"... 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. 7, No. 4, July - Aug. 1978 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Mentality Of The Spiritual Warrior 61
The Real Thing 64
Chapter By Chapter Through Romans (12) 68
The Fear Of The Lord 69
A Pilgrim's Prayer [Introduction] 71
Some Meanings Of Commitment 73
Healthy Church Life 77
Inspired Parentheses (14) ibc



T. Austin-Sparks

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds); casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

WE wish to consider the matter of mentality in relation to our great spiritual warfare. The marginal alternative to "casting down imaginations" is "casting down reasonings" and William Barclay renders this "destroying plausible fallacies". In any warfare there are perils and threats to victory where there is a wrong mentality. On the other hand, the warrior has a tremendous advantage when he is of a right mentality. What are the plausible fallacies which must be destroyed if we are to share in Christ's victory?


The first consideration in warfare is that of the Supreme Command. When we consider the Church as the fighting army we realise how important it is that there should exist no wrong mentality concerning the Lord Jesus who is the Supreme Commander. One aspect of a wrong mentality concerning Him is this: that He is One from whom we get everything, instead of the One to whom we give everything. There is a great danger of always thinking in terms of what we are to get from Headquarters, of what advantages are to accrue to us, of drawing toward ourselves; in effect -- although we would never admit this -- really putting ourselves, our interests, in the place of those of the Supreme Command. That is how it works out.

It is just at this point that "popular" Christianity has done a great deal of harm. Christianity has been put on a wrong basis, or perhaps to be a little more charitable, upon an inadequate basis, and the preaching is almost exclusively in terms of what we are to get. We are to get salvation; we are to get eternal life, peace, joy and satisfaction -- all this and Heaven too! But the emphasis is so largely upon what we are to get from the Lord Jesus, our Supreme Commander. It is at least an inadequate mentality, if not an altogether wrong one when it is made a principle; it is a misinterpretation of the whole Christian life. The right mentality -- and the only one that is going to serve the great purpose and to minister to the great objective -- is the mentality that is governed by the principle: "Give everything to the Lord" and not "Get everything from the Lord".

This is the governing principle of the Godhead, that to give is the way of fulfilment. In the case of the Lord Jesus, that is made very clear in one classic passage where we are told that He "... emptied himself ... Wherefore also God highly exalted him ..." (Philippians 2:7-9). Fulfilment, the restoration of His voluntarily laid aside fullness, came to Him along the line of emptying, giving, pouring out. That is the principle of the Godhead, and it should be the mentality of all who are engaged in the great spiritual warfare. We shall be knocked about, brought up short and defeated if we are all the time thinking in terms of what should come to us. The self-centred life is always the discontented life.

But the out-going life is the life of abundant return -- it all comes back. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over" (Luke 6:38). Those are the words of the Lord Jesus. Do you want eternal possessions? The way to receive is to give. We must not think only of the Lord Jesus in terms of receiving from Him, as though He were only there for our benefit. Those who have this mentality may feel that He is not giving as they expected, so they lose interest and become paralysed in the battle, useless as fighters and powerless as servants. The true mentality about the Supreme Commander is that He should receive the honour and the glory, the dominion and the power, and everything. It is true that He will give and go on giving eternally, our relationship must be not on the basis of what we can get but of how much He is going to get from us. [61/62]


Secondly, there are the perils of wrong ideas about the Christian life. There is a prevalent idea that this is merely a matter of being saved and blessed. For many, salvation and personal blessing are the sum of the Christian life, a mentality which is sometimes encouraged by preachers and leaders. The Word of God makes it perfectly clear, however, that this life is something far more. We need to realise that the Christian life involves being actively engaged in the great conflict of the elemental forces of this universe.

That is the issue. Long, long ago, something tremendous was set in motion; and ever since then, down through the centuries, the great purpose of God has been challenged and disputed. All through these generations the people of God have given themselves in relation to that one great battle in the universe; and it still goes on -- the battle is not over yet. The real nature of the Christian life is that you and I, immediately we become related to the Lord Jesus Christ, are called into this spiritual conflict. We are involved in what I have called the ultimate elemental forces of the universe in conflict. This means no less than that the whole hosts of the kingdom of God and of heaven are on one side, while on the other side is the vast and vicious kingdom of Satan.

Do not have any illusions about the Christian life. The Lord Jesus did not allow His disciples to harbour any illusions: "Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27). "Whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it" (Luke 9:24). That is frank and straight-forward. This is what we are in! It is a great privilege to be in it, but we should have no wrong mentality about the costliness of the honour. There is joy and there is peace. Thank God for all the blessings. We need, though, to recognise and adjust to the fact that we are in a battle, a fierce and unrelenting battle; a warfare from which there is no discharge in this life.


Thirdly, there can be wrong ideas about the army itself, that is the Church. The Church is the army, but it would be a wrong mentality to imagine that the Church is the end and object of everything. We are accustomed to say much about the greatness of the Church and we do not exaggerate when we do so. We speak of it in superlative terms as, "God's masterpiece" and we are right to do so. We are encouraged by the Word of God to think of the Church of Christ as something great and wonderful, even magnificent. It is a wonderful conception in the mind of God from all eternity; it has a very large place in the divine counsels; and it is to be at last presented to the Lord Jesus as a glorious Church. All this is true.

But when it has all been said, it must still be affirmed that the Church is not God's ultimate objective and end; it is, after all, no more than the instrument. It is but the vessel, the agent for God's purposes. There is something far beyond. It is perhaps the greatness of the Church that it plays such a part in the "super-greatness" of that object which it lives to serve. We must not think that we have to live only and utterly for the Church. We have to remember that, just as the army does not exist for itself, nor campaign in the field for itself, but in the interests of its sovereign and his kingdom, so the Church exists and engages in warfare solely for the glory of the Lord on the throne, and for His kingdom. If we have faulty ideas in this matter, we will find that they constitute a weakness. If we put the Church in the place of Jesus Christ, we will find ourselves in trouble with the Holy Spirit. That is not in any way to displace or to belittle the Church, but only to insist that the Church exists for Christ. All our Church conceptions and procedures should be governed by the fact that everything must be for Christ's sake. We must never regard these as being ends in themselves, but only to minister to the satisfaction of our Supreme Commander.


We next come to the matter of functioning in God's army, which is the way in which we may well describe the ministries within the Church. It is important to correct any wrong mentality concerning the real meaning and value of ministries. Is ministry just a question of imparting knowledge and information? No, true ministry is something more than mere teaching. We are an army in the field, and what is needed [62/63] in a day of battle is not lectures but provision for the actual need in which we are found.

Do you see the point? Here is the background of conflict. From time to time the Supreme Commander visits the various positions, gathers the staff together and reviews the situation. He assembles all his men and talks to them. But the scene is a scene of battle. It is a time of war and not of peace. The conditions prevailing are war conditions; the scene and circumstances are those of actual war. Why does he gather the men around? To give them lectures on the theory of military life? Not a bit of it! He calls them together in order to give help and instruction on how to meet the existing and immediate situation; to direct as to how to cope with that which confronts them at that moment.

That should be the nature of all our meetings and our ministry. We ought all the time to be a people on a war footing, ready to face emergencies, perils and dangers. If we had that mentality, that we really are in the thick of the battle, our meetings would serve much greater purposes, our ministry would be of far greater value. Our meetings must at all costs be redeemed from being just sessions of theory. We can reach saturation point as to doctrine and be unable to absorb any more. But if we are conscious of being right up against things and needing help, then we will find the help we seek. We ought to be at our meetings on this footing: "I need it; I cannot do without it; my situation demands it". If there is no demand, then the supply will be valueless. Our meetings and our ministry must represent a provision for actual need.

And if we are in earnest, the Lord will see to it that we are in need. He will make things very practical, very real. He will see to it that our Christian lives are constantly brought up against new needs. Do not worry or think that things have gone wrong, if you find yourself up against a situation for which you have no answer. Our progress can only be on the basis of growing need. Immediately that stops, we stop. We go no further than our sense of need -- our very acute sense of need. Blessed be God! He only allows this ever pressing sense of need in order that the need may be supplied.

All ministry must have a practical background, both for giving and receiving. May God save those of us who minister from ministering just theories or sermon material. That which is ministered must be born out of experience and actuality in life. The ministry must not consist in searching out subject matter, putting it together and then retailing it as addresses. It must be born out of life, right up to date. And there must be an active exercise on both sides -- in those who minister and in those who receive the ministry. There must be action about it. There must be, on the part of all, a very serious quest, the seriousness of which is born of the desperateness of the situation; the realisation that unless we have this knowledge from the Lord, unless we have new life from Him, we will go under in the battle and cede victory to the enemy. That is the nature of those "councils of war", those meetings with the Supreme Commander, to which we sometimes gather. They are just that we may be equipped for our job -- and our job is fighting. Whenever we meet it should be to get equipment for our very life work which is now on hand.


Lastly we come to wrong ideas concerning the other personnel in the army -- the other people in the Church. We have many wrong ideas about one another. You know how easy it is to be selective, to look at the other man or woman and to write them off as not counting for much. That is very dangerous. Our kind of selectiveness, our judgment of people, may sabotage the whole movement. And what about ourselves? Where would you be, where would I be, if the Lord had been very particular that we should be exactly of the right stature and have full qualifications for His work? I know where I would be if He were so particular; I would be disqualified from any part in the ministry or warfare.

We must be very careful, too, that we do not contemplate others as competitors or rivals who are seeking to get an advantage over us. We must not be "touchy" about our own position and our own rights, becoming explosive if someone else is put before us, or seems to have been given favourable treatment instead of us. It is a horrible thing to think of such an attitude among Christians, but it happens only too easily. By taking personal offence, because of something that has been done that seems to be placing us at a disadvantage, we can be put out of the fight altogether and count for nothing in the battle. In such a situation, whether we judge ourselves to be in the right or wrong, our attitude must [63/64] be this: "Lord, I am Yours , I am Your man, I am in this just for You. Men can do what they like -- put me out, put others over my head, whatever they like. That is between You and me, Lord, and between You and them." If you allow yourself to take offence and harbour a grievance, then the enemy can gain an advantage and you will become a casualty. You may as well be carried off on a stretcher straight away!

We need to remind ourselves that a favourite manoeuvre of our enemy is to get amongst us and make us look at one another and misjudge one another. What is the use of an army like that -- with its men suspecting and mistrusting one another? What a sad state of affairs! The word is: "Casting down imaginations" -- and if we only knew the truth we should discover that our grievances are not real but based on imaginations. This is the clever manoeuvre of the enemy. The counter to it is found in the passage which speaks of casting down such imaginations, "and bringing every thought into captivity ... to Christ". Failure to do this may affect the whole issue of the battle. Lay hold of those thoughts about other fellow soldiers and bring them into captivity to Christ. Make sure that you are right, and even if you are right, be prepared to forgive, to be charitable, and above all not to make a personal issue of it.


How prone we are to have wrong ideas about ourselves. Paul said: "I say ... to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think" (Romans 12:3). What ought we to think of ourselves? In the light of God's grace, mercy and love and in the light of God's holiness, what ought we to think of ourselves? Paul continues: "so to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith". That is, if we may take another saying of Paul's out of its context, "according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Ephesians 4:7). The measure of our self-esteem will be in inverse proportion to the measure of Christ that we have. How much of Christ have we received? Well, if we have a super-abundance of Christ, if we have more of Christ than anyone else, we shall not think highly of ourselves at all. The more we have of Christ, the less we shall think of ourselves or want to talk about ourselves. The less we shall want to be in the limelight.

What ravages such a wrong mentality could make in an army. Just imagine what would happen if its men thought more highly of themselves than was right and despised their fellows. It would play right into the hands of the enemy. Our safety lies in "thinking soberly". In this great battle it matters very much that we think of ourselves as we ought to do, and that is, in a related way. An army depends upon its units. The whole can suffer through the weakness of the individual. We can overestimate our personal importance or we can underestimate our related significance. To think of ourselves as we ought to think win mean not to err in either direction.



Eric Fischbacher

Reading: Romans 2:25-29 (RSV)

OUR immediate concern is with the principles underlying this Scripture rather than with its sequence in the doctrinal arguments of the letter to the Romans. It is clear that the spiritual and Scriptural principles are concerned with the relationship between what is external and physical, and that which is inward and spiritual. There is here a contrast between the two realms; not that they need be in opposition to each other, but rather that the weight must be put on what is inward and spiritual. This is what is regarded as of supreme importance by God Himself and is calculated to receive His praise, whereas in general it is the other which men consider and most value.

The word 'spiritual' is often misunderstood, even by Christians. It really signifies that this is [64/65] the real thing, whereas the physical is in fact temporary and passing. To us the concept of 'spiritual' is usually mystical, something which no doubt exists somewhere, but is rather vague and intangible. We need always to remind ourselves that it is only the spiritual which is the substantial reality; all else is ephemeral and less important. An illustration of the difference is to be found in the story of what happened when Samuel went to look among Jesse's sons for the one who was to be anointed king. The very first of these, Eliab, made such an impression on the man of God that he immediately jumped to the conclusion that this must surely be the Lord's anointed. Eliab was so impressive, he looked every inch a king, that Samuel would have made his decision had not God said to him: "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

It is always true that the Lord looks on the heart. Our tendency is to look on the surface; we can only judge by what we can see, and guess what is going on inside from what we ourselves observe. God, however, does not need to depend on the outside view. His looks penetrate. He knows precisely what is going on underneath and it is that which He is interested in.

THERE are many illustrations of this fact in Old Testament history. Adam is an example. To us his misdemeanour consisted in stealing what was not his when he took the fruit, but to God his action disclosed a spirit of disobedience and disloyalty in his inner heart. Then there is the story of the difference between Cain and Abel which is repugnant to our unspiritual judgment. In our first considerations, we question the difference which God made in His treatment of the two brothers. That is because we judge by appearances. Doubtless God saw an important difference even in their offerings, but what was more important was that He knew what was going on in their hearts. He saw right into Cain's heart as he brought his offering, as we may conclude from the words spoken to the unaccepted offerer. Then there was the great moment in Abraham's history when he went up the mountain to offer his only son as a sacrifice to God. We are assured that it was never God's intention that this sacrifice should be made. God had no wish to see Isaac killed. What He was interested in was Abraham's heart, and it was with real pleasure that He could assure His servant: "Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Genesis 22:12).

The same applies to what happened when Moses struck the rock the second time. This was no pleasure to God but only pain. Previously Moses had done this with God's full approval. Now the situation was almost identical, the need was the same, the result was the same; and outwardly the action appeared very much the same. The first time, Moses' smiting of the rock was absolutely right; the second, however, was so completely wrong that it prevented him from having the honour of leading God's people into the land. Although the water flowed out just as before, the spirit in Moses was quite different as he stood proudly up on his platform position and angrily asked: "Shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" (Numbers 20:10). That second time there was something in his heart which had not been there at the first. He assumed the role almost of a magician putting on an act. "Are you really thirsty? Now are you all watching? See, then, what I am going to do to provide you with water." Normally Moses was an exceptionally meek and modest man, but on this occasion his spirit was not right and he failed to believe in God and to sanctify Him in the eyes of the people. It would seem that the miracle was the same, but in fact there was a complete contrast, not in the outward happening but in the secret of the heart of Moses. Perhaps he had the praise of men, but he certainly had no praise from the One who really matters. There are few greater tragedies than that a Christian should be boasting of his spiritual gifts. Whether many such claims to charismatic gifts are valid or not, there can be no pleasure to God and no true glory for Him if such claims involve personal gratification in displaying them.

As God explained later about this whole pilgrim experience of His people, it had been an occasion when He led them for forty years in the wilderness, "... testing you to know what was in your heart" (Deuteronomy 8:2). God is always contemplating us from the inside. It is not that He has no interest in what is external, but rather that His chief concern will [65/66] always be with the spiritual, with the inner man of the heart.

WITH all this in mind we now turn to the passage at the end of Romans 2. To the Jews, who regarded circumcision as the very basis of their national life, it must have come as a tremendous shock to have this test of inwardness applied to their cherished rite. "If you break the law," Paul told them, "your circumcision becomes uncircumcision." What a repulsive idea this must have seemed, even to think of their becoming uncircumcised. But there was worse to come! Those uncircumcised outsiders, whom the Jews despised, could so keep the law as to have a place among the truly circumcised. This was terrible! But even worse: "Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision, but break the law". This is a devastating comment on the futility of the outward when it lacks the inward substance. But it is God's comment, and not man's, and must therefore be honestly faced.

The same is true with regard to sacrifices and offerings. Now in the Old Testament times these were important and even essential, for they were ordained by God, but the Word of God makes it plain that they were only valid when they were accompanied by heart obedience. When Saul was sent to annihilate the Amalekites and disobeyed, he was asked by the prophet: "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice ..." (1 Samuel 15:22). Again the external was worse than valueless without a right heart condition.

The Lord Jesus took up the same matter in relation to tithing when He said to the Pharisees: "You tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law" (Matthew 23:23). He did not disregard the literal and physical action of tithing, but denounced as hypocrites those who practised it while ignoring what He called the weightier matters of the law. But what are these weightier matters? Jesus described them as "justice and mercy and faith". These were not virtues apart from the law, not something else, but the real content of that same law. The internal and spiritual represents the substance, the true reality and content of what their law taught them. Without this inward substance, their outward observances were worse than useless.

SO much for Bible times. How does the principle apply to us now? We are no longer concerned with the subject of circumcision, but I suggest that it is legitimate and Scriptural to apply the same principle to other matters which are of importance to us today. Suppose, for example, that we make a substitution for circumcision and apply this Scripture to baptism, as I believe that we have every right to do. Now there can be no question but that baptism is a matter of tremendous importance. It was ordained of God, taught us by the Son of God Himself, and clearly stressed in the New Testament Church. Nevertheless in itself it is an external and physical action, and can only have value when it is confirmed by what is spiritual and inward, the law of baptism.

What is the law of baptism? This is too complex a matter to be dealt with here in detail, but it would surely be right to affirm that the principle of baptism is found in the words: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). The illustration of "newness of life" (Romans 6:4) into which the believer emerges from the baptismal waters, is the heart of the law of baptism. "No longer I ... but Christ who lives in me", this is the vital principle which governs the whole matter. So, if we apply our Scripture in this connection we find that it asserts that "baptism is indeed of value to those who keep the law of baptism, but if they break that law then their baptism becomes 'un-baptism'." Does this sound illogical? Is it possible for a Christian to be 'un-baptised'? Well, was it possible for a Jew to become 'un-circumcised'? He would say, "No", but Paul lays down the axiom that this is what is regarded as happening when a man puts value on the outward and literal while contradicting the spiritual reality which it represents.

So what we are saying about baptism is simply what the apostle says about circumcision. It amounts to this: If a man who is not baptised keeps the law of baptism, will not his non-baptism be regarded as baptism? Then those who are physically unbaptised but keep the law of baptism will condemn you who have the written code of teaching about baptism and have actually been baptised, but break its law. For [66/67] he is not a Christian who is one outwardly, nor is true baptism something external and physical ... real baptism is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.

I do not know what you think about making that kind of substitution in the Word of God, but so far as I can understand it, the principle here laid down must apply to all matters. Those things which God has ordained are not to be disregarded nor diminished in importance, and nobody wishes to do this with regard to baptism. Nevertheless baptism is essentially a physical action performed by human hands in literal water and can only have any true value if it is backed by the spiritual substance of its meaning. So we may say that baptism is indeed of great value if its law is kept, but this means that those values must operate internally. The real Christian must have baptism as a matter of the heart; it must be spiritual as well as literal. Only so can it receive God's praise and approval.

What about Communion in the Breaking of Bread? Again, this is clearly ordained by God; taught and even commanded by the Lord Jesus. It is of great spiritual value, though of course it is external and physical. Bread is used. We actually take the bread and the cup in our hands. If, however, we enquire what is the law of the Table, all will agree that the true significance is to feed on the living reality of Christ, symbolised by the bread, and to be in the good of the cleansing power of the blood, typified by the wine. The Communion is described as our common participation together in the life of Christ.

But God does not look only -- and I think not so much -- on the external actions as on the inside realities. We may say that Communion is indeed of value provided you keep the law of communion. If, however, you break that law, your performance becomes 'un-communion'. There is a solemn reminder of the fact that this can happen in the breakdown at Corinth where clearly some of the believers were suffering because their celebration of the Breaking of Bread had clearly become 'un-communion' in their experiences (1 Corinthians 11:30). Would it not be a justifiable comment to say that those who were not physically taking part in the Breaking of Bread but were walking in the spirit of loving communion would condemn those who knew all about it and practised it assiduously but failed in daily life to observe its law, its spiritual reality?

GOD sees into our hearts and knows what is going on there. In these two matters and in many others He does not abrogate the literal but insists that it has no value to us and brings no pleasure to Him if it is not accompanied by inward reality. We may mention other features of assembly life which could equally be associated with Paul's comments on circumcision. The Corinthian letter speaks of women's headcovering, but if we ask what is the relevant law the answer will surely be, The acceptance of God's arrangements in the matter of subjection. There is a beautiful description of God's ideal adornment for a Christian woman in the words: "let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit which in God's sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:4). Here we have a repetition of emphasis on heart condition and on what evokes the praise of God. May we not say, then, that if a woman lacks head covering but keeps its law as described here by Peter, she will condemn those who are so careful to wear hats but fail in a spirit of subjection to their husbands? In this connection she is not a real Christian who is one outwardly, and real covering is a matter of the heart -- spiritual and not literal. Her praise is not from men but from God.

The same applies to our hymn-singing. Long ago the prophet complained: "This people honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me" (Isaiah 29:13). I myself find that it is all too possible to be using the sacred words quite unthinkingly, either because I happen to like the tune or because the hymn is so familiar that I can let my mind wander in other directions while still uttering the words. What does God find in such hymn-singing? Well, if He looks into the heart of the singer He may well find nothing at all. And what does He think of the prayers which are merely outward forms with no inner reality? Or of Bible reading which is just a daily habit with no corresponding inward searching for the will of God for the daily life? To Him there is no value at all in such externalities. They may get some praise from men but they will receive none from Him. He must have the real thing. [67/68]



Poul Madsen


LAW and grace are two absolutes which are mutually exclusive. Either you are under the law, and then you are not under grace, or you are under grace and so cannot be under law. As already stated, this is hard for the serious religious person to accept, for he regards the law as the guarantee against superficiality, laxity and irresponsibility. To him, sin being the worst enemy and most dreadful possibility in his life, it seems dreadful that sin should be lightly spoken of, which is what he thinks that Paul does. In his opinion the strong Pauline stress on the grace of God cannot avoid depreciation of the seriousness of sinning; it either leads directly to abusing grace in order to condone sinning or to regarding sin as something which does not gravely affect the Christian who considers himself as excused because of grace, irrespective of how he lives. He fears that such teaching will make men slack and lax in their daily lives.

Paul realises that his presentation of the truth has not yet cleared up every doubt of those who have such misgivings, and so he takes the matter up again. "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under law but under grace?" That is the question. The answer is categorical: "God forbid!", and by it the apostle suggests that the question is wrong in principle. The dominion of grace excludes the dominion of sin. The subsequent verses contain pitfalls for the legal-minded person. Does not Paul here speak about having to choose between whom we will serve, either sin or righteousness? And does he not emphasise that everything depends on which lord we choose to serve? Does it not then depend ultimately upon us ourselves? If these things were so then the legal-minded would be right in principle, for it would not be grace which saved men from the guilt and power of sin, but their own choice. In that case, of course, the serious and upright people would choose righteousness, while those with weak characters would choose Sin.

LET us note, though, that Paul is not appealing to us to choose rightly. There is no mention whatever in this paragraph about making any choice. On the contrary it says: "Thanks be to God, that whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered" (v.17). In other words, there is no question of praising man for his choice, but rather thanks to God who touched his heart and made him obedient. It may well be that the "form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered" refers to baptism. It is the work of God which is being spoken about, His work in Christ, by which they were set free from slavery to sin and made obedient from the heart to the divine form of teaching. This last word contains an inference that the teaching (that is, the gospel) sets its mark on a man and forms him not according to the pattern of the world (12:2), but according to Christ. It is clear, then, that far from leading to laxity, the gospel leads to conformity to Christ.

"And being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness" (v.18). When Christ set them free from the dominion of sins, He brought them under the dominion of another -- righteousness. Paul does not recognise any "freedom" of position for a person standing between sin and righteousness and able to choose between them. True freedom consists in being the slave of Christ. And that is precisely what they have become by the grace of God. When they were the servants of sin, they were free in regard to righteousness; right had no deciding power over them (v.20). But now they have become servants of righteousness and so have been set free from sin. Sin now has no deciding power over them.

It is difficult for them to understand this. Their weak carnal nature cannot comprehend it. The apostle, therefore, writing "after the manner of men" (v.19), uses expressions and illustrations from human life. Let us write what he says in columns to make it clear:

     Men are servants

Either of: Or of:
  Sin   Obedience
  Uncleanness   Righteousness
  Iniquity   God

(These are the words found in verses 16, 18, 19 and 22.)

In the right-hand column we observe that obedience is not first and foremost a characteristic [68/69] or quality in a man but that which has power over him (v.16). This is true to the gospel. When Christ leads a person out of the power of sin, He brings him under a new power, namely the dominion of obedience. Man is never free in an absolute sense, but is always subject to a master.

The Christians in Rome, because of Christ's redemptive work, were on the right-hand side of our diagram, as servants under the dominion of obedience, righteousness and God. This is the decisive fact upon which Paul bases his argument. He does not leave the Romans as standing between these two columns with the dilemma of making a choice of one or the other. They are servants of God; they have become obedient from the hearts; they have been set free from the despotism of sin, uncleanness and iniquity that they may serve God. Paul thanks God for this, since it is He alone who has brought it about.

IT almost seems an idiotic question, then, to ask if we shall sin because we are under grace, for it is grace which has brought us under the dominion of obedience, righteousness and God. Hence the swift answer to such a question: "God forbid!" ("No, far from it" Danish). "Know ye not (you, who are on the right-hand side of the diagram), that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey: whether of sin unto death (as when you were on the left-hand side) or (as now) of obedience unto righteousness? But thanks be to God that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart (because on the right-hand side of the diagram you are under the dominion of obedience) to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin (set free from the left-hand side of the diagram), ye became servants of righteousness (led over to the right-hand side). I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh; for as ye presented your members (when you were on the left-hand side) as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now (that you are on the right-hand side of the diagram) present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification ... Now being made free from sin (and no longer being on the left-hand side) and become servants to God, ye have (it is a fact!) your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life. For the wages of sin (slavery on the left-hand side) is death; but the free gift of God (charisma) is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (under whom we serve in true liberty on the right-hand side),"

THE section does not contain an exhortation to be a "free" person who is standing between sin and righteousness, urging him to be sure to choose rightly, but it is a gospel declaration to all who by faith in Christ stand justified before God under the dominion of grace. It is a glad message to all who so stand under the government of righteousness and obedience, assuring them that sin shall not have dominion over them and that from the heart they have become obedient to the divine word and can therefore serve God as His love-slaves. It is therefore an absurd thought that they should be in bondage to sin. On the contrary, they can present their members as servants to the Lord. Whatever else should they do?

(To be continued)


Alan G. Nute

"YOU shall love the LORD your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5). Above this text, at the top of the page in my Bible, is the caption: "The Great Commandment". A parallel command, however, occurs in verse 13 of the same chapter, and this time it reads: "You shall fear the LORD your God". In the light of this, perhaps the caption should have been worded in the plural. The two great commandments are that we should love the Lord and that we should also fear the Lord. Scripture recognises that love and fear are the twin motives that govern and control us. Usually they are opposed the one to the other, but this is only because of the distortion which has resulted from the Fall. As a result of that [69/70] tragic act of disobedience love has become largely self-centred. Indeed, the modern use of the word signifies little other than the gratifying of human passion. As for fear, that which was intended to be a healthy emotion has degenerated into feelings of apprehension or dread. To such an extent is this the case that we tend to regard fear as almost entirely injurious.

One of God's prime objectives in His dealings with His children is the straightening out of that which Satan has twisted. This involves the production within our hearts of a true love and a true fear. In relation to fear, this necessitates first of all the eradication of all false fear. It is this which lies behind the frequent exhortation -- "Fear not". The Spirit which we have received is not "the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear"; for as Paul reminds Timothy: "God did not give us a spirit of timidity". The fear which manifests itself in timidity is one which inhibits, and as a result cripples our witness and robs us of our joy in the Lord. Such fear must be uprooted, and in its place there must be cultivated a true fear, a fear which is noble and beneficial.

Every quality is seen in perfection in Christ. In Him love and fear are present ideally and without conflict. In all His ways we may detect these two currents flowing in the same direction and with equal intensity. With regard to fear, Isaiah prophesies: "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord." The writer to the Hebrews provides us with an example of this. "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear." This is the fear to which we are exhorted. It is constantly commanded (e.g. Ecclesiastes 12:13 and 1 Peter 2:17); and is not only commanded, it is commended. Job, the Psalms and Proverbs all agree that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". It is the highest element of wisdom.

Clearly this is a truth which merits serious attention. And yet for ten thousand sermons on love, we will be fortunate to hear one on fear. Is "the fear of the Lord" a lost concept? Does the quality -- "God-fearing" -- evoke the admiration it once did? Whatever the contemporary situation, of this we may be emphatic, the fear of the Lord is a dominant theme of Holy Scripture.

1. The Essence of Godly Fear

The essence of this fear is reverence. The word is used in the Scripture of the right attitude to parents and implies honour and respect. Everywhere today this is in eclipse. The whole notion of respect is undermined because no longer is there abroad a respect for God, His Word and His laws. The reason for this is to be found in the fact that men have replaced the God of the Bible with a God made in the likeness of man. A God, as some have impiously suggested, "in whom I can believe". Thus is constructed a God whom no one fears, nor needs to. The God revealed to us in the New Testament as in the Old is One who merits our reverence.

This reverence will manifest itself in worship. In Revelation 15 John describes the great company of those who having conquered, "sing the song of Moses and the Lamb". They exclaim: "Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord?" Fearing the Lord, they exalt, extol and magnify His name. We shall only truly worship as our hearts are suffused with a deep sense of awe.

The other indication of a reverential fear of the Lord is obedience . The first reference in Scripture to fearing God is in Genesis 22:12. It is heaven's verdict on Abraham's act of obedience: "Now I know that you fear God". Little wonder that fear and obedience are bracketed in such repeated exhortations as "fear the Lord your God and do all the words of his law". We may say, then, that the essential character of this fear is a reverence which issues in worship and obedience.

2. The Ground of Godly Fear

The song in Revelation 15 also points to the ground of such true fear. God is to be feared because of Who He is. Ultimately, everything depends on our conception of God. "Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord?" The expression 'thy name' stands for all that may be known of God, and something of this is conveyed in the titles employed in the song. "Lord God". Theirs is a recognition of the transcendent majesty which is His. "The Almighty". They are conscious of His infinite power. Thus it was that when men beheld the [70/71] omnipotence of the Saviour they were "filled with awe" (Mark 4:41). "King of the ages". The singers celebrate the fact that God is eternal. Indeed, the title contains the thought of the divine control which ensures the outworking of God's timeless purpose. The only conceivable reaction to such a contemplation of the glory of God is that of awesome fear. But perhaps the supreme Divine characteristic is found in the statement: "For thou alone art holy". Proverbs 9:10 equates the fear of the Lord with "the knowledge of the holy One". Above all the attributes of God, this should banish that presumption which is the antithesis of godly fear and, positively, should inculcate that lowliness and that contrition which are its essential constituents.

But the ground of the fear of the Lord is to be found also in what He has done. "Great and wonderful are thy deeds ... who shall not fear ... thy name?" Of all his deeds surely the greatest, the most wonderful, is His work of redemption. As we take our places alongside those who stood by the cross of Jesus our reaction is one with theirs -- "they were filled with awe".

O how I fear Thee, living God,

With deepest, tenderest fears,

And worship Thee with trembling hope,

And penitential tears!

3. The Consequence of Godly Fear

If we consider the consequence of this fear we say that it will:

i. preserve us from sin. The height of impiety is described by Paul in words borrowed from the psalmist: "There is no fear of God before their eyes". It is not surprising therefore that the Scripture declares the fear of God to be the great prophylactic against evil (Proverbs 3:7; 8:13; 16:6). Indeed it is the motivating power for moral and spiritual purity. "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God".

ii. regulate all our relationships. The section of Ephesians which deals with sundry personal, domestic and business relationships is introduced with the exhortation: "Be subject to one another in the fear of God" (cf. Colossians 3:22 and 1 Peter 3:13-16). Where the "fear of the Lord" becomes a dominating influence, all relationships fall into their proper place.

"Fear Him, ye saints, and you will then

Have nothing else to fear."

A fascinating example of the power of this emotion is seen in the case of the Hebrew midwives whose story is told in Exodus 1. What emboldened the Maternity Department of Israel's Health Service to snap their fingers at Pharaoh when he commanded a programme of genocide? "The midwives feared God."

iii. secure the blessing of God. To trace in a concordance the blessings which result from a fear of the Lord is to produce a list containing the most desirable spiritual boons imaginable. "The friendship of the Lord" is theirs (Psalm 25:14); "abundant goodness" is laid up for them (Psalm 31:19). But space does not permit even a fraction of these benefits to be mentioned.

One can but hope that enough has been said to cause us each to echo the words of the redeemed in the presence of God, both as an expression of worship and sacred intention -- saying "Who shall not fear and glorify Thy name, O Lord?"



(Some thoughts on Psalm 119)

Harry Foster


"Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage " (verse 54)

PSALM 119 is a pilgrim psalm. The author is on the move all the time. He readily confesses that he is "a sojourner in the earth", a pilgrim (19), who is walking and sometimes even wanting to run on the way (32). He is having to watch his feet (101), needing light on the pathway (105), choosing which path to take (30), avoiding wrong turnings (104), and making [71/72] sure that he has good companions (63). He is acutely aware of his tendency to stray and get lost, not only in the early stages of his pilgrimage (10), but right through to the very end (176).

Although the prayer is arranged in contrived poetry, it is written by a traveller and for travellers. This means that it is for all of us, since every Christian should know himself to be only a "sojourner" here. Each place where we are located, temporary or permanent, should be like a Rest House on the travellers' way. Our churches, our homes, our studies or our prayer chambers should never be regarded as permanent retreats from the business of living. Rather should we accept their temporary shelter as divinely provided hospices where we can look back on the past day's journey and look forward to what lies before, always doing so in a spirit of praise and prayer. Every consultation of the Bible should have in mind that it is a "Traveller's Guide" -- not just a route map but also a complete compendium of all that the pilgrim needs to know for a safe arrival at journey's end. It is in fact more than that. It is a means of communication with the living Guide, who knows every inch of the way and is near enough to be consulted or appealed to at all times.

As our verse indicates, we are to be singing pilgrims. What becomes even more obvious as we read on is that we should be praying pilgrims. The whole psalm is a prayer -- a pilgrim's prayer. It must surely be the longest prayer in the Bible. Apart from the first three verses and verse 115 it is all spoken directly to the Lord, either in appreciation or in supplication. "My pilgrimage" is personal, but it is never solitary. The Lord is both my destination and my constant Companion. When I am not singing, I am speaking -- talking freely to Him about the blessings on the way or about its problems. Technically it is true that I am journeying to heaven, but spiritually it is a fact that heaven is very near me as I travel on. Every fear, every longing, every exclamation of love and every cry for help is uttered in the confidence that the One whose servant I claim to be is near at hand both by day and by night.

It would seem that I am listening as well as talking, for the whole psalm is full of references to God's speaking. Much is said about His Word, with the implicit idea that it is a spoken word. In addition to this, there is constant reference to seven synonyms for God's Word, roughly employed with equal frequency. All seven are mentioned in the first seven verses of the psalm: law, testimonies, ways, precepts, statutes, commandments and judgments. This being so, the psalm may at first glance appear to be just a tribute to or a treatise on the Word of God. It is more than that -- much more. It is the disclosure of the thoughts and aspirations of a pilgrim on the King's highway.

All this adds up to a reminder that we are meant to keep on the move in our spiritual life, that we should always be praying as we go, and that our prayers should be very closely associated with the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures. We observe that there is nothing half-hearted or merely formal about this pilgrim. His whole being is devoted to the task in hand. He speaks of his eyes (6), his lips (13), his mouth (43), his hands (48), his feet (59), his voice (149) and his tongue (172) being completely involved with the Word of God. Moreover he begins with a reminder that the blessing of pilgrimage consists in seeking the Lord with the whole heart (2) and constantly refers to the fact that this is precisely what he himself does (10, 34, 69 & 145).

The entire psalm is in the form of an acrostic, each verse of the groups of eight beginning with the same letter, in accordance with the headings given in our versions. The stanzas lead us right through the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet -- as we would say, "from A to Z"! This makes the prayer elaborate and ingenious, but does not detract from its passion and purpose. It is not meant for dilettante students of a Book, but for determined walkers in a Way. Indeed there are constant references to the way -- His ways, my ways, Thy ways -- as though to remind us that the man praying this prayer can never be a recluse or a mere theorist, but one who takes seriously his continual pilgrimage with God.

In accordance with this idea of dealing with practical daily experience, he makes no attempt at a logical argument about the Bible, nor does he provide a systematised book of prayers for varying occasions. The psalm is more like a private diary. The writer moves backwards and forwards in his many moods. He rejoices; but he also weeps. He may be in the heights; he may also drop into the depths. He may be surrounded by friends, yet at times he feels himself surrounded by foes. At times he is resolute and determined about his stand for the truth, while [72/73] at others he admits that only grace can rescue him from abject failure. Life is like that. Such experiences can well occur to any of us. The one stable factor in our unpredictable life is the sure Word of God: "For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven" (89), and the only satisfying resting-place in a disappointing world is God's exceeding broad commandment whose perfection will never end (96).

The psalm of this pilgrimage is not, then, a doctrinal treatise nor a manual of piety but the autobiographical exposure of the inner emotions of a flesh and blood man who is seeking to walk in the right ways of the Lord. It is an incomplete story. Perhaps the acrostic form is meant to suggest continual progress, but we come to the last letter of the alphabet and find that he has not yet reached his destination. The pilgrim has not arrived yet, but he prays his way ever onward in spite of his own conscious weakness and in the face of all the sneers and traps of his adversaries. He is convinced that the way he takes is the way of blessing. Before ever he began to set down his experience and prayers as he walked along life's road, he headed the psalm with a general statement which obviously he had found true and which we are meant to take to heart: "Blessed are they that are perfect in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord" (verse 1).

The whole book of the psalms begins with this same promise of blessing (Psalm 1:1), the Lord Jesus opened His Sermon on the Mount with it too: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3) and the final book of the Bible opens with a similar beatitude: "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein" (Revelation 1:3). This is what matters most. It is good to be orthodox. It is great to be a Bible student. More important than all, though, is to walk in the way of blessing.

This pilgrim had found that way and the study of his psalm may well lead us into new experiences of it if it encourages us to press on more earnestly in our holy pilgrimage, "Come wind, come weather!" As we journey in thought with him, I propose to consider him in five different aspects, keeping close all the time to those foundational statements which he makes about God's Word and to his petitions which are based on that Word. We will try to catch some glimpses of:

1. A Pilgrim whose heart is aflame

2. A Pilgrim whose mind is enlightened

3. A Pilgrim whose will is fixed

4. A Pilgrim whose lips are opened

5. A Pilgrim whose feet are sure

"Then fancies fly away,

He'll fear not what men say,

He'll labour night and day

  To be a pilgrim."

(To be continued)


John H. Paterson

ONE day recently, I was invited by a Christian group to give a talk on 'Commitment'. It was one of those embarrassing occasions when the speaker is fairly certain what the organisers of the meeting expect him to say and he is left wondering why, in that case, they do not give the talk themselves. In the present instance, my task was complicated by the fact that I knew in advance that the majority of those present would be from a Roman Catholic background. Some of them were truly born-again believers, but they would be bringing with them from their past the presuppositions of their church. So I had to think very carefully about what I should say.

The exercise proved a useful one. We speak too glibly about 'commitment to Christ', as if it was at once obvious what that means. But such a commitment needs to be spelled out, just as in the marriage service the commitment of one partner to the other is spelled out in terms of [73/74] practical situations: 'for richer, for poorer; in sickness or in health ...' This is the content of commitment, as distinct from the act.

What, then, does a Christian commitment involve? There was so much that I wanted to say to my young audience, and I needed a framework within which to set it. After a lot of thought, I turned to the Apostle Paul for the necessary framework. In a number of his epistles, he was writing to Christians whose whole-hearted commitment was in question. In each case, however, the point at issue was different. On this occasion, I chose four consecutive letters, to illustrate the answer to the question, 'If I become a Christian, what am I committed to?' Galatians emphasises that I am committed to a life of faith; Ephesians that I am committed to a life of purpose; Philippians that I am committed to a life of change or development, and Colossians that I am committed to a life of dependence upon a person.

The Epistle to the Galatians

The Christians in Galatia had made a commitment to Christ, but were so far from understanding the practical implications of what they had done that Paul had to write very sharply to them: "O foolish Galatians ...". At that, he was perhaps being a little hard on them for, by his own account, if they had misunderstood the meaning of commitment to Christ, no less a person than the Apostle Peter had done so, too (Galatians 2:11-14). The issue could be stated very simply: justification is either by faith, or it is by faith and something else. As C. S. Lewis pointed out long ago, once you admit that word 'and', then it does not matter what the 'something else' is -- the principle has been lost. For the Galatians, it was 'and circumcision'. For the Roman Catholic young people in my audience the other day, it may have been 'and attendance at confession and mass'; or, since we were in Ireland, it may well have been a case of 'and walking barefoot up a rocky mountain path to the summit once a year'. Whatever is covered by the 'and', its significance is clear: faith by itself is not enough.

When we challenge a person to make a commitment to Christ, therefore, we are probably telling him that he must discard a whole system of ways and means on which he has formerly relied, and trust his eternal future to one single safety-line: faith. And the greater the religious apparatus in which he formerly trusted, the greater demand now made upon him to dismantle it. Could it really be true that all Paul's upbringing, training, self-discipline and zeal counted for absolutely nothing? Did Luther's early efforts to please God really make not the slightest difference to his standing with God? Surely there would at least be no harm in keeping the old apparatus working alongside the new? Surely, on the old analogy of the man who wears both belt and braces, there is no harm in using one as an insurance policy for the other? Even Peter seemed to think so!

But commitment to Christ means consciously and deliberately discarding all other grounds of confidence, and staking everything on the proposition that faith in Christ is enough. For a person without prior religious commitments, this may actually be an improvement on his original position, like providing a fire escape for a building which previously had none. But for Paul, by contrast, it meant deliberately replacing half a dozen fire escapes (the nature of which he describes in Philippians 3:4-6) by a single, flimsy-looking rope, and believing that he was then better off than he had been before.

We have, I suspect, become so familiar with the great Reformation emphasis on justification by faith in Christ alone that we have lost something of its impact on those accustomed to think in terms of religious systems or observances. Certainly, as I faced my young audience and called for commitment to this principle I was conscious as never before of what a tremendous, traumatic change of thought it called for. For me, it had become routine; for them, it would mean the end of a whole world -- a religious world -- and dependence on a single, intangible source of safety and confidence: nothing to do; nothing to show for it; no way of checking whether the fire escape was in position. Just faith in Christ.

Not that it is necessarily easier for the evangelical believer who does not climb barefoot up mountains. We can develop a perverse pride in what we do not do, as well as in our achievements. Therefore Paul made it quite clear to the [74/75] Galatians: "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision ..."

The Epistle to the Ephesians

In his next letter, Paul challenges his readers to commit themselves to fulfilment of a purpose -- God's purpose. I spent a part of last summer with a group of delightful young Christians in America. One of the questions with which they were preoccupied, and which came out in prayer and discussion many times was, 'How can I find out God's purpose for my life?' When it came to my turn to speak to them, I suggested that they were asking the wrong question -- or, at the very least, they were asking a second question, without first having the answer to a prior on. The prior question is 'What is God's purpose, full stop?' God's purpose for my life is what in mathematics is called a subset of God's purpose for His whole creation. When I know the greater, I can fit in the lesser.

But once I understand this, then comes the challenge of commitment. Paul explained that God does indeed have a purpose, and that it is eternal (Ephesians 3:11). It will continue through my lifetime and far beyond; therefore commitment to His purpose will be a lifelong engagement without intermission or, probably, even the satisfaction of visible results. Commitment for the individual believer means being involved in a task of which he sees neither the beginning nor the end; yet he must accept (and this is just what Paul was trying to get the Ephesians to realise) that his role is vital to fulfilment of the purpose, and that every detail of his daily life, even the most trivial, counts towards it. This commitment is not only life-long; it is also full-time. We knew a student once, who served as an officer in the Christian group in her university. As her term of office came to an end, she said to us brightly, 'And now I'm going to have a year off!' But so far as anybody can tell, that year off has lasted ever since; she went 'off' and never came back. The idea of 'time off' in the Christian life is a contradiction of the original idea of commitment to fulfilment of an eternal purpose.

Every Christian work has two kinds of supporters -- the ones who can be counted on at any time, for any service, and those who are delighted to help, provided that this does not clash with their personal projects, or their holidays, or their hobbies. And every Christian leader quickly learns to distinguish between the two. It is a question of the degree of commitment -- of willingness to be involved in a purpose outside ourselves, greater than ourselves, and to go on and on until He is satisfied.

The Epistle to the Philippians

The third letter makes the point that commitment to Christ involves a process of change. Now there are two things which are very generally true about people and they are, firstly, that we normally resent being told that we could be improved upon and, secondly, that the older we get the less welcome change becomes. We like ourselves the way we are and, since all change involves the risk of the unknown, we seldom want it and sometimes fear it. That is natural; in fact, about the only person who welcomes change is the one who says, 'Things are so bad now that anything is bound to be an improvement on this!,

I do not suppose that anything could have been further from the mind of Saul of Tarsus, on the day he set out for Damascus, than the idea that he could be improved upon. "Circumcised on the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews ...". What more could anybody ask? And change, when it came to him, came violently, so violently that he was blinded and dazed for days on end. Yet that was only the beginning of change; it was, if you like, merely the realisation that change was necessary. The actual changes themselves then began -- and went on and on, so that, writing years later to the Philippians, he was quite emphatic that only a part of the necessary work of change had taken place: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect ..."

Whatever may be the particular purpose of God in your life or mine, His general purpose is clear. It is the moral purpose of making us like His Son. Any believer who thinks that this can be done quickly or easily has no business to be subscribing to a periodical called Toward The Mark ! So commitment to Christ implies commitment to a lifelong process of learning [75/76] and maturing; of never being able to say, 'I have arrived' until we see Him in His glory. Among the students I teach, it is a very common reaction for them to say, after their final examinations, 'Thank goodness, that's the last exam I shall ever have to take.' All through school and college and driving tests they have been facing one hurdle after another, and now they can relax at last. To the Philippian Christians Paul is making the point that, in the life of the believer, this is not the case. There is no such thing as a last examination: on the contrary, how often it appears that the later tests in the Christian life are the hardest of all! How often it seems that the last stage in the progress of a believer, one who has given a lifetime to the Lord's service -- and who, we might feel, has deserved a peaceful old age -- is the most difficult stage of all to get through: growing weakness, isolation, the apparent failure of the things for which they worked - -decline, decay, abandonment! It was Moses, a man in a good position to comment, who remarked that "the days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength, labour and sorrow" (Psalm 90:10). Moses, we may be sure, would gladly have missed that last lap.

Why is this? Can it be for any other reason than that, as the end approaches, the Master Craftsman is still continuing His work -- perhaps even increasing the pace to make up for time lost along the way? Commitment to Christ implies this, too: a perpetually unfinished work, from which He will never relax, even though we ourselves may lose interest or enthusiasm along the way. Paul was very clear that, even after a life as full of experiences as his had been, the work was far from complete. But he was also clear (Philippians 3:21) that it could be done: "He is able to subdue all things unto himself."

The Epistle to the Colossians

The last of these four letters brings us at length to the fact that Christian commitment is to a person, the Lord Jesus Christ, but even now we must try to be sure what we mean by that statement. That Christianity centres upon the person of Christ is self-evident. The particular issue for the Colossians was His sufficiency; whether or not He was great enough to be all that they needed, or whether He required to be helped or supplemented in some way.

It was part of their system of thought that there were many beings who had more than human powers -- angels or astral forces -- and that it was the task of the philosopher to understand and interpret these; in fact, to rank them in order of importance. Among these figures, Christ would be included, as one among many; as having a contribution to make to a larger whole. (The attitude is thoroughly modern.) But it was an idea which Paul set out specifically to contradict. In Colossians 2:20 he wrote, "If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world", and one of the meanings of the word so translated is 'to arrange in ranks; to order'. We have a picture of the Colossian philosophers acting like some jury at a festival, arranging the contestants in order of merit, and arguing whether Christ should be placed fourth, or fifth, or tenth. For Paul, there was only one answer to all such thinking: "that in all things he might have the preeminence". That was the only place in the rank order for Him!

This may well serve as a reminder to us that commitment to Christ means recognition that all our hope, assurance and future depend upon Him, not only in the sense that He said He was the way to God but because His quality was and is such that He actually fulfilled every condition, met every requirement, and was great enough to be everything that God demanded. If one thing is more depressing than another about contemporary theology, it is the way in which scholars who seem to have missed the logic of their own actions have chiselled away at the greatness of Christ, reducing His status, redefining His powers, restricting His role to something purely subsidiary, as if it was upon their process of thought, rather than upon His quality, that contact with God depended.

Commitment to Christ implies recognition that our acceptance with God is based solely, but safely, on the qualities of His Son, which He sees and approves; that the greatness of Christ is what makes everything else possible, and that anything which diminishes our appreciation of Him is a direct threat to our own standing with God. But Paul is reassuring: "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him." [76/77]



J. Alec Motyer

"Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what great nation is there, that hath God so near unto them as the Lord our God is whensoever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? " (Deuteronomy 4:6-8)

"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, that whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear of your state, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing affrighted by the adversaries." (Philippians 1:27-28)

"I know thy works. Behold I have set before thee a door opened which none can shut. I know that thou hast a little power and didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name. Behold I give of the synagogue of Satan ... I will make them to come and worship before thy feet and to know that I have loved thee." (Revelation 3:8-9)

CHURCH life needs constant renewal. God wants families, not monuments! All over the country we are burdened with ecclesiastical buildings for which no man has any longer use, but which are preserved just because of their age. In the ordinary providence of God that which is old should be expected to die. It is only the world which seeks at all costs to preserve the antique. To avoid such a worldly way of thinking we must not struggle merely to perpetuate any fellowship because it has had a long history, but rather lay hold on God's promise of its youth being renewed like the eagles. How can we be fresh for God? How can we so lay hold on new life that the testimony which God in mercy has preserved will go on and continue to flower because He has invigorated it? It is with this question in mind that we consider the three separate Scriptures cited above. They give us three aspects of the true nature of Church life.

1. The Magnetic Church

The first feature which emerges from Deuteronomy 4:6 is that God's people should have an attractive effect. What is a church meant to be? It is meant to be a magnet to the world around. In this passage we see the distinctiveness of the people of God in front of the watching world which marvels at what it sees. Moses had it in mind of this people that in their life together they should provide a magnetic Church. They were going in to possess the land, and there they would be surrounded by nations who worshipped other gods. What Moses envisaged was that those watching nations would be amazed at the sight of people who lived so near to God and had such ready access to Him. "What a great nation this is," they would exclaim. "Why they are in constant close touch with God Himself. He gives them wise counsel and they follow it. Whenever they have need of His help, they just ask, and receive the answer. This is wonderful! How we envy them, and wish that we could have this nearness and access to God!"

We apply this to our church. This is a wisdom which should be found in us, wisdom to keep God's statutes in the sight of the onlooking world, and understanding to make full use of the accessibility of the Lord Jesus. Do you remember blind Bartimaeus, whose question about what was happening received the answer: "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by"? That man did not have constant access to Jesus. All he had was a split-second opportunity. What sanctified wisdom he displayed in crying out to the Lord for mercy! The people around told him to be quiet, but years of begging had taught him that you get nothing by being quiet, so he cried out all the more. And the passing Christ stopped. That moment became one of remarkable blessing, as Bartimaeus found Jesus so near when he called upon Him. For us, however, Jesus does not have to stop. He is not passing by. He is always near to be called upon. How wise was Bartimaeus to [77/78] profit from that moment of accessibility! And how foolish are we not to take full advantage of the privilege of prayer! The Church has the Lord always very near and ready to respond to its appeals. As the nations watch the Church they should see it fleeing to God in every emergency, and proving the reality of God as He hears and answers prayer. The Church is in the midst of communities which live according to the ways and resources of men, being governed by the laws of economics and bank balances, and it stands in contrast to this world as being composed of a people that live in terms of the resources of God. If the Church will only live near to God and be exercised as a praying Church, then the effect will be magnetic, making men wistful to have the same privilege and power.

Moses goes on to give further light on the magnetic Church with the words: "What great nation is there that hath statutes and judgments so righteous ...?" It is the obedient Church that will prove magnetic. Deuteronomy gives the most lovely picture of the law of God, a law expressed in God's own words, mediated through human agents with no diminution of the divine lustre. This law is sacred and complete; it needs neither addition nor subtraction, and is sufficient for every aspect of life. It is a law which lays down and establishes principles, and it is designed for obedience and faith. What Moses says about the law of God is precisely what the Holy Scriptures testify of themselves from one end to the other. The Church which stands true to the Word cannot fail to be noticed and attract attention. The Church which gives itself to prayer and the Word of God will be a magnetic Church -- drawing in admirers from the world around.

2. The Worthy Church

It must be a worthy Church, as is suggested by our quotation from the letter to the Philippians. The situation was that Paul was uncertain about the future; he was in prison in Rome and humanly speaking he did not know whether this imprisonment would terminate in his death or in his release. He had an inner conviction that because of the needs of the churches here on earth he would be released for further ministry, "Only", he pleaded, "whatever happens to me, only this one thing (1:27). Maybe I will come to you; maybe I won't; but come or not come, there is one supremely important matter -- only one thing."

What is this one priority in the apostolic estimate of what a church ought to be? It is that it should have a manner of life worthy of the gospel. We could translate this exhortation as a call to live out their heavenly citizenship in a worthy way. Philippi was a colony; it was composed of Roman citizens who took great pride in being as like as possible to the capital of their great empire. Spiritually the Church is a colony planted by its home country: it is an outpost of the heavenly empire. Our home country is where the Lord Jesus is, and we are called to be an outpost here on earth of that heavenly realm, a colony of heaven. The important thing, then, is that we live up to our calling. There is a procedure worthy of the gospel, a Christlike manner of life. The magnetic Church must be careful to maintain such a standard.

It can only be done if we "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving for the faith of the gospel". A similar exhortation is made in the appeal to Euodia and Syntyche to be "of the same mind in the Lord" (4:2). In that passage, Paul has in mind the fact that the true Church of God will ever be challenged by the false church. He has mentioned a sad fact which moved him to tears, that there were abroad enemies of the cross of Christ, denying Christianity at two cardinal points, the cross and the Coming. They look back and deny the Christ of Calvary; they look forward and deny the idea of Jesus coming again. In the face of this denial of vital truth, Paul cries: "Stand fast in one mind". A divided Church cannot hold its ground when the doctrine of Christ is challenged.

To return to chapter 1, however, we find that his appeal is made to the Church which is an outpost of heaven in a hostile world. It is faced with a very real threat and must be "in nothing affrighted by the adversaries" (1:28). The word employed is exceedingly strong. It means, "stampeded", as when a sudden onset of danger goes right through a herd of animals and they become terror-stricken and stampede. The Church can be faced with adversaries of such dimensions as could produce such a wave of panic, but they must not stampede, standing firm in a united faith.

The oneness is described as being "in one spirit". I have felt that I had to re-write the "s" in my Bible, and turn it into a capital letter, for [78/79] I believe that only the Holy Spirit can produce a united Church of this character. Our very unity consists of a united flying to God to lay hold on heavenly resources for our needs here on earth. In our capacity as a colony of the heavenly empire, we can appeal to our home country for supplies, and the only one to bring us those needed resources is the Holy Spirit. It is all too easy for the people of God to try to live by the principles of the world. We must not make this mistake, but must keep open the channel of supplies from our heavenly home country. All through the Scriptures we perceive that it is the particular task of the Holy Spirit to bring us supplies from God. Total resources of a full salvation are provided in Christ and they are made ours in experience by the operation of the Spirit of Christ.

This oneness is also described as being "in one soul". This comprehensive word includes oneness of thought, of feeling, of decision and of ambition. Beloved friends, Church membership is not a marriage of convenience, where people live together but do not love together; it is a oneness of soul , where we think and feel and desire as one, have one single ambition. How deeply the world has eroded Biblical principles at this very point, so that we tolerate cross currents and bad relationships and even an unforgiving spirit between brothers or sisters. These things cannot be. The "Euodias" and "Syntyches" must find the way in the Lord to be of one mind. The apostle beseeches that they do so, for a divided Church cannot stand in the presence of a hostile world.

This oneness is to be exerted in striving together for "the faith of the gospel". This phrase may well include the content of the gospel, our experience of the gospel and our activity to communicate the gospel. The worthy Church is united in all these three; united in the facts of Christ's atoning sacrifice, united in the experience of how that gospel is enjoyed, and united in its ambition to share the gospel with the world. Nothing less than this can suffice if ours is to be a worthy Church.

3. The Beloved Church

"Behold, I will make them to know that I have loved thee." The people of God are not only living under the love of the Lord Jesus but by His sovereign decision are on their way to the conquest of the world whereby even the bitterest enemy will be brought to testify that He loves them. We might ask what it is in the Church which excites the love of Jesus, but such a question would be both dangerous and unscriptural. We have the only Biblical explanation of God's love for His people in Deuteronomy 7:7-8: "Why did God love you?" asks Moses, "because He loved you. That is why!" In this case there is nothing in the object to excite love, but the whole explanation is found in the nature of the Subject, the One who loves. The Lord loves us for reasons which make sense inwardly within His own heart. That is why His love is unvarying and will never fail or fade, no matter how much we fluctuate. This love feeds on its own internal springs. So we cannot ask what the Lord sees in His Church to make Him love her.

What we can ask, though, and be Biblical in our enquiry is: "What is it that the Lord Jesus loves to see in His Church?" Perhaps the church in Philadelphia can help to answer that question. Here in this beloved church we find double commendation, first for keeping the Lord's word and secondly for a central loyalty to His own name: "You have kept my word and you did not deny my name" (Revelation 3:8).

"You have kept my word." This is the obedience of faith, the obedience which springs from faith. Perhaps the statement could better be translated: "You have only a little power, but nevertheless you have kept my word". You didn't look inwardly and excuse yourself from obedience because of your personal inadequacy. If you did look within and discover how little power you had, then you looked upwardly to the Lord and affirmed in faith: "Although I cannot do it in myself, I can through Christ". That is the obedience of faith, namely a full recognition of the total helplessness of the human agent, combined with complete confidence in the power of God. To such the Lord Jesus can happily say: "You have kept my word". He loves to see a church which obeys His Word, saying, "We will do it because He says so. We will do it because He wants it so. We will do it, not because we can but because He can."

The other thing which the Lord loves to see in His beloved Church is loyalty to His name: "You did not deny my name". That is the unique name of Jesus. I think that as Christians we should perhaps talk less about God and more about the Lord Jesus Christ. Conceptions of God [79/80] can be so vague, whereas we know that the perfect manifestation of God is only to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I find it most moving in Luke's Gospel that after many chapters in which the Lord is described as Jesus -- just the plain name Jesus -- the writer refers to the moment when the women came to the empty tomb in the words: "They found not the body of the Lord Jesus" (Luke 24:3). The resurrection declared Him to be the Son of God with power. Let the words ring out now, He is the LORD Jesus. He is our supreme Treasure, our Lord. In Him is the crystallisation of all that we have to say to the world. Let us make so much of the Lord Jesus Christ that the world may again say, "Now we know why they are called Christians".

4. The Renewed Church

In summarising what are the distinctive features of a renewed Church, considering what are the truths which will deliver from mere tradition and ensure the freshness of spiritual youth, may I point out that:

i. The Church is a Spiritual Body

It is spiritual as to its resources. The primary mark of church fellowship is "fleeing to God in prayer". It is spiritual in its manner of life, deriving the way it lives from the Word of God. Its spirituality consists in the fact that it lives its life animated by the principle of faith in the living God who answers prayer and who has spoken to man in His Word.

ii. The Church is a Mutual Body

That is to say that it is a body which lives in terms of self-contribution. The Church loves and gives and receives. Each member depends on the others and contributes to the others, all the supplies being received by faith from the living Head. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to communicate these heavenly resources, and it is His to decide what part each member shall play in the mutuality of fellowship and service.

iii. The Church Exists for the Lord Jesus Christ

It has been called and redeemed for this one supreme purpose of displaying the glories of the name of Jesus. It has no meaning in itself, apart from Him. It is nothing in itself and has no other ambition than to honour and exalt its beloved Head. It consists of people who are blood-bought, who grasp and experience the truth of the gospel, and who are united in one increasing love for His precious name.

Such a Church will exert a strong power upon the world around it. The Beloved Church and the Worthy Church will surely be the Magnetic Church. [80/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(For we walk by faith, not by sight)" (2 Corinthians 5:7)

THIS parenthesis is inserted between a repeated assertion that we Christians are always "of good courage". The implication is that we have every right to be so. No doubt we would like to be able to claim that we do not suffer like other men, that we are not perplexed about life as they are, nor struck down by those calamities which overtake men of the world. We would like to be able to reason that those who are redeemed are freed from the element of decay in the human body.

NONE of these is, of course, the case. These are not the advantages which men of faith have over unbelievers. What they do -- or should -- have is calm confidence of demeanour under every adverse circumstance. "We are always of good courage." We have a serenity which is unaffected even by the dark monster of death. We know that we are made for life. The Holy Spirit's presence is the guarantee of a glorious future. We are buoyed up at all times by the knowledge that if to live is Christ then to die is gain.

OUR parenthesis reminds us of the great antagonist of such holy cheerfulness. It is "sight", or rather trying to walk according to sight. We do not walk in this way -- "not by sight". One look around at things as they appear to merely human reasoning and we begin to sink beneath the waves of hopelessness. The apostle has already told us that the things seen are passing and unsubstantial; they can be more than that, for they can be robbers of a Christian's joy, disturbers of his peace. It is true that the Lord promised His disciples that they should see great things, but He did not mean that they should allow what they saw to govern their lives. We must not walk by sight. If we do, then our "good courage" will ebb away when God hides Himself, as He sometimes does.

THIS parenthesis is found in the midst of a passage which speaks of past trials and future perils. These were real enough, but Paul had found in Christ a hidden balance which more than compensated for them. He was able to march on triumphantly in spite of them all, and here he gives us the explanation of how he did so: "For we walk ... not by sight". He gives it in order that we who have similar experiences may share his good courage, for we share his certain hope.

THE fact that the apostle refused to walk by sight does not mean that he blundered on blindly. Far from it, he had his eyes wide open, so wide open that he was able to see the eternal things which are not visible to natural sight. He looked off unto Jesus; he endured as seeing the invisible. This is what he calls walking by faith. It means that every experience in life is subordinated to the lordship of Christ and made to yield to His absolute sovereignty. "We know," he affirmed elsewhere, "that for us God makes everything to work together for good." How did he know? By faith.

IN the context of this passage the apostle tells us something more that we know. It is related not to this life, but to eternity and it is that when this life terminates God has a heavenly home for us (5:1). This is certainly something we cannot see. We cannot even conceive in our minds what it will be like. Faith, however, assures us that this is the great reality of our Christian experience and that we are pilgrims here, always looking away from our immediate surroundings and discounting present values because we are moving on to a rich eternal inheritance. This is surely what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. It means that everything, even in the Lord's work, is looked at in the light of eternity where alone true and lasting values will be appreciated. The man who does that can always be "of good courage", and he will make it his aim always to be well-pleasing unto the Lord who is already there in the glory.


[Back cover]

2 Corinthians 9:8

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