"... 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. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1988 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Editorial 81
Big Words (2) 83
Spiritual Revelation (2) 86
On Guidance 91
The Effective Word Of God 94
David's Worship 98
On The Way Up (11) - Psalm 130 ibc



SINGLE-mindedness is rather a rare virtue. To my mind an outstanding example of it is found in Judah's king Josiah. He was the last of the more worthy kings of David's lineage, but would not be expected to rank very highly among them, except perhaps as the man in whose reign the lost book of the law was re-discovered among the temple rubbish. Yet he has a Scriptural commendation which suggests that in one matter at least he was unique.

Here are the historian's words about him: "Surely there was not kept such a Passover from the days of the judges that ruled Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah" (2 Kings 23:22). What is more, the book of the Chronicles, commenting later on Israel's history, confirms this verdict, only varying from it by saying that there had been no comparable Passover since the days of Samuel (2 Chronicles 35:18).

I find this hard to believe. Nevertheless both inspired writers assure me that this was the case. No king in Israel or Judah had ever masterminded such a divine and God-glorifying feast. It seems incredible to us who have found such inspiration in the stories of the great days of the kingdom of Israel. Is it possible that this "end of the age" Passover had never before been equalled? Not in the days of the great David? Not in the peak years of the magnificent Solomon? Not when the God-prospered Uzziah was at the height of his powers? Not in the reign of the devout Hezekiah, who gathered faithful souls from the Northern kingdom to join with him in a Passover which was so outstanding that it was extended for a further seven days of holy rejoicing (2 Chronicles 30:13)?

Seemingly not! In God's opinion this Passover ordered and carried through by King Josiah was the greatest of all. If we may judge from the prophetic utterances of the contemporary Jeremiah, the heart of the people was not in it, for they were in a very poor condition spiritually. How much of the burden of it was borne by the king alone we do not know. In his book on the Chronicles, Michael Wilcock suggests that Josiah was a very lonely man who carried through sweeping reforms in a very solitary way, though doubtless the Scriptural remnant backed him loyally. In any case, though, his Passover is described in superlative terms.

The first conclusion that I draw from this is that God's estimate of true values varies considerably from that of men -- even godly men. It looks as though Josiah's straightforward stand for God in those dark days of the kingdom's fading glories mattered more to God than all that had gone before in happier times. Our tendency is usually to look back longingly to the past, encouraged to do so by the impressive stories of bygone blessings. Had Josiah done that he would have given up in despair. But he kept on. I ask myself why he did so, and the only answer I can think of is single-mindedness. When false prophets arise, leading men astray, and when the love of the many grows cold, salvation comes by enduring to the end (Matthew 24:11-13). Josiah did just that.

He had nothing to gain by persisting.

There was no question of seeming advantage; Josiah had nothing to gain by his devoted faithfulness. The tragedy of the fall of the dynasty and the captivity of the people was by this time unavoidable. Josiah could have no eye to the main chance.

Hezekiah, his great-grandfather, had sadly failed. He had schemed to make an alliance with Babylon's ambassadors and had sold the pass and made certain the downfall of the kingdom. He was flattered by Babylon; he rather favoured teaming up with Babylon, so God let him have Babylon in an unexpected way. The message through Isaiah was: "All that is in thy house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, saith the Lord" (2 Kings 20:17). Even if we have been ardent servants of the Lord; even if we have had been miraculously healed; even though we have been enjoying a marvellous sign from heaven; we cannot toy with the world. The [81/82] loss can be catastrophic. This, then, was part of the heritage of Josiah. Captivity was inevitable.

Hezekiah was followed by his extremely wicked son, Manasseh, who corrupted the kingdom to such a degree that the prophetic message about him was: "Because Manasseh, king of Judah, has done these abominations, and has done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him ... therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, Behold I bring such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah that whosoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle ... and turning it upside down ..." (2 Kings 21:11-14). So the nation's doom was decided and there was no suggestion of reprieve. Amon, who was Josiah's father, continued in the same godless way and was murdered in his own house.

It was under such unpropitious circumstances that the eight year old Josiah came to the throne. We are simply told that his mother's name was Jedidah, which means "Beloved", so it may be that her influence helped to mould him. Certainly, like Samuel, the single-minded prophet who introduced the kingdom, he began his loyalty to God at an early age. In the course of his reforms, the long-lost book of the law was found, and made a tremendous impression upon him. Being alerted to the country's peril, he sent to Huldah, hoping against hope that the wrath of God might be turned aside from Judah, but the prophetess could only confirm that there would be no change, but that the Scriptural judgments would be fulfilled to the letter. So nothing that Josiah or anybody else could do would avert the imminent and total downfall of the kingdom.

He had nothing to lose by failing to act.

If he had nothing to gain by his faithfulness, he equally had nothing personally to lose by inactivity. Huldah's message from God contained a personal assurance to him that he would be all right. He must have known this, for he was a man of faith and all such believe not only that God is but also that He is a rewarder of them that seek after Him. It was nice, though, to have a special and personal assurance from God that because his heart was tender and he had humbled himself before God, he would not live to see the coming catastrophe but would end his days in peace. This was before he arranged the Passover. Some people take the idea of "once saved always saved" to lull them into selfish slackness, but not so Josiah. It was out of pure loyalty to God and not for the sake of any personal advantage that he pressed on with the great Passover feast.

In any case it was going to be all right for him. His days would be peaceful. So why not relax? Why worry? His future was assured in any case. Yet far from succumbing to the temptation to let things be, he energetically arranged for the feast. In this life he had nothing to gain from it and equally he had nothing to lose if he ignored it. I can sympathise with him, for at my age I am sometimes tempted to shrug off responsibility in a matter which I know will never happen in my lifetime. Josiah was a nobler man. He was truly single-minded.

In 2 Kings 23:1-24 there is a long and breathless recital of how he pressed on with his reforms, the text recording each act as being not just commanded but actually executed by him -- "He put down ... He brought out ... He broke down ..." So the story goes on. If nobody else would be true to God, he would. So we are told that there was no king like him in this single-minded devotion to the keeping of the Jaw (2 Kings 23:25). No wonder that the Scriptures make their comment that "surely there was not kept such a Passover ..." Josiah's loyal faithfulness in the darkening gloom of his circumstances evidently gave special satisfaction to his redeeming God. There was a quality about his behaviour which surpassed all others.

Without impugning the motives of previous sovereigns, one has to say that perhaps their behaviour was affected by some considerations of possible success or of personal advantage. Certainly most of us are influenced by some such considerations. Human nature is like that. Josiah, however, was true to God just for the sake of being true. And what is more, he kept up this faithfulness to the end. It is true that his rather early death was caused by his rash foolishness in getting himself involved in this world's conflicts, but I do not think that this necessarily signified any lessening of his devotion to the Lord, and perhaps [82/83] his premature death saved him from any exposure to spiritual deterioration. He went on to the end!

Strangely and sadly this does not seem to have been true of the kings who had preceded him. Most, if not all, of them came under a cloud in their closing years. The Scriptural record of Josiah, however, was that "like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul and with all his mind, according to the law of Moses" (2 Kings 23:25). During his lifetime Jeremiah had little to do with him, but after he had gone the prophet made a special lamentation for him (2 Chronicles 35:25).

Biblical history is prophecy. What then does Josiah's story say to us? Surely it calls us to be single-minded whatever may be going on around us. Josiah need not be unique. There is room for all of us at the top in this call to simple devotion. As a matter of fact the historian attributes the same uniqueness of faithfulness to Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:5). Perhaps the difference lay in his failure to keep it up. In the words of the Lord Jesus which I have already quoted, when the love of many grows cold, the call to us is to endure to the end.



Poul Madsen

"Be careful with your big words"

1 Samuel 2:3 (Danish)

THE first statement made by the Lord Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount was: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). No-one has ever been as poor in spirit as He himself was, and for that reason the Kingdom of heaven has never been as near as it was when He walked the earth. He declared that He neither said nor did anything of Himself but only what He received from the Father.

Paul followed Him. As Saul of Tarsus he was anything but poor in spirit but when he became the apostle of Christ he could write: "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves" and then add: "But our sufficiency is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5). Such deep dependence upon God does not come naturally to us; our thoughts about ourselves are often too big, and our thoughts about God too small.

Big Deeds

In this same Sermon the Lord spoke of many who at the end would say to Him: "Lord, Lord, did we not ... in thy name do many mighty works", only to be rejected and disowned by Him (Matthew 7:22-23). In the Day when we stand before the Lord, all His words will be confirmed, including these which He said about the kingdom of heaven belonging to those who have been poor in spirit. There will be some who thought that the kingdom was theirs, as they pointed to what they called "many mighty works" done by them, but when the terrible truth is revealed, it will be seen that the Lord never knew them. He will use the same dismissive words which He used to Satan: "Depart from me" (Matthew 4:10), for it seems that they have been deceived by Satan and had served his purposes and not God's. Although they used the name of Jesus, they were never poor in spirit and so the kingdom had never been theirs.

On the other hand we are told of others on the right of the King, who are so poor in spirit that when thanked for their actions of love towards Him, they enquire, with some surprise, "Lord, when did we come to Thee or when did we take [83/84] Thee in?" (Matthew 25:37-39) since, in contrast to those who felt rich in spirit, they were not conscious of the merit of their deeds. When they were here among men they never emphasised their own significance or tried to prove that they were anything special in God's service. To their surprised joy, the Lord will say to these poor in spirit: "Come, ye blessed of my Father; inherit the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

The Many

We might think that the people who deceived themselves and deceived others while using the name of Jesus would be the exceptions, but this is hardly the case, for the Lord says that they are "many"; just as He said that there are many who go in at the wide gate and go on in the broad way (Matthew 7:13). We wonder how many of these used the name of Jesus and did "mighty works" in that name without ever having gone through the narrow gate and on to the strait way that leads to life.

It is not possible to come through the strait gate with your own riches of spirit; the gate is so narrow that only those who are nothing in themselves can get through, and the way is so narrow that it leaves no room for personal esteem and pride. In fact, to enter that gate is to lose your own life, even as the Lord said, that only the corn of wheat which falls into the ground and dies is really fruitful.

How, then, can it be that men can boast even to the Lord Himself that they have done mighty works in His name when they never came through to life? Of course this is a great problem, and I have no full answer to it, though perhaps I may make a few comments.

The Cross

In his Letter Paul speaks about another Jesus than the One whom he preached and of another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). It seems that in Paul's time there were those who seemed to bring the same good tidings as the apostle, but whom he detected as being different. With his sharp ears, he could detect that their message was not really about the Jesus whom he preached, but about another and nor was their joy that which the gospel brings, but another joy. The Corinthians were too carnal to perceive this, but Paul tried to help them to do so. He used strong language about false apostles, saying that they were "deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ, and no marvel, for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). This makes us enquire what kind of Jesus and what kind of gospel it was that Paul preached.

He himself gives us the answer: "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). In practice this meant that he continues to lead us to Calvary and to the foot of the cross. There we are constantly self-exposed and discover God. There we understand (though only in a very limited and partial way) God's infinite holiness and His rejection of even the best that we can provide. But there we also discover (though also in a limited and partial degree) the greatness of our Saviour and Lord who, for love's sake, bore the wrath of God in His own sinless body.

At the cross of Calvary no-one will dare call attention to the miracles and mighty works done by himself. At the foot of that cross every human sense of being important is destroyed, only ever to emerge again if the cross is forsaken. But what about joy? It may be argued that there can be no joy in looking to the crucified One, only deep sorrow for our sinfulness. Yes, but the strangest thing about the gospel is that while it does not nulify sorrow for sin, but rather continually increases it, at the very same time it gives a deep, deep joy, with gratitude for Christ's redeeming love.

The preachers against whom Paul warned were not satisfied with this. It was too small for them. They lacked the fear of God and were not at all afraid of their own fallen nature and so not ashamed to speak big words. They used the name of Jesus, they referred to the Scriptures, they prophesied and did miracles, but they never trembled, for they neither knew Jesus nor themselves. They were deceived and they deceived others. It is most distressing to think that people who had been so active and had used the name [84/85] of Jesus should meet with the dreadful condemnation of the Lord. Who does not tremble and pray: "Search me, O Lord, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any way of grief in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

The Few

The Lord describes those who are in the narrow way as few (Matthew 7:14). These are those who stand on the King's right hand and although no mention is made of their being few in number, they are described as sheep. The name seems to suggest that they are rather helpless and might even be called "stupid", especially since they cannot remember what they did for the Lord. They are called, however, The blessed of the Father, and certainly they are invited to inherit the eternal kingdom. So they must be the poor in spirit. Even so they are regarded by the world (and sometimes by fellow Christians) as foolish.

The call to the kingdom suggests that they have built their lives not upon their own wisdom or efforts but upon the grace of God which ignores our ideas of righteousness and any good or evil that belongs to us. In other words, such people have tasted their own total nothingness and found the power of Him who "saved and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal" (2 Timothy 1:9).

Notice what they do not say! They do not boast of all that they have accomplished in the name of Jesus; in fact they say nothing at all until the Lord addresses them. They are true sheep. They are the poor in spirit. They make no claims for themselves and yet theirs in the kingdom of heaven.

It could be that if onlookers compared them with the rejected "many" they would judge that the workers of wonderful works had brought more glory to the Lord than they. After all, what is a gracious visit to a needy home to be compared with a sensational miracle? Of course the Lord is more than an onlooker. He views things differently. By Him actions are weighed (1 Samuel 2:3). What is big in the eyes of men is not necessarily weighty in the eyes of the Lord. We must fear that those who are so keen to remember their good deeds are thinking rather of themselves than of the love which does not seek its own.

Current Interest

God's Word is always of current interest; it speaks to every generation, and we do well to consider what it says. Perhaps our generation needs to pray for special grace to do so, since it was never more important to be firmly founded on the cross of Christ. If we are indeed in the end time, as many think, then we are warned of the many false prophets who will arise to lead many astray (Matthew 24:11). Humility is the great safeguard. We must remember that even when we are serving the Lord we are still fallible sheep. Indeed Paul stated that he and his co-workers were "accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Romans 8:36). Thank God that we can look forward to the day when our Shepherd King will say to us, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world". So let us seek grace to remain among the poor in spirit. [85/86]




Harry Foster

"What the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints "
Ephesians 1:18

THE middle section of Paul's prayer for revelation by the Spirit concerns God's inheritance, His rich investment in His Church. The mention of the word "inheritance" in the New Testament tends to make us think, naturally enough, of what we, His people, expect to receive by inheritance in Christ. We are heirs of God; we are heirs of the grace of life; we are heirs of the kingdom which God promised to them that love Him. We are encouraged to look forward to indescribably great treasures in heaven.

In this case, however, the word is used not concerning us, but it refers to the Lord Himself. He has an inheritance in His redeemed people; they are most precious to Him. So if I entitle this article "Revelation about the Church", it is because we are to consider God's own inheritance in the saints. I am not now dealing with Scriptural teaching concerning Church order or Church procedure, important as they are, but with the spiritual value of the Church to God Himself. This is something more than our personal value to the Lord, though that is great, for it relates corporately to "the saints". We are considering the whole body of believers, God's inheritance in the totality of His redeemed people. Paul prayed that the Spirit of wisdom and revelation might enlighten us to appreciate how much we mean to God.

God's Pleasure

In the holy place of the Tabernacle there was a fairly small table, gold-plated all over and ornamented with a golden retaining ledge. Every Sabbath hot loaves were placed in order on this table. They were simple in themselves but were made fragrant with frankincense. They were not for human consumption, though they could be eaten by the high priest and his sons after they had grown stale and been replaced by fresh ones. They were called "The bread of the presence", a clear indication of their close association with the Lord in the sanctuary; they were also called "the continual bread", for God's table was never to be an empty one (Numbers 4:7). On the table there were always to be twelve loaves, indicating the totality of God's people. There had to be twelve, since God views His people as a whole, refusing to recognise any division. It was in this spirit that in the divided kingdom Elijah built his altar of twelve stones when calling for divine fire (1 Kings 18:31).

The fresh and fragrant loaves on that golden table illustrated the Lord's appetite for and appreciation of the love of His people. It was as though that love and worship provided for Him a satisfying feast. So much for the visual aid. The spiritual reality which it depicted is precisely this glorious inheritance which God has in His Church, about which the apostle was praying. The same truth had been sung about by Moses after the Exodus: "The Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is his allotted inheritance" (Deuteronomy 32:9).

Paul was aware of how important it is for the Ephesian believers and for us all, to have insight and instruction concerning this feature of the Church's calling. We know that we enjoy the Lord as our inheritance, but we may not be aware of how much the Lord desires to enjoy us. Supremely, of course, the word "inheritance" applies to what is future, but it is meant even now to shed fresh light on the importance to God of genuine spiritual fellowship among all true Christians. [86/87]

A Family Feast

Because of the Old Testament type of the bread of the presence and the Lord's feasting upon His people's worship, I am emboldened to refer to the New Testament story of a scene in Bethany where, so we are told, "they made him a supper" (John 12:2). One gets the impression that this was a special treat for our Lord. In some ways we may feel that Jesus got all too little enjoyment from His disciples in those Gospel days, but at least we have this one genuine feast of love and gratitude, made at a time when He most needed it. Were Simon the leper and Lazarus the same man? We do not know. Matthew and mark record that the feast was held in the house of the former, while John is the only Evangelist who tells us about Lazarus. My own guess is that John wrote at a much later date and so was able to mention names which had wisely been kept unrecorded. If so this would explain Nicodemus, Malchus, the lad with the five loaves and others. In any case we know that the happy occasion took place at Bethany, all are agreed about that, and from John we know it was a direct result of Christ's miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead.

Significantly enough, it was not held in Jerusalem, as the Upper Room Passover feast was. Nor was it provided by the Lord, as in the case of what we call the Last Supper. For that meal He was the host and it was He who sent to an unnamed householder to request the use of the fully furnished chamber where He could eat the Passover with His disciples. In this Bethany home, He was not the host but the honoured Guest and in this case the disciples, as such, played a very minor part, and not a very creditable one at that.

The Bethany feast was just a family meal in a small village. In his Gospel, John makes only a very passing reference to the Lord's Table, which for the Church has rightly become the symbol of fellowship. This was a simple tribute to the One whom they had come to know as the resurrection and the life, with no ceremonial element, though it also carried a remembrance feature because the Lord commanded that the action of Mary should always be included in the worldwide preaching of the gospel (Matthew 26:13). The connection with the resurrection is suggested by John's use of the word "so", which is frequently rendered "therefore" throughout the New Testament, though ignored by the N.I.V. which, however, does tell us that the supper was made in honour of Jesus.

Unhappily it had an ugly incident in contrast to the atmosphere of grateful love, explained by John as due to the thieving activities of the one concerned: "BUT Judas ..." (v.4). One day in the glory there will be no more "buts", but here on earth most fellowships seem to suffer from them. Sometimes this is caused by sheer selfishness, at times masked by pious sentiments as in the case of Judas, and sometimes it occurs when people are foolishly influenced and speak thoughtlessly, as the rest of the Twelve seemingly did. But for this, the description was wordless, but the Lord Jesus would not let this carping remark go unanswered but silenced them with the command, "Let her alone", just as He had rebuked Martha when she spoke unkindly in the Bethany home. One of the lessons that we learn from Mary from both occasions is that those who sit at the feet of Jesus need pay no heed to their critics, for Jesus will always rise in defence on their behalf and voice His approval when others complain.

Here, then, in this Bethany supper, is a simple illustration of what His people's fellowship means to the Lord. It exists for His pleasure and it maintains His centrality. So it should be in every local assembly of believers. Just as Jesus had food to eat and sweet fragrance to enjoy in that humble home, just as the Bread of the Presence provided fresh food and fragrance to God in the tabernacle, so it should be in our case: "So they made Him a supper there".

Concerning this feast we observe that:

i. It was the Fellowship of a Family

In this case there were others present, but John's focus is upon the brother and two sisters as central figures. The Church is not an institution and not just a community; it is a family of brothers and sisters. By His atoning work Christ has not just gathered people together as a group of orphans, legally adopted into an artificial imitation of a family, but has brought together those who share the eternal fellowship of the Father and the Son by virtue of new birth. They are said to be begotten of God, each one not only called a child of God but actually born of the Spirit: "And such we are" (1 John 3:1). [87/88]

Then let us stick together and serve together. No doubt there were moments of stress in that Bethany home; we are actually told of one occasion when Martha and Mary disagreed, but they did not walk out on one another in a huff as, alas, Christians sometimes do. They belonged to one another. It was not just that they met and ate together -- they belonged. This is a basic truth. According to the psalmist it is good and pleasant to the Lord when brothers live together in unity (Psalm 133) and if it is to enjoy blessing and to be a blessing, the Church's first consideration must be to minister to the pleasure of the Lord.

ii. It was the Fellowship of a Beloved Family

Each one of this Bethany family was an object of the Saviour's love. The original summons to Jesus at the time of the illness of Lazarus was couched in terms of help for the one whom the Lord loved. Mary, of course, was loved by Jesus. That almost goes without saying. She had sat at His feet; Jesus had mingled His tears with hers. John, however, singles out the least likely of the three when he tells us, "Now Jesus loved Martha ..." (11:5). Does John stress this fact in order to balance Luke's unfinished story of the clash in the Bethany home, or did he write in sheer amazement that this could be? We do not know. It was a miracle within a miracle. Lazarus was raised from the dead by a miracle -- that was wonderful. But Martha was loved -- maybe that was even more wonderful.

Perhaps this was the sentiment which motivated John's self-description as "the disciple whom Jesus loved". I had previously thought that this was due to his modesty, but a good friend has suggested that what lay behind this phrase was a continuing amazement that Jesus could actually love him . With us all it is a case of "love to the loveless shown". Every member of the Church's fellowship may rightly claim to be the one whom Jesus loves and should find this a humbling as well as an inspiring realisation.

iii. It was the Fellowship of a Tested Family

These three had been through the fires with Him. In the whole gospel story, pick out the family obviously most dear to Christ and, strangely enough, you will find that it is the family which had been called to suffer the most severe trial. And it was no accident. Jesus allowed it. A Church that has suffered is often one that knows best how to provide a feast for the Lord. These had been through the valley of the shadow with Him, and found the comfort of the rod and staff of His love. Having emerged from that valley, it is now they who set before Him a table in the presence of His enemies and who anoint His head with oil. Can we not say that His joy and theirs was like an overflowing cup? That is a picture of what every church should be.

It may be helpful to follow up these general observations by a more detailed consideration of the particular lessons which each of these three family members can teach us. They differ. Christ's members are intended to differ from one another, but in this case the three together my teach us three main features of fellowship life.

Lazarus. Humble Commitment

My justification for suggesting that Lazarus's demeanour was humble is based on the statement that "Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him." Just that! Why Lazarus was surely the most important man there. He had come through a sensational experience which would have turned the heads of many people. Yet, apparently, he claimed no special prominence. He was just one of them that sat at the table. The unspoken impact of his presence may be described in the line of the hymn: "Not what I am, but what Thou art". Yet the whole value of the occasion was enriched by his presence. And that is how it should be with everyone of us.

Lazarus is never recorded as saying one single word. The point seems to be that it was his kind of life which spoke. It spoke in saving power to others. The Twelve did quite a lot of preaching, but we never hear of it bringing others to faith in those gospel days. Of Lazarus, however, it is reported that "by reason of him, many of the Jews went away and believed" (12:11). His testimony was a vital one. So much so that it aroused the anger of Satan. During that gospel period we never gather that the chief priests were worried by the disciples; on the contrary they seemed rather contemptuous about them. Lazarus, however, [88/89] shared with Jesus their murderous hatred: "The chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus also to death" (v.10).

After Pentecost it was of course very different. Then they were mightily used of God for the salvation of others and their lives were constantly at risk. At this moment, though, it was Lazarus who personified the vital significance of this most important feature of God's inheritance in the saints, which is resurrection life.

The Church glorifies God by living in the good of this new life. There is all the difference between dead performances accompanied by dead doctrines in a lifeless atmosphere and a vital fellowship of Christians with an up-to-date experience of Christ's triumphant life. It may sound over-simple to say that there at Bethany the all-important role of Lazarus was just to be there. Perhaps we may better describe this as genuine involvement, and then we will realise how often such a spirit is lacking. We are meant to bring our contribution of spiritual life into our church. We are to bring in life.

If any enquire what this means, it can perhaps tend to be best understood if contrasted with its opposite -- bringing in death. Those who are just passengers or, even worse, destructive critics, inevitably do this. There is an Old Testament illustration of this in one of the stories of Elisha and the sons of the prophets. The prophet had called for a fellowship feast, but one of the men ignorantly and impulsively threw into the stewpot a strange and harmful herb. It spoiled everything, and all cried out in dismay, "O man of God, there is death in the pot!" (2 Kings 4:40). The spiritual parallel to this is that any one of us can poison the atmosphere of fellowship by giving place to the foreign element of the old fallen nature. It does not take much of a carnal contribution to contaminate the unity of fellowship. The offender may even be acting in good faith, as this young prophet probably was. We need to take care that our contribution in the realm of fellowship is new life by the Spirit.

Martha. Selfless Service

What is the lesson to be learned from Martha? John just tells us that she served. Whether she was literally silent for once we do not know: the point seems to be that she was content to act the servant. This was in keeping with her obviously active temperament, but it was rather a different Martha from the one described in Luke's story (Luke 10:41). No doubt she was the same beloved Martha, but hers was a transformed service, freed from all the former tensions. One imagines that she enjoyed being busy, though she objected to an apparent lack of appreciation of how busy she was. This is the impression we may get from the story of her complaints to Christ about Mary. If we feel critical of her, let us recall how aggrieved we have sometimes been when neither the Lord nor anybody else seemed to be taking note of our devoted activities. Or let us ask ourselves how impatient we have been with others who did not seem to be pulling their weight in the Lord's service.

In Bethany that day the whole meal as clouded by this ego trip of Martha's. She even went so far as to try to tell the Lord what He should do: "Lord, tell her to help me". That is not the language of a servant. After all Mary might have said to Jesus: "Lord, tell her to come and sit down with us here." But Mary was not like that. And nor must we be. At times our prayers tend to pressurise the Lord to do what we think is best, and when we pray like this about others we can easily get into a state of tension.

In His gentle rebuke to Martha, the Lord pointed out the strain and worry which come when our service for Him is blemished by self-opinion or self-interest. He reminded her that there is a better part. At the graveside of Lazarus He again reminded her of that better part with His kindly correction: "Did I not tell you that if you believed (instead of arguing) you would see the glory of God?" (John 11:40). The better part which Mary chose was not just inactivity but listening. Martha might have shared it, either by letting Mary recount to her later what the Lord had said or even by working a bit more quietly and being able to overhear His words. I don't suppose that He was whispering.

At this celebration feast Martha showed that she had learned the lesson. That surely is confirmed [89/90] by the fact that the previous story was ever recounted to Luke, for nobody else was present and Mary would hardly have given him the information. Anyhow John now records the family meal with the laconic statement: "and Martha served". Just that. There are many Christians who may well have the same record in their fellowship life -- they just served. There were talkers at that meal, but they were mostly the wrong people. Lazarus just sat. Martha just served. But there could have been no feast without either of them.

Mary. Discerning Worship

And what shall we say of Mary? It was her contribution which the Lord called beautiful and which He insisted must be permanently associated with the gospel. Clearly such devoted worship is most precious to the Lord. When we talk of worship we rather think in terms of display or excitement, but this was more precious and more lasting than all our celebrations. Interestingly enough it was not the visionary Evangelist John who added this note about the worldwide gospel significance of Mary's worship but the ex-accountant Matthew, who by his nature might have been more interested in the financial implications, and the equally practical-minded Mark (Matthew 26:13 & Mark 14:9). They united in stressing this supreme value of sacrificial love.

Mary of Bethany is mentioned three times in Scripture, and on each occasion she is said to have been at the feet of Jesus. It was to give this picture of deep devotion that John tells us that Mary anointed the feet Jesus. Matthew and Mark speak of her anointing His head. Clearly she did both. Luke tells us of an earlier occasion when in Jerusalem, in the house of another Simon, a sinful woman washed the Lord's feet and dried them with her hair before anointing Him (Luke 7:38). John knew all about that, for he was writing at a much later period. It may well be that because Mary also knew about it she acted in this way, so disclaiming any merit and being ready to identify herself with a great sinner. All true worshipers feel the same when they are at His feet. We are nothing; He is everything.

It seems that Mary understood that Jesus was going to die. Nobody else did so. First guardedly, and then more openly, Jesus had spoken to His disciples about His approaching death, but not a single word of comfort came from them. Now, however, Mary brought the treasured unguent which she had stored up -- as people did then -- for the possible death of a dear one, and made sure that He enjoyed it while He was still alive. How much she understood of His imminent sacrifice we do not know; we only know that she really listened to what He had to say, which the others failed to do. The more we pay heed to the Lord and lovingly respond to His words, the clearer do heavenly realities become, at least to our spirits even more than to our minds. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him" (Psalm 25:14).

My own suggestion is that Mary not only appreciated the coming sacrificial death of her beloved Lord, but also believed in His resurrection, for after all He never spoke about the first without also predicting the second. There were other women who loved Him dearly and who prepared special ointments for His body after Calvary, but He never enjoyed the benefits of their tributes of love -- they were too late! Mary alone performed a beautiful act of devotion which carried on the atmosphere of fragrance which had been associated with the Table of the Bread of the Presence in the Tabernacle days.

The whole house was filled with the fragrance, so that everybody had some benefit from her gift. Spiritual devotion is like that. Most of all, though, the action must have brought comfort to the heart of the Saviour Himself. "She did what she could" He commented (Mark 14:8). Alas, He can never say that of me! How many of us who call Him Lord do that? Our churches might be more characterised by the fragrance of Christ's love if this element of sacrificial devotion were more evidently exercised to the limits of what is possible to us.

The Divine Standard

It is a staggering thought that while all the political, commercial and religious affairs of the ancient world were in full function, the Creator [90/91] of the world ignored them, to find deepest satisfaction in the grateful love and worship of this simple family. It is a quality of life which the Lord values. This is God's richest treasure. It has little or nothing to do with the impressive institutions which bear the name of Christian. Not that there is any special value of a meeting in a home and not that small numbers have any particular virtue; what the Lord loves and looks for are spiritual families where Christ is all and in all.

After all, we can provide nothing of value to God apart from Christ. In this same Letter we are told that the Lord Jesus not only died a sacrificial death for our sins, but lives a sacrificial life in order to please the Father. He not only atoned for our shortcomings, but He presented to the Father on our behalf a fragrant offering of love (Ephesians 5:1-2). He did this for us so that in Him we may do the same. Paul's prayer was not concerned with religious observances so much as with men and women living holy and devoted lives, so that was why he asked that we might have revelation by the Spirit and wisdom by the same Spirit in order to practise what it really means to be God's dearly loved children.

There is so much for us to learn about what are the essential and lasting values to God of our lives now and then in the hereafter. Only what has the mark of Christ upon it will be found to be of praise and glory and honour in eternity. We all need fresh and fuller revelations in this matter of God's inheritance in His people.

(To be continued)


John H. Paterson

They assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not (Acts 16:7)

THERE can be few subjects more important to the Christian for daily living than guidance in doing God's will and few, I suspect, that cause us more trouble. We have all, surely, said to ourselves at one time or another, "If only I knew what His will for me was, I'd gladly do it."

This is not, strangely enough, through any lack of examples, in the Scriptures or in believers' experience, of God's guidance for His people, but rather the contrary: there seem to be so many ways in which He guides, so how are we to know which method He may adopt with us?

Some believers resolve this difficulty by refusing to budge without positive guidance; that is, they decide in advance that guidance to be guidance, must come in the form of evident signs or voices from heaven. I do not know how they manage it, but evidently God lets them live like this -- at least, they always seem satisfied, when I meet one of them, that they are where they are under direct orders from the Lord! Yet such a limited concept of guidance cannot but have its pitfalls. I recall an experienced Christian once saying, "I asked the Lord that, if it was His will for me to go, He would give me three indications by the following Tuesday. By the following Tuesday I had all three -- but it still wasn't His will for me to go!"

Here, then are problems galore: must God's guidance always be positive or overt? How can I tell whether I am being directed by the Spirit of God or my own wishful thinking? What if I pray [91/92] for confirmation and none comes before I have to make a decision? How is it that some believers move through life with such utter assurance, while I grope my way from choice to choice?

I suspect that these are familiar problems, to you as well as to me, and I must confess at once that I am not going to be able to answer a single one of them to your satisfaction. When people tell me that they felt led to do this or that, I always want to stop them and say, "Describe to me what it felt like!" And then I go on to wonder whether, in the absence of that particular feeling, there were no other grounds on which they might have acted, and which the Lord might have expected them to take into account -- duty, for example, or compassion, or gratitude.

I remember once attending the funeral of a minister of God's word who had laboured for many years in a small church, seeking to open up spiritual truth to the congregation. At the funeral, I met one of its members, and he casually remarked to me that he and others had prayed about attending the funeral, and that eventually they had "felt free" to be there. To attend the funeral of a pastor to whom they were indebted for years of selfless ministry, they had to get a special feeling, special permission, from the Lord! Without it, evidently, they would not have come. That, I suggest, is "guidance" run wild.

But our problems remain. This short article will merely call attention to a single biblical aspect of the subject of guidance, as we see it in the life of the Apostle Paul. And the simple proposition from which I begin is that God's guidance comes to us, at one time or another, through what does happen and through what does not. The first of these we might call Positive guidance -- the intervention of the Spirit of God through outward or inward indications that this is the way that we are to go. The second we might call Negative Guidance, although that will inevitably make it sound a second-class kind of affair -- which it certainly is not! Negative Guidance means that, in the absence of any intervention on God's part we go on, in the assurance that, until we receive orders for a change of direction, we are to continue as we are.

No man, I suppose, could have started his life in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ with more positive guidance than Paul. Lights and voices from heaven; blindness and healing; the deliverance of the persecutor by the persecuted; it would be difficult to misunderstand all that! On subsequent occasions, too, it seems as if Paul received direct messages from the Lord (cf. Acts 23:11), as well as indirect but equally positive ones through His people (Acts 13:1-3).

But that is only half the story, and certainly does not enable us to account for more than a small proportion of Paul's activities, his journeys and his movements throughout his later life. One thing, however, which his positive encounters with God implanted absolutely firmly in Paul was that he was called to be an apostle -- a messenger for God. How often in his ministry and his epistles he reiterated that claim! It was a conviction in which he never wavered: it was also, for him, the most important single element of "guidance" in his subsequent movements.

For this being the case, Paul needed no further bidding. From the time of his conversion onwards, he took this guidance, this direction, for granted. As he set out to spread the Gospel, we do not find him praying, "Lord, is it Your will for me to preach here: if it is, give me a sign." He simply preached -- in the synagogue, in the open air -- and, when they threw him out of one city, he went straight up the road to the next and began all over again.

We could, I suppose, put that in another way: Paul was acting under God's general guidance. He was called (and he was sure of it) to preach the Word, and so he preached it, regardless of whether he was in Cyprus or Paphos, Antioch or Athens. To do so he neither needed nor expected any special guidance; nor, as we read through the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Acts (what we know as Paul's first missionary journey) do we find any reference at all to specific guidance over choice of route or city. There was always one more place up the road to which to bring the Word of Life. If Paul had been a politician on tour instead of a missionary, he would probably have acted no differently. [92/93]

Then came the second missionary journey. And how did that begin -- with prayer for special signs and guidance? No: "Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us go back and visit our brothers in every town where we preached the word of the Lord, and let us find out how they are getting on'" (Acts 15:36, Good News Bible). How casual; how sensible it all sounds! So Paul set out, with Silas: Syria, Cilicia, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and into Galatia (Acts 15:41 - 16:6). If you look at a map, you will see that these last four places lie in a straight line going north. The apostles were, as we should put it, following their noses. Paul had neither asked for nor received special instructions.

Then it happened. We do not know exactly how, but the special instructions arrived! First, the Holy Spirit would not let them turn west into the province of Asia (16:6). So they continued northwards. But then, secondly, they tried to carry on with their northward route by going into Bithynia, the most northerly of all the provinces of what we call Asia Minor. And now the Holy Spirit blocked that route, too (16:7).

What was to be done? Without, apparently, disobeying their orders not to preach in the province of Asia (for we hear nothing of their doing so at this time), they cut straight across to Troas, in the extreme west and there, with all the other routes blocked and Greece just across the narrow Aegean Sea, a man from Greece appeared to Paul in a vision, and said, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us" (16:9).

I apologise for all the names and the geography here, but it is precisely in the geography that the point lies. Here we have Paul, called to be an apostle, going straight ahead, following his calling, seeking or receiving no directions -- operating, that is, with Negative Guidance -- until he reached a point where a turning was to be made, and then the Positive Guidance came. The Spirit said, "You have been following your noses long enough: now turn left!" And before them lay the whole of Greece, and all those churches of the future in Thessalonica, Philippi and Corinth.

This is only one small gleam of light on the subject of guidance; yet I hope that it may be a useful light on the way for some reader. I hope, for example, that it may help some of us to eliminate the hesitation which we so often feel because, while the Lord has not said "Don't", He also has not said "Do"! If we operate only on positive signs -- on the "do's" of life -- we may well find ourselves slowed down to a standstill, too scared to move lest we step out of the will of God.

Putting that the other way round -- Paul's way -- we confidently believe, as he did, that God has called us to a particular calling, then we must follow it to the end; that is, until He changes or cancels it. It is not for us to say, "I know He called me once, but that was a long time ago. I need some Positive Guidance -- some signs or voices -- if I'm to go on." We are to go on! Should we not remind ourselves of that word of Isaiah's, "If you wander off the road to the right or the left, you will hear his voice behind you saying, 'Here is the road. Follow it'" (Isaiah 30:21 Good News Bible ). To hear nothing in that case should mean that we are on the right road!

I conclude this brief note on one aspect of guidance with an illustration that may cast a little light on the distinction I have been making between Positive and Negative Guidance. As an illustration, it is a little out of date these days, but anybody middle-aged or older has, whether they realised it or not, probably participated in this experience.

When you travel by train, you are riding behind a driver who, in ordinary circumstances, drives by looking for the signals ahead -- green for go, yellow for caution, and red for stop. These signals give the driver Positive Guidance. So long as he obeys them, he will always be on the right line, at the right place.

But in the old days, Britain suffered greatly from fog. When the fog closed in, the driver could not see the signals. His system of Positive Guidance was now useless. So the railway company, in order to prevent the movement of trains from grinding to a complete halt, introduced a fog emergency system which was, as it happens, just [93/94] the opposite of the fair-weather system. Calling out their workers, they sent them out to the various signal posts, armed with small explosive caps which could be laid on the line and detonated by the trains. There they sat while the fog lasted. If now the signal (which they, of course, were close enough to see) was green, and it was safe to go, they did nothing . But if the signal was at danger, they placed caps on the line to warn the driver. And so the driver, although he could see nothing, drove confidently on unless and until he heard a bang. Negative Guidance!

All drivers, and all Christians, much prefer Positive Guidance. But without Negative Guidance on foggy days there would have been no movement at all!

If you wander off the road to the right or the left,
you will hear His voice behind you saying,
"Here is the road. Follow it."



"We have seen His Glory"

J. Alec Motyer

Reading: John 1:1-18

IT is only those who have a clear vision of the Lord Jesus Christ who then see everything else in a right priority. They do not lose sight of the things of this life but they see them properly for the first time when they can say, We have seen His glory. The claim focuses on the main point of this introduction about the One who is the Word.

In the first section, verses 1 to 5, we have the truth of the Word in creation, with its statement, "All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that has been made". We see the dignity and efficiency of the Word of God in relation to creation, and we know that John is speaking of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Word. He is the sole accomplisher of creation, as we are told by a positive reinforced by a negative. The positive is "All things", the negative "No things". There is nothing that was not made by Him, whether we think of creation in its greatness or creation in its littleness.

The next section, verses 6 to 13, focuses on the Word in the world. He is not only over the world but He came into it, "He was in the world, and the world was made by him". That Great One, that Word of God who spoke and it was done, He came into the world that He had created. Yet "The world knew Him not."

The third section, verses 14 to 18, presents the matter which we are now to consider, namely, the Word in the Church, with the key verse, "We beheld his glory". Within the totality of the created world and its people, there is a group whose eyes have been opened to recognise and [94/95] know Him. What is more, they not only see His glory but they also receive His grace (v.16). This group embodies the truth that the darkness could not master the light.

Concerning the work of creation we are given the stress on opposition to the Word in the words, "the darkness overcame it not". This refers to the whole area of creation covered by Genesis 1 to 3, for at the beginning darkness was one of the benefits of creation, being part of the created order concerning which God said that it was good. That darkness of Genesis 1 is a created blessing and benefit of God for the good of His creatures. In Genesis 3, however, we have the entrance of a different kind of darkness. It was a darkness of opposition to the will of God and opposed to the welfare of man, a darkness which brings in sin and makes man subject to the curse of God, a darkness which blights relationships and defies the light of God. But we know that darkness can never master light.

So against the opposition of the world we have this surprising group emerging, those who actually receive the light. The Word came into a system of rejection, but it also came into a situation of reception, for "as many as received Him" became children of God. If we ask how could this be, John unfolds for us the mystery of the new birth. God engineered the new birth for them and out of that new birth with its new powers, they were able to behold Him in all His light and to commit their lives to Him: "To them he gave the right to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name". These, then, form the favoured group whom God has sovereignly blessed. The Word is in the midst of the Church; they are enjoying His light, not only beholding His glory but also receiving His grace.

A Fivefold Testimony

We may think of verses 14 to 18 as five voices declaring the glory of Jesus:

i. The Testimony of the Apostles (v.14)

Here we have Jesus among His contemporaries. On behalf of his fellows John declares: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten from the Father) full of grace and truth." The stress is on His uniqueness. He is the only One full of grace and truth.

ii. The Testimony of John the Baptist (v.15)

Our version is true, but it is rather awkward. Here it is slightly paraphrased by the N.E.B.: "This is the man I meant when I said: He comes after me, but takes rank before me, for before I was born, he already was" (v.15). It would not be possible to put the statement more accurately than that.

iii. The Testimony of Experience (v.16)

We will come back again to this, but for the moment observe that all the people of God of all ages unite to claim that they have received from the Lord Jesus the full experience of God's grace.

iv. The Testimony of the Scriptures (v.17)

John respects the revelation of God given to us in the Old Testament Scriptures, but says that what we now have is the complete record of Christ in the New Testament Scriptures. We are in the happy position of being able to look back and then to enter into the full revelation of the Lord in the New Testament Scriptures as they reveal the surpassing glory of the truth which came by Jesus Christ.

v. The Testimony of His Unique Role (v.18)

"The only begotten God has declared him". This defines the unique position and function of the Lord Jesus. Without any question, the true and more accurate rendering of this verse is not "only begotten Son" but "the only begotten God" so far as the Greek MSS are concerned. It is dramatic and unexpected and merits further consideration.

1. The Person of Jesus

It seems to me that this review of the wonder of the Word is given us in order to excite us to worship. The Word, who is God, became flesh, that is, He became really human. He became flesh without ceasing to be God. The subject of the verb [95/96] "dwelt" is the Word. It was the Word who dwelt among us. When He became flesh, He brought His total deity and in that total deity, He dwelt among us. He remained the Word; He brought His whole Word nature to live among us, and so He revealed God by His very person.

"We beheld His glory". It does not say that we sensed His glory, but that we actually saw it. It was a matter of visibility. It was not that we were given a special understanding whereby we penetrated His fleshy appearance to some inner reality in a mystical way. No, in viewing this total Person, this Person who was genuinely human, we received a revelation of God. God was revealed not within the flesh or beyond the flesh, but by the flesh, by the actual Person and the actual life which He lived. In Luke's Gospel we have a confirmation of what John wrote about handling the Word of life (1 John 1:1) for he uses the same word to record Christ's invitation to His disciples: "Handle me and see" (Luke 24:39). We can imagine them all crowding round to have the privilege of touching Him.

It is in the reality of His Person that Jesus reveals the Father, and that precious revelation shows Him to be "full of grace and truth". This verse is immediately followed by the words, "John beareth witness of him and crieth, saying, This is he." John the Baptist was one of those men who spoke from God. He was the last and the greatest of what we call the Old Testament prophets. It seems foolish to divide the Bible when the last of the Old Testament prophets is found in the New Testament. No, it is one precious book -- the Bible. John was one of those whom Peter describes as speaking from God as moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). Truly he spoke from God, but the Lord Jesus spoke as God. He is God incarnate.

"For of his fullness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ". From this matter of the rich fullness of Christ there emerge two considerations, first that He meets our needs and also that He commands our obedience. He who has the fullness desires to share it with us. The preposition here translated "for" really means "over against" or "instead of". Grace instead of grace! That is an odd expression. It is always good to face the Word of God when it seems to say that which is peculiar, so we ask what it means that we receive grace in the place of grace. May I make some suggestions:

i. "Grace in the place of grace" points us to the fact that in His fullness the Lord Jesus has an inexhaustible supply of grace. This means that if one grace is finished, there is always another to take its place. When we look up to Him there is always fresh grace to take the place of the grace already given.

ii. "Grace in the place of grace" reminds us of the total patience of the Lord Jesus Christ. Does He ever turn round to us and say that because we have not used His grace, He will offer us no more? Does He tell us that since we have misused His grace, we must do without more? No, there is always grace instead of grace. Perhaps a grace given was mishandled; it was given as an opportunity of being new people in Christ, but we missed that opportunity. We may have come to a new place of dedication and vowed that we would be different, so the Lord assured us that He would give us grace to live, there was grace to match our need. But we did not change. We failed to appropriate that grace. Well, in His patient love He tells us that He will still be ready to give us grace. There is not only a plenitude of grace, but there is also a patience of grace. Grace upon grace.

iii. Every day brings a fresh challenge. Every occasion finds us with a fresh need. Very well, the Lord assures us that every day and every occasion can be met by fresh grace. He does not expect us to live tomorrow on today's grace.

There is always fresh grace. I can assure you of this. My certainty is based on His infallible Word, but it is also echoed by something far less significant and yet genuine enough. It is that I have proved it to be so.

2. [The Fullness of Jesus]

We now pass to the verse which speaks of Moses and Christ. It informs us that the fullness of grace not only meets our needs but also commands our obedience. The law came by Moses; his great role in history was to be the Lawgiver. We must not, however, make a contrast in what we have here, for it does not say that whereas the [96/97] law was given by Moses, grace was given through Jesus. It does not make a contrast between law on the one hand and grace on the other, but it tells us that it was grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.

Was there no truth in Moses? Of course there was. Precious truth. Lasting truth. Truth from God for His Church. So we are not here involved with a contrast, but with a comparison. There is that about the work of Christ which completely outshines the work of Moses. But that does not deny that there was grace in Moses and truth in him too. Was there not grace in the Passover? Was there not grace in the donation of the law whereby God told His people that now that they were redeemed they must learn the way of life which would please Him? Of course there was, but there is such grace and such truth in Jesus as altogether to outshine what came by the law.

This verse literally reads: "The law was given by Moses but the grace and the truth came by Jesus Christ." The simplest way of understanding this use of the definite article in the Greek is to render it as "its", and in this way we find that the law came by Moses but its grace and its truth came by Jesus Christ. All the grace and truth foreshadowed in the way God dealt with His people through Moses is brought to its absolute fullness and expression of application in the Lord Jesus.

So the Passover lamb which was part of the ancient sacrifice in Egypt was far, far surpassed in the sacrifice of Calvary. Yet it was the same grace. That grace which was foreshadowed and in measure enjoyed by God's people of old is now there for us in its fullness, in all the efficacy of a finished work of redemption by the true Lamb of God Himself. And all the longing of God that His people should be like Him -- for that is the essential idea within the law (Leviticus 19:1-2) -- is made possible by the grace of Christ. So in Scripture, the law is not the antithesis or enemy of grace, but the law is part of the outreach of the God who wants to fill His Church with those who are like Him. So the richness of Jesus is that our needs should be fully met and our lives directed and governed by the will of God.

3. The Revealing Work of Jesus

The height and wonder of our privilege in Christ is to know the God who delights to reveal Himself. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten God, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath revealed him" (verse 18 margin).

It may puzzle the reader to be told that no man has ever seen God, since there were people in the Old Testament who claimed to have done so. They cried, "Alas, for I have seen God" when the angel of the Lord appeared to them. There is no contradiction in the Scriptures, even though in the Old Testament people said that they had seen God and now in the New Testament John says that no-one has ever seen God. Here the New Testament is expressing a more penetrating truth, namely, that in His essence God is invisible for nobody has ever penetrated into the invisible reality of His Person. In His mercy and grace He could and did clothe Himself with visibility; and when He did so He always appeared as a Man among men, because man is made in the image of God, so that the outward visibility which most closely allies itself to the invisible essence of God is the form of created mankind. Manoah's wife said, "A man came to me", but it turned out to be God who had clothed Himself with visibility (Judges 13:22). No-one has ever penetrated beyond into the invisible essence of God Himself, and nobody ever could.

But doesn't your heart rise in worship to God who wants to reveal Himself so that people who could never know Him may come to do so? Here is the wonder of the revelation that comes to us through "the only begotten God ..." This is the true statement in the Greek MS, and it refers to the Lord Jesus in heaven. In verse 14, the reference to "the only begotten from the Father" speaks of Jesus on earth, but in verse 18 the phrase" only begotten God" points to Jesus in heaven.

Within the mystery of the holy Trinity we deal with heavenly things. When we speak of a Father and Son in heaven we are not moving upwards from earth by way of an analogy, as if knowing of fathers and sons here on earth we may learn how it works in heaven. What we find on earth is the palest of pale reflections of the heavenly reality. "For all fatherhood in heaven and upon [97/98] earth derives its name and nature from Him" (Ephesians 3:15). In the mystery of God there is the God who is begotten. He is the Father's Son. He is full of grace and truth. He gives grace and truth because He is the Father's Son.

What must the Father be like to have such a Son! And what must the Father be like to give such a Son, the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father! And what a privilege is ours, not only to be made privy to what God is like, but to be made privy by such a means. The Father sent the Son from His bosom, and the Son left the Father's bosom to make plain on our level what God is like. There is no better way of expressing this than by the words grace and truth.

The Word of God expresses what is true and effects what is true. Jesus comes to us as the Word to express and effect. We need to be still before God and open our hearts and minds to Jesus who is the Word of God. And, because He is the Word that does not return void to God, we may trust Him to effect what He wishes in our lives according to His Word.



Psalm 139

Harry Foster

IN its fullest expression worship is an activity which should be with others. Nevertheless, since corporate worship can only be provided by many worshippers, it is good to find in this psalm an illustration of individual worship. In a crowd we may be carried away by emotion and the influence of others, whereas individual worship can only come from personal understanding as well as feelings.

Such understanding is a real feature of this intensely individual psalm which records the heart outpouring of a man who is quite alone with his God. In its 24 verses there are 46 references to David himself and 35 to the Lord. The only outside reference is to his hatred of the Lord's enemies; apart from them, this is a song sung to the Lord alone and offered to Him in heartfelt devotion. Perhaps it may help us to gain a better understanding of how we may bring acceptable adoration to our Saviour. The Lord Jesus told the woman of Samaria that the Father desires and appreciates true worshippers. Naturally we who are His children want to satisfy our Father's desires, so a study of this psalm may perhaps help us to identify some of the elements of the true spiritual worship which we may bring Him. They are:


True faith is never self assured. It always finds itself confronted by that which seems too good to be believed. When captive Israel was released from Babylon, they confessed that it all seemed like a delicious dream (Psalm 126:1). When Peter was brought out of Herod's prison, he could not believe that it was really happening and expected to wake out of a dream at any moment (Acts 12:9). Such wonder makes for genuine worship. People who think that they know and can predict in detail how God is going to work, seldom do more than give God credit for what they always expected of Him, and can even take some satisfaction in their own perspicacity. They will doubtless be thankful, but they will not be brought low in wondering worship. It is when we are surprised by the Lord's unexpected goodness that our hearts are melted in wondering worship. I truly believe that at times God finds pleasure in giving us surprises, and the Gospel stories bear out this idea.

See here what David says about the greatness of his God: "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it" (v.6). Look, as he considers how to get away from God [98/99] and finds it quite impossible: "If I ascend to heaven" he argues, or "If I take the wings of the morning", or "If I try to hide in the dark", there is no way. I have to give it up. His own being and history are quite beyond him. "I am fearfully and wonderfully made" he says of God's wonderful skill, and "all my days are written in Your book even before they have ever happened" (v.16). And of all wonders, the greatest is the wonder of God's love: "Your thoughts about me cannot be counted" he sings, "You are with me while I sleep and still with me when I wake up".

It is all summed up in David's words, "Too wonderful!" Like the rest of us, David longed to do some great work for God. He even planned to build a magnificent temple. However the prophet Nathan came and told him not to do it but just to listen to God's promises to him. So David went and sat before the Lord and worshipped. "Who am I to be so blessed?" he asked, and then added, "Thou art great, O Lord God, for there is none like Thee" (2 Samuel 7:22). Perhaps that was David's finest hour; not when he was doing mighty public deeds, but when in the secret place with God he was pouring out his heart in worship. God has a lot of people working for Him. It is true that there are not nearly enough, but there are many. Alas, He has only a few who will sit quietly in His presence and wonder at His greatness.

A friend can give you presents or work hard on your behalf and so give you great pleasure. If, however, you have ever had a loved one look straight in your eyes and murmur, "I think you are wonderful", you will agree that this is the greatest joy a person can ever experience. And what about our God? Can we not give Him that joy? Yes, and supremely so when we look into His face and tell Him that we find Him most wonderful. That was what David did as he sat in God's presence alone. He had many faults, but he was a true worshipper. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why God described David as a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22).


We cannot know God unless and until He reveals Himself to us. David's glowing and eloquent words of worship came, in a sense, from what he had been taught about God, but his method of describing the divine wonders suggests that his knowledge came also from personal experience. From God's side it was revelation but from David's it can best be described as discovery.

i. God's Knowledge

David could have used theological terms and said that the Lord is omniscient. That would have been correct but would not necessarily have provided a reaction of worship. He could have spoken in general terms and declared in a cold matter-of-fact way that God knows everything. Intellectually that would have been true, but many who believe it are not true worshippers. What David did was to say that he had found out in his own experience that there was nothing he could hide from the Lord. His actions, his words and even his thoughts were all fully known.

The king did not want anybody to know about that evening when he got up from his bed of idleness and did his peeping Tom act on Bathsheba. But God saw him. He possibly felt that he was quite clever in getting her husband home on compassionate leave and suggesting quite privately that he should go home and spend the night with his wife. Uriah heard the words, but did not realise the intention, whereas God not only heard David's words but knew his thought afar off. David lived for about a year without telling a soul about his closely guarded secret, but when Nathan came and denounced him with the accusation, "You are the man", he realised that you cannot hide anything from the Lord.

If you are a true worshipper, you do not want to do so. You may be crushed by the discovery of the Lord's perfect knowledge but then from the dust you find not only forgiveness but an urge to worship. You may wonder why, if God knew, He did not expose and condemn you out of hand. That is the greatest discovery of all, to know Him as the God of all grace.

ii. God's Presence

Once again, David the theologian might have said, "The Lord is Omni-present", but in fact he recounted to himself how impossible he found it to get away from the Lord. The various points raised by his use of the word 'If' suggest that this was his considered opinion. And who of us has not at some time wanted to keep God at a distance? Who of us has not welcomed darkness to [99/100] cover our shame? David's history proved to him that he could not evade God in this way. He could and did run to heathen kings for shelter, but he could not get away from God, and his psalms tell how glad he was to get in touch again. He could pretend to Joab -- and perhaps to himself -- that he only wanted the army to be counted for the sake of efficiency, but God's all-seeing eye penetrated into the deeper reason, which was pride of heart, and in the end he confessed and regretted that action. So what began as a foolish act of self-agrandisement ended in a new tribute of worship on the altar of his pardoning God.

iii. God's Power

David had looked out on to the mountains and wondered at God's works of majesty and power. Now he looked into his own frail body and discovered there an exhibition of the marvels of divine working. Isaiah, with a telescopic view, had proclaimed the greatness of God in that not one single star is missing or out of place (Isaiah 40:26). Now David, with a microscopic view, sees that all his members are recorded in God's book, not one of them being missing.

Perhaps we are more privileged than David was. He realised that even before he was born God was able to visualise all his members. He saw when there was nothing to see. With us The Lord does much more, for He sees us already in our perfect likeness to Christ even though we are all too conscious of our ugly imperfections. "Whom he justified them he also glorified" (Romans 8:30). All this is because He is absolutely confident of His own ability of grace. And He plans our days. They are pre-ordained and pre-recorded: "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (v.16).

iv. God's Love

This is the greatest discovery of all, the awareness of the Lord's personal love for me. He thinks of me. His thoughts are precious. They cover every detail of my well-being (v.17). They are innumerable like the sand on the seashore. The Lord had spoken to Abraham about this matter of the sands, promising him that his seed would be as countless as the sand which is on the seashore. Looked at in that way, David was just one grain of sand. Now he find's new cause for wonder in that God's thoughts of love about this little grain are in themselves more than all the sands. This must be a wonder to all of us. We are just like insignificant grains of sand, yet the Lord's thought toward us are more than all the sands by the sea. No wonder we want to worship Him for His great kindness even to people like us.


The third characteristic of true worship is complete submission to the will of God. The worshipper's proper position is either on his face or on his knees. First of all David tells the Lord that he hates evil, even with what he calls 'perfect hatred'. Then he makes it his prayer that no such thing may be found in him and for that purpose he asks God to pursue that searching ability of His to deliver him from anything in him which might cause grief to the Spirit of God. So he ends with a prayer, "Go on with Your work of searching me" he prays to God, "See if there is any of my ways which could cause You grief, and lead me from it into your everlasting way."

Now worship is more than prayer. That is a lesson which God's people seem all too slow to learn. Worship is sheer appreciation and devoted love. Yet worship may well lead us on to prayer, as it did with David. The psalmist does not mention the matter of sin in this song, not because he had none but because grace had pardoned and blotted out all his sins. But still he prayed; and he did so in a new committal of himself to the perfect will of God.

The greatest worshipper of all was David's great Son, the Lord Jesus. For Him also the time came when He fell to the ground in the Garden of Gethsemane and, as He worshipped, He prayed to His holy Father, "Not my will, but Yours be done". That was submission. But it was more. It was active committal. He chose at all costs to obey the Father's will. It would be done because He Himself would do it.

This is the essence of all true worship. It involves not only acceptance of God's will but also a complete committal for the doing of the things that are pleasing to Him. The Lord Jesus taught us to worship in this way even as we voice our prayers. "Hallowed be Thy name" -- we hallow it. "Thy kingdom come" -- we welcome Your sovereign rule. "Thy will be done on earth ..." -- may it be done here and in us. This is the true spirit of worship. This is what it means to be led in the way of everlasting. [100/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


Psalm 130    CALLING UP

AN evident sign that the pilgrim is now making good progress on his upward journey is his concern about sin and his appreciation of forgiveness. Only the soul made sensitive by divine grace can appreciate the abysmal depths from which he has been rescued.

IT was not that he had descended into those depths but that he had now discovered that it was to the depths that he naturally belonged. His cry to the Lord from those profound regions of helplessness would have been useless if there had not been attentive ears in heaven. The Lord is both a Watcher and a Listener; often it is He who has to wait patiently until we voice our genuine appeals for help which come up to Him from the depths.

THE pilgrim could never have been on his feet at all if God's righteous love had not offered him hope of forgiveness. Mercifully there is forgiveness with Him. No son of Adam could have any standing before a holy God if the black marks of sin had not been cleansed away by the blood of Jesus. The psalmist knew that his feet would still have been embedded in the mire apart from redemption. He could never had stood upright, let alone walked or climbed up to Zion.

IT is wonderful how God enables the sinner to appeal for grace, and then discloses that this is what is already fully provided by redemption. Here is another of those great Scriptural "buts" -- "But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared". As I have said, a deep appreciation of the sweetness of forgiveness is a sure sign of growing maturity.

WHAT is the effect of forgiveness? The psalmist tells us that it produces a humble devotion in those concerned, a filial fear. He then elaborates this by twice alluding to the eager longing expectation in the heart of the forgiven one, who yearns for the Lord's presence more than those who have spent long hours in a dark night longing for the morning.

I know a little of this waiting for the dawn. When I travelled in a dugout canoe in the Amazon region, we sometimes had to set out on our journey while it was still dark. We knew that the day could not be far away but at times it seemed a long, long time in coming. On such occasions the one absorbing concern in my mind was as to whether the dawn would ever break. How I longed for it! Of course eventually it always came. There is nothing more certain in this uncertain world than that day will surely follow night. We find it hard to wait but we are fully justified in doing so, for His Coming is more certain than the dawn.

THE wonder is that we can fearlessly await that Coming. "With the Lord there is mercy, and with him is abundant redemption". I am told that the relevant word means "multiplied" redemption. Our trials are added; His grace is multiplied. Every time we cry to Him from some new depths, we find that He has fresh resources of grace to provide amply for us.

WE must encourage one another to hope in Him. He will surely carry through our redemption to its fullest realisation. Our Saviour has been exalted to great heights but we can always call up to Him -- even from the most profound depths.


[Back cover]

Psalm 119.72

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