"... 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)

Previous issue | Next issue


Vol. 4, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1975 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



Harry Foster

"I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down" (Nehemiah 6:3)

WE can be so impressed by the acute sufferings which came upon our Lord at the time of His crucifixion that we miss one of the trials which may appear minor to us, but which was surely a great temptation. I speak of the satanic challenge to Christ to come down from the cross. 'If you are really the Son of God', the senseless mob howled, 'then show what you can do by stepping down off that cross.' The rulers took up this jeering attack, adding their bitter challenge to the One whom they refused to acknowledge as God's Son.

Now had this been the impossibility which they unbelievingly imagined it to be, their words would only have been an aggravation of His helplessness. But was it impossible? Was He indeed helpless? If not, then this was more than a brutal teasing; it was a cunning and diabolical suggestion that He should use His divine power for self-preservation. Put yourself in His position. If you were a helpless victim, fast nailed to that cruel cross, you would suffer additional pain from men's gibes, but it would only be one more hurt among so many. But supposing you could free yourself! Suppose that you could just step down from that cross and laugh at its inability to hold you. Would not the call to come down be irresistible? What would you do? I can almost hear myself muttering: 'I'll show them' and doing just that. But then I am a fallen man and not the eternal Son of God.

These suppositions may sound rather foolish, and I only make them to help us to appreciate the marvellous spiritual strength of our wonderful Saviour. The words of Nehemiah refer to a much smaller trial, but they apply in a sublime way to the attitude of the Lord Jesus. "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down." The impossibility was not physical but moral and spiritual. He refused to come down not because He was unable to do so but because He chose to stay there and finish the work of redemption. He turned a deaf ear to their devilish invitation, allowing Himself to be 'lifted up', even as He had said He would.

THE carnal mockers were so deluded that they persuaded themselves that Jesus could not be the Son of God because He did not come down from the cross. But later the centurion, with a flash of Spirit-given illumination, realised that the very fact that He stayed there to the bitter end proved that He really was the Son of God: "And when the centurion, which stood by over against him, saw that he so gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God" (Mark 15:39). We are familiar with the words: "God so loved ..." in John 3:16. Here we have the same adverb -- "He so gave up the ghost ...". It was as if the Roman realised that this was a greater miracle than climbing down off the cross; this was the vanquishing of death by dying.

The Son of God used His will to stay on the cross. As He Himself had earlier stated: "Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life ... No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10:17-18). Because He was the Son of God it would have been so easy to call a halt to the reckless mockery by walking unharmed away from His would-be murderers as He had frequently done when His time had not yet come. But now the time had come. He was finishing His great work so that He could not go down.

How often during those brief years of public ministry the Lord had made it plain that He had no lack of divine authority and energy. When the waters of Galilee's sea were being whipped up into a frenzy by hurricane winds, He calmly walked upon that surface as though it were smooth and solid. On another occasion He only had to stand up in their storm-tossed boat and command an end to the storm, "and there was a calm". But more than this, He left on record as His final public miracle the fact that a flourishing fig tree could immediately be reduced to a withered wreck by His word (Matthew 21:19).

THIS was a strange miracle. Sentimental tree-lovers have been scandalised by it. Even those who fully accept His other wonders find some [81/82] mystery about this withering of the fig tree. Unlike the rest of His miracles, it brought no relief to anybody. It was no miracle of mercy. To the unenlightened it might seem to have been a wanton exhibition of power or even an aggrieved act of vindictiveness. It was neither. The Lord Jesus would never have used His divine power for such mean purposes. Then why did He do it?

Many godly interpreters have explained that this was a symbolic act, representative of the rejection of the fruitless nation Israel. Such an explanation has several points to commend it, but it has others which equally exclude it. And so far as I am concerned this interpretation is unacceptable because in performing the act Jesus said: "Let there be no fruit from thee henceforward for ever". My reading of Scripture tells me that Israel still has a future. She has been set aside? Yes. She has been visited in judgment? Yes, and in judgments fearful in their intensity which may yet not be over. But cast off for ever? No! "God forbid" said Paul, "God did not cast off His people which He foreknew". So I do not see how this action of cursing the fig tree can rightly be applied to that unhappy but chosen nation of Israel.

You will say that the miracle was explained by the Lord Jesus as being given to stimulate the faith of His disciples so that they -- and we -- might realise that by prayer we can have spiritual authority to wither up evil powers. I accept this. In fact I have often thought that the Church should put such aggressive prayer into action much more than it usually does. Nevertheless, the Lord never promised us that we should be able literally to wither up trees in this way and nobody else has ever done it. But He did it! And so far as His public ministry was concerned He made this the climax of the miraculous proofs of His deity. So again I ask, Why did He do it?

May I humbly suggest a thought which has come to me in this connection? It is that He did this wonder, and did it at this time, so that the world should know that had He wished to do so He could have spoken words which would have shrivelled up that wooden cross. Had He pronounced that curse at Calvary there would have been an immediate disintegration into innumerable fragments of that hateful monstrosity of a 'tree' on which they nailed Him. What is more, if such powers of judgment belonged to Him as the Son of God (and I, for one, believe that they did), then a word from Him would have crushed those cruel participators in His crucifixion into insignificance. Jew and Gentile alike, they would have been as withered from the roots of their beings just as that fig tree was, if He had uttered His curse upon them. It may be true that Christ's action with the fig tree portrayed lessons which are essentially spiritual, but His miracle of judgment was fearfully literal.

"COME down from the cross ..." the scoffers cried. They little dreamed how near they were, in a sense, to seeing Him do just that. And yet, we cannot say that the Lord even considered doing so, for this issue had been settled already in the garden of Gethsemane. There Jesus had agonised over this very matter and had deliberately chosen to go right through to the end with His sacrifice for our salvation. But let us make no mistake about it; He stayed on the cross because He chose to do so and not because any cords or nails held Him there.

"Let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe on Him" the scoffing priests and scribes cried. Satan had tried this ploy at the beginning when he suggested to Christ in the wilderness that He should give public proof of His eternal sonship by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple and landing unharmed amidst a crowd of astonished worshippers. Had He done this it would certainly have created a tremendous sensation. It might have produced many followers -- of a sort. But our Lord rightly rejected sensational publicity: true believers are not made by this kind of thing. He kept close to the Word of God and would neither worship Satan (the god of this world) nor tempt God by sensationalism. Well, the Devil was defeated then, but he came back again and again and made his last great effort to seduce Christ even while He hung on that cross. If Jesus had stepped down, recovered His garments from the gambling soldiers, resumed them, and then walked away with His happy friend, John and His human mother, Mary, what a sensation it would have created. "Now come down from the cross, that we may see and believe," they promised. With such a sensation on hand they might even have become His enthusiastic followers, but what a travesty that would have been of true faith. How different from the worshipping wonder of the centurion who glorified God that His Son refused to come down from the cross! [82/83]

Let me repeat it, Jesus could have stepped down. But let us all thank God that He refused to do so. Think of the dying thief, left to hang there with his blaspheming companion, and no Saviour to comfort him in time and to receive his soul in eternity. What a horror for that poor sinner if his only hope had vacated His own cross and left His repentant companion to perish on his. And what a horror for me too, who would be left in the same plight if Christ had never cried: "It is finished". Men are not saved by sensations but by His sacrifice. If Jesus had only lived and taught, and even suffered, there would be no hope for my guilty soul. It is because He died that I live. It is because He refused to vacate the cross of judgment that I shall never enter into condemnation. I rejoice with the thief, and multitudes more, that Christ did not come down from the cross.

GREAT as the issue of salvation is, there is something even greater, and that is the satisfaction of God. It was the Father who would have been most affected if the Lord had come down. Twice with the shadow of His cross already upon Him, the Lord Jesus was greeted by the Father in terms of deep approbation. When Jesus chose to be identified with sinners in John's baptism, the voice from heaven declared: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). Then again, when on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Lord spoke with Moses and Elijah about His coming passion, the Father burst forth from heaven with His jubilant acclaim: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased ..." (Matthew 17:5). Now they had passed from the shadow to the reality. What could the Father have said this time, if His Son had gone back on His earlier intentions and stepped down from that cross? He would never disown the Son. He would never change in His Father's love. So He could still have announced that this was His beloved Son, but how could He have finished the sentence? '... but I am rather disappointed with Him'? The very words sound blasphemous.

They might apply aptly enough to us. Thank God that through Christ we are His sons, and He will never disown us. Thank God that we, too, are greatly loved, and nothing can alter that Father's love to us who trust in Christ. But in our case God might have to say, rather wistfully, 'Yes they are my beloved sons but I am rather disappointed with them at the moment'. We are beloved sons but we cannot claim always to do His good pleasure. Christ, however, is quite different. He always brought pleasure to the Father's heart, and never more than when He resolutely refused to free Himself from those hateful crucifying nails. So even if no dying thief were welcomed into paradise, and even if no sinner ever called upon the Lord for salvation, Christ would still have remained on the cross, for in doing so He was bringing deep satisfaction to the Father in heaven.

It is true that this time there was no voice from heaven. No, but there was something better. The glory of the Father penetrated that sealed tomb and raised the beloved Son from the dead. How much better to be raised up than to step down! The centurion was proved right; Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). The Lord Jesus had proved in fullest measure what many godly believers had previously tasted in part, that when a person refuses to fight for himself, God will fight for him; and that when a believer is prepared even to go to the death for God, he can always count on the one who raises the dead to vindicate his faith. To carnal hearts it would have seemed a marvellous miracle for the distressed Jesus to have descended from the cross, but to believing hearts the true miracle is that God raised Him from the dead.

WE gratefully worship the Saviour for refusing to choose the easier way. He turned a deaf ear to the tempter's subtle call; He would not come down from the cross. As we worship, though, we must ask ourselves if there is any lesson for us, who have been called upon to take up our cross daily and follow Him. In this matter perhaps Nehemiah's words apply more correctly to us than they do to our Lord. For, like Nehemiah, we have many adversaries in the life and work to which the Lord has called us. Sometimes our enemy tries to frighten us by frontal attacks. These may be fierce and hard to bear, but at least we know them for what they are and are able to trust the Lord to help us to ignore them. The most perilous, as Nehemiah himself found, are those subtle schemings which seem plausible enough and which appeal to our natural instincts of self-preservation. 'Come down,' the tempter calls. 'Why should you endure such injustice? Why should you be imposed upon? [83/84] Surely you have suffered enough already. You can be rid of it all if you want to. Call it a day! Step down from your cross.'

There is nothing mystical about this. It is a fact of life for the Christian that he is constantly being faced by a strong temptation to choose the easier way. It comes to us all. Like the mockers at Calvary, voices all around us call us to abandon our cross and come down. In our case the advice may not come from intentional scoffers but from considerate friends. What do you suppose that John and Mary thought when they heard the suggestion? I cannot but feel that in their hearts they wished that even at that late hour Jesus would come down and be spared the pangs and shame of crucifixion. Whatever they thought, though, they kept silent, whereas some time before Peter had been unable to do that and had urged Christ never to let Himself be crucified. Behind the well-intentioned protestations of Peter, Christ discerned the snare of Satan, and He said so in emphatic terms. It is always Satan who tries to dissuade us from following the Crucified. Whether he uses the sneers of our enemies or the kindly advice of our dearest friends, his persistent effort is to induce us to save ourselves and to come down from the will of God.

Nehemiah had the invitation to come down four times over, but each time he gave the same answer. It was that God's work was much more important than his own comfort or safety. "Why should the work of God cease, whilst I leave it and come down ...?" he asked (Nehemiah 6:3). Why indeed? Alas, with many of us it often does. It seems that from the first Nehemiah realised that there was a subtle trap in this invitation to confer in a village of the plain of Ono. Ono means 'strength' and it often seems strong and clever to get involved in a world of conferences and arguments instead of getting quietly and steadily along with the work committed to us. It is a false strength which draws us into impulsive self effort. Christ refused to exercise it. He preferred to stay on the cross in the will of the Father and demonstrate the true power of God which is by resurrection.

So for us it is not only a question of whether or not we can be persuaded to abandon the work and come down to seek our own interests, but a greater challenge as to whether we will come down or wait for God to raise us up. The two are inextricably bound up together, refusing to come down out of the will of God and proving the power of resurrection. Had Nehemiah relaxed from the work and responded to the invitation to come down he would never have lived to make that glorious declaration: "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). It would have been disaster. But because he refused to come down, he was able to report: "So the wall was finished ..." (Nehemiah 6:15). And because our Saviour refused to come down from the cross He was able to cry in triumph: "It is finished". So the challenge is passed on to us. Will we go right through with the will of God? Shall we be able to claim, like Paul, "I have finished my course"? Every day is for us a day of choice as to whether we will bear our cross and count on the God of resurrection or take our affairs into our own hands and step down from the particular feature of the cross which we are being asked to bear. Let us forget ourselves. Let us close our ears to every other voice but God's. Let us say, like Nehemiah: "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down".


Alan L. Barrow

"And this will be manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen." (1 Timothy 6:15-16)

THIS is the final message of our series and it heads everything up to a thrilling doxology. We have already seen that the climax of everything for the man of God is the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ and now we are further informed that this will happen in God's own proper time. The apostle anticipates something of that coming glory in his own soul even as he [84/85] writes, finding deep satisfaction in dwelling only on the very nature of God. There has been a sequence in this appeal to the man of God. It spoke of his living out his life in the presence of the life-giving God, led on to the climax in the manifestation of God's glory by the coming of Christ and now centres every thought on the eternal nature of God Himself.

The phrase "at the proper time" refers us straight back to the first coming to earth of the Son of God which we are told was: "when the fullness of the time came ..." (Galatians 4:4). We are able to look back on that first manifestation and realise how exactly right the time was when the Babe was born in Bethlehem. It was right in the matter of language, of political government and of Israel's condition. As always, God was exactly on time in choosing the moment for the incarnation. This helps to give us such complete confidence in Him that we have no doubt that this glorious appearing will also be perfectly timed. It must have been very necessary for the Christians of Paul's day to know with confidence that Christ would return at God's proper time. There were so many pressures upon them and the very survival of the gospel must at times have seemed so uncertain, that it was good to have Christ's assurance that the gospel would be preached in all the world for a witness and that then the end would surely come. It is just as necessary today for the Christians of many lands, and thank God, it is just as sure. Not a breakdown of the gospel, not a gradual falling off and fading away, but a glorious consummation of God's purposes in Christ. It will be 'in due time'. The purpose was God's; the power is God's; and the moment of fulfilment will be God's also. It will be at the proper time.

WHAT else could Paul do than break out into a paean of praise? He had done this at the beginning of the letter, when considering the first advent of Christ as He came into the world to save sinners: "To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Timothy 1:17). How can the redeemed man of God do less than bow in wondering worship, whether he looks back to that first coming or looks on to the future appearing? And note, he is not just thanking God for what He has done -- "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" -- but he is adoring God just for what He is. Do we find our hearts overflowing with worship when we think of all that God has done in grace and mercy? Do we find ourselves overwhelmed in wonder at the contemplation of His mighty acts? Surely we do. And surely, as men of God and women of God, we sometimes pass from this kind of glad thanksgiving to the pure praise which is centred on God Himself. True worship dwells not so much on what God has done, nor on what we have received from Him, as wonder at what He is. Such praise is entirely God-centred.

And who is this God of ours? He is the happy Sovereign -- "the blessed and only Sovereign". Curiously enough this word 'sovereign' is nowhere else in the Scriptures used concerning God. It is employed to describe earthly rulers in other places, but here it is definitely stated that the Lord is supreme in His majesty and power as well as in His happiness. Once again, the word 'blessed' is very rarely used to describe God, though it is very apt. As the Christians of Paul's day looked round at their contemporary earthly rulers, they would certainly not be impressed by any atmosphere of genuine happiness in their cases. The outstanding one at that period was Nero, who was the very reverse of happy, being morose and murderously suspicious even concerning those nearest to him. So the apostle pointed away from the miserable despots of his day and centred attention on God who is the only true and the uniquely happy ruler. He is King of kings. The verbal form used to describe the kings and lords over whom He is supreme really means that they were reigning and ruling ones. Unlike Revelation 19:16, where Jesus is described as King of kings and Lord of lords, the real force of Paul's phrase seems best rendered by 'King of those who are acting as kings and Lord of those who are lording it'. Wherever there are those who are trying to function in these realms, God is altogether superior to them. How can we do other than worship?

He alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light. We have fresh reason for appreciating Christ's mediatorial work when we are reminded that this immortal one, the sole fount and originator of life, has His home in such light that He would be unapproachable but for the Lord Jesus. God would necessarily be remote if He Himself had not provided a Mediator. The light of His glory, the beautiful excellence of His being would be unenduringly painful but for Christ. If we were exposed to the infinite majesty [85/86] of God we could not survive; but the marvel is that far from shrinking from the epiphany of His coming glory we are looking hopefully for that very appearing. All this is because we have been redeemed by the blood of the cross. For us the indescribable glory is, as it were, just below the horizon, waiting to break in upon us in the person of our beloved Lord.

IN our last article reference was made to the experience of Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road, when the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ struck him to the ground. Evidently his companions did not see what he did, for they were unaffected by it, whereas Saul was left blind. The others were able to pursue their journey and to lead the apostle into the city. For his part, he had been temporarily blinded by the God who dwells in light unapproachable and might have been permanently blind but for a divine miracle of renewed light. We find a three-fold reference to this light in Acts 26. First Paul reported: "... I saw on the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun ..." (verse 13). Then he told of his commission: "to turn them from darkness to light" (verse 18), and then went on to report how he had been obedient to it, telling men that the glorified and risen Christ "should proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles" (verse 23). This, then, is the function of the man of God, to receive the divine light through Christ and then through Him to minister that light to others who are in darkness, telling them that:

"The sons of ignorance and night

Can dwell in the eternal light,

  Through the eternal love."

No wonder that Paul burst out into a doxology as he wrote of these marvels: "To Him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen". There is a sense in which we might have expected him to seek to encourage Timothy by reminding him of the reward which would await him if he remained faithful. It would have been logical and quite consistent with many other of his writings. He himself wrote confidently of the crown of righteousness which will be given not only to him but also to "all who have loved his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8). It would therefore seem reasonable to conclude this charge to the man of God with the promise of a reward, especially as God is keener on the idea of rewards than many of our modern educationalists. But no, there is something even higher than that. It is that all the honour should go to God Himself. This is the purest worship. It is not a bad thing to be diverted from the consideration of what would be our gain to give all our attention to His gain, and to think of Him, not as a source of blessing, so much as an object of love and devotion. I must emphasise that we can rise higher than adoring God for what He gives, and appreciate His unique, supreme excellence just in what He is in His own being. This will, in fact, have a sanctifying and ennobling effect on our own spiritual lives. We are His sons and daughters. We are called to be men of God and women of God; of this God who is both unapproachable light and welcoming love. We should be ready to shun everything doubtful, to follow after everything godly, to fight and to confess, all for love of Him. And as we do so we will find ourselves worshipping, saying our Amen to the wish that honour and eternal dominion should all be His.



(Some Thoughts on the Passover)

J. Alec Motyer

Reading: Exodus 12

THERE are times when the Old Testament provides a remarkable visual aid to the New. The New Testament gives a section of particular instruction, where all things are brought into their proper focus. There are true statements in clear, crisp reality, the fourfold portrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels, amplified in explanation after explanation, as the apostolic letters unfold the reality of Jesus before us. But in case we should miss what all this is saying to us, God has prefaced the accounts of Jesus with a book full of pictures in the Old Testament. Of them all [86/87] I think that perhaps the story of the Passover is outstanding. By means of it God addresses our eyes with pictures, vivid clear pictures. As we are blessed with His mercy of clarity of vision, we can enjoy this preview of the Lord Jesus Christ, this picture beforehand of what Jesus was to be and to do afterwards.

I would like to consider the story of the Passover lamb under four headings: Satisfaction, Security, Substitution and Salvation. These words, whose alliteration is quite accidental, sum up four great spiritual ideas: Satisfaction -- the Godward idea; Security -- the manward idea; Substitution -- the explanatory idea; and Salvation -- the resultant or consequent idea.

"And the Lord said unto Moses, Yet one plague more will I bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out altogether" (Exodus 11:1). The people of God had been slaves in Egypt, descending into increasing bondage, but God had remembered His covenant and determined on their release. He sent Moses, and put into His servant's power a sequence of divine visitations upon the land of Egypt. He forewarned Moses, however, that there would be no salvation for the people of God, but only an increasing bondage until, at last, things would come to a head in one plague more, one final divine visitation which would be the climax and, in measure, the solution of the whole problem. This verse shows how God alerted Moses to the fact that the climactic hour had now come. The series of visitations in which there was no salvation had ended, and the moment had come which was going to draw a line across history. More than that, it was going to draw a line across people and across the acts of God. It would mark the great division; one side of which would reveal the acts of God in which there is no deliverance, while on the other side would be the act of God which delivers. The first side would be one of bondage; the other side freedom. And this would not just be the opportunity to choose freedom, not a potential freedom, not a freedom of the will-you-wont-you variety, not an invitation but the reality of actual liberation. "He shall surely thrust you out altogether." This greatest act of God was going to accomplish liberty for His people. The Israelites would not merely find an open door, enabling them to exercise the choice of whether or not they would go out, but would find themselves thrust out from bondage into liberty.

There is the further contrast between those who lie under the just judgment of God and those who are liberated from those just judgments. On the one hand the Egyptians, and on the other the people of God; on the one hand the visitation of wrath and on the other a visitation of mercy. And that is the essence of what the Passover is all about. It was an act of God which drew that line and made evident those who were in bondage under wrath and those who were liberated and mercifully saved from wrath.

1. Satisfaction

It is against that background that we take up the first word, Satisfaction. God spoke to Moses, saying: "For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both men and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord" (v.12). We note that God is a smiting God. This, I suppose, is a highly unpalatable idea of God to us. Which only shows that we have been failing to bind our minds to the revelation which God gives of Himself in the Scriptures. He affirms that He is a God of judgment, a God who brings visitations of wrath upon those who persistently reject His Word. We should observe, however, that it was not without warning and not without justification that God so acted at this time. This is the reason behind the whole story of the plagues. Through them God gave warning of the impending judgment over and over again. By these preliminary minor strokes He made it plain that His Word and His call are not to be toyed with. Plague after plague gave warning and notice that God is a God of judgment. And when the nine-fold call of God had been nine times rejected, then God came with warning and with justification to smite the land of Egypt.

So the Passover night was a night of divine judgment. But it was a judgment which apparently applied equally to all, for the verse informs us that God proposed to smite "all the firstborn in the land of Egypt". He did not say that He would only smite Egyptians, but spoke of all the firstborn. So now we begin to see that in principle it is the whole world which is represented in this story, both the world of Israel and the world of the Gentiles, which is the world in which we live. God comes into that entire scene and over the [87/88] whole earth He spreads the one word of judgment. I will smite all the firstborn! None is exempt. The firstborn of the Israelites was as much threatened as were the firstborn of the Egyptians and the firstborn of Pharaoh.

But the God of wrath had provided a place of mercy: "I am the Lord. But the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you" (v.13). Notice what God did not say, in order better to appreciate what He did say. He did not say: 'When I see you, I will pass over you', for that would have been an exercise of favouritism, and there is no partiality or prejudice with this God. He did not say: 'Whenever I see an Israelite, I will pass over him'. It was not nationality which was satisfying God on that night, nor was it privilege, but it was the sight of shed blood which marked the houses. "When I see the blood ...". It was the sight of the blood which marked the homes where men were which somehow satisfied God. Throughout the land of Egypt there were houses marked with blood, and God had said that when He passed them and saw such marks there would be no plague of destruction on them. That is what I mean by the word Satisfaction. That blood was something which satisfied God. He came in wrath but somehow the wrath was taken away so that He had no quarrel with the people in those blood-marked houses.

This will be a familiar thought to those who are used to the old Communion Service in the Church of England Prayer Book. Think of these words which ring in the communicant's ears: "the Lord Jesus Christ made there (i.e. at Calvary) by His one oblation of Himself once offered, a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction ...". Who is satisfied? My dear friends that satisfaction reaches right up to God, and the God of just anger against sin is satisfied. The Bible word for this is 'propitiation', and although we do not normally use this word in everyday life we all know what it means to seek to appease or placate someone who is angry with us. For the Israelites propitiation was centred in the blood of a Passover Lamb. For us Jesus is the Lamb, and so far as we are concerned His blood reaches upwards to God Himself, taking away His wrath and leaving Him truly satisfied.

2. Security

"And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where you are: and when I see the blood I will pass over you and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you ..." (v.13). The people of God were to take a bunch of hyssop, a tufty plant which made an admirable brush, and to use it to paint the blood around their doors. By this means they were promised security from the destroyer. Surely this must go down into history as one of its most dramatic scenes. Our visual aid is a vivid one. There is the slaying of the lamb outside of the house; there is the collecting in a basin of that blood, the outward and visible sign that a life had been laid down; there is the taking of the blood and the smearing of it around the door; and then there is the father of the house making it his business to usher his whole household in beneath the sheltering blood. You can see him conducting all the family, the firstborn, the older children, the younger children and the mother with her baby in her arms into the blood-sheltered house and then shutting the door. And the Word of God told them to stay there, to stay where the blood had been shed, for while they were there the destroyer would not touch them.

This, then, is the issue of security. Who are God's people? How would you have known them on that night in the land of Egypt? Not by their looks or words. Not by their belonging to anything. That had nothing to do with it. How would you know them? You would find them sheltering beneath the blood of the lamb. They had deliberately and by their own volition gone into the place where the blood had been shed. That is how you always know God's people. They are personally sheltering under the blood of God's Passover Lamb. God said: 'Go there, and stay there'! Do not just go and take notice of the blood and then be about your business. No, Go there, and stay there, for it is only when you are there and while you stay there that you are safe. What is more, you will there have fellowship with God. This blood which reaches up to heaven in satisfaction and spreads its influence out over those who find their security under it, is the basis for living fellowship with God.

3. Substitution

We ask what is the secret contained in this blood of the lamb whereby it can satisfy God and keep the people in security. How does it do it? And once again we have recourse to our visual aid. "And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants, and all the Egyptians, and there [88/89] was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead" (v.30). The aftermath of God's visitation in the land of Egypt was that there was not a house in which there was not one dead. Now in the first instance this refers to the houses of the Egyptians, for the judgment of God was upon those who were outside of the blood. It had taken a disastrous form and every house in the land had been transformed into a house of mourning. In every Egyptian house something dreadful which would make the heart of any parent tremble had taken place. So there was a great cry in Egypt. But come with me into the houses of the Israelites and see that there also one lies dead.

In the Israelites' home the body which we see is not that of the firstborn, but it is the body of a lamb. For when the lamb was killed outside the house and its blood daubed, the corpse was carried inside the house in order that it might be the food and sustenance of the people of God. So in every house there was one dead. In the houses of the Egyptians it was the firstborn, while in Israel it was the lamb. The blood of the lamb had its extraordinary power because it was the blood of the substitute. The firstborn of Israel lived because of the death of the lamb. This is what the story tells us in its plain statement. Listen again to the injunction: "In the tenth day of the month they shall take to them every man a lamb ... a lamb for a household ... according to the number of the souls" (vv.3 & 4). That is to say there was an accountedness. The question was, How many are there in your house? What size lamb will be needed to provide sufficiently for that number of persons? The verse goes on to say: "... according to every man's eating ...". So there was a second count taken, not only according to the number but according to the need, according to every man's capacity to eat. So that the lamb was as far as possible to be the exact measure of the number and of the need of the people of God. And the regulation was given that if any of the lamb remained over until the morning it was to be consumed there and then. Why? Because the function of the lamb was to match the number and the need of the people of God.

If you are mathematically minded you may object that since in the judgment upon the Egyptians it was only the firstborn who died, there is a discrepancy in suggesting that all the Israelites were delivered by substitution. If so, listen again to God's Word; this time when He was sending Moses back to Egypt on his great mission of deliverance: "And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, my first born" (4:22). So when we speak of the firstborn we are talking of the whole people. The lamb had the measure of that people when the one died, for it died in another's place and the people of God, God's firstborn, lived on secure because of that one death.

In Christ we have the one who measured our number and our need, and laid down His life in our place. This is what Jesus taught when He said: "The Son of man came not to be ministered to but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many". If you think that Jesus is first and foremost the object of your service, and that by serving Him you will earn acceptance with God, then you contradict Him when He affirmed: "... not to be ministered to ...". No, it is He who does the ministering, giving His life as a ransom to be the substitute, taking the place of sinful men.

4. Salvation

"Thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand: and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord's passover" (v.11).

Those who shelter beneath the blood of the lamb are made at that moment the possessors of salvation. It is not just set before them as a potential blessing, a will-you-wont-you invitation, but an immediate experience. One more look at our visual aid will help us to appreciate this. Look how they had to eat. They were eating last thing at night, but they were dressed as though it were first thing in the morning. They were eating at bedtime, but they were all ready for the new day. Why? Because to shelter beneath the blood and to feed on the lamb committed them to a life of pilgrimage. They must be off with God. They are God's people; they have been purchased by precious blood. They belong to the Lord now, and they must be off on their way, for they have been called to walk with Him.

Does my message find you on this holy pilgrimage? Have you come to rely on the certainty of a satisfied God? Are you restfully enjoying the complete security of the shed blood of the Lamb? Does the glorious gospel reality [89/90] of the Saviour-Substitute liberate you from all bondage and find you feasting on the Lamb and girded for your onward march towards God's goal? Do you find yourself thrust out -- not by some Pharaoh but by the Spirit of the living God? There should be no room for doubt or uncertainty. Could we return to that dramatic Passover night in Egypt we would not find a single soul there who would answer this challenge by saying: 'I don't know' or 'I think so'. Everyone knew without a shadow of doubt whether or not they were sheltering under the blood of the lamb. If they were not, then there was no security and no salvation for them. But if they were, then they were not only safe but liberated -- thrust out with the onward marching people of God. This is what it means that Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us. "Wherefore let us keep the feast."


T. Austin-Sparks

"And he shewed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal,
proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb,
in the midst of the street thereof
" (Revelation 22:1-2)

PASSING from the general description of the holy city in Revelation 21 the apostle John then said that he was shown it as consisting of one single and central street, with a river flowing down the centre of that street of pure gold. The spiritual significance of the vision is the perfect oneness of Christ as revealed in a beautiful unity in which He has the central place. This is God's masterpiece, this unity of the fellowship of the Spirit which makes Christ and His members one. By means of this city God plans to minister to the whole range of His universe. The nations are to walk in its light and to find health from the leaves of its tree of life. God purposes to minister blessing to His universe from the central position of the Church in which Christ is the central Figure.

If this is so, then we must believe that this element of oneness is a vital principle, and that even now the Lord is working to produce and maintain it. Although the final objective of God is future, it must surely cast its rays upon the present. When the glorious city comes suddenly into view it may seem to come 'out of the blue', but in fact it will only represent the final emergence of that which has been spiritually coming all the time. There is a sense in which each one of us is sending up in advance those spiritual values in Christ which are being developed in us. When we follow the simile of the bride, we think of the garments being prepared now, as some excellency, some beauty, some virtue of Christ is woven like a thread into the fabric of the bridal garments. We will 'put on' Christ then because we are learning to put Him on now. It seems that in a similar way, the material of the heavenly city is being prepared now. It is true that every part of it represents some aspect of Christ, but once again it should be realised that these expressions of Christ are to be formed in us now. The consummation will be seen later, but the city is being spiritually formed now.

What will be true ultimately concerning the eternal vocation of the Church as the metropolis of God's new universe, throws some light on what should be true here and now. In eternity God's glory is to be ministered on a basis of absolute unity. First of all this means oneness with the Lord Himself. The Church can fulfill God's eternal purpose only by oneness with the thoughts of God as expressed in His Son. It is not enough to contemplate a feature of divine unity as illustrated by the one single street and the life-giving river flowing down the middle of it; we need to ask ourselves what this implies for us here on earth. Surely the implication is that among God's people there should be that basic unity of the Spirit which makes possible a free-flowing ministry of life. There is no need to insist on a uniformity of language or procedure. Even where this exists in outward matters there can still be deep tensions of spirit and dividedness of heart. And even where people differ in unimportant matters there can still be that all-important unity of fellowship in Christ. It is this unity which is essential to the flow of the Spirit.

Satan himself lays emphasis on this point by his constant strategic movement against the power [90/91] and value of any service for Christ by introducing divisions and seeking to perpetuate them. He does not mind talk about oneness; in some ways he does not so much object to doctrinal agreement of an external nature; but he is set positively and persistently against a deep-down inwrought oneness, for he knows the powerful impact of such a testimony. So the picture of the river flowing down the street is a challenge to us all. It is, of course, a challenge to the Church as a whole, since the unity of the Spirit is not sectional but all-embracing. It follows, though, that the practical impact of the challenge is felt at local levels and in the assemblies where we are found. Is the river flowing there? If not, is this lack due to basic disunity? Are there many streets, side avenues and private roads, instead of the King's highway?

THE challenge finally confronts each individual, for the Lord Jesus promised that the result of a vital faith in Him would be the outflow of rivers of living water (John 7:38). So the initial unity must be that of our own personal relationship with Christ. Before we begin to consider our church, we need to examine our own lives and to ask if those around us are finding refreshment and life as the Spirit flows out from us to them. It is not enough to meditate on the beauty of the golden street with its crystal-clear river if we think of it only in terms of future prospects and not of present fulfilment. So while we gratefully enjoy John's prevision of eternal glory, we do well to ask what it should mean for us here and now.

John could say: "He showed me ...". He was reporting what he had himself seen. But is it not relevant that each one of us, in reading and hearing the Word, should be able gratefully to affirm: "He showed me ...". Just as John could hardly have conceived these heavenly wonders if the Lord had not first said to him: "Come, and I will show you ...", so we cannot appreciate the spiritual significance of this matter until the Lord Himself has revealed it to us. We should be able to say in all humility, "He showed me ...". But if this is true, if we really have received revelation, then what we have seen ought to have a tremendous practical effect upon our lives. How can I rightly claim to have seen this wonderful truth of spiritual fellowship if it does not find practical expression in my life? How can I talk about the holy city, the heavenly bride of the Lamb, without any outworking of the principles in me now? Surely the test of whether we have seen is to be found in what happens to us and in us. I do not believe that there can be an effective divine showing without there being some result. It is surely most perilous to accumulate teaching concerning holy truths, perhaps even to disseminate that teaching, while all the time there is a minimal outworking of them in our experience. The teaching can do more harm than good, for it can deceive people into imagining that they are in the good of things just because they are informed about them. We must always test our assumed knowledge by the practical effect which it can be shown to produce.

IN the last chapter of the Bible, as in the first, the double emphasis is on the Spirit and on life. In Genesis we are told that the very first indication of divine activity was the brooding of the Spirit of God, and then followed ever new and ever more wonderful expressions of life. When we come to the last chapter of the Revelation we find the Spirit with the bride calling: "... he that is athirst let him come: he that will, let him take of the water of life freely". So again we have the Spirit and life. In a sense this is a key to the whole Bible. In the Old Testament the Spirit is symbolised in many ways, as water, fire, oil and so on, but always related in some way or other to the matter of life. In the New Testament this is much more clearly emphasised. The last book, the book of consummation, has the Spirit and life as its two most prominent features. It opens with John's statement that he was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and then seven times over in the letters to the churches, the call is for those who will listen to what the Spirit has to say in the churches. Running right alongside is the question of life. In the Spirit John saw and heard the Living One, the Lord Jesus, in terms of resurrection life. As the seven-fold fullness of the Spirit is referred to, we realise that His lamps of fire are directed to the churches in a quest for the one supreme experience which should be theirs, even the fullness of life. The real test of whether those believers were moving towards the Church's goal was, Are people meeting Christ through you? Is virtue flowing out to others, as it did from the garments of our Lord? Our very vocation here on earth is to be witnesses of His life and to minister that life to others around us. Individually and in our churches, we are meant to be life centres.

One of the churches was told: "... thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead ..." (Revelation 3:1-3). Names are no use to the Lord. [91/92] Whether the name sounds good, whether it is Scriptural, whether it has a long tradition; these are of no interest to the Lord and have no value in His sight unless His own life and love are flowing out through us. And there can be no doubt that this life expresses itself in oneness. If the Holy Spirit is really having His way among the Lord's people, they cannot be divided. In eternity there will be a golden street. Even now may His love so triumph in us, His people, that the river of life is freed to carry life to the thirsty souls around us!



John H. Paterson

AMONG the Minor Prophets Jonah is unique. In terms of response to his message, he was arguably history's most successful preacher; he had barely begun his sermon when a whole city of 120,000 people was converted -- and converted genuinely enough for God to be moved to withhold His judgment. Yet of this remarkable preaching all we have is a single sentence (consisting of only five Hebrew words): "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown". That, in fact, is all that constitutes the 'prophecy' of Jonah, properly speaking. The rest is the story of the man, rather than his message.

This lack of a detailed message has led some students of the book to suppose that, in order to give it value and justify its inclusion in the canon of Scripture, it must be read as an allegory -- that Jonah should be taken to represent disobedient Israel, or the three days in the fish as the captivity in Babylon. It would be hard to prove this -- or disprove it, for that matter -- and it seems to be making heavy weather of the story. The Lord Jesus referred to Jonah, and certainly seems to have intended the reference to be taken as historical rather than allegorical: "as Jonah ... so shall the Son of man" (Matthew 12:40). It will be well for our understanding of the book if we can keep out of the realm of speculation and stick to what can be learned directly from the story.

It has been suggested in each of the articles in this series that the twelve Minor Prophets were raised up by God to draw attention to different aspects of His character which were in danger of being forgotten. Most of the prophets did this by means of a spoken message. Hosea, as we have earlier seen, did it partly by speaking and partly by acting out a role which God assigned to him -- that of a man with an unfaithful wife. In Jonah's case, uniquely, all of the message is in the prophet's own experience or, to be more precise, in the parallelism between three experiences in which he was involved.

At first sight, the conundrum posed by the life of Jonah seems very obscure: what is the connection between a disobedient prophet, a wicked city and the plant ricinus or gourd? And the answer seems to be: a God who is a God of resurrection.

The dictionary defines 'resurrect' as 'to restore to life'. In this literal sense of the word there were three situations in Jonah's experience where a resurrection was called for. The first and most obvious was when Jonah was thrown into the sea, far from land and in a raging storm. At that moment, he was as good as dead, and only a divine intervention could bring him back to life again, by way of the fish's belly. The second situation was when Jonah finally reached Nineveh and announced that the city had just 40 days to live. Only a miracle could save it from destruction; its inhabitants were as good as dead. The third situation was when the gourd under which Jonah was sheltering from the sun withered and died. To judge by his remarks (4:8-9), Jonah felt strongly that a fresh miracle of resurrection was called for, to bring the gourd back to life. [92/93]

So we have three deaths, followed by two resurrections. What in fact happened can be set out for the sake of clarity in this way:

Jonah Nineveh The Gourd
Death Death Death
Resurrection Resurrection ----------------

But this evidently struck Jonah as a very unsatisfactory, not to say arbitrary, use of God's power of resurrection. He himself (4:2a) would have preferred a different sequence:

Jonah Nineveh The Gourd
Death Death Death
Resurrection ---------------- Resurrection

while before the end of the story he had become so exasperated with the actual course of events that he twice requested that he might die (4:2b, 8) -- or, in other words, he was wishing for:

Jonah Nineveh The Gourd
Death Death Death
---------------- ---------------- ----------------

His memory was evidently short; he had grown tired of resurrections.

It is not surprising, under these circumstances, that the argument of God was with the prophet, rather than with the heathen sailors or the condemned Ninevites, both of whom turned to Him immediately they realised what was happening. The man who had just undergone the most dramatic resurrection in history outside the New Testament appears to have treated his own experience not as revealing a basic characteristic of God and His working but as a personal favour; so personal, in fact, that it should certainly not be extended to anybody else.

It was certainly not simple ignorance of God's manner of working which led Jonah to adopt this attitude. For the second chapter of the book contains as clear a statement as one could wish for of God's principle of resurrection, voiced by Jonah himself, and culminating in the words, "For my deliverance comes from the Lord alone" (2:9, Living Bible). Jonah knew that only God could bring about a resurrection, but then he seems to have slipped into feeling that God should perform or withhold this miracle on demand -- Jonah's demand.

So God had to introduce into Jonah's experience another lesson. Not only is it true that God, and He alone, is the God of resurrection, but it is also true that He exercises this power of bringing back to life at His own discretion. This is, as it happens, one of the commonest lessons in the school of God; Job had to learn it, and so did Abraham and David (Hebrews 11:19; 2 Samuel 12:13-22). Now it was Jonah's turn, and he found the going hard. Twice the book reports him as being angry at God's decisions (4:1, 9), the first time because God had exercised His prerogative of resurrection, the second time because God had not. The full dimensions of his false values then had to be pointed out to him (4:10-11): he wanted God to resurrect a mere plant, but he could contemplate without a tremor the destruction of a whole city, its population and its "much cattle". Perhaps it was to make clear the true extent of Jonah's unreasonable prejudice that God included the cattle in His rebuke. Supposing, He seems to be asking Jonah, the choice had been between one plant and one cow, should I not have chosen to save the cow? Do cows not like to stand in the shade of a tree on a hot day just as you do? Are they any different from people in this respect? And here we have a city with many cows, and a hundred and twenty thousand people, and I choose to resurrect them all; yet you question my judgment?

We are left with little sympathy for Jonah; we can only hope that he learned his lesson. Clearly, it had not been his preaching that turned the scales for Nineveh, because he had only just begun the sermon when the city repented, and so none of the credit belonged to him, and perhaps that had something to do with his chagrin. But that fact, of course, is all of a piece with the rest -- with the sole prerogative of God to bring about this miracle. And happily for us, we have the sequel -- the greater resurrection, of which that of Jonah had been the sign. Perhaps as a result of observing his mistakes and misjudgements we can appreciate in a new way the significance of those New Testament words, "I am the resurrection and the life". Resurrection is God's miracle; it is for Him alone to decide when and on what conditions to perform it. And surely to us the enormously encouraging thing is that He chose, over the protests of His own servant, to perform it in favour of a wicked city, which He spared because His resurrection power is activated by His pardoning grace. [93/94]


Raymond Golsworthy

"For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch" (Mark 13:34).

ONE of the marvels of Christ's ministry was His ability to present the deepest truths in the simplest and briefest terms. For those who have eyes to see it, there is, in the single sentence quoted above, a concentration of deep Church truth, and a survey of the whole present dispensation. It merits our closest attention.

In this verse the Lord tells of a wealthy householder who, obliged to undertake some foreign travel, preceded his departure by gathering together his employees and explaining what would need to be done during his absence. Some, it seems, were given 'power of attorney', qualifying them to negotiate various business transactions during the unspecified period of the master's absence. Others were briefed concerning practical tasks that would need to be undertaken either in the fields or in the homestead itself. Uppermost in the householder's mind seems to have been his concern that those left behind should remain constantly alert, on the look-out for his return. We notice that the whole chapter (Mark 13) deals with our Lord's Second Coming, and all that is said revolves around the key statement: "Then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with power and with great glory" (v.26). Our brief story is calculated to bear down upon that truth, and is designed to show us in composite form, what it is that the Lord expects from His people, the Church, during the present period of His absence from us. According to the story, His outstanding concerns are three:

1. He wants us to exercise authority during His absence

This, we notice, is the first matter mentioned: "He gave authority to His servants". Without a doubt one of the greatest revelations of the New Testament is that the Church is a company of people "called out", and called out for administration. It is helpful to notice that the Greek word, 'Ecclesia' (usually translated 'church') is applied to a group of citizens specially chosen to exercise authority in civic affairs (Acts 19:39). In like manner we may say that the Lord's Church consists of a people 'called out' to exercise authority in the spiritual world. In connection with His Church our Lord said: "And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19). It is striking that the same words are repeated exactly where the reference is to the local expression of the church (Matthew 18:18). These are the only two occasions on which the Lord is quoted as actually using the word 'church', and in both cases he makes it plain that it consists of a people called out for administration and authority. This, then, is an authority which has clearly been delegated to us by our Absent Master, and it may be used to the extent to which we ourselves are subject to His will. With it we may bind God's enemies, and even resist the devil himself, so that he will flee from us (James 4:7). And by this authority we may 'loose' situations and set captives free. This, evidently, is a primary function of the Church during the period of our Master's absence. How sad it is that so few Christians know anything of a spiritual authority! So much is possible through believing prayer because of the authority of the name in which we pray. We need to allow the Word of God to enlighten us as to the Church's calling to apply the power of that name to actual situations and we also need the Lord's help to be faithful in this matter.

2. He has much work for us to do during His absence

We are told that this householder "gave to every man his work". This also is significant and basic. None of us would question that there is very much work that needs to be done before the Lord returns. Just prior to His going, our Lord said: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). The fact is that we who are the Lord's people have been put in trust with the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Today as much as ever there is a great deal of sowing of the seed which needs to be done in a worldwide context, to say nothing of the harvest waiting to be reaped from seed already sown. Now is the time for such evangelistic witness. But Peter's commission reminds us that now is [94/95] also the time in which we have the commands: "Feed My sheep" and "Feed My lambs (John 21:15-17). This refers to other activities and callings which are an related to the same household and to be done in the light of Christ's near return. It is strenuous work, as all vital service must surely be, but it is the very work for which our absent Lord ,has provided full sufficiency.

If the Lord gives His Church work to do then He can be trusted always to provide the resources for it. We shall not get very far if we take the matter up in our natural strength or fleshly energy, but we do not need to do this, for the Spirit's power is freely available for those who give themselves to toil for the Lord in the light of His coming. It was after his thrilling words about the coming glory that Paul told the Corinthians to be: "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58), and in that same chapter he had revealed the secret of his own successful work for Christ through the years: "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).

It is strikingly true that when expectation of the Return of Christ is forgotten or obscured, the work of the Lord languishes. According to our text the Lord has given to every man his work during the period of His absence, and we understand that when He does come back He will take a lively interest in noting to what degree His commands have been obeyed. We have work out in the field, sowing the seed of the kingdom and reaping the harvest of His sacrificial death, and we all have allotted tasks inside the house (1 Timothy 3:15), ministering to one another and providing for that which is beautiful in His sight; and really this is all one work to be undertaken purely and simply for the Master's gain and pleasure. If we are taken up with our own interests, our own future, our own likes and dislikes, then we shall lose sight of the fact that the Lord is at the door, and so become slack about spiritual things when we should take pleasure in being busy in His service. The devil tries to tell us that our efforts and sacrifices are unappreciated, that nobody seems to notice whether we pull our weight in the Lord's house or not. He even suggests to us that the Lord does not show any special sign of delight in what we do, or disappointment when we do not do it. The great consideration which will deliver us from all his wily temptations is to remember Christ's words: "Behold, I come quickly". With those words ringing in our ears how much more will we attempt in His name, while we do it in glad anticipation of our Lord's return.

3. He has a special desire that we should be constantly watching for His return

Together with all the other commandments and orders, we are told that the householder gave special instructions about watching: "He commanded the porter to watch" (see also verses 33, 35 and 36). We are all to share in the authority, all to share in the labours and all to share in the watching. In this sense we are all 'porters'. Now this was not just because the Lord likes to know that His people are eager to see and welcome Him, though this is true, but His command was given because He knows very well that this glad anticipation of His coming provides the essential motivation for utmost diligence in His business, and for patient persistence in the sacrifices which His will entails. How true it is that behind the unspiritual behaviour of so many Christians lies a sort of idea that the Lord is delaying His coming! Take away this active watching for Christ and you lose the supreme incentive for holy living. The surest way to have the loins girded for service and the light burning in clear testimony is to be "like unto men that wait for their Lord" (Luke 12:35-36).

Would it not be true to state that in a general survey of all that has been said to the Church for this particular dispensation, the Lord's paramount concern is that His people should be: "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13)? The Scriptural instructions about the Lord's Table make it plain that not only are we to look thankfully back to our Saviour's crucifixion, but also to look on with eager expectation to His return in glory. All through the centuries, the promise of the Second Coming has been like a lamp in the night, and in the darkest hours it has brought -- and to this day brings -- untold comfort and encouragement to sorely-pressed saints. We believe that now the appointed time is near, for explicit signs are being fulfilled before our eyes. How much more, then, should we be found earnestly watching!

Paul tells us that the Lord is going to give: "a crown of righteousness" to all those who love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). To love that appearing entails much more than just accepting or propagating the doctrine, and much more than [95/96] merely waiting for an event. It is one thing to be waiting at an airport for some public figure, consulting as to the time of arrival and seeking out a good vantage point for watching, but it is quite another thing to be waiting eagerly for the long-desired homecoming of a beloved relation or friend. It is because you love the Comer that you love the Coming.

The outstanding idea associated with the return of Christ is that He comes to claim his blood-bought bride. So when we have said everything about the Church's privilege to administer the will of God in His name and to work devotedly in His service and even to be watchers for His Coming, we have not reached this most sacred and glorious of all aspects of His return, namely that He comes as the heavenly Bridegroom. Amid all the interests and attractions, yes and cares, of this world; amid all the thrills and problems of Christian work; supreme and paramount above all else the Lord longs for His people to be so in love with Him personally that every part of their lives in governed by the fact that He will soon be here and by a holy resolve not to be "ashamed before Him at His coming" (1 John 2:28).


(Studies in 1 Samuel)

5. UNFITNESS FOR THE KINGDOM (Chapters 9 - 14)

Harry Foster

WE enter now into a period which at times seems bright with hopefulness and at others dark with despair, but which has always the undertones of the amazing grace and patience of our God. To us Saul is a person of mystery. Why was he ever called and anointed? It is a futile occupation for mere men to try to understand the ways of God. It is a much healthier and more helpful exercise to follow the divine record, gratefully accepting the encouragements of the story and humbly profiting from its warnings.

Chapters 9 and 10

There are some beautiful spiritual lessons to be learned from the call to the kingdom of this young man, Saul. We begin with a personal problem in his home, the loss of his father's asses. We ask, what could some wandering donkeys have to do with God's kingdom? The answer is that God makes use of so many apparently irrelevant things when He is pursuing His purposes. God's beginnings are usually small, and yet so much can hang on the seemingly unimportant. That is how it happened with Saul. He was instructed to choose whomever he wanted from among his father's servants, and he chose as his companion a man who served him well. For Saul was by nature an impetuous man. Three days searching for the lost animals was more than enough for him, and the pair would have returned home forthwith if the decision had been left to him. But a rash man is often also a weak man, and Saul was that. In this case happily so, for it was his servant who suggested the next step, provided -- or offered to provide -- the money judged to be necessary, and urged his master to get in touch with Samuel. They did not have to seek very far for, under the overruling providence of God, the two groups met almost at once: "When they came into the city, behold Samuel came out against them". Once again we see the miracle of God's perfect timing. Obviously He was taking great interest in the affairs of this young man Saul, ensuring that he did not find the lost asses, working to make him turn to Samuel for advice and forewarning the seer that this was the one who was to reign over Israel.

All Saul's problems were met at once. He was re-assured about the asses and he was invited to a prepared meal. But more than this, he was astonished to find that he was called to the kingdom. He, the member of such an insignificant family in the smallest of the tribes, was to be given the supreme honour in Israel. He had not thought of it; he did not choose it; and he certainly made no effort to obtain it; his beginnings were entirely a matter of grace. But there are warnings in Scripture about despising or frustrating the grace of God, and the tragic story of Saul will show us how possible such an action can be. [96/97]

For the moment, however, we have fair promise. Saul is led by Samuel into the banqueting house and there presented with a special dish which had been specifically set aside for him. It was a shoulder -- symbol of strength -- so that he could be sure that the God who called him to service would always provide abundant energy for that service. Samuel fed him before he gave him instructions. That is always God's way with us. He makes spiritual sustenance the priority. First we must feed on Christ and then we will be ready to be told what to do. Moreover, Saul had to be anointed. This was a very private and personal experience. Later Saul was to be publicly crowned in the presence of all the people, but at the first his experience of anointing came as he and Samuel were quite alone. Until then the nameless servant had witnessed and shared in what had taken place, but now Saul had his own intimate experience, as Samuel anointed him, kissed him and told him of the confirming signs which God had provided.

These were three, and they all happened just as Samuel said they would. The first was an encounter with two men at the tomb of Saul's famous ancestress, Rachael. That tomb marked the victory of faith, for there Jacob had changed his child's name from Son of my Sorrow to Benjamin, Son of the Right Hand. The message which the men gave was timely, for it re-assured Saul about the asses, but it was also one of fundamental principle since it indicated that God will always look after the personal concerns and problems of those who seek first His kingdom. The second sign was a meeting with three men on their way to Bethel, God's house. These men gave him food and drink, which must have been most welcome since Saul's own provisions were exhausted. But more, this sign reminded Saul and every other person called to the kingdom -- that God provides strength for those who obey His call. The third sign was a promise of enduement of power by the Spirit. This was a fellowship matter, precipitated by yet one more encounter, this time with a company of praising prophets.

We must not confuse this experience of Saul's with New Testament conversion. Although such phrases are used as: "thou shalt be turned into another man" and "God gave him another heart", this did not mean to him then what it means to every believer today. All through the Old Testament we read of the Spirit coming upon men at special times and for specific purposes. This seems to have been one such occasion, and there can be no question but that Saul had a mighty enduement and a miraculous experience of sharing in Spirit-given praises of God. It soon had an end (10:13), but it left its authentic mark of the Holy Spirit, namely a spirit of beautiful humility. He had nothing boastful to say to his uncle (v.16); he hid himself from publicity (v.22); and he did not harbour any rancour towards those who had insulted him (v.27). God had been very gracious to Saul. He had fulfilled His threefold promise right to the hilt, and with it all had enabled him to keep truly humble. Finally the moment arrived when Samuel could present him to the people as the chosen of the Lord.

Chapter 11

We now pass to the next chapter which tells of the confirmation of his kingly calling. It all began so well. Saul (like David afterwards and, indeed, like Jesus of Nazareth at twelve years of age) made no attempt to assert himself or to claim any office, but returned to work on the family farm (v.5). Then he was moved to action in compassion for his oppressed brethren, and had a new experience of the Spirit for this new challenge. We trace the Spirit's working in giving him concern for his fellows, then empowering him for immediate action and making him the agent of true unity among God's people. The Spirit gave him wisdom to deal with the situation and made him the leader in a great victory. Then once again the same Spirit made him gracious as well as grateful: he would praise God but he would avoid any bad feeling against his earlier critics (v.13). So the whole incident was headed up by Samuel into a renewal and confirmation of the kingdom. The chapter ends with what must have been a peak moment, as the triumphant king and his rejoicing people were led by Samuel in holy thanksgiving to God. Who can deny that God was really moving among His people in those days of deliverance? Up to this point Saul does not seem to have put a foot wrong.

Chapter 12

The next chapter is strange but most instructive. Samuel may have been old and grey-headed, but he had spiritual vigour as well as discernment, and he evidently feared that God's patience and goodness may have been wrongly taken by the Israelites to imply that their original demand for a king had been a good thing after all. This he would [97/98] never allow. God had blessed them and wished to continue to do so, but Samuel was not prepared to let them make a virtue of their failures. No, they must never delude themselves by wrongly imagining that God's blessing excused their blunders, nor act as though His kind helpfulness meant that He was forgetful of their impatience or indulgent in His attitude to it. God is neither forgetful nor carelessly indulgent. It often happens that after we have made some rash decision we cannot go back on our tracks, nor unsay or undo what has already transpired. But we can and must recognise and confess our mistakes and we must certainly not assume that all is well just because God continues to bless us and answer prayer for us.

This was the lesson which Israel had to learn when, after an impassioned denunciation, Samuel called for the calamity of thunder and rain at the time of wheat harvest. This unexpected disaster aroused their consciences. The result was healthy in that they turned from their irresponsible cheerfulness to holy dismay, crying: "Pray for thy servants that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil to ask us a king" (v.19). 'It was wrong then and it has not been made right by God's evident goodness and help. So we recognise our sinfulness and throw ourselves upon God's mercy. Please pray for us.' This attitude made possible a new beginning, and it brought them that most Scriptural of encouragements: "Fear not ...". It also opened the way for Samuel to speak some words of encouragement. He assured the people that God may have been offended but He does not sulk. If He has loved, He goes on loving. He will still bless if His people return to Him in humble dependence. And, as a true servant of such a God of grace, Samuel assured them that for his part he would never quit praying for them. But he went on to speak very frankly to them in the Lord's name. So the chapter ends differently from the previous one, but still with hope, though not without warning to king and people that they must never take the Lord for granted. Grace does not give license for carelessness and self-will; it demands humility and obedience.

Chapter 13

The previous chapter left Israel with an uncomfortable feeling that although they had got their own way and even been blessed by the Lord as they had done so, all was not well. How right they were. There was yet to come the sad harvest of their wilful sowing. This chapter seems to suggest that the happy period lasted for two years. In some ways that was a startlingly short time, but in others it was significantly long. For two years after they had flouted God's wishes and insisted on having their own way, all seemed to prosper. It is often like this, with an individual or with a fellowship. The flesh has rashly forced God's hand, events have been precipitated before His time, those concerned have an uneasy awareness that they have made a false move; but they enjoy the blessing and they know that they are prayed for, so that they begin to think that it is all right after all. True, they let their own impatient reasoning rush them into premature action, but they do not expect God to hold this against them. In this they are right. If they will keep truly humble, He will not be against them. Indeed in this case Samuel informed Saul that, given obedience on his part, God would have established his kingdom upon Israel for ever (v.13). The sad fact is that Saul had failed to learn this lesson. As a consequence he was called but not chosen; he was blessed but he proved himself unfit for the kingdom.

Once again, may I say that we must not try to equate his experiences with those of a born-again Christian. There is no question of such a one being rejected or having the Spirit of adoption taken from him. Let us simply consider the story and learn the spiritual lessons without trying to extract theological considerations from it. And the first lesson which leaps out from this chapter is a solemn warning against impatience. In our last study we accused Israel of this very fault; now we will find its quintessence in their first king.

Israel, as was so often the case, found themselves faced by a vast horde of enemies, and had no help but the Lord. Now this might well have proved a further decisive Eben-ezer, but to make that possible Saul needed faith to wait for Samuel to intercede for them on the basis of the lamb. It seems that the king had standing orders always to wait seven days for Samuel to come, or it may be that on this occasion he had a specific promise that Samuel would come at the end of that period (v.8). He did not come. Shall we say that God's servant delayed? Shall we not rather say that God did what He so often does, made the people wait beyond what they judged to be the limit of time? He made Saul wait. He does not do such a thing to tease His [98/99] people but to train them; not to weaken faith but to strengthen it. This, then was the simple test applied to Saul. Would he wait God's time or would he -- to use his own word -- force the issue? The sad answer is that he could not wait. To him it all seemed so logical. The people were first trembling, then scattering; Samuel would apparently not implement his promise to come in time; so the king took the matter into his own hands and "forced himself" (v.12), a thing that the man of the Spirit never does. It was not that he failed to acknowledge God. Far from it! He made a burnt offering. But -- as David later confessed -- God has no pleasure in burnt offerings; His sacrifices are a broken spirit (Psalm 51:16-17).

The significant point is that when he was thus making his carnal effort at a sacrifice, Samuel was only just round the corner. He was not really too late. God never is. He was punctual to the minute. It is just this punctuality of God that the flesh in all of us finds so irksome. He will not hurry. He is never late, but equally He is never too early. That is why so often we are exhorted to wait for Him. Saul could not do that. Even while he was intruding into the priestly office and concluding the sacrifices which God never called for, Samuel appeared on the scene. The Scripture marks the matter with its usual exclamation of 'Behold'. "And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came ..." (v.10).

Saul's rash impetuosity cost him the kingdom. It may seem to us to have been a heavy penalty, but the Lord was looking for a man after His own heart to be His appointed king, and Saul's high-handed impatience had made it quite evident that he was not such a man. "Thou hast done foolishly," said Samuel to him, sweeping aside the logical reasoning which Saul put forward as an excuse. Carnal reasoning is foolishness. Unbelief is foolishness. Impatience with God is folly indeed, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

So the man who had so much help from God and who had enjoyed so many unexpected and undeserved blessings was found unfit for the kingdom. He was not immediately removed. That is not God's way. But Saul's subsequent behaviour confirmed the rightness of the divine verdict, as our next chapter will show us.

Chapter 14

What an attractive type was Saul's son, Jonathan! The first sixteen verses of this chapter describe his fine character and also his simple faith in God. He and his devoted armour-bearer risked their lives in a personal attack on the enemy garrison, being convinced that God could as easily save by means of few as He could by many, and they obtained a notable victory. Jonathan planned that they would only move forward if they had received a sign that the Lord had delivered them into their hands (vv.9-10). How different this was from his hasty father! God delights in such faith and intervened with such a very great trembling that the Philistines were precipitated into headlong flight and everything was set for a sweeping victory. Once again, however, Saul's conceited impetuosity brought a check to what might have been total triumph, leaving Israel with a prolonged struggle on her hands. Saul had been engaged in futile religious conversation while Jonathan and his helper had been risking their lives for God, and probably Saul was much too jealous to be able to have no credit for what had taken place. For him it was not a question of the Lord's enemies, or even Israel's, but he had to draw attention to himself by calling them his enemies (v.24) What was worse he pronounced a disastrous and wholly unnecessary curse on anyone who tasted food. Even the loyal Jonathan could not refrain from condemning this rash vow which distressed the people, relieved their enemies and later led to mass contravention of the law of Moses by the people.

What was more, Jonathan had ignorantly contravened that foolish ban of his father's and had tasted the wild honey which so providentially dripped from a tree in the woods. His stupid father was ready to have him killed in a crazy attempt to justify his own oath and try to get heaven's help back again. Happily the people would not tolerate this, and turned a deaf ear to Saul's invocation of God in the matter. They brought God in, and with so much more justification for, as they said of Jonathan: "He hath wrought with God this day" (v.45).

So the chapter and this present study end with a painful disclosure of Saul as a father unworthy of his son, a ruler despised and rebuked by his people and a general doomed to struggle on in never-ending wars. Sure enough, as Samuel had vainly warned the people, Saul began to conscript [99/100] their sons and fathers for his army and service. The next article will be occupied with the out-working of this tragedy, and will attempt to apply its spiritual lessons to us. Meanwhile, we close with a further reminder that the beginning of Saul's downfall was his inability to wait for God. If we feel, as surely we must, that we fail the Lord in this very matter, how gladly can we seek forgiveness and recovery by the grace of Christ. This Scripture is both a disclosure of our own carnal tendencies and a reminder that God was so right in providing for our 'old man' to be crucified in the cross of Christ. We must not miss the lesson of Saul's story though, but do well to heed the Scriptural exhortation: "Be not highminded, but fear" (Romans 11:20).

(To be continued)


I have recently been thinking about the building of the Sanctuary, not approaching it as a subject to be discussed, but rather with the concern that there should be a place for God in the hearts of men, a place where He is honoured, loved and served. Long before the idea of a House of God was injected into the thinking of God's people, there was a place for God, a Sanctuary, and it was in the heart of Abraham. That was a place where God was God and Lord, where no other consideration was allowed except consideration for God, His wishes and His plans. It was a place where God was worshipped and served in the truest, deepest sense, just as is referred to in Romans 12:1 which speaks of 'reasonable service' or 'spiritual worship'.

It almost seems as though we get nearer to the divine thought of the Sanctuary in the life of Abraham than was ever achieved later in the Tabernacle, the Temple or New Testament churches. I do not imply that these things were not a progressive development of the seed, greater in design and in ultimate content, but think only of practical experience and outworking. We see later that the principles of sanctuary life were more honoured in theory than in actual practice.

The thought I am here trying to express is that the ultimate Sanctuary, the eternal House of God, will be more reminiscent of the heart of Abraham than of the organisation of the Temple or the Church as we know it in its various forms today. Some would say that this is going back to the old idea of personal holiness, personal and individual spirituality, and so retreating from the Pauline revelation of the Church which is the Body of Christ, with its relatedness and corporate life. Yet surely men such as Abraham (the friend of God), Moses (the man of face-to-face communion), and David (the man after God's own heart), were more than just outstanding individualists. They were adjustable, relatable men. Think of Abraham's beautiful relatedness with Lot, of Moses' patient working for forty years with a difficult people in difficult circumstances, and of David's ability to adjust to awkward characters among his mighty men. These were men who knew as much about 'relatedness' as most 'fitted-together-and-built-up' groups in existence today! They were men who, despite their natural stature, knew enough about humility to fit in with others.

This leads to the thought that the Sanctuary is not only something made 'with' men, but first of all something made 'in' man. We cannot hope to reconstruct with men a Sanctuary for God unless these men individually have a Sanctuary for God in their own hearts. The process of splitting, arguing and dividing which we see among God's people today is a heart-breaking testimony to this truth. No matter how spiritual and true our organisation may be, the Sanctuary will exist in reality only to the extent that there is in men's hearts a Sanctuary for God.

Hong Kong Diary
Dr. E. Fischbacher [100/ibc]

[Inside back cover]

BOOKS AND BOOKLETS by Mr. T. Austin-Sparks
can be obtained from:

9 London Road, Bromley, KENT BR1 1BY
Box 34241, W. Bethesda Br., WASHINGTON D.C. 20034, U.S.A.

CASSETTES with messages given by Mr. T. Austin-Sparks
can be obtained from:

30 Western Road, Urmston, MANCHESTER M31 3LF

(Lists can be obtained from these addresses. Stamped envelope please )

BOUND VOLUMES of "Toward The Mark" for 1973 and 1974 (Price 70p; $2.30)
can be obtained from:

39 Honor Oad Road, LONDON SE23 3SH

[Back cover]

Daniel 11:32

Printed by The Invil Press, 4/5 Brownlow Mews, London WC1N 2LD -- Telephone: 01-242 7454

  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological