"... 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. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1972 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



T. Austin-Sparks

THE words "Christ shall be magnified in my body" (Philippians 1:20) not only provide the key to the epistle to the Philippians but also the secret of Paul's radiant and fruitful life. All through the four chapters he took pleasure in expressing his joyful appreciation of the relevance of Christ, and his passionate desire that this might become evident to the Philippians and to all believers, including us. To Paul it did not even matter whether he lived or died, so long as Christ was magnified in that body of his.

We shall consider how the chapters stress four aspects of his experience and enjoyment of Christ, realising that each one of them was written so that his readers might have a share in this rich life.


The first statement is that Christ was Paul's life -- "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (1:21). He neither had nor desired anything beyond this, that his very being and existence in the world should provide room for Christ. It amounted to this, that wherever one could find Paul, there the Lord Jesus could also be found, since his one reason for being anywhere was that Christ should use his mortal body for the expression of His Own divine presence. Wherever Paul was, there Christ could be found, with consequent blessing to others, as we would expect.

If Paul's experience is anything to go by we are forced to conclude that there were some extraordinary places in which the Lord Jesus chose to be. Take the Philippian prison! It seems that Christ wanted to be present in that prison, although to us this might seem most inappropriate, There it was, however for the Lord Jesus has no objection at all to going to prison if thereby eternal interests can be served, so naturally enough Paul must be prepared to go there too. He was, and we know what blessing resulted from that experience. From this chapter we know also that Paul welcomed the hardship of yet another prison -- this time in Rome -- since by his presence there Christ was able to enlarge His kingdom in the hearts of men. Places of apparent limitation and restriction became places of enlargement and liberation, just because Paul kept true to his commitment that Christ was his life.

The man who talks as Paul did must be prepared to find himself in some strange and unexpected locations, but if he really means what he says the outcome will always be glory for God and the magnifying of Christ, not only in his thought processes but in his actual bodily experiences. This happened as the apostle went from place to place. Christ was there because he was there, so whether it was the inner dungeon at Philippi, lying stoned and left for dead outside the city of Lystra, or fighting with beasts at Ephesus, it was all the same, since clearly Christ was choosing such means for the expression of His presence and powers and this was what Paul wanted.

It seems an audacious claim on the part of the apostle and one which we ourselves would hardly dare to make, for much as we know that Christ is our very life and we are completely dependent on Him, we might feel it presumptuous to suggest that we are taking Him into the many and varied situations of our daily life. Nevertheless if we can say, "For to me to live is Christ" this surely means that so long as fellowship with the Lord is kept [21/22] clear and uninterrupted, there is no place so dark or difficult, no situation so hard or problematic, but what an opportunity is being provided in our very bodies for the magnifying of Christ.

Of course we realise that Paul had only reached such a position by a complete abandonment of himself to Christ; he had no other interests and no other ambitions, for everything in his life was subjected to the one divine purpose. If we have some alternative to Christ, some side-line of our own interests, some indulgence, some rival to His lordship, then this experience is not for us. In such cases death would clearly involve loss -- loss of those personal interests and ambitions. To die is only gain if Christ is all.


The second thing that Christ was to Paul was his "mind" (2:5-9). We are exhorted to have the mind of Christ. This, of course, does not refer to intellect; it is wholly concerned with the attitude of heart. We are told in these verses not how much technical or academic understanding the Lord had but what was His disposition, and we are shown that this disposition was one of perfect meekness. All that was His by right He was willing to let go, humbling Himself to the extreme limit for the glory of God and the help of others. This was His attitude of mind, and the same thing is expected of us, though in any case we have few, if any, rights to let go of.

The apostle was referring to a background situation at Philippi in which two prominent workers were stubbornly holding on to their own positions, each refusing to give way, standing on her own dignity and waiting for the other to apologise. The root sin of all sins is pride. It is the one thing which the Word of God discloses to be an abomination to the Lord, whereas to Him one of the most beautiful things is "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Peter 3:4).

Without boasting, Paul could truly claim to have imbibed this spirit from his Lord. In the following chapter he tells of his former self glory, and claims that he had more right to boast than most other men, but since Christ was not only his life but also his disposition of mind he had been able gladly to humble himself. He was the man who could say to the Corinthians, "The more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved" and yet still go on gladly spending himself for them (2 Corinthians 12:15). Although in this chapter he had to record how fellow workers had let him down (Philippians 2:20-21), he gave no sign of bitterness but only of praiseful devotion to God's people and readiness to sacrifice himself for them. He it was who urged prayer "for all saints" (Ephesians 6:18), whether they approved of him or not. No doubt in his case, as in ours, it did not come naturally to accept that self-emptying which was so truly a part of Christ's nature, but as he committed himself for this purpose he was led through experiences -- often painful ones -- of learning to let go of all that was personal for the one end of the glory of God; and so he found that his own selfish disposition was being displaced by that beautiful meekness of Christ.


Thirdly, Christ had become Paul's objective. "... that I may gain Christ ..." (3:8-9). From the day on the Damascus road when he had a vision of Christ in glory, his whole soul had been captivated. He was then taken in hand by the Holy Spirit and given an ever increasing understanding of Christ's glory which only deepened his single purpose of heart to be "found in Him". He knew now that for this purpose he had been arrested, he had been taken in charge, but far from resenting this experience he now gloried in having been captured and captivated by his wonderful Lord. He went into solitude in Arabia for two years and there the revelation grew, as did also his determination to be wholly committed to Christ. The unfolding of divine truth to him showed that Christ has no desire to remain alone and isolated in His exaltation, but plans to bring redeemed men into fellowship with Himself so that they may be conformed to His image and be partakers of His glory.

This realisation so gripped Paul that it left him with one single objective in life and that was to be "found in Him", to enter into the full purpose which lay behind that arresting vision of the glorified Lord. No wonder he was glad to leave the things which were behind; no wonder that he was always stressing that he had not yet arrived; he had seen, as it were, Christ beckoning him on to share in the eternal glory and found that nothing else mattered beside this marvellous prospect. Christ was his objective.


Christ was also Paul's strength (4:13). It is so good that the letter ends on this note, for it reminds us that Christ is the power to make all the rest possible. If we had to provide the resources for [22/23] triumphant and self-sacrificial living we might well despair, but we do not; what we have to do is to learn to draw on Christ's resources, for they are more than sufficient for every need which can possibly arise.

Just as in Romans 8:28 Paul could rightly rejoice at God's sovereign ability to use "all things" and make them work together for good, so here in Philippians 4:13 he could affirm that "all things" were made possible in his life because of Christ's inward strength. A glance at the context shows that this did not refer so much to the outward activities of Christian service as to a capacity to endure every happening with quiet content in the will of God. Paul was born to be a gentleman but he had to learn to live as a slave, and this he did by the inward strength of Christ, and did it without the grumbling complaints which so often mar our testimony. He found it quite possible to be abased, put down, walked over, without showing any hurt or resentment. He could do this because Christ was his strength. What is more, he was able to abound, to know prosperity and success, without falling into the peril of losing his walk with God. High positions are more precarious than low ones, popularity more dangerous than persecution. The man who is being used and blessed of God is in special danger, for the moment that any servant of God allows himself to be made much of, is the time when Christ is no longer glorified but rather obscured. Only Christ's inward strength can keep us to our original committal of utter dedication to Himself. Only He can keep up to date, through adversity and prosperity, that first purpose that "as always, so now also, Christ shall be magnified" in these bodies of ours.



Roger T. Forster

THESE tabernacle studies should help us to lay hold of eternal life. It is a fact that eternal life is an experience which does not just happen but can only be properly appreciated if we obey the exhortation to Timothy to lay hold of it. Now eternal life is to know God, so He has given us the tabernacle since God can only be known in His home. John 17:3 tells us that it is eternal life to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. If God were not at home in a tabernacle or a house we would not have known how to find Him, and if God were not at home in Jesus Christ we could never have experienced or laid hold of eternal life. Through Christ, however, we can meet God, and for this we may find help through laying hold of the truth which is embodied in the tabernacle procedure. The spiritual counterpart of this procedure is described in Hebrews 10:19-22, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say His flesh, and having a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water".


Herein lies the discipline or exercise of meeting with God. There is only one way in which to encounter God and get to know Him, and if our experience of eternal life is running down, if we are not enjoying the vibration of this life and not growing, then this is evidence that we have not been coming to God in the way which He has made very plain for us in Christ, by means of that which is set forth by the tabernacle. If you want to know a man you have got to do something about it; you must visit him, sit down with him, talk with him, you have to take time and make an effort if you want to know someone. So it is with God; you must do something about it if you are to know the real meaning of Christianity. There is a daily, moment-by-moment procedure for getting to know God; it is no use expecting everything to be done for us, as though such knowledge will just happen, for Christianity is the discipline of going in to God, a constant procedure which leads to the most stupendous experiences of eternal life from the Almighty Himself.

Hebrews 10 tells us that the way in is through the veil, that is to say His flesh. In other words it is through Christ's humanity. The way in is through His flesh, and not only because that flesh has been torn, for although it has been suggested that the veil was rent in two from the top to the bottom in order that we could go in, this is not the true meaning of Hebrews 10:20, but rather the meaning is that we must begin to approach God by having a vision of the Lord Jesus. We must not be confused by [23/24] 2 Corinthians 5:16, which speaks of no longer knowing Christ after the flesh. This verse has no particular bearing on our present subject, its right emphasis being that no one can apprehend Christ in a "human resources" manner, but only by means of divine inspiration. So it is still true that if we are going to know God we must approach Him by way of the flesh of Jesus Christ. This is why the reading of the Gospels is such an important part of our communion with God, for by this means we get to know what the Lord Jesus was like as He lived here in the flesh. This is why John 1:14 tells us that He "tabernacled" among us -- He put on our flesh. The materials, with their various colours, which went to make up the tabernacle gave a picture of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus. If I am to know God I must come to the human revelation which He has given of Himself in the Carpenter of Nazareth.

This is how I begin to approach God. We hear people say that they find it hard to pray, they wonder how they can lay hold of eternal life, since it seems so ethereal, so unsubstantial. Sometimes in an apparent attempt to suggest that they are very spiritual, people say that when they pray they have no image in their minds at all. They infer that to them God is just a sort of great empty blank. Now while it is true that God is a Spirit, and that no man has seen Him at any time, He has not left us in this confused condition but has given us His Son, become flesh, so that when we wish to approach Him we at least know where to begin. Although this is very simple, it is tremendously important. We are not helped by some conception which we make of Jesus, but we do need to have in our minds an idea of Him culled from the Gospels, a true image of Jesus given by inspired accounts of what He said and what He did. This is why the reading of the gospel stories is such an important part of our communion with God, because by it we are given the reality in the flesh of what was typified by the veil.


However it is no use our imagining that by this means we can, as it were, pull the first veil aside and begin communion with God, because in fact we will find that there is another veil. Passing through this we will be confronted by a yet further veil which finally opens on the very central place. Each of the veils is described by a Hebrew word which means "hanging", so that the word "veil" is not strictly to be confined to that last curtain which hid the ark from view, and which is also described by another word which means 'separation'. The writer to the Hebrews alludes to "the second veil" (Hebrews 9:3), so quite obviously he considered that there was more than one and shows that the word "veil" is not to be strictly confined to the last curtain which hid the ark but also applied to all hangings, whether they were gate, door or veil of separation. Each of them, like that tabernacle material itself, speaks to us by its white linen, blue, purple and scarlet, of the person of Jesus Christ. I would not like to say that the four colours represent the different tones, hues, appreciations of our Lord which are displayed by the four Gospels, but in any case we do find that the four accounts can be twined together to give a composite picture of Him, with all His different virtues. This is one of the advantages of the repetitions found in the Scriptures; the different gospel stories throw a variety of light on the personality of the Lord Jesus, giving us a rich and multicoloured view of Him. So the story never grows dull, as it might with a mono chrome, but continually leads us into deeper communion with God by its variegated appreciation of His Son.


It is as though the worshipper had to keep passing through veils, which is surely meant to emphasise to us that God has thus sought to help us, indicating our direction and showing where we must focus our vision. No man can come to God but by Christ. There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. There is only one way to God, and that is through the person of Christ. It would have been quite useless to try to creep under the white linen at the back of the tabernacle, for there was no entrance there. The worshipper had to come round to the front, and there he found a gate of four colours which seemed to cry out, "This is the way in". Having entered through the gate he might look around and think of turning to the right or left but he would find no further entrance in those directions and could only make progress by going straight forward to the veil, pulling that aside and so entering the tabernacle. Still he would find himself confronted by another veil of the same material, inviting him to advance still more and so finally to arrive at the middle. As a matter of fact if he had looked round when he entered the tabernacle he would probably not have seen the boards, as has often been imagined, but the sides were most probably latticed, so that he would look through the lattice [24/25] work and so get glimpses of the same four-coloured material behind. This suggests that communion with God entails seeing an embodiment of Christ in every direction.

If we have found it difficult to commune with God we must start by concentrating our gaze on the Lord Jesus. If, then, we so grow spiritually that we can find Him not only in the Gospels but also in all the rest of the Scriptures, then praise the Lord, this is better still. We should also look to see what the Lord Jesus has done in other people's lives; in this way we shall learn more of what He is like and so be led into further communion with God.

The real place of communion is a kind of fourth dimension. The forecourt is the first dimension, the holy place is the second, and the holy of holies the third, but inside of the ark in the inner, inner, inner, innermost area of the whole tabernacle, we find the goal of the true worshipper, the point where the life of God is pulsating out from His own Being, the place where God Himself dwells. This is the essence of what the tabernacle is talking about.


But of course the basis of all our worship must be that we belong to God. Only an Israelite could pass through the gate; for anyone else it would have meant death. It therefore follows that for Christians who want to commune with God the pre-requisite is an acknowledgment of belonging to Him. Perhaps this is why some find communion with God difficult, for we cannot even pass through the first door without being prepared to recognise His rights over us, and indeed to welcome the fact that He possesses us. Naturally we are glad to think that God belongs to us -- that He is our God -- but it may not be so pleasant to have to accept the implications of belonging to Him. Such belonging means that He may be wanting something from us, and that in our conversation with Him we may be made aware of something which He wishes us to do, or some place where He wants us to go. We belong to Him, every bit of us, spirit, soul and body, so that any unwillingness to obey on our part suspends and switches off our mutual communion. We need hardly remind ourselves that the greatest men in history who have walked with God and known Him intimately have been those who unreservedly accepted His rule of their lives. Moreover this is not just a once-for-all crisis, but a daily requirement of our approach to Him. It is when we tell the Lord that we belong wholly to Him and not to ourselves that He is willing to talk with us.


The second requirement for communion must be a willingness to come near to Him. There were many tents around Israel, but there was only one gateway into the house of God, so that it required purposefulness to enter in. A man had to be willing to make a move, for no one ever got to know God by just sitting back and waiting for something to happen. Like any other relationship, this is one which has to be actively pursued. Having been attracted by the beautiful gate of Christ's winsomeness, and realised the genuineness of His invitation, we find an irresistible urge to draw near. We want to come, and even though we may not be too aware yet of our own sinfulness, we move through the gate and toward Him.

We can go no farther, however, without finding ourselves confronted by the altar, and even if we skirt around that we would still have to face the laver. These two objects are presented to us because if we have been listening to the Lord Jesus and seeking to find a connection with God through Him, we are overcome by a sense of inferiority, and we become shame-faced at what we are. Could we get through to God by any other way we might not be troubled by our state, but the fact is that we cannot do so, but have squarely to face the veil of what the Lord Jesus is, and none of us can look at Him without realising how much we need the cleansing of our consciences and the washing of our ways.


We cannot proceed without the cleansing by the blood which the altar offers us. There is no progress without this. Nor can we go forward without having our lives washed by the water of God's Spirit as He takes the Word of God and applies it to the stains which are revealed in the light of Christ's perfection.

So it is that Hebrews 10 exhorts us to "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" (referring presumably to the manner in which the blood was applied to various parts and people by being sprinkled) "and our bodies washed with pure water". We need not only to have our hearts, our inner lives with our consciences, to be cleansed by sprinkling, but we also need to have our outward lives, as it were our bodies, washed by the Spirit's application of the Word of God. We are made clean [25/26] through the truth. Ephesians 5:26 reminds us that it is by the washing of the Word that the bride is made ready for the wedding feast, and similarly if we are to have real communion with God we need the work of the blood of Christ and of the Spirit of God to rid us of those defilements which our bodily daily life has brought.

Perhaps an explanation of why we fail to commune with God is found in the fact that we try to rush into His presence without acknowledging our need of the blood of Christ. It may be also because we do not allow God to clean up our lives by His Word. Have you ever found after two or three hours in front of the television -- if you ever spend that amount of time there -- that you need to cry to God to use His Word to wash out of your consciousness what you have been witnessing? Or it may be that you have had to travel around in some city and by the end of the day you feel defiled? The only thing to do is to get out the Word and allow the Holy Spirit to apply it to your life. Even with the care of children and household chores you can be left with the need for cleansing. After all, if we are going out for the evening we have a bath, if we have been involved in strenuous exercise we feel the need of a shower before resuming contact with others, surely then if we contemplate communion with God we should do the same spiritually. This is part of the business of laying hold of life. The psalmist spoke of the young man cleansing his ways by taking heed to God's Word, and also of hiding that Word in his heart in order not to sin. So it is that we can have the bath or the shower just wherever we are, if we allow God's Word to do its cleansing work, so freshening our spirits and stilling our consciences by the fact of Christ's death on our behalf. So by this definite and continual use of the altar and the laver we are able to proceed in our investigation of the heart of God, and to make progress in our experience of His almighty life. Any cheaper form of Christianity will fail of its purpose, because it involves by-passing the very provisions made by the living God for us to come to the ark and the mercy seat where He has promised to meet us.


We still have a little way to go yet. Our consciences have been stilled, our outward lives cleansed, and so we move into the next court through the veil or door of the tabernacle, that is still keeping our gaze concentrated on the Lord Jesus as we find our way in. If we became so occupied with the altar to the exclusion of all else we would find that in the end our backs might be turned to the veil, which spiritually would signify that we were so taken up with teaching about the cross, or with the cross as a thing, that we failed to press on to Christ the person. Similarly a man could have his back to the veil by being too preoccupied with the laver, or as it were with the doctrines of sanctification, and for that very reason could stop short of real communion with God. No, we must use the altar and the laver, but we must never get bogged down by them, but use them as a means to advance in a straight line toward the very heart of God as found in Christ.

So it is that as we press through this further door we come to the golden altar, the altar of incense. Incense, which speaks of prayer, is the way in through the veil. If we want to get beyond the outward person of Christ as revealed twenty centuries ago in the Scriptures into the heartbeats of God Himself, it will be through the incense which permeates the veil and enters the holy place. If we want to get beyond the four Gospels' records of the revelation of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago so that the same heart is touching ours and beating with ours, then we must find the way in through the veil by prayer in the Spirit and so meet the twentieth century living God. God in Christ will show us the way, but we must enter in, we must talk with God; we must get to prayer. Now this is another reason why some people find that their communion with God gets stultified, it is because they do not actually use words and start to talk to Him, but just try to feel His presence. By all means let us be still and know that He is God but this must be the prelude to the use of actual words as we find ourselves going through the veil and communing with Him face to face.


[Eric Fischbacher]

WE had a small group Bible study on John 13 and about halfway through I spoke briefly on the verse "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them", pointing out how in the earlier part of the chapter it says "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands ... took a towel". KNOWING, He acted, the action seeming simple, out of all proportion to what He knew. Knowing that everything was His, His immediate action was to take a towel, and wash the disciples' feet, and not only was the act connected with the knowledge -- indeed the act contained the Glory of the Godhead. We know so much, act so little, yet in some [26/27] strange way, all spiritual knowledge is to be expressed in simple actions, and words, and thoughts and attitudes. It is in this way that the Divine Nature and Glory is to be demonstrated -- not by one or two, but in its fullness by the whole church. Anyone who thinks he knows much of spiritual things, and does not express God in the tone of his voice, in the way he speaks to his wife, in his attitude to his enemies, to those who are a nuisance to him -- and in a thousand and one little practical daily things -- has no happiness, for Jesus said, "He that knoweth these things, happy is he if he doeth them". Only in the doing is happiness reached.

The matter was taken up by Brother H. who spoke of a Western missionary in his home province in China who preached for years without a single convert, and the first one was a sedan-chair coolie. The man was helping to carry him on a journey and became ill on the way. The missionary got down and helped to carry the coolie back to town in the chair. His simple act of humble service was the breaking-point, and thereafter many were saved. - Hong Kong Diary Dr. E. Fischbacher


Poul Madsen

Reading: Ezekiel 22

WHEN the people of Israel had brought themselves to the very brink of disaster by treading the path of sin and lawlessness, the Lord exclaimed: "I sought for a man among them, that should make up the fence, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath; their own way have I brought upon their heads, saith the Lord God" (verses 30 and 31). This is a word to which we should take heed. It is highly topical, not least when read in its context, although it may not be easy to understand.


God sought one who would make up the fence and stand in the gap before Him for the land, that He should not destroy it. Moses had done this, when Israel had sinned with the golden calf in the wilderness (Psalm 106:23); he had risked his own life and future bliss in order to rescue the people from being destroyed by the anger of God.

Now, however, God says that He can find no such man, which is surprising since we know that He had Jeremiah in Jerusalem, and Ezekiel among the exiles, as well as Daniel in Babylon. Was not Jeremiah able to make up the fence and stand in the gap for the land? Surely he was willing to do so. And what about Ezekiel and Daniel? Why could not God use them for this purpose; why could He not rely on them as He had done on Moses? When we read about Jeremiah we find him to have been a man who more than any other took God's side and did not shrink back from any sacrifice that could profit his wayward people. What, then, did he lack? What did Ezekiel lack? Surely his being in exile was no obstacle, for distance is no disadvantage in spiritual matters. Can you not use me, Lord? he must have thought, when he heard that the Lord had not found anyone to stand in the gap for the people. What did the Lord mean? What does this all mean to us?


We notice first that a tremendous amount is necessary in order to make up a fence for a people. When a nation has turned its back upon God, and turned a deaf ear to God's warnings generation after generation, as Israel had done, even a Jeremiah or an Ezekiel cannot make up a fence for its protection. This makes us think soberly and humbly when we weigh up our own chances of helping our own nation. We dare not compare ourselves with men like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, for we are not worthy to be classed with them, so we must not think or talk in an exaggerated way of our own capabilities, giving ourselves or others false hopes.

Both this verse, when read in its context, and the Bible as a whole, seem to tell us that the fate of a nation depends very largely upon its leadership. Moses was the leader of the people -- he could stand in the gap for it and save it -- but Jeremiah and other contemporary prophets were not leaders of the people, theirs was a spiritual rather than a political influence and so they were not able, like Moses, to build a fence and stand in the gap. This agrees with what we read of the kings of Israel. They were the leaders of the people, and the history of the people was in many ways the history of the kings. If these were good and godly then the people [27/28] flourished -- they protected the kingdom against its enemies -- but if the kings were ungodly, the people's protection was gone. A tremendous responsibility rests, therefore, upon the leaders of every nation. They represent the people, they are able to make a fence of protection for the country; but if they fail it does not seem possible for anyone else to do so. With this background we can better understand why Paul so fervently exhorted prayer for the nation's rulers "that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Unfortunately, we have to confess that we have neither understood this exhortation nor obeyed it.


What were the conditions like in the days of the prophet? If we read through this whole chapter we realise that it might almost be a description of how things are in our day. There is a striking similarity between conditions then and now.


"In thee have they set light by father and mother" (verse 7). This is expressively emphasised as something serious, something which God notices, something which arouses His anger. Paul says that in the last days men will be disobedient to parents (2 Timothy 3:2). Why is this so bad? Because parental authority is of God and is the first kind of authority that children can experience. If they despise this, then what will happen when they grow up and meet the authority of their superiors and of their government?

Where authority is brushed aside or despised, a lawless person emerges. Unquestionably a man becomes neither better nor truer, and certainly not more human, when he shakes off authority as modern conditions clearly prove. In our own time it is asserted that the human race has now grown up and therefore ought not to be bound or restricted by old-fashioned ideas about authority, but we only need to look to see what people are becoming when from childhood they are allowed to be their own masters. Society seems to be rapidly moving towards anarchy and barbarism! The idea and the institution of authority is of God. The man who denies or destroys it is setting himself against God.


"In the midst of thee they commit lewdness" (verses 9-11). These verses could well be taken as a description of our own day. The characteristic of modern times is not that man is sinful, for that he has always been; nor that his sin is ugly, for this has been true in every generation; but that now sin, even in its vilest forms, is approved of as something natural and normal. This lewdness is now not only approved of by special "Liberal" groups in society but by the very institutions of society; indeed it is not only approved of but regarded as the natural basis for human life and behaviour, and so is made the basis of so-called sex instruction which often degenerates into instruction in fornication. Our culture today is sex-mad. The pity is that soon people will become so accustomed to its ideas that purity and self-discipline will be regarded as abnormal and undesirable -- if that has not already happened!


This is the natural consequence of the foregoing. Nothing is holy any longer, nothing has absolute worth, nothing is true, but everything is in flux, all ideas of decency and truth are disintegrating, including all sense of holiness and chivalry.

The priests "have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean" (verse 26). "Thou hast despised my holy things" (verse 8). "Her prophets have daubed them with untempered mortar" -- whitewash -- (verse 28). Conditions in our day could hardly be described more accurately than this. From many of the pulpits in our country this laxity is encouraged, and from some of them there even issue warnings against those who insist on putting a difference between the holy and the common, those who speak of conversion and holiness of life, those who make a difference between the saved and the unsaved, between salvation and damnation.

The one word with which to describe these conditions is the word "godless". "... and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God" (verse 12). Men ignore God; they do not take Him or His word seriously; they are not in the least afraid of Him, but have their consciences hardened through pride.


As has already been said, we can hardly expect to be able to make up a fence for the country's protection, and we cannot expect that anyone will emerge from the nation's responsible leaders who has the spirit and faith to do so. We must probably be content with something which may appear less, [28/29] but in spite of this it is something that we can and should do. We can warn men.

A large and important part of the prophets' work was to warn the people. This task was so important that God gave Ezekiel to understand that he would be held responsible for the people's blood, if he omitted to warn when God had commanded him to do so (Ezekiel 3:16-21). This is a difficult job, and for many reasons we fear to do it. We fear because we hate to appear pharisaical. We fear because we hesitate to get involved in arguments or quarrels with people. We fear because we feel that there are not many who will accept our warning, which makes it seem useless anyhow. Besides this many, particularly of the younger generation, seem to be so governed by modern thought and respect for the wishy-washy tolerance and permissiveness that respect for the Word of God does not seem relevant. As a consequence vagueness and softness, uncertainty and lack of authority have displaced firmness and power in the Church's witness; and so it is that we are quite unable to warn men on God's behalf. Let us bring our misgivings and our timidity to God, and let us ask Him for grace and power for this aspect of our testimony, lest one day we stand ashamed before Him because of those who would have paid attention to the warning if only we had been loving and courageous enough to give it.

1. To warn is for one thing to "shew her all her abominations" (verse 2). We are daily surrounded by people who take God's name in vain, people who are blatantly shameless, people who -- themselves corrupt -- corrupt others. Are we not placed among them in order to cause them to know their sin and its consequences? Who else can do it? Who else can tell them what is right and what is wrong? Who will arouse them to a sense of sin if we do not?

2. To warn is also to tell men "... thou hast caused thy days to draw near, and art come even to the years" (verse 4). In other words, the time is short! At any time God's judgments can strike them, at any moment they can be snatched away. Then they will have no more chances, and neither shall we have any more opportunities to warn them.

3. To warn can also consist in asking: "Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee?" (verse 14). Haughty, carefree scoffers may be great with their words and attitudes, but they will be small when it comes to the crunch, their hearts will be like wax in the day of judgment, and they will cry to the mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of God (Revelation 6:16). Should you and I not consider warning them about this while there is still time?

4. To warn is to live a holy life in the midst of them. As the Word says, Ezekiel was "a sign", for what could not be conveyed to them in words was proclaimed through his life and actions. For our part we will not resist authority; we will not white-wash filth; we will not rub out the distinction between the holy and the common; we will perfect holiness in the fear of God, keeping ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit.


There is more, for with all this our task will not be complete unless we share Ezekiel's compassion. This is the most important fundamental our witness. When we read the prophets we cannot avoid feeling their acute pain over the people's sin, a pain springing from deep love both to God and to the people themselves. This pain was mixed with a sense of sharing the blame for the people's condition, so that we see time and again that the prophets confessed their own sin together with the sin of God's people. They never stood on the side of the accuser; even when they spoke their hardest and most passionate words it was never in a harsh or unloving spirit, but with sorrow, pain and tears. The same spirit must mark us, or we will fail in our service.

For this we must live close to the Lord. Rather than speculating as to what is the best thing to do or not to do, rather than endless discussions about the rights and wrongs of things, we must practise abiding in Christ, so living and walking in Him that His Spirit radiates through us to those around. Then, when it is timely, we shall be able to speak, to warn or to encourage; then we shall be able to intercede for them as Abraham did for Sodom.

We can hardly make up a fence for the people -- even Abraham could not save Sodom and Gomorrah -- but we may be able to save some, perhaps even many, and we will have been faithful to our God given calling. [29/30]


Harry Foster

Reading: Matthew 17:24-27

THE secret of the Church's functioning can be found in the word "partnership". Peter was one of the original members of the Church, and had an important ministry in it, so it seems natural and right that the Lord should have given him some private tuition on the subject. This fact seems to explain the passage we are considering, and it makes it clear that the whole procedure begins with a personal partnership with Christ Himself -- "for me and thee".


All miracles are unusual, and it may seem trite so to describe this one. Consider, however, its peculiar features! It was -- in a sense -- unnecessary, for Christ Himself proved to Peter that He had no need to pay the temple dues. Moreover it was the only miracle by which the Lord provided money. More remarkably, it was the only miracle which He performed on His own behalf. (The question of Peter's liability as a patriotic Jew was not raised by the questioners, though he himself may have been troubled to think that this might be the first year in which he had failed to pay his usual subscription). Finally it was a private miracle. There were no spectators at all; it was just an intimate experience of one man with his Lord, probably in his own home.

It is true that Peter actually came from Bethsaida, but we know that his mother-in-law had been healed in their home at Capernaum. If "the house" mentioned here was Peter's own home it means that he must often have gone out of that same door and down to that same part of the sea to fish. Could it really be for a miracle that the Lord now commanded him to repeat that commonplace action -- "go thou to the sea ..."? Peter, the fisherman was not told to do something unusual, but to go to the usual place and do the usual thing -- "cast an hook ...". From that simple action came illumination on a great spiritual truth, for Peter found himself in a miraculous experience of partnership with Christ. Had there been only a half-shekel in the fish's mouth, the result would have been a wonderful provision for the Lord's own need. Had there been two half-shekels then there would have been separate provision for Christ's need and for Peter's too. But this was even more significant -- both needs were met in the one coin. In this way Peter was left with a private experience between himself and his Lord alone in which he was given an elementary lesson in the miracle of spiritual partnership.


Some might regard this coincidence as hardly worthy of the name of "miracle", for no doubt from time to time fish did swallow coins in that lake, and perhaps a fish with a coin stuck in its gullet would be ready to catch at Peter's hook. To the sensitive mind, however, the essence of a miracle is often its perfect timing. Measured by this standard it was a miracle indeed, for Peter did not have to go on fishing until he found a fish with a coin, but was assured that the very first fish would have it -- and it had!

So it was that Peter's mental problem concerning his Master's moral obligation as a Jew was fully solved. We do not know whether he had any particular concern about his own inability to meet his obligation. What we do know is that he had been challenged about his Lord, and out of loyalty had impulsively committed Christ to the payment of the half-shekel. He had committed Him, and yet it appeared that neither of them possessed the necessary money. It represented roughly a day's pay, and doubtless Peter would very gladly have done sufficient work to pay for his Lord's subscription, but he knew that he had been called to abandon that kind of work in order to devote himself to the work of the kingdom, so the problem could not be solved by that means. Yet, in a sense, the Lord's need did require some action from Peter, and he found himself faced with a command which seemed unlikely and perhaps trivial, and which was yet the key to the solution.

He obeyed. We know the wonderful result and can well imagine with what relief and pleasure Peter went off to find the collectors of religious subscriptions and handed over the money for his Master, Jesus of Nazareth. But see what had happened! In caring for the good name of his Lord he had also found the provision for his own need, and was able to add, "and include my payment in that shekel, please!" The same miracle had provided for them both. That coin was a symbol of partnership. As Peter took care for the Lord's interests, [30/31] God took care of his. One must presume that this might well have proved Peter's first experience of ever having to default in what he regarded as an honourable obligation, but he did not default -- the miracle was not only "for Me", it was also "for thee".


The basis of Church life is partnership together in a partnership with Christ (Hebrews 3:14), but it is a partnership which can only be maintained by a divine miracle. We would gladly work for it (as Peter would have worked to earn Christ's halfshekel) but it does not come this way. It must be God's doing, and yet it requires obedience from us just as in Peter's case he had to obey the command to go down to the sea and cast his hook. Such obedience pre-supposes that we are making His interests our first concern, and also that we are ready to do simple things which may hardly seem relevant to spiritual values.

Like Peter, we have to learn first to enter into a personal partnership with Christ in our home setting. Just there, not in some foreign field or by hiving off to some attractive movement somewhere else, but right in the homely and perhaps unpromising circumstances of our fellowship life, we are to prove God's power to do His miracle. The man who is going to count in the partnership of the Church is the man who has first learned this simple lesson in private.

Again and again in his later life Peter must have enjoyed the spiritual counterpart of this experience, putting the Lord's needs first and then finding his own fully met (1 Peter 5:7). Moreover in the realm of Church life he was able to set a pattern among God's people in which the individual believers have such a personal walk with the Lord that they find Him the centre and secret of their happy functioning together (1 Peter 4:8-11).

In some ways this was the simplest of miracles yet its spiritual significance is of supreme importance. No church can function together in its witness to the world unless its individual members are proving in private the vital partnership suggested by Christ's words, "For me and thee".


T. Austin-Sparks

"And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might ... have not I sent thee?
And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I ...?
And the Lord said unto him, Surely I will be with thee.
" Judges 6:14-16

GIDEON lived at a time when so much in Israel was contrary to the honour and glory of God's name. The Israelites were at the mercy of their enemies, a defeated people. They were pitifully poor, having no enjoyment of their land, which had been the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey. They were in confusion, with no unity, no cohesion, and no leaders who could speak with finality the authoritative Word of God which alone can bring hope and confidence. In His sovereignty, however, God reacted to recover such conditions as would honour His name among the people, and for this purpose he apprehended Gideon, a young man.

An indication that God means to go on with His purpose in spite of much failure is that He brings in young people. Older believers must not be jealous of the younger generation, for increasing age can mean loss of freshness, and if we of the older generation cling to our static position we may bring in death. What is our salvation? What is the renewing of our youth? What is the answer to growing limitation on our part? It is not to suspect youth; not to criticise it; not to despise it as some evidently did in Timothy's case (1 Timothy 4:12); but to do everything in our power to help the younger generation.

When I first started ministry I was quite a young man, and I had to assume responsibility for a church where there were some older men who objected, "But he is so young"! I had, however, a champion among those critics, and he answered their objections with the words, "Yes, but that is something he is getting over every day"! We need to see that after all it is not years that govern. Age is not the criterion; the criterion is spirituality. What is true in nature is also true in the realms of things spiritual. As soon as any organism in nature ceases to reproduce, death has commenced. The law of nature is ever fresh reproduction. The law of life is reproduction. God, having once created, does not create a second time; He proceeds by reproduction. Every [31/32] new generation is meant by God to bring past values into new freshness. No new generation is a new created humanity, but a generation of fresh humanity which perpetuates the good which has gone before. Some of us are a passing generation, and our freshness and fruitfulness will be found in helpfully making way for the next generation.

The Lord's glory and honour are expressed in perennial youth, but the new generation cannot succeed just because of youth, any more than it can be officially appointed; it must take up the succession in an inward way, and that means by spirituality. This was the test applied to Gideon. He, like the other judges, illustrates how in divine sovereignty God takes up whom He will, but he also indicates the ground on which that sovereignty works. It is not a contradiction to say that while God acts in absolute sovereignty, He does look for certain conditions which will bring that sovereignty into operation. So it is that we may get some profit from examining a few of the qualities which marked this young man, Gideon, and made him usable by God.


The first of these -- and it is everywhere evident -- was his humility. Humility is the prime mark, the hallmark, of spirituality. No wonder it says that "The Lord looked upon him"! With Gideon there was no pride of person, for far from thinking highly of himself he clearly rated himself very low. He had no pride of family, being ready to confess that his was the poorest household in Manasseh. Now in fact it does appear that his father, Joash, stood for something and had a position of prominence in his city, for it was to his altar of Baal that the citizens came to worship. Moreover Gideon was able to select ten servants from his father's house. The truth seems to be that Gideon was a man of a genuinely humble spirit. He was not proud of being young. Nobody is going to be used by God just for that reason. Nor did he harbour any sense of superiority over the people around him in spiritual matters. He put himself among them and recognised himself to be one with them in their poor spiritual state. If we are proud of our more advanced understanding or of our imagined spirituality; if we look down on others in a critical fault-finding way; then the Lord will never look upon us as He looked upon Gideon nor choose us as His instruments.

It is not our business to let it be known that we disapprove of other Christians; it is our business to find a way of helping them. If we seek true humility then we may come into the Lord's view as His instruments to serve Him and His sovereign purposes to recover the glory due to His name. The whole story of Gideon is a declaration that such an instrument must never have any glory of its own. God found Gideon in a humble spirit at the beginning, and He subsequently took pains to reduce him and bring him even lower, for lowliness is the ground of the presence and the power of God. It is only when personal glory is set aside that the Lord can say, as He said to Gideon, "The Lord is with thee...." This is the kind of man whom God can use. A Moses, whose reaction to his call was, "Who am I, that I should go ... Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent ... but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue". A Jeremiah, who argued, "Ah, Lord God! behold I cannot speak: for I am a child". An Elisha, who was a man not of the wind, the earthquake and the fire, but only an expression of God's power in "a still, small voice". This same principle was indicated for Gideon in the sign of the dew, that silent, lowly expression of life-giving power. God's instrument is always conscious of his own personal inadequacy.


The next point which impresses us in connection with Gideon was his industriousness; he was threshing out corn in the winepress. He did his work in that most unlikely and unsuitable place in order to hide it from the Midianites. The days were so evil that very little seemed possible, and indeed most of the people had fled to caves and holes, being paralysed and impotent because of their ever-present enemies. It looked as though nothing positive could be done, and therefore the tendency was to despair of action and accept the situation of defeat. Gideon, however, had a different attitude. It might be that not much could be done, but there was a little, and he determined to keep occupied with what was possible. As he considered their impossible situation he saw that there was a small, hidden contribution which he could make for the preservation of life. The Lord took note of this spirit. The Lord was standing right by that winepress and watching Gideon's efforts. Perhaps it was for this very reason that He said, "The Lord is with thee thou mighty man of valour". The Lord is certainly not "with" a slothful person, since to Him diligence is an essential quality. "In diligence not slothful, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Romans 12:11) describes the kind of man God looks for, and in the person of Gideon He found him. [32/33]

Gideon's activities were very limited and performed in a cramped sphere, but he was doing all that could be done, even if it seemed so little. The Lord took note of that, for sometimes even a gesture is enough for Him. If He sees one who, as it were, on entering a room makes straight for the armchair, a man who is looking for excuses and glad to skirt around or evade some responsibility which confronts him, then the Lord will not look on him as He did on Gideon. The margin tells us that "The Lord turned toward him". The Lord always turns toward those who are alert to seize even small opportunities of service.

The same principle applied to the ten thousand who were taken down to the river to get a drink (Judges 7:4). The last thing that could have occurred to those men was that their method of drinking was really a test, but once again God's decision and choice was based on a gesture, a gesture which revealed those who were putting divine interests before their own personal affairs. It was not that in His sovereign majesty He had ordained that some would lap and some would go down on their knees but that His sovereign work would be done by those who revealed their dispositions by their behaviour in a small matter. We, too, reveal our dispositions by very simple actions, and it may well be that in our daily life and work the Lord's eye is upon us to watch our disposition, for if we will jump at that which gives us some personal gratification or grasp at an opportunity to shirk hard work, then He will not use us in His great purposes. None of us will ever be used of the Lord in any vital way unless our hearts are wholly set on Him and His interests. "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings." (Proverbs 22:29) God is looking for men like that.


In a sense this is part of what we have already said -- Gideon was concerned for others. He looked and saw that the people were starving, and that the enemy was seeking to steal away what little food they had, so he did his best to help an undernourished and weakened people who could not lift a hand for their own deliverance. All of us need the outward look -- "Not looking each one to his own things, but each of you to the things of others" (Philippians 2:4). Gideon was not one of those introverts who are always pre-occupied with their own condition. He might well have been filled with self-pity and complaints at being involved in such a sorry situation, but instead he was concerned about the troubles of others and was ready to pray and act on their behalf. That activity down in the winepress suggests a secret concern and effort to outwit the enemy, even if only in a small way.

Further, Gideon betrayed a real heart concern by replying to the statement that God was with him with a question about his people's troubles and needs. His great concern was not about himself but about the fact that the former activities and wonders of God among His people were now no longer operating. This was all so different from theorising and giving slick theological answers to the Israelites' circumstances; it was as though the winepress was symbolic, and Gideon a man who was being crushed in spiritual travail over the needs of God's defeated people.

Whether a man is young or old he will only be useful to God if he bears this kind of heart concern. Nobody is going to serve the name and honour of the Lord by doctrines, by clever interpretations of the Scriptures or by mystical vistas of spiritual truths. The Lord will not spend much time looking towards the theorisers; He is watching for men with hearts that are as burdened as Gideon's was, burdened with inward suffering over the unhappy state of His people.


The further point to note is what took place when Gideon destroyed the idol in his father's house. We will never destroy Satan and his kingdom, we will never destroy what is represented by the Midianite tyranny if privately, behind the scenes, there is any kind of complicity with that kingdom. In our case the problem is not in our father's house but in our own hearts. There seems to be something inside us which is in alliance with the kingdom of darkness, a false altar which has to be overthrown to make way for God's altar. Before Gideon could go out and save Israel, recovering among them the honour due to the Lord's name, something had to be dealt with in the background of his own life. He did it! It is true that he did it fearfully, for he was a man without self-confidence, and it is true that he did it at night; nevertheless -- night or day -- he did it, and that was what mattered.

The altar and the name! It is impressive and significant how often these two are linked together in the Scriptures. The focal point of Gideon's whole story was that altar. It symbolised a new relationship and harmony between God and himself. Where [33/34] there is an altar for the Lord's name, and where He finds His full satisfaction, there the glory of the Lord is secured and that being so it is peace -- Jehovah Shalom. It seems that up to that point there was some uncertainty with Gideon, but after that there was no more uncertainty. The great victory was sure from then onwards.

The real battle is often in the heart of the man who is going to serve God; it is as though the Lord has to fight him before He can fight through him; having subdued and silenced his flesh by the mighty power of the cross, then He can lead His servant out to the battlefield around and use him for the honour of the name. God's warriors are those who through the cross are brought to enjoy God's peace in their own hearts, and then in the power of that peace they can bring to bear His victory on the kingdom of darkness. These are the Gideons whom God so greatly needs in our day.


Roger T. Forster

Reading: Matthew 11:11-30; 12:6, 40-42

THERE is a lot of evidence in the New Testament that the Lord Jesus tried to veil Himself. He certainly did not go around demanding that people should look at Him because He was God. He was just Himself, and often tried to hide His greatness in healing by asking people not to publicise the fact that He had healed them, but just to keep it quiet. There was nothing flamboyant or ostentatious about Him because God is not like that. Yet, although Christ modestly veiled His greatness there were moments when in effect He did say, "Look, how great I am!"

In the above passages in Matthew 12 He said that He was greater than the sabbath, and greater than the temple. He was greater than the priests who served in the temple and greater than Solomon who built it. In other words He made it plain that He is greater than Moses and all the mosaic order, greater than all the preachers and prophets, including Jonah who so preached in Nineveh that thousands of sinners repented; and greater than Solomon, the wisest man of all time. In His artless simplicity the Lord indicated that He would not hide the fact from his disciples, and indeed did not wish to do so; He is greater than all. The Lord Jesus is unique, and we should never be ashamed to acknowledge the fact, but rather let it be the means of sounding a chord of worship in our hearts.


The disciples knew our Lord to be someone extraordinary, someone who took them by surprise, and in the end evoked their total commitment. Soon after His death men like Paul would claim that "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9). The apostles quoted such psalms as "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever" and insisted that this referred to Jesus, A sub-apostolic writer wrote to the emperor that the Christians met together "... to sing hymns and worship Christ as God". In the mediaeval church Christ's greatness was wrongly stressed by the practice of appealing to lesser beings, saints, for their intercession, and wrong as this is, it reminds us that the Lord Jesus is quite unique -- which is what Christianity is all about. In the protestant reformation it is sad that theology and its verbiage made Him seem remote, but this again was at least an indication of the great mystery of His person. In the nineteenth century came a different trend, truly of the Holy Spirit, when men began to speak about Christ as our Friend, as the one who is first-born among many brethren. Right on into the twentieth century Christians have gloried in the fact that His was a real humanity.

He shares in our humanity, though this should not betray us into addressing Him in our prayers as "Jesus". It is correct to talk about Him in this way, as is done in the Gospels and the Epistles, but it is not scriptural to address Him as Jesus. They did not do this in New Testament days, but instinctively and intuitively felt that although one with us He is different, unique. We must never forget this, nor lose the sense of wonder at the immense greatness and startling difference about the Lord Jesus and His humanity.


In Matthew 11 when the Lord Jesus spoke of all things being delivered to Him by the Father, He then proceeded to make the staggering declaration that He Himself is too great to be fully known by anyone except the Father. Having stated that no man knows the Father -- which is not surprising -- He then went on to say that He, the Son, was able [34/35] and willing to make the Father known to us. We may know the Father, we may even make our statements and explanations about the person of God, but when we come to the Son we are in a realm quite beyond us. How could He be God and Man as well? How could He empty Himself and become a growing Child and a mature Man? We are baffled whenever we try to draw a line between His deity and His humanity.

We can know His mediatorial work and so be led into a knowledge of the Father. No man can come to the Father except by Him who died, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. So that through Him we have come to know the Father, but there is an area of His own being which is mystery. Only the Father has perfect knowledge of the Son. Such unattainable greatness takes our breath away. It makes us worship Him. Never, never shall we fully comprehend the supernal greatness of our Lord Jesus. We love Him, we commit ourselves unreservedly to Him; but we always find in Him something which is too great for us. If He were anything less than that perhaps we could not praise and adore Him as we do.


If we consider in chapter 11 the circumstances in which these claims were made, we find that in answer to the imprisoned John's enquiries about Him, Christ sent a message of encouragement back, and then went on to describe the Baptist as the greatest man who had ever been born. This was magnificent, but the Lord then proceeded to affirm that His own greatness so far surpassed John's that anyone who got involved with Him, even though least and most inconsequential, would be greater than this greatest man. Christ is so wonderful that the most uninstructed, overlooked and apparently hopeless Christian can share with Him a greatness which completely surpasses all else. Here is something to challenge us, the fact that we have become involved with this mysterious greatness which cannot be comprehended by man's mind. It was at the time when the Lord was drawing attention to the condemnation of the favoured cities Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, that He reacted to their criticism and rejection by thanking God for the revelation given to babes. Those who imagined themselves to be wise, thinking that they could grasp eternal truths with their nine inches of grey matter, were excluded. They felt that their understanding of facts was sufficient and that there was no more to be said, so Christ's greatness was hidden from them. But the babes! They were teachable, so that Christ could share His real wisdom with them. The word for "babes" comes from a root word which means that they don't even talk. Perhaps it would be a good thing if we didn't talk so much! We might, perhaps, be able to receive more, for the Father gives His revelation to babes. The Lord Jesus, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, is the one who was willing to become a Babe, and He now calls us to come to Him as babes that we might become involved with Him in His greatness. "Come unto Me ..." He says, come and learn!


If we would understand true divine wisdom and know the eternal life of the Father we must learn of Christ. But how can we learn? The Lord Himself tells us. In the first place this extraordinary and mysterious Christ calls us to come to Him if we labour and are heavy laden. The first requirement for learning of Him, then, is to acknowledge that there are weights in our lives which are too much for us. Most teachers pick out pupils who have got rid of their burdens and problems, since they cannot be expected to pass to the next stage of instruction if they are hampered by such difficulties. The idea seems to be that they must first go to an earlier class to get free from these entanglements and then they can come to be taught. Christ, on the other hand, insists that such a condition of being burdened is a necessary requirement for those who are to be taught by Him. Have you been carrying some burden? Are you in a phase of life which is causing you heavy labour? You, then, are now in a condition to learn of Christ, if you will come to Him and allow Him to lift the burden. Porters who carry heavy loads on their heads can frequently get under the burden and carry it along, but when they come to the place where it has to be delivered they have to call for help to lift it off; the weight is such that they can carry it along a certain distance but they are quite unable to remove it from their own heads. If we are weighed down in this way, we are the very ones whom He invites to come to Him for relief. We may have put it on, but only He can take it off!

Secondly, although the Lord seems to be saying almost the same thing again, He adds, "Take my yoke upon you". This extraordinary Christ takes off one burden and then puts in its place another which He calls "My burden". In this case, though, He says that it is light and easy, the reason being that it consists of a yoke which He Himself is already bearing. In the context it seems that the [35/36] burden which the Lord Jesus was at that moment bearing was that of praising and thanking the Father in the face of misunderstanding and rejection. He found the heavy burden of rejected love to be light and easy by reason of His submission to the divine will in simple praise. He rejoiced in the mysterious greatness of God's wisdom: the insuperable problem became light and the threatened bitterness very, very sweet. This, then, is our new burden to replace the old wearisome one; it is a blessed sharing of the yoke with our Saviour, an experience which brings fresh joy in His superlative greatness.

The Lord then adds a third statement, "... I am meek and lowly in heart". This is the only place in all the revealed truth about Christ where we are shown His heart. Nowhere else are we told what His heart is like, but here we find that it is meek and lowly. He alone knows the Father, He Himself is only fully known by the Father, and yet He claims to be meek and lowly. We would not dare to make such a claim, and nobody would believe us if we did, but He made it, and we all appreciate that He could rightly do so. This is the lesson we are to learn of Him, to have this kind of lowly heart and so enjoy His soul rest. We have already said that this greatness of the Lord Jesus is to be enjoyed by us. He wants us to be involved in His greatness, the greatness of His wisdom and of His heart. For this we have to repudiate our own sophistication and become as simple babes, receiving even before we understand, and rejoicing in wondering worship.


The actual word for "greater" really means not a greater person but a greater thing. It is true that He was there as someone greater, but what He literally said was that He was introducing some thing which is greater than the temple, some thing greater than Jonah, and some thing greater than Solomon. There is something that is greater than the Sabbath and the temple -- the higher law of loving-kindness ("I will have mercy and not sacrifice"). Christianity is greater than the law because it is involved in the greatness of Christ. It is true that Christ is greater than Jonah, but it is also true that through Him something is going on which is greater than Jonah's successful preaching which brought a pagan metropolis to its knees in repentance. Something is now happening which is greater than the prophet being swallowed by a fish and then released to preach, and that something is the impact of a greater resurrection and ministry in the Church of Christ. It is true that one greater than Solomon is here, but it is equally true that there is a greater expression of divine wisdom in the kingdom which Christ has brought in. We live in a world of great complexity, full of problems which are greater than those of the first century, but there is an answer to them all, for something greater than Solomon's wisdom can be expressed in the people who are babes in themselves but yoked to the one who is meek and lowly, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

For a loveless world there is the greater power of Christ's love, for a dying world the greater resurrection of His life, and to a bewildered world the greater marvel of divine wisdom in Christ. How great is this wonderful mysterious Son with whom we are yoked!


John H. Paterson

"Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. " 2 Peter 3:18

TO grow in grace and to grow in knowledge, Peter suggests, are not precisely the same thing. It is quite possible to do one without doing the other: to acquire knowledge without that knowledge making the least impact either on character or on experience. This is true in ordinary walks of life, where knowledgeable people are sometimes surprisingly immature, and even childish, in their personal relationships and reactions. It is certainly liable to be the case with Christians, too, in their sphere of specialised knowledge, the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter's view is that God's people should experience a balanced growth, knowledge and character interacting in what, nowadays, we refer to as a "learning process".

For every biography in the Bible makes it clear that God never gives us a knowledge of Himself as purely academic information. The Bible knows nothing of knowledge for its own sake, but only knowledge that will contribute to the moral ends of God in the character of His people. This knowledge is not something that we can collect, in the same [36/37] way that some people collect Biographies of Napoleon or butterflies on pins (even though there are some Christians who give the impression that this is what they are doing). Fresh knowledge is supposed to be followed by practical outworking and the outworking, in its turn, should yield fresh knowledge. The two things can never diverge very far from one another.

Apart from the revelation of the Holy Spirit we could never, of course, gain any knowledge of God to begin with. The initiative is with Him: He starts the process. There comes an initial revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ to which we may respond and, if we do, we have begun the process of growth -- knowledge and response, knowledge and response -- for the rest of our lives. But it seems valid to suggest that, once we have started, much of our growth in knowledge comes, and is supposed to come, as a product of our own experience up to that point: an interest on the capital we have invested.

This is a proposition about which we need to be very clear, for it stands in contrast to two false positions which are all too commonly to be encountered. One of these is to imagine that we can arrive at the initial knowledge of God without the Holy Spirit's revelation, either by our own intelligence or our own experience -- whether that experience is of nature or of our fellow human beings or is induced, say, by the use of drugs. But the door to heavenly understanding is not unlocked by any of these things. The other mistake is to think that, because God's initial revelation of Himself is admittedly indispensable, we are entitled to a fresh revelation, with voices from heaven and writing on the wall, every time we confront one of life's smallest decisions. But once the learning process has begun, we are responsible for all the knowledge which past lessons have imparted: we are supposed to be able to respond rightly when we are confronted by the same test a second time, because we recall the solution from the previous occasion. We expect this from our own pupils in school, and there seems no good reason why God should expect any less from us.

In practice, of course, we learn some things more quickly than other. Most of us can recall from school days subjects we were good at and other subjects of which we never seemed able to get to the point. And so we were kept in late or made to do extra hours of work until we finally made something of them.

This much is the common experience of God's people and an expression of our own weakness. But it is interesting to find that it is true of some of the great figures of the past, too. In fact, there is no career which so well illustrates this uneven rate of progress, this ability to learn some things faster than others, as does that of Abraham.

The beginning of everything for Abraham was the initiative of God: "Get thee out" (Genesis 12:1). That command, and his obedience to it, launched him on a career, a "learning process", with world-wide effects. God promised to bless Abraham, and ourselves through him, and this He certainly did. Now all the promises made at God's subsequent appearances to Abraham concerned two things: (1) a place or land to live in, and (2) a family to succeed him through an heir whom God would give. And the remarkable thing to notice is the speed with which Abraham adjusted to the one idea and the slowness with which he absorbed the other.


It seems clear that, when Abram (as he then was) arrived in the land of promise, his first reaction played him false. No sooner had he arrived than there was a famine, and Abraham decided to move down to Egypt. This move did him no credit and little good, and soon he was back in the land once more. But from then on, his record was splendid. The dispute between his herdsmen and Lot's (Genesis 13:7) made a separation necessary. Abraham might have used his position as head of the family and as the older man -- not to speak of his prior knowledge (12:7) of God's promise to him -- to insist on his own choice of territory. Instead he let Lot choose the more fertile land and himself accepted the barren. Whatever the promise from which he was working, God immediately confirmed his decision: "... look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it" (Genesis 13:14-15) -- including, of course, the region which Lot had just chosen.

Time went by: Lot was in trouble, and Abraham and his allies went to rescue him. In the usual manner, the victorious allies divided up the spoils of battle, and Abraham was offered his share (14:21). But he refused; not a thread or a shoelatchet would he take, lest anyone should be able to boast, one day in the future, that he had made Abraham rich. And immediately God confirmed this reaction, too: "Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward". [37/38]

What a marvellous reaction on Abraham's part! But how did he know that was the right response to make? He evidently argued: "If God has said that He will bless me and make me great, then, from what I know of Him, He will insist on doing that Himself, without help from me, or anyone else". He used his prior knowledge of God to predict the solution to the next problem, and he was right.

This same wisdom seems to have spread to all that did not touch him personally and it was not for his own good alone; it was vital to the welfare of others. Lot was soon in trouble again, in his corner of the land, and Abraham was told of the fate awaiting Sodom (Genesis 18:17). To rescue Lot he then undertook an operation so audacious that we can only gasp as we read it now, thousands of years later -- to argue with God. He argued that it would be contrary to God's own character of justice to do what He proposed to do. He bargained for the safety of the righteous in Sodomy all the way down from fifty men to ten -- and there he stopped. How could anybody do such a thing to God? And how did he know exactly how far he might go? The answer surely is that he had an intimate and detailed knowledge of God, and of the kind of argument to which He would respond. And what a good thing for Lot that Abraham had it!


On the other side of Abraham's life, what a contrast in learning ability there seems to be! Where his own intimate family circle was concerned it seemed as if he would never learn, even when he confronted an identical situation a second time. In Genesis 12:10-20, he conceived the idea of introducing Sarah as his sister rather than his wife. The experience, we should have supposed, was a chastening one and when we come to chapter 20, and find Abraham repeating the trick we want to cry out "Oh, no! Surely not that again! " Surely so great a man of God will not make the same mistake twice; the man who had meanwhile bargained with God for the lives of the righteous men in Sodom and had met with God personally four or five times! Surely he knows better!

But within the family circle, Abraham was a slow learner. The very principle which he had grasped, without God's previous revelation, with regard to wealth and possessions eluded him completely when it came to having a son and heir; that if God had promised to do a thing, He will accept no helping hand from us. The whole unhappy story of Hagar and Ishmael was a result of Abraham's failure to apply to one of God's promises the principle which he already knew to govern the other. Nor did he give in easily. The promise was to Sarah and Isaac but Ishmael already existed: "O that Ishmael might live before thee" (Genesis 17:18). But what a second-rate fulfilment of the promise that would have been! It would altogether have lacked the marvels of the ultimate solution: "Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead , so many as the stars of the sky in multitude" (Hebrews 11:12).

Of course, Abraham learned at last. This, surely, is the significance of Genesis 22 and the sacrifice of Isaac. On the other side of life Abraham needed no such test: he had been sacrificing the natural advantages all along, and God had blessed him for doing so. Now he was required to put into use the knowledge of God which he had gained elsewhere; to use it in relation to his precious son. And this time, at long last, he grasped the point. We have only to listen to the angel speaking to him, after the knife stroke had been checked: "... neither do thou any harm unto him: for now I know ..." (22:12) What a wealth of meaning, what years of patient instruction, went into that now! At long last Abraham had learned, but what a time it had taken, and what stern measures had been necessary!

*    *    *

There is a small and happy postscript to add. The exhortation to grow in grace and knowledge, with which we began, was written by the apostle Peter. There never was a man who needed more to grow in grace than Peter. Peter had left all to follow Jesus, but in other respects, and especially where his own personal standing was concerned, he was a painfully slow learner, blundering from mistake to mistake. But it is this same Peter who now speaks of growing up and he does it in a context which shows the grace he himself had learned. For what precedes the exhortation is a reference to Paul and his epistles. Peter urges his readers that, to grow in grace they should pay close attention to Paul's letters, even although he recognises that there are things in those letters which are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). It sounds, in fact, as if Peter did not understand them himself! But this really is Peter writing -- the leader of the twelve, the man who had been with Jesus from the beginning, and he is writing about Paul; Paul the persecutor of the Church, the johnny-come-lately, the authoritarian apostle. And he describes him as "our beloved brother Paul".

How he must have grown in grace! And if Peter could do it, there is hope for us, too! [38/39]



Michael W. Poole

FAITH is one of the most misunderstood words we have. It is surprising how many people think that "faith" means believing just anything we are told. Such people couldn't be more wrong, in fact they are so wide of the mark that we have a different word for that sort of belief, we call it "credulity". So that if I tell you that grass is pink and you believe me, this would not be faith, it would be credulity. Faith is very different -- it is always linked with facts.

You may be surprised to find that faith is used a great deal in our everyday lives. When we go to a doctor and he gives us some medicine to make us better, we have faith in him -- provided, of course, that we do take the medicine! It would be silly to say that we had faith that the medicine would make us better and then not take it, and it is certain that the Bible would not use the word "faith" about such a person. Faith is not just believing something; it is putting your trust in that something (or that someone) and then acting on it. Faith, then, is trust followed by action.

Let me give you an example of faith. Some years ago I borrowed a 400,000-volt electric generator to show to a class of boys who were studying physics. I looked at the instruction book to find out how to operate the machine and then, standing well back, I switched on. At first there was a hissing and a crackling, and then a large blue spark flashed across between the two polished aluminium spheres with a noise like a whiplash. As it did so the electric influences for a moment caused my hair to stand on end.

As you can guess, I kept at a very respectful distance! I turned again to the instruction book to read more of what experiments I could show to the class with this device, and imagine my surprise -- and horror -- when I read that since the current supplied by the machine was so small a shock could safely be taken from it. It was half a million volts and yet I could touch it! (Incidentally don't you go touching your electric supply, for even a household wire can give you a fatal shock!) In this case, however, there it was in black and white. It could safely be touched -- or so it said! Now it is all very well to read about it being safe and to say, "Yes, I believe that the person who wrote that book of instructions knew what he was talking about", but it is a very different thing to have such a generator producing six-inch sparks with a noise like a whiplash, making your hair stand on end, and then touch it. I knew very well that when I showed the machine to the class on the following day someone would say "Go on, sir, touch it!" because I know that boys are like that.

Finally, after plucking up my courage, I stretched my hand out towards the shining aluminium sphere, but as there was a nasty hissing noise before I got anywhere near it, I quickly withdrew my hand. Eventually, however, with my heart in my mouth, I took the plunge. There was a loud crack, a blue spark, but nothing more, and I am still alive to tell the tale.

Now before I did this if anybody had asked me if I believed what the instruction book said about it being safe to touch the machine I would have said "Yes", but that certainly wasn't real faith -- not in the way that the Bible speaks of it. Only when I had acted on what I believed, put my trust in the advice given and stretched out my hand, could I really have been said to have exercised faith. This is the sort of faith that the Bible is speaking of when it says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). It means trust Him, put your confidence in Him, and then act! There is a sense in which the Bible is God's instruction book to us, and by it He calls us to stretch out our hands in faith, not to touch a high-voltage generator but to link up with the crucified and risen Saviour.

I remember as a small boy being impressed by these words with which King George VI closed one of his Christmas broadcasts: "I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown'. And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way'". [39/40]



Harry Foster

WHEN the Jews asked, "Who is this Son of man?" (John 12:34), they were not expressing perplexity at the title, for they knew what that involved, but they were voicing their scepticism about Christ's claim to use it, both because of His present lowly condition and because of His predictions of the death which was to come.

The phrase "Son of man" contained no allusion to our Lord's parentage, nor to any father-son relationship, but was an idiom which denoted personal characteristics. "The son of peace" (Luke 10:6) was an essentially peaceful man, just as "the sons of thunder" were exactly the opposite (Mark 3:17). Barnabas was "the son of consolation" (Acts 4:36) because he was a comforting, encouraging type. This helps us to appreciate that the title "Son of man" denoted that our Lord was true Man, the ideal and essence of all that God meant man to be.

The extraordinary feature of this particular title is that it was the one which the Lord chose when speaking of Himself. It is found in all four Gospels, and was obviously His favourite self-description. We may wonder whether He appropriated the title from Daniel 7:13, for almost always when He spoke of His return in glory He called Himself "the Son of man" (Matthew 26:64). He knew that He had become Man in order to provide the true headship of the human race. Even the unfallen Adam was never more than a shadow of the Man that was to rule God's kingdom (Romans 5:14), so all prophecy centred on this coming King. This kind of Son of man the Jews could understand, though they were not prepared to accept Christ's claim to be he, mainly because their failure to admit their own sinfulness made them unwilling to accept the idea that hope could only come to the human race by the sacrificial death of the representative Man. How God's purpose for mankind would have been realised if humanity had never sinned we do not know, but this we do know, that He sent His Son to solve the tragic dilemma by giving His own life for sinners (Mark 10:45). Man must be on the cross before he can be on the throne. So it is that the number of references to the return of the Son of man in glory are about equalled by the number of references to His death and resurrection (Luke 24:7).

The fact is that the title can be found in Ezekiel, where it is applied to the prophet more than ninety times. In his case the emphasis seems to be on humiliation and suffering, in his ministry as a "sign" among the captive Israelites (Ezekiel 2:6). In no sense was the title messianic as in Daniel, but at least it gives a hint that in a world like ours a man of God must serve by suffering, and that the representative Man -- the Son of man -- would preeminently be God's "sign" not so much by what He said or did as by what He endured. When Christ spoke of His coming redemptive work He always called Himself the Son of man. Apart from these two main uses of the title there are a few others which describe Christ's character, so giving us some understanding of what the ideal Man is like:

(1) He has no earthly support -- He is a faith Man. Matthew 8:20.
(2) He has power to forgive -- He is a merciful Man. Matthew 9:6.
(3) He eats and drinks -- He is a fellowship Man. Matthew 11:19.
(4) He is lord of the Sabbath -- He is a free Man. Matthew 12:8.
(5) He sows the good seed -- He is a hopeful Man. Matthew 13:37.
(6) He seeks to save -- He is a compassionate Man. Matthew 18:11.
(7) He serves others -- He is a selfless Man. Matthew 20:28.

This, then, is our ideal. When confronted by this true Man we may well despair of ever being the kind of men that we should be. But we must not despair. He is our Representative. Moreover He is ready to share His humanity with us. Has He not made this plain by saying that the secret of eternal life is the eating of the flesh of the Son of man and the drinking of His blood (John 6:53)?

There is just one more use of the title which is most significant. In his dying moments Stephen was sustained by a vision of Christ for which only human names are used. We are told that it was Jesus whom he saw, and he described Him as "the Son of man" (Acts 7:55 & 56). Stephen was the only disciple ever to do this. Was it that he was proving that the secret of radiant victory is to keep one's eyes on the One who is not only almighty God but also true Man? Or was it, perhaps, that Stephen was being given a preview of the second coming? One thing is certain, and that is that when he and the rest of us wake up from that "sleep" into which he fell, our first waking sight will be the glory of God with the dear Son of man as its central figure. [40/ibc]

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