"... 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. 8, No. 3, May - June 1979 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Editorial 41
Pilgrim Songs Of God's People (3) 41
A Matter Of Urgency (5) 46
Chapter By Chapter Through Romans (17) 49
Learning From Leviticus (5) 53
A Pilgrim's Prayer (5) 55
The Eternal Purpose Of God 57
Inspired Parentheses (19) ibc



THE deterioration in world conditions is so immense and so rapid that few of us can appreciate its gravity. Among God's people there are various explanations and a few suggested remedies. I do not propose to add to these but only to call attention to a somewhat neglected parable told by the Lord Jesus. It is the story of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-9).

May it be that this homely story gives us some clue as to God's activities in our modern world? To a mere observer it may have seemed rather extreme that the woman should precipitate in her hitherto orderly home a violent upheaval and temporary chaos pictured in the words: "sweep the house and search diligently until she find it". Everything was put out of place and dust was in the air, nobody could be at ease in that home, so long as she was pursuing her search. Was it worth it? To her it certainly was.

This is meant to be a picture of God. Since the first story tells of the Shepherd and the third of the Father, we may even suggest that this middle one stresses the activities of the Spirit. Somewhere in the world there are missing units to His eternal purpose and He will not rest until the tally is complete. So the world is in turmoil. Everything is being shaken and moved; the dust is being stirred up and everybody upset.

What does it all mean? Perhaps that we should pray and talk less about our discomforts and more about God's yearnings. Perhaps He is trying to teach us that He plans to use world chaos to disinter and recover His lost heritage in the nations.



(Studies in the Songs of Ascent)

J. Alec Motyer

3. PSALMS 126, 127 & 128

WE will find that this further triplet of psalms has a similar unity to the other two groups. We begin with trials in the world, we continue with the pilgrim journey and we come again to the glorious truth of security in the Lord.

In some ways I would suggest that these three psalms treat of a pilgrimage of the heart. They are very interior in their examination of the believer's experience. Previously the psalms dealt with dangers that beset the pilgrim pathway viewed outwardly in his journey through life; here, however, we have them viewed inwardly. For example, the Lord has turned the captivity of Zion (126:1), but we are still needing to have our captivity turned (v.4). It is true that the Lord has done great things for His people, but oh that this might be true of me! Looking at what God has done for Zion "we are glad", but looking inward to our own personal experiences, our inner sadnesses and emotional travails, tears beset us.

We sow in tears. Things are not working out for us as we would have expected and hoped for. We suffer something of a sense of failure. Instead of being able to rejoice in a total salvation, we find ourselves in a vale of weeping. Perhaps we may entitle these three psalms: The Experience of Failure (126), The Fear of Failure (127) and the Transcending of Failure (128). This time our pilgrimage is not from a far off Mesech to Zion, but a pilgrimage of the heart from the vale of tears to the place of rejoicing.

PSALM 126 -- The Experience of Failure

In this psalm we find the Church in the midst of a watching world: "Then said they among the nations, The Lord hath done great things for them" (v.2). The world is not here on the attack, as it was in the two earlier groupings: "Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips ..." (120:2) and "We are exceedingly surfeited with contempt" [41/42] (123:3). The world was wagging its tongue in a hostile way, full of aggressive animosity. Here, however, the watching world is giving its comment on what God has done for His people, but the situation is the same in that the Church is still on its pilgrim pathway in the midst of the world. And it is finding that it goes forth weeping. So even though the world is saying approving things and making happy noises, for God's people it is proving to be what the hymn writer calls: "A vale of tears".

In this pilgrimage of the heart the believer's individual experience fails to come up to the experience of Zion. 'Zion has had its captivity turned, why cannot I? What is wrong with me that I am not living up to the heights of that which God has done for His people? Where is the joy that we have been promised? God has done great things for somebody else, why not for me? Why do I still walk through a valley of weeping, with unexpected sorrows which subtract from the joy of life? What am I to do about it?'

i. The Realm of Recognition

The psalm is full on the one hand of the realisation of God's total salvation which produces laughter and singing, but on the other hand with an inward sadness devoid of all laughter and characterised by tears. Perhaps a more descriptive title for the psalm would be: 'Two Realms of Reality'. First of all there is the realm which we gladly recognise, as we give wholehearted consent to the great saving acts of God: "When the Lord turned the captivity of Zion, we were like unto them that dream". It was what the Lord had done. It was His sole act, unaided by His people. Zion was in captivity and we were all asleep. While we slept it all happened, and we awoke to wonder whether after all it was something which we had dreamt. How vividly do this verse and a half bring before us the great Bible truth that salvation is the sole act of God! We woke up to participate in that which God has been doing while we were out of action. In a sense, we seem like spectators, observing with happy appreciation the marvellous deliverance which the Lord has achieved without any advice or assistance from us. We were like dreamers, but we woke up to burst out with delighted laughter at what had happened while we slept.

"Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing." You will often find that laughter and singing are used in the Old Testament to depict the enjoyment of that to which we have contributed nothing, our entrance into a divine deliverance in which we had no hand. So it is here. It was the Lord who turned again Zion's captivity. We do not know what particular act of deliverance is referred to here. It may be that the people of Zion looked right back to the exodus from Egypt. Scripture often celebrates this great event which was certainly not a matter of effort on the part of the Israelites, but wholly an act of deliverance by their Self-sufficient God. He provided the protection of the blood of the lamb, and when they had feasted on the lamb, it was He who opened the door of pilgrimage to them. Perhaps the exodus was the "great thing" that the Lord had done for them.

It might also have been such an occasion as when Sennacherib besieged the city, having treacherously returned after being bought off by King Hezekiah. How helpless Zion was then! It was as though children had come to the birth, and there was no strength to deliver. When they were thrust down into a position of utter helplessness, they went to sleep in despair, but in the night the angel of the Lord destroyed the army of the Assyrians. They woke to find their enemies all dead corpses. It must have seemed like a dream, but it was real after all, and their mouth was filled with laughter and their tongue with singing.

It could even have been the turning of the seventy years' captivity in Babylon. When the Jews in Babylon heard that an even greater conqueror was on his way, they must have felt the chain of bondage tightening still more. They must have reasoned that if they did not escape from Babylon how could they expect to escape from Babylon's conqueror. But as they slept Cyrus, the great conqueror, came in and -- against all human odds and expectations -- set God's people free. Scripture had foretold that this would happen and Scripture's God brought it about. He said that He would, and He did. They had lost their song when they came to Babylon, but now their captivity had been turned and they sang as never before.

The return from Babylon was no mere dream. The marvel of it all is taken note of by the surrounding countries: "Then said they among the nations, The Lord has done great things for them". The work was so wholly divine that even unbelievers looking on saw the essential truth of the matter, namely that this was a sole great [42/43] act of God. The Church took up the cry: "The Lord hath done great things for us ...", so that it passed from the realm of reporting to the realm of testimony. "We are glad". There is nothing in the Hebrew to account for the word "whereof". Two great matters are placed side by side in testimony: "The Lord has done great things for us" and "we are glad". As a matter of fact there is a little more emphasis in the Hebrew, so that it could almost read: 'We live in the place of gladness'. This is something of a paraphrase, but it is intended to bring out the thought that we have here an emphatic statement of continuance in joy -- we continued glad! That should be true of us, whatever be our frame of mind and whatever we are going to find in the latter half of this psalm; we look at the total and eternal salvation which God has wrought for us, and in faith we rise up in joyful praise. As we keep our eyes fixed on that glorious and all-sufficient salvation, we are glad.

ii. The Realm of Experience

With verse 4 we pass from the realm of recognition to the realm of experience: "Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south". There is some disparity between the fullness and finality of what God has done and the way in which that is working out in our experience. Certainly God has done everything necessary to bring many sons to glory; in fact He has done it so sufficiently that the New Testament speaks of His Church being already glorified. When, however, we turn over the pages of our heart's diary of daily life we have to confess that there is still so much to be done in us. Experience lags behind reality.

There is a felt need and also a proposed solution: "Turn again our captivity as the streams in the south". Something needs to be done about this sense of failure and as we pray about it, the suggestion we make to the Lord is that He should deal with it "as the streams in the south". Now the south is a very dusty place with very little water. If you go down there in the heat of the year, you will find that its water-courses are quite dry. It is beyond the wit of man to fill them with water, but the time will come when God will send His rains and the water-courses of the south will stream with flowing water. This is used by the psalmist to illustrate what he wants God to do for him. 'Lord, can I ask You to turn my captivity and deliver me from everything hostile and from my own inadequacy? I want You to do something as dramatic and transforming as You do instantaneously when You send Your rain and fill the water courses of the south.'

No doubt as our hearts rise up to acknowledge failure, they are all too prone to suggest a solution. Wouldn't it be marvellous if suddenly God came to us at all those parts where our life is like an arid ditch and poured out upon us in one moment all the things that would make for fullness and refreshment! Well, the answer is that it would seem so, but that this is not God's way of doing things. The answer is rather, as in verse 5, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy ...". There is a fullness of experience, but it does not come with the sudden totality of the downpour of rain but with the slow maturing of the crops. To learn this lesson means to be spared much anxiety. God's way in salvation is the instantaneous, total work of Christ: God's way of bringing the felt experience of that salvation day by day is not the instantaneous rain but the slow maturing of the crop -- first the seed and then the harvest.

People look for the blessing that will give a sort of 'instant coffee' of total sanctification, but God points them to the example of the seed, the sheaves and the harvest. An old friend of mine who is now in the glory had a way of saying things which sounded almost like the book of Proverbs. He would say: 'When God ripens apples, He don't 'urry' and while you were thinking of that he would add, with perfect timing: 'An' He don't make no noise'. In salvation God acts alone, but in sanctification, in bringing His people through into the full experience of all that is good for them in Christ, He acts by means of an obedient people. The farmer does not so much co-operate with God as obey the rules which God lays down, so there are rules for enjoying God's fullness of blessing, the conscious, deliberate activities of those who submit their lives to the rules of God, and these involve sowing in tears.

But there is a beautiful promise at the end; there is the assurance of that total experience for which our hearts long: "they that sow in tears shall reap in joy". In the order in which the Hebrew words are set the words "in tears" and "in joy" are right together in the middle of the sentence, so that is reads: "they that sow in tears, in joy shall reap". This is God's way of drawing our attention to the transformed [43/44] emotional reality. We can look forward to a full harvest. A harvest of "sheaves", a full and abundant harvest.

PSALM 127 -- The Fear of Failure

Another and more descriptive title for this psalm would be 'Two Sorts of Activity'. In Scripture, the opposite of rest is not work, it is restlessness. And restlessness is what Psalm 127 is about. It does not call us away from activity but calls us to the rest of God which makes activity worthwhile. It continues where Psalm 126 stopped. There the work of sowing was related to the promise of fruit: the work was related to the fruit . Here there are two contrasted sorts of work, the one of restless strain and the other of restful reliance. If we are going to put our hands to this sort of work of God which brings His crop of certain maturity, then what sort of work is it? Is it the aching drudgery which arises from our own anxiety to get things done, or is it the joyful fruitful work which comes as we rest upon God? In principle the whole of life is contained here in Psalm 127.

"Except the Lord build the house ...". Building a house is looking to the future; it is concerned with what is not yet but is hoped for. It is what is planned for the days to come. It stands for what it is, the house in which we would like to live and it also stands metaphorically for the family we would like to produce. It looks to the future. On the other hand the city: "Except the Lord keep the city ...", speaks of safeguarding the past, watching over what has already been in existence. So it is that the psalm in its illustrations brings before us the whole of life, whether we are looking forward to benefits and blessings envisaged and hoped for, or whether we are trying to safeguard the benefits and blessings which have already been granted. The whole of life is here.

And into this situation the Lord comes with a pledge -- He is both ready to build the house and to keep the city. The word "Except" is not put there to mock us, as if we were saying that it would be lovely if only He would do it, but rather to encourage us in the knowledge that He will do it if we want Him to and will let Him. And when He builds, then that is building indeed. And when He guards, then that is guarding indeed. Here then is a Scriptural pledge. Whether it is dealing with the actual bricks and mortar, or what those materials signify in relationships, does not matter. It is all included. What areas of possible anxiety are here included, costs of the actual house, cost of the children, costs of providing for the future, and against them all we are faced with the simple pledge: "He gives ...". It is vain to be on such a tension, rising up early and so late taking rest. We live in the days of the 'working breakfast'! That particular abomination of modern life means that in these days politicians cannot even eat their food in peace. "It is vain that you rise early and so late take your rest, eating the bread of toil." Could you have a more perfect description of life's tensions than that?

Over against it, "He gives". Let us take the liberty of isolating the words. The spirit in which we do so is not unscriptural, for this is the whole message of Scripture -- the bountiful giving of God. The gift here described is the one which matches the pledge: "He gives unto His beloved Sleep". It does not say "rest," as in verse 2, where the word means rest in the sense of cessation. He doesn't say to the man who is building his house, 'Stop putting brick upon brick and leave it all to God'. He does not suggest that you go away on vacation and live in a friend's house and when you come back you will find that God has built your house for you. The verse does not suggest cessation but it promises sleep. This is in contrast to "the bread of toil". Toil is the word used in Genesis 3 when man fell into his fallen state and found himself doomed to toil. Previously, in the tending of his garden, he had found that the earth was rushing to bestow its produce on him, but now the situation became different; he entered into sin and then found that he could only extract benefit from the ground in the sweat of his brow. Sleep, however, is that rest of spirit which permits withdrawal from care; it is the divine provision of renewal of strength for the activity to which He calls us. He does not propose to take us from activity into inactivity; He takes us from restlessness into rest.

And look at the guarantee which accompanies this statement. He gives sleep to His beloved! It is the love which guarantees the gift. There are, I think, three ways in which the love of God is expressed in the Old Testament, or at least, three outstanding ways. There is one verb which expresses the free, unprovoked love of God for His unworthy people -- the love of God for sinners. Then there is another word which expresses love [44/45] which produces persistent grace -- the patience of God's love. Thirdly there is this word here which tells of the love in which one person puts his arms around another -- the love of an intimate relationship. This is the word used for the statement: "I belong to my beloved, and my beloved belongs to me" (Song of Songs 6:3). All three apply to us. He has won us by His love from the state of sin; He persists with us in His love even though we are sinners; and on the basis of that relationship established by grace, He now puts His arms around us and claims us for Himself: "I am thy Beloved and thou art Mine".

The further verses about the heritage of children are wonderful but do not at first sight appear to follow on from what has just been said. May I suggest that they are used illustratively to expand what verses 1 and 2 have to say about the removing of the toilsome, fretful, anxious work which is non-productive and leading us into the realm of God's gracious giving? There are two ways of considering this matter of children. We can say about a married couple: 'Have they any children?' or we can ask: 'Has God given them any children?'. There is really no contradiction or disparity between those two things -- they are in fact two sides of the same truth. Children come as a gift from the Lord; they are very positively His plan and His gift of goodness and grace.

When we take our activity from the hand of God, a fulfilment of His grace to us, then we may safely rest back upon God and leave the outcome to Him. He not only gives children, He gives happiness and security in family life too. "arrows in the hand of the mighty" (v.4) -- that is a picture of attack. "They shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate" (v.5) -- that is a picture of defence. Children are good in every way, it says, whether you think of yourself as going out on the attack or whether you are waiting on the defensive, there you are, with your family all round you. This picture of a united family illustrates the great gift of God. The happy man and his family just got on with it, this joyful business of having children. They didn't fuss. It was not a matter of nagging anxiety. It was a matter of resting in the ability of God to take away any anxious fear of failure. Such blessing and security of family life are a picture of the life of rest and fulfilment to which God calls us all.

PSALM 128 -- The Transcending of Failure

We have here two areas of promised fulfilment, that of personal, present life and that of public and future life.

i. Fulfilment Now (vv.2 & 3)

"Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee." We have here a picture of marital joy and security. As a reference to the use of the word in any Concordance will show, the vine-like fruitfulness of the wife does not refer to the bearing of children but to every part of their home life in which she responds to and is delightful in the eyes of her husband. The true rendering is: "in the innermost parts of thine house", for this is the area where her God-given blessedness should have its chief expression.

This happy man has fulfilment within the walls of his own home. His children around his table are like olive-plants. Elsewhere we are told that it is olive oil which makes a man's face to shine (Psalm 104:15), so this glad feature of his family life is that the parents have children who bring joy and delight to their hearts. Happy faces around the family table; this is a lovely picture of present personal fulfilment.

ii. Fulfilment to Come (vv.5 & 6)

The other realm refers to public and future life, but it again starts with personal blessing, though this is placed in a larger setting: "The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion". This personal blessing moves on to consideration of God's blessing on the welfare of the Church: "Thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life". What is more, this blessing reaches forward to the future: "Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children". So here we have public and future joys. By bringing these two realms together, the psalm expresses to us totality of joy for now and for the days to come, and because it goes on in this way it is a fulfilment and happiness that is secure and not transient.

Is there a secret of such happiness? There is. Notice how, with each of these pictures of fulfilment, the present personal happiness (vv.2 & 3) and the public and future happiness (vv.4 & 5), the explanation is mentioned first (vv.1 & 4). "Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, that walketh in his ways" (v.1). What happens to such a person? Verses 2 and 3 give the answer. "Behold that thus shall the man be blessed that [45/46] fears the Lord" (v.4). What happens to such a person? The answer is in verses 5 and 6. So the recipe for happiness is declared twice over. The secret lies in the individual life. The secret lies in me -- the sort of person that I am in my relations to the Lord. It is not in my circumstances and it is not because of other people, but in my fear of the Lord.

"Blessed is every one". It is quite personal. "Thus shall the man (the individual) be blessed." If I am experiencing loss, inadequacy, a sense of failure, the transforming point is not changed circumstances or different people around me, but in me myself. The secret lies in the quality of personal life. First of all the call is to fear and walking; a reverence for the Lord that is matched in outward obedience. Verse 4, however, speaks only of fear. A true fear of the Lord will always be productive of a life that is conformed to His will, but a life that outwardly shows the marks of obedience is not necessarily that which has the inward fear of the Lord, so the psalmist puts his finger on the matter of supreme importance in individual life, the fear of the Lord. The inward heart reality of fear of the Lord involves the reverential acknowledgement of the greatness, holiness and love of God. This is the fear which casts out fear. It is the beginning of wisdom and it is the secret of happy fulfilment.

(To be continued)


(Studies in John's Gospel. Chapters 13-17)

John H. Paterson


I HAVE suggested last time that the word 'if', which recurs 25 times in the Authorised Version of these chapters, has many shades of meaning. We considered the six or seven verses in which the word occurs in the context, 'If you know this, then you also know, or can work out, that ', and we thought about the Christian's responsibility for using the knowledge he or she already has, to work out the next step.

But there are in these chapters at least three other cases of the use of 'if', and these I am suggesting that we call the conditional -- 'If you want A to happen, you must fulfil condition B; the evidential -- 'If you claim A to be true, it will be attested by the presence of B; and the exclusive -- 'If you have A, you can't have B'. Even these three uses do not quite exhaust our 'if's', but we are less concerned here with grammar than with what we may usefully learn from these chapters, and so we shall consider each of the three in turn.

The Conditional 'If'

Generations of Christians have been happy to use the device known as a Promise Box. It was in every Christian home when I was young, and you were invited to dip in and take out a tiny scroll on which was written one of the many great promises of the Bible. These promises then served as a reminder throughout the day of what God had said He would do for His people.

But oddly enough I never heard of a Condition Box! Yet it would have been just as logical, just as well-filled, and just as challenging. It might not have cheered us up in the same way, but another very obvious reason why no one had thought of compiling such a thing is that evangelical believers have lived and died for the principle of unconditional grace -- precisely for the belief, based on the assurance of God's Word, that there are no conditions attaching to His salvation. The very idea of a condition therefore seems like a denial of that great gospel principle.

We may rejoice in God's free grace, however, yet still be conscious of some very important conditional 'if's' in His Word. A well-known example is: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open ...". So, too, is: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God" (John 7:17), and most of all, perhaps, the 'if' that comes in the chapters we are considering: "You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you" (15:14).

Now it is common, of course, to point out that these conditions apply not to our fundamental [46/47] state of grace but only to our awareness of that state and in our conscious relationship to the Lord. To that I should at once reply that the distinction is more apparent than real; that a salvation which yields no sense of assurance, which leaves me uncertain whether or not I am believing a myth (for that is the point of John 7:17), and which provides for me only a remote and formal relationship with my Saviour, is a very limited salvation indeed. It is, if you like, a technical salvation, but it does little to encourage me from day to day. Putting it bluntly, it is impossible to rejoice over it, and it is difficult to recommend it to others without feeling a fraud. And as I write those words I seem to have described in a nutshell not only the dismal Christian lives of some believers I have known but also my own career over long periods of time.

Within the context of John 13-17, there can be little question what conditions Jesus was laying down to His disciples (15:7, 10 & 14). There are two: to abide and obey. However in 15:10 He seems to run the two together by saying, in effect: 'the secret of abiding is obeying', so that, in the end, there is only one condition: to obey His words. But how much is governed by that condition: the response of the Father to our prayers; the consciousness of His love; the intimacy of a relationship with Himself for which there is no substitute -- friends! Really, if you eliminated all those things from the Christian life, would there be enough left over to be worth recommending it to your neighbours?

Let me now return, once again, to the context of these chapters -- to the disciples' manifest alarm that they were going to lose Him, upon whom they had come so completely to depend. In what He was saying to them, there was one word on which their attention was certain to fasten -- the word translated here "abide" or "remain". They were threatened by change; yet change was the last thing they wanted. They must have strained their ears to hear Him contradict His earlier statements about leaving them. If only He would remain, there would be no problems.

But of course He was going; He never promised to stay. What He did say was that, if certain conditions were fulfilled, then various of the benefits of His presence would remain -- His influence with the Father; His love for them; the fruit of knowing Him which would be manifest in their own lives. Most of these promises were conditional, however, on their doing something which, at that moment, made very little sense: that they would "abide" in Him. Not only these disciples but generations of Christians since then (one thinks, for example, of Hudson Taylor, whose biography is explicit on this point) have asked themselves: 'How can I abide in Christ? What is the secret of abiding?' I suspect that all young earnest Christians go through a stage of feeling that, if only they knew that secret, they would never falter again!

There can surely be no secret. The Lord Jesus had minutes rather than hours with the disciples; He would not waste time playing guessing games. Any 'secret' there is must be here in these very verses and the only thing that emerges from these verses, I suggest, is that obedience to Him is the key. We err if we try to complicate the matter; if we imagine the existence of some cryptic code or recipe that lies beyond obedience. Admittedly, our angle of approach may be wrong. For the disciples (as for some Christians, too) the important thing was to have Him present. It was comforting, reassuring -- and might quite possibly be selfish. For the disciples, His presence had become an end in itself. For Him, it was merely a means to an end . That end was fruit on the vine; the only question to be answered was, 'Which is the best way to obtain more fruit?' Since, as He very well knew, there would be more fruit when He was gone, He had gently to disengage their attention from the means, to concentrate it on the end.

We may become [so] accustomed to the thought that the highest good we can attain is to be in the presence of the Lord and enjoy being wholly occupied with Him that we need the corrective challenge of the question which the disciples had to confront: Would you rather have His presence and little fruit, or His absence and much fruit?

Of course the question is in reality a bogus one: He repeatedly assured His disciples that He would in fact be with them and in them, for there can be no fruit at all if He is really absent (15:5). But it still remains true that He is there not for our mere enjoyment, but for the fruit that His presence brings.

The Evidential 'If's'

The next category of 'if's' are those which tell us what should follow from our lives as Christians: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another" [47/48] (13:35); "If a man love me, he will keep my words" (14:23); "If you loved me, you would rejoice" (14:28). They call for a practical response to our understanding of His words.

It seems as though the Church was 'caught out' on this point almost from the start, through failing to think clearly about the implications of what the Lord Jesus had taught. The Epistle of James was written on this very theme: that if people claim to belong to Christ, their actions must fit the words. One of the most dramatic 'if's' in the whole Bible is Paul's to Peter, no less, in Galatians 2:14: "If thou, being a Jew ..." which we may fairly paraphrase as arguing, 'If you really grasped the meaning of a new life in Christ, you wouldn't go around worrying about whether or not people had been circumcised'. We can hardly pretend to have got better at this as time has gone by! The points of testing may be different, but the times when belief and conduct are out of line with one another are still far too numerous for our comfort. Belief implies conduct to match.

The trouble seems to be twofold. On the one hand, we have not thought sufficiently about the implications of phrases which are in common use among Christians: phrases like "all one in Christ Jesus", or "in the name of Jesus", or "crucified with Christ". We can meditate on every one of these for years and find -- as I am sure every reader has found -- that there is layer upon layer of meaning in them, and every fresh layer makes demands upon the way we act.

On the other hand, we fail to react correctly to what we hear because we do not understand enough of the context. One of the principles on which the late Field-Marshall Montgomery led his services was an insistence that every single soldier be kept informed of what we called 'the big picture' -- that is, the soldier was to be briefed not merely about the hill or farmhouse he was ordered to attack, but about how this small operation formed part of a strategic whole.

Here in John 14:28, the Lord Jesus said to His disciples: "You are all sad but, if you understood what is going on, you would be rejoicing". They were trapped by their own ignorance of the 'big picture'. We can see this well enough in our own children; their reactions are often surprising and may, in fact, be the opposite of what we expect. I remember our children once bursting with howls of dismay and terror at the sight of a friend who had put on a comic costume to try to amuse them! Their point of reference, like that of the disciples, was too narrow to enable them to take apparent contradictions in their stride. To react aright to the apparent contradictions of God's way is a thing that has to be learned, slowly over a lifetime. At least, that is how long it took Abraham, and Jacob and Moses!

The Exclusive 'If's'

Finally there are one or two 'if's' in these chapters (13:8; 16:7) which put before us an 'either ... or' situation. You can have one or the other, but not both. On the first occasion Peter, who was obviously embarrassed by the whole foot-washing scene, was told that he could either have his self-esteem or his part in Jesus, but not both. In the second case, the Lord Jesus told His disciples that they were assured of the presence of one or other members of the Trinity, but not of two. We considered, in an earlier article, what I called the old and the new 'life-support systems' by which these disciples were to live. The moment of transfer from one to the other was almost upon them. But first Jesus had to make it quite clear that they were alternatives: that the coming of the new really did mean the passing of the old. Who would not opt for a double helping of life-support systems if they could get it? What man with a weak heart would not be reassured if he could be followed round, day and night, by a team of specialists equipped with oxygen and ready to step in at the first hint of trouble? We all appreciate that kind of backup.

But God has never put Himself in the position of saying to His people, 'I shall help you this way, and if it doesn't work, I shall help you that way!' He does not need stand-by systems, we are the ones who yearn for those. His way for the present is the single way of the Spirit:

"If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment."

(To be continued) [48/49]


Poul Madsen

17. WHAT ABOUT ISRAEL? (Chapter 9:1-29)

MANY regard chapters 9 to 11 as a section which does not really belong to the Roman Letter because it makes a break in the sequence of thought. They understand it as a parenthesis that can be omitted without the loss of anything essential. This view must be rejected. Paul's ability to develop his presentation or truth in a logical sequence is exceptional, and would not fail him here. At the conclusion of chapter 8 he has said that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and such a statement almost automatically calls forth the question: Then what about Israel? Are they not separated from the love of God?

Chapters 9 to 11 contain the apostle's answer to this question. The section thus falls within the main theme of the letter, which is justification by faith. This is not a parenthetical insertion, but a continuation of the doctrine of the righteousness of God (1:17).

1. A Heart Matter for the Apostle (vv.1-5)

Paul knows that his words about wishing himself anathema from Christ, if it could profit his Jewish kinsmen, might be taken as oratorical outburst of sentimental exaggeration with no reality behind it. He therefore emphasises that it is in Christ that he speaks this truth and that the Holy Spirit witnesses to this great sorrow which burdens his heart. His conscience -- the sentry within man against lying and hypocrisy -- has the Spirit's confirmation of fact that it is no passing impulse but a deep pain of heart which makes him give expression to this incredible wish. Divine love is characterised by sorrow and pain because of the lost condition of the human race, and expresses this in a willingness to suffer on its behalf. This love is not callous, but suffers deeply when it is rejected by man. The more it is rejected, the greater is its pain, and it does not cease even when it has been so rejected.

This love filled Paul. Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, "to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile" (1:16), he had always sought to bring the offer of salvation to the Jews first. As a rule they had rejected it, and persecuted him in return. No one had brought him more pain and suffering than his kinsmen according to the flesh, but it seems that there was no one whom he loved more. He was willing to be accursed from Christ, if by this means their eyes could be opened. Divine love is never matter-of-fact, but always fired by a miraculous element. The fate of the Israelites mattered very much to Paul.

In this connection, he wrestled with one of the greatest riddles of life: How could the nation which God had chosen above all the nations of the earth, reject the Messiah whom God had promised them in the Old Testament and then sent to them in the fullness of time? Did this not suggest that after all there are powers which can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? If the history of Israel proves this, then none of us can ever be certain that the same will not happen in our case, for they had more promises and privileges than any of us, and yet they went astray.

Was it that God's promises could not be fulfilled? Did His promises fail in the face of the people's stubbornness? The promises belong to Israel (v.4). Why then have they not been fulfilled? The adoption belongs to them also, (Exodus 4:22), but now they failed to know it. They were without glory, though really the glory belonged to them; and they were outside of the new covenant, although they were the people of the covenant. They did not have the law of God written in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, although the giving of the law belonged to them; and true worship in the Spirit was foreign to them, in spite of the fact that they had the temple service. All this was painful to Paul. It was not only an intellectual riddle, but a problem for his conscience, for if it can be proved that God gives promises which He does not keep, then how dare we preach the gospel?

What was most incomprehensible was that Christ was descended from Israel, according to the flesh: He was an Israelite, yet Israel had rejected Him. Can it be that in the last resort man has salvation in his own hands? Has mere man ultimate power over God? Paul clearly did not think so, for in speaking of Christ, he described Him as "over all, God blessed for [49/50] ever", betraying his own inner conviction that this could not be so. To him it was unthinkable that God should give promises which He could not keep, and be thwarted by man's wilfulness. Christ is over all. "Amen", he exclaims, as this conviction grips his heart.

Then how is it to be understood? This is what chapters 9 to 11 are all about. They are therefore of great importance to our understanding of the gospel. We must not read them as a philosophical view of the course of history, but as an account of how God is faithful to His promises and will never fail those to whom these are given. At the very commencement we notice that the apostle's argument in these chapters is almost exclusively built upon quotations from the Old Testament, so that he proposes to prove that the whole matter of Israel's rejection and everything else dealt with in this section, is part of God's original plan and wholly subservient to His purpose.

2. To Whom has He Given the Promises? (vv.6-31)

The apostle has exclaimed about his kinsmen according to the flesh: "They are Israelites!", but now he says: "Not all those who are from Israel are really Israelites" (v.6 Danish). This distinction between technical and real Israelites is in accordance with what he has already affirmed in 2:28-29. Clearly there are two kinds of Israelites: those who are that only because they are descended from Abraham, and those who are so because they have Abraham's faith. The former are Israelites after the flesh, while the later are this after the Spirit, and it is only to them that God has given His promises -- and these promises He has fulfilled.

To prove his case Paul points to the descendants of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham had two sons. The son of the handmaid, Ishmael, was indeed Abraham's son after the flesh, but God's promises did not apply to him. Every Israelite knew that. Not one of them would imagine that Ishmael and his descendants had a claim on God's promises. These applied exclusively to Isaac, who was born as a result of God's word of promise which Abraham and Sarah had appropriated by faith.

We ought to notice the way in which the apostle expresses himself when he says: "... the children of promise are reckoned for a seed" (v.8). The word "reckon" is a significant word in the teaching concerning justification by faith. The word "seed" is also important. In Galatians 3:16 and 19, Paul explains that the seed of Abraham is one Person, namely Christ, but he then goes on to say: "If ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:29). So, early in his argument, Paul has indicated that all God's promises are connected with Christ, and consequently they apply to those -- and only to those -- who believe in Him, and so are true Israelites, being the seed of Abraham even as was Isaac.

Israelites, however, would affirm that they were all descended from Isaac, the son of promise, and therefore eo ipso, had a claim to the promises of God. Paul rejects this. He emphasises that although Isaac (in contrast with Abraham) had two sons by the same wife, who were actually twins, yet as regards God's promises, these two were in entirely different situations. One of them, Jacob, was loved by God and included in His promises; the other, Esau, was not loved by God and was not included in those promises. What is more, this difference of treatment was in no way due to the characteristics of one as against the other, for the matter was decided before they were born. It was therefore God who decided to give the promises to Jacob and not to Esau, and that decision rested upon the fact that Jacob, and not Esau, was the one whom He had chosen.

In this way Paul proved that descent from Isaac does not necessarily involve inclusion in the promises. God is, and has always been, perfectly free and sovereign regarding those to whom He gives His promises. Of course He must be so; His promise would cease to be a promise if anyone could advance some claim upon Him. In that case it would be an obligation and not a promise. Nor can anyone make himself worthy of such a promise. Jacob did not earn the favour any more than Esau did. It is important to keep hold of this fact, both in our thinking and preaching, but it is difficult to do so because it offends our ideas of what is just and fair. That is why so many efforts are made to weaken or explain away this paragraph. Any such attempts at explanation must be set aside, for they support the idea that in the final issue it is man himself who decides his salvation, so that it is not by God's grace alone.

God's promises, then, apply to the 'true' Israelites, that is, those whom He in His sovereign [50/51] freedom has chosen, and who have responded to Him in faith. We can therefore immediately reject the suggestion that God gives promises and then fails to keep them. We may ask if an argument based on a distant past (Isaac, Jacob, etc.), is really valid today. The answer is that God is the same. He was free in the time of the patriarchs, and He is free today. God is God, and He always acts on the basis of His own free choice according to His deliberate purpose. The Church ought to take notice of this, for otherwise it draws its own boundary in relation to the world, excluding people whom God does not exclude but chooses, so repeating Israel's mistake. We must remember that the seed of Abraham includes everyone who is in Christ. God's choice takes place in Him. Those who are in Him are chosen, and those who are chosen are in Him.

3. Does This Agree with Righteousness? (vv.14-29)

Perhaps this heading is misleading, for it partly suggests that we can summon our Creator to our own judgment seat, which is absurd. Perhaps it would read better: 'Does this agree with mercy?" for it is from this point of view that Paul treats the problem. He links the fact of God being sovereign to the equal fact that God is merciful. The mercy of God is the central theme in these three chapters and concludes the final reasoning that "God has shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all" (11:32). Human logic, however, tries to argue that God's mercy is not righteous. It asks: Was it not unfair to Esau that God hated him before he had done anything good or bad? Was it fair that Jacob should be blessed by the love of God? Is there unrighteousness with God?

The question whether God is right is only raised by those who do not truly reverence Him. It is both a result of pride which sees nothing presumptuous in calling God to argue His case at the court of man's fallen reason, and of an inflated opinion as to man's ability to pass ultimate moral judgments. Notice how Paul treats such a question! Firstly, he answers it with a categorical: "God forbid!" He does not take the question seriously, but only repeats what his critics say in order to repudiate the very idea. Next -- and this clearly shows that he does not think it worth the trouble even to consider the possibility of God being unrighteous -- he points out the examples of God's treatment of certain people like Pharaoh. According to human reasoning, these make no attempt to prove that God is righteous, but rather seem to suggest the contrary. For example, "For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might shew in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in the earth". Those who would take this up to reason that God was obviously unrighteous towards Pharaoh are attempting to return to an argument which the apostle has refused to deal with, because he will not sit in judgment upon God. All he can say to that is: "God forbid!"

In this passage Paul is not seeking to argue for God's fairness, but is insisting that as God is God, He is absolutely at liberty to act in His sovereignty. His argument is rather this: God is God and therefore He acts as God. This is seen in the fact that He, who owes nothing to any man and from whom no man by his own efforts can ever deserve anything, is free to be merciful and loving to whom He will. It must be so, for no man can claim God's mercy and grace as his right. If man could demand blessing, then it would no longer be mercy: men would have assumed the right to decide and God would have ceased to be God. The mercy of God has its explanation in God Himself. "God is love" (1 John 4:16) and therefore He shows love. There is no other explanation. When God is merciful, He is simply being true to His nature.

Since God is free, He is not bound to show mercy. God's love is not a law of nature which operates automatically and which every man can regard as a matter of course. That in His sovereign liberty He shows mercy to whom He will, means also that He can refuse to show mercy. Pharaoh is cited as an example of this. God showed His power over him by hardening him. "So then," Paul concludes, "He hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will He hardeneth" (v.18). Anyone who forms thoughts about God with himself as the centre and starting-point, inevitably forms a god in his own image. Questions as to whether God is righteous or as to whether we fatalistically despair because everything if foreordained anyway, reveal that the questioner is self-centred and is forming his own ideas about God.

Paul is thinking and speaking in Christ, that is, with God as centre and starting-point, and therefore his thoughts and words are the complete opposite of those of fallen man. When we [51/52] reason naturally; we say: God's sovereign freedom to be merciful and to harden, according to His will, is nothing less than a mechanical determinism which cancels out all human responsibility: "Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will" That kind of 'logic' only arises when you think apart from God, basing your standards on your own world of ideas. This is quite unrealistic for the man who is "in God". There is no contradiction between God's sovereign choices and man's personal responsibility. God is absolutely free: no one and nothing can limit His freedom. At the same time man is a created being who must give an account to God as being responsible to Him. This applies both to Esau and to Pharaoh, and to all others to whom God did not show mercy.

It is not therefore true that we are faced with the alternative that either it is God who foreordains everything and man has no responsibility, or man has a responsibility and therefore God's choice is limited or conditional. On the contrary, we are faced with what our minds cannot grasp, namely, that God's sovereign foreordaining and each man's personal responsibility are both valid. This applies to Pharaoh. We must be careful not to try to make a synthesis between the two incompatible contrasts. Any attempt to weigh man's responsibility against God's foreordaining, or to limit man's part in his responsibility to God, leads away from revelation to philosophy.. Such a downward move into the area of philosophy inevitably involves our making God the object of our analysis, and so ceasing to stand in awe of His majesty and rather creating a god in our own image, an idol. "O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" How dare you try to arraign God before a court of human ideas of justice! Perhaps a good motto for this section would be: "My thoughts are not your thoughts ... as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are ... my thoughts higher than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Paul reveals God's thoughts without trying to adapt them to our reasoning, for they cannot be so adapted. The doctrine of God's liberty to show mercy or to harden are a part of God's revelation of Himself. This is what our God is like! This is how He acts! He is majestically at the centre of His universe, and He alone decides everything. Our salvation has its spring in His eternal counsel and was decided even before we had done anything good or bad, indeed before we were born. It rests in God alone.

So we see that the doctrine of predestination excludes any idea that the saved person ultimately has earned his salvation, and is essential for the preservation of the freedom of God's grace. If we weaken it, then we weaken the free grace of God and we rob the gospel of its power. We even risk placing man in the central place, which belongs only to God. This goes beyond all human reasoning, nor is there any room for it within the bound of human ideas as to what is right. This ought not to surprise us, for that which is divine hardly ever corresponds to our conceptions. God makes no attempt to give an explanation just to satisfy us. He is and remains the God who dwells in inaccessible light.

We have got to be content with the fact that as the clay has not control of the potter, nor have we control over God. The clay has no right at all to ask the potter what he is doing with it. If this comparison stood alone, it might create the misconception that God is an indescriminate tyrant. Paul does not let it stand alone, but continues by saying: "What if God, although he would show his wrath and make known his mercy, yet in much long-suffering has borne with vessels of wrath, fully prepared unto destruction" (vv.22 and 23 Danish). Here it is revealed that, in showing mercy and hardening, He is no sadistic despot, but one who suffers long over the vessels of wrath. He suffers long because His object has been to lead them to repentance (2:4), and even when this does not occur His rejection achieves something positive, an unimaginable glory for Himself, as we shall find expanded more fully in chapter 11.

In verse 17 it is clearly stated that God's purpose in hardening Pharaoh was partly to show His own power in his case, and partly that His name might be glorified in all the earth. Thus Pharaoh was compelled to serve God's plans, even while he did everything he could to thwart them. He was fitted unto destruction, yet God showed him much long-suffering (think of the nine plagues); this gave him the opportunity to change his mind, and his refusal to do so gave God the chance to show the glory of His mercy in the case of His chosen people. Pharaoh existed, then, not to forward his own purposes, but God's; and God's purpose was a mighty salvation which should be proclaimed in all the earth. [52/53]

The people of Israel have become vessels of wrath, fitted unto destruction. God has shown them much long-suffering, giving them the opportunity to repent and using their rejection to make known the riches of His mercy upon vessels of mercy which He afore prepared unto glory, that is the Church called from both Jews and Gentiles (v.24). Israel's rejection has thus served God's positive objective of bringing salvation to the nations.

Paul now returns to the decisive question as to whether God has really kept His promises. Far from those promises being contradicted by the rejection of Israel as a nation and salvation coming to the Gentiles, they are confirmed and agree perfectly with what God has said through His prophets. Firstly Paul quotes Hosea. At first glance this prophecy does not seem to promise the Gentiles anything, for it is addressed to the people of Israel, and might have seemed to suit better a position after 11:26. Nevertheless it is used here as a promise to all who can be included in the true Israel. The saved Gentiles were not God's people before, but now they have become so by faith in Christ. The apostle then quotes Isaiah: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved" (Isaiah 10:22). That was what God had said. It had been fulfilled. A remnant of Israel, Paul among them, had been saved. So God had kept His promise.

The remnant had been saved by the grace of God alone. The remnant has nothing to boast of, but the word of God has been fulfilled and the proof given that God never fails to keep His promises. In this way we have found confirmation of the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This is due solely to God's grace. For this reason Paul closes this part of his argument with one more quotation from Isaiah: "Except the Lord ...". He has not failed. Everything has happened as He said it would. We can safely trust His promises.

(To be continued)


Arthur E. Gove


Reading: Leviticus 5:1-10; 6:1-7

WE now come to the last of the five offerings. The first sweet savour offerings spoke of the preciousness to God of the death and life of His Son; the Peace Offering pointed out how God and man can share the satisfaction of Christ's sacrifice; and now the last two speak of the perfection of the work of the cross to put away sin. The Sin Offering suggested how He dealt with our evil nature, there being no mention of special sins but rather of people -- the priest, the congregation, the ruler and the common people. The final Trespass Offering, as our scripture readings suggest, is occupied with specific sins. As we have already said, although this is last in the divine order of institution, this provision for our wrong and sinful actions is the first in sinful man's consciousness. We first come to God through Christ when we know how we need forgiveness of our sins.

In broad principle this is similar to the Sin Offering, but it will be helpful to note both the comparisons and the contrasts. Like the Sin Offering, it was not a sweet savour to satisfy His heart but an atonement to satisfy His just requirements. It reminds us of how Christ suffered for our sins. Moreover it concerns trespass against God as well as trespass against man. The wrongs done to others must be provided for, but we are told that dealing falsely with a neighbour is also to commit a trespass against the Lord (6:2). "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned", cried David, though he had done this by grievously wronging Uriah (Psalm 51:4); while the confession of the prodigal to his father clearly acknowledged this truth by saying. "I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight" (Luke 15:21).

Every wrong act of ours is an offence against God -- hence the need for the Trespass Offering. Now it is true that God can forgive all manner of sin, but at the same time it is also true that He is "of purer eyes than to behold iniquity" (Habakkuk 1:13). It is impossible for Him to disregard or pass over the smallest sin, for to do [53/54] that would deny the perfection of His holiness. By the full provision of the cross, however, every least detail of man's sinfulness is provided for by a holy God. His grace is also perfect, and His grace gives the Trespass Offering to assure the sinner of forgiveness.

So it is that the righteous can give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness (Psalm 97:12). The non-Christian cannot rejoice at God's holiness; he would rather wish to ignore the subject. He may seek to console himself with thoughts of God's love or mercy, but he can find no comfort in the realisation that God is holy. The Christian, however, can and does rejoice, because he sees that there is the full expression of God's holiness in the cross. As Mr. Alec Motyer writes: 'God fulfils His total nature in the redemption of His people. Forgiveness is God's ability to deal with the offence and take it away'.

As in the Sin Offering, mention is again made of "ignorance", but this is only in connection with "holy things" (5:15). We cannot claim to be ignorant when we lie to someone or act in some unseemly way to a neighbour. It is indeed a fact that our natural conscience recognises the claims of fellow men more readily than God's standards in holy things. Our actions to other people are usually plain and deliberate and we know when we have done wrong. In the sanctuary, however, our consciences cannot be the regulator; in holy things we may offend unwittingly. Nevertheless we need the Trespass Offering just as much, for God's holiness and not our awareness is the standard when His rights are in question. On behalf of God's people the prophet Malachi posed questions in this very connection. "Wherein have we polluted the table of the Lord? Wherein have we wearied him? Wherein have we robbed thee?" they asked, apparently unaware of their shortcomings. The truth is that we fall short even in our prayer, praise and worship.

The holiest hours we spend

  In prayer upon our knees,

The times when most we deem

  Our songs of praise will please,

Thou Searcher of all hearts,

  Forgiveness pour on these.

How precious and how blessed it is to know that the blood of Christ answers for these as well as for our more conscious trespasses! As we come to God by way of the cross we find the absolute perfection of provision for every offence and every shortcoming.

THIS offering not only gave men a sense of their sins but also a deeper understanding of divine grace. The appointed offering was a lamb or a goat, but if the sinner's means were not sufficient for such an animal he was allowed to bring two doves or pigeons. He was not excluded from the full benefits of forgiveness because he could not afford a lamb. Of course if he could afford a lamb and only brought doves, then he would be guilty of a lack of appreciation both of the sinfulness of sin and the greatness of divine grace. There would be some who could not even manage the doves, and for such it was ordained: "If his means suffice not for two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he shall bring his oblation for that wherein he hath sinned, the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour ..." (5:11). We should note that the right of access to God was not created by the value of the offering, but by a gift in relation to the man's means. People's capacities might vary but the supreme and constant factor was the grace of God in providing for all.

THE one distinctive feature of this offering was that it dealt with sins which required restitution. This applied to trespasses against the Lord (5:16) and also to trespasses against man (6:5). Not only was restitution to be made, but one fifth was to be added in both cases. This meant that the injured party, whether the Lord or the fellow man, had his loss more than remedied. This is a very practical reminder that even mere restitution is not enough to put right the matter in which there have been wrongs. But it is also a blessed foreshadowing of how both God and man have gained more by redemption than ever was lost by the Fall. From His creation the Lord will receive a far richer harvest of glory, honour and praise than could have been if sin had never marred it and redemption restored it. None of the rulers of this world understood this, for if they had done, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). By His great Trespass Offering Christ has restored to the Father more than ever He lost by reason of man's sin.

But man has also gained. We who have been injured by sin and who have suffered great loss because of it, now find that the riches of God's grace are available to us without limit. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound", so that from the cross there now comes to the [54/55] pardoned sinner the assurance: "All things are yours" (1 Corinthians 3:21). Outside of Christ, the Father has nothing to give; but outside of Christ, there is nothing that the true Christian desires. In the Trespass Offering one fifth was added; in our salvation grace was multiplied.

It is significant, though, to observe the reversed order of sacrifice and restitution in the two cases. When the sin was against the Lord, the offerer had to bring the blood of the sacrifice first, and then offer the restitution (5:15-16). When a trespass was against a fellow man, however, the sinner was commanded first to make restitution and then to bring his offering to the Lord. This is very important and emphasises the fact that any offence against another man is spoken of as being "a trespass against the Lord" (6:2). It follows, therefore, that such a wrong interferes with my communion with the Lord, and makes it imperative for me to put that right with the one wronged before I seek to resume fellowship with God. This does not mean that putting things right with another puts me right with God. I still need the Trespass Offering. But it does mean that it is vain to bring that offering unless I have first righted the wrong done to man. As the Lord Jesus Himself said: "Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matthew 5:24). Getting right with God does not excuse us from putting things right on the human plane. Far from it! "First" is the divine priority both of the Trespass Offering and of the Sermon on the Mount, and then when that restitution has been made, the offender can know in a new way the sweetness of fellowship with God.

SO this Trespass Offering points anew to that great work of redemption and restitution performed by the Saviour on the cross. If we had to try to make our restitution first before we could come to God we would be eternally lost, for a lifetime of good works would never atone for one single trespass. In the matter of restitution to God, the order is sacrifice first, and indeed Christ has provided both the offering and the restitution for all our sinfulness and our every sin. As He said on the cross: "It is finished!"

So we have now completed our consideration of Christ's redeeming work as set forth in the offerings. No one of these could portray the whole truth, so we are given all five of them in order to impress us with the absolute sufficiency of Christ's work on the cross to meet every need of a holy God and of sinful man. Surely our response must be to echo the apostle's exclamation: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen" (Romans 11:33 & 36).



Harry Foster


"Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end"
Psalm 119:33

A PILGRIM who is not persistent is not worthy of the name. Two words constantly recur in this man's prayer; they are translated "keep" and "observe". They reveal the pilgrim's awareness of the need to keep on. The final test for every Christian is not to "mount up with wings as eagles", nor even to "run and not be weary", but simply to "walk and not faint". At the end of this very long psalm the traveller has not yet arrived, but he still shows no signs of giving up. His feet are steady.

He makes no claim to outstanding strength of his own. At times he has to confess that he can hardly keep going. He collapses: "My soul cleaveth unto the dust, quicken thou me according to thy word" (25). He is ready to drop: "My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according to thy word" (28). His eyes stray in wrong directions: "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in thy ways" (37). He fears and loses heart: "My soul fainteth for thy salvation" (81) "My flesh trembleth ..." [55/56] (120). He is all too conscious of his own inadequacy: "I am small and despised" (141) and of his tendency to wander from the path: "I have gone astray like a lost sheep" (176). In spite of all this, though, he still presses on, and he makes no secret of the fact that it is the Word of God which keeps him going: "Unless thy law had been my delight, I should then have perished in my affliction " (92).

In addition to this, his path is beset by those who are determined to hinder his progress. They use psychological weapons, "reproach and contempt" (22); "Princes also sat and talked against me" (23); "The proud have me greatly in derision" (51). They try to trip him up: "they have overthrown me with falsehood" (78); "the proud have digged pits for me" (85); "The wicked have laid a snare for me" (110). They exert evil pressure to deter his progress: "The cords of the wicked have wrapped me round" (61); "Redeem me from the oppression of man" (134). His own inadequacy is complicated by all this opposition.

Is the spiritual pilgrimage really like this? It may all sound a little fanciful or morbid to those who have not seriously embarked on the business of such a journey. Every devoted follower of Christ will, however, recognise only too well the reminders of what a fight it is to keep steady feet in the way of holiness. "Fightings without and fears within" was how the apostolic traveller described his own pilgrimage (2 Corinthians 7:5), and his words give a graphic portrayal of every believer's walk with God. It was Paul who indicated the only suitable weapon for such a conflict -- "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Ephesians 6:17). Certainly this psalmist put all his confidence in the same divine weapon. Almost every mention of inward flutterings or outward threats is accompanied by a new grip on the hilt of this spiritual sword.

He is far from boastful. Indeed he humbly appeals again and again for the comfort, the lifting up or the sustaining which he calls "quickening". No, he is not brash, but nor is he apologetic. Far from it, one gets the impression that he has real zest for this conflict: "My zeal hath consumed me, because mine adversaries have forgotten thy words (139), and in one outstanding claim, he points us to the worthwhileness of being involved in the battles of the Lord: "I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil" (162). This idea of "spoil" is somewhat foreign to our modern procedures, but the Bible accounts of battles usually make reference to it, for good or ill. If we substitute the word "reward", some of our contemporary philosophers will probably greet it with a supercilious sniff. Well, whatever may be said about such things in the material realm there is no doubt that in the spiritual, battles are fought for treasures to be lost or won. The pilgrim was able to look back on some of those grim struggles of his past and affirm that he was a much richer man because of them. "Great spoil!" New treasures from God's Word are worth more than all the gold in the world.

It may be objected that my metaphors are getting mixed. I spoke of God's Word as a weapon and now I suggest that it is rich in spoil. No, not mixed metaphors, but spiritual realities. When we get involved, as this man did, with problems and threats to faith, we can only emerge victorious from our conflicts by fresh recourse to God's Word. We must learn from it and we must give wholehearted obedience to it. It is our sword. As we do so, however, and get the victory, we realise that we have discovered new wealth and new life in God's Word. We thought that we knew it well enough, but our need drove us to it in a new way, and we emerge with hearts that are not only grateful for survival but enriched with new treasures. We have found "spoil".

The way is not all battle. The pilgrim walks happily along, enjoying among other delights the honey which he collects from the nests of wild bees. Even as he enjoys it, though, he sings of an even greater delicacy: "How sweet are thy words to my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (103). And in spite of all the jeers and alarms, he has a most extraordinary tranquillity in his spirit. Listen to him: "Great peace have they which love thy law; and they shall have none occasion of stumbling" (165). This is a New Testament blessing enjoyed by an Old Testament saint -- "The peace of God which passeth all understanding". It is quite striking to reach almost the end of such an account of tough journeying, to find the pilgrim assuring us that if we have been worrying about him and the problem of keeping his feet steady to the end, he himself knows no such strain. No, he is enjoying "great peace" -- heaven's own peace -- even here in this troubled world. We are meant to do the same. We must battle on. We must pray without ceasing. We must plod forward. But we [56/57] can do all this with indescribable joy and peace in our hearts provided that we continue to set our love on the law of the Lord. There is no occasion of stumbling and no unhappy tension of mind for those who do that.

My final remarks in this series must be to call attention to the extraordinary last verse of this long psalm: "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments" (176). Our natural reasoning would have suggested beginning the story with this kind of allusion to straying like sheep and then proceeding to show how experience and obedience to the Word had freed the pilgrim from such sheep-like weaknesses and matured him into a saint, incapable of straying. This inspired psalmist is much more true to real life, faithfully reminding us that the most mature pilgrim is as capable as ever of wandering from the path. Perhaps it is something of a warning to those of us who are near to the end of our earthly pilgrimage. When human will power weakens and when the human mind is less reliable, then we need the Shepherd more than ever.

Thank God that we have Him. Another psalm affirms: "He will be our guide, even unto death" (Psalm 48:14). Thank God, too, if in our earlier life we have laid up God's Word in our heart, for then, right at the very end, our final claim will be: "I do not forget thy commandments". This is literally true. As one who has often visited death-beds I can testify that the feeblest pilgrims can usually be quickened into response by some quoting of the Scriptures. As vitality wanes and when all else is forgotten, they clearly remember God's Word. I was once with a dying old lady who seemed to have lost touch with the conscious world of time and sense. As she was Scottish I ventured in her case to use the metrical version of the 23rd Psalm -- "The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want ...". Although she was past all normal conversations, she took this up and -- to my discomforture -- left me floundering when I disremembered subsequent verses. I stumbled with my words while she stoutly whispered on:

"My table Thou hast furnished

  In presence of my foes;

My head Thou dost with oil anoint,

  And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy, all my life

  Shall surely follow me;

And in God's house for evermore

  My dwelling place shall be".

Like the psalmist, she was a pilgrim whose feet the Word of God kept steady right to the end. Nothing more remains for me to say than to add our "Amen"! "Thy word is well tried; therefore thy servant loveth it" (140).



Roger T. Forster

I WONDER if you have ever invaded the shrine of a modern scientific laboratory? It is most inspiring to see the mysterious signs, symbols and sacred utensils, untouchable of course, and to be initiated into the deep secrets of science by a white-coated priest. You may ask innumerable questions concerning the complex knowledge which promises to give enlightenment to all its devotees; about the ultimate meaning of all things.

Why does the computer whirr, buzz and flash lights? Why does this atom react when bombarded by particles? Why does the genetic code change when an ovum is fertilized under certain conditions? Satisfactory answers explain all things. Every effect about which we ask has a cause by which our priestly scientists can answer our question 'why'.

Noticing a piece of equipment in a corner, namely an old battered kettle, steaming away over a bunsen burner, you ask 'And why is that kettle boiling?' To which you receive the illuminating reply, 'Gas and air are mixing together and combustion is taking place. Energy is released in the form of heat which is transferred to the water causing its molecules to move faster as the temperature rises. At a crucial point, 100 degree centigrade to be exact, a change of state occurs and the resulting steam requiring more room, pushes the lid off the kettle and so the kettle is boiling'.

'Oh', you reply. 'I only wanted to know why the kettle is boiling'.

Encouraged by the response, our scientific tour guide waxes into a fascinating description of the [57/58] technological processes by which the gas was converted from the chance collocations of chemicals which we call coal and so conveyed to the laboratory. 'Furthermore', he continues, 'The coal was extracted from the earth after some vast diluvian forest had sunk into its carboniferous coffin some thousand of centuries ago'. 'Well, you did want to know why the kettle was boiling, didn't you?'

Feeling that your lecture, like its contents, had left you a little dry, you turn to the brown-overalled individual who is standing in the corner of the laboratory, leaning on a broom. You ask him: 'Can you tell me why the kettle is boiling?' 'Of course, mate', he replies. 'I want a cup of tea don't I?'

This is an equally good answer, if you happen to be thirsty, but it is not the answer of 'why', meaning how does it work, what cause brought about such an effect? It is the meaning of the 'why' of purpose, which science cannot tell us since it is outside its province and technique. Only the person who put the kettle on to boil can tell why he did so. Therefore, only God can tell us for what He made the universe and why we are in it. This is revelation not investigation.

Now, says Paul, God has done this: "The eternal purpose which he realized in Christ our Lord" (Eph. 3:11). The eternal purpose, God's purpose for the creation, is found in Christ. When we come to Christ and own His Lordship, we intuitively know we have found the answer but often we are unable to explain immediately what we sense inside ourselves. We know Christ is the eternal answer for we are aware that our hearts, into which He has placed eternity (Ecc. 3:11), are now completed. Therefore we know it is His answer, for we are aware we have arrived in Christ. We know it is His purpose, for we are conscious of direction for the first time, but it takes a life time to verbalise totally its content.

The whole Ephesian epistle can be understood as describing this purpose of God and we can note it in seven ways.

Chapter 1:4-5 Sonship, developing his family character

The word translated "purpose" (v.5) is made up from two Greek words, namely beautiful and thought. God's beautiful thought was also His greatest ever, for when contemplating for what purpose man was to be made He did not decide, 'I'll make him to be a psychedelic angel', though maybe you know some humans who are, neither did He major on constructing a supersonic beast, although you may be aware of such who fall into that category. God's greatest and beautiful thought was to destine beforehand (pre-destine) man to be conformed to the image of His Son. That is to bear ultimately God's own character.

The highest end that any creature could have, the highest satisfaction any living being could know is to give God Himself pleasure, as does a son to a father just by being his son. The greatest pleasure that could ever be received is to give pleasure to the highest, (Psalm 149:4), that is God. Everyday we give our Father our presence and our voice, ("Let me see your face, let me hear your voice" Song of Solomon 2:14), we are fulfilling the eternal purpose. Every Jesus-action moulding our character by His life within, draws out the Father's admiration till 'That's my boy' sounds around our being, as it did on Jesus' baptismal day, "This is my beloved Son". It was because it was such a great thing which sin destroyed, namely the Father and Son relationship, that such a great thing was required to treat sin seriously and restore that relationship again. The obedient death of His Son was the price.

Chapter 1:23 Fulness, to express the infinite personality of God

While Jesus was here on earth we saw expressed in a human body "The fulness of the Godhead" (Col. 2:9). There was nothing missing in this revelation of the Godhead, but its mode of expression was restricted to a young, male, Jewish, first-century dimension. Now Christ dwells in the body of His church. Christ is now experienced in male and female bodies, in young and old people, in grey hair and wrinkled faces, in white, black, yellow and brown skins, not only olive skins from the Mediterranean basin. In rice fields and factories the fullness of the personality of our God may now be seen. No wonder we get excited about seeing each other, for we then see something of the beauty of our Lord, even if it is yet imperfect it is still God's purpose, continuing for eternity.

Chapter 2:10 Workmanship, God's poem to express His soul's beauty

The third aspect of the purpose of our creation is that we should be God's workmanship. Any work for a Greek tended to be a work of art and indeed this Greek word for workmanship sounds like 'poem'. That the human race should express God's beauty was the original intention. Sin permeates our actions and relationships with so [58/59] much ugliness, indeed, our very 'rightness' is often repellant and our 'goodness' unattractive. Holiness is beautiful in the Bible (c.f. Psalm 29:2), not cold and austere like the snow-capped tops of the Swiss Alps, but rather colourful, as are their lower valleys in Spring, rich in golden sun and full of fruit, and the sounds of bells, like the holy garments of the High priests said to be of beauty and glory since they were festooned with gold, full of colours and carrying fruit and bells on the fringe of their robes. Crowning all was the inscription, "Holiness to the Lord" (Ex. 28:36). God's view of holiness is that it is beautiful as when a good thing is done finely and a right action has more to it than being right. In front of me on my desk is a home-made card with a hand-made drawing of a cross, and match-stick men together with a verse. It came with a small gift of money. It took time, thought and care worth more than the money, the money was necessary, the card was not but made the necessary gift beautiful. I remember a friend taking off the wrapper of some chocolate he had been given and finding a bank note slipped under the paper just at the moment he needed it for his fare. That was beautiful giving and made a poem out of the prosaic.

Chapter 2:21-22 Temple, to express God's presence

God has always wanted to be at home with man. When He walked with Adam in the garden I'm sure they spoke of building a home for God; in fact of making the garden of Eden into a garden-city. At any rate this is what appears in Revelation at the end of the age, where also it says that God's tabernacle is with men. Already this intention of God is recovered in the church where God's Spirit makes His presence intensely known. If you look my home and see footprints on the mantelpiece and coffee cups under the chairs you get an impression of what sort of person lives there. So when people come to God's home, the people of God, they get impressions of what God is like. But there is more to it than this. God's home is also a temple, a place where he is worshipped. The Lord is "enthroned upon the praises of Israel". As we worship the Lord His presence is revealed and intensified. A home is a place for love -- so is a temple, for worship is simply making love to the Almighty. If I tell my wife she is the most beautiful girl in the world; in one sense I don't need to say it, she knows already as I've told her so many times before. So it is with God as I love Him, I tell Him all He knows already. He is great, He is like Jesus; He washes feet, He gives friendship to fishermen; He says, "Forgive, they know not what they do". So God is there, we bow in the presence of His majesty, we don't know if we are in heaven or on earth and it hardly matters, for we shall worship and love Him for ever in the new heaven and the new earth.

Chapter 3:10-11 Instruction, to express the many-coloured wisdom of God

God's wisdom is manifold, many coloured we could say, variegated as some packets of seeds are described and surprise us when, having been planted all the same size and colour they come up with a profusion of shapes and colours. So another aspect of God's purpose, conceived in eternity and realized in time through His Son, is to reveal through us His wisdom, what and how He thinks, what His judgements and discernments are. Consequently sometimes God is doing something in me which I don't understand, it's too big to totally grasp. The prophets experienced this in their preaching and writing, said Peter. They didn't fully understand what they prophesied even though they inquired into it. However, they found that they were not serving themselves but later generations, 1 Peter 1:10-12. So God's wisdom exercised in our words and actions may well be beyond our own grasp. Hosea must have felt confused when his wife whom God had told him to marry played the adulteress, left him with three children of which certainly at least the third, whom he called "Not my people", was not his son. Nevertheless, I can see him sitting lonely at home saying to himself, "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28) -- or at least the Old Testament equivalent to that effect! One day God tells him to go to the slave market and buy back his wife who was being sold off at a half price. He does so and loves her back into a real woman. Then God says go and tell My people that they have treated Me like your wife treated you. You are just the man, in fact, the only one who can preach it because you are the message in yourself. When Christ returns and takes up His peculiar possession, amongst them Hosea, and calls them His jewels, Mal. 3:17 (A. V.), He will get special and unique pleasure out of each separate colour and shape according to the specific wisdom each of our lives has [59/60] expressed and will forever express. There will be many-coloured jewels representing this many-coloured wisdom (Rev. 21:19-20).

Chapter 4:16 Body, to express God's action

John Wesley said, 'God does nothing but by prayer'. In other words it's a co-operative, this kingdom business! Paul says we are co-workers. We are Christ's body for the extension of His mission and activity in the world. Even if on Christ's return the body disappears and becomes the final analogy which we have in Eph. 5, that is the bride, we will still be the vehicle for God's activity in the eternal ages. Even in the age to come Christ will be glorified in the saints and marvelled at in all who have believed (2 Thess. 1:10). So the truth contained in the picture of a body is still an aspect of God's eternal intention. What adventure does He wish to accomplish through you? Keep two thousand children alive by air and prayer like George Muller? Legislate for forty years for the freedom of the slaves as did Wilberforce? Run labour exchanges, orphanages, write educational and spiritual books, found schools and above all that, evangelize Great Britain as no one before or since, as did John Wesley? Sing songs to God accompanied by strings as did David and thousands of modern day counterparts? What is the adventure God will do through you as His body? And what a way He does it! Through the flow of love through the different parts of His people, parts perhaps even unknown to each other working together and demonstrating that He is at work over and above it all! I love the encouragement Paul gives us to expect to be able to work together when he says we are knit together. Knitting is just lots of holes held together by wool. Christ the wool flows between us as we see ourselves as nothing more than holes, so there is not much there then except what is of Christ. Well, we never were very much anyway! This is the best way to experience the body-life.

Chapter 5:25-27 Bride, to receive and respond to God's love

God is love and man's greatest faculty as a gift from that God is to be able to love. Above all, to love Him and enjoy being loved by Him. This will go on forever. Love is the biggest time waster there has ever been so we will need eternity for it. We just share in each other, exchange with each other, soak in each other, knowing, communing and living. Contemplating the beatific vision of Christ in His glory and being lost in the atonement. Not as eastern mysticism, which loses self-consciousness, as when a drop of water falls into the ocean and absorbs the ocean into itself and the ocean absorbs the drop: but rather, as when the husband and wife are one flesh, yet never more distinctly two and conscious of that fact in loving. Old-age wrinkles are going, adolescent spots are vanishing, there'll be a bride of beauty for His soon-coming wedding. 'Come Lord quickly, we want to be at the wedding!' Strange bride who has to be dragged to the altar! Stranger bridegroom who would drag her unwilling to the same! Certainly Jesus won't, but waits for our cry of anticipation, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly" (Rev. 22:20). He waits for our holy kingdom living which hastens the day of the kingdom (2 Peter 3:12), and looks for our obedience to preach the gospel to all the world and then shall the end come (Matt. 24:14).

God's last word for our eternity is Eph. 1:9-10. He will head up together again (Greek) all things in Christ. Neither now nor then are we here for ourselves -- thank God, but for his Son. Despite the wonderful seven-fold intention of His eternal purpose planned for us, as seen above, God thankfully saves us from ourselves and says -- and all that and eternity too is for Jesus My Son!

(Originally printed in "FULNESS" magazine) [60/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


"(not from men, neither through man, but through Jesus Christ,
and God the Father, who raised him from the dead
Galatians 1:1

THERE is no element of surprise in this opening parenthesis. All lovers of God's Word agree that Paul's apostleship was not conferred upon him by men -- not even by the Twelve -- and that its origin was divine. It was neither by men nor was it of men. We know that the only human being involved was the simple brother, Ananias of Damascus, who acted as a direct agent of Jesus Christ after the Lord had already had a personal encounter with His new apostle and taken command of his life.

FURTHERMORE, we are all aware that Paul's conversion was based on the reality of Christ's resurrection. There was no need to inform Saul of Tarsus that Jesus had died under the curse of God; he knew that all right. Perhaps Isaiah's words were peculiarly fitting to this Israelite who certainly considered that Jesus had been stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. What he could not understand was the atoning nature of the shameful cross, so that he had to meet the risen Lord for himself before this truth could dawn upon him. Only the resurrection could lead to the discovery that "he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities ..." (Isaiah 53:5). There is a sense in which this is true of every believer. We are saved by the cross, but we can only be led into salvation by the risen Lord Himself. In Paul's case, however, the Lord had not only provided him with salvation but commissioned him as a special apostle to the nations. So Paul opens his letter with this claim, and this is the special point of this parenthesis. He addresses this letter to the Galatians and to us with all the authority of this divine ordination.

NONE of this is new to us. What is surprising, however, is the rest of Paul's sentence after the parenthesis: "Paul, an apostle ... and all the brethren which are with me". He claimed no isolated eminence. He did not allow his special calling to separate him from any of his companions -- all of them. Although he would yield to no man as to his divine status, he was very careful to keep himself in active fellowship with his companions in the gospel. The whole of Paul's story shows how he always avoided isolation from his brothers, and how carefully he practised what he preached about mutual interdependence in the body of Christ.

IT is sadly possible for a servant of the Lord to neglect this most important factor in spiritual ministry. A man may rightly claim to have been personally set apart for God's service. Paul certainly sustained that claim, as our present parenthesis emphasises. At his peril, however, such a man stands aloof from the fellow Christians with whom God in His sovereignty has associated him. "Paul ... and all the brethren which are with me" is the basis of true spiritual ministry.

IN this matter a wife is no substitute: hers is a different function. Only to have younger disciples or assistants is equally insufficient: they, in a sense, are under orders. A man needs more than this. He needs others of spiritual substance to provide him with balance; not to ordain or govern him but to protect him from becoming a free-lance when he should be a related member of Christ's body.

PERHAPS this letter is one in which the apostle most emphasises his personal spiritual authority. His apostleship is not from men neither through a man. The more remarkable, then, that the letter is said to come from Paul and all the brothers with him. This parenthesis should therefore not be detached from its context. All who take Paul in any way as their example should not only read the parenthesis but be sure also to note the importance of the introduction as a whole. In the next parenthesis we shall find him insisting that God does not accept any man's person (Galatians 2:6) but nowhere shall we ever find Paul suggesting that practical fellowship is unimportant.


[Back cover]

1 John 2:28

Printed by The Invil Press, 4/5 Brownlow Mews, London WC1N 2LD -- Telephone: 01-242 7454


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