"... 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. 1, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1972 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: Philippians 3:1-16

THE Philippian letter begins with Paul's statement, "For to me to live is Christ", and then goes on to express his ambition to know the Lord more and more, with his determination to pursue that knowledge as a coveted prize. If we desire to know what is meant by gaining Christ we have to turn to Romans 8:29, where we find that God's intention is that we should be conformed to the image of His Son. This being conformed is gaining Christ, this is the prize; it involves an attaining unto the fulness of Christ in moral perfection, which is to be the glory in which God's sons will be manifested. It is simply this, that to come to be morally and spiritually one with Christ in His place of exaltation is the goal and prize of the Christian life. We do well to keep in view this glorious end, "the manifestation of the sons of God".

When Paul spoke of gaining Christ and of reaching out for the prize, he was expressing his earnest longing to be conformed to the image of God's Son. This is something which is the issue of salvation, it is God's end in salvation, but it is clearly something which needs to be pursued. It is plain that we do not have to win salvation, and we certainly do not have to suffer the loss of all things to be saved. We are saved by faith, not by works, salvation is not a prize to be won, not something for which we must reach forward, but a present, free gift. Beyond this, however, Paul still aspired to heights as yet unreached, and he wrote that he counted all things as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. If the power of the same Spirit is working in us, this will surely produce the same effect of making us realise how little is the worth of everything else compared with the great prize of Christ.


It is interesting to compare Mark 10 with Philippians 3, as each passage tells of a young man and his momentous decision. The two men were very similar in many respects, they were both rich rulers, men of high standing socially, intellectually, morally and religiously among their own people. They were probably both Pharisees, and were both loved by the Lord. Of the one it had to be said "One thing thou lackest", while the other could affirm "One thing I do". The nameless young man turned away from Christ; he did so sorrowfully but nevertheless he did it, and the reason was that he was not prepared to part with his great possessions. Paul had great possessions also, but they lost all their attractiveness in the light of the vision which he had of Christ; to him it was the alternative of earthly prizes or the one great heavenly prize, and he gladly made his choice of the latter.

There is a sense in which we may say that he had a great advantage and a different vision of Christ, for he saw the Lord in the full power of resurrection. He not only saw Jesus of Nazareth as the young ruler did, but he was able to appreciate something of the exceeding greatness of God's power in raising from the dead this One who, despised and rejected of men, had on the cross been reduced to helplessness and apparent despair only to be lifted from death and the tomb and exalted to the right hand of the majesty on high. It was resurrection power which made Paul decide to pursue the prize. [1/2]


That which makes everything possible in the spiritual life is the fact that the same resurrection power which raised Christ to His heavenly goal is the power that works in us (Ephesians 3:20). While it is true that our justification rests upon the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the whole scope of that resurrection goes far beyond the realm of personal salvation, for its power is the means whereby all the realisation of God's eternal thought may be accomplished. Probably one of the greatest needs of our time -- which I believe to be the end time -- is for a fuller experimental knowledge of resurrection life, for the final triumph of the Church with its ultimate breakthrough to the throne, with the consequent dispossession of the satanic kingdom, can only be achieved by this means. This life is something which has met all the evil power of the universe, and proved that it cannot be touched or corrupted, so that morally as well as physically it is the life which has triumphed over death.

Resurrection life is not some abstract idea or mystical sensation, but it is a very practical expression of victory over sin and Satan. If this life could be tainted or corrupted then Satan would have won the ultimate victory, but there is no fear of such a tragedy, for the life of Christ is that which has fully and finally conquered death; and inasmuch as His resurrection life has placed Him in an unassailable position, "far above all", it is destined to bring His Church through to share His victory and His throne. So, in his quest for the prize, Paul first mentions his need of knowing "the power of His resurrection".

I believe that this attitude of Paul's tests our own knowledge of Christ. I cannot understand how a Christian who really knows the indwelling of the resurrection life of Christ can hang on to things, having a controversy with the Lord about the letting go of this and that, when the alternative is full abandonment to Christ. What should settle all disputes and questions is the realisation of the royal nature of our high calling in Christ, and the determination to let nothing stand between us and the full outworking of His resurrection life.


Paul's pursuit of the prize made him desire not only to know Christ in the power of His resurrection, but also to be ready to enter into suffering for and with Him. This puts suffering in its right place, and relates it to a leading on to glory. Very often suffering gets out of its place with us, and so causes us trouble by being the thing which pre-occupies us and blots out everything else. The Lord would have us see suffering in its right place, that is in relation to something which should make the suffering very much smaller in our estimation than it would otherwise be. "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed", that glory being the glory of the children of God. It was this glory which Paul described as the great prize of gaining Christ.

If we ask what it means to gain Christ we have to consider Romans 8, where we find that God's intention is that we should be conformed to the image of His Son. This being conformed to Christ is really gaining Christ: this is the prize. It involves an attaining unto the fullness of Christ in moral perfection; for this moral and spiritual perfection is His glory. So for us the simple issue is that to come to be spiritually and morally where Christ is in His place of exaltation is the goal, the prize. We do well to keep in view this glorious end, "the manifestation of the sons of God", when we shall be revealed with Christ and made like to Him. For the present we groan, and if we can truly analyse our groanings we may discover that they represent our longing for deliverance from the old creation life, with its bondage to corruption, sin and death, so that we may know moral perfection in Christ. One day the groanings will cease, and that will be the moment of our arrival at perfect conformity to Christ.

This is what God foreordained, for we notice that God's work in a groaning creation is related to foreknowledge, and therefore to His fore-ordination. Such predestination was not connected with the simple matter of salvation, but rather with the issue of salvation. This makes all the difference. The issue of salvation is conformity to the image of God's Son, for whom He foreknow He also foreordained, not to be saved or lost but to be "conformed to the image of His Son". The work of the Spirit of His Son in us, constituting us as sons and enablings us to cry "Abba, Father", is the commencement of God's work in the groaning creation, the work of securing in secret those sons who will provide the key to its deliverance from the whole state of vanity or disappointment which obtains at present. The whole creation is to be delivered into the enjoyment of the liberty of the glory of God's children, for this is to be the issue of the power of resurrection working in us. We [2/3] are linked in our very sonship with the whole creation's emancipation from the vanity imposed upon it. But note, the creation is not only to be delivered at the time of the manifestation, but is to take its character from Christ revealed in the sons of God. It can only find its true glory when the power of Christ's resurrection has had full expression in the glorification of God's sons as they receive their redeemed bodies, made like to His.

You may feel that this vast conception does not help you very much when you come up against personal difficulties, but it is for this very thing that Romans 8:28 links such practical experiences with the whole range of God's purpose in Christ. That calling and purpose govern every detail of our spiritual history. If, of course, we take things as purely personal incidents, then we cannot find any good in them, whereas if we appreciate their relation to God's determination to make us Christlike, then we have the clue as to their meaning. This is more than personal, inasmuch as the trial, difficulty, perplexity or provocation holds the secret of developing in us the life of the Lord Jesus, the resurrection life which carries with it the ultimate issue of God, which is the glorification of the whole universe. The New Testament is very practical, the vast things of the eternities are brought down into the most intimate details of our spiritual life, so making all things work together. These "all things" will be made to contribute to ultimate good provided they are considered in the light of divine purpose. God's meaning must not be missed. It may seem that we suffer contradiction; we ask for one thing and get just the opposite; but this is because God is not relieving us of responsibility, but using the contrary experiences to draw out and develop in us that moral strength which only the Holy Spirit can provide.


It was the Holy Spirit who made Paul write things in this order, first the power of His resurrection, then the fellowship of His sufferings, and finally the being made conformable to His death, but in fact we can only know the power of His resurrection by sharing with Him in this experience of death which involves the setting aside of everything that is personal in order to make the things of Christ our only objective. Is it not true that the basic, foundation sin is pride? And what is pride, this root sin? Really it consists of personal interests, self will and self seeking. This was how sin entered God's universe at the beginning, for Satan fell when he said, "I will exalt my throne.... I will be like the Most High", and subsequently he persuaded Adam to grasp at the opportunity of being "like God" (Genesis 3:5), so causing self interest to enter the human race. Such pride is native to us all, and only a practical experience of conformity to Christ in His death can deliver us from it.

Satan's continual attempts to work on our self interest are so subtle that he will even seem to patronise Christ if he can do so in a way which will ensnare God's servants. It was in Philippi, the city to which this letter was directed, that one of his demons publicly proclaimed that Paul was a servant of the most high God who was showing men the way of salvation. What more could Paul have wished for? Here was free publicity! Well, the fact is that we may be sure that there is some subtle plan of the devil when he begins to patronise the Gospel and make its preachers popular. The apostle realised this, and having waited on God he rebuked the demon, with results which seemed calamitous for him and Silas, for it brought them into prison with all hell raging against them. Paul, however had been delivered from a satanic trap even though he was in prison, and although for the moment he was being conformed to Christ in a new experience of His death, this inevitably brought him a new experience of God's resurrection power. He lived to write back to these Philippians from a prison in another city, and was able to assure them once more that the things which had happened to him had turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel. When human ideas, preferences and desires are set aside, it may involve deprivation for the moment, but as self interest goes down into death Christ is given a new place in our lives and we get nearer and nearer to our great prize.


It seems clear that as the apostle moved towards the end of his life he was pressing ever more eagerly towards the prize of likeness to Christ. I believe that it is a point of real advance when we come to the place where we can live without the thrill of outward signs of success or obvious miracles, and can be perfectly happy with the Lord Himself. What I have in my heart is that you and I may come more and more to the place where the Lord Jesus Himself is everything to us. We do not seek even conformity to Him for its own sake or for our satisfaction, but only that He may find joy as we move closer to Him. This is the mark of spiritual growth and maturity, to desire only that Christ may be magnified, and to press on resolutely to this objective. "Christ is the path, and Christ the prize!" [3/4]


Harry Foster

Reading: John 17:1-23

THIS is probably the most significant prayer of the many which the Lord Jesus prayed, and it has the unique feature that without the context it would be impossible to know where it was prayed and when. The reader might well imagine that it was prayed on the day of Pentecost after His ascension, or at least that it was after He had risen from the dead, and yet we know from its placing in the gospel narrative that it was offered just before His arrest. Taken by itself it is almost impossible to know where the Lord was when He prayed it. We know that He was on the earth, but He uses phrases which suggest that He was already in heaven, looking down on the earth where His disciples remained. The truth is that the whole prayer deals with a realm outside of time and outside of space, it is eternal and heavenly. It is, of course, the only prayer of Christ which is recorded in detail, and it is clearly one which was of supreme importance to Him. Since we were among those prayed for, we do well to consider its implications.


The Lord Jesus was quite specific as to whom He was praying for. "I pray for them", "I pray for them all". Comprehensively He included the whole body of believers in the burden of His intercessions, taking no note of their personal differences, of the different periods in which they would live or the different places in which they would be located. It is clear that He attached no importance to distinctions which often matter so much to us, things which assume such great proportions in our eyes but which are quite insignificant in the light of eternity. Certain things, however, are of extreme importance to heaven, and these represent the burden of our Lord's prayer. We want to investigate them, and may be helped to do so by observing that various times during the prayer a comparison is made between Christ and His Church by the use of the words "even as ...". The first of these references defines those who are being prayed for, who are, in fact, the subject of His prayer.


We who are being prayed for are identified in this way, "they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (verse 16). We notice that the Lord is not praying that we should not be worldly, indeed the phrase is not a request at all but a statement of fact. Of course He does not want us to be worldly, but He seems to take it for granted that we will not be; we are faced with this solemn and searching affirmation that we no more belong to this world than He did. What does this mean? We all have our ideas of what it means to be worldly, and have different criteria for assessing worldliness, usually basing our judgments on outward things, such as people's habits, associations or even their dress. The Lord approached the matter from an entirely different viewpoint, not being concerned with merely outward distinctions but with what was essentially inward; He prayed for the Church as consisting of a people who in their origin and character belonged, as He did, to another world. The Pharisees were noted for their outward distinctiveness from all others, and were proud of it, but Jesus was not praying for Pharisees but for men and women united to Himself by a living faith.

Not of the world! This was the statement He made about the disciples, but we may wonder how they felt at being given such a description. Perhaps they were too numbed with sorrow and apprehension at that moment to feel the force of the Lord's words, but if they were able to appreciate what He was saying they would surely feel ashamed. Not of the world! They who were so affected by the world's opinion! There had been a time, of course, when the world seemed to favour their Master, a time when the crowds gathered to Him and everything seemed prosperous and popular; but now popularity had given place to antagonism, and they were enough of the world to fear this and in fact were about to join the rest in forsaking Him. Not of the world! It did not need much provocation to disprove this. The gospel story seems to indicate that they were very much protected by the Lord so long as He was with them, but there were occasions when they had to face the world, and the stories show how much of its spirit was still governing them. James and John were provoked by the Samaritans, and their immediate response was a desire to call down fire from heaven on their enemies (Luke 9:51-55). Not long after this prayer Peter was provoked, and responded with a sword thrust (John 18:10). This, surely, was the world's spirit of retaliation. [4/5]

Not of the world! It is true that they had forsaken earthly prospects to follow Christ, but their rivalry and wrangling over who should be given official recognition and who should occupy the platform gave little evidence of any difference of spirit from the rest of the world, but rather accentuated the sad fact that worldliness in things religious is the ugliest form of worldliness.

Not of the world! This does not refer so much to outward conformity as to origin and nature. The Church no longer belongs to this world. We must not be confused by the Lord's statement that He was not praying for the world (verse 9) and think that it is wrong to pray for non-Christians. The Lord Jesus did not for a moment mean that He could not or would not pray for outsiders, indeed one of His last prayers was to ask forgiveness for those who crucified Him. Far from it being true that we ought not to pray for the people of this world, we ought to be the more fervent in prayer that they may be delivered from this present evil age and born into God's family. On this occasion, however, the Lord was not praying for conversions but interceding for the converted.

It is true that those disciples were characterised by much of the world's spirit, but the Lord was not thinking of them as they were at that moment, but rather reaching out in prayer to what they would be when they had been brought into living relationship with God by the mighty baptism of the Spirit. Earlier He had promised them that He would seek this baptism for them -- "I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter" (John 14:16) -- and this seems to have been at least a part of that prayer, for it is certain there can be no hope of the formation of a Church which belongs to another world without the Spirit's power.

Not of the world! Was this true of the Church for which Christ so earnestly prayed? After Pentecost it was, as the book of Acts clearly demonstrates. As we read its record we observe how constant were Satan's efforts to prove that after all Christians were no different from other men, but that the Church was of the world, like everybody else. The efforts were intense, but they were in vain. The disciples were threatened; their answer was "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). They were beaten; their response was to rejoice at being privileged to suffer for God (Acts 5:41). It seemed that they could not now be provoked. Devil-driven men gnashed their teeth at Stephen and stoned him to death, only to find that he met their anger with angelic peace (Acts 6:51) and used his final gasps to pray for their forgiveness (Acts 7:60). And so the story goes on, showing that this "other world" spirit was everywhere evident and that it was not peculiar to any one individual but was a conspicuous feature of the whole Church. Truly they were not of the world.

We, too, are included in this definition, for Christ was praying for the whole body of believers of this dispensation, and in His prayer affirming that we have a heavenly origin as well as a heavenly destiny. Unlike those first disciples, who could not yet honestly identify themselves as they listened to this prayer, we ought now to have a humble awareness that we have been given a place among those who can truly be so described. We have been delivered from this world and made members of His Church; we are born from above; the Spirit has come; so far as Christ is concerned we are no longer of the world.


We now come to the second occurrence of the phrase -- "As thou didst send me into the world, even so sent I them into the world" (verse 18). We have been considering the fact that the Church is a heavenly entity, noting that this does not only refer to its future destiny but also to its present nature and behaviour. We now observe that the Church must not wrongly interpret this truth by trying to withdraw from the world but must realise its mission in the world, and live for God there. Eternal life is experienced here and now, and heavenliness is a quality of life which is to be expressed right here on the earth; God's will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We do not belong to this world, we are not of it; then why are we in it? Have we been left here, to be called for later? Are we here by accident? No, it is just as though we had been taken out of it in a flash when we were saved, and then sent back into it again to live here as He lived.

There is one Bible use of the word which describes the world as a mode of life, a kingdom which governs men and tyrannizes over them. This is the world which the Lord Jesus never belonged to, and which He has now delivered us from by His cross. But the word also describes this earthly sphere where men live, and into this world the Lord Jesus was sent by the Father. As He lived here He found comfort and strength from the realisation that He was not here by chance or as the victim of circumstances, but as the direct result [5/6] of a divine sending. The remarkable comparison made in this prayer reveals that we also share His mission. We are accustomed to think of missionaries as special people, usually in foreign lands, and we readily understand that in times of stress they are fortified in their hearts by the assurance that they are in the place where God has sent them. These Christians have no monopoly of such comfort; it is available for every one of us, since Christ prayed for us as His "sent ones".

We must remember that the Lord Jesus often seemed to be a victim of circumstances, though He never was. Christ the babe went down into Egypt because He had to be protected, and Christ the boy had to leave the Temple and go back to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, subjecting Himself to their decision rather than enjoying the prospect of a university education. On certain occasions He wanted solitude, but the crowds robbed Him of it, while at other times He could not enter a city but had to keep away because beneficiaries who had been asked to keep confidence insisted on giving Him undesired publicity. In the last cruel phases of His life He was forced to go from one ruler to another, and finally led out of the city and nailed to a cross. These unpleasant experiences seem to be the very opposite of divine guidance, looking rather as though He were the unfortunate plaything of chance. If for one moment He had yielded to such a thought, He would have lost His joy and His strength. He never did so doubt, but always maintained, even in His darkest moments, that what was happening was a part of His being sent by the Father.

In this prayer the Lord Jesus took it for granted that we would have the same sort of experiences, but implied that we can share His peace in the matter since He has given to us a similar "sending" to what had been given to Him. It is probably more difficult for us to appreciate the fact of our having been so sent, especially when we cannot trace the hand of God but feel only the pressure of circumstances beyond our power, but the same Lord who explained our constitution as being not of the world insists that there is an intimate connection between the way in which we have been sent into the world and His own sending by the Father.

Many men had been sent out into the world by God before the Lord Jesus came, but none of them came as He did. They were sent with a message from God which they were told to speak, whereas the Lord Jesus came to bring not only a message but the very presence of the living God. When people met Him they met God, as He affirmed, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9). The purport of His message to men was not only to tell them about God but Himself to present God to them in terms of love. Although not in the same way yet in a very real sense the implication concerning those who are the subject of this prayer is that the Church is not merely in the world to tell men about Christ and point men to Him, but that something of His presence should be conveyed to them. The Church is here lest the ascension should mean that the world no longer has living evidence of God's love, lest Christ's going to the Father should involve a loss to needy men; it is here in the world that men should not only hear about God but be confronted by Him as a living Person by the power of the Holy Spirit.


This brings us to the actual request which the Lord Jesus made to the Father, namely "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (verse 21). This, then, is how the Church's mission of bringing the living presence of God to the world can be accomplished; this is how Christ's earnest petition to the Father can be answered, by the Church's finding its vital unity in fellowship with the Father and the Son.

We have noticed how in the prayer everything depends on relationships. When the Lord Jesus spoke of our being not of the world as He is not of it, He did not mean that we were to try to be unworldly but that our relationship with Him ensures that we belong to another realm. When He spoke of sending us even as He Himself had been sent, it did not mean that we have a similar mission but rather that we now share His work in the world. Now His request for us does not mean that we should try to imitate the harmony which exists between the Father and Himself, but rather He asked that the Church might be welcomed into that same fellowship of the Spirit eternally enjoyed by the Father and the Son.


"That they may be one" surely means something more than outward uniformity. It has ever been the demand of the world that the Church should offer itself as a massive, monolithic institution, capable of being compared with other such institutions, and even of proving its rightness by out-doing [6/7] all the rest. There is nothing in the New Testament to support this idea, for spiritual greatness does not depend on size. From time to time Christians have responded to the world's sneering challenge by attempting to provide a show of outward unity, but the result is inevitably to draw attention to itself, whereas its true function is to draw attention to God's Christ (verse 21).

The Church is not called to make itself impressive in the world's eyes, but to convey a powerful impression of Christ. This requires an inner harmony which can only be produced by a divine miracle, which is precisely why the Lord made it a matter of prayer rather than of exhortation. His request was that the Father would create a unity of the Spirit, the unity of the many members of one body.

The unity of the Father and the Son is more than an amicable agreement, it is a unity of life and love, the unity of the Spirit. The Lord Jesus prayed that the Church might be admitted into this fellowship, and before we begin to deplore the obvious contradictions which are everywhere so evident, we should ask ourselves if the Father has answered His Son's prayer, or not. If not, when will He do so? If so, when did it happen? It seems clear that He did, for John declared "truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). As to when it happened, it seems equally clear that on the day of Pentecost this union of believers was formed by the mighty baptism of the Spirit. God did it! In Christ there is now one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one Father (Ephesians 4:4-6); as the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father, so are we all one in them.


The Church cannot fulfil Christ's prayer but it must face the implications of it. Some care little for unity outside of their own limited circle; others long and strive for unity, only to find that their efforts fail to produce it. Now there is no easy or cheap way of bridging the tragic gulf between Christ's prayer and our actual state, but we take the first step in the right direction when as individuals we commit ourselves to the spiritual implications of the fact that we have a life together with all other believers and are members one of another. We must abjure all ideas that some are "in" while others are not, and particularly beware of any imagined superiority of some Christians over others.

When we come to face the practical implications of this matter we may rightly enquire what aids Christ has provided for His disciples that this high calling may be possible. A further consideration of His prayer will show that His contribution towards the outworking of this unity includes the fact that He has given us the Name, the Word and God's glory.

"Keep them in the name which thou hast given me, that they may be one" (verse 11). In giving Himself to His disciples the Lord Jesus had given them God's Name, that is His authority. He had made the Name known to them and by this means conveyed to them the love of God (verse 25). The secret of unity among individual believers in the body lies in their complete submission in love to His absolute authority. The early Church gave prime importance to "the Name"; for them there was no other, and there is still no other authoritative name. From this it follows that we must refuse to be prejudiced against or partial to any other names which God's children may bear. Our name -- or lack of it -- does not matter, provided we truly acknowledge the supreme authority of His Name. We will find that "names" divide us if we allow them to do so, but if we ignore them (as apparently the Lord does) and concentrate on open-hearted fellowship with all who bear His Name, we shall find ourselves helped in this task of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.


"The words which thou gavest me I have given unto them" (verse 8). This He has done not only to instruct us but to set us apart in togetherness unto Himself (verse 17). The Lord knew only too well that our partial understanding of God's Word and our imperfect interpretations of it can well divide instead of uniting. He therefore stressed the importance of the sanctifying work of the Word. Such sanctification includes cleansing from our old natures, which inevitable war among themselves, and the positive setting us apart as devoted not to some group or teaching but to Christ Himself. He sanctified Himself, that is allowed Himself to be cut off by death and restored to God by resurrection, in order that His death might cut us off from ourselves and His resurrection lift us into heavenly relationship with God. The Word will do this work in us daily if we cease from trying to handle it in our own way and allow it to handle us. [7/8]


"The glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them, that they may be one, even as we are one" (verse 22). The glory of Christ is a further secret of oneness. If we refer back again to the early days of the Church we discover that when the disciples were preoccupied with the glory of Christ they flowed together spontaneously.

Part of the request made by the Lord was that His disciples might see His heavenly glory in the future, but in addition He spoke of a glory bestowed on the Church here and now, and bestowed with the purpose of making us one. If Peter overheard this sentence he might well have wondered at that time where the glory was, but after Pentecost he had no doubts about it; glory had come to the Church. Later his first letter indicates an important aspect of this glory, it is the ability to believe even when we do not see (1 Peter 1:8) and to rejoice in suffering for His sake (1 Peter 4:14-16). A Christian who is filled with glory in this way has no difficulty about fellowship with others, and a Church which is characterised by this kind of glory has no problems about unity.


T. Austin-Sparks

"Who is there among you that will give ear to this?
that will hearken and hear for the time to come?
" (Isaiah 42:23).

WITHOUT considering the context of these words, we use them to ask ourselves if we really believe that there is a time to come. Do we believe that the time to come is a bigger time than now, that the afterward is much greater than the present, that there are ages of ages before us, and that however long it may be, our whole lifetime here on earth is only a small fragment of a dispensation? Do we believe that our service in "the ages to come" is far more important than in this age?

We do not thereby rule out the importance of this life in which we should buy up every opportunity and redeem the time, but even so our life is but a span which will soon be completed, and we depart just when we are reaching a condition of being able to help others. No sooner have we learned something which might be of value to other people than we are called away. What a problem, what an enigma life is!

"For the time to come." That was the perspective of the apostles, one of whom wrote, "I will give diligence that ... ye may be able after my decease ..." (2 Peter 1:15). This is the real test -- whether we want always to be in view, interested only in what we can do in our own lifetime, or whether we are content to wait for the values of "the time to come".

The question arises as to whether you would be prepared to go to serve the Lord in India or Africa, and within a few weeks lay down your life, either in martyrdom or in sickness. Would it be worth it? If you think so, then it can only be in the light of the afterward, the "time to come". You believe that it would be worth while to go out to India for just a month and die, do you? If you do not, you have no right to go.

Let us always have "the time to come" as a real motive in living. The fruit of our lives cannot be immediate, for only a small part of its meaning can be in our days, the total value will appear in the afterward. We have to live not only for this time, for though we live right up to the limit in our own day we cannot do or be much, and I doubt whether the outcome here is worth the cost. The cost, however, is not just for our lifetime; the Lord has in view "the ages of the ages".



Roger T. Forster

AS we consider the record of the building of the tabernacle in Exodus chapters 25-40, we notice that the materials for its construction are listed and described seven times over. If we compare the Creation story in Genesis, where the materials for the creation of the world are enunciated only once, we understand something of the importance of the truths illustrated by the structure [8/9] of the tabernacle. Moreover we start to see why it is so important if we look for the interpretation of this Old Testament picture as it is found in Hebrews 8, 9 and 10.

It was a revelation, given to Moses in the mount, which typified something else which is called "A heavenly sanctuary" (Hebrews 8:1-5). Moreover it represented what was true in the deepest sense of that word (Hebrews 9:23-24). We remember that the Lord Jesus said that eternal life was to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent. This tabernacle is a picture, not of what is transitory, like the things of earth, but of something which is eternally true. Now the things that are eternal cannot be seen, as Paul reminds us, so that is why we are given this visible representation of them. Things like love, truth, honesty, purity, cannot be handled and wrapped up, so they are given to us in pictures, as though the children under the law were being taught by their guardians using an ABC picture book in preparation for the fulness which was later to appear.


Hebrews 10 gives a hint that one day the real thing will appear. The tabernacle was an anticipation, a kind of prophecy of good things which would come not by the sacrifices made year after year, but by a different kind of sacrifice which would make the consciences of the people perfect. So we see that the New Testament interpretation of this tabernacle is that it speaks of what is heavenly, of ultimate reality which is to come in due time.

We are therefore dealing with what belongs to the Spirit and to heaven, God's domain; it shows the mode of His existence and the reality of His realm. Just as a wonderful symphony can be expressed in dots on paper which we call music, although it is not really music but only ink on paper, so the things of God which cannot be seen are made real to us, and since God has put eternity into our hearts we reach out for them. Now a symphony is put down on paper in order that you and I can share with the composer the beauty of his music, and God brought the tabernacle into being so that men could enjoy the beauty of His thoughts. The real purpose of the dots on the music score is not only that men may desire to hear the harmony and enjoy doing so, but also that individuals may learn to play their own part on the instruments, and so make the symphony their own. In the same way, through Jesus Christ, we are called to participate in the heavenly realities; not only enjoying the contemplation of God's resources, but also sharing in them and living in this new realm of God. The children of Israel had to erect the tabernacle -- it did not drop out of heaven ready made! This shows that while to some extent the tabernacle is the Lord Jesus, yet there is a sense in which it speaks of our active life with and in Him. The Israelites had to put up the tabernacle, because they had a part to play in making use of what God had revealed, and we too have a part to play as we make use of what is revealed in Christ and through Him start to enjoy the resources of heaven.

Moses could not actually see love, truth, holiness and purity; he did not actually see God; but through the pattern given him in the mount he saw the symbols of what God is like and of where He dwells. The sum total of these eternal verities typified by the tabernacle is, of course, God Himself, but God has a mode of existence and through the symbols of the tabernacle He seeks to show us how He provides a way for men to approach Him and dwelt with Him. This mediation into the presence of God is found in the sphere of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the work and the worker of it all. This is basically what the tabernacle is all about, and it is truly profound, so much so that the five different names for it seem to provide a whole comprehension of God and His purposes. The study of the tabernacle is not a side issue of biblical teaching, for it encompasses the whole of God's being and the revelation of His purpose. The following are the five different names:


The word translated tabernacle means a dwelling place, a home, and the fact that God commanded Israel to make it proves that He wants to come and live with men. God is other than His creation and distinct from it, but He is seeking to find a way whereby He can come and dwell in it. Pantheists say that God is part of the creation, but the Bible makes it clear that God is different and distinct from what He has created. Nevertheless He wants to come and be at one with it, in a vital union where two personalities coalesce and yet remain separate personalities, for God does not want us to lose our identity and individuality, but seeks a oneness by the encounter of two coming livingly together. In order to realise this properly and fully, and to enjoy it all the time, He needed to set up home; this is why He came to Israel and told them that He wanted to make His home among them in a dwelling where this oneness could be enjoyed. Of course He knew that when He had moved in He [9/10] would have to keep the door shut most of the tame, or else men would be destroyed by rushing into His holy presence, a fact which involves a certain tension in tabernacle teaching, for while God wants to dwell with men, He also has to hold them back. This tension, however, is resolved in Christ, so that in Him men can be truly at home with God.


In the second place the tabernacle is described as a sanctuary (Exodus 25:8), that is a place set apart. This quality of being set apart is the essence of the meaning of the word "holy". One of the first things we must learn about our home is that it is a set-apart place, which belongs to nobody else but us. If it is not first and foremost something sacred to our family and set apart from all other homes, then it becomes more like a hotel or an institution. Other people should be welcome, but they come in on sufferance, for the place is not free for all but our own private dwelling. It is a sad fact that some have destroyed their family life by not keeping their homes set apart in the right way, for if one does not have a place where there is intimacy and sacredness between husband and wife, then family life will soon fall apart. God has His sacred home, His set-apart place which He has chosen so that He may intimate in communion with His people. We should ask ourselves if we have had such an experience in our Christian life today. Were we alone with God, set apart unto Him?


The third aspect of the tabernacle is that it was a tent of witness or testimony. This stresses the fact of God's giving witness of Himself, saying that which reveals what He thinks and what He is like. It would be a strange home, would it not, if it were not a place where one could learn and understand the people who live in it? Indeed the whole essence of living together in the love of home life is that there is a continual revealing, through which each learns more and more of the other.

Now in the case of the tabernacle there were three things connected with this feature of witness. The first were the two tables of the law which were called the tables of testimony and were put inside the ark; then the ark itself was called the ark of the testimony; then there was the veil of the testimony. The whole structure was therefore called the tabernacle of the testimony. So we see that at the heart of the testimony were the commandments, written on two tables, resting in the ark and right at the centre of the structure. The deepest idea of testimony was upon those stones, namely the things which God had said, so giving a revelation of His own nature, of what He is like. God's home was a revelation of Himself, so that not only in the ten commandments but in all the gold and purple, the linen, the silver, the pillars and the boards, in all these things He was seeking to show men what He is like. All speak of the Lord Jesus, for He is "the witness of God" and He is the one who reveals the nature of God to us. This revelation is so wonderful that we are not surprised that God took such pains to train humanity before the truth appeared.


The fourth name given to the tabernacle is the tent of meeting, though it is sometimes called the tent of the congregation. God Himself promised "there will I meet with thee" (Exodus 25:22). Such a meeting involves mutual interchange, not just the chance encounter with a handshake which can happen a hundred times without there being a real meeting, but the occasion when each gives to the other and receives back from him. The tabernacle, as the tent of meeting, was to give opportunity for God to fulfil His desire to give something to His people and to receive something from them, so providing a place of interchange where men might be constantly enriched by communion with Him and by communion with one another in His presence.


The house or temple of the Lord is the place where He can be found. The actual temple was the house of God, a sort of extension of the tabernacle, only with a slight difference, embodying the truth that God can be found by those who want His help. So the tabernacle was to be put down in the centre of Israel's camp in order that any man who, like Job, was crying "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him" could have the answer by realising that wherever God's tent or testimony was, there He could be found.

In a comprehensive way, then, we are confronted with the wonder of God having a home among men. Having analysed the background of these tabernacle truths we begin to know something of God's fatherly heart, of how He wants to have a home and communion there with sons, with whom He can share His affairs and so that He can make Himself available to them which is, after all, the good news revelation of the whole Bible. This is the eternal purpose of God, conceived when He first brought man into being, His purpose of a [10/11] home and a family of sons. So the tabernacle is not given as a happy hunting ground for mystical ideas, but as a visible means of enshrining and embodying the most wonderful concept of God's gospel, His good news made possible by the Lord Jesus, who came and tabernacled among us. The final fulfilment is described in Revelation 21:3, where it says that the tabernacle of God is with men, so foretelling the time when God will have fully accomplished His great purpose.

Seeing that this is so, it ought to be a very fruitful occupation to consider this particular mode of communication. If God has seen fit to provide this way of revealing Himself, then a consideration of the tabernacle should be most profitable to us who delight to know and to do His will. Because God's thoughts and manner of existence are summed up in His Son it is obvious that the truths of the tabernacle will reveal the Lord Jesus to us. Christ's flesh is called "the veil" (Hebrews 10:20), so at least that part of the material of the tabernacle will have something to tell us of Him. And since it is impossible to look at Christ without seeing His body, which is the Church which He now indwells, then we can expect to discover the significance of the "two or three gathered together" in His name, and see how the eternal thoughts and character of God can be revealed in that people of whom He declared, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them...." (2 Corinthians 6:16).


As we have already said, these materials are listed some seven times for us, all of them earthly and some of them very costly. We may well ask where the tremendous amount of rich materials came from, the blue, gold, scarlet, jewels, skins, etc., and we are told that when they emerged from Egypt they were commanded by God to ask and receive them from the Egyptians. There was no dishonesty about this, for the whole nation had worked hard in Egypt and deserved payment for their years of labour. As it turned out, the Egyptians were only too glad to pay them off in the end, and to get them out of the way. So the rich material, the precious metals and the gems all represented the fruit of their hard labours in Egypt. It may even have been that some of the skins and goats' hair came from work actually done in the wilderness, but in any case it was their work which provided the stuff from which the tabernacle was made.

What does all this mean for us? How can we provide rich and beautiful material for God's house, we who have realised that the only things worthwhile and priceless in the spiritual realm are Christ Himself? The answer is that while it is true that everything is of Christ, it is surely true also that the different aspects of Christ represented by the colours, the rich materials and the priceless gems, must be appreciated and appropriated by us, and then we can contribute such spiritual wealth to the building of God's house. Our labours, our sufferings, and even our sins make us capable of appropriating and understanding more of the depths of Christ's sufferings and the riches of His love, and so we have a contribution to make which comes out of our personal experience. For God's people there was nothing from their experience in Egypt -- or for that matter after Egypt -- which could not be translated into values for God. So that is how the tabernacle was built.

No Christian should ever have a boring or wasted day, for it is out of our daily experiences with Christ and our growing understanding and enjoyment of His work and worth that we can provide some more building materials for the place set apart for God's dwelling in our lives. Our various backgrounds, our different temperaments and temptations, will make us understand the Lord in slightly different ways; our new experiences of need or victories over sin will provide an appreciation of Christ from a new angle. In this way each day can provide new opportunities for us to contribute something of value for God's dwelling among His people.


We must also realise that a whole area was required in order to make a place for this tabernacle. All around there were pitched the tents of the people of Israel, but right in the middle there was a clearing, so that if there had been no erection of the tabernacle there would have been a great gap. The beginning of having a place set apart for God in my life is the provision of an area for Him. I may argue that if I am a Christian then Christ must be living in my heart already, so that I may assert that there is certainly a place for Him, but this in fact is only potentially so far as practical experience is concerned. I am the one who must clear a place for God and keep it clear, if I am to enjoy his living presence. I have a place for my work, a place for my reading, an area for my family and my friends, but what about God? Where is the sacred part, the cleared space upon which He can erect His home? [11/12]

There can be no spiritual building of the tabernacle unless space is given for God's living presence. He needs room and time in our lives, so that out of communion and intimacy with Him the visible evidence of His house may appear. Here, then, is the great challenge to us all, for how can people encounter God if an assembly, a family or an individual leaves no space for Him in their activities? It is no use complaining that the Church is cutting no ice or making no impact, if the fault is ours because we are not making room for God. What does vital impact come from if not from the fact that God is there? Supposing, for instance, that a man had walked into the camp of Israel; he would have seen higher than all the other tents, in the middle with a cloud resting over it, a tent so striking that he would immediately have inquired who lived in that great house. The answer would, of course, have been that God dwelt there. So much depends on this factor of clearing the ground for Him, making space right at the centre of our lives so that there can be room for Him. This, and this alone, will produce the impact on the world that the Church ought to make. When we give time and place to Christ, then we shall be truly building for God.


The third point to note is that it entailed much work to build this tabernacle, it neither grew up of itself nor did it drop down out of heaven, but was the result of the Israelites' labours. They found that there was a lot of work to do and there were often men who were given special skills by the Spirit to lead the rest in the hard work of weaving, carving, casting, etc. The same is true spiritually in connection with the tabernacle of the Church. There will be no real expression of God's mind unless there are people who are prepared to put in real work, that is people who are not just happy-go-lucky Christians, living without purpose, but those who are seriously dealing with God and seeking to give expression to what they have come to understand of Him. This readiness to express what has been experienced is the sort of work necessary to the building of God's house; when men and women live like this, they bring spiritual wealth into the assembly, but when there is no such exercise then the result is spiritual poverty. It is amazing that in past days when people had slow transport and such long working hours that there were those who stole time from their sleep to express what they had experienced of God and were able, even out of their strenuous existences, to make rich contributions to the house of God. I do not believe that there can be cheap ways of getting a rich house, nor that what has been picked up or brought over from the past can be a substitute for a fresh appreciation of Christ, born out of up-to-date experiences of His hand upon us.

With the labours of the Israelites there was need for a certain order, a pattern; they were to be sure to conform to the pattern given in the mount. Such order means freedom, freedom for each part to be properly related to the other parts and fitted into the whole. If there is no order there is not freedom but anarchy; what the house of God needs is an orderly freedom which makes it possible for each man to find his own place and to make his distinctive contribution to the whole.


In conclusion we note that the description begins with the ark, which was right in the middle of the holy of holies, and then moves out from the ark to the veil or covering, then to the lampstand and the shewbread, then on past the brazen altar to the door of entry. The description then returns from the door, detailing the priestly regalia which the entrant must put on, and then on this return journey the last thing to be mentioned is the altar of incense. Thus, in this order given to Moses, the revelation suggests that God starts from the heart of things to go out to man in welcoming love and His purpose of bringing man back with Him into intimate communion; the return journey typifying His re-entry with man. This time, however, stress is laid on the suitable equipment for fellowship with God, so man must put on his priestly garments, for only by that which typifies the mediatorial work of the Lord Jesus can he finally arrive at the altar of incense to begin his communion by prayer. When this has happened, then God and man are one. So the actual order of listing the material and furnishings of the tabernacle depict for us the truth of God's outgoing to man and the way in which man can be brought back into a relation of face to face communion with God -- the Dweller of the holy of holies.

Having been shown this we are then confronted with the basis on which the sanctuary is sustained (Exodus 30:11-16) which is represented by the silver half-shekel. The whole relationship between God and man is kept living and real by the payment of the atonement money, the value or price placed upon each individual as he is redeemed from Egypt. Everyone had to pay the same price, whether they [12/13] were rich or poor, all were redeemed on the same basis, silver being the very foundation of the whole tabernacle. Now this is important for us, since if we do not keep in view the fact that we are all redeemed at the same cost we shall soon be despising or rejecting our fellow worshippers, and once we get superior or begin to devalue others we destroy our relationship and our way unto God. The silver of the atonement is essential.

So is the laver (Exodus 30:17-21), for there can be no communion without cleansing. As important also is the unique anointing oil (Exodus 30:22-33), for fellowship depends on the fresh anointing of the Spirit. Following this we are instructed concerning the incense (Exodus 30:34-38), for prayer is another "must" if we are to know real family life together.

In conclusion we are reminded of the Spirit-given wisdom which is needed by those who are to be builders in the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-6). It is noteworthy that Bezalel is the first man whom the Bible describes as being filled with the Spirit. It needs the Spirit's filling to build this house, and if we ask what is God's purpose in filling a man with the Holy Spirit, the answer is that such a filling is to result in the building of the house of God.


T. Austin-Sparks

"They that trust in the Lord
Are as mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abideth for ever.
As the mountains are round about Jerusalem,
So the Lord is round about his people,
From this time forth and for evermore.
" Psalm 125:1-2

PSALMS 120 to 134 form a little volume of their own, called the Psalms or Songs of Ascent. They tell of the climb up out of the deep, dark valley on to the sunny heights, which is where the Lord always desires His people to be.

Psalm 84 speaks of passing through the valley of weeping, but in that connection we ought to underline the two words "passing through", for this valley is never meant to be the dwelling place of the people of God but only a passage through which they pass. Zion, the mountain home, is where God wants His people to abide. It is surely instructive to note that the Lord established periodic ascents as an ordinance in Israel; all their males had to go up to Jerusalem three times in every year. God meant these going-up ordinances to be governmental in nature; that is, the people of Israel were not to be governed by the plains or valleys, but to be a people of the mountains. They might have to spend time, perhaps much time, down below but their normal life was continually interrupted by the command to go up. Their life, their real life, was up in the high places. If we could have joined their caravans as three times a year they made ready and got on the march, leaving the valleys and the plains and going on the upward way to Jerusalem, we would have found that these journeys had a tremendous influence on the life of the people. These songs, for instance, became songs for all time; they were provided for the ascents of those particular occasions, but they were not reserved for the three times a year, becoming the perpetual songs of Israel in which we ourselves find much of abiding value. This is because the Lord's mind for His people is that they should not abide in the deep and shadowy places, though from time to time they may have to pass through the valleys, but that they should be a people of the heights, with their lives governed by that which is above and not by what is below.

I have been very much impressed with the large place which mountains had in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, as may be verified in Matthew's Gospel, which begins in chapter 5 with the Mount of Instruction and finishes in chapter 28 with the Mount of Commission. It can be noted that all through the Gospel the peak events were associated with mountains, as though these found an answer, a response, in the very heart and nature of our Lord. Is it not true that Jesus came down and passed through this valley of weeping in order to meet us and lift us up out of it?

His whole life, in every aspect and activity of praying, teaching and working, was a life on a [13/14] rising plane, a lifting, returning move to heaven which would take back with Him as many others as possible. There was nothing in the low level of this world's ways to give Him any pleasure, so it is not surprising that He loved the mountain heights. The very nature and spirit of the Lord Jesus was a complete contradiction of the natural course of human movement which is steadily slipping lower and lower. The Lord Jesus is in direct contrast to this; the whole effect and influence of His presence anywhere being to lift upwards. He only came by way of this valley of tears to lift us up out of it.


Mountains suggest and represent elevation, ascendancy -- "I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains". To take our eyes off what is here -- self, circumstances and the rest -- and to set them on the One who is the Lord over all, high and lifted up on the throne, is itself an elevating experience. "Looking off unto Jesus" is the one thing which will bring us up out of the valley of despair, for where our vision rests affects the course of our lives. It is in every sense an uplifting experience to be joined to the Lord in heaven; it is morally elevating and spiritually emancipating.

Perhaps what most of us need is a higher level of life. We are too small. Our valley is a hemmed-in place, it is narrow and limiting. We must get on to the mountains to find enlargement, with a sense of being liberated from the littlenesses of life, freed from its smallness and pettiness. If this is true naturally, it helps to interpret a spiritual truth, reminding us that God has "raised us up together with Christ". Individually and collectively in the Church, a very great deal of the trouble, weakness and even paralysis which we suffer is due to our failure to maintain our true position in the heavenlies in Christ. If we could get up higher, move on to higher ground and leave behind the things which belong to the shadows and miasmas, we should find ourselves living in the good of the mighty will of God in us.


Then, as the psalmist indicates, it is not only ascendency which comes from the mountains but also security. "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so is the Lord round about His people ...". The heights are the places for strongholds, for refuges. And our strength, our safety is to get away from the low things, to leave behind what is mean and contemptible, and to get up into fellowship with the Lord on high. On the low levels we become the playthings of bad influences and cross currents -- there are always evil powers which are at work down there in the dark. We will find deliverance and security by rising on to higher ground.

The devil and the evil forces are tremendously concerned with getting us down and holding us down, so that they can harass and play havoc with our spiritual lives. Down ... down ... that is the drive and direction of the evil one, who plans to get us down and keep us down in the place where he has the strength. Our refuge is not to fight on that low ground, but to flee to the heights, to escape to the Lord in the secret place of the most High.

I think that the Lord Jesus did just this. At the time when He was aware of all the pressure and down-drag of earthly conditions and disappointments even with His own disciples, He said: Let Me go away for a while and go into the mountains to My Father. It was thus that He was able to return marvellously fortified, and we can do the same, finding our way of escape by fellowship with God in the heights.


There is a further point about mountains, a fairly obvious one, and that is that they are places of vision, places where one can see the far distances. At the end of the Bible we are taken to an exceeding great and high mountain and shown the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, so that the last scene in the Bible is a mountain scene, and the mountain is truly one of vision, showing the Church in the full expression of its heavenly glory. Surely it is of supreme importance that God's people should have their vision enlarged. Our vision is too small, our purpose in life is too small; our conception of our salvation is often too small. We tend to narrow our thoughts so much that it is important for us to ascend into the Mount of Vision, for the loss of vision always brings about a falling to pieces. Those Christians who have no great sense of God's purposes and of His ability to reach His end and fulfil His intentions will find themselves at the mercy of the doubts and fears which defeat men down here on this earth.


The reader may agree with all that has been said and yet still be puzzled as to how such elevation to the heights can be realised. The answer is that it is already a working power in [14/15] the new nature of the Christian. The beginning of the Christian life is the discovery that Christ has come from heaven to take us back to heaven, and so has given us life from above. From the day that a man really comes into vital union with our risen and ascended Lord there begins within him a process of gravitation upwards. He now discovers that he does not really belong to earth, but has a heavenly nature which responds to God's call to the life on high. As he progresses, he finds that his new life leads him further and further away from the world in which he lives, and although this involves him in some difficulties and even embarrassment, he cannot find himself at home here as he once could. This very inward pull is evidence that he is a child of the heavenly country.

The consummation of the believer's life is certainly upward -- for he is to be caught up to be forever with the Lord. So the life is a constant movement upward, from its first beginnings to its glorious end. This means that, like his Lord, he must learn to respond to the heavenly gravitation, not clinging to earthly interests and possessions, not being bound by earthly considerations, but giving always an inward answer to the call of heaven.

So far as Christ was concerned even His physical going up into a mountain illustrated how eager He was to respond to this call. And I believe that when at last He ascended to the Father, His heart was filled with the deepest satisfaction at home-going. It will surely be the same with us. We shall not go reluctantly and with regrets; no, we shall be rising to where we belong and what we were made for; we shall be rising to the final ascendency, and in doing so we shall be answering to everything in our new constitution. Spiritually we are a mountain people. Let us now seek grace day by day, so that we may repudiate all earth-boundness and refuse to dwell in the valley. We may often have to pass through it, but we must never settle down there, for we belong to the heights in Christ. "Here we have no abiding city, but we seek one to come" (Hebrews 13:14).



Eric Fischbacher

"LET us rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (RV). This piece of advice seems relatively easy to accept and to follow. The prospect of glory is an exciting one, something to look forward to with joy. Strangely enough, however, it is not only the attractive prospect of glory in the future that should give us pleasure and an elevation of mood, but there are other things which justify the same sensations. "And not only so, but let us also rejoice in our tribulations" (RV). How can it be suggested that tribulation might produce the same emotional reaction as the prospect of glory? How can we be expected to respond in the same way to these extremes of experience -- the one a warming glow on the horizon, the other a dull ache in the heart or an agonizing pain in a fractured limb?


Only knowledge -- the knowing that tribulation is a pathway that leads to glory -- makes it possible to appreciate tribulation as a positive, meaningful factor in life. The prodigal may find the road home a hard one on his feet, but the thought of home distracts him from the consciousness of aching bones, and makes the journey not only tolerable, but even joyful. The vital factor is "knowing" where the path is leading.

The road to glory as described here has four stages, and these must be traversed consecutively. There is no short-cut, nor can the road be entered except by the first stage, it is really a kind of turnpike for which a toll must be paid. It costs to travel on it, and the traveller must prepare for the charges if he is not to be taken by surprise when they are levied.


The first stage is tribulation, and it leads to the second stage -- patience. It may seem obvious when stated, but many travellers forget that for tribulation to produce patience, or endurance (RSV) there must be a time factor. If the "tribulation" section of the road were too short, it would not reach to the "patience" section; it would be a cul-de-sac, leading nowhere. When tribulation of any kind strikes -- an illness, or an accident, a vindictive superior at work or an incompatibility with another brother or sister, or even just loneliness -- we need time to obtain the fruit from the tree. [15/16]

The words patience and endurance imply the passage of a reasonable period of time, but when tribulation comes we cry to God for help and can't understand why he doesn't answer immediately. Why doesn't He stop it? Why doesn't He rescue me? Even Paul was caught in this one -- he begged the Lord three times to deliver him from his thorn in the flesh. But God needed time, not to find a way to help Paul, but to teach him endurance. That is what the grace was for. We say in times of tribulation, 'God has not answered my appeal for help'. Of course He has answered -- He always does. He answered Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you". It may not have been the answer he had hoped for -- the removal of the pressure -- but it was the answer he really needed, and in the same way we shall find that we receive "grace to help in time of need" if we pursue the path of patient endurance.

It is on this first "tribulation" section that the traveller will meet a sympathetic character who will urge him to open one of the gates along the roadside -- and escape. The traveller has, in fact, one or two keys which will fit and he may go out by one of these gates as he gives up his work, or breaks off his spiritual relationships, or gives up the struggles in some way. If so he will find that although the immediate relief is wonderful, he has now become vaguely aware that he has missed something, and he has indeed -- he has missed an opportunity to gain more patience and experience and hope. (Some have even been persuaded by the tempter that the exit marked "No Return" is the only possible solution to their suffering -- with great loss to themselves.)

Should the traveller refuse the cowardly way of desertion, the kindly acquaintance may remind him that God himself has promised that there will be a way of escape provided, for which he should search. He is advised to claim deliverance by faith and is reminded that it is not logical that one whom God loves should so suffer. The suggestion is even made that the only reason he is on this rough road at all is because he does not have the faith to get off it! If the traveller entered by Sickness Gate the new companion may point out the exit marked "Healing" which, if it does not open by itself, may perhaps be forced in some way. (This does not lessen the importance of spiritual healing provided it is part of God's High Road, but it does remind us that the mere relief of suffering is never God's end, and that the New Testament tends much more to stress the spiritual values of enduring by faith.)

Actually the apparently understanding companion may be the tempter who always misrepresents the truth. God has undertaken to provide a way of escape "that ye may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). God never suggested that the Christian should leave the path of tribulation before he reached the "patience" sector, but undertook to make a way of escape along the road . The way of escape is never back, or to the left or right, but on and through.


As the traveller hesitates for a moment, considering his multiple discomforts, the exits by the roadside, and the road ahead, another Comforter appears from nowhere (and the first hurries away). The Paraclete, as He is known to some, sits down on a rock beside hill and dresses the worst of his blisters; gives him a drink from a flask He carries, and then helps him gently but firmly to his feet. As they walk along together the Paraclete supports him just a little, and talks cheerfully with him, reminding him of the prospect ahead -- the Glory.

The effect of this encouragement and help is dramatic. Strength returns, his step becomes firmer, and to his own surprise he breaks into song. Almost imperceptibly Tribulation Road merges into Patience Road, with no toll-gate and no change in the scenery. The traveller suddenly notices that the surface is less rugged. Apart from this the road is much the same, but he is getting his "second wind" and an increasing awareness of a strange peace in his heart -- strange because there seems no obvious explanation of it, it passes understanding. So the miles seem to pass more swiftly.

From this point on the Paraclete appears whenever required -- to dress a wound, to help out of a ditch or over a stream. But His presence begins to be more and more appreciated, not just for the immediate help He gives, but because of something about Him, indefinable at first, but bringing a profound sense of comfort and companionship. (This Tribulation Road is a lonely one, for although there are lots of people on it, they are almost all sitting by the roadside, complaining to one another and nursing their aching feet. Very few are actually traveling. Some of them wonder how this man can step along so cheerfully, for his feet are obviously in very poor shape too, but being too preoccupied with their own troubles they fail to realise the help he is getting from his Companion.) [16/17]


The road surface and the scenery are much the same here in the experience section, but it doesn't seem half so bad. The Paraclete is now his constant companion, and not only actually gives him a hand over the worst of the obstacles on the road, but has taught him so much that he is able to avoid many of the pot-holes into which he would at one time have fallen. No ravine, or snow-covered pass really frightens him now, because although they seem quite impossible to cross he knows that none of these barriers are a problem to his Friend. This does not mean that the going is really any easier -- in fact it seems to get worse. Nor does it mean that he never feels uneasy or nervous about the way ahead, for he becomes downright frightened at times. But then, this Companion seems to be there just at the right time, and His presence makes all the difference.

The Christian is experienced now -- he can look back along the road and say 'He helped me there, and there, and again there'. He can now say with some conviction, "I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able ...". At the same time others on the road seem to notice a growing confidence in this man's bearing, and suspect that he has an inner secret. He has! The key to everything for him now is a deepening personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

(Other names are given to this stretch of the road. There is "proof" (NEB) and the word is explained by 2 Corinthians 2:9 where Paul says that he has been looking for "proof" in the lives of the believers, meaning experimental evidence of their obedience. This is helpful to us, for it signifies that tribulation endured produces in the life of the believer the "evidence of things not seen" -- something tangible, substantial, developing in his life and character, which is the proof that something real is going on. Another word used is "character" (RSV) which serves to remind us that the patient endurance of tribulation is an act and a continuous process of faith, having as its fruit the development of character approved by God.)


Again there is no clear boundary between Experience Road and Hope Road, the one leading to the other. But here our man has left behind for ever those crippling doubts as to whether the whole enterprise is a terrible mistake, doubts as to where the road is leading -- if anywhere. He now knows with an inner certainty that a little further along the road, perhaps round the next bend, is the glory. In fact he now sees quite distinctly the rainbow which, as the Paraclete has assured him, is not only the sign of God's unchanging faithfulness, but is actually a 'shadow' cast by the glory itself.

These last two stages seem to follow naturally from the first two, for experience and hope come as a result of a walk with God through the dark valleys of pain, frustration, or loneliness, or grief, and will lead to glory. There are, however, a few matters worthy of notice about this last stretch of the road. One of them is the happy relationship our man now has with fellow-travellers who have kept going as he has. It is true that they are less numerous than earlier on, but as they get nearer to the goal of their journey they tend to forget the smaller matters of difference, to close the gaps between one another, and to find closer comradeship, with the Paraclete as the central Figure of their happy group.

Noticeable also is a new tolerance, understanding and sympathy for others on the Tribulation Road, an ability to support and encourage the weary and a growing humility. He presses on, his step quickening in response to the distant music thankful for the grace that has kept him on God's High Road to Glory.



Harry Foster

THE twins were having an argument as to whether all fires could be put out by water or not. As a matter of fact the twins were always having arguments, and this one had been started by the fact that at family prayers that morning their father had read from the Bible a verse which seemed to speak of a fire which no waters could quench.

Now it was afternoon, they had come back from school and were at it hammer and tongs, Angela saying that there was no such thing as a fire which could not be put out by water and Beth insisting that there must be because it was in the Bible and then changing her argument to one about science.

"Science" scoffed Angela, "we can soon find out about that when Daniel comes home." At that [17/18] moment, however, Mother came into the room, So they asked if she could decide. They both began talking at once, making such a hubbub that she had to command silence to hear herself think, and then, after wracking her brains in an effort to remember what she had learned at school, she suddenly said, "Of course! Phosphorus! You just put it on water and it bursts into flame. At least I think so" she added, and then hurried on into the kitchen to cook the meal.

Angela, however, was far from satisfied, so when their brother Daniel came in from school they met him with the question as to whether phosphorus does burst into flame on touching water. "On the contrary" Daniel replied laughingly, "you always keep phosphorus in a jar of water to prevent it from burning, so you have got it quite wrong." He hurried past them to do his homework saying "Try sodium" as he slammed his bedroom door. Poor Beth felt thoroughly confused by now and Angela so certain that she was right that when they were all gathered round the table for their meal she told her father all about it. She expected to be told that she was right and Beth wrong, but she made a big mistake.

Father began by quoting the text which had been the cause of the argument, "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it" (Song of Songs 8:7) and pointed out that the flame which could not be quenched by floods of water was the flame of true love. Then he went on to consider the truth about the scientific facts which were muddled in their minds. "First, phosphorus" he said, "that is never really quenched by water for as soon as it gets out into the air it begins to burn of itself. So you see, Angela" he continued, "phosphorus has an inner fire which may be kept down by water but is never drowned by it. Sorry Mother" he said with a smile to her, "but you had better go back to school again!"

He then went on to confirm what Daniel had said about the extraordinary property of sodium which ignites when it comes into contact with water. "What a wonderful fire that is" Father commented, "for it is actually set on fire by water." But he had not finished yet. "There is one more kind of flame" he continued, "which tends to spread by means of water. If oil is burning, then to pour on water not only fails to put out the fire but means that wherever the water runs, the fire burns on top of it."

By this time Angela was ready enough to admit that she had been wrong and even asked Father to repeat what he had been saying about the three water-conquering fires. First there was phosphorus, which was only temporarily checked by water, then there was sodium which burned because of the water and then there was oil which spread its fire wherever the water took it. "Don't forget" added Father, "that what we are really talking about is love, the love which will not be quenched by trouble but which burns the brighter and spreads the more as floods of wrong try to quench it."

The twins knew that this kind of love was too high a standard for them, but it was also too high for Daniel and even for their father and mother. Once again, then, they were reminded that the only love which can do these things is the love of Christ and that the marvel of the Christian life is that this same love is actually given to work in our lives -- and through them too. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5).

As usual Mother had the last word. "I may be wrong about science" she said, "but I know that I am right when I sing my favourite hymn:

'Come let us sing of a wonderful love,

Tender and true;

Out of the heart of the Father above,

Streaming to me and to you.'"

How true it is that many waters cannot quench that love, neither can the floods drown it! Is it burning in your heart?



Harry Foster

IF we could overhear a saint at his private devotions, we would be certain to hear him confessing his shortcomings, and the greater the saint the more likely would be his expressions of personal unworthiness. Jesus Christ excelled all others in saintliness yet, far from voicing self-abasement, His prayer on the eve of the crucifixion breathes an atmosphere of quiet confidence and perfect partnership with the Father in a love and glory which had neither beginning nor ending (John 17:5 & 24). He addressed the eternal Father as though He knew Himself to be the eternal Son: and this is [18/19] what He is; the Father's Fellow, the Father's much loved Comrade and Colleague.

Christ shared the planning of man's creation; and at the beginning of time He was Himself the One who executed this plan (Colossians 1:16). Further, He shared the planning of man's redemption, and in the fulness of the times He personally came down to earth to carry out this sacrificial plan (1 John 4:14). So Mary's baby, born in Bethlehem of a human mother and destined to live as a Man among men, and as Man to die for men on the Cross, was in fact the Son of God. Mary herself knew this -- none better -- and realised that only a miraculous intervention in her life by the Holy Spirit could make it possible for God's eternal Son to become a member of the human race (Luke 1:35).

Satan himself recognised this sonship, and in the wilderness temptations tried to use the fact as an argument to induce Christ to act in ways which would contradict His complete dependence on God. The lesser demons recognised it too, and even though it was to their own confusion, found themselves obliged to acknowledge Him as God's holy Son, though He had no wish for their recognition (Luke 4:41). The Jewish leaders knew well enough that Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God, but instead of humbly investigating this possibility, they rejected it out of hand and had Him murdered on this very charge (John 19:7). In the last dread hours of His agony on the cross, Christ was taunted as to whether He really was the Son of God (Matthew 27:40). The thoughtless mockers may have genuinely doubted His sonship, as even His disciples seem to have done, but the satanic spirits who prompted the cruel sneers had no doubts about it, but were in fact making their final effort to get Him to break with the Father and abandon the enterprise of man's redemption. He refused to come down from the cross, though He could easily have done so, and by His refusal He not only made the perfect sacrifice for sin but made it clear that He really is the Son of God (Matthew 27:54).

The resurrection made it even clearer. It exposed the folly and futility of the Jewish leaders' crime, for the mighty miracle of resurrection on the third day was the full and final authentification of Christ's sonship (Romans 1:4). After His ascension He resumed the glory which He had enjoyed before the world existed, and which He had temporarily relinquished for our sakes. It is to our enormous comfort that He resumed it with the added quality of sympathetic understanding which He had gained here on earth (Hebrews 4:14-15).

We must never allow the simple beauty of Christ's Manhood to obscure the vital fact of His eternal sonship. It is true that in His incarnation He emptied Himself of the outward evidences of His glory (Philippians 2:7), but He did not and could not divest Himself of that essential place in the Godhead which enabled Him to make the claim "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). It was understandable that at the moment when the Father was in heaven and He was on earth He should recognise that the Father was greater than He (John 14:24), but that was greater in position; never for a moment did He admit that there was anything less than equality between Himself and the Father. Every wise father longs for the time when his son will be mature enough to be his equal, with the sole difference between them of seniority in years. There can be no such seniority in the Godhead, where time considerations do not exist, so that this One, the Father's Son, is His perfect partner in an inexpressibly wonderful fellowship of love and life.

One matter is not easy to understand, and that is what may be involved in the disclosure of the fact that when His kingdom activities are completed the Son will subject Himself (1 Corinthians 15:28). He will certainly not be superseded nor be demoted from His kingship. The significance may well be that this will mark the fulfilment of His commission within the Godhead of restoring perfect harmony to the universe, marking a point in time, or at the end of time, when the eternal blessedness of God's supremacy will be unchallenged, and men will honour the Son as they honour the Father (John 5:23).

Acceptance of Jesus Christ as the true Son of God is not optional but essential. This knowledge brings assurance of eternal life (1 John 5:13); it is the basis of our personal experience of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4:6); and it is the only sure secret of victorious Christian living (1 John 5:5). God Himself comes to live in the heart of the one who truly receives Jesus as His Son (1 John 4:15).

Out of his woeful sense of ignorance a man called Agur once demanded to know the identity of our Creator. "What is his name" he cried, "and what is his son's name; if thou canst tell me?" (Proverbs 30:4). Happily the New Testament can tell him, and everybody else who wishes to know for it discloses God's Name and nature by testifying of Jesus Christ, His eternal Son. [19/20]

[No title]

Will you let Christ have first place in all the circumstances of your life? Will you say to Him: 'Lord, I will not decide anything any more. I am Thy property; Thy slave'? That is a very searching question but the cross always is very searching! It does not only touch your sin and your self, it touches all that which you consider good. Christ Himself must be everything. Will you also give Him your church, you assembly, your experiences, your blessings, your views on this, that and the other -- everything? Will you give Him what He Himself has given you? For He has given all.

Perhaps you say, 'I cannot give up my view of such and such a truth; I am fully convinced that my view is right'. Very good; then there is no risk in your giving it up to Christ! He knows what is right but it is always just possible that you were mistaken in your view. It is better to let Him take charge. That is the only safe way. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is everything. He -- not your view! He -- not your assembly! He -- not your experience! He -- not your baptism! He is everything, absolutely everything! Oh, how He longs to be everything in your life! - Poul Madsen -- "The Cross in Colossians"



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