"... 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. 16, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1987 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Christ's Seven Pillars Of Wisdom 81
Fruit-Bearing Branches 86
The Gospel Of The Glory Of Jesus 90
Keep Yourselves In God's Love 94
Bringing Many Sons To Glory (4) 97
On The Way Up (5) - Psalm 124 ibc



Harry Foster

Reading: Proverbs 8:22 - 9:5

IF it is true that Christ may be found in all the Scriptures, it is certain that in the book of Proverbs we can find much about Him as the true Wisdom of God. As a poet, Solomon used a feminine figure to typify Wisdom, but Christ can readily be identified in the description we are given of His eternal existence: "I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began" (8:23) as well as His intimate share with the Father in the works of creation: "I was there when he set the heavens in place ... when he gave the sea its boundary so that the waters should not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was the craftsman at his side" (8:27-30). Those who know the Lord Jesus will readily identify Him in these and similar statements.

All this means that when we move into Chapter 9 we have no doubt that it is the Lord Jesus, as the personification of wisdom, who invites simple souls to share in the hospitality of His seven-pillared house. We hear the echo of the gospel invitation in Wisdom's call: "Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed" (9:5). We know that it is the Lord Jesus who invites the wayward (for that is the meaning of the word 'simple') and those who lack judgment to receive freely the benefit of His generous provision.

There is nothing partial or unfinished in the gospel feast or in the person of Him who invites us to partake of it. There is nothing vague or fragile about the house into which we are welcomed, for He has built it with sturdy pillars and there are seven of them. In the Bible the number seven speaks of divine completeness. The apostle John takes especial pleasure in using this number. In his Gospel he deliberately selects seven sign-miracles, though another is added in Chapter 21, for eight is the resurrection number. To parallel these seven signs, John records that Jesus also used the name I AM in a sevenfold description of Himself.

In a previous article [Vol. 16, No. 2, p. 21] I drew attention to a divine pattern in the seven utterances from the cross. I hope that it will not be thought fanciful if I suggest that a similar pattern is offered to us here, in John's Gospel. The central pillar of the seven is concerned with the atonement -- "I am the good Shepherd; the good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (10:11). This is number 4. The extremities, numbers 1 and 7, remind us of the symbols of that sacrifice -- "I am the bread of life" (6:35) and "I am the true vine" (15:1). Pillars numbers 2 and 3 speak of light and access -- "I am the light of the world" (8:12) and "I am the door" (10:7), while numbers 5 and 6 make similar statements -- "I am the resurrection and the life" (11:25) and "I am the way ..." (14:6).

The design is balanced and complete. These seven descriptions of the I AM constitute the seven pillars of Christ's wisdom. John's seven sign-miracles can be made to suggest a correspondence between the names and the actions of the Lord Jesus. Both the names and the signs are meant to give us much more than an interesting pattern. John wrote them to give us a heart-warming revelation of our glorious Lord.

When God revealed Himself to Moses, He indicated the absolute perfection of His being in the name "I AM that I AM". In a sense this is quite logical as a title, for any valid conception of the Deity must regard God as the One who is [81/82] eternal and all-sufficient, One who is completely independent and needs neither advice nor assistance from anybody. This self-description of God as the I AM is constantly repeated in the Old Testament; it is more than a title, it is His personal name, a name that none can copy and none can share. God has it all.

The startling truth in the New Testament is that Jesus, although truly a human being, yet made the same claim about Himself. He is the I AM. This is implicit in the seven phrases we are considering, but there is much more than that. He affirmed, "I AM from above ... I am not of this world" (8:23) and went on to warn His hearers, "If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins". It is a pity that the N.I.V. translators saw fit to make the addition to His solemn claim to make it read, "If you do not believe that I am (the one I claim to be)", but at least they have indicated by their use of brackets that the Lord did not use the words which they have inserted. His sweeping statement was that there is no hope for the sinner if the crucified One was not the I AM. In any case we read a few verses on that the Lord told His critics, "Before Abraham was, I AM" (8:58) prefacing these words with His solemn " Amen, Amen". The Lord Jesus did not apologise for adopting the divine name, and we need not apologise for applying it to Him. I AM is exclusive: it implies that He alone can help us. I AM is also inclusive, for it assures us that all our needs are fully provided for in Him. To every need of ours, the Lord Himself is the all-sufficient answer. I do not propose to follow the seven titles in order, but will try to extract a few spiritual realities which emerge from them.


Wisdom, so we are told, has hewn out her seven pillars and built her house for the express purpose of providing a banquet for the simple. In a note on 1:22 the N.I.V. translators tell us that "the Hebrew word rendered simple in Proverbs generally denotes one without moral direction and inclined to evil". I imagine that our word 'wayward' conveys something of this idea. In any case the force of the invitation to those who are in danger of perishing in their lack of judgment is not merely to offer them information or advice but to succour them with food and drink. So we are told of the servants sent out to the highest point of the city to broadcast the invitation to all and sundry.

This fits in quite closely with some of the calls by Christ Himself in the Gospels, and it particularly applies to the first of His claims which is "I AM the bread of life", and the illustrative miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. This is perhaps the most striking of John's sign miracles, for it reinforces what has already been recorded in the other three Gospels. There are surprisingly few matters which are mentioned in all four Gospels. John clearly did not feel it his business to repeat what the other three had written. This sign-miracle with the sequel of Jesus walking on the water is an exception.

He not only repeats the story which the Synoptics had told, but gives us a few extra details which they had no liberty to mention. The first is the association with the Feast of the Passover. The next is that Jesus already had it in mind to work this wonder. The third is that the five small loaves and the two small fish were not provided by the disciples but by an unnamed lad. What is more, John makes no mention of the employment of the apostles to carry the food to the groups of seated guests as the other three Evangelists do. He speaks as though Jesus did it all by Himself: "Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish" (6:11)

The mention of the Passover is in accord with John's principle of pointing out the fact that Jesus is the true fulfilment of all Old Testament types. The other three ways in which he adds his own details seem to me to play down any thought that Jesus needed the assistance of His disciples. Of course they acted as the Synoptic Gospels tell us, but surely John's purpose is to focus on the absolute sufficiency of Christ. His disciples did not know what to do and did not even supply the meagre loaves and fishes which the Lord used. In this striking way Jesus demonstrated the truth of the words I AM. Perhaps John's way of telling the story suggests that in fact all the satisfied [82/83] guests felt as though they had received their portions directly from Him. They hardly noticed the apostles, just as those at Cana of Galilee hardly noticed the servants who brought the water made wine to the table.

Every one of these seven pillars has its own testimony to the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus and all together they emphasise His glorious ability to provide for every human need at all times. The first sign-miracle took place at a wedding and the fifth at a graveside. They point us to Wisdom's gracious invitation to the simple to leave their own ways and find life in Christ and to those who lack judgment to begin to walk in the way of understanding. The I AM is the answer to every possible need.


Wisdom speaks to us in the present tense. Jesus did not say, "I was", even when he spoke of Abraham's day: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM" (8:58). Although He was always looking forward to the future, His emphasis in the matter of faith is on present realities. Every one of His seven pillars stresses what we may know of Him today. Two of the sign-miracles of John's Gospel give occasion for us to note this insistence on what is not only past or future but present and immediate. They concern the statement I AM the bread of life and I AM the resurrection and the life. The events are indeed past history -- they really happened -- but they stress immediate reality.

i. Not only a matter of the past

The phrase, "I AM the bread of life" arose out of the long discussion between the Lord and the Jews after the feeding of the five thousand. The Jews were very proud of their nation's past and they challenged the Lord Jesus with the wonder-food of the wilderness which they still called Manna. They set great store on this national miracle of survival by bread from heaven, associating the name of their great hero, Moses, with it. Jesus put them right in the matter of who was responsible by saying, "It was not Moses who gave you the manna", but He carefully avoided the obvious correction that it was the Father who had given it, for that would have been to focus on past history. He therefore completed the sentence by saying, "but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven" (6:32). It is the true bread, the spiritual reality and not the typical illustration, and He [the true bread] is now being given -- not a bit of past history but an up-to-date gift of life to God's People.

The past is past, however wonderful it may have been. No-one can live on past tradition. What we need, and what Jesus offers, is present and immediate. In this matter of the bread of life He is the I AM. It is noteworthy that when the Jews demanded a sign He did not respond by citing His miracle of feeding the multitude, which should have been proof enough of His deity. That, however, although so recent was now past experience for those who enjoyed it. What matters is not only what He gave, but what He now gives . Even if we knew the exact location of that desert feast and modern Christians could make a pilgrimage to it, their experience would be as nothing compared to the spiritual reality which comes from a personal taste of the I AM.

It is indeed a fact that the foundations of our faith depend on the past. We wholeheartedly believe all that the Gospels say about the miracles of Jesus. The words of Jesus show, however, that He multiplied the loaves to establish the lasting wonder that hungry people may still eat and be satisfied by feeding upon Him. It is an interesting fact that John always avoids any use of the noun 'faith' and writes of the activity of 'believing'. There must be an initial act of 'receiving' Him but that is only valid for those who go on believing in His name (1:12).

The Lord Jesus wisely left with His Church one simple act of remembrance designed to illustrate this matter of feeding on Him in our hearts by faith. The Lord's Supper does look back to the past and also points to the future, but it really majors on the present. We are to break the bread often, and when we do so we both proclaim His death on the cross and look forward to His Coming in the clouds, but the central command is that in our action we should [83/84] maintain a present communion with Him. The symbols speak to us of the I AM as our daily bread and of His blood as that which keeps on cleansing us from all sin.

ii. Not only a matter of the future

The second sign-miracle which emphasises this present tense experience is that of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. At the time when Jesus came to Bethany, Martha's expectations were limited to the future: "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (11:24). She was quite correct. So he will, and so will she and so, by God's grace, will we all. Our resurrection, though, will depend not only on a divinely appointed occasion, but on a Person, and that Person is the One who announced to Martha, "I AM the resurrection and the life". So there is a knowledge of resurrection life which does not have to wait for some future date but applies to our immediate needs. This new life is a present reality when we know God and Jesus Christ whom He sent: "Whoever lives and believes in me will never die".

The real thrust of the Lord's words is the spiritual principle of resurrection life. To prove that He really is the resurrection He actually brought Lazarus out of his tomb but, unlike His own resurrection, that of Lazarus was a merely temporary experience. Whether he went back later to that same grave or to some other, death inevitably overtook him as it does us all. On some future occasion, as Martha rightly said, Lazarus will arise with a new body which will then be immortal. That emergence from the cave was a sign of what is yet to be, but it was more than that. It demonstrates to us that in Himself the Lord Jesus is life and His resurrection life is freely available to us here and now. Every new birth by the Spirit is a greater miracle than what happened to Martha's brother, but the constancy of that miracle is to be maintained by a continual experience of the I AM. Another title which the Lord offered was "I AM the door". He is the way of access. To that, however, He added the promise that through Him we are to go in and out (10:9). This does not suggest a once-for-all experience and certainly not an up-and-down one, but rather that we ought to have constantly new experiences of access. Every day and every hour, He is the entrance into new experiences of spiritual life.


A further point which arises from the parallels of His names and His sign-miracles is that it is a most practical experience to all of us who come to Him. The seven pillars are not just ornamental extras to His house but they are strong supports, ready to respond to every demand made upon them. We are not just expected to recognise His claims but we are invited to come to His house and taste for ourselves the present provision of the I AM. There is much to learn from these sign-miracles which John recorded.

i. I AM the True Vine

We begin with the miracle associated with the vine. It seems that after the conversation related in John 14, the Lord and His disciples went out of the upper room and perhaps passed by the great ornamental vine which formed part of the fabric of Herod's Temple. That was not so much a false vine as a merely figurative one. When Jesus used the term 'true', He spoke of the reality, not only contrasting Himself with symbols of failure but even with what may have been genuine types of the truth. As He said, "I AM ... the truth." At Cana of Galilee He proved this truth. No doubt that newly married couple whose predicament is described in John 2:3 knew all about the symbolism of the vine. It is even possible that they had a pictorial vine in their new home, but at that moment of dire crisis what they needed was the real thing, for they had no wine. In fact the True Vine was sitting at their table, though they did not know it. When once the matter had been put into His hands, an abundance of rich wine was made available to crown that feast. When the Lord spoke of the Vine in John 15, most of what He said relates to the believer's fruitfulness. It is all very important and in this issue I have been able to include some most helpful ministry on that chapter which George Harpur gave us not long before he went to be with Christ. But surely the miracle at Cana must be allowed to illustrate what Christ can do for the fruitless believer. The true story of the wine at the wedding gives a graphic reminder of the practical sufficiency of Christ and of the excellence of His provision. [84/85]

We are to taste and see how good the Lord is. The Master of Ceremonies there in Galilee knew nothing of the explanation of how the provision came to be available, but his palate told him that in a moment the Lord Jesus had done that which excelled nature's best (2:10). He who is incarnate Wisdom issues the invitation, "Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed" (Proverbs 9:5). Solomon wrote those words as part of his beautiful poetry, but Christ gives us the beautiful reality. He is the True Vine whose surpassing sweetness is available for every time of need which may occur in our lives and our relationships.

ii. I AM the Light of the World

In John 9 we have the story of the miraculous healing of a man who had been blind from birth. It was in association with this poor sufferer who never in all his life had known a single shaft of light that Jesus made the claim, "I AM the light of the world" (9:5). The man's condition was tragic; for him everything was thick darkness. The disciples, acting like amateur theologians, wanted to provoke a hair-splitting enquiry which would have made an attractive subject for discussion on a T.V. programme, and been no more profitable than many of them. But Jesus was not in this world to argue about theories but to provide practical answers to men's needs.

He not only claimed to be what John had earlier described as "the true light" (1:9), but He proceeded to illuminate the man who had lived all his life in total darkness. It is clear that the sign-miracle required no great effort on the part of Jesus. After all, He is the eternal Son who had uttered the Father's decree, "Let there be light" when the whole world was in chaotic darkness and then the light had shone. Just one word of command from Him could begin a new world for the benighted beggar. It was in these terms that Paul described his own conversion; it was a new creation day for him: "For God that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). In the Genesis story we are told of light before the sun and moon were shining, while at Saul's conversion the light that shone upon him was "above the brightness of the sun" (Acts 26:13).

No-one would doubt that this emancipated beggar had his whole life revolutionised by his response to the One who said, "I AM the light". What is more, the development of his story shows that the light was spiritual as well as physical and that it increased as he responded boldly to its implications. We only begin to live when the Lord Jesus enlightens our hearts but what is equally important, we only make progress in the way of life as we open our hearts and minds to His fresh shining.

iii. I AM the Door

Another of the sign-miracles of John's Gospel will perhaps give us a helpful illustration of the practical reality of Christ's name. This time we are to consider His claim, "I AM the door". The story describes the experience of a man who for thirty-eight years had been trying unsuccessfully to gain access: "Sir, I have no-one to help me into the pool" (5:7). He so wanted to get in, but never could, at least never in time. Jesus solved his problem for him.

There are mysteries about that pool and the properties claimed for the one who could first enter it when its waters were troubled. They do not concern us, for what matters is what happened to the man, and there was no mystery about that: he discovered the practical reality of Christ's claim to be the entrance -- the door or the gate. He was so obsessed with his inability that he hardly paid attention to the Lord's enquiry as to whether he wished to be made whole. Of course he did, but he seems to have been unable to think of anything more than his need to get into that pool on time. The Lord did not waste words remonstrating with him, and He certainly did not offer His services to help the man into the pool. He did something much better than that; He made the man whole with a word. Instead of bringing the man to the door, He brought the door to the man. And that is what He does to all who sincerely desire access into the mercy and grace of God.

My own opinion is that this was one of the most undeserving and even despicable of all those who were healed by the Lord Jesus. This is partly [85/86] borne out by the fact that Jesus proceeded to give him not a promise but a warning. The man reacted to this by becoming an informer to Christ's persecutors. Never mind! There is grace for the most unworthy. In any case, what happened to him in terms of physical relief is surely recounted to us so that we may have a new conception of the grace and power of the I AM. Jesus said, "I AM the door". He also said, "I AM the way". In Him we find access and a welcome into the blessings of God.


The seven pillars speak of permanence, and only the spiritual is truly permanent. Those who do not accept the infallibility of the Scriptures tell us that the early believers invented these stories just to assist us to appreciate the Lord's spiritual powers. They are quite wrong. Each of these seven sign-wonders actually happened. But it would be rather foolish to stress His power to bring healing to men as if this were paramount, or to demand similar miracles in His Church today. That God can do miracles if and when He wishes no true believer would doubt, but the question which arises is that of genuine and lasting values, and these must be spiritual. In this connection what the I AM does for men in the spiritual realm is the real thrust of the message of John's Gospel.

Perhaps I may revert to the apostle Paul in an attempt to stress this truth. Saul of Tarsus actually passed three days of blindness when physically he was in total darkness. He then received back his sight by a miracle, as is explained in the words, "Something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again" (Acts 9:18). As part of his testimony on the steps of the Jerusalem barracks, he told his hearers of that miracle (Acts 22:11 & 13) but apart from that almost casual allusion he never seems to have mentioned again the physical wonder. On the other hand he continually wrote and prayed about the miracle of spiritual enlightenment by the Holy Spirit. This was what mattered. His writings abound with thanks for his own deliverance from spiritual blindness and prayers that his readers might know and walk in the light of the Lord. For him it was clearly the giving of spiritual sight which constituted the true fulfilment of Christ's claim in this and in every other matter to be the great I AM.



George Harpur

(Some thoughts on John 15)

THE Lord Jesus claimed to be the True Vine. Israel was called to be God's vine but, as the prophet informs us, the nation completely failed Him and yielded only bad fruit. In any case, though, the description which the Lord gave of Himself as the True Vine, not only contrasted with what was faulty but also with what was typical and secondary. The rich reality of all that the vine means is to be found in Him alone who said, "I am ...". He also said "I am the truth", meaning the absolute reality.

To be the True Vine was no idle claim, for the life of Jesus was wholly fruitful and He was able to assert that He did always those things which pleased the Father. What is more, He put into the same statement the fact that His Father is the Vinedresser, making sure to give the Father all the glory for the human life that He was living, because our Lord was true Man and His manhood was expressed by His complete dependence on His Father. His life as the Vine was based on the will and control of His heavenly [86/87] Gardener, and He placed all His dependence on this relationship.

After He had made this personal statement, the Lord devoted the rest of what He had to say as set out in this chapter to the fact that His disciples are the branches of this Vine. We are now to follow what He has to teach us about matters related to the branches in the Vine and their concerns. In His case there was no question of self-government but only of submitting to the will of His Father. As branches in that Vine we are called upon to live in this same way. Any vine which has good branches of fruit has been well trained; it is a plant which is ordered and pruned and under firm control. A wild vine, however, follows its own course, twisting and winding at random.

We might have thought that since the Lord Jesus was sinlessly perfect, He could have ordered His life exactly as He wanted to, but He did nothing of the sort. He submitted totally to the plans which His Father had made for Him. There was nothing in His life that was not true to plan. Again and again it is written of Him that the Scriptures were being fulfilled in His experiences and actions so that at last, when all the Scriptures were fulfilled, He could cry "It is finished!" He had followed the Father's will perfectly; He never did a thing that was out of His own thought processes.

He was able to say that the things which He did were those things which He had seen the Father doing and the words that He spoke were what He had heard His Father say. This, I believe, relates to the statement made at His baptism that the heavens were opened to Him. How we wish that they were open to us! In fact the Bible will open them to us to some degree; in His case, though, it was a totally opened heaven. Our Lord's communication with His father in heaven was perfect and complete; the opened heaven under which He lived enabled Him to produce on earth exactly what He saw there. Insofar as heaven is opened to us and we even bother to look up to our Father there, we will discover that He has a plan for our lives too, and we should seek by His grace to follow out that plan and do the things that He wants us to do. Jesus -- who in any case would never have acted in a self-centred way -- did exactly what His Father told Him and could claim that He always did the things that pleased Him (John 8:29). This is the Vine of which we are branches.

In the opening words, "I am the true vine and My father is the Vinedresser", Jesus summarises the whole of His life in its perfection and its total control by God as well as His personal submission to the Father's will. Our Lord could have done what He liked, for His likes were perfect: The Old Testament laid down no laws as to what occupation He should follow so He could have chosen what He liked best and in any case would never have done anything wrong. He did not choose at all but went the way His reputed father went and accepted responsibility for the carpenter's shop at Nazareth. In fact He accepted the path which His heavenly Father chose for Him, in the beautiful harmony of a life wholly directed by the will of God. It is great if in anything in which we are involved, we have the assurance that what we are doing is God's will. We shall always find it conflicting with our own will, so a basic decision must be made that by God's grace we will live under an open heaven, doing what we see God doing and saying what we hear Him saying in our hearts and lives.

Jesus goes on to say, "every branch that bears fruit, He trims clean that it may bear more fruit". Here our Lord introduces the idea that there are branches in Him and the disciples may well have wondered for a moment what he meant by branches. He explains in verse 5, but not before then. The fact is that we have become branches of Christ by being grafted into Him. We are not there by nature. In Isaiah 53 it is pointed out that Christ had no generation, but nonetheless He has a great family who together form what we may call the corporate Christ. There is such a thing; a body of which He is the Head, for the anointing upon Him came down upon the whole of the Church. "God anointed him". That same anointing has been poured out upon His disciples at Pentecost, to bring the reality of the Holy Spirit, in all the benefits and powers of the anointing, into the members of His body. [87/88]

It is true that branches in Him are cut off if they do not bear fruit. Where there is real salvation, there will be real fruit. We need to realise that there is another side to justification by faith, for where there is true faith there will be sanctification and there will be fruit. Conversion is our way of talking about our side of it, but regeneration is God's way of talking about it, and that means a change of the heart so that we become new people. We are only babes to begin with, so that for a time it may be difficult for others to determine if a conversion is genuine or not. The important thing is to bear fruit, not in order to be saved but in order to show that the transaction we had with Him was real. Every branch that does not bear fruit must go, but every branch which does bear fruit must be trimmed or pruned so that it will become even more fruitful. When we come to Christ we are not entering upon a programme of dead ease and comfort, but we are submitting ourselves to a programme in which we will be trained and trimmed according to the mind of God.

I think that this is the thing in life to which we most object, these purging and pruning operations which God undertakes in our case. We are apt to think that having been saved and the whole business of our eternal destiny settled, now we can settle down and do no more than enjoy life. Of course we are meant to do that, "God gives us richly all things to enjoy", but that is not the purpose for which we are here. Not that the Lord would rob us of anything good here; sometimes, however, He has to hold them back from us because they are the things we tend to value too much. He prunes us in various ways, two in particular.

First of all, the knife has to come to slice off some features of our nature, for He cannot permit uncontrolled growth. Our Vinedresser has to do that since, left to ourselves, we would tend to grow out in all sorts of directions, this way and that, spurred on by our own selfish and self-centred notions. How often do we take some course and then, when weeks and months have gone by, ask ourselves if after all that was what the Lord wanted us to do. We tend to act on our own initiative, taking our own way into life, even into Christian service, ignoring the will of God which should govern us as members of Christ's body. The vine will only grow properly when it is trimmed and pruned. God's pruning is done in love; He never gives one cut which is not necessary or beneficial. The vine has no alternative, it is completely in the hands of the gardener. We, unfortunately, have our own alternatives and may find ourselves resisting God's pruning knife. There are times when we might be freed much more quickly of our troubles if we accepted them in the fear of God. This, then, is the first way in which He works. He prunes us by what we call our afflictions.

There is another way by which God prunes us, and that is by His Word: "Already you are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you" (v.3). The knife not only deals with the wild growth which is not going to be profitable, but it also cuts out the bruises, the bacteria and the fungus that will attack any vine in the natural course of things. The Word of God is that knife, and it is designed to remove the harmful things. It is important, therefore, that we listen to it and give it serious thought. It is a knife in the Father's hand so, as we give it attention, He will use it to cleanse away any threat to fruit-bearing. We should welcome the knife, for it heals even as it wounds.

"Remain in me, or abide in me, and I in you". This is what happens with any branch in a vine, for it can only bear fruit by maintaining intimate union with the main plant to which it belongs. When, however, we think of a grafted branch, there is always the possibility that it may not 'take'. It seems that this forms a sort of illustration of how important it is for us to maintain vital association with our Lord. When a gardener takes a branch which is to be grafted, he cuts down the tip to expose the inner life of that branch. He then has to cut a place in the vine itself and insert the prepared branch in its right place and bind it on.

It is put there to stay permanently; and only by abiding or remaining can it take. If someone comes along and pulls it out from the main stem, then it is finished. It will never produce fruit. It is dead. It has nothing in itself from which to produce fruit. It needs time for the graft to take [88/89] and the cells to knit, but in due course the vital connection takes place and the fruit-bearing process begins. But any distance between the branch and the main stem is inadmissible. If such a graft only had a millimetre of space between it and the vine, it might just as well be a mile away for all the value that there can be.

Now in the True Vine this does not mean we can be in and out of the vine, dead branches at one time and living branches at another, but of course no parable can be pursued to its precise limit. What the Lord wished to do was to stress a point, not to establish a doctrine. By speaking of a branch which may be divided from the vine and perish in the fire, He is not speaking of a Christian's salvation, but of the folly of allowing ourselves to permit any distance between ourselves and the Lord and so failing to maintain the practical values of our relationship with Him. That relationship is not exactly that of a branch to a vine, but it is a personal experience of close union with Him, stressing that there needs to be a continuity of fellowship with Him if there is to be fruit. The sap in the vine must get through to the branch. A branch which is pushed in and out will never be fruitful. Living power must be transferred continually in order that the goodness which is in the Vine may become grapes on the branches.

How close we need to keep to the Lord! "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever you will, and it shall be done unto you" (v.7). We note that to abide in the Lord means to keep His commandments (v.10). Faith must be expressed by obedience. One step of faith will take you into the narrow way of life but that step will not take you to the end of the journey, for you are now in a way. There will be one final step at the end, and that will be into glory, but meanwhile you have to walk step by step. Not that this is taxing, for the Lord speaks of it as a way of joy: "... that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be fulfilled" (v.11). We are told here of two joys. It gives the Lord great joy when we obey His commandments and He can give us the smile of His approval. In His case, when He perfectly obeyed the Father's will, God opened the heavens and cried, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." One day He will find joy in opening the same heaven to us and greeting us with the words, "Well done!" The very thought of that should fill us with joy. Our cup will brim over as we obey His commandments.

His commandments are meaningful; they are part of a plan. He wants us to appreciate this and so offers us the privilege of friends who have some real understanding of this (v.15). So this goes beyond the simple analogy of the vine, for it suggests that as Christians we are called into intelligent cooperation with the heavenly Gardner and can increasingly appreciate the significance of our personal life and experience in its relation to the Lord's overall purposes. The servant, Jesus says, does what he is told without necessarily having any idea of his master's larger interests. We, however, are not servants but friends and as such those in whom He can confide and who can share His concerns and purposes.

There is yet a further truth to be explained, and that deals with us as members of a body. The idea of the branches in a vine takes us on a further step beyond the lesson of the sheep in Chapter 10. There each individual sheep is almost entirely concerned with its relationship to the Shepherd in an outward way. It has been purchased by the Shepherd and is precious to Him, but it does not have much more than a mere outward relationship with the rest of the flock, or any responsibility for the others. Together they are a flock but otherwise they have no particular relationship with the others or concern for them. With the branches of the Vine, however, it is different. They actually share the inner life of the Vine and even have some sort of connection with one another. But this cannot explain the whole truth. One branch need not necessarily feel the loss of another and may even feel more able to grow and expand by its removal. So further truth about our spiritual life must be stressed and this was later done by the apostle Paul in his teaching about Christ's body.

In a body each member needs all the others. Their vital relationship with the Head is all important, but it is not the only thing. Every part, even that which is apparently insignificant, [89/90] is important for the good of the whole. For this reason the Lord Jesus continued His lesson on the vine with the words: "This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you" (v.12). Fruit-bearing is not only a personal matter, it has corporate significance. The heavenly Gardener's attention and activities are not just aimed at our personal fruitfulness; they are all part of His supreme care for His one True Vine.



J. Alec Motyer

John's Preface

THERE is a feature in common in John's longer New Testament writings. His Gospel, his first letter and the book of Revelation have all the same basic plan in that they all open with an introduction -- what we would nowadays call an author's preface. Before he comes to the actual contents of the book itself, he tells us what it is going to be all about. In the case of the Gospel which we are now considering, this introduction runs from 1:1 right through to 2:11.

Of course the Gospel is all about the Lord Jesus. John means to paint his own portrait of the Lord, and this preface is a summary statement of what he thinks about Jesus. The preface falls into four parts, each giving its own testimony about Jesus. First of all there is the testimony of John the writer (1:1-18). Next there is the testimony of John the Baptizer (1:19-42). Then there is the testimony of some of the first disciples (1:35-51). Finally there is the story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee where His mother and His disciples saw His glory (2:1-11).

So that is what it is all about. John the apostle says, 'This is His glory as I saw it'. This is also the glory of Jesus as John the Baptist and his disciples saw it. Now listen to Philip and Nathanael to know of His glory as they saw it. And now let me tell you a story of the particular occasion at Cana when Jesus manifested His glory. Here then is the essence of these testimonies:

i. John the writer of the Gospel

John starts his testimony by saying that Jesus is the divine Word. He is what God wants to say to the world, and He is God Himself come to say it. Jesus is also the true Light (v.9). He is the new life: "To any who received him, to them he gave the right to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name" (v.12). That is the true order of the words in the Greek, and it speaks of this experience of becoming children of God being bracketed around on the one side by 'receiving' Jesus and on the other by 'believing in him'. Between those two brackets, one at each end of the verse, there is this lovely truth of the benefit that Jesus brings. The apostle's testimony is summed up in the words: "the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth" (v.14). This is a verse which would exhaust all our space if we were to dwell upon it, but let us note the simple point that Jesus is God incarnate. The Word was God. The Word became flesh. He left none of His deity behind, but He brought His deity down within the bounds of a truly human experience.

ii. John the Baptist

John now turns from himself to another John who also bore witness about the Lord Jesus: "On the next day he sees Jesus coming and says, Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world" (v.29). Now that is a [90/91] marvellous and plain picture. We need no new pictures of Jesus, for surely nothing can be plainer than the picture of Him as the sin-bearer. There is, of course, a mystery here, which no amount of human explanation can clarify, the mystery of how God could take my sin and load it on to His Son. That was the only way in which God could deal with sin, so it is Jesus the sin-bearer who gladly accepts responsibility for all our sins.

John continues his testimony by speaking of the moment when he came to realise that his cousin Jesus was the Messiah sent from heaven: "I knew him not but he who sent me to baptise with water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding upon him, the same is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and I have seen and I have borne witness that this is the Son of God" (v.33). What prospects this Gospel is offering! The author's preface is full of the glory of Jesus.

iii. The First Disciples

After this the Baptist sent some of his disciples to follow Jesus. His words, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (3:30), show that he knew his place in the plan of God and was glad to see them going after Jesus, even though it meant that they were leaving him. John's work was coming to an end, but as the disciples followed Jesus they realised that his testimony had been true. They were able to share the truth, "We have found the Messiah" (v.4l).

Jesus is the promised One, the One in whom all God's promises are to be fulfilled.

We note how the preface is now being presented in a series of days, as though John the writer had been keeping a diary. So he says, "on the next day Jesus was minded to go into Galilee, and he found Philip" (v.43). In his turn Philip found Nathanael and said, "We have found him ...". Now that was not absolutely true because it was Jesus who had found Philip, but it was true enough in the sense which Philip intended it. "We have come to a great discovery" he said, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write", so underlining the idea that Jesus is the fulfiller of all, and then adding, "Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph". So Philip bears his testimony, Jesus is the fulfiller of the predictions and He is a truly human person. Nathanael added something more, for he testified, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the king of Israel". Our diaries can often run into the sand for lack of information, but it was not like that with Jesus. Every day things were happening.

iv. Cana of Galilee

There was a third day in that diary, "On the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee" (2:1). John could not leave that out because that was the day on which Christ manifested His glory. What is the glory of Jesus? It is the glory of God come down to earth. Thousands of years earlier He had said, "Let there be light" and there was light; so now at Cana He said "Let there be wine", and there was wine. Jesus is God come down to earth, bringing newness of life. He is come down to earth to revive dead situations, to give hope where there is no hope and to give joy where joy has run out. He has come as the One who has kept the best wine until the last.

After this the Gospel works out as the story of four trips to Jerusalem.

The First Visit

Immediately after the end of this preface we are told that, with the Passover at hand, Jesus went up to Jerusalem (2:13). Then according to 3:22 He moved away from Jerusalem into the surrounding country. He then returned north into Samaria (4:4) and came again into Cana of Galilee (4:46). So the first part of John's Gospel describes a trip to Jerusalem and then home again.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, He continued the godly custom which He had learned from Mary and Joseph and went to the Temple. If we speak of the cleansing of the Temple we instinctively think of what happened on Palm-Sunday when Jesus drove all the traders from there, but John, alone of all the Gospels, tells us that Jesus also cleansed the Temple at the beginning of His ministry, on this first trip to Jerusalem. [91/92]

It was a drastic and daring thing to do, to take the management of the Temple into His own hands. They demanded to know how He dare do it, and His answer frightened them out of their lives: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" (v.19). They never forgot it and when He came on trial three years later it was this that they remembered. John tells us so perceptively that Jesus was talking about the temple of His body, and after His resurrection the disciples realised the significance of His words. This is the heart of John's first great truth about Jesus, namely, that He makes all things new. He did not say that if they destroyed the Temple He would build another to take its place but he said, "I will raise it up". The real significance of the Temple was that God dwelt in the midst of His people. The empty ritual of the Jews had destroyed that truth but in the Person of Jesus Christ and by resurrection it was to be fully recovered. He would take everything that God had ever done for His people and make it new.

There are stories that come in this first section, that of Nicodemus, that of the Samaritan woman and that of the nobleman whose son was dying. John uses these true stories to illustrate the truth of things being made new. In Chapter 3 he has the story of Nicodemus and the reality of new birth. In Chapter 4 when, weary and travel-worn, the Lord first surprised the woman by asking for water and then gave her the marvellous offer of living water. She had come to the old well with all the flat staleness of a life in which there had been no satisfaction and Jesus not only offered her new life for herself but spoke of her becoming a fountain of living water. Jesus not only offers to make a new person by birth from above, but He provides also a new vitality, a whole well-spring of overflowing life.

Later in Chapter 4 John recounts the story of the man who was driven by concern for his dying son to travel thirty miles to get help from Jesus. At first he was repulsed with the challenge as to whether he was like all the others, just wanting sensations, but when he cried out from his heart that he really wanted help and wanted it quickly, the Lord gave him a simple test of faith by saying, "Go thy way; thy son lives" (4:50). The man believed and went home, only to be met with the good news that his son had recovered. He asked just when his son began to get better but the reply was that there was no beginning about it, it had all happened at the very hour in which Jesus spoke the word.

Jesus can make all things new. He can make us new people; He can give us new vitality; to those who face death He can speak the word of life. These stories give graphic illustrations of what Jesus said when He told His critics that if they would pull down the old, He would make it all new.

The Second Visit

We now come to the second visit which the Lord made to Jerusalem: "After these things there was a feast of the Jews and Jesus went up to Jerusalem" (5:1). In Chapter 6 we find that He is back in Galilee again, so John tells us that He made another round trip. The theme of this seems to be that Jesus is the life. After the first journey we might have asked how we can get this new life which Jesus gives. The answer is that it involves a personal relationship with Him. Where He is, He is there as life.

John begins this visit to Jerusalem with the story of the man at the Pool of Bethesda (5:2). Jesus had to ask the man if he really wanted to be well. After all, since he had been there for thirty-eight years, it may well have become a way of life to him. What is more important is that if he had been there for such a long time there was no actual need to heal him on the Sabbath for he would have been there on the day before and the day after just the same. There must therefore have been a deliberateness about this act of Jesus in choosing to heal on the Sabbath day.

It certainly provoked the legalists and the ritualists who insisted that He should not have done this on the Sabbath. The answer given to them is very important and recorded by John as such, for Jesus said, "My Father works even until now and I am at work" (5:17). The following verse tells us that for this cause the Jews tried harder to kill Him because in addition to His alleged Sabbath breaking He had made Himself [92/93] equal with God. They fully understood the implications of Christ's words. He is the Creator God. If He finished the actual work of beginning the creation, it was only to take up the work of maintaining the creation. The Lord's argument was that they all knew very well that when Genesis speaks of God resting, it does so in the confident knowledge that God never rests; He does not stop His work of maintaining the creation just because it is Sunday.

The Lord Jesus claimed to work as His Father works, healing this man on the Sabbath to show whose Son He really is and what is the work on which He is engaged. And they knew what He meant, though they hated it. He was claiming to be the Creator God, able to make all things new. He stood beside the friendless man by the pool and asked him if he really wanted to be healed. 'If you do,' He announced, 'there is no need for remedies, whether they be real or imaginary, for I am here. I can make all things new. I am here as the Creator carrying on His creative functions. You can derive life from Me.'

In Chapter 6 John picks out two incidents to prove that Jesus is the Creator come down to earth. By now He has completed the round trip and is back again in Galilee. First there is the feeding of the five thousand and then the storm on the lake and Jesus walking on the water. These seem to follow the incident of the man at the pool and the Lord's claim that He was working in concert with the Father. John tells us that Jesus knew what He was going to do (6:6) and when He acted He did so as Creator, creating food until none of them could eat any more. And then, when the disciples were in the troubled sea, not able to make any headway, He actually came to them walking on the water!

That claim by the pool was no idle one. Jesus really is the Creator God come down to earth. He could give food and He could master the unruly elements of creation. The meaning of all this is explained as the chapter goes on for, capitalising on the incident of creating bread to feed the people, the Lord began to open up the truth that He Himself is the Bread of Life (v.35) He came down out of heaven to give life to the world. Was that not what He did at the pool? He came to the helpless man to give him life, so that he was able to pick up his bed and carry it off as a visible proof that Jesus is the Life Giver. In the days of Moses God gave the Israelites bread and now He Himself has come down to be the true bread.

The Third Visit

The third journey which Jesus made to Jerusalem was on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles. His unbelieving brothers urged Him to go there but He said that He was not going (7:8). Yet afterwards He went. His words to His brothers meant that He would not go as they suggested, making a display with signs and wonders. When He did go, He went quietly and secretly. What is stated in Chapter 7 is associated deliberately with the Feast of Tabernacles, so much so that Jesus went up at the middle of that feast (v.14) and spoke out to all on the last great day of that feast (v.37).

Perhaps it will help if I mention two things about that feast:

i. A Feast of Water-pouring

One great feature of the Feast of Tabernacles, especially on the last great day, was the outpouring of water. The leaders went in ceremonial procession to the spring outside the city wall and brought back a great jar of water from the spring. At the time of the morning sacrifice they poured the water as a libation over the sacrifice and as they did so they said, "Now Lord, send salvation!" The outpouring was seen as a symbol of the outpouring which God had promised His people of old, the outpouring of God's salvation and of the Spirit being poured upon them from on high (Isaiah 32:15). It was at this point that Jesus suddenly stepped forward and shouted, "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink" (v.37). The outpouring had taken place. They were symbolising the outpouring, crying out to God for it to happen, and all the time it had now happened. In Christ the outpouring had taken place. He is the promised salvation of God poured out upon the earth.

This, then, is the theme of the third trip to Jerusalem. Jesus is the fulfilment, the fulfilment of all that God had promised. At the moment [93/94] when they were carrying in the water to pour it out with the cry of Hosanna, Jesus dramatically interrupted their ceremony by claiming to be its fulfilment: "If you are really thirsty for God, then come to me and drink."

ii. A Feast of Lights

I am told that the other feature of this Feast of Tabernacles was that of light. This was not commanded in the Old Testament but had grown up as a ceremony in Jerusalem; they filled the whole city with light. The Temple courts had great lampstands which glowed with light all through the night. According to Josephus, every street and lane and alleyway in the city was filled with light -- the light of the God of Israel lighting up every bit of darkness. We see then how once again John presents Jesus as the fulfilment of all promises and expectations, for he goes on to record the words of the Lord, "I am the light of the world" (8:12). Jesus is the Water of salvation: He is also the Light of the world.

So John moves into Chapter 9 with a practical illustration of this precious truth, the story of the man born blind. Once again the Lord spoke of working the works of God, insisting that this man's disability was not due to any fault of his or of his parents but just to provide a teaching aid to this wonderful truth of His light-giving presence. The man went to wash in Siloam, which means 'sent', and he came back not walking any more in darkness but having the light of life. After his excommunion by the religious authorities the man asked Jesus who was the Son of God to be believed in and Jesus replied, "you are looking at Him". This is sight indeed, to have personal dealings with the Light of the world. They cast him out, but Jesus took him in and he became a believer and a worshipper. At that Feast of the Tabernacles, then, Jesus fulfils the promise of outpoured salvation and also of light for a dark world.

At this very point, between Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, the Lord said to the Pharisees, 'You are of no further significance. What matters now is people's relationship with Me. I am the door. And I am the Shepherd.' He fulfils all that was ever intended for David, Israel's king; He is the fulfilment of all that David was meant to be and could not be.

The Fourth Visit

The fourth visit to Jerusalem was the last, and reads on from Chapter 11 where we are told of how Jesus was called to Bethany, in the vicinity of the city, to bring new life into a dying or dead situation, to bring hope where there was no hope. This must be reserved for a later article [Vol. 17, No. 3, p. 51] when we must compare the accounts which all four Gospel writers give us of the crowning revelation of the glory of God's dear Son. Meanwhile, however, we look back on the three visits which John's Gospel has mentioned and remind ourselves of three precious truths about our Lord Jesus. Jesus makes all things new. Jesus Himself is the life. Jesus is the perfect fulfilment of God's promises. Perhaps this study may have helped us a little to exclaim that we have seen His glory.



Poul Madsen

WE may wonder why Jude should exhort us to keep ourselves in the love of God (v.21) for it might be thought that we would do this as a matter of course. This, however, is not so, especially as God's love exceeds all natural understanding and differs greatly from what we might imagine. None of us know as a matter of course what this love is, for we must learn to know it as John -- the apostle of love -- writes so forcefully: "We have learned to know the love which God had for us, and we have come to believe in it" (1 John 4:16 Danish ). [94/95]

Learning to know this love

Perhaps we may ask how it was that John himself learned to know God's love. He seems to give some indication of this by his self-description in his Gospel as "the disciple whom Jesus loved". Surely the phrase contained a sort of wonder that the Lord could love even him.

Can you imagine yourself signing a letter with your name and then following with the description 'the disciple whom Jesus loves'? You hesitate to write in this way, but in fact you can rightly do so when you have made the greatest discovery of your life, that the Lord loves you. As you sign your name in this way you do not make yourself out to be more important than others. On the contrary, the words rather emphasise the fact that you still cannot comprehend how He could love you as He does. John described himself in this way because he found it so wonderful to be loved by the Lord.

Christ did not love John more than Peter and the others, as John knew very well. The marvel to him was that as a man who had been so fiery and eager for the best place, yet the Lord loved him. It was easier to believe that the Lord loved the others but hardly credible that such a one as he could be singled out for love. He knew himself, and anyone who does that will more readily understand the feeling that he is the least lovable of all. The Lord loved even him.

If this is so it means that John learned to know the love of the Lord by coming to a realisation of how little he was worthy of that love. This is the way in which most of us learn to know the love of God. At the beginning we perhaps think that there is at least something in us which can give a basis for God's valuation of us. We feel that we deserve something from Him, for are we not zealous in His service, whole-hearted and totally dedicated, having nothing of that uncommitted or indifferent attitude which is found in others! Alas, however, in the school of God it is revealed that in me, that is, in my flesh, there is no good thing, so this raises the question if God can continue to love me as much. I am such a failure that He can well have cooled towards me.

Those whom I have disappointed or failed will naturally withdraw from me, or at best wait to see whether I can recover and again prove myself worthy of their friendship. But the Lord does not withdraw. His love does not waver like ours. And this is not because I am lovable, but because He Himself is love. Because of His own nature He still loves me and His love never cools off.

He knows my sinfulness and all my transgressions, even better than I know them myself, but instead of withdrawing in His holiness from such a one as I am, He takes all that sin and guilt of mine upon Himself. Through all eternity we will never cease to worship God who loved us so much as to give His only Son to the horror of death on the cross for our sakes. Although the law would curse us (and with good reason), His love in Christ has delivered us from that curse. Instead of cursing us with His holy law and telling us to depart from Him, He took the curse upon Himself and ensured that we would never be accursed by bearing the curse Himself. Such a love is not natural to us but it is wonderfully true.

Coming to believe this love

This love is so foreign to us that we have to learn to know it and to come to believe it. By our understanding or feelings we cannot comprehend God's love. He is too great and we are so small, that we cannot appreciate it. He exceeds all knowledge. Not only that, but His holiness is so dreadful that there is a gulf between Him and us sinners which seems unbridgeable. That such as He loves such as us is completely incomprehensible. How can He, who hates every expression of unholiness, love people like us who can provide nothing other than unholiness? It is impossible to explain.

The only answer can be that God is love; that is the explanation -- or rather the revelation. The proof of His love is found in Gethsemane and at that terrible hillside just outside the city where Jesus was crucified. By this we are reminded that it was not we who took the initiative and asked God to love us, but it was the God who is love who took the initiative, coming to us who were His enemies and freely forgiving us. [95/96]

In a sense this is how God defeated us, for He cut the ground from under our enmity against Him and so conquered us. I once said something nasty to my first wife. I expected her to defend herself and answer back, but she did what was worst for me in that situation for, while I was bad-tempered, she just said to me, 'I love you so much'. What could I say to that? I was ashamed. Soon we were in each other's arms and I had to ask for her forgiveness. Love is the most terrible force in the universe. It conquers its enemies and lays them prostrate at its feet in worship.

"We have learned to know that love" says John, adding "and we have come to believe in it" so that we shall not misunderstand how it is that we attain to that knowledge. We can never know it with our minds or by our feelings, for our thoughts and sensations are too small and transient for such immensity. The love of God is far too divine for us, but when our inner eyes are opened, so that in God's light we see our crucified Saviour, perfect in His work of love for us, we realise that His indescribable sufferings demonstrate that supreme love. Far from despising us, He has wooed and won us, and we have learned by faith and worship and honour Him. How dreadful to harbour the least doubt about such a Saviour and such a love! What can hurt love more than a lack of confidence? Our sins are indeed terrible, but by far the worst is our scepticism.

He who abides in love

To be conquered by this love it to become truly free. He who has been conquered by the love of God must abandon all self-esteem. He knows that he is nothing in himself, but is 'bound' to love God and to have the one single desire to do His will in everything great and small. Love is the only power which can reform a person by creating him anew, changing all his ideas and making him free and happy so that all he desires is to respond to the Lord for all His undeserved benefits and unmerited love. "The love of God constrains me" said Paul, and we find it so. If we want to penetrate to the heart of the Holy Spirit's nature then we find that it is the power of love to conquer God's enemies and make them His fervent disciples. This is His greatest miracle.

Of course the devil will not look on passively, but will do everything he can -- and that is not a little -- to draw us away from this source of power. His favourite method is to sow doubts about God's love in our hearts. He reminds us of the depravity of our own nature and suggests that we cannot now expect the Lord to love us. If we have an extra-sensitive conscience we can even become oppressed with the imagination that we have committed the unpardonable sin. Day and night he attacks us with the most absurd thoughts. He rejoices when a believer becomes the prey of despair, even seeking to tempt some to suicide. He is himself the liar and murderer, and he spares no-one whom he can get into his power.

His supreme purpose is to destroy our belief in the love of God. Happily he cannot succeed, for no-one can pluck us out of the Father's hand. Since Jesus has bought us for God by shedding His precious blood we are perfectly safe even although we may not feel so. Paul was convinced that nothing in heaven, on earth or from hell could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). We must also be convinced that this is a fact.

Sometimes it is easy to enjoy this conviction, and sometimes it can be so difficult as to seem impossible. What we must always do is to abide steadfastly in that love. Whatever the seeming contradiction of facts and arguments may be, the chief task of faith is to remain firm in the astounding but glorious fact that we are loved and are precious to the Lord. It is around this fact that the fight of faith often rages. Here is the realm where Satan is most active in trying to make us stumble. Nevertheless faith is the victory, the sure victory over those evil powers which are so strong that only faith can defeat them. Sometimes that faith may seem to be broken and totally conquered, but behold, it rises up again as by a miracle of God's grace. Though weak in itself, it makes victory wonderfully possible. Praise the Lord!

Imagine, he who abides in love, abides in God. That means that he abides in the fullness of life and power as well as in every good work. Faith in the love of God is often faced by tremendous and satanic opposition, but we can be strong in grace, that is undeserved and unmerited love. To have any idea of dealing with God on the basis of merit, is to become either a Pharisee or a despairing soul. Abide, therefore, in that love which has been revealed to you by the Saviour who suffered the fate which you have deserved in order that you may enjoy all that He deserves. [96/97]



(The Epistle to the Hebrews)

Harry Foster


IN this Epistle there are three occasions on which God is said to have sworn with an oath. This striking expression stresses His concern over matters which are of supreme importance in His sight. The second of these oaths refers to His promise of blessing and it is so strong that it is said to put an end to all argument (6:17). The third oath relates to the constitution of His Son as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, which is said to be irrevocable (7:21). The first, however, is rather different, for it is presented as a negative decision: "So I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest" (3:11). This is repeated in 4:3. This oath was uttered concerning those who had an evil heart of unbelief and in this emphatic way God makes it clear that never under any circumstances will He accept those who refuse to trust Him. No faith, no blessing! That is final.

I suggest that there is a positive side to this oath, just as there is with the other two, and that the sworn statement affirmed that real faith will always be accepted and rewarded. If it is clear that the theme of this epistle is sonship, then it is equally clear that the key to sonship is active faith. In the long and important Chapter 11, there is a reference to Enoch which asserts that without faith it is impossible to please God. All through the Letter there are repeated calls for active faith. Each reference would give us helpful enlightenment on the subject, but since the many verses of Chapter 11 are concentrated on this one theme, it may profit to devote our present study to this one chapter, particularly as it begins with the explanation that faith is being sure of what we hope for and being certain of what we do not see. This surely applies most directly to the matter of sonship.

I have never found an explanation of the selective way in which people mentioned in Hebrews 11 were singled out as they are. Some, of course, are obvious for those concerned were significant people, but there seem to me to be notable omissions. I am glad that Sarah is there but was not Ruth of almost equal importance, while Hannah was more strikingly full of faith than either of them? Even in a Jewish context it hardly seems right to include Barak while ignoring the inspiring prophetess Deborah. And why is Joshua omitted? And why no further name after that of Samuel? Elijah was given the same privilege as Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration and was referred to a number of times in the New Testament, but here he is just loosely included under the general heading of 'the prophets' (v.32).

Presumably the point is that once we are given an indication of the principle involved we can proceed to work out the details for ourselves. But in this case what is the general principle? Of course it begins with the fundamental truth that the only basis upon which anybody ever counted for God was faith. It is not now, nor ever has it been, sufficient to be numbered among God's people in an outward way. There is no such thing as mass conversion to Christ. "They are not all Israel which are of Israel" (Romans 9:6). This evangelical conviction must surely have been held by the first readers of this Letter who would not need this long Chapter 11 to establish that simple fact. There must be more than that.

I believe that the argument sets forth a certain kind of relationship with God. Many Israelites had the name, but lacked genuine faith. They cannot even be considered. But there were also many Israelites who exercised a genuine saving faith in God but never attained to the full possibilities which faith can lead to. Their ultimate salvation cannot be doubted, but would it ever be possible to include such in the remark that "these all were commended for their faith" (v.39)? Surely not. From the following verse we have the idea that this will only be publicly known when [97/98] the great Day of revelation comes and believers realise their full destiny. May we therefore suggest that the stress of the argument is that while saving faith may be adequate, what God looks for in His sons is overcoming faith (Revelation 21:7)?

In the light of the great Day of fulfilment, this chapter provides a confirmation in history of the main theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is that very big issues depend upon wholehearted pursuit of the will of God. Faith is not only the basic requirement of being born into God's family as children, but it is also the continuing means by which God's plans are fulfilled for His inheriting sons. We are clearly told that the Father sent the Son for our redemption "that we might receive the full rights of sons" (Galatians 4:5 N.I.V.). We are also told that since we are now sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6), and we notice that this results in our calling out to God, "Abba, Father". Whether Jesus used this mode of address often, we do not know. What we are told is that the one occasion when the Scriptures report that He did employ it was in the garden of Gethsemane. Three times over He prayed the prayer of filial submission, "Not what I will, but what you will", and it was in this connection that He used the address, "Abba, Father" (Mark 14:36). This Letter makes mention of this occasion when it tells us that Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears, and was heard "because of his reverent submission" (5:7). If the Spirit of Christ rules in us that will also be our attitude, from early days of faith right through to the last phases. Childlike faith and mature faith are not contradictory: they are both of them Christlike qualities.

There is a striking reminder at the end of this chapter that faith has something more in view than immediate experiences of blessing, however wonderful these may be. That 'something' has not yet been realised. In their lifetime those spoken of here "did not receive the things promised ..." (v.13), nor have they yet received them even now in their heavenly bliss (v.39). They are all waiting, waiting with us, to share in the supreme goal of faith's exercise. More of this later, but for the moment we register that the common characteristic which is here stressed is the active persistence of faith right through to the end. That is what may be called the outstanding message of the Epistle. As we have already seen, its call to us is not merely that we should avoid going back but that we must be sure to press on in faith.

Having been a preacher for very many years I feel genuine sympathy with the writer of this chapter in his comment, "What shall I say more? I do not have time ..." (v.32). I know exactly how he felt for at times the clock has defeated me too. In my case it has often been because I over-extended myself in the earlier part of my message and consequently could not finish all my points. Later consideration, however, suggested that perhaps it was just as well that I was cut short provided I had got my message over. Extra items on my list have blurred rather than clarified its import. If that was so, then the clock was more of a friend than an enemy. That is not the case here because we are dealing with a man under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in a special way, but in any case the writer had made his points in the clearest possible way. Here are a few of them:

1. Faith is an Individual Matter

Faith is essentially a matter of personal experience; it is quite impossible to standardise the way in which it finds expression in each one of us. While the writer urges his readers to imitate the faith of their leaders (13:7), he in no way suggests that they should copy their way of life, for every person of faith is an original. This is clearly demonstrated as we follow the variety of individuals listed here.

The second man of faith was Enoch. Since the only previous example he had of this kind of life was that of Abel, he might well have imagined that to embark on a life of open faith would lead to martyrdom, for Abel had met with a violent death. It would be impossible to find a more different experience which came to him for Enoch never died.

So we might go on. Noah, the next on the list, was a man who always had a settled home, first during the long years while he had to be on [98/99] site for the building of the ark, next for the many months spent in his divine houseboat, and finally under the rainbow on the renewed earth where he settled down and planted a vineyard. In contrast, the faith of the next man, Abram, resulted in his leaving his settled home and never having another. He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob (v.9). So far as we know all that Abraham ever planted was a tamarisk tree (Genesis 21:33).

The next three men, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are singled out in the matter of their supreme exercise of faith by what happened at the end of their lives. Moses, however, who follows, is said to have made his great faith decision in early life (v.24). The whole chapter proceeds to emphasise the uniformity of faith as a principle but the complete variety of its outworking in the different individuals. We may learn from others but we must be careful to look beyond them to Jesus (12:2).

2. Faith is a Practical Matter

It may be right that concern about spiritual growth and sonship should concentrate on understanding, meditation and prayer, but while these are matters of great importance, the exhortations to faith in this Epistle make plain the need for action, and does so by such phrases as, "Let us go on" and "Let us run". Chapter 11 gives ample illustration of the practical nature of faith and especially the feature of obedience. The great biblical treatise on justification by faith, Romans, begins and ends with the phrase; "the obedience of faith" (1:5 & 16:26).

It is true that what is here said about Enoch might suggest a mystical life of contemplation. Abel was a practical man, he tended sheep and he made an offering. Noah was a real worker, as witness his mammoth undertaking of building an ark. We might ask what Enoch did. How did he express his faith? The answer includes that he was a family man (Genesis 5:9-10). To bring up a family in a godly home is a practical service to God, all too much in danger of being forgotten in our popular ideas of God's service.

Enoch walked with God, but so did Noah. This patriarch was not a mere dreamer -- far from it. His work did not end with the completion of the ark, but continued and was matched by the fantastic operation of caring for all the animals as they spent their months together in that vessel. Noah's ship had three decks, so that he and his family could well have spent most of their waking hours in humping loads of food up and down ladders. Can a man work like that and yet walk with God? Noah did! I have often observed that the spiritual stature of people like that increases in a wonderful way.

But it is not only the physically strong who perform works of faith; it seems that Isaac's peak moment of faith came when he was feeble and blind. Jacob, too, was almost blind and actually on his deathbed when he resisted Joseph's natural attempts to manipulate his hands and firmly held them to be sure that the blessing was given according to the mind of God (Genesis 48:17-20). And what shall we say of Joseph? Surely he must be included in what an earlier verse says: "All these people were still living by faith when they died" (v.13 N.I.V.). I like that! That is a marvellous way to die. Since there is eternal significance in the life we live here below, it may be that some of the last steps in our walk of faith may be the most fruitful.

3. Faith is a Costly Matter

The earlier parts of this chapter give hints of how costly it must have been for men like Abraham and Moses to triumph in active faith. The former offered up his treasured son while the latter rejected all the status and riches which the world could offer him. The latter part of the chapter, which gives no names, not only tells of heroic exploits but also of painful trials. Daniel and his three friends were delivered from lions and fires and someone (was it Isaiah?) was sawn in two. Cruelties seemed to be the lots of these saints who were hounded from house and home, as many have been since.

Let us never imagine that our great privileges as sons of God will give us immunity from suffering. The reverse is often the case. The manifestation of sonship must await the Return of Christ. Meanwhile the same world which persecuted the Saviour will often persecute us. "The [99/100] reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him" (1 John 3:1). Who would want the patronage and goodwill of a world so base that God regards it as unworthy to have His sons living in it (v.38)?

4. Faith is What Matters to God

A Devil's Advocate could compile a biographical account of most of these same people, listing their failures and lapses. We do not know about Abel and Enoch, but we are told of Noah's drunken shame, of Abraham's lies, of Isaac's folly over the birthright of his twin son, of the glaring faults of Jacob and even the rash outbursts of Moses. We have to admit that these men and women of faith had many imperfections; but no trace of this appears in Hebrews 11.

Sins and failures are completely ignored by our writer. Indeed -- unlike most of us Christians -- the New Testament has a beautiful way of keeping silent about the lapses and character-faults of God's servants. For the sake of veracity and for our warning and instruction, such matters had to be recorded in the sacred history books, but they are given no place here. God carefully searches out and for ever treasures in His Book of Remembrance that which is an expression of faith in Himself. All the rest He deliberately forgets.

As an example of this kindness of forgetting, we may consider the case of Isaac who is praised for his faith in blessing his twin sons (v.20). Isaac does not come out at all well from the Genesis story. He knew very well that Jacob had been chosen by God to have the blessing but in his blindness -- spiritual as well as natural -- he planned to out-manoeuvre God and Rebecca (who shared the knowledge with him) by blessing the older twin. Rebecca overheard his plot with Esau and incited Jacob to be her accomplice in trickery. It was carnal and wholly reprehensible, but it deceived Isaac into unwittingly giving the blessing to Jacob. He bitterly regretted it, but the deed was done and the gourmet father could only give a lesser blessing to his favourite.

Now that cannot be the occasion spoken of in verse 20, for there was not a grain of faith in that whole household. Soon afterwards, though, Isaac agreed with Rebecca that Jacob should be sent off to the region where the rest of their family lived and, before the son migrated, he gave him a beautiful parting blessing in the name of Abraham's great God, El Shaddai (Genesis 28:3). This surely was the blessing recorded in Hebrews 11. If so it represented an exercise of real faith in that Isaac admitted that his own ideas and wishes had been wrong and showed himself now quite willing to co-operate with the Lord.

This is an element of true faith, when a person lets go of personal preferences and willingly joins with God in the outworking of His will. Such a submission to the Lord's choice marks a definite advance in that way of faith which leads to sonship. In our apprenticeship as sons we may at times be carried away by our own self-will and become a menace to God's plans, but if we let Him, God will correct us and overrule our actions. He may disappoint us, as He did Isaac; He may use strange happenings and people to thwart us, as He did then; but if we accept His correction and commit ourselves to His superior will, we may also have a place among God's faithful sons.

Those who begin with saving faith will reach God's goal by overcoming faith. We are told that our predecessors in this pursuit of active faith are now surrounding us as witnesses (12:1). In a normal race the competitor must never let his attention be directed towards the cheering spectators but must fix his gaze on the finishing line. In this spiritual race we may and indeed we should look to the cloud of witnesses. Indeed the whole of Chapter 11 is devoted to the task of describing them so that we may do so. The wonderful truth is that we are to look not only to them but through them, for in this way we learn more about Christ who is our goal. So we are to 'look off' to Jesus, and this we do by means of the Scriptures. And as we do so, the Lord Jesus who is the Author of our faith is pledged to work on with us and eventually to become our faith's Perfector.

(To be continued)

Editors Note. We owe an apology to Professor Paterson and to our readers for a transposition of type in his article ["Affirming The Wisdom Of God"] in our last issue. The first paragraph on page 68 should obviously follow the incident of the artist and the poet on page 70. We hope that this will not seriously affect the message on Ephesians 3:10, for it is an important one. [100/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


Psalm 124    BACKING UP

TWICE over the pilgrims exclaim in grateful relief that disaster would have come to them, if it had not been the Lord who was on their side. They would be much more acutely aware of this when the whole story was completed, but even now the truth of divine backing is most precious. As they pause for a moment on their upward journey, they are deeply moved by the realisation that their enterprise would have been doomed to failure if the Lord had not backed them all the way.

THE strength of the opposition is stressed by the threefold reference to what could so easily have swallowed them up -- the overwhelming waters, the torrential streams and the "proud waters".

THEIR soul has not only been endangered by the hostile floods but also by the subtle snares into which they have been enticed, traps from which there would have been no escape if the Lord Himself had not broken the snares and released them. So far, then they had been backed up in their pilgrimage by their faithful God.

WHEN I trekked through the Brazilian jungle with two Red Indians as my guides I always insisted that one of them should keep behind me. I knew only too well that if they both went ahead, they might easily pass out of my sight and beyond earshot. Then I would be lost indeed. It is true that I needed a guide to show me the way, and the Lord is our Guide. But I equally needed a rearguard to make sure that I kept in the way. The Lord is also our Rearguard.

NOT much that was sensational happened to me as a traveller in Amazonia but in my spiritual pilgrimage I identify readily with the psalmist in confession that I would never be going on today without the Lord's gracious backing. Only His interventions have kept me from being swept off my feet by the 'proud waters' and when my unwary feet have become entangled in the snares of sin, He is the One who has broken the snares and provided me with a way of escape. Blessed be the Lord, said the psalmist, and I say Amen to that.

IT may be that there were occasions when it was my own folly that precipitated the floods of trouble. There certainly have been times when my own sinfulness has resulted in my being entrapped in the snares of the fowler. Still, however, the Lord has remained on my side, though I did not deserve such care. He could have left me to flounder out of my depth in self-made waters of trouble. He could have left me to struggle vainly when I have been led astray into captivating nets. He could have done so, but He never did. My soul has not been swallowed up; my soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare; I am continuing on my upward way solely because of God's grace.

IT is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth that I have found my help. My Creator is my Redeemer, but my Redeemer is also my Creator. There may be frightening floods but "The Lord sat as King at the Flood; the Lord sitteth as King for ever" (Psalm 29:10). He made the waters. At the beginning of his pilgrimage the psalmist affirmed in faith that the Lord who made heaven and earth would help him. He now records that his confidence has not been misplaced. His Creator God has backed him up and been on his side.

THE moral for us is a clear one. It is never to enter upon any undertaking without a simple ability to trust that the Lord is on your side. All will be well in that matter if you have His backing.


[Back cover]

Psalm 119:72

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