"... 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. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1977 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Ways Of Escape 81
Chapter By Chapter Through Romans (7) 85
The Voice Of The Son Of God 89
Purpose And Pattern (6) 91
Ananias Of Damascus 94
Curse Turned To Blessing 96
Inspired Parentheses (9) ibc



J. Alec Motyer

Reading: Genesis 3:1-7

THE first question that springs to mind about this passage is not necessarily the most important one, but it should certainly be faced. It is often put in this form: "Is this true?" And what the questioner means is: "Are we to consider this story of a man, his wife and the serpent as a historical narrative of things that happened? Or are we to look upon it all as a parable in which truth is taught by means of a story?"

I think that in these days it is all too easily written off as fiction. It seems to some to be simpler to regard it as a picture of truth, a spiritual parable, and to leave it at that. For my part I feel it good to share with you my own convictions on this vexed question, and I want to suggest that we accept this as straightforward history. I am certain that the Bible commits us to do this. I see no other course than to accept Adam and Eve as real persons, nor for that matter do I see any difficulty in doing so. On any view of human origins, the race starts with one couple. The Bible requires us to believe in the historicity of this man, Adam, not least because it draws such an emphatic parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam, giving to the first the same historic reality and part in God's plan as it does to the second heavenly Man.

Then there is the serpent. Just consider the situation as we find it in Genesis. The tempter is at his usual and continuing purpose of defeating and overturning the plan of God the Creator. How is he to approach Adam and his wife? They are newly created from the hand of God. They, with the rest of creation, have come under the Creator's verdict that they are very good. That is to say that the tempter has no internal foothold in these two. He cannot speak to their hearts and minds as Satan can speak to us, since they do not have the fallen nature which we now have. There is no basis on which he can gain an entrance to their inner life; he has to speak to them from outside, and first gain their attention so that they will listen. What then is he to do? Is he to come to them in a direct disclosure of his true nature? Is he to allow them to see in his face the contortions of his hatred of God? To do that would be to foredoom his plan of temptation to failure even before he started. He would stand exposed at once as what he is, the prince of evil. It is therefore essential that he adopt a disguise. If that is so, why not therefore the disguise which the Bible describes? This account of the man and his wife, the tree and the serpent are presented to us as history, and as such we accept them. It seems to me that I may do this without sacrificing either sanity or good sense.

My present message, however, is to agree that this true story is a parable, for like all Bible history, it is written to declare truth. The Bible does not tell us stories for the sake of acquainting us with ancient facts; it selects its stories and tells them in such a way that they become a revelation to us of truth concerning God and concerning ourselves, and concerning life on the earth. In the Hebrew Bible, what we call historical books, Joshua, Samuel and Kings, are classed as the Former Prophets. This is because they prophesy; out of their facts they declare to us the truth about God. So although I hold that this story is factual, I want to share with you some observations concerning its meaning and message to us.

My constant reaction to the account of this first temptation and the first sin is to remark how easily it could have been avoided. As we look back, it seems as plain as daylight who this serpent is, why he talks as he does; his malicious purpose seems evident to us as soon as he opens his mouth. We say in amazement: "How on earth were they ever deceived? How could they have fallen into this sin?" Unhappily this is a recurring fact of Christian experience. The same questions can so often be asked about us. Part of our remorse when we have sinned is amazement that we were so easily fooled, that we were so readily the dupes of Satan. He came in a [81/82] disguise that now, of course, we see through, but at the onset of our temptation Satan was so well concealed from us that we were fooled by his devices. We must therefore consult God's Word about this matter of temptation, and I offer to you now a verse which might have applied to Adam and Eve then, as it certainly applies to us now. It is: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can readily apply this to Adam and ask him why he did not use the avenue of escape provided by God. We feel that we want to ask him: "Adam, why were you so foolish and easily deceived? Did you not see this way, that way, the other way, that would have saved you from falling into sin?" Perhaps it will be more practical to apply his possible avoidance of evil to ourselves, examining his story to discover what God wishes to teach us about avenues of escape.

1. There is a Way of Escape if We Appreciate the Position in Which God has Placed Us

Such an appreciation of where God has placed us will not save us from the onset of temptation -- nothing will do that until we are safe in heaven -- but it will provide a way of escape so that we do not fall before it. We will not succumb if we pay due regard to the position in which God has placed us. Here is the serpent, talking to Eve, and here is Adam, the silent observer. I suggest that Adam should have interrupted the conversation by reminding the serpent that their previous encounter had been when all the living creatures were mustered in obedience to man so that he could use his divinely-given authority to bestow names upon them (Genesis 2:19). God had a gracious purpose of providing Adam with a wife. It may be that the man was not yet even conscious of his loneliness, so God set about educating him, and did so by making all the pairs of animals parade before him. It was then that Adam showed his regal likeness to God by using a rational faculty, dividing the animals into categories and giving them names. His lordship was so absolute that the names he gave remained permanent. He might have said to the serpent: "Pardon me! Where did I last see you? And what did I say to you?"

God had given man the position of lordship. He had been made not to fall before some tempting beast, but to exercise authority by banishing him and his tempting talk from the garden. Adam was then the lord of creation and not its stooge. How much more should we who are redeemed appreciate the position which God has given us in Christ; we should recognise that He has pre-placed us in a position of victory and domination. What has God said to us? He has said: "If any man be in Christ there is a new creation". He has also told us that: "Like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so should we walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). This is our right position. We must never allow our awareness of that God-given position of ascendancy to be obscured by awareness of personal weakness and sinfulness. In many situations of life we have to ask ourselves: "By which truth am I going to live? By what God says or by what I feel?"

Here is a person on a sick bed and the doctor, having just come in and examined him, pronounces: "I find no remaining trace of your illness. You are better." The patient, hearing this, jumps out of bed and tries to proceed normally, only to find that he is still very weak. Does that invalidate what the doctor has said? Is he to allow his conscious weakness to persuade him that after all he is not cured? There are two truths, the first the declaration by the doctor that he is better, and the second the evidence of his conscious weakness; so it becomes a choice between medical authority and personal feeling. Now God says that you are a new creature. Your experience may suggest that the old and the weak elements are still there. Very true, but which are you going to accept as the dominant truth. God's statement or your feelings?

Here are two young people standing together before their minister in church as he pronounces them man and wife. As they return to ordinary life they may feel no different, but something is true of them which was not true before. They are not going back to their old ways and their previous manner of life; they will go a new way because a new truth governs their life. It is not a matter of feeling. The new truth has to be lived by. And we have to learn and hold the new position which God has given to us in Christ. When Satan comes to tempt us, we are authorised to claim that we now have dominion: It has been given to us by God. If we will recognise that divinely given position of ours we will always have an avenue of escape. [82/83]

2. There is a Way of Escape if We Act upon the Sufficiency of the Word of God

Watch the tempter as he approaches the woman and mark that his assault is upon God's Word. "Yea, hath God said ...?" Notice the subtlety of this approach, as he deliberately chooses the ground upon which he knows that the man and the woman are already weak. Listen to her reply: "Of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it ...". Which is quite correct. "... neither shall ye touch it" -- incorrect! God did not say that (2:17). You see what was happening. Already, perhaps for what they felt were good reasons, they were tampering with the sufficiency of the Word of God. Tampering by adding, which will consequently leave the door wide open for tampering by denying. See how quickly the serpent leaps in -- if a serpent can leap -- and is now in a position to contradict God's Word. It may not seem so heinous to insert a few words as it is to take away something which God has put there, but it robs us of a way of escape, for its casts doubts on the sufficiency of that Word.

Tampering by adding. This is still done; in some circles it is widespread. Procedures and practices can be adopted for which there is no authority in the Scriptures. "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20). Here are people who come to a new believer, telling him that he cannot be in the will of God unless he joins their particular body. Is not this tampering by adding? Here are Christians who come to a Christian, saying: "Have you had such-and-such an experience?" The brother replies that he has found salvation by accepting Christ and relying on His atoning work, only to be told that if he lacks some special experience he is no true Christian. The experience in question may very well be found in the Word of God, but if it is made to be an essential thing, then this goes beyond what the Scriptures themselves insist upon. At least such procedure borders perilously on tampering by adding.

Tampering by denying. Here is a person who expresses agreement over most Christian truths but says: "I cannot accept this idea of the bodily return in person of the Lord Jesus Christ to this earth in glory". He will go so far in faithfulness to the Word of God, but when it comes to eternal judgment, he declines to accept what the Bible says. This was the very first doctrine to be denied, the doctrine that there is a God in heaven who visits sin with the punishment of death. To reject this is to tamper by subtracting. The arguments revolve around the fact that God is a God of love, declaring that there is no room for judgment or punishment or hell in the theology of those who know Him to be a loving Father. But the Bible says that there is! In this matter there can be no question as to what God has said. The Bible is not given for us to protect, as though it were under us, nor for us to trim by subtraction, as though it were at our mercy. It is the Word of God, given to us for our obedience. If we will acknowledge the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture and its place of government in our lives for daily obedience, we will always have an avenue of escape from deceit or defeat.

3. There is a Way of Escape if Our Eyes are Opened to the Goodness of God

These opening creation chapters of the book of Genesis are full of God's goodness. The very word "good" is a key word in Chapter 1, for the Creator's pronouncement over all His work is that He considered it very good. Good for whom? Why, good for that cherished man who was placed in the centre of it, as we are told in Chapter 2. The story is one of the bounty and the goodness of God to His creation. The subtlety of the tempter was to magnify the one prohibition that God had wisely imposed upon this couple. Look again, though, at the liberality of the Creator. "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat" (2:16). "Help yourself," God said, "every tree there is for your enjoyment, so be free to eat as much as you like. There is just the one exception in the case of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but apart from that you can freely enjoy it all." Now, listen to the subtle tempter: "What a pity that you are being so deprived! A whisper has reached me that God has forbidden you to enjoy yourselves. There is a tree of which you may not eat." See how Satan concentrates on the prohibition, seeking to blind your eyes to the vast bounty of God. God was bountiful in creating so many trees for their delight. He was bountiful in providing Eve for Adam as soon as he was ready to receive her. He added to all His gifts by His [83/84] own presence and Self-revelation, for He came to walk with them in the garden. What a favoured couple they were! If only they had kept their eyes on the goodness of God, the tempter's words would have completely failed.

But see how the temptation proceeds. The tempter makes them a promise: "God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God". Were they not like God already? Had He not created them in His own image? (1:27). What the deceiver was after really was to make them like himself. "Take for yourself," Satan said, putting as a change of centre for their lives this idea of selfishness and self-advancement. In fact God's bounty had given them everything already. Here is the deceitfulness of sin, as we can find over and over again in our own experience. Satan comes and lures us with vain promises when the implicit benefit in that promise is something which God has already pledged to us in Christ.

The promise is deceitful, but even if we get the benefit we will have it on the basis of perverted selfishness instead of receiving it as God's gift on the basis of purity and for the sake of Jesus Christ. If our eyes are opened to appreciate the goodness of God, His goodness in creation, His goodness in provision, and above all His goodness in Self-revelation, we will find a way of escape from all the tempter's tricks. Has not God showed us Himself in all the matchless beauty of our Saviour? How can we then be drawn away from Him by a wretched wriggling and abhorrent deceiver? Let us ponder afresh the great goodness of God, and we will never lack an avenue of escape from the tempter.

4. There is a Way of Escape if We Consecrate Every Faculty to God

Our final point is a very powerful one; it concerns the use of our God-given faculties, everyone of which should be consecrated to the One who gave them to us. Just watch Eve in front of that tree. "She saw that the tree was good, and that it was a delight to the eyes ..." (verse 6). An appeal was made to her emotions. Her emotions were aroused and stirred in a matter which was under divine prohibition. Those emotions produced such inward delight that she coveted what God had said she should not have, and her selfish appetite carried her away. Read on! "The tree was desired to make one wise." She began to use logic now. If it were called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then it must be reasonable to eat of it and so become wise. Her reasoning joined her emotions in this approach to disobedience. It is a fact that when the human mind begins to reason it comes to conclusions which make sense to human logic but defy the divine logic. God has said that she is not to eat, but on the heels of her emotional reaction, her mind now begins to justify her in saying: "No" to the wisdom of God.

So "she took ...". The decision was made. What the heart craved for and the mind justified, the will now grasps; her capacity to decide comes into play. So it was that what began as a mere toying with an emotional satisfaction, and was carried on into an intellectual justification, became settled as an abiding feature of fallen humanity, namely the decision of the will in favour of self and against God. The whole range of human personality has broken away from God.

Did you ever ask yourself if perhaps God was not making rather an unnecessary fuss just about a stolen fruit? If so, you failed to realise that this was an action which involved the whole law of God. It was all made so simple for man. There was only one precept which he had to submit to. But there was no escape for this couple, because their God-given faculties of desire and reason and will were placed at the disposal of self instead of being consecrated to the One who had given them. If only we will bring our emotions into disciplined consecration; if only we will bring our minds into glad submission to God's Word, knowing that our thoughts are not His thoughts, and learning to think His thoughts after Him as we follow His Word; and then if only we will come to the place of dedication of our power to choose; we will always find that there is a way of escape. In bringing us into His new creation, the Lord Jesus has made possible this complete consecration of heart and mind and will, so leading the way for us to prove the faithfulness of God in silencing the tempter and knowing the victory of faith. [84/85]



Poul Madsen

7. TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS (Chapter 3:1-31)

CHAPTER three will lead us through the arguments and counter-arguments of the self-righteous until we come to the "But now" which introduces that which is new and altogether satisfying to God.

1. Jewish Counter-arguments (verses 1 to 8)

We now encounter the Jews' objections to Paul's condemnatory exposure: "If you say that a Jew is not one who is a Jew outwardly, what advantage is there in being a Jew anyhow?" We might expect Paul to answer that there is no advantage and that it means nothing and does not profit at all, but he surprises us by answering: "Much every way!" In chapter 9 Paul gives quite a list of the Jews' advantages but here he contents himself with what is primary, namely "that they were entrusted with the oracles of God". The psalmist expresses it in this way: "He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them" (Psalm 147:19-20). In his introduction to this letter Paul has already said that the gospel was predicted by the Holy Scriptures (1:2), so that it was clearly a tremendous privilege for the people of Israel to possess the Word of God. Such a privilege, however, brought also a great responsibility.

Now Israel as a whole had not proved faithful, in spite of being so privileged, which raises the next question: "What if some were without faith? Shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God?" This is not only a question but in reality a counter-argument from a stubborn Jew who insists that Israel is not only privileged but also protected from the wrath of the God in whom they boasted. That is why he frames the question thus: "What if some were without faith?" He does not feel that he is without faith, but that such a description only applies to some. Paul knew him all too well. His train of thought is the same as is often found today among those who reason: "God can never reject us. That is quite impossible, for we have the Bible and accept all that is written in it. We may not always be what we should be, but that does not matter since God cannot be unfaithful." The one concerned has no qualms about himself, feeling confident that God must be on his side.

Paul's clear answer points in exactly the opposite direction from this stubborn, confident Jew, and he exclaims: "God forbid!" Yes, it is impossible for God to abandon His faithfulness, but such faithfulness is first and foremost truthfulness. God is faithful to His own Word -- that is the central feature of the faithfulness of the God who cannot lie. "Let God be found true even if that makes everyone else a liar." The original is sharper, making it plain that God is the only One who stands true, while every man is a liar. This cuts like a sword into the stubborn, self-righteous disputant, for it reminds him that he is included. With all his counter-arguments, even when he quotes the Word and stresses the faithfulness of God, man is still a liar.

The apostle goes on to quote another psalm: "That thou mightest be justified in thy words, and mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment" (Psalm 51:4), emphasising that truth is characteristic of God just as untruth is characteristic of every man. When God speaks (and judges), His judgment must be entirely righteous; if anyone seeks to argue with Him, like this stubborn Jew, then God will always win. This means that the Jew, in spite of all his objections and counter-arguments, must collapse in the face of God's unchallengeable truth. The apostle's aim is directed at God's goal of stopping every mouth and silencing the contradictor with His judgments (3:19). Expressed in positive terms this objective is that men should justify God without reserve (Luke 7:29).

But Paul knows human self-righteousness in its stubborn strength, and realises that it is no easy job to deal with it. He therefore allows the obstinate Jew to continue with his objections, even though he now becomes somewhat insolent, demanding: "But if our unrighteousness commandeth the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath?" The questioner has begun to weaken, [85/86] but he will not give in. While at first he spoke of "some", being careful not to include himself, he now speaks of "our unrighteousness", so confessing that he is in the same boat himself. However he still thinks that it will not sink, and is still able to argue with God, accusing Him over this matter of wrath. This is so abhorrent to Paul that he hastens to assure us that he is speaking "after the manner of men". Though disagreeing with such arguments, he feels obliged to present them, partly to show how foolish they are and partly to pave the way for the truth of God.

Now, in his audacity, the insolent and self-righteous questioner lets himself go: "But if the truth of God through my lie abounded unto His glory, why am I also judged as a sinner ...?" We see him rising and stepping forward to confront God, hands on hips, bold in his effrontery. Now he does not speak of "some" or "we" but challenges God to single combat: "my lie" ... "I am judged as a sinner". He has the brazen impudence to say: "All right, I am a liar. So what then? Why on earth does that matter if it still leaves God in the clear? I might as well continue in my own sinful way if that will give God the chance to get more glory for Himself." When mockers speak in this way, Paul brings the argument to an abrupt end. He dismisses them with these words: "whose condemnation is just". When, on the other hand, there are anxious, troubled consciences, who fear that the gospel of God's free grace in Christ may lead to taking sin lightly, he explains in detail that justification by faith, far from leading to irresponsibility, liberates from the power of sin (chapter 6).

But it is interesting and instructive to notice that whenever the gospel is preached in all its purity there is always the objection raised against such preaching that it offers license to sin. Such criticism either comes in the form of mockery or from the legalistically-minded who cannot accept the message of God's free and liberating grace in Christ Jesus. The charge that this message is dangerous or too easy may well confirm that we are preaching the very same gospel that Paul preached.

2. Guilty Before God (verses 9 to 20)

Paul has finished with the mocker, the stubborn Jew. This man began with an apparently honest question about the advantage of being a Jew but developed his argument in such a way as to reveal that he did not really want an answer when he was challenged as to his basic attitude. The apostle now returns to his main proposition, arguing that both Jews and Greeks are "under sin". This is a strong and striking expression which discloses that sin is not so much a greater or lesser weakness in us as a power which dominates us, as though we were under the heel of an oppressor who is too strong for us.

This is the first occasion on which the word "sin" appears in the Roman letter. Until now the apostle has described many of its manifestations (1:24-32) but now he reveals sin as the ruling power behind all evil passions and bad behaviour. From this tyrant no person, however pious or well-meaning, has any earthly chance of delivering himself. It is a power which affects everyone and defies every human effort to resist it. Both Jews and Gentiles, all of them, are under its sway.

In order to prove that Jews have no advantage over Gentiles in this matter, Paul uses their prided Word of God to press home his charges. His accusations rest not only upon the observations of human life which he himself has made but upon the infallible words of God in the Old Testament, that "law" of which they so boasted; confirming the fact that all are under sin with the phrase: "as it is written". For this he proceeds to quote a number of references from the law, that is, the Old Testament and chiefly the Psalms. We may ask if these, which seem to us to be isolated quotations, really provide valid scriptural proof that there really is none righteous, no, not even one. Paul feels so and evidently reads Scripture in a special way which we would do well to learn.

i. Firstly, he does not read as a spectator or objective observer, but as one who is himself addressed by God. Whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under, or within the law, that is the Jews. Everything that is written, he says, even when it does not seem to apply to us, speaks directly to us. When the Word describes the sin of the Gentiles, there is no ground for us to say that that is for the heathen and does not apply to us, for we must test ourselves by the description. If we do this as before God, we shall realise with dismay that the sin of the heathen is our sin also. We Christians will not go wrong if we read the whole Bible in a corresponding way. Everything that is written is spoken to us. [86/87]

ii. Next, we find that he reads the Bible as speaking to him here and now: "What things soever the law saith, it speaketh ...". This means that it has a present potency. He sits at God's feet and listens to what God has to say to him here and now. This is what it means to read the Word under the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit; though it is written, you not only read but you also hear, for it is God Himself who addresses you. Read in this way, the Scriptures do not give us a single chance of sheltering behind the sin of others. We can only come to the regrettable conclusion that no one is what he should be, ourselves included; we find to our dismay that God is saying to each one of us: "Thou art the man! Thou art the man! Thou art guilty before Me."

iii. Then he learns to be silent before God. "Every mouth is stopped." The case against God has to be abandoned, and all arguing with Him ceases. You who are so clever at accusing or reproaching God for this and that, and an expert at avoiding taking the blame, now smite your breast like the publican, waiting with downcast eyes, with no other expectation than that the Judge will rise from His judgment seat and pronounce you guilty and worthy of utter condemnation.

Through His law God speaks to you in this way with the one purpose of silencing all excuses and making you recognise your just condemnation. All self-righteousness bites the dust; man stands without excuse before his Judge. This applies to the flagrant sinner of chapter 1; it applies to the highly respectable man of chapter 2; it applies to Jews and Gentiles alike; it applies to you and me. It is indeed part of the gospel, much as we may dislike it. If we refuse to accept this position, then there will be no gospel for us at all.

3. But Now! (verses 21 to 26)

The words "But now" introduce a section which not only offers a satisfactory solution to the insoluble problem of how an unrighteous person can be declared righteous, but opens up an entirely new age, a new dispensation in "the time that is now" (3:26 Danish).

We are told that "apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets". No one can imagine how an unrighteous person can be declared righteous. If it happened in an earthly court, it would indicate an unjust judge setting aside the law and ignoring justice. We must never think in this way, as though God were condoning or overlooking our sin, though this is all too common a way of counting on God's love. Such an idea of God's grace is completely erroneous, though it is popular because it neither makes men fear God nor be too worried about sin. God's grace, however, does not consist in His overlooking sin and weakening the claims of justice, but rather in upholding the law to the full. At Calvary God did not give His Son any exemption from the demands of the law, but allowed judgment to exact its full penalty. At the cross God established the law. He did not for a moment deviate from it; He never does and He never will, for He is just and holy.

What then does it mean that a righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law? If God did not ignore the law but upheld it to the full, how can Paul speak of His righteousness being manifested without the law? Clearly the words do not apply to God's relationship to the law, but to our relationship to it. This strikes a death-blow at any righteousness which we may pretend to have. The words mean "apart from the works of the law" (3:28), "without working" (4:2-6), "not through the law" (without building on the law -- Danish) (4:13). This humbles man to the dust. He stands guilty before God without excuse. His own sense of what is right and true condemns him. It is then, but only then, that he is in a condition to receive from God the righteousness which is by faith in Jesus Christ. Historically this righteousness was revealed at Calvary where once for all God manifested it (v.21). We should notice in this connection that the perfect tense is used -- "hath been manifested". For the condemned sinner, though, it is revealed through the preaching of the gospel (1:17), where the verb is in the present tense.

This righteousness is "through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe" (v.22). It may seem unnecessary for Paul to express himself in this way, for surely faith can only be found in those who believe. It may well be that he wrote thus because he wanted to emphasise that it really is by faith alone, so that it is not possible for anyone to feel superior and say: "You only have faith, whereas beside my faith I have also sincerity and deep devotion, therefore I have a better standing with God than you have!" [87/88]

"For there is no distinction." The flagrant sinner from chapter 1 and the moralist from chapter 2 are alike in that they have nothing upon which to build their righteousness. Men stand on different levels of education or culture, they may be vastly different in their behaviour, but no one possesses the glory of God which man has lost because of sin. There is only one way in which any of us can ever be justified and that is by grace. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God in terms of free grace. We who could not stand before God, can now do so. We who have lost the glory of God now have that glory bestowed on us, and all this not because God disregards righteousness but just because He is righteous. For us it is free. We do not justify ourselves but are justified because of the sacrificial death of the Saviour on the cross. On the ground of righteousness God has in His wrath settled accounts with Him. In that cross all we who were guilty were condemned to death and the sentence executed, so that now we are guilty no longer.

Up till now we have been in the Courtroom, facing God's judgment seat, first acknowledging with shame how guilty we are and then finding ourselves proclaimed righteous by faith in Christ Jesus. Paul now leads us out into the Slave Market. Again we stand in shame, this time knowing ourselves to be slaves to sin with no possibility of freeing ourselves. We are, however, liberated, as Christ pays the full price for our freedom. This is another illustration of redemption, for we are justified freely by His grace "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus". Finally we are led into the Temple, where we find that Christ has been provided by God to be a mercy-seat (v.25). The typical propitiatory, or mercy-seat in the temple was hidden from sight behind the veil, but the living Reality, our Lord Jesus Christ, is set forth publicly on the cross. What the animal sacrifices under the old covenant could not do, the sacrifice of Jesus fully accomplished. He is God's mercy-seat, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The initiative is God's, not ours, for it was He who provided this gracious living Mercy Seat.

The law and the prophets testify to this righteousness. We have already been told that the gospel had been promised in the Holy Scriptures (1:2). Righteousness from God is the central theme of the Old Testament, so that when Paul proclaims free righteousness through grace by faith in our Lord Jesus, the whole of the Old Testament contributes its glad "Amen".

Paul takes time to throw light on God's treatment of sinners "aforetime". His reference cannot mean that previously God had overlooked sin and so run the risk of an ultimate failure in righteousness, but rather that all was done in the light of the fact that before the foundation of the world Christ was destined to make a full end of sin (1 Peter 1:19-20). When Christ made the blood sacrifice for sin on the cross, God was fully justified for that previous forbearance and now, "at this present season", He clearly shows His righteousness by justifying all who have faith in Jesus. That is what God is like! This is how He acts! No wonder that Paul calls this the gospel of God, for God is its Author and also its content.

4. Where Then is the Glorying?

Earlier the apostle described the Jew who boasted of knowing God and His will (2:17), and went on to show that really the man had no ground at all for glorying. He now asks: "Where then is the glorying?" and gives his own answer to the question: "It is excluded!" He then explains that this exclusion is because of "a law of faith". We might have expected him to say that the law of works excludes all possibility of self-praise, but he knows only too well that those who operate on the basis of works never give up hope of having something to boast of, for self-confidence and boasting are twins. When, however, a man lives by a law of faith, all glorying is excluded since faith can only gratefully accept its righteousness as a free gift of God's grace. When the ungodly is justified he takes no credit to himself but gives all the praise to God; he knows that there is no merit in himself, not even for believing. When faith comes in, boasting goes out.

The apostle seems to attach great importance to the phrase: "apart from the works of the law". He knows that self-righteousness is so deeply ingrained that we are inclined to regard the grace of God as a reward for our sincere endeavour to please Him, thinking that perhaps we deserve a little praise at least for trying. However great our experience of life in the Spirit we must beware of man's natural tendency to boast. In Philippians 3:9 Paul says expressly that his place in Christ means that he has no righteousness of his own. We are surprised that even he thought it necessary to insist on that. [88/89] Luther also knew the tendency of the human heart to bring self-righteousness into the realm of the life of faith and so took the liberty of adding the word "only". His translation reads: "We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith only, without the works of the law (v.28). He has of course been criticised for this addition, but in fact it precisely expresses Paul's teaching.

"Do we then make the law of none effect through faith?" Why does Paul conclude the chapter with this question? He has already shown that righteousness from God is witnessed to and confirmed by the law and the prophets (v.21). Is he merely repeating himself? No, he is not now thinking about how far justification is supported by the Old Testament, but how true faith is not in conflict with the law, which demands works of obedience. Rightly understood, the law which stops every mouth and causes the whole world to stand guilty before God is the law which also excludes all self-praise. It is only when we fail to appreciate the law in its deepest sense that we think of it in terms of conflicting with faith. If we understand what it really says we will appreciate in deepest humility that it is upheld and established by faith. Paul is most emphatic in insisting that grace confirms and establishes the law.

Later he develops the thought that the demands of the law are fulfilled in those who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (8:4), but I do not think that this is the issue at question here. Rather it is that there is no greater way of upholding and honouring God's law than to affirm: "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."



T. Austin-Sparks

"The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice
of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.
" (John 5:25)

STUDENTS of John's Gospel will know that chapter 10 marks the end of a series of spiritual truths and principles which are largely individual, and that from then onwards those truths are taken up in a collective way. From chapter 12 the Lord Jesus is found more particularly occupied with the corporate life of His people. Chapter 11, therefore, stands exactly halfway, with ten chapters on either side, and this is the chapter in which Lazarus hears the voice of the Son of God and lives.

After the raising of Lazarus a little group is found with him gathered around the table at a feast made for the Lord Jesus. This company suggests two entities: Israel and the Church. Israel's history will be exactly that of Lazarus. There will be a sickness in which Christ will not intervene. He will deliberately remain away from Israel (as such), even though she is greatly beloved, waiting until there is no further hope except the miracle of resurrection. Israel will "stink" in the nostrils of the world. There will be no ordinary remedy for her. Only by a resurrection as from the dead by the voice of the Son of God will the nation have its glorious future.

Since, however, there is always a double view of the truth in John's Gospel, we may say that Lazarus brings the Church into view typically. The company gathered around Christ after the raising from the dead of Lazarus typifies the Church as the company of those who have their very being by reason of the resurrection miracle. This is quite clearly stated in the most "Church " part of the Bible, the letter to the Ephesians. "You did he quicken when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins ... and made us to sit with him in the heavenlies" (Ephesians 2:1 & 6), which is illustrated by the fact that "Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with him " (John 12:2). The very heart of this message is found in Christ's words: "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God".

FIRSTLY, it is obvious that something more than a typical faculty of hearing is in mind. The dead have no such faculty. There must be a hearing which is not natural, which is deeper and more inward than the natural. Nor is it just that by God speaking some actual result occurs. There must be a hearing for there to be a result. Briefly, then, a living relationship with Christ and its corporate expression, the Church, is the [89/90] result of a hearing of His voice, which is something more than merely human words. It is possible to hear the verbal statement of truth, and to do so many times and over many years, but never really to have heard the Lord's voice. It is possible, after having heard those truths so often and so long, suddenly to hear that Voice, with the result so new and wonderful that it is as though we had never before heard at all.

Living relationship with Christ is not an emotional or intellectual reaction to a presentation of gospel truths, it comes not merely by signing a card or making a "decision". This may have an apparent effect and be overruled and used by the sovereignty of God, but it not seldom adds to what is one of the Church's most difficult problems, namely an unworthy regard for the Christian life with a number of people who claim to have tried it and found that it did not work. The fact that there is much indifference to Christianity today is partly due to the message having been cheapened and vitiated. No, the New Testament insists that the basis of all true spiritual life is by the voice of the Son of God being heard deep down in the human spirit. This may or may not be a matter of actual spoken words, but when it happens the one concerned is truly able to say: "The Lord has spoken to me" or "I know that the Lord has made me aware of His will". It is a voice -- a power -- through words, but it is something more than words.

EVERYTHING depends upon this. "They that hear shall live." Our very life, in the divine sense, depends upon it. Our salvation issues from it. And what is true initially is also valid continuously in principle. There are, of course, obvious and unmistakable duties, but otherwise for all major decisions in life we should listen for the voice of the Lord. Paul based his whole ministry upon this principle. When God speaks in this way, it is not only a case of something being said but of things being done. We who hear that blessed voice know when something has happened in us or to us. Such a knowledge is essential to stability. There are times when people radically change positions which they once held so strongly. After taking up such matters and affirming that they are the greatest things which God has shown them, they subsequently repudiate them and change their whole attitude. If this is not a question of deliberate disobedience, the only reasonable explanation seems to be that in the first place what they believed did not come from heaven but from men. It may have come by some mental or emotional acceptance in which the impact was so strong and so temporarily satisfying that it was taken up in a superficial way. Those concerned were not really broken in soul and humbled before God. Since this was not a hearing in the spirit of the voice of the Son of God it could not last, so the life has become characterised by lack of permanence.

Of course this is quite a different matter from the changes which mark true development and growth. Very big changes may take place in this area, but not in the basic revelation. It is most important that, as to the basic knowledge of the will of God and the revelation of Himself to us, we go on to the end as we started at the beginning, though enlarged and with possible changes of outward features.

Further, in the moment when God speaks to us in Christ, eternity has broken through time, registering lasting values in us. All that belongs merely to time and earth has been suspended, and there is brought into our lives that which was in God's mind "before the world was" even His plans for the ages of the ages. Our very existence is bound up with this. "Upon this moment hangs eternity."

THEN again, it is most solemnly important to recognise that this hearing of the voice of the Son of God is a sovereign act of God, only possible when and as He chooses. Unless God speaks, all men's speaking is dead. Neither those who are in view nor those who are trying to help them can choose the time. That sovereign decision is most clearly seen in Christ's attitude over Lazarus. There were many human factors at work, and the Lord was involved in misunderstanding because of His behaviour; nevertheless He would not move until the time of God had come. The point is this, that when that voice is heard then it is God's moment, and we can never say if or when that time will come again. The Lord Jesus asked: "Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word" (John 8:43). God had spoken and they had not responded, and now they could not hear, even when He spoke to them.

The question may arise as to what is the first and immediate effect of God speaking to us. It will not necessarily be exhilarating. Mere [90/91] exhilaration can be deceptive; it is not necessarily eternal life. There is a great difference between rest, peace and quiet joy and mere excitement. It may more likely be a solemn awe and fearfulness, but with quiet assurance.

The first effect of hearing the voice of the Son of God is the gift of faith. What could not be contemplated before now becomes possible. What we knew to be hopeless, now becomes a living prospect. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). It is a resurrection hope. How hopeless and impossible the situation was with Lazarus until he heard the voice of the Son of God! The strain goes out of life when God enters, and the impossible mountains are no longer there.

TWO things remain to be mentioned. If the dead are to hear the voice of the Son of God and live, it will only be the dead who do so. We have seen that the Lord Jesus was very deliberate in His determination that Lazarus should really be dead before He came on the scene. He first used figurative language: "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth", but when His disciples did not appreciate His meaning He said emphatically: "Lazarus is dead". The sisters knew what the state would be ordinarily after four days in an Eastern tomb. Was Lazarus dead? Indeed he was. This was essential to the divine principle. We are at times too much alive in our own efforts, ambitions, activities, etc, to stand a chance of hearing this voice of the Son of God, and as a consequence our works are "dead works", having the life of nature but not the life of God. If the greatest thing that can happen to mortals is to happen to us, we, like Paul, will have to be smitten to the ground to hear that voice (Acts 9:4). There is no hope until we are dead:

"I lay in dust life's glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red

Life that shall endless be."

Finally, what is the nature of your relationship with Christ? You may believe in Christian doctrine concerning the deity of Christ and believe it very intensively, but if it is only a doctrine, an objective fact, it will not carry you through the tests which come to all true Christians. Make sure that you have really heard His voice for yourself. You will only truly live if you can say for yourself: "I was brought up out of death by hearing the voice of the Son of God and I constantly find new life by hearing that voice."



(Studies in the Epistle to the Ephesians)

John H. Paterson


IN our previous study of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, I suggested that the long, highly practical section of the epistle which extends from 4:1 to 6:9 is best thought of as consisting of two parts: a set of principles (4:1-24) and a code of practice (4:25 - 6:9). Last time, we considered the first of these; this time, we shall concentrate on the second.

One of the most nagging problems which the leaders of the early Church had to confront -- and in this respect the task of our own pastors and teachers is no easier -- was that of getting Christians to strike a true balance between beliefs and actions. Paul had no sooner proclaimed the great principle of justification by faith in Christ alone than he found Christians arguing, 'In that case, we can do exactly as we please; in fact, the more we sin, the more ground we shall provide for grace' (Romans 6:1). We know, too, that James had to strike out sharply at those who, while stressing faith, would not lift a hand to give any real help to people in need (James 2:14-17). It seems that, among believers who had been liberated from Judaism's implicit idea of justification by the works of the law, the freedom of faith had gone to their heads. The misunderstanding persists: that the really important things are heavenly and spiritual, and [91/92] that therefore -- a fatal 'therefore'! -- the earthly and material do not matter. But Paul was determined that, if the Ephesian Christians formed that impression, it would not be his fault; he was going to make the true situation as clear as he could. In this epistle of his, which contains unsurpassed revelations of God's heavenly purpose for His people, are also to be found some of Paul's most practical injunctions.

They are, at first sight, a very assorted collection, and it will be helpful if we can classify them in some way. The first half of the collection carries on Paul's major line of thought about a "worthy walk", and is structured by a threefold use of the word 'walk': we are to walk in love (5:2), walk in the light (5:8), and walk in wisdom (5:15, cf. Colossians 4:5). The first of these relates to our attitude to other believers, the second to our attitude to God, and the third (as the parallel reference in Colossians makes clear) to our attitude to the world around us. The second half of the collection then deals with relationships.

1. Walk in Love

In all that concerns our contact with other believers, we are to be governed by love. This follows from Paul's earlier insistence that we are all members of one Body, and that to act on any ground other than love is to do despite to the Body as a whole and so, ultimately, to ourselves. Among God's people, there can never be any question of 'we' and 'they'; we belong together.

Once again, however, we must be aware of the need for balance here. Some Christians are so busy loving other Christians that they will put up with anything, even arrant nonsense and, in a spiritual sense, let them 'get away with murder', rather than appear unloving by objecting. But that does not help, or build up, the Body to which we all belong; it can only do harm. Paul himself, who never hesitated to tell a man when he felt he was wrong -- even if the man in question was the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11) -- sought to create this needful balance by his use of the phrase, "speaking the truth in love" (4:15), and by repeating the injunction to "speak every man truth with his neighbour" (v.25). It is interesting that this second phrase follows immediately on from his reference to lying. What he seems to be saying is that to hear a Christian brother say something which is manifestly untrue, and to let it pass unchallenged on the grounds that it would be unloving to disagree, is tantamount to a lie.

Unhappily, the equal and opposite danger also exists. There are people who make it their business to go round sniffing out untruth, and branding it as heresy for the benefit of others less observant. They appoint themselves as policemen for the rest of us. But the Bible image of a guardian of the truth is not a policeman but a shepherd -- someone who not only can detect the danger, but who also cares for those he protects. "Be ye kind one to another."

2. Walk in the Light

In our relationship to God, we are to walk as children of light. Paul saw the heathen as walking in a world of darkness, a darkness compounded (4:17-18) of ignorance and self-esteem in equal parts. They thought that they knew better than God; they created their own rules of life, but if they only realised it they were, to all intents and purposes, dead (2:1; 5:14). The new man in Christ is to "arise from the dead", and enter the light which comes with a knowledge of God's revelation and obedience to God's rules.

It is not, said Paul, as if there is any mystery about these rules. God has made it abundantly clear what He does, and does not, approve; there is no excuse for making up rules of our own. If you are out on a dark night and see a light, you do not have to argue about where it is, because its position is given away by the darkness all around. All you have to do is to walk into the circle of light and you will know you are there. And the light of God is steady, unmoving, unwinking. It is not a will-o'-the-wisp. He does not change His mind or alter His standards. You will "prove what is acceptable unto the Lord" by making for the light and then taking care to remain within it.

3. Walk in Wisdom

When we come to the third aspect of the Christian's walk, we may well feel a little surprised at Paul's choice of terms. He told the Ephesians to walk wisely. In relation to the world outside, evidently, what we need in the first place is not so much courage, or pity, or caution, as wisdom. And we need this wisdom most particularly to understand the time factor: "redeeming the time, because the days are evil." [92/93]

Why this? Evidently because it is the first task of wisdom to realise that, in this time-bound life of ours, time is not on our side. It is quite a common experience to hear people refer casually to time as 'the old enemy' and, for a Christian, this is true in a very specific sense. Time is limited, and the passage of time will by itself solve nothing. So we must assess, as objectively as we can, how much time we have and what can be done with it. Some things can be accomplished in this world within the will of God for this period of time, and other things cannot. Some things God has promised to do, in the here and now, and other things He has reserved for a future day. It is the part of wisdom to spend the time which we do have on the things which are for this present time, and neither to attempt what cannot be accomplished, nor yearn for things He has reserved for later. As Psalm 90:12 puts it, "So teach us to number our days that we may get us an heart of wisdom".

Paul's words say the same thing: "See that ye walk circumspectly (or accurately, or carefully) ... understanding what the will of the Lord is". This is, of course, no more than a development of the general theme of the epistle -- that Christians should discover what God's eternal purpose is, and make their individual contribution to it. Apparently, it is possible to be foolish in our use of time -- to squander it by pursuing courses which are not His own. Some men, after all, spend their time getting drunk (v.18) -- a classic example of how to waste the small amount of precious time we have at our disposal. The Christian must guard against such foolish waste, and the best way to do it is to have our lives filled with spiritual things (for that seems to be the probable meaning of v.18b). Some people would regard singing hymns and giving thanks to God (v.19) as a waste of time, too. But the wise man, the new man in Christ, does not.

Redeem the time: these words of Paul's both challenge and reassure us. Their challenge is obvious; their reassurance less so. But is it not true that a good deal of our discomfort and worry as Christians living in the world arises from our frustration at being so limited? Not only do we have so little time to do everything, but, in relation to the world's great needs, there is so little that we can do. If we drop everything to preach the Gospel, we can reach only a few thousands of the millions who need it. If we go without food entirely, our rations may keep alive two or three of the billion or so of the world's starving people. Even our faith is limited. I should like to pray that all England would hear God's word and be converted in my lifetime, but I do not have the faith to believe that this will actually happen. I do not in practice believe that for all London -- or even Leicester, or Lowestoft. I may believe it for a dozen, or a hundred, people but more than that is beyond me.

It is comforting indeed to realise that one thing for which God never blames us is our human limitation. He knows that we cannot be in two places at once, or feed all those who are hungry. He knows that our faith is limited by our experience, and can never grow far beyond it. He can do all the things that we cannot. But for us the part of wisdom is to recognise our own limitations, to leave the impossible to Him, and to concentrate on using our time for specific tasks that lie to our hands. Perhaps Paul was remembering, here in Ephesians 5, the words of Proverbs 17:24, "The eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth."

"On this account be not foolish, but

understanding what the will of the Lord is."

The New Man and his Relationships

But now we must notice another aspect of the "worthy walk". It affects not only our conduct but also our relationships. It is a commonplace to say that Christians are always in danger of seeing their daily lives first and foremost in terms of the rules that they keep and the number of things they deny themselves. They may then make the mistake of thinking that the more rules they keep the holier they become, or they may try to foist their rules on others. But that is not the way of Christ; on the contrary, that is exactly what the Lord Jesus complained that the Pharisees were doing.

A useful corrective to this tendency is that we should think of our Christian lives not in terms of rules but of relationships. And since God has, for the present, left us here as human beings, what we need to consider are our human relationships. This is the point that the Lord Jesus made to the rule-keeping Pharisees in Mark 7:9-13. Each of us lives at the centre of a network of personal relationships which link us, like the spokes of a wheel, to those around us. As God's people we must not, we cannot afford to, neglect these relationships. But much more: as His people we are to give to each type of [93/94] relationship a special quality which makes it a distinctively Christian relationship.

In Ephesians 5:22 - 6:9, Paul mentioned three kinds of relationships -- only three but, in the world of his day, these three covered all the main human situations, for society lacked the more varied gradations with which we today are familiar. In Paul's world, there were husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and servants, and that was about all. But Christ was to transform each of these relationships.

Is it unfair or unkind to suggest that, by and large, Christians are better at rules than relationships; that they are actually not very good at relationships at all? Is being married to a Christian a guarantee of happiness? Have Christians a clear, joyful testimony regarding the problems of our teenage children or of, say, business disputes? We know the answers to these questions all too well.

But Paul had some encouraging advice for his readers about these relationships. Consider, for example, the famous passage about wives and husbands (5:22-23). Wives are to submit and husbands are to love. But notice the extra dimensions which are given to these commands by their Christian context. There are, for one thing, models which give meaning to these terms, 'submit' and 'love'; which help us to see what is involved and to measure our own progress -- "Husbands ... wives, Christ ... the Church". We now know how we are to love, or to submit. We know that, however much our language may be debased, the term 'love' will have an unchanging meaning for us, because it refers to a relationship that we have seen and experienced ourselves -- "Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it". That is the standard.

A second extra dimension is given to these relationships by the fact that they are all, for the Christian, to be positive and constructive in character. The submission of the wife to the husband is to be a positive attitude, not a resentful acceptance of inevitable defeat. Every husband has at some time heard his wife say to him, 'Very well, if you say so', in a tone which warns him of rough weather ahead! This is approximately the equivalent of the eastern 'Kismet', which means to say that, since we mortals cannot change God's mind, we hold Him responsible for the trouble He is causing us. But all this is far removed from the positive submission of the Church to Christ, because she knows Him to be wise and loving and to have shown that He has her best interests at heart.

And the love of the husband for the wife is to be a constructive love. Christ loved the Church that He might make something of her; that, under the influence of His love she might become "holy and without blemish" (5:27). In the Christian relationship, the husband is to be asking himself all the time, 'How can I love her in such a way as to draw her out, or build her up, or make her more of a person, or help her grow in Christ? This may not fit too well with the idea that our wives are perfect from the start, but most of us, husbands and wives, will agree that it fits the facts better than the more romantic view!

So, said Paul, each human relationship is transformed by that great, fundamental relationship between Christ and His own. And the multitude of our human relationships are all part of the exhibition -- the display of God's many-sided wisdom, which is glimpsed in all the diversity of our ties with one another, each illuminating a little more of that great, divine wisdom which has purposed for us all things in grace and good will.



Alan G. Nute

Reading: Acts 9:8-19; 22:12-16

SAUL of Tarsus forces the pace as he makes his way towards Damascus. A fanatical hatred of the followers of Jesus and a desire to have them behind prison bars spurs him on. Nor would any of his retinue have thought of objecting. No one lightly crossed Rabbi Saul.

But that was before the vision, before the challenging voice from heaven. What a contrast Saul now presents. He has discharged his escort; lonely, indeed forlorn, he sits in the shadows of the guest room in the house of Judas. He is scarcely recognisable as the same person. [94/95]

Judas is careful not to break in on the solitude which his guest insists he needs. Meals are refused. So is the evening lamp. But that, in any case, is superfluous -- for Saul is blind. When he does approach his host, it is to ask whether perchance a man called Ananias has been making enquiry for him. Otherwise, it seems to Judas that Saul spends the whole of his time on his knees in prayer. It so happens that he is not unique in this. Another in Damascus is engaged in the same holy exercise. His name is Ananias.

This 'disciple', for so Luke describes him, is in that spiritual condition which enables him to receive direct intimations of the will of God. Would that we were more often in such a state. Indeed, it appears that Ananias is not in the least surprised when God speaks to him directly and personally. His response as God addresses him by name, is identical to that of Abraham and Isaiah before him -- "Here I am, Lord" (Genesis 22:1; Isaiah 6:8). Such words indicate the spiritual posture which ever marks the servant who is ready and waiting to perform the bidding of his heavenly Master. Little wonder that the instructions he receives are clear and precise. He is supplied with a man's name and address, and means of identification. The street called Straight which intersects Damascus is well-known to Ananias, the house of Judas will not be difficult to locate, and he will recognise the individual he is sent in search of by the fact that "he is praying". But if Ananias is not surprised when God speaks to him, he is far more than surprised by the instructions he is given. He is to seek out "a man of Tarsus named Saul". Aghast, Ananias must have felt like replacing the receiver! Surely the lines have got crossed somewhere. The very name -- Saul of Tarsus -- is enough to make him blanch with fear. There is not a believer in Damascus who is unaware of Saul's reputation and his intentions.

ANANIAS knew God well enough to be frank with Him. Perhaps he appreciated the fact that a situation never arises where we need to be other than open and honest with God. Immediately, and doubtless instinctively, he expresses his misgivings. Nor is he reproved for so doing. Instead, quietly but firmly the Lord informs him that He knows and accepts full responsibility for what He is about; He tells Ananias of His appearing to Saul "on the road". He answers Ananias' cavil that Saul has come to the city "to bind all who call upon thy name". This He does by telling him that in future Saul will "carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel", and that he will "suffer for the sake of it". "He is a chosen instrument of mine," says God.

No one who, in imagination, puts himself in the position of Ananias, can fail to understand his initial reticence to accept the Divine briefing. But let such an one note that when God answers his doubts and fears Ananias willingly relinquishes them. This is greatly to his credit. Too often we have shewn a much greater reluctance to abandon our deeply held prejudices -- even when these have been shewn from the Word to be ill-founded.

In his 'Suggestions on Prayer', L. H. M. Soulsby bids us 'realise the aggravatingness or wearisomeness of our virtues'. It is a salutary word. For Ananias the caution would have been quite unnecessary. His virtues are attractive. In addition to being a man available to God, he is acceptable to his fellow-men. Luke describes him as "a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there". His character wins the respect of friend and foe alike. Such is the man God selects for this delicate, potentially dangerous, and all-important mission. God always has His man, but each of us needs to ask himself, am I such a man?

BUT to return to blind, fasting, praying Saul. It may well be that "the third day" held out special hope for him. If so, he is not disappointed, for Ananias arrives. The first thing he does on entering the room where Saul is closeted is to lay his hands upon him. This is no formal or ritualistic act. It is the spontaneous gesture of true friendliness. The love that moved Jesus to touch the leper works in the heart of Ananias. The physical contact and the reassuring voice meant more to the sightless Saul at that moment than ever he would be able to describe.

And how wonderful the greeting -- "Brother Saul" sounds in his ears. So hackneyed has the term 'brother' become, that it is in danger of being evacuated of its true meaning. The fact is, it occurs in Scripture but infrequently. This, itself, may indicate something of the richness of its significance on this occasion. Not only does it convey a sense of genuine comradeship, it proves a delightful way of extending to this erstwhile enemy a loving welcome into the family [95/96] of Him who declares that He is not ashamed to call us brethren.

The service Ananias renders Saul is marked by quiet confidence. Acquainted in advance with the Divine call, he acts with all the dignity which befits the agent of the Almighty. His word -- "Brother Saul, receive your sight" is authoritative though not ostentatious. Nor is there any delay in its fulfilment. "Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight." In accordance with the commission given him, Ananias proceeds to outline the career which God has assigned for this new convert. It is "to know ... to see ... to hear", and of these things to "be a witness". But before Saul can embark upon this task he must first be baptised. Ananias commands rather than counsels baptism and advises against delay. Strangely, current practice tends to deviate from this precedent in both these respects.

And so Saul's sight is restored and his future service is outlined. In baptism his past sins are repudiated and Christ is acknowledged as Lord. Saul is filled with the Holy Spirit. Ananias' task is at an end.

THIS servant of God appears but briefly on the page of biblical history. We catch but a fleeting glimpse of him and he is gone. John Pollock in his book 'The Apostle' refers to him as 'Ananias the obscure'. He observes that in his vital ministry to the one who was to become the renowned Apostle Paul, Ananias provides 'the first example of a historical pattern that great ambassadors for Christ, however much prepared in other ways, are brought to their vocation by unimportant agents'. Pollock cites in support, the experience of Augustine, Wesley, Moody and Spurgeon. Doubtless we could add other names. Let us allow this indisputable fact to challenge and encourage us.

And so we take our farewell of one of whom Prof. F. F. Bruce has written that 'he has an honoured place in sacred history, and a special claim upon the gratitude of all who in one way or another have entered into the blessing that stems from the life and work of the great apostle'. We shall meet Ananias again. Meanwhile, let us heed the exhortation of the nameless author of the letter to the Hebrews as he bids us to "remember", "consider" and "imitate" such.



Harry Foster

"Nevertheless the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam;
but the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee,
because the Lord thy God loved thee.
" (Deuteronomy 23:5)

THE forty years of wandering were drawing to a close. Israel was moving on victoriously towards the land of promise. Her enemies were nonplussed and even frightened. They had one weapon, however, which they could still rely upon, and that belonged to the realm of the occult. If they could find a man in touch with the spirit world, then they would induce him to muster those evil powers to bring a curse upon God's people. Someone knew such a man, Balaam the son of Zippor, and it was generally agreed that provided the money was right, he would do the job.

Now Balaam is a mystery to most of us, and the questions about him are complicated by his free use of the Lord's name and by the undoubted fact that God did speak both to him and through him. Probably our wisest course is to concentrate first on what the Bible clearly states about him. It says that he had a reputation among his contemporaries for putting spells on people (Numbers 22:6); moreover that he normally used "enchantments" for this (24:1). It is clear that he was no mere charlatan, for he freely admitted that he had no control of the messages which came through his lips (24:13). The New Testament discloses that he was a man who went astray, who transgressed and who behaved badly (2 Peter 2:15-16). His love of money was such that he followed up his ignominious failure to curse Israel directly by instructing Balak how to corrupt the people and bring them under the judgment of God (Revelation 2:14). We must not be misled by his talk about altars and offerings, for Balak himself [96/97] went in for that kind of religious camouflage (22:40). It seems in keeping with Balaam's "ouija board" mentality that he was not at all disconcerted when his donkey began to speak to him. (Incidentally those of us who speak God's Word may be saved from conceit if we remember that God can even use the mouth of an ass if He so wishes.) It may be that Balaam had some sense of the spiritual peril of his position for he expressed a vain wish that he might "die the death of the righteous" (23:10), but he proved that the wages of sin is death when he was slain by the very nation which he had done his best to destroy (31:8).

We will not pursue the various salutary lessons which we might learn from Balaam's procedure, but concentrate instead on the strange happenings in the high places, as Israel quietly worked and worshipped in the desert below, "dwelling according to their tribes" (24:2). As the people rose to a new and apparently ordinary day, they little new what diabolical plots were being hatched against them. They did not need to know. Nor could they have done anything to protect themselves if they had known, for these were no ordinary foes who could be met openly but spiritual wickedness in high places, seeking to bring upon their persons and their homes spells and curses from evil, occult powers. We, too, have little idea of the way in which Satan and his demon hosts plot and plan against God's redeemed people today. We do not know, and we do not need to know. What we do need to do is to be careful to abide in Christ, as He commanded. In those days we are told that God not only shielded His people from the curse, but actually turned the curse into a blessing, and since every Old Testament narrative has prophetic value for us, we may rejoice that our God is able to turn every attack of evil against us into fresh experiences of His blessing.

My own conviction about these prophetic utterances of Balaam is that they had an element of the ecstatic, that is, the words were poured through Balaam without choice or control by him. Nevertheless they have enough of the man in them to reveal the prophet's personal reactions. We find, for instance, that he was obliged to confess his own powerlessness. At the beginning he told Balak's messengers: "I cannot ..." and when he met the Moabitish king he repeated this confession of inability (22:38); but in spite of this he tried his best to earn the money and status offered to him by cursing God's people. As he launched out into his mediumistic utterances, however, he found that he could not put a spell on this people as in the past he had done on so many others. "How shall I curse ...? How shall I defy ...?" he was obliged to ask, and in his second prophecy he announced: "He hath blessed and I cannot reverse it" (23:20). With so much money at stake how this greedy spiritist longed to speak the magic words of evil, but he was quite unable to do so.

We are appalled at the light way in which the sacred name of Jehovah was glibly mouthed by these evil men. "Lo, the Lord hath kept thee back from honour" shouted Balak in his anger, only to be met by a further confession from Balaam: "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord to do good or bad, of mine own mind" (24:13). The true prophets of the Lord could speak their own words, but they chose not to do so. Balaam, however, who functioned by spirit-impulsion, could not say other than he did, much as he longed to do so. Real occult workers are not hypocrites: they are the instruments of evil powers. Balaam found that God stepped in, His Holy Spirit temporarily took over (24:2), and instead of curses he had to speak words of richest blessing. What a comfort to us to know that, as we abide in Christ, evil powers have to bow to God's sovereignty and admit: "We cannot!"

A word of qualification must be inserted here. After all Balaam did succeed in getting the money out of king Balak, and he did so not by occult means but by advising the king how to seduce Israel into sin. The sad story is told in chapter 25. He knew, as Satan always knows, that if God's people move from their position of abiding in Him and turn to disobedience, then calamity is bound to come upon them. The plague of God's wrath was only halted by the faith of Phinehas, the priest (Numbers 25:11). Judgment came on Israel, but it came with mercy. Against Midian in general and Balaam in particular, though, the judgment was swift and final (31:8). Balaam had very little time in which to enjoy the wealth and status gained by his craft.

Another striking confession extracted from Balaam was that his eyes had been opened to see things as God sees them (24:4). He saw what human eyes could not see, namely the covenant faithfulness of God in justifying His trusting people, the essential unity of that people, the [97/98] beauty of their present ordered life together and the glories of their coming kingdom. Before considering these matters, it may be helpful to notice that the New Testament gives further light on Balaam's opened eyes: "that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God" (Ephesians 3:10). From his high place Balaam was made to see spiritual realities which eclipsed all earthly appearances. This is most significant. Balaam not only spoke true words, but was also given an insight into ultimate truth. In this he was a valid representative of that dark kingdom of evil spirits who even now recognise Christ in His Church, as they certainly recognised Him in His person when He was here on earth. They know! They know when we contradict our faith, and doubtless gloat at such times. They know when we abide in Christ, and they tremble.

Well, if Balaam's eyes were opened to spiritual realities, we would like to know more about such things, and we may do so through his words.

"He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob"

We perceive the divine safety of God's people; they are safe because God sees no fault in them. Among the many amazing statements which Balaam had to pronounce, this must surely be the most amazing. "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel" (23:21). We who have read something of the history and behaviour of the Israelites in the wilderness, find it hard to believe; yet believe it we must, for it applies to us as well as to them. It is not that they see no fault in themselves, not even that their enemies cannot accuse them, but something much more important. God Himself sees no fault in them, so much so that He is content to dwell among them. "The Lord his God is with him."

Herein lay their complete safety. They had no walls of protection around them, but they had the even surer fortress of God Himself as a wall of fire around about them. Israel illustrates a most enheartening truth about the people of God, which is that so long as they abide under His government they cannot be defeated. They are defended by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. We must enquire further into this divine justification. God forced an unwilling opponent of Israel to announce publicly that His people were sinless in His sight. It was, of course, their only hope. Satan, like God, will never accept partial righteousness: it must be absolute to defeat him. Balaam found himself confronted by absolute righteousness, declaring that the verdict on Jacob must be: "No iniquity!", "No perverseness!". Satan's only ground of strength is man's unrighteousness, so that if Jacob is completely justified by a holy God then there can be no enchantment against him (23:23).

These men were sinners as we also are. How then could God see no sin in them? The answer is to be found in the arrangement of the Israelite camp and the activities of its people. As for the camp, we know that it was arranged on four sides of a square, and that in the centre of this quadrangle there stood the Tabernacle of the Testimony. In that Tabernacle there was a Mercy Seat and there was shed blood. All the people faced towards these emblems of redemption. The altar was at the centre of their life. Their representative priests were at that very moment engaged in the maintenance of the symbolic ritual. The sinful people were accepted as sinless, because of the substitutionary sacrifice which God Himself had prescribed.

We are told that God negatived Balaam's curse because He loved His people, but His was no indulgent love. He did not overlook their sin; He did not agree for love's sake to turn a blind eye to it. No, that would never satisfy Him, nor would it paralyse Satan. They had been delivered from judgment in Egypt because they had sheltered under the blood of a slain lamb. They were now being kept in the good of freedom from all judgment on the same basis. There is no other. God would never trifle with the truth by declaring us sinless unless this were a solemn fact. And, praise God, it is a definite and glorious fact for all who genuinely trust in the blood of Christ.

It is true that the blood of Israel's lambs had no saving efficacy, being only a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God at Calvary. But the cross is timeless, and so potent and effective was Christ's once-for-all offering of Himself that Israel in the desert long ago and the Church in the wilderness of this world today are judged sinless in the eyes of the thrice-holy God. "Him who knew no sin, he made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him. " The justified sinner is here and [98/99] now as fit for the presence of God as he ever will be. It is not a matter of human effort or gradual improvement, but only of heartfelt trust. While Israel quietly lived on the plains below, ignorant of the plots hatched against them, God was speaking and working on their behalf, giving new blessings which Balaam admitted he could not reverse. "The effect of righteousness is peace and quietness for ever."

"How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob"

There is something very special about the orderly relatedness of God's people. The natural eyes of Balaam, or anybody else, would have looked down from that rocky viewpoint and seen rows and rows of drab tents in a background of arid sand. The central Tabernacle was no less drab, for its holy beauties were all hidden under layers of skins. Yet, as the prophet had his eyes opened to see as God sees, he was moved to exclaim with surprised appreciation: "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy tabernacles, O Israel! As valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river side, as lign-aloes which the Lord hath planted" (24:5-6). If it was amazing to see this people as faultless, it was scarcely less amazing to receive a revelation of their surpassing beauty. There they were, fresh and green, bright with colour, watered by a sparkling river which made that humble camp look wonderfully like the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1-2).

Again let us remind ourselves that God never indulges in empty fancies or unjustified exaggerations. This is what the camp of Israel really looked like to Him. At that time the people were quite unaware of Balaam's words; they only knew that for them it was an ordinary day. They were not putting on a show. Nevertheless that had a part to play, for it was the divine orderliness which made Israel beautiful in God's eyes. Each tribe was encamped in the place and manner appointed by Him. Each group of three was arranged under the banner of its leading tribe, as God had prescribed (Numbers 2). All were filling their God-given positions: three to the east under Judah's standard, three to the south under that of Reuben, three to the west under Ephraim's flag and three to the north under the standard of Dan. Some writers tell us that the salient features of these four standards were: a lion for Judah, an ox for Reuben, a man for Ephraim and an eagle for Dan. If this were so, then they fitted in with the fourfold view of Christ given by the cherubim and by the four Gospels. In any case the Tabernacle, which was the central feature of this living quadrangle and the focus of Israel's orderly life, was full of types of Christ, the One who tabernacled among men and displayed the Father's glories here on earth.

So we have the picture of a people whose position and movements onward as they marched was governed by the centrality of the Ark of the Covenant, the supreme testimony of Christ. Putting this into New Testament language, we would say that the people were fitly framed together, related to one another in perfect harmony under the supreme government of the Head, even Christ. This is God's order for His people, and when they accept it and function in accordance with it, they present a lovely sight to heaven.

It seems as if Balak had some suspicion that this might be so, especially after Balaam's first rhapsody about their separated national entity (23:9), for he took Balaam to another vantage-point from which he could only see a small portion of the camp. "Thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all," he explained (23:13) as if hoping that it might be easier to curse an isolated group of the people. It is possible that this stratagem might have succeeded if those concerned had really been isolated, but they were not. The people were dwelling together in unity, so that there could be no question or separated or detached groups. The schemes of Satan thrive when Christians are divided or mutually antagonistic or even allowing gaps to widen in the fellowship. Amalek made a special feature of this treacherous assault on laggards when Israel first came up out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 25:17). It is always Satan's tactic to divide up God's people and then to wreak havoc on the separated groups. Happily there were no such divisions in Israel at this time, and that is doubtless why they looked like Eden before the fall, a garden planted by the Lord Himself and watered by the river of His pleasure.

Let no one think that every Israelite naturally enjoyed his relatedness after the divine pattern. Many would rather have faced the other way, or moved to live under another banner (or no banner at all); other tribesmen would want to be Levites and perhaps some Levites would much rather have been ordinary citizens. There is always discipline in staying where the Lord has [99/100] placed us and practicing fellowship with those who do not naturally appeal to us, but this is the triumph of God's manifold wisdom which He displays in His Church. The word which Paul employed can be rendered "variegated wisdom", which seems to point back to the garden-like beauty which Balaam so eloquently described.

Their unity was not only striking in beauty but it was strong as well. Twice over Balaam stated that Israel had, as it were, the strength of the wild-ox. He also spoke of them in lion-like terms. They would soon move forward into mighty conquests and would be victorious by the power of God. It is not by chance that the matter of spiritual strength for warfare is reserved for the last chapter of the letter to the Ephesians. The earlier chapters concentrate on the beautiful unity of the whole Church, a unity made by the Spirit but to be observed by the redeemed people of God (Ephesians 4:3). When all the doctrine and all the exhortations had been soundly laid down, then Paul could go on to speak of the whole armour of God and the spiritual victory of Christ manifested through the Church. Balaam's words were not descriptive of individual Israelites or of selective groups among them but of the whole people. And in these descriptions he used both their names, Jacob and Israel. It is true that Hebrew poetry is composed on the basis of repetition, so that it was good style to say the same thing twice in a slightly different way. It was more than poetry, though, which made Balaam declare that God did not see sin in either Jacob or Israel and that the beauty lay in both the tents of Jacob and the tabernacles of Israel; it is a reminder that in all their earthly lowliness as Jacob, as well as in their spiritual attainment as Israel, God's people are such objects of His grace that even the curses against them are turned into blessings.

"There shall come forth a star out of Jacob"

Here again both Jacob and Israel are mentioned as Balaam was carried away with God's messages concerning His people. By this time Balak had had more than enough and wanted Balaam to be silent, but the prophet still had something to say, for the full extent of the blessing which God had substituted for cursing had not yet been revealed.

The objective of a curse is to ensure that the one concerned has no future. It is aimed at frustrating hopes and ensuring that they never mature. Satan excels in such activities. It is his constant purpose to spoil and disappoint: he is the god hopelessness. In Israel's case, however, he completely failed, for their God -- and ours -- is the God of hope. Balaam's very first prophecy had foretold Israel's future as a special nation with a unique identity; his last utterances developed that theme with the additional element of God's coming King. "I see him, but not now: I behold him but not nigh," he announced, and then went on to foretell: "There shall come forth a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (24:17).

This is the wonderful prospect set forth for God's redeemed people, the appearance in person of their glorious King. Prophecy has its own mountain peaks which tower above the valleys of intervening time periods. This promise has three fulfilments, with spaces of centuries in between. The first coming of God's king must have been realised in the person of David. Israel had a future to which to look forward, a kingdom with the man after God's own heart ruling over it. The next fulfilment was in Jesus concerning whom Gabriel predicted: "the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David". The nation had a future, and its true prophets confirmed what this false prophet said about the birth in Bethlehem of this Star of Jacob. But what about us? What is our future? It is the furthest and highest of all prophetic peaks, even the Second Coming of Christ. When the Devil derides us because of our bleak present or mocks at any idea of a future for the Church, then we are able to declare that even if we cannot see our King yet, we shall see Him, and in our case the words "not nigh" do not apply, for His Return is very near.

"The shout of a king is among them" (23:21). If it is not it could be, and it should be. For the Lord our God loves us. He will not allow any spell of Satan to come upon us, but will surely turn every diabolical attack on us into a new source of blessing and enrichment. "At the due season shall it be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!" (23:23). No doubt Balak and Balaam suffered some surprises as they were shown God's purposes for His redeemed people. The day is coming when the whole world, including all God's foes, will see Christ's glorious Church and marvel at the miracle of divine grace displayed in her. And by that same grace we shall be there! How important, then, to keep our place of abiding together in Him until that due season arrives. [100/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(He is Lord of all)" (Acts 10:36)

THIS particular parenthesis may not seem to warrant more than casual notice. In the setting of a Spirit-empowered proclamation of the great gospel truths of life, death and resurrection, it may almost appear that this is just a passing reference to Christ, as though Peter felt it right to add this little comment that of course Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

It was not in this spirit, though, that the apostle uttered the words. Right as it may have been for the transcriber to enclose them in brackets, they in fact present the very heart and core of Peter's ministry. To him the Lordship of Christ was much more than an essential matter of doctrine; it was a burning reality, brought right up-to-date in his own personal experience. "He is Lord of all."

Peter should know. Not long before, he had thrice voiced the biggest contradiction of all time. Our version renders it: "Not so, Lord", but this is much milder than Peter's refusal. "Never, Lord" was what he said, "By no means", "Surely not"! Sincerely believing in the theory of Christ's Lordship, he dared to take issue with Him, trying to assert that in this matter of sacred and profane he knew better than his Master. To him this distinction of the clean or common was a matter of natural instinct, of conscientious conviction and of scriptural regulation. "Never," he insisted, "no, not ever, will I accept this sweeping away of age-long barriers."

BUT he did! He went into the Gentile house. He took six witnesses to support him, but all the same he went. He went with his mind seething with problems about what was lawful, but he went. And God was with him. God gave him grace to set aside Jewish prejudices which still lingered even in a leading Christian, in favour of the over-riding fact that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

"Is Jesus Lord of the Gentiles, Peter? All right then, go and preach to them. Is He Lord of the Jerusalem judaizers? If so, then defy them and leave your case in His hands. Is He Lord of your life, Peter? Really your Lord, not only when it is agreeable and convenient, but when you are given an assignment which you dislike and fear? If He is Lord indeed, then you must go 'without gainsaying'."

Peter was making history, though he did not realise it. He was about to witness one of the greatest marvels of all time -- the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on the nations. Everything, however, seemed to hang on his willingness to stop arguing and yield to the sovereign government of Christ. He did so yield, and this very fact gave an awesome power to the words which he spoke in that Roman household. The terms of his message were simple, but the effect of it was a sensational break-through for God.

OF course Peter was challenged and criticised. His choice of no less than six companions revealed how keenly he anticipated such a reaction. His greatest vindication, however, was not by men but by the Holy Spirit of God, who made it perfectly clear that this was no mere sermonising by man but a divine utterance. He is Lord of all! When this is first experienced in life and then proclaimed in words, the ground is clear for heaven to give its own attestation to the glorious fact.

Peter was on sure ground when he challenged his accusers with the question: "Who was I, that I could withstand God?" Who indeed? It may be a painful experience but it is a most privileged one to have to yield to the sovereign command of the One who is Lord of all, and then to be used by Him to bring life and blessing to others. As believers we may argue. We may find God's ways difficult to understand, and pass through inward suffering as our own set ideas have to be abandoned. We may well have to meet criticism even from our fellow believers. Provided, however, that we capitulate to Christ as Lord of all we can leave the responsibility with Him and go forward to prove the power of the Spirit's working. We need to learn Peter's secret which was to obey "without gainsaying" (10:29).


[Back cover]

Psalm 126:5

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