"... 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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(Messages from the Sermon on the Mount)

1. THE LAWGIVER (Matthew 5:1-2)

J. Alec Motyer

IT is quite clear that Matthew's Gospel is very deliberately constructed, and its purpose is equally plain. It is the Gospel of Jesus the Teacher. The book has five sections devoted to Christ's teaching, each of them followed by the description of a period of activity on His part, so that the words were confirmed by the works. But the striking thing about these five sections is that each of them is terminated by a verb which though rendered: 'ended' or 'finished', does not simply mean 'come to a full stop' but rather 'come to completion'.

We begin with a section of teaching on discipleship (chapters 5 to 7), after which we are told: "It came to pass when Jesus ended these words, the multitude were astonished at his teaching" (7:28). Following the narrative of His actions we come to chapter 10, which gives an account of how the Lord had been briefing the disciples as He sent them out. This time He had been teaching about service, the terms, methods and principles of Christian service, and then we read: "It came to pass as Jesus made an end of commanding his twelve disciples ..." (11:1). So once again we are told that Jesus did not conclude until He had fully completed this phase of teaching. After further activities we find ourselves in chapter 13, with its devotion to that great area of teaching covered by the parables of the kingdom, and once again we are told: "And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence" (13:53). Here we have the identical verb; He finished -- that is not simply that He came to a stop, but He rounded off in completion. After further activities we have chapter 18, with its teaching about the Church and its inner life, all brought to a close by the sentence: "And it came to pass when Jesus had finished these words, he departed from Galilee" (19:1). After the completion of the teaching about the Church we have more activity, followed by chapters 22 to 25, with teaching on the judgment to come, this passage again being closed with the same Greek verb which has been used throughout: "It came to pass when Jesus had finished all these words, he said to the disciples, You know that after two days the passover comes and the Son of man is delivered up to be crucified" (26:1-2). He draws the line: this is the end. Matthew's Gospel, then, is the Gospel of the finished work of Jesus as Teacher. When the cry resounded from the cross: "It is finished", a part of that finished work was His task of being the Teacher of the people of God. Five times over Matthew writes it down for us: 'It is completed' as he records for us the teaching of Jesus on Discipleship, Service, the Kingdom, the Church and the Judgment to Come. In these articles, however, we can do no more than take the slightest dipping of our feet into the great sea of teaching which is to be found in Matthew's Gospel.

The Qualifications of the Lawgiver

This is a very carefully constructed Gospel. When, therefore, we come back to chapters 1 to 4 which lead us into the opening verses of chapter 5 and are used by the apostle to introduce Jesus to us as the Teacher, we find that Matthew does this by deliberately setting out to draw a parallel between the career of Jesus and the history of Israel as we read of it in the book of Exodus. The clue comes in the words: "Out of Egypt have I called my son" (2:15). Mary and Joseph had been commanded to take the young child down into Egypt and they stayed there until the death of Herod. Then the words of the prophet were fulfilled: "Out of Egypt have I called my son". At first sight -- and perhaps at second and third sight -- this would appear to be standing history on its head! When Hosea spoke those words (Hosea 11:1) we have every reason to conclude that he was looking back over the centuries to the exodus, looking back to that time when God called His son out of the land of Egypt. Moses had been sent to Pharaoh to say: "Israel is my son, my firstborn". When Israel came out of Egypt, therefore, it was because God was dealing with them as His corporate son. Matthew, however, invites us to look again at Hosea's words and to see that in a more real sense the prophet was speaking about the true Son, Jesus. He suggests to us that it was necessary for Israel of old to go down into Egypt and to be brought up [1/2] thence because that was yet to be the appointed career of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So that there is in the history of Israel a shadowing beforehand of that which was to be. The real coming out of Egypt was when Jesus came up from that land. And as we begin to follow through Matthew's parallel of the two events, we will see that the first exodus was the shadow of the true. It was full of failures but it pointed on to the real coming out of the Son of God which led to triumph and world dominion.

In passing we should notice that the quotation from Hosea is made in the setting of that rather awful incident of the slaughter of the Bethlehem babies. This is something which only Matthew records, but it is true to the parallel which he is making, for this was the grim reality of the situation when God called His earthly son out of Egypt. The Israelites were under a threat of genicide, for their tyrant ruler had decreed that all their baby boys should be thrown into the Nile. When Israel came out of Egypt that was the situation from which they came. They left it behind, but the true Son was brought up out of Egypt to become God's World Ruler.

When the nation came out of Egypt they arrived first at the Red Sea. So Matthew makes no reference to the boyhood of Jesus, bringing us straight away to the coming of Jesus to John at the waters of Jordan, and thus opening out the parallel which he is drawing. This coming to the sea of Israel resulted in the revelation of their faithless dissatisfied heart. When Jesus came to the sea, however, the revelation was very different, as we shall see. The test of Israel exposed serious unbelief (Exodus 14:10); the test of Jesus at Jordan produced unqualified approval from the Father.

"Then was Jesus led up by the Spirit into the wilderness." How accurately is the parallel worked out! From the Red Sea Moses led Israel on into the wilderness. Israel, God's son, was brought out of Egypt to the waters and to the wilderness. Jesus, God's Son, came out of Egypt to the waters and to the wilderness. And we know that when the Lord Jesus came into the wilderness He came into a period of testing at the hands of Satan. When the earlier Israel came out of Egypt, they might have been forgiven if they had thought that after the Red Sea crossing all their troubles were left behind and now the world was at their feet. But it was not like that for them, nor was it for Jesus, the Son of God. The wilderness was to prove a place of severe testing.

First of all the Israelites were tested in terms of water (Exodus 15:24) and then of food (Exodus 16:3). They came into a place of hunger and thirst. This also was the nature of Christ's first temptation. He fasted for forty days, recapitulating in His own experience the forty years of wandering of the people of God in the wilderness. He came deliberately into an area of temptation and at the end of that forty days He was hungry. It was then that the tempter came to him and said: 'But you are the Son of God, aren't you? Why should you be hungry? Command these stones to be made bread.' Under the test of hunger and thirst the Israelites murmured. The test exposed their rebellious and unbelieving heart, redeemed though they were. "The whole congregation of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, Would we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt when we sat by the fleshpots ..." (Exodus 16:2-3). In this way they revealed the remainder of unregeneracy whereby they longed for the things of the world because they were dissatisfied with the providential arrangement of God. The testing exposed failure. Jesus came into a like test as Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread to satisfy His own hunger. He would not do it. He triumphed under the test.

The second temptation, as Matthew sets it before us, was a temptation in the realm of putting God to the test. So we read: "When the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple ..." (4:5), inviting Him to test out a promise of Scripture to see whether God was going to be true to His Word or not -- to put God to the test -- Jesus replied: "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God". This also matches the particular situation of the people of God as their story is unfolded in Exodus. After the testing in hunger and thirst, they came once more into a place where there was no water to drink, and here Moses levelled the accusation against them that by their faithlessness and their unbelief they were putting God to the test: "And Moses said unto them, wherefore do you tempt the Lord?" (Exodus 17:2) and again: "He called the name of the place, Massah and Meribah, because they tempted the Lord" (17:7). I suppose that this is why Matthew gives a different order of temptation from that which is recorded in Luke, because he was deliberately following out [2/3] the testings of the people of God to show the same testings coming to the true Son of God, Jesus Himself. The Israelites were tested in the matter of faith; Jesus was also tested in the matter of faith.

This matter of putting God to the test may need clarifying. What does it mean? For, after all, there is a verse which we often quote and cherish: "Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts ..." (Malachi 3:10). If the Lord invites us to prove Him, how can it be a sin to prove Him? Well, of course, anybody who walks in the way of faith is constantly proving that the Lord is faithful. All of us in our Christian pilgrimage, however meagre our experience, have amassed proof after proof that God is as good as His Word. So this is not a sin, far from it. There is sin though, brothers and sisters, when a person says: 'I will not walk in God's way of faith until I have proved that He is trustworthy'. That is where the difference lies. One person launches out in the faith that God is trustworthy and proves that He is so, but another person stands still and refuses to move until he has actual proof that God is worthy of his trust. That is the sin into which Satan tried to tempt the Lord Jesus Christ. 'You have the promise that you are the Son of God,' he argued, 'but of course you do not really know that you are. Why don't you test it out, and make absolutely certain that God means what He says?' Christ refused to do so, but Moses' verdict on the people of God who were called in those days to be a son of God was that they were unwilling to believe that He could provide for them until they actually saw Him doing so. That is why he called the place Massah and Meribah.

Thirdly, Moses climbed the mountain and sat down to watch the great battle of the nations, the people of God in their conflict against the people of the world, Israel against Amalek. And as he watched and raised up his hands, he saw the victory given to God's people and exclaimed: "A hand upon the throne of the Lord" (Exodus 17:16 mg). That was the way of victory. So it is that Matthew tells us of the third temptation when Satan took Jesus to an exceedingly high mountain (Matthew 4:8), showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and posed to Him the question: 'Wherein does mastery or authority and victory lie?' He added: 'I will give you the authority if you will bow down and worship me'. It was at this point that Jesus sent Satan about his business. It is interesting, is it not, that throughout these temptations Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy, using that book alone for His victory over Satan. There is a lot of encouragement for us in this. We do not need to know the whole Bible in order to have victory -- one little bit of it is sufficient for this. If the Lord's mind was at that time occupied much with Deuteronomy it may well have been that He was Himself deliberately living out the experiences of the son of God of old; that He was casting Himself into this whole business of coming out of Egypt, coming to the water, and coming into the wilderness. It could well be that the experience of the people of God in the wilderness was the subject of His daily meditation during the forty days, so that He took up the inspired words of Moses, applying that which was said of God's people in their forty years of testing to His own forty days in the wilderness. I think that we may go even further and assume that Matthew learned to see things in this way because the Lord Jesus Himself taught the disciples so to see them.

Over and over again, as the son of God of old, the early Israel, came to these testings, they completely failed. Let us see Jesus by contrast. Come with me, please, to the moment when Jesus reached the water and met John in the River Jordan. There a three-fold testimony was borne to Jesus, and it was a three-fold testimony of righteousness. The first testimony came from John. "John would have hindered Him saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" (3:14). John's baptism was a baptism for sinners, a baptism of repentance with a view to the remission of sins. Now John did not at this point yet know that Jesus was the Messiah, for it was not until he saw the Spirit of God descending and remaining on Him that he received the confirmation from heaven: "This is he" (John 1:33). At this juncture he only knew Jesus as his cousin, but since he had examined and watched the life of this Jesus, he asked: 'What are You doing in a baptism of repentance for sinners?' In this way he quietly testified to the righteousness of Jesus. Secondly there was the Lord's own testimony: "Jesus answering said to him: Allow it to be so now, for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness" (3:15). Jesus claimed to be set in the way of righteousness and determined to carry it through to the end. All through the Bible one consistent meaning is given to the word righteousness -- it means that which is right in the sight of God. We can helpfully ask what it was which was right in the sight of God at this point; what was Jesus fulfilling? Picture the scene. Many others [3/4] had been in the river, and they had spoken to John, while everybody else on the river bank had been aware of the subject of their conversation. They were fully and openly confessing their sins. When the crowd on the bank saw Jesus, in the water and about to undergo this baptism of repentance and talking with John, they assumed that they knew the subject of the conversation. They imagined that He too was a sinner and was confessing His sins. They saw the heads nodding and the two speaking together, and came to the conclusion that He also was a sinner. What was really happening was that Jesus was willingly going into the place where He was identified with sinners, so fulfilling all that was right in the sight of God. The conversation, therefore, was not about sin but about righteousness.

Then came the third testimony to Jesus: "And lo, a voice out of heaven saying, This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased" (3:17). Even under the strict gaze of heaven no fault was to be found in God's true Son. So Jesus was the one with the three-fold testimony of righteousness, and was immediately plunged under the impulse of the Spirit into that wilderness where this three-fold testimony was subjected to a three-fold testing, as though each testimony in turn was weighed and attacked by Satan. And you will notice that the connecting link between the baptism and the temptation was this idea of sonship. 'If you are the Son of God ...' said the tempter -- 'don't take it for granted: it is too big and important a thing just to be lightly assumed -- but if you are the Son of God, well let us see the proof of it. You need the proof; I need the proof; everybody needs the proof; so test it out!' But under this three-fold testing the Son of God emerged triumphant and was seen to be the person of manifested righteousness. Is it too fanciful to point out that when Israel, the redeemed but failing son of God, came to the Red Sea, it was the waters which were opened; whereas when Jesus the real Israel, the genuine Son of God, the Righteous One, came to the waters, it was heaven itself that opened? That was God's testimony to the Son's righteousness.

The parallel moves steadily on to completeness: "In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai, and when they were departed from Rephidim and were come to the wilderness of Sinai, they pitched in the wilderness and there Israel camped before the mount ..." (Exodus 19:1-2). So the narrative moves to its climax; they had come through the wilderness; they had failed in the test; but they came and camped before the mount of God. Jesus had made this steady progress. Jesus had manifested Himself as the Man of all righteousness. Then He came to the mount. "Seeing the multitudes he went up into a mountain, and when he was sat down His disciples came unto him and he opened his mouth and taught them ..." (5:1-2). This is the setting for the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus had come to the mountain as the Man of manifested, demonstrated and proved righteousness. So He was able to speak.

The Person of the Lawgiver

There is another line of introduction in these earlier chapters of Matthew's Gospel which must be briefly sketched in for this introduction. "The book of the generations of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham" (1:1). Matthew's genealogy of Jesus is very carefully drawn; it is formalised and stylised. He does not go into every detail of the genealogy, but sketches it out in great broad strokes in order to make plain the valid claim that Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. This is important, but he has something more to tell us than just the human ancestry of the Lord Jesus Christ, for he points out that in the matter of naming this Baby the supreme fact was: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, GOD WITH US" (1:23). This then as to the person of the Lawgiver. On the one side there are two things to notice: He is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. On the other side there is one unique feature: He is God with us. Let us follow this through.

We go straight on to chapter 2 and read there of the visit of the wise men. The world was beginning to gather to this Child. Here was the beginning of that which had been predicted by Abraham: "In you and in your seed shall all the nations of the world be blessed". So Matthew begins to open out the truth of the claim that Jesus is the Son of Abraham, He is the promised seed. 'Look' says Matthew, who was the only one to record this, 'Look, the nations are coming to Him. The promise to Abraham is at last being fulfilled. The promised Seed is born.' When the wise men came looking for a king they began to [4/5] get a bit illogical about their guidance. The star had sufficed to bring them so far, but now they commenced to assume that if He was a king, then He would have to be in a royal city, so they went to Jerusalem and asked Herod where He could be found. What a lot of trouble that produced! Herod asked the religious leaders of that time, and they knew the answer: "And thou, Bethlehem in the land of Judah ...", that is to say, the Messiah will be born in David's line and in David's city. In this way we discover that the Seed of David, born in David's town, fits right into the heart of this explanation of the fulfilment of the Abrahamic promise. When the wise men came into the house and saw the Child with Mary, His mother, they fell down and worshipped. As he told the story what did Matthew have in mind? Surely that the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, is God With Us, even if, as may be, the wise men simply offered in their hearts the reverence which they regarded as due to a king. Whatever they meant in their worship, we would not be wrong to conclude that Matthew meant us to understand the worship that is due to God, Emmanuel.

The words from heaven: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (3:17) is really a composite quotation from the Old Testament which refers both to the Son of Abraham and the Son of David. "Thou art my son" (Psalm 2:7) was the affirmation concerning the succession of Davidic kings who sat on David's throne. This was a promise which was inherent in their line, a promise that in that line would be born a king whom God would acknowledge as His Son. They all bore the title, as an honorific, in prospect and promise of the One who would come who would indeed be the Son of God. The other part of the heavenly declaration comes from the words: "My servant, my chosen, in whom is all my delight" (Isaiah 42:1) shows a close association with Abraham, since this servant of the Lord is seen to be related to the Seed of Abraham whom God called: "My friend" (Isaiah 41:8). The heavenly voice, then, combined the two lines of prediction and promise, that the One concerned was acknowledged as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham.

But He is also the Son of God. This is very cleverly brought out by Matthew in chapter 4 since when Jesus came back from the wilderness and from the temptation, we read that leaving Nazareth He came and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphthali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, "The land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphthali toward the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light ..." (4:15-16). We know from Isaiah what this great light was: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, mighty God. ..." (Isaiah 9:6). This shows us Christ in all His completeness. He is the Son of David; He sits on David's throne. He is the promised Seed of Abraham, because the blessing flows out worldwide. But who is He in the essence of His nature? He is the Mighty God.

So along this second line of development we come once more to Matthew 5:1. "Seeing the multitude He went up into the mountain." Who? Who went up? Why, the Man of Righteousness, who was also the Son of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth would at last find their blessedness, and He was the Son of David, God's appointed ruler and king. It was God Himself who came to His mountain. Naturally in the end the parallel breaks down. When Israel came, they camped at the foot of the mountain and Moses went to and fro as a mediator. When Jesus came to the mountain, He did not identify with Israel at the foot, nor with Moses as the mediator, but He ascended the mountain to sit as God. So it was that He taught His disciples. And so, beloved friends, the scene is set for us to sit before Him. We do so looking to Him, as the Man of righteousness, the One who can declare the righteous law for human life. We sit before Him as God, the One who has a right to speak and to be obeyed.



Reading: Acts 27:9-26, 44

Harry Foster

ONE of the many lessons to be learned from this chapter is the supremely important difference between a legalistic attitude and a standing in grace. Out of terrors which might have brought despair into the stoutest heart came the ringing cry of the man who knew the grace of [5/6] God: "Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God ...". If the law reigned neither Paul, nor the centurion, nor the master, nor the owner would have had any future at all. Things would have worked out as Luke feared they might when he recorded that all hope of salvation was then taken away. Since the grace of God reigns, however, that proved a false fear; they were able to be of good cheer and to go on in hope.

Man's Tendency Towards Legalism

There are few matters of graver importance than the peril of legalism. Right through the Old Testament we are confronted with the oft-recurring tendency of the human heart to choose its own ground, which is legal, instead of accepting God's ground of free grace. Legalism is a fault, not of the ungodly, but of those who have an earnest zeal for God. In the New Testament the same phenomenon reappears among the people of God. Like the Galatians they are ever prone to build again the edifice which at their conversion they destroyed. Having been found on the ground of free grace, they are so quickly moving away from it; having begun in faith, they seek to be made perfect by works.

This tendency did not end with the New Testament. The multitude of sects and heresies in modern Christendom appal us. It would take a lifetime to discover the particular fallacy of each one, but here is the simple test which will so often expose their untruth: at some point they make salvation to depend upon works and not upon grace. Legalism is very appealing to the pride of the natural man. For this reason every departure from the truth has its rules and taboos, its regulations as to what must be done and what is prohibited, and this not so much with reference to moral laws as to provide a basis of enjoying divine favour.

But the principle of salvation by "works of law" goes even deeper than this. Even among truly evangelical Christians it is only too apt to creep in. If we track down the source of clashes, strained relationships, criticisms, schisms and pride, we will generally find that it represents a failure in respect of the grace of God. In other words, legalism has asserted itself, even in the House of God. As it was with the Jews and the Judaisers, so it is with the Church of today; men are overtaken by a legalistic spirit in their very zeal for God.

Some Features of Legalism

Without attempting any precise definition of legalism, may I indicate a few of its characteristics? Legalists are always occupied with externalities. They attach the greatest importance to the niceties of orthodox practice and language as things in themselves. By them the simplest procedures of the New Testament are made into a ritual. The spirit of a thing is lost sight of in an exaggerated devotion to the thing, whereas to God nothing has value apart from the spiritual truth it is meant to express.

Moreover the legalistic mind is obsessed with deciding what is right and what is wrong. That, after all, is what a law is for! Far be it from me to encourage any laxity in the matter of what is morally right or morally wrong. If, however, we make ourselves judges or arbiters; if we let our relationship with other believers be governed by our own interpretation of what is right; if, indeed, being right, we insist upon our rights, then we have been overtaken by legalism. There is no possibility of spiritual progress if it is made to depend on blamelessness, either in ourselves or in others.

There is an outstanding case of this in the parable of the two debtors. The one, you may remember, was pardoned a large debt which he owed to his master. But he immediately seized upon a fellow-servant who owed him a trifling sum, and demanded prompt and full payment. He was punished as a wicked man. So far as the matter of the hundred pence was concerned, he was right, and the debtor was blameworthy. He had the law on his side. Yet his master condemned him. He was right; and yet he was grievously wrong. Having profited so much from grace he sinned gravely in refusing to show grace to his fellow. How many bitter words and cruel deeds among the Lord's people are due to a legalistic insistence on what is 'Scriptural'! A proneness to be always judging the rights and wrongs of everything can in time become a kind of obsession.

Then again legalism is always profuse in arguments. Reasoning is the business of the Law Courts. The emotions of the heart have little or no place there, but logic and ability to dispute are essential. The pharisaical mind can dispute every matter and prove its own point -- even from the Bible. It delights in controversy. It is so argumentative that it can hardly conceive of the possibility [6/7] that it might be wrong. It even dares to dispute with the Lord.

The legalist becomes conceited. He imagines that he knows just how and why God works, as though divine activity could be reduced to mere formulae. He will probe into every circumstance where the Lord's blessing may seem to be lacking, attributing every difficulty to some supposed breach of the spiritual rules. It is true, of course, that spiritual principles do obtain in all God's working, but we can never confine Him to our interpretation of His laws. Grace will always go beyond such limits, bringing glad surprise to those who live by it. The practiser of legalism, however, is never surprised, for he imagines that he knows the explanation and the cause of all that takes place. A great deal more might be said on this subject, but the main point which I wish to make is that legalism has a paralysing effect on spiritual growth.

Legalism Hinders Love

"Sirs, be of good cheer!" Only a heart full of the grace of Christ could have enabled the apostle to speak such words to such hearers at such a time. Had Paul's attitude been at all legalistic he would have spoken very differently. Quite clearly the three leaders were entirely to blame for the sad predicament of the whole ship's company. The centurion had refused Paul's warning and allowed the owner and the master to overrule him. Paul was proved right; they were altogether in the wrong. The legalist would have argued that Paul deserved to be saved, and the others deserved to be lost. Paul was no legalist, no stickler for praise and blame. He made great claims upon the grace of God, and the Lord gave him all that sailed with him.

It was fortunate that Paul was no legalist, for perhaps he deserved as badly as any of them. What was he doing on that ship? Why had he persisted in going up to Jerusalem when warned not to do so? And being there, why had he become involved in Judaistic practices in a vain attempt to appease men's prejudices? The centurion had foolishly taken his own course instead of listening to God-given warnings. A careful reading of Acts 21 makes it difficult to resist the possibility that the apostle himself had committed this very same error. His protest: "Ye should have hearkened unto me and not have ... gained this harm and loss" could even have been an echo of the Lord's reproof to his own heart. What then? Did failure, even disobedience, alienate him from God's love? The legalist would answer: 'Yes'. The Bible, however, says: 'No', and records that in spite of everything the gracious Lord stood by him, and said: "Be of good cheer, Paul" (Acts 23:11).

Legally the centurion and his fellows had forfeited all rights to Paul's love, even as the apostle might have been thought to have forfeited claims upon the love of God. Only grace can maintain love. Nothing so paralyses our sense of God's love, and nothing so hinders our exercise of love to others as a legalistic approach to the rights and wrongs of things. Away in Corinth and in Rome there were Christians quarrelling and standing aloof from one another over unimportant matters of judgment, allowing barriers to be set up by foolish trivialities. Why? Because instead of receiving others as Christ had received them -- in grace -- they were sitting in judgment. There is always division and a breakdown of brotherly love when legalism has its way.

The Lord may have so dealt with us that we cannot do certain things which other servants of God practise. Let us indeed not compromise by sacrificing our understanding of God's will, but at the same time we must not despise those others, nor have a separateness of spirit towards them. Spiritual progress is always attended by this temptation to judge others. Those who approximate most closely to God's will are most conscious of and sensitive about shortcomings. But they will hinder their own progress more than that of others if they succumb to the temptation to set up a judgment seat here and now.

Legalism Hinders Faith

Faith can only triumph where grace reigns. Surely if the law governed there would have been no future for those who had rejected divine warnings and steered their own course. In that case there would have been no basis for faith. Paul would have been obliged to confirm the despairing verdict of the rest, telling them that it was useless to trust or pray since they must suffer the consequences of their folly. Happily this was not the case. Instead, having impressed upon them how wrong and foolish they had been, he exhorted them to be of good cheer; he had obtained a promise from the Lord and was bold to believe that it would be fully implemented by the God of all grace. [7/8]

Faith is impossible without grace. If God's blessing follows logically upon our observance of rules of procedure, any failure on our part will suspend all further expectation from Him. The Devil will invariably point out our faults and failures, sometimes bringing back to remembrance mistakes of years ago, in order to challenge and wither our faith. It is important for us to recognise our faults and learn from our mistakes, but we must never let them be the ruling factor. Grace reigns! Doubtless Paul profited from his mistakes. It is clear that the centurion learned his lesson. But that was not all. They might still have been dejected and hopeless men, but for the Lord's appearance in grace, calling them to rejoice and have faith.

Legalism Hinders The Divine Purpose

So far I have only spoken of the human side, but there is a divine aspect to this matter. Paul's arrival in Rome was not meant for his own blessing; it represented a goal of God's purpose. He had been chosen as an instrument for the fulfilment of God's will; but legalism would have judged that fulfilment impossible. The God of grace, however, twice appeared to His servant, encouraging him with the assurance that though the way might be strange, the end was sure: "Thou must stand before Caesar". What was true of this one event in the apostle's life is also true for us all. The grace of God provides for the realisation of God's full intention for His people, in spite of their unworthiness. For this reason it is most important for them to abide in grace. Satan knows that legalism will always arrest spiritual progress. If, then, he finds a zeal for God among them, he will do his utmost to nullify it by introducing a reversion to works of law. If he succeeds in this, there is no good cheer. And there is no going on unto the fullness of Christ.

A glorious goal is set before the people of God. Legally they have neither the right nor the ability to attain it; but grace beckons them on, crying triumphantly above the noise of the storm: "Sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God that it shall be ...". The full purpose of God will find its realisation in a people who maintain their lives in the realm where grace reigns.



7 and 8. NAHUM and HABAKKUK

John H. Paterson

WE saw, in an earlier article, how Amos and Obadiah complemented each other in their presentation of the character of God, by offering two balancing messages about His justice and His faithfulness. With Nahum and Habakkuk we have two more prophets whose messages balance one another and who are, therefore, best treated together in a series of periodic studies like the present one.

The Message of Nahum

For many a modern reader, the difficulties which the Minor Prophets raise must come to a head in the prophecy of Nahum. For here is a prophet ostensibly speaking the inspired message of God; yet out of his entire prophecy, which occupies three chapters of our Bible, only three verses hold out any message of hope or grace; indeed, since the reading of 1:12 in the original is uncertain, the correct figure may be only two verses! All the rest is a detailed and horrifying prediction of the fall of a city, Nineveh, and the fate of its inhabitants. In no other of the Twelve prophecies is there so one-sided a presentation, or so small a proportion of the prophet's words devoted to subjects other than judgment. Even so, the few words of hope which the book does contain are not addressed to the doomed city. The Lord, says the prophet, is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble (1:7), but of Nineveh He will make an utter end. There may be some hope, somewhere, but for Nineveh there is none at all.

No wonder, then, that a number of commentators, even Bible-believing evangelical ones, seem to give up hope themselves when they reach Nahum! Typical of these commentaries are remarks like: 'The very vividness of Nahum's language and the splendour of 'his descriptions [8/9] tend to hide from us his almost barbarous exultation over the doomed oppressor ... Nahum is so dominated by the sin of Nineveh that he makes no reference to the sin of his own people ...; though sincere, intense and effective, he has not much to say about the inwardness of true religion ... He does not proclaim mercy for all men, even for Nineveh.'

When commentators who stand firmly for the inspiration of the Scriptures are driven to these remarks, they pose a real question for their readers: is the book of Nahum to be regarded as a part of these Scriptures or not? Since this is all we have of Nahum's prophecies, what possible spiritual value can they have? These are questions which require an answer. There is such an answer, although neither of the commentators quoted above suggests it. It is to be found in recalling the simple fact that all this had happened once before. Nahum was not the first prophet with a message for Nineveh, but the second. Once before, God had sent a messenger to this city, to tell it that its doom was sealed. On that earlier occasion, the effect of the message was revolutionary -- so revolutionary that, in response, God spared the city and its people; He even spared the cattle too. The messenger was, of course, Jonah. Nineveh had experienced in the most dramatic form the grace of God in forgiveness. It had proved the reality behind the words that, later, Nahum was to use: "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him" (1:7).

But now a century and a half had gone by. The lesson of that dramatic change of heart in Jonah's time had faded from the memory of the generations that came after. And so it was all happening again, and this time there was no escape. In 612 B.C. the city fell to the Medes. We shall never know whether there might have been repentance and grace for this later generation of Ninevites; in the event there was neither and the end came, swiftly and completely. Nahum's message was directed to a city which had passed the point of no return; to people who had experienced once in their history the grace of God, but for whom the day of grace had now ended.

Was this unworthy of God? Should He not have forgiven Nineveh a second time? The answer, apparently, to both questions is: 'No'. For the message of Nahum seems to be that God is perfectly consistent. This consistency is indeed a "strong hold in the day of trouble", for it means that God's response is not capricious, but entirely predictable, as all these prophets have been saying. He is what He is, and He acts according to His character. He condemns; man repents, and God withholds judgment. Then He condemns again; this time there is no repentance, and the judgment falls. With a God who is self-consistent, everybody knows exactly where they are.

It is not easy to link the Old Testament denunciation of a heathen city to the experience of contemporary believers, and we may err if we seek to make too close a connection. But we know that God, with perfect consistency, will one day end the present period of His grace, and in the meantime we should find in that consistency of character and action a reassurance. It is notable that those most difficult passages of the New Testament which raise for some anxious believers the spectre of being saved and lost, are on examination found to base their argument not on the wrath of God but on His consistency. Hebrews 6 is a good example. Some things, says the writer, are irreversible -- the rain falling, or plants growing. The rain cannot return to the sky or the plant dwindle back into the seed. We cannot see them happen and then pretend that they did not. We have to accept the result, whether it is a thorn or an ear of wheat (Hebrews 6:7-8). And we cannot be the beneficiaries of God's grace and then somehow reverse the process, pretending that it never happened, for that would be to force upon God an inconsistency of which He is incapable. There is an inevitability in His dealings with men which stems from the logic of His own mind.

The Message of Habakkuk

It is difficult to suppress a shudder as Nahum hammers home this message of inevitable judgment. But let us move on to the following prophecy, that of Habakkuk. For here we find the consistency of God presented in quite a different light. It seems likely that Habakkuk was roughly a contemporary of Nahum's, but there is no similarity between them apart from this. Not only was Habakkuk speaking about Israel rather than Nineveh; he was speaking for Israel to God. He is the only one of these Minor Prophets who speaks -- indeed complains -- directly to God: "O Lord, how long shall I cry?"

Habakkuk was clearly worried. His worry was, quite precisely, that God was being inconsistent [9/10] Why did He not save His people from the heathen Chaldeans, a cruel and violent nation (1:6)! "Thou art of purer eyes that to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" (1:13). It has been a recurrent worry among God's people -- sin and evil apparently triumphant, and God doing nothing about it. It was a situation that troubled Job, and the psalmist, and Jeremiah. In the New Testament there are still some of His own people bewildered by His inaction: "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10). And there was, even for those souls who had been slain for the word of God, no real explanation: "it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season". Reassurance was urgently needed.

Habakkuk announced (2:1) that he was going to watch and wait for this reassurance; that he was not going to move until he got it. He complained that God must have His eyes shut, and now God replied that He did not. The difficulty lay, as so often, in God's timing: "The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie: though it tarry wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry". It might appear that evil was flourishing, or that wicked men were getting away with their sinning, but in reality the eyes of God were missing nothing. Not a detail escaped Him; not an action was unnoticed.

In Isaiah 3:8 there is a very telling phrase describing this God who sees all: "their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory ". The light in these eyes is unblinking and unwavering; they miss nothing and they judge everything by the standards of His glory. To Habakkuk, who was worried about the possibility of inconsistency in God's dealings with people, the Lord presents Himself as the God of Glory . This glory burns with absolute consistency and permanence. And now He assures the prophet that although, at any particular moment of time, it may seem as if He is not applying the standards which His glory demands, yet, if only he will be patient, one day not only he but all the world will be reassured that every single thing has been registered and recorded: "For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (2:14).

Of course God sees all. Of course His eye misses nothing. But we do not necessarily know that, at least at the time, in the midst of trial or pressure; that is why "the just shall live by his faith" (2:4). Faith is necessary, while we wait for proof -- faith and patience to wait for the full revelation of the glory of God. "Though it tarry, wait for it."

Throughout the present era of human history, and until God brings His purposes to a climax in His creation, we are going to have to live with this situation -- with the gap between appearances and reality, a genuine 'credibility gap'. Until then, it will be possible for unbelievers and cynics to argue that God does not exist or care, and it will be a trial of faith for God's people to believe that He does. Moreover, as Paul explained to the Corinthians, the gap between appearance and reality is one that we as God's servants are called upon to bridge, and that, precisely as a challenge to those who doubt His existence or His wisdom or both. 2 Corinthians 3 to 5 are full of the glory of God and the distinction between appearance and reality or, as Paul calls it (and the Revised Version uniformly translates it) appearance and "manifestation". In looking towards the final day when "we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ" -- when all the appearances will be swept aside and the reality will stand revealed -- Paul explains that the glory of God, a glory hidden from veiled hearts, is to be reflected from, or carried in, the lives of His people. It was so with the Lord Jesus: "We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father". Seen in the lives and witness of those who by faith have overcome the 'credibility gap', the glory challenges the assumptions of those who do not believe; as Paul says: "We are made manifest unto God; and I trust are made manifest also in your consciences" (2 Corinthians 5:11). As the earthly Tabernacle once housed the glory; as it was once seen in the Word made flesh that "tabernacled" among men (John 1:14), so now His people are called upon by the Lord of glory to house that glory and reflect it to others.

Habakkuk had begun by complaining to God; by trying to put into His mouth some word of condemnation for the wicked Chaldeans. But that is not God's way; that is what the heathen do, putting words into the mouths of their dumb idols (Habakkuk 2:18-19). God's answer to Habakkuk, if we may paraphrase it loosely, is: 'Be quiet, and let the glory shine'.

"The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." [10/11]



(Studies in 1 Samuel)


Harry Foster

WE have been saddened by the story of Saul's failure. At the beginning he was not only called to the kingdom but greatly blessed, encouraged and helped; yet he never made good and so was rejected. "Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death" (15:35). What a tragedy! The prophet had called and anointed this man, but was now forced to abandon him as beyond remedy. "Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul" -- he felt it keenly. What is more, we have the remarkable statement: "the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel". This cannot mean that God regretted a mistaken action, as we might, but it gives us a hint that God was saddened as well as Samuel. This surely is what we are meant to take note of. God was unhappy about it all. He never enjoys seeing His favours squandered, and having to withdraw His presence from those whom He would gladly have blessed. Judgment is no pleasure to God; He is not that sort of being. Men are often so different, finding a certain mean pleasure in contrasting other people's failures with their own virtues, ready to say: 'I told you so' when they are proved right. Now God had been right. He had not wished to give Israel this king. In response to their pressure, however, He had done his best for Saul, and so had Samuel. Now Saul had failed but neither the Lord nor His prophet found any pleasure in being proved right. In his mourning over the rejected king Samuel gave some faint reflection of God Himself who was grieved in His heart.

This leads on to chapter 16, which shows that whoever else had failed there was no question of any failure on God's part. Far from it, for Saul's rejection cleared the way for Him to act. "Fill thy horn with oil and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite for I have provided me a king among his sons," the Lord said to the sorrowing Samuel. With Saul it has been a case of giving Israel a king for themselves (8:22), but this time God was providing a king for Himself. May I say that I think that this was the most important crisis in the history of God's people since the exodus from Egypt? David is a name not yet mentioned but destined to be of great significance. God was providing this king, and planned to make so much hinge upon this call and anointing. First there would be the immediate kingdom, enlarging under Solomon's rule; then, with the kingdoms divided, David's descendants would still occupy the throne of Judah, their faithfulness being recorded according as they followed David. So David was the pattern right until New Testament times, when his significance was shown to be a matter of his relation to Christ. Had there been no David, there would have been no Bethlehem manger. As a matter of fact David's name can be found nearly sixty times in the New Testament, the tremendous emphasis being sustained to the final chapter, where Jesus claimed to be the root and the offspring of this mighty king (Revelation 22:16). That book foretells the greatest crisis of human history. The creation was the first crisis, the calling of Abraham another and the exodus yet another; but here was one of comparable importance. Samuel probably had no great sense of history as he filled his horn and went off to Bethlehem. Being human, he may well have wondered how this man was going to turn out. He did not even know his name at that juncture. So it is that there are moments in history which are of far greater importance than men realise. When Ananias was sent to Saul in Damascus he had little idea of the magnitude of what was being set in motion by his brotherly visit. It is not for us to know, but to obey. Happily this was what both Ananias and Samuel did. And if Samuel had little idea of the significance of that day, what shall we say of young David? To him it had dawned as just one more stint of caring for the sheep. We are not told what the other brothers were doing. Evidently they were around in the house, engaged in this and that. David, though, was the one who had to look after the sheep. He may even have been out all night for all we know. Yet this was to be the day of supreme importance, not only to him, but to the whole people of God then and right up until this day. God was in action. He had found the man who was to be His elected king.

FIRST, however, I wish to consider Samuel, for he was the central figure that day, and I would like to point out that the matter was not at all of his devising, nor even to his liking. It [11/12] seems clear that God's somewhat reproachful order for him to stop mourning over Saul suggests that the prophet's tendency was to look back, which is what we are all so prone to do. Perhaps Samuel was not only mourning for Saul but lamenting the fact that they had ever had a king, or that he had taken any part in commissioning him. It is such a common trait, this tendency to mourn over the past with our refrain of: 'If only ...' God is not like that. He never looks back over His shoulder in vain regrets over people's failures, but proceeds with His own perfect plans. He is called "The God of Hope" -- not the God of moping but the God of hoping. And He is able to realise His hopes. For this reason He called a halt to Samuel's vain sighing and sent him out to start again.

Samuel's first response was to argue about the impossibility of God's command to him. When something is distasteful to us we can usually find plenty of reasons for not doing it. Samuel's objections were by no means groundless, for by now Saul was showing himself to be a man of violent passions. But whether it is Samuel going to Jesse or Ananias going to Saul of Tarsus or Peter going to Cornelius, or any of us being sent on an unpleasant errand, we always find that God gets the best of the argument. And rightly so, for He knows what He is about and always has a solution to our problem. In the case of Samuel, the Lord sent him off to make a reasonable call on Jesse and promised to give him further instructions as things developed. "... thou shalt anoint unto Me him whom I name unto thee." As a trusted and experienced servant of the Lord he might have expected to be told the name of this proposed new king, but this was denied him. Like the rest of us, Samuel would doubtless have preferred to be in the know, to be given some explanation of his Lord's plans, but God does not deal with us like that. He demands our faith, obedience and trustful dependence, assuring us that He will give us the necessary guidance as we move forward at His command. God knew the name but He did not propose to reveal it to Samuel for His own wise reasons. This should encourage us. We so often wish that we had instructions in black and white, that we could understand the why and wherefore of what the Lord orders us to do, feeling that such instructions and explanations would make our way easier and more sure. Be that as it may, how would we learn our spiritual lessons, lessons of dependence and of a sensitive spirit, if God treated us in this way?

SUCH a walk of faith, of course, has its perils. Samuel very nearly made a mistake. Indeed he did judge wrongly, and he was sure in his own mind that he was right: "... he looked on Eliab and said, Surely the Lord's anointed is before him". He was sure but he was wrong. The explanation of this mistaken judgment is ascribed to the fact that Eliab was tall and good-looking. But that is exactly what Saul had been! Saul was a man who looked the part, and now Samuel faced another who had equal qualities and wrongly presumed that God's king had to be like that. Samuel reasoned, but he did not act. In this he proved himself to be a true man of God. Mistaken judgment is what we are all prone to have, but if we walk by the Spirit we shall be saved from mistaken actions. The Lord's correction of His servant was not so much personal as a reminder of how mistaken any man can be. He did not say: 'The Lord seeth not as you see', but "The Lord seeth not as man seeth" (v.7), not chiding Samuel for making this mistake but pointing out that human nature will always be wrong. Man looks on the outward appearance. What else can he do? It was no fault of Samuel's that he could not see into Eliab's heart. Only the Lord can do that. What Samuel had to remember was that he was only a man. A man of much experience in the things of God? Yes. A man who had faithfully served for many years and who maintained a strong prayer life? True. But still only a man, and all men are fallible. Only God is infallible. And He will check and guide the man who is sensitive to His voice. So Samuel rejected Eliab because God had refused him.

The obvious thing to do was to call the next one, and the next, and so on until there did not seem to be any more. Had Samuel been an impulsive man he would have concluded that his original check about Eliab had been a mistaken one, and might have 'forced himself', as king Saul had earlier done. But the man of the Spirit never does that. Samuel had seen all seven and received a negative concerning each one. What was he to do? This is a situation in which from time to time we all find ourselves. We have a strong sense that something should be done, our impulses urge us to act, but inwardly we have a sense that we must wait. It is only 'a still, small voice' -- God's voice is usually that -- and we could easily brush it aside and plunge into some rash action. The man of the Spirit does not do that. Samuel was not infallible, but he was wise, and his wisdom made him accept God's vetoes and enquire further if he [12/13] really had seen all the family. The answer was: "There remaineth yet the youngest, and behold he keepeth the sheep". How easily he could have been missed! And how easily can we miss God's true purpose if we yield to impatience and carnal reasoning. So the patient and sensitive Samuel found -- as we all find -- that God's negatives will always lead on to the positive, provided we wait for Him. David was the man. "Arise, anoint him," God said, "for this is he." So when Samuel was satisfied that the Spirit of the Lord had come upon young David, he took his leave and returned to Ramah.

His action revealed an amazing rest of faith in God. Samuel just anointed the young shepherd boy and then left him with God. He does not seem to have had any further communication with this new king until much later when David sought him out in his home in Ramah (1 Samuel 19:18). The wise old servant of the Lord did what he had been told to do and then took his hands off. This is a lesson which we all need to learn, for we itch to put our hands on people. We argue that they need our advice or our help, we long to tell them where they are wrong or to assist them to manage their affairs. We feel that they need us. What they need is the Holy Spirit. Samuel was satisfied that the Spirit had come to take charge of David, so he was content to go home, knowing that God had His young king in hand. Mind you, he went home to Ramah, to the lofty place. He did not go home to rest, but to pray, and to travail in prayer for God's interests in His people and their God-appointed king. Here, then, we have the picture of a true man of God. He does not enjoy doing the Lord's will, but he does it. He may argue, but he will obey. He does not understand, and is mistaken in his ideas, but he is sensitive enough to wait for God. And then, when he has done what he was told to do, he leaves the matter with the Lord and returns to the lofty place of intercession.

SO much for Samuel's part. Now we must consider David's side of the story. It may be surprising, and yet it is true to experience, that the one chosen from among those eight brothers was the one whom the others either ignored or despised. Even old Jesse had to be pressed to reveal that he had one more son, giving the impression that in his estimation David bore no comparison with the rest. Later on, when Jesse sent him to take food to his brothers in the vale of Elah, he was greeted scornfully and charged with irresponsibility (1 Samuel 17:28). The charge was false. He had sought no place for himself but had been summoned by Samuel to be anointed, and had been sent on a menial errand by his father when he met Goliath. This is typical of the man after God's own heart; he is essentially a humble man.

It seems significant to me that he was number eight in the family, for eight is the Bible number connected with resurrection. So often God's way of dealing with His people is on this basis of resurrection. The prospects die, human hopes are lost; and then God acts to bring them back in the power of resurrection. This happened to David again and again, as we shall see, for resurrection life is the very foundation of God's kingdom. The apostle Paul found that this was how his life and ministry worked out, and made it plain that such recurring 'deaths' and raising from the dead are essential to a spiritually fruitful life.

It is also significant that David was the one who was caring for the family sheep. God's king has to be a shepherd. If Joseph was the original type of exaltation to a throne, it is surely not without meaning that the opening words of his story are: "These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph being seventeen years old was feeding the sheep ..." (Genesis 37:2). Moses, another great ruler for God, has to graduate in this pastoral school. He was not a shepherd by upbringing, he was a prince, a scholar, perhaps a general. As such he had no patience and tenderness: he was a fighter. But before he could serve as a ruler for God he needed forty years of life as a shepherd. All this, of course, points on to our great King, who was also the Good Shepherd. The man who has no patience with God's sheep-like people is no use to God for exercising rule over them.

MOST significant of all is the fact that he was anointed. The anointing with oil was outward, and was all that Samuel could give him, but God gave him the inward reality: "... and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward" (v.13). The sad contrast to this experience was that the Spirit departed from Saul (v.14). Once again we must not think in New Testament terms of the indwelling Spirit, for He comes not to enter and leave but to abide for ever in the heart of the believer. But we may rightly think of that special enduement of the Spirit, given for some special task, and in this [13/14] connection it is all too possible for 'the anointing' to pass from one who fails to fulfil the purpose of God to another who will carry through God's will. If a man is given divine enabling for a job and then does not do the job, the Lord may take away that grace and give it another man who will.

The tragic sequel to this was that: "an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him", which must surely mean that this spirit found a place in Saul by divine permission. There are other Scriptures which make it plain that such a spirit could not trouble him without that permission. In a sense the trouble came from the Lord, but it was Saul's own folly which led to his involvement with the kingdom of darkness. Even this, however, God was able to make use of in His purposes for David, for the remedy suggested by Saul's servant was a skilled harpist and when Saul demanded to know where such a man could be found, his servant told him that there was a Bethlehemite, a son of Jesse, who was just the one. So David was temporarily freed from his limited home life and introduced into the royal palace. Before I say more about that, may I invite you to pass over the years and consider the end of his life? "Now these be the last words of David ... the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel ..." (2 Samuel 23:1). So it appears that one of the most important and lasting features of David's anointing was to give him ability to praise and worship God. This was the supreme thing; all the other features of his rule, planning, fighting, ruling were secondary. The supreme concern of the Spirit in his life, as in ours, was to produce sweetness of praise to God. David's songs were sung by the Lord Jesus; the apostles sang them; and to this day we continue to worship God by means of them. This is proof enough that his psalms were the fruit of his anointing by the Spirit.

WE return, though, to his introduction to the king's palace and its strange sequel. If this had been a man-made story, Saul would have conveniently died very soon, leaving the way open for the newly anointed king to take his place. But God does not do things like this. God chose David, God appointed him king, but then God had to test him. And Saul was the main instrument of the testing. God left him on Israel's throne for at least another twelve years, while David endured countless bitter and unjust trials. A crown on the head does not make a man a king. A seat on a throne does not make him kingly. Something has to happen in the heart of a man before he can truly qualify to be God's appointed ruler. While David was being selected did not God lay down the condition that He looks not on the outward appearance but on the heart? When David was eventually crowned it was because God and men had found him as one proved worthy of the throne. I believe that it should be the same in all spiritual offices or positions that we hold. The actual appointment should be but the recognition of what the man has proved to be.

David had been anointed in the midst of his brothers, but then he had to go back to the sheep. That was where Saul found him (v.19). He later informed Saul that it was in those circumstances that he had proved God's power to save. By a wonderful intervention of God he was called away from shepherding, given a place in Saul's palace, loved and appointed armour-bearer. But in the next chapter we read of war with the Philistines, the presence of Jesse's three eldest sons in the army but David forced to return to his father's home to care for his sheep once more. In our next article we shall consider how God once again released him, and after that he never had to return to that task. Not that his trials were over. Far from it. They had only just begun, for Saul's love turned to hatred, David became a fugitive, and many years of testing still lay before him. David had to wait for God. And that was just where Saul failed. Saul was the man who could not wait; David was the one who waited long and patiently.

The anointing was in a day, in a few moments. It can be like that. But the outworking and proving of its values, the evidence and outworking of its reality, this took long years of severe testing. The humble service with the sheep was part of the testing. The unjust and unreasonable persecution of Saul was another part. And all the time David must have been beset by Satan's suggestions that the anointing had been a mistake or a failure. By the grace of God, though, he came through all the tests and was found to be a man after God's own heart. He was not faultless. He was not always consistent. But he was a man who through faith and patience inherited the promises. The kingdom was made real in his own heart. This is precisely what the Lord is seeking to do with each one of us whom He has called to His kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:12).

(To be continued) [14/15]


John Kennedy

"The church of God which is at Corinth, even those who are sanctified
in Christ Jesus ... with all that in every place call upon the name of
Jesus Christ our Lord, both their's and our's
" (1 Corinthians 1:2).

OVER the past months I have been impressed afresh by the nature of the struggle entailed in establishing a testimony for the Lord. It is true that the Lord alone can build His Church, but the fallible material He has to use poses many problems. There is no short cut to maturity, either in personal living, or in the life of the local church. Growing up can sometimes be a painful procession of falls and failures. I have not infrequently looked at a small group of believers and lamented the lack of gifted men who can adequately take the oversight of the flock. But when gifted men are available, often the problem is no nearer being solved. The strengths of gifted men may also be their weaknesses. Their capabilities can so overshadow everyone and everything, and so shake up the hitherto slowly progressing company, that it is in danger of falling apart. It is easy to understand the biblical injunction that an elder should 'not be a recent convert' (1 Timothy 3:6) when one sees the confusion that can be wrought even by converts of years of standing and spiritual experience.

The struggle to see a testimony established for the Lord is largely a struggle for holiness and unity. The many difficulties can be reduced to the need to express the unity of the body of Christ, or the need to express the quality of His character. Neither is easily achieved. It has struck me how, in the introduction to his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul touches on these two main spiritual problems. Those to whom he writes are "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints". They are also "the church of God" who had been set apart "with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ". Together they are God's people, and they are vitally linked with God's people beyond Corinth.

Unity -- local and universal

I tend to feel that there is some particular significance in the New Testament concern for an expression of unity within the local church. It may well be that the Corinthian church consisted of a number of house groups, not one central gathering, but "the church of God" which Paul addressed was certainly something larger than a cosy company united by a common experience or understanding or temperament. At the same time, it was not so wide as to make unity something of merely academic interest.

The Corinthian believers were but the raw material of a united church. Some of them were very raw, though no more so than many groups of believers today. Nevertheless, let it be said quite categorically, that Paul never conceived of unity on the Corinthian scene apart from an adequate basis of truth. There was no question of people of widely differing theological views claiming unity solely on the basis of a common experience. Read 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul reminds the Corinthians "in what terms I preached to you the gospel ..." (verse 1). It was in terms of Christ's vicarious death as the full and completed atonement for sins, His burial and resurrection. There is no biblical ground for unity apart from an acceptance of the foundational truths of the gospel. But beyond this, the unity of the local church is a unity of quest in the midst of diversity. Given the indispensable foundation of truth, the local church is comprised of people of varying gifts, spiritual capacity and temperament. Yet we are committed to one another, with our divergent problems and idiosyncracies, and with our individual traits which leave our fellow believers bewildered, annoyed or exasperated. The unity of a local church is not a serene state of never-ending calm; it is the spiritual interaction of personalities, through which each one grows unto maturity. Through this interaction our characters are shaped and mellowed.

There is, however, another aspect of unity. Christian unity is broader than the local church. We are one "with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ". God does not mean His people to be frogs in a well. There is a great world outside which is His and with which, through Christ, we are vitally linked. We neglect our wider unity with all of God's people to our own spiritual detriment. The local unity of the church and the wider unity of all [15/16] believers entails each its own particular privileges and responsibilities. We must give equal recognition to both.

Hindrances to unity

The most obvious hindrance to the unity of the Corinthian church was a failure to grant due recognition to all whom it was privileged to have as ministers. Some favoured Paul, others Apollos, and others Peter. In favouring one they tended to neglect the others. It is true that a church is not equally edified through each of its members. Some have a much greater contribution to make than others. At the same time, no one is unnecessary. Our unity is based on a recognition of the fact that we really do need one another.

At times the contribution made by some dear saints is more negative than positive. We feel we could well do without it. Every assembly has its share of fault-finders who complain about the weaknesses of the fellowship but do nothing to remedy them, the inveterate critics who recognise everybody's ills except their own. Perhaps such people have more to contribute to the life of the church than we think. Why did the Lord allow not merely a critic but a traitor among His twelve disciples? Could it have been to demonstrate the triumph of the grace of God over the ultimate in spiritual disloyalty? The unspeakable baseness of the betrayal could not provoke the Lord to forsake the grace and love of His character. How easily the disloyalty of our fellow believers can provoke us to unspiritual reactions! When this happens, of course, it is a proof of how much we ourselves have to learn.

The very problems we face with our brethren in the Lord can be a means of grace and of developing spiritual character. It was so with Paul in the sad experience to which he alluded in writing to the Philippians (Philippians 1:12-19). I do not suggest that we should go out of our way to seek problematic relationships, but that we should beware of the tendency to run away from them when we are already committed to a local testimony. Some believers want to choose for themselves those who are to form the unity of the local church, and reject those who are not congenial. They look round for a gathering, or perhaps form one, where they think that all are of the required outlook and disposition. Soon they find themselves faced with the same problems from which they had tried to flee. We hinder the unity of the local church unless we realise that every believer has a contribution to make, be he congenial or difficult, be his contribution one of positive ministry or of thrusting us upon the Lord to find in Him a greater measure of grace.

God works through whomsoever He pleases. We also hinder the unity of the Spirit whenever we exalt one man as the prime channel through whom God speaks. To exalt one man, however spiritual he may be, conditions our thinking by his insights, and cuts the life of the church off from the insights God grants to others. In doing so we adopt a standard that is other than Christ and settle for a life of spiritual limitation. This is what the Corinthians were doing in their exalting, some of Paul, others of Apollos, and others of Peter. Their danger was division, as it always is when we demand the stamp of a man upon a ministry rather than the stamp of God.

The responsibilities of unity

The paramount responsibility of Christian unity is to recognise the unique contribution each believer has to make to the life of the church. When we grasp this we will be exercised both to make our own contribution and to encourage others to make theirs as well. We will look upon each one as a channel through whom God wishes to speak to us, and we will accept seriously what He says.

Unity in the local church means fellowship, and fellowship is a two-way relationship. It entails the readiness both to give and to receive. We are responsible to learn how to minister effectively to others, and to learn how to receive ministry from others, even though it may sometimes be unpalatable. There is an unwholesome lack of this sense of mutual responsibility among many assemblies of believers. The tendency is to be either abjectly subservient or completely overbearing. A person may adopt one attitude to one and the other attitude to another, and fail to see that each of us must contribute to and receive from each member of the spiritual family. The final tragedy is to find a believer who feels he has nothing to contribute to anyone, or a believer who is so filled with a sense of his commission to minister to others that he himself is spiritually isolated and untouchable. The first becomes a spiritual nonentity; the second a spiritual despot. In the unity of the church no one is exempt from responsibility to minister according to what God [16/17] has entrusted to him, however humble the contribution may be. Nor is anyone exempt from heeding the ministry of the Spirit through others, however humbling that might be.

The unity of the Lord's people is an inestimably precious fact. It is based squarely upon a foundation of biblical truth, truth which has to be explored, understood and applied more fully to our daily living. Unity is destroyed by a rigid, restricted mental attitude which would enclose Christ in our limited apprehension of Him. Let us be eager to learn through one another in the local fellowship where God has placed us. Let us be eager also to learn through the wider fellowship of the Lord's people, a fellowship as wide as the world in which God has set us. The same Christ who is our Lord is their Lord also.



T. Austin-Sparks

"But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God ...
" (1 Corinthians 1:24).

"For I determined not to know anything among you,
save Jesus Christ, and him crucified
" (1 Corinthians 2:2).

IN many ways the explanation of Christ being the power of God consists in the fact that He is Christ crucified. This second reference by Paul to his emphasis on Christ crucified is immediately linked with the reminder that Christ is the power of God and largely the explanation of it.

The whole subject of spiritual power is most important. So many Christians find themselves involved in a continual struggle to live up to what they know to be God's standard. For them Christianity is a manner of life composed of various rules and regulations. They know what ought to be and what ought not to be, and they therefore struggle to attain to this level of living. Their consciences play a large part in this constant effort, and for this reason they suffer many fears and fail to experience the promised joys. Life for them has become a strenuous business, fraught with much disappointment and many failures. They may from time to time have a sense of attainment and success, with much resultant gladness, but with the fluctuating emotions of the soul, things seem to collapse and go all wrong. So it is that people find the Christian life burdensome; they long to know real victory, true deliverance and the joy of the Lord, whereas they experience the ups and downs of a constant struggle. The Christian life depicted in the New Testament seems so different from their actual experience that the Devil is never slow to pounce in with his suggestions that a life of constant victory is quite impossible, so that all their hopes are but unreal dreams. Satan wants God's people to despair of knowing His power.

But there is an altogether different life, different because it is based on the entering into something already completed in Christ; not something to be attained to but rather that which has already been accomplished. It is not a standard to be lived up to, but a Person to be lived with. It is impossible to measure the vast difference between these two kinds of life. The former is one of self effort and defeat, while the other consists in enjoying the reality of Christ the power of God.

WE must beware of thinking in terms of advanced or special doctrines. Scriptural teaching is not departmental or sectional. We may hear of 'higher truth' or 'advanced teaching', as though there were something special reserved for the few. So there arises the idea of 'higher life' with 'higher teaching', as opposed to being a simple believer, content with 'the simple gospel'. I want very emphatically to contradict any such notion. Wherever you look in the New Testament you will never find any support for this idea. It is true that we have to face the call for overcomers, but surely the 'overcomer' in the book of Revelation is only the ripe and full product of the work of Christ on His cross; it is only Christ in His fuller manifestation and expression. Overcomers [17/18] are made possible because Christ is "the power of God". Just exactly as in the commencement of salvation, so in its triumphant consummation, everything is linked with the Lamb slain and the blood of the Lamb.

Nobody should make a special kind of 'Overcomer' teaching, for this is what God intended Calvary to mean for every believer. God had spiritual victory as His thought when He first forgave us our sins, and in His mind this is to be the normal development of every Christian's life. Every movement forward, however, is related to the cross, and there is a sense in which there is not one step forward in the spiritual life which is not preceded by a step backward. What I mean is this, that there has to be some undoing before there can be any upbuilding. The Christ who is the power of God to us is the crucified Christ who progressively applies the cross to us also, so that being released from the flesh which so holds us back, we may advance in the realm of the Spirit. So spiritual progress is not conditioned by special teaching but by ever deeper experiences of the inworking of the cross of Christ.

This being true, we must recognise that everything is bound up with the Person, and must never be regarded merely as spiritual truth. Everything is bound up with Him. It is Christ who is the power of God -- Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This explains the working of the gospel, which surely is that Christ crucified is revealed in the heart of the sinner who believes. We are not constituted gospel preachers because we have read somewhere the historic facts that Christ was crucified, raised from the dead and ascended, but because God has revealed in us not just facts but a Person in relation to the facts and the facts in relation to the Person. This, then, brings me back to what I said at the beginning, namely that the life of struggling and failing in self effort is really due to a failure to appreciate the wonder and power of Christ crucified.

When the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts He brings Christ in the completeness of His finished work on the cross, and then proceeds progressively to conform us to Christ. Do you realise that the Christ in you is not an imperfect Christ? When the Lord Jesus wrought His Calvary work He not only dealt with the matter of forgiveness but He went right on to the perfection of redemption, finally reaching the throne as the great Overcomer. In Him, the Person, the whole ground of spiritual experience is covered and completed. There is no experience that can ever come to you or me which makes impossible the reaching of God's end, for Christ has already met and overcome it. So we are not to struggle in vain attempts after perfection, but to co-operate with the Holy Spirit as He seeks to make good in us the power of Christ's finished work on the cross. It is Christ in you who is the hope of glory. Anything less or anything else will bring no hope of glory but rather despair.

I WOULD like to close on this positive reminder that the Holy Spirit has been charged with and has accepted full responsibility for the conforming of us to Christ. But we must recognise that power in relation to the Holy Spirit is not just an impersonal force but is vitally connected with Christ, and especially on the basis of the cross. For us the power of the Holy Spirit is inseparably bound up with the Person of Jesus Christ and depends on our willingness to accept the implication of union with Him in His cross. When the Lord was discussing this cross with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, the word rendered 'decease' should really be 'exodus' (Luke 9:31). Doubtless, then, we can correctly say that Christ's cross is a deliverance, a way out. It is the way out from condemnation, an elementary truth for the Christian but none the less a precious and important one. It is the way out from the power of sin. How can I escape from the bondage of sin which threatens me and seeks still to make me a slave even though I am a forgiven sinner? Only by death-union with the Lord Jesus, for it is His death which has made the escape, the exodus for all who trust in Him. Such trust involves the appropriation by faith of the power of that death as I am led into it in practical ways by the Holy Spirit.

In addition we notice that the Scriptures say that Jesus accomplished this exodus. It was an accomplishment on His part, something which He achieved. When we recognise this to be the nature of that death, we get a different conception from that of His just being killed, merely being crucified by men, and realise that this was a mighty work which He completed. He voluntarily took upon Himself all those powers which produce man's failures, defeats and bondage, and then broke through them all and accomplished a perfect way out by His triumphant death upon the cross. So it is for us to recognise that all our problems and enemies have been dealt with by the Lord Jesus [18/19] in His cross. The Holy Spirit is given to us as the Spirit of His triumphant victory, full of energy and power to bring our besetting weaknesses to that grave where Christ has brought them, so that we may be freed for the will of God. I cannot master my sins but Christ has done it, and can draw me into the power of His delivering death. I can claim my share in the exodus. And this is not just coming into the light of some new doctrine, but sharing the power of a Person. It makes all the difference whether we are trying to deal with our troubles doctrinally or in the power of that Person.

Christ's death is also the way out from the bondage of law. You can have Christian law just as much as you can have Mosaic law; you can be in bondage in Christianity just as much as men were in Judaism. Christianity can be made into an imposed system just as much as Mosaic law was, and there are many Christians today who live under the fear of the 'Thou shalt' and the 'Thou shalt not' of a legalistic conception of the Christian life. You can take the Bible as God's standard for your life and try to fulfil it and yet still be burdened with a sense of constant failure. It is God's standard, and it is a very exhaustive one which leaves no part of the practical life untouched, but those who make the effort to try to live up to it only end in disillusion. No, it is not just a matter of a Book but of a Person, the Person who did live up to that standard, absolutely fulfilling every least demand with the most perfect success, so satisfying God to the full. By His death He has delivered us from the bondage of legal demands. This same Person now lives in us by His Holy Spirit, seeking to work out that perfect will of God not on the basis of some binding instructions from without but as a living force within. We have the law written in our hearts. To be in Christ is a matter of life and not of legalism.

CHRIST, and Christ crucified, is the power of God to bring deliverance from sin, from the flesh, from the law and from the world. "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). Paul was not glorying that he could enjoy so much of the world and yet have a clear conscience, but was enthusiastic about having been delivered from the world. For believers the only possible way of staying in this world is to know that they no longer belong to it. Not that we can deliver ourselves. No, it is much too strong for us. But in this matter, as in all others, the cross of Christ has made a way out for us. Alas that some Christians seem to want to hold on to as much of the world as they can without losing their peace of mind, giving up the minimum and holding on to all that they can without having their conscience too disturbed. This is not a powerful life, nor is it a glorious one. The glory of true fellowship with Christ crucified is the rich satisfaction of those who know the delivering power of the Christ and the new fulness of life in the will of God.


Editor's Note:

Dear Friends,

Many of you have confirmed that we were right to cease sending receipts, but I feel that it would be less than gracious on my part if I did not record my deep gratitude for the constant and generous gifts which make possible the continuance of the ministry of this magazine. It is wonderful to have such loving support. I want to thank you heartily and also to give glory to God for the manifestation of the grace of Christ in His people.

Once again we have prepared some bound volumes of the 1975 issues which can be had, post free, for 80 pence or $2.30. [19/20]



HER name is Anastasia and she sweeps the snow and dirt from the streets of Russia's great capital city. A brilliant girl, in her early twenties, she was just on the verge of taking her finals at University and planning to go on to a teaching career. But life changed suddenly and dramatically for Anastasia.

One lunch hour she was playing with the knobs of her transistor radio and found herself listening to a religious programme. Later she learnt that it came from a Christian Broadcasting Organisation. Here was something that she had never heard before and, fascinated by this talk of a Living God, she tuned in again next day. Brought up as a Communist, she had been taught that there was no God and that the Bible was taboo. For the first time in her life she was hearing the story of God's love to mankind in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a Cross. Eagerly she asked some of her friends to listen with her, and fast and furious were their discussions after the programmes were over.

Alas! Word reached the ears of the authorities at the University, and Anastasia was hauled up in front of them. She was warned not to listen to any more of these broadcasts -- but how could she possibly stop? By this time the Holy Spirit was working in her heart and she was well on the way to finding faith in this God of reality. So she continued to tune in to the radio station in the free world. Again she was warned, but still she listened. Finally she was given the choice of immediate expulsion from the University or of renouncing her new found faith. To do the latter was unthinkable. She knew without doubt that she could not give up the truth which she had learned about this God. Shattered, she realised that her career, her ambitions, her final examinations in which she had hoped to obtain a 'first', would all have to go. And underneath was the nagging fear -- where would she be sent?

So Anastasia was forced to leave the University and sent to sweep the streets. A cold, hard, unpleasant and difficult job. But she had a retentive memory, and most of that which she had heard on her transistor was stored away in her heart. As she swept, she thought about it all; her faith grew, her love for God increased, and she began to really understand what the Lord Jesus had done for her as a person. She had no Bible, no Christian fellowship, no inspiring sermons to listen to; but she was truly searching after God. Has He not said: "Those who seek Me shall find Me?" -- and she was finding Him as He had promised.

Anastasia still sweeps streets in the freezing wind. One day perhaps she will possess a Bible and read about the psalmist who said: "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness, for a day in THY courts is better than a thousand" (Psalm 84:10).

We know that behind the Iron Curtain there must be many Christians of all age groups having to face the same decisions. 'Underground Christians' did you say? Oh no! We are the underground Christians! We have our open Bibles, our open churches, our open Christians fellowship -- and yet our faith is so often hidden. Anastasia is suffering for her faith. There is nothing underground about that!

As she sweeps on we can help her by our prayers and by praying for Christian Radio Broadcasting.

'I would rather be a road sweeper for Jesus Christ than ...'

Quite a challenge, isn't it?

(This is taken from a book entitled 'I Would Rather Be ...', published by the Slavic Gospel Association, and is printed by kind permission of beloved friends in that work.) [20/ibc]


[Inside back cover]

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

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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:

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

[Back cover]

Psalm 46:11

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