"... 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. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1979 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Editorial 101
Worthy Of The Gospel 102
Faith Has No Back Door 105
Don't Be Offended! 109
Songs Of Praise (1) 112
Let Us Go On 116
Chapter By Chapter Through Romans (20) 118
Inspired Parentheses (22) ibc



THOSE of us who live in freedom and comfort often feel quite powerless to help our brothers and sisters who are imprisoned for their faith. We are far from powerless -- we can pray! I have just had further evidence of how much we can do by our prayers as I have listened to the glowing testimony of a friend who has now been released after spending months in a foreign jail for Christ's sake. I will call him 'Christian'.

He rightly shrinks from publicity, but he is glad to magnify the name of our prayer-answering God, so he has given me permission to share with you one experience, out of the many with which the Lord blessed him and others in prison. As he so truly says, the most precious thing for any believer after the personal presence of the Lord, is to have His Word. Christian had to pass many weeks with no reading matter of any kind and he sorely missed his Bible.

After those weeks of interrogation in loneliness and under great pressure, he was taken with other Christians to a regular prison and found himself among a group of those who were foreign to the land, who were put in a cell together. There were eight of them in that cell, a Swiss, an Indian, a German, a Frenchman, three Egyptians and a Briton, Christian himself. Conditions were more reasonable and what is more, all the eight were believers. After having been alone or among unbelievers for so long, he was able to appreciate in an altogether new way the blessings of Christian fellowship. It is a pity that some of us who are at liberty make so little effort to practise such fellowship!

What was best of all -- they now had a Bible. Two days before the transfer from the interrogation centre, a soldier had come to the Swiss member of the group and, without a word, had handed him an English Bible. In fact it had come from the Swiss Embassy, but for him it was as though it had come straight from heaven. When he was taken to the regular prison and put in the cell with the other seven, he was able to inform them that at last he had a copy of God's Word. This filled them with joy; but soon difficulties arose. He could read English, but all his personal effects, including his spectacles, had been taken from him, and he could not read without them. Christian had also been deprived of his spectacles, and he could not read the print without them. So for the moment it seemed that after all the Bible might be useless in their case.

However the German brother was a younger man who needed no glasses. True that he knew very little English, and could only stumble through words without understanding or proper pronunciation. Nevertheless they got to work. First the German read a short passage. He read it very badly, but Christian knew enough of the Word to grasp what it said. He explained it in English to the Indian and the Swiss. The Swiss brother spoke German, so he was able to enlighten the German youth as to the words which he had read without understanding them. He also spoke French, so he then passed on God's Word to the Frenchman. Happily this French brother spoke Arabic fluently, so that he could convey the message to the Egyptians. So it was that each was able to listen daily to God's voice, speaking to him in his own language.

Were there ever such complicated, and yet glorious Bible Readings? It must have been slow work, but they had plenty of time. God's Word became increasingly precious to them as they shared it together in their various tongues. Like the psalmist, they could say: "I rejoice in thy word as one that findeth great spoil" (Psalm 119:162). By a miracle of timing, on the very day when they were told that at last they were being brought to trial, the Psalm for the day read: "Let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice, let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them ..." (Psalm 5:11).

God answered prayer for Christian in a miraculous way and at last, after many further delays, he was freed. We know that a few others have also now been released. As we rejoice at the way in which God has worked for them, we ought to remember those who remain prisoners, whether they be foreigners or those who are national to that land, who are where they are only for the sake of the Name. We must take very seriously the ministry of intercession for Christ's suffering saints. [101/102]



J. Alec Motyer

"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel"
Philippians 1:27

ONLY! It is impossible to over-emphasise that word. In my long-suffering Bible I have underlined it and then written over the letters in ink so that they stand out on the page. Whenever I read that verse the word "ONLY" presents its challenge, as though the Lord were saying to me: "This is all you have to worry about; this is the one supreme thing which I require of you; only this and nothing else -- a life worthy of the gospel".

Paul has been saying that he does not know what circumstances his dear Philippian friends are going to face. He has every reason to believe that he will come back and be with them, but he cannot be absolutely certain since the alternatives of life and death lie before him, as they do before us all. He says: "I don't really know. I'm almost certain that I will be back, but none of us can foresee what changes may come. You may have my companionship, and you may not. You may have me among you again as your teacher, but you may not. The Christian life is full of variables".

There are many fluctuations in the experience and circumstances of a Christian, but here is one thing that must be fixed and immoveable. Paul's appeal is made on the basis of "whether I come and see you or be absent" (v.27), but it calls for one thing to be put down in the Philippians' minds as fixed and never to be lost sight of, that their manner of life should be worthy of the gospel. Through his words the Lord urges this priority on us all. With His "only this" ringing in our ears we should say: Come what may we don't know what today may hold and we cannot foresee what will happen tomorrow, but we seek God's help always to maintain a life that is worthy of the gospel of Christ.

1. A Life That Knows the Gospel

In this letter Paul tells us a few things about that worthy life, and I will try to sketch them out for you. First of all, the life that is worthy of the gospel is a life that knows the gospel and grows out of the gospel with its revelation of God Himself. This is clearly suggested in the opening verse of the second chapter: "If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, any constraint of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any tender mercy and compassion, fulfil ye my joy" (2:1). He there represents the life of the Christian as growing out from some basic realities. He speaks about exhortation in Christ. What does he mean? He means that if you are in Christ, that very fact surely exercises an exhortation, calling you out in a certain direction. "If there is any constraint of love" -- if you know the love that God has for you, that must exercise a constraint upon you, pressing your life into a certain pattern or direction. "If there is any fellowship of the Spirit" -- if the Holy Spirit has brought you into fellowship with God and with one another, then that must put pressure on you to a certain way of life. This is his argument for a life worthy of the gospel.

We are all familiar with the sequence: Christ, Love, the Fellowship of the Spirit. It is found in the blessing: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit ..." (2 Corinthians 13:14), and serves as a reminder of the very great truth that the gospel is not about a vague God but about the Triune God, the Son, the Father and the Spirit. The gospel is only truly known by those who have this experience of God, who have come to Him by Jesus Christ, the living way, and been born of His Spirit, and by Christ alone have entered into the reality of divine love.

And these great blessings, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, are made real in our hearts by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit coming to us, quickening us from the dead, breathing into our dead hearts repentance towards God and faith in our Saviour, so that we might embrace the gospel. So if our life is to be worthy of the gospel, it must know the gospel of the Triune God, and be based on the fact that God comes marching towards us in the shape of the Man, Christ Jesus. Incidentally, may I advise you to try not to get involved in arguments about the existence of God. This is not a Christian question. For us the question is not, Does God [102/103] exist?, but always, What do you think of Christ Jesus? If anyone wishes to argue with you about the existence of God, seek with graciousness to bring them face to face with the Lord Jesus. It is through Him alone that God has come to us. So if we are going to live a life worthy of the gospel, the first question is this: Have I seen in Jesus, God's appointed Saviour for me? Have I felt in my heart the prompting to reach out to Him in faith and love and commitment? Have I come through Him to an experience and knowledge of the Father God and to find that the Holy Spirit has made these things real in my heart? This is the foundation for a life worthy of the gospel.

2. A Life That Faces the World

Secondly, the life that is worthy of the gospel is one which stands and faces the world: "that whether I come and see you or be absent I may hear of your state, that you stand fast in one spirit (that is the Holy Spirit) with one soul, striving for the faith of the gospel, and in nothing affrighted by the adversary" (v.27). There are many ways in which Christians and churches can evade the sternness of this requirement of standing to face the world. It is possible for them to withdraw themselves from circulation altogether, to hide away from the world around by going away into a kind of monastic seclusion. Another way in which churches can refuse to face the world is by the abandonment of central Christian truth under the pressure of modern thought. How awful it is in our day to see confessing Christians, even leaders, who out of consideration for the thought forms of modern twentieth century man, will turn away from the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus, from His actual resurrection, from His bodily ascension, from the reality of His essential deity and many other truths without which there can be no authentic Christianity and no true Christ. They allow themselves to be pressed into such a position merely in order to satisfy the claims of modern thought and modern thought forms, and so they fail to stand to face the world.

Another way in which Christians can retreat from that standing face to face with the world which is worthy of the gospel is when their Christian involvement in the world loses its spiritual dimension. You may remember that Spurgeon said that if you want to preach the gospel to a hungry man, you must wrap it up in a sandwich. This is true, but the sad fact is that so many people are offering the world a sandwich with no gospel wrapped up in it. In this way they bring the glories of our Redeemer down to the glories of the social reformer. I make no apology for using the words 'bring down', and intend no sneer by so doing. It is a good thing to be concerned for the bodily, material welfare of our fellow men and women. It is, in its way, a godly thing, for God Himself is concerned with the needs of the helpless and downtrodden, and through the Letter of James reminds us that if we are not concerned with such folk, then we lack the likeness of God. If, however, our reaching out to the needy stops short of telling them that there is a Heaven and a Hell, and that "there between us stands a cross, two arms outstretched to save, like a watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave", then we are not facing the world in the way in which the apostle calls us to do.

He tells us not to be stampeded. "That you stand fast in one spirit with one soul, striving for the faith of the gospel, and in nothing stampeded ...". It is as though the world were a Western in which those around us acted like cowboys, whooping and letting off their guns in order to drive the Church into dismay and panic. It is so easy to retreat: it requires steady faith to stand firm and not take fright. Nor must we be put off by the sneers concerning our gatherings together as 'a holy huddle'. Thank God for our holy huddles! They are good for us and provide nourishment for our souls. The whole trend of this epistle is to stress the value of the fellowship of the people of God, with the churches as the point of nourishing and strengthening. But if the fellowship is a true one it should enable us to go out and face the world, to take the Lord Jesus to that world and so to make inroads into it with the gospel. Anything less than this is a falling short of the life that is worthy of that gospel.

3. The Life That Honours Fellowship

As we have already seen, the life that is worthy of the gospel gives honour to the practice of fellowship. We are to stand fast "in one spirit, with one soul ..." (v.27) and to bring joy to the Lord by being "of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind, doing nothing through faction or vainglory" (2:2). The Word of God shows a deep concern for the unity and peace of the people of God. [103/104]

We should remember that Paul was speaking here to a local church, and it is in that sense that we consider it here. The great topic of the unity and fellowship of the people of God has worldwide dimensions. For our purpose, however, we think of the local church which stands on the front line of contact with the world. In this connection the apostle tells us that if the local church is divided, it can make no impact on the world. If there are divisions in the church, if there is faction, then there is no possibility of that church standing against the world. The faith of the gospel requires those who stand fast in one spirit and strive together (v.27). If the objective is to strive for the faith of the gospel it involves telling people the truth of the gospel and bringing them to faith in it. But how is this objective to be achieved? Paul makes it clear when he speaks of the one Spirit, for he means the Holy Spirit. There can be no impact upon the world except by the Holy Spirit, for the Lord Jesus made it plain that it is the Spirit's task to convict the world.

In this one Spirit, however, we are to strive with one soul. We may extend ourselves in praying for the Spirit's power but how can we invite the Spirit to come into a broken fellowship? There can be no reality in such prayers, for the Spirit creates fellowship, both between God and us and also between us and all the redeemed saints. The Spirit will have no liberty to lead out as a triumphant army the church that is divided in itself. For any church a life worthy of the gospel is a life of oneness together in the fellowship of the Spirit. We do not take the unity of our local fellowship as seriously as we should. We are not perturbed when people fall out with one another. We do not take it half so seriously as Paul took it. Listen to him again: "of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind". This alone is the kind of corporate life which is worthy of Christ's gospel; the life that honours fellowship.

4. The Life That Emphasises the Individual

We come to the heart of the matter when we face up to the importance of our individual walk with God. Thinking pictorially, we may liken the local church to a triangle, but not, as we might imagine, one standing on its base but rather inverted to stand on its apex. This then will give us an idea of the Scripture before us. The broad base speaks of the church as it faces the world. Within the confines of the triangle and backing the witness to the world is the great peaceful fellowship of the church. The area of the central united fellowship of the church is supported on the point of the triangle. This speaks to us of the individual Christian. Everything seems to converge on his personal position. It is as though he carries the weight of the fellowship of the triangle which, in its turn, presents the broad face of witness to the world around.

In that apex position at the bottom of the triangle is the individual Christian. Here he is: "doing nothing through faction or vainglory" but "in lowliness of mind, each counting the other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others" (2:3-4). Here is the heavy responsibility of every member of a church. It is the opposite of what is natural. If we have to bear a heavy load, we try to spread our legs and feet in order to sustain it. In this case, though, the church which has to bear the heavy load of facing the world without flinching has as its base that which is as narrow and pointed as the individual Christian.

That, then, is the life worthy of the gospel; it is a life which emphasises the great importance of the individual Christian in the life of his church. Far from being conceited at such a position, he must function "in lowliness of mind", for only so can he be a man of the Spirit. A surprising thing emerges from a study of Christian virtues as given by the New Testament. One might imagine that love would head the list, but is not so. The first of all spiritual virtues is lowliness and humility, which is true Christlikeness.

The Lord Jesus said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit". Paul said: "I, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called, in lowliness and meekness ...". This is the clear emphasis of Scripture, that the life worthy of the gospel is the one which gives first place to the need and welfare of fellow members of the church and takes the second place itself. In this chapter of Philippians, Paul shows us the reason for his call to lowliness, for he goes on to say: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus". Each one of us must be an individual fashioned like the Lord and we know that He claimed to be meek and lowly in heart. He left His Father's throne above, and in infinite grace emptied Himself and bled [104/105] for Adam's helpless race. He took the second place to our necessity; He came down and down and down, all for love of us. He came down from the throne into the dust of death; He came down from the light of the Father's presence to be under the curse of the Father's wrath. He came down and down and down, because there was no other way in which He could put Himself at our service. The life worthy of the gospel is the life that is like the Lord Jesus. The church can only truly stand as each individual member determines that within the confines of the fellowship he must be like his Lord.

5. The Life That is One of Citizenship

Philippi was a Roman colony (Acts 16:12). In his letter Paul speaks to the saints in Philippi as being colonists whose citizenship is in heaven (3:20). A colony was a city which possessed the privileges of the capital city. Today 'colony' and 'colonist' are nasty words, but to the Philippians in their day the designation was one of choice honour. They were many miles from Rome, but they possessed the privileges of the great capital itself. The use of the word in its spiritual application was very telling.

The saints in Philippi were citizens of a much greater city naturally, but how much more significant was their citizenship spiritually -- they may have been distant from heaven in one sense, but they were a colony of heaven, meant to enjoy all the honour and privileges of their capital city. This is the Lord's message to us all. We are outposts of God's great empire and true citizens of heaven, so we are charged to take care that our manner of life is in accordance with this great fact.

Across the centuries we hear Paul's appeal. "This above all" he cries, "this only -- live out your citizenship in a manner which is worthy of the gospel of Christ" (v.27). To these Philippians Paul said: "You are citizens of a great city all right. I don't refer to Rome, though, but to the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to the place where Jesus is King. You are citizens of that great city and its privileges are yours now. You are exiled; you are away from home, home-sick and longing to be back. One day your King will return and collect you and you will be with Him for ever and ever. But while you wait for that Coming, the privileges of the city are already yours. Live out your citizenship! Lay hold upon your privileges, and by the mightiness of those privileges, let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel". Every local church should be a colony of heaven.



Poul Madsen

Reading: Matthew 19:16-30

FAITH is not an obvious thing: it is a mystery. The story of the rich young ruler may teach us something of vital importance as to the true nature of faith. His story is found in all of the first three Gospels, and in each case it is associated with an experience of Peter. There was a great difference between the two men. In contrast with the wealthy young man, Peter had left everything to follow Jesus, so Jesus was able to say to him things which He could not say to the young ruler. It is important to bear this in mind as we consider the episode, for otherwise we may become confused about the true nature of faith.

To the rich young man the Lord said: "Sell everything, give it to the poor, follow Me, and you shall have treasure in heaven, whereas to Peter He said: "You shall receive a hundredfold now in this time" (Mark 10:30). We note that He did not say to the young ruler: 'Sell everything, follow Me and you will receive a hundredfold now in this life and then eternal life in the world to come'. He did not say this; and yet it seems to me that in our preaching this is precisely the sort of promise we make on the Lord's behalf. We change faith into a good bargain -- you give the Lord a penny and you will receive a pound back! In this way faith is made to seem like a [105/106] voyage under a flag of convenience in which a little investment secures an immediate profit. This is a fatal misunderstanding which robs God of His majesty and deprives faith of is vitality.


The young man had kept the commandments from his childhood, but that had not made him good enough for the kingdom of God, as he himself realised. "Sell everything and distribute it to the poor", was the Lord's command to him, and as mentioned, no promise was added to the effect that it would be a good bargain, He was, however, promised treasure in heaven.

Did the Lord really mean just that? Of course the Lord meant exactly what He said. He always means what He says. Quite categorically He insisted that if the rich young man was to come into the kingdom of heaven, he must sell everything he possessed and give it away to the needy. He did not do so. He went sadly away, back to his possessions. The Lord did not go after him to try to persuade him. He did not suggest that perhaps it would be enough if he parted with only some of his wealth. And He certainly did not say: 'You must not take Me too seriously', as some of us would like to explain. No, the Lord stuck to the condition which He had laid down.

The young ruler could not give up his possessions. Why not? Because he had no living faith. He could not trust the Lord, He had no faith in the almighty God, and therefore he could not believe that it was well worth ridding himself of everything to have a part with Christ and His kingdom. The kingdom of God was not really great to him. Nor was God Himself great in his eyes. It is essential to real faith to see something of the of the glory of the kingdom and the majesty of God. His great mistake was that he went away. He ought to have broken down in sorrow over his inability to let go of earthly possessions; he ought to have kept near to the Lord with the confession: 'Lord, I am ashamed of myself. I cannot do it. Please have mercy on me'. If he had done this, then the Lord would have shown him mercy, and would have done so by forgiving his sin and love of money. What is more, He would have given him power to do what otherwise was impossible to him, so that he would gladly have left all to follow Jesus. In other words, the Lord would have made him free indeed. Faith involves total loss. This young man shrank back from it, though in his case it only meant a loss of money.


What the Lord demanded of this rich young man was not nearly so hard as what He said to Abraham: "Take your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac, and offer him for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of" (Genesis 22:2). The rich ruler was bound by money: that was despicable. Abraham was bound to his son: it would have been despicable if he had not been. The young man loved money -- an unworthy love. Abraham loved Isaac -- a supremely worthy love. What was demanded of the rich young man was as nothing compared with what God demanded of Abraham. In the case of the ruler one can hardly use the word, sacrifice, but in Abraham's case that word is almost too weak.

We must realise that God did not say to Abraham: 'Bring your son as an offering and I will give him back to you again'. The patriarch was never told that he would receive his beloved son back from the altar. Faith is a complete loss, in the sense that it means the letting go of everything indicated by God, and letting it go merely because God says so. Faith is therefore the death sentence upon everything that God points to. It is not to be treated as a good bargain but as total capitulation. God does not comfort us by assuring us that it will not be so bad after all.

This is hard to explain because it is all too seldom preached and may sound quite strange to present-day Christians. The great majority would perhaps not understand that faith is not a bargain that we make with God, and that is why what goes by the name of faith is often weak and unreal. Faith has no back door by which a man can believe and then slip away with his money or his Isaac intact. There is no 'escape clause' from the uncompromising demand of Christ. Faith means carrying out the death sentence upon your possessions, if God says so, and even upon your God-given Isaac when God tells you to do so. This is inexpressibly hard. I know, because in certain situations I have not been able to do it. But Abraham could and did -- and he is the father of all them that believe.

Abraham's is an example of the true faith. When he heard God ask him to bring his son as a sacrifice, it naturally hurt him very deeply. He loved Isaac with a special intensity of father love. He believed God, though, and this meant that he did not argue nor attempt to bargain with God, nor did he go away sorrowful like the rich young [106/107] man, but he brought the sacrifice. He decided in his heart to offer Isaac without any ulterior motive or half measures. He did not think of keeping open a back door of escape. He took the fire and the knife as evidence that he was prepared to sacrifice Isaac and give him up entirely to God. It was an infinite renunciation, as anyone can imagine, but it was the way of faith. By faith he obeyed God's direction, pronounced the death sentence on his dear son and prepared himself to carry it out.

In principle, the sacrifice was completed by this decision. In his heart Abraham had lost Isaac and he did not expect God to alter His instructions. But when the sacrifice had thus been decided upon, without any kind of discussion with God or attempt to bargain with Him, then faith was born in Abraham that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead. He did not expect to escape making the sacrifice, but now he did expect what had never happened before, that God could raise up the dead son.

Let us note that this faith was not created in him when God commanded him to sacrifice his son, but only when Abraham had said 'Yes' to that command, having a steadfast will fully and entirely committed to the act of sacrifice. So Abraham's faith first contains the acceptance of irrevocable loss and thereafter the conviction that God can raise the dead. The constituents of faith can therefore be called (1) death and (2) subsequent resurrection.

Up on that mountain he lifted the knife. It is obvious that he did not expect God to let him avoid offering Isaac. He genuinely brought to God the 'sacrifice which had been demanded of him. For him there was no back door. He knew that faith has no escape route, no bargain to be struck with God. It was then -- and not until then -- that God intervened. No promise was made beforehand and no mutual arrangement agreed upon. Abraham did not sail under a flag of convenience. He believed God. He believed that God meant what He said, and so obeyed. Then, when the sacrifice was as good as made, God gave His answer of life.


Jesus had said to Peter: "Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men"! Nothing else was promised. In faith Peter left all and followed the Lord. He was not told that it would be a paying proposition, that he would receive a hundredfold here in this life. Nothing of the kind was even hinted at. Peter followed the Lord, not for the advantage that he could get out of it, but simply because to him the Lord was Lord.

When, however, he saw the rich young man go away sorrowful because he did not want to part with his possessions, Peter said: "Lord, we have left everything, what then shall we have?" It was then -- but not till then -- that he was promised any return in this life. When Peter had already left home and family, never expecting to get anything in return in this life, he was given the surprising promise: "You, and everyone who has left all , shall receive it back a hundredfold in this time ...". So again we find in Peter's faith the two constituents: (1) the irrevocable sacrifice, and (2) a present experience of 'resurrection', which means that in this present life all that he has sacrificed is given back to him in greater abundance. Those two sides of faith are not simultaneous. The irretrievable loss must come first, and then it is followed by a glorious experience of resurrection.

The obedience of faith is always experienced in this way. It is never an astute calculation of giving in order to get back more, but a matter of paying a painful price and then enjoying a marvellous and inexplicable aftermath of blessing. There is a sense in which we begin the life of faith by losing our life, for we begin by standing as condemned sinners before God, with no other claim than to be judged and rejected. God's grace is not a matter of course nor of some bargain that we strike with Him: it is rather more like resurrection from the dead. Faith always involves a new letting-go of what is ours, a losing of our life. And it must go on in the same way.

Naturally we do not like the idea of losing our life: we want to keep it. Even though we seek God's blessing, we are so often looking for a back door by which to escape the need for handing over everything completely to God. Desiring to trust God, we still want to have some additional ground for confidence in ourselves, and for this reason we keep alive many things which God has condemned to death. It is impossible to say how greatly such a half-hearted attitude hinders true faith. We need to remember that faith is a great mystery, and that even to us who are believers this element of mystery persists. [107/108]


Faith's objective is God Himself. I have observed that many enticing means are used in an endeavour to get people to believe. They are told that it pays, that they will become happy, that life will have a meaning, and that one has the chance of becoming glad and happy. They are also told that they will get some lovely friends if they are converted, that they will never be lonely any more and that in addition God has promised to give them all they ask for. Scripture can even be quoted in support of all this. The argument is that it just does not pay to refrain from trusting God on the spot. You are simply a bad business man if you do not jump at once at the chance and reap the advantages. From such speakers you seldom hear anything about no-one being able to become a disciple of Jesus without renouncing everything he has; nor that you must lose your life if you would keep it. What is worse, you hardly ever hear about God being God, to whom men should bow unreservedly without stipulating a single condition. Rather is faith presented as a marvellous bargain, with no mention of the death sentence upon the natural man.

As a consequence we find 'Christians' who do not tremble before the Holy One -- why should they? If faith is a good bargain and no mystery, they can make their own decisions according to what seems desirable. In this way, God is reduced to an absurdity. He is made a god according to the wishes and tastes of men, with sentimental use of such words as 'love' and 'wisdom'. The Bible, however, does not present the gospel as a special bargain, and the men of the Bible never experienced God in that way. On the contrary, they capitulated to God as God, the One who is the great I am. It needs no argument to demonstrate that they were quite different from many who now make use of the name 'Christian'. If God is really God to me, then I am content to be in His hands and to let Him decide everything great or small in my life.

*    *    *    *    *

It made an indelible impression on me once when an old servant of the Lord broke down one evening in our midst, saying: 'I have cheated over paying taxes -- do with me what you will'. It turned out later that he was mistaken, and had not been guilty of cheating, but to me the unforgettable thing was that he was prepared to submit to our judgment, whatever that might be, and to relinquish all rights to be treated as a servant of the Lord if it were so decided. If the Lord would deprive him of his ministry, then he would not strive to keep it. I need hardly say that the incident gave us such a sense of the Lord's holiness and of His servant's humbling before it, that it has marked us for life. The elderly brother burst into tears in accepting that his ministry as a preacher of the Word was over. It was a death sentence. For that very reason, the complete resurrection-rehabilitation which was given to him gave him new spiritual power. The renewal of his ministry did not come as something he had expected, much less demanded, but as a wonderful surprise of unmerited grace.

But I have met others of the Lord's servants who fought for their position as a minister, demanding to be given a place and refusing to submit to the judgment of others. They experienced neither death nor resurrection in the realm of their ministry, and as a consequence it withered and became ineffective. It is possible to imagine that the claiming of our rights is part of the good fight of faith, but this is a serious misunderstanding. It rather resembles an Abraham refusing to let go of his Isaac or a ruler not being willing to let go of his wealth. In fact we are mostly masters at saving our own lives, and slow to learn more of the Lord by losing them.

This has everything to do with a knowledge of God, Who should be the sole objective of our faith. The Church of our day is suffering from determined Christians, strong in self-will, and from disappointed Christians who resent any infringement of their rights, blame others instead of accepting God's death sentence, and become bitter about His right but strange ways. The way of faith is narrow. The Lord never hid that fact. The needle's eye is not to be expanded especially for our benefit. Faith is not child's play. There is no back door of an easy alternative to the sweeping claims of Christ. Let us not look for one, but rather enter through the door, which is Christ, and keep going through that door, for if we wish to know the power and glory of His resurrection we must first be united with Him in His death. In practice, the experience of death must always come first, but we may be certain that our God is the God of resurrection, so enlargement will always follow. [108/109]



Harry Foster

"Blessed is he who is not offended in me" Luke 7:23

WHY should I be treated like this?" Much as I regret to do so, I have to confess that this has been the sort of question which from time to time has simmered within me when I have been under pressure. I have no doubt that many other Christians have had similar controversies with the Lord. For this reason I draw your attention to what happened to John the Baptist. It may throw light on our problem. At least it may comfort us to know that he also had good cause to pose the same question.

The Baptist's Complaint

For him everything had gone wrong. He who had lived a completely open-air life from his childhood was now shut up in an irksome prison from which there was to be no escape. The fearless and faithful herald of God's Christ was seemingly forgotten by his Master. Everybody else was enjoying miraculous help and deliverances through Jesus, but nothing at all was done for him. No wonder he was despondent! No wonder he sent his disciples to Jesus to enquire what had gone wrong with everything. So to me this question is no surprise. In his place I might well have done the same thing. I, too, have at times felt disappointed with the Lord because of His strange ways with me.

The startling surprise is in the rather astringent reply which was sent back to him by the Lord. It is true that this reply contained a sort of promise of blessing, but it was nothing personal for John, being stated in merely general terms. It certainly gave no encouragement to self-pity. "Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me". Is that all that the Lord had to say to His devoted servant in a time of acute stress? Apparently it was. And we may well have to admit that we have passed through times of deep testing and looked for some token of success or encouragement from the Lord to console us but have looked in vain. Just as John's disciples were given no hint of a lessening of the pressure, so we may be left with little or no indication that the Lord is paying any special attention to us.

Encouragement to the Sinner

In Luke's Spirit-led arrangement of Gospel incidents, the next section of this chapter deals with the outcast woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee: The story is full of spiritual significance, but in my present quest for comfort what strikes me is the way in which Jesus went out of His way to voice His praises of her. He spoke very appreciatively of what she had done, gave her a personal blessing of peace and drew Simon's attention to the fact that this woman whom he and his kind despised was outstanding for her great personal love for Him.

He not only did this, but He did it to her face: "Turning to the woman , he said unto Simon ..." (v.44). "Seest thou this woman ...?", He enquired of him. It was as though He wished publicly to vindicate her as well as explain His own behaviour, and was glad for her to hear how she had touched His heart. "Look at this woman", He urged the Pharisee, "See how she has compensated for all your surly insults. One thing is obvious from it all and that is that she is a great lover of her Lord". For my part I can conceive of no higher praise. If I could ever hear the Lord telling everybody that He greatly appreciated my service and recognised that I was a man full of love to Him, I feel that I could ask for no greater encouragement. And it is encouragement that I so greatly need.

He gave warm encouragement to the woman but He does not give it to me. Well, He did not give it to John the Baptist. If ever a man needed reassurance and promise of help, John did when he sent his messengers to the Lord. But he did not get any words of appreciation. There was no message of that kind to help this great man, even though he was in danger of losing heart and almost regretting his championship of Jesus.

Testing of the Servant

Some will object, 'Yes, but the Lord did say some most complimentary things about John. He spoke to the people around Him about the Baptist in glowing terms'. That is true, but I have had my attention drawn by Luke to when He did [109/110] this: "When the messengers of John were departed ..." (v.24). He did not begin His eulogy of John until the Baptist's two disciples were well out of earshot. It is true that the Lord had some wonderful things to say about His Forerunner, speaking of him in superlative terms, (vv.24-28), but so far as we know John never heard these words and did not know how Jesus had praised him.

Here, then, is an extraordinary contrast. A grateful sinner, just beginning a new life by simple faith in Him, receives public recognition and striking commendation, such as were calculated to thrill her soul, whereas a most loyal and devoted servant who was unique in his faithful obedience to his calling was only warned that if he wanted blessing he must go on suffering without question or complaint. In terms of human logic, this makes no sense: in terms of divine wisdom, however, it is full of significance.

This is not only how the Lord dealt with John; it is typical of how He treats us all. Are we penitent sinners? Then He has immediate comfort for us. Are we tested servants? He just reminds us that it is not our part to understand, but to obey. At first this may sound harsh, but on consideration we see in it an indication of how He trusts us. If we can only appreciate it, the Lord was paying John the highest compliment of all.

Just as God boasted to Satan about Job -- "Hast thou considered my servant Job? ... there is none like him in the earth" -- so the Lord Jesus glories in the virtues of John -- "A reed shaken by the wind? Far from it! A prophet? Much more than that. I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there is none greater than John ...". "I'm telling you", Jesus repeatedly insisted, "this is the greatest servant that God ever had. There is nothing shaky or soft about John. He is magnificent".

Naturally we think that it was a pity that Jesus waited until John's two emmissaries had returned before He said this. Luke makes it very clear that this is what He did. If only John had known! For that matter, if only Job had known! Come to that, if only we could know. If we could receive some marks of God's appreciation instead of being exposed to all the winds of adversity, how much more bearable life would be. What a pity! we think, but no, it is not a pity but the greatest compliment that our Master can pay us. If we need pats of encouragement and endearing words of praise we are still spiritual infants. We must grow up. We must learn to live without immediate vindication and face the present trials or disappointments as those who are the blessed unoffended. It gives me new dignity to realise that my heavenly Father trusts me not to need spiritual petting any longer.

It is a matter of spiritual growth. John had had his moments of triumph, as we all have. He had been acclaimed by the crowds. He had been thrilled by Christ's words about fulfilling all righteousness. He had actually seen the Holy Spirit descend in bodily form like a dove upon the Son of God. We, too, have had our thrills. We have seen marvellous answers to prayer. For many of us our earlier Christian service was so manifestly blessed of God that it was almost as though in our case the Lord were going out of His way to vindicate us. Just as long ago He had said: "Seest thou this woman? ... she loved much", we felt that He was giving us the public recognition which shows how pleased He must be with us. Well, no doubt He does find pleasure in owning our ministry before men, though in fact He never promised to do so. What He did say was that He would give us heavenly commendation: "Everyone who confesses me before men, him shall the Son of Man confess before the angels of God" (Luke 12:8). If praise is due it will ultimately be given, but not necessarily now or here. With some of His most favoured servants the Lord gave little if any evidence of His appreciation at the time. He trusted them to trust Him.

God's servants must be men and women of faith. They must be spiritually adult, not expecting to be constantly patted on the back or praised to their face, but content to persist in faithful devotion to their God-given task without any outward evidence of the Master's approval. So I have found it, and so you may now be doing. This, surely, was what Jesus wished to convey to John: "Blessed is he who is not offended with Me".

Back to the Word of God

I realise that I have passed over the earlier part of the Lord's message to John which reads: "Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard ..." (v.22). For one thing John had already heard of the miracles -- that was what provoked him to send his deputation -- and in any case it would be likely to aggravate his personal problem to be reminded that Jesus [110/111] was doing miracles for others and would do no delivering miracle for him, nor even promise one. If it were not the Lord Jesus, I would imagine that this was about the most tactless and unhelpful message that could be sent. How could it help a man in his predicament and with his grim prospect to know that other people were being liberated and blest?

Since, however, there can be no questioning of the wisdom of our Saviour, I look again to discover what lay behind His words and realise that they were calculated to refer John back again to the Scriptures. It was as though Jesus was saying, 'Don't be governed by your experiences but rather by the Word of God'. This is excellent advice to us all. Now in John's case there is a special sense in which his call and ministry were based on the prophecies of Isaiah, as he himself disclosed (John 1:23). What he had to do was to go back again to those prophecies and in them he would find described the exact events which the Lord Jesus listed. Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1 foretold the activities of the One whose way he had prepared. In them we find mention of the blind, the lame, the deaf and the poor. God's Word, then, was being fulfilled. This seems to have been the point of Christ's reply to his worried Forerunner. He needed to get back to the Word of God.

The Lord's servant bases his life on the Scriptures. John did just that, and had no difficulty in identifying himself in them. He was more than a prophet, for he himself was the subject of prophecy. If he could accept that the works which Jesus was doing were exactly according to the revelation given of the will of God, then that would silence his questionings and deal with his personal grievances. What he had to do was to get back to the Word and in it find a sheet-anchor for his storm-tossed soul. The same is true in our case. I know that my soul is more likely to get into a tension if I begin to argue from what is happening -- or not happening -- in my own case, than if I quietly meditate in the Word. This is especially so if, like John, I see God doing things for other people that He refrains from doing for me. It is then that I am capable of taking offence. The certain remedy, and the only one, is to get busy with the Word of God and there to "feed on His faithfulness" (Psalm 37:3 R.V. margin). May we not, then, interpret the Lord's words as an appeal to him to reconsider Isaiah's prophecies and to find comfort in them? This is a lesson which we all need to learn. We can identify ourselves in the Bible, though not in the specific way in which John was described. We can also find there a full revelation of God's Will in His Son. In fact much more is said about us, and very much more about Christ, than ever John knew. Why, then, do we tend to take offence? Simply because we pay more attention to things and people around us than to God's speaking to us in the Scriptures.

Strange Answers to Prayer

A further factor in this story, though it is not dealt with by Luke, is that John was suffering because of his own prayers. No doubt he might have considered that his prayers were not being answered, but he needed to go back a little and think again of how he had prayed. Had he not sought Christ's greater glory? Had he not asserted: "He must increase, but I must decrease"? (John 3:30). It seems reasonable enough to suggest that his personal eclipse in Herod's prison was the answer to his request that he might diminish in order that his Lord should grow in greatness.

Fancy a man not recognising the answer to his own prayers! Well, is that so very unusual? I, for one, make no claim to be different from him in this respect and I often observe the same phenomenon in others. Is it not a fact that in wondering why events take the course they do we often fail to realise that God is allowing things to happen which represent the answer to our prayers? Filled with love for Him, we have prayed for His glory "at any cost", only to start complaining when even a little of the cost has to be paid for by us. What a blessing for John to accept this and to determine not to take offence at the Lord's strange ways with him.

"He must increase, but I must decrease." "Blessed is he who is not offended in me." Perhaps these two Scriptures go together. Perhaps they apply to you and me as much as to John the Baptist. So whatever your present trial may be, don't be offended! [111/112]



John H. Paterson

ONE Sunday recently I was in hospital, and limited by that fact to such blessing and benefits as the television and Songs of Praise might provide. Yet it is a Sunday to which I have since looked back with real pleasure, because I learned a new hymn. To be precise, I learned only the first two lines, for the remaining words were indistinct, and to this day I have not been able to discover how the writer developed the theme. But those first two lines made a great impression on me, for into them the hymn writer had succeeded in compressing several of the major wonders of the Christian faith.

I say 'wonders' and not 'doctrines' because the word doctrine implies something static: static in a good sense, certainly, as a building's foundations are static, but with the emphasis on resistance to change, on permanence. All the points which struck me in the lines are points of doctrine; they are fundamental to our faith and based upon Scriptural truth. They are parts of our veriest orthodoxy. But static ideas they are not. On the contrary, I find them fascinating because they have that firecracker effect of leading you on from idea to idea, example to example, until soon the whole of the Scriptures seem to sparkle with this one theme. Sing two lines of a hymn, and suddenly Genesis is linked with Revelation -- and also with things that happened to you or to me only yesterday! Here, then, are the lines and some of the ideas which they evoke:

"God, Who for the world's new framing

Set His Son as cornerstone ..."

A God Who Makes All Things New

Let us begin by reminding ourselves that all our knowledge of God is knowledge of new beginnings. Somewhere in a remote eternity, He conceived a creation and carried it through: He framed the worlds. But having done that He did not stop or lose interest; His creation has been 'upheld' by the constant input of His creative power. There was a new world framed after the Flood. Then He built Himself a new framework with Israel at its centre, and yet another when Israel was set aside. He promised then to do a new thing, under a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31), and fulfilled both in the coming of Christ, for it was indeed a new beginning when Jesus was born. There are new heavens and a new earth still to come. But in between what we may call these major events, creation in detail still goes on for, if any man is in Christ, there is a new creation. He is a God who makes all things new.

The cornerstone of each and everyone of God's new beginnings has been Christ. It was by Him, the firstborn of all creation, that God made the worlds (Hebrews 1:2). The new covenant was fulfilled by Him; the new creation exists in Him; the only light in the New Jerusalem will be the light of the Lamb. Over and over again the old framework has proved unsatisfactory, and patiently God has made a new beginning -- and always with Christ as cornerstone.

This much we know, and it will surely comfort us, for we fail so often that we need all the encouragement of a God of new beginnings. But I want particularly to draw your attention to some features of this pattern of divine action -- very important features if we are properly to appreciate it. For let us agree that always to be making a new start is not, in human terms, necessarily a virtue! To illustrate this opinion I need only mention two simple, everyday examples. One is the young man at the start of his career who tries a new job every month. We know the type, and we do not regard it particularly highly. And I think that I should add that there are people who have much this opinion of God -- that He tried first this and then that; first an individual and then a people; first law and then grace -- and they do not regard Him highly either.

My second example is a young child with a drawing block. If you have ever given a child such a gift and then sat and watched it, you will probably have been distressed to notice that the child has very little idea of correcting a drawing and none at all of saving paper! It will attempt a few lines, and, as soon as it realises that the drawing is not taking shape as it hoped, it will begin over again on a fresh sheet. The block is quickly used up because the child insists on beginning with a blank page each time.

Now what I want to suggest is that neither of these two illustrations give us a true picture of God's new beginnings; He is not like either of [112/113] the two characters I have described, because He has two qualities which they do not:

1. There is a logic about God's actions which those of the try-anything young man did not possess.

2. Each of God's new beginnings has accepted as starting-point the failure of the old thing, and has been built upon it, not upon a 'blank page'.

The How and Why of God's New Beginnings

The first thing, then, that I would stress about God's new beginnings is that they have not been experimental or capricious but wisely planned. God certainly has acted within many different 'frames' of reference towards His creation in general and mankind in particular. Bible students sometimes refer to these as dispensations, and recognise a number of them in the history of God's dealings with men. When I was young I remember being warned of the dangers of technical 'dispensationalism'. I knew nothing of these dangers, but did find it confusing because there seemed no rhyme or reason to God's 'framings': why should the dispensation of law, for example, succeed that of promise, while that of grace (under the dispensation of which I was much relieved to find that I lived!) came after both of them? Could God just not make up His mind?

I still do not know why the dispensations came in the order they did, but at least now I can see some logic in God making, as He did, a series of new beginnings. Once the creation existed, there was bound also to exist the question of the relationship between Creator and creature. It was a question which was, in due course, to be answered by the Cross; that is, by an answer which defied human imagination -- which only God could have thought of.

But just because God's ultimate answer was unthinkable (and to many people, even today, is literally that), it was important that all the other possible answers to the question should first have been explored -- and discarded. Let us remind ourselves that the question is: How can a Creator who is perfect co-exist with creatures -- men and women -- who are imperfect? And to explore the range of answers that might be given to that question, God began again and again. Here are a few of those answers which may be identified in the Old Testament without difficulty. There was the answer, 'We can live together if God will tell us exactly, in every detail, what we should do, how we should speak to Him, and what we should say". This was the 'dispensation of law'. There was the opposite answer, too: "We can get along together if He will leave us strictly alone, and let us simply do what we feel is right". This was the 'dispensation of conscience'. Then there was the answer of God's giving a special revelation of Himself to a specially selected few, and leaving them to teach everybody else.

And so on. All these were possible answers to the question which had to have an answer, but they all failed. The important thing, however, was that they had been tried. When in the fulness of time God sent forth His Son to give His own, unique answer to the question, no one could turn round and say: 'That was ridiculous; You could have done it an easier way', because all the 'easier' ways had already been tried.

Let us not, however, give the impression that all these earlier attempts at a solution were merely so much play-acting on God's part. That was certainly not the case. We cannot regard the Law, for example, as a mere charade. It was of God's own 'framings' -- as it happens the most rigid of all the frames He made. The Law was holy and spiritual (Romans 7:12, 14), and the Law represented one perfectly logical answer to the question of how Creator and creature were to live together. There was nothing inherently wrong with the Law; it made nothing perfect, but itself was God-given. All the answers -- all the 'dispensations' -- might have succeeded, but the simple fact is that they did not. By the time that Calvary came, it was the only solution left.

I find this understanding of God's dealings with men, as revealed in the Old Testament, not merely thought-provoking but necessary in order to reconcile with each other the twists and turns and apparent contradictions of the Bible narrative. Did God really intend that Israel should have a king, or did He not? Would they have been better off without the Law than with it? Was Solomon's temple all a great mistake? There are a host of unanswered questions in this record of God's dealings with man. I am not suggesting that I know the answers to them: I am saying only that there was an underlying logic, and this was not just a random series of events.

The Continuity of God's Creation

Let me now turn to the second notable feature of God's new beginnings. We can best approach it by asking: Why, when God's original creation [113/114] had been spoilt by sin, did He not wipe it all out and begin over again? Why continue with something flawed when He could -- can we for a moment doubt it? -- have spoken a single word, dissolved the creation and made it afresh, purified, free from that one fateful blemish which His creatures had allowed in? Think of the subsequent horrors that would have been avoided -- the sin, suffering, the sorrow! Would it not have been kinder, more godlike, to recognise that now the creation would never work properly, and to wipe the slate clean for another of God's beginnings? After all, He almost did it at the time of the Flood (almost but not quite). How much simpler the world's history might have been!

We know now that He chose not to do this, but we need to understand why He did not, either then or later. For the breakdown of His creation did not occur because He had built it badly, as an aircraft might crash because the designer had miscalculated and made it too heavy, or too long, or too narrow. In such an event, it would indeed be a case of 'back to the drawing board'. The breakdown of creation was caused by deliberate sabotage -- by God's enemy setting out to wreck it. If, after the breakdown, God wiped out the wreckage and made a new, fault-free model, He would be in the position -- the quite impossible position -- of having a creation which He had been obliged to modify, to make it safe from interference. He would, in other words, have been forced to yield to outside pressure. Quite simply, then, He would have ceased to be God.

So what is the divine method of making a fresh start? It is to take the old, spoilt creation, accept the damage, and then not merely make something new but so embody the old in the new that the flaws and blemishes enhance the ultimate quality of the new creation, lending it added lustre and causing every beholder, angel, devil or man, to marvel at the skill with which the repair has been executed. It is to accept every limitation imposed by the faulty material, and still achieve the original design, yet without surrendering the moral principle that failure is failure, and sin is sin.

New Beginnings With Old Materials

There are many scripture passages that bear upon this idea of new beginnings with old materials, and we can consider only a very few of them. But let us notice three of the earliest of them and, as we do so, will you also notice that, in most of these cases, it not only mattered to God that He was acting in accordance with His own character, but it mattered to men, too; that is, there was a practical outcome?

In each case, if we were speaking in strictly human terms, we should say that what we see is God tempted to throw out the old thing, and start again with the new -- to make a new beginning with new material. On the first occasion He stopped just short of doing so, while on the second and third He made as if to go all the way but was reminded by men of what was at stake, and stopped -- or, as the Bible puts it without explanation, He "repented" (Exodus 32:14).

1. The Flood

The first of these occasions was the Flood. In a few graphic phrases, Genesis describes a new beginning that had gone utterly wrong; moreover, a creation in which even nature had become disordered by sin, and was producing thorns and thistles. But at least, at this early stage, the trouble could surely be nipped in the bud: that world of failure could be washed away, and a new order could begin? But if God did blot it all out, and start completely afresh, or if He started afresh only with inert things like rocks, and not with the people and living things which had been contaminated by sin, He would have conceded the point. He would be admitting, in effect, that those creatures were hopeless, and He could make nothing of them. Even if the new world after the Flood worked perfectly He would have behind Him this dubious record: one success, one failure! Such an outcome would be utterly unthinkable.

So, in accordance with His own principle of new beginnings, He arranged to carry over (in the ark) some of each of the elements which had failed. However much we may smile at the childhood ideas of the animals going in two by two, we must at least appreciate that they all had to be there. It would surely have been easy enough, and tempting enough, to exclude this element and that, on the grounds that it would only cause trouble -- for example, no serpents in the new world! In particular we should probably have felt He would keep out men. But He did not. The ark that carried the old material into the new world carried life of every kind, and it had to, if God was to be God.

But also because He is God, the choice of His human material could not be at random; it must be moral. To have selected any eight human beings to survive the Flood would have jeopardised [114/115] God's holiness and ignored the cause of the failure, which was sin. So He chose Noah: "Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation " (Genesis 7:1).

And that is the closest God ever came to making a brand-new start. It was not brand-new, for out of the ark came the survivors of the old world and, after it was all over, God declared what was to be the permanent principle of His actions from then on. He made it perfectly clear that He never actually would wipe the slate clean. Have you noticed the significance of His words and covenant, the covenant of which the rainbow was the sign? "The Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite everything living as I have done" (Genesis 8:21). This is one of those Bible passages that says just the opposite of what you would expect! For it was after the Flood, and because every imagination of man's heart is evil, that God renounced for ever the most obvious method of dealing with the problem, which was to wipe everything out and start all over again! What we might have expected was, 'Because the imagination of man's heart is evil, let us finish with man and start afresh'. That would have been the easy way out. But it would not do.

2. The Rescue of Lot

So God recognised -- and indeed accepted -- that from that time onwards evil would always be present, and that what He made He would make out of old materials, by renewal, not eradication. This brings us to our second scripture passage, in Genesis 18. As time went on after the Flood, there developed such a concentration of evil, even by the general standards of the day, that "the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and their sin is very grievous" (v.20). This particular excrescence, at least, God planned to wipe out. But when He confided His plan to Abraham, the latter objected.

He was interested, of course, in rescuing Lot and his family, but it is his line of reasoning which is of concern to us here. To blot out the city with Lot in it, Abraham argued, could not under any circumstances be regarded as a godlike solution to this problem. It was the sort of solution you or I might have proposed -- but not God! To wipe out the old material, regardless of its moral quality, and begin again with something brand-new is not the divine way, and Abraham knew it. He said, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (v.25). What I think he meant was simply: 'There are ways and ways of dealing with this situation. Some of them are suitable for people like the Sodomites. Some of them are suitable for people like Lot or me. And some, but only some, are suitable for a God committed to working within the limits of His own character, His own reputation, His own history. If God should solve this problem by using a method outside that limited group of divine solutions, then the whole moral basis of the universe will collapse; we face chaos'. To this God agreed, and Lot got safely away!

Great God of wonders, all Thy ways

Are matchless, godlike and divine ...

3. A People Reprieved

The third passage gives the clearest indication of all of the principle that underlines God's new beginnings. It is in Exodus 32 and Israel, whom God had only recently chosen to be His special people, had gone spectacularly astray. Seeing this, God was minded to wipe them out, and He told Moses so: "Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them" (v.10). He would make a brand-new start -- and He would make it with Moses: "I will make of thee a great nation". For this purpose He was offering to treat Moses as His new Noah.

But Moses would have none of it. Amazingly, he seems not merely to have grasped God's principle of new beginnings out of old but to have realised that to make him, Moses, the point of carry-over would not be enough. God's frame of reference was now a nation, whereas Moses was only a single individual, and that would not count. So he opposed the idea (not only here but in Numbers 14:13) in one of the Bible's most remarkable encounters between God and man. And of course the important point to note in the argument he used was: "Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth ... Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel" (vv.12-13). Moses argued that, for God to do what He had announced would be ungodlike and therefore impossible. It would be in breach of His divine promise to the patriarchs, and detrimental to His divine reputation, and was therefore no solution at all. So Moses pleaded for a new [115/116] beginning but with the old material; he acknowledged the people's sin but asked God to take the same people forward on a new basis. "And the Lord repented him of the evil which he thought to do unto his people".

I may not easily perceive the practical importance of this to the believer, but I can certainly see its importance to God. We can all do that if we turn to the end of the Bible and consider the vision in the Revelation of the God who says "Behold, I make all things new" (21:5). Do you notice that everything in the new world of that vision is an old thing transformed? The city and the tabernacle we recognise at once. The inhabitants are those who overcame in an old life, and the Lamb is the same Lamb of Calvary, transformed now in His full glory. In other words, God's final great new beginning is made with the same materials as His first, and that is His glory and His triumph. Had He changed these materials along the way, there would have been no triumph! Had He started with people, found them too intractable, too difficult to control, and switched to, say, docile angels, there would have been no glory in that. We should have had to think of Him as simply an unsuccessful manager of people, who had replaced them with robots.

The Tabernacle of God is with Men

The all-important word to stress in this quotation from Revelation 21:3 is the last: "The tabernacle of God is with men". Only one thing from the dawn of man's history is not carried over into the new world. Only one thing is left behind, each time that God makes a new beginning. That is sin. There is in the new Jerusalem "nought that defileth". God, the holy God, will patiently make any number of new beginnings with people, but for their sin He has no nostalgia and only one solution -- to put it so far away that it can never be found again. So it is that Christ is His cornerstone. He is the One who has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and He is the new Man through whom all God's plans for redeemed humanity are made possible.

...But the fair glories of Thy grace

More godlike and unrivalled shine:

Who is a pardoning God like Thee?

Or who has grace so rich and free?

(To be continued)


(Introductory thoughts for a study on the Letter to the Hebrews )

C. Raymond Golsworthy

THE Epistle to the Hebrews touches on what perhaps is the greatest problem and temptation that assails the Christian Church -- retrogression to externalism. And, thank God, it consistently stresses the only valid answer, "Advance"; -- "Advance with God" and "Advance by faith".

As any navigator knows, drift is always a danger, and it is amazing how imperceptible this drift can be. Without our realising that anything at all is happening, we can suddenly discover that we have been silently carried to a very different position, it could be towards dangerous rocks. The greatest safeguard in such situations is not mere vigilance but plain and positive advance. We must start the motor and go forward, and keep going forward; that alone will be our salvation.

All this certainly applies to spiritual matters, and to the whole issue of God's church, and of His true testimony in the nations. Because of hidden currents and prevailing breezes, the ever-present tendency is to drift, and the only safe-guard is advance, spiritual advance. And that is what Hebrews is all about!

In the case of the Hebrews themselves, the temptations had been to revert again towards Judaism, with its impressive forms and soul-satisfying ceremonies. This was something deeply ingrained with them, and indeed, it had become part of them. Even after they had made their stand for Christ it still pursued them, and somehow pulled at them, perpetually threatening to erode their experience of "the glorious liberty of the sons of God". Try as they would, they found it increasingly hard to turn over the whole new leaf, and to treat as shadow that which, at its best, was only intended to be shadow. Their inward make-up seemed to tell them that at least some place would have to be left in their outlook for such a revered and revealed system as [116/117] Judaism, and for its required rituals. Indeed, they felt it would be only right and 'Christian' to make certain limited concessions to it. The drift, in fact, was on.

THE writer to the Hebrews clearly discerns the situation, and faithfully and fearlessly exposes the incoming tendencies, warning the Hebrews of them. Then, best of all, he provides them with the clear solution: "Let us go on" (6:1). While showing all due appreciation of the Jewish types and ceremonies, he nevertheless warns them of the continuing "earth-touch", and patiently sets before them the all-inclusive Antitype -- a new creation in Christ. With all his heart he would have them go on with Christ to their fuller and more glorious and spiritual inheritance, and he abundantly supplies to them the needed motivation for so doing. In the first chapter, for instance, he speaks of the all-surpassing excellence of God's Son, and then, in the next chapter, unfolds to them the undreamed-of greatness of God's salvation. Throughout the epistle, he consistently shows them the Christian's far better spiritual inheritance in Christ, and presents Him as the One True Substance that answers to, and far excels, all the earlier shadows.

That is the picture, then, and that is the call that "Hebrews" sets before us. Perhaps in some cases, even amongst the Hebrews, it was not altogether a matter of reverting to the actual forms and ceremonies of Judaism, but rather to what we may call the Judaistic mind, or, shall we say, the inborn habit of externalistic thinking in religious things. In such cases it would be the 'Christian' procedures, traditions, organizations, that began to be to them the all-important things rather than the essentially spiritual. Whichever kind it was, it certainly evidenced a dangerous drift, and cried out for recognition and correction.

ALL this, of course, has equal application to us. We do not hesitate to say that born-again believers in our day are still subject to the same subtle temptation, and may become victims of a similar imperceptible drift. Praise God, the New Birth itself launches us out into the Spirit, and into the great wonder-realm of spiritual things. Once we have had that experience, our lives begin to be centred in the heavenlies, hid with Christ in God, and we are possessed of a joy which is full of glory, certainly not of this world. At this point, however, the temptation (and indeed the tendency within our own natural being) is to try to crystalise our discoveries, and to press them into certain religious moulds and procedures which we fondly hope may extend their permanence or aid in the propagation of them. With the best of intentions, perhaps, certain systems of procedure are evolved and set in motion, and all unconsciously we begin to handle everything, with less and less dependence on the Spirit of God. Thus, without our immediately knowing it, we too have brought in the "earth-touch", and the glory has departed.

Human hands have seized the sacred ark, and the inevitable 'death' has followed. To say the least, the drift has set in. All unconsciously we have created another form of Judaism -- Christian Judaism -- and become the servants of another soul-based ritual. Life in the Spirit has somehow seeped away, and we discover all too late (or do we?), that we only have a shell, or at best a poor caricature of true vital testimony. The world, of course, looks on and makes its suprisingly shrewd assessment of the thing we have created, and of what we are devoted to, and it is not impressed. "What do these feeble Jews?" they say, and in this case rightly so. Perhaps we should point out that whenever we copy the world and use its devices, we actually lose our power with the world, and have no effective purchase on it. It is right to say that we can only bless the world when we mystify it, and bring in an element, the very Real Element, of God Himself, for which they are not equal.

"Hebrews" could well be called 'The Epistle of the Ox-goad', for again and again it urges us to go on in our spiritual life and experience. The earlier chapters show how much there is to go on into, such as partnership with our Lord on His throne (2:10; 3:1, 14, etc.), and even a sharing of God's rest (Chapter 4). In Chapter 6 we have the direct and definite plea for advance into the inheritance, a plea which is reinforced from all angles. There is a very solemn warning against the consequences of going back, and then personal encouragements for those addressed. Then come the reminders of the great covenant promises, and finally the assurance that our hope is steadfast, seeing that Christ Himself has entered within the veil.

THE burden on the heart of the writer is evidently so deep that he uses all possible arguments to urge us to go on and to enter into what he himself has seen and is beginning to enjoy. The whole plea originates, of course, from God Himself in the first place: He it is who wants us to enter into what He has prepared for us. [117/118] Behind it all is the Father's longing that His Son may secure a bride or partner worthy of Himself.

At the close of such a letter we might be wondering how this on-going life will express itself in terms of daily practical behaviour, and what should be the emerging signs of this 'sonship' so graciously designed for us. In the closing chapter a clear picture of this is provided for us. We notice that holiness and humility are clearly in view, but the over-all principle is that of love -- generous love and spontaneous concern for others. All this is surely an unconscious reflection of the great Son Himself who is depicted throughout the letter as the supreme Servant of others -- descending from heaven to make a purging of our sins, and then returning to heaven to make intercession for us and to save us to the uttermost (7:25).

We conclude, then, that this "going on" with the Lord is never a self-centred matter. While it will be rewarded by promised sharing of Christ's throne, even that is not something that has been personally and selfishly coveted. Rather has it been a matter of spending and being spent for others, and having their eternal welfare continually in view.

WE have suggested that this might be called 'The Epistle of the Ox-goad', because of its constant provocation to "go on". The term 'ox-goad' does, of course, imply some personal reluctance which has to be overcome in order to make progress. This is certainly true so far as every natural man is concerned -- so we make no apology for it. But, by the same token, we have to say that there is very much in this Letter that just draws us on, notably the repeated and varied presentations of an all-transcending Christ. It is when these revelations of Christ really penetrate our hearts and take hold of us, that there will be no more need of the ox-goad. Rather will it be a case of running the race set before us, "looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith" (12:2).

Then, like Paul, we shall find ourselves forgetting the things that are behind and pressing toward the mark for the Prize -- the great Lord Himself. It was the godly Samuel Rutherford himself who in his day said: 'I would wade through hell itself to be at Him'. When such a revelation comes to us, and when such a spirit grips us, all lesser considerations, including our stereotyped and earth-bound "religion" will be forgotten and abandoned, and instead we will concentrate on apprehending "that for which we have been apprehended" (Philippians 3:12-14).

"I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation" (13:22).



Poul Madsen

20. GRACE AND GLORY (Chapter 11:25-36)

MERCY and severity are both divine attributes which are included in what Paul calls, "this mystery". The idea of mercy occupies a prominent place in the whole section of chapters 9 to 11. We have the reminder that "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy" (9:15-16) and reference to "vessels of mercy" (9:23). In our present section the apostle closes his presentation of God's plan of salvation by saying: "For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all" (11:32). It is also true that the idea of God's wrath is clearly stated. There is no mention by the apostle of any 'in-between' attribute of God, for none exists. Both these apparent extremes are included in what Paul calls "this mystery".

Revelation of the Mystery (vv.25-32)

By "mystery", the apostle means the fact of God and His way of acting, which can only be known through revelation and not by reasoning. In treating of the revelation of the mystery Paul has a very practical purpose in view. He is not seeking to satisfy Christendom's inquisitive curiosity as to what the future holds in terms of sensational events, but is simply trying to help his Gentile brothers not to be wise in their own conceits. He regards the temptation to pride as one of the Christian's greatest dangers and spares no pains to uncover it so that it may be repudiated.

Any Christian who has conceited ideas about himself and his merits quite overlooks the fact that salvation is given to him absolutely without any merits of his, even the faith he possesses [118/119] being a free gift of God, imparted to him on God's own initiative. In other words, the conceited man does not appreciate what it means that he has obtained mercy (9:16), nor does he understand in his self-centredness, that the fact that he has been saved is only an item in the accomplishment of that full plan of salvation in which his insignificant person does not occupy the central place.

It is in order to help such self-centred and self-satisfied Christians out of their dangerous delusions that the apostle now reveals God's plan and the method by which He will realise it: "I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery (lest ye be wise in your own conceits), that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles come in; and so all Israel shall be saved ..." (vv.25-26). He has already emphasised that the hardening of Israel is only in part, when he speaks of the remnant (vv.1-6). This part of the "mystery" we already know. What we have not yet heard, however, is that the partial hardening will only last "until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in". What does this mean?

We must admit that we do not fully know. There is something mysterious about the word "fullness". The apostle has already told us that if Israel's fall meant riches for the world, their fullness will mean something much more (v.12). Here it must mean that all Israel will be saved (v.26), but we may ask if here it also means that all the Gentile nations will be saved before the salvation of Israel. Is this what "the fullness of the Gentiles" implies? The answer seems to be, no; the Greek text can hardly be made to support such a meaning. Perhaps it must rather be taken to be used as a representative description of all those Gentiles who will go into the kingdom before Israel's national salvation. In this case the sequence would seem to be: first a remnant of Israel, then the "fullness" of the Gentiles and finally "all Israel". Paul uses the Old Testament to prove that Israel as a nation will be saved (vv.26-27), though of course this does not mean to say that every single Israelite will be saved but speaks of the entire nation, as such. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah, to whom the apostle refers, had some spiritual perception of the "mystery", so it was not his invention but had lain hidden in the Word of God. This makes it even more certain that God will never abandon His plan, but will carry it right through to its consummation.

Dictating with a full heart, Paul closes the revelation of God's plan of salvation with the weighty matters found in vv.28-32. His train of thought is presented in two contrasts which are both rounded off with an explanation. For the sake of clarity we can set them out thus:

First pair of contrasts with explanation (vv.28-29)

1. "As touching the gospel, they are enemies ..."

2. "As touching the election, they are beloved ..."

EXPLANATION: "For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance" (God neither regrets them nor will go back on them).

Second pair of contrasts with explanation (vv.30-32).

1. "As ye in time past were disobedient, but now have obtained mercy".

2. "So have these also now been disobedient, that ..."

EXPLANATION: "For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all".

These verses contain such a depth of meaning that we need divine help to understand them. It is important not to embellish them by our natural reasoning but to allow them to stand as they are without addition or subtraction by us. What is stated is that if we look at the Jews in the light of the gospel, they are enemies "for your sake", that is that they have been excluded so that the gospel may be offered to the Gentiles. If, on the other hand, we look at them in the light of election, they are beloved for the fathers' sake.

Israel, then, is in the paradoxical situation of being both rejected and beloved. Can this bear a closer examination? Paul has already said that not all who were descended from Israel are true Israelites; they are not counted as children just because physically they were descended from Abraham (9:6-13). It might perhaps seem that he now contradicts himself in saying that those who were not true Israelites, though physically descended from Abraham, are nevertheless beloved for the sake of the fathers, i.e. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is not so, but part of Paul's revelation of God's own nature. As God He is completely free to act in grace and mercy if He wishes so to do, and being unchangeable He never regrets the gifts of grace He has given, or retracts or annuls His call to men or nations -- in this case the nation of Israel. Not that any man or nation has any claim upon Him or a right to question His actions. [119/120]

The second contrast seems even more complicated, but the main thought is quite clear. It is that God's way for both Gentiles and Jews passes through disobedience to end in mercy. In verses 30-32 the word "by" appears twice and so does the word "now". The Gentiles have received mercy by, or because of, as a result of, Israel's disobedience, and Israel will receive mercy by, because of, mercy shown to the Church. This means not only that the salvation of the Gentiles has its cause in the temporary rejection of the Jews and that Israel's salvation will have its cause in the mercy which the Gentiles have received but that this was God's intention. It was not accidental that Israel was rejected and salvation came to the Gentiles, but it was God's will. Behind the rejection and behind the mercy we see God acting sovereignly. We see God in it all. He is the One who operates and reigns in accordance with His own unhindered will.

So much for the use of the word "by". What about the use of "now"? The Gentiles have received mercy now, that is in this age. But it is also stated that by the mercy shown to Gentiles Israel will now obtain mercy, in other words that Israel's salvation as a nation must take place in this age (now). If the nation is saved in what is resurrection ("life from the dead" v.15), then surely its full salvation must mark the end of this age (this "now") and the heralding of a new. To obtain mercy involves once having been disobedient, for it is only sinners who can experience God's mercy. Mercy is for those with nothing to boast of: only vessels of wrath can find grace unto salvation. God has shut up all unto disobedience; He has brought everyone to the point where they deserve nothing at all, for His wrath is the instrument of His mercy, His severity is the instrument of His graciousness. Luther said: "When God will save, He rejects; when He will bless, He curses; when He will make alive, He slays".

At last Paul has reached the end of his revelation of God and His mystery. He has shown us that God has predestined all to wrath, because He predestines all to mercy. This does not mean that he asserts that all men will be saved, but rather that he affirms that God is God. The balancing Scripture is: "This scripture hath shut up all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe" (Galatians 3:22).

We have already pointed out that the doctrine of predestination creates great difficulties for our human reasoning and natural sense of what is right. Some of our difficulties are due to lack of understanding or even prejudice. Having followed Paul through these chapters we can never accept a doctrine of predestination which limits God's ability to save, but realise that it is simply a revelation of how God goes to work. The entire emphasis is upon the fact that our salvation is entirely and completely God's work and God's free gift.

Ascription of Praise (vv.33-36)

We have already suggested that the apostle dictated vv.28-33 from a full heart. How much more is this so as we come to the doxology in which he concludes his mighty presentation of God's ways. As he did at the end of chapter 8 he now lifts himself and us to the highest heights of poetic exultation.

God's riches are deep riches of goodness, forbearance and glory. The springs of His love and goodness are inexhaustible. His plans spring from His limitless wisdom and knowledge. "How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past tracing out!" Is there a single person who could have understood God's ways as they have been described, apart from divine revelation? Not a single one! "Who hath known the mind of the Lord?" These questions were first posed by Isaiah, and their obvious answer is: Nobody!

Of all the depths, the deepest feature of God's riches and wisdom seems to be His free grace, as Paul indicates with a further question: "Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?" No man can ever deserve or earn anything from God. Nothing ever received from God has ever been a recompense for services rendered to Him. Every gift of God is the outcome of pure mercy. All of God's salvation (even the wrath and mercy involved) proceeds from God, is carried through by Him and leads back to Him. He controls everything, from beginning to end, and nothing can hinder Him from reaching His goal. To Him, then, can rightly be ascribed everlasting glory.

The glory is for Him alone. The gospel of salvation is by grace alone and by faith in Christ alone. It is clear, then, that the glory belongs to God alone. In the following chapters Paul will show us how we can express this glorifying of God in practical living.

(To be continued) [120/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


"(By grace have ye been saved)" Ephesians 2:5

CLEARLY in our case grace operated on the basis of resurrection. But for grace we would be spiritually dead now and rushing on to eternal death. This parenthesis is slipped in between the reminder that God gave us new life (quickening) and that He then exalted us to share in Christ's heavenly glory.

IT was a mighty miracle which raised our Saviour who had sunk into the deepest death under the weight of our guilt and it is entirely due to God's grace that we share in that resurrection. Whether a Christian comes from most godly circumstances or not, his new birth is a miracle of grace. The simple believing of a child, as much as the sensational conversion of a defiant rebel, is a wonder of God's grace.

THIS might almost seem to be an unnecessary interpolation, for we should be only too aware of how completely indebted we are to God's grace for lifting us up out of our hellish misery into His heavenly glory. It is not quite unnecessary, though, for familiarity with the things of God can betray us into some kind of conceit or fancied superiority, as though we had raised ourselves up or enabled God to raise us by some co-operation on our part. We could look down on or even be contemptuous of those who are walking in the devil's ways if we did not remind ourselves that grace alone explains why we are different. We can be impatient with those who do not respond to the gospel if we imagine that anyone can become a Christian by his own efforts.

WE pause, therefore, and re-read this simple statement between the brackets. We remind ourselves that even if men are as spiritual as those Ephesian saints, there can be no explanation of their deliverance from the old deadly life of sin and self than the undeserved kindness of our God. If we had been left to ourselves we could have had no experience of heaven here below and no hope of heaven "in the ages to come", and if we still rely on our own efforts we will fall back into spiritual ineffectiveness. Grace, and grace alone, is the answer at all times.

WHEN we recoil with horror at the devil-driven procedure of those who are called "the sons of disobedience", we must remember that we would be in exactly the same state but for the inexplicable grace of God. When we sit down with satisfaction among God's children -- and perhaps are given a position of some honour among them -- we must remember that we would still be wandering with the world's outcasts if grace had not sought us out and brought us into God's family.

ONE imagines that those heavenly beings who never left their first estate must gasp with astonishment as they look upon the people who are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, and realise -- as they are competent to do -- the worthlessness of those being so honoured. How rich must be the grace of God and how exceeding great must be His love for sinners, if it can embrace such "children of wrath"!

SUCH beings see things as they really are. They know us in our true unworthiness, and perhaps that adds to the continual worship which they offer to the Redeemer for His matchless grace to men. In this they put us to shame. We should be loudest in our worship, for it is we who have been extricated from our misery and given a place in undeserved glory with Christ, and all because of grace.

"By grace have ye been saved." To us this is not so much a parenthesis as a bold headline to be displayed in constant humble gratitude over the whole story of our lives.


[Back cover]

1 John 2:28

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