"... 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. 6, No. 3, May - June 1977 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

The Exceeding Abundantly Able God 41
Building With God (3) 43
Purpose And Pattern (4) 49
Spiritual Affluence 51
Chapter By Chapter Through Romans (4) 55
The Coming Of The Crowing Day 58
A Song In The Night 60
Inspired Parentheses (7) ibc



"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,
according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church and in
Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.
" (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Arthur E. Gove

HOWEVER discouraged or disheartened a Christian may feel, this passage brings a forceful reminder that God is waiting to do new things for him. The whole prayer is full of spiritual inspiration but we limit ourselves to this last part, which is a doxology.

The Epistle to the Ephesians contains two striking prayers. The first is found in 1:15-23 and the second in 3:14-21. There is a marvellous interdependence between them. It may be helpful to compare them. We see that whereas in the first the prayer is: "that ye may know ...", the central theme of the second is: "that ye might be ..." (v.19). The first is directed to spiritual apprehension, or revelation, while the second is concerned with spiritual appropriation and is a prayer for realisation. While the first points us to God and His riches in glory, the second stresses that power that works in the believer. In both cases, however, the emphasis is upon the character of our exceeding abundantly able God.

God does not promise us something that He is incapable of doing. He is not suggesting that He should provide us with that which is beyond His resources. On the contrary the words mount up to assure us of His absolute sufficiency. God is able. God is abundantly able. God is exceeding abundantly able. Wonder succeeds wonder. He can still go on working after all our ideas are exhausted and our prayers finished. When unbelief has stopped further asking and stifled our thanksgiving, then God still delights to go on working far beyond what we deserve or demand.

WE are the ones who limit God. Our little faith is rebuked by the story of the dying Elisha. We are told in 2 Kings 13:14 how the young king, Joash, burst into the sickroom where the prophet lay dying and appealed for help in the light of the Syrian attack on the nation. "What shall we do?", Joash asked, and the dying prophet immediately became alert and began to give his orders, "Take bow and arrows," he commanded. "Now open the window eastward. Now let me put my hands on yours as you hold the bow. Now shoot." The young king twanged the arrow through the opened window and away it went. There was no mistaking the meaning of the speeding arrow. It was a signal of the victory which the Lord would give to Israel. Then Elisha's last effort was to stir up the sluggish young king who lacked enthusiasm, passion and courage, so after his shout of triumph, the prophet told the king to take up the rest of the arrows and smite them on the ground. Whether he was to bang them on the ground or loose them into the ground, does not matter. The point is that he should have made use of every arrow in the quiver, five or six of them. Instead of doing this the king only had faith to expect a thrice repeated victory. He smote three times and then stopped. Elisha was disgusted at this half-hearted response. The king clearly could not believe in a God who gives complete victory. Elisha reproached him for limiting a limitless God. Unbelief does just that. It hinders God from revealing His true character as exceeding abundantly able. He has to say to us, as Elisha said to Joash: "According to your faith be it unto you". You could have known complete victory, but your feeble faith has deprived you of it.

God is the exceeding abundantly above God. If He is limited, it will be because we have limited Him. Both personally and corporately, God is urging us to get our eyes on Him, to believe for His power for the full realisation of His purposes. In this section of chapter 3 we are reminded four times of these purposes by the use of "that". The last of these is: "that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God". This points to the climax of the Holy Spirit's work in the believer; this is God's ultimate purpose for all His children, that they may be filled with His fulness. You cannot have more than that. Indeed it will only be fully realised when we are all glorified and have come "to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ". But God [41/42] is able to do it. Even NOW He is able to do so much more than we could think possible, and that is why the whole prayer is covered by a doxology.

A DOXOLOGY is an expression of adoration which rises above the level of ordinary speech. It is a fervent utterance of praise from those who are lost in wonder and love because of the ineffable glory of God. Well may we glory when we have such an abundantly able God. He is able to make all grace abound to us (2 Corinthians 9:8); able to succour those that are tempted (Hebrews 2:18); able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25); and able to keep us from falling (Jude 24). What a list this is! Scripture abounds with descriptions of what God is able to do. Is there anything which God is not able to do? He can save, succour, subdue, sanctify, secure, supply and satisfy. He is not only omnipotent but munificent; He is not only abundantly powerful but abundantly generous.

I know that He must be all this because of what He has already done for me. Was it because of my merit that I was elected and had my name written in the Lamb's book of life? Was it by some effort of mine that I now stand justified before a holy God? Did I have any part in the wonderful scheme of salvation? Was it not all of God, whose Spirit showed me my need and revealed to me the Saviour whom He had provided? Why already I have proof enough of the wonder-working power of my exceeding abundantly able God. So much so that I pause to ask myself what effect all this has upon my soul. What does this doxology do to me?

1. It makes me ashamed of my unbelief

How humbled I am that I could ever doubt Him. This unbelief of mine ties the hands of the Saviour. Every possible evil seems to be included in this one great sin of unbelief. Is it possible that with me, as in the gospel days, the Lord cannot do many mighty works because of my unbelief? Are we not ashamed of our grovelling petitions? Is it not sad that we make such petty requests to the almighty King of heaven? How we should deplore our low spiritual attainments. Is it not true that we have so often behaved like king Joash, contenting ourselves with three feeble taps when we could have claimed and received a great victory? The fact is that we have not yet learned to trust God to be to us what He says He is.

2. It comes as a great challenge

It is God Himself who challenges us: "Prove me now herewith, if I will not open the windows of heaven to you, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3:10). In Carey's words, we are not only to ask great things of God but also to expect great things from God. Was there not abundance at Cana of Galilee when Mary responded to the challenge of Jesus; "Leave it to me" (John 2:4 Weymouth). Was the Lord Jesus displeased with the four friends who let down their companion through the roof? Did He rebuke the centurion who sought help for his sick servant? Did He ignore that desperate cry at the eleventh hour when the crucified thief asked for His mercy? Does He chide us if we ask for wisdom from above? No, He ever delights to give, and to give abundantly, when we take up the challenge of the impossible. He gives liberally, and He takes great pleasure in being trusted to do so.

3. It teaches me ever to seek the glory of God

This is the most important lesson of all, that everything is intended that He shall have the glory. We sometimes ask the Lord to teach us to pray, forgetting that He has already done just this: "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13). Our foolishness consists in that we insert a full stop where there is none, and simply finish at the words: "that will I do". But there is no such period, since the purpose that the Father should be glorified is meant to actuate and regulate all our praying. In the Lord's prayer the objective is that His should be the kingdom, the power and the glory. So it was that the psalmist prayed: "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name" (Psalm 79:9). As Matthew Henry says: 'When we come to ask grace from God, we ought to give glory to God'.

God has joined together His glory and our good. "Unto him be the glory" was certainly the governing motive in the life of the apostle himself. He seems, however, to have felt that this was inadequate, so he enlarged the concept to include all believers: "in the church". But even glory in the church was not enough. She is the subject and the instrument of God's glory, but even she is not sufficient to express the superlative glory of God. Let the whole church seek the glory of God, but even then this is not enough, so the doxology continues: "and in Christ Jesus". In Him glory finds its fullness. [42/43] "Thou Lord Jesus, Thou art He alone among men eloquent enough to express the glory of God. Grace is poured into Thy lips and Thou canst declare our praises" (Spurgeon). We feel that there the apostle will end, but no, this is not enough. God must go on getting glory; it must be: "Throughout all ages, world without end". There must be praise and glory to God during all time and through all eternity. Only so can we say our Amen. May this ever be our aim and objective.

4. It gives me great encouragement

I find great comfort in realising that the God in whom I put my trust really is and will always be the exceeding abundantly able God. I think of what He did for His people Israel. When they came to the impassable Red Sea, He made a way for them. When they were confronted by the mighty obstacle of Jericho, He made the walls fall flat. Note that He did not just take out a stone or two for them to crawl through, but brought the whole mighty wall down to ground level so that they could go straight up before them. He was exceeding abundantly able then. And later, when Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and prayed, "Please send the fire", the Lord's reply was so wonderful that His fire not only burned up the inflammable elements but even burned the things that would not burn. We must not confine our petitions for the burning of what is capable of being burnt, but expect Him to burn what cannot be burned. Then the next prophet, Elisha, proved in the case of the widow who had nothing in her house, that God is still the same. It was not only that in her hitherto empty house the oil flowed, but that in fact it overflowed. He has always been the exceeding abundantly able God.

And what shall we say of New Testament days? Nobody but God could have fed the five thousand, but as if that were not enough, He provided twelve baskets over from the fragments left behind. When the disciples could catch nothing He did not intervene just to give them a fish or two, but gave them such a catch that the nets began to break, and the boat to sink, so that they needed to call in their partners in order to cope with the abundance. My encouragement is reinforced by the reminder that the Lord works in this way: "according to the power that worketh in us". God has given us His Holy Spirit to make Christ real and regnant in our lives and to be to us the pledge of His limitless power. How can we be so discouraged or disheartened with such an exceeding abundantly able God?



(Studies in the book of Nehemiah)

J. Alec Motyer


THE city is now contained within its walls and as Nehemiah turns his gaze inward, he begins to see how to order life within the city of God. We are no longer therefore dealing with the principles of building, but rather with the principles of the life of God's people within the city. We have now come to a slightly less-known part of the book, and it may therefore be helpful to take a quick review of the content of the passage which lies before us. [Chapter] 6:15 draws a line across the story. Up to this point we have been preoccupied with what Nehemiah himself calls "a great work", the work of building the wall. Now the work is finished; but we shall see that the danger still remains.

Summary of This Section

The danger continues. "Indeed in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and letters of Tobiah came to them" (6:17). There was already a fifth column in the city. The wall has been built but vigilance must not be relaxed. Nehemiah charged the faithful governor to appoint watchers (7:1-3) so that the city might be kept from its enemies. At this point Nehemiah rather delightfully takes us inside his own thinking. He was so thrilled with this wide and large city that the question arose as to who was going to live there. "My God put into my heart to gather together the nobles and the rulers [43/44] and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of them which came up at the first." He did not want unsuitable people living in his city. The thought had come to him: "Here is a work fresh from the hand of God; here is the city of God. I want people living there who are as special and as fresh as the city itself."

Believing that this thought came to him from God he began to search the records and this leads us to a long list of names which continues virtually to the end of chapter 7. Yet life goes on in the city and not just in Nehemiah's head. He is planning for the future population, but in the meantime the characteristic life of the city of God is beginning to take shape. If you look back to 6:15 you will there find a date, the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul, which was the sixth month of the calendar. Then you will find that "the seventh month was approaching ..." (7:73). There was therefore only a few days between the completion of the wall and this dawning of the seventh month. As we read through chapter 7 it takes us such a long time to stumble through all the names that we may get the impression that quite a long time had passed, but that was not the case. The wall was finished, and almost immediately there came the thought that the seventh month was upon them. Now this was a great month in the calendar of the Old Testament church and brought very significant events into the life of the city of God. It is necessary for us to note that the most important feature of this seventh month was the reading of the Word of God. This is to be our main point in this present article.

Within a week of the wall being completed, making the city for the first time a single, visible entity, public reading of the Word of God set its hallmark on the life of its inhabitants (8:1). That reading of the Word led to a particular act of obedience, the keeping of the Feast of Tabernacles (8:18). In turn this led to a season of national repentance and individual re-dedication (Chapter 9). So we have cast an eye over the area of our present study and can return to the beginning.

Chapter 6:15 introduces us to a new theme, a new pre-occupation. Up to this point Nehemiah has been almost exclusively looking outwards. The enemy had been pressing upon the City of God, trying to cause the building to cease, so that Nehemiah's gaze had been constantly outward, to guard the city and the people from his assaults. Now, however, a new topic is announced as God's servant turns his gaze inward. It is announced in a sinister fashion as Nehemiah becomes aware of those who live in the city but have their allegiance outside. Letters were being exchanged with Tobiah, "for there were many in Judah sworn to him" (v.18). This new theme is most significant and gives a solemn warning to those who seek to live in the City of God in our day and must therefore watch for the work of the enemy within the gates. So Nehemiah turns his gaze inward. We are no longer dealing with the principles of building, but with the principles of living within the sphere of that building.

1. Ceaseless Vigilance as the Price of Life

The first of those principles comes straight away at the beginning of chapter 7. The wall is built: the war goes on. This stresses a basic principle that the price of life within the city is ceaseless vigilance. The enemy has not been banished by the building of the wall. The mere building of a wall does not remove Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arabian and all the rest. They are still near at hand. They are hostile still. The building of the wall has neither ended their presence nor terminated their animosity. When they first heard of the building, they hated it; and now that the building is complete, they hate it still.

This is a foundational fact of life for the people of God to which we must pay heed: there is no experience and there is no stage in experience which removes the need for vigilance. So long as they are in this world, there is no spiritual experience which can come either to the individual believer or to the whole company of believers which relieves them from the need for watching against the enemy. Vigilance is the price of life. Nehemiah is fully aware of this and gives us a visual aid to what will be the experience of the individual believer and of the whole Church until Jesus comes again. For until He comes, in the will of God we are in the presence of a hostile and hating enemy. Nothing will remove us from the presence and animosity of that foe except the Second Coming. Vigilance must go on, so "I gave my brother Hanaru and Hananiah, the governor of the castle, charge over Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man" (7:2). There is a contrast between the nobles alluded to at the end of chapter 6. Look at them: they [44/45] are sworn to Tobiah. Now look at Hananiah: "he was in the category of a faithful man", which would be nearer to a literal translation. This man could be trusted and, what is more, he was a man that feared God above many. Twice already we have heard God described as "The God of heaven, the Great and Awesome" and then "The Sovereign One, the Great and Awesome". The sense of the awesomeness of God which should be felt by God's people is one of the striking features of Nehemiah's testimony. Because of his fear of God this man was safe to be put in charge of God's work since he would not watch the faces of men but would keep his eyes on the face of God.

Then Nehemiah makes conditions for the safety of the city. In verse 3 he is making very strict regulations about when the city gates are to be opened and when they are to be kept shut. This is one of quite a few verses in Nehemiah which is difficult to translate but, as is so often the case in Scripture, such a difficulty hardly affects the essential meaning. It is clear here that nothing is to be left to chance. For my part I prefer a translation which would run like this: 'Let not the gates be opened while the sun is hot; and while they are standing at ease, let them shut the doors.' Nehemiah is aware that they will make sensible arrangements about keeping the gates closed at night time, but he fears that in the drowsy mid-afternoon they may be forgetful, so he gives instructions that while the sun is hot and men are having their siesta, standing at ease, then they should be very careful to shut the gates. That subtle enemy might well attack when you are not expecting him. Vigilance is the price of life.

At the end of this verse Nehemiah makes a comprehensive obligation for everybody to watch: "everyone over against his house". Nehemiah was second to none when it came to clear thinking, and he knew that if a man will watch over anything, he will watch over his own patch. So he suggested that in addition to taking their turn on watch duty, men should be always on guard around their own houses. Vigilance! Vigilance! It must never be relaxed. You must have gate-keepers; you must have an officer in charge overall; you must have a faithful God-fearing man in charge; you must have regulations about opening and shutting of the gates; you must have a citizen guard. Everybody must be involved in this task of watching. This means, of course, that although the wall is built, the very same principles which obtained then are still valid. No spiritual experience can ever nullify the need for vigilance, since the threat is constant. It is so easy to get into an alliance with Tobiah: it is so difficult to be a faithful man who will fear God above many. The people of God still need the means of grace to keep them alert.

2. The Individual Basis of Membership

The second principle of life in the City of God is enshrined in the long list of names which occupies almost all of the rest of this chapter. It is concerned with the individual basis of membership. "The city," says Nehemiah, "was wide and large, while the people were few. God therefore put it into my heart to gather together the nobles and rulers, that they might be reckoned by genealogy." Nehemiah was not collecting names. He was not taking a census. He was registering claims. The question was as to who had a right to live in the city. So Nehemiah was going back by way of genealogy to see who had the right pedigree for membership, and naturally this involved not looking at people in bulk but weighing them individually. Nehemiah wanted to people his city only with those who had a valid claim to membership, those who had this as their birthright.

It is very interesting to notice how he decided the validity of such a claim. He did not go back to Abraham. He says: "I found the book of the genealogy of them that came up at the first" (v.5). This means that he found a list of people with a genuine commitment to the cause of God. Within the broad, sweeping factor of descent from Abraham he looked for those who had been unwilling to settle down to the comfortable life of the Persian Empire and had therefore been prepared to commit themselves to the hardships of a return to the City of God. Who has the birthright? Who are the committed people? What is the hall-mark of the individual citizen? As we would say, It is the new birth. He must be able to trace back his pedigree to our Heavenly Father who, of His own will, brought him forth by the word of truth. The member of this community must have the assurance of divine approval, and the consecration of practical holiness seen in the handing over of his goods to the cause of God. All these features can be found in chapter 7.

3. Rejoicing in the Knowledge of God's Word

We come on now to chapter 8, to find there the third principle of life in the City of God. We [45/46] have had Vigilance and Individual Membership, and we pass to this matter of Rejoicing in the Knowledge of God's Word. I have tried to define this carefully because it has a threefold content: first there is the recognition of that Word, secondly there is the knowledge of it and then, thirdly, joy in that knowledge.

We have already seen how quickly life in the city got going. They just had time to collect their wits, wash their hands, change their dungarees for their best suits, and they were away! So life in the city began very quickly and it immediately assumed a very significant shape. There was a book which held the foremost place in the life of the city, and we read now of their first communal act as a company of citizenry: "All the people gathered themselves together as one man in the broad place that was before the Watergate, and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses which the Lord had commanded to Israel." They were of a single mind in this first act. Bring out the Book! What is more, they saw it as a Book which commanded the attention of all alike (vv.1 and 2). "They caused the people to understand the law" (v.7); "And they read the book distinctly and gave the sense, so that they understood the reading" (v.8) and "They gave attention to the words of the law" (v.13). Trace the family down to the lowest age at which understanding of the things of God is possible, and the Book demanded their attention, and that not a passing touch but a prolonged and repeated attention. "He read therein before the broad place ... from early morning until midday" (v.3), "Also, day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read in the book of the law of God" (v.18). "Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month ... they stood up in their place and they read in the book of the law of the Lord their God a fourth part of the day" (9:3). It is most impressive to notice the prolonged, repeated attention which they gave to God's Book.

This Book began from the start to dominate the common life of the people of God, exercising its claim upon all alike, men and women and any who could hear with understanding, and holding their concentrated attention. There were special holy days appointed by God which occurred in this seventh month, but the chapter begins with an ordinary day, not specially designated by God but set apart by the people for this purpose. They marked the day by giving a quarter of the time to listening to God's Word. In our next study we will encounter another such special day set aside by the wish of the people for this same purpose, for from the first they were dominated by this glad submission to the authority of the Law of the Lord. The Book was at the centre of their communal life.

Now let us see together how that Book is described. "They spoke to Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord commanded to Israel" (8:1). (See also vv.3, 7, 8, 14, 18; 9:3, 20, 29.) To summarise, the Book is described as to its origin: that is, the Lord; as to its communication: it was taught by the Spirit and given through Moses; as to its form: it is a book; as to its content: law, commandments, statutes and judgments; and as to its recipients: it was given to Israel. It will be profitable to consider each of these five factors, for what we find so clearly stated in the book of Nehemiah can be taken from this setting and applied to the whole of the Scriptures.

1. Its Origin

In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that "Every Scripture is inspired by God", which is an adequate translation, but it does not give full value to the Greek. The only way in which we can do this is to invent an English word and say: "Every Scripture is God-breathed". That is to say, it had its origin in God as His own very breath; it has come right out from Him. Inspiration means something much more than His approval. There never was an occasion on which God said to Himself: "My word, that man Isaiah is a good preacher. He has some wonderful ideas. I think that perhaps I will listen to one or two of his sermons, and if I approve, I will give them a little extra polish and call them inspiration." No! No! Inspiration is not like the seal of the Good-housekeeping Institute. The sort of thing that happens for that is that some inventive person labours night and day to produce a saucepan from which it is impossible to pour milk without spilling it, and then finds a firm who will only market it if it first obtains the seal of the Good-housekeeping Institute. It is therefore taken and -- as they say -- tested to destruction, and when they find that in fact one cannot pour milk out of it without spilling it, they give it their Seal! Now inspiration is not like that. It never means that God came in to improve or approve work done by somebody else. The Word was breathed by God Himself. It had its origin in Him. [46/47]

2. Its Transmission

"No prophecy ever came by the will of man, but human beings spoke from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). How aptly Peter sums up what we have found in Nehemiah, and does so in a doctrinal statement. No prophecy ever came by the will of man. It was not that Isaiah had conceived a good idea for a sermon, but that he was moved by the Spirit. This gives us Nehemiah's double testimony: the Book was taught by the Spirit and given through Moses. This is true of the whole Bible; it came from God, human agents being taken up and moved by the Holy Spirit. Peter uses the same word as is employed to describe Paul's shipwreck: "the ship being driven by a mighty wind" (Acts 27:15). So it was when the writers of the Scripture were moved by God. This was no ordinary or calm action of the Spirit; it was not a gentle push, but rather a howling gale of the Spirit of God as He took hold of human agents and made them into men capable of bringing His own very Word to the Church.

That has resulted in what we call: "verbal inspiration", this marvel of the words of man being truly the Word of God. Paul makes this claim: "... which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teaches" (1 Corinthians 2:13). This is possible because the Holy Spirit so presides over the whole business that it is not just the drift of ideas but the very word in which the message is expressed which has been superintended by the inspiring Spirit working through the human agent. For some this poses a problem and they ask how a man can become the vehicle of the Word of God without losing his individuality and sacrificing his personality. "Is it right," they ask, "that a man should be used by God as a mere typewriter?" Well now, for my part I can only say that if God asked if He could use me as His typewriter, I would reply: "Please feel free, Lord. I would be honoured", since I do not think that it in any way detracts from the dignity of any man to be taken up and used by God. In fact, however, it was not like that, and there was no trespass on the dignity of human personality.

There are those who qualify inspiration by using the illustration of a stained glass window. "Outside," they say, "you have the 'pure light of the sun', but when that strikes upon such a window you see inside no longer the pure light but light which has become tainted and tinged by passing through the stained glass. It is thus modified in its purity because it has passed through an impure agent." They go on to argue that although the Word came by inspiration and therefore left heaven untainted, it has now come to us with the tinges and discolourations of a sinful humanity full of proneness to error. I accept the analogy of a stained glass window, but suggest that it should be considered in another way. In the best sort of stained glass window every colour is there and every pattern is used and every figuration given a part because the designer so intended. He planned that window precisely so as to bring the pure sunlight into the building to fulfil his own purpose. The light, therefore, far from being distorted, is in fact expressing the perfect plan and purpose of the designer. The Lord told Jeremiah that He had planned for the prophet before ever he had been conceived (Jeremiah 1:5). Jeremiah was told that he had not come to birth by accident nor by the will of man alone, but because God had a purpose for him in his day and generation which would continue so long as the Church is here on earth. He was told that in being moved by the Holy Spirit to speak God's Word he would serve as a kind of stained glass window of God's design to transmit heaven's light to man.

The nearer a man comes to God, the more he becomes a man. That is why Jesus is the perfect Man. The nearer a man comes to God and the more he submits to the will of God, the more human he is. This is no devaluation of human personality, for this is the definition of what man was meant to be, that is made in the image of God. These Bible writers were not only men planned by God but were brought into such intimate fellowship with Him that they were able, in Jeremiah's words, to stand in His council (Jeremiah 23:22). Being brought into that intimate communion, they heard the very words which God wished them to speak, and so they became verbally inspired to speak to the Church on earth. So much for the transmission of the Book.

3. Its Form

To use the expression of Nehemiah, the form of this revelation is a book. Probably the force of this term is to impress upon us the fixity of the message. We have a book. It is deliberately planned in its content; it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It is not subject to revision, [47/48] subtraction or alteration. It remains as a fixed entity. When Ezekiel saw God open the roll of the book, he noted that it was written within and on the reverse side: there was no room left for Ezekiel's own thoughts.

4. Its Content

We find that Nehemiah uses four words to describe the content of this book: he describes it as Law, Commandments, Statutes and Judgments.

LAW. The word "law" is a particularly unfortunate translation. We can catch the feeling intended if we remember that in the book of the Proverbs we read such things as: "My son, hear the law of your father". Law is instruction given by a loving parent to a beloved child. That is how God speaks to His people. He speaks to them as their Teacher whose instructions come from a loving Father to provide them with educative guidance which they need for life in this world.

JUDGMENTS. Even in English this word implies authority. The judge on the bench makes a pronouncement which brooks no contradiction. This is what the word really means. There is a decision to be made. The royal mind comes down on one side and not on the other, and the matter is finally decided and fixed. When the Word of God is called a judgment, this is what it means, namely that God has made up His mind and spoken with authority.

STATUTES. The word is based on a verb which means: "to engrave, as on a rock". When the Word of God is called his "statutes", this speaks of its abiding and unalterable character. It cannot be rubbed out with an eraser, or blotted out by any artifice known to man; it is graven as on a rock for permanency. "The word of the Lord which lives and abides for ever."

COMMANDMENTS. This speaks of its application to life. It makes us aware that God takes His abiding principles and His eternal decrees and brings them down for our obedience in the practical details of daily life. Such is the wealth of Scripture that these practical commandments come to us in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are absolutely straight down the line: Do this, and Do not do that! Sometimes they are enshrined in the example of one of the great gallery of people who are there described. Sometimes they are stated in principles which we have to work with to discover before God just how they apply to us. Matthew 12:1-8 gives us an excellent example of how Jesus used the Bible in the form of precepts, principles and examples.

5. Its Recipients

This is by no means of least importance. "The law of Moses which the Lord commanded to Israel" (8:1). The law was not only given by Moses, it was given to Israel. This is not an accidental addition. Today there are people who speak of the Bible as the Church's book. "The Church gave the Bible to the world," I have heard people say. Nothing could be further from the truth. God, through man, gave the Bible to the Church. The Bible is not the Church's book in any sense that the Church has authority to change it, add to it or subtract from it. On the contrary, God gave the Book to the Church that she should accept it, submit to it and live by it. The people of God are most characteristically described as "the people that belong to the Book"! At its most fundamental level, the Church is to be defined as a keeper and a witness in this matter of Holy Writ. A keeper, because God has given to His people the responsibility of safeguarding it and handing it on; and as a witness, because they have the responsibility of testifying to the world of what God has written in His Book. The Book is over the Church. It is given to her by God and through men.

The Book is directed primarily to the understanding. It was to be read before men and women and "all that could hear with understanding" (8:2). That was the qualification. That is what matters. Whatever their age, can they hear with understanding? (vv.3, 7, 8 & 12). So there is this constant repetition about understanding. This is the proper response of the Church to the Word of God -- to understand what is there, to grasp it with a sanctified mind. God gave this Book through His chosen instruments so that His people should submit their minds in seeking to understand it and use every spiritual means to that end. See how the people needed correction over this matter by reason of their emotional response. Nehemiah and Ezra had to say to them: "This day is holy unto the Lord your God. Mourn not nor weep; for all the people were mourning and weeping when they heard the words of the law" (v.9). The words of the law affected their feelings. As they listened to its rebuke and became aware of their shortcomings, they gave themselves up to an emotional response by weeping. Nehemiah, however, deliberately [48/49] turned them away from this reaction of their feelings about the Word of God, in order to make them focus their attention on the proper response, a true understanding of that Word. This is the pearl of great price -- a spiritual understanding of what God has said. Nehemiah taught the people to put their minds before their emotions in relation to Holy Scripture. "And all the people went their way ... to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them" (v.12). They realised that they were to let nothing come between them and a right understanding. It is moreover in that connection that we find the lovely and widely known verse: "The joy of the Lord is your strength".

Joy in the Lord is your strength! What a remarkable verse! They were weeping because the law had rebuked them, but Nehemiah assured them that they could find joy in the God of rebukes. The only way to flee from the wrath of God is to flee to God and to rejoice that in Him there is a sure stronghold. The joy of the Lord is your fortress. They had been building this massive wall all around the city, but now Nehemiah confidently tells them that their real safety lay in sheltering in the unchanging joy of the Lord. It is clear that he was not speaking to tell of joys in general, but in the context of this joy of understanding the law of God.

The law of God led the people to the spiritual experience of repentance: "They wept when they understood the word". The law of God led them to mirth, also because they understood. Weeping and laughter are complementary parts of spiritual growth. The law led them on as individuals in their spiritual experience and it led them together into a life of obedience, passing from repentance to worship and dedication. Do please note, dear readers, that understanding the Law of God is not an arid, intellectual exercise. It is the key to spiritual advance. It is the key to life in the City of God.

(To be continued)


(Studies in the Epistle to the Ephesians)

John H. Paterson


TWICE over in his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul refers to God's eternal purpose. We considered in our last study the first of these two references (1:11), the one in which Paul defines the purpose in general terms. God's great plan is to sum up all things in Christ. But so great a purpose requires the participation of many agents, each of whom will play a specific part in bringing the plan to fruition. Just as a general before a battle will assign his various units their particular tasks -- one to capture a village, another to occupy a hill, a third to cut the line of the enemy withdrawal -- so God has planned the involvement in the purpose of all His agents. And among those agents the Church is assigned a key role.

It is the role of the Church which forms the subject of the second reference (3:10-11). Basically, says Paul, that role is to supply evidence: to put on exhibition the manifold wisdom of God. By doing this, evidently, the Church will be contributing in the most direct way possible to the ongoing purpose of God.

I wonder whether, like me, you find this statement surprising? What a curious choice on God's part! Is it for this that God has been training His people, and preparing His Church? Was it for this that the Lord Jesus began, so carefully and patiently, the training of the first disciples before He left them -- not apparently to fight for Him against the forces of evil, but just to be a kind of exhibition? It sounds rather as if our general trained a crack regiment of his troops for jungle warfare, and then sent them off to give concerts on the bandstand back at home!

WE can only conclude that this matter of supplying evidence is of vital importance. What is required, says Paul, is evidence of God's wisdom; not of His power, or His love, or His holiness, but of His wisdom. That is where the Church plays the key part. [49/50]

But, surely, everybody knows that God is wise? That goes with the very concept of being God. If, however, that is our reaction, we are all being very naive. For where in this sad old world of ours is the evidence that God is wonderfully wise? Is it in the earthquakes and avalanches that blot out whole villages of people, good and bad alike? Is it in the birth of deformed babies? Is it in the prosperity of the unscrupulous moneymaker or the denial of justice to the poor? If there is a God at all, and that God is very wise, why does He allow all those things to happen? And if you reply that they are not really His will but are the outcome of man's sin and fall, then whose sin caused the earthquake that kills thousands, and why should a wise God have created in the first place a world in which such things happen? Surely wisdom would have foreseen it all and chosen primaeval chaos rather than a creation of such hideous potentialities?

The fact of the matter is that while Christians believe in the wisdom of God, even they sometimes admit to wondering why that wisdom remains hidden. Job did; so did the psalmist; so, too, did Elijah and Jeremiah and Habakkuk and others of the prophets. The best that that great servant of God, Samuel Rutherford, could do was to hold on to the belief that one day his experience would be seen as the work of a wise God, even though it made no sense at the time:

"I'll bless the hand that guided,

I'll bless the heart that planned,

When throned where glory dwelleth

In Immanuel's land."

And if God's wisdom is not apparent to us who are predisposed in His favour, you may be sure that the generality of mankind greets the idea of a God who is wise with scorn and disbelief.

ONE day, the wisdom of God will be manifest to everyone, along with His power and His love and all those other attributes which, for the time being, may be hidden from the eyes of the world. It is for this 'time being' that the Church must supply the evidence of His wisdom. But how is this to be done? Certainly not by closing our eyes to all that evidence of apparent 'un-wisdom' which weights so heavily with ordinary people. God's people must develop in honesty, humility and compassion their responses to the realities of life in a suffering creation; they must show by their reaction to a creation that 'groans and travails' their confidence in the ultimate wisdom and goodwill of its Creator. That said, perhaps a general answer to our question: 'How can the Church provide evidence of God's wisdom?' might be: By its indifference to the received wisdom of this world; that is, by its exhibiting another and higher wisdom, and by its confident insistence that what the word judges to be wise, and accepts as such, may really be folly.

To go into a detailed examination of what this involves would require more space than we have here. But in the context of the Ephesian letter Paul draws particular attention to certain aspects of the higher wisdom of God. He suggests to us that the Church expresses that wisdom among other things:

1. By its declaration of independence from the "prince of the power of the air" (2:2); that is, by its openly-expressed preference for the rule of another. Considering that, to remain under Satan's control, man needs to do nothing at all; considering, too, all the hardships and dangers involved in declaring independence from his control, the Church's repeated insistence that it will not accept him as its lord is powerful evidence that it has found a better and a wiser Ruler.

2. By its indifference to historic divisions of mankind which others have accepted as immovable barriers -- first and foremost the division between Jew and Gentile which has been swept away in Christ -- and their replacement by positive, fruitful, functioning relationships -- between master and servant, parent and child, husband and wife.

3. By its life together (4:1-3) in unity, harmony and mutual help; that is, as an exhibition in microcosm of how the human race was intended all along to function.

4. By its choice of standards; that is, by its refusal to "walk as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind" (or "with their good-for-nothing notions" as the New English Bible translates 4:17). The Church sets its standards regardless of what is, or is not, accepted by the world as a whole; it recongnises that there is a conduct suited to the "old man" and a quite different standard for the new (4:22-24).

Let us notice two other things about this task to which the Church is called. One of them, [50/51] according to Paul, is the audience to whom this exhibition is to be presented: "that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." Not to men and women, but to principalities: why this?

We can only speculate here, but the most likely answer would seem to be: because men and women are so easily deceived that their criteria of spiritual wisdom are totally unreliable. To convince them would be no guarantee of the truth. But the principalities and powers know precisely how things stand. They have the spiritual intelligence to 'know the score'. One has only to listen to ordinary people discussing the 'wisdom' of God as it is seen through the ordinary disasters of everyday life to realise their ignorance, and their inability to make true judgments. It is not necessarily people's own fault that they cannot discern spiritual wisdom; as Paul comments to the Corinthians: "the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not". So let us not waste time, says Paul, in offering proof of the divine wisdom to those who in any case will not recognise it. Let us realise that the real audience which we have to convince is made up of super-intelligent beings who know very well what is at stake -- their own survival.

THE second and final comment on Paul's statement of God's purpose for His Church is that he speaks of God's wisdom as being "manifold". This word is variously translated by reputable scholars as "the innumerable aspects of God's wisdom" (Weymouth), "the many-sided wisdom" (Godspeed), "the complex wisdom of God's plan" (Phillips); all of them carry the same thought. God's wisdom is so great and so many-sided that no single human witness could provide evidence of the whole of it. Nothing less than the whole Church could be adequate for this task. At the very heart of God's purpose for His people is found this fact: the Christian life is a life together or it is nothing. This is true not just in the negative sense -- that divisions in the Church are regrettable and spoil the Church's testimony. It is also true in the positive sense -- that the task is so great that only the whole of the Church, every single member of it, is a sufficient vehicle for this purpose. Nothing less will do, and that is what Paul is going on to point out in Ephesians 4. How could the many-sided wisdom of God find expression in anything less than the whole people, "the fulness of him that filleth all in all"?

So the Church's task is to exhibit God's wisdom. Is it cynical or unreasonable to comment that, in too much of church history, wisdom is precisely what has not been on display? Church history, alas, bears testimony to pettiness, silliness and disputes arising out of sheer ignorance. Yet God in His grace perseveres with this, His special 'task force'. He commits to it, for the time being, His own reputation, and relies upon it to provide the evidence that, contrary to all appearances, He has acted from the first in wisdom. And He awaits a day when, unlikely though it must at present seem, He will be vindicated by this same faltering, imperfect task force, His Church.

"When he shall come to be glorified in his saints,
and to be marvelled at in all them that believe.

(To be continued)


Harry Foster

Reading: Revelation 2:8-11

WE are not told how John's Revelation to the churches was delivered to the Christians in those seven towns of Asia Minor. There can be no doubt that they were conveyed by hand, but what we do not know is whether they were all taken by the same messenger. If this were the case, then it would be interesting to know the reactions of the man concerned as he visited the different assemblies and observed from the human viewpoint those seven groups whose spiritual conditions were so vividly described by the risen Lord as He walked among them. [51/52]

What about the church at Ephesus? 'Oh,' the messenger might well exclaim, 'that is a thriving fellowship. They are very active and very orthodox -- one of the best!' After all, a mere observer would hardly discern that fatal lack of love to Himself which made the Lord wonder whether He would remove the lampstand. And what about Laodicea? Unless our imaginary visitor were a man of spiritual discernment, he would probably place this church in the highest category. The church members themselves boasted of their wealth and complete sufficiency. It is possible that their self-congratulations were connected with material affluence, but it may well have been that the whole set-up was seemingly wealthy in talent, popularity and outward success. 'What a wonderful church; they have everything,' we can imagine the visitor exclaiming, unless, of course, he was aware of Christ's scathing denunciation in their particular letter.

And what about the church in Smyrna? What indeed? Would our supposed messenger have answered that question with a contemptuous shrug of the shoulders or a pitying shake of the head? It was a poor little church, beset by a multitude of difficulties. If the bearer of the letters had read their contents for himself, he might perhaps have pointed out that even the Lord wrote so briefly and seemed to have little to offer them. His promises to the overcomers in the other churches had held out many amazing and thrilling prospects, while to those in Smyrna He merely gave the assurance that they would escape the second death. This seems rather a common place benefit in comparison with the morning stars, hidden manna and thrones proffered to the others.

Poor Smyrna! Yes, that is what men would and did say about them. That moreover is what they said about themselves. 'We are poor and we are in real trouble. For us the prospects are very poor,' might quite truly have been their sad verdict on themselves. Christ, however, would have none of this. Far from commiserating with them, He congratulated them. 'I know all about your tribulations, yes and your poverty too,' He said, 'BUT you are rich.' The conjunction is quite an emphatic one, showing that the Lord's verdict was another and an altogether different one. It is as though He said 'Not at all! It is rich that you are! Whatever others say, and whatever you yourselves feel, I, the Lord of the churches, say that you are the richest of them all.' This seems a reasonable enough exegesis of the four little words which have been placed in double brackets.

What is more, we must take note of the Lord's use of the present tense. He did not say that they used to be rich. That was what He implied about Ephesus. Alas! It may easily be the case with us that our vital spiritual experiences are limited to past history. There are few sadder things than that the Lord should have to say of a church, as through Jeremiah He did say to Israel: "I remember concerning thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals", because of its departure from that first love. The Ephesians had once been rich in their love relationship with Christ, but they had frittered away that wealth. Happily Smyrna's wealth was not just a matter of past history. Nor was it merely a hope for the future. Thank God for His grace! Even the Laodiceans had the possibility of becoming wealthy: "I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich". There is hope for the poorest of us that we may yet become spiritually affluent if we are prepared to pay the price of the refining fire. Smyrna, however, had Christ's riches as her present possession. So far as she was concerned, the Lord's clear verdict was that in her present condition she was then and there a spiritually wealthy assembly.

"Thou art rich!" I would love to be a member of such a church, especially to be an "angel" there (whatever that may mean). Nothing more wonderful could ever be possible than to be judged rich by divine assessment. Even more, perhaps, I would find it wonderful to have this said of me personally. I can imagine no deeper heart satisfaction in life than to receive a personal message from the risen Christ to say that He counted me among His wealthy disciples. All true lovers of the Lord must feel like this.

We must remember, however, the circumstances and trials of this rich church. The 'but' of contrast relates not only to human opposing judgments, their own or others, but to the cold hard facts. They were being sorely tried. They were really poor. Was this why they were so wealthy? Can it be that tribulation and deprivation are the necessary background to such a condition of spiritual affluence? Must we go through what Smyrna endured to acquire the riches which Smyrna possessed? We do not know, [52/53] but at least we may get some help in the matter if we consider more closely the actual condition of these wealthy saints. In what were they rich?

1. Christ was Everything to Them

There are many definitions of a local church, and many ideas as to its correct procedure. Here we keep to the simplest possible description, namely that it was composed of a truly born-again group of believers, gathered in such a way as to provide opportunity for the Holy Spirit to voice among them the timely message of the risen Christ. This was certainly true at Smyrna. Their life together was based absolutely on the Lord Jesus Himself. No mention is made of their activities, though we can be sure that they worked for Him; no mention is made of their doctrinal niceties, though since Christ was the First and the Last to them, we can be sure that they were Scriptural; and no mention is made of their failures or weaknesses, though doubtless they were far from perfect. It is as though Christ filled their whole horizon. He was the First and He was also the Last, and He was everything in between.

Some time ago we had in our home a doctor from Hungary. He himself had been in prison for his faith and his son had been shot. We tried to get him to talk about events in his land, but every time he smilingly changed the conversation to talking about our glorious Saviour and Lord. He knew tribulation and poverty, but he was rich. Much richer than those of us who wanted to be so sorry for him. Similarly we are not told what the tribulations were which beset the church in Smyrna; we only know that they loved to meditate on the Saviour who had been crucified for them and was now sharing His risen life with them.

When you went home from a church service in Smyrna, you did not discuss the moving sermon, the gratifying collection or the beautiful music -- you just thanked the Lord that you had met Christ, that He had spoken timely words of comfort to your soul, and that He had enabled you to lift your eyes away from present trials to His throne in the glory. Those who can do that are rich indeed. 'I know that you are a poor church,' the Lord said, 'everybody knows that. But in My estimation you are the richest of them all.' It is His opinion which matters. As Laodicea shows, it is fleshly and calamitous to boast of your own riches. It is both humbling and inspiring, though, to boast in Christ and to have the Spirit's witness that all His riches are yours.

"Fear not," was a specially intimate word of comfort for them alone. Those words of re-assurance had often been on the lips of Christ as He walked on this earth. He had spoken them, too, to John, when the apostle was overwhelmed by the greatness of the revelation (1:17). John, however, was the great and beloved apostle, whereas they were nobodies. How surprising and thrilling that He should say the same to them. His message of comfort was not only for those who were to be imprisoned, but to the whole church: "I will give thee the crown of life". There was to be no easy future for them, but they must remember that He would be appreciatively watching their loyalty all the time and would be personally there at the end of the way, waiting to bestow a further crown to complete all their other riches. When Christ is both First and Last, you are not over-concerned with synagogues and prisons.

2. They Shared the Reproach of Christ

Even greater than their poverty was the painful matter of their sufferings. "I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty", the Lord assured them. These tried saints did not have much time for speculating about the "Great Tribulation" for, in all conscience, their own tribulation was great enough and threatened to become greater. In this connection there is a startling use of the word 'blasphemy'. Normally this is a word which is reserved for God, implying contempt and indignity concerning the Deity. Here, however, it is used to describe the insulting attitude of this "synagogue of Satan" towards the saints in Smyrna. It suggests that the sneers and lies of the hypocritical mockers were really directed against Christ, and that He took them as a personal insult. The attacks on the believers in Smyrna were really attacks upon their Lord, for it is He whom Satan hates. His people were therefore bearing His reproach. This made all the difference. Nobody likes being ridiculed or maligned, but how much more bearable it becomes when we realise that what is really happening is that we are bearing the reproach of Christ.

We may enquire of Moses what such a reproach entails. The Scriptures state that he accounted it greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. It seems, then, that Moses would have [53/54] been very ready to confirm Christ's opinion that the church in Smyrna was indeed a rich one. He was one of the few characters in the Bible who had a first-hand knowledge of riches. As adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter, he had been brought up in extreme luxury. The museum pieces of priceless value which men now marvel at were matters of daily commonplace to Moses. This was the man who saw all that the wealthiest of nations had to offer, and doubtless had at his disposal and within his expectations such affluence as would make modern millionaires seem penurious; yet when he was able to make a quiet assessment of it all, he decided that it was dross and tinsel compared with the reproach of Christ. With hindsight we know that he was right. Moses the servant of God was infinitely richer than Moses the prince of Egypt. It was true for him. Yet if we had lived at Smyrna, or if we are passing through circumstances similar to those of the saints there, we would find it hard to accept such an assessment. This is not our natural idea of what it means to be rich. It is therefore a timely reminder from the Lord that there is no wealth to compare with the privilege of those who share His reproach.

"Which say they are Jews." The phraseology here employed indicates that the harsh treatment came under the guise of religion. How often, through the centuries, has official, institutional religion persecuted God's true people. Probably there is less of this today, but in the lifetime of the older generation, true believers were hounded and martyred by those who claimed to be Christians. In any case, Satan always has his agents for venting upon simple believers the intense hatred which he harbours against the Lord. It is still possible for Christ's disciples to suffer at the hands of those who claim to be God's people.

The message goes on to predict further tribulation for this sorely tried church. Obviously their spiritual wealth did not bring ease and comfort in circumstances. The treasures which they were to enjoy were what the prophet called: "the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places" (Isaiah 45:3). So the same Lord who pronounced them rich, warned them of worse troubles to come.

Concerning these impending trials, several points should be noticed. First, although the actual imprisonment would only come to some of their number, the whole church was being tried. So close is the relatedness of spiritual fellowship that sorrows and burdens, as well as joys and victories, are all shared. All at Smyrna were challenged to be faithful, and all were promised the imperishable crown. This in itself gives point to Christ's assertion that they were rich, for it is a blessing beyond price to participate in the common love of Christ, a love in which sufferings and comforts alike are shared.

The second point to notice is that the Lord permitted and measured the extent of their trials. "Ten days," Jesus said -- neither more nor less. There is not the slightest hint that if the church members still at liberty prayed harder and more earnestly, their imprisoned brethren could be released after only nine or eight days! If Bible numbers mean anything, then the ten is symbolic and speaks of a testing period carried through to its full. But if the church cannot shorten the time, neither can man or devil lengthen it. "Ten days," the Lord said, and ten days it would be.

It is possible that the symbolism is meant to emphasise the brevity of the period. When Laban and his mother begged Abraham's servant to linger another ten days before taking Rebekah back to his master's house, they were arguing that they only wanted a short delay (Genesis 24:55). When Daniel and his companions asked to be excused from eating the king's dainties, they said: "Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days" (Daniel 1:12). That will be long enough, they argued -- just ten days. And now it is as though the risen Lord reassured His tried people by saying: "It will be only ten days. For you, My elect's sake, I will shorten the days of trial." Rich indeed are the sufferers who know that the Lord has perfect control of their trials, has foreseen and measured them, and promised to be ever near throughout their relatively short duration. This poor little church, then, was rich in the present as it shared the reproach of Christ and soon to be enjoying even greater riches, for they who suffer with Christ will reign with Him. Let us not envy the bustling, successful Ephesian church, or the smug and prosperous Laodiceans; let us rather envy those who, like the saints at Smyrna, have the privilege of bearing the reproach of Christ.

3. They were Trusted by Christ

It may not be out of place to stress the brevity of this letter and the seeming ordinariness of the promise to overcomers, for it is a strange fact that often those who are being most pleasing [54/55] to their Lord are given the least evidence of His blessing. Does this sound strange? Is it not illustrated by those deeply satisfying human friendships in which no words or acts of reassurance are necessary because perfect sympathy and mutual trust guarantee the intimate relationship? Spiritual immaturity makes it necessary for the Lord to give repeated proofs of His love and faithfulness to weak believers. This is perhaps why we all have wonderful experiences of divine blessing and answers to prayer in the early stages of our Christian life. If the Lord did not multiply to us such exciting evidences of His love we might faint or be discouraged. In our foolishness we sometimes imagine that such actions on His part prove how close is our relationship with Him, whereas precisely the opposite may be true.

The Old Testament gives a number of examples of how the Lord trusted His maturest servants to press on in their spiritual life with scarcely any apparent encouragement from Him. Job is an outstanding example of this kind of mutual trustfulness. God knew that, however harsh circumstances were, Job would never let Him down; and Job remained true just because he was sure that the Lord would not let him down. Jeremiah was another man to whom the Lord granted the honour of little or no encouragement over many long and wearisome years. In our immaturity we might exclaim: 'Poor Jeremiah!' but history has shown how rich he was and eternity will make that even more clear.

And what shall we say of the New Testament, and especially of the beloved Son of the Father? He had forty days alone in the wilderness, where there was no voice from heaven, no miraculous provision of bread, but only wild beasts and Satan. When the final victory of faith was won, then -- and not till then -- the angels came and ministered to Him. So often the Father showed how fully He trusted that perfect Son of His. There was a beautiful mutuality of trust between the Father and the Son. It was only for the sake of the bystanders that Jesus spoke His words of thanks at the tomb of Lazarus -- no words were needed to maintain this sublime companionship (John 11:42). Then when the voice of approval came from heaven, the Lord Jesus clearly stated that He Himself needed no such encouragement, but that the voice had come for the benefit of those around (John 12:30). Finally, when seemingly forsaken on the cross, with no sign at all that heaven cared for what was happening to Him, the Lord quietly whispered: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit", never for one moment doubting God's unchanging love.

Now if all this is true, and if it is a sign of His gracious approval that God entrusts His servants with mysterious and unexplained trials, then how rich are they so honoured. The saints of Smyrna were rich indeed for, with a minimum of evidence of God's love, they endured as seeing Him who is invisible just as the wealthy Moses had done before them. There is no need to imagine that all those in Smyrna were martyred. To be faithful unto death is not just a prospect opened to those who have to lay down their lives for Christ. It is rather the call to all of us to be unmoved by circumstances and unyielding in our testimony so long as we have life here on the earth. People may pity us, but let us not pity ourselves. The Lord does not pity us, for to all such He says: "But thou art rich".

These, then are the criteria of spiritual wealth. To be centred on Christ, to be privileged to share His reproach and to go on in faithfulness without quick relief or outward encouragement. Are we rich? Are we rich in His sight? This is the only thing that matters.



Poul Madsen

4. THE WRATH OF GOD (Chapter 1:18-32)

THREE times in his description of the gospel, the apostle develops his thoughts with the aid of the word "for". "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God ..." (verse 16) is the first occasion, and he follows in the next verse with the words: "For therein is revealed a righteousness of God ...". Finally, he explains: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness ..." (verse 18). It is clear, therefore, that the gospel cannot [55/56] be preached except in connection with the wrath of God. Right up to 3:20 this word "wrath" is given prominence, as Paul stresses the grim fact that everyone who does not stand under the righteousness of God, stands under His wrath. This applies both to the Gentiles and to the Jews, who are not only under that wrath now but are treasuring up for themselves wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.

The wrath of God is His holy reaction against sinful man. It is revealed from heaven. Just as the righteousness of God is not only a passive characteristic of God but His active intervention to justify His elect, so is His wrath not only a characteristic of His holiness but an active intervention by which He gives men up to judgment. The same expression is used about this wrath as about His righteousness, namely that it is "revealed from heaven". Does this mean that this wrath would have been hidden from men if it had not been so revealed? Probably yes, in the sense that men would not have known it as wrath, unless God had so revealed it. The wrath would have been actively in operation, but men would not have understood that God was expressing His anger but might have ascribed their experiences to accidents or other possible causes. However when the gospel is preached, then there is a revelation from heaven of God's anger. The little word, "for", makes this close connection of God's wrath with the gospel, showing what importance the apostle attached to the true preaching of the gospel. Without this apostolic weight of emphasis, preaching can easily become entertainment which does not create a healthy fear of God. In this way the idea of "grace" can be so watered down as to give the message a meaning which Paul would never countenance.

FURTHER emphasis is given to the truth by the apostle's affirmation that such a revelation comes "from heaven", that is, that the wrath really does proceed from God. Nobody can stop it; nobody has any chance of avoiding it. This is no accident, but it is directed by God and will fulfil its purpose. Man has no excuse. He holds the truth in some measure, but he holds it down in unrighteousness: "that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it to them". Paul here passes from consideration of the revelation which takes place when the gospel is preached, to point out that a revelation has already taken place. There is truth about God which is clear for every man to see: "For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen ..." (verse 20). The creation is a revelation of God's being. He Himself is invisible but by creating He has revealed His everlasting power and divinity. Not that there is any suggestion here that men may succeed in finding God through creation, rather that through creation God shows something of Himself to them. It is not a matter of sitting in a study and reasoning about the theory of creation, but rather of standing alone in nature and sensing the majesty of God.

The Danish translation says that it is a consequence of this revelation in nature that men have no excuse: "so that they are without excuse". The Greek, however, can just as well be translated: "that they may be without excuse". This means that their being without excuse is not only a consequence of the revelation but the object and purpose of it. This thought occurs again in connection with the law, when Paul affirms: "We know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped" (3:19).

"KNOWING God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks." This, although few appreciate it, is the fundamental sin. There are many who show a certain deference to God, and therefore might think to avoid His wrath. It is, however, one thing to show such deference and respect, but quite another to reverence Him as God, to glorify and thank Him, to love Him with heart and soul and mind, to worship Him truly and without reserve. So often we fail to treat God as God. We do not take Him seriously enough. We do not think of Him as He is but rather as we wish Him to be. We push Him out to the circumference of our lives.

So it is that men become vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart is darkened. This implies more than a question of difficulties about believing; it explains that the explanation of man's spiritually empty mind is due to the fact that he neither glorifies God nor gives Him thanks. The phrase: "senseless heart" refers to man's whole being, his thoughts, feelings and will; all is darkened. The result is that he has become such a fool that even his wisdom is folly, but because he is so darkened, he calls that foolishness wisdom and vainly imagines himself to be clever, though the madness of his folly [56/57] expresses itself by his doing the very opposite of what God has purposed for him. God made man in His image so that he might have dominion over the animal creation, but now man makes gods in his own image or even in the likeness of birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things. As someone has rightly said: sin and insanity are synonymous!

When we read these verses we do not really feel the horror which filled the apostle at the thought of humanity's sin and God's wrath. We ourselves are so influenced by the foolishness and insanity of nature's darkness that we do not realise how tragically terrible our condition is. Humanity's darkness is so dense that we often fail to react with fear and trembling to the just wrath of God; but that does not make it any less an inescapable fact.

AGAIN we have a threefold reference, this time to the fact that God gave them up (vv.24, 26 & 28). It may be to our surprise that we do not read that He gave them up to catastrophic accidents, earthquakes and similar calamities, but on the contrary to an ugly life, to uncleanness, to vile passions and to a reprobate mind. If you "do not count knowing God as something worth while" (verse 28 Danish), so that you refuse to honour and thank Him, the result is that God gives you up to a way of thinking and living which is not only valueless but is positively shameful.

Is this picture of humanity under the wrath of God exaggerated? Are there not many unbelieving people who live a respectable and praiseworthy life? It may seem that the apostle ignores all such, but the truth is that he is not arguing about individuals but considering humanity as a whole, as a unity under one man, Adam, as its head. For this reason he alternates between past and present as he makes a comprehensive description of all humanity. At times he deals with the past (vv.21-31) and at other times his own day (v.32), but in a sense this makes no difference, for from Adam until today humanity is an organic whole, a spiritual unity, with its basic sin that it never did glorify and thank God and that it still does not do so. It is this failure which leads to such terrible moral consequences. Those who have not fallen into direct depravity but live respectably and decently are not thereby freed from their membership of the human race which is under the wrath of God. What follows is an enlargement of this assertion.

When the gospel is preached, this awful truth dawns upon us. We begin to see sin and its consequences as God sees them. We realise with horror that we are under the wrath of God, lost -- hopelessly lost. We see that God has given us up, and are then ready to perceive that the wrath of God fell on us at Calvary, where God spared not His own Son, but "delivered Him up for us all" (8:32). Here at the cross, more than anywhere else, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness, and in this way the gospel gives a revelation of God's anger against sin. It is a revelation of God's wrath and God's love, of His judgment and His grace, in short, of His righteousness. Only in this way is the gospel the power of God unto salvation to those who believe.

I TURN back now to the apostle's description of sin and its consequences, because this is so timely in the light of modern thought. Certain church circles assert that idolatry is a step on the way towards God, and should therefore not be condemned but rather considered as a step in the right direction. Such teaching demands that the churches be open and unprejudiced in their relationship with heathen religions. God's Word affirms the direct opposite. The apostle teaches us that idolatry is the depth of human depravity under the dominion of sin and that it leads to the dishonouring of human life (vv.24-27) and the disintegration of human fellowship. Far from being a step towards God, it is a movement away from Him which is leading in entirely the wrong direction.

It is further asserted that sin is first and foremost a matter of moral relationship between men, with a kind of balancing contrast of evil and immorality on one side and goodness, love and human righteousness on the other. If sin is regarded only as a moral affair, then such a conclusion is inevitable. Here, however, we are confronted with that which is on another level and much more basic, namely that sin is first and foremost a wrong relationship to God. In a word, it is unbelief (John 16:9). Consequently everyone who is not in a right relationship with God is under the dominion of sin. This is so, whether he behaves badly or measures well up to human standards of goodness. Not that the apostle wishes to suggest that it does not matter how a man acts, but that he emphasises that it is in the very nature of sin that a person not being in the right relationship to God finds that his [57/58] personal morality and goodness do not exclude him from the dominion of sin with its consequence of the wrath of God.

Every superficial understanding of the nature of sin betrays a sadly inadequate knowledge of God and lack of true reverential fear of Him. This leads inevitably to weak preaching and unsatisfactory conversions. How different from this was the apostle himself, who breaks in to his description of man's ignorance and idolatry with an exclamation of worship. Seized by a mixture of horror and holy reverence at the very thought of such depravity, he cries out that the Creator is "blessed for ever. Amen" (v.25). To him God is and remains God. This whole letter breathes the thrill, worship and gratitude of his pure feat of the Lord. The reader finds himself brought by it into the very presence of Almighty God.

(To be continued)


T. Austin-Sparks

PETER, Paul, James and John all point us onward to the crowns which God offers to His servants. In each case the thought is related to an ordeal, whether it be a fight, a race or a trust. Three crowns are spoken of -- the crown of righteousness, the crown of life and the crown of glory, and it seems that what is meant by crowning is the sealing of a course in triumph and with honour, the crown being a symbol both of victory and of honour.

1. The Crown of Righteousness

Righteousness is really a matter of God having His rights, that He shall be all in all, everything being centred in Him and given to Him. Unrighteousness is a disposition that we shall be the centre, and everything given to us, which is, in fact, satanic. Sin is the dethroning of God from His true place: righteousness is the bringing of God back into His place. That is what the cross has done.

Paul was a great champion of the righteousness which is established by the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and for that he fought a good fight. So far as we are concerned there is a challenge as to how far we will let go of our personal interests so that God should have His place. This is the battleground. It is a very real battle. So far as Paul was concerned he affirmed: "for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse ...", the issue being that he might be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of his own, but that which comes through faith in Christ. It has always been that by means of the people who have but one interest, namely that the Lord should have His rightful place, that the kingdom of Satan has been overthrown. That is righteousness and that is the battleground. The apostle says that there is a crown of righteousness at the end, awaiting those who have been willing to pour out their lives so that the rights of God might be secured for Him by the cross of the Lord Jesus.

2. The Crown of Life

This crown is also placed in the setting of difficulty, suffering and adversity. It is for the man who endures temptation (James 1:12). Whenever we triumph on the battlefield for the rights of God, there is a new release of His life. It is the objective of the enemy always to seek to quench that life. The Word tells us that we are all in the battle for life. Satan at the beginning schemed and worked in order that he should capture the race for himself and defeat God's ends. Whenever he has succeeded it has been by hindering men from having divine life; a life which is not only continuity of existence but a quality of holy life.

Satan is now out to quench you. As the Lord's child, the question arises as to just how much you will lay hold on the Lord's life and how much in faith you will resist the working of spiritual death. You get up in the morning wondering what is the matter with you. For no apparent reason you feel depressed, "dead". What are you going to do about it? Will you yield to it? Or will you put up a real fight in prayer? You will find that this is something more [58/59] than just a passing bad feeling; you are in the battle for life.

It is the man who is approved who will receive the crown of life. How are you going to be approved? You have never seen a scholar approved who threw aside his test paper and said: "I can never do anything like that! It is no use trying!" or even one who said: "I cannot go on any more. I will give it up!" No. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). Is it a battle? Well, do not give in. Is it a race? Do not drop out. Is it a trust? Do not surrender your trust. Go right through with it, and you will receive a crown of life.

3. The Crown of Glory

"When the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4). Sometimes you can almost see that in people here and now. They have such an utterance of devotion to the Lord and such a complete selflessness of life that they carry around with them a radiance of God's glory. Put it the other way round and you will certainly agree that in people who are always occupied with themselves and taken up with their own troubles and difficulties, there seems to be a constant shadow. Such people bring nothing of brightness and glory with them. Glory is really the nature of righteousness and life manifesting itself.

It is very significant to notice the setting of Peter's words. He has just been talking to the under-shepherds, and telling them to feed the flock and to do it not for filthy lucre or the praise of men, but disinterestedly, denying themselves in the interests of the Lord and His people. It may be costly so to serve the Lord, Peter says, but if you do it with that spirit then at the end there will be a crown of glory for you from the chief Shepherd who is Himself crowned with glory.

So there is righteousness -- God having His place in all things. And there is life -- victory in His name with His own eternal life regnant in us. And finally there is glory -- the life of the Lord manifesting itself in fullness in a glorious outbreaking of triumph over sin and death. These three crowns, these three seals, these three marks that we have triumphed, these are what the Lord has set His heart upon to give to us who are redeemed by the blood of Christ and indwelt by His Spirit. May our hearts also be set on obtaining them so that He may find satisfaction in us, through grace.

Let us make no mistake, though, that these will not come easily to us. They are the fruits of battle, of fierce battle and very often of inward battle. I sometimes think that it might be easier if our foes were more outward and the battle objective easily discernible. It may be that in some cases believers are cast into prison and tried for the sake of the Lord's name, but in any case we are all put into positions where the responsibility for the testimony of Jesus are worked out in us, and the principle of faithfulness unto death operates in our case. When the thing to be overcome is inside, when it is I myself who must be slain, then it may be ever harder. This, then, is the moment to look away to Christ on the throne and to know that He has provided a victory which we can daily enjoy.

There is a serious business on hand for the Church. It is nothing less than the fulfilment of her vocation, the accomplishment of her course and the preserving intact of her trust. We are called to stand for the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ in a hostile world. What a privilege to be called to stand for those sovereign rights, and then what a wonderful prospect to be offered crowns for so doing. We want Christ to have all the crowns. He wants to share crowns with us. He has been "crowned with glory and honour"; He calls us to be partners together with Him at the coming of His Crowning Day.


CALIFORNIA, U.S.A. Readers in this area may wish to know that Mr. Foster hopes to be the speaker at a Conference in the mountains near Cajon Pass. Dates: August 8 to 13. Particulars from: P.O. Box 5271, Hacienda Heights, CALIF: 91745. [59/60]



(This story is taken, by kind permission, from 'Exploits',
the magazine of the Slavic Gospel Association.

FOR his Christian witness John had been sentenced to thirteen years' imprisonment in his Communist country. After about ten years he committed some small misdemeanour and was sent to an isolation block. Here complete silence reigned as well as absolute solitude.

John became low in spirits and one day he cried to the Lord that he might die. What was the use of living anyway? Ten years of suffering in the general block, and now this! He felt (and who can blame him?) that it was more than he could take. But after a while he pulled himself together and, feeling thoroughly ashamed of his lapse in faith, he began very softly to sing to himself the hymn: "Count your blessings".

"When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,

  When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

  And it will surprise you what the Lord has done."

As he sang quietly, he could hear the fellow in the cell next door pacing up and down, backwards and forwards. Suddenly John could restrain himself no longer and burst into loud song, realising subconsciously that the guards would come and beat him. Who knows? -- perhaps they might even pound him to death! Maybe this was the way in which God was going to answer his prayer! As these thoughts were flashing through his mind, his brain was also registering that the prisoner's footsteps next door had stopped.

"Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

  Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,

  And you will keep singing as the days go by."

John sang his way through the verses of the hymn, becoming louder and more confident with each chorus, and listening with one ear for the jangling of the keys of the warder and his angry, heavy footsteps. At any moment he expected the door to be opened and the beatings with the heavy truncheon to begin.

"So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,

  Do not be disheartened, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

  Help and comfort give you to your journey's end."

But nothing happened! No guards came! All was silent, except for a heavy plop on the floor in the next cell. That poor chap, thought John, must have collapsed. Perhaps he had even died.

The weeks went by and John, having served his time in solitary confinement, was taken back to the general prison block. There he at least had company, and the diet was a little better than the stale bread and water he had been living on for the past three months. One evening, as he was sitting down after the days work, and feeling so grateful to God for preserving his life, he began to hum: "Count your blessings" to himself. He hadn't got very far when he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and turning, he saw another prisoner standing there.

"Listen," the man said, "Were you in Cell No. so-and-so in the isolation block at such-and-such a time?" "I was," replied John. "I heard you," said the man with mounting excitement. "I heard you! You sang that tune and those words. I was just going to kill myself, having made a noose out of my underwear and fixed it up to the ceiling. Just before you sang I stopped my pacing in the cell, stood on the chair and put my head in the noose. Then you started to sing. You sang louder and louder and the words came through stronger and stronger, and I was waiting for the guards to come and silence you for good. Then I decided that if there was someone in this prison who could sing fearlessly like that about a God who cared, then life must be worth living after all. I took my head out of the noose and dropped to the floor. Now tell me about this God and this faith that you have, because I want to share it too."

Thrilled, John told the man about the love of God and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ, and there and then, he led him to the Saviour. Now these men are both free and are deacons together in one of the churches behind the Iron Curtain. [60/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(the number of names together were about one hundred and twenty )" (Acts 1:15)

THE use of double brackets by the transscribers of the Bible seems at times to suggest that the phrase so enclosed is a kind of inspired afterthought. This is all the more possible in the above statement of Luke's, for he does not normally appear to be very interested in statistics. In rebuttal of this some may point out the mention of three thousand (2:41) and five thousand (4:4). This is true but the fact remains that no further records are given concerning any other church, unless it be the beginning of things at Ephesus, when there were "about twelve" (19:7). This lack of figures is typical of the whole New Testament. We have no idea of the actual numbers in the many churches written to or described.

This being so, we may well ask why the Holy Spirit urged Luke to record the number of names of these brethren as being about one hundred and twenty. Perhaps it was to put the apostles in their right setting, as members of a much larger group. Those eleven men were at the heart of things but there were many more who were equally called to wait together upon God and in due course to be endued with power from on high. The other statistic which applies to this period tells us that there were over five hundred brethren who together met the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:6). Quite clearly, then, we are meant to appreciate that even before Pentecost there were many who knew and loved the Saviour.

At His interrogation by the high priest, Jesus was sneeringly asked about His disciples and His teaching. He ignored the former and spoke only of His teaching. What could He say of those poor disciples? For the moment there seemed to be none worthy of the name. But appearances are often deceptive. The earthly ministry of Jesus was not the failure that it might have seemed. Note this, says Luke to us all, there were about a hundred and twenty men and women of faith who were obeying the Lord's command to "tarry in Jerusalem until ..."

THE happy use of the word "names", instead of "persons", accentuates the importance to God of this group. If the New Testament takes little notice of numbers, it pays great attention to names. Everyone of these six score persons had a personal history with God. This was certainly true of the mother of Jesus and His brethren, but there must also have been names which have since become familiar to us all. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were surely there, and probably Zacchaeus too. Mary and Martha of Bethany and their resurrected brother, Lazarus, could hardly have been absent. Then there were individuals whose stories are well known to us if not their names -- the man born blind, the woman taken in adultery, the owner of the upper room and the unnamed companion of Cleopas who had, with his friend, walked sadly to Emmaus, run back joyfully to Jerusalem and there been told not to go back to Emmaus again until they had been endued with power from on high.

PENTECOSTAL blessing fuses men and women together in the living warmth of Church life, but it does not rob them of their individuality. So everyone of those disciples was a "name", contributing his or her part to the prayer and fellowship of that waiting period. To us it seems a pity that Luke was not authorised to describe their subsequent stories. He was not even permitted to tell us anything more of most of the twelve. After all, our life here is but a parenthesis. We live within the double brackets of a brief earthly span. Soon, however, we shall find ourselves in eternity. Nobody will be able to compute the multitude which will forever be gathered there. Everyone, though, will be a "name", an individual with a personal record of the great triumph and glory of our beloved Saviour.


[Back cover]

Psalm 126:5

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