"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

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Vol. 5, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1976 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Editorial 81
The Perfect Law Of Liberty (5) 82
The Quality Of Faith 87
Two Definitions Of The Church 89
Preparations For The Kingdom (11) 92
The Supreme Importance Of The Incorruptible 96
Inspired Parentheses (3) ibc



THE other day I read of the death in western Japan of Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese Navy airman who directed the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour in which over 2,000 American service men were killed. It was Fuchida who flashed the code message: 'Tora, Tora, Tora', which signified the complete success of the attack and the sinking of at least three American battleships.

Right to the end of the war -- and beyond it -- Fuchida was an aggressive godless man, but then, in God's infinite mercy, he was led to Christ. For many years he travelled all over the world, testifying to saving grace and forgiveness through the cross of Christ.

Some years ago I met Captain Fuchida in Scandinavia, and it was then that I heard the whole story from his own lips. It was a marvellous and most moving account which filled my heart with praise to Christ. It is quite impossible for me to repeat it here and, in any case, I imagine that it must be available in printed form. What I must mention, though, was the pivotal point upon which his conversion turned.

In the U.S.A. there was -- and perhaps still is -- a Christian woman whose parents were wickedly executed by the Japanese army. They were an elderly couple who had long served the Lord in the Philippines and who had remained there when the Japanese overran the country. They were seized, falsely accused of being spies, and summarily executed. When the news reached N. America, their daughter decided to devote herself to caring for the few Japanese prisoners-of-war in her own country, and she did this until they were repatriated at the end of hostilities.

It was through this that Mitsuo Fuchida heard about her. Full of bitter arrogance, the former Japanese commander began to prepare for revenge on all Americans by trying to collect evidence of the way in which the Americans had treated their prisoners-of-war. For this purpose he made it his business personally to interview each of the returned prisoners and -- to his surprise -- there were no accounts of atrocities but many tributes to the helpfulness of this devoted Christian woman. What surprised and mystified him most was the explanation which she gave to these Japanese prisoners of her reasons for her labours of love among them. It was the Japanese, so she told the men, who had cruelly killed her parents, but she knew what their last prayer had been before they were executed and, because of that prayer, she knew that she must devote herself to loving and caring for needy Japanese with whom she could make contact.

The whole idea of such kindness was foreign to Fuchida's way of thinking. He brushed this aside, but what continued to perplex him was the American woman's confident affirmation that she knew the substance of her parents' last prayer. How could she know this? The question baffled him and yet he could not dismiss it from his mind. It nagged at him and seemed to have no solution until he found from a tract which someone gave him that it was possible to obtain a copy of the Christian book called The New Testament.

He availed himself of this opportunity and began to read from Matthew 1 onwards. He was growingly affected by what he read but completely absorbed by his quest for the mysterious prayer. He completed the Gospels of Matthew and Mark without having found the answer to his problem. So he read on into Luke's Gospel, increasingly softened in his heart as he did so, but always asking himself the question: How did the American woman know what her parents had prayed? Then he reached chapter 23:34 and, in a flash of heavenly revelation, he saw it all. Jesus had prayed: "Father, forgive them" even as He was being crucified. So that was how Christians prayed for their enemies! That was what Christ had prayed for him: 'Father, forgive Mitsuo Fuchida'. He no longer thought of the American woman or the Japanese prisoners-of-war, but of himself, a fierce enemy of Christ, whom God was prepared to forgive in answer to the prayer of the crucified Saviour. At that very moment he sought and found forgiveness and eternal life by faith in Christ.

This, then, was the story behind the marvellous conversion to Christ of this simple Japanese brother, made all the more moving to me because of the halting English in which he related it. As he concluded the long and absorbing narrative, he added: 'I have no gift as a preacher, so I cannot give messages about the Saviour, but I can tell how He has given me peace and forgiveness through His cross, so that others may come [81/82] to know him too.' Captain Fuchida's voice is no longer heard on earth, but we praise God that his faithful testimony continued firmly to the end.

His was a wonderful story, but the secret of it lay in the fact that those American Christians obeyed Christ's command to love their enemies. Paul the apostle also had a wonderful testimony, which could be traced back to the Christlike prayer of Stephen as he too was being unjustly and cruelly murdered. Saul of Tarsus had heard those words with his own ears: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:60), and they became as goads to his conscience till he, too, found peace and forgiveness through the blood of the cross. In Fuchida's words: 'So that is what Christians pray for their enemies'! Do they? Do we?

In this issue we conclude the series of messages on the Sermon on the Mount given by Alec Motyer. The standard is high. It is too high for any man or woman apart from grace. But we have been given abundance of grace in Christ and so are expected to obey His commandment: "Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:45). 'Pray for them, not against them. Set yourself to bring them the greatest benefit which it is within your power to bestow. ' (J. A. Motyer. See page 86.)

None of us has to face an execution squad, and very few of us have loved ones cruelly done to death as the American woman had. But daily we are involved in experiences which can become occasions for nursing grievances or bearing grudges. To our shame this is what we are prone to do. I fear that this may be one of the reasons why we so rarely see the conversions of a Saul of Tarsus or a Fuchida of Japan. The probability is that we shall never love those who offend us if we do not first pray for them. In this case the parents prayed, the daughter put the prayer into practice, and the Holy Spirit used the testimony to change a man who had for long been an enemy of God and a killer of his fellow men into a lover of Christ and a messenger of forgiveness and peace. We are all on trial. Do we merely call Christ, Lord, or do we do the things which He says?



(Messages from the Sermon on the Mount)


J. Alec Motyer

IN this passage we have not only the conclusion of this section of the Sermon in which our Lord teaches by comparisons, but we have the last two of these comparison sayings (verses 38 and 43).

When you read: "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", I would not be at all surprised if all that you ever suspected about the Old Testament being a rather savage and cruel book sprang into your mind. I think, therefore, that it will be good for us first to look together at the three places in the Old Testament where this law is laid down. "... but if any fatality follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe" (Exodus 21:23). This is governed by the phrase: "as the judges shall determine" (v.22); that is to say, it is a rule for the judge on the bench, a guidance for the practice of the law courts. It represents the law of absolute equality. It insists on equity, it exerts a principle of exactitude. Here is an offence, and here is its punishment. There must be absolute fairness in the courts of law.

Then in the second occurrence: "If a man cause a blemish in his neighbour, as he has done so shall it be done to him -- breach for breach; eye for eye; tooth for tooth: as he has caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be rendered unto him. And he that killeth a beast shall make it good. And he that killeth a man shall be put to death. Ye shall have one manner of law as well for the stranger as for the home born" (Leviticus 24:19-22). What is said here builds on and amplifies [82/83] in measure the words found in Exodus. Again we have a principle for controlling the law courts. Here the whole congregation of Israel is assembled as a national tribunal to take action upon an offence against the nation: it is a matter of the public administration of justice, and is still in itself the principle of exactitude with the punishment and the crime fitting each other precisely. The new point brought out here is that it is an evenhanded justice which must be for all alike. There are to be no favourites before the bench, but the stranger and the home born are to be treated in the same way. So, once more, we are confronted with the matter of the public administration of justice and the demand for exactitude.

The third time where this principle is asserted is preceded by the words: "both men between whom the controversy is shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges" (Deuteronomy 19:17) telling us once again that we are in the courts of law, involved in the public administration of justice by those who have been appointed by God to attend to this very thing. "Those which remain shall hear and fear and henceforth commit no more any such evil in the midst of thee, and thine eye shall not pity, life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Deuteronomy 19:20). So we still find ourselves dealing with a principle of exactitude and equity in the realm of administrative justice. In this case, though, a new feature is introduced, namely concern for the purity of society. "Those who remain shall hear and fear and henceforth commit no more any such evil thing." It is for the reform and purifying of society.

It becomes clear, therefore, that this is not a piece of Old Testament savagery, but rather the one thing without which no legal system can rightly function. God help us if ever the public administration of justice ceases to operate on the principle of the exactness of the punishment meeting the crime. Some people talk as though the Old Testament standard of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" were a reversion to the uncommon and unnatural savagery of the former days of the administration of English law when a person could be deported for the smallest theft and hanged for stealing a sheep. In fact the fault of the English law at that time was not that it was based on the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but that it was disobeying it, being quite contrary to the great legal assertion of the Old Testament that there should be exactitude between the crime committed and the punishment imposed. If there were time we might consider this whole subject as it relates to the law of Moses, and we would find that there are four elements in the Old Testament teaching in the proper administration of justice. There is the element of deterrent; that a person should be so punished as to deter others from a similar crime. Then there is the element of prevention; that a person should be so punished as to ensure that he did not again commit the same crime. Thirdly there is the element of reformation; that punishment should be so meted out as to change the criminal into a law-abiding citizen. Above all, however, there is a fundamental principle that punishment must declare the integrity and honour of the law itself. Let us pray that this principle should be preserved in our society and let us tremble that it should ever be otherwise. This principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was asserted to govern the practice of law courts in order to preserve the honour and majesty of the law.

This principle laid down in the Old Testament does not cover what Christ referred to when He said: "Resist not him that is evil. Whosoever smiteth thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (v.39). As we study these verses we will notice that Jesus is focusing our attention entirely on hurts that are purely personal. What is done harms me alone and hurts nobody else, and Jesus tells me how to behave in this connection. It seems by implication that what was happening at the time of Christ was that a principle of the Old Testament which had been given for the guidance of the judge upon the bench was being misused and misapplied to justify private vengeance. So Jesus is arguing against taking out of its context a principle which had been laid down for the public administration of justice and making it the justification for private acts of vengeance by those who would say that the Word of God permits me to exact an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, so that if a man hits me then God's Word permits me to hit him back. It does nothing of the kind. The Lord Jesus takes us right out of the realm of the law courts, bringing us down into the realm of private practice concerning personal hurts and insisting that the principle of 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' has nothing to do with us there.

I think that it would be fair, therefore, to say that Jesus rescues a legal principle from misapplication. [83/84] He rescues it from a realm in which it was never meant to operate. He rescues it. He does not repudiate it, for He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it. Having then rescued a legal principle, confirming it in the realm where it does apply. He goes on to assert a personal principle, showing the individual how he should react when he is challenged and hurt without anybody else being involved. The question is: What do I do in the matter of hurts which touch nobody but me? For this Jesus has another principle, and one which has always been embedded in the Word of God. Jesus is not innovating. He is not in any sense challenging or even amplifying what God had already said in this connection. Take, for example, some injunctions from the Book of Proverbs. "Say not, I will recompense evil. Trust in the Lord and he shall save thee" (20:22). That is a clear prohibition, forbidding the exaction of vengeance. "Say not, I will do so to him as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his word" (24:29). Say it not! God not only forbids the action. He tells us to banish the thought from our mind. "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat. If he be thirsty, give him water to drink. For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord will reward you" (25:21). What are these coals of fire? The wisdom of the Book of Proverbs tells us that the man of the world may heap literal coals of fire on the head of his enemy -- he will give as good as he gets -- but the child of God has a very distinctive coal of fire which he must use as he feeds his hungry enemy and gives him drink for his thirst, namely the fire of loving concern and generosity. Paul lifts the reference from Proverbs and re-asserts it as a Christian principle (Romans 12:20).

Jesus, therefore, is adding the weight of His authority to the Scriptural principle of a non-vengeful spirit and a non-vengeful life. He starts by asserting a negative principle: "resist not" (v.39) and ends with a positive principle: "Give to him that asketh of thee" (v.42). The teaching of Jesus is contained within a negative and a positive principle, and with that assertion of principle there are three illustrations:

1. The Other Cheek (verse 39)

"... whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." What situation had Jesus in mind? Someone usurps the function of the law, taking it into his own hands very literally to impose a penalty and a punishment. He usurps the function of the law; he steps into the place of the administrator of justice, and deals out what seems to him a suitable punishing reaction in that situation -- he smites you on the right cheek. Your response, says Jesus, must be to turn to him the other cheek also. You must not assert the principle of 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth', for it has nothing to do with your private matters. It is for the law courts. It is for the judge on the bench. The fact that this person has taken the law into his own hands does not justify you in doing the same. You must turn the other cheek also.

2. Thy Cloak Also (verse 40)

"If any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." Here is a person who is invoking the power of the law; not taking the law into his own hands, but legally justifying by the power of the law to settle a dispute that he has with us. What is to be our reaction to such a person? Jesus said that if he takes you to law to get your jacket, then let him have your overcoat as well.

3. The Second Mile (verse 41)

"Whoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two." This verb, 'to compel', is touchingly illustrated in the experience of Simon the Cyrenian, who was compelled to carry the Cross of Jesus. It was a striking illustration of a legal feature of those times, by which a man might be pressed into service. Any Roman soldier had the right to press a citizen into service, obliging the one so conscripted to carry his equipment, his luggage, for him. The right, however, was circumscribed; he could only compel or conscript such a man for one mile. Simon of Cyrene was conscripted to carry the dreadful luggage of the Cross! Here, then, is the third situation, that of a person who without actually taking you to court is insisting on the letter of the law. He is neither taking the law into his own hands nor invoking the power of the law, but he is calmly and deliberately insisting upon the letter of the law, and treating you on those terms. All right, says Jesus. if someone wants to use the letter of the law to conscript you to carry his traps for one mile, your response must be to carry them for two miles.

In a wonderful way these illustrations open up the principles in the surrounding verses in which they are set: "Resist not", "Give". It seems that [84/85] Jesus was depicting the spirit in which we should live our lives; negatively in a spirit of non-retaliation (verse 39), and positively in a spirit of ready and generous helpfulness (verse 42). But as He speaks in the crisp, unelaborated terms of the Sermon on the Mount, we need to gather other Scriptures also to enable us to grasp the full meaning of what He is saying. As we seek to live out those principles and to bring them into actual daily living, we will need other parts of Holy Scripture and the guidance of other things which the Lord Jesus also said and did, to avoid being pinned down by the bare wording of what is said here. "Give to him that asketh of thee" must be qualified by the realisation that there are occasions when such a gift would be unwise and even harmful to the recipient. A madman might ask for a gun: a child might ask for a razor. It would be unwise to say to oneself that as Jesus has commanded us to give, we must therefore do so in such cases. It might even be unlawful. If a criminal on the run asked for shelter and secrecy it would be breaking the law to give an affirmative reply to such a request. Or it might be undutiful. If by answering somebody's request we deprived those for whom we had a more direct responsibility, we would be dishonouring the Lord by our giving. On more than one occasion the Lord showed that we must live in the spirit rather than by the letter of this commandment to give. There was a man who came to Jesus and said: "Lord, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me" (Luke 12:13-15). Jesus replied that He would do no such thing, but would give the man a salutary sermon on covetousness. When Peter and John went up to the Temple, and found the man lying at the gate who asked for alms, Peter could not give him what he asked, but he gave him something better, the power of the name of Jesus to bring full restoration.

Even if we were to live in the letter of this command to give, we must notice that it says that we are to give, but it does not insist that we must give him just what he asks. The actual request could be unwise, unlawful, undutiful and much else, but the fact of the request suggests that we are being confronted by a needy brother, a needy sister, a needy fellow human being, and in this case the Lord tells us that if we are His disciples, true children of the heavenly Father, we will not turn away from such a request. Jesus speaks with the force of a commandment. He does not suggest that we turn the matter over in our mind and decide whether or not we will act. He lays it upon us with the force of obligation. He says: "Resist not"! If it is a matter of personal vengeance we must never do it. There may well be occasions when we must resist evil and malicious persons, but when it becomes a matter of personal interest, of someone smiting you on the cheek, wanting to take away your coat or trying to make you carry his baggage -- never resist! Let him have it! Go the second mile! Give to the needy!

Even this simple matter of turning the other cheek has to be understood in the spirit rather than the letter, for in itself it could be a provocative act. It could be done in such a way as to express defiance or contempt, the actual action being the expression of a retaliatory spirit. Jesus forbids that. He expects us to watch the spirit while at the same time we obey His imperative.

We now come to the last of the Lord's comparative sayings which all arose from verse 20 when He demanded a superior righteousness, saying: 'Not that, but this. Not that way, but this way. Not what was said, but what I say'. We should notice how Biblical Jesus is throughout these comparisons. As against the righteousness which the Pharisees preached, He preached a way of righteousness which is not less but more Biblical. In verse 21 the Word of God was wrongly restricted to Pharisaic righteousness -- they had limited the sixth commandment plainly and only to the taking of someone's life. In this manner the Word of God was wrongly restricted, for God is concerned with the thought life as well as with the actions. This is clearly shown in the Ten Commandments themselves, for the final commandment makes everything a matter of the heart by its injunction not to covet. This means that all the others, including the sixth is internalised, being related not just to the hand but to the heart also. It shows that you must not even want to take away another man's life. Jesus confirmed this Biblical injunction. The same is true, of course, in the matter of lust and adultery (verse 27). The Pharisaic righteousness apparently restricted this sin to the mere act, whereas Jesus brought it right home to the eye and to the heart.

We see also in verse 38 that the Word of God was wrongly applied . That which is truly in the Scriptures was snatched out of its proper setting and put into another setting where even though it remained the Word of God, it was not His Word for that place. So the Lord took the Word of God from this misuse by the Pharisees and restored it to where it belonged. [85/86]

Furthermore Jesus counters the situation where the Word of God has been wrongly extended: "You have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love Thy neighbour and hate thine enemy" (verse 43). Now the Word of God certainly says: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour" (Leviticus 19:18), and the Lord Jesus, in His great wisdom, lifted that verse right out of Leviticus and made it one of the foundational principles of the Law of God. Yes, the Scriptures certainly tell us to love our neighbour, but they would never draw what might seem a logical conclusion to this and tell us to hate our enemy. Never! Never! It was a sort of demented and almost Satanic logic to imagine that God was suggesting a restricted group in which we are to love and giving us permission to hate everybody outside of that group. So it was that by the Pharisees the Word of God was wrongly extended; human logic was allowed to operate and this logic made nonsense of Scripture. So Jesus put Scripture back where it belongs, in its purity, in its straightforward meaning, in its totality of application, but not in a wrongful extension of its application. In fact the Lord was doing here what He did on so many occasions, insisting that the Word of God must be taken as a whole. Although He had come down from heaven and possessed all that was native and proper to Him as the Son of God, He did not come to people in the light of that knowledge, but in the clear light of Holy Scripture. So the insistence of Jesus as our Teacher on the 'Happiness Code of Ethics' for our life, is that the root of superior righteousness is to take the Scriptures seriously, plainly and totally, to live a life which accords with the Word of God.

It is clear that Jesus wants to open out this life of loving one's neighbour and counter that wrong extension of something that the Scripture had never said by telling us to love our enemies: "But I say unto you, Love your enemies; pray for them that persecute you, that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, for he makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (v.45). Here is the distinctive life of the Christian -- he loves his enemies. Notice especially that phrase in the middle of the verse which tells us that such behaviour reveals the family likeness, for it gives active expression to the fact that you are the Father's sons. It does not say that you must try or pretend to be what you are not, but that you should show yourselves to be what you are. You are the Father's sons. This is the explanation of the distinctive life of the Christian, for it is the life of the heavenly Father, manifesting itself in His children. This is identical with the expression used in John 15:8, where Jesus speaks of the fruit-bearing disciples showing themselves to be His disciples. The practice of love is the manifest evidence and clue of what you are inwardly: "So shall you show yourselves to be my disciples".

This life of love is a life of prayer. "Pray for them that persecute you". Pray for them, not against them. Set yourself to bring them the greatest benefit which it is within your power to bestow. The Christian has within his power the bestowal of benefits which come in answer to prayer. Set in the midst of a hostile world, a world needing love, the call of Jesus to us is to become praying children of God, the praying Church of God, using the most positive means in our power to bring benefits to those who set themselves against us. After all this is what our heavenly Father is doing all the time: He makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good alike, and He sends rain on the unjust as well as on the just. Only the Christian can look on the world in this way. The eye of the Christian records that it is his Father who is sending the rain, while the eye of the world simply says: It is raining. The eye of the world says that the sun rises, shines and then sets. The eye of the Christian instructs him to say: 'My Father is making His sun to rise and to shine and to set. It is HIS sun.' This is our Father's world. It is His rain which He is sending and His sun which is shining. The sun does not rise by natural necessity; it does not rise because it does so every day; it only rises now because our Father has called it to rise. This is a marvellous and thrilling view of the world. It is our heavenly Father who causes its benefits to come, and the benefits specified by the Lord Jesus are those which come from heaven -- the sun and the rain. Therefore, as children of the heavenly Father we are to bestow on others benefits which come specifically from heaven, the things which are given in answer to prayer. The major task of our loving is to be the task of prayer, and by this we will distinctively show ourselves to be children of the heavenly Father.

Moreover in verses 46 and 47 we are told that this life of the child of God is to be a surpassing life. "If you love them that love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-collectors the same?" Even the Inland Revenue man loves somebody! You must do better than that. "If you salute your brethren only, what do ye more ...?" It is [86/87] very interesting that here Jesus uses the same word as He has already used in verse 20, where it is translated, 'exceed'. "Your righteousness must exceed ...". He says, and now He asks: "What is there about that which exceeds ...?" Where is the exceeding righteousness, the righteousness which goes beyond? Tax collectors were, on the whole, members of the people of God who were not living according to the light which God had given them. They had turned their backs upon the light, like Zacchaeus, and had sold themselves to the occupying power for the sake of rapacity and covetousness. Jesus says: 'You must do better than the people who know the truth but are not living by it. The life of the Christian is the life which surpasses, the life which exceeds and goes beyond.'

Finally the Lord points out the divine nature of the Christian's life: "You shall therefore be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect" (verse 48). Praise His name, He did not say that I must be perfect as God is perfect, but perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect; the implication being that if He is a Father and I am His son, then the life which I enjoy is His life -- that surpassing life of His is manifested in my mortal body.

So we end as we began. The basis of the Law in the old covenant was: "You shall be holy because I am holy". A loving and redeeming God has this as the summit of His desire that we should be like Him. There is nothing to surpass that. What makes heaven is that there God is God and His will is perfectly done. Heaven comes down to earth and the child of God is seen in the likeness of his Father and so the Father's will is done on earth even as it is done in heaven. This is the perfect law of liberty.


"But I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil:
but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek,
turn to him the other also.

WHAT is taught us in the Sermon on the Mount? Is it not this, that we dare not be satisfied with anything less than that which meets the demands of the new life which God has put within us? The Sermon does not teach us that, provided we do what is right, then all is well. Men would say: 'Why present the other cheek when someone has smitten you on one? Surely it is enough if you accept the blow meekly without retaliating?' But God says otherwise. If, when you are smitten on the one cheek, you do no more than bow your head and depart, you will find that the inner life will not be satisfied.

Many people tell us that the standards of Matthew 5 to 7 are too difficult. They are quite beyond us: to obey them is sheer impossibility. I admit this. They are quite impossible to the natural life. But there is the point -- you have an inner life, and that life tells you that unless you do as the Sermon on the Mount requires, you will find no rest. It is not just a question of right and wrong, but of likeness to your heavenly Father.

Watchman Nee



"If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain,
Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing
shall be impossible unto you.
" (Matthew 17:20)

Alan L. Barrow

THE disciples did a very sensible thing when they consulted Christ about their failure. Having explained to them their unbelief, the Lord made the astounding comment to them that all they needed was "faith as a grain of mustard seed". This should come as a great comfort to us, for however modest we may be we surely feel that we can provide that amount of faith. When we [87/88] think of removing mountains, however, we may be puzzled unless, realising that the Lord Himself never performed that kind of spectacular sensation, we understand that what He referred to were not literal mountains but mountainous obstacles to the will of God.

The challenge to us is whether in fact we are seeing such movement, whether hindrances to God's will are being set aside by the effective use of our faith. After all, it only needs a tiny faith, faith as a grain of mustard seed. Jesus Himself said so. And the Bible gives us two helpful illustrations of little people with little faith who were most effective in this way.

"... a little maid ..."

The first is the captive girl mentioned in 2 Kings 5:2. She provides a very good example of a little faith, expressed in quite an unspectacular way. She gave no startling demonstration of mountain moving and yet she had a considerable effect out of all proportion to her own insignificance. From time to time the Bible gives us examples of people who were plunged into dreadful circumstances and yet demonstrated a faith which not only survived but flourished. With most of us, a relatively small adversity thrusts us into a deep depression in which our minds are filled with doubts and our vital faith in God is shaken to its foundations. This girl, however, with every reason to question divine love and power, continued to believe in a living God. She had been overwhelmed by calamity, carried away captive by Syrian enemies, in spite of the fact that she belonged to the Israelites who were supposed to be God's chosen people. It might have seemed natural and even inevitable for her to have abandoned all faith. She did nothing of the kind, but betrayed by this almost chance remark that her simple faith in the living God and His servant Elisha was quite unshaken. It was almost a casual remark that if only her master were where God could be met in Israel, all his problems would be solved. Now she must have prayed for her own deliverance and got no answer. In matters of her personal well-being there was plenty in life to suggest that if indeed there were a living God, He was either not interested or not able to meet her need. But, instead of becoming embittered with her lot, she never questioned the fundamental fact that if Naaman were to visit Elisha, he could be healed.

She represents a challenge to us all. We are not in slavery as she was. However difficult our circumstances may be they must surely be preferable to hers. Moreover we have all been grounded in the basic knowledge that men can find their needs met if only they will turn to Christ. Can we forget ourselves, as she did? Can we make it apparent to all that we have unswerving faith in an all-sufficient God? Do we communicate what we know to others? Let us remember that this lass was a nobody. It was not a sense of personal adequacy which prompted her words. She did not speak formally, as though preaching. She simply expressed by her demeanour and by this 'throw-out line', that she had complete confidence in the power of the living God, and was content in quite a spontaneous way to be a living link between Him and others. There was no question of the quantity of her faith, but only of its quality. It was like a grain of mustard seed in that it was living, though very small. And the result was that Naaman was not only physically healed but spiritually converted.

"... There is a lad here ..."

We go to the New Testament and to the other sex to find another small person who is a challenge to us. "There is a lad here ..." (John 6:9). Now one might expect the boy to be mentioned by Luke, since he is the Evangelist who concentrates on the human element, but it is only John who informs us of the part played by him. John's Gospel stresses the essentially spiritual element, dealing so much with the great eternal verities of our faith; yet it is he who tells us of the simple faith of a very small member of that great throng. The boy acted not because he felt that he had the answer to the needs of the crowd and not because he had tried to enter into the calculations of the disciples as they attempted to weigh up the situation and measure the dimensions of the need. No, it was simply that he trusted Christ. His little picnic represented his own reasonable and total need, but he was prepared to let it go and commit it into the hands of Jesus.

This was faith in practice. He was a small person with small resources and possibly small faith, but this faith was sufficient to induce him to hand over everything to the Lord. In doing so he made possible the classic example of Christ's sufficiency to meet man's every need. It makes one of the best Bible stories for children, though John was no writer of children's stories, but the recorder of fundamental spiritual principles. In this connection, then, he made it his business to call our [88/89] attention to the practical faith -- no bigger than a grain of mustard seed -- which had such effective values for God.

Do we have that small amount of faith? Surely we must have if we are Christians at all, for we could have no spiritual life without an elementary confidence in God as living and all-sufficient. Without such a modicum of faith we could never have started. The point seems to be, then, that this faith must mature and grow, something which will only happen as we put our knowledge of God into action. Do we know Him? Of course we do. Then let us express our faith, as the boy did, by our complete committal. It is not a matter of calculation or ability to explain God's ways, but just one of whole-hearted trust in His wisdom and ability.

In the spiritual life little causes can produce massive effects. A casual comment by a captive girl, and a prominent man is healed and converted. A boy's readiness to hand over his little packet of food, and thousands are fed and a spiritual background provided for Christ's claim to be the bread of life. Looking back on the stories of these two youngsters, we may well envy the pleasure which came to them. This pleasure can be ours; the joy of not being or doing anything great in ourselves but of having a part in God's glorious activities.

The supreme pleasure, however, belonged not to them but to God. As He looked down in those days on an Israel who were a painfully poor lot, His heart must have been gladdened by the pure faith of this child, a faith which shone the brighter because of the darkness of her circumstances. It was the same in the case of the lad. What hungry boy would ever be glad to give away his food to others? He could not have had the slightest idea of the sensational results which would follow, and knew that the only thing which stood between him and greater hunger was the trustworthiness of Jesus. But that was enough for him. He had faith, even though it was only as a grain of mustard seed. Such faith must have brought deep satisfaction to the Lord's heart. How wonderful that we can do the same. We, too, may bring pleasure to the Lord. It only needs faith as a grain of mustard seed.



John H. Paterson

"... the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. "
(1 Timothy 3:15)

"... the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all."
(Ephesians 1:22-23)

IN these two verses from his epistles, Paul offers two different definitions of the Church. At first sight they seem to have little or nothing in common; indeed, the mental images they evoke are direct opposites of one another. "The pillar and ground of the truth": the image is one of stability, solidarity and strength. It is a static concept which stresses the permanency of a structure supported by an unshakeable pillar. "The fulness of him that filleth all in all": this is fluid rather than solid, and dynamic rather than static. The image it evokes is that of a liquid flowing into every nook and crevice. It corresponds to what is going on a few miles from our home, where a great dam has been built. Behind the dam, a new reservoir is gradually forming. It will take many months for the water level to reach the top of the dam but, as it rises, it will be steadily spreading the water into the hollows and gullies of the valley, until one day the reservoir will be full; it will have filled the entire valley.

How can a single entity be both solid and liquid, both static and dynamic? That is hard to explain: yet this is the Church's double role. And we have to recognise that sometimes its members become confused between the two parts of the role; they are stubbornly unmoving when they should be flexible, and flexible when they should stand firm.

The Pillar of the Truth

God's truth is unchanging, and His Church is called upon to uphold it as a pillar holds up a [89/90] roof. The Church has no authorisation to change the truth, but simply to assert it, to guard it, and to withstand any attempt to bring it down. In this role, the Church is to serve as a counter, a defence against all those views which see truth as something that only exists for me, in my situation, here and now -- against 'situational ethics', or existentialism, or whatever the name may be. The Church asserts that the truth of God exists independently of all situations; that it is, rather, the criterion by which everybody's situations and decisions are to be judged, in every era of man's history.

That Christians have failed always to stand firm for God's truth is all too obvious. They have been quite willing to be flexible about it, and to soft-pedal, if not actually abandon, parts of it which they found embarrassing or convenient. At the same time, they are equally prone to promote forms and manners and structures to a status equal to that of truth; to turn things which should be flexible and amenable to change into immovable objects. In this way 'my church', or 'our order of service' are elevated to a dignity equivalent to that of the truth itself. Probably the first and clearest example of this bad habit is mentioned in Mark 9:5 when Peter, having just shared in the marvellous experience of the Transfiguration, suggested building three tabernacles to give permanent form to the passing experience. At least, in his case, Mark charitably offers an excuse for this bad suggestion: "He wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid". But, alas, the Church has been busy every since institutionalising forms, events and even -- as with Peter -- single memorable experiences. Only the truth qualifies for permanency in our human existence; everything else is transitory, our experiences most of all.

But the truth is permanent, eternal. And truth is the Church's business -- not in the first instance activity, or evangelism, or even loving and caring, but upholding God's truth. The other things have their place, loving and caring, for example: Paul identifies the place of love in the life of the Church. He says that we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Truth is paramount, and neither the demands of evangelism nor the claims of love take precedence over it.

To be flexible when we should be firm in relation to the truth is, Paul tells us in this same fourth chapter of Ephesians, a sign of spiritual immaturity. He pictures those who are spiritual children as "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (4:14). We are back to our reservoir! Here is the very essence of instability -- a cockleshell boat blown about on the surface of the moving water, a pathetic picture of Christians who eagerly chase after every new idea, who are swayed by the last doctrinal argument they heard, without ever subjecting those ideas and arguments to the challenge of truth. But, says Paul, "Ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus" (4:20-21).

The Fulness of Him that Filleth All in All

The second contrasting definition of the Church poses a problem; in the first instance, a problem of understanding. How can the Church add fulness to a Christ who fills all in all? How can one add a further dimension of fulness to a container which is already filled to the brim?

This is a problem with a history of its own in the annals of the Church, for out of it has arisen a heresy which periodically reappears. The argument runs as follows: if the Church contributes some extra dimension to the fulness of Christ, then Christ is in some way incomplete; He is less than perfect, less than universal, and His work is less than final. The logic of this is difficult to deny so, if we are not to be driven to this conclusion, we must discover an alternative meaning.

For all the perfection of His life, His attributes and His service for the Father, there was one thing which Christ was not: something that even He could not be. He could not be many men. He was a single Person, perfect and unique, but still one and single. John says of Him: "We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father". But there are some things in life and, in particular, some relationships, which require two or more people for their fulfilment. No matter how wonderful a single individual may be, for the fulness of the relationship to be exhibited there must be someone else to act as recipient or respondent.

Let us try to see this by taking a very simple earthly example from the world of sport. Let us imagine that the greatest football player in the world is invited to come along to the local football ground and give an exhibition of his skills. We watch enthralled while he shoots goals from impossible angles and controls the ball to a hair's [90/91] breadth with his head or foot. Then we ask: 'Now will you please demonstrate passing the ball? And show us some team tactics?' He will of course reply: 'But to do that, I must have someone to pass the ball to. To demonstrate team tactics there must be a team.' In other words, the fulness of this player's skills can only be appreciated when he gives up his solo role and participates with others, for a part of that full range of skills which he so perfectly commands, is to be seen only in his relationship to other members of the team.

Paul did not use this image of the team in his letter to the Ephesians, but he used another of the same character -- the body, of which Christ is the Head. Who would think of assessing, let alone admiring, a head separate from its body? The full splendour of the greatness of Christ is seen when to the perfection of His single person we add the wonder of His relatedness to mere people -- His love for the Church and His union with it (Ephesians 5:25). How do you demonstrate love without someone to receive that love? How can you tell if a marriage is ideal unless you can meet the wife?

The Church is necessary to the fulness of Christ as the body is to the head or the team to the football star. Only by this means can 'fulness' be revealed. Paul goes on, in Ephesians 3:10, to speak of the Church in this role: he says that its task is to make known the manifold or many-sided wisdom of God -- to display all those facets of the immense wisdom of God which can only be seen and appreciated through the relationships of those who share with Christ the divine life here on earth.

Bearing in mind the drift of Paul's argument here, it is interesting and instructive to turn back in the Bible and read again the Lord's words in teaching and in prayer at the very end of His time with His disciples, which we have on record in John chapters 13 to 17. Well-known as these chapters are, they may contain more than we have realised for what, in essence, they are about (and very particularly what the prayer of John 17 is about) is the future, fuller dimension of the fulness of Christ which His death and, paradoxically, His departure from the scene was going to make possible. What the Lord Jesus was concerned to do in those last few moments alone with His followers was to make sure that the arrangements were all clear and in order for introducing this new dimension. What had previously been true of Himself alone was now to be true of -- and demonstrated by- - a group of His people.

Filling All Things

So the Church is necessary to the full presentation of the greatness of Christ. But Paul carries these thoughts a step further. He declares the purpose of God to be, in the simplest terms, that Christ might fill all things (Ephesians 4:10). And wherever He penetrates, bringing His presence and His infilling into new areas of God's creation, there His Church will be needed too, adding its own special dimension to His fulness, exhibiting that fulness in the context of a life together. This realisation may well challenge our present understanding of what God requires of His people. Let us ask two simple questions that focus our attention on this subject. Firstly, is it not true that, in general there are some areas of life which we do not expect Christ to penetrate; areas which we assume that He would never want to fill, and so we have made no attempt to penetrate into them either, but have left them strictly alone? Secondly, is it not the case that we have ourselves decided which areas these are? Have we not said, in effect: 'But He would never want to fill that area; look how full of evil it is', and so we have decided that it should be excluded from the scope of His purpose. And of course it remains fun of evil, because the Church has not brought to it the fulness of Him whose purpose is to fill all things. A vicious circle indeed!

But experience has shown that this situation can be changed. There are areas of life in which, twenty-five years ago or even less, it seemed incredible that there could be even an isolated testimony to Christ and His fulness, let alone a real infilling of His presence. The academic world was one such area. All the brains seemed to be on the other side; yet today there is hardly a university or college in these islands where there is not a group of God's men and women to be found, exhibiting a life together as they make their contribution to scholarship. The world of the arts forms another such area -- apparently impenetrable to the infilling of Christ; apparently written off and best avoided by the Christian lest he be contaminated by it. (Some of us can probably recall the alarm we felt when our children announced that they wanted to go to an art college!) Yet in recent years this area has been literally invaded by men and women in large numbers who by their presence and activity have [91/92] brought Christ to fill new spheres on His way to the ultimate goal.

There are many such areas still remaining unfilled. We do not yet see all things subject to Him. But we have no right to assume that any area of life lies outside His purpose, and we must be ready to follow Him wherever His next 'invasion' may be. The definition of the Church in Ephesians 1:23 is a dynamic definition; it demands flexibility, readiness to accept innovation and readiness, therefore, to trust the Spirit's leading in one another. The early Church faced this problem. When the gospel spread to new areas -- Samaria, Caesarea, Rome -- along the way there were those at every step who were convinced that this could not be right -- the gospel could never be intended for Gentiles! But the 'invasions' followed one upon another, and we can thank God, in retrospect, for the men who held to the truth and followed the invading Spirit, sometimes bewildered by the swiftness of change, but content and ready to bring the fulness of Christ wherever the Spirit paved the way. There is no less need today for the Church to play its part, its unfinished task that of contributing its own particular dimension of the fulness of Christ in every fresh area of life to which He comes.



(Studies in 1 Samuel)

11. GRACE REIGNS (Chapters 27 - 30)

Harry Foster

THE first half of this book was devoted to Hannah's trial and prayer, the appearance of Samuel and the subsequent emergence of Saul. With his failure we found God intervening again to bring forward the one of His choice, David, the man after His own heart. The second half of the book covers about twelve years and tells of the trials of David who, having been anointed and commissioned to be God's king, had to wait and be proved by God. Our last study deals with chapters 27 to 30, finishing with the tragic end of Saul and terminating David's period of probation. If we continued on into 2 Samuel we should be considering David's history as king, but for the time being we conclude this series of studies with the record of how he came to the throne.

Saul was called to the kingdom, was tested and found wanting and so his sad and challenging story is one of failure. A dreadful indication of this impending failure is given in the fact that when Saul inquired of the Lord he received no answer at all (28:6). His army was outnumbered and the prospect so grim that we are told that Saul was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. Now there is no disgrace in a man being afraid. Almost every man of God in the Bible had at some time or other to be reassured with the words: "Fear not!" The tragedy with Saul, however, was that God did not say 'Fear not' to him; in fact He gave no reply at all to Saul's prayers. There are statements by David in some of the Psalms which show that to him this would have been the ultimate calamity if it had happened to him: "My rock, be not thou deaf unto me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit" (Psalm 28:1). For God to be silent to him was the worst thing which could possibly happen. Enemies, distresses, calamities, these he could bear; but if God refused to answer him then life itself had no more meaning. Well, God never was deaf to him, nor will He be to us, but he was to Saul. The Lord answered him not by dreams (which was one of His methods of speaking to men), nor by Urim (the light on the high priest's breastplate), nor by prophets (though even some of the bad kings at least had a message from God through a prophet). This was tragedy indeed. To pray and to get no answer at all, to find that God refused to speak to him. The reason is not far to seek. It is Wisdom which declares: "Because I have called, and ye have refused ... ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof ... Then they shall call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me diligently, but they shall not find me" (Proverbs 1:24-28). [92/93]

SO God had nothing more to say to Saul. What then could he do? He went to a source of information which he had himself formerly banned (v.3), a 'medium' who could put him in touch with the other world. This is what large numbers of people are doing in our own countries today, ignoring God's orders and going back on their own good laws. It is neither 'fun' nor is it just pretence, as Saul soon found. When a spirit appeared which seemed like Samuel, she realised who her visitor was and was frightened. She could trust her 'familiar spirit' to speak through her, but she could not trust it to deliver her, and she would not have gone on if Saul had not guaranteed her safety. Her insight was correct, and we need never be surprised if spirits give evidence of their knowledge, for of course the Devil knows the past. He knew what Samuel looked like when Saul last saw him, and so he produced the spectre of an old man covered with a robe. Saul was deceived, and may be so was the woman, but it was obviously a deceiving spirit masquerading as the old prophet. You notice that it asked: "Why hast thou disquieted me ...?" Can we tolerate for one moment the thought that a wayward sinner or a sordid old woman could cause any disquiet to a godly saint resting in the presence of his Lord? "There the wicked cease from troubling; there the weary be at rest," affirmed the old patriarch (Job 3:17). Is it possible that a cringing wreck of a man like Saul could have any power to alter that? Notice, too, that the spirit speaks of being brought up. Had it really been Samuel, he would surely have felt that in coming back to earth he was coming down. Can anyone who has the least insight into spiritual things believe that in eternity a saint of God will look anything like he did when on earth? Earthly robes will have been left behind, old age exchanged for eternal youth. There is no such thing as 'an old man' in eternity.

For me, then, this was not Samuel but a masquerading spirit. It knew the past and could quote all the familiar story of Saul's disobedience and rejection, for evil powers doubtless gloated in the unseen as God's name was dishonoured in this man. It knew that the Lord had departed from him -- everybody knew that -- and it must have had a shrewd idea that the coming battle would bring victory for the Philistines. I suggest that it did not know the future (which is known only to God) but seized the opportunity of introducing the idea of suicide into the mind of the desperate king. One of his favourite ploys is to suggest that we end it all -- he tried that, unsuccessfully, with Job -- and in fact that is precisely what Saul did (31:4). This, then, was the shameful end of a man who failed of the grace of God. David did not kill him; nor did God; nor indeed did the Philistines, for he committed suicide. This was the final outworking of disobedience. The original act may have seemed quite small. He had been told to wait seven days for Samuel, but he could not wait and impulsively took things into his own hands, forcing himself to a sacrifice which was not for him to offer. 'Disobedience?', men may comment, 'but it was not all that important'. 'Conceit and self-will? True, but none of us is perfect!' Well, men may minimise the responsibility of a man called to the kingdom, but God will not do so. The end of disobedience is death. And like so many others, Saul involved others, including his own three sons, in his downfall. The Philistines gloated and praised their idols (31:9). That was what Satan had been working for. From the day when God regained for Himself the glory which departed through the capture of the Ark, the Devil had been seeking an opportunity to rob God once more and gain glory for his own kingdom of darkness. The real issue was not just the man, Saul, but the perpetual war between Satan and the Lord, a war which still continues and in which we are all involved. Can God be robbed of glory? Can the Devil usurp that glory for himself? This is the question which lies behind Saul's history and ours. In Saul's case it was a grievous blow to God's glory. The kingdom of Israel was at a very low ebb after the defeat on Mount Gilboa. Happily God had His answer. He had been preparing David for just such a time.

There is just one bright spot at the end of 1 Samuel: "When the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard concerning him that which the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons ... and buried them ... and fasted seven days" (verses 11-13). These were the men who had been saved by Saul's first great victory (chapter 11). In the hour of general defeat it is heartening to know of some who were grateful enough and bold enough to break into Philistine territory to recover at least something for the glory of God.

WE turn now from Saul to David, and may be rather surprised to find that he too is in rather a bad way. The thought that I wish to stress in this connection is that an abiding principle of God's working is resurrection. The kingdom is [93/94] brought very low and its new beginning must be a resurrection act of God. David, also, is passing through an experience which can only be solved by resurrection power. Clearly the prelude to resurrection is to be brought right down to zero. The actual zero point of David's experience is found in 30:4-6: "David and the people that were with him lifted up their voice and wept until they had no more power to weep ... and David was greatly distressed ...". This, mark you, was God's anointed king! He is at rock bottom. He has lost all; all except the grace of God.

We have to return to chapter 27 to trace the beginnings of this dark moment of human despair. After the three victories of faith which we considered in our last study, we are astounded now to find that David has gone all to pieces. Doubt has entered his heart. Questions take possession of his mind. He reasons: "There is nothing better for me than that I should escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any more ...: so shall I escape out of his hand" (27:1). Nothing better? Nothing better than taking myself out of God's hands and seeking help from the world? Nothing better than planning for myself instead of waiting for Him? David, dear David, there is nothing worse! Yet, strangely enough it looked at first as though he were right, for "when it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, he sought no more again for him" (v.4). David had known spiritual victories, real triumphs of faith, and yet Saul still harried him. Now he gives up his faith, disobeys all that Samuel had taught him about trusting the Lord and not leaning to his own understanding, goes for help to God's inveterate enemies, and gets immediate relief.

The relief was immediate but its effect was disastrous to David's life with God. He had to resort to subterfuges and lies to ingratiate himself with his new protector who had allocated Ziklag to him. He needed to kill off women, not because they were evil but in case they should 'tell on' him (27:11). There are some who may be inclined to defend David because he was the Lord's anointed, but there can be no excuse for untruthfulness. Achish believed him, but drew an ominous conclusion, namely that now David would transfer his service from God to himself: "therefore he shall be my servant for ever". He even proposed to give him a post of honour, saying: "Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever" (28:2). So David was buying temporary relief at the cost of spiritual servitude; the man called to be king was to become a virtual slave. It is noticeable that there was no mention of enquiring of the Lord when David went off to Achish. He followed his own impulses and they brought him into bondage. The same will happen to us if we follow his example, and we shall discover that there are few things more heart-breaking than a son of God in bondage to the world.

Not that David seems to have worried too much about his new status. As a matter of fact he made a big fuss because suspicion on the part of the rest of the Philistine leaders forced Achish to deny him a part in the battle against Israel. So his prospective slavery was made worse by his urgent appeal to be allowed to go into battle with the Philistines. One wonders just what was in his mind. Was it to fight Saul -- a thing he had steadfastly refused to do? Or was it to double-cross Achish, help towards an Israelitish victory and so make his peace with Saul? One thing is certain and that is that he should never have been in the situation in which he found himself. Yet what can we say? Have we never got ourselves into a scrape which should not have been? Have we never yielded to unbelief and acted impulsively? Have we always enquired of the Lord and waited for Him? We all have to confess that David's story has been our story too. Only One, the Lord Jesus Himself, can claim always to have maintained pure faith in the Father. And by His perfect obedience He not only triumphed himself but has provided grace to cover all our faults and victory even for people like us. So we find that David's story is a story of grace -- grace instead of disgrace and victory out of defeat.

SO by the overruling of God and the complaints of the lords of the Philistines, David was refused a part in the battle and sent back to his own place, Ziklag, only to be confronted by real disaster there. The city was in ruins and all its inhabitants carried away captive. This was David's absolute zero; everything seemed lost. Even in this, though, we notice how God's grace had been at work for although the Amalekites "had taken captive the women and all that were therein, both small and great: they slew not any, but carried them off and went their way" (30:2). What could David do, though? He had lost his possessions, lost his family and now found that he had forfeited the confidence of those mighty men of his. "The people spake of stoning him." This, surely, was the end. But no, David still has hope: " ... but [94/95] David strengthened himself in the Lord his God" (v.6). Right down in the depths he had found God again.

We may ask how a man in such a predicament could ever find encouragement in a holy God. The answer must certainly be that he began by humbling himself and confessing his failure. His psalms abound with the expressions of contrition and appeals for mercy which could alone be appropriate for a man in his position at Ziklag. They are also full of the assurance of grace and help which such a penitent can always count on from the God of all grace. Even with the whole world against him he knew that he could count on the unfailing loving kindness of his God. And so can we. We, too, can always strengthen ourselves in our God when once we have come to despair of all human strength -- our own or anybody else's.

The kingdom had come to a new low, and so had its God-appointed king. Perhaps this was a good thing. Perhaps the Lord found opportunity for leading David into the strength of His grace by means of this calamity in a way that would not have been possible without it. It is a strange but very wonderful truth that God can sometimes get greater glory for Himself in us as a result of our blunders than could have been possible in any other way. After all our 'testimony' is not an account of our ability or success but it is the evidence of the greatness of our God. So from the depths of distress David could look up to God and find encouragement.

THE next significant thing is that he returned to his old good habit of seeking divine guidance: "And David inquired of the Lord" (v.8). He did not allow his mistakes and sins to paralyse him, but rightly appreciated that confession and forgiveness had put him back on to his old relationship with God. So while Saul was going farther and farther from God, David was fully restored and being guided to a glorious victory in which he recovered everything which had been lost (v.18). It was a miracle -- a miracle of God's goodness. But grace goes even beyond that for we are told that David not only brought back all, but gathered flocks and herds which he was able to describe as: "David's spoil" (verses 19, 20). Can you believe this? That a man who had failed the Lord, been brought to the brink to ruin, been restored and strengthened by God's grace and then got back into the battle, should actually become wealthier than ever before? Well, a similar thing happened in the history of Abraham, and the principle is an abiding one: that God is able to make all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.

The Devil is the great discourager. He is "the accuser of the brethren". If he can get us involved in some shameful failure he will do his best to keep us wallowing in self-accusation and self-condemnation, even after we have sought and found forgiveness. The Holy Spirit, however, is the Comforter, the Encourager, who enables us to rise up in the name of the Lord and plunge again into the battle, as David did. This was the faith which gave him the victory, by God's grace. Nothing was lost and everybody concerned was enriched as a result of the battle.

It is interesting to note that others also were helped by this experience of David's, for we are told: "When David came to Ziklag, he sent of the spoil unto the elders of Judah, even to his friends" (30:26). It should always be like this. Our mercies and subsequent victories should always mean a blessing which overflows to others. In David's case, of course, the gifts were most timely, for they prepared the way for his acceptance as the new king by those elders of Judah (2 Kings 2:4). So it all contributed to the new kingdom to which David was called. So it is that the grace of God is able to turn even our failures to spiritual advantage, if only we humble ourselves before Him. David emerged from this episode forgiven, enriched, able to enrich others and more prepared for the kingdom than ever before.

AMID the general rejoicing at David's victory a shadow was cast by discontent among some of his warriors. The narrative describes them as: "men of Belial", which are strong words. Evidently the writer took a poor view of men who could be so ungracious as to grudge any benefits to their colleagues who had been too exhausted to follow David right through to the end. "... we will not give them aught of the spoil that we have recovered", they declared, surprising us that among these soldiers of David there should be those of such a disposition that they would deny their fellow soldiers a share in the booty? Could those who had themselves received great grace fail to show a little grace to their brothers? Alas, they could and they did. What is more, such a spirit [95/96] often persists among Christians. Those who owe everything to divine grace can readily be ungracious to their brothers in Christ, so confirming His sad story of the two debtors (Matthew 18:32-33).

The gracious David still called them 'brethren', in spite of this bad spirit, but he put the matter right and in doing so laid down a principle for all the future: " As his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike". God's ruling people must be magnanimous. As a matter of human reasoning the four hundred who went through to the end deserved more than the two hundred who fainted by the way, but since all was a gift of divine grace, the 'pros' and 'contras' of human reckoning could have no place. So David ordered this permanent ruling, that those who receive grace must also show grace. Grace reigns!

WE have come to the end of 1 Samuel and to the conclusion of David's probation period as he was being prepared for the throne. After he was crowned, though, he still depended entirely on God's grace, as the subsequent story so clearly shows. If we just glance into 2 Samuel we find the link with the previous book in the fact that we are told something of the circumstances of Saul's tragic death. And here magnanimity reaches a high peak, for in his lamentation David makes no distinction between his enemy Saul and his dear friend, Jonathan: "Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives". How could David speak thus of the wicked man who had pursued and persecuted him? Well, the Lord Jesus has ordered us to love our enemies and to pray for them who use us badly, a standard altogether too high for us, and too high for David, apart from the miracle of God's grace. By that grace, however, he was enabled to speak of Saul without any trace of rancour or self-pity. Let us finish on this high note. We are called to a throne and will therefore have to endure circumstances and people which are irksome to us as a part of God's work of preparation. If we can take it all in the right spirit, not being soured or embittered but always proving the abundance of God's grace and rising above human pettiness, we will find that God will see us through to the end. Grace reigns!



T. Austin-Sparks

"Be not ashamed therefore of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but suffer hardship with the gospel according to the power of God; who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal, but hath now been manifested by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality (incorruption) to light through the gospel." (2 Timothy 1:8-10)

GOD is supremely concerned with ultimate and time-outlasting values. He would have those values secured as directly and immediately as possible. The effectiveness of a believer's life, and of the life of God's people together, is all a matter of the measure of intrinsic value; not of comparative or superficial, but of intrinsic value. It is a matter of primary importance that the Lord's people should recognise this and be committed to it. The clause from the above Scripture which we take out as the key to our present consideration is this -- "who abolished death, and brought life and incorruption to light" with special stress on the words: "life and incorruption".


The verses present a statement of the grand issue of the coming into the world of the Lord Jesus; as to His life, His death, His resurrection. The one great issue here is stated to be the bringing to light of life and incorruption. That coming, that living, that dying, that being raised, had secured the substance of the gospel, so the apostle says here; and it was the gospel which brought to [96/97] light that great issue. The whole great matter was brought to light by the gospel. The issue of the preaching of the good news was life and incorruption.

Logically, therefore, the conclusion is that, apart from that coming, that living, that dying, that rising, neither life nor incorruption would be known or be available. Some translations of the passage have the word 'immortality' in place of 'incorruption'; an unfortunate translation for us because 'immortality' has taken on a much more general meaning in the minds of people than the word here allows. It is thought to mean continuance after physical death, survival after the life here; but although the Bible teaches the survival of all after physical death, that all have to stand before the judgment seat after death, that is not what is meant by the word as it is used here and in several other places in the New Testament. The word here is connected with several different matters.

In the first place it is used in connection with God. He is spoken of as: 'the incorruptible God' (Romans 1:23). You recognise in this case that there is some element about incorruptibility that is more, much more, than just eternal existence. He is the incorruptible God.

The word is used in connection with the Lord Jesus: "... neither wilt thou give thy Holy One to see corruption" (Acts 2:27). It is not possible that He should see corruption. The Lord Jesus had an incorruptible nature and life, and that meant that there was something there which conquered death. It was not just death suspended or put aside; there was some element that destroyed death. It was that incorruptible element. The word is also used of the blood of Christ: "Ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold ... but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish" (1 Peter 1:18-19). You see there is an element in incorruption that is extra.

It is also used of the glorified bodies of believers: "... this corruption must put on incorruption" (1 Corinthians 15:53). That is related to glorification. And it is used by the apostle in relation to an incorruptible crown: "Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown" (1 Corinthians 9:25). We know what that means -- something that not merely fades and dies, but completely disintegrates and becomes something very other than glorious. But the incorruptible crown means more than just survival, as of a flower that does not die, an everlasting flower. It is something with an extra element in it.

This, then, is the word we are considering: "Jesus Christ ... brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel". It is the quality of the life, the inherent and intrinsic nature of the life that He has brought to light, that is the incorruptible thing. He annulled death, not just non-existence, by destroying the essential nature of death which is corruption. Incorruption is the nature of the life.


What we are concerned with, then, is the one supremely important thing of being incorruptible. As Christ's concentrated effectiveness depended upon certain spiritual factors, so it will be with us; and the factors upon which that spiritual effectiveness depended were the factors or features of incorruption -- those things in the background or constitution of His life which were incorruptible things. It was those that gave to His life its tremendous, its immense, meaning.

What a great amount of intrinsic value was found in three and a half years. Such a period is not much in a lifetime. But consider again all that those three and a half years contained. It has not only taken two thousand years to touch the very fringe of it: it will take all the ages of the ages to exhaust the content of that small space of time. It is an inexhaustible fullness. From the baptism to the glorification there was a concentrated fullness of value capable of filling eternity. Men through all the centuries have been drinking at the fountain of those three and a half years, and they are still drinking -- all nations, all classes, all languages -- and it is as full as ever. It is still more full than all that has been taken out of it. How pregnant were the values of that brief spell of life here! What a seed plot for the whole universe! How could it be that so much should come out of so little? How could it be that for ever and ever afterward there should be this flowing of the mighty river of inexhaustible divine values?

That is the question to which, I believe, at least to some extent, the Lord would give us an answer here. It was because during those three and a half years that life was constituted upon incorruptible principles, incorruptible elements. While Jesus was the Son of God, and thus fundamentally [97/98] and infinitely different from us as regards Godhead and Deity, the New Testament makes it unmistakably clear that the features of an incorruptible life are to be reproduced and to reappear in His people; not the features of Deity or Godhead, but these features of His life. Otherwise what is the meaning of this -- that they are 'brought to light by the gospel'? What is brought to light? Just certain facts? No. Certain values for us, which are to become ours and are to be true of us as of Him, the incorruptible values and characteristics of Jesus Christ as the Son of Man. And so we say again that concentration of effective values depended upon these incorruptible elements; and our effectiveness, our value, will correspond to the measure in which there are incorruptible values in our life. Therefore certain things follow.


Firstly, the standard weights and measures of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, of heaven, of eternity, are the one standard of incorruption; that is, everything is weighed and measured, from the divine standpoint according to its incorruptible characteristics. That is a tremendous statement, but it is very true. Heaven has no other standard of values, God has no other standard of value, the Holy Spirit has no other standard of values, eternity has no other standard of values. Everything is weighed and measured by its incorruptibility. Heaven takes this attitude. How much will reappear and abide throughout eternity? How much will come through when all else has gone? What will be found ultimately as glorified? That is heaven's standard; that is the law of the incorruptible.


Therefore we should judge everything of our lives and in our lives by its incorruptible nature and value. You have to sit down with that and think. Everything that makes up my life, everything in my life, brought to the bar of the incorruptible, i.e. that which can take on glory. How much will stand the test, how much will pass, how much of all that makes up my life will go when times goes, when I leave this world, when all that is here ceases where I am concerned? How much will go on and appear again with eternal glory? It is a very serious challenge; but that is how heaven is viewing things all the time, and that is what heaven is at work upon. All the dealings of the Lord with us are according to that law, that standard -- to make very, very little of the corruptible, the passing, the transient, whatever it is, and to make everything of the incorruptible. What will be the proportion of the incorruptible to the corruptible resultant from our time here? I suggest that very few more solemn and serious questions could be asked or faced than that. Oh, how much there is that makes up life, that we are interested in, that we are dealing with, that we are accumulating that has no future! How much expenditure, how much time, how much worry that will show nothing afterward, will not stand, will not reappear! How much of it is really being turned to account for the incorruptible, or is just being spent on our corruptible?

As I have said, God is primarily concerned with intrinsic value, and that is not with Him a comparative matter -- it is an absolute matter. "The fire ... shall prove each man's work of what sort it is" (1 Corinthians 3:13), the Word says. That is a universal and an imperative dictum. "The fire shall ..." -- that is imperative -- "prove each man's work" -- that is universal; and I think, in the light of the New Testament, we would be right in adding: 'the fire shall try every man' and not only his work. The fire shall try every man. Fire may mean many things. It may mean the personal fiery trials of which Peter speaks, the fiery trial of faith, proving the gold. It may be the ordeal of the Church in persecution and suffering -- and God knows how much more that may be in the near future than it has been in many parts of the world -- the fiery ordeal for the Church. But whatever the fire may mean in its manifold application, it is that which puts things into the categories to which they belong. The fire puts the corruptible into the category of the corruptible, and makes it known that it is corruptible, that it belongs there: the fire declares it. The fire, on the other hand, puts the incorruptible into its category, and shows it has no power over that: that belongs to the incorruptible, and the fire has no power over it. It has defined its nature: either that it is of the perishable and the passing, or that it is of the imperishable and the permanent. The fire does that.

And do not let us think merely objectively. Are you in the fire now? Is the fire not at work in your life now -- the fiery trial of testing, of adversity? How many words could define the work of the fire in us? Yes, it is a burning in our experience. [98/99] We know already the individual ordeal of fire. What is the fire doing? Why the fire? For one thing only, under the hand and in the intent of God -- to put things into their place, to make us think ever more lightly of the corruptible and to lay store by the incorruptible; to make the incorruptible the transcendent in our standard of values. The fire shall try every man's work and every man.

Therefore this law of the incorruptible must be applied to everything. It must be applied firstly to ourselves. When we have lived our lives and gone hence, what will go on as the substance of the incorruptible resultant from our having been here at all? This is a universal question, though a difficult one. What will there be that defeats time, defeats decay, defeats death, defeats the whole realm of corruption, and appears again in glory for ever, as the outcome of our having been on this brief journey on the earth? We have to apply this question of the incorruptible to ourselves.


What about our Christian knowledge -- all the teaching we have had, all the truth we possess? We have to apply the question here. How much of that great store of teaching and truth, doctrine and knowledge, is producing the incorruptible in us, is going to appear again in eternity? We have been, perhaps, to many conferences, we have had a great deal of teaching by one means and another. Well what is the upshot of it for eternity, when the fire tests our teaching, when the fire tests our knowledge, perhaps in this life? A great deal of teaching has been given in some lands, and now the fire is testing the incorruptible value of that teaching. What can survive and triumph over the fire? In all that we know, in our Christian profession, as we bear the name of Christ embodied in the title: 'Christian', Christ's one, how much of that very profession is more than a profession? Is it a possession, an intrinsic value, incorruptible reality? All our Christian tradition handed down from our fathers, all that we inherit through the centuries of Christianity; how much of it now is of this particular quality, this essential value, this essence of Christ, and how much is just form, habit, an established and recognised and accepted thing? How much of it in our case is incorruptible? All our emotions, our excitability, our noisiness -- is there behind all that substantial element that will stand up against the fury of Satan, the hatred of hell?

As to ourselves, this matter of the incorruptible is a very pertinent thing and, if I mistake not, this is going to be the kind of thing that will be pressed home by God to the nth degree at the end-time, If, therefore, we are in the end-time, and it is not easy to doubt that, such a word is of importance. If we were to turn aside to consider the matter, we should find that never before was there so much in the Scriptures that was never understood, even by its writers, which today is intelligible with a mere modicum of intelligence. The very language of Scripture which could not possibly have been understood at the time when it was written is as patent as anything can be patent today. At such a time God would gather those who really mean business with Him, and He would begin to say: 'That is good, but there is something very much more than that: this is the thing that matters -- the intrinsic value, the essential value'. He would put His finger upon the absolute essentials. How much of the very essence of Christ is wrought into us? That is the point.


This question of the incorruptible has to be applied, of course, to Christian work and works, and everything must be tested by it. It is all very well -- size, appearance, seeming, immediate effects, the trappings and the means -- but what about the essential, intrinsic value? God does not judge by the size of a thing as it appears, by the seeming of things, nor by the immediate effects produced by man's means and methods. God is looking through. His eyes are the eyes as of a flame, and He looks right in to find the measure of the incorruptible that will not be gone in a week, a month, a year or a few years, but will go right on and appear again. He is looking for that.

There are two kinds of starting point -- man's and God's. Man usually starts with big frameworks, with a big plant, machinery, publicity, structures and so on. That is how man usually starts when He is going to do something for God. It is a propensity: it is our way. We may argue that God is worthy of something big. That is man's way. God's way is never like that -- it never was. You search in vain to find any instance of God beginning like that. Pentecost came out of very deep and drastic dealings with twelve men. God's starting-point is always the intrinsic. God has always begun with life, with the inherent, with the potential. Man's beginnings usually end in only a small percentage of lasting value. God's [99/100] beginnings always end in a very great percentage of lasting value. But God's beginnings seem so small, they appear so little. But so does a seed: it is a small thing, a little thing. Yet look at the potentialities in one seed, in one grain of wheat. It is the intrinsic with God. That is where God begins. That is why everything really of God has a long and hidden history of deep dealings on His part.


The thirty years of our Lord's hidden life had a great bearing on the three and a half. The forty years of Moses away back there in the desert, looking after those sheep of his father-in law, had a great bearing on the rest of his life. They were not lost, wasted, futile years. And so we could take up one after another -- Abraham, David, and others, who had a long deep, secret hidden history; it was out of that that the effectiveness came. Very often more is done, when God has been at work, in the last few years of a life than in all the years previously. That does not mean that all the previous years have been of no account, having no place. It means that God has been at work to get intrinsic values, and now at last these values are coming out. Young people must be careful not to write off older saints as back numbers. It may be a violation of the very principle of their own life -- that of intrinsic value. But God have mercy on the older man or woman who has no intrinsic values! As we get older we ought to be the substance for the generation to follow. Everything must be judged not by time, but by the incorruptible.

God's greatest things are coming out of intrinsic values to make themselves known. Therefore He takes a lot of time and a lot of pains in secret history with that one object. It may be that, though you are thinking the years are going, soon life will be past, all over, and you have missed the way, everything being a problem, an enigma, yet it may be that in a few years an infinitude of spiritual value will come out of the time through which you are going, out of this which you think is lost time. You must adjust yourself to this, that God is not careful at all about our standards of values, either in time or in method or in any other way. What God is careful about is to have the inherent, the potential, the essential, the intrinsic. Lay that up in your hearts and cherish it and let it be a real governing factor with you. God works for depths. God works for solidity. God works for intensity. Therefore He works through testing, through hiddenness, and with very little appeal to our natural pleasure. Incorruption is therefore a very testing thing, and may demand a complete adjustment of our whole mentality.

Having reached this point, we are committed to an enquiry into the nature of the incorruptible. If all that we have said was true of the Lord Jesus, and if it is true that the Word of God teaches us that, Deity and Godhead apart, what was true of Him in this way is to be reproduced in His people, then we want to know what were the incorruptible things that constituted such a life, and we shall go on to look at these, for it is in this way that we shall have the best explanation of the matter under consideration.

(To be continued) [100/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


"(although Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples)" (John 4:2)

THERE are many striking features about this fourth chapter of John's Gospel, one of the most notable being that on this occasion Jesus acted not so much from any inner sense of divine guidance but as a reaction to circumstances. "When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John, he left Judea and departed again into Galilee". There is no suggestion that His decision was taken from any other motive than the receipt of this report concerning popular comment on His apparent success.

We who put such stress on seeking 'guidance', may at first be rather shocked at the idea of Jesus allowing His movements to be precipitated by peoples' gossip. That, of course, was not really the case. What we must realise is that in this case Jesus did not need to seek guidance from His heavenly Father, for He acted in accordance with spiritual principles. So it was not just the common talk about His mission which made Him leave Judea; it was rather a right determination never to allow Himself to be involved in those comparisons which carnal men tend to make between one servant of God and another. The Servant of Jehovah sought nothing for Himself and had no wish to be the object of the kind of rivalries and comparisons which the Pharisees might try to make between Him and John the Baptist.

But while the writer was putting on record this unusual motive for movement, his memory was prompted concerning another point which might easily have been overlooked. Hence this parenthesis. The apostle informs us that in fact Jesus made it His practice to leave to His disciples the work of baptizing. For his part the Evangelist might have regarded this fact as so unimportant as not to be worthy of mention, but if so he was corrected by the Holy Spirit who caused him to draw our attention to this feature of Christ's ministry by means of the inspired parenthesis. We are confronted, then, by a question. Why did Jesus not Himself administer baptism?

The student of the New Testament will at once be reminded of a similar attitude adopted by the apostle Paul. "Besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Corinthians 1:16-17). Does this mean that baptism is unnecessary or unimportant? Never. There were occasions when Paul did baptize converts, and in any case the Great Commission to all who make disciples is that they should baptize them (Matthew 28:19). Why then, we ask, did the Lord Jesus refrain from baptizing; and why did His great apostle speak as he did?

Perhaps we may get a clue to the answer by looking again at that first remark of John's that Jesus was making more disciples than the Baptist. The Lord would be careful to avoid the kind of personality complexes which can arise in the case of God's servants. How easily could some disciples claim superiority over others because they had the distinction of being baptized by Christ's own hands? How readily would some of the Pauline party in Corinth (or elsewhere) have assumed advantage over their brethren if they could have claimed that it was the apostle who had personally immersed them in baptismal waters? That is just the kind of carnal and rather stupid sort of division which does arise among Christians, who fall into the trap of personality cults. The Lord Jesus would be careful to safeguard people from that sort of error. Perhaps that is why He took no personal part in the baptizings.

We are reminded, also, that from the beginning John the Baptist had declared that the specific baptism of Jesus would not be in water but in the Holy Spirit. This is a work which the Lord shares with nobody else. He, and He alone, is the One ordained to make that spiritual baptism real in the experience of His Church. After His resurrection He confirmed John the Baptist's prophecy, making it plain that the promise would be fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 1:5). In this matter there can be no question of comparing Him with John or with any of the apostles, for this function is unique. Every believer should know the Lord Jesus not only as the Lamb of God who bears away his sin but also as the Baptizer in the Spirit (John 1:33). The water baptism is an outward testimony: the Spirit's baptism is an inner reality.


[Back cover]

Psalm 46:11

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