of God's Word is: "They that wait upon the Lord ...". This, if we will follow it, is His secret for the maintenance of spiritual vitality.

Waiting on the Lord

This, we are told, is the way of vitality, giving promise of supernatural strength. It is contrasted with the natural resources of the youths and the young men. In the Bible the 'youths' are the under forties. They have youth and vigour on [103/104] their side and have not yet reached the deteriorating effects of middle-age. But in this test they will faint and be weary, for all their youthful vigour. The word translated 'young men' really means 'the choice ones'. These are the world champions, those who are picked to represent their country because they excel all others. These have no need of additional boosting -- they have it all. Well, that may be so but they will utterly fail if they have to face real spiritual opposition. Neither the youths nor the choice ones can stand the strain of this conflict: natural strength is quite unavailing under such tests. But the promises of God offer us survival and triumph, for they provide for supernatural strength.

It is also a promise of super-personal energy, something quite beyond what any man could be in himself. The idea turns on the verb translated 'renew'. Bible readers will be familiar with the expression 'a change of raiment'. We read that Joseph gave his brothers 'changes of raiment' (Genesis 45:22). When the rascally Gehazi ran after Naaman with the spurious request from Elisha, the Syrian captain pressed upon him 'two changes of raiment'. The point is that the possessors of such gifts would put aside their old garments and put on a change. Now the verb used by Isaiah here is essentially the same as this word 'change' -- they shall change their strength. If we wait on God, then we shall be able to put on a whole new set. There are some translators who tell us that this phrase should more correctly be rendered 'festal garments'. In this case Isaiah's promise suggests putting off one's everyday wear and putting on Sunday clothes. God will clothe us with 'Sunday best' as we wait on Him. This is an inspiring thought when we realise that the provision made available by God is not in terms of outward robing but of inner fitness and vitality. God offers us a complete change if we only wait on Him. The promise is super-personal.

It is also superhuman, for not to faint and not to grow weary are characteristics of God Himself. A comparison of verse 28 with verse 31 shows us that we shall not grow faint and weary because the everlasting God is just like that, He is the unfainting and unwearying God. Jeremiah said about the people of his day that they worshipped that which did not profit and as a result they themselves became unprofitable (Jeremiah 2:8 and 11). People become like the gods they worship. Isaiah speaks of those who make gods of wood and then 'feed on ashes' (Isaiah 44:20). So it is that men become like the objects of their worship. And if we worship God and wait on Him we will surely become like Him. He is the God who neither faints nor is weary, so He will give us supernatural strength also.

Now this stresses the importance of clearly defining what it means to wait on God, for we must never allow familiar phrases to evaporate into a cloud of pious unreality, with no practical expression in our daily lives. What is involved when we wait upon the Lord? How do we go about it? The answer to this question is given in our passage from the Scriptures. It demands a fourfold look. We will take the four items in the order in which we find them here, though this is not really the order of their importance.

1. Look to your Experience.

"Why sayest though, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel ...". We note that these questions about God's ways are posed by someone called both Jacob and Israel. These are not two separate people, but they are two very different names for the same man. When the people of God were to pass through a desert experience in which it seemed that they were cut off from God and that He was doing nothing for them, they were to look to their origin and consider the miracle of divine grace. You were Jacob: you became Israel. That is to say, you had a marvellous experience of God's transforming power. That a man who went out a hopeless and helpless refugee, a man with a past but no future, was met by God and changed into a man with a glorious future, as evidenced by his new name of Israel -- this was a miracle indeed. "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel ..." (Genesis 32:28). This is the secret of every true servant of God. It is the inner story of our conversion, the inner experience of knowing God's intervention in our lives to remove our helplessness and hopelessness. As a people with a past which we wish to forget and a people with no future except despair, we have been taken hold of by His grace and made into princes with God. It is true that we are not called upon to decide truth by our experience, nor are we permitted to live only in the light of our experience, but we are encouraged to look back into our own past and to say that since the Lord has done what He has for us, then He must be that sort of God. The remembrance of past grace [104/105] will encourage us in the evil day of the present or the forebodings of the future.

'His love in time past

   Forbids me to think

He'll leave me at last

   In trouble to sink.

By prayer let me wrestle,

   And He will perform;

With Christ in the vessel,

   I smile at the storm.'

2. Look to the Scriptures

"Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? ...". Surely you have already heard and known about God, for you are His people. How can you -- of all people -- say that your way is hid from Him? Has no word from God ever penetrated to you? There may seem to be nothing coming through at the moment, but think what you have stored up from the past! This is the essence of what the prophet was saying to the people of God of his day, and how much more is it true of us today! For we have the whole book. We have the complete speaking of God in His Word. The answer to the question: "Hast thou not known ...?" is 'Yes, we have known, we have heard; and we can go on knowing and hearing because God has put His book into our hands'.

One of the snares of Satan is that in difficult days he tries his utmost to get us to turn away from God's Word and to cease to rely on it. This is the way of nature; the easiest and almost automatic reaction of the flesh in times of stress. With his question, Isaiah calls us back to the Word of God that we may find Him by means of it. As the apostle reminds us: "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4). The Scriptures are designed for such a day as this. We read the Word and we learn patience; we read the Word and we receive encouragement; we read the Word and we live in the light of hope.

3. Look to God

This is really the most important of all, though it comes third in our passage. He is "... the everlasting God ... the creator of the ends of the earth ... there is no searching of His understanding". Look at God! Isaiah here reviews time -- He is the everlasting God. He reviews space -- He is the creator of even the ends of the earth. He reviews capacity -- He does not weary. He reviews wisdom -- His understanding is beyond any searching. There is no time when He is not; no place where He is not; no task beyond His resources and no problem which He cannot solve. That is the God upon whom we are told to wait.

Waiting upon that God means first to trust Him. Because He is the God of the now and here, He can always be implicitly relied on. He is also the God of full resources and illimitable wisdom. So we can trust Him and wait for Him to act. The dimensions of God are so much larger than I, so that I can safely rest on Him. His purposes are eternal and universal, and they are matched and supported by almighty power and unfathomable wisdom. They are greater than I, but they are going on. His work is too great and too fast for me, but I am involved in it all, and He will see me through. Let me never cease, then, from looking to Him.

4. Look to the LORD

In considering this verse I have so far deliberately avoided one great word which in our Bible is rendered LORD, with capital letters. "... the everlasting God, the LORD ...". Now supremely we must fix our gaze on this, for it is most important. The actual Hebrew is not a title at all, but God's own name of grace. It is God's personal name, Yahweh, sometimes represented as Jehovah because of certain vowel sounds which were added to the original Hebrew. It is not another title for God but the personal name of the God of Israel. Would it perhaps be clearer if I said that it was like His Christian name? His surname is God; His private and personal name is YAHWEH. When He said to His people at the time of the exodus: 'You are to call Me Yahweh', He was bringing them into an intimacy of grace with Himself. It was at the moment when He proposed to redeem Israel that He revealed this personal name of His to them. To the people of God, therefore, the personal name of God is the personal name of grace, the grace of redemption. Right at the heart of the prophet's appeal to us to consider and look at God in all the great dimensions of His being, is the reminder that His name speaks of faithfulness and grace. One thing is at the centre of this self-revelation of God and that is that He who occupies all time and all space is the redeemer God of all grace. So our fourth look must be at His grace.

Two things should be said about the grace of [105/106] God. The first is that grace is as certain as God. In this list of titles which flow on one after the other, most of them are either participles in grammar or the equivalent of participles, which means that they speak of a God who is of a certain sort. Everlasting, unfailing, unwearying, unsearchable, giving ... He is this kind of God -- a giving God. So that just as it is true that God is everlasting, so in the same breath it is stated that He is the giving God. We can no more change the giving aspect of God than we can change His everlasting nature. We can no more hinder God from being the great Giver than we can unpick the work of creation.

The second is that grace is as wide as need. "He giveth power to the faint," that is He caters for our weakness in the face of circumstances. The word 'power' expresses efficiency, the ability to get things done, and this is what He gives to those who are fainting, who are overwhelmed by circumstances and made incapable. "... to him that hath no might He increaseth strength". The word for 'strength' is really 'boniness'. He multiplies backbone and so caters for the inner weakness of the believer. So that whether our problem lies outside of ourselves, in circumstances, or within our own persons because of our natural weakness, God is the one who promises grace to cover every possible need. Let us look anew at Him. Let us wait upon the Lord. This is the secret of spiritual vitality.


Alan L. Barrow

"But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness,
godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
" 1 Timothy 6:11.

WE have already considered this passage, with its appeal to the man of God, and have noticed that he is a man of purpose, a man who has a reason and objective, a man who knows the significance of being here on the earth for God. Such a man has a certain course of the deliberate shunning of what is wrong. His life, however, is not characterised by mere negatives, so he hears a call not only to turn away from the things which are hindrances but to follow after, or aim at the positive qualities. We now consider these positive virtues on which Timothy was advised to concentrate.

It is as well to recognise straight away that Paul's advice is not just offered to young Christians. It is true that Timothy was a relatively young man but, after all, he was an apostolic delegate who had been selected for responsible tasks and in fact seems to have been the best man available for such responsibilities. What is more, he was no novice in the things of God, for he had been given a very sound grounding in the Scriptures and had a real experience of Christian living. And yet he needed this injunction to aim for positive virtues. So as we approach the subject, we do so not so much as those who are concerned with advice for young people as those who recognise that this concerns the experienced and mature. Both young and old need this encouragement to have a steady spiritual aim, to be aware of the direction we should be moving towards and to have the target clearly in view. There is nothing casual about the activity of aiming. Only in fiction can a man adopt a nonchalant approach and hit without aiming. In real life those who do not want to be aimless must take careful and continuous effort if their weapon, their vehicle or their life is to be accurately guided.

Taking aim is always to be associated with the assessment of what has already been achieved, with a careful observation of where one is coming short or straying, either to the right or to the left. So for us any sense of aim in life involves a continual process of checking up and making any necessary readjustments. We who live in a world of trivialities and distractions, a world whose behaviour shows that it has little or no definite aim in terms of eternal values, do well to pay attention to the spiritual targets which the Lord has set before us. Hence this verse.

1. Aim at Righteousness

What a vast subject righteousness is! What an objective, this of having everything right and [106/107] true. God has His perfect standards, what is right in His sight, and this righteousness is to characterise the life of the one who is a man of God. We note that the breastplate of righteousness is the very first piece of armour which should be worn by the Christian soldier. We shall never achieve righteousness if we do not aim at it. There is nothing automatic about practical righteousness; we do not drift into it, but have to be always alert to divine direction in this matter. Of course we are able to rejoice in God's gift of the perfect righteousness of Christ through the gospel. We are among the justified who have received God's righteousness as a free gift. Nevertheless the same God urges us to take careful aim at the practical outworking of this righteousness in our daily lives.

2. Aim at Godliness

In our previous article we noticed how, as Paul approached the end of his earthly life, the subject of godliness seems to have assumed a prominent place in his consciousness. This virtue includes righteousness, for a godly man must be a righteous one too, 'but it emphasises the importance not only of right behaviour but of a right relationship with God. In our day there seems to be little or no interest in the matter of godliness, but that is because life has become shallow and earthbound. In an interesting passage in 2 Corinthians Paul draws a comparison between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. It is not that there are two kinds of grief but that so much depends on the way in which grief is borne. Worldly sorrow is profitless, it leads on to death; whereas godly sorrow leads on to life and a new and deeper understanding of God Himself. Nobody becomes godly automatically. There is no simple formula for this virtue. Rather must it be a matter of constant pursuit -- we are to follow after, to aim at godliness.

3. Aim at Faith

We must aim at faith. Now we all know something of faith and have learned to rejoice in the reality of trusting in Christ. If we were asked, we would certainly claim to have faith in the Lord Jesus. Timothy would have said the same. He was justified by faith and had been walking by faith for some years. Yet here he is enjoined to aim at faith if he is to justify this title of man of God. There is no other way of living a godly life than by continually growing in faith. We have not been provided with a schedule or rule book of Christian behaviour: we have been told that we shall be guided by the Spirit through the Word. As we pursue righteousness and godliness we find ourselves in situations which call for a new seeking of God's face and a new trust in Him.

What is more, such a life inevitably involves loss of one kind or another. If we follow righteousness, we do not yield to self-interest, and if we shun self-interest we have to be ready to incur losses, and actually we discover that we do lose. In such circumstances we need faith to survive. A good example of a man who faced loss as a result of his godly walk was Abraham. As a consequence of his righteous decision to avoid overcrowding and strife, he allowed Lot to choose and appropriate the best pasture land. For him this meant a serious loss and as he was human and must have felt this loss keenly he needed to be sustained by faith. At that particular point God spoke to him and confirmed the past promises, so that Abraham was able to go on, encouraged to a fresh reliance on God. Apart from faith he could never have taken the original decision.

4. Aim at Love

Somehow love is always closely associated with faith. It certainly must never be absent from our list of aims. In some ways it is our loftiest aim, for the target we are to concentrate on is much more than human; it is divine love. With hearts filled with a sense of God's love to us, we are to shun everything which contradicts or is a rival to that love, so that we can devote all our attention to the proper response to love, which is love. How we lament the poverty of our love to God, and rightly so. But with our sense of shortcoming there must always be a resolve to keep a steady aim at love to God as our target of faith and prayer. There are some who feel that really faith and love embrace all else.

But if love is our loftiest aim, it must also be our immediate aim, for the Word of God insists upon love for our fellow Christians as evidence of our real love to God. And what is more, that love must be exercised first of all to those who are nearest to us. We are not only to love our brothers, we are to love our neighbours and even our enemies. There is today, in certain circles, an emotional concern for issues and people who [107/108] are far distant from us, and although this often passes for love it may well be nothing more than sentiment. The New Testament lays its stress on love for those who are near us, those with whom we have constant contact, whether they be Christians, non-Christians or even enemies. We pass from the realm of practical spiritual realities if we set our sights at distant and largely unknown needs while failing to exercise concern, care and forebearance to those who are near at hand and who may often in themselves be unromantic and unlovely. So our aim must be the kind of love that Christ commanded rather than the emotional impulses of human sentiment.

5. Aim at Steadfastness

This seems to be the real significance of what our Bible calls patience. This is not the virtue of a moment, it cannot be conjured up in a day. Only time can show whether our actions are inspired by the enthusiasm of the moment or by steady faith. It is time, too, which will reveal the difference between sentiment and love. All too often God's people have a sudden flush of enthusiasm about their own life, or their church life, or some particular project in the service of the Lord; but later their enthusiasm fades. Things always seem so wonderful and full of promise at the first, but in the course of time they tend to take on a different aspect. It may be that we begin to look at ourselves and lose heart or are overcome by self-pity. Or it may be that we look too much at others and are either irked by them or even become absorbed with envy of them. What we should really do is to keep our eyes always on the Lord so that aiming at His steadfastness, we ourselves endure and keep going on.

Time as it passes will give us the opportunity to check up on our direction. If we use it wisely we will observe just where we are moving, not only in activities but in development of character. Is the course which we are pursuing one of self-pleasing? Are we using spiritual things for our own carnal satisfaction? Are we maintaining our initial committal to the will of God and not drifting or driving into self-interest? No doubt fierce tests will come our way as time goes on, and these will beset us with temptations to lessen our devotion or alter our direction. To aim at steadfastness means to resist such temptations and to make sure that the passing time is drawing us ever closer to the Lord. It is right to lay emphasis on the start of anything but in reality it is the continuance and finish which really matters. Many a game begins well, many a battle has a promising start, many a life looks good in its early stages, but what everybody waits to see is, how does it end? The better the beginning, the more important is the grace of steadfastness to ensure that this good start is carried through to its proper conclusion. This is especially true of the Christian life and of the decision given at the judgment seat of Christ, so the man of God must never cease to keep aiming steadily at the virtue of patience, or continuance.

6. Aim at Gentleness

Finally we are to follow after the virtue of gentleness. We are to aim at meekness. The man who has aimed at righteousness and godliness, who has been steadfast in always aiming at faith and love may well be a tough individual. After all he has been forced to face and overcome many powerful foes. His ability to move only with God and to be unmoved in purposeful pursuit of the goal will of necessity make him a strong type. It is therefore of great importance that he should not be lacking in a gentle consideration for others. The man of God must indeed be strong, but he must be strong in the Lord and then he will be capable of meekness, and his endurance will not produce self-righteousness. He will be a man of gentle and considerate strength. This is our target. Much more could be said, but the immediate call is for us to aim at these virtues and then the many other aspects of our Christian life will fall into place. If we do not aim for these, then the best of our endeavours will only result in a fiasco.

Now the command to aim reminds us that the virtues under consideration will not be acquired overnight. Nevertheless there is an immediacy about each one of them which demands our careful consideration. Such aims must be a part of every activity every day; they always have a significance and a relevance which must not be lost sight of. Whatever we are involved in, in work or play, in things obviously spiritual or in what may seem very ordinary, we must be aiming at this complete target. If there are any areas of our life which give no scope for such a pursuit then we do well to enquire if they are not wrong occupations which should be avoided. Not sometimes but always, not in some things but in all things, the man of God should keep a steady aim at the things that please God. [108/109]

We always aim by keeping our eyes on the target. There is no other way, unless it be by some very sophisticated electronic device. In the spiritual realm we have no such devices, and so must concentrate our gaze on the divine target. Now we know what this is, for we are told to move forward "looking unto Jesus ..." (Hebrews 12:2). When we look to Him we see all these qualities exemplified in perfection. It is true that we do not read very much about the faith of the Lord Jesus because He had such a very close relationship with the Father, but there was something in Him which provoked the disciples to ask that He would increase their faith. We must make Christ our target in everything. When we look at Him we see what we should always be aiming at. Yet there is a sense in which He is more than a target, for we know that He is not so much a distant objective as a present indwelling power. So we can be assured that He is more committed to us than we are to Him for the securing of these spiritual virtues. The more we aim at Him. the more do we become aware of our shortcomings. Our hope must be that He is our indwelling life, and that He alone can carry us through to the spiritual perfection at which we are aiming. He it is who will make us men and women of God.


Poul Madsen

Reading: Psalm 77

THE testimonies which we give can sometimes so strive to be enthusiastic than they are not really quite true. By them we appear to guarantee that if people will come to the Lord they will find all their problems solved at one stroke. But the Bible does not offer such testimonies. The story of Asaph here in Psalm 77, like many other Bible stories, is less romantic but much more true to life. One of my good friends. H. L. Ellison, once said in Copenhagen: 'I could wish that God's children would testify of the prayers for which they have had no obvious answer and the difficulties for which they have found no simple solution, for then their testimonies would better agree with reality'. This is true. The man who wrote this psalm had to confess that there were many things in life which were unintelligible to him, things which he could not understand. It does not help when Christianity is presented as a kind of magic wand which transforms everything, making life light and easy and wonderful at a wave. Not that we should depress people, but our testimony should be based on biblical example, for that which bears the stamp of truth and reality is most likely to help other people.

Asaph begins by saying: "I cried unto God with my voice, and he gave ear unto me" (verse 2). This is a very important testimony, for in the remainder of the psalm he complains that God had not been hearing him. Psalm 73 begins similarly with a statement that God is good to such as are of a clean heart, while the rest of the psalm deals with the problem that the reality seems to be just the opposite, namely that it is the godless and not the clean in heart who prosper and have things so good. This opening testimony in Psalm 77 affirms that it is a fact that God had heard him, and the rest of the psalm confirms that he had held fast to that fact, even though it seemed to be completely contradicted by present experience. Many are living through such difficulties today, and an over-optimistic and superficial reassurance will not bring them any help. Oswald Chambers once said: 'It is no use giving soldiers in the trenches a little tract about everything being easy: rather give them the book of Job which they will understand better since it tallies with life as they are finding it.' Life is not easy -- not even for Christians. Experienced people have to confess to passing through trials which they cannot understand and for which there is no cheap explanation. Let us therefore be manly and true, not striking false attitudes which have no foundation in reality.

Asaph continues: "In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord" (verse 2). There is a direct promise in Psalm 50.15: "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee ..." but apparently Asaph did not experience this and hence his perplexity. He did call on the Lord [109/110] in the day of trouble; his hand was stretched out by night as he tirelessly sought God; yet for him there was no comfort. He was troubled and overwhelmed, as he tells us in verse 3, and he is frank enough to admit the fact. It is good when God's children are honest enough to admit that what is happening to them is difficult to bear and unintelligible to natural reasoning. This is part of Asaph's testimony.

Then he began to think about the past, his own experiences in that past when things were altogether different and so easy. "I have considered the days of old" (verse 5). Then he had experienced much that was good and encouraging and he went over them in his mind. Past experiences, however, do not always help. On the contrary, sometimes the recollection can bring only more distress since then everything seemed to go so well, but it is no longer the case. To keep Bible truth in proper balance we must always weigh one scripture against another. The assurance that God's mercy is unfailing is wonderful and true, but there are times when a man can ask the question: "Is his mercy clean gone for ever?" (verse 8). The Word of God is so true to life that it discloses the fact that even those who are nearest to the Lord, like Asaph, are not always able to lay hold of some appropriate promise but may be plagued by the question as to whether God's encouraging words are really meant for them. Let us not give struggling fellow believers the impression that for them life ought always to be as easy as two plus two equals four, for this is not the truth. Life for many, even for some of God's elect, can be a real burden. If it is not so for us, then all the more reason why we should pray for those who suffer in this way.

It is true that we have wonderful promises about the faithfulness of God and we are glad to testify to them. For some, though, it may at the moment appear that such faithfulness is no longer real, for it does not express itself in any practical help for them. Cheap and easy explanations are not helpful to such people, and indeed may make things much worse for them. Christians can be downright cruel to others who are suffering when they glibly suggest that the suffering is unnecessary and can be removed at once if only the sufferer has faith. The Bible is quite different. It deals not with unreal fancies but with real facts. So much so that in this instance Asaph asked: "Hath God forgotten to be gracious?" (verse 9). We all know that the answer to that question is No, for the Lord pities us as a Father pities his children, but who of us can deny that we have had moments when, like Asaph, we have been tempted to ask such an ultimate question? It is according to human experience that there can be times when hard-tried souls groan that God seems to have forgotten them.

Now comes a testimony which is seldom heard: "It is my pain that the right hand of the most High is not as it was" (verse 10 Danish). How it pains us who have experienced wonderful things in the past if they do not happen any more! The word 'pain' is rendered 'infirmity' in the English Bible but, whichever word is used, it expresses an experience which the Lord allows us, His friends, to go through which does not tally with what they have reason to expect. Our life of faith normally follows a kind of pattern, but experiences sometimes come which do not conform to that pattern. Times come when saints of God suffer the pain of finding that something has come upon them which they were convinced could never happen. God does not work as I had reason to expect. This is my pain, my weakness, my limitation, that what I so confidently asserted to be the norm or pattern of spiritual experience does not hold water in every situation. Fjord Christensen once said: 'Oh, how easy it is to believe when everything is sugared'! When we have experiences which confirm our faith and when everything seems to be running according to rule, it is easy enough to believe, but when God takes all our supports and sweeteners away, we may find it most difficult to maintain faith.

But in his loneliness and need Asaph did not only think of his own past, with those happy days of past experience which now seemed so long ago that they were like "the years of ancient times" but he also thought of God's mighty deeds down through history. "I will make mention of the deeds of the Lord; for I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also upon all thy work, and muse on thy doings" (verses 11-12). It can well be a problem to us in our own present trials that we can read or hear of the wonderful things which the Lord did in the past which seem to stand in such stark contrast to our own experience now. We ask why God does not reveal Himself just as sovereignly and mightily now as He did then. But Asaph seemed to have an answer to this and comments wisely: "Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is a great God like unto God?" (verse 13). Here is an answer on a much [110/111] higher plane than the standard answers which can be glibly given. What does it mean that God's way is in the sanctuary? It means that His ways cannot be measured by ordinary human calculations; they cannot be searched out by human logic and reasoning; they correspond to the very nature of God Himself. It is no more possible to understand fully the ways of God than it is to comprehend the mystery of His being or to penetrate His nature. God's ways are past tracing out, as Paul says in Romans 11:33. This is the answer to many of the disappointments which the saints have to endure; it is the only answer to that sense of defeat which comes from apparently unanswered prayer; and it is the only explanation which we have as to why life is not immediately eased when we appeal to God. God's measuring line is like that described by Ezekiel, it is a handbreadth longer than the usual. Tried souls who can find no easement in the stock religious remedies can find peace of heart by lingering in the presence of God. His way is in the sanctuary. There is indeed no God like unto our God. As a matter of fact Job never received the answers which he sought, but it was answer enough when he saw God for himself, and nothing else mattered. It is very precious when God can lead His children to rest in Himself. In this way their minds are set at peace even though they may not have received any logical explanation of the problems and questions of life.

"Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast made known thy strength among the peoples. Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah" (verses 14-15). Here Asaph forgot his own need and became occupied with God's thoughts for the whole people. He saw that God often acts with a view to the people as a whole, with the individual included as a part. This means that our personal needs and our personal conflicts of faith will find their explanation in the light of their connection with God's plans for all His people, for His whole Church. This is beyond our understanding now, it is too big for us, but every now and again we catch a glimpse of our involvement in the larger pattern of God's purpose. As Asaph contemplated God's wonders with His people he sensed -- even if he did not reason in conscious thought -- that behind the names of Jacob and Joseph lay the indication that God allows men to suffer when He is engaged on doing something much more than meet their immediate need, namely transforming them into something very much more than they were by nature.

Asaph pursued his meditation on the greatness of God: "The waters saw thee, O God; the waters saw thee, they were afraid: the depths also trembled " (verse 16) and again: "Thy way was in the sea, and thy paths in the great waters, and thy footsteps were not known" (verse 20). There was a kind of emergence from the grave by this work of the old covenant which redeemed Israel from Egypt. The work of God for us on Calvary provides both a grave and a glorious resurrection by the work of the new covenant. This is God's mightiest miracle, and naturally it cannot be searched out or understood by the mind of man. So it is that when God wants to give us a share of something of life's reality which is neither cheap nor easy, He deals with us in ways which are beyond our understanding. It must be so, since it is God with whom we have to do. Our testimony lacks effectiveness if it suggests that spiritual things are always smooth and easy, a matter of course which can be reduced to some formula for their solution. Life is not like that. Men of the world are well aware of this, and will get little help from us if we pretend that we know all the answers.

THANK God that we know the Lord who has all the answers. This is our true testimony and it is a very wonderful one. We can begin as Asaph did by affirming that God will give an ear to us even when it does not seem like it. The truth was that by his introduction Asaph could disclose that he was a man in touch with God. He had a personal relationship with God. He lived with Him on terms that meant both that God listened to him and he listened to God. We sense from the psalm that through all his perplexities God was real to Him. This is the richest experience of all, much richer than the stock answers which are no real answer to the heart's needs. Like Asaph, we may claim that God hears us. Everyone else may have their well-meant explanations which never seem to satisfy me, but God draws so near to me, hears me and speaks to me, that I live and am satisfied in the midst of needs which defy all human explanation or understanding. This is the true testimony of many of God's suffering people in the lands of the earth. They have needs which are so deep and so personal that nobody else can understand who [111/112] has not gone through the same experiences. However loving others may be, it is impossible for them precisely to understand. We are grateful for their sympathy but our way is inevitably a lonely one. But not without Him! No, He gives me His ear and what is more, He knows what it means to be almost overwhelmed by the darkness. On the cross He cried out: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Others perhaps, but why Me? In that anguished cry the suffering Saviour gathered up all human incomprehensible need, all loneliness and all unanswered questions and problems, and endured them for our sakes. This is why He can comfort His suffering friends in their extremities of trial, their unanswered questions, their unfulfilled longings and deep heartaches. He does not provide us with answers -- at least not at once -- but He does give us a mysterious but satisfying sense that His ear and heart are open to us. We have no stock answers, no precise formulas, but we have a loving Lord who is leading us in His own right way.

During such periods the world would doubtless say that time is being wasted and that nothing satisfactory is being accomplished, but in fact something is happening of supreme importance. The world cannot understand this, and we Christians find it hard to understand, but it is during such times of darkness that the greatest events are taking place. It is not by might, nor by power, nor by human confidence or cleverness, but by the power of God made perfect in weakness. This corresponds to the fact that the greatest thing in the life of Jesus did not occur while He went about doing good, but when He hung on the cross in indescribable loneliness and suffering and voiced His dreadful question about being forsaken by His God. So if God leads us by strange paths, let us not think that nothing is happening and that our service for Him is in abeyance or has come to an end. God is doing wonders, but He is doing them on an entirely different plane and with an entirely different spiritual weight and content from those more sensational wonders which we would always like to see as the immediate answers to our prayers. Not that we despise any of God's workings. What we must do, is to recognise that the greatest wonder of all happened when the Son of Man seemed to be in darkness and defeat. God's way is in the sanctuary, and it is in the deep sea.


(Some thoughts on John chapters 13 to 17)


Roger T. Forster

IN this middle section of the Lord's last great sermon He sought to teach His disciples about the life of abiding in Him and to show them the fruit which comes from such a life of abiding. Chapter thirteen gave us two signs of love; chapter fourteen gave us four aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit; and now we find that in chapter fifteen there are eight mentions of fruitfulness. Now we are to consider this eight-fold emphasis on the fruitfulness of the Christian in his life of abiding in Christ.

We note that chapter fourteen closes with Christ's words: "Arise, let us go hence" and yet, strangely enough, there are a further three chapters which continue what we have entitled 'The Last Great Sermon'. Having just said, " Arise, let us go hence", the Lord then went on to say that they were to abide in Him. It is as though He had said that they were about to go somewhere and yet they must remain just where they were! It is possible that at this juncture the Lord Jesus got up and used this phrase in a general way to gather the eleven together -- it being a difficult matter to get eleven people on the move -- and that during the short delay He went on with the teaching and prayer which we find in chapters fifteen, sixteen and seventeen. If this is the case, then all these words were spoken in the upper room and it was only after they were completed that the party left the house, crossed the brook Kidron and went on into Gethsemane. That may be one way of understanding the words. It may be, however, that they did go out at that [112/113] juncture and that as they walked along they may have passed the temple with its pillars wreathed around by a great vine which the Lord used as an illustration, and talked as they went until they came to Kidron (18:1). But whether this was so or whether they still sat down and waited for a few minutes as He went on speaking to them, He certainly implied that He had only a little more to say to them (14:30). The important point is that John, as always, had a double meaning in his factual statements, and so wished to indicate that there was a spiritual significance in this coupling together of the words, 'let us go' with the reminder that wherever they went they must be careful to abide in Him. In this way the Scripture reminds us that we must never think of the command to abide with any spirit of passivity, as though all movement was to be suspended in favour of mystic quietism. Moreover the Lord had just informed them that the prince of this world was coming to Him, so abiding in Christ will inevitably involve conflict. It was as though He said to the eleven: 'Stay in Me. You will find that the prince of this world is powerless as you do so, and so you can go out to the battle with Me even while you abide'. "The prince of this world ... hath nothing in me"; let us go on together and as we do so take great care to stay hidden in Me. In all the chapters of this last great sermon, the Lord was preparing His disciples for the vital Christian experience by the Holy Spirit which would result from His death and resurrection. In this life we are called to go forward with Him, but at the same time to remain, to abide in our victorious Lord.

The disciples had originally heard Him call them to come to Him: "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men". They had often heard such invitations as "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden ..." and they had become accustomed to this sort of activity of 'coming'. But they had been repeatedly coming to Him and then going away again; there had been no permanency about their coming. It is true that they were a very privileged group. No others had ever been able to come close to the Lord incarnate, to sit at His feet, to listen and talk to Him, to eat with Him, enjoying a unique intimacy whenever they came together. But now the Lord Jesus was very concerned that they should pass from a 'coming' to a 'staying' relationship, for this is what the word 'abide' means. Of course they would still need to keep coming to Him spiritually, but at the same time they would in future be able to remain, to stay in closest intimacy with Him.

The same is true in our case. We have come to the Lord Jesus, and we keep coming, but this should be accompanied by the reality of a life of abiding. We may have to confess that much of our wonderful experience of His presence is limited to Sunday gatherings, or perhaps week-night meetings too. This is very good. We meet the Lord. It cannot be otherwise when true Christians meet together in His name and He is in the midst. So it is that we keep coming to Him. It may be also that we are consistent in our quiet times, so that it is not just a matter of public meetings but we meet the Lord alone when we open up His Word and pray. We really do come to Him in vital experience, and we know the value of it all through the day. Then again, there are special moments of crisis which drive us back to the Lord, and afterwards we are even grateful for trials which force us to seek Him afresh. But in all such relationships we are conscious that ours is a succession of comings to Him, which are surely something less than what He meant by saying that we should stay in Him and He would stay in us. You will remember that in our last study we thought of the Spirit's coming as being not a kind of inferior substitute for the earthly companionship of Jesus, not merely a compensation for His having to go away, but that the Comforter has come to complete the presence of Jesus and make Him a permanent reality to us. Such a completion should mean that we do not only keep coming and coming, but we are able to be there all the time, abiding and staying in Him and He in us. This is what the Christian's experience should always be, Christ abiding in him by the Holy Spirit, and he abiding in Christ. It is sad that our experience at times belies this. We have less than a Christian experience, even though we are all Christians. So it may be helpful again to consider John 15:1-16 and the five occasions there where mention is made of abiding.

1. "Abide in me"

If we are going to abide in the Lord Jesus it is because all the branches only exist for the vine. The branches -- or shoots -- do not exist for themselves, and indeed as wood they have no value at all. Moreover it is through the shoots that the fruit comes, so that not a single shoot exists for itself but only for the vine. This should help me to understand how I can abide in Christ, namely [113/114] by seeing myself as only existing for Him. Before I was a Christian I did not exist for Him. I existed for myself. All my hopes and efforts were connected with things to be done for myself. Now I see that, like the branch in the vine, I only exist for Him. I have many of the same hopes and purposes but now they are all to be for His satisfaction. This makes an altogether different approach to life. No matter what area of my life is being considered, I know that I am there for the vine's sake, to bring forth fruit for the glory of the Father. Whatever relationships I set up, whatever I am occupied in from the highest spiritual things to the most trivial of daily business, everything is to be for Him.

When I get hold of this, when my understanding really grasps this fundamental fact, then I know what it means to abide in Him. Wherever I move, I know that I am there for Him, and of course He is with me in it. Whatever may be happening to me there, it is happening for Him. I do not say that He ordains all things, including terrible and bad experiences which may happen from time to time, but I can say that in them all I am there for Him, so that fruit can be brought forth even in them and something of the Lord Jesus can be seen in me. This is not something passive, but it is positive and active. Wherever I am, at any time, I am there for Him. From this ground I can have the advantage of knowing that the enemy has nothing in it. Even if something bad happens and men may say that the enemy is behind it, in Christ I can so take hold of the thing and claim fruit for God in it that in the end the prince of this world has nothing in it. In this way it is possible for us to look at what the devil is doing and yet say 'Thank you, Lord, for this has provided an opportunity to get fruit for God, even from this'. So one begins to abide in Christ by seeing that the Christian life is a total and comprehensive experience.

2. "And I in you"

But this leads to the matter of Christ abiding in us. If all the branches exist for the vine, there is a sense in which we may claim that the vine lives for the branches. Christ lives for His Church. The vine must express itself by conveying all that it is into those shoots. If God had not become Man, and if that Man had not gone to the cross and risen again and then poured out His Spirit on His Church, then Jesus would still have been the satisfaction of the Father's heart, but this kind of fruit would not have been possible. But the very fact that He has done all this is proof of His purpose to share His life with us who are the branches. It is in this way that the Lord Jesus, living in us by faith, starts to produce His own fruitfulness, so that all He is can now be shown through us. The Holy Spirit has come, not just as the Spirit of God -- He was here before as that -- but He has now come as the Spirit of Jesus, so that all the sap of Christ the vine may flow into us believers. It was the realisation of this which made such a revolutionary change in the life of Hudson Taylor, as is shown in his biography in the chapter entitled The Exchanged Life.

3. "If ... my words abide in you"

The Lord Jesus is so devastatingly practical. So He proceeds from the "I in you" to "My words in you", so avoiding merely mystical conceptions and pointing us to His words as the basis of our proving the reality of His rich presence. His words, however, can have a devastating effect, for they come like the knife which prunes off the excess growth of that little shoot so that the tree may be cleansed. "Every branch that bears fruit, He cleanses it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now you are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you" (verse 2). So the pruning process is done by the Word. Now we must realise that excess growth does not only mean that which is obviously of the flesh and needs to be removed but, if the symbolism means anything at all, it must involve that which is truly the life of the Lord in us. These are not expressions of a foreign life, like a sort of bramble wrapping itself round the vine and producing a very different kind of fruit, but they are the actual shoots of the living vine which must nevertheless feel the pruning knife of the Word. The life of the Lord Jesus in us is so vigorous that it could lead out into so many different directions, whereas the only direction which matters is that which will bring more fruit for God. So if we are wishing to progress in this life of abiding, and allow the Spirit to produce ever more and richer fruit for God, then we must allow His words to cut back those activities and spiritual expressions which may run riot, as any plant will tend to do. So the Lord continually speaks to us to ensure that all the life of Christ in us can flow in productive channels with fruitful results.

But what is this fruit? At the risk of being slightly controversial, may I point out that here [114/115] nothing is said about the ninefold fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23. Neither is it suggested here that the fruit consists of soul-winning, the fruitfulness of Christian expansion. While both of these may be included, the actual reference is to answered prayer. "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit ..." (verses 7 and 8). So when we ask something in the name of Jesus and it is done for us, the Father is glorified and this is the fruit. The fruit of the vine, then, is the answer to the believer's prayer that the Father may be glorified. It is the cutting of His Word which promotes our replying to God in prayer in Jesus' name, and the talk back brings forth fruit.

4. "Abide ye in my love"

Having given this commandment the Lord then went on to tell His disciples that if they kept His commandments they would abide in His love (verses 9 and 10). If we would continue to enjoy and live in the atmosphere of the love of God we must listen constantly to the words which He speaks to us. If you loved me and if you could be sure that everything I said was true, then you would love to do what I said because you loved me. With us, however, there is at times a lack of confidence, so that we do not always comply with another person even though we love them. But it is different with the Lord. In His case we can have complete confidence in Him, and therefore we must obey Him if we truly love Him. So to say that I love the Lord and yet fail to do what He asks of me is illogical. It would never happen on earth between people who love each other, apart from areas in which there was a lack of confidence. God will never be wrong, mistaken or unloving, so that with delight we can do whatever He says and in doing so we abide in His love. All His commandments can be trusted because we know that He will never ask of us that which is detrimental to us or to others. So we are to stay in that love, to believe in it, and to put it into practice. We know that His love is in us, for it has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, so we only need to abide in it in a practical way, and we will go on enjoying it.

5. "that your fruit should abide ..."

This last reference to abiding concerns the fruit for which the Lord Jesus has chosen us. He had previously stated that supreme love consisted in laying down one's life for one's friends and then, by saying "Ye are my friends", He disclosed that He was about to lay down His life for us. He then went on to say: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should abide ..." (verse 16). Now this word 'ordained' is the very same as the one used for laying down, so that he said: 'I have laid down My own life and now I lay you down that you may bring forth fruit'. In using the same word He seems to bring out the fact that just as He set Himself aside to die (laid down His life), so He has set us that we should bring forth fruit. Through the incision of Christ's death we can be placed in the vine for fruitfulness.

Some people seem to get very confused about this business of the Lord's choice, but really it is quite clear. It does not refer to the matter of whether a man is chosen to go to heaven or hell, but it is about being His friends. He has decided that He wants us as friends. Now suppose, for instance, that I could claim the Duke of Edinburgh as one of my friends, you might ask: 'How is he your friend?' I could never reply that it was I who had chosen him to be my friend. That would be obviously absurd. It would only be possible if he had in some extraordinary way deliberately chosen me to be a friend of his. The greater chooses to initiate the friendship, not the lesser. So it is not that I have chosen to be a friend of Jesus. We may have asked Him to save us. We may have prayed that we might serve Him. But it was His choice -- not ours -- when He says to every believer: 'I have chosen you to be a friend; I have elected you into the position of friendship with Me. And this friendship is based on the fact that I have loved you and laid down my life so that I can lay you in the right place where you will bring forth the kind of fruit that will last, fruit that abides.' If we want the fruit of our lives not to get stunted or knocked off while it is still small then we must go on abiding, and on this basis we may be sure that the fruit will abide.

One final word. We must not forget that the Lord said: "I have chosen you and set you that you should go and bring forth fruit" (verse 16). The whole subject of this sermon is concerned with what would happen after the Lord Himself had gone up into heaven and then sent forth His disciples into the world to seek men for Him. [115/116] To abide in Him does not mean to be static and self-concerned. It involves going wherever He sends us and abiding as we go and wherever we are. This will provide the basis for that abiding fruit which was His objective and is surely ours. "Let us go hence."


T. Austin-Sparks

CHRISTIANITY is built upon two great facts, the facts that God raised Jesus from the dead and the fact that the Holy Spirit makes this a reality in the life of the believer. Jesus risen; the Spirit given: these are the two foundations of our faith. There is no real knowing or living until the Holy Spirit comes, and comes in.

It is He who throws light upon Jesus, from His birth to His cross, explaining the significance of His earthly life. You will never come into the good and value of the life of the Lord Jesus until the Holy Spirit interprets, explains and applies it. You will only have an earthly story, snatches of history and biography, unless the Spirit takes up the incarnation, the walking, the teaching, the working and the dying of the Lord Jesus and imparts their true significance to you. Why did Christ come to earth at all? What was He here for? The one inclusive answer to this question is that He came to bring back man into a living, conscious union with God.

But if this was the case then all that He was and did was in vain until the Holy Spirit came from above to impart the value of His life and work to believers. He would have come in vain, taught in vain, worked in vain and died in vain if the Holy Spirit had not taken up the matter and made it real and living. It was the Lord Jesus Himself who placed this tremendous importance upon the Holy Spirit: "It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I do not go away the Comforter will not come ..." (John 16:7). The meaning of the life of Christ can never be effectively realised apart from the gift and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The very first thing which the Spirit does is to make instantly real in us that which Christ came to do. "The Spirit beareth witness with our spirits that we are children of God." Quite clearly this means living, conscious relationship with God. When the Spirit comes He begins at once to take up the purpose of Christ's coming to earth and imparts it in the life of the believer. In fact there is no spiritual experience which we can have which is not directly attributable to the Holy Spirit.

NOW the Bible is a book of crises. There are four major crises described in the Word of God. and of course many minor ones in between. The first of these major crises was the crisis of creation. That was a major crisis for it was nothing less than the intervention of God in relation to purpose. God reacted to vanity, to what was void and without purpose or meaning, serving no real end -- "Now the earth was without form and void". God was not prepared to tolerate this, so He acted in a crisis of intervention. The second great crisis was that of redemption. Through the coming to earth of the Son and through His death on the cross, God intervened to recover what had been lost through sin. It was the great crisis of recovery. The third crisis was that of Pentecost, the intervention of spiritual fullness as against mere figures, representations and fragments, to bring in the real and the full. By Pentecost heaven intervened to bring into human affairs and experience the full expression of divine life. Then the fourth great crisis will be that of the coming again of Christ. This will represent the intervention of God for universal restoration and restitution. It has many aspects and is still future, but it is just as certain as the other three.

Now we note that in everyone of these major crises the Holy Spirit is very much in evidence. At the beginning, we are told that "the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep". He was the agent and energy of the first creation. Then in the crisis of redemption He was in charge from first to last. The Redeemer was born of the Spirit; He was anointed by the Spirit and did His mighty works by His agency; and finally He offered Himself without spot to God through the eternal Spirit. All the way through the work of [116/117] redemption, the Holy Spirit was the energy and power, the agent, the custodian. Then of course it goes without saying that the third great crisis of Pentecost was in the hands of the Holy Spirit. That was where He took charge of everything, even as the Lord Jesus had so strongly stipulated that no attempt was to be made to preach and nothing was to be done until the Spirit had come. It was the commandment of the Lord that His disciples were to tarry until they had been endued by the Spirit, so insisting that no movement was to be attempted until the whole divine programme had been taken over by the Holy Spirit. Finally we may be sure that the matter of the coming again of the Lord Jesus will involve the activities of the Holy Spirit. It will represent the consummation of the Spirit's work. He will have brought to birth sons for manifestation with the Son. He will have effected the spiritual growth and perfection of God's people; like Abraham's servant, He will bring the bride and present her to the Bridegroom. So it is that the end of the book of the Revelation brings the call: "The Spirit and the bride say, Come".

BUT when we have considered these four main crises and the many minor ones in between, we still have to ask what occupies the foreground of God's eternal purpose. The answer is that right in the centre of the stage is a being called Man, a unique creation, the crown of all creation. The Bible is the story of heaven's interest in man. He is the one upon whom all attention is focussed. God's great concern is with man, and moreover the activities of all the heavenly beings are centred upon him. "Not unto angels hath he subjected the inhabited earth to come, but one in a certain place has said, What is man that thou art mindful of him?" (Hebrews 2:5-6). All heaven is occupied with the destiny of man. And all hell equally focusses its attention on the human race. The kingdom of evil is occupied in its hostility to mankind. Being divided as a kingdom -- as Jesus says it is -- it works in seemingly contradictory ways. On one hand it does its utmost to degrade man, to dishonour him, to make him lower than he really is, to persuade him to make human life cheap, a mere cipher to be liquidated at will, fodder for the state or for the cannon. On the other hand it tries to make man without God to be something more than he really is, to ensnare him into arrogance and self-sufficiency, to pretend that a human being has independence and authority of his own and something to be proud of. But in both cases the objective is the corruption of man and his spiritual destruction. The kingdom of evil concentrates its attention on the purposes of God for man in a never-ceasing campaign to spoil this masterpiece of God's creation.

This may seem irrelevant to the subject of the Holy Spirit, but far from being so, it forces us to recognise that only by the coming in of the Spirit can these evil purposes be averted and the grand design of God fulfilled. The purpose of creation was that man should become a son of God. As Paul explains: "... foreordained unto the adoption as sons, to be conformed to the image of his Son ...". So Pentecost really takes us back to the original thought and purpose of God in the creation of man. The Holy Spirit brings that purpose up to date, so that when a believing man receives the Holy Spirit as his inner life, all God's eternal desires and intentions enter into a phase of realisation.

If this is so, then it follows that there must be a tremendous change in the person of the one who is in the good of Pentecost. We know very well that before Pentecost the men and women who were closely associated with the Lord Jesus in His walk and work by no means answered to God's original thought for mankind. When the Holy Spirit came, however, they became quite different people, so very different that we might almost say that they were another 'order' of people. They had passed from one kingdom into another. By the Spirit of sonship the Son Himself had entered into their lives, to make them veritable sons of God.

IT seems to me that there can be no true understanding of the meaning of the crisis of Pentecost until we associate it with God's original purpose in creating man. Immediately we understand this, though, we have the key to the coming of the Spirit. I understand that there are some eighty-eight direct references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, but they are partial, symbolic or preparatory, all pointing on to the supreme objective of God which is to enjoy intimate fellowship with human sons. This explains the words in the letter to the Galatians, where Paul speaks of the promise of Abraham coming to Gentiles as well as Jews. This promise consists of the life of sonship to God through Jesus Christ. [117/118] Now we note that the apostle goes on to say that this is made effective by the promised gift of the Holy Spirit who is "the Spirit of His Son" (Galatians 4:6).

The Spirit is busy making possible God's eternal desire to have His creation peopled by loving and obedient sons. We are told that the creation itself groans and travails that this holy purpose should be realised -- and soon! What is more, the Holy Spirit also longs over God's people with groanings which cannot be uttered, for His supreme purpose in intervening in human history is related to the goal of sonship. He regenerates us to make us children of God. He guides us because we are the sons of God. He trains and disciplines us according to the fact that "God dealeth with you as with sons". It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the presence and working of the Holy Spirit. All the fulfilment of divine purposes in man is committed to Him. But it is possible for us to fail to realise the great objective of the crisis of Pentecost, which was to provide God with men and women who can eternally satisfy His heart and administer His will. This is not mere doctrine, it is the most wonderful prospect which has ever been revealed in God's universe. God the All-Wise and the All-Gracious has set His heart on bringing many sons to glory, and has committed to His gracious Spirit the task of transforming sinners like us so that He may have the family of sons, conformed to the image of His Son, which He planned before time was. There are many other aspects of the Spirit's working in and through us. All of these are important. Most of them, however, are related to the one all-inclusive objective which involves the transformation of our inner lives into that spiritual reality of likeness to Christ which was always God's purpose for man. "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God, and such we are. It is not yet manifested what we shall be, but we know that when He is manifested we shall be like him." That is really what Pentecost was all about.



Harry Foster

THIS article will provide the eighteenth name out of the many more which are given to convey to us something of the greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ. It will also mark the end of the third year of this magazine and will terminate this series. It seems fitting therefore that we should consider this last title, employed by the Lord Himself when He concluded His Revelation to John with the words: "I am ... the bright and morning star" (Revelation 22:16). The title has no special significance for the man who is sitting snugly in an armchair, but it is full of meaning for the tired pilgrim.

Every traveller who has journeyed on through a long night will appreciate the thrill of those darkest moments when the bright morning star gives hope and prospect of the dawn of a new day. We Christians are travellers. We find ourselves in a world of the most intense spiritual gloom, and probably to many of us the darkness seems to be growing deeper. We need to look up and away from the happenings around us and by faith to fix our gaze on the Bright and Morning Star, even our Lord Jesus Himself. He is our living hope, and He pierces the black darkness of our world with the bright assurance of His coming kingdom.

There was a star which led to Him in His humble Bethlehem home, but for the second coming He is Himself the star, bright with hope and glorious in His reigning majesty. This time He will come as King. In the Bible, stars carry this idea of ruling. It is an imagery which the Scriptures make use of in the poetic couplet of Old Testament prophecy:

There shall come forth a star out of Jacob,

   And a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.

The speaker, Balaam, had to confess that it was "not now" (Numbers 24:17), and in fact it involved nothing hopeful for him. The tragedy of this seer, this man whose eyes God temporarily [118/119] opened, was that although his prophecy was true, it bore no relationship to his own private life. He fervently wished to die the death of the righteous, but he had no intention of living a righteous life: in fact he loved the wages of unrighteousness. The man who wants to enjoy the benefit of the star must be prepared to accept the authority of the sceptre. The Morning Star must rule us if He is to guide us.

So Balaam warns us of the perils of mere enlightenment about God's purposes. It is tragedy enough to be quite blind to the claims of Christ's kingdom -- as so many are -- but surely it is an even greater tragedy to be informed about its reality and imminence and yet to have no part in it. By all means let us consider the prophetic outlook and not neglect the signs of the times, but the one great priority is to have a living knowledge of Christ by grace and to concentrate thoughts and expectations on Him. He is our hope. The signs of His coming make a fascinating study but on the whole such a preoccupation draws attention to sombre things and in itself it cannot effect any spiritual transformation in the student. The light of the Morning Star, however, has a revolutionary effect on our characters and daily behaviour. He not only advises us that the Day of the Lord is near but fits us to play our part in that great and glorious triumph.

So it was that to the church in Thyatira -- Lydia's home church -- the Lord reinforced His call for battling faith by promising that the overcomer should share His rule and receive this great gift: "I will give him the morning star" (Revelation 2:28). Not only the letter to Thyatira but the whole book of the Revelation was given not just for reading and hearing but for practical obedience (Revelation 1:3 and 22:7). The dimensions of the matters dealt with in the book are tremendous. We therefore conclude that the challenges presented to the reader are also immense, and the blessings offered to the obedient correspondingly of great importance. So the Bright and Morning Star both comforts us and calls us on to the obedience of faith. The Day of the Lord will soon dawn. In that Day, so we are told, "they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:3). Meanwhile may nothing distract us from keeping our eyes on Him who is the Bright and Morning Star.



Harry Foster

FRED came home from Crusaders one Sunday afternoon to find that Uncle Joe had come to tea. He was always glad to see his uncle, but on this occasion he was especially pleased because he was bursting to ask him a question which arose from their Bible study that afternoon. The particular point arose from the verse: "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). They had been considering the subject of guidance and Mr. Wiseman, the class leader, had told the boys that there are two main ways in which a Christian can be guided. One is outward -- by the Word of God (Psalm 119:9). The other is inward -- by the Holy Spirit. Now Fred had no questions about the authority of the Scriptures, but his problem concerned inner guidance by the Holy Spirit, so he got his uncle on his own and asked if he had a story to illustrate and explain how this worked. He was not disappointed. Uncle Joe had been in Colombia as well as Brazil and this was his story.

'Every Sunday afternoon,' said Uncle Joe, 'I used to ride out on a hired horse to preach the gospel in a neighbouring village in the Choco where we lived. Most of the narrow path was hilly and rough but about two miles out of our town there was a long stretch which was more level and not so overgrown, and when we came to that I always gave the horse his head and he used to break into a gallop. He seemed to enjoy this as much as I did, and it shortened the time of my journey.

'One Sunday -- a day I shall never forget -- I had reached this part of the path and had started off [119/120] with a rush when suddenly I felt that I ought to pull up. It was not that I heard any voice but that inside me there was a feeling that it would be right to stop. At first I was inclined to take no notice, but the feeling inside became so strong that I decided to obey it and with some difficulty managed to restrain the horse and bring him to a slow walk. Just as I did so I looked ahead and my blood ran cold, for there just in front of me was a wire stretched right across the pathway. I rode slowly up to look at it and found that it had been fixed at exactly the right height to catch me just under the chin. At first I shivered to realise how deadly it would have been if I had been hurled against it, and then I lifted up my heart to the Lord in a great big Thank You. That inner voice had saved my life.

'There were many enemies of the gospel in that area, and some of them must have fixed the wire from one tree to another to make a trap for me. When I returned home after the service I rode very gingerly along that part of the way, but the wire had disappeared. I had never suspected anything like this; I had no sense of danger when I reined in the horse; but the Holy Spirit had guided me to slow down. So that was one of my experiences of guidance by the inner voice. Does it make sense?'

Fred felt that it certainly did make sense. And he agreed with his uncle that while life is not full of such sensational dangers, it has many of Satan's traps, so that the Christian's only hope of being saved from them is to obey the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. If we are sensitive enough, He will check us when we are in danger of rushing on in some direction which seems right enough to us but in which a spiritual trap has been set for us by the enemy of our souls. Uncle Joe told him that there was another story about a sudden prompting to action, which is just as important as being checked. But there was no time for another story that day.

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. [120/ibc]

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