The letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12: "Therefore let us also... and let us run... looking off unto Jesus the author (or captain, or file-leader) of our faith, and the perfecter of our faith."
I want to try to gather up and focus and co-ordinate the ministry of today, taking you back to the beginning, reminding you that then we pointed out that the whole Bible, in every part, is concerned with the will of God. And that it being the Word of God, means that the will of God is to be found and only to be found, in the Word of God. Then we pointed out that the Bible introduces God to us as a 'going' God, a God moving in purpose and with purpose. He is in action from the first verse: "In the beginning God created" - God in action. And all the way through the Bible God is seen to be this God on the move, pressing onward in purpose, and revealing Himself and that purpose, in His Word. So that the Word of God has to dominate everything if the purpose of God is to be fulfilled and completed. That was the foundation of the day.
We moved on to see in the afternoon that, in order to be in that full, comprehensive will of God with purpose, it is necessary for us to have no purpose of our own, but only His. And so we dwelt upon the great law of spiritual progress and forward movement: the law of letting go, being able to let go, the law of renunciation of all unto God.
This is all, of course, based upon the three-pronged fork with which we began. The famous preacher and expositor Dr Alexander Maclaren of Manchester, always took three points for every sermon. One day his people asked him: "Doctor, why do you always have 1, 2, 3?" He said, "Well, I don't know, I think a three-pronged fork is a very useful thing with which to feed the people of God."
And our three-pronged fork this morning was, as you'll remember, we gather to this ministry today firstly because we are supremely concerned to know the will of God.
Then, that we are quite prepared to at least listen to and consider anything that might help us to know the will of God, we're open-hearted and open-minded, and more than that, we are ready to hear anything that can help us in this knowledge of the will of God.
And the third branch, we are committed to do what the Lord shows us as to that will.
Now, that is the point at which we have arrived so far, and, as I have said, I want to gather that all up this evening with one other great essential to going on with God.
And let me say this. In the presence of such a great deal of misapprehension of what Christianity is, of inadequate understanding in our time of the Christianity that is before us, and preaching and teaching and so on. In the presence of an inadequate Christianity, that Christianity really is that persons are caught up in the goings of God, the apostle Paul used the word "apprehended", it's what he meant, that he had been apprehended of Christ. Christ was going on, moving forward - and He was moving at that time, wasn't He? In the early days it's so evident in the book of the Acts, this is a forward-moving Christ. There's a great forward movement from heaven, and in that going, that tremendous going of Christ, this man was caught up and carried on as one under arrest.
And that is what Christianity is. It's not just some little thing. It contains all sorts of things, many things, I mean. Many things, but with all those things, what it really amounts to is that you and I have been caught up in something; we have been taken hold of.
You know, there's a word, a very interesting word in the New Testament that is just this very thing. We read it this morning in our private reading, about the betrayal of Jesus, and the band coming out to arrest Him. There's a little clause that says: "And the men which held Jesus..." mark you: "the men that held Jesus". There you can see what kind of men they were: pretty tough sort of men. To get into their grasp and grip would certainly be something not easy to resist. "The men that held" and that word held is a very interesting word in the New Testament. It is the same word as the apostle Paul used when he said: "The love of Christ constraineth us" - same word in the original: held; constrained. And the word just means that you're taken hold of irresistibly, or almost irresistibly, and carried on.
When the woman came to touch His garment for healing, and He said: "I know power's gone out of Me, I perceive it, who touched Me?" His disciples said: "Master, the throng, the throng press Thee! How sayest Thou, Who touched Me?". That word again there, is the same word. Have you ever been in a mob, in a crowd, in a multitude that is going? Well, there is plenty of that sort of thing today, this rushing multitude, and you get in and what can you do but go? It's no use trying to resist that. This is the word, this is the word, and Christianity is just being caught up in the eternal going of the eternal God, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit: mastered, carried on, almost irresistibly.
Now, I am very careful that you should get the point this evening, because this is a law of progress - of course, that seems very obvious, doesn't it - but it's the principle of it.
Now look, here's Hebrews.
Do you know the content of this letter to the Hebrews? What does it do from the beginning, right at the beginning? It gathers up everything of all the goings of God. "God at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto the fathers by the prophets" - gathering up all the previous movements and goings of God and focusing them in His Son, Jesus Christ: "hath at the end of these days spoken, not by bits, not by pieces, not here and there, by divers portions and manners, but focused, concentrated, consummated, full and final, in His Son Jesus Christ". Then the writer goes on to tell us what Jesus Christ is, and Who He is. Greater than the angels. Greater than the angels, greater than Moses, greater than all: this wonderful Christ that this writer is presenting. You see why? And then he uses the metaphor of a race, a going. We are caught up in something, as in a race, and what is this that is governing this movement, this race, all this energy? "Looking unto Jesus", this Jesus! This Jesus, this marvelous Jesus about which he has been writing: greater than the angels, greater than the law, greater than Moses, greater than everything, this Jesus, looking on, the full and consummate embodiment of Divine purpose into which we are called and caught up.
And what does that say to us? That's a lot of words, isn't it, but what does it mean?
It means this, dear friends, that a law, amongst the others, a law of going: "Let us, let us move on', yes, this letter is full of that isn't it? Let us... let us press on... let us leave beginnings and go on, let us... let us be caught up in something that makes us shed every impeding thing, every arresting and hindering thing; leave it. What is it that carries us on? We have seen the Lord Jesus! My, we have seen the Lord Jesus - here it is in the letter! We've had a vision, not objectively, perhaps, but in our hearts something has happened and Jesus Christ is becoming all-mastering, all-controlling and the all-absorbing object of our existence. We have seen Jesus, and that vision carries us on. What we have seen about Him, what is God's purpose in Him, what we have seen in Jesus has become a dynamic in our life, and such a dynamic that nothing else matters. Let us lay aside... that doesn't matter, that doesn't matter. That does not matter! Let us lay aside that and that... that's not the thing, this is it: what we have seen of God's will, in its fullness, comprehended in His Son as for us. All that, meant for us, all that He is, is for us.
You know friends, we have not yet, after all, really grasped the Lord Jesus. I say that meaningly and knowingly. Oh, how many of our worries would go if only we had seen the Lord Jesus! How many of those delaying, arresting things in our life would go if only we had seen the Lord Jesus! What is it that's holding us back, "the sin that doth so easily beset"? What is it that is slowing us in the race, or even holding us up in the race? "Oh, this terrible sinful thing that I am! This wretched man that I am! This poor thing, weak, and sinful, and faulty thing." And I think about this, and I dwell upon this, and I'm troubled about this... and then what happens? I stop running! All the "go" goes out of my faith! Isn't that true?
You stop and think about yourself for five minutes, and see how fast you will run forward in the Lord! Oh, yes, we all do it. We all do it, we are obsessed, overwhelmed with this terrible thing we are, this poor thing that we are, this miserable thing that we are! Isn't it true? We dwell upon it, and then we flop down, we're broken, the race is at an end for us, while we are there. We have not seen the Lord Jesus!
See, in Him, we have been dismissed! In His death we have been put out of sight. In Him risen we no longer appear before God, for He appears for us, as us. He is us, not this. That is seeing Jesus! If only we got hold of it! If only we've got hold of Him! If only our eyes really did see what God has made Him to be for us - "Of Him are we in Christ Jesus, who is made unto us from God, made unto us from God wisdom". Dwelling upon your own foolishness and folly, and "unto us wisdom from God", and righteousness from God, and sanctification from God, and redemption from God - what more do you want? That comprehends everything in redemption and unto glory! "Looking off unto Jesus."
Do you see what I am trying to say? The writer of this letter then, sees us as in metaphor of a race, and he says that if you are going on in this, if you're going on in this you've got to see Jesus and keep Jesus before your view; not be seeing yourself and other people all the time, but keeping your eye on Him. Then you'll keep going, if you don't, you'll stop going.
Now that's very plain, very simple, not very profound, but it's the gospel concerning God's Son, Jesus Christ.
Now. What is it that I'm trying to get at? It's this. You and I, dear friends, individually, and if we are belonging to a local company of the Lord's people here or there, the company of the Lord's people will only, will only make progress toward that full, ultimate end of God in Christ if we have got a spiritual vision of Jesus Christ. Vision is essential to progress.
Is it necessary for me to stay with the word? I am not thinking about something objective that you see with your eyes of flesh, you know that. It is something that has happened inside of you, and your inner spiritual eyes have been opened. And you can say: "I have seen, and that has revolutionised my life. That's put me on my feet. That's set me on a course. That has become a dynamic in my life which, in spite of myself, in spite of myself keeps me going." Yes, it works like that, oh thank God, it works like that.
I know the aspect and factor of our responsibility, but God help you and God help me if it is all going to be left to our responsibility and what we do! I tell you - and this may have been your experience, if not it may interpret your experience - many, many times I, in the man that I am, would have given up the race. That is an awful confession isn't it? Yes, I would have given up the race. Indeed, indeed in my heart I did give it up. So then [I could go no further] so I just give it up. And it wasn't, therefore, because of my persistence but it was what Paul called, "the power that worketh in us".
The power that worketh in us, what is it? The Holy Spirit has done something and put a dynamic in us and we have seen. And we can't un-see, and it will come back. It may fade, it may even be eclipsed by days of darkness and trouble. We may know what Paul meant when he said: "Pressed beyond our measure... we despaired of life". That's a terrible thing for the greatest of all apostles to say, "Despaired... beyond our measure"! What happened? Did Paul get up and say: "Well, anyway, I'm going on"? Not at all! "The power that worketh in us" got him on his feet again and again.
Let Elijah seek out his juniper tree and say: "Take away my life", the Lord doesn't agree. He has given him a part in a great, eternal purpose, and so he will come up again.
Be encouraged! Are you down? Are you despondent? Are you despairing? Are you feeling you can't go on? It will come up again, and I say "it", God forgive me, I'll say: He will come up again. Something has taken place. I am calling it 'vision', but that may be misleading. What I mean is that something has come into our life which is a spiritual knowledge and become a spiritual dynamic, and given us a sense of purpose, purpose! God's purpose. It is something that has come in; God has done it. And that is going to be the secret of our survival, at least. Survival! We'll not survive but for that, that which I call vision. No, we'll not get through on any resource of our own, but we will go on in the going of the eternal goings of God if there has been this initial something of seeing God's purpose in Jesus Christ.
Oh, I do wish, with all my heart, that in the preaching of the gospel to the unsaved the note of eternal purpose was more often struck! It's what weakens it: the appeals to our souls to have some thing that will make us happy. The whole set-up is that: being happy, being happy, you know! No, no no. You won't get much of a kind of Christian by that means, but you will if those who have come to the Lord have come because they have seen something of the greatness of Jesus Christ, and of their calling in Him; this vision which has produced a sense of vocation, in other words: a sense of purpose, mastering purpose. Without it, I say again, we will not get very far in the race! It is that which the apostle means, in symbolic language. It is true.
Don't just dwell upon the literal idea. The spiritual motivation is: looking. Off. Unto. Jesus, who started it and will finish it: the Beginner, the File-leader, the Perfecter. It did not begin with us, thank God! How many times we have been rescued by that word of the Lord Jesus: "You did not choose Me. I chose you and ordained you. I initiated this thing and I am going to complete it, if you'll let Me, if you will fall into this going, if you will keep your eye on Me, and off of the things that delay and arrest."
Vision - or whatever other word you may use for the idea, the principle, the law - something that has taken hold of you, and you know that it is that which is carrying you on.
Have you got that? Are you a Christian of that sort? I am not asking you if you have had a Damascus Road experience, when the whole thing was visual, and ocular and sensational like that, but whether there's something that has happened so that, if you wanted to put it into words, you would have to say: "Well, I have come to see Jesus Christ, and in Him my eternal destiny has been bound up with Him." How shall I put it? Do you see what I mean, what I am trying to convey? It's like that: a mastering motivation brought into us, and upon us, by Jesus Christ at the beginning. That will make us Christians that go on, that go on in this race with patience that is set before us; a mighty, Divine imperative in our lives. Have you got that?
A Mighty Divine Imperative
Oh, I do wish I could get this home! After all, after all your troubles and trials, and difficulties, and temptations are you prepared to give up? Are you prepared, really, to come through to abandon everything and say: 'I am not going on in this any longer'? Are you? Well, sit down and try! I venture to say that you will not get very far with that! You may have two or three miserable days or weeks over it, but sooner or later you will say: 'No, it's no use; I have got to go on! I have to go on!' Something like that is what I mean by vision - this dynamic, this sense of a purposeful God, a God of purpose having laid hold of us, picked us up and carry us on. Just in that way.
Now, this is exactly what is meant, you see, by inspiration. The Lord's people ought to be inspired people, inspired people - men and women who are inspired! It is only another way of saying 'inspirited'. And, we ought, because of that, to be an inspiration to others. Oh, if we are not an inspiration to others there is something seriously lacking in the very nature of our Christianity if we can't inspire others. If we do not bring in inspiration in our ministry and our contacts, if in our leadership there is no inspiration, then that's a contradiction in terms, because the Bible idea of leadership in any way, is inspiration, inspiring people. If you are leading a meeting you ought to inspire them, in whatever kind of meeting it is, you ought to bring inspiration.
Inspired people. And what should be true of the individual should be true of every company. A company of people who are being carried on by this mighty Divine dynamic of purpose, or vision. 'We know where we stand. We know where we are going, we know what we are after, we know!' Many of the Lord's people today don't seem to know where they are going, or where they are. No assembly ought to be like that! They ought to be a 'going' company and everybody ought to know that those people have seen something, those people are mastered by something that is carrying them on, there's a real force in their being.
Such a vision has many side-effects and values, one of which is the resolving of the whole question of unity. And what a question that is! I don't know what to say and what not to say, there is so much. But you take up your letter to the Corinthians, the first letter to the Corinthians and what have you? People in internal dissensions and divisions, Paul said, "There are divisions". Quarrellings! Anything and everything but unity and oneness. Paul knew it, well before he went to them, and so he said: "I determined, when I came to you, I determined, I made up my mind, I resolved that I would know nothing among you, save one thing, an all-unifying one: Jesus Christ, and Him crucified". The unification of a focused vision on Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ and the meaning of His Cross.
If you have this that I am calling 'vision', this dominating sense of purpose and meaning given by the Lord, it will resolve so much of this trouble manifested in divisions and lack of real fellowship. It's a unifying dynamic, is a vision of Jesus Christ!
We go back to the Old Testament for an illustration. The case of Nehemiah. Well, Nehemiah had a vision, didn't he? He was a man of vision. He saw Jerusalem rebuilt, with the wall reconstructed and finished, and made complete. He had the vision of this new Jerusalem on the earth for that time, well, he was a man, first of all, mastered by the vision, tremendously mastered. Then all these people - a poor people, a poor lot, really, a bedraggled remnant - coming back, with all the possibilities of more disintegration, murmurings, and quarrellings, and what-not to hinder the realisation of this thing that had mastered this man. But what? They shared his vision! They were gathered up in this man's vision, and look at them: persecution, opposition, everything to deter, but the verdict is: "And the wall was finished... and they heard thereof". Why? The people had a mind to work. And what was that mind? Well, it was this vision of the purpose which had been put into the heart of this man and it unified the people.
Let the devil come along and do everything that he could to discourage, to make difficulty, even the subtle ruse of trying to get Nehemiah to come and have a conference and discuss things. "No!" said he, "Not on your life! I am doing a great work and I am not coming down there." You see the power of a mighty objective, a vision, to unify, to energise, to keep going. Don't we need that? Doesn't Christianity need that? Don't we need that in our assemblies, something like that? We do! Oh, then we must have this new apprehension of God's purpose and will as centred in His Son Jesus Christ, concerning us: a mighty, animating power in life. That is (as I have said and want to say again) is more powerful than all our capacity for giving up and being discouraged and resigning. It is more powerful than all the weaknesses of our own souls.
Survival! Oh, I do thank God for survival! It's a weak word, I know, it is not enough to just say you survive, for we are doing more than surviving, I believe, we are triumphing. But to survive all this that's against, there must be something more than ourselves; "He is greater than our heart" says the Word, greater than our heart. Thank God we have proved that many times! Our hearts have fainted and well-nigh given up the struggle, but He is greater than our hearts.
Just one more word. This, this thing, call it vision, call it what you like - but you know what it means now - this is a mighty emancipating power. I use that word emancipating in this sense: a great power for lifting us out of our smallness, our narrowness, our littleness.
How shall I illustrate? Well, we take our good friend who supplies us with so much instruction in this matter in his own history, the apostle Paul. You know, you know dear friends, that the cause of the old Israel's calamity, calamity, first of all of being sent into Babylon and captivity for seventy years, and then eventually handed up by God, dismissed by God, because? The reason? Exclusiveness is the answer. There is no other answer. Exclusiveness: "We are the people. The truth will die with us. No one else has any place at all. We are it, and only it. And it is us. These nations, these Gentiles, they are mere dogs. Dogs! There is no place for them in the Divine economy! We are the chosen people, God's elect, and no one else." In spite of all the prophecies of what they were meant to be by God to the Gentiles, to the nations.
They were to be the seed in which all the nations were to be blessed, but in spite of all that and the covenant with Abraham, no. They had closed in, and in, and in, on themselves, because they were the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Exclusiveness! And Paul the apostle was a representative of that fact: born into that, brought up in that, trained in that, imbibing that. He was the embodiment of that exclusiveness, that Pharasaic exclusiveness! Look at this man! What are you going to do with a man like that? Well, try, try argument, and see how far you will get. He will out-argue you! Try persuasion. No, not a bit of it! He is not the kind to be persuaded. He is a bigot in this! Try persecution. It will make no difference, you won't move that man! He is shut in to this exclusive position. But it's done; the thing is done! He is emancipated, he is out! No longer is the old Israel his parish, the world is his parish. How vast is the range now of his vision!
Tremendous, isn't it? You can't cope with his language on this! He leaps over all language barriers, because of what? He has seen Jesus Christ, he's had a vision, and not only seen as an incident of the vision of a Person, he has seen the significance: what Jesus Christ means in God's universe, in God's economy, in God's eternal goings from eternity to eternity. He's seen! He's out!
You cannot be exclusive if you have seen Jesus Christ - that would dissipate and ruin all exclusiveness. You cannot be mean, contemptible, little, small if you have seen Jesus Christ!
And don't you agree with me that this presentation of Christ in His infinite greatness is the only way to emancipate people from their littleness in spiritual life? Isn't it needed today? Oh, indeed it is unifying, because we have got one central Object which draws us together and makes us say about one-thousand-and-one things that would get in the way: "You get out of the way! We are set upon this purpose of God, and we are going on." It is unifying, emancipating and enlarging.
Oh, that the Lord would give us this emancipation again, and enlarge us! The Psalmist said: "I will run in Thy ways when Thou shalt enlarge my heart". An enlargement of heart will make you fleet of foot in the ways of the Lord.
We close, not the subject by any means, but for this day. Vision is the great battleground of all time; oh, if you have seen, you will be a marked person. If your eyes have been opened you will know something of what that fellow knew when the Lord opened those eyes that had been blind from his birth. It is all so, so true to life isn't it! He had his eyes opened and said: "Whereas I was blind, now I see. This one thing I know, and you can't rob me of that!" When he got his eyes opened, well, it wasn't long before he was excommunicated from the assembly in the synagogue - cut off and made an object of their spite. That is true to spiritual experience.
If you have seen, you are in the battle; you really are. You won't be troubled very much by the devil if you haven't got this dynamic in you, because it's this dynamic which spells his final overthrow. You have got to count for God, and you only count for God by having seen. And when you have seen, yes, you are marked, and there is a battle on. That very vision, not you yourself, but that very vision is the mark, the object; anything, anything to destroy you, to get you out of that, out of the run, out of the battle - it's a battleground of spiritual seeing. Very true!
What are we going to end the day with? What are you praying? I can tell you what I am praying! After all the years I am praying with all my heart: "Lord, more than ever, reveal Thy Son in me. Reveal Thy son in me. Give me a yet larger apprehension and comprehension of the meaning of Jesus Christ!"
Will you go and pray that? Will you go and pray that? Will you seek the Lord, and seek continually that the Lord will enlarge and strengthen your apprehension of Jesus Christ so that, figurative language or not, this is what it is in actuality: "Looking off unto Jesus". All that He means, all that He contains, all that He represents of God for us, concerning us, looking off unto Jesus as the File-leader, the Perfecter, the Completer, the Beginning and the End - Christ seen in the heart becoming this dominating power in our lives which saves us from all that would bring us into despair in ourselves, in others, and in the world. But there it is: it's something done.
"I have seen the face of Jesus,
Tell me naught of all beside!"