These gatherings and the ministry today are based upon a three-fold supposition, or assumption.
One is that you have come here together because you have a very real concern to know the will of God.
The other is that you are quite prepared to consider anything that may be a help in that direction.
And the third: that you are of a mind to obey any light that the Lord may give as to His will.
Given that foundation, I think the Lord will find a clear way of meeting us and speaking to us today.
The business of any servant of the Lord is, perhaps in many ways by many parts, to bring His people to know what His will is concerning them. And that is what is on the heart of this servant of the Lord, if He may please, to make you a little clearer, give you a little fuller understanding of what that good and perfect will of God is. We will come back to that specifically as we go on.
Now, the Bible, which is our charter, the charter of the Christian faith, is just altogether occupied with that one thing. It's always helpful to know what it's all about after all. You can read your Bible, read through the various books, quite a lot of things you would perhaps skip and find rather tedious, a lot of things you might not understand, but the whole Bible, altogether, is concerned with just this one thing: the will of God. And it is as well to read the Bible everywhere in that relationship: what has this to do with the will of God? Because that is the thing that the whole Bible is occupied with. It's all about that.
And by way of introduction to our specific message today, what is it that the Bible is occupied with, in other words. It is a revelation of God moving according to purpose. That is only another way of speaking about the will of God. God is seen, from the very first words of the Bible to the last, moving according to purpose, moving in purpose and moving with purpose. He is a God who is motivated by an object: one final and all-inclusive object, which we understand in New Testament language as God's eternal purpose.
The first section of the Bible, the first five books, just do show us so clearly, fully and meticulously, God moving according to purpose. It is a section of movement forward, isn't it? And although when you come to the fifth of those books, the book of Deuteronomy, there is a retrospective aspect, a looking back with this word: "Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee", even that retrospective aspect has a forward aspect connected with it. The remembering is related to what is to be yet. As you know, it is the book of a people between a past history and a new history of the future, and it is looking back to pick up the lessons of the past in order to carry them into the future.
So you move out of Deuteronomy into Joshua with this forward movement, with all that the past history has taught as the foundation. And how, may I repeat, how meticulous the Lord is in that book if you read it again in this light! He is reiterating, re-emphasizing, He's laying a very sound and very particular foundation for the future. It is important to note that in the light of what we are going to say today, for we are going to be occupied with God's laws by which His will - which is His purpose - is realised, fulfilled and accomplished in His people. Here in this first section it's all with the future in view, with the will of God governing.
The last section of the Old Testament, the Prophets, that section is occupied with the tragedy of lost purpose. It was the cry of the prophets that God's will has not been realised and fulfilled. It's a tragic cry of failure and disappointment over this thing. And you must listen to that, because you see, as you listen to these prophets and hear their cry, anguished cry over these people, you are hearing just this: what God meant has not been realised. And that is a terrible thing! A terrible thing. The prophets have a voice of tragedy, pathos and anguish, because God has been disappointed over His purpose in this people, and they have missed what He intended for them.
So you have the Old Testament bounded, and we are not here occupied with the whole of the Old Testament, we just notice this in connection with this will of God. It is a tremendous thing, the will of God. I am talking about the big will of God, the comprehensive will of God, I'm not talking about, shall I call them the "little wills" of God where you are occupied every day with: 'What is the Lord's will for me in this, and that?' a hundred and one things. No, that is not what I am talking about. All those, mark you, all those expressions of the Divine will in the particular matters and situations, all those are gathered into the big will, and until you get into the big will, you really haven't got the ground for the little wills of God, the particular application of that will.
You turn over to the New Testament, and in the first section of the New Testament is what? God taking up His purpose again. And He is taking it up in the Person of His Son, and here, in the Person of His Son, you have the purpose and will of God embodied, personified. It is all gathered now into a Person. It has been expressed, as the writer of the Hebrew letter says, expressed in "many different ways and by many different portions at different times". Now the whole thing is summed up in the Person of Jesus Christ, who says, "I am come... to do Thy will oh God". This whole will and purpose of God, therefore, is personified, or incarnated, in Jesus Christ, God's Son. And although you have heard it a thousand times, many, many messages given on it, it may not have occurred to you that there is one statement of the Lord Jesus which comprehends all this. We know it so well, in John's gospel: "I am the way, the truth, and the life". That is a comprehensive statement as to the whole will of God.
"I Am the Way"
What do you have a way for? To get somewhere! A way implies a goal, a going to a goal, a moving toward an object. "I am the Way of this eternal purpose of God. I am the Way of its realisation. I am the Way," the embodiment of the will of God. "I am come to do Thy will, oh My God." The Way is a Person.
So immense is that simple clause, or definition, as to be... as to call for many hours! Men have been preaching on that for centuries. The Truth. "I am set," He is saying in effect, "in a realm which has been deceived and led away from the will of God, away from the Divine purpose. A world that is now a lie in its constitution. I am the Truth over against all that which is false in the human race, in the creation, in this universe." If the will of God is an all-comprehending, vast, and great thing, the lie of the devil is an immense thing, and it is something that has got to be overcome in you, and in me, and in the whole race. The Truth has to be put into our constitution to destroy that lie that is there.
I dare not dwell more upon that, but indicating what we are concerned with - the will of God. "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free". We talk about 'conversion', people being converted. You know, a fundamental factor in conversion means turning round in the opposite way, it is turning from what is false to what is true, coming into the truth of God as to why we have a being in His purpose, why He is dealing with us as He is, according to His will, that great will, what it all means. The truth about this. And don't you and I need every day to know the good of that conversion, the real and true meaning of God in Christ for us? The Way, the Truth, the Life.
We have got far too small an idea of this conception of it. There is a marvellous statement which has arrested me with great force, in the letter of Paul to the Colossians, where he speaks of the Life which God foreordained unto His glory. Life! In the eternal counsels and thoughts of God before ever the world was created and man upon it, God's thought was centred in this thing called 'Life'. Life! That is the battle of the ages isn't it? That is the key to so much. Life! Life - what God means by Life, the Life of God's eternal purpose, the Life of God's all-captivating will, the Life which He is: the Lord Jesus.
We are in a day called 'Good Friday' and we were reading this morning about this. And I was impressed again, when He coming from the sentence of crucifixion, toward the hill, with Simon carrying His Cross, and the women of Jerusalem weeping and wailing for Him. And He turned to them and He said: "Women of Jerusalem, weep not for Me. There is no need to weep for Me. You weep for yourselves and for your children, weep not for Me!" What does that say? What does that say? Why, this Cross, toward which He is going, on which He is going so soon to be impaled, and all that is going to fall upon Him there, that's not the end. That's not the end! They may have thought so, oh no, He knew it. Tears for Him were not justified even then: "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross...". Life, not death was the way of the Cross. Life. This is how He was going to secure that for which He had come, and which God had intended for man all down the ages, and from before the world was.
"I am the Way, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Dear friends, we can't get outside of that! If we comprehended what those three terms mean, that's the end of it, that's encompassing everything. Does it not? Yes.
Well now, the New Testament, then, introduces this eternal will and purpose of God in a Person - and I'm only in my introduction for this morning, even yet. The rest of the New Testament is what? We're trying to comprehend the Word of God, what is all the rest of the New Testament about after the Gospels? It is simply the working out of those three things. All the rest of the New Testament is gathered into the Way that Christ is, the Truth that is in Jesus, the Life that is by His death and resurrection. All the New Testament is there, read it like that: what is this? Let me pick up any part of it: what is it, what is it talking to me about the Way, Christ? The Way, the Truth, the Life.
Having said that, we can perhaps come to our particular passage or message for the morning. We must read some Scriptures to get to this. You will then please take your Bible, it begins in the book of Joshua and then go back a bit. The book of Joshua, chapter 1 and verse 8: "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then shalt thou have good success" (or, as the margin says, "deal wisely").
Now we go back to Deuteronomy, chapter 4, verses 1 and 2: "And now, O Israel, hearken unto the statutes and unto the judgements, which I teach you, for to do them; that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord thy God, the God of your fathers, giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you".
Chapter 6, from verse 6: "These words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thy house, and upon thy gates".
The gospel by Matthew, chapter 4, and verse 4: "He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God".
Divine laws of realising the Divine purpose of knowing, to doing, the will of God, which is the ultimate thing in Christianity. And here it is perfectly clear the law of the absolute government of the Word of God.
We read from Joshua, and you know what Joshua is, we have intimated already that the book of Joshua is the resumption, after a nation's failure and perishing in the wilderness, the resumption of the Divine will and purpose, moving now forward under that government. And right there at the beginning of this new movement, and all that is involved in it, all that it means against a repetition of the failure that has been and the tragedy unto fullness of life, the foundation is the meticulous observance of the Word of God. The Word and the will of God go together and there is no progress, dear friends, in this great calling into which you and I are called - in the mind, the purpose and the will of God, there is no progress, only by the Word of God - obedience to the Word, cherishing of the Word, binding of the Word upon our lives in all matters.
I have said how meticulous the Lord was in that book of Deuteronomy because, on the one side, of the terrible tragedy which had taken place and, on the other side, the tremendous prospect. Without which, there was no prospect for the people of God and He is there chapter after chapter, chapter after chapter saying: "Remember what I said? Do you remember what I said? Remember, call to remembrance all that I have said to you." The law of prospect is the government of God's Word. The people had been forty years on probation in the wilderness, and the one thing that stood over that forty years of probation was a testing of the heart as to the Word of God. Remember Deuteronomy chapter 8: "Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness..." trying, testing, "whether thou wouldest keep His commandment or not. Whether thou wouldest obey His Word, what place His Word had in your heart."
The probation of life is always that, the testings of a wilderness experience, the trials of the journey, all the experiences in God's mind are to see what is in our hearts, whether we really have a heart for the Lord, whether, after all our professions and protestations, the will of God really is the thing which governs our whole life. He is trying us out on that - "Whether thou wouldest keep His commandments" - testing by the Word of God - we know it, perhaps daily we know something of this. We're going to bring that very near as we go on.
And so we come to Joshua, and a new phase begins with a reaffirmation, on the side of Jordan a reaffirmation that the Word of God is to be kept always before the face, on their arms, on their foreheads, on their home thresholds - always there to govern them. They were a called people, called by God out of Egypt, they were called by His name, they were called. But the calling is not enough. We have all been called, we are the called of the Lord here today, but then after the call comes the testing; and we know that is true. And then Life, when the testing has been proved: the chosen. Called, tested and chosen.
Well, everything as you see, then and in the Word of God, turned and turns upon this one thing:
The Government of His Word.
Disaster, disaster where the Word of God is not honoured; calamity because of failure to do what God had made known as to His will. And how again and again we find in the Old Testament disaster attending a failure to keep the Word of God before them. Even this Moses (and I always have a bad feeling when I think about it and read about it) this man who had sacrificed so much and suffered so much for this people, at last forbidden by the Lord to ask any more that he might go into the land. "Ask Me no more about this" said the Lord, it's a closed book. Why? The Lord had said something and Moses had not meticulously observed what the Lord had said. "Well," you say, "that's terrible, terrible! He is a hard God." Ah, but you must remember that it was not just Moses - Moses is in glory, he has attained and obtained now, he was with Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration and in glory - not Moses, it was the people for ever afterward who had got to learn this lesson: you cannot, you cannot violate anything that the Lord has said without forfeiting something, losing something.
We remember again David bringing the ark up to Jerusalem and making the new cart on which to bring it through. Disaster on the way. Calamity. The whole thing, about which they all seemed to be having such a good time, feeling that they were being prospered and blessed of the Lord, until that threshing-floor calamity. Uzzah died before the Lord, and David was angry with the Lord that day. He turned the ark aside and went and sulked, nursed his grievance with the Lord. And he got over that, he got over it, and we do get over these things! We have those bad times with the Lord, but when we get over them the Lord is able to show the meaning. So David went back to his Bible, to his Bible, to the Word of the Lord and found the discrepancy. There the Lord had not said: "Thou shalt make a new cart". It's not in the Word at all, indeed, that was another heathen idea. Then David saw and he said: "Oh. It is written, it is written transportation not by a cart, but the Levites shall carry the ark." The tragedy of that day! The Word - with all good intention, the Word overlooked and missed, but the Lord always watches over His Word ever.
And in many secret tragedies in our lives, maybe many arrests in our spiritual progress, not because we didn't mean well, not because our motive wasn't quite good, but good motive, best motives may just miss the particular thought of God. And God does not substitute a good motive for something that He has laid down as law.
See, we are pressed for something, aren't we, this morning. This sounds very terrible I know, but we haven't got through yet. Here we are: the government of the Word of God. And in all these things it was invariably one thing. And this, dear friends, is where our hearts are going to be really touched.
It was not just in a sort of a legal, mechanical way of observing some statement in the Bible. The issue was very much bigger than that! If you will look at every such instance, the big and the small, the larger and the particular, you will see that it was always a matter of the Lord's presence.
We talked about Joshua. Do you remember Ai? What had the Lord said about the principles of spiritual progress? You know what He said! And they came to Ai, and you know what Achan did. He violated the Word of God, and the whole of Israel was arrested in their progress; brought to a standstill and there was a scene of tragedy. But what was the real tragedy? The manifest presence of the Lord, wasn't it? Wasn't that everything? Oh, we don't want anything greater than that! Surely there is no heart here that has any interest in anything in this life and in this world apart from the presence of the Lord! If only we know that the Lord is with us, well, what a lot of difference that can make!
A lot of victories, a lot of strength, yes, there may be conflict, as there was with Joshua afterward, conflict and terrible assaults, there may be many problems and many difficulties in life, but if only we are assured that the Lord is with us, that's everything, isn't it? Is it to you? I tell you that's my battleground all the way along. The devil is so cruel, using the very disciplines of God meant to bring us into His greater fullness, using those trials as accusations against God, and inside of us making us feel that because of this situation and circumstance, this trial, this difficulty, this thing that is so hard, the Lord isn't with us. Don't you listen to that lie! You will be absolutely worsted, ruled out of all the conflict and the possession if you take on that lie of the devil. It's always there, but it's the battleground.
The presence of the Lord - what can we do without that? How can we get on without that? What would our meetings be but for the presence of the Lord? Our prayer-meetings, if only we are able to say, "The Lord was with us. The Lord was there! We knew the Lord's presence." That's Life, isn't it? That's strength.
Now, all that in the Bible, as you see, hung upon this Word of God. He is with us according to His Word, on the basis of His Word, and only with us as His Word has its place in our heart. So the apostle says: "Let the word of God dwell in you richly in all spiritual wisdom and understanding". The Presence of the Lord. The Lord stood back at Ai. The Lord stood back, stood back in David's incident, because of the defaulting over His Word. It is always like that.
Now then, the Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit
You see, He is present as the jealous Trustee of the Word, will, and purpose of God. Oh, I thank God for that! Don't you? If you're hearing what I'm saying, you say: "This is rather oppressive, this is rather heavy, exacting, demanding; this is rather hard!" Ah, yes, but that's all true and right, but the Holy Spirit...! For what has He come? Why is He here? Why is He in us? He is, as I have said, the jealous custodian of the Word of God. On the one side: very watchful. He is referred to as the "seven Spirits of God", that is, the complete spiritual knowledge, and discernment, and perception. The seven eyes of the Lord.
The Holy Spirit is here in trust with, if I may put it this way, the will of God; in trust with the purpose of God, in trust with, therefore, the Word of God, for these things all go together. The presence of the Holy Spirit, the known presence of the Holy Spirit, the working of the energy of the Holy Spirit, it's all in this connection - to bring us, by way of the Word of God, to the end to which we have been called.
The Word of God is the ground of the Holy Spirit's activity. Yes, you remember that. You see it here illustrated in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God is in charge. He is the Captain of the Hosts of the Lord. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within, to just keep us on the line of the Word of God. And if we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, without perhaps knowing the particular Scripture that applies for the moment, we shall know that something is not right. We are just out of adjustment with the Lord. There is something that does not say: "That's right and good and proper." There is a sort of pause in us. The Holy Spirit knows why that is, if we will go to the Lord about that, seek the Lord about it, and turn to His Word, the Lord will just put His finger upon something: "Well, well, that has been there all the time, and here in my situation it just contradicts the Spirit!"
Alright, now then: tested by the Word as to the heart, yes the Holy Spirit has come for this. It is the ground for His working. And let me say to the young Christians, say out of a long experience, that although you may not understand the Bible, you may understand a great deal of the Bible, you may not seem to enjoy it, read it! Enjoy it or not enjoy it; understand it or not understand it, read it! Work at it, even if it's labour, get down to it. You know, you have got a tape recorder inside of you! We have a lot of tapes in the office, a lot of tapes of messages spread over many years. Sometimes one is asked for and we look it out, and just occasionally I want to hear a bit of that. "Did I say that? Oh, it's coming back to me now from somewhere far away, it's coming back. Yes, I did." You know, we've got a tape recorder inside.
Do you notice this interesting thing, have you tried to remember something, someone's name, some person or some thing, and it comes up and you want to remember but it has gone? "What was that person's name? When was it that that happened? Where was it? Oh no, I must give it up!" Do you? Now, if you understand anything about psychology, you won't give it up. I hear something like that and my folk say: "He has gone away!" I cannot let go of that until I have got it! I am not looking up anywhere for it, but I set my mind to recover that, and then the point comes where I feel utterly defeated. But I have learnt something, and I let go. In a few minutes or perhaps later on, the thing comes floating in, floating in and, "Oh yes!" Where has that come from? Your tape recorder, speaking back, perhaps over the years, it comes back. Have you had that experience? Supposing you'd given up altogether and said, "Well, I've forgotten that one... Alright, that's gone!" But you get down to it.
Now, the Word of God is like that. I am so glad that in my early Christian life I set myself to a systematic study of the Bible, book by book. Now, I didn't understand it, and there are many things today that I don't understand, I've read some things in the Bible recently that for the life of me I don't understand it! Many things then I didn't understand, and I could have closed the book because it didn't seem to mean anything. But I worked at it; I worked at it. I analysed the books without spiritual understanding, but I worked - and aren't I glad today! If I have any spiritual ministry today it's the Holy Spirit working upon what is there. The Word is there, and the Spirit works upon the Word. In time of need it becomes more than the Word - it becomes the Life.
Young Christians, don't give up the Bible because it is difficult. Work at it, and the time will come when you will say: "Thank God for that hard labour over the Bible!" It's like that. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, Bible expositors of this last century did say to me once: "Sometimes it is such a weariness, such a weariness in my work with the Bible that I almost wish there was no Bible there!" Well, he had laboured at it, but my word, the fruit of his ministry is all over the world.
The Spirit works upon the Word. Give Him that - give Him His ground. It is the ground of spiritual progress by the Holy Spirit. There may be an unconscious control of the Word in the sense that you may not know exactly what that Scripture is, but unconsciously you know there's something that has got hold of you, that you can't get away, you can't get on. He is working. The thing is written inside and He wrote it. He wrote it. The new covenant is written upon the heart.
Now, that's the beginning, a statement, a strong statement, but what does this mean after all? It may still seem objective to you; things said, but let us come back to the beginning. Progress, spiritual progress in the will of God unto the full purpose of God in our calling; demands will not be made without a very meticulous observance of what is in the Bible.
Now, why this word? Why this word today? Oh, this is born, dear friends, out of a tremendous amount of exercise over recent years. Why the weakness of Christianity today? Why the weakness of so many Christians? Why the slowness of their spiritual progress? Why the failure of so many? I have the answer, there's no doubt about it, because I can put my finger upon a large number of things that are there in the Word of God! They are there as plain to be seen as anything can be. And I look at those Christians, I see that in their behaviour, in their appearance, in their conduct and way of going on, and their relationships, there is just this clear and definite a contradiction of what is there in the Bible as anything could be. The Bible has something to say about anything that you can think of. Yes, it prescribes for anything that you could ever think of.
If I mentioned some of the things that it mentioned you'd be surprised: "The Bible says something about that?" Yes, it does! What is the meaning of the tragedy of many marriages? That's a practical point isn't it? When you go behind: why did the marriage take place? On what ground? A fascination? An infatuation? An emotion? An impulse? A desire to be married anyhow? It's a tragedy, because that marriage was not based upon a real spiritual relatedness. The first thing was not given its place, but other interests. The Word says, as you know, precisely: "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers". Alright, you are going to make spiritual progress if you violate that? No! Certainly tragedy sooner or later. I take that as an example, I could take many other things like that that I am seeing in Christianity today.
And I am trying to be very faithful with you young Christians, I am concerned for you, deeply, that you do not miss God's best, God's fullest, and so I say: look, that depends upon your having the Word of God in you, that the Holy Spirit can say, "Now then, what about this?"
Of course, there's another side to it, isn't there? I have to be faithful and I want to be serious on this matter, because it is a present issue, I've no doubt about it, it's a real issue in Christianity today. The Christianity that is being produced today is a terrible caricature of Christ. You younger Christians will bear with me now, I'm trying to be very faithful with you, I want you to have God's fullest and God's best. And I'm saying to you that that depends upon your being serious about the Word of God. It really does.
There is the other side, of course, and we always like to turn to the other side: what a blessed thing it is to feel there is no impediment, there is no restraint with the Lord, there is a clear way, the presence of the Lord is very real! Heaven is opened! I know of nothing more blessed in all life than those times when you have no cloud between you and glory, the Lord's presence is so real and so wonderful. I wish it were always like that, you know! We sing the hymn:
"There have been seasons, beautiful and calm;
Abide with me, and they shall ever be."
Well, that is the wrong way of putting it! "Let me abide with Thee, and they shall ever be."
Deviations, you see, bring a cloud, but there is nothing more precious in all human history than this joy of the Lord, this peace of God, this sense that the Lord is not against us, but is with us and for us. Isn't that so? You've had those days, hours, weeks of spiritual ecstacy by the Lord, and so it's worth it, it's worth it to be obedient, to let His Word rule in our hearts, as the Scripture says, rule in our heart.
And when Jesus was dealing with the devil in the wilderness, you know what He was dealing with don't you? He was dealing with a person? Alright, even the personality of the devil. Dealing with an evil person? Yes, no doubt about that. He was dealing with very much more than that - He was dealing with the whole issue of Life and death. The devil was trying to get Him, coerce Him, tempt Him, constrain Him, compel Him to take a way which was out of the will of God and which would mean His premature death! A death which would be death and not victory. He was dealing with this whole issue of Life and death. And so underline and encircle the word: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Put that in the positive way, ruling out the negative clause: "Man shall live, live by every word... shall live" - that is God's thought.
Suffer the word of exhortation, I was very near to despairing a little while ago, especially in the realm of ministry. And I got to the Lord (suffer this personal note) and the Lord turned me to a Scripture and it hit me like a sledgehammer would: "Preach the word, be instant in season" (that is very easy!) "out of season" (when everything says: 'This is not the time to preach'), "to reprove, rebuke, exhort" - and here we are.
If you have had too much reproof this morning, too much rebuke, well, I exhort you: give the Word its place. The Holy Spirit will do the rest and you will go on the way with unimpeded progress. The Lord help us.