"... 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. 17, No. 4, July - Aug. 1988 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Editorial 61
God's Offer To The Nations 63
Called By Name 67
Big Words (1) 69
Getting On Top Of Things 72
Spiritual Revelation (1) 75
On The Way Up (10) - Psalm 129 ibc



ONE of my favourite hymns is "The King of love my Shepherd is" which was written by Sir H. W. Baker and based on the 23rd Psalm. It seems that its author, a baronet and a man of strong character, whispered on his deathbed his own lines:

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,

But yet in love He sought me,

And on His shoulder gently laid

And home rejoicing brought me.

I would be happy enough to have these as my last words. More than that, though, I would covet to have the epitaph pronounced on John the Baptist: "John indeed did no sign; but all things that he spoke of this Man were true" (John 10:41).

In considering this I have been amazed to note how very full John's testimony to Christ was. This is not surprising, for he was said to be full of the Spirit. What the Holy Spirit did for him is what He longs to do for us, namely give a complete view of the glory of Christ. Consider John's seven-fold testimony:

1. The Eternal God. "This is he of whom I spoke when I said, After me a man is coming who takes rank before me, for before I was born, he already was" (John 1:30). Once the uniqueness of God's entry into the human race is accepted, the virgin birth is logical and wholly acceptable. How much John knew of Mary's story is not stated, though it is unlikely that his mother, Elizabeth, would hide it from him. Certainly his father had told him that he was to be the prophet of the Most High. Jesus is the Creator God.

2. The Perfect Man. John rightly demurred at any suggestion of dealing with Jesus as a sinner: "I have need to be baptised of thee, and comest thou to me"? (Matthew 3:14-15). He was only persuaded to perform the baptism when he was assured that it was being done on the basis of all righteousness, that is, that Jesus was a sinlessly perfect Man.

3. The Christ. "I have seen and have borne witness, that this is the Son of God" (John 1:34). The descent and settling of the Spirit as a dove confirmed to John that Jesus was the Anointed of God. Later on, at a time of great personal stress, John allowed his afflictions to make him waver in this conviction, a fact which reminds us that any vital testimony to Christ will involve us in satanic conflict. But even in this John did not give up. He would, if necessary look for another. There was no need for that, as I feel sure he realised before he sealed his testimony with his life's blood.

4. The Atoning Sacrifice. "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). John repeated this particular aspect of Christ's Person as the Lamb of God. His message to the Israelites had been that of forgiveness on the basis of repentance and in his inspired message he used Old Testament language in his Good News about Jesus, namely, that He was to be the substitutionary Sacrifice who would bring salvation to sinners; but his vision extended far beyond that to include the whole wide world.

Of course the Lord Jesus would bring other lesser blessings, comfort, healing, guidance and the like, but to John the one supreme need of mankind was to have sin dealt with, as Michael Wilcock reminds us in the article which follows. It is true that John also spoke of the coming of the Spirit, but Calvary comes before Pentecost, and is the basis for the Spirit's new life. All that John said about the Lord was true, but for the believer, the beginning and the beauty of it all is the sweet blessing of forgiveness. That is why I so appreciate the verse of the hymn which Sir H. W. Baker whispered on his deathbed.

5. The Baptiser in the Spirit. "He that sent me to baptize with water, said to me, Upon whomsoever thou Shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33). I never feel that I can claim to have "received" the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but I do most assuredly though humbly claim to know my Lord as the One who[61/62] baptises me in the Holy Spirit. My experience has to be one which is constantly renewed for, unlike the Lord Jesus, it cannot be said of me that the fullness of the power of the Spirit remains always in full possession of me. Somehow even when I contemplate the Lord Jesus as the great Baptiser, I am driven back, again and again, to my great need of Him as the Lamb of God.

Nevertheless it remains a wonderful reality that, as the Lord Himself said, those who come thirstingly and believingly to Him, find that rivers of living water flow from their inmost being (John 7:38). These rivers, if they are genuine, flow directly from the very throne in heaven where there is "A Lamb standing, as though it had been slain" (Revelation 5:6).

6. The Universal Judge. "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering wheat into his barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). By the Spirit's enabling, John was able to look right on to the end of the age and to the time when God will judge each man by the One whom He has appointed. Such a vision includes the resurrection and ascension of Christ and goes right on to His Second Coming.

John was nothing if not downright. For him the stark alternative for every man is to meet the glorified Christ and either to be acknowledged or rejected by Him. We shudder at John's language when denouncing the Jewish leaders as a brood of vipers, but note that he -- like his Lord -- had nothing but contempt for pious hypocrites. As for the rest, John's advice to the despised tax men and common soldiers was friendly and gracious.

In a sense John's words can be a warning to us all. We thank God that our soul's salvation is secured, but we will find enough in the New Testament to remind us that there can be wheat in our own lives, and unhappily there can be chaff too. Eternity will mean a drastic separation so that there will only be a place in Christ's heavenly barn for what is truly pleasing to Him.

7. The Heavenly Bridegroom. "The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete" (John 3:29). I have left this aspect of Christ's glory to the last not only to finish on a positive note but also because it is the final testimony which John himself gave. Let us forget his troubled question and keep in our remembrance of him this beautiful, self-efacing, tribute to the great Heavenly Bridegroom. I expect to see John at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and meanwhile seek to share his joy at the prospect of hearing the bridegroom's voice. It was left to the other John, the son of Zebedee, to enlarge on the future destiny of the Church as the bride of Christ, and that revelation had to wait many years before he was commissioned to foresee it and write about it at the conclusion of the divine Scriptures. I imagine though, that John the apostle would wholly have agreed with John the Baptiser in his comment on the whole matter: "He must increase, but I must decrease". And I am sure that John the Baptist would have agreed with his namesake the apostle when he wrote: "Everyone who has this hope in Him, purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).

I am delighted, though not altogether surprised, to find that when I have collected these testimonies of John I find that they are seven in number. What is more, in accordance with a pattern which in other articles I have discerned with the words from the cross and the pillars of wisdom, there are not only the perfect number of seven but the central one is that which deals with the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Without any manipulation on my part, number 4 is that which speaks of the Lamb of God. Once again we find the Word of God insisting that the cross be central in all our thinking and speaking. In fact that was the testimony which John repeated (John 1:29 & 36) and actually prefaced his call with the word, "Behold". It was the turning point in the experience of two of his disciples, who immediately left him to follow Jesus, as it has been the turning point for multitudes since.

It may be that the original appreciation of John was rather a grudging one, made by those who would have liked to have seen a few miracles as well. Well, we all like miracles. Nevertheless I repeat that if people could say of me what they said of John the Baptist I would regard that as highest praise. It is our duty and privilege to testify "Behold, the Lamb of God." May the Lord help us to do it. [62/63]



"The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith,
preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying,
In thee shall all the nations be blessed.
" Galatians 3:8

Michael Wilcock

GOD has an international view of this world. It is a universal gospel which He places before all the nations alike. It is not one choice for us and another choice for some else; it is not one choice for the Jews and a different one for the Gentiles; it was not one choice before the time of Christ and a different choice afterwards. It is always and in all places the same choice with which God confronts the nations.

Genesis 10 tells us how the single root of humanity began to be divided up into the great nationalities which have existed in our world ever since Babel. The first figure who arises after that event is that of Abraham (Chapter 12). He was the truly international man who began from the great civilisation of the ancient world in the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris and who then travelled across such frontiers as there were in those days and for a time settled in Egypt, at the other end of the civilised world. He thus came to a different nation, people of a different language. He then moved up from Egypt and lived in the land of Canaan, remaining there for many, many years.

All the time, as we are told in Hebrews 11, he was seeking a homeland. Neither Ur, from which he came, nor Egypt, to which he went, nor Canaan, where he ultimately settled, was his homeland: "People who speak as Abraham spoke make it clear that they are seeking a homeland" (Hebrews 11:14). The writer goes on to say that if that was what they meant by a homeland, the opportunity would have come sooner or later for them to go there, to settle down and make it their home. In fact they were desiring a better country than Ur of the Chaldees or Egypt or Canaan. They were looking for their heavenly homeland.

So we suggest that Abraham is the international man. He belongs to all those nations since really, deeper than all of them, his allegiance was to his heavenly home. This is all summed up for us in the verse upon which we now base our study: "The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In you shall all the nations be blessed" (Galatians 3:8).

The Blessing that God sets before the Nations

There is one blessing which God holds out to men of every race and colour, creed and culture; it is the blessing of justification. This matter of justifying the nations represents the heart of God for His world. This fact makes us think of evangelism and the world wide spread of the Good News. But of course with Christian missions many other things have accompanied the gospel. All sorts of things have gone on under the umbrella of overseas evangelism, and very rightly so.

Think of the situation of the missionary a hundred and fifty years ago. He went to benighted corners of the globe where he found people who had none of his advantages. He often found folk who had all sorts of needs. They lived in grass huts, they had no medicines, they had no schools. So the missionaries took with them, along with the gospel, all those other benefits which they understood to be part and parcel of Christian civilisation -- and they still do. So we continue to support Christian hospitals, Christian schools and other accompaniments of the gospel, but as we do so we raise problems.

I understand that those past conditions are changing and passing away. Whereas a profound [63/64] spiritual need remains, we can no longer say that we must provide medicine or education or plumbing that at one time seemed to be part and parcel of missionary work, so we have to ask ourselves what it is that those in other lands need. Even when our western benefits are no longer wanted and people will no longer thank us for Christian civilisation's good things, what is there that is still lacking? The answer, of course, is that the great blessing still to be offered is that of justification. People need to be right with God.

The world of the Eighties is so different from the world of a Century ago, but there is still a Third World, there are still needy people, there are millions who go hungry. There are millions who have no earthly hopes or prospects, so that although the situation has changed in some respects Christians rightly are concerned for those who so badly need help. They need food. And we have so much. It is good therefore that modern Christian agencies should respond to their need with handouts.

Looking a bit deeper, however, we realise that it is not just enough to feed the hungry. We must give them the possibility and ability to learn to feed themselves, so the lorry loads of food are followed by lorry loads of agricultural implements which will enable people to fend for themselves. There are Christians who see this as their calling from God and we support them. Nevertheless we must never forget that if those needs did not exist there is still the need for the one great blessing of justification. Men need to be right with God.

Here again, there are Christian people in many parts of the world who point out that the real problem is not just lack of food, but the governments under which they have to live. It is not only the economics that are wrong, they say, but the politics. We therefore in many parts of the Third World find Christians who are greatly exercised about right-wing dictatorships and who see no other way forward than to become left-wing revolutionaries. All over the globe we have this idea of what is called Liberation Theology with Christians exercised as to whether it is right to take up arms against repressive governments who hold down the poor. I do not propose to consider this, but I do know that even if it were right for Christians to get involved in that kind of activity, the fact remains that Galatians 3:8 tells me that God wants to bring people everywhere to something beyond a full belly and political freedom, and that is the blessing of justification. Men need to be made right with God.

If it is right to be concerned for the oppressed, what about the oppressors? Don't they also have spiritual needs? The Christians' business is to utter the prophetic word which speaks to the one on top as well as to the underdog; that which speaks to the right-wing as well as to the left-wing, to the "haves" as well as to the "have nots", challenging them in the name of Christ. That is certainly an area in which perhaps Christians ought to be getting more involved with the world than they have done. The heart of the Christian gospel is still this matter of justification, of whether a man in his spirit is or is not right with God. We must never be deflected from the central message of the gospel that God wants to justify men. We cannot avoid the other issues of our fellow men's needs, but we must always keep in view that the greatest need in God's sight is that the barrier between men and Himself shall be bridged.

Some years ago I ministered at a church in Maidstone in Kent, not far from the North Downs. It never ceased to amaze me that wherever I travelled around in that town, every bend in the road and every crest of a hill brought me within sight of that line of hills. The hills were all around that town down in the valley of the Medway. I could not fail to see them. In the same manner, wherever we move or wherever we look, the main feature of the landscape wherever we go is the need for a man to be right with God. You cannot miss it. When all other needs have been met, this need remains universal.

The Faith which God sets before the Nations

The blessing is the same for anyone in the world, irrespective of where they live. Then so is the means of obtaining that blessing the same for everyone. What God wants to do is to justify the nations by faith. Faith is universally possible. There are some matters in Scripture which are not easy to interpret or understand. Peter himself remarks that his dear brother Paul sometimes [64/65] wrote things in his letters which were hard to understand. Of course there are depths in Christian doctrines that we may never penetrate until we get to glory. It is, however, a great principle of Scripture that those things which God means everyone to know He has caused to be made unmistakably clear. We may be sure that if God wants it to be it is clear. And any truth preached in our churches which has to be dug up from the depths and takes a great deal of explaining is, by that very token, much less important.

Do you notice how God so often uses basic pictures that anyone can understand to illustrate His truth? He compares great spiritual realities to water or bread or light, things that anyone in any culture can perfectly well understand. Now the nationalities do have different characteristics. Although Paul preached an international gospel, he began his message at Athens by indicating a special feature of the Athenians, saying, "... I see how very religious you are" and really meaning that they were superstitious. In this they differed, perhaps, from other nationalities. There are differences between people but nevertheless, so far as the basic principle of faith is concerned, every nation can equally be said to choose to believe. This is open to all. Anyone can believe.

It is certainly clear that anyone can exercise unbelief. In Romans 1, where Paul sets out very clearly the unbelief of men, he remarks that they suppress the truth (v.18), they know God but give Him no honour (v.21), they exchange the truth of God for a lie (v.25) and they refuse to acknowledge God (v.28). Anybody can exercise unfaith. The opposite is also available to all men. In the last analysis anyone can say "No" to himself and commit himself to God. This is that which God sets before all nations, the turning from oneself and casting oneself hopelessly upon God.

Knowing our weakness God has given us a living example of a man of faith. He does not explain faith in theological terms and in some abstract way, but gives all the nations equally the one example of Abraham. Abraham was accepted by God for his faith, which all can imitate. James Strachan rightly says, "Had Abraham won God's favour by his extraordinary merits, he would have been no example to his posterity." There were so many good things said about Abraham that might have commended him to God, but if that had been the case then not only his descendants after him but everybody else in the world would have been able to protest that they could never live up to that standard.

But it was not like that. All the great qualities to be found in Abraham counted for nothing in his search for justification with God. The one thing that mattered, even in his case, was that he turned from himself and cast himself on his Lord. That, anyone can imitate. So we are to be encouraged; faith is possible to all. Now of course we have to translate the gospel into other people's ways of thinking and speaking. That is one of the great enterprises of the missionary movement. But what is to be translated is always the same. The heart of the thing, what we are now considering, is the simple message that what is needed is faith, faith in the Christ of the gospel.

So we come to that grand, original, simple architype -- Abraham. What the New Testament does is to use three verses to bring together the three important parts of the story of Abraham; they are "in you shall all the nations be blessed" (Genesis 12:3); the second is "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6) and the third is again "In you shall all the nations be blessed" (Genesis 22:18). These represent three great stages in the experience of this man or faith, and they are an example to all of us. God spoke to him (Genesis 12), he believed God (Genesis 15), and he acted upon it (Genesis 22).

The first stage is that God gave him the promise. It was the Word of God. He had nothing to go on, for as yet he had no son. But it was the promise of God. The second stage is that he believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). This is a verse which is quoted three times in the New Testament, being taken up again and again to speak of the response of faith which Abraham made. The third stage shows us Abraham proving his faith by obedience. As James reminds us, in his quotation of Genesis 15:6, Abraham did what he was told, in spite of [65/66] all appearances and perhaps his own better judgment. Against all merely human considerations, he understood that this God in whom he trusted was speaking to him, so he obeyed, and in doing so proved that his faith was genuine. Abraham is the example which God sets before all the nations.

God still speaks to day. He tells us to believe on His crucified and risen Son. We hear, we obey, and we too are counted righteous. We take the gospel to others, and as we do so we pray, "Lord, speak, cause men to believe and then move them to act upon their belief." And day by day it is happening all over the world. It may seem strange that as we talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ, God should turn us back to the Old Testament for the shining example of how we are to be justified by simple faith, but this is His Word to the whole world. What men everywhere need is justification.

The Gospel that God sets before all the Nations

It is fascinating that in the middle of Galatians 3:8 we are told that the Old Testament Scripture was preaching the gospel beforehand. It is one gospel. It is one Scripture. It is one revelation. God has the same message to man all through time. The fact that it became explicit, so making us understand for the first time who Jesus was when He came into the world at Bethlehem is neither here nor there. It is the same gospel through all history and it is a gospel which God sets before all the nations.

It is the gospel of the cross and the resurrection. In fact it is true that by the time he came to die Abraham had not received the whole fulfilment of the promise made to him. But he had seen it afar off (Hebrews 11:13) and greeted it. He understood as much as he needed to understand of what the promise was going to be, as the Lord Jesus vouched for when He said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56).

I wonder what it was that Abraham saw. He saw the day of Jesus Christ. I think it may have been on Mount Moriah when he was about to offer Isaac and in the nick of time saw the substitute which God had provided to take the upraised knife. Some versions say that Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh because the ram was provided (Genesis 22:14) but it might equally mean "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen". It would not at all surprise me if from that moment to the end of his life Abraham had more than an inkling of what the gospel of a substitutionary sacrifice was going to be.

He knew nothing of Bethlehem. Indeed Bethlehem was not so much as thought of in his day. He did not know about Galilee and about the coming of a son born to the wife of a carpenter there. But he knew that God was going to do something by which he, Abraham, could be made right with God, and that that provision had something to do with an animal which was offered on an altar. On Mount Moriah he saw it. It was the gospel, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This, then, is God's gospel for the whole world. But we should note that even as Abraham grasped it for himself, he was told that it was also for others.

There are things in the Bible which might seem to make the Jewish faith an exclusive affair. Wanting what was for the Jews to be only for the Jews, Israel tried to keep isolated. But we have to say that whenever Israel built walls about itself and tried to keep itself to itself, it was not being true to the spirit of Abraham. The very thing which set the Jews apart and made them God's own distinctive people, separate from the rest of the nations, was not meant by God to be selfish exclusivism but the most expansive liberality. The same is true in our case. When God's Word comes to us and we respond in faith, we are challenged to pass it on to others. The gospel if for all the nations.

God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying,

I have something good for you, Abraham.

   What is it, Lord?

It is justification, Abraham. You can be right with Me and belong to Me.

   Justification, Lord, how do I get it?

By faith, Abraham. By believing. Forsake all else and take Me.

   That's great, Lord. Is that what I have to do?

Yes, Abraham. And you will become an example for the rest of history.

   That's grand, Lord. Is it just for me?

No, not just for you. It is the gospel for all nations. So pass it on! [66/67]



John H. Paterson

Fear not; for I have redeemed thee,
I have called thee by thy name;
thou art mine.
Isaiah 43:1

GOD calls His own, and knows His own by name. This is true when He calls them as individuals: it is also true when, as here, He was addressing a whole nation. And for those He knows He will do anything. He will go to any lengths to bring them through their trials, regardless of what He has to do to deliver them. He will see to it that nothing overwhelms them -- neither fire nor water (Isaiah 43:2).

These are words of wonderful encouragement for any of God's people who are struggling with opposition or defeat. And when we say that God will go to any lengths for them, notice the lengths to which this forty-third chapter of Isaiah says that He did go. He says (vs.3), "I gave Egypt for thy ransom". Have you ever stopped to consider what was the state of Egypt by the time God had completed His people's release from slavery? The country was absolutely devastated: the crops and herds ruined, with no immediate possibility of recovery; the firstborn of every family was dead -- the next generation upon which the country would depend -- and the army was wiped out, drowned in the Red Sea. And why all this? Verse 4 tells us: "Thou wast precious in my sight ... and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life."

That, then, is the measure of what it means that He knows us by name! But surely, we are tempted to say, that kind of privileged treatment only applies in very special cases, to very special people? To stand so high in God's favour that others are left in the dust behind us must demand a uniquely high standing on our part?

On the contrary! Notice the circumstances in which Isaiah's words from the Lord were spoken. This Jacob, this Israel whom He knew by name was a nation in exile, and it was in exile because of its constant, apparently inveterate habits of disobedience and disloyalty to the Lord who was speaking. Far from having merited the kind of reassurances offered to them in this chapter, Israel had done everything imaginable to anger the Lord and undermine His love. That is the context of the chapter, and it is significant, I think, that the first word God gave His people was a word that recalled their waywardness: "Fear not: for I have redeemed thee." That was the first thing He had to do, before He could make any progress at all.

How great this is: how reassuring -- that in the depths of their disobedience and disgrace He still knew them by name; that He did not disown them! But now let us read on in the chapter, and notice two other points that follow from this great declaration of God's personal relationship with His people.

The first of these is that Israel's God took a personal interest in them because He is a personal God. Read again this forty-third chapter of Isaiah and notice, if you will, the drumbeat of personal pronouns: I, me, mine.

I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.

I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed ...

Yea, before the day was I am he; I will work and who

shall turn it back? (43:11-13).

There may seem to us nothing remarkable about this: it is in keeping with our idea of God. But in the context of Isaiah's day it was something [67/68] that needed emphasising. The surrounding peoples, including Israel's captors, worshipped idols. Did they know people's names, those blocks of stone, or wood, or metal? Could they call, or hear, or act? Of all those peoples Israel was the only one who could say with confidence, "There is somebody there! Our God is a God who is alive; who acts; who knows; in fact, who knows me".

That is a tremendous claim: He knows me. But of course it leads us straight on to the question: do I know Him? As He called His people, so they were always being urged to call upon Him. That they seldom did so, and then only when they were in the greatest trouble, showed that they had little or no knowledge of Him. For long periods of their history, they did not even know how to call upon Him, let alone what to ask for: they relied on men like Moses and Samuel to do the necessary calling for them.

The Children of Israel did not know their God very well; otherwise they would not have behaved as they consistently did. Prophet after prophet was sent to warn them that they had misunderstood Him and His character; that disaster and judgement were inevitable if they persisted in their waywardness, but in the end they were scattered, and the remains of a once-proud nation were led away into exile. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6).

So, that is the first challenge of this chapter: He knows me, but do I know Him? The second is this: that He calls His people by name because He wants to make use of them. The next section of the chapter focuses on this thought: "Ye are my witnesses" (vv.10, 12). But witnesses to what?

Let us again remind ourselves of the context. Among the nations of the ancient East, there were innumerable gods. Some groups or peoples had dozens of them, each supposedly responsible for a particular aspect of life. Furthermore, these gods were generally represented by images, statues and shrines, and these were for the most part not merely visible but intrusive. Nobody, for example, was allowed to disregard the image which Nebuchadnezzar erected near Babylon (Daniel 3); Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace for doing so.

But Israel was different. Its people had a single God, and they were forbidden to make images of Him. They had a sort of shrine, admittedly -- a single shrine -- but it contained no image. Its most sacred feature was an empty space over the lid of a box -- the mercy seat above the ark!

If, therefore, any question arose as to what Israel's God was like, or how their God compared with the deity of some other tribe, they had little or nothing to show. They did not have an image larger or more costly than other images and their shrine, at least in the days before Solomon's temple, was modest enough in its essentials. There were, in fact, only two ways in which a comparison could be made. One was to compare the records of two or more of these "gods", and the other was to compare the character of their worshippers.

What I have just called the record -- the performance -- of these tribal gods was constantly being assessed, and the Scriptures contain many examples. The confrontation between Jehovah and Baal which Elijah staged on Mount Carmel was only the most dramatic of these. The comparison was extended to individual capacities of these gods. We can recall such incidents as the Syrian argument (1 Kings 20:23) that Israel's God was a God of the hills, but that Israel could be defeated in a battle fought in the plains. Between these tribal gods, there was a sense of rivalry, an accounting of wins and losses which we shall be nether fanciful nor irreverent if we liken to the modem assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of football teams.

As to the character of each god's worshippers, you will certainly recall the Old Testament's stress on this factor. The characteristic Bible word for the practices of other tribes is "abomination": it is one of the commonest of Scripture words, although I doubt if many sermons nowadays are preached about it! All it represents is an abhorrence of the character induced by the worship of these other gods, and a warning to God's people against endangering their own character by following the example of others.

Well, there were the two kinds of evidence and God said to His people, "You are my witnesses." As far as the first kind of evidence was concerned, [68/69] no wonder that He recalled to them the great days of deliverance from Egypt! A people defeated in battle after battle, and finally dragged off into exile, had no recent "record" to boast about! Their history had in recent years been one of disaster. But back in the great days their God had proved Himself to be invincible on their behalf. Under Moses and Joshua, the fear of Israel and their God had spread far and wide (cf. Joshua 2:9-11). Their successes -- their very survival -- were His. They might be slaves and in exile, but their very existence, after centuries of living among more powerful neighbors, was evidence of the ability of their God to keep and bless. "You are my witnesses."

So, there in exile, it was the second type of evidence -- the evidence of character -- upon which their witness would depend. And here they had to be made to realise that it was not their own reputation which was at stake -- for as slaves they had no reputation as such -- but it was God's. They might be inclined in captivity to feel, "Well, we've lost. You win some; you lose some. We'll just have to make the best of it." But that was not at all how God felt about it! His words were: "I have created him for my glory ... This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise" (43:7, 21). They were still His witnesses; He still needed them to fulfil that role.

And notice, if you will, His insistence that He alone is God. (vv.10-12). Other peoples, as we know, had many gods: if something favourable happened, there would be a clamour of rival voices, each claiming that their particular god was responsible. With Israel, there was only one God to be praised. His position admitted of nether rivalry nor excuse: "there was no strange god among you." As He had already told them (Isaiah 42:8; cf. 48:11), "My glory will I not give to another."

God chose Israel as His witnesses. It sometimes worries believers that God would play favourites in this way, helping Israel but smashing Egypt; giving "people for thy life" (vs.4). But what God chose was, of course, an agent and not a favourite: he chose a means and not an end. The end was to be a light to draw all the nations; Israel was to be the light and the nations were to come to it:

I the Lord have called thee in righteousness,

and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee,/pr>

and give thee for a covenant of the people,

for a light of the Gentiles. (Isaiah 42:6)

So, God recalls to Israel all the way He led them, and then reminds them that these events are evidence: that they are evidence, and that they must live accordingly among their neighbours in order to uphold His name and glory.

As Isaiah 43 unfolds, there is a further reassurance for His exiled people. None of us would covet the task these exiles had, of defending as wonderful a record, a history, that had ceased to be wonderful many years ago! But the Lord has a promise for them: the record will be updated! He tells them that they need not look back any more, for the future is going to be wonderful, too -- and we today know that, in His goodness, His promise was fulfilled:

Remember ye not the former things, nether consider the things of old.

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?

I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19)



Poul Madsen

I have never heard a loving person say, "I am very loving", nor have I ever heard a pure person claim to be pure. Any such claims would weaken their declarations of love and purity. Where big words are used, there is usually not much substance behind them. Big words and vigorous gestures often reveal poor and shallow realities. [69/70]

However there seems to be a special temptation to employ big words in spiritual matters. Many fall for this temptation and think that they are the more convincing and more honouring to God when they make their claims with the use of superlatives. Hannah gives us some wise advice in this matter when she sings, "Talk no more so exceeding proudly" which in the Danish reads, "Be careful with your big words" (1 Samuel 2:3). Her experience of God's wonderful working had made her understand how small man is, and how unseemly it is for a little person to speak big word's.

Concerning Spiritual Experiences

It is refreshing to hear the great apostle refer to this matter by saying, "I think that I also have the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 7:40). We are struck by his modesty and humility. Yes, indeed, but can anyone who has the mighty Spirit of God speak differently? Can the presence of the Holy Spirit make a person cocksure, self-important, self-opinionated or arrogant? There are several reason why no-one who is governed by the Spirit can be anything but modest.

i. Firstly, the Holy Spirit not a possession which is at our disposal in the same way that other possessions are. It is possible that you have great talents and it is also possible that you own a big fortune, but it is not possible for you in this way to possess the Spirit of God, for He is divine. You can only have Him by faith, that is, in fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

ii. Secondly, it is almost beyond our comprehension that the great Holy Spirit will dwell in a mere man. Only think for a moment what sort of a person you are, and then remember that the Spirit is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of our Lord Himself. Do you consider that you two suit naturally together, and that you can claim any credit for being a dwelling place for Him? To the apostle Paul this was so overwhelmingly a matter of divine grace that it never ceased to be a wonder to him that God had made him fit to be a dwelling for His Spirit.

iii. Thirdly, the Spirit of God is so great that we feel very small in His presence. He is the Spirit of Truth, which means that He reveals how very much we still lack, and have no grounds at all for feeding our pride by speaking big words. The Holy Spirit had made Paul realise that although in some ways he was a great apostle, in fact he must regard himself as the least of the apostles and among the greatest of sinners (1 Corinthians 15:9 & 1 Timothy 1:15). The more the Holy Spirit controls us, the less we become in our own eyes and the greater become the Lord and the wonders of His grace. If there is present any boasting, self-assurance or pompous authority, then the Holy Spirit is not convincingly present, but rather is the flesh regaining control.

iv. Fourthly, when the Holy Spirit exercises control, He deprives us of our own imagined power so that we know ourselves to be weak and helpless. Paul had this experience greater than most others, finding that it is just on the basis of human weakness that the power of God works, and such power nether needs nor permits sounding words or pompous gestures. On the contrary, the kingdom of God does not consist of words -- and certainly not of his words -- but of divine power (1 Corinthians 4:20).

Concerning Steadfastness

We often hear Paul exhorting the saints, but he includes himself in these exhortations, whether or not he mentions the fact. Does he, for example, have to qualify his warning by such a phrase as "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12)? Would it not be more bracing, since he is including himself, just to speak of a man standing rather than to suggest that his imagined steadfastness can be in his own mind? Does he have to be so cautious?

What we need to remember is that the question is of standing not in one's own estimation but of standing before God. When the time comes for us to present ourselves before the judgment seat of Christ, we will hardly be in a mood to boast of how steadfast we have been. We do well to remember what the Lord Jesus said about some who have not the least anxiety about being able to face the Judge, being convinced that they stand well, so much so that they will say to the Lord, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in thy name, and by thy name cast out devils, and by thy name do many mighty works?" Such will feel sure that there can be no doubt about their authenticity, since they can produce outstanding [70/71] proofs of it. To them, however, the Lord Jesus declared that He would have to pronounce the dreadful words: "I never knew you; depart from me ..." (Matthew 7:22-23). Then it will be revealed, but too late, that they never had any standing in His sight and that, in spite of their imposing accomplishments, they remain among the workers of iniquity who walk in the darkness. No wonder the great apostle speaks carefully, for he speaks in the fear of the Lord.

Sometimes we sing a hymn, "I have decided to follow Jesus" in a spirit which suggests that although everyone else may hesitate, we will follow Him all the way. By all means let us sing it, but let us do so with trembling, not forgetting that the great apostle Peter also once promised that even if all the others failed the Lord, he would never do so!

I recently received a letter in which a young man wrote to me, "We at any rate will go all the way." I know that he meant this with all his heart, but I fear that he does not know himself yet, for every man has limits to what he can endure. For everyone of us there are tests which are too much for us. Praise God that He knows everyone of us and has promised not to let us be tested beyond our ability, but meanwhile we should choose to speak words of quiet faith rather than enlarged words of what we propose to do.

Would any of us be able to stand the test of Gethsemane? Would we be able to stand on Calvary? There is only One who was steadfast in every trial, and He did it because none of us could ever have been able to do so. Big words do not strengthen faith, however well-meant they may be. Thank God that modest words do not diminish faith or weaken it. When we do not feel any spiritual superiority then we are the more ready to put on the whole armour of God, for we know how weak we would be without that armour. Its first constituent is truth as a girdle round our loins, and that means truth about ourselves as well as truth about our Saviour and Lord. With this armour the weakest can stand, overcome in the evil day, and still be standing when all is done (Ephesians 6:13).

Concerning Resurrection

As I have said, that which is divine is not in our possession in the same way as other possessions are. We "possess" what is divine with that due fear and trembling which is characteristic of faith, that is, with certainty because Christ is faithful, and yet with trembling because it is at present invisible. If one dare speak of varying degrees in divine matters, then so far as I can see, resurrection is among the highest. It lies quite beyond our reach and exceeds all human understanding. Unlike us, Paul had actually seen into the eternal world, and he had heard words which it is unlawful for a man to utter (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). Had this experience given him a carnal assurance which made the future all plain and straightforward, without any problems? No, for he used modest words when he spoke of this: "... if by means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:11). The more we see into the realms of holiness and love, the more we tremble even while at the same time we yearn for their full fulfilment.

Quiet confidence is right and seemly, but it ill becomes any of us to be cocksure when the apostle is cautious. For his part he made it plain that nothing would prevent him from progressing towards the goal which is sure for those who are "found in Christ", and to this end was resolved even to bring his body into bondage (1 Corinthians 9:27). Such language reveals an aspect of apostolic faith which we do well to copy.

Concerning Poverty of Spirit

Why are Paul's utterances always permeated with a modesty which avoids big words of cocksureness? It was because he had learned to know himself more thoroughly. As Saul of Tarsus he had been convinced that he had standing with God and was spiritually in front of most, so that before God he was someone to be reckoned with. Just imagine! So far as the righteousness of the law was concerned he knew himself to be blameless. What a strong character, a veritable man of God he seemed to be! But then that light fell upon him which one day will shine upon us all, and then he saw himself as he really was. It was a fearful sight, for all that imagined blamelessness was seen to be nothing other than a filthy and defiled garment. There was not in his life a single thing which could make him acceptable to God. His professed sincerity was nothing, for in fact his intended goodwill had really not been good at all, for he was an enemy of the will of God, an enemy of love, and enemy of God Himself. [71/72]

He discovered that there was total and absolute distance between God and himself. There was no connecting link between him and the Almighty. The gulf seemed insuperable. It was then, and only then, that he understood what no-one knows without divine illumination, that salvation is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that has mercy (Romans 9:16). Who can appreciate this apart from those who have been completely exposed to the light of God? However when Paul learned this truth and that God's love is completely undeserved and incomprehensible, he was able to accept that Christ had so loved him as to take freely upon Himself all his sins in His own body, allowing Himself, as God's sacrificial Lamb to be slain for his sake.

The broken man learned that God's salvation does not build upon nor require human strength of character or will power, but that repentant sinners of the worst kind go into the kingdom before the self-righteous. This is incomprehensible and may seem offensive, but this is God's truth which cannot be altered. When, outside of Damascus, eternity's light broke revealingly upon Saul of Tarsus, he became as poor in spirit as a person can be; he knew himself to be a helpless sinner who merited condemnation, and in that poverty he found that the Kingdom of heaven was his, for the sake of the Lord Jesus. He remained poor in spirit for the rest of his life, for he did not run away from that light, so although he knew that the Kingdom of heaven was his, he never spoke big words about himself.

Concerning Trusting Faith

Living faith finds its true expression in modest language. When there are big words there is always, directly or indirectly, an impression of personal greatness. We tend to admire the spokesman, to wonder at his strong faith and the amazing experiences which he describes. He makes us wish that we had that kind of faith and may make us depressed, when gospel truth is meant to lift us up. Modest words, however, draw attention only to Him who is being spoken about. They do not create admiration for the speaker, but give confidence in the Saviour alone to those who are small and weak.

Big words suck the strength out of the gospel message; they change it into what seems to be for the strong and able. Modest words allow the gospel to retain its divine power, offering help to those who have no power in themselves. The gospel is the complete opposite of human thoughts. Only broken and contrite hearts can understand it.

(To be continued)


(Meditation on Psalm 59)

J. Alec Motyer

THE heading of this psalm tells us that it refers to the time "when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill David." There is no reason for this heading to be in small print, for it is part of the Hebrew text as much as anything else in the Scriptures. In Hebrew the psalm headings always form the first verse of the psalm, and in that our versions all differ from the original.

The psalm refers to those early days of Saul's jealous enmity against David, who had to flee and become first an outlaw and then an outcast. Saul spoke to all his servants that they should kill David (1 Samuel 19:1) and then tried to kill him himself. "David fled and escaped that night, and Saul sent messengers unto David's house to watch him and to slay him in the morning", and eventually [72/73] Michal let David down through the window and he got away.

It seems that David was involved in a prolonged period of animosity and danger to his life, and the psalm describes the time of surveillance when men came every night to watch his house. The history describes a sudden crisis but the psalm tells us of the time when he could see lurking figures around his house every night who disappeared in the daytime to avoid being seen as trying to kill David who was a very popular person. So in the daytime they lay in ambush but in the evening they returned to resume their watch.

At some point in that process, David's nerve failed him and he escaped. Was he right to flee? We are not told. This psalm, however, reveals him as living under the constant threat of lurking figures who melted away every morning and then returned every evening. It was a nerve-wracking experience. Here we are given a view of David's mind and attention to prayer and told how in the thick of it he found a new security in God.

"O my strength, I will watch for thee" (v.9). His enemies were on the watch for him but he was on the watch for his God. While he was being hemmed in by them, he hemmed himself into God. We note one word which comes in a number of times in this matter of security. It speaks of the high place of refuge which he found in God. "Set me on high" (v.1), "God is my high tower" (v.9). "God is my high tower, the God of my mercy" (v.17). We use the word "top security" mainly in reference to keeping criminals safely in prison, but David uses it to speak of the safety of the believer in God. God is a refuge for him and mercy, or steadfast love, is like a wall round about him. The abiding thought is that David was in a situation where life could so easily have got on top of him, but he so knew God that it was he who got on top of his enemies. This is a view of life which we need to cultivate as Christians; when we get into a situation which threatens to get on top of us, we may come into the place in the Lord where we are on top of things.

So the message of the psalm is "Getting on top of things". It consists of two prayers with two consequent meditations.

i. David's First Prayer

First of all he cries, "Deliver me", for he is surrounded by wicked and bloodthirsty men who lie in ambush for his soul, and then he insists that it is not due to any fault of his: "Not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O Lord" (v.3). He calls attention to the real danger of his foes, and then itemises them, asking God to see things as he sees them. He then claims that in this particular matter he has no consciousness of wrong.

When we read such claims in the psalms, claims to righteousness, we must realise that David is not talking about sinless perfection, but is facing specific matters. Here David is dealing with a particular charge against him, and in this connection he maintains that there is no truth in the accusations. He is in the same position as Nehemiah was when he had to deal with false rumours about his claiming to be king in Judah: "I sent saying, there are no such things done as thou sayest ...!" (Nehemiah 6:8). David had a perfectly clear conscience as to his behaviour about Saul and was able to affirm that so far as the accusations about disloyalty were concerned he had not offended. He had not transgressed -- he had not put a foot wrong -- and he had not sinned -- in his heart there were no wrong thoughts. He was clear before God, clear before men and clear in his own conscience. That is a most desirable condition to be in. It reminds us of Paul's words how he had lived before God in all good conscience (Acts 24:16).

Having made known his need, David now appeals to the Lord for the fullness of divine aid: "Awake thou to help me ... Arise to visit ..." (vv.4 & 5). This is a bold way of speaking to God, "Awake ... and look" is an approach which calls upon God to rouse Himself out of sleep, for the matter is very urgent and this is David's way of expressing urgency. What he really said was, "Awake thou to meet me". David really believes that in answer to prayer that God will take the matter up personally, not so much sending forces from heaven but Himself coming into the situation.

What is more, he speaks of God arising to visit all the nations, so enlarging the matter from the narrow scale of the personal and individual to the plea that He will act on a worldwide scale to come and settle everything. David was so clear in conscience over this matter of Saul that he was willing to stand before God as in the final judgment. Something else may have passed through his mind, as it certainly does in our case, namely, [73/74] a sense of such oppression with particular difficulties as to groan for the Second Coming. Such a desire may be frivolous, just as a solution for some immediate difficulty, but it can be very real. In David's case it suggests a desire that God would put a final end to all the wretchedness of this wretched world.

ii. David's First Meditation

Following this prayer David makes a striking contrast between dogs and the Lord. The dogs were Saul's servants, ready enough to try to promote their own interests at somebody else's expense. This happens under any leadership but particularly if the leader is weak and men see opportunities of currying favour with the leader. We imagine that every evening David and Michal wondered whether they would have a peaceful night, but as Michal drew aside the curtain in the darkened room, she would once more report, "No, they have come back again". These were the dogs who were snarling, "belching out with their mouth" (v.6). The Bible so often condemns sins of speech. Never mind the swords in their hands, they have swords in their lips.

But alongside of this force, there is that of the Lord, which makes the other seem so futile: "But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them; thou shalt have all the heathen in derision". David has become enlarged in his awareness of the Lord's power. Since He is Head over all the nations, how pitiful is the plight of those who think that they are mighty but who are so feeble in comparison with God. We see what is happening. When a man turns to the Lord in prayer, hope comes into the situation. It is no longer "them" against "me"; it is now "them" against the Lord and me. David's great resource was in prayer. When he spread the matter out before the Lord, he had a new focus on the situation. It is always so when the Lord is brought in.

"O my Strength, I will watch for thee, for God is my high tower" (v.9) They are watching for me, but I am watching for the Lord my strength; my eye is not for them but for the One who is my top-security. He is the God of my mercy and will go before me (v.10). He is my loving God and He will be the first to face the problem as He "prevents" or goes before me. He will always come first. He who comes to meet me has anticipated all my need and has everything ready for it. Even before I have told Him about the need, He has every provision already made for it. This is our comfort. Our loving God will anticipate our every need.

iii. David's Second Prayer

In this prayer David asks for a plain outworking of the divine moral providence. He asks God so to act in relation to these enemies that everyone can see His moral rule of the universe working out before their very eyes. "Slay them not, lest my people forget; scatter them ..." (v.11). If God acts swiftly, it will soon be all over and done with, and people will forget about it. David reasons in this way because he has a concern for the people of God. He calls them his people because he has them in his heart and knows that he is the anointed king of Israel and therefore concerned for the people's welfare. He wants his people to learn that it is a holy God who lives and reigns in this unruly world of men.

There is nothing vindictive in his prayer. He wants a just outworking of judgment on the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips. Nowhere does David ask God to avenge him; it is sin that must be punished. His concern is for the holiness and law of God and also for His name.

Note this further reference to the sins of the lips. We rarely think that sins of speech are as important as the Bible makes them. The guardianship of the tongue is one of the first duties of believers. Sins of speech come well up towards the top on God's list of offences.

iv. David's Second Meditation

Here we have mention again of dogs: "At evening let them return, let them make a noise like a dog" (v.14). They are again contrasted with the Lord. This time David speaks of them as night scavengers, wandering up and down for food and not finding it. There is no satisfaction for such people. Verse 15 can rightly be rendered: "As for them ..." while verse 16 begins: "As for me ..." This time David renews the contrast with a new thought. His first prayer focused his clear sense of need, but this second prayer has brought to him a new spirit of confidence. In spite of the fact that as yet nothing has happened, his prayer has wrought an inward change in him. [74/75]

"As for me, I will sing of thy strength, of thy strength, yes, I will sing aloud ..." (v.16). Everything may seem to be the same. He has prayed, but the prayer appears not to have been answered. In spite of the prayers, they came every night. The world, of course, would say that prayer has not been answered, but David shows that there is more than one way of prayer being answered. The answer came in David's own spirit, and the Lord enabled him to rejoice in the midst of the danger. As for them, they are still with us, but as for me who could well have been bowed down in the situation, inwardly I am transformed and outwardly I no longer groan but sing, yes, and I sing aloud. Imagine the mortification of his lurking enemies as they melted away in the morning to hear David singing at the top of his voice! So he concludes with triumphant praises to the strong and loving Lord who is his top-security.

May I sum up with three points which come to us as the fruits of the harvest of this psalm.

1. The Practical Efficacy of the Way of Prayer

When we are in desperate need we can voice our predicament in prayer. Our arguments are rightly, "Because of Your promises" or "Because of Your Son", but they are wholly valid if they are "Because of my need". Like David, we need assurance on this point. I do not think that we have shaken ourselves from the world's estimate of prayer as a useless exercise. It mocks Christians and demands to know what prayer has to do with our problems. Well, when David prayed it was the first move towards victory.

2. Justification by Faith is a Practical Way of Life

We naturally think of justification by faith as the way of being right with God through Jesus, but as a matter of fact the first appearance as related to Abraham had to do with a need for children. For him it had three features, and so it has for us. The first is a recognition that we are helpless, the second that in relation to that helplessness God has made a promise and then, thirdly, we believe God's promise rather than our own hopelessness. So David was faced with a grimly practical situation where enemies were out for his life. He won his way through by resting on the promises that God would be his top-security. Trusting in God is a practical way of life.

3. The Practical Importance of a Clear Vision of God

Such a vision may sound remote and nothing to do with our daily problems. Even Christians will argue about heavenly minded people being no earthly use, but the Bible says that you will be no earthly use until you are heavenly minded. Prayer is practical. A clear vision of God is also practical.

At the close of his song David repeats the blessed truth that his high security is the God of his mercy, the God of unfailing love. Do we need top-security? We find it in the open arm's of our ever-loving God




Harry Foster

"The exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe,
according to that working of the strength of his might which
he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead ...
Ephesians 1:19-20

PAUL'S prayer for our enlightenment covers three areas, Hope, Fellowship and Power or, as we may say, Revelation of Heaven, of the Church and of the Cross. I propose to take them in the reverse order, beginning with that matter which follows on in the passage, which I entitle Revelation and the Cross. Our hearts need constant new enlightenment in this respect if we are [75/76] to walk in the good works which God has afore prepared for us (2:10).

Identification with Christ

When the apostle first arrived in Ephesus he found there twelve men who were still in the dark about Christ's death and resurrection and so knew nothing of the resultant gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Through Paul's ministry they received the essential light concerning Christ's atoning work and they gave substance to their resulting faith by passing through a further baptism, this time into the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:5). This was no mere formality -- true baptism is never that -- but a testimony to the profound truths involved in salvation. Identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection could never have been signified by John's baptism, which was all they knew. So this was no "anabaptism" but a simple testimony to the fact that now they were "in Christ". Whether people are baptised or not, if they are truly in Christ then they have been crucified with Him, buried with Him and raised in Him. This was now true of the twelve Ephesians.

How much did they understand of the spiritual significance of this baptism? Possibly very little, though redemption had brought them into its reality. In any case, so far as the Ephesian believers were concerned (including these twelve), Paul's writings and prayers showed that they had yet much more to learn, even though Christ had now been revealed to them in a saving way and they had gladly responded to the truth. The apostle was able to thank God for their faith and that they had been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. But let them not think that they knew it all. No, a vital experience of what it means to be in Christ demands revelation upon revelation, so that we can the more effectively realise the great thing that God has done for and with us by the death of His Son on the cross. Hence this prayer.

The Spirit and the Cross

So far as spiritual power is concerned, we know that this is by the Holy Spirit, and we know too that it is always essentially resurrection power, but where we are concerned, the fundamental basis of the Spirit's power and of our resurrection union with Christ can only be the cross. We are raised together with the Lord Jesus because we were crucified together with Him. "Do you not know?" Paul asked in connection with this very matter of baptism, "Do you not know that all who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?" (Romans 6:3). All Christians know the basic truth that Christ died for them, but perhaps some have not yet grasped the implication of their baptism, which is that God regards them as having died with Christ.

This, then, is the feature of the cross concerning which the Ephesians needed the help of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. I would go so far as to say that every day we all need fresh enlightenment to the eyes of our heart about the practical meaning or Calvary and its outworking in terms of our identification with Christ. Every day that old corrupt nature of ours which God condemned and crucified will seek to re-assert itself, so that every day we are called upon to reckon ourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God. The cross is not only a provision for us, to give us perfect acceptance with God, but it is a provision to work in us, in order to make effective in our lives and service that marvellous power which was demonstrated in Christ's resurrection. The apostle goes on to include His ascension, so that if you like, you can call it "throne power", for we have the amazing declaration that the Father has made us to sit together with Christ in His exaltation (2:6).

The doctrine of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus is of supreme importance. Without it nothing is possible. We begin at the cross. But we also live by the cross. It was the teaching of the Lord Jesus that if we wish to follow Him we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). This probably did not make much sense to the disciples at the time, and it certainly had no effective working in their lives before Pentecost, for it was only when the Spirit came that they really knew the power of the cross in their actual experience. The Holy Spirit led Jesus to the life of the cross and then to the death of the cross. With us He begins with the death of the cross and then continues with the life of the cross. The Spirit always leads to the cross. When we think of the Holy Spirit we tend to concentrate on the manifestation of power, and rightly so, but we must never forget that the power of God comes by way of the cross of Christ. It is the cross which is the gateway to life. [76/77]

Peter before Pentecost

Perhaps Peter's story can help us in this matter. In the gospel days he had two outstanding experiences of revelation of Christ. The first was when he made his great confession: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Jesus said that this confession was the result of a personal revelation given him by the Father. Nevertheless he tried to repudiate the Lord's message about the cross and had to be rebuked and reminded that in fact he and the others would be called upon to deny themselves and take up their cross.

Peter's second great revelation was on the Transfiguration Mount where he had a pre-view of the glorified Lord. These were genuine revelations. They were, if you like, Scriptural revelations. But the essential man, Simon Peter, remained unchanged by them. He rebuked his Lord. He denied his Lord. He wept bitterly at his own self-discovery, and finished feeling that he would be permanently excluded from apostleship. We might wonder why the revelations had not changed him. We might imagine that his experiences were quite negative. The Holy Spirit, however, does not work negatively; He allows a Peter to despair of his own wisdom and ability, only to lead him, via the cross, to the glory of resurrection and the Spirit's fullness. This is true of us all, and it may often prove that the experience is repeated again and again.

Peter after Pentecost

I am inclined to believe that when, at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, Peter confessed to the crippled man, "Silver and gold have I none" (Acts 3:6), he was voicing more than financial inadequacy and saying that in himself he had no means of responding to the man's needs. "What I have, that I give thee" really affirmed that he was in touch with the divine resources in Christ which are the effective answer to the human dilemma. Here was a man through whom was ministered the exceeding greatness of God's power.

This, of course, was after Pentecost. It is only partially true to say that Peter was a changed man. New life had come to him through faith in Christ; being in Christ he had become part of the new creation. Nevertheless there was still in Peter that old man which God has condemned and put away by the cross. The crisis of the cross, illustrated in baptism, is complete and final in God's estimation, but this does not produce an automatic disappearance of the natural man though it provides a basis upon which he is called to reckon. While we are still on the earth there is no possibility of a complete end of the old man and his replacement by the new, but rather a daily challenge as to the out-working of the victory of the cross as we are obedient to the Spirit. And even if the new believer knows little if anything of the Scriptural truth of identification with Christ, he will find that this is the principle on which the Lord will deal with him. God never loses sight of our baptism, even if we do.

On the housetop at Joppa, Peter was given a new revelation of the meaning of redemption in Christ. In the gospel days Jesus had, according to Mark 7:19, "made all things clean". Yet Peter found himself saying, "Not so, Lord" to any such idea (Acts 10:14). With Peter things seem to have happened in threes, so in this way the Lord commanded him to lay aside his natural and religious prejudices, though three times over Peter said "No" to his Lord.

This, I suggest, was the challenge of the cross, a demand that he should reverse his attitude and say "No" to himself. Happily he did just that, proving that now it was a reality to have been crucified with Christ. So he took up his cross and went off to Caesarea, though not without protest, safe-guards and some fears. In doing so he gave the Holly Spirit an opportunity to express the exceeding greatness of God's power in that household. The cross had won the day. One gets the impression that Peter himself was surprised and delighted at the proof of a divine intervention for, when challenged by his brothers about his behaviour, all he could retort was, "Who was I, that I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:17).

Almost at once in his book of the Acts Luke goes on to describe a further remarkable experience of the resurrection power of God. In Chapter 12 we find Peter himself as near to death as a man could be, imprisoned, chained, guarded and on the eve of execution by Herod. This was not a case of choosing to take up the cross, but of having it thrust upon him. I must say that I think he took it all extremely calmly. Perhaps that was because the eyes of his heart had been enlightened [77/78] as to the exceeding greatness of God's power. The church must have been rocked back on its heels with the loss of James and Peter's imminent peril, but they too were enlightened and though perhaps in some disarray they were praying (12:5). If ever there was a "death" situation it was there in Jerusalem at that time. Evil was on the throne in murderous strength. Peter, their leader, seemed doomed. Other leaders were scattered or in hiding.

But the church had the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. Though hardly able to credit it when it happened, they turned in prayer to the God of resurrection. And then the miracle happened, and it was such a miracle that the maid who announced it was considered mad and Peter himself thought that he must be dreaming. But no, resurrection power is no dream. Soon Peter was free. The church was wondering and rejoicing. The evil Herod was brought to an ignominious end. The word of God grew and multiplied (v.24). People talk about the power of prayer, but the true explanation is the power of God in answer to prayer. The church of today needs to learn the lesson.

Interestingly enough it is at this point that Peter virtually disappears from the book of the Acts, but he does so on the crest of a wave, as stressing to us how God meets His people in their deepest extremity with a demonstration of His ability even to raise the dead. Paul and Barnabas had evidently been at Jerusalem during this episode, so had doubtless been privileged to witness this response of God to the prayer of His church. It is not without significance that Acts 13 begins at Antioch with the church at prayer. One imagines that the apostles went back to their home church poised to expect fresh evidences of the power of the cross. They were not disappointed.

Satanic Opposition

Yet it was at Antioch that there came a great challenge against the cross. We are told that Satan's agent, Herod, had been used to express his hatred of Christ by afflicting "certain of the church". On that occasion God dealt effectively with the agent, but this did not deter the Devil from continuing his activities against the church. This time he used more subtlety. He chose Antioch as the battle ground and he used Jewish legalists as his agents. Sadly, but significantly, Peter will provide us with an object lesson as to the importance of the cross.

The happenings at Antioch are described for us in Galatians 2. We do not know just when they occurred or indeed what Peter was doing there at all. We only know that a subtle contradiction of the implications of the cross in the matter of Jews and Gentiles posed a major threat to the truth of the gospel. In his book of the Acts, Luke makes no mention of this episode; we cannot blame him for indeed it was not a pleasant story to tell about such men of God. Paul, however, felt constrained to put it on record in his earnest endeavour to warn the Galatians who -- like Peter and the rest -- were in danger of becoming enemies of the cross. Possibly he did not consult Peter about making the disclosure, but I feel confident that had he done so, Peter would have given his consent. A spiritual man is always humble enough to realise that a frank account of his failure can often be of more practical help to needy people than the chronicle of his successes.

Antioch, as we know, was a miracle church, brought into being by God's sovereignty and characterised by an unusual degree of God's grace. On this occasion, though, spiritual death threatened to corrupt the purity of its gospel testimony, so menacing its very existence as a true representation of Christ's body. It seems that a whole group failed to recognise this peril, for at times it needs real discernment to perceive spiritual blight when it first approaches. After all, Paul's prayer was that the Father would give the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to those who were already sealed by the Spirit.

What amazes us most is that Peter could have been caught in this way, yet we need not be surprised, for the moment any of us move off the ground of the cross on to our own natural wisdom, the same thing can happen to us. Paul (who could humbly but positively claim to have been crucified with Christ) was not deceived. By the Spirit he had discernment. In Jerusalem he had refused to permit legalism, for he knew how calamitous its effect would be upon the truth of the gospel. "No, not for an hour" he declared (v.5). Now, as soon as he saw the church at Antioch dividing up into two separate groups around separate tables, he denounced those responsible in the strongest terms. To him this spelled death. Doubtless the clever gentlemen from Jerusalem would have given it a more attractive and more pious name. Peter, who seems [78/79] to have taken some initiative in the matter, would probably have tried to justify his procedure, for if we think or act in the flesh we are capable of very foolish things. The man of the Spirit had to denounce it. He actually employed the term "deceit" to describe their behaviour, for the truth is in Jesus and any departure from His cross is an offence against the truth.

This act of separation among God's people in Antioch denoted a contradiction of the cross. By his action, Peter threatened to bring death into fellowship, just as any of us will do in our own assembly if we move away from the ground of the cross on to natural considerations. He would have brought in death not by bad sinfulness and not only by wrong doctrine, but by reverting to what he was by nature -- by building again the thing which by the cross he had destroyed (2:18).

We are told that Peter acted out of fear: "he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision" (v.12). That was the kind of man he was. At the time of the crucifixion Peter had been so overcome by fear that he three times denied his Lord. Under satanic pressure he gave way to fear, for that was the kind of man he was. There may well have been some explanation for this characteristic, something in his heredity or his upbringing but I leave this to the psychologists; I only know that what you are, you are, and that years later, under similar pressure, he reacted in the same fearful way. No doubt some will want to interject that Peter was completely changed at his conversion and was now a different man. Certainly he showed himself to be fearless after Pentecost, but this did not mean that the essential man was different but rather that the new man in Christ was functioning freely, with the natural old man no longer in charge so that by the cross Peter enjoyed deliverance from himself. In Paul's words he could say, "... yet no longer I".

Such an experience calls for faith. If the life which we now live in the flesh is to be in accord with the will of God, it can only be as faith counts upon the divine fact of our union with Christ in death and resurrection. In Peter's case it appears that at Antioch something happened which made him take his eyes off the Lord. Was he afraid that he might lose his status at Jerusalem? If so, he may have been the first but he was by no means the last to compromise because of a mistaken idea that his own personal position for God among his fellows was more important than the truth of the gospel. Of course it is possible that he might have found some of the ways of his Gentile brothers unacceptable, for it is never difficult to find faults in others which serve to stimulate our natural prejudices. In any case, the simple fact was that the cross was no longer being allowed to set aside Peter's old nature so that he reverted to personal weaknesses and Jewish instincts.

This had two results. It meant that the open-hearted Peter became involved in hyprocrisy, and that he also influenced others, for in this case the rest of the Jewish Christians at Antioch felt that they should follow his example. A man acting in the flesh can often do this, and the greater the prominence of the man, the more powerful is the bad example. Paul had no option but to withstand this action, though I notice that as he continued speaking personally to Peter he soon passed from the "thou" of verse 14 to the "we" of verse 15. Common honesty made him admit that by nature we are all the same. There is a sense in which there is only one old man and he is in us all and only put out of action by the cross.

That old man was in Barnabas, the other main character in the story. His behaviour clearly shocked Paul, who wrote that even Barnabas joined the separatist party Now Barnabas was no coward. He was not afraid of anybody. He was not afraid of the Twelve for it was he who insisted that they should recognise Paul. Later On he showed that he was not afraid of Paul himself, but was prepared to disagree with him. No, he had not the same nature as Peter. And yet he was just as much an offender. I suggest that the words, "even Barnabas was carried away ..." give us a clue to the aspect of the old life in him which contributed to the peril. Barnabas was a nice man, sympathetic with everybody and easy in nature, with the unique description of being "a good man" (Acts 11:24). One might well think that such a good nature could do no harm, but it is not for us to say what we are by nature is nice or nasty, since we are told that the old man is being corrupted by deceit (Ephesians 4:22) and must be put away. This brings us back to the reminder that for all of us, the cross is the only means of deliverance. [79/80]

But did not Paul share in that old nature? I imagine that as a man he had a rather repulsive version of it, capable of being very aggressive in such a situation. It was a miracle that he was not chief among the Judaisers. Only the cross had solved that problem for him. It now kept him free from a natural reaction to this new peril. I imagine that if he had acted according to his own nature, he could have done one of two things. He could have turned Peter and the others (who were only visitors) out of Antioch, telling them to take their separate table somewhere else. That would have been a dreadful tragedy, but it is the kind of thing that has often happened since. The alternative is that he himself could have walked out on them. He had plenty of other churches where he would have been welcomed and honoured, and he could have gone to them. He could have countered their separateness with a separation of his own, as so many others have since done, and then he could have gone around proclaiming the faults of those left behind.

He did neither of these two things, and he himself explained his actions in the famous declaration: "I have been crucified with Christ". At first sight his words may sound a little boastful, as though he were saying, "I, of course, was different from those others because I know what it is to be crucified with Christ", but this was not at all his spirit. There was no "ego" in his statement for verse 20 actually reads, "With Christ crucified (I)", the emphasis being on the Christ who had taken him and all other believers to the cross for deliverance from self. It is impossible to reproduce this in English, but we can content ourselves with the knowledge that the only two occurrences of the word "Ego" are "I died" (v.19) and "yet not I ..." (v.20). If then we ask about the old nature of Paul, the answer is that his "ego" had died and that he now by faith lived on the basis of "No longer Ego". Is not this what the Lord Jesus commanded, that those who were to be His disciples should deny themselves and take up their cross (Mark 8:34)? He not only requires this of us but has provided for its possibility by His death for us on the cross. This is the abiding secret of our new life. This is the working power of the cross. Anything else makes it as though Christ had wasted His life by dying (v.21).

Probably Paul needed to say no more. Doubtless his words produced the desired result in arousing Peter and Barnabas to recollect that they too had been crucified with Christ and lived on the basis of "Not I but Christ", especially because of those last words, "Who loved me and gave himself for me". Paul had to make it personal. He could not say "We have been crucified with Christ", though theologically that was true, for such spiritual truths only have effective power on the basis of faith's appropriation of what is revealed. What is always needed is not just information, but revelation. As a matter of fact Peter had the revelation, but needed to keep his thoughts and actions in tune with it. If he and the others could do that -- and it seems that they did -- then all the difficulties were at once resolved in Antioch as they will be elsewhere too.

So even an apostle can move off the ground of Christ on to the ground of self. Indeed he can! We all can, and from time to time we do. All the more important, then, that the Spirit of God in revelation should give us constant reminders of the basic principles of the cross, so that we may effectively reckon ourselves crucified with Christ and function in the power of His new life by resurrection union with Him. The objective of this revelation of the cross is that we should walk in the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

(To be continued) [80/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


Psalm 129    PLOUGHING UP

NOT every one loves Zion. There are those who hate her, and this song focuses its attention on them.

IT is expressed in terms of prayer that these enemies of God's people may be frustrated in every way. True, they will never suffer from a plough because they will be like rootless grass on the housetops, and as such will never come to any sort of harvest joys.

THIS is not the kind of prayer that we would care to pray, but it clearly depicts the inevitable destiny of those who oppose God's will. They are described as ploughers, but they will never be mowers or reapers, in spite of their persistent activities. Twice over the psalmist uses the phrase "Many a time" and he indicates that they begin in our time of youth and then go right on in unrelenting persecution.

POOR things! Can there be anything more futile than to go on ploughing and never reap any sort of harvest except shame and contempt? Yet that is what will happen in their case if the psalmist's prayer is answered. His prayer is a kind of prophecy -- they will finish unpraised and unblest. How pitiful are their efforts!

BUT there is another side to this picture, implied if not actually stated. The ploughmen who are making such deep furrows on the backs of God's pilgrims are the instruments in His hands to prepare for a rich harvest of blessing in the lives of their afflicted victims.

ALL through the year Israel can say that in spite of the long and bitter furrows of affliction, they have never been overcome. Indeed it is because of the painful ploughing that they have the happy prospect of an abundant harvest of righteousness.

THEY will be given the pleasure which comes to the mower who fills his hands with the gathered blessings and the reaper who joyfully binds the sheaves of fulfilment to his bosom. Those who pass by will bless them, and will give God blessing for them. In His sovereignty, the full harvest will have been made possible by the frequent and prolonged enmity of the ploughers.

SO this psalm, which began by promising to be a complaining dirge of descents and depression, turns out to have a worthy place among the Songs of Ascent. It reminds us that the more Satan afflicts God's people, the more fruitful they become. This was the case in Egypt under Pharaoh (Exodus 1:12); it is sung about in the days of the kingdom in our psalm; it is recorded in the experience of the early church (Acts 12:24); and it is as true as ever today.

Patience, my suffering brothers and sisters! We are on our way up! Let us join in the song of victory. The ploughing may be painful now, but however long and deep the furrows on our backs, we can lift our heads in praising triumph. They will not prevail against us. The ploughmen may be operating "many a time", but God's grace is such that this will only increase the joys and fruitfulness of the harvest that is to be. In that day all who pass by will observe the manifest blessing of God. They will bless us in the name of the Lord.


[Back cover]

Psalm 119:72

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