"... 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. 9, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1980 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

A Hard Task For The Trinity 1
His Name Is Wonderful 4
Captivity In The Lord 7
Come Let Us Walk In The Light Of The Lord 9
Chapter By Chapter Through Romans (21) 15
The Secret Of Daniel's Strength (1) 18
Inspired Parentheses (23) ibc



Harry Foster

"It is hard for the righteous to be saved" 1 Peter 4:18 N.I.V.

MOST versions give a rendering which argues that the righteous is scarcely saved. This is a statement which is not easy to understand. It is apparently a quotation from Proverbs 11:31, but that verse does not give us much assistance in seeking its true meaning. The word "scarcely" cannot indicate an experience of only just scraping in, for that would be unworthy of the gospel. We find it in Romans 5:7, where the stress seems to be on the great difficulties involved: "Scarcely for a righteous man would one die". It is used here to indicate the unlikeliness of the matter, that it is so hard as to be almost impossible. For this reason the N.I.V. translation: "It is hard", is a more helpful one, the stress being on the costliness rather than on the narrowness of the escape.

Young's Concordance renders the word, "with toil and fatigue"; Darby has it: "It is with difficulty"; while the NEB reads: "It is hard enough ...". "Scarcely" does not appear to convey the right idea to us, for it is unlikely that Peter would pass from writing about the believer's portion of fullness of glory to suggest that after all the redeemed sinner has only just scraped into heaven by the skin of his teeth. The apostle preferred to contemplate "an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom" (2 Peter 1:11).

Yet the fact remains that here he writes of salvation being "hard". To whom was it hard? Not, surely, to the sinner. Had not Peter spent his life trying to convince men of how easy it is to be saved (Acts 2:39 & 10:43)? No, salvation is not hard for the trusting sinner; for him it is free, as any gospel preacher knows. Then for whom is it hard? Not for the saved, but for the Saviour. Our salvation has been the most difficult and most costly operation ever undertaken by the Triune God. It is free for us but it is not cheap. It is very simple for the repentant sinner but it was indescribably hard for his gracious Saviour.

The rest of the verse asks quite logically what hope there is for the one who does not avail himself of this salvation. If God had so to extend Himself to make it possible, what hope can any man have who does not know His saving grace? Where shall he appear? Where indeed! All of us were "scarcely" saved in the sense that we might so easily have been lost. Only a faithful Creator who made Himself into a sacrificial Redeemer delivered us from our predicament. But at what a cost! The Triune God was extended to the full to get us justified.

It Was Hard for the Father

It was easy for God to create the world. He just spoke and it was done. It was not difficult for Him to bring the human race into being. He used His hands to form Adam and He breathed His life to animate him, but this entailed no remarkable effort for such a One. But how hard it must have been for Him when man treacherously broke away from His love and entered into league with Satan, His sworn enemy! We feel for the wretched humans, expelled from God's lovely garden, but should we not rather feel for the outraged God of love? There is a sense in which we can describe Genesis 3 as the Father's great sorrow.

And the heartache continued until Jesus was born. At the time of the Flood we are told that God was broken-hearted: "It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart" (Genesis 6:6). Looking back on those forty wilderness years of His amazing goodness to Israel in the wilderness, God had to confess: "Forty years long was I grieved with that generation" (Psalm 95:10), and later on the prophets bore witness to the continuing tragedy of God's unrequited love: "The more I called them, the more they went from me" (Hosea 11:2). Our right appreciation of the serene majesty of our eternal God must never make us think of Him as unfeeling. In a world like ours supreme holiness must entail deep suffering.

It must have been hard for the Father to keep on loving such an unlovely world as ours. It must have been hard for Him to bear with each of us, as guilty as Adam and as ungrateful as Israel. Think of the strain on His patience! [1/2] Far from being unfeeling, His reaction about Israel was to say to Moses: "Let me alone ... that I may consume them" (Exodus 32:10). Through Isaiah He protested: "I cannot away with iniquity ... your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth ... I am weary to bear them" (Isaiah 1:13-14). It was as though even God Himself could not stand any more. He did, though, but none of us will ever know how sorely His patience must have been tried. His last Old Testament words were a well-justified threat to smite this selfishly ugly world with a curse. But He did not do so. He moved into the New Testament with the gift of His Son. Thousands of years of treacherous ingratitude on man's part had not exhausted His patience. But it must have been very hard -- even for God.

And then the New Testament brings us to the hardest part of all -- the sacrificial sending of His Son to this sinful earth. It is not easy for us to appreciate how much pain the Father bore from the Incarnation to the Cross. Foolish men -- even foolish Christians -- have attributed to Jehovah a cold, judicial or even vindictive attitude which was only pacified by the intervention of the compassionate Jesus. Such ideas are an insult to His name of Father. Let us never forget that it was God who so loved the world that He gave ... May we not reverently suggest that this was the hardest thing that almighty God ever did?

Now God loves a cheerful giver, for that is what He is like. It follows, therefore, that He accompanied His most sacrificial giving with a song. The angel sang at Bethlehem, though for a time heaven had been emptied of the glorious presence of the well-beloved Son. And even when that Son made His final choice to go to the cruel cross, the Father did not complain but spoke from heaven about glory coming to His name (John 12:28). But, if God rejoiced, He also suffered. We would be foolish to a degree and unappreciative, too, if we did not pause to ask ourselves how hard it must have been for the Father to share in this sacrifice at Calvary.

There is not much in Scripture to explain this costliness to the Father of our salvation. Perhaps the story of Abraham's sacrifice is the best Old Testament illustration of it, for we read how he and Isaac "went both of them together" to Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:6, 8), and we tend to sympathise especially with the father as we consider that sombre journey. It is not difficult to realise something of the cost to that father of the proposed sacrifice of his only and much loved son, and this may give to us some small indication of how hard to the heart of the Father must have been the sacrifice of His Son on the Cross.

There is a further hint of this in the New Testament phrase: "He that spared not his own Son" (Romans 8:32) with the implication that He would rather have done anything else, had it been possible. If we were to be saved it was not possible. God so loved, which means that God had so to suffer.

May we suggest that the darkest moment even in divine history was when the Son cried out: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Quite rightly we judge this to have been the hardest blow of all for the Son, but perhaps we have been slower to imagine the infinite distress that must have come to the Father as He heard that anguished cry and forced Himself to remain silent. It is true that the righteous is "scarcely" saved in the sense that only a God whose name is Love could have carried through the work of redemption.

It Was Hard for the Son

We do not need to enlarge upon the cost to the Son of our salvation, for every justified sinner is constantly reminded at the Lord's Table of how hard it must have been for Christ to die for our sins. In this connection we may be glad to use the word "scarcely", for it hardly seems possible that He would do all that just for us.

But before we consider His death we must ponder the totality of His life as our Saviour. It was not the sensational element in His life but the inner and unseen selflessness which must have been so hard. When He made the paralytic man to walk, He described it as easy (Mark 2:9). When He stilled the fearsome tempest, He did so without hesitation, and only expressed surprise that His disciples had been so worried about it all (Mark 4:40). When He went to Bethany to raise up from the grave a man who had been dead for four days, He gave no impression of effort, but simply thanked the Father for a straightforward answer to a simple prayer. For Him nothing of this was hard. Men marvelled, but to Him it was not difficult. For this reason we are apt to take His holy life for granted, as though everything were easy for Him. How wrong we are! [2/3]

He took up His cross daily, as He told us to do, and that must have meant that He never had an easy day. Was it not hard for Him to choose to be born in a stable and to spend all those years in the carpenter's shop? Was it not hard for Him to endure such opposition from sinful men (Hebrews 12:3)? Was it easy for Him never to please Himself (Romans 15:3), never to do His own will (John 6:38)? Was it not hard for Him to come down from the Mount of Transfiguration instead of stepping straight into the glory of heaven, as presumably He might well have done? As the time of His passion drew near, He was overwhelmed with an agony of inner conflict. "What shall I say?" He cried (John 12:27). "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me", He prayed in a blood-like sweat of agony (Luke 22:44).

In the Gospels we also see clearly how subtle were the Satanic attempts which made life hard for the Son of God. From the first fierce temptations in the wilderness, through the years of ministry when the Tempter even duped the beloved Peter into being his spokesman, and right to the very end when he used the thoughtless crowds to urge Christ to come down from the cross, the Devil stopped at nothing in his efforts to hinder Christ's redemptive work. Mercifully for us, the great enemy of our souls was defeated, but it was a hard, hard fight, right up to its bitter end.

It Was Hard for the Spirit

Salvation is the work of the Spirit as well as of the Father and the Son. This is the most difficult part of our consideration, for the Holy Spirit has neither visible shape nor personal name. We are so used to thinking of the Spirit in terms of empowered service or enthusiastic rejoicing, that we tend to think of Him as an influence or an energy, overlooking that He is a real person and subject to real emotion.

His personality is proved by the fact that He loves, He speaks, He guides and He forbids. More than this, though, His capacity for suffering is proved by the fact that both the Old Testament and the New speak of His being grieved. We are told that the people "grieved his holy Spirit" (Isaiah 63:10) and this is made all the more poignant in that His love had been so great that "in all their affliction he was afflicted" (v.9). To the Ephesians Paul wrote: "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God ..." (4:30). This shows that things may be made hard for the Spirit to bear. Let us never be carried away by the use of the pronoun "it" in the A. V. The Spirit is not an impersonal atmosphere or energy by which God imparts power or joy to us. He is God. He loves; and because He loves He suffers.

It was hard for the Holy Spirit to bring salvation to the sinner. Is this sound doctrine? I suggest that it is not difficult to prove that it is. Was it hard for Jesus to be tempted in the wilderness? Of course it was -- much harder than we can realise. But who was responsible for that bitter conflict? It was the Holy Spirit who had no sooner descended as a dove upon the Lord than He led Him into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil (Matthew 4:1). If the tender, gracious Spirit of God delights to comfort, how costly must it have been to precipitate such bitter suffering! He did not enjoy leading Jesus into the wilderness. For Him it would surely have been so much more pleasant to have begun straight away by anointing the lips of Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue. But for our sakes and our redemption, it was somehow necessary for the Lord first to be tempted and tried, hard as it might be for Him personally to go, and hard also as it must have been for the Spirit so to direct His steps. And in fact when Jesus did go to Nazareth and the anointing Spirit empowered Him to speak wonderful words of life, the outcome was complete rejection by the people there. Can we doubt that such hostile response was hard for the Spirit to bear? How grieved He must have been?

Much harder, though, when He led the Lord to the cross. This He certainly did. The whole life of Jesus was ruled and directed by the Holy Spirit, so it must have been the Spirit who led the Saviour to Jerusalem, to the Garden of Gethsemane and to the cruel cross. We know that it was so, for we are told that "through the eternal Spirit" Christ offered Himself to God (Hebrews 9:14). Who, then, can deny that however easy it may be for the Spirit to perform miracles, it was bitterly hard for Him to accomplish our redemption? The Father, the Son and the Spirit worked harmoniously and sacrificially that even one sinner might be saved. In our text the word "righteous" is singular. All this was necessary for the salvation of one sinner. It was the hardest of all tasks for the whole Trinity to provide salvation just for Peter, or for you, or for me. Surely we can say, with Jeremiah: "There [3/4] is nothing too hard for the Lord", but we do so in no glib or superficial manner but with a deep sense of the miracle of divine love and power provided by the cross. In a sense, it is all a part of God's creator activities that the work of redemption should safeguard His purpose in creation, and perhaps it is for this reason that Peter makes use of the striking phrase: "their faithful Creator". Faithfulness is a costly virtue, and God had to pay a fearful price to redeem His fallen creatures. Was it worth it? This is not an unreasonable question, and in fact any sensitive believer may well feel a doubt as to whether his personal salvation warranted the enormous cost which God paid for it. Does the Triune God consider the pains of the cross to be worthwhile? We turn again to the Scriptures for the answer to such a question.

Satisfaction for the Triune God

For this purpose we begin with the Son, for of Him it is clearly stated that: "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). This makes it plain that, far from regretting the pains which He endured, our Saviour is well content with the fruits of His redeeming work. It was hard, very hard, to make it possible for a lost sinner to become a justified son of God, but the Lord Jesus finds deep pleasure in His saved people. One can only begin to imagine what deep gratification must have flooded the risen Saviour's heart as He listened to Mary Magdalene's delighted exclamation; "Rabboni", and as He wiped away the tears of His dear Peter. And so with each one of us. "He shall see his seed", the prophet foretold, and He does see us. "He will be satisfied" Isaiah prophesied, and we may be sure that He is.

What about the Father? Well, His supreme satisfaction is always in His Son, as He Himself repeatedly declared, but so far as we are concerned there is an illuminating phrase in Paul's writings in which he speaks of "the glorious gospel of the happy God" (1 Timothy 1:11). The association of God's blessedness with His gospel at least hints at the pleasure which has come to Him in our salvation. Earlier in his ministry Paul had reminded the Corinthians that "it was God's good pleasure, through the foolishness of the preaching (of the word of the cross), to save them that believe" (1 Corinthians 1:21). Clearly, then, the Father is delighted with redemption's results and feels well recompensed for the great price which He had to pay to achieve it for us.

It is neither easy nor profitable to make discriminations within the Godhead, but surely we are justified in asserting that the Holy Spirit shares in this satisfaction. See how He came in such fullness to the Church at Pentecost, notice how He was poured out in jubilant praise at Caesarea (Acts 10:45), and note that when the Thessalonians received the gospel message, they found that it was accompanied by "joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Paul assures us that the kingdom of God is composed of "joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).

This is probably enough to prove our point. There is one verse which helps to stress both the combined work of the Trinity and the satisfaction enjoyed in salvation; it is Galatians 1:15, where Paul speaks of his experience "When it was the good pleasure of God ... to reveal his Son in me ...". The Father separated Paul; the Son called him; and the Spirit indwelt him. And the whole operation was marked by God's good pleasure. In this, Paul is a pattern for each justified sinner. For our compassion and prayers this is also a reminder of the dire peril of those for whom the cross is still foolishness. "Where shall the non-believer and the unbeliever appear?" Where indeed?



Arthur E. Gove

Reading: John 6:1-14

THERE are seven sign-miracles in the main body of John's Gospel. This, being the fourth, is the central wonder and is itself a seven-fold wonder, as I hope now to demonstrate. Firstly, however, it should be noted that the Lord has given special emphasis to this miracle by causing it to be recorded in all four Gospels. In this it stands alone. From the first John has told us that the purpose of Christ's miracles was to manifest His glory (2:11) so that we may well expect that [4/5] this central and unique sign is calculated to give us a special revelation of the glory of the One whose name is indeed Wonderful.

One of the special points stressed by John is that from the first Jesus Himself knew what He would do (v.6). It does not say He knew what He would try to do! His purposes are not experiments; even before we see them they are established facts. While Philip was working away at his arithmetic and Andrew arguing about the inadequacy of their resources, Jesus already knew just what would fully meet the situation. He knows it all. The Gospel has already revealed this. He knew Nathanael's heart-searchings (1:48), He knew what was in man (2:25) and He knew all about the woman of Samaria (4:29). He knew about the people's hunger, He knew about the lad, and most of all, He knew just how to meet human need -- theirs and ours!

The Lord Jesus has the answer for all our needs in Himself. He is the Sympathiser, "moved with compassion" (Matthew 14:14). He is the Supplier , "He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were sat down" (John 6:11). He is the Sustainer, "lest they faint by the way" (Mark 8:3). He is the Satisfier, "they did all eat and were filled" (Matthew 14:20). How wonderful it is to know Him! How sad is the plight of those who try to face life's problems without Him!

In a sense this story is full of miracles. I have discovered at least seven wonders indicated by it. Perhaps if we consider them we can have some fuller realisation of His glory and so enter into new depths of faith in Him.

1. It was wonderful that among all those people there was just one lad with something to eat.

We are never given his name. We do not know where he came from. Until John wrote this last Gospel we were not even informed of his existence. But there he was, a miraculous provision of God's providence; the right lad in the right place at the right time. He could so easily have wandered away. He might well have eaten his meagre lunch long before this. The fact that he was there just when he was needed represents a powerful instance of the overruling providence of God.

What was true of that boy is true also of us. God takes a detailed interest in our lives, takes care of everything in them, and loves to have us just in the right place at the right time. From one point of view we are of little or no importance, but this lad teaches us that we can have a key part in the glorifying of Christ among men. So easily we kick at our circumstances, question why things happen to us as they do, and fail to realise what great things the Lord can do with our littleness. To the believer there is no such thing as chance. In a thousand ways God orders even the details of his life. "A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps" (Proverbs 16:9).

2. It was wonderful that among that crowd of over five thousand, this lad was noticed by one of the disciples.

With his little lunch of five biscuits and two sardines, the boy can have had no idea that the Lord wanted to use him, and even if he had, how could he be singled out from such a huge crowd of people? This is the problem which arises in many cases where those concerned wish to serve the Lord. Nobody pays attention to them; they are lost in the crowd, unnoticed and never given a chance. No, this is never the case. Our wonderful Lord will know just where to find us if we quietly commit our cause to Him. There is no need for self-advertisement in the work of Christ. There is no fear of a man with a gift, however small, being left in ineffective obscurity. If we are ready for the Lord when He needs us, then He will know just how to bring us to the front when His time comes.

Many would-be servants of Christ expend so much energy and suffer so much strain because they have not yet learned the secret of this lad. Others may not know about us, but the Lord does. They may not know where to find us, but the Lord's knowledge of us is perfect. It was really a miracle that this boy was singled out by one of those unbelieving disciples and brought forward even by an apostle who had no confidence that his contribution would be of any use. This was a miracle within the miracle.

3. It was wonderful that the lad was willing to give what he had to a complete stranger.

Wasn't the boy hungry, like the rest of them? It was his, anyway, and he only just had enough for himself. It is inconceivable that he knew that he would get back more than he gave, let alone provide a banquet for the great crowd milling around him. He had no idea what Jesus would do, and yet he handed over everything to Him. This was another miracle.

Happily it is a miracle which is being repeated again and again, even in our day. When a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, or some other professional person gives up a lucrative post and easy circumstances to serve Christ in missionary work, that is a miracle. When people forego the joys of home and family to carry the Gospel to some remote place in the earth, that is a miracle. There was once a rather cynical business man who met a nurse whose life was being devoted to caring for the needy lepers on a Mission compound and assured her that he would not do such work for a million dollars. 'Neither would I', replied the nurse, 'but I gladly do it for love of Jesus Christ'. It is a wonder of God's grace when gifts and talents are laid at the foot of the Master for His use. "Bring them hither to me" said the Saviour (Matthew 14:18) and He still says the same today, and says it to us all, even if our contribution seems pitifully small.

4. It was wonderful that the Lord Jesus would take what the lad brought into His own holy hands.

We are left in no doubt as to the status of Him who took the humble loaves and fishes into His hands. He was the Creator who made all things "and without him was not anything made that was made" (1:3). He who is so great was ready to take up something so very small and to hold it in His hands and use it in His service. He has no need of puny man's assistance. Enough for Him to speak, and it is done. Yet He is so gracious that He uses those wonderful hands of His to accept and hold what is offered to Him, even though as in this case, it is offered feebly and with no real faith.

Until they got into His hands, they were only diminutive loaves and insignificant fishes. Once they were in His hands, they became an expression of divine omnipotence. This is a miracle indeed, as the lad must have discovered to his great joy. No amount of effort on his part could nave exploited that small offering of his, and no efforts that we can make will provide God with what He wants. Our wisdom is to commit everything into those gracious and capable hands of His and allow Him to work the transformation which will bring glory to His name, even through us.

5. It was wonderful that the Lord gave thanks to God for what the lad brought.

What the Lord Jesus held in His hands was a very meagre and insignificant quantity of food -- five biscuits and two sardines -- and yet He deliberately offered thanks to the Father for it. This was no formal "grace before meals", since the Lord Jesus never did anything from mere formality. It must, then, have been genuine thanksgiving to the Father. This is wonderful. But how more wonderful that He should take up any of us and thank the Father for us, yet this is what He does. What we are in ourselves can be no motive for praises, for even if we did all that we should we would still be unprofitable servants; so it must be for what He knows He can make of us. "He Himself knew what He would do", so He could rightly offer thanks for the material in His hands, humble though it was.

Does it not melt your heart, when you think of the Lord Jesus taking up your mean and unworthy life and offering thanks to the Father for it? Is this not one of the greatest wonders of all -- the wonder of God's abounding grace to unworthy sinners? How many lives that would have been despised by any normal standards have been taken up in those wonderful hands of the Saviour and made to bring glory to God and blessings to thousands, just as the little loaves and fishes were taken up and blessed long ago. The Lord Jesus will never give thanks to the Father for our feeble efforts to work for Him, but if we humbly commit ourselves into His hands and respond to the government of His Spirit, then we too may bring glory to the Father as He works in and through us.

6. It was wonderful that Jesus multiplied what was given to Him.

There is no limit to what the Lord can do with even the smallest and most insignificant of gifts. All the Gospels stress the large numbers of those who enjoyed the blessings of that action. Think of it. When the disciples came up to the Lord Jesus they saw the tiny quantity of food in His hands, and yet each was able to receive enough to carry away, and then as he began to distribute it the work of multiplication continued in this miraculous way, so that the supply never ran out. Just how and when the actual multiplying took place we do not know; all that we know is that those who serve as intermediaries between the sufficient Saviour and needy men need never worry about the supply running out.

Many years ago I began a ministry in a church and soon found myself challenged as to how I could keep it up. I had no reserve of messages and my gifts were limited. Would I soon have to [6/7] confess that I had nothing more to give and pass on to another church? Well, I am thankful to say that from the first I learned this thrilling lesson of the wonderful way in which the Lord can multiply week after week and year after year, with no diminution of His fullness. The person who is in living touch with Christ will never run out of resources, as I have found from 1952 right up till today.

Those who minister the Word should never think that they have to hold something in reserve for the next week. The Lord Jesus is always at hand with His abiding ability to go on multiplying according to the need. What we attempt to store up may get stale, like the hoarded manna which bred worms, and that will not provide suitable food for hungry hearts. No, we only need to keep in close touch with the Saviour and we will discover that He still has the power to work the miracle of multiplying fresh food for the eater. His name is Wonderful!

7. It was wonderful that there was so much left over at the end.

Every now and then some would-be expositor of the Bible will assure us that the miracle of the five thousand was simply brought about by the fact that the crowd shared their own provisions among themselves. By this act of sharing -- so they tell us -- all was equalled out and everybody had enough. The simple answer to that is to pose the question: "Where, then, did the twelve baskets over come from?" The particular point which the Lord stressed when recalling the two miracles was just this. "Do you not remember that after the five thousand had been fed, you yourselves gathered up twelve baskets of food, and that when the four thousand were fed, your share of what remained was seven hampers?", He enquired of His worried disciples (Matthew 16:9-10). This was a further wonder. The wonder of the margin over after all had been satisfied.

This was not just a tidying-up exercise, picking up the litter of crumbs and fishbones, but the deliberate collection of excess food: "Gather up the broken pieces which remain over, that nothing be lost" (John 6:12). This shows that these were unused portions which could be profitably used. As such they remind us that there is always a super-abundance when things are put into the Lord's hands. All of us will surely testify that we have found it so. There is a wonderful surplus of inexhaustible resources of grace in Christ. The important point is that we must be sure to gather it up. His crowning wonder is the miracle of abundant grace. Let us be careful to gather it up that nothing be lost.



T. Austin-Sparks

Ephesians 3:1; 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:8; 2:8

THERE is a very real sense in which the apostle Paul, in his own person and experience, was an embodiment of the history of the Church in this age. Indeed it would seem to be a principle in the divine economy that those to whom a revelation has been entrusted should themselves have its truth so wrought into their very being and history that they are able to be a sign to their hearers. So it was that the end of Paul's life saw a process of seeming limitation, working itself through by a great "falling away" and a closing up from the general to the specific. This shows how he represented the testimony as a whole. It is precisely what is foretold as to the conditions at the end time, and it is significant that it is specially referred to in the prophetic utterances to Timothy -- the end letter. So that this phrase: "The prisoner in the Lord", occurring as it does in the last writings, is prophetic in its meaning and wonderfully explanatory of God's sovereign working at the end.

What we have here, then, is:

1. The instrument of the Lord's testimony in a place of limitation by the will of God.

As we read the record of the incidents which led up to Paul's going to Rome as a prisoner, and especially as we read the words of Agrippa: "This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar", we are not far from feeling that there were mistakes and accidents, but for which there might have been a much greater extension of the apostle's ministry. There may have been times when Paul himself [7/8] was tempted to wonder if he had not been impulsive in that appeal to the Emperor. But as he went forward, and when the Lord spoke to give him new light from time to time, it became clear that, however the matter might be construed humanly, the sovereign government of God was in it all. He came to know that he was in prison not as the Emperor's prisoner, but as the prisoner in the Lord.

Perhaps Paul did not accept this all at once. Possibly he did not realise just how it would work out. A more or less quick trial and release may have been in his mind. Some hope of further ministry amongst beloved saints seems not to be absent from his correspondence. (There probably was a short period of release from his first imprisonment.) At length, however, he fully accepted what was becoming increasingly clear as the Lord's way, and it grew upon him that this way was in the greatest interest of the Body of Christ.

Thus we see that when the time comes for the Lord's people to be brought face to face with the ultimate and supreme things of the revelation of Jesus Christ, things beyond personal salvation, things which relate to the mind of God from before time eternal; then there has to be a narrowing down and an apparent limitation. Much activity which has been and was quite necessary for the time, now ceases to be of paramount importance. Something more intensive may be called for.

Then that which represents the testimony in its fullest and closest approximation to the ultimate purpose of God has to be shorn of what was good and necessary in God's work of preparation, so that there may be a concentration on the fulfilment of His final purpose in Christ. God's servant is held captive not to some doctrinal truth, but to a vital experience which is wrought into the very fibre of his being. It is not a case of championing some special interpretation of the truth, but of being personally conformed to the spiritual reality of that truth. It is not a matter of personal preference or dislike but of knowing oneself to be a prisoner of the sovereignty of God.

2. The importance and value of seeing things in God's light.

This applied both to Paul and to those who were brought into touch with him. For the apostle, the acceptance of the sovereign ordering of God in his imprisonment issued in increasing illumination and further spiritual emancipation. No one can fail to recognise the tremendous enrichment of ministry which is contained in what are called "The Prison Epistles". If he had been restive, piqued, rebellious or bitter, there would have been no opened heaven for him. A spirit of controversy with the Lord would surely have closed and bolted the door against any fuller divine unveilings.

When all was accepted according to the mind of the Lord, then "the heavenly places" became the eternal expanses of his activities, and earthly bondage gave place to heavenly freedom. So it must be with every instrument set apart in relation to the higher interests of the Lord's testimony. The reading of certain passages in his letters and the record of his imprisonment seem to show how such an acceptance applied to others also. "Be not ashamed therefore of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner" (2 Timothy 1:8), and other passages suggests that there had to be a divine apprehension and not merely a human appraisement of Paul's position. Human levels of reasoning might have produced an atmosphere of doubt, suspicion and questioning and possibly even false imputations. Regarded on merely natural levels, association with the prisoner would have involved such associates in suspicion and prejudice. Doubts about this servant of the Lord were quite widespread, and even many of the other Christians were not sure of him. It was necessary to see the matter from God's viewpoint.

It seems clear that the Lord's purpose in so allowing His servant to be shut up was that he was to be given new revelations to meet the spiritual needs of His people who were learning how identification with Christ in death and resurrection was to lead on to throne-union with Him in power over spiritual "principalities and powers" in preparation for ministry in the ages to come. For this there had to be a putting aside of all human, personal and diplomatic considerations, and a standing in spiritual support of the instrument which God had put in honourable imprisonment. Those who are governed by considerations of reputation or popularity will miss God's purpose in this captivity in the Lord. [8/9]

A further truth which emerges here is that:

3. Shame, reproach and seeming limitation are often God's ways of enriching the whole body of Christ.

This has always been so. The measure of approximation to the fullness of the revelation has always been accompanied by a relative cost. Every instrument of the testimony has had to bear some suspicion and reproach, often in a measure commensurate with the degree of value to the Lord. This has meant that humanly they may have seemed to be subject to limitation, though in actual fact their imprisonment has produced spiritual enlargement. As Paul would say: "my tribulations for you, which are your glory" (Ephesians 3:13) or "The prisoner of Jesus Christ in behalf of you Gentiles" (Ephesians 3:1); in other words, "The measure of my limitation in the Lord is the measure of spiritual enrichment for His people". The fuller the revelation, the more likely is it that there will be fewer who appreciate and a greater number of those who will stand aloof. Revelation only comes through sufferings of this kind, but this is God's way of securing a spiritual seed plot.

A seed plot is an intensive thing. There things are narrowed down to very limited dimensions. It is not an extensive show that is immediately in view, but a preparation for widespread expansion. The immediate impression may be of limitation but you can travel the world over and find a great many gardens which are the fruit of that original intensive cultivation in the seed plot. So it was with the apostle Paul's prison: saints all over the world have benefitted from that costly sowing.

There is a sense in which this truth may apply to many of us. We tend to chafe at limitation, hankering restlessly for what seems wide and more promising. The question arises as to whether we, also, are prepared to be prisoners to the will of God. If the Lord has willed to have us where we are, then our humble faith acceptance of this "captivity" may prove much more fruitful and profitable to others than human reckoning could ever appreciate. I wonder if Paul had any idea that his prison meant his continuous expansion of value to the Lord through nineteen hundred years! What applies to individuals may also apply to assemblies or companies of the Lord's people who may be passing through severe periods of oppression and seeming limitation. May the Lord be graciously pleased to cause the merely human aspect of prison walls to be lost sight of in the realisation that theirs is "imprisonment in the Lord". Values for God through the ages and in every realm may be the outcome of such imprisonment.



J. Alec Motyer

Reading: Isaiah chapters 1 to 6

THESE early chapters of Isaiah's prophecies are mainly occupied with the prophet's account of his own call to service (chapter 6) and the vision given to him of God's purposes and concern over His people and His city. We begin with chapter 6 and then return to the earlier chapters which deal with God's city.


A self-appointed servant is a contradiction in terms. It is the prerogative of the employer to engage those who are to work for him; till he does so they count as unemployed. "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" was the question of the householder in our Lord's parable, and he received a reply that would be understood at any Labour Exchange: "Because no man hath hired us". The Lord Jesus, however, was speaking with reference, not to earthly affairs, but to the kingdom of God. Here also -- indeed, here especially -- the idea of self-appointment is ruled out. Unless and until the Owner of the vineyard calls and directs, service in the vineyard is impossible.

If we would appreciate the full significance of this principle of the divine economy, we must state it more positively, thus: God only acknowledges as His servants those whom He Himself introduces into His service. He it is who calls them in His time, prepares then in His way, and directs them to His own chosen sphere of work. The well-known words of the Lord Jesus come at once to mind: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye [9/10] should go and bring forth fruit". This is a truth which is not limited to the New Testament but is seen the whole length and breadth of Scripture. It is given its most complete illustration in the experience of the Old Testament prophets.

Jeremiah, who later denounced the self-appointed prophets (Jeremiah 23:9-40), was introduced to his prophetic task through a revelation of the painstaking care and patient working whereby God had chosen him (Jeremiah 1:5). Ezekiel was shown that God shares with no-one, not even with the person most closely concerned, His right to appoint His servants to the task He marks out for them (Ezekiel 3:14). It fell to Isaiah to learn what manner of personal preparation for service God decrees for those whom He plans to call and to send. In this chapter Isaiah has recorded this experience. We now consider it under the three headings of Sovereignty, Atonement and Commission.


At the time of Isaiah's call, King Uzziah had occupied the throne of David for fifty-two years. We are told that these were peaceful years for the kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 26 & 27), but we know, too, that by the end of his reign the long peace had been broken by threats from the North (2 Kings 15:37). The old struggle for power in the Near East was about to be resumed, with Judah playing her usual part as an uneasy buffer state between Assyria and Egypt. Thus, as the king's life drew unmistakably towards its close, Isaiah faced the problem of the tiny kingdom's future in a time of world unrest. It was, no doubt, upon thoughts gloomily preoccupied with the transience of all earthly rule that the vision of the rule of God broke upon him. "I saw the Lord!"

Isaiah uses not the divine name "Yahweh", but a word meaning "Sovereign". He interprets his own vision for us when, in verse 5, he declares: "Mine eyes have seen the King". Later in his prophecies, Isaiah used this truth of the sovereignty of Yahweh as a message of comfort (Isaiah 52:7), but at the moment of this vision his reaction was one of profound disquiet, for he was at once made aware that the sovereignty of God is a holy sovereignty, and that sinners stand in imminent peril when they encounter it.

The truth of God's holy sovereignty is proclaimed in the song of the seraphim, when not simply once but repeatedly (so the word signifies) they "cried one to another and said, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts ..." (v.3). It is a regular custom in Hebrew to repeat a word in order to intensify its meaning, but this seems to be the only case in the Old Testament where a word describing a quality is repeated, and then repeated again. This threefold assertion lifts the holiness of God out of the realm of anything else known to men. It cannot be measured by any yardstick which human reason or analogy can supply. It must be accepted in the terms in which it is revealed, and acknowledged as involving all the consequences for man which are clearly stated by the Word of God.

Isaiah discerned with perfect clarity what these consequences were: namely, the exclusion and doom of the sinner. The seemingly stable earth heaved under his feet, as though nature were a better interpreter of the character of its Lord than is man, and were reacting with convulsed violence against this impossible thing -- that a sinner should stand before the thrice Holy God and survive. Then the vision of God was blotted out in the cloud of smoke, and Isaiah, realising not only the blessedness that man had lost but also the full consequences of the loss and the reason for it, cried out: "Woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips ...". In a word, sin excludes man from the presence of God, and that exclusion spells his utter doom. For "undone" does not indicate a mere passing discomfort; it means 'lost, destroyed, ruined'.

Men may sometimes, in a flush of zealous self-confidence, volunteer their services to God; but God repeats the word which He first spoke by Joshua: "Ye cannot serve the LORD, for he is holy" (Joshua 24:19). This same lesson was enforced upon Isaiah. By sin man is banished from God's presence. He carries with him in his banishment the hostile verdict of the Sovereign Creator.

ATONEMENT (vv.6-7)

Nowhere in Scripture is a clearer view given of the mercy which God extends to the condemned sinner than Isaiah's vision of the altar. When the cloud blotted from Isaiah's gaze the vision of God, he could still see the altar of God. Sin expels from God's presence, but while His altar stands, that expulsion need not be final. Quick upon confession of sin comes the proclamation of the atonement for sin which God Himself provides.

It is of divine provision that the altar speaks. The atoning blood is God's gift to sinners: "I have given it to you upon the altar to make an [10/11] atonement for your souls" (Leviticus 17:11). We cannot undertake here to argue the nature of this atonement from the total evidence of Scripture, so must be content with one brief item of this evidence which Leviticus supplies. We find in Leviticus 1:4 that the offerer must lay his hand upon the head of the sacrifice. This is a constant ritual in all the sacrifices and signifies the transference of sin from the sinner to the victim (Leviticus 16:21). The laying on of the hand designates the animal a substitute for the sinner.

This same truth was presented to Isaiah's mind. The altar proclaimed to him that God had appointed a substitute for him in the matter of sin. The seraph affirmed the same truth when he said, "Your sin is purged" (v.7) which more literally reads: 'as to your sin -- paid by substitute!' But there is more to Isaiah's experience than a general recognition of the possibility of a substitutionary atonement. The seraph bore to him a live coal from the altar. It would be contrary to the general tenor of the Old Testament to see in this a suggestion of purification by fire, for this is not a very common Old Testament idea. Rather should the interpretation of the live coal be that the whole message and meaning of the altar, the whole truth of God's provision of a substitute for the sinner in the matter of atonement, is concentrated into this one symbol and is applied directly to the sinner in his need. What the altar declares, the live coal summarises and applies to Isaiah; it is the atonement in its vital relationship to the individual sinner.

There are two further intimations in the passage concerning the nature of the atonement. Firstly, the seraph is not an independent agent but only an emissary of God. The atonement, therefore, in its application to the individual sinner, is the direct consequence of the will of God for that person. It is by God's sole command that the personal experience of receiving the reconciliation comes about. And secondly, the atonement is complete; it leaves nothing more to be done. Isaiah confessed a particular sin, but God's atoning act did much more than meet that. It touched not merely the sin which Isaiah confessed, but dealt effectively with all the sin that God saw. "Thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged", that is, the atonement extends to the root as well as the fruit of sin; to the inner disposition towards sin as well as to the outward manifestation of sin in individual acts. The atonement is more complete than the confession. The sinner confesses such of his sins as he knows; God provides atonement for all the sin he has.


Then, by a divine logic, came the call to service. There is no such call except on the basis of the atonement, if for no other reason than that until the atonement has been brought home to the soul, man cannot hear the voice of God.! Isaiah, who had lost the vision of God in the earthquake and the smoke, had first to be restored to His presence by the atonement and only then could he hear God's voice. What is more, it was by the atonement that his lips were now freed from the defilement of sin and made ready to answer God's call to service. And, just as by the will of God atonement had been applied to him in his sin, so now with equal mercy and by the same will of God, the commission to service was given him.

This is not simply the experience of Isaiah. It is God's established order. God's way is first to condemn sin; secondly to provide atonement for the sinner; and thirdly -- and only thirdly -- to admit to His service. This order cannot be reversed or altered. It has, indeed, been reaffirmed by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. According to John 20:19-22, Jesus came to His disciples on the evening of His resurrection with a message of peace: "Peace be unto you. And when he had said this, he shewed unto them his hands and his side". What the live coal was to Isaiah, the wounded hands of the Saviour were to the torn consciences of His disciples. This was their first requirement, peace, and in His wounded body, expressive of His substitutionary death, they found that peace. It was only then that He could continue: "Peace be unto you. As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you". The pattern is still the same. The atonement is the sole entry to God's service. There is no other appointed way. Once that matter is firmly established and the believer is in full fellowship with the thrice-holy God, then he is ready to be told what personal commission God has for him. His service is to be voluntary, but not self-chosen. Having made his offer: "Here am I, send me", he will surely, like Isaiah, hear God's gracious command to go forward in His service. [11/12]


We now turn back in the book, though probably not in Isaiah's experience, to consider the objective and absorbing theme of his ministry, which is the City of God. This comes to us in two sections, the first in chapter 2, which gives a revelation of God's purpose, and the second in chapter 4 which describes the realisation of that purpose.

The opening verse of chapter 2 introduces a self-contained unit of Isaiah's prophecies, in which he further elaborates the theme that he has announced in chapter 1. There the topic of Israel's rebellion against God was shown in its historical consequences for the nation. Now, in chapters 2 to 4, the same topic is seen in the light of the universal purpose of God in which Israel enjoyed such a central place.

Briefly, the main sequence of thought in these chapters is that in chapter 2, vv.2-4, we are shown the ideal city of God, Jerusalem, as the centre of universal pilgrimage and honour. From chapter 2 verse 5 to chapter 4 verse 1, we return to the actual Jerusalem in its utter failure to realise this ideal; then in chapter 4, verses 2-6 we have the picture of the redeemed city wherein, by act of God, the ideal is realised.

God's Purpose Revealed (2:1-9)

The statements of verses 2 to 4 are virtually identical with Micah 4:1-3. It is impossible to be certain whether Isaiah was quoting Micah or vice versa, or whether both were quoting some unknown contemporary. For us the repetition stamps the verses with double authority. It is not difficult to see why these remarkable verses should have caught the popular imagination in Isaiah's Jerusalem, for they constitute a kind of hymn setting forth the universal supremacy of their city. Verse 2 states this general truth, while verses 3 and 4 supply particular applications. The vision, which is for the undated future -- "the latter days" -- tells of a time marked by the permanent supremacy and universal centrality of "the mountain of the LORD's house". Looking back to the time of David and Solomon we discover a temporary supremacy and a limited centrality. This was the best that the nation had ever known, but its true summit was yet to be. This vision is for God's full and final plan. The word "established" is emphatic in the Hebrew, and expresses the idea of permanence, and what is more, the city of God is seen to hold this fixed position in a context of universal centrality, since it is for "all the nations" (v.2).

What then is the nature of this supremacy and centrality? Clearly it is spiritual (v.3). The movement of the nations is motivated by a desire for the truth which only the Lord can impart. That is what they now desire and for it they express willingness to surrender to Him and to conform to His requirements, to walk in "his ways ... his paths". The sequence here is notable. There can be no service except by obedience and no obedience without revelation; therefore the nations say: "He will teach ... we will walk". Their needs and desires can only be met by teaching which proceeds directly from the Lord, authoritative teaching which is described as "the word of the Lord". So we see that the supremacy of Jerusalem is spiritual, arising from the fact that there, and there alone, true revelation is available. The effect of the universal supremacy is also practical: "... neither shall they learn war any more" (v.4). Under the rule of God the nations will enjoy peace. The verb "reprove" would be better translated "adjudicate between". The nations will bring their rival claims and contested suits to the bar of divine justice, where matters will be so resolved as to make appeal to force outmoded and needless. Such is the picture.

It is remarkable that this stirring vision from the remote past should have power to speak so directly to the needs of our own day. Yet from each section of this hymn comes a truth exceedingly applicable to the modem world.

1. Peace in the World

In the first place, we see here the Biblical prescription for worldwide peace. Today world rulers are saying: 'Control armaments and gradually work towards total disarmament. Then, when there is no longer the means of warfare, peace will be secured'. But when we turn to the prophet Isaiah we find him saying that disarmament -- total disarmament -- is a consequence of peace, not a cause of it. When peace is established, arms will be now more. Modern leaders seek peace among men as an end in itself. Isaiah declares such peace to be a by-product brought about when the nations bow to the Person, the Word and the authority of the one true God, and enter into peace with Him. [12/13]

2. Unity in the Church

In the second place we see here the Biblical prescription for a world-wide Church. The picture is of all the nations gathered round Jerusalem as the one religious centre, all bowing to the one God. If the modern world at large cries out for peace, modern Christendom is characterised by a new awareness of the 'unhappy divisions' of the churches. How shall this problem be approached? Much modern ecumenicity speaks like this: 'Let each contribute such insight into religious truth as he possesses, and by patience, and prayer, and common counsel we will find out our large measure of agreement; by charity and understanding we will adjust ourselves to each other that nothing valuable be lost and the great gain of unity achieved'. What does Isaiah say? The way to a world-wide, united Church is for all the different separated groups to be willing to abandon individual traditions and come humbly to the "God of Jacob" to learn out of His law, and submit to His word. This is the Biblical prescription; nothing else can succeed. "All that confess thy holy name" must "agree in the truth of thy holy word", and then they will be able to "live in unity and godly love".

3. An Act of God

In the third place, these things will come to pass by the act of God. It is clear that the hand of the Lord is behind all that is described in verse 2. The mountain of the Lord's house towers over all others. The God who created the world has reorganised it to make it express a new spiritual situation. The uplifted mountain is a parable of the supremacy which He will accomplish for Himself. Further, to this exalted place the nations will "flow" (cp. Jeremiah 31:12). In this metaphor there is a parable of the supernatural work of God in the hearts of men; for water does not flow uphill. By nature the nations would flow down, and therefore away from the heights of Zion, but by grace they are drawn up to it, and because this is an act of God it is therefore certain of accomplishment.

When we come to chapter 4 we shall reach the climax of this matter, and see that it is the result of God's redeeming activity. Here is the difference between the Bible's predictions of a future glory and the Utopias which men dream up. Human schemes all shipwreck on the rocks of human sinfulness, but not even sin can hinder the certain accomplishment of what God has promised. These things shall be, because they rest on God's oath.

4. The Call to Holiness

As a direct consequence of this future hope comes the call for holy living: "O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord" (v.5). Here too we perceive a clash between man's modes of thought and God's. Men are inclined to say: 'Repent in order that the kingdom of God may come'; the Bible says: "Repent because the kingdom of God is at hand". In the same spirit Isaiah turns to his fellow Israelites, and we note how the name "Jacob" is repeated (vv.3, 5, 6). He was speaking to a nation full of complacent pride; the prophecy caught the popular imagination because they figured in it and the God being sought after was their God. They presumed that their future was secured and that their own God would see them right in that great day. But Isaiah's word to them is very stern. They can have no grounds for hope of a share in that glory unless they now live in and by the light which will then shine in its fullness. They already have the revelation, the "light" which the nations will one day seek; then let them show their membership of the house of Jacob and their allegiance to his God to be a reality by an obedient walk. Seeing that all these things must come to pass, this is the manner of men that they must be.

In order to lend weight to his appeal to the house of Jacob (v.5) Isaiah performs a lightning change of address often found in the prophetic books. He suddenly turns to God in prayer; this call to walk in the light is all the more urgent because "Thou hast forsaken thy people" (v.6). He has done this because they have exchanged the sufficiency of His provision for a sufficiency derived from the world. Possessing the light of the Lord, they have preferred to be "filled from the east" -- the worldly source of light. They have set their hearts on worldly wealth (silver and gold), worldly security (horses and chariots), and have even conformed their thoughts of God to their own tastes and patterns (idols ... the work of their own hands) (vv.7-8). This is unforgivable (v.9). Can such a people as this inherit the promises? Is this "holy living and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God"? (2 Peter 3:11-12). What a need there is for us to take to heart Isaiah's plea -- "Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord"!

God's Purpose Realised (4:2-6)

The main structure of this whole passage is that 2:2-4 displayed the true aspects of the city of God; 2:6 to 4:1 described the debased conditions [13/14] of the Jerusalem of his day and now he turns to gaze on the realisation of the kingdom which God will set up (4:2-6).

An omnipotent God cannot be defeated in His purpose to bring a people to Himself; a sovereign God cannot lose control of events so that sin and death triumph; a God whose name is Yahweh does not lack the redemptive power to rid people of sin's bondage, as once He rescued them from Egypt's slavery. To those snared in the spiritual darkness of the degraded Jerusalem of his day, Isaiah proclaims a sure word of prophecy, "a light that shines in a dark place". This is the word of God which comes to us in our day.

Nothing could show more clearly that God alone acts to bring about His New Jerusalem than the verb which is used in verse 5. Not only here is it used with God as its subject; "The LORD will create", but the very verb "to create" is never used throughout the Old Testament of any other agent but God. Its usage in Genesis 1, verses 1, 21 and 27 is typical of its force; it describes the performance of actions which, by their greatness or their newness, point to the agency of God. It describes the effortless exercise of divine power by the One who speaks and It is done, who commands and they are created. Thus shall the New Jerusalem be established. No matter how great, in human eyes, seem the powers ranged on the side of evil, and no matter how they may exert themselves, when His "Day" comes, the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ. "He that sitteth upon the throne saith: Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5).

i. Redemptive power secures the city

In Isaiah's teaching, this creative energy is used in conjunction with His redemptive power. God's action is to "wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purge the blood-guiltiness of Jerusalem" (v.4). Concerning the actual nature of this action, Isaiah gives us a hint and a positive assertion. The hint is that it will be redemption by blood: this arises from the use of the two verbs ('purge' and 'wash') both of which are most often employed in connection with the Levitical offerings. The reference to the Exodus -- the cloudy-fiery pillar (v.5) -- supports this interpretation. Those who left Egypt did so by means of the blood which sheltered them from the just judgment of God; so, apparently, will it be for those of whom Isaiah here speaks. This is the hint then. The positive assertion concerning this act of God is that it will be performed "by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning". The explanation of this double description surely is that the one act of God has a double function; it both destroys and saves. This saving aspect of God's act is one of justice in burning judgment. God does not redeem by any conniving at sin or by lowering His standards in respect of select sinners. He acts in exact and full accordance with the requirements of His immutable holiness, for He is "a just God and a Saviour".

ii. Redeemed sinners constitute the city

Look at what Isaiah has to say about the haughty daughters of Zion (3:16 to 4:1), and then see that these are to be the ones whom the Lord will wash and cleanse (v.4) as His own loved people. What can this mean but that those whom God intervenes to save are sinners like the rest of mankind; that it is not for any merit they possess, nor for any faithfulness which they show towards Him; nor for any reason but His own saving mercy. In character, by nature and by destiny they are on a level with all others; but by grace they are saved. By nature they are "daughters of Zion"; but by grace they are "My people".

This truth is brought before us remarkably in verses 2-3. Here Isaiah uses four phrases to describe this purged community. The first three tell us nothing more than that some remain after a catastrophe which has overwhelmed others: they have escaped from the danger, they are the survivors of the larger body of people who once inhabited the old Jerusalem. Having thus said the same thing three times over, Isaiah has provided the backcloth against which he proposes to declare the striking truth that their escape was no accident, their survival was not by chance, their continued existence was not a haphazard freak of fortune -- they, "every one" of them, were "written unto eternal life". Out of a world of sinners, the Sovereign Redeemer purposes to bring to Himself those whom He has ordained to that mercy, apart from any merits of theirs.

This mighty act of God for His people has a two-fold result; one subjectively, in their nature; the other objectively, in their circumstances. Recalling to mind that they were "daughters of Zion" in the full sense of that term as described in the dark passage in chapter 3, Isaiah now teaches what they have become by the act of God: "he that is left ... shall be called holy" [14/15] (v.3). The Hebrew is phrased as to throw the word "holy" into emphasis. Certainly when God saves He knows no half measures! In Isaiah's usage, this word can only point in one direction: "Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh the Omnipotent" (6:3). Well may He be called "omnipotent", for He so acts towards sinners that they become partakers of His divine nature. That which God essentially is, holy, they become also by His mighty purgation and washing and new creation.

But this is not all. In their outward circumstances, their objective relationship with God, everything is now new. Here too the creative hand of God has been at work for His people. We turn to see the three pictures presented in verses 5-6. First there is the Pillar of Cloud and Fire which was the constant companion of those redeemed at the Exodus. The pillar was their guide and their protection through all their journey. Those who inhabit New Jerusalem live in the presence of God in the same way. He overshadows, leads, protects and never leaves them. Secondly there is the marriage: "Over all the glory shall be spread a canopy". As we can verify from Psalm 19:5 and Joel 2:16, this refers to the bridal tent which God spreads over "the glory of his inheritance in the saints". We cannot but contrast this intimate union and fellowship with the travesty of marriage in 4:1. How hopeless, vile and ineffectual is the salvation people seek to contrive for themselves compared with the perfection of the salvation which God provides for His people! Finally Isaiah adds the picture of protection both from the heat-storm and the rain-storm, speaking of the complete provision of God for every conceivable need which could befall His people (v.6). All this is God's gracious treatment of His undeserving people.

iii. Redemption is through God's Messiah

"In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel" (v.2). If we put this the other way round, it means that the escaped of Israel come into possession of, or enjoyment of, adornment, glory, exaltation and beauty through this "Branch". The words summarise all the blessings we have seen as belonging to the redeemed people: the glory of being partakers of the divine nature and the beauty of spiritual adornment.

What is meant by "the branch of the LORD" and "the fruit of the earth"? The phrase "branch of the Lord" is used elsewhere in Jeremiah and Zechariah and it always refers in those passages to Messiah, God's King and Priest. What is more, an identical idea, in almost identical phrasing, is found in Isaiah 28:5, where we read that, in contrast with the false beauty which sinners tried to fashion upon themselves: "in that day the Lord of hosts shall be for a crown of adornment and for a circlet of beauty to the remnant of his people". The wording is so close that it seems clear that we must interpret "the branch of the Lord" as referring to the Messiah. And if this refers to Christ as to His divine ancestry, then "the fruit of the earth" speaks of Him in His human ancestry.

It is, then, through this Blessed One that all the blessings flow. Apart from Him the vision of the supremacy and centrality of the spiritual city of God would have remained but a vision, beautiful in conception but impossible of realisation. In themselves God's people are so unworthy and hopeless that they need an altogether new element if they are to be constituted as a holy [At this point in the text a line of about 8 words is missing from my copy.] element is found when "the man whose name is the Branch" (Zechariah 6:12) appears. In fact the whole ministry of Isaiah was concentrated on further revelation concerning Him. It seems to cry out to us who feel that we live in those "latter days", "Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!"



Poul Madsen


THE apostle has concluded the most thorough, concentrated and systematic presentation of the gospel which we possess in the New Testament. Can there be more to say? Is exhortation not superfluous in the light of so sufficient a gospel? Since the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, we may feel that this power will operate without the help of exhortation or the [15/16] support of the ones to whom it is directed.

The answer to such a question is that exhortations are included as part of the gospel; they are not a supplement to it, an extra, but are organically included in it; they speak directly to everyone who has been renewed by its power. The new life which the gospel has created needs instruction. It is not fully grown from the start; it needs to learn to know its own nature and character. We must know what this entirely new life which we have been raised into is like. We have an instinctive sense of it, but the exhortations bring definition and emphasis to it. We must therefore not imagine that what follows is a supplement to the gospel, much less a contradiction of it, but is a liberating and practical definition of how it is to work in our lives. It is a clarification of what has gone before. This will be clear as we study the concluding chapters of Paul's letter.

The exhortation is addressed to "brethren", that is those Christians who have heard the gospel and received it by faith, and it is made "by the mercies of God", that is, by all that has filled the previous chapters. "Mercies", being plural, suggests that Paul wishes to emphasise that the gospel contains an inexhaustible mine of divine grace and kindness, and that the very thought of it all is overwhelming. It calls forth a gratitude that can never fully express itself, a debt of thanksgiving which can never be wholly discharged. Because of this mercy, and not because of any excellence in them, believers may bring their bodies as sacrifices to God. This means that they may bring the whole of their personality in any given situation to God, recognising that it belongs to Him and can be consecrated to His service.

Paul's choice of words alludes to the Old Testament priestly duties, which did not consist of preaching, but of bringing sacrifices. By the New Covenant the sacrifice which the priests bring is themselves. It is a living sacrifice, for those concerned are really alive; it is a holy sacrifice, for those who bring themselves as sacrifices are holy (1:7); it is a sacrifice acceptable to God, because it is what God wants. This is both a "reasonable service" and an act of spiritual worship, for it agrees with God's nature and with His gospel.

When it is emphasised that exhortations are an integral part of the gospel, it must not be forgotten that this gospel has set us free from the power of this age, even though we are living in it, and has made operative in us the power of the age to come. This is a fact and, as such, it forms the basis of the exhortation as it continues: "Be not fashioned according to this age, but be ye transformed ...". If we have been set free from the attitudes and tendencies of this world, it would be a contradiction of the gospel if we were yet conforming to it.

We could never free ourselves from this world's way of thinking, but the gospel is the power of God to make and keep us free. At the same time it has implanted in us a new mind, a new outlook, and this mind can be constantly renewed. Elsewhere this change is defined as being into the image of Christ (Colossians 3:10), but here it is defined as ability to discern the will of God. This is true personal liberty, for liberty consists of being free from mere conventions or fashions in order to have a clear understanding of what God desires. The will of God is described as being good (that is, in His sight), acceptable (that which He entirely approves) and perfect. There is an element of beauty in this description; it suggests that there is a great privilege involved in discerning and doing God's will.

While the first eleven chapters of the Letter are systematic in their presentation of the gospel, we must not expect now to be given a systematic presentation of gospel ethics, for there is no such thing to be found in the New Testament. What we now have are examples of what it means not to be fashioned according to this world but to have a renewed mind to discern the will of God. These examples might well spring from actual circumstances in the Roman church which needed to be clarified. They cover a wide field, and together form a pattern for the solution of many problems in the churches everywhere.

Humble Diligence (vv.3-8)

The first thing touched upon by Paul is the danger of spiritual pride. It is very easy for one who is stirred by God to think too highly about himself. The danger is especially great for the one who is very earnest and takes himself very seriously. The gospel gives the Christian amazing privileges, including being "seated in the heavenlies with Christ" and "set free from sin" and so on. In order to understand rightly the meaning of this, a man must "think soberly, accordingly as God has dealt to each man a measure of faith". In this case "faith" is used in the sense of ability to do things for God (1 Corinthians [16/17] 13:2). Such an evaluation of ourselves will always lead to humility, for we are forced to admit how little we do, and those who perhaps exercise such faith will be well aware that it represents a gift which they have undeservedly received by grace and therefore have nothing to be proud of.

From here our thoughts logically proceed to what verses 4 and 5 have to say about our being members of one body. It is clearly wrong for one member to think more highly of himself than another. Notice that the statement here is that we are members of one another. This is only because we are members of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) but it checks anyone from thinking highly of himself if he realises that he is a member of the others, which means that he is their servant.

In any case our different functions are a product of God's grace (v.6). The word "gift" (charisma) has already appeared several times in the Letter. It emphasises that the very existence of the Church and of each individual Christian in it, is God's work alone, by free grace, that is, it is " charismatic ". Here the word is used in a limited sense, to cover the practical evidence of God's grace in various functions and actions. Since, then, every spiritual service and work is charismatic, an exhaustive list of the gifts of grace cannot possibly be given. The list which Paul gives here is no more exhaustive than is the list of 1 Corinthians 12.

First the apostle deals with prophesying and then passes on to various expressions of Christian service (v.7). As to prophecy, we notice that there is no mention here of the differentiation between prophecy and tongues which is dealt with in 1 Corinthians. We may reasonably conclude that the matter did not arise. Speaking of this particular gift Paul says: "Let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith", meaning that the whole church shares in and is responsible for the right use of this gift, even though only one or two have it. God does not want the church blindly to submit to what is irrational, nor to receive what it does not understand. It must be able to discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God in this matter, and follow its discernment, for otherwise it will end up with an irrational bondage to the supernatural and a false fear of "resisting the Spirit"! Those who possess the prophetic gift are "members", that is servants, of the others (v.5). Let them never forget this.

We now pass to the various spheres of service: teaching, exhortation, distribution of alms, leadership and acts of mercy, with stress on the importance of concentrating on one's particular gift and carrying it out in the appropriate spirit (vv.7-8).

Loving Service (vv.9-21)

It is natural that in mentioning the gifts of the Spirit, Paul should call attention to love, which is the best gift, without which all other gifts are valueless (1 Corinthians 13). Love builds up the Church (1 Corinthians 8:1), and love holds it together with a perfect bond (Colossians 3:14). We notice that in true brotherly love there are two seemingly contrasting elements; it must show both affection and deference (v.10). Christian love must not only be hearty; it must also be considerate and dignified.

From verse 17 the apostle's thoughts begin to reach out beyond the limit of the Church. His words are not a direct quotation from the Sermon on the Mount, but they remind us strongly of it. The gospel gives the people of God the spirit which permeates the Sermon on the Mount. It does not introduce a more refined legal bondage, but it allows the Spirit of the gospel to define the true life of the kingdom. The command to take thought for things honourable in the sight of all men (v.17) is a warning against a false idea of liberty which makes Christians set aside normal standards of behaviour which all decent men follow.

Finally he must avoid all unnecessary strife (v.18). To show the meekness of Christ towards those who do us wrong is a Christian's special privilege; it is perhaps the most convincing aspect of his witness. For this reason the apostle passes from the mere negative (no revenge), to the positive and more glorious activity of doing good to our enemies. We were the enemies of Christ, but He "overcame" our enmity and our evil with His love. Since He has shown us such great mercy, we are able by the same mercy to overcome those who would do us harm with practical goodness. This is part of the liberty to which God has called us in Christ Jesus, and it is part of the witness which we are called to give. We are set free to love with the love of God. This is His good and acceptable and perfect will for us.

(To be continued) [17/18]


Harry Foster


"THE people that know their God shall be strong, and do exploits" (Daniel 11:32). These were Daniel's words, they were wonderfully confirmed by his life. From him, therefore, we can learn valuable lessons. The narrative chapters in his book give us a great variety of names of God or titles applied to Him. In this series I propose to examine some of these, with a view to discovering how they gave strength to Daniel's faith and how we also may learn to be strong and effective for God.

The first is "Lord" or "Sovereign Lord" (1:2), which in the original is Adonai. This simple title for God appears nowhere else in the book except for chapter 2, where it is constantly on Daniel's lips with that other and more intimate LORD, that is Yahweh. The various Babylonians could speak of God and use the term "Lord" (2:47 & 5:32) but then a different word is employed. Only the true believer can appreciate the reality of the title "Sovereign Lord".

Daniel's Submission

To Daniel this was more than a title; it was a practical reality of everyday life. Its employment at the beginning of the first chapter informs us that from the start God was in charge of the life of this man and his companions. For them life was only tolerable because in everything that happened to them they saw the hand of their God. Only men with this kind of faith can triumph as Daniel did. God really is Sovereign King. How came it that their beloved city was conquered by proud Nebuchadnezzar? It was because the Sovereign Lord permitted him to do so. How could it ever be that those most sacred vessels of God's house should fall into the hands of the heathen conqueror? Again we are told that it was the Sovereign Lord who delivered them into his hands and allowed him to store them in his own god's treasure house. (And incidentally we are told later on how the Lord watched over those holy things (5:2) and kept them safe until Cyrus sent them back again to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:7-8).) Coming much nearer to the poignancies of human suffering, how was it that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were led away into the dark captivity of Babylon, to spend their whole lives there and finally die far from their beloved Jerusalem? The explanation is written down for all to see -- it was the Lord who did it. Faith can never acknowledge secondary causes; it insists that if God is Lord at all He is Lord of everything. His ways may be strange and unaccountable, but His power is absolute.

We are therefore confronted at once with this element of Daniel's faith, which was submissiveness. He accepted all the painful, humiliating and puzzling circumstances of life with good heart because he could see the hand of the Lord behind and above the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Part of the unpleasant experiences which He permitted to come to these four princes was the humiliation of being given pagan names. Contrary to all their natural instincts and desires they had to become students of the learning and tongue of the Chaldeans. For the whole of his life Daniel gave devoted service to this foreign state and its rulers (6:4). If we may judge Daniel's inner reactions by the words of his prayer (and how better can one discern a man's heart condition?), then we can certainly say that he had no personal resentment or complaint. "O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee ..." (9:7). The whole prayer breathes a beautiful spirit of submissive faith.

He didn't sulk when Nebuchadnezzar persisted in calling him Belteshazzar (4:8) and although he probably despised all the superstitious learning [18/19] which he had to acquire and certainly never found any need for in his career, yet he worked so hard that he and his friends were way out at the top when examination time came. Even when Daniel was confronted with an unacceptable demand it is typical of the man that he voiced his refusal in the quiet courtesy which should mark all those who own complete submission to the Sovereign Lord.

Daniel's Determination

Part of the painful experiences which God permitted to come to these four princes of Judah was the humiliation of being given pagan names. This they seemingly accepted with all the other indignities. We notice, however, that verse 7 which lists these names is immediately followed by the challenging conjunction, "But"! It seems that Daniel took the lead in this matter. He was content to meet the pressure of harsh circumstances with a submissive spirit, but he could not and he would not tolerate spiritual defilement. "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not ...". Since they were enduring so much, this might seem to us a matter of relative unimportance; to Daniel death itself was preferable to inner defilement.

It is not easy for us to appreciate just what it was that provoked such a violent reaction on Daniel's part. Some have tried to make it an argument in favour of a vegetarian diet, but there is no suggestion that he was then or afterwards committed to a sole diet of "pulse". Others have used Daniel's resolve to support total abstinence from alcoholic drinks. Now I believe that alcoholism is one of our greatest social evils and maintain that Christians best serve their fellows by refusing all alcoholic drinks, but I find no support for such a procedure in this chapter. On the contrary I notice that later he clearly did eat meat and drink wine in his own home (10:3). No, this is not meant to indicate what the believer should eat or drink, but rather to suggest a spiritual principle. For him the king's meat and wine involved inner defilement, a departure from loyal submission to the holy Lord, and therefore it was unacceptable. Daniel was not a protestor but he was an abstainer. In New Testament language, in his heart he acknowledged Christ as his holy Lord (1 Peter 3:15) and that, as Peter suggests, is a complete antidote for fear.

In this connection we should notice how Daniel implemented this firm resolve of his -- "He purposed that he would not ... therefore he requested that he might not ...". Here, as we have already said, is a perfect example of the quiet courtesy of faith. So often when we try to be uncompromising in our principles we become aggressive and strident. In some cases our very forcefulness betrays some underlying element of insecurity, some doubt which makes us feel that it is necessary to fight for our cause. Now the Christian's fight is always the fight of faith, which means that he can face every problem in a relaxed way. Daniel had no sense that he needed to protest but rather that all he must do was to request and to propose an alternative. In particular it ill became one of God's princes to bring trouble down on the head of the prince of the eunuchs, which might so easily have happened (verse 10).

Does this sound feeble? Just to request to be excused? Well, we must judge by the outcome. The request was granted; Daniel and his friends never did compromise on this or on any other matter which concerned holy separation unto God. It seems that they did not need to do so. The whole message of the book is that God really is Sovereign Lord, who will take full responsibility for His own. In some ways it was a miracle that the man in charge was willing to listen to Daniel at all; it was an even greater miracle that he was prepared to give them the 10-day trial which they asked for; the greatest miracle, however, was that God used their simple food of "pulse" to make them fairer of countenance and fatter in flesh than all the non-abstainers. There was nothing in the pulse. It was probably a simple alternative food available in that place. But at least one man in that company received a striking demonstration that it pays to put one's faith in the Sovereign Lord.

Daniel had staked everything on this Lordship. However courteous he was in his approach, he had a steely determination in his heart that he would rather die than accept the inward defilement of Satan's kingdom. He would accept captivity, perhaps emasculation, a change of name, an obligatory education and a post in the Civil Service of his day; but in the matter of his inner life he knew only one loyalty, and that was to his Sovereign Lord. In this way he placed himself and his future in the hands of God, and [19/20] he did so with every confidence that only the briefest probation would justify his decided faith. The whole of the rest of this story , and indeed the whole of Daniel's life, took its character from this fundamental determination to have a heart kept clean for God.

Daniel's Pre-eminence

Daniel and his friends had to learn a foreign language. I have no doubt that they learned it well, so much so that they were able to shine in the highest political positions. They had to adjust to another culture -- by no means an easy achievement. In their studies they had to spend long hours in acquiring useless information, including superstitions and erroneous ideas which could not be reconciled with the Word of God which was precious to them.

Those early days in Babylon must have entailed hard discipline. In a sense Daniel's very loyalty to God must have made some of the features of his education difficult to endure. There are students in our own day who will feel genuine sympathy with him, for this can also be true for them in their modern Babylon. Education is an area of opportunity but it may also be one of severe testing. Over the food question, Daniel was entirely cast upon God to act for him, but in this matter of intellectual equipment he had to apply himself with diligence if he were to demonstrate that in this field too, God is Sovereign Lord of the lives of His people.

In both tests Daniel excelled. His simple diet and bold faith made him and the other three so much better than the rest that the prince of the eunuchs was put to no risk at all on their account. In the schools, their pre-eminence was equally apparent. It seems that the great Nebuchadnezzar was himself their judge, and his delighted verdict was that these young Jews were ten times better than anyone else in his kingdom. It took some time for him to become acquainted with the explanation of this excellence, but eventually even he had to confess that there was a special element in Daniel's wisdom which came from the true God.

Who can doubt that this first success represented God's seal on Daniel's stand of faith? Yet it must also have been the result of diligent application on his part, for the subjects to be studied were strictly Babylonian. Is there a principle for all believers in this pre-eminence? Dare we say that every true subject of heaven's Sovereign Lord should have this kind of "ten times better" testimony in the world? Well, not everybody can be clever or especially gifted, but at least a Christian should never come behind men of the world in hard work and conscientious diligence. Clearly Daniel made no difference between secular and sacred -- he sought to do everything for the glory of the Lord. This is not as common as it should be among believers. Like Daniel, we should all be noted not only for our abstinences but for our devotion to duty and good workmanship.

Daniel never departed from this basic thoroughness and when he was an elderly man it was said of him that "this Daniel was distinguished above the presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him ..." (6:3). The blending of human consecration and divine undertaking gave him spiritual and moral pre-eminence throughout his long life. The initial combination of submissiveness and determination described in this chapter one found expression right through to the first year of king Cyrus (v.21). The special significance of that year was that then the seventy years of Israel's captivity were ended and the decree was given for their return to the land. So Daniel's life and ministry spanned the whole of those barren years, and all the time he proved his God to be the Sovereign Lord. No wonder, then, that he was strong and did exploits. He knew his God.

(To be continued)

The Editor sends his warm thanks and loving wishes to all those whose prayers and gifts have made possible the continuance of the magazine's ministry. We look forward to a further year of fellowship in God's precious Word. [20/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(Now this, He ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things)" Ephesians 4:9-10

THIS is a heart-warming parenthesis. It takes up an Old Testament reference from a Messianic Psalm and enlarges upon it, explaining something of its vast content.

THE unenlightened reader might rightly enquire how the Lord could ascend up, since His permanent position was the highest in the universe. "Who is it?" the apostle asks, "who has ascended up on high?", and then himself supplies the answer: "It is he that first descended ...". This is the glory of the Incarnation, the fact that God Himself came down to man in the person of His Son.

IN one stroke of his pen, Paul depicts the great drama of redemption, reminding us that the Lord not only came down to this earth, but through His death upon the cross descended into the lower parts of the earth. How deep was His descent we can never understand. He who, in His equality with God, could not have been higher, consented for our sakes to plunge into depths which could not be lower, for He went down under the intolerable weight of our sins.

THIS particular aspect of His descent alluded to here is that of conflict. He went down into the depths of Satan's dark kingdom to do battle for God and for us. It was as though the earth itself stood still in that epic moment. The bright sun itself was obscured and there was darkness over the whole area. Out of that darkness, however, there came the great shout of victory: "It is finished".

HE did not stay in those depths but He rose again, leading captivity captive and rich with the spoils of battle. In another sweeping phrase, Paul describes this triumphant ascent of Christ as He passed from hell's depths to heaven's highest height: "He that descended, is the same also that ascended far above all ...". It is the same battle-scarred Jesus who went down into the depths for us, who is now exalted to infinite heights of glory, "that he might fill all things".

THIS parenthesis lies between statements about Christ's gracious giving: "He gave gifts to men ..." and "He gave some ...". This is the result of His great victory. This is what He has done and is doing with the booty gained from His conquest. The enemy is completely routed, all the captives are happily freed; now the Victor is busy sharing with His redeemed saints the rich blessings of His Calvary triumph. He will go on with His lavish giving until the redeemed are gathered with Him and made like Him -- "till we all attain unto ... the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ". Everything has been made possible by the great victory of the cross.


[Back cover]

Luke 21:33

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