"... 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. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1988 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Editorial 101
The Knowledge Of God 103
David And The Ascension 106
Treasure In Earthen Vessels (1) 112
Spiritual Revelation (3) 116
On The Way Up (12) - Psalm 131 ibc



THIS issue completes seventeen years of the ministry of TOWARD THE MARK. From many countries of the world I receive expressions of appreciation from those who have found the messages helpful, so that I feel humbly grateful for being allowed to have a part in the work. No words of mine can adequately express my gratitude to the loving helpers who have played their part, in printing, preparing and distributing -- it has all made the ministry possible. Their names are written in heaven, and the Lord will know how to reward them for their gracious service to Him. This is especially true of the faithful contributors, and it equally applies to those who have helped by their prayers and gifts. I thank them all in the Lord's name.

No-one knows how long any of us can go on. It is my prayerful expectation, however, that we will be able to face another year together, as the Lord provides and enables. Beyond that, the future is in His hands, as indeed it always is.

Last month I wrote of King Josiah's single-mindedness. His predecessor, Hezekiah, was a much greater man, whose proving of God's faithfulness makes thrilling reading. It is tragic, therefore, that when Isaiah told him of impending disaster for Jerusalem and God's people, his seemingly selfish reply was: "The word of the Lord you have spoken is good" ... For he thought, "There will be peace and security in my lifetime" (Isaiah 39:8). This was hardly worthy of any servant of the Lord, even though his own days are numbered, as Hezekiah's certainly were.

This has set me thinking of the last utterances of other godly men who knew that their life was drawing to a close. I find that they had a very different spirit, and have been tremendously impressed by their strong determination that the work of God should go on and prosper, even though they themselves were about to retire from the scene. Moses in the Old Testament and Paul in the New are notable examples of men with an earnest concern for the future. They deliberately commissioned their successors and prayed for them.

A natural attitude of old people is to look back to the past, and often to do so with a general regret that things will never be the same again. We cannot help looking back with nostalgia. Even Paul reminisced to Timothy of his acquaintance with the young man's grandmother and also of those early days of his first missionary journey (2 Timothy 1:5 & 3:11); while Peter, in his last messages found himself calling to mind that occasion, long ago, when he had stood on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:18). We are privileged to listen to old Jacob, as he prepares to give his parting blessing to Joseph's two sons: "As for me", the dear old patriarch recalled, "when I came from Paddan, Rachel died by me ... when there was still some way to come to Ephrath, the same is Bethlehem" (Genesis 48:7). Very many years had passed, but the deep wound persisted, as such wounds do. Nevertheless the dying blind old man looked forward with energetic faith into the future of God's work: "Behold I die, but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers" (v.21). And so on! Instances can be multiplied of those who rose above the natural selfishness of old age, typified by Hezekiah with his sad contentment at the prospect of failure, so long as he did not live to see it.

I wondered for a moment if old Simeon was rather a defeatist, with his "Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace", but then I remembered that his was really an on-going prayer, for in it he gave a powerful prediction of the worldwide glory which was on the horizon (Luke 2:29). Simeon only felt free to go because the Lord's testimony was in better hands than his.

And what shall I say of that wonderful old lady, Anna? She was too robust a soul to voice any idea of departing, whether in peace or otherwise. She was a descendant of Asher, the man who held the promise: "As thy days, so shall thy strength be" so, with her foot dipped in the oil of [101/102] the Spirit, and her shoes like iron and brass (Deuteronomy 33:24-25) she hurried to the Dedication Service, arriving just in time to speak exultantly of the Redeemer's future glories. Well done, Sister! Bravo Anna! Even if you are well on in your nineties or more, you are full of active faith.

I confess that as I re-read the last utterances of Paul, Peter and John, I sense an atmosphere of gathering gloom in "the last days" (2 Timothy 3:1; 2 Peter 2:3; 1 John 2:18) and I am duly solemnised about what lies ahead of the Church. I would not be human if I did not feel some relief at not living on into them. I remember the words of a beloved Swiss sister in her final days who explained to me that she was in the Lord's Waiting Room, likely to have her name called at any time. But if I am in that waiting room, I must not be complacent or slack. I must look again at the inspired writings of those godly men of old and there I find that however inspiring the past may have been, it is the future which is important and it is up to us all to face it with courage and prayer.

Paul wrote that he was just about to fly off and up into eternity; but that the work of the gospel must go on and he must help the timid "Timothys" to see that it does. They must stir up their gift into a flame; they must be instant in season and out of season; above all they must never lapse into feeble ineffectiveness. Did Timothy ever manage to reach him (2 Timothy 4:9)? Was Mark in time to fulfil his needed help (v.11)? Did Paul live long enough to be warmed by the cloke and to use the books and parchments (v.13)? We are not told. In spite of the various legends, we have no certain news of how and when the apostle was poured out as a drink-offering, It does not matter. What we do know is that his last days and hours were spent in active concern for the on-going work of the gospel. In this sense, he was no Hezekiah.

When Peter wrote he knew himself to be on the verge of his exodus from this earthly Egypt into the Canaan of heaven (2 Peter 1:14-15), but he kept on his feet with his loins girded so that he could stir up the next generation (1:13). He was under the shadow of death but he set a good example of giving diligence and urged his readers to continue to do the same after he had left them (1:10 & 3:14).

As for John, we have little indication of his personal feelings as he approached the end of his unusually long stint in God's service, but his words sound like a trumpet call to future generations: "My little children, guard yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). The keynote of his Epistle is the word "abide". Was he recalling that Upper Room exhortation of Jesus that the apostles should abide in Him? He had not failed to do so. "He that keeps his commandments abides in him" he wrote, (3:24). Abiding is a very active operation. John's Epistle reminds us that God, His Word, His Spirit and His love do their work of abiding in us. Our response must be to abide or persist right through to the Second Coming: "Now little children, abide in him; that, when he is manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming" (2:28). Note the "we"! John was not giving up.

I hope that I have made my point. We live in a world whose attitude can often be summed up in that rather crude catch-phrase: "I'm all right, Jack!" No saint must have that spirit. Another menacing phrase in our modern jargon is "working to rule". May the Lord deliver us from such meanness! Then, of course, there is the familiar matter of "early retirement". That is not for those in the Lord's service. We may argue that we have done our bit, but have we? Even if we had, the Lord Jesus calls us unprofitable.

By all means let us happily relinquish some special job when the Lord so orders or permits. Indeed, let us be ready enough to lay down life itself when His moment arrives, departing in peace according to His word. But the work of God must go on. The gospel must be preached; the Church must fight the good fight and finish its course. "So much the more as you see the day approaching".

In his last Letter Paul refers three times to what he calls "that day". The N.E.B. helpfully renders this: "That great Day", using a capital "D". That was what the apostle looked for. It is the Church's objective. When I adopted the title "Toward The Mark", that was my concern. It still is. [102/103]



John H. Paterson

'... increasing in the knowledge of God' Colossians 1:10

OF all the measures by which Christian progress may be assessed, these words of Paul to the Colossians surely represent the truest and most important. A church may congratulate itself on growing numbers, or rising levels of giving, or impact on the community, but without an increasing knowledge of God neither church nor individuals is truly advancing.

For the knowledge of God represents the real expertise of the Christian believer. Not, to listen to many of our church leaders, that you would necessarily realise that! You might think that they were experts in sociology, or politics, or economics, and so they might be, but that would still not make them -- and does not make us -- experts in knowing God and His ways.

Let us begin by reminding ourselves of what this knowledge of God consists, and how it may be increased. We can, I think, say that it consists of two parts: a knowledge of God through His Word, and a knowledge of Him through experience. Both parts, or kinds, of knowledge are supposed then to increase as we continue in the Christian life, and to go on increasing to its very end. I want to make a few, very simple comments on each kind of knowledge, and then go on to the further subject of how and when this knowledge of God may be useful.

The great constant, certain source of the knowledge of God is, of course, His word. That being the case, we must all regret that we use it so poorly, know it so sketchily, and quote it so selectively. Our knowledge is often superficial: it is not the product of hours spent with the Book and the concordance, with pen and paper, acquiring the expertise we are supposed to possess. For we should be able to argue cases on the basis of Scripture, whether or not we have read the textbooks on sociology! This is not to say that the answer to every problem of life is contained in the explicit words of Scripture, but rather that this is the basis from which we begin to debate those difficult issues which confront us and all our contemporaries.

This aspect of the knowledge of God involves discipline and hard work. It involves exploring unpromising parts of the Word of God, where there seems little by way of bright thoughts for the day, or promises of God's help. It involves -- in these days of a hundred paraphrases and translations of the Scriptures -- asking the question: what does the Bible really say ?

The knowledge of God is also imparted through experience. Now experience is a curious thing: when we are young we are usually hungry for it; eager for new adventures; anxious to try everything. We welcome experiences -- of God or, for that matter, of anything else. But as we grow older, we tend to do the opposite: we no longer welcome novelty. We fear new experiences because that means change, and we would rather leave things as they are -- such things, for example, as forms of worship, types of music, spheres of service, or patterns of prayer.

This is not, I must add at once, simply because age makes cowards of us all. For what we discover as we go along is that many of the experiences through which we acquire the knowledge of God are sad or painful. If, we tell ourselves, our young people knew at what price this knowledge is to be gained, they would be a great deal less hungry for the experiences! [103/104]

Well, that may be so: what makes the experiences, the pain and the sadness, worthwhile is the knowledge which they bring us. But what a great thing to be able, in spite of all the difficulties, to be a Paul and say 'I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord' (Philippians 3:8), or a Caleb and say, after 40 years in the wilderness, 'As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me; ... Now therefore give me this mountain' (Joshua 14:11-12)!

Knowledge Gained and Applied

All that is familiar ground to most believers. But now let us move on to one or two further points, the first of which is this: that it is most important for spiritual growth that we tap both sources of the knowledge of God.

In the world of scholarship where I work, there are a number of subjects which are recognised as being divided into two parts: pure, or theoretical, and applied. The method of the first is usually what we call deductive ; that is, workers are trying to deduce what ought to happen next. The method of the second is largely inductive; that is, workers are concerned to observe what actually happens, and to reason back from that as to what is causing it. To separate these two parts, or these two methods, would be ridiculous; in fact, in the past it often was ridiculous, as when the ancients deduced (as it happens, on the basis of Scripture) that there should be land here, or no land there, and centuries later explorers found out that they were wrong on both counts!

The two parts of the knowledge of God are rather similar, and a separation between them equally misleading -- equally liable to cause trouble. A knowledge of God from His word alone, not worked out in experience, may produce some quite unpleasant people, even if those people are Bible teachers or missionaries. They know what ought to happen, but in their own lives it does not.

That this is a source of danger is readily seen by the way in which, when God sent His prophets to His people, He so often took care that they, the bearers of the Word, should become personally involved in what they were to say. Think of Jeremiah, of Hosea, of Jonah: God took steps to see that the knowledge of Him which they possessed and were to impart to others was firmly grounded in their own experience.

Much more common these days, however, and in the long run more dangerous, is an over-emphasis on experience. People, especially young people, embark on a sea of experience without checks, charts or safeguards; without the reference points provided by other types of knowledge, and they soon find themselves at sea without a rudder, making shipwreck. For Christians, that rudder is the knowledge of God through His word.

So that is the first point: to increase in the knowledge of God we need both kinds of growth. The second point is simply this: both types of knowledge are mediated to us by the Holy Spirit. He is our teacher, as the Lord Jesus promised He would be. Without Him, the Word is dead, the experiences merely misleading. No man in his time knew the Word of God better than Saul of Tarsus, and look where it led him! His knowledge led him all astray until one day, as he himself put it, 'it pleased God ... to reveal His Son in me' (Galatians 1:15-16). Gaining the knowledge of God certainly involves, as we have already seen, hard work and hard experiences but, ultimately and quite crucially, it also involves revelation by God's Spirit.

And then there is a third point, and it is this. We need as believers to increase in the knowledge of God, because that knowledge can be lost as well as gained. Students who 'swot' for examinations try to cram as much knowledge as possible into their minds for a day at a time, but they are quite frank that, a week or less later, most of that knowledge has already vanished again: they have no further use for it. With the infinitely more precious knowledge of God, not only may we lose what we do not use, but we know in advance that there is an enemy of God whose stock-in-trade is ignorance, who is opposed absolutely to the spread of the true knowledge of God, and who will try by every means to rob us of it.

In other words, pressure and lack of use will both conspire to erode our knowledge. Events -- tragedies -- in our lives will lead us to question [104/105] whether what we thought we knew of God could possibly be true in the light of what He has allowed to happen to us. Carelessness on our part will result in loss and so, above all, will disobedience to the knowledge which we have already received. Putting that in still another way: to decide to settle down with the little knowledge of God which we possess today, and be content with that, is already to foreknow the loss of even that little.

What clearer, or more tragic, case history of loss than that of the Children of Israel? To them were given the Law of God, the promises, and the leading role in spreading the knowledge of Himself in the world of their time. No people could have had more privileged access to that knowledge -- and none would, over the years, squander it more completely. By the end of the book of Judges, they had reached a point where 'in those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes' (Judges 21:25). And years later, the knowledge of God had been so far eroded that one day, clearing out the temple treasury, somebody stumbled upon 'the book of the law' (2 Chronicles 34:14-15), the public reading of which astonished and appalled a nation apparently unaware of its very existence.

How was it possible for ignorance and loss on this scale to develop? In Israel's case, the prime cause was disobedience -- not only direct disobedience of the laws of God which had been given them, but also of His repeated injunctions that they were to remember the past, and to pass on and teach the knowledge of Himself to their children. But they had no sense of privileged status; no real estimation of the value of this knowledge which they, uniquely, possessed and so they lost it.

What Use is the Knowledge of God?

But the question to which all this, as I see it, is leading is what the knowledge of God is to be used for. And here the realisation to which I have all too slowly come is that this knowledge is not given to us simply to make us more knowledgeable, nor even so that we can teach it in turn to others, but it is to be used directly for their benefit.

Let me return to my example of the students and their examination 'knowledge'. Here are two of them: one is preparing for an examination in classical literature, and the other in medicine. If the student of literature forgets tomorrow what he learned today, then neither he nor anyone else is, in a practical sense, any the worse for it. His knowledge, if he retains it, may enrich his own life, or enable him to shine in conversation by quoting the classics, but that is all. Not so with the student of medicine. If he or she forgets tomorrow what they knew today, then we are all in trouble! This kind of knowledge is not disposable: to the end of the doctor's working life he or she has got to know what drug or treatment suits which illness. This knowledge is not merely personal: it is essentially for others.

The knowledge of God, I suggest, is much more like the second of these types than the first. For we all share the human condition: we are subject, together with all others, to the events of life which God permits or ordains -- ills, worries, losses. Our knowledge of God is to be used to interpret to others who do not understand what is going on in our world: to interpret to them the ways of God.

What a tremendously challenging task that is! But even so it is far from the whole of it. For our Bible is full of examples of men and women with a knowledge of God using it on behalf of others, to affect those other lives while the people concerned remained in ignorance of what was going on. Do you suppose, for example, that Lot knew that he owed his deliverance from Sodom to the astonishingly bold prayer that, miles away, Abraham was praying on his behalf (Genesis 18)? Did Israel have any idea how Moses 'got them off the hook' after the incident of the golden calf (Exodus 32)? Were the sons and daughters of Job conscious of how much they owed to their father's carefulness in averting the potentially evil effects of their thoughtless feasting for so long (Job 1:4-5)? Probably not; yet in each case we have one man using his knowledge of God, in prayer, to avert evil and protect others.

Here is something to ponder and explore. Is our knowledge of God sufficient to make it effective on behalf of others? In a further article we shall explore another of the Bible cases that reveal the value of this knowledge.

(To be continued) [105/106]


Psalm 110

Harry Foster

MANY of the psalmist's allusions to Christ had as a background the trials and experiences of David's own life; by these he pointed on to the sufferings of the Saviour and also to His resurrection. Psalm 110 has no such allusions, but is purely prophetic. As Peter rightly said, David himself never ascended into the heavens, but prophetically he spoke of the Lord's ascension when he uttered the words: "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet" (Acts 2:34-35).

Psalm 110 is the most quoted of all psalms in the New Testament. It speaks of an occasion which was epoch-making in human history, although only very slightly honoured by many of us. We focus on Good Friday and the sacrificial death of Christ; on Easter Sunday and His glorious resurrection; and also on Whitsuntide and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by the exalted Saviour, but on the whole we tend to give minor attention to Ascension Day and the exaltation of Christ to the throne. Be that as it may, there are several psalms devoted to this all-important matter, notably Psalms 2, 24 and 110. [Psalm] 110 emphasises two divine mandates, the command about the throne and the oath about priesthood, stressing the significance of God having constituted His Son the Ruler who is all-powerful and all-loving, the Priest upon His throne.

Melchizedek provides a striking example of the unity of the Scriptures. After a brief reference to him in Genesis, he appears forgotten in one thousand years of Jewish history until suddenly David speaks of him in this psalm.. Another thousand years of history passed before the writer to the Hebrews found him a striking case to be argued from when highlighting the exaltation of the Lord Jesus. Melchizedek was no passing incident, but an abiding provision of God the Most High for all His redeemed people.

Before Abraham believed God's promise for the future and became the justified father of the faithful, he returned from a victory to find that he was being met and entertained by a mysterious character called Melchizedek, a heaven-sent messenger who was both king and priest. We know so little about Melchizedek that it would be idle to speculate, but we do know that he combined in himself the two offices of rulership and priesthood. This suggests that even at the dawn of the constitution of God's chosen people, there was an indication of how they would be cared for. There was to be what is called "the order of Melchizedek".

So far as Old Testament history was concerned, there never was a King-Priest of this kind, one single individual who would so function. Moses ruled for God -- indeed we are told that he was king in Jeshuran (Deuteronomy 33:5) -- but his ministry had to be complemented by his priestly brother, Aaron. Kingship and priesthood could not yet be centred in one man. After many centuries of turbulence in the kingdom, God raised up a true priest in the person of Samuel the prophet. Samuel was only a Levite by birth, yet he was one of the most priestly figures in all Israel's history. But he was never king. To him was given the privilege of introducing and anointing Israel's kings, first Saul, the unsatisfactory monarch, and then David, the progenitor of the true royal line. Neither of these was ever a priest: indeed the beginning of Saul's rejection was when he tried to act in a priestly way and had to confess: [106/107] "I forced myself and offered the burnt offering" (1 Samuel 13:12). It was a foolish action and it cost him his kingdom.

Samuel died before David actually came to the throne, so the two never functioned together, but throughout his life David laid great stress on recognising the proper priestly order, both in his own regime and in his instructions concerning the reign of Solomon his successor. As events unrolled there were kings and there were priests, but the same function was never entrusted to one individual.

There was a very great priest who all but acted as king. His name was Jehoida and with his wife he was responsible for the preservation of the royal line when it was threatened with extermination by the wicked Athaliah. Throughout his long life he was devoted to God's house, so much so that (unlike Joash) when he died "they buried him among the kings" (2 Chronicles 24:16), but he was careful always to keep the true king, Joash, in his rightful place. Later on the great king Uzziah attempted to combine the two offices in his own person, but it brought disastrous results and condemned him to a miserable end. He had been called to be king and was greatly prospered by God in that kingship, but he was never called to be a priest and his presumption in trying to intrude into that office was clearly regarded as a great sin (2 Chronicles 26:19-21). Right through to the captivity God always operated to keep government and priesthood separate.

When the captives returned from Babylon there was a ruler, Zerubbabel, and a high priest, Joshua (Ezra 3:2), who worked together and became two central figures in the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. Still, however, rulership and priesthood were never combined, nor could they be until God's perfect Man appeared. A graphic prophecy concerning His coming was given by Zechariah when some captives arrived from Babylon with gold for crowning Joshua, the high priest. There seems some doubt as to who was crowned, but on this occasion the prophet announced that there was yet to come a Man called the Branch. This One would be truly clothed with majesty and would be "a priest on his throne" (Zechariah 6:13). The prophet added that then "there will be harmony between the two", which I take to be a prediction that this divine Branch would combine in Himself the double activity of king and priest.

It did not happen in Zechariah's day. If it happened in the interim period between the Testaments it was of no account to Scripture. It did not even happen in the gospel days when "the Branch" was here on the earth. Our blessed Lord combined in Himself the holy characteristics of ruling and succouring, but He was not crowned king and, as the Hebrew Epistle tells us, He could not be included in the official priesthood while He was still on earth (Hebrews 7:14).

The decree concerning Melchizedek came after the Lord Jesus had ascended to heaven: "Having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him ... named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 5:9-10). It was after those momentous events of the crucifixion and the resurrection that, after forty days, the words of another ascension psalm were fulfilled, the heavenly gates lifting up their heads and the everlasting doors being lifted up so that the King of glory, the Lord mighty in battles, might enter in (Psalm 24:7). So, in His Son, God has provided us with a perfect King and a perfect High Priest, and this is what Psalm 110 celebrates.

Melchizedek speaks of the rule of righteousness and peace. He points us on to our triumphant Lord who now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Melchizedek appeared to Abraham in a moment of victory. The patriarch had gone out against overwhelming enemies and had defeated them and recovered all the captives they had taken away. Just as he was arriving back in his triumph an emissary from heaven, Melchizedek, priest of God Most High, entertained him to a feast of celebration. The occasion was one of total victory. One thousand years later, David reminded God's people of the great event, using it to foretell the greater Victor, made now to sit on the throne of God Most High and constituted a perpetual and complete fulfilment of what Melchizedek had typified. As our triumphant crucified and risen Saviour responded to the divine command to take the highest place that heaven affords, the Father took His irrevocable oath that His exalted Son would now be a Priest upon His throne -- the true Melchizedek. [107/108]

The first six verses of this psalm focus on the cosmic victory and perpetual ministry of the Lord Jesus. I have always found the words of verse 1 rather puzzling: "He shall drink of the brook in the way; therefore shall he lift up the head", an encouraging promise in its own right but seemingly out of place in this setting. Who will drink? When will he drink?

Can it be that this casts a look back on the pilgrim journey which the great High Priest made to the cross? Was it in the way of the cross that He often had to pause to regain new strength from heavenly resources? Does it remind us of that strenuous life of His that was so testing that from time to time He had to stoop to drink of the brook of the Spirit's renewal in order to go right on to Calvary? It may well be, for it was certainly a true picture of how the Lord Jesus was strengthened and maintained by the Holy Spirit. I would like, however, to make another suggestion which makes this not so much part of the psalm but a kind of instruction and encouragement of all of us who sing it.

If my exposition of the psalm is go beyond mere enlightenment and instruction and provide help and encouragement to my readers, then my advice would be that we constantly lift up our eyes to Christ on the throne and enter by faith into what this means to us in our daily pilgrimage. I would say, "Brothers and sisters, encountering all the hardships and difficulties of the pilgrim way, there is a brook of divine resource just beside you in that way. There always is such a brook, however that way may take you in the will of God. There is a brook of the Spirit's refreshment by your way; drink of it and your head will be lifted up, and in the lifting you will have a new vision of your exalted Lord. Your loving heavenly Father has especially provided for you His own King/Priest. He will give you the victory."

If any ask where that brook is, we may omit the letter "r" and describe it as "The Book", the Bible. A constant reference to that Book as you journey on will lift up your head to find courage and strength as you rely on the divine Melchizedek. The cross was, of course, the complete atoning sacrifice which our sins made necessary, but it was also a conflict in which the Son of god totally defeated all the enemies of God and man. It may help us to trace evidence of this victory in our psalm.

1. A Decisive Victory

"Sit thou at my right hand". Sin is the great enemy of God's purposes and His people. Christ's position on the throne assures us that the sin question is forever settled. Sin and forgiveness are not mentioned in this psalm, as they are in so many of the others, but that is surely because it refers to a moment when the whole issue has been decisively settled. Here the Lord is not spoken of as a sacrificing priest -- He was both the priest and the sacrifice -- but now that the atoning work has been completed, He is referred to as the triumphant Warrior. David's psalm begins in the spirit of our own hymn which says:

The strife is o'er, the battle done:

The victory of life is won:

The song of triumph has begun;


This does not mean that we Christians can afford to be careless or complacent about sin. It is a fearful enemy. We must beware of its deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13) and we must be careful to know continual cleansing from sin and sins by walking in the light and humbly confessing sins (1 John 1:7 & 9). Thank God we are assured that sin is no longer to have dominion over us, but this is all and only because of Christ's victory on the cross.

Everything depends upon that victory. His place of exaltation at the Father's right hand assures us of its completeness. He was not only told to sit down but we are assured that He has done so: "When he had made purification of sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). He left that place in the heavens in order to come to earth to put away sin and we may be confident that He would not have resumed His enthronement if He had not completed that task. If we believe that Christ came into the world to save sinners, then we must believe that He would never be prepared to leave the world if the work of redemption were not totally fulfilled. This surely is the implication of the Lord's own words that the Spirit would convince of righteousness by the fact that He had gone to the Father and we see Him no more (John 16:10). [108/109]

When Ruth was nervously pacing the floor and wondering about Boaz's handling of her future, the advice given by Naomi was: "Sit still, my daughter ... the man will not rest until he have finished the thing this day" (Ruth 3:18). On the day that the Lord Jesus sat down, He and the Father were content that the whole work of our redemption is complete. We, then, may enjoy peace in their fellowship. The Lord is not worrying; He has neither fears nor misgivings. Drink of that brook, dear Christian friend, and indeed your head will be lifted up.

When early Jewish believers were troubled and unsettled about their standing with God, their attention was not directed to the actual hill called Calvary nor to the literal cross which Roman Catholics claim was preserved and treasured. Nor were they exhorted to visit the site of the empty tomb which, unlike today, could easily have been identified at that time. No, they were told to look up. The crucified and risen King and Priest was now on the throne, serene in the perfection of His atoning work. Again and again in the Letter to the Hebrews the basis of all confidence and holiness was stated to be the seated Saviour: "... the chief point is this: we have such a high priest who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heaven" (8:1). There is no righteousness for us and no peace apart from Him who is the King of both righteousness and peace, our God-provided Melchizedek.

God's problem of how anyone can ascend into His holy hill or stand in His presence without clean hands, a pure heart, a soul free from pride and a mouth without deceit, has been solved by Himself becoming Man, conquering sin and condemnation and returning as mighty Conqueror through the uplifted everlasting doors and so opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers (Psalm 24). On our behalf, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus not only can stand in God's holy place but is seated there on the eternal throne. For this reason, He is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through him (Hebrews 7:25).

We are to run the race looking off unto Him. The conflict of the cross is now past. The enthroned Christ, far from condemning us, ever lives to make intercession for us. The true Melchizedek invites us to sit down at His table and feast triumphantly on His bread and wine. The victory of Calvary is decisive:

He hell in hell laid low;

Made sin, He sin o'erthrew;

Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,

And death, by dying, slew.

2. A Final Victory

"Sit thou at my right hand until ..." This word "until" marks a significant time factor in God's decree. The decisive victory has yet to be fully implemented. Later in the Psalm we are told of devastating judgments when God will "judge among the nations ... and strike through the head in many countries" (v.6). That will be "in the day of his wrath", a time which is yet future. The event is described in various ways: it is the Day of the Lord; it is the Day of Christ; it is the times of the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21); and it is called the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19).

Everything is waiting on that Day. The whole creation is waiting for it and, so we are told, it groans at the long delay. The Church waits for it. We in whom the Spirit dwells groan within ourselves as we wait for its triumph. The glorified saints wait for it, if we are to be guided by the Scriptural representation in which the souls under the altar cry with a loud voice, "How long, O Master ...?" (Revelation 6:10). Most of all, though, our enthroned Lord waits for it, since He has been told to sit there until the moment of final victory comes: "From henceforth expecting ..." (Hebrews 10:13). What vast implications are bound up with the psalmist's "Until"!

For our comfort we are told that words spoken to those souls beneath the altar apply in some measure to us all: "It was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little time, until ..." their full number should be completed. "Yet a little time!" It may seem a long time to some of us. Let us find comfort and patience in the fact that our Lord on the throne is waiting with us for the great Day of final victory.

One day the Lord will come again in power to press His Calvary victory to its total realisation. He Himself spoke of the time "when once the [109/110] master of the house has risen up" (Luke 13:25). It seems that His present session at the Father's right hand is for the limited period of this gospel dispensation. His kingly priesthood is permanent -- He is a priest for ever -- but He will not for ever postpone His day of judgment. It was He who first introduced the subject matter of this psalm when He challenged His critics with the identification of David's lord. And it was He who warned the Jewish rulers that the Day would come when He would be seen coming on the clouds of judgment. That will be the occasion when the Father will implement His promise to put all enemies beneath the feet of His enthroned Son. Until then we are passing through the prolonged period when, in His kind patience, God holds back that inevitable day of judgment. It will be as though the seated Christ rises up to impose the final victory.

Comment has often been made concerning the claim by Stephen that, through the opened heaven, he could see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). From the earliest days it has been suggested that the Lord actually rose from His throne to welcome His first martyr -- to my mind a fanciful idea. What seems to me much more likely is that this dying servant of the Lord had a visionary pre-view of the Second Coming. This suggestion is borne out by his unique use of the name, "Son of Man", a title closely associated with the Second Advent and never used by any other than the Lord Himself. That Day will surely come. The present exaltation to the throne guarantees that.

3. The Present Victory

"The Lord shall send forth the rod of thy strength out of Zion; rule thou in the midst of thine enemies". In this interim period there are still enemies and will continue to be until that last Day. The King/Priest, however, is to exercise His rule even now. From His throne in Zion, the Lord Jesus extends His powerful sceptre to answer every kind of challenge. While we have to wait for "the day of his wrath" (v.5) we do not have to wait for "the day of His power" (v.3), for it is now. Already the King is seated. He rules in the midst of His enemies.

We hold firmly to the decisive victory of Calvary -- sin is vanquished for us. We hold equally firmly to the final victory -- sin will be banished from God's world. Now, not less firmly, we are told to have complete confidence in His sovereign government here and now. We constantly need His delivering power. Melchizedek gives us a graphic example of how he brought God's help to Abraham. Returning from his battle with the kings and flushed with success, it would have been easy for Abraham to respond to the subtle patronage of the king of Sodom. This king awaited him with proffered friendliness and offers to enrichment. "The king of Sodom went out to meet him" but Melchizedek stepped in before him: "And Melchizedek brought forth bread and wine ... and blessed him", and if ever there was a timely intervention it was that. It turned Abraham's thoughts away from this world's glittering prizes and brought him a heavenly feast and such an enjoyment of God's goodness that Abraham gladly gave the priest a tenth of all he had.

This succour in the nick of time prepared Abraham to conquer temptation and reject the world's seductive offers. "I have lift up my hand unto the Lord, God Most High ... that I will not take a thread nor a shoelatchet ...", he was able to say to the king of Sodom (Genesis 14:22-23), and all because of the saving ministry of Melchizedek. Now Abraham felt that he had something much better than this world's praise or wealth. And he was right, for immediately following this incident, the message came to him: "Fear not, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward." (Genesis 15:1). This promise is for all of us. The One on the throne who has saved us is constantly on the watch to keep us. This is His work as our great high priest. We need our Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:26) and thank God we have Him: "Now to sum up what we are saying. We have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne ..." (8:1).

The psalm gives us three comments on those who are governed by the Priest on the throne. They are that His power makes His people willing; His grace produces in them the beauty of holiness; His eternal life gives them the dew of spiritual youth.

i. "Thy people offer themselves willingly in the day of thy power " [110/111]

It may be argued that the Lord Jesus has His day of power among men when His people are willing. There is a certain sense in which this is true, but there is a sense in which those who appreciate that this is the day of His power, that even now He is ruling in the midst of His enemies, respond to Him with new devotedness. This is implicit in the fact that when Abraham had been blessed by Melchizedek, he responded by giving a tithe of everything he had in willing gratitude. We do not present our bodies to the Lord as willing sacrifices in order to obtain His mercies, but as glad acknowledgement that those mercies are already ours. Because we have a clearer glimpse of Christ on heaven's throne, we the more wholeheartedly enthrone Him in our own lives.

ii. "In the beauties of holiness"

There are various renderings of this Scriptural phrase about the beauty of holiness. I am not competent to comment on them, but to me supreme beauty is found alone in my enthroned Saviour. "Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me" is the spontaneous response of those who have such a High Priest. It is just because He is also King and fully able to transform even the most hopeless sinner that the words pass from being a wish to an actual reality. As the pilgrim drinks of the brook in the way, he not only has an uplifted head but a transformed life. This transformation is called "salvation to the uttermost" and it is the task on which our glorified Lord is busily engaged. His purpose for us is beautiful holiness and He who died and was raised from the dead is now at the right hand of God also making intercession for us (Romans 8:34).

iii. "Thou hast the dew of thy youth"

This again is a problematic passage. It certainly applies to the Lord Jesus, who is said to exercise His priesthood "in the power of an endless, or indissoluble, life" (Hebrews 7:16). While this world and everything in it grows old and weary, He maintains the eternal freshness of heaven. It seems, however, that this may refer to the King's people. Thank God that it is a reality that those who lift up their head in the way find their lives touched with the dew of spiritual youth as eternal life is renewed within them by the Lord on the throne. We rejoice in the literal youth of the Church. However I have seen even aged saints, white-haired and wrinkled, of whom it could rightly be said that they maintain the dew of spiritual youth. And why not? Our fresh springs of eternal life are not natural but spiritual, coming from the glorious Lord who promised that He would be as the dew to Israel (Hosea 14:5). In every phase of our life and witness we may look up to Him and find that for us He does send forth the rod of his strength out of Zion (verse 2).

*    *    *    *    *

The exalted Lord Jesus rules in the midst of His enemies. The early believers found that to be witnesses for Christ involved them in a bitter conflict. Wisely, they came together to pray about it. Perhaps it seemed strange. Perhaps some faint hearts were asking "Why?" The answer to that question came when they stopped to drink of the brook in the way and someone found it in Psalm 2 (another Ascension Psalm).

The inspired Scriptures lifted up their thoughts to the Father's declaration concerning His ascended Son. "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion". It was a timely reminder. With uplifted hearts they then lifted up their voice to God with one accord, not in complaint nor self-pity, but in triumphant petition. God answered in a mighty way. Christ sent forth the rod of His strength out of Zion, as our psalm said He would. [111/112]



J. Alec Motyer


(2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

"WE have this ministry". When we read the word "ministry" we so often point away from ourselves. We think of the ministry not in "we" terms, but in terms of "he" or "they", looking away to other people to occupy special leadership positions. At the very outset of this passage, the Spirit of God challenges us, telling us that it is we who have the gospel ministry.

We must make sure that this is what the Bible is saying to each one of us, because the impact of these six verses depends upon our grasping the fact that the ministry is a responsibility that rests upon every Christian believer. At times, of course, the apostle uses the pronoun "we" in an apostolic sense and referring only to him. For example, he asks, "Are we beginning again to commend ourselves?" (3:1), talking about his personal relationship to the church at Corinth. A certain coolness had arisen between some of them and him. Things were not as they used to be, they were beginning to think badly of him, being prompted by some of his enemies who had crept into the church. If, however, we read on in chapter 3 we find that what he says applies to all believers: "We all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image" (3:18).

That is not apostolic. That is common to all believers. Every Christian is an unveiled believer. The veil has been taken from all our faces. The effect is transformation, and that is certainly not just for the apostles but for each one of us in Christ. This is the background to chapter 4. It refers to every believer who beholds Christ and is being changed into His likeness. Coming straight on from that glorious truth, Paul argues that therefore , since that is so, we have the gospel ministry. Since we are all involved in the experience of being transformed and so obtained mercy, we all find ourselves committed to the gospel ministry. In this respect, Paul's ministry is a model and not a speciality.

I rather shrink from the word "ministry" because it creates the wrong vibrations for many people. Because of our tradition we speak of young men going "into the ministry", so the very word conveys a wrong idea in our minds. Those who are modest find the very thought of exercising a ministry as off-putting, asking how they can be in the ministry at their age! Perhaps it will be better if from these verses we make our subject that of gospel responsibility.

Gospel Responsibility Rests on Mercy

Seeing that we have received mercy we have this ministry! This is a way in which we can rightly read verse 1. The ministry came with the mercy. When mercy came, it brought ministry with it. The N.I.V. gives the impression that it is in His mercy that God has given us ministry but that is not the thought. It is not mercy which makes God condescend to give ministry even to people like us. The thought is rather that mercy has been freely given to us, and the ministry follows. We cannot have mercy without ministry; the donation and experience of mercy have made us ministers.

This is addressed to all Christians. We are on common ground. With God's mercy which has come to us there has come a gospel responsibility, so that God's mercy is first of all an appointing [112/113] mercy. But God's mercy is also a sustaining mercy, so that we are able to continue and not to faint. Mercy does two things for us: it brings us into ministry and it also brings us into endurance.

Gospel Responsibility Involves Commitment

There has to be a certain sort of renouncing life on the part of those to whom the mercy of God has come. "We faint not". The word used here is the same as that which the Lord Jesus uses in the parable where He says that we ought always to pray and not to faint (Luke 18:1). We are exhorted to pray and not to tail off. Sometimes we get a great stimulus to engage in prayer and even make a prayer list, but later it tails off. We must not tail off with our praying or in our witnessing either. Outside of the New Testament the word is used about fresh fruit gone stale. The fruit may be quite fresh when it arrives at the greengrocer, but after it has been there for a while, the bloom goes off it. Mercy has come into our lives and with that mercy has come an appointment to gospel responsibility, but we need more mercy not to lose the freshness and bloom of the early days. It is mercy which gives durability to God's people.

As we have said, Chapter 4 begins with the introductory word "therefore". Having told the Corinthians of the change of heart which the gospel brought to them, he speaks of them as living epistles which the Holy Spirit had written, "not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh" (3:3). This is a picture which the Bible uses for a change of heart. Jeremiah began it, and then it was taken up in the Epistle to the Hebrews, likening God's great work of salvation to having the law written on our hearts. It is a pictorial way of saying that with the work of the gospel there comes a new nature. This new nature matches and contains all the promises of the gospel and lies behind the claim that when mercy comes, ministry and durability come and we do not faint.

Paul starts in the inner reality of the private life. "We have renounced the hidden things of shame". We need to be freed from the hidden things that are seen by nobody but ourselves. Paul then goes on to the public life, "not walking in craftiness". This outer walk of the Christian is the public life that anybody can see. Paul passes thirdly to the thought of proclamation, of telling something, "not handling the Word of God deceitfully". He then does the same thing in reverse, "By manifestation of the truth", that is, by proclamation; then "commending ourselves to every man's conscience", that is, by allowing people to be impressed by the outward aspects of our lives; and finally he comes back again to our private lives, "In the sight of God", namely, what God alone can see. In this double way the apostle tells us that our gospel responsibility demands commitment in the hidden life, in the public life, and in our speaking to others.

The central thing is proclaiming the gospel. The expression, "not handling the word of God deceitfully" contains all the ideas that are familiar to us of not adding to the Word and not subtracting from it, as well as not misrepresenting it, but rather making it clear and plain. This demands a purity of inward and outward life. So these three things run together, the private life, the public life and the proclaiming life. We need a holiness that touches the inward life and the outward life in order that we may share the Word of God with those around us.

So we cannot argue that we are not called, because ministry belongs with salvation. We cannot argue that we are not worthy because the ministry is for those who have received mercy. We cannot argue that we are not able, for with the gospel come the ability to be strong and fresh in the work. And we cannot say that we do not know, for all we have to do is to take the precious Word of God and make it plain. It may be something out of our daily reading; it may be some truth about the Lord Jesus; it has nothing to do essentially with pulpit thunderings or evangelistic campaigns. "We" says Paul, "in the same individuality in which we were converted and mercy came to us, have at the same time been entrusted with gospel responsibility."

Gospel Responsibility Involves Conflict

Paul is very realistic; he gives no suggestion that this work of the gospel is a pushover. We go on immediately to read that "If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that are perishing; in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving ..." (v.3). May I remind you [113/114] that we are not speaking of special "ministers" with special functions but of us ordinary believer's in our daily contacts with others. As soon as we take up our gospel responsibility, we find that we are in headlong conflict with the god of this world, who fights hard for his kingdom.

The apostle speaks first of all of a fact -- the gospel is veiled. Blindness is upon the fallen human heart. The natural man is unable to understand the things of the Spirit of God. That is a fact. Now look at the implications of that fact -- it is veiled in them that are perishing. The thought is not at all the "if" of being open to question, but it is perhaps better translated, "since". Those who are without gospel blessing, without that knowledge of Jesus Christ that the gospel brings, without that inner change of heart upon which the gospel is written, those without Christ are without hope, they are perishing.

After this we have the explanation of this situation -- the god of this world has blinded men's minds. Satan, of course, is not a god, but he is so immensely powerful that the Bible does not hesitate to speak of him as the object of worship which this world acknowledges. The Lord Jesus spoke of him as the "prince of this world" and in the Letter to the Ephesians he is described as "the prince of the power of the air". Now the focal point of Satan's activity is the mind of the unbeliever. He blinds the mind.

What is the essential difference between the converted and the unconverted person? Naturally the fundamental difference is in respect of a relationship with God in Christ, but there is a difference within the persons themselves, an essential psychological difference, and it is in the mind. The unconverted are darkened in their understanding whereas, in contrast, those who have been taught of God have learned truth in Jesus (Ephesians 4:18-21). Into the converted person has come both the ability to grasp the truth and Jesus who is the truth.

May I elaborate this a little by quoting the Scripture which calls us by the mercies of God to present our bodies a living sacrifice and goes on to say "and be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind ..." (Romans 12:2). It is not just the kindling of the heart that leads to sanctification, but the renewing of the mind. Redemption has been made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence (Ephesians 1:8); the wisdom that enables us to know and grasp the truth and the prudence which teaches us what to do about it.

The god of this world has blinded that central faculty, the mind, and the outward expression of that condition is unbelief. We are glad to say that our neighbours are such nice people. Can they be blind? Can they be perishing? We have to ask ourselves in the light of Scripture, can this fail to be true? This is the diagnosis of the Word of God, in spite of what we could have wished to be the case. Motivated by antagonism and hatred of the Son of God, Satan will neither have the good of men nor the glory of Christ and so, in case that light should come with benefit to men and with glory to Christ, the god of this world fights desperately for his kingdom.

Gospel Responsibility Rests on Confidence

Our responsibility for the gospel may bring us into conflict but with it there is always a sufficient resource to make us confident, we obtain mercy not to faint. It is interesting to note that the first word in verse 5 is "For" -- "For we preach not ourselves ..." If we did that Satan would not bother to oppose the preaching. He would not be worried by such a proclamation. Why does he fight? Because "we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord ..." Our confidence is based upon our knowledge of the absolute lordship of Christ. The gospel is backed by the sovereignty of God. So here is the explanation of the opposition, but here also is the antidote, the fact that the One we preach is Christ the Lord of all. In the face of Satan's antagonism Paul does not suggest giving up the preaching of Christ and trying an easier message. No, he discloses the fact that the spring which arouses the opposition and triggers it off is Christ Jesus as Lord. This is the power which thrusts us forward. The only tool put into the hand of the Christian is that "We preach ... Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake."

Preaching is the divine counter-action to the opposition of the god of this world. But nobody [114/115] may excuse himself by claiming not to be a preacher. The word used in verse 5 is the word "herald". We are town criers for Christ. If you meet a town crier ringing his bell and shouting at the top of his voice and ask him why he is acting so, he will point back to the Town Hall and explain, "Because authority there told me to do it." This, then, is simply another way of saying that our task is the manifestation of the truth. Preaching here does not demand the use of a pulpit and prepared sermon; it just involves being put somewhere and told what to say.

Towards the gospel we are preachers, heralds; towards the world around we are servants; and towards the Lord Jesus we are lovers, doing what we do "for Jesus' sake". When Paul says, "We preach not ourselves" he gives us a timely warning, and yet he has already said that we have to commend ourselves (v.2). There is a sense in which Christians have to be in the limelight, for we have to let ourselves be seen. If we do not have the world's opinion that we are commendable people, why should they listen to us? We have to learn to live in the light without coveting the spotlight. Here, for example, is a gospel singer. No spiritual one would wish people to note what a lovely voice she has, yet it is the loveliness of the voice that commends the gospel. Were it a horrible voice, no-one would listen to it. But the gospel singer does not commend the lovely voice but the lovely gospel. And we are to be like that, not asking people to look at the lovely life we live but at our lovely Lord. Yet if we do not live a lovely life, no-one will listen us. We do not preach ourselves, but we are called to commend ourselves.

Gospel Responsibility is based on Divine Sovereignty

The explanation of what has gone before is given in verse 6 which begins with the phrase, "Seeing that". Our only way forward, in the face of satanic opposition, is by the preaching of Christ. And why is that? It is because the God who said "Light shall shine out of darkness" has shined in our hearts. Conversion is a sovereign act of God. The miracle of conversion, says Paul, is like the miracle of creation. When everything was in primeval darkness, the sovereign Word said, "Let there be light" with emphasis on the word Light. And that is the secret story of every conversion, when God becomes known in the face of Jesus Christ.

The Bible has many ways of describing this gospel transformation. It is spoken of in terms of birth -- "By his own will, he begat us" (James 1:8). This is dramatic, but it is also sovereign. Parents do not consult their children as to whether they would like to be born. Birth is not an invitation: it is an event. Salvation is spoken of as resurrection -- we were dead in sins and raised to life together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). No-one would address a dead body and enquire if it wished to be raised. No, resurrection is a sovereign act which depends on decisions and energies that belong elsewhere. The Creator does not consult the creation. When the world was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep, the Creator did not come and say, "Would you mind if I created light? Would you like to have light? If I offer it to you will you accept it?" It is a sovereign decision. Paul says that conversion is like that.

The veil is that which is natural to fallen man and fallen man cannot penetrate that veil. Only one thing can happen, and that is that the veil should be taken away. Only God can do that. It is a work of the same dimension as when God said, "Let light shine out of darkness" for He shines in men's heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We preach because God is like that. The power that lies behind our preached word is the power of the Creator God to make all things new, the power to overcome the blindness cast by the god of this world.

Mercy has brought ministry. Ministry depends upon the pure Word of God being made clear. This is not an exercise in cleverness, nor is it limited to a special gift, but it is an exercise in clarity. When we read our Bibles in the morning and some old truth comes to us with fresh clarity or a new truth become clear, then we have a message. But of course the message is also made clear by the lives that commend it. The god of this world is fighting for his kingdom, but a mighty weapon has been placed in our hands: it is the sharing of gospel truth. Nothing else is mentioned here. The power of that weapon is the sovereign God who can sovereignly say: "Light shall shine out of darkness."

(To be continued) [115/116]



Harry Foster

"That you may know the hope of his calling"
Ephesians 1:18

WE now come to the first of the specified items in Paul's prayer for the Ephesian Christians. It concerns our hope of heaven. The apostle clearly regarded this matter as fundamental, declaring it to be God's objective in ever calling us by His grace. The modern tendency is to stress the immediate and practical implications of the gospel, with an inclination to leave considerations about heaven to small children or senior saints. This, to say the least of it, is unscriptural. It is also unreal, since the usual concern of sinners when they first come to Christ has eternity in view. I fled for refuge to Jesus the Saviour many years ago, not because I did not know how to live but because I was afraid to die. I later took the gospel to benighted heathen, not to ease their troubled consciences of guilt nor to invite them to taste the joys of fellowship and answered prayer, but to give to those who feared the mystery of death a sure message of hope for eternity.

Jesus did not hesitate to describe the future glory as heaven, and He urged us on to live as those who expect not only life but treasures in heaven. To the dabblers in the more superficial accompaniments of the gospel in Corinth, Paul made the staggering assertion: "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19). However no-one need pity us who have staked our basic faith and procedure on the future, for Christ has certainly risen again and is preparing for us a place in the Father's house.

Jesus is coming again. The original offer of the gospel made in Jerusalem's temple pointed men on to "The times of restoration of all things" at the Return of the Lord from heaven (Acts 3:21). The gospel offers not only pardon from the wrath to come but a positive part in the glorious eternal kingdom of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus. Hope is basic to the gospel. When Paul wrote to the Colossians about their experience of salvation, he explained their evident faith and love as being the outcome of the message of hope which came to them in the gospel: "the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven ..." (Colossians 1:5). This hope is so important that he urged them not to be moved away from the hope of the gospel (v.23), reminding them that the inward experience of Christ guarantees for them the glory which is their hope (v.27).

With Christ reigning in our heart we can and should be ready to give an answer to any enquirer as to what is our hope (1 Peter 3:15). Outsiders cannot understand our faith and it is not always easy to explain it to them, but people can be told by lip and by life that heaven is our confident hope. They may scoff at the idea. "Pie in the sky when you die" they jeer. So be it! If they imagine that human existence is limited to this life and that death is the end, then they are in for a rude undeception. However you express it, the reality of heaven awaits all true Christians.

Christ Himself is said to be our Hope (1 Timothy 1:1), so Paul's prayer is valid in that it implies learning more of Him. Such revelation is much more than mere prophetic study, for it is a mighty instrument for holy living. "Everyone who has this hope set on him, purifies himself even as he is [116/117] pure", wrote the man who probably knew more about heaven than any of his contemporaries (1 John 3:3).

Present Blessings

Heaven is certainly a subject which calls for divine illumination, and a little of this is given to us by the final book written by this same apostle John, namely The Revelation. We are creatures of time, and therefore are not able to grasp much about this greater timeless dimension. For instance, we know strangely little about those who "sleep in Jesus", though doubtless we know as much as in the will of God we need to know. We know that they are actually present, or at home, with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Whatever blessings they enjoyed here on earth, "to be with Christ is very far better" (Philippians 1:23). Far better! That is a comforting assurance. We know that they rest from their labours (Revelation 14:13) and that there the wicked cease from troubling: and there the weary be at rest" (Job 3:17). What is more, we know that they will be the first to appear in the resurrection glory in quite new bodies when the Lord Jesus comes from heaven with a shout (1 Thessalonians 4:16). We know that heaven is a real experience even now, but we mean more than this present bliss when we consider "the hope of our calling", which is a future prospect, hidden as yet but soon to be made manifest.

Future Glory

The Second Coming of Christ is central to the Christian's hope, for hope and resurrection go together in the Scriptures. All the events described in John's Revelation will reach their climax in what is called "The first resurrection" (Revelation 20:5), which introduces the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Incidentally the first miracle described in John's Gospel took place at a marriage feast.) The redeemed Church is described as Christ's bride, a relationship referred to by John the Baptist (John 3:29) as well as by Paul who makes it the basis of his reference to the tender love of the Saviour (Ephesians 5:32). He rather implies that while we wait for the great occasion, we are treated as more in the position of being engaged or "espoused" to our heavenly Bridegroom, and needing to keep ourselves for Him (2 Corinthians 11:2).

Everything focuses on the Day of the Lord. I believe that this explains John's claim to have been "In the Spirit on the Lord's Day" (Revelation 1:10). I do not find it possible to accept the interpretation which makes this to have been a Sunday. I would expect John to be in the Spirit on most days. Why should he use this term, which speaks not of "a" day but "the" day? Unless I am mistaken there is no evidence that at that time the first day of the week was called "The Lord's Day", and in any case I find it hard to believe that all those great apocalyptic events were seen and recorded in a single day. It seems much simpler to accept that what he was involved in by the Spirit was what everywhere else the Bible calls "The Day", "The Day of Christ" or "The Day of the Lord", that Day which is to terminate and succeed the present dispensation which Paul so rightly calls "man's day" (1 Corinthians 4:3 Greek).

Much of what John reports is solemn and hard to receive, but the climax of bridal glory seems clear enough though necessarily told in parabolic form. We are given pictorial descriptions of the marvellous truth that the destiny of the Church is to be bridal union with Christ. This, we have already seen, constitutes the riches of the glory of God's inheritance in the saints. In the first description the event is heralded by Hallelujahs. The bride is said to have received beautiful white garments for the occasion, garments which are said to be the righteousnesses of the saints. In the second vision, the bride is likened to a magnificent city, refreshed by a crystal river and itself richly adorned with gold, precious stones and priceless pearls. On both occasions John was so overcome with the splendour of it all that he actually tried to worship the heavenly messenger who demonstrated the matter to him. It is amazing that such a spiritual and experienced servant of God should fall down to worship an angel, and even more amazing that he should confess the blunder to us, but it is most extraordinary that he should repeat the error. On both occasions the angel admonished him: "Do not do it! Worship God!" (19:10 & 22:9). I can only conclude that John was inspired to record these two incidents in order to impress upon us that he had been overcome by the surpassing wonder of what he saw and heard.

And indeed it is most wonderful. Surely there is no more marvellous prospect in all the universe [117/118] than the bridal inheritance of the saints in light. It is to be our destiny, and it is the eternal purpose of the gospel. We may well pray to have the eyes of our heart enlightened to its supreme importance. We may have some gracious foretastes of heaven now from time to time, but this will altogether eclipse them. We cannot altogether make a difference technically between the present and the future, nor can we set limits on what God may give us of thrilling ecstasy or practical holiness here and now; nevertheless eternity will totally surpass our present joys. The operative Scriptural word in this connection is always BETTER .

Heavenly Revelation

In some ways this description of future glory in terms of marriage union with our glorious Lord embraces all that can be thought or said. It may be helpful, though, to seek to enlarge a little on the prospect set before us. It so happens that the Bible has a way of emphasing positives by means of negatives, and this is particularly the case in John's revelation concerning heaven, for he lists seven factors which will be absent from the eternal kingdom. Sadly enough, he uses the same method to inform us of the Christless eternity which we call Hell. In Revelation 18 we are told of this sevenfold deprivation for those who are lost. There will be no more commerce (v.11), no more pleasures (v.14), no more greatness (v.21), no more music (v.22), no more employment (v.22), no more illuminations (v.23) and no more loving, relationships (v.23). Seven times over the dread knell is sounded: "No more!" This is a sobering thought. It should make us the more concerned for the salvation of others. It certainly fills our hearts with gratitude for the grace which has delivered us from this fatal kingdom of darkness.

Our present purpose, however, is to stress the sevenfold "No more" of blessings which characterise our future hope. There is to be no more sea (21:1), no more death, no more mourning, no more crying and no more pain (21:4), no more curse (22:3) and no more night (22:5). The Scriptural perfect number seven appears frequently in the Book of Revelation, and here at the climax of the story is the fullness of glory emphasised by these seven uses of the words, "No more!"

Summing Up

Here are a few of heaven's blessings, all of which have some practical implications even now:

i. No More Separations

Some have interpreted the statement that there will be no more sea as suggesting an end to divisions and separations. Whether this is so or not, the Scriptures which speak of Christ's Coming make use of that happy word, together, "... together with them" (1 Thessalonians 4:17) and "... we should live together with him" (1 Thessalonians 5:10). There will be no more unhappy partings.

In the creation story, the second day is remarkable in that it received no word of approval from God. On each other day we are told that God saw that it was good, and on the sixth day that God saw it all as "very good", but there is no such verdict on the work of the second day which was when God divided the earth from heaven (Genesis 1:6-8). Can it be, I wonder, that God Himself could not find satisfaction until heaven and earth are completely united? Is this part of our heavenly hope? John tells us that he witnessed that union: "I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God ..." (Revelation 21:2).

O then what raptured greetings

  On Canaan's happy shore,

What knitting severed friendships up,

  Where partings are no more!

John and his elder brother James once made a foolish request that they should be given places at the right hand and left hand of the their glorified Lord. There were some mitigating elements in their wrong petition. They displayed a confident expectation that Christ would reign as king. What is more, they expressed a natural desire both to be as near to Him as possible and to maintain eternally their own close relationship with each other. Perhaps what they asked was not as wrong as it might have seemed. Note, however, the interesting sequel to the story when John was on Patmos. First of all, since the vision given to him of Christ showed that in heaven Christ is central, it follows that there is no right hand or left hand [118/119] there, but that He will be equally near to all and all near to him, so that James and John would not be at any disadvantage. The second is that we will all be together. In the mysterious providence of God the relationship between James and John was severed very early on in the Church's history when James was beheaded by Herod. John, however, lived on beyond all the others and could well have felt very lonely, especially in the isolation of Patmos.

Where was dear James now? Well, he was given the answer to this question for, among the many other wonders which he had witnessed, he tells us that he saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus (20:4). So he must have seen his brother James! And sure enough, with the others, James had a throne. That was only a preview, but when the Day of the Lord comes, James and John will be re-united. And they will live and reign with Christ.

Why do we need the eyes of our heart enlightened about this? Naturally enough, it brings immediate comfort for the lonely and bereaved. Certainly that! But more, it should impress us with our destiny of perfect unity in the glory. This hope is for all the saints. There will be no isolation or division then. How earnestly, then, should we seek to avoid division and separation now. We cannot always ignore differences among us, but we can try to rise above them. They must be secondary, for they will have no place in the glory where the centrality and supremacy of the Lord Jesus will be our only consideration. Surely it will become increasingly the case even now if the Spirit of wisdom and revelation has His way in us.

ii. No More Sorrows

No more mourning, and no more crying. Disappointments are an inevitable feature of life here on earth, and sometimes spiritual disappointments are the most acute. There are areas in which we are all mourners. I feel sure that John, like the rest of us, found that life worked out for him very differently from what he envisaged when first he began to follow the Lord. He would not have been human if he had not grieved over the loss of James who had been especially favoured by the Lord Jesus. While the rest of the Jerusalem church rejoiced over Peter's deliverance from Herod, poor John was left to mourn over the strange and sudden loss of his beloved brother.

What is more, when he had been in the midst of those tremendously exciting Pentecostal days, he could never have thought it possible that Christians could have deteriorated into some of the sad conditions described in the seven letters which he had to write to the churches in Asia. And how did he feel when his great book was finished? It must have been thrilling to have a door opened into heaven and to be caught up to enter it but, when he had finished his visions, we would imagine that it must have been hard to go back again to the privations of Patmos to share with other suffering saints the tribulation and patience which are in Jesus (Revelation 1:9).

For us too there were expectations which we had for ourselves and for the work of God which, to our sorrow, have not been realised. Thank God that there have also been blessings from God which we hardly dreamed of, notably in world evangelisation. But some events have also disappointed us. People have disappointed us. We have disappointed ourselves. We have "claimed" promises, only to find them seemingly unfulfilled; we have prayed prayers which as yet do not appear to have been answered. We seek to trust where we cannot see but we cannot claim to have no sorrows. Then, however, it will all be clear. Then all the promises will have been fulfilled and all our prayers abundantly answered. Heaven allows for no more disappointments. We will no longer have to wipe away our own tears, for God Himself has promised to wipe them all away for us. We do not yet experience our hope but we wait in patience for it (Romans 8:25). Patience, dear tried friends!

iii. No More Frustration

There will be no more curse. For us the curse has been removed by Him who on His cross was made a curse for us, but we still live in a world which is under the curse of judgment. Although we have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we groan [119/120] within ourselves. I am struck by the fact that in Christ's parable of the eternal state, He quotes Abraham as saying, "Son, remember ..." (Luke 16:25). But that man was lost. He was in Hell. Abraham did not ask Lazarus to remember; he simply comforted him with heavenly bliss. Heaven would hardly be heaven for most of us if we kept recalling our past faults and failings, as we do now. Our pardoned sins are so blotted out that God Himself does not remember them: one day we will share His divine forgetting.

In this world so much is subject to deterioration and decay. There are many minor frustrations which result from this fact, and some major ones too. Over all this, God writes the words, "No more!" Perhaps the best positive way of describing this is by the use of the word fulfillment. The ultimate purpose of the gospel, according to Paul's Letter to the Colossians, is that every man should be presented perfect to God (Colossians 1:28). The Greek word here used is an adjective formed from the noun telos, which denotes a purpose or a goal. What is perfect, therefore, is that which totally realises the end for which it had been planned. We will call it full fulfilment. Few of us attain any sort of fulfilment in this life, and none of us can know the complete realisation of our hopes and ambitions while we are still in the mortal body. But this is not the end. We are to be changed into the image of Christ, and to know this experience as individuals.

Most of the blessings described for us in the Book of Revelation are presented in corporate terms -- a praising multitude, a radiant bride, a glorious city -- and that will indeed be heaven. But thank God that although we will be united in this way, God does not overlook the destiny of each one of us as individuals. The objective is that every man shall find his full fulfilment in Christ. Far from making any of us complacent, this should inspire us anew with holy determination to "press on toward the goal unto the prize of the on-high calling of God in Christ Jesus." This brings us back to the original apostolic prayer that we might be illuminated as to the hope of that calling.

I would not be true to the Scriptures if I did not remind you that this is a costly matter. It cost Christ everything. There is nothing cheap about heaven, though grace is free. It was the Lord Jesus Himself who made the contrast between treasures on earth and treasures in heaven, and who endured all that He did in the expectation of an eternal weight of glory.

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,

that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit. [120/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


Psalm 131    GIVING UP

A further sign of the growing maturity of the pilgrim is his humility. The use of the word "weaned" may seem to contradict this, but as it is placed in the context of his claim not to be haughty or to have lofty eyes, it will repay further consideration.

I have used the title "Giving up". My dictionary explanation of what it means to be weaned is "to be reconciled to the want of anything"; so the psalmist has learned to do without.

WHAT is more he has learned not to complain about it, but has quietened both his lips and his soul. The song is sung to the Lord alone. It is not an essay in self-congratulation but a simple assurance to the Lord of his state of heart as he journeys on his upward way.

THERE had been a period in his life when he could rightly expect to be carried and cared for, only needing to squall out in infantile and demanding protest in order to be petted and comforted. The Christian life can begin like that and alas, sometimes it can go on far too long in the same way. Those concerned expect every discomfort to be attended to and every prayer answered at their first appeal.

THE pilgrim discloses that a rather abrupt moment had occurred in his life, the soothing nourishment no longer being provided and the embracing arms giving place to an invitation to sit at the family table for his meals. From then on it was no use his crying out for milk or demanding that his mother should do everything for him; he had to reach out his own hands and learn to appropriate and masticate his food. All of which surely has a spiritual counterpart for every believer who is on the upward way. His joy in the Lord is not less but more. Like the weaned child keeping very close to the mother whom he has learned to look to, he simply continues the love relationship in a more understanding and responsible way.

BEING but recently weaned, he has not yet entered that adolescent period when everything is questioned: "Neither do I exercise myself in things too wonderful for me". It is a picture of happy contentment, this pilgrim with no complaints and no problems. He will go far on his journey.

NOW had this been fictional poetry, I imagine that this would have been very early on in the series of Songs of Ascents. It rather suggests an early stage of life and hints at immaturity. Interestingly enough it was David himself who composed this psalm. Far from describing immaturity, it sings of a most blessed and desirable condition of heart and soul. The one who is content to recognise his own littleness and ignorance in divine things and yet who chooses discipline and responsibility in his life of fellowship with the Lord is what a very true Israelite should be, and should go on being right into eternity. "From this time forth and for evermore".

WEANING or giving up does not in itself sound attractive, but in this case it seems to indicate a faith which is not always demanding and enquiring but content just to be stilled and quietened in the near presence of the Lord. Discipline and responsibility are to be the features of the man who is on the way up.


[Back cover]

Psalm 119:72

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