"... 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. 11, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1982 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Authority In Prayer 81
How The Early Church Grew 83
Doers Of The Word 86
The Responsibility Of Leadership (4) 88
Forty Years In The Wilderness (4) 93
Notes On 2 Corinthians (12) 96
A Closer Walk With God (4) 97
Spiritual Parentheses (38) ibc



Harry Foster

Reading: Psalm 46

THIS is a very wonderful psalm and its greatest moment is surely found in the words: "He uttered his voice ..." (v.6). This was the voice of supreme authority, the voice which brought about the defeat of God's enemies and the deliverance of His harassed people. It was universal in its range: "He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth" (v.9). We rightly think of God's utterances as coming down from heaven, but in this case there is a suggestion that the heavenly voice came through the city which is the central theme of the psalm.

Some think that this psalm may be attributed to the occasion of the severe siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians in Hezekiah's day, when Isaiah urged the king and the people to be strong in faith and rely on God's presence in their midst. The turning point then, is described in striking terms: "Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib the king of Assyria, I have heard thee" (2 Kings 19:20). We know that Isaiah himself also prayed at this time (Isaiah 37:5). Can we not say, then, that their prayers were more than mere entreaties for help but also gave some voice in power to the authority of the name of the Lord?

In both 2 Kings and Isaiah we are given the dramatic story of how the prophet's words were fulfilled as God uttered His voice to announce the complete destruction of the whole invading army. The Lord of hosts was certainly with them on that occasion and so effectively routed the enemy that it would have been apt for Isaiah to have used the words of this psalm: "Behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth ... he breaketh the bow ..." (vv.8-9). It was as though the flower of the Assyrian army had been permitted by God to come out and try conclusions with Jerusalem only to find that, instead of encountering a few feeble Jews they had met Almighty God, and were destroyed by the power of His presence.

A NOTABLE feature of that event seems to have been that it marked the beginning of the end of that proud empire of Assyria. This is referred to at the end of 2 Kings and Isaiah 37 and may have influenced Hezekiah in his foolish welcome of the ambassadors of the new empire of Babylon which was to emerge. Was God's voice uttered to such an effect that it brought about this collapse? We may perhaps find a New Testament parallel to this phenomenon in Acts 12 where the prayers of the church first brought Peter out of his prison and then led on to Herod's miserable end. Is it too much to suggest that there are times when God allows His people to be put under pressure in order that their consequent prayer in His mighty name shall be the key to fresh expressions of His victory? If so, ours is indeed a high and holy calling.

There is no doubt about the provocation to Satan which is provided by the simplest and weakest group of Christians who correspond to a spiritual Zion, and we may at times wonder why there should be such antagonism and why God permits it. We need to recognise that He has a purpose in so doing. He does not gather His people together in church life in order that they may be admired or admire themselves: His purpose is so to dwell among them that He may utter His voice of power from among them. Though weak in themselves, they are mighty when the Lord is in the midst of them (see v.5). He has entrusted to them the honour of standing in faith for the honour and exaltation of His name.

I do not attempt to argue the parallel between Zion and the Church. When Luther read this psalm and wrote his great hymn, he had no doubts about such an identification. He was painfully aware of the convulsive threats which are so graphically described in verses 2 and 3. Is the same true today? Well, there must be many Christians in our modern world who feel that the earth is being changed, the mountains moved in the heart of the seas while "the waters roar and are troubled" (v.3). It may or it may not be happening to us personally, but it would be callous and even sinful if we were unmoved by the sufferings of the Church worldwide just because things are not so difficult for us here at home. The Church is one. The Church is not located in special countries: it is scattered [81/82] throughout the whole earth. And it is under constant attack.

WHEN the Lord Jesus embodied the kingdom of God here on earth, He became the focus of spiritual attacks. All Hell was mobilised against Him, especially at the cross, but only to its own destruction. It is the Church which now embodies the kingdom of God on earth and, as the Lord indicated, the gates of Hell do their utmost to prevail against it. Thank God that Christ's Church is founded on the Rock, so that "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved" (v.5). I suggest, though, that it is not enough that God's voice should be heard by Zion; it must also be heard through her.

When I say that God's purpose is to have a people through whom He can utter His voice, I do not only mean the dissemination of the Scriptures. Nor do I only mean preaching and witnessing. I mean an effective spiritual utterance, in the energy of the Holy Spirit, which will express His authority over all the unruly forces of evil. We want to be able to cope with more than trivialities, however important these may be. We are challenged by a problem as big as the world and as mighty as Hell. We all feel most acutely that men cannot handle this. Only God is big enough to cope. 'Ah', we sigh, 'if only He would utter His voice!' Perhaps God, too, is sighing and longing for His Church to take up the challenge in prayer. "God is in the midst of her." When Israel was in a good condition, God was known in Zion. She was the city of the great king.

Jerusalem lost its glory when God no longer dwelt there. The people of God have no justification for their existence unless it can truly be said that God is made known through them. This was the glory of the sons of Jacob, in spite of their natural unworthiness; it was this which distinguished them from all other peoples. They were made different from all others, not only by bearing the personal outward mark of circumcision, nor because they were especially sincere or devout. All these were valuable features, but they were secondary. The one supreme and unique characteristic which marked them off from the rest was that God was in the midst of them. If you visited them, you met God.

DARE we measure ourselves, or our own church or assembly, by this criterion? When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, seeking to get them into right spiritual order, he told them that the proper effect of the life of fellowship together is that, even a stranger, coming in, would exclaim: "God is among you indeed!" It is sometimes asked where, in our day, can the voice of God be heard by His people. We may rightly ask ourselves, 'Where is the people through whom God can utter His voice by means of their believing prayer?'

This psalm points on to a great spiritual fact -- the fact of the city of God, "the Jerusalem that is above". This is not just a convenient analogy or a fanciful interpretation of the Jewish capital. Zion is a great and abiding spiritual reality, the corporate entity of a people vitally related to Christ, the greater David and the eternal King. The psalm is prophetical, as witness its assertion: "There is a river" (v.4). Unlike so many other great cities, Jerusalem does not stand on the bank of any river. Spiritually, however, this is already true, "There is a river".

Ezekiel, speaking firstly of the recovery and restoration of the earthly Jerusalem, passed far beyond time and space in his visions, and spoke of this spiritual Zion, stressing the fact of the flowing river which came from the sanctuary. It was of this house and city, filled with the glory of the Lord, that the prophet received the explanation from the Lord: "Son of man, this is the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet" (Ezekiel 43:7). We who are glad to be Zion's citizens, and glad to know God as our very present help, are meant to provide on earth a place for His heavenly throne. "God is in the midst of her."

IN this psalm two inspiring statements are made as to the character of the Lord in the midst. The second of them relates to His grace: "The God of Jacob is our refuge" (vv.7 and 11). It is very important here that stress should be laid on the fact that He is Jacob's God, for we must never for one moment forget that though we are "the Israel of God", we are only that through divine grace. It would be fatal to our spiritual effectiveness if we should ever think of ourselves as involved in the power of the name and the throne by reason of any attainment or superiority on our part. It has sometimes been the tragedy of teaching concerning spiritual authority and prayer warfare that those concerned have fallen into the snare of assuming that they were something special. In this way it is possible not only to [82/83] lose effectiveness in prayer but also to bring the truth of God into disrepute. No, it is the God of Jacob who provides the stronghold for this conflict.

The first of the two titles is "The Lord of hosts" -- He is the One who is with us (even while the earth seems to be rocking!) So far as I can determine, the first association of this kind is definitely military, for it was as "Captain of the Lord's host" that God met Joshua before Jericho (Joshua 5:14-15). It is right that we should give proper heed to this feature, for it is usually stressed when the city of God is brought into prominence. God has gone out to war to subdue and destroy those elements which dispute His authority and hold men in bondage. Zion is not just on the defensive; its sieges can be turned into overwhelming triumphs. The opening verse of our psalm speaks of a refuge, and the word used refers to a hiding place, a safe shelter. We needed that when we first came to Jesus, and we shall always need it. This latter word in verses 7 and 11 is different and is translated, 'fortress'. We are not cowering in fear, waiting for the All-Clear to be sounded, but in the turret or observation post, waiting like sentries for the victory that will come "at the dawn of the morning" (v.5 margin). May the Lord ever strengthen us for the spiritual battle!

I find it most interesting and illuminating, however, that the next reference to the Lord of hosts after Joshua is in a domestic and social setting. Samuel's father went up to worship "the Lord of hosts" and Samuel's mother made her prayer to Him also (1 Samuel 1:3 and 11). I am told that in the Hebrew there is no 'of', no possessive, but that the Lord's own character is being described as what we might call, "A host in Himself". The stress here seems to be on the fulness of His resources, the absolutely unfailing ability which He has to provide for every eventuality. We come to prayer with the assurance that this Lord of hosts is with us, not necessarily in some aggressive or pugnacious sense but in quiet conviction that He can cope. Hence the injunction, "Be still, and know that I am God" (v.10).

O brothers, stand as men that wait;

   The dawn is purpling in the east,

And banners wave from heaven's high gate;

   The conflict now, but soon the feast!



J. Alec Motyer

IF we consider some statistics on the matter of Church growth as described in the Acts of the Apostles, we note that on six occasions Church growth was related to the quality of spiritual life and on seven occasions to incidents of supernatural actions of God, but we find that on twenty-four occasions such growth was related to ministry of the Word of God. We even find the expression that "The Word of God grew and multiplied" (12:24). This does not mean that the Bible got bigger but that through the Bible it was the Church which got bigger. You use the same Bible year after year and it remains the same size; it increases in depth but it does not increase in length. In the Acts, the Holy Spirit suggests that the growth of the Church and the Bible are so interwoven that you can state the one and imply the other.

Among the many references, I choose one as a suitable key verse. The scene is the Council at Jerusalem and is found in the contribution made by Peter. "When there had been much deliberation, Peter rose up and said to them, Brethren, you know that in the old days God made choice among you that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe" (15:7). What I find so exciting, satisfying and stimulating in this verse is that the choice of God covers four things. God chooses the preacher, He chooses the congregation, He chooses the message and He also chooses the results that should follow.

This last matter of believing hearers is not an optional extra; it is not stated as something that may or may not happen. It belongs with the choice of God in exactly the same way as the speaker, the hearers and the message. The Greek makes it plain that this last verb is suspended, as all the others are, on the great truth of the divine choice. It can be isolated, to read, "You know that in the old days God made choice that [83/84] they should believe". In the mind of God, as the preacher, the hearers and the message are His choice, so is the consequent fruitfulness. I find this most satisfying.

It has already been said that, in the Acts, Church growth is linked twenty-four times with the ministry of the Word of God, six times with the quality of Church life and seven times with supernatural evidences. I bring these statistics to you not in any way to denigrate the two smaller categories for, in one sense, they are co-equal with the ministry of the Word. There are three outstanding means of growth. Nevertheless the figures serve to underline that, in the Acts of the Apostles, overwhelming importance is attached to the Word of God. The Bible not only provides us with the truth but calls us to recognise the balance of truth. I believe that this stress in the Acts is faithful to the pattern and priority of things as can be found throughout the whole New Testament.

The Word and the Holy Spirit

As we watch the Church growing in the Acts of the Apostles we note particularly the marked relationship between the Word of God and the Spirit of God. For example, at the first Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit: "They ... began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (2:4); "How hear we every man in our own language wherein we were born ... Cretans and Arabians, we hear them speaking in our own tongues the mighty works of God" (2:8-11). Pentecostal outpouring was to this end -- the intelligible communication of the Word of God. This gift of intelligible communication is the great gift of Pentecost.

This is what is called 'prophecy'. "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy ... yes, on my bondmen and on my bondwomen I will pour forth of my Spirit and they shall prophesy" (vv.17-18). Whether they are men or women, the gift of the Holy Spirit will enable them to give an intelligible communication of the Word of God, so that people can hear the wonderful works of God in their own tongues.

The book is full of this. A typical example is given in 4:8: "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them ... be it known unto you and unto all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand here before you whole". Do you catch the quality of preaching in that? Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit in order to do that. Another occasion is in the same chapter: "... they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began (or 'continued', for it is a continuous verb) speaking the Word of God with boldness" (v.31). There is a beautiful nexus between the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Time and time again right throughout the book, we find the Spirit leaping into a situation with the particular purpose in mind, to implement a powerful testimony to the Lord Jesus. There can be no doubt that the preached Word is God's appointed means of growth.

The Work of the Preacher

Our key verse says, "God made choice among you that by my mouth ..." (15:7). Let us now consider the work of the preacher by isolating that little factor of the mouth. If we did not have the Acts of the Apostles to guide us, we might well interpret this in terms of some enormous evangelistic campaign, with posters advertising Peter, with coach parties and land-lines and that kind of approach. If we do this, we may well try to opt out of it, feeling that such an activity does not apply to us. We cannot do that, for Peter makes this beautifully simple reminder that in fact he was talking to a housegroup! He went into the house of Cornelius, who had invited some interested friends to his home. So we must not identify 'preaching' with great set-piece occasions, for all we are talking about is communicating the good news about the Lord Jesus, sharing the truth about Him wherever and whenever there is opportunity.

You may be surprised to know that as I worked through the Acts for this study, I discovered 26 different verbs describing preaching. There is an amazing wealth of expressions in the New Testament descriptions of the task of preaching. It may be helpful to mention some of the 26 different ways of dealing with the subject here in the Acts.

1. laleo. The most frequently used verbs are verbs of simple communication and the most used of all, used over 60 times, is simply the verb 'to speak', 'to chatter'. It is the ordinary word for holding a conversation, when one person speaks to another. "Go and stand and speak in the temple" (5:20). The angel uses it as he directs [84/85] the apostles to get back to the work of communication. It is the ordinary word for holding a conversation.

2. martureo. The verb 'to assert the truth', 'to bear witness to the truth' is often translated 'testify' and here we need to be a bit careful, for we are inclined to isolate the word 'testimony' to people sharing their own experiences, whereas in the New Testament it does not mean that at all. It does not mean a matter of sharing one's own experience, but sharing that which is objectively true, sharing the facts. It is a case of bearing a testimony to the facts and not to our experience of the facts.

3. didasko. Sixteen times the word 'to teach' is used. It conveys the didactic intent, the longing to share information and bring it home meaningfully.

4. kerusso. This is the word which signifies 'to herald', 'to act as a town-crier'. This gives an emphasis on clarity and also on authority. You ask the town-crier, 'Why are you shouting that?' and his answer is, 'Because he told me to'. So this verb 'to herald' expresses authority, but it also brings an emphasis on clarity -- we want people to know about this matter.

5. euaggelizo. This verb is employed 12 times and it means 'to preach the gospel', or 'to share the good news'. There is a beneficial content to this message which is to be shared.

6. parrhesiazomai. This is a lovely verb. It means 'to speak with 'boldness' as: "Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and narrated with them how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus" (9:27). Paul spoke courageously but he did more, for this verb not only has the meaning of boldness but also of freeness of speech. The verb is used of those who could exercise a liberty of speech over the whole field in which they were communicating. They spoke boldly and they spoke freely.

7. ekdiegeomai. This is a beautiful word which is equivalent almost to our usage today, 'to spell out'. When something is spelled out, you know what it is. A truth might be hard to grasp, but when it is broken up into small bits and parcelled out piece by piece until the total picture is built up, then the whole truth becomes clear. A useful illustration can be found in 13:41: "Behold ye despisers, and wonder and perish, for I work a work in your day, a work which ye will in no wise believe if one spell it out to you". It is for us to 'spell out' the truth. It is not our job so much to sway the hearts of the hearers as to tell the truth clearly and leave it to work.

8. parakaleo. On the other hand, it is a heart matter, as is indicated by this word 'to exhort' shows. It is used 19 times in the Acts. For the apostolic preachers, the men and women in the Acts, the truth was not an academic thing to be shared in cold logic, but was also something that so burned them up with love that they longed that others would believe it as well, and have their hearts moved. This is a lovely verb; it blends together comfort, encouragement and exhortation. May I say, beloved friends, that exhorting is not beating the saints about the ears! There is no comfort in doing that and therefore it cannot be Biblical exhortation. There are some preachers concerning whom I confess that I would as soon go into the ring with a prize fighter as sit and listen to them preach because, for Bible exhortation, they have substituted the beating of their hearers about the head. This Biblical verb is associated with the 'paraklete' whom we know as the Comforter. Biblical exhortation is full of the comfort of the Holy Ghost.

I hope that this vocabularic hunt may open up for you a seam of enquiry into the Word of God. If you feel that your Greek has gone rusty beyond remedy, or if it was never your privilege to have any, may I introduce you to a very dear friend of mine? He is long since in glory and I never knew him personally, but live daily in the benefits of his companionship. His name is Dr. Robert Young and he compiled an Analytical Concordance!

The Message and the Outcome

Now may I share two more things with you? We have been studying the work of the preacher; we must now consider the matter of what he is to preach. What was it that they preached in the Book of the Acts? Many times -- indeed I would venture to say most times -- what they preached is vague. They preached the Word. They shared the Good News. What I wish to stress is that their message always centred on Jesus. They preached Him.

There are crowds of references, but we will concentrate on just one. It is found in the dramatic story described in 8:35. Philip found an [85/86] Ethiopian official busy reading Isaiah. He was a model of a determined Bible reader, for he was going along a badly paved road in an unsprung chariot, reading in Greek and not understanding what he read -- but he went on! What a picture of a determined Bible reader! To that sort of man, one who was persistent in the Word of God, the Lord sent an interpreter. The interpreter's name was Philip. In true humility, the Ethiopian asked Philip to explain to whom the prophet was speaking. "Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this scripture, told him the Good News of Jesus." That's it! Always focus on the Lord Jesus Christ.

The second point relates to the divine intention in the ministry of the Word. Peter assures us that the intention of God is fulfilled when a response of faith takes place. "God made choice that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe!" God made the choice that belief would follow. In the eternal counsels of God, He said 'I will set up a mechanism. I will appoint hearers. And I will guarantee results'. And truly enough, the results followed. There is a great variety and rich vocabulary of response in the Acts of the Apostles, but supremely the response is one of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What I want to share with you, though, is not how they responded but the fact that they did respond and that, behind that human response, there was the guaranteeing act of God. This is very dramatically seen in the Cornelius incident in chapter 10:44: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell upon them who were hearing the word ...". God just could not wait to bring home His Word with power. No doubt Peter had many points to his sermon, but before he could get to, "... tenthly, and lastly, my brethren ...", God broke in halfway, while he was still on the fifth point, saying, 'That will do. I want to get on with My business!' What a thrill! God made choice that they should believe. The Holy Spirit attests His word, not only to empower the preacher with the gift of intelligible communication, but also to empower the hearers to respond with faith to the spoken word. So in He comes, leaping in with all His grace and falling on those who were hearing the word. The whole thing is bracketed around with the word 'preached' and the word 'heard', but at the centre there is God guaranteeing the response.

What was so dramatically true in the case of Cornelius is universally true when anyone comes to faith in the Lord Jesus. I think that God uses this book of the Acts to give us dramatic illustrations of abiding truths, even though those truths do not always come to pass in the same striking way. Look, for example, at 16:14. Paul had arrived at Philippi and went out to where he thought prayer was being made, finding there a congregation which, by the sound of it, was a group of middle-aged ladies. He rejoiced to share the Word with them, and what happened? "A certain woman ... was listening, whose heart the Lord opened". There was nothing dramatic, no sudden inrushing of the Holy Spirit, no falling, nothing dramatic -- God just made her ready to hear and to understand. Is it not in that faith that we should be ready, as God helps us, to take the glorious Good News of Christ to people young and old, male and female, confident that God will make hearts ready to receive His Word?



Poul Madsen

"He that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and
so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that
worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing.
" James 1:25

OUR question is: What does the Lord mean by the call to be a doer of the word, and how can we be one. Let me ask another question: 'Can you do what the law says?' Perhaps you feel that you can. Saul of Tarsus felt like that, but he found that he did not fulfil the law by doing what the letter of the law said. It is possible to do what the law says without fulfilling it. For [86/87] example, we are commanded to show hospitality. Yes, of course you can do that. If, however, you do it unwillingly or grudgingly, from fear of punishment or to win a reward, this is not the true fulfilment of that law. To be a doer of the Word is to be a person who is blessed in his doing. When Christians do the right things but without their hearts being in what they do, then that cannot be pleasing to God. It savours of pharisaism.

We must look, then, into the mirror of the Word and continue doing so, so that we do not forget what we are like. We forget so quickly because we look so seldom, and in this way have a higher opinion of ourselves than we should. How important that we should keep looking into the Word, for otherwise it is easy for me to take for granted that I am superior because I am doing the right thing, yet I can be as right as rain outwardly and yet out of tune with the Spirit of Christ.

Does anyone really think that He who died on the cross can be served by those who have a bad spirit? Does anyone imagine that he is doing the Lord's will when he only does so to avoid unpleasant consequences or to gain a reward? Is that evangelical Christianity? No, and nor is it really being a doer of the Word. We need to take another look into the perfect law of liberty.

In Romans it is called the law of faith, and this law excludes all glorying. We have our righteousness in the Lord Jesus, and in Him alone. We can add nothing to that righteousness, for it is perfect. If we focus on our beloved Saviour and His life, He is seen in His greatness and we cannot lose sight of what we are and what we are like. Paul constantly did this and so realised that he was "the chief of sinners", with no good thing in his flesh. He never forgot that. He knew that he had not reached perfection. But on the other hand, Jesus was everything to him, the perfect and wonderful Lord. He never let this be a matter of course, but contemplated the glory of Jesus Christ and continued to do so. That is the perfect law of liberty, and that sets a man free in the truest sense.

When a person is entirely free from guilt because Jesus Christ is His perfect righteousness, then he never does anything just to obtain a benefit, for he has all that can possibly be obtained in Christ. In a marriage it would be very sad if the partners were good to each other out of fear; it would take all the radiance away if the man was afraid of what his wife would say, or she were afraid of him. What a degrading basis for doing the right thing! True freedom is surely to be governed solely by the constraint of love.

The gospel sets us completely free to serve God without any ulterior motives, not forgetting what we are in ourselves and being paralysed by our inadequacy, but liberated because we keep our eyes on Christ's glory. He has given us a new nature that we may not just do right things but be doers of His will. That is why James does not just say, "Do what is written" but rather "be ye doers of the word".

The boundary between law and gospel is not in the Bible but in our own hearts. If we are beholding Christ, then we are really free and everything is gospel. If we are not beholding Him, then everything is law. Even the command to believe becomes a law. So we struggle to believe, and this becomes a new performance. If, however, we look into the perfect law of liberty and see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, our spirit is released from prison and pressure and we delight in what is good. We discover how blessed it is to do His will.

It is true that for all of us there are battles, for we have not yet reached perfection. But the battles are won by looking more and more at Christ, by devoting ourselves to His wonderful Word; life and service are no longer two separate departments, as if service was something I do and life is something else. The whole is blessed. James, who is sometimes accused of legalism, gives us the richest gospel truth concerning being liberated to be a doer of the word. When the people of God are blessed in their living, they are quite different from those dominated by religious piety and tensions; they have a radiance that needs no stimulants and the joy of being His and Him being theirs in a union of love.

This is what the Lord Jesus meant when He said: "If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed". This is an inner freedom. Evangelical Christianity is just this: that because fear which springs from guilt is taken away and replaced by love and gratitude, our actions are not governed by fear of punishment or hope of reward but by the liberty of the Spirit within. [87/88]

In one sense we are back in Paradise. For why did Adam work there? It was not to become righteous, nor was it in order to gain reward -- he worked in true liberty. God said, "Do this", and he did it; in those days he was a doer of the word. We might call this living spontaneously, but this is an expression which could be misunderstood because of our faulty natures. So when we fail, we have to turn back again to the perfect law of liberty, for even this does not function mechanically. The deepest secret of the life of faith is to abide in Him and to abide with Him.

There were two sisters at Bethany. Martha was not blessed in her work, though she was doing right things, and therefore she complained. Mary remained seated and devoted herself to her Lord. If only Martha had sat down beside her and done the same, surely the moment would have come when Jesus would have risen and said, "Now let us do the work together". Then the right thing would have been done in the right way, and the sisters would have been blessed in their work.

The gospel is a mystery and remains so. To be a doer of the word is more than just doing it and being content with the act. The decisive factor is within us. As we look into the perfect law of liberty and enjoy what Christ has done for us, we cannot but love Him more and be free to serve Him in the Spirit. Never think that what you do makes you more righteous. Such an idea is an affront to the gospel. When we do His will, it is not in order to become righteous, but to express the joy and liberty of having perfect righteousness in the Lamb of God and the privilege of following Him.

Daily life will be different and church life will be different if we receive with meekness the implanted word and so focus on Christ that we become doers. This is the way of blessing in the work of the Lord. All disputes and tensions disappear for, whether it seems the meanest task or the greatest, it is all work for Him, done blessedly and freely, with no thought of praise or fear of blame, but just a love response to the One who so loves us. The gospel is the good news of the deep well of salvation from which we need never stop drawing the blessings of love, joy, peace and good works. It makes us true doers of the word.



(Illustrated by five kings of Judah)

Michael Wilcock

4. KING HEZEKIAH. 2 Chronicles 29 to 32

AS we read these four chapters we may well think that the chronicler takes special pleasure in the story of Hezekiah, for there is no-one quite like him in the whole series, going right back to the days of David and Solomon. That is not to say that the writer does not show us where Hezekiah's faults lay. Though the narrative is full of praise for this king, it is by no means uncritical. The Holy Spirit does not whitewash anybody!

This is one of the passages in which it is particularly interesting to compare the account with the one in 2 Kings, where the emphasises are quite different. For instance, the chronicler amplifies into three whole chapters what is briefly described in 2 Kings 18:3-6. We are thus impressed with the importance of this part of Hezekiah's story. Conversely, the story of the attack on Jerusalem which occupies from 2 Kings 18:9 to the end of chapter 19 is reduced to just over twenty verses in 2 Chronicles 32. We may ask ourselves why there is this difference and no doubt can provide some interesting answers. Here in 2 Chronicles there are matters which are described at some length, so obviously they are important to us in our present study. Other matters which are treated at some length in 2 Kings are just mentioned briefly at the end of this passage which we are now studying.

This does not mean that such matters are unimportant. In our last study we emphasised the significance of the simple statement that Uzziah captured and rebuilt the port of Eloth, and we must therefore be prepared to give full [88/89] weight to the important things so briefly alluded to at the end of chapter 32. Instead of leaving them out altogether, he mentions them to be remembered, as though saying: 'This as well' and 'That as well'. There are things which the chronicler does not even mention, so perhaps they are taken for granted. The background to the whole story can be expressed in the theme, 'Crisis for the people of God'.

The Crisis Threatens

Hezekiah is presented to us as a pastor facing a great crisis. This was not one of those day-to-day upsets, and for a time it is not mentioned at all, but at that period everything in the story of Judah has this black background of extreme peril. Before Hezekiah came to the throne his father, Ahaz, had found himself in great trouble. He was oppressed by his neighbours, the king of Israel and the king of Syria, and so threatened by them that it seemed wise to him (though we know that it was very foolish) to appeal over their heads to a much greater king. He therefore asked the king of Assyria for help (28:16). Behind those troubles of Hezekiah's father, Ahaz, there was the general turmoil of the Middle East in those days and petty states of the Mediterranean seaboard were all menacing the kingdom of Judah. The real heart of the general trouble of those little states was, however, the increasing spread of the power of the empire of Assyria moving Westward. That was why the Syrians and the Northern kingdom of Israel got together. It was not in their interest to have someone not absolutely in line with them in such proximity, so they tried to whip Judah into line, as it were, so that a united front could be formed to stem the Assyrians in time.

In one of his 'Case Books', the Australian doctor enlarges on the fearfulness of these Assyrians. They were ruthless fighting men and they always killed. They were notorious for the torture, pain and cruelty which they used and I will not sicken you with descriptions of their procedures. Theirs was an empire based on fear and cruelty. So that explains why I said that this was no mere day-to-day trouble which we all pass through from time to time, but a major crisis. And we will agree that the Church of Christ has an even worse enemy and greater challenge so that we often find ourselves in a time of acute crisis.

Sometimes there are periods of Church history when this seems far from obvious, times when things seem to be proceeding happily and all is well. Even then we need to remember that Satan is our great adversary and we need to be thoroughly equipped against him even when there is little sense of crisis. On the other hand there are times in history when we are all conscious that Satan's enmity is being exercised in fierce and horrific attacks. At this present time, some of us wonder whether the spiritual powers of evil are not increasing in an alarming way. We feel that perhaps we will have to work in a time of greater crisis than our fathers and grandfathers ever knew. How shall we face it?

Facing the Crisis

Hezekiah's story can help us. I think that as he grew up and came to the throne in his middle twenties, he must have reacted against his father's actions in those previous years. Ahaz had really gone too far. It seems, therefore, that when Hezekiah came to the throne he determined to carry through a thorough-going reform. But his behaviour is not only explained by a reaction against his father's wicked ways but, taking the longer view, a realisation as to the real situation and an appreciation of the great crisis which loomed on the horizon. He saw things as they were and he faced the challenge. He found, as we too will find in such a time, that the crisis itself, by its very nature, will concentrate our minds wonderfully and make us brace ourselves to meet the challenge.

i. By looking up.

Hezekiah rose to the situation by consciously returning to the Golden Age of his people. Chapters 29 and 30 have many allusions to the age of David and Solomon. This was not just a question of reminiscences but of deliberately setting himself to recreate the condition of those days. So we read how the Temple which Solomon built was cleansed and reconsecrated, how the music of the Temple was resurrected and its ritual restored. Great nationwide assemblies were held to call the people back to God to recover the spiritual life of those palmy days of David and Solomon. Of the twelve kings who had reigned since then, Hezekiah was the first of whom it could be said: "He did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done" (29:2). Many a king before him had acted according to what his father had [89/90] done. Uzziah did what Ahaz had done. Jehoshaphat did according to what Asa had done. Hezekiah, however, did what David had done. He went right back to the springs of life and worship, making David his ideal. That meant that first and foremost he looked up to God.

That is our first and foremost means of answering the challenge of the enemy -- We must put God first. We are told how it was done. First of all "he opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them" (v.3). God's house had to be sanctified and, when all was put in order, Hezekiah and all his leaders took their place in the Lord's house, the ritual began again, not just as ritual but as true worship from the heart.

Hezekiah commanded that the burnt offerings, symbols of the people's total consecration, should be offered on the altar and then praise began again. There is so much spiritual truth in that statement, "When the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also" (v.27). The two things went together. It was not just ritual, but it was a ritual of worship which expressed the response of the people's hearts. "And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people ..." (v.36). There is always joy in the heart when once we are right with God.

The fascinating thing about this is that it was the last thing that the Assyrians would have expected. No doubt they knew all that was happening by reason of their spy system, but they would take no notice of it and relegated it to an inch paragraph on the back page of the Nineveh Times, as Dr. Hurcot says. What had they to do with some religious festival in a far corner of the earth? It meant nothing to them. They had not the faintest conception, these men of the world, that this was the first step of the people of God coming to terms with the approaching crisis by getting right with God.

Another thing which Dr. Hurcot pointed out in his lively little book is that the reaction in Nineveh would have been very different if Hezekiah had taken any natural precautions against the threat. Suppose he had issued a general mobilisation command as the first step to resistance against Assyria and suppose that the Assyrians had got wind of it. That was the kind of language they understood and would promptly have risen to -- and that would have been the end! Happily Hezekiah reacted in a spiritual way by first looking up to God.

It is an awesome consideration for, as you know already in your own church sphere, it is all too easy that the immediate response to a time of crisis is to react in terms of that crisis; in other words, to try to meet the world on its own terms. There is a shortage of money, so all we think about is money. There is a problem of the impact of the Church on the world -- or the lack of it -- so the first thing we begin to think about is the world, whether we can talk its language or do something to attract its interest. How wrong this is! Always the first thing to do is to be sure to be right with God.

Is the Temple of the Lord open and its doors repaired? Are the sacrifices being offered? Is the heart of the people full of worship and praise? Once that is true, everybody knows it to be so marvellous because it is the gift of God. "Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, because of that which the Lord had done" (v.36). But the chapter is all about what they had been doing! It was a time of planning and acting in relation to God's House. Yet, so far as they were concerned, it was an occasion for great rejoicing of what God had done, for it was God who had put it into their hearts to seek Him first.

ii. By looking round in the Church.

Having looked up to God, this far-sighted king Hezekiah responded to the crisis by looking round at the Church. That was how he faced the enormous challenge of Assyria. Of the many stirring things in 2 Chronicles, one of the most thrilling is found in 30:1: "Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem." So much of this book has been concerned with a divided kingdom and by this time Samaria had been overthrown and the people of the Northern Kingdom deported, leaving the whole area devastated, with few folk left here and there. Hezekiah grasped the opportunity of the crisis to say that now was the time for them all to reunite. He urged that once more they should, as far as possible, be one whole people in the Lord. What a thrill! He sent his couriers, not just half the way, but all the way as far as Dan (v.5), "so the posts went with the letters from the king", though [90/91] I am afraid that on the whole they received a very dusty response. A few men humbled themselves and came but many scoffed. But in any case Hezekiah had had the right vision. He did his best to look at the whole Church and urge them to "keep the passover unto the Lord, the God of Israel" (30:1).

The Passover was the central act of worship. God's people remembered by means of it that they had been redeemed. I need hardly say what is its parallel in our day or what the meaning of that parallel is, namely, the cross of Christ. So Hezekiah's call speaks to us of a circumference to include the whole people of God and the centre the great truth of the cross. The king first made it his business to put God first and then to urge the people to get together and come right back to the cross.

Their hearts were united to seek God in this way (v.19). Many of them had not cleansed themselves and yet they ate with the rest. Tut! Tut! Was this not completely out of order? Well, Hezekiah had prayed about this matter and realised that although strictly speaking the "purification of the sanctuary" was not being observed, the Lord was great enough to pardon this breach of the letter of the law in the case of those who were whole-hearted in seeking His face. The important thing was to have their hearts right, with God and with one another.

They kept it in the second month (v.13). The correct time was, of course, the first month, but provision had been made in the law for this change under certain conditions (Numbers 9:9-11). Those conditions concerned those who were defiled or who were a long way away. This was certainly true then: many were defiled and they had gone very far away, but now they came together at the cross. God's blessing was so evident that they decided to repeat their worship for a further seven days and they did so with gladness (v.23). So we have the picture of the whole Church getting together around the Lord, praising Him for the greatness of His redeeming love. And all this in the context of terrible crisis with the Assyrian battle machine only thirty miles away! Reason would say, fancy wasting time like this, fussing with services and hymn-singing! Why don't they do something? Surely what is needed here is practical action not a holy huddle!

iii. By looking into the heart.

Hezekiah's further procedure is most interesting. For this we leave 31:1, which is really the outworking and fulfilling of the previous chapter and we start a new section with verse 2. There we find Hezekiah looking into his own heart and into the heart of the people as the rest of the chapter enlarges on their readiness to pay the price of devotion to God's House. The king gave his own contribution (v.3) and commanded the people to give theirs (v.4), as if saying: 'We want a ministry to the Lord again and we are fully prepared to support it'. "The children of Israel gave in abundance ... of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly" (v.5).

There is a parallel to this in the New Testament in the story of Antioch where the founding of a new church was immediately followed by the arrival of prophets from Jerusalem to announce the fact that a famine was coming there. It is not by chance that Acts 11:27 follows the previous verses: "Now in those days there came down prophets ...". The sequence is not merely historical but spiritual. The Christians at Antioch were confronted by the challenge to express their faith in a practical way. Individual Gentiles had already been won for Christ, but this was the first Gentile church. Some might ask sincere questions as to whether there could be a church composed entirely of those who had never been Israelites in any sense. The Lord Himself applied a simple test, and every question was silenced. "The disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judah" (Acts 11:29).

The Christians at Antioch rose to the challenge. So here in 2 Chronicles 31 we see the people of God rising to the challenge in the same practical way. A time of crisis is a time in which to show that we mean business in the things of God. This matter of finance is often God's chosen way of testing His people's consecration to Him. They were prepared to provide for a full-time ministry in His House, and to do it abundantly. This is a good Old Testament principle and equally applicable in New Testament times. It is as though Hezekiah was again harking back to the days of David. This same Temple was founded on the fact that David would not accept the site as a gift, but said: "I will not offer [91/92] burnt offerings unto the Lord my God which cost me nothing ... I will verily buy it for the full price" (1 Chronicles 21:24). We know that later on he provided for the work out of his own private purse as well as calling the people to bring their gifts.

Triumph in the Crisis

This long description of the spiritual triumphs in the hearts of Hezekiah and the people is summed up in the words: "Thus did Hezekiah ... he wrought that which was good and faithful before the Lord his God ... he did it with all his heart and prospered" (31:20-21) and then come the fatal words: "After these things ... Sennacherib came ..." (32:1). Now Hezekiah was ready to look out to the enemy. The time had come for the Assyrian king to invade Judah. God had restrained him up to that time, for He knew that His people were not ready. For fourteen years God had held the enemy off, so that His own people could confidently face their fury. All that time the crisis was looming up, but in His mercy God gave Hezekiah respite to ensure the spiritual readiness of the people. When they were ready (in 701 B.C.) Sennacherib arrived and what followed is recounted in this highly dramatic chapter. The siege was on, and Sennacherib's messengers came and said all sorts of rude things, but the rude things they said were all about God, this God whom the people had learned to trust and worship.

Really that is the key to it all. How do you look out on the enemy? How will you face hard times? The key lies not in our attitude to them but to God. The Assyrians were so ignorant. They didn't know what they were talking about. They accused Hezekiah of "taking away his high places and his altars" and demanded to know how the Israelites thought that this God would defend them. Behind those panic-stricken faces on the wall of Jerusalem there must have been some healthy titters at this crass ignorance, for they had shared the glories of the one altar in God's holy House.

One senses the pain in the voice of the chronicler as he reported the blasphemies found in verses 16 to 19. They dared to speak with contempt of the One who is Lord of all; they even compared Him with the other tinpot little gods of other people. This must have put an entirely different complexion on things when they found men talking in this way about their glorious God. It nerved them against the foe. It put steel into their hearts and sinews into their souls. So when Isaiah cried to heaven about this, the whole crisis was ended by a divine intervention which brought shame to Sennacherib and exaltation to Hezekiah.

Three Additional Comments

The chapter does not end with this triumph. It proceeds to point out three features of this shepherd of God's people who found his resources in God.

The first, which is given a whole chapter in Kings and also described by Isaiah, is the matter of Hezekiah's personal problem. "He was sick even unto death" (v.24). Every man has his own hidden crises. This was not a world crisis but an occasion of intimate personal need. Happily he followed the lesson he had already learned, turning again to the Lord in prayer and receiving a sign from God as he practised fellowship with Isaiah.

The second matter is less happy. Hezekiah was not grateful but "his heart was lifted up" (v.25). Probably the chronicler is referring to the matter of the envoys from Babylon which is recorded in 2 Kings 20:12-17. Babylon was a rising power and was doubtless seeking an alliance of smaller states against Assyria. Hezekiah used his own ideas, without consulting the Lord or His prophet Isaiah, welcoming these envoys and showing them his resources. Once more Isaiah was at his elbow, rebuking him for this wrong action and reminding him that in the matter of his sickness he had prayed and done what was right but in the matter of these messengers from Babylon he had done the wrong thing, and would suffer for it.

The third point closes the story on a happier note: "This same Hezekiah also stopped the upper spring of the waters of Gihon, and brought them straight down the west side of the city of David" (v.30). To me this gives point to one of the most potent Scriptural images I know. It refers to the tunnel of Hezekiah by which Hezekiah ensured that, even in a time of siege, there would be a sure source of water conducted through the tunnel to the pool of Siloam. It was a masterly piece of engineering but it was more than that, for it has a deep spiritual connotation. [92/93]

I imagine that Hezekiah recalled what Isaiah had said about this matter in the previous reign, in those sad days when his father, Ahaz, was finding his resources in the wrong place. In those days the king of Judah was trying to get an alliance with the Assyrians against his nearer enemies, Israel and Syria, and Isaiah rebuked him for refusing the waters of Shiloah that go softly (Isaiah 8:6). There was a quiet little stream which could be run right into the heart of Jerusalem. I like to think that Hezekiah heeded this divine message and concentrated on making the tunnel which would carry water into Siloam while he had the respite which God provided. Of course it ran softly. There was nothing spectacular about these waters, and did not appear to be very much of them, but the great thing was that they would never fail.

Hezekiah heeded the Word of the Lord through Isaiah. He did not look to the world's resources but faced the greatest challenge of this time of crisis by maintaining the divine contact. God's supplies are the waters of Shiloah that run softly. They do not commend themselves to those who can only be satisfied with the spectacular, but they quietly go on running and never fail. Let this be the last word about this great king of Judah. "This same Hezekiah" prospered because he kept humble and vital contact with the living God.

(To be concluded)


John H. Paterson

The Use and Misuse of History

THE Children of Israel spent many wasted years in the wilderness. But we have seen in these studies that, although they were far away from the centre of God's will, they still had a place in His purpose. Throughout their wanderings He was teaching them some important lessons. One of these, as we saw last time, was the importance of a life together and the mortal dangers of isolation. Another was the lesson of courage and the third, the one about which He seemed most insistent, was the lesson of holiness.

All these were what we might call positive lessons; they represented things to do, or character to develop. But running alongside these we find another note in God's word to His people, a note no less insistent but different in nature. This was His persistent emphasis on memory -- on remembering the past. Indeed, if we take account of the balance of scripture, then one entire book -- Deuteronomy -- is nothing but a history lesson; it is a book in which very little that was fresh happened, but eleven times over Moses told Israel to remember events in the past about which he was telling them.

Long after Moses' time, Mr. Henry Ford expressed the opinion that 'history is bunk', and our own memories of schooldays, while not necessarily confirming us in the same opinion, at least may well have left us doubting that history is actually any use to anybody. Yet here is God insisting on the importance of knowing what happened in the past: of holding on even to our memories! Evidently, then, history does have its uses.

Indeed it does, though some of them are better termed mis-uses. As a matter of fact, the Children of Israel had long, but selective, memories. "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic" (Numbers 11:5). It sounds like a modern-day tourist just back from his first visit to the Costa Brava! Not a word about their memories of slavery, beatings, injustice, bricks without straw. And of course this kind of memory simply unsettled them; it made them discontented with mere manna (11:6), and it made God very angry with them (11:33).

It is, in other words, what you use your history for that counts. Clearly, God was not calling on His people -- and does not now do so -- to remember the past in order to make them discontented with the present. Any average citizen of over 40 will tell you that things are not what they used to be, and that the country is going to the dogs! [93/94] And saying so really helps nobody; on the contrary, it has a stultifying effect. There is in the spiritual sphere a way of remembering the past which says, in effect, that God is not what He used to be; that His great days lie in the past and that, in the present, He is a sore disappointment to us. Why was there sweeping revival ten, or twenty, or a hundred years ago, but there is no revival here, now? Why, to recall times of blessing, must we delve back in our memories to some golden past? Assuredly, things are not what they used to be!

No: far from serving any useful purpose, memories that merely make us regret that the past is gone do us a disservice. Whether our regrets, as believers, are for great time that we once knew ('Wasn't it wonderful when Billy Graham first came ...?') or for mistakes and failures in our own history ('If only I had listened to the Lord and not taken that step ...') -- whether, in other words, they are good memories or bad memories -- they only distract us from today's decisions and today's battles. God Himself, after all, has a selective memory! Remember the terms of that New Covenant which superseded the Old, with its endless sacrifices in endless recognition of past sins and failure: remember the wonderful, liberating words, "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more".

Not all history, then, is useful history. What God wanted His people to remember was not so much what they had done as what He had done to them or for them. So far as they were concerned, History centred upon Him: "Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart" (Deuteronomy 8:2). For all His dealings with them had been constructive. He had been making something of them. What history, after all, does a race of slaves possess? Without Him, they had no history -- nothing to record, and nothing to remember, except what they had had for supper, and that is exactly what, as we know, they remembered about Egypt!

So the focus of interest was indeed the way in which the Lord had led them. For this was an unfinished history: it was a history still in the making, because He was still leading them. And of this kind of history they could make use; they could actually benefit from it -- "Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:18).

The Usefulness of History

Let us now try to apply these lessons of history to our own lives as believers. How are we supposed to make use of our memory, our knowledge, of what God has done in our lives? The scriptures make it clear that the dynamic of the Christian life is supplied by two things, knowledge and faith. The two are very closely linked -- just how closely we shall see in a moment. The relationship of the two is this: that faith is based on knowledge (I think that we can substitute the word experience without altering any part of the argument if we wish), and grows out of it. In practice, therefore, the more knowledge or experience I possess, the more ground I have on which faith can build. But I need this ground of knowledge because, if there is none, then faith is unsupported, and quickly becomes unstable or top-heavy.

We make progress in the spiritual walk by capitalising upon past experiences of what the Lord has done -- by saying, in effect, 'On the basis of what I know, or have experienced, I have faith in Him for this next step'. We all know that, at least as a general principle. But what I want to stress is the close connection between the two things, and the impossibility of faith advancing without the solid backing of knowledge.

Let us take a simple illustration. Let us imagine two experienced mountaineers who have decided to tackle a difficult climb. As a precaution against falling, they rope themselves together, and they then set off. One of them goes in front; the other follows a rope's length behind. Each is secured by the other, but at no time can they be further than a rope's length apart. If the leading climber decided that his companion lower down is too slow for him, he may decide to cast off the rope and 'go it alone', but that is the most perilous folly, for now he has no safeguard against falling, and the anchor effect of his companion on the rope is lost. Their safety together depends on the leader leading, and finding the way, but without ever advancing more than a rope's length beyond his companion. [94/95]

The illustration is probably a familiar one. The leading climber on the Christian path is Faith. Faith must always be out in front of Knowledge or Experience, otherwise faith is not faith; no new experience will ever be gained, and so no progress will be made. Faith is always ahead of knowledge, but not too far ahead. If faith rushes on in advance, it soon becomes top-heavy. If, on the other hand, knowledge sits down at the bottom of the rock face and declines to make any effort, then faith is forever limited on the lower reaches. The usefulness of history is that, as it accumulates in our memories, it forms the basis for faith's progress.

The Limits of Faith

There are, I think, two lessons here -- one about faith and one about knowledge. The lesson about faith is that it is limited by knowledge and that this is perfectly proper and understandable. Supposing that a fellow-Christian comes to me and tells me that, if only I will believe, I shall see God save all the quarter-million people who live in my city. Supposing that he quotes to me those familiar words, "According to your faith be it unto you", and implies that only my lack of faith stands in the way of sweeping revival. What am I to reply? Surely this: that never in my experience -- or anybody else's, for that matter -- has a whole city been converted by the preaching of the gospel (though I might allow an exception for Nineveh!) While God undoubtedly could cause a quarter of a million people to turn to Him, nothing in my own experience or the history of my dealings with Him provides a basis in knowledge for that kind of leap of faith.

But let me start at the other end: God saved me, and therefore He can save any other individual. Therefore I can pray in faith for the salvation of one other soul -- maybe even two! If God answers those prayers, my faith is equipped with a basis in experience to move ahead again -- to another two, or even four! But faith and experience are never more than a rope's length apart and faith, if it is to be real faith, must bear that close relationship to knowledge at all times.

No-one understood this better than that great man of prayer and faith, James Fraser of Lisuland, whose biography by Mrs. Howard Taylor appeared under the title Behind The Ranges. Here is Fraser writing to his prayer supporters on exactly this topic:

'It is possible "to bite off", even in prayer, more than we can chew. ... Faith is like muscle which grows stronger and stronger with use, rather than indiarubber which can be stretched to almost any desired length. Over-strained faith is not pure faith; there is a mixture of the carnal element in it.

'In my own case, I have definitely asked the Lord for several hundred families of Lisu believers. There are upwards of two thousand Lisu families in the district altogether. It might be said, "Why do you not ask for a thousand?" I answer quite frankly, because I have not faith for a thousand. I have faith ... for more than one hundred families, but not for a thousand. So I accept the limits the Lord has, I believe, given me. Perhaps God will give me a thousand ... We must not overload faith: we must be sane and practical.'

That the limits of our faith are so low, so confining, is indeed something to grieve over. But that there are such limits is not a matter so much for grief as for sensible acceptance. And if we want those limits raised then perhaps we should pray, not so much as the disciples did, "Lord, increase our faith" as 'Lord, increase our experience', for only so is increased faith possible.

The Value of Remembering

The lesson about knowledge follows from this. If knowledge plays this vital part in making possible the increase of faith, then history to the believer is not simply a disconnected series of happenings, much less is it 'bunk', but it is all building material, and none of it is to be wasted. When God told Israel, over and over again, to remember their past, His purpose was not sentimental but practical; He wanted to build their confidence in Him -- their faith -- up to the point necessary for the supreme test of faith -- the entry into the land, the land which years before they had been too scared to enter.

It was said of certain kings of France that they had forgotten nothing and learned nothing. This is probably true, alas, of many companies of God's people. They have minute books full of the records of church meetings, and they can tell you down to the last hymn or cup of tea 'how we've always done it', but they are getting no value from their history. They are not asking [95/96] themselves, 'What is the lesson to be learned? What does all this show us of the goings of God?' And so, to return to our mountain climbers, Knowledge is sitting at the bottom of the rock face admiring the scenery while Faith, having climbed as far as he can, is feebly tugging on the rope, trying to make Knowledge get a move on!

For the believer, the past is not for regretting, but for putting to use. It is not a pile of rubble but a stack of building bricks, and the higher it rises the further faith can leap. Let us waste none of it!



Poul Madsen

Chapter 12:14-21

WE concluded our last section with Paul's ironic request for forgiveness for the "wrong" of not accepting financial support from the Corinthians. He now announces that he expects to pay them a third visit but does not intend to act differently in the matter: "I will not be a burden to you" (v.14). He still hopes that they will give generously to the poor in Jerusalem (chapters 8 and 9), but his father-love prevents him from receiving assistance from them for his personal needs. It was not their possessions which he sought but the people themselves.

He certainly had the right to be financially helped by them, but he would not exercise that right for, if he did so, he would not 'possess' them as a father does his children. By this he does not mean that he wanted to possess them for himself, but only "in Christ", and he maintained that this could only happen when they turned away from all that the false apostles had brainwashed them with and returned to receive without reserve the teachings he had brought to them in the Lord's name.

He was their father in the gospel and he acted as a father naturally would, "laying up" for the good of his children but not expecting that those children would "lay up" for him. And as a good father does not shrink from any sacrifice which would profit his children, so Paul would gladly bring sacrifices -- indeed be himself a sacrifice -- for their souls. Love cannot go further. It went all the way to Calvary, and it was the same Calvary love which filled the heart of the apostle. Should he then be loved the less? (v.15). The answer is self-evident in theory but often not true in practice. The highest love is more often overlooked or even despised. At any rate in his case they had misinterpreted his love as craftiness. They openly accused him of appearing as one who was free from money in order more easily to appropriate the money which had been collected for Jerusalem at his instigation. The accusation also included his co-workers, who were judged to be conspirators in the plot.

As I mentioned before, a church can excel in the grotesque, even while it persuades itself that it only wants the truth and is acting in love. To know Paul and yet to accuse him of embezzlement and fraud, proves that the Corinthians were taking a completely opposite course from that which they had followed under his ministry. They had fallen into a state which was unworthy and absurd.

He rejected their accusations (vv.17-18). He did not begin to supply a proof of his innocence or that of his colleagues, but just asked them to think over what they already knew of himself and Titus. Not that he would defend himself (v.19). If they insisted that he was a deceiver, then the relationship between them and him would be spoilt and the false prophets would have accomplished their ruin as a church. His concern, however, was that they should not be ruined but edified, and in this connection he addressed them still as 'beloved'. He must have been tempted to bitterness; it must have hurt him exceedingly that, instead of defending him, they had listened [96/97] to the accusations and even accepted them. But a father's love for his children cannot ever be shaken, even though they caused him great pain, so his love for the Corinthians had neither cooled nor weakened. What he said now was in the sight of God in Christ, and was wholly for their good.

Some of his words had been very sharp indeed, and some had contained an element of foolishness and madness, but it was all to the same purpose of edifying them, which in this case meant saving them from destructive criticism. If they were guided by him, it would have a profitable effect but if not, the process of disintegration which had begun among them would continue and destroy the church. He feared (and wrote to avoid it happening) that he would be humbled to come among them and find that process going on (vv.20-21). If the influence of the false apostles were continued, it would result in a church characterised by strife (mutual strife and strife against Paul), jealousy (in a context of claims to spiritual superiority), wraths and factions (the very opposite of love), backbitings and whisperings (puffed-up opinions on spiritual questions) and tumults (the reverse of spiritual order).

PAUL was afraid that God would humble him before them -- as on his first visit. The influence of the false apostles would, he feared, cause them to return to their old sexual sins, for the mechanism of righteousness by the law which was now being taught, awakes and produces the very practice of the sins which it disallows. If it did happen, it would be God who humbled him. It would be the permissive will of God which allowed a further slap in the face by Satan's messenger to keep him lowly in heart.

This brings us back to the matter of apostolic weakness, recognising the principle that the apostle has to be a representative of the Crucified One, even to the point of personal humiliation and weakness. If it happened, he would accept it as God's deliberate allowing of His servant to seem unsuccessful and judged a failure in the eyes of men.

Perhaps there is even more significance in his words. He says that God would humble him. What could be more humiliating to Paul than that the behaviour of the Corinthians should seem to give ground for his accuser's claim that he taught that men can sin in order that grace might the more abound? There in Corinth Paul had purposed not to know anything but Jesus Christ and Him crucified; in other words, he had preached the gospel of grace without restriction as he had in Galatia. If the Corinthians changed the gospel of grace into the teaching that "all things are lawful to me" (1 Corinthians 6:12), and if now they continued sinning without repenting of their laxity and immorality, it would seem to prove his opponents right!

That was what he feared but, even if it should be so, he would humble himself under the mighty hand of God, for it would be God who permitted the humbling; but even so, this did not mean that he would be passive towards them and just let things take their course. Far from it!

(To be concluded)


"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good,
and what doth the Lord require of thee ...
to walk humbly with thy God.
" Micah 6:8

Harry Foster

4. JACOB. Walking with a Limp

"SO Jacob called the place Peniel ... and he was limping because of his hip" (Genesis 32:30-31). Jacob can hardly be said to have been walking with God before he was crippled. He never did claim to have done so, but modestly told Joseph that the God before whom his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, had walked was the One who had always been his Shepherd (48:15). [97/98] Nevertheless Peniel marked a great crisis for him and when later he limped into the presence of Pharaoh he did so with great spiritual authority: "Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh" and yet again: "Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from the presence of Pharaoh" (Genesis 47:7 and 10).

The scene was a remarkable one. To any onlooker it must have seemed incredible that a crippled old farmer should be in a position to confer a blessing on the greatest monarch of his day. But the wonder was made even greater by the personal factor, for Jacob is often depicted as a doubtful or even despicable character. That he, of all people, should have become a man with a ministry of blessing, both willing and able to convey to others a divine benefit in the name of his Lord, is an indication of the great crisis of Peniel and its outcome. It marked him for ever as a man with a limp, but it was a new milestone on his experience of a closer walk with God.

The double mention of his blessing Pharaoh was no isolated act. Seventeen years later he was able to bless the two sons of Joseph (48:20), and the story makes it clear that his pronouncements over the two lads were not merely human expressions of goodwill, but words uttered under divine inspiration and even contrary to Joseph's natural ideas. Subsequently Jacob pronounced individual blessings on the twelve sons who would form the tribes of Israel (49:1-28). We can understand the great Moses being competent to bless the twelve tribes, for we would expect him to be such a man of God that he would have power to do so, but we find it indeed remarkable that a man like Jacob should have such an exalted ministry.

THE man who walks with God is a blessing to others. This, in a sense, is the criterion for spiritual life, and by this will the earthly history of each one of us be judged. Was that man an instrument for bringing God's blessing into the lives of others? Was that woman one who had a ministry of blessing? This is the ultimate question. It may take years of God's instruction and discipline to make this possible in our case, as it did in the case of Jacob, but the verdict on our lives will be as to whether God was able to communicate His blessing through us to others. By this standard we can certainly say that this man who walked with a limp had a fulfilled life. In his case, God's patience over many years had prevailed. This was a point of real attainment -- "Jacob blessed Pharaoh". Not until seventeen years later did Jacob, in his final act of worship, reach the great climax of his faith as he worshipped God "leaning upon the top of his staff" (Hebrews 11:21), but the fact that he did so attain is a marvellous tribute to the power of the grace of God.

That it was grace is shown by the fact that the patriarch regarded himself as having no importance: he did not feel the dignity and authority which he displayed but was painfully aware of his own shortcomings. "Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life", he confessed to Pharaoh, "and they have not attained ..." (47:9). In his body he was a cripple; in his self-judgment he felt acutely insufficient and unworthy to be compared with others who had walked with God, yet this was the one man who could stand before Pharaoh and, in spite of his weakness, confer a benefit on the great Ruler. When Jacob had thought himself clever and successful, he had no blessing to give; it was now that he was so painfully aware of his own inadequacy that his real spiritual ministry was made possible. It is always like that. God constantly has to work with us to cripple our natural strength, and He does so with the one purpose in view of dealing with us so that out of our nothingness may come a flow of His blessing to others.

An outstanding feature of this new phase of Jacob's career was that he was no longer a man grasping at possessions, but one who took pleasure in the grace of giving. All his life had been occupied with the matter of divine blessing. He had always realised that this is the most important factor in life, as indeed it is. But in those earlier years he had been intent on getting rather than giving the blessing. The blessing seemed so important to him that he felt that he had to grasp at it with all his might, indifferent to the effect of his action on others and only intent on getting and holding all he could.

A BIG change took place. Sometimes you may read of the change of name from Jacob to Israel and wonder if anything had really changed in the man except the name. It had, though the out-working of the change seems sadly slow. It [98/99] was as Jacob that he blessed Pharaoh but it was as Israel that he decided to join his son Joseph (45:28) and it was as Israel that he took the journey (46:1). Consider how the old Jacob would have entered Egypt. Think of how he would have planned to exploit this unexpected prominence of his son. Self-interest would have led him to seek every advantage and look for every opportunity to make selfish use of the great influence which Joseph now had in Egypt. The extent of the transformation in Jacob can be measured by the fact that he seems to have had no such desires, but only to have been intent on giving. He asked Pharaoh for nothing: he gave him the best that he had, a blessing from God.

In this he anticipated the words of the Lord Jesus Himself who said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive". (Acts 20:35). We do not know when He actually uttered the words. It does not matter. The great thing is that He lived them out every day of His earthly life. All too sadly, many of us have to confess that while we accept the idea, we often fail to put it into practice. We are reminded of Peter's words to the lame man: "That which I have, I give thee" (Acts 3:6). We would expect that from Spirit-filled apostles of Christ. The miracle here is that Jacob himself was becoming a Christlike man, for surely that is what is implicit in the new name, Israel.

As we have said, Jacob felt himself to be a weak and unworthy man. In this lay the secret of his power with God and men. If we ask how it was that he first began to feel weak in this way, the answer is that it began when his natural strength was broken under the hand of God as he struggled all night at Jabbok (32:25). Before that occasion he had passed through twenty years of trial and discipline. In his relative, Laban, he encountered a man who was hard enough and sufficiently like himself to cause him endless distress. Those were twenty years of hardship, yet there is no indication that the suffering had made any change in Jacob. It is quite a mistaken idea to imagine that suffering, in itself, has any power to mature us spiritually. No, even after those twenty years, Jacob was still Jacob, as he had to confess to the angel who wrestled with him. Whether or not he had been prepared for this encounter with God by the things he had passed through is not stated. Perhaps he had. What he needed at that stage, however, was not suffering but a personal meeting with God from which he would emerge a truly broken man. That is what happened at Jabbok. When he had made all his plans and put them into execution, and lingered in his loneliness, God met him and wrestled with him. I know little about wrestling but gather that the purpose is that one man should yield to his opponent. That Jacob would never do, even if the opponent were an angel from heaven. He had to be lamed in order to bring it about. He became a weakened man who was no longer scheming or fighting for the blessing but clinging to the Lord for it. When it came, the blessing was greater than he could ever have imagined, it was bound up with a new name, Israel.

AT times one has imagined that the complete transformation took place in a moment, as if from that encounter the old Jacob ceased and an entirely new man called Israel took his place. As the narrative proceeds, it is made clear that this was not the case. Not only can one detect traces of the old nature still in operation but it is evident that the writer wished to record the fact that this had not happened for, under the Spirit's inspiration, he constantly changes from the name Jacob to Israel, and then back to Jacob again. No, there had not been an instantaneous change at Jabbok, though what happened proved to be radical in its outworking. The experience marked a new beginning for Jacob. In a sense, this was when he began to walk with God. Peniel marked the dawning of a new day for this man who was now committed to God so that the work of transformation could proceed.

For this reason he still had to suffer. After his new position of yieldedness one might imagine that his sufferings would be over. Here again, we find that God's ways with His servants are not what we think they should be. For the next period of more than twenty years, Jacob passed through a succession of much deeper trials until at last he exclaimed, almost in despair: "All these things are against me" (42:36). They were not, of course. Even as he spoke in this way Joseph was ruling in Egypt and planning to provide comfort and a home for his old father. This was hidden from Jacob's eyes. The future usually is hidden from us. All we know is what Jacob felt, that one trial succeeds another, making life more difficult, since we capitulated to the absolute [99/100] mastery of the Lord, than ever it was before we had so yielded.

After Jabbok Jacob had to suffer from the bad behaviour of his sons (34), from the sad loss of Rachel, a loss which left a scar to the very end of his life (48) and from the disgraceful conduct of Reuben (35). Finally came the worst blow of all when he heard of the apparent death of Joseph and believed it. All this may seem to us hard and unnecessary for a man now called Israel yet, in reading the story, one has a sense of a new mildness and submissiveness in the patriarch's spirit. The old Jacob would surely have reacted in a much more violent way to those sons of his! Perhaps the transformation was going on all the time, and most of all when he was least conscious of it.

What had happened at Jabbok needed to become a more inward experience, a brokenness which is the real secret of spiritual transformation. So it is with us all. We are not made 'Israels' in a moment, however sacred and significant that moment of encounter with the Lord may be. That is only the beginning. From then onwards we must be led through circumstances of testing and disappointment in order that in the end we may emerge as those whose whole life is a benediction, a means of blessing to others.

JACOB'S last movement was made in humility as well as joy, and the Lord was with him. When he agreed to go down into Egypt to be with Joseph he made a significant pause before actually leaving the land of promise. He got as far as Beer-sheba and there he called a halt. It is clear from God's words to him that he was halted by very real fears. He may well have wondered whether it was right to go down into Egypt under any circumstances. Abraham had been a greater and a better man than he, and yet it had been manifestly wrong for him to go there. What should he do? Joseph was there, and he longed to see his favourite son. Transport had been provided, and it seemed so right and reasonable to proceed. Moreover there was famine in Canaan. But it was famine which had governed Abraham's decision, so this may have made Jacob hesitate. It could be that, after he had impulsively set off, taking it for granted that God would be with him in his going, [as] we often do, that he felt impelled to reconsider the matter. It is dangerous to take the presence and blessing of God for granted. Was it because he realised this that Jacob made the whole party pause for a while at Beer-sheba while he had new dealings with God over the enterprise?

So he set up an altar. We do not know what he offered, but we know from the rest of Scripture that the pattern of such an offering was that it should be a "whole burnt offering". He had to put all on the altar, and show in this symbolic way, that everything belonged to God, and was so held in trust for Him. Jacob wanted to go into Egypt. In fact it was the only thing on earth now that he did want. But he needed to test his wishes against the will of God, so on that altar he handed back to God his own ideas and his own desires, and waited to see what the Lord's response would be.

It does not seem that he had to wait long. Was it on the following night that God spoke to him? Or did he have to wait for some days after making his offering? We are not told. But we are told that in the night when God spoke to him, He called him by his old name, and even repeated it for emphasis: "Jacob, Jacob ... fear not to go down into Egypt ..." (46:2-3). "You are such a lame man now that you have to be carried in a wagon, but I will go down with you and we will walk together until I myself bring you back again into the company of your fathers" (See 49:29).

To walk with God means to learn to wait for Him. And this is what this majestic cripple did. It was as Israel that he took his journey (46:1) and it was as Israel that God spoke to him, and yet He still called him Jacob (46:2). So it was that he stood in the presence of Pharaoh and conveyed God's blessing on the king. He was a weak man. He was a broken man. He was a deeply dependent man. But God had sent him, and God was with him. He may have limped but he had learned to walk humbly with his God.

(To be continued) [100/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


"(but thou art rich)" Revelation 2:9

THIS is one of the briefest of all the parenthetical phrases and is one of the most thrilling. For a harassed, deprived and insignificant group like the church in Smyrna, it must have been overwhelmingly wonderful to know that Christ considered them the richest of all the Asian assemblies.

THE Laodiceans mistakenly imagined themselves affluent to a degree: "Thou sayest I am rich ... and have need of nothing" remarked the Risen Lord, and then added, almost pityingly, "You don't know how destitute and beggarly you really are." This very contrast highlights the difference between what God values and what is prized by the world. The sickeningly wealthy Laodiceans were roundly condemned by the Lord of glory, whereas the despised, down-trodden saints of Smyrna were highly approved by Him. And He has the eyes like a flame of fire and can assay true values.

WE do well to ask ourselves what constituted this parenthetical verdict concerning true wealth. Do we consider ourselves rich when all the time we are miserably poor, or do we perhaps know ourselves to be very poor and yet reckoned by Christ to be among heaven's millionaires? How can we know?

THE believers in Smyrna were obviously suffering for Christ's sake. It may well be that they had rejected opportunities for personal enrichment, and chosen rather to be poor in their faithfulness to Him. They were rich, then, because they had treasure in heaven. Here on earth the Lord Jesus had exhorted His disciples to lay up treasure in heaven; now from heaven He confirmed that the crown of life was awaiting those who heeded His exhortation.

THE whole letter carries with it the atmosphere of resurrection realities. The Author is the One who was dead but now lives again. The overcoming readers are promised "the crown of life" and immunity from the second death, which means a part of the first resurrection (Revelation 20:6). This, then, is the supreme feature of spiritual wealth -- it is vital and eternal.

THE parenthesis is, however, phrased in the present tense. Clearly they not only could expect treasure in heaven but were rich there and then. In contrast to their own conscious trial and need, Christ tells them that in fact they are truly rich. Rich because He was watching over their experiences, numbering the days of their trials and planning a glorious termination to their earthly lives. How much richer can any of us be? To have Him so near and so sympathetic in this life and then to have a share in His eternal kingdom in the next. This is to be rich indeed.

SO let not them -- nor us -- listen to the voice of circumstances or enemies; let us not pay too much attention to our own emotions; but rather let us have ears to hear what the Saviour is saying to us. He counters it all with His divine "But". Happy indeed can we be if we hear Him say to us: "But thou art rich!" "Son, thou art ever with me; and all that I have is thine."


[Back cover]

Joshua 1:8

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