"... 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. 4, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1975 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: 1 Kings 8:5-11

AT last the ark of the covenant had arrived at its destination. Amid scenes of great rejoicing it had been brought "to its place" and left there under the wings of the cherubim and surrounded by clouds of divine glory. "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables". God's holy law had been perfectly preserved, and there it reposed in the inmost oracle of God. Originally, of course, there had also been the golden pot of manna and Aaron's rod which budded. Their absence at this later date does not imply that their significance was any less, but rather indicates that the tables of the law included them in its own divine sufficiency. The wilderness journeys of God's people had ended and the ark was now at rest in the house of God. In that temple which symbolised the heavenly reality which marks the end of earthly pilgrimage, there was no longer any need to perpetuate reminders of the wilderness way: the abiding truths which they typified were all included in the tables of the law. These tablets set forth God's mind, His will for man; they were an expression of how life would be lived in accordance with His unchanging desires.

There can be no question about the perfection and finality of God's will. The letter to the Ephesians lays great stress on this matter, making use of such phrases as: "the good pleasure of his will", "the mystery of his will" and "the counsel of his will". It takes us backwards and forwards in thought, pointing back to God's will as predetermined before time was, speaking of that will as now operating through the years of time, and looking forward to the will of God overstepping time in eternal fulfilment. The passage shows that God's will is centred in one glorious intention of love: "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love ...". God's will from all eternity is to have a great family whom He can love and who love Him in return.

LOVE is the fulfilling of the law, a fact symbolised in the ark, which was the receptacle in which the unbroken law was preserved. This ark was a chest made of acacia wood overlaid with gold within and without. The gold speaks of divine love, so that the fact that the tablets were hidden in the ark typified the fact that the mind of God dwells within a heart of love. Since Christ is the true expression of God's love, He is the only one qualified to be the fulfiller of His law. We know that the Lord Jesus always made love the principle of fulfilling the law. He made it clear that in His own case love for the Father governed everything. As the ark was at last placed before God in the holiest of all, so Christ is now in the presence of God, and He is there as a testimony that the will of the Father has been perfectly fulfilled, and that this has been done not through compulsion or legal obligation but by love alone. Love is the fulfilment of the law or, in other words, love consists in doing the full will of God.

As Christians we hear much about the will of God, and we often find it to be one of our greatest problems. We can only find the answer to these problems in the Lord Jesus who has perfectly fulfilled that will for us. "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables ...". Nothing more is needed, for Christ's fulfilment of God's law includes everything else. It includes the manna, for we find heavenly nourishment as we feed on His perfect life of love. All hunger of the soul is met when we realise how in love Christ has fully satisfied the Father's every wish for us. To the last degree He has fulfilled God's eternal desires for our lives; no more needs to be done; no more can be done for love's fullness is revealed in the perfection of the Son's obedience to the Father's will. When we get this clear we can feed on His faithfulness, and it will prove to be sweet heavenly food. If, however, we admit any doubts or questions about this, if we have any reservations or uncertainty as to whether the unbroken law is preserved in love on our behalf, then we become lean and starving believers, hungering for rest and comfort and failing to find them. This is quite unnecessary. We may feast continually on the glorious perfection of God's Son. The manna has not been lost or left behind; it is all included in those two witnesses to love's fulfilment of the law. There, in the holy [21/22] presence of God, the living Ark has come to rest and, as in Solomon's day the staves were removed to signify the reaching of journey's end, so Christ has perfected for ever those whom He has sanctified unto the will of God. There is nothing more to be done. There is not another inch to go, for the goal of God's will has been gloriously attained. "Lo, I am come to do thy will," Jesus affirmed as He entered this world for us, and when He returned to the Father's presence He was able to say: "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." To grasp this is to find the end of all soul hunger, to enter on a spiritual banquet, to feast on love -- His love for the Father as proved by His total obedience to the divine will.

And what shall we say of Aaron's rod which budded? Life in its fullness, beautiful and fruitful life, is ours as we rely entirely on the utter sufficiency of Christ. "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables ...". Nothing more is needed; nothing more is possible; this is enough for God, as the clouds of glory testified, and so it is surely enough for us. In Aaron's case the budding rod represented God's answer to men's criticisms and Satan's accusations. So it is in our case, for we can rightly claim that for us the law has been fully satisfied. The will of God in perfection is just as truly sustained in Christ Jesus our heavenly Ark as ever the tables given to Moses were permanently deposited in the gold-covered chest which came to rest in the holy of holies. The ark of the testimony had been specially constructed to hold the tablets: they belonged there and no one could ever remove them. And all the good of Aaron's rod was made available because of them. We pine for life, we bewail our lack of beauty and fruitfulness, whenever we take our eyes away from Christ's perfection; but conversely we enjoy life in its fullness as we concentrate our faith and hope on His finished work on our behalf.

THE will of God has so many aspects that we get into all sorts of difficulties about it, wondering what the will of God is about this matter and that. There is only one way to resolve our difficulties and that is by accepting Christ as the fulfiller of the law in everything, and yielding ourselves completely to His headship. The will of God is not sectional or divided up into compartments; we cannot submit to it in piecemeal ways. We must know that will in all its comprehensiveness, for when Christ is altogether given His place of absolute headship as the perfecter of the will of God for us, then we find the key to a life in which the many details of that will are all included. It is no longer a matter of applying the law to different aspects of our life, but a question of a wholehearted subjection to Him as Lord. This reduces every problem to the simple issue of what He wishes, with the one question: 'Lord, what do You want me to do?'

In some way or other this inevitably means that we are led back to the cross, for the tables of the law were covered by the blood-stained mercy seat. The cross was the answer to all sin. Surely the very essence of sin is failure to love God. If Adam had truly loved God the whole tragedy of man's fall would never have occurred, for love is the fulfilment of the law. Man's sin made Christ's sacrifice necessary; His cross was the only way by which atonement could be made for our shortcomings. But it was also the supreme expression of His love for the Father. In the case of the Lord Jesus His love to the Father was so complete that it enabled Him to face even the death of the cross.

If we consider what were some of the practical factors in Christ's crucifixion we realise that His sufferings were caused by men's fickleness, bigotry, fearfulness, jealousy and treachery. In love He bore all these for us. And these may well be the factors which challenge the reality of our love to God. The fickle crowds so soon forgot the kindness and goodness of the Lord Jesus, allowing themselves to be carried away by base and false accusations, so that they cried out against the one whom they had formerly extolled and praised. The Pharisees were so dominated by a religious bigotry which was cruel in its intolerance and harsh in its legalistic denunciations that they took the lead in causing His sufferings. The disciples, as well as Pilate, were fearful; Judas was treacherous; and Satan was jealous himself and inspired jealousy in the Sadducees and others. But all this concentration of attacks upon love did not turn the Lord away from remaining faithful to the Father's will in every detail. God's love meant more to Him than the bitterness of enemies, the failure of friends, the strength of popular opinion or the matter of His own tights. When He came to rest in the glory of the Father's presence, love [22/23] had conquered every temptation. Just as the tables of the law had been preserved inviolate -- not only unbroken but not even scratched -- so the will of God was preserved in perfection by the Lord Jesus, whose love for the Father was so great that it enabled Him to drink even the bitter cup of Calvary.

WE, too, are confronted by some of the foes which He had to face, for we have been called to bear the cross after Him. The fickleness of friends and fellow-workers, the bigoted criticism of those who claim to be God's servants, the fear-inspiring pressure of popular opinion, the misunderstanding and jealousy which Satan himself inspires -- these are some of the tests put to our love. We can never hope to overcome them unless we remember that there is in the presence of God for us a Saviour who suffered the full agony of these things, but accepted them as part of the cup which the Father had given Him to drink. It was love for the Father which enabled Him always to choose the Father's will, and the outcome of His triumph is that "we should be holy and without blemish before him in love". There is a sense in which God is seeking to undo in us all that failure of love which we inherit from Adam. He exposes us to the painfulness of the cross, not in some capricious or unsympathetic way, but because He aims to reproduce in us that love fulfilment of His will which Christ already presents to Him on our behalf.

One day our wilderness journeys will be over. The staves will be removed and we will find ourselves in the full realisation of that eternal purpose that we should be perfect before Him in love. The house, then, will indeed be filled with the glory of God to the exclusion of all else. In that day it will be seen that the only thing which really mattered was love's fulfilment of the will of God. In fact that is all which matters now. There is nothing in the ark save the two tables! What is now true in Him is to be made wonderfully true for us also. And all the glory will be His.


Poul Madsen

Reading: Romans 5:1-11

THESE are verses which we have read lots of times. Perhaps we can say them off by heart. Yet they are so stupendous that many serious Bible students dare not let them mean what they actually say and feel obliged to qualify them by their own opinion. If only we will let them say what they were meant to, we shall find their effect marvellously liberating. Let us endeavour to receive them in meekness and faith.

"... justified by faith ..."

Paul does not limit this to himself but by the use of the word 'we' is bold to include every single person who believes in Jesus. There were many Christians in Rome whom he had never seen and whose spiritual condition was unknown to him, yet he insists that we are all justified by faith. The implication of his words is that there is no Christian who is more justified than any other. If he preached a religion, then he would have had to make a difference between its followers, realising that some were more upright than others and more wholehearted in their devotion, but this is the gospel concerning the righteousness of God and in it all such differences must disappear, the justification is solely on the grounds of the grace of God, since there is none righteous, no, not one.

If you believe in Jesus, then you are justified before God, that is you stand pure and guiltless. Nobody is justified more than you are, not even Paul himself. Your justification is not due to any act of yours, but is entirely a work of God who gave His Son in your place and in the place of all sinners. And what God has done is equally valid and equally sufficient for all. You will not in the future be any more justified than you are today, not even in eternity. Neither can you ever be less justified, for nothing can ever change the righteousness of God, and it is that righteousness which is imputed to believers. For time and for eternity you are justified by faith. The work is God's; the gift is God's; and the glory is all God's. [23/24]

"... peace with God ..."

Similarly in this matter of peace with God Paul makes no distinctions. This means that there is no Christian who has more peace with God than any other. Peace is not the work of man, not even of an apostle, but altogether and only of God. It all comes through Jesus Christ. He is our peace. For this reason everyone of us who truly believes in Him has the same peace with God. It cannot be greater in the future, for it is complete. Neither can it be less, for it is eternal, having Christ as its origin, its giver and its guarantor. We are no longer God's enemies. We are not under His wrath. We are His children -- all equally His children -- sharing the same adoption and enjoying the same peace with Him. This is completely and exclusively the work of the Lord Jesus; the gift is His and the glory is His.

"... access into this grace wherein we stand ..."

Since it is all the work of the Lord Jesus that we have full justification and perfect peace, everything is of grace. And it is all of Him that we have our access into this undeserved and unearned grace. In this grace we 'stand'. Paul uses this word to emphasise that the consciousness of possessing all this gives us a power which straightens us up and makes us stand on our feet. Divine grace, given freely without any question of effort or merit on our part, works as a liberating power which throws off all doubt and despondency and sets us firmly in an upright stance. It is worthy of note that Paul is in no doubt that we all stand in this grace now. The Danish version actually reads: "we have access by faith into this grace wherein we now stand". How could he know this? He knew nothing about the condition of those Roman Christians. No, but he knew our Lord Jesus Christ, and that is the decisive thing, for this standing in grace is exclusively His work and His gift and includes all who belong to Him.

"... hope of the glory of God ..."

Paul continues: "we rejoice in hope of the glory of God". Again we might ask how he could know this. He might rejoice in this hope himself, but what did he know about the Romans? In fact the question is irrelevant, for he was not thinking about the feelings of the Romans at all, but about the nature and work of the gospel, and that is the same for all believers. He knows that every Christian is justified by faith and has peace with God and therefore that he rejoices in hope of the glory of God. It simply cannot be otherwise. It is true of you, too. Since Christ has justified you for time and eternity, since He has established peace between you and God for time and eternity, then He will also give you the glory of God when in due time He presents you with all His own, having neither spot, nor wrinkle, nor any such thing. You may all look forward to this day with joyful expectation. All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but all who by the grace of God have been justified by faith are now convinced that when we see our Lord we shall be like Him. This is our hope. We use the word 'hope' in its biblical sense. Elsewhere hopes can be uncertain, but the biblical meaning involves absolute certainty, covering what God has promised will surely be for us at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as no Christian is more justified than others, and no Christian has more peace with God than others, no one has more hope of the glory of God than others, for all is due to Christ alone This is how Paul knows that the Romans also, though personally unknown to him, all rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And so do we!

"... the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts ..."

Even in this matter the apostle makes no difference as among Christians -- he says that "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us". There is no Christian who has more of the love of God shed abroad in his heart than any other. This differs greatly from much which is preached today, but then the Bible is so often different from what men think and try to make it mean. What does this phrase mean?

The first thing that we should notice is that 'heart' in the Bible means something different from many modern uses of the term. It does not mean our feelings and sensations. This is quite clear from the well-known words: "with the heart man believeth ..." (10:10). This use of the word 'heart' gives us no excuse for feeling our spiritual pulse or taking the temperature of our emotions, but rather that we should look away from ourselves to Jesus, for only so does the heart come to believe. The next thing to notice is that Paul speaks of the love of God, that is, His love to us. This is what the Holy Spirit does when He comes into our hearts in [24/25] this way, He convinces each of us that God loves us personally. As John says: "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us", and this is all thanks to the Holy Spirit who sheds abroad this belief in our hearts.

There are certain words here which we should emphasise; The first of them is 'shed abroad' This is the same word as that used to describe the pouring out or shedding forth of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The next word to be noted is the pronoun 'our'. Paul is thinking of the whole Church, united in the one faith. This is also made clear by the statement that the Holy Spirit is "given unto us". This all points to that tremendous event on the day of Pentecost. It was then that the love of God was shed abroad in the hearts of the assembled Church by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. This marvellous event we all came to have a share in, when we believed in Jesus and thereby became a member of the body of Christ.

It is quite an unscriptural concept of the gospel which imagines that there can exist any born-again Christian in whose heart the love of God has not been shed abroad by the Holy Spirit. Consequently it is contrary to the gospel to assert that there are Christians who have received more of the love of God than others. It is solely due to Jesus Christ and not at all to anything in us that the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This is made quite clear by Paul's use of the word 'for' in the next verse: "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly". That is to say that the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit because Christ died for the ungodly. If you want to know if that love has been shed abroad in your heart, then do not look into your heart to discover whether you have any feelings of that love, but look away to the crucified Saviour. Then all doubt will disappear. At the cross it is abundantly evident.

"... God commendeth his love toward us ..."

This love has been shed abroad equally in us all, for Christ died for us all. His love does not embrace one more than another. It is a gospel that we preach and, as such, has nothing to do with human efforts or merit, nor with the ideas and imaginations of men, even religious men. It is entirely the work of God. Moreover we are told in the present tense that God now shows us His love, not by giving us some thrilling sensations -- these may come and go -- nor by letting us go into raptures, but by the fact that Christ died for us, "even while we were yet sinners". Since He suffered death for us while we were yet without strength, then the love of God in all its wealth and fullness, in all its height and depth and length and breadth is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Truly God shows His love to us in all its incomprehensible glory by Christ dying for us while we were yet sinners. This means that when God commends His love to us, He does not do so by directing our attention to ourselves, but to Christ. Being the third person in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit does the same: He glorifies Christ for us and sweeps away any doubts about God's love to us. All your anxieties will disappear when you realise that this blessing is not produced by any self-effort or personal merit, but it was you as ungodly, you as a sinner, for whom Christ died.

"... much more ..."

To be justified by faith is the same as receiving as a gift salvation in absolute perfection. Much modern preaching suggests otherwise, but we must get back to the Word itself and there we find that in salvation God gives us everything, peace, a standing in grace, joyful hope of glory and the outpouring of the love of God in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Now we are to consider how much more there is. "Much more, then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him." In other words, we have no fear of the wrath to come. We already stand clean and guiltless before God, since the blood justifies us, and we know that although His just anger will strike the earth, we can be without fear for we are His sons and daughters. Instead of harbouring fear, our hearts are filled with joy because He has given us this wonderful reconciliation. Humanly speaking we ought to have reconciled ourselves with Him because it is we who have sinned against Him, but although He was the injured party, He has freely given us reconciliation through His Son, the one whom He allowed to bear our guilt and make amends for all our sin. So we do well to rejoice. We do not boast, though, for we have nothing to boast of. We are and we remain poor in spirit, with the kingdom of heaven ours because we are justified by faith and are saved from the beginning with a [25/26] perfect salvation. As the gift and the work are His, so the glory is all for Him.

"... the gospel of your salvation ..." (Ephesians 1:13)

As we listen to Paul's preaching, both in this passage and elsewhere, we realise what he meant by the words: "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord". Our message is not about ourselves, either directly or indirectly, and certainly not an attempt to suggest that we are something more than other Christians. Like Paul, we have a gospel, good news. It is not about what you or I have done or can do, but all about Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. If we preach about ourselves, directly or indirectly, obviously or by inference, there will not be a true gospel. What we say can neither save anyone nor help those who are saved, but only enslave and lead astray, even though Jesus may be named and Bible verses quoted. Let us concentrate everything on the gospel concerning His Son, for it is that which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.


(Some thoughts on John chapters 13 to 17)


Roger T. Forster

WE now come to the last of the chapters which cover the final time of fellowship which the disciples had with the Lord Jesus before He left the earth. As we have proceeded there has been a deepening revelation, a movement ever closer to God Himself. We have found ourselves, as it were, in the tabernacle of the Lord Jesus and have moved from the outer court to the inner shrine, passing deeper and deeper into the very heart of God. In chapter thirteen we were in the outer court of that tabernacle, the place where Jesus was washing the feet and giving bread just as the priests used to wash in the laver and receive the meal offerings from those who were making sacrifices. Then in chapter fourteen we passed into the house itself, into the actual domain where the priests functioned, into the Father's house of many abiding places. In chapters fifteen and sixteen we found ourselves at home in God's own dwelling place, urged to remain there in fruitful communion by the Holy Spirit, the anointing oil.

Now in chapter seventeen we find ourselves in what has often been called, 'The holy of holies'. In the imagery of the tabernacle this is the central place of worship and communion. We are no longer considering a discourse but are listening to a prayer. It has been called 'the high priestly prayer', for it was the high priest alone who could enter this inmost dwelling place of God and there commune with Him and present the needs of the people to Him. It was upon that central shrine that God's glory would descend, to shine out in the brilliance of shekinah splendour. In this chapter the Lord Jesus, the great High Priest, led the disciples into the sacred depths of revelation, into the very life and heartbeats of the Almighty. True believers find in this chapter that they are touching something which is utterly beyond this earth's bounds of time and space: they find themselves sharing the intimacies of communion between the Father and the Son, and are caught up into the mystery of life within the triune God. This is indeed the holiest of all.

Like the disciples we are privileged (if we dare use the expression) to come so close to the Father and the Son that we may listen to what they are saying to each other. As we stand in this holy company we realise that it is indeed eternal life to know God in Christ. As the Father speaks to the Son and is spoken to by Him, we are permitted to overhear, and are caught up into the sharing of divine life and divine love, outside of time and space, in the realm of the eternal. This is the most incredible chapter of the whole Bible. Yet we must be struck by the fact that although there is such a deep, holy, other-worldly and heavenly atmosphere about the chapter, the world is mentioned more than anywhere else in the Scriptures. Have you noticed this? Eighteen times in this timeless and limitless chapter of eternal life, it is the world [26/27] which is considered. It is as though in this most sacred communing between the Father and the Son, the world occupies the central place in their thoughts. It might be said that the world is written on the heart of God. It is amazing that the world forms the supreme subject of this divine anticipation of the cross. The word 'glory' occurs eight times, for God's objective is always to display and impart His glory; yet in this glorious passage everything is to be understood in reference to this world of ours. There is no other chapter in the Bible which refers so many times to the world.

WE notice that there is a structure about the prayer. The first five verses show Jesus praying for Himself -- not selfish prayer but prayer stressing the mission for which He had come and its fulfilment. After this the Lord turns to His disciples, putting His arms, as it were, around those eleven disciples in the upper room and praying only for them (vv.6-19). After this (vv.20-26), His prayer extends to those who will believe as a result of the apostolic testimony, including not only the 'actual converts of those days but all the Church, composed of believers of the succeeding centuries. In this holy intercession Jesus was praying for His divine mission to the world which began in Him and was being transferred to the apostles, to be communicated through them to the universal Church. The Lord asked that what He had come to do should be continued and extended right through the dispensation.

Quite obviously there were some things which Christ had come to do which none other could ever share with Him, for His sacrificial work on the cross was unique, providing for us the salvation which we gladly accept from Him as a free gift. But there is a sense in which there was to be a continuity of Christ's work through the apostles and right on into this twentieth century, a continuity which is connected with His incarnation. He had taken on Himself a human body through which He had lived for the glory of the Father, manifesting the Father's name and communicating His word. In this prayer, however, the Lord Jesus was taking the glory which God had given Him and passing it on to them. Moreover He was saying: "I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me" and, "I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me"; and He was praying: "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me", for they were to carry the Name which He had carried. So we see that there was a transference from the literal body of the Lord Jesus to the spiritual body of His disciples this task of bearing the glory of God and carrying His name in the world where they were. Moreover there was to be a transference of the very word that Jesus had brought from the Father to the apostles, so that they would carry it and lead many to believe by means of it. They were going to receive the glory which Jesus had borne and which was conveyed to the apostles, and they were going to learn the Father's name even as they carried it, and know the reality of the Father's love because He himself would be in them.

SO there is a continuity connected with Christ's incarnation. There is, of course, a sense in which we cannot share that incarnation; but there is also a sense in which we do. Our new humanity is received from His death and resurrection and not just from His incarnation; but in that incarnation God began a work by which a new body of apostles was to appear (one in Him) and then through their testimony there would come into being that one body of the Church which would carry on the glory, the word and the name which the Father had given to the Lord Jesus. We are involved in this divine mission; the Lord Jesus was praying for us too; we carry the glory, the word and the name.

We need to examine more closely this mission which Christ has passed on prayerfully to us. In speaking of the matter of glory, the Lord stated that He had glorified the Father on earth by finishing the works which the Father had given Him to do. God's glory shone out, and the people could see what God was like by what the Son did. These works included going to the cross, and as we look at that cross we see the greatness and the glory of God. We could never have believed that God was like that if we had not seen Jesus on the cross. In His prayer, however, the Lord Jesus said: "I am glorified in them" (referring to the apostles) and again: "The glory which thou gavest me I have given them: that they may be one, even as we are one", and in this case He was speaking of the Church as a whole. So this out-shining of God's greatness -- His glory -- manifested by the Lord Jesus as He did the work committed to Him, is to be continued, first by the apostles and then [27/28] by the whole Church. So we must find out what God wants us to do and, as we accomplish these works, the glory will be seen. Glory is not an atmosphere which settles on us as we think about it, but it is God's response to our obedience. As we all find, our problem is to be quite sure that what we are doing is just what He wants us to do, for we can do so much which He did not give us to do, and so fail to show the glory of God. It is therefore of supreme importance that we find the work which He has given us to do and seek to complete it, for only so can the shekinah glory rest on us.

In the second place Jesus said: "I have manifested thy name unto the men thou gavest me out of the world ..." (v.6). Since He was the Son, the name which He revealed was that of the Father. If you are a son, then it is your father's name which you reveal. Six times in the course of the prayer the Lord Jesus addressed God as 'Father'. Now this divine name of Father was spoken hesitatingly by the Jews who would never have thought of using the intimate expression; "Abba, Father" as Jesus did, but for us it is the name to be borne before the world. We bear it not so much by our doing (as with the glory), but by our being, by what we are. Wherever the Son went He declared the Father, and because through Him we are now sons of God, we carry the Father's name wherever we go. If we do not act like sons, then the world will not see the true revelation of the Father which Jesus has committed to us. In telling the Father that He was returning to Him, the Lord Jesus asked God to keep us in His name and that this keeping should result in our being one as the Father and the Son are one. So our doings show His glory and our beings declare His name.

Thirdly Jesus spoke about giving the words -- "I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me ..." (v.8); "they have kept thy word" (v.6); and "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word" (v.20). So the Father gave the Son the word, the Son gave the words to the apostles, and they in their turn took those words and gave them to the world so that some believed. In this way the Church was formed. There is therefore a continuity in the glory, by those who do the works entrusted to them; a continuity in the bearing of the name, by those who are born again, being true children of the Father; and also a continuity in the message which began with the Father, was conveyed by the Son, passed on by the apostles, and continued and perpetuated in the Church. There is a continuity of 'doing', a continuity of 'being' and a continuity of 'saying'. This began with the incarnation, developed by the impartation of the Spirit to the Church, and is expressed by that Church which is the body of Christ. It is through the body that God makes Himself known to the world.

This is one of the main purposes of our being left here on this earth. If salvation from sin were the end of the matter, then surely God would have raptured us straight to heaven directly after our new birth. We, of course, would have preferred this but no, the Church has been left here -- sent into the world -- so that God's intentions for men might extend from Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria and into the nations of the world. As this expansion has continued through the centuries there has been found a people who are doing and being and saying all that the Lord Jesus began in sharing the glory, carrying the name and declaring the message to the world. When this good news from God has been preached in every land for a witness, then Christ will come again, and the body will become the bride. Christ needs the Church as His body so long as this mission to the world continues, but when the work is done He will no longer need us a body but will present us to Himself as His spotless bride. (There is no mention of the Church as a body after the rapture.)

THERE is, however, one matter of outstanding importance, if this mission entrusted to the Son by the Father is to be continued and carried through to completion. It is that believers should remain 'one thing': the continuity must be expressed in oneness. This is essential, and indeed it is a question how the continuity of the Father's relationship with the Son can be sustained except in the realm of spiritual unity, which was why the Lord Jesus stressed this oneness in His prayer. His request was that the disciples should be kept so as to be: "one as we are" (v.11). Again the Lord referred to this essential when He prayed for all subsequent disciples that "they may be made perfect in one" (v.23). We need to consider this carefully so that we may understand what He meant and what the Father has done in order to answer this prayer. [28/29]

It is not necessarily a oneness of unanimity, for no individual and no group has all the truth. The promise is that the Church as a whole would have all the truth, and it is one of the most remarkable features of history that through all the chaos which has marred the Church through the years, and all the heresies and disorders which have afflicted her, we still have the Word of God. The Father gave the word to the Son, the Son conveyed it to the apostles by the Spirit and, thank God, it is still here. Christians are not unanimous, since their understanding of truth varies and is imperfect, so Christian unity fails to find its expression in unanimity of ideas. We need to stick together and to be willing to learn from one another, which we can do if we accept the oneness which has already been made for us.

It is not a oneness of uniformity, either, as though it consisted in dressing, speaking or acting in precisely the same way. The Lord Jesus said nothing about practising things, but only about doing the works which the Father has given us to do. Uniformity consists in doing everything in exactly the same way, which was certainly not a feature of the early Church. We read that in Jerusalem they broke bread from house to house, and then came together in Solomon's porch to listen to the apostles' doctrine -- all 3,000 of them. In Corinth, however, the Christians were told to wait until everybody had come together before they broke bread. So there were differences of procedure. Nowadays there are many differences in the way in which Christians come together, for there are differences of culture and of methods of approach, and a mere uniformity of procedure is neither possible nor desirable. Nor is it a union of mutual agreement, an arrangement by which we agree to act concertedly together. At times this may be good but it is not really what is involved in our consideration of oneness. There have been unifications imposed on God's people by political or other powers, such as that which Hitler enforced on the groups of 'Brethren' in pre-war Germany.

This oneness for which the Lord Jesus prayed is a oneness 'in thy name'. It is brought about by the fact that we all carry the family name. It is the oneness of all who believe, so it involves those who have a common faith, those who all love and trust the Lord Jesus. We do not see Him in exactly the same way, but we all love the same person. If it were dependent on doctrines, then disagreement would mean that we all fell apart, but it is not based on a list of doctrines, but on the living and present person of the Lord Jesus. So we see that our oneness is to do with what we carry as a name -- we are all born again, we have a oneness of faith in Him whom we trust. We also read: "the glory which thou hast given me may be in them, that they may be one ..." (v.22). What is that glory? Well, the glory of the Church is that we are here to continue Christ's mission of showing the glory in every place where we are located. That is our glory, that we have one common purpose.

So Jesus gave the word, brought the name and bore the glory as He tabernacled among us (see John 1:14 and 18). As we take up our abode in Him and He in us, we enter the holy of holies and find God's heart for the world is that we should bring the word, the name and the glory to that world, so continuing the mission of Jesus. And this we do in oneness as His body, a oneness consisting in the word -- the apostles' doctrine; the name -- for we are one family; and the glory of pursuing the work we have been given to do until it is finished. This means that we will be exercised about the words we use to convey God's message (Note: "their words" v.20). It also means that we will be careful about the family honour, not spreading unjust or even just criticisms of our brothers. Finally we will enjoy our unity as we pursue the objective of glory -- finishing the mission in and out of the love of our Lord.


Alan G. Nute

Reading: Exodus 32

THERE are many arguments for and against a competitive spirit in the realm of education. It has its positive values but it can also breed a spirit of pride in those who excel or of despair on the part of those who are less gifted. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that in Christian relationships the competitive spirit can be both inhibiting and dangerous. Paul [29/30] reminds us that when the saints make such measurements and comparisons they are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12). In spiritual things there can be a very real danger in making comparisons between one and another. I believe that it may well be that we have often neglected the character and personality of Aaron just because we have compared him unfavourably with his illustrious brother Moses. Aaron could not hold a candle to Moses in many ways, but we must beware of so concentrating on the greater man that we overlook the values of the lesser. For obvious reasons we are not all made in the same mould. God prepares and fashions each one of us according to His will, and according to those purposes which He has in mind for each individual. Moses! God made him. God trained him. God gave him a special and supremely important task to do. But what about Aaron? God made him too. God also trained him for the task which He wished him to fulfil, a task for which Moses himself was not in fact fitted. There is a great peril in writing off an individual whom we regard as not gifted, or whose gift is less spectacular than that of others. In addition to wrongly despising the less gifted, some of us may despise ourselves if we do this. This is all too possible, especially if we are related to some outstandingly gifted person, as Aaron was to Moses. We must beware of such comparisons, for they may result in the wrong kind of self-depreciation which means that we fail to recognise our own gift and calling in the will of God. So Aaron was particularly gifted for a particular task at a particular time, and surely this is true of all of us.

There is a second reason why Aaron's importance has been overlooked, and this is that we tend to remember people only for their faults and failings. Now it is indisputable that Aaron failed lamentably on one occasion, and that we cannot consider his story without recalling that breakdown, but we would be doing ourselves as well as Aaron's memory a grave disservice if we remembered only the failure, and magnified it out of all proportion. We cannot allow it to overshadow Aaron's whole life. God did not do so. In fact it is a most striking fact that Aaron's ordination to the priesthood was subsequent to this tragic defection. It is clear therefore that even such an indiscretion did not brand him as unreliable and not to be trusted. We might well have passed this judgment on him, but God did not. His Word tells us that "there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again" (Job 14:7). If this were not so I venture to suggest that most of us would long since have been disqualified from God's service.


So we examine this failure of Aaron's with a meek and chastened spirit, intent not on censuring but on spiritual instruction. And first of all we do well to consider some of the outstanding qualities of this man of God.

1. He was a man who knew his God

Our first introduction to Aaron tells us that God and he were in communication. "And the Lord said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses." So Aaron went. Clearly he was a man familiar with the voice of God, a man whose ear was attuned to heaven, so much so that he was prepared to obey unusual instructions. How long was it since he had communicated with Moses? Surely it must have been the whole forty years of his exile. Then suddenly, out of the blue, God told him to go and meet that long-lost brother of his, and without a moment's hesitation he obeyed the voice of God. We notice how continually the Scriptural narrative informs us: "The Lord spake unto Aaron". We also observe the other phrase: "The Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron", revealing that Aaron did not only listen to God's voice in private but also in fellowship with his brother.

2. He was a man who used his gift

Aaron was a man of considerable gift as an orator. When Moses, objecting to the divine commission, suggested to God that He had made a mistake in planning to send a messenger with such poor powers of expression, God countered his objection by calling in Aaron who was a good speaker and able to present their case well. So Aaron had been equipped by God with an eloquence which Moses did not possess, and after that meeting of the two brothers it was always Aaron who spoke for them both. In fact the record shows that Aaron not only uttered the words but also performed the signs. "He shall be to thee a mouth, and thou shalt be to him as God," the Lord had said to Moses, and in fact Aaron became the accredited spokesman for God and for Moses. He knew the gift God had given him and he exercised it. How important it is that we should do the same. We need to discover what the ability is which God has [30/31] given us, and then we need to develop and to use that gift, as Aaron certainly did.

3. He was a man remarkably free from jealousy

It is true that there was one solitary occasion when he was tricked by his sister into speaking against Moses in a jealous way, but the record makes it clear that Miriam was the real culprit and she had to bear the blame. This, however, was an isolated incident. Otherwise there is no sign of any feelings of jealousy concerning Moses, in spite of the fact that he was asked to play a subordinate role, and that to his own younger brother. Aaron was the older, yet the messages from God were given first to Moses and then only through him to Aaron and the people. Aaron did not disdain the humbler task of an intermediary. One striking example of this complete freedom from jealousy was on the mountain top when Israel was fighting Amalek on the plain. Moses found it beyond his powers to maintain uplifted arms in appeal to God, so Aaron, with Hur, rallied to him and supported his flagging hands. Though himself a leader of great quality, Aaron did not shrink from this subordinate work of supporting his brother. This is a lesson to us all. We may have no public function or leadership but we can stand by those who have, giving them the spiritual backing which they need and supporting their hands as they lift them in intercession.

4. A man who faithfully discharged his priestly duties

So far as I am aware, Aaron was never criticised concerning his fulfilment of the many and onerous duties committed to him. His was a very demanding and arduous work, as intercession always is. It kept him active from early morning till late at night. He worked a full 7-day week, and had a 52-week year, with no vacations. Throughout all the years he discharged his manifold duties with great faithfulness. In this respect he represents a true type of the Lord Jesus. He also presents a challenge to each one of us.

5. A man who understood the secondary nature of ceremonial

Although involved in many outward observances he fully realised that this was not the real substance of spiritual life. The Lord Jesus made it plain that things such as Sabbath keeping and fasting were not unimportant but were quite secondary. Aaron's understanding showed itself on the sad occasion when his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, died under divine judgment. They probably acted under the influence of strong drink and were smitten down by God for their effrontery in offering false fire. At the end of that day Moses discovered that the sin offering had not been eaten according to the normal ritual of priestly service and he angrily demanded why this had not been done. Aaron's answer was: "... there have befallen me such things as these; and if I had eaten the sin-offering today, would it have been well pleasing in the sight of the Lord?" (Leviticus 10:19). So Aaron was not a man to live by rules and regulations. Ceremonial was important, and by and large Aaron observed it, but he was no slave to it in the face of spiritual matters of greater importance. Moses was content with his explanation, as well he might be, for did not the Lord Jesus lay the same stress on the priority of the inward over the outward? We note, then, that this occurrence revealed considerable spiritual understanding on Aaron's part.


Having said all this in his favour, we are obliged to admit the gravity of the sin to which he fell prey. We must not think of the matter as an isolated incident but as what can happen even to a man of outstanding spiritual stature. It was in the very context of this part of Israel's history that Paul wrote: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall". I believe that there were two factors which contributed to the tragic failure, two very natural factors. These are not advanced as extenuating circumstances, for there is never a valid excuse for sin against God, but even so we may find it helpful to consider them.

The first was loneliness. Right from the time of his meeting with Moses in the wilderness until the time just prior to Aaron's sin, the two brothers had always been side by side. Aaron had relied on Moses, respected his leadership and bowed to his judgment. It had always been a case of "Moses and Aaron". But now Moses had been called up into the mount, and tarried there for many days, and Aaron had found himself on his own. This was a new experience, but one which sooner or later comes to us all. Either we have to move out to some new location or others on whom we have relied are taken elsewhere and we have to stand alone. If this is unavoidable we can prove the Lord in such a [31/32] situation but if it is at all possible, let us avoid loneliness. Let us cultivate fellowship wherever we are; let us refuse to allow Satan to isolate us from our brothers. He will do this if we let him, for he knows that when we are on our own he can more readily tempt and deceive us.

Secondly Aaron was subjected to the pressure of popular opinion. No sooner had Moses gone up into the mount than Aaron started to feel that he had a revolt on his hands and it came to a climax with a kind of ultimatum. "Up ... make us gods ..." the mob cried out, united to a man in seeking to force him to rise up and fulfil their demands. There is something quite terrifying about this sort of mass pressure, and it takes a courageous man to resist it. Reluctantly perhaps, but deliberately Aaron yielded to the popular clamour. How true to life this is! How often do these two factors of loneliness and outside pressure combine to make the Christian capitulate. 'Everyone is doing it,' voices cry, 'everyone knows that it is the best thing to do. How can you be so foolhardy as not to conform?'

These were contributory factors to Aaron's sin, but they could never have succeeded if on his part there had not also been a decision to compromise. Doubtless many specious arguments presented themselves to his mind. Probably he reasoned that he had to humour the people in order to influence them for good; that God knew his heart, and that the feast would really be for Jehovah even though He was to be worshipped in the representation of a calf. But the root of the trouble was in Aaron's own compromise and, although God did not exonerate the people for their share of blame, He had it placed on record that He smote the people because they made the calf "which Aaron made" (v.35). Aaron could not shrug off the responsibility. And notice that the result of his weakness was the breaking of the first commandment, but that this led on to the breaking of the second and -- so very quickly -- to the seventh. Idolatry and immorality go hand in hand. So the excited shouting, the wild dancing and the rhythmic beating led on to disgraceful scenes of licentious frenzy, and all because of one man's decision to compromise.

When Moses came storming down from the mountain and faced his brother, how weakly did Aaron excuse his action. He pointed out that Moses knew the people, that they were set on evil. This was correct. People are still set on evil, and they will be until the end of the age. But why should we capitulate to popular trends? Let us have convictions. Let us hold to them and live by them, even though all the world be against us. Aaron was so conscious of the feeble inadequacy of his excuse that he then resorted to a stupid lie. "... I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf". We are appalled that a man with such a background and such outstanding qualities should fall into such gross sin.


But if it is hard to believe that a man of God should so fail, there is a much more incredible feature of this story, and one which calls for our deepest attention. It is that despite this tragic fall Aaron was yet ordained as God's high priest. Admittedly the command for his ordination had already been given to Moses in the holy mount, but nothing had yet been done to set him apart. Why did God not rescind His orders? Why did He not decide that after such sinful behaviour Aaron should now be disqualified from office? That is what we might well have done. We would have felt that after such a fall Aaron could never expect to be entrusted with this holy service. Herein lies the miracle of God's amazing grace. He is such a God of mercy and forgiveness that He could condescend to a frail and sinning mortal and lift him up again to do His will. So God proceeded with Aaron's ordination in spite of the stark failure which had so recently marred his record.

Let me say, however, that this was not because God takes a light view of sin. Far from it! Writing of Moses and Aaron, the psalmist said: "Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions" (Psalm 99:8). Only God could so bring together two things which to human reasoning seem mutually exclusive. For sinning saints there is pardon through the blood. But the truth must equally be emphasised that: "... God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). No, God is never casual about our sin, but nor need His purposes be defeated by it. So Aaron was made high priest by the triumph of divine grace. He also owed much to the intercession of his brother, Moses (Deuteronomy 9:20). Happy is that saint who, being overtaken in a fault, has not only the mercy of God but a loyal brother who is a faithful intercessor for him. [32/33]

So we see that Aaron is a monument to the truth that a major sin does not necessarily disqualify a person from the work of God. We must underline the word necessarily, for sin is always a serious matter. But there is more to it even than this. I believe that God confirmed Aaron's appointment not only out of forgiving mercy but out of that amazing grace which could turn his grave fault and make it contribute to spiritual good. This is the staggering magnitude of God's triumphant grace; He was able to take the forgiven Aaron and turn his fault to spiritual value in his future ministry. Aaron's particular service to God as priest would be to restore the erring. Who better to do this than a man ho had himself grievously erred? As priest he must sympathise with the penitent, and who better to do this than the one who had himself experienced divine sympathy and succour? Whenever Aaron was dealing with a sinful Israelite he might well say to himself: 'Such was I -- and with less warrant than this man before me.' As Alexander Whyte quaintly but truly comments: 'And, though they did not know it, and would not have believed it, the penitents in Israel got far more good out of their high priest's trespass in the matter of the golden calf, than ever they got out of his broidered garments, and his silver bells, and his fair mitre upon his head.'

How different are the self righteous priests! When Judas came back with the silver pieces in his hand and threw them down on to the marble floor of the temple with the confession of his sin, all that those false priests could say to him was: "What is that to us? see thou to it". Faced with a man in deep distress all they could do was to refuse to get involved and to tell him himself to see to it. "What is that to us? see thou to it." If only they had been in touch with God they might have known that at that very moment the Father was saying to His Son: 'Here is the world's sin. It matters so much to Me. See Thou to it!' And Jesus did see to it. He who knew no sin took full responsibility for mankind's transgressions so that the vilest sinner may be pardoned. Those Jewish priests knew nothing of this, but we know it. Is it possible that we can be careless and indifferent, having an attitude which amounts to a suggestion that this is the offender's own business and he must see to it? No, it is our business to tell men that there is a divine remedy. We who have tasted divine grace are to have priestly sympathy for others. God has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Let us seek forgiveness and restoration in the matters where we have failed. Let us consider that we have a High Priest who is so much greater than Aaron; indeed who is not after the order of Aaron at all. With Him there never was any failure. He is qualified for His ministry not because He sinned but only because He suffered. He is able to make us more than conquerors through His amazing grace.



John H. Paterson

THERE were twelve Minor Prophets, and the function of each of them was to call attention to some particular dimension of the character of God which was being neglected or overlooked by his contemporaries. In each case, the general pattern of the prophecy as printed is the same: it contains

1. An accusation by God -- the basic charge against the hearers.

2. The dimension of God's character missing from their perception of Him.

3. The outcome of misunderstanding -- its dire consequences.

4. A call to return to God and a statement of hope or encouragement.

Each prophecy contains all four of these elements, although it is in every case important to notice to whom the message is directed and for whom there is hope; the two are not necessarily the same. And the fourth element is the most variable of the four -- joyful and [33/34] detailed in some cases; in others brief and barely present at all.

The first of the twelve prophets in our Bible is Hosea. Whether or not his was actually the earliest ministry of the twelve historically is not entirely clear, but there is a certain appropriateness about his coming first (just as we shall later see that there is about Malachi's bringing up the rear). Hosea's book is not easy to analyse, beyond the four points already mentioned, but there are at least two good reasons why this is so. One is that what the prophet was watching and opposing was a careless, ignorant drift into idolatry, and that was something which did not lend itself to formal analysis -- or, as George Adam Smith memorably put it, 'All the rest is the noise of a nation falling to pieces, the crumbling of a splendid past. And as decay has no climax and ruin no rhythm, so we may understand why it is impossible to divide with any certainty Hosea's record of Israel's fall'.

The other reason is that the message relayed by Hosea was a message from the heart of God. It was not cool or logical, dispassionate like some lawyer's brief; it came in bursts of grief or anger or love. Perhaps the most remarkable quality of the message is that it makes God sound so human in speaking to His people; He does indeed sound like a husband whose wife has been unfaithful to him -- in fact, like Hosea himself.

The Basic Charge

The message of Hosea is addressed to Israel, the northern kingdom. Israel, he says, has been unfaithful to God by her pursuit of foreign deities, such as the Baalim and the golden calves which Jeroboam had made, years before, to divert his people away from worshipping at Jerusalem. This is spiritual adultery, and Hosea traces it to ignorance; it is Israel's "lack of knowledge" (4:6) which has led to her downfall. There is no knowledge of God left in the land (4:1); the people are reduced -- pathetic spectacle -- to "taking a piece of wood to tell them what to do" (4:12, Living Bible ).

What has been the effect of this lack of knowledge? It has been to trap them into misreading the character of their God; to make them entirely misjudge what they can 'get away with' in their dealings with Him. "They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness" (7:2). They allow themselves to believe that, even if there is a little temporary coolness in the attitude of God towards them, He will soon forget about their shortcomings and things will go on as before. (The text is not entirely clear, but it seems more than likely that the first three verses of Hosea 6 represent the expression of this kind of careless assumption that they can return to God any time they please.) And they are careless because they assume that their position as God's special people is secure, no matter what they do; that their privilege is independent of their performance (8:1-2). God could surely never abandon them without breaking His covenant, so they are quite safe. This is ignorance on the grand scale!

The Missing Dimension

By this attitude of theirs, the people of Israel show that they have hopelessly misjudged the character of God in one important respect. They have failed to realise that God is a God of love, and that for them this has two implications. One is that their favoured position as the people of God has always been based not on right but on love (Deuteronomy 7:8). The other is that this love relationship is exclusive on His side and is supposed to be so on theirs; they are to be for Him alone, and to have no other lovers.

In New Testament terms, this kind of relationship is defined by the beautiful and moving language of Paul's epistle to the Ephesians: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church ...". In the case of Hosea, by contrast, he was required to act out, in his own experience and in harshly practical terms, the dilemma posed by a relationship in which one of the persons concerned is faithful and loving, while the other has lost interest and become unfaithful. What is to be done? To find that one person is serious while the other is just having a good time is one of the commonest tragedies in human relationships. To find that a person loves you, deeply and consistently, while you simply are not interested in them is embarrassing if not irritating at the human level, but what if it is God who loves and man who does not? How does anybody, even God, resolve that dilemma? "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee?" (6:4).

The Consequences of Misunderstanding

This, then, is the central theme of Hosea: a failure to comprehend a God who loves, or to appreciate the solemnity of a commitment to Him. [34/35] For His people, the result is that they are condemned to lead fruitless lives. Not for nothing does the prophet repeatedly address the people of Israel as Ephraim. Ephraim means fruitful, and that is exactly what they were not. There are two images of fruitlessness used here, and Hosea rings the changes on them both as he points to the tragic consequences of Israel's error. One is the image of a fruitful union between husband and wife, a union of which children should be born. But in Hosea's parable-marriage the children were named "not having obtained mercy" and "not my people"; they had no prospects, and might just as well never have been born at all. And the same fate is then predicted for Ephraim: "Your children will die at birth, or perish in the womb, or never even be conceived. And if your children grow, I will take them from you; all are doomed" (9:11-12, Living Bible). Hosea feels that, in such a tragic situation, it is better that there should be no fruit at all, for at least then there will be a limit to the tragedy: "O Lord, what shall I ask for your people? I will ask for wombs that don't give birth" (9:14). To be fruitful is no longer a blessing; it is merely the prelude to disaster.

The other image used by Hosea is that of the fruitful field. The only effect of God's blessing on their crops has been to make Israel more secure in their idolatry: "according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars" (10:1). They have ploughed wickedness and reaped iniquity (10:13). Therefore, they should not wonder at God's reaction: He will desolate their vineyards and fig trees; He will send the whirlwind and if, by any chance, some crops survive these disasters, they will be seized by strangers and Israel will be left to starve (2:12; 8:7). What began as simple carelessness about their relationship with God will end in utter barrenness on every side.

The Call and the Promise

Yet of all these twelve prophets there is none who has a truer 'gospel' message than Hosea. To those who are experiencing the total fruitlessness of a life which takes no account of the love of God, the call comes to return to the Lord (14:1). If only they will do so, the dew of God's love will fall upon them; the corn and the vines will flourish once again, and the fruit is assured (14:5-7). The children who were disowned will be brought back into the family, not now on the grounds of some legal claim which can be brandished to support a case in a court of law, but because God is a God of love, and how can such a God give up those He loves? (11:8). To know and reckon with such a God; to take account of this basic motivation in all His dealings with man; to accept the single obligation which being loved by such a God imposes upon us, the obligation of belonging to Him alone -- to understand all this and act upon it is the key to blessing and the secret of fruitfulness.


Alan L. Barrow

"Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold of eternal life ..." 1 Timothy 6:12

WE now come to two associated metaphors which tell us something more of what is expected of the man of God. The first, 'the good fight' does not strictly refer to what we would call fighting, but is a word which may be applied to any contest. It was used to describe the various items of the games of those days and really is a call for us to contest the good contest. Implicit in the actual word used is the idea of agony -- 'agonise the agony' -- which does not make a very inviting prospect but at least stresses the fact that the Christian life is no joy ride but a matter which demands concentration and effort.

There is a very specious argument used to counter this idea. It insists that since we have a God of infinite power, one who is able to part the Red Sea, able to open the grave, able to destroy His enemies, able to produce miracles at will, then all we have to do is to leave it to Him. All the power is on our side. All we have to do is to let the stream carry us on. So, according to this way of thinking, the Christian life is a kind of joy ride.

The New Testament gives no grounds for such an approach to the life of the man of God, but at every point stresses that he must be willing [35/36] to contend, and if necessary to agonise. Take the case of the Lord Jesus. For Him there was no joy ride. We find that people just did not understand Him. If we go through John's Gospel with this in mind we are amazed to find the number of times in which men were talking at complete cross-purposes with Him. Even His own disciples failed to appreciate what seemed to have been the basic statements that He made to them. And when it came to the hour of His greatest need, the time when He might have looked for some support, it was just not there. We think of His lonely vigil in the garden, and find that this very word 'agony' is used to describe the good fight which He had to fight alone there. We know of His isolation at the time of His trial, and the deep sorrow and shame of His crucifixion. The fact that He had previously done many miracles and had outstanding successes, only accentuated the fact that His progress was no joy ride but a stern contest. It was a good contest and well contested. Now the man of God is called to follow in the same path. Although we cannot understand this, we are informed that the sufferings had value in His own life -- He learned obedience through them. So His contesting brought Him into closer fellowship with the Father. How strange if we admire Him for this and then pine for some easier way!

Paul was not asking anything of Timothy which he had not first experienced himself. We may pick out some passages from his two letters to Timothy which reveal the fact that he was not being carried along by any stream of outward success. "Demas has forsaken me." "Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm." "Trophimus I left ill at Miletus." Timothy might ask: 'What is the matter, Paul? What has happened to you? Where have you gone wrong? How can it be that you who did extraordinary miracles at Ephesus (as well as the many less spectacular ones) could do nothing for poor sick Trophimus? And what has happened to your ministry that a good man like Demas should desert you? And where is your apostolic authority? Were you really so helpless that you could not deal with Alexander?' If Timothy had harboured the idea that the Christian life is a joy ride he might well have asked such questions and raised grave doubts about Paul's walk with God, but he had already been in the contest and must have known how bitter it can be. The apostle was not advising him to take it up but only to go on in the same spirit, contesting the good contest.

THERE is a great danger in this mistaken conception that the Christian life is a smooth and ever-accelerating joy ride. It stumbles people who find that things do not work out this way, and it makes us suspicious and critical of God's servants who are beset by trials. If we find that in His goodness God is giving us an experience in which everything flows smoothly and outward success is very evident, then let us thank Him and keep humble about it. But let us appreciate the dangers in such a time, knowing that it becomes easy for people to lean on others, to be carried along, to go for the ride, and so to fail to learn those lessons of maturing character which characterise the man of God. In fact this fighting the good fight is really a matter of walking with God. If we keep a close faith connection with the Lord Jesus, we shall have no doubts about there being a contest but we shall also be able to share His victory. It is not a matter of plunging into some situation to try to do something for God, but rather of moving into the battle with Him, confident that He is in control and that He will work His works in and through us as we cooperate with Him. We shall find that all the time we have to contest, but it is a good contest. We must be ready to hold on, to persevere, to trust and not to doubt. And when wonderful things happen we will not be exalted but humbled, discovering in new ways how great God is.

The second metaphor deals with the matter of laying hold of eternal life. The two metaphors are closely related, and in a sense eternal life may be called the prize of the contest, but it would be wrong for us to think only of the future, for eternal life is a quality of life to be possessed and enjoyed here and now. The truth seems to be that as this life which we share with Christ is really resurrection life, we enter into its greater fullness by way of the cross. As we face difficulties which we never would have expected, as we suffer frustration and yet are not discouraged but fight the good fight, so new experiences of heavenly and eternal life can be laid hold of and enjoyed. We learn in this contest what faith really is. We learn obedience, as the Lord learned it, by the things which we suffer. And as we do so we can rightly lay hold in new ways of the Lord's wonderful gift of eternal life. So it is that we become men and women of God. [36/37]


(This story was told by Dr. Richard H. Harvey and is taken from
'The Alliance Witness', the official organ of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

THREE periods before the Thanksgiving holiday our chemistry professor always planned to lecture against prayer. Then every year at the close of his final lecture he would say: 'By the way, is there anybody here who still believes in prayer? Before I get you to stand up or raise your hand let me tell you what I am going to do.' He would step in front of his lecture table. There was a concrete floor in the classroom. He would turn around and pick up a two-quart glass flask and hold it up. Then he would say: 'Now, if there's anybody here who believes in prayer, I am going to ask you to pray that when I drop this flask it won't break. Now I want you to know, students, that all of your prayers and the prayers of your parents and of your pastors -- with all their prayers nothing can keep that flask from breaking when I let it go.' He had been doing this for fifteen years.

When I was a senior there came a certain freshman to the school. The upper-classmen always told you what Dr. Lee would do. So the new student said to these fellows that told him about Dr. Lee: 'By the way, is there anybody in this school who believes in prayer?' They told him about me, so one day I heard a knock at my door. I opened it and there stood the freshman. He said: 'Are you Dick Harvey?' I said, 'Yes'. 'Do you believe in prayer?' he asked. 'Yes,' I said. When he had come in, he continued: 'I want you to understand that I am a born-again Christian. God has shown me that He wants me to stand up to Dr. Lee. Now I want you to pray that God will give me courage when the time comes and I also want you to pray that the flask won't break. I would appreciate it if every time you pray you would ask God about this, even when you say your grace at the table. 'All right,' I said, 'I'll pray with you.' Then he said: 'God has given me the promise that if two shall agree it shall -- not maybe -- it shall be done.'

Well, I was downstairs in the qualitative analysis laboratory when the crucial lecture hour came. About the time I knew that Dr. Lee would defy prayer I went upstairs and stood at the back of the auditorium. My heart was full of fear; I was actually shaking. Finally he came to the moment. Out in front he stepped and he said: 'Now, is there anyone here who still believes in prayer?' The young fellow was sitting near the middle of the big auditorium. There were about three hundred students in the class. He stood right up and stepped into the aisle. 'Dr. Lee,' he said, 'I do.' Dr. Lee said: 'My, this is real interesting, isn't it? We've got a fellow here who believes that God can answer prayer!' He turned to my friend and said very sarcastically: 'Do you believe that God will answer your prayer?' The young man replied: 'Yes, Dr Lee, I'm sure that God will answer my prayer.'

'Well,' the professor said, 'this is most interesting. Maybe I'd better explain to you again what I am going to do.' He went through the whole procedure; how he would hold up the flask, open his hand and let it drop. It would go into hundreds of pieces, he said, and there wasn't any power in the world or in heaven that could stop that flask from breaking. After he had finished his speech he turned to the young man and asked: 'Do you still want to pray?' The young man said: 'Yes, Dr. Lee, I do.' 'Well,' he said, 'isn't that interesting? Now we'll all be real reverent while this young man prays. Are you ready?' The student replied: 'Dr. Lee, I have been ready for a long time.' 'All right,' said Dr. Lee, 'you go ahead and pray. We'll all bow our heads.'

The young man did not even bow his head; he just lifted up his eyes toward heaven and said: 'Dear Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus I thank You that You have heard me. For Your honour and Christ's name don't let this flask break. Amen.' Dr. Lee took the flask, held it out, opened his hand. As it fell God changed its course. He drew it in. Instead of falling straight down it hit the toe of Dr. Lee's shoe and rolled over. And it did not break!

Dr. Lee never again lectured on prayer. God had ended that once for all. To this day, though it happened many years ago, the story of the flask that wouldn't break is still told on the campus of that school. As for me, I went home and got down beside my bed and cried: 'O God, why didn't I stand up for You? Why didn't I take the courage to honour Your name?' Perhaps the willingness I have since had to run risks for Christ's sake really goes back to the time that this young man stood alone and prayed that God would honour His name in that chemistry class. God did. [37/38]


(Studies in 1 Samuel)


Harry Foster

WE have already noticed that this book tells us of God's provision of a king (16:1), and that its early chapters give us some insight into the preparations which He made for the new kingdom. At that time the condition of the people of Israel was tragically chaotic; but God reacted to it, for He is neither indifferent nor without purpose. But God takes His time, and always begins in small ways and with secret preparations before displaying that purpose openly. So we look again at these early chapters to learn more of these hidden preparations of His.

We have already considered the first and supremely important factor of travailing prayer. Without that there will never be a kingdom, nor anything really worthwhile for God. Since, as we saw, the official high priest was static and feeble, and so incapable of taking his proper part, the Lord found a more suitable intercessor. Only a woman; but what a woman! Out of the anguish and exercise of her own heart and sense of deprivation she was drawn into sharing something of the Lord's need and the divine travail, till she reached the point for which God had been waiting, when she was willing for her son to belong to Him rather than to her. God could act on this basis. He did act, and Samuel was brought into the world. So prayer is the first thing. It continues to be all-important, and as we shall see, one of the key words of the rest of 1 Samuel.

The next factor with which we are confronted is that of the living word of God. This is basic in the matter of bringing in God's will. Chapter 3 opens with the sad information that this could no longer be found in Israel: "The word of the Lord was precious (rare) in those days; there was no open vision". Now there are some countries, as there always have been, where the Word of God is rare because men are not allowed to print or distribute it. There was a time after the long reign of the wicked king, Manasseh, when the Word of God was so out of circulation that it was a tremendous discovery for Hilkiah to find a copy of it when the temple was being restored. But in Eli's day the Word was not buried under rubble. In the house of God at Shiloh Eli, the high priest, doubtless possessed copies of the five books of Moses and probably of the book of Joshua too. But God was not speaking through His Word. It was not a shortage of the letter of the Word but a famine of hearing of the living words of God which was their tragedy.

Concerning Samuel's condition we are told that the word of the Lord was not yet revealed to Samuel (v.7). So what was lacking with him and with everyone else was not the book but this living element of revelation. The book was a dead letter. There are two possible explanations of such a state of affairs. The first -- and this was true of Samuel -- is that God is still waiting until we reach that place of deep need which will provide Him with the occasion for opening His heart to us. The second -- the one which applied to Israel in Eli's time -- was that God had already spoken, and they had refused to obey. Consequently God had nothing more to say. They were disobeying His commandments and yet were wanting some helpful thoughts from His Word. They ignored what they did not want to hear and yet expected some nice things to be said to them. For such, God's Book has no message. In the commercial world you can get certain articles 'on approval'. This means that you see if you like them and send them back if they do not suit you. God never gives His Word 'on approval'. He demands a committal before He will disclose His will. "If any man will to do the will of God, he shall know ..." the Lord Jesus said. No wonder, then, that God was not speaking in those days when Hophni and Phinehas did not even make a pretence of following the Levitical regulations, but deliberately and defiantly set them aside. These two were not content with the portions of the animals which rightly belonged to them, but grabbed at that which should have been reserved for God Himself. The Lord had commanded that before anything else was taken, the fat should be burned and the offering waved before Him, but they could not wait for God. Their junior colleagues remonstrated with them, but their protests were violently swept aside. So in the background of Eli's family there was this wilful disobedience to God's requirements. No wonder that there was no open vision! No [38/39] wonder that the Word of God was a closed book to His people.

Unhappily this was stumbling the whole people (2:17). The more prominent that men are, the more serious is the effect of their disobedience to God. Not only were these two depraved priests sinning, but they were bringing the whole issue of sacrifice and service into disrepute. But this was not all. We have to investigate the very heart of things and to consider the high priest who was the father of these two sons of Belial. Now it is true that at this particular juncture Eli was a very old man, and as such might merit less severe criticism. But I think that you will find that old age mainly discloses traits which have existed in earlier years, though perhaps remaining hidden. There is a sense in which age but makes more apparent what a man really is. In this case it was certainly so, for long before he was elderly Eli had betrayed a lamentable carelessness in his attitude towards the discipline of his sons. His failure was a matter of long standing. He had been entrusted with great responsibilities for God's people for he was their judge. In Hannah's case, as we have seen, he was only too ready to judge and in fact misjudged her. He could perceive faults outside his own family, and even exaggerate them, but he was blind and ineffective in matters which were personal. "... the iniquity which he knoweth, because his sons made themselves vile and he restrained them not." So God could not speak directly to Eli. As high priest he had the Urim and the Thummim of judgment, but they were not operative. God had to send an outsider to speak to him: "There came a man of God unto Eli ..." (2:27). Thank God that there was this exception to the general lack of God's speaking, that there was at least this unknown believer in vital touch with Him. What an encouragement to us that even though open vision may be rare, it need not be impossible. So the man of God came and went, but not without bringing a clear message from the Lord.

We hear no more of him but we are to hear much of young Samuel who was drawn in by God to reinforce the former message. At this stage God did not say anything to Samuel about his own future, but used the occasion to initiate a new era in which there should be a human voice for God to all Israel. It took quite a time for Eli to realise what was happening. Samuel had to go three times before it dawned on him that the heaven which had closed to him was now opening to Samuel. It seems that he was so out of touch that he did not even know when God was speaking to someone else. We can get like that. We, too, can cling to some past and forfeited spiritual position and yet have no more inner communication with God. In the past Eli had doubtless often prayed the simple prayer which he now recommended to Samuel. But that was all past history; the channel of communication between him and God was now closed. Our story tells how God opened up such a channel between Himself and Samuel. The chapter ends with the thrilling announcement that 'the word of the Lord was revealed again in Shiloh'. Hallelujah! God was speaking again. His Word should never have been lost, but now it is to be recovered. God give us more Samuels in our day!

May I again stress the smallness of God's beginnings? Samuel is repeatedly described as a child until this night, and even after the revelation we are told that: "Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him". It doesn't matter how small you are, so long as you are growing. His mother noticed his growth, for every year she brought him a bigger coat. But God also took knowledge of his growth in spiritual matters, for we are told that: "the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord and also with men". That is the right order. In this matter of spiritual growth no doubt Hannah's prayers were an important factor. In the old days she went up year by year to pray that Samuel might be born. Now, with a larger garment which she herself had made, she went up year by year to minister to his needs and to watch over him in earnest prayer, exposed as he was to such evil influences. When you have prayed a matter through, as she had, you do not easily abandon it, but you find yourself even more concerned and exercised for its full development in the will of God.

Even so, Samuel did not yet know the Lord. So the time had come for this to be remedied. He was serving well; he was growing; he was being prayed for and the time for the maturing of God's purpose in his life had arrived. Came, then, this which may have seemed very much like any other night to Samuel but proved to be a night of destiny. I am so glad that God knew his name. He could hardly not know it, for Hannah had made it familiar to His ears. She was no high priest with names engraved on a breastplate, but she was 'a true intercessor -- [39/40] as we should all be -- and as such she made sure that the Lord got no rest with regard to Samuel. Listen to her: 'Samuel ... to be born; Samuel ... to be kept safe; Samuel ... to grow; Samuel ... to fulfil the divine purpose; Samuel ... Samuel'. The Lord could not but be familiar with that name and now He took it up Himself and called: "Samuel, Samuel".

The story impresses us with the simplicity of our approach to God. The lad did not even use the title "Lord" as Eli had instructed him. What did it matter? This is not a question of using the right formula, but only of providing God with a listening and an obedient heart. The pathetic thing is that Eli knew so well what one should say on such an occasion, for there had been a time when he himself was in touch with God. Now, alas, he was unable to profit from that theoretical knowledge. As we consider his tragedy we are constrained to pray: 'O, give me Samuel's heart ..." and save me from empty theories and having to live on past history'. Not that there was anything wrong with his instructions. No, for no sooner had Samuel responded to God's call in humble faith than he began his great career as a prophet and a seer. The Lord's new beginnings are so simple, but their out-workings can be of great importance to others as well as to ourselves. Samuel was only a link in the chain of divine purpose, but he was an important link, for all his youth and inexperience.

The boy did not sleep any more. Perhaps it was the sad message entrusted to him that kept him awake, but it must also have been that he knew now that God had broken into his life and he could never be the same again. In fact, though he might not have known it, God had begun a new phase in the history of His people. And it all sprang from one person's having a personal experience of the living word of God. The message benefitted him much more than it did Eli, for the latter only had confirmed to him what he already knew too well. Behind the pious: "It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good" was a pathetic acceptance of the inevitability of evil. Now God never means His word to have that effect on us, but looks for it to stir us into a new humbling of ourselves before Him to find recovery by His grace. It did not seem good to God to permit such misery to come to Eli and his whole house: God has no pleasure in the death of the sinner. But it did seem right to God to rescue His bewildered people from utter chaos and disintegration, and this is why He called for someone who would do more than yield passively to events but who would rise up in His name to obey and to proclaim His living word.

Very soon we are told that "all Israel knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet". The inner history with God began to have its outward evidence. It always will. In our case it will not be 'all Israel' who will meet God through us, but the effects of our personal obedience will be much more extensive than we could ever have imagined, and surely it is always true to say that if we are in living touch with God, we will have a vital message to some of those around us. We must begin, though, where Samuel began; not with ordination and office, but with a secret confrontation with the Lord in which He speaks to us personally and we obediently listen to him. Unlike many of us as well today, Samuel was in no hurry to talk to others about his secret experience with God. But when in due course he was challenged, he did not shrink from a frank disclosure of the facts.

We are going to see how this secret assignation with God made Samuel the key to the bringing in of God's king. It would take a long time -- all Samuel's life and more. There would be a false start and a mount of difficulties. Had Samuel known the costly outcome of that first prayer of his he might have shrunk from praying it. But his wholehearted committal to God's speaking was no mistake. It was an act of great significance in the unfolding of the divine purpose. It was no mistake to pray that prayer. It never is a mistake to respond to the call of God.

(To be continued)


Once again we are able to report that the Lord has graciously provided for all our financial needs. Previously we have tried to send a personal note of thanks to each donor. Now, however, in the light of the very heavy increase in all postal charges, we feel it a matter of good stewardship only to send receipts when they are specially requested. This is no lack of faith but only an attempt to use the Lord's money to the best advantage. We will continue to remember each giver in grateful prayer, but we will not acknowledge the gift unless asked to do so. [40/ibc]

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